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VIP meets Mairead Ronan; “I feel very lucky that I have been able to choose to step back”

Mairead Ronan
Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

Two months ago broadcaster Mairead Roan handed in her notice to Today FM, after 20 years of happy employment. She wasn’t burned out; wasn’t ill; wasn’t moving on; she wasn’t even fed up presenting her lunchtime radio slot. Mairead just wanted to be at home more with her two young girls.

Luckily, Mairead could choose to do this. Herself and her husband Louis Ronan are hugely cognisant that their financial situation – through years of hard work – gave this 41-year-old the space to step back now, but not forever. Upon her announcement, however, something unexpected happened. Messages started filtering in from working women up and down the country, and many were quietly expressing feelings of envy at her “brave” decision. Mairead had made a “bold choice” – even by this writer’s assessment – by walking away from what many would consider a “good job”.

But, was it really brave? Why should choosing to stay at home with your kids be seen as a “bold choice”? “Feminism should be about choice,” the mum-of-three tells VIP today. And amen to that. In her Clontarf home – with her two littlest ones Eliza (5) and Bonnie (3) – Mairead teases this thorny issue out with VIP…

Mairead Ronan
Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

So Mairead, how’s it been? How has your first month with no work schedules, no job responsibilities and no radio deadlines played out?
Honestly? I’ve never been happier! Ian Dempsey texted me and said, “Hope you’re not missing Marconi [Today FM HQ] too much,” and I just texted back, “I’m not!”. But don’t get me wrong, I loved my job. I also got to work on incredible tv shows like The Panel, Republic of Telly, Celebrity Bainsteoir and Fittest Family, but I just got tired of being tired. And, I don’t know why but turning 40 changed something in me and then the pandemic changed everybody. My girls are still small now, but Dara, my eldest, is 14, and I would have loved to have been able to stay at home with him more when he was younger. But financially I couldn’t afford to, I was a separated mum and I had to take every job going,.

You walked into Today FM in March 2002, aged 21, and worked your way up from runner to researcher to producer to finally presenter. Did you feel that your work defined you and did that make stepping away all the harder?
Yes, because I am known as Mairead from Today FM! But I’m way more than that! I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. But, great privilege came with my job. It was a national radio show and it was going really well. However, more recently, most days I wished I was at home, and that’s not how you should feel.

This side step had been on your mind for some time, hadn’t it?
Yeah, but I was pushing it away, not being honest with myself, blaming the pandemic for my thoughts. I was also watching lots of people WFH and that wasn’t an option for me. It made sense for me to be in the studio where the sound is better and where you are more connected to the listener.

Was there a turning point that forced the decision?
When the family got Covid and I obviously couldn’t go to work, that was when it became crystal clear. But let me be honest because I don’t want anybody reading this to think that my home life is perfect and that we sit and paint and bake all day – there’s also killings! It is bloody hard being at home, but at the moment with the kids the ages they are, I want to be here. I just want to do boring normal mum stuff!

Mairead Ronan
Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

Galway girl Pamela Joyce has taken over your Today FM slot. Were there any territorial emotions lingering at all when she presented her first show on January 10th?
Not at all! I was in touch with her that morning to wish her luck and we had lunch the Friday before…I’m just delighted for her and I am delighted that it is her.

This generation of women have fought hard for the right to work. Do you think this is part of the reason why the decision was so hard?
That was part of the reason why I wasn’t being honest with myself. I was afraid to say it because I thought so many people would be disappointed in me. We constantly hear about feminism, but feminism surely is about women having the choice to choose? Work for a long time made me happy and it was part of who I was, but that changed, like we all change and we are all allowed to change.

During the pandemic a lot of women did make the choice to leave the workplace. In fact, according to rough statistics, women in the US and in the UK have exited the labour force at twice the rate of men.
That’s not a great statistic either though. It goes to show that we’re still the main carers and I say that even though I have a very hands-on husband. It’s awful that that statistic is there, but some of those women may have chosen to do it, like I have? I feel very lucky that I have been able to choose to step back.

Mairead Ronan
Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

You are very concerned that you will be judged – cancelled even! – because of your choice. Because you even had the choice!
I was talking to Brendan O’Connor on air recently about this and he said, “I’m just going to say this before the texts start coming in, but you are obviously very lucky to be able to do this”. And it was only afterwards driving home that I thought, no one ever said to me when I was exhausted working and juggling. “Aren’t you very lucky that you can go to work and someone is at home minding your kids”. No one ever said that to me, ever.

The myth that women can have it all is well debunked now because as we all know, no one can have it all. Something always has to give.
I think having it all and doing it all are very different things. For me, having it all means getting to work for a couple of hours a day on my Faro business (she co-owns a hair brush collection); getting to be with the kids and getting to see my dad. Because I had been trying to “squeeze” my dad in. But that’s not how I want my life to be. My dad is 83. I don’t want to squeeze him in anywhere!

Isn’t it odd why we feel the need to try qualify your decision…?!
Yeah, and I suppose if I was a teacher I’d just be taking a career break, that’s what I feel like I’m doing.

Mairead Ronan
Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

Tommy Tiernan was fantasising the other day on the Tommy, Hector and Larita podcast about packing it all in, selling the house, paying off the mortgage and going where the wind takes him…. Wouldn’t it be lovely?!
We watched this documentary the other day about a family who did just that. Initially I was looking at the three-year-old child in the documentary thinking, “Oh my god that child should be in school”, and then I was like, “No! That kid is getting a completely different education. That kid is grand!” But, this is what I mean: we all go along with a prescribed life. I was on a treadmill, moving my career forward all the time, taking another gig because in my business you can’t say no to gigs… and then one day, I did!

There’s a shift happening, for sure. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book, Lean In, (about how women need to lean into their careers) feels so out of touch now…
I remember thinking at the time of that publication that if I leaned in anymore I was going to fall over!

Well, you’re on firm footing now! You’re even back studying!
I am. I signed up for Enterprise Ireland’s KPMG Going for Growth course. I’m doing it so we can grow the Faro business. I signed up for it before and didn’t get it. But, this time I spent three weeks doing my application and I got great help from Derval O’Rourke [Fittest Family mentor] who coached me on what to say and what to not! Pharmacy entrepreneur Oonagh O’Hagan is the lead on my group and oh my God she is incredible.

Will we see you on air if Fittest Families returns in the autumn?
My plan is to still work but just not as the same intensity, and not for a while. But yes, hopefully, I’ll be shooting Ireland’s Fittest Family this summer for series 10!

Mairead Ronan
Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

INTERVIEW: Bianca Luykx
PHOTOGRAPHY: Lili Forberg
STYLING: Roxanne Parker; roxanneparker.com
MAKEUP: Michelle Field; @michelle_field_makeup
HAIR: Lara Moody
Find Faro brushes at faro.ie or in store at Peter Mark

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