Our Stories

My mum: a woman of calibre

There's been a lot of debate about what Tony Abbott meant by his "women of that calibre" line around paid parental leave. Brett Collett, deputy director of Labor's digital team, shares his mother's story.

Tony Abbott’s comments about what kind of women he wants to have children hit a raw nerve when I heard them yesterday.

His line that the Coalition’s controversial paid parental leave scheme is “all about” highly educated women – or a “women of that calibre” as he put it – made me wonder. Does Tony Abbott’s language of exclusion insinuate that women who don’t meet his desired level of education or earning power shouldn’t be encouraged to start a family? 

My mum, Cheryl, never finished high school. Back then in the 70s, most didn’t. She has always earned less than the average wage. And she raised me by herself after my father left when I was 18 months’ old, leaving her without child support – financial or emotional.

Brett being held by his mum

I was brought up in one of the many public houses in Dandenong in Melbourne’s outer south-eastern suburbs. When I started primary school my mum developed chronic fatigue syndrome, so she could barely get out of bed in the mornings let alone go to work.

With help from my grandmother, a close-knit group of family friends and supportive aunts and uncles from both sides of the family, mum made sure I always had books to read, a bike to ride and fun to have. We were poor, but I never felt like I was going without.

The great thing about mum is that she has always been loving, always gave more of herself than I ever could ever appreciate as a kid, and she gave me a level of independence which helped me grow as a person. Mum even let me choose which local high school I went to.

She hasn’t agreed with every decision I’ve made over my 28 years, but she has always supported my endeavours, whether it was playing another sport, wanting to be a journo when I was young, getting involved in the Labor movement or moving away for work.

Mum eventually got better and found work in a local clothes shop, working her way up to became manager. This gave her a long-awaited level of financial independence, and meant she could even afford to buy a car by the time I was half way through high school.

Tony Abbott doesn’t seem to think a woman of my mum’s calibre is what his paid parental leave scheme is “all about”. I don’t know about you, but I only wish I could be a person of my mother’s calibre. Resilient, loving, determined and compassionate.

Our story is not unique. There are many women of my mum’s calibre out there who have done and continue to raise their kids the best they can.

Many of the friends I grew up with or know now have mums who overcame major obstacles to raise them well.  With Mother’s Day this Sunday, I think we should speak up and share with the world the stories of our mums.

Click here to share this on Facebook and let people know what calibre of woman your mother is.

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