Zwambag: SophieGate

The Motherload

It’s amazing how three little words from someone can thrust them in to a world of mommy-shaming and demanded apologies that they could have never imagined.

This week in the news, the story of Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau sparked a bit of a national debate as she told a French newspaper that she needed another assistant to manage her personal life and the additional duties she is choosing to take on as the Prime Minister’s wife.

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Actually, wife doesn’t feel like the right word here—Canada doesn’t have an official or honorary position like some nations do (think “First Lady”), but Gregoire-Trudeau and her husband are tireless advocates for women’s rights and equality. She has never been one to just sit on the sidelines, and she is not merely “the Prime Minister’s wife.” She is his partner. And a powerful individual in her own right.

The interview broke with the quote, “I’d love to be everywhere, but I can’t. I have three children and a husband who is Prime Minister. I need help. I need a team to help me serve the people.”

It sparked an odd bout of rage, people pointing out that she should be focusing on mothering her children, that being the wife of a prime minister isn’t a job, that it was an insult to mother’s everywhere that she needed two assistants to help with her children in addition to the chef, house keepers and security staff already employed. They demanded apologies and even started the hashtag #prayforsophie which spent some time trending.

Keep in mind, this same woman was being praised widely maybe a month ago for doing extended breastfeeding with her youngest son.  After that revelation, she was a great mom. But when she says she needs help, suddenly she is a terrible one.

And what was she being shamed for? For simply challenging the romanticized notion that women can do it all.

Here we have a woman with vision, with a voice, with a platform standing up and shouting “I need help!” She’s saying something we all feel. She is telling us that women can’t, and shouldn’t be expected to, “do it all.” She’s saying she can’t be a great mother, a great wife, an activist, a career woman, a house keeper, a cook, a teacher, a play mate, a schedule master, a publicist, a chauffer and every other job that could be demanded of her in the many hats she wears if she’s busy trying to wear them all.

Let me be very clear. There are lots of women who do this. There are lots of us who have nannies, housekeepers, meal delivery, daycare, and other help around their homes to manage their family life. There are lots of women who stand up and say “My career, my identity—they’re important. And I’m keeping them.”

I know I felt it. While I did let go of my job, I struggled. Hard. Letting go of that was letting go of a piece of myself, a piece I had worked my entire life towards. I actually went through a mild depression after I officially handed in my notice. And I still struggle with balance in my life between all the things I actually can do versus the things I want to do. I want my own identity. And I have to fight for it.

Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau probably struggles with this more than most of us. I rarely get defined as simply my husband’s “wife.” She, on the other hand, is going to struggle for the entire time Trudeau holds the title Prime Minister against being known as anything more that “The Prime Minister’s Wife.”

But she already had a name, a reputation and a career that she had worked hard to build. So she started doing what she does best—helping people. She isn’t asking for a second assistant so she can sit around drinking margaritas while she catches up on her soaps and spends her husband’s salary shoe shopping. She’s attending charity events and speaking for them. She’s creating her own initiatives to advance things like women’s rights and literacy. She’s by Trudeau’s side—as his partner, equal in every way—to promote Canada and honestly make slight rock stars of our politicians (my own personal political views aside, you can’t deny that they’re drawing international attention to our country). And she is still mothering her children.

I think it’s also important to note that household staff for this residence is already budgeted for. And even adding another would literally cost each Canadian a fraction of a cent.  Like it or not, it’s part of their package.

What we have here is a bunch of people standing on their soapbox and shaming her for asking for help because they can say “But I do that!” Yes. Lots of moms do that. And that’s our choice, no matter what our income level (which is also a hot button in this debate).

But the reality is that it takes a village to raise a child, and we all love to say how we miss that mentality. How lonely we are. How lost we are. How much we wish that women would build each other up and support one another on the motherhood journey.

Step one of this is to stop roasting the women who put their pride aside and admit they need help. Step two is to simply be that village. Stop shaming, stop inducing guilt or forcing your own ways of doing things on others. Stop judging. Start praising. Start holding each other’s hands instead of a leash.

The village is there, it just needs to remember the empathy, comradery and deep rooted connections that bond us all. Especially when one of us is asking for help.


Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.

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