Leona O'Neill: Working mums are here to stay - get out of our way if you don't approve
Working mothers are now a fact of life right across the jobs market from business to politics and all points in between. So why, asks working mother Leona O'Neill, do they still get so much abuse from social media trolls?
THE sight of SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon walking into a meeting with the Northern Ireland secretary of state while pushing her little one in a pram sparked a furious online debate over working mothers at the weekend.
The North Belfast MLA was pictured strolling in fierce red heels with her eight month-old baby boy in a pram before her. When I saw the picture I thought, 'God, I love her shoes', and secondly I thought, 'I see you. I see you juggling a hugely demanding career with motherhood, I think that's brilliant and I know exactly what that is like.
But not everyone's opinion matched mine. The picture sparked an angry and vitriolic response from one Twitter troll who declared "Sorry, she is being paid to represent us as an MLA, how can she conduct herself properly if she has a hungry infant in tow. Stop acting like a bimbo and grow up!"
I'm well used to social media trolls and have developed an almost impenetrable skin with them these days. But to be honest, this comment made my blood boil.
As a working mother of four children, I have been that soldier.
Nichola, like me, does not have a 'normal job'. There is no nine-to-five lifestyle in either journalism or politics. Like me, she would be on call day and night for her constituents. Her time would never be her own.
Should an incident such as flooding or a bomb scare happen in her area, she would be at the scene helping people or finding them alternative accommodation for the night, keeping people informed and talking to the journalists standing alongside her on the rainy streets of the city. She would be on television news programmes at night or out dealing with issues in her community. It is not a 'normal job' and many of us working these strange roles just have to make it work for us.
I don't know Nichola's situation, but as a working mother who doesn't have one of these so-called 'normal jobs', I went back to my duties, whether officially or unofficially, not long after my little ones arrived.
I remember taking my babies out to jobs sometimes, just like Nichola did, particularly if the interviews were far away, because I was feeding them myself and couldn't be far away from them for long periods of time. I took them with me if they were sick and only Mummy would do.
I remember writing front page stories with a child asleep on my shoulder. I remember being live on Radio Ulster with a sick and feverish child draped
dramatically across me.
I know Nichola Mallon. She is a strong, intelligent, feisty force of nature and is as far removed from a 'bimbo' as one could ever hope to be. For someone to even call her that derogatory term in relation to her being a working mother, is despicable, but sadly what we come to expect from social media discourse these days.
I look at Nichola, and all working mothers juggling life, family and work, and I am proud of the strong women they are – out doing their job well every day, raising their children, handling business and, in Nichola's particular case, contributing immensely to her community and to Northern Ireland.
The thing about being a mother is that people will criticise you if you go out to work, but will also criticise you if you stay at home to look after your children. They will have something to say if you bottle feed, don't go organic, have your child minded, go part-time, run your own business, work, don't work... the list is quite literally endless.
The only thing certain about motherhood is that people will criticise you whatever you do. The trick is to ignore them all and just march on yourself.
As regards those of us who choose to be working mums, this is not the 1950s and a woman's place is no longer solely in the home. Mothers are out in the workplace, we are running businesses and running countries, we are excelling in law, sport, education, health, politics, business and finance. We are bosses and we are mothers. We are creating empires in the boardroom and at the kitchen table. We are teaching our little people the value of hard work and smashing through glass ceilings every damn day.
You don't like that? Get out of our way, we've somewhere to be.