While reading the news on Saturday night, we ran a story (just before the weather) showing a flustered father, who happens to be a world expert on South Korea, Professor of Political Science Robert Kelly, ushering his toddler out of shot during a live cross with BBC World. I laughed along with the rest of the world (the video has now gone viral with more than 28million views) – his wife, Jung-a Kim, flying into the room to yank the child (and her baby brother who rolled into the party in his baby walker) out of shot is gold – but I could also empathise because, like so many of us trying to juggle work and parenting, I too have been there.
In my case it also involved a live news camera. Stuck for a babysitter one Saturday afternoon, I took my two young boys into work, giving them an iPad (on low volume) to distract them. I even bought them McDonalds and set them up on a desk with strict instructions to “keep quiet while Mummy is talking”. Presenting the news from the news desk just a few metres away was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my twenty-plus years of live television. What if they made a run for it?
So what if they had?
It wouldn’t be a good look, sure. And would distract from the job at hand – delivering the news of the day to people who have tuned in for that purpose only – but it would also show that we are human and have other priorities (like children) to take care of. It’s ideal, but not always possible, to compartmentalise.
What was refreshing – and so entertaining – about that ‘kids gatecrashing daddy’s interview’ clip was that we were given rare insight into a man trying to stop his kids incurring on his professional space, when we’re far more used to seeing women in that position (usually with no backup, no one to whisk the small ‘offenders’ away). If the political science professor had been female, would it have been such a hit if her toddlers had waddled up behind her?
Not that it doesn’t happen, but children are rarely as visible in a man’s workplace as a woman’s. When he does take his children to work (and I generalise because there are many exceptions, of course), it’s quite often a chirpy novelty. Just a stop gap measure while the mother or carer is temporarily unavailable, as he receives plaudits for ‘helping out’. When a child is off school, it will invariably be the mother (whether she’s working or not), who drops everything while for dad, it’s business as usual.
Aside from that one notable exception, I avoid taking my children to my TV news job (without supervision), for its obvious occupational hazards. But in all other aspects of my work, like so many mothers, I don’t have that luxury. Babysitting is not always possible – financially or logistically. Childcare falls through. Kids get sick. Work pops up which we are in no position (or simply don’t want to) turn it down.
My children (especially when they were babies) have accompanied me to meetings, speaking gigs, photo shoots, and countless interviews. It’s not the perfect scenario (small children can be rather distracting at best; they can sabotage at worst) but nor should we need to apologise for towing them along (or bat them out of the way as Professor Kelly attempted to do) because, in doing so, we contribute to the assumption that parenthood and career sit in isolation, which they simply don’t. Especially when you do Skype interviews from your home study.
Or phone interviews while breast-feeding.
Like the time I interviewed Collette Dinnigan. I had scheduled our interview for when I assumed my baby would be sleeping. But he was onto me and howled in protest. Luckily Collette understood. She had been there too, taking her (then) baby daughter to her studio within weeks of giving birth. And so we persisted as I scrawled barely legible notes on the notepad teetering on my knee, my baby suckling away, while Collette rushed through the airport to catch a flight. We paused for her to check-in. We paused again for me to swap boobs. Two working mums, mistresses of multi-skilling, doing our best to keep all the balls in the air.
For another story, fittingly on working mums, I interviewed actor Rebecca Gibney. When my baby cried (right on cue), I tried to press on but Rebecca would have none of it. ‘Oh he really needs you,’ she said, empathetically, insisting I get off the phone and go and appease him. Luckily she picked up when I called back, saving me from explaining to my editor that I didn’t have the key interview because I had to attend to my child. Which would, in fact, have been the perfect angle for a working mums story: sometimes motherhood trumps work. And vice versa.
But not all workplaces are so amenable or flexible, especially with a corporate culture that favours clear delineation between work and home. A friend, Neen, described how she took her four year old son to a work meeting and, when he pressed his face against the glass to get her attention, it didn’t go down well. “They got the Spray & Wipe out and hurriedly started cleaning the window”, she says. “They could have at least pretended it didn’t matter and waited until we left”.
Ok so we’re not all dealing with the impeachment of a president, as Professor Kelly was, but he and his impostor children have done us all a favour. Not just providing the video of the week, but reminding us all that, as his own mum said in the wake of his infamy, “life happens”.
This article was first published on Daily Life on 14th March 2017