Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of columns ‘Cup of Jo’ by contributor Jodie Primeau (Above with daughter Penelope. Photo submitted.)
For the first time yesterday, my one year old daughter looked up at someone who wasn’t me, reached out her hand and said “mama”.
For context, I am a single mother by choice: I used a donor and had a beautiful baby who I named Penelope. She is smart, beautiful, fiercely independent, sweet and hilarious. On this day, I was out on a hike with one of my closest friends, Doulton, who has a son the same age as P.
It was Doulton’s hand she reached for, not mine. Why did she want Doulton to be her mom??
Like every mom, I struggle with guilt and mom shame. Am I doing enough? Am I gone too much? Do I pay enough attention? Did I get in over my head? As a single mom, I can certainly find additional layers of guilt to pile on.
Recently, however, I did something different. I became the NDP Candidate for our area: Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.
As a local, I was excited by this opportunity. I was born and raised in Renfrew County and I have returned because I love my home. I created a law firm and I saw a number of ways that our communities could get better. However, some changes, like having public transportation, needed more than just a lawyer.
As a mom, I was excited about making my daughter’s community one that had more opportunities. I was also scared. Previous candidates told me stories of long hours, endless driving, and intense life change for the duration of the campaign. Between full-time legal work, running a business and a full-time campaign, I thought I would be letting everyone, especially my baby, down.
Chief political writer Annabel Crabb explained mom-ing and career-ing this way: “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”
I sat and thought. Certainly, other Members of Parliament have families, jobs, other obligations that they had to balance. We don’t only see out-of-work candidates in political campaigns. How did other candidates create this perfect balance? Or is it just moms who struggle?
Balance is something that is achieved imperfectly . Work-mom balance is not something that is found; it is something that is worked toward. And so, I worked toward it.
The campaign was a big success. We identified a lot of the issues that have held our area back and mobilized people and groups to begin changing them. I became the official local opposition to our current Member of Parliament and now I am in a position to be able to hold our local representative to account in a meaningful way.
The highs of the gains we made in our campaign were balanced out by the struggles I felt with missing time with my daughter and the business strain at my firm. We found balance to create something great, but the balance was imperfect.
Two weeks after the campaign, I am out in Deep River’s beautiful hiking paths with my daughter, who has started to run, and talk, and give amazing hugs. We are back to having 14 hour days playing, eating, being bored, and muddling through my old workouts together. The campaign feels like a lifetime ago, although we see the evidence of change and of hope and of new connections in the community from the campaign that continue to enrich our lives and my work.
So, during our hike, Penelope looks up to my friend, extends her hand and says “mama.” My stomach drops, and I have a pang of guilt; maybe I should never have campaigned. I am a terrible mother.
Two minutes later, however, Penelope is back up in my arms, giving me a hug and laughing at leaves. No matter the guilt that I felt and the disastrous consequences on my daughter’s development that I imagined, the truth is that the change was fleeting and accommodated.
I recognize that the pressures I felt were both from society’s expectations of women parents and from my own internalized anxiety of wanting to be the best mother. Penelope didn’t care about any of that. She was ready and waiting for me to come back and resume our life, albeit with a few hiccups.
Working to improve our community was the act of a good mother, but not a negligent parent.
The pursuit of perfect work-mother balance is laudable but not achievable.
The feeling of mom guilt is real, but undeserved.
About the author: Jodie Primeau is a lawyer, mother, amateur triathlete, and owner of a law firm in her hometown of Deep River, Ontario. After practicing in the Kingston area, in 2019 Jodie founded Primeau Law Professional Corporation – her area’s first female-run firm – now tripled in size. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, she bought her first commercial building and gave birth to her daughter, whom she is proudly single-parenting. In the 2021 federal election campaign, Jodie was the New Democratic Party candidate for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.