A question you should not be asking

Our society is not yet accustomed to seeing women have a career in politics while also raising a family.

“How will you keep up with everything?” This is perhaps the most common question asked of high-ranking professionals when they become parents.

What’s wrong with it?

The problem with this question lies in its implicit bias and stereotyping. It is more frequently asked of women than men, reflecting a societal bias that assumes women will struggle more to balance work and family. This perpetuates the stereotype that caregiving responsibilities primarily fall on mothers.

If that’s not all, this question implies that professional responsibilities are at odds with parenting, which can undermine confidence in the person’s ability to fulfil their professional role. Now when it comes to politics, this question takes on a whole new dimension.

We’re guilty of it ourselves!

The problem with this old-fashioned frame of mind is that we fell victim to it ourselves. Speaking to Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg about the birth of her daughter, we found ourselves blurting out: “How did you manage to keep up with the demands of the campaign while preparing for the arrival of your baby?”

Here’s the Parliamentary Secretary’s wise reply: “Every job has its challenges, but I must admit this is one of the most common questions I’ve heard over the past nine months. Many people have asked (and still ask) how I manage to balance my work as a Parliamentary Secretary with my new role as a mother. The frequency of this question shows how our society is not yet accustomed to seeing women have a career in politics while also raising a family. This is true even though this legislature’s parliament is relatively young, and several members on both sides of the House have had babies in the past two years.”

Buttigieg is not the first high ranking woman to have gone through this experience. Parliamentary Secretary Alicia Bugeja Said is another example. Former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and US senator Tammy Duckworth are other women in politics who have welcomed children during their political career.

“During my pregnancy, I continued with my usual routine and went to the office until two weeks before my due date,” explained Parliamentary Secretary Buttigieg. Whilst admitting that political life is very demanding, especially during an election campaign, she pointed out that nowadays, you can stay in touch with people through various means. In fact, she went on to explain: “I was more present through social media, communicated with people via phone calls, and delivered the Labour Party’s message. I can’t say it wasn’t a bit hectic! Between doctor appointments, attending preparation meetings for prospective parents, and getting the house ready for our little one’s arrival, the days flew by. However, with a bit of thought and organisation, we managed to handle everything.”

Adjusting the workflow

Rebecca Buttigieg told us that it’s a matter of having the right support system and being able to adjust one’s workflow. “From the moment I found out I was going to be a mother, I received an incredible amount of support, even more than I expected. My husband has always supported me in my political career and has been a great partner. He’s always ready to help where needed, and we’ve always shared everything at home, not just during the pregnancy. My mother is also an integral part of my life, especially now that I have my daughter.
Now that I’m back at work, my entire team has adjusted their workflow to accommodate bringing Valentina with me, so our meetings have taken on a new dynamic. They understand that there are times when I need to feed her and that she comes first. The routine completely changed with Valentina’s birth. It was a bit challenging at first to find my rhythm, but now I’ve become more efficient and organised, and I’m confident I can keep up with everything I need to do.”

Time is the biggest hurdle, but that’s okay

The biggest challenge that the Parliamentary Secretary faced was managing her time. “A baby depends entirely on you, so if I was used to going to the office at a certain time, now I have to plan everything around my daughter’s needs. I’m someone who loves to work and used to fill every hour of the day productively. Now it’s different because I have to schedule my day according to Valentina’s needs. I now must plan much further in advance. Before becoming a mother, if I was invited to appear on a programme just a few hours in advance, it wasn’t a problem. But now, the situation has changed, and that’s okay. Every chapter in life brings change, and without a doubt, the chapter of motherhood is one of the most beautiful you can experience.”

Evolving priorities

It’s so remarkably fitting that Buttigieg is Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms. She tells us that it’s now easier to draw from her own experiences. “Politics has always fascinated me as a tool to bring positive change to people’s lives, but now I feel a much greater sense of responsibility. I know I must work to leave society better not just for the next generation but for my own child who will grow up in this country. More personally, I understand now how the perspective of a parent influences how you think and decide. My portfolio includes equality, and today more than ever, I understand the challenges of a mother who is building a career while also striving to be the best possible mother. It requires more family-friendly policies to help parents spend more quality time with their children,” said the Parliamentary Secretary.

“Go for it!”

This was her reply when asked what she would tell new parents who are considering returning to their jobs. “Like everything in life, beginnings are always tough, but nothing is impossible. The advice I received and found invaluable was – once a week, find time when you’re with your family and the distraction of social media or other distractions can be temporarily suspended. Family must be given its importance and I want to be present in my child’s life,” concluded the new mother.

Now we know we’ve told you what not to ask. Here’s what you can ask instead: “How are you adjusting to parenthood?” If not, try: “Is there anything specific you need help with right now?”, and specifically for working parents: “Is there anything you believe your workplace could do to better support working parents?”. After asking, just listen. You’d be surprised what you’ll learn, just like we did.

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