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My reasons for advocating for a NO Vote against the 39th Amendment of the Constitution

In this article, a retired social worker and busy grandmother sets out the reasons she will be voting No No. The proposal to delete the words “woman” and “mother” from the Constitution and replace them with “the provision of care by members of a family” would remove any acknowledgement by the government that mothering is a much more profound role than providing care. Motherhood and mothering have a unique quality and are the most essential elements in the development of children in their early years. If the State truly puts children first, as it claims to do, then it should acknowledge that children need their Mammies when they are small, and they need a parent available to them in the home growing up. Every family should be able to choose this for their child. The State should not amend the Constitution to take away the right of mothers to stay at home to raise their children, even if this is mainly an aspirational right.

The government states that Article 41.2 is sexist and anachronistic because it refers to mothers’ “duties in the home”. The proposed wording of the new article on care (Article 42B) refers no longer to “mother” or “woman”; instead, it refers to “the provision of care, by members of a family to one another and that the State “shall strive to support such provision”.

The wording of the original article may be outdated, but the recognition of mothers’ contribution to society by the work they do in raising the children is valuable to women, in particular Article 41.2.2: “the State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour.” I understand the article as a positive acknowledgment of the importance of motherhood. I do not understand why the government wishes to replace the words “woman” and “mother” with “provision of care, by members of a family to one another”.

The government does not acknowledge in the proposed new wording that mothering is a much more profound role than providing care.

It appears that the government equates the words “the provision of care” with the phrase “by her life within the home”. As the next paragraph of Article 41.2 names mothers specifically, it can be assumed that the Article refers to women mothering their children. If my assumptions are correct, it means that the government does not acknowledge in the proposed new wording that mothering is a much more profound role than providing care for family members who might be old and frail or are ill or have disabilities. Motherhood and mothering have a unique quality. They are the most essential elements in the development of children. Even the word “parenting” does not adequately describe the mother–baby unit and the elements of care that mothers give to their babies.
In this modern era, that notion is not often considered. The concept of motherhood as an important and integral part of womanhood seems to be pushed aside as an old-fashioned view, not in keeping with the so-called progressive way of thinking, where women must throw off the shackles of being tied to the reproductive burden and men need to be ready to take up the slack.

While I disagree with the proposal to delete Article 41.2, I agree that the work of carers who look after family members who cannot look after themselves is also of immeasurable value to society, i.e. the State. That work should also be acknowledged and recognised as such. Of course, most of these carers are women and many of them are mothers. However, I see no reason why the contribution of carers could not be acknowledged and recognised in a separate paragraph in Article 41, the Family Article of the Constitution.

Given that some government agencies have been substituting the words “mother” and “woman” with words like “pregnant people” or “people with a cervix” in other policies and bills, I have a sneaking suspicion that this proposed amendment of the Constitution might be part of an agenda to erase women’s words.

I advocate for a NO vote on the referendum because I think that the work women do as mothers should be recognised and cherished by society. Article 41.2 is a very positive article for women, which endeavours to allow women the choice to stay home with their children instead of going to work if they so wish, because the work of raising children is of immense importance.

Certain commentators have said that Article 41.2 is condescending towards women and discriminating against fathers. I don’t agree. Having spent all my adult life raising my own children and working with families and children, I’ve come to the conclusion that the tasks involved in raising children will never be shared equally between women and men on a societal level, because being a mother is not the same as being a father. I am making this claim not based on a religious belief or on sexist stereotypes. I propose that it is sexist, male-centric, and discriminatory to women that our society organises life around the reality of men and not of women and children.

Women’s lives are very much shaped by our bodies’ function to prepare to grow a new life with every menstrual cycle; by the fact that we can grow a new human in our bodies; that our bodies produce the perfect nourishment that our babies need – that we are biologically made to nurture and raise our babies. It is a provable and scientific fact that women’s bodies are designed to fulfil these functions. All women’s lives are tied to their reproductive cycle, whether we have children or not.

Carrying, giving birth to, and breastfeeding children is exclusively women’s work, which makes the mother and child relationship the most important one for every child. Motherhood is biologically and emotionally a role that only mothers can fulfil. In all societies and at all times it was known that children needed to be with their mothers. Modern child psychology teaches that a child’s secure attachment to his or her mother is the foundation of healthy physical and social/emotional development. Babies need abundant one-to-one interaction, physical contact, and eye contact through which they learn to understand the world. As the mother has a close physical and emotional connection with her baby, since before the baby was born, and the mother’s body produces the nourishment her baby needs, she is the best person to look after her baby. To separate a child from his or her mother is deeply traumatic for the child, as so many children who were separated from their mothers have testified over the ages. It was always seen as a tragedy when a child was separated from its mother. The younger the separation, the deeper the trauma and pain.

This is true for all mammals. Dog owners are not allowed to separate puppies from their mother until they are old enough, because it would be cruel to the puppy. Humans are more complex mammals, with a relatively big brain. Our babies are born more helpless than other mammals and take much longer to mature. We humans are very adaptable and very social as a species. During the early years a human baby learns everything from their mother initially, and then increasingly more and more from their father, and later from an ever-increasing circle of relationships.

It is, of course, true that children are able to thrive when they are raised by fathers or other adults, but it is always painful for a child to be separated from his or her mother.  

How mothers and fathers parent their children, and what roles they play in their children’s lives, can vary considerably. There are no hard and fast rules for every child and every family, and I would not like to prescribe how families organise themselves.

What I do advocate for is that the importance of motherhood in their children’s development should be acknowledged and understood.

. I dream of a world where the cyclical nature of women‘s lives would be considered and accommodated as the norm for human females – more than 50% of the population – and that society would allow women to mother their children for the time they need her to.

At the same time, women should be able to take part in society, community, and paid labour, to a greater or lesser extent, according to their life cycle and individual circumstances. Mothers should be able to choose and not be disadvantaged because they take time to mother their children. I think fathers should also be able to adapt their work in the labour market, according to their family’s need.

Currently, we are far away from this dream becoming reality. The vast majority of families need both parents to work in order to keep a roof over their heads and maintain a reasonable standard of living for their children. For an increasing number of families, even this is no longer possible. Single parents are struggling the most. I think it would be reasonable to demand for the government to endeavour to ensure that one average wage would be sufficient to provide adequately for a family. Parents would truly be able to choose how the parenting demands and the economic demands of the family could best be met in that scenario. It would be recognised as a valuable contribution to society when a mother decides to make raising her children a priority. Wouldn’t that be a family and child friendly agenda to pursue?

To claim that it is sexist or old-fashioned or based on religion to believe that the task of looking after young children can’t be shared in equal measure between father and mother is a denial of fundamental reality, because their roles are different.

There are many young mothers forced to return to paid employment away from their children because of economic necessity right now. I have seen young mothers crying at work, pining for their babies and worrying about them, and mothers who were not able to ever pass the area where their children were being minded, because to be so close and not able to be with them was breaking their hearts. The guilt mothers feel when they know they leave their babies too early is often unbearable. I have seen mothers who were constantly feeling inadequate and guilty. They felt they could not meet the needs of their children, nor could they meet the demands of work because they could not give enough to either. Fathers do not experience that level of pressure, such guilt and visceral and intense pain about being away from their babies.

It would be really helpful to these mothers and children if they were able to evoke Article 41.2.2 to allow them to stay with their babies.

In summary: I advocate for a NO vote because I hold the view that a State that truly puts “Children First,” as the Irish State claims to do, would know that children need their Mammies when they are small and they need a parent available to them in the home growing up, and would therefore do all in its power to ensure that every family would be able to choose to provide this for their child. The State should not amend the Constitution to take away the constitutional right of mothers to stay at home to raise their children, even if this is mainly an aspirational right.

My second reason for advocating for a NO vote is that I object to the erasure of the words “woman” and “mother” by the government and their pretence that women’s lived experiences don’t exist.

My fervent wish would be that we would cherish women and men equally by acknowledging their differences, so that the needs of both can be met and that both can play their part in raising a healthy and happy next generation. In my book, this is the main purpose of society (as organised in a State), and the measure by which the State should be judged.