When their children walked on screen during live news broadcasts, they were mortified, but now two professional women are hoping their experience will send a positive message about working parents.
Sky News’s foreign affairs editor, Deborah Haynes, said she “wanted the ground to swallow her” when her four-year-old son gatecrashed a live broadcast, but had been overwhelmed by the positive reaction of viewers and working parents.
Haynes was providing analysis of the growing row over Hong Kong between the UK and China when her son used, in Haynes’ words, a “high-risk negotiating strategy” by entering the picture to ask for two biscuits.
“I heard the click of the door handle and my heart just stopped,” Haynes told the Guardian. “The door opened and I knew what was coming – it’s the stuff of nightmares. I just turned to him and tried to will him to leave with my eyes – and then he demanded a biscuit. Of course, I said yes.”
As the broadcast cut abruptly away from Haynes, the Sky News anchor Mark Austin said: “We will leave Deborah Haynes in full flow there with some family duties, but that’s what is happening during lockdown and trying to report during lockdown.”
Some described his as “rude” and suggested the interview should have continued, but Haynes said the decision would have been made in the studio rather than by Austin, and she was relieved to be off screen. Austin tweeted later that he was “was keen to stay with it and find out which was the biscuit of choice … but international affairs beckoned.”
Sky News’s reaction was compared disfavourably with that of the BBC’s Christian Fraser, who – on the same day – continued a conversation with Dr Clare Wenham, an assistant professor in global health policy at the London School of Economics, when her four-year-old daughter entered the room.
Wenham continued talking for more than a minute about the issues of getting access to coronavirus testing data, while Scarlett – who has also featured in a UN executive board meeting – continued to try to get her attention, eventually climbing on the desk and waving her artwork.
Wenham said she was “mortified”, but added: “Every working parent is having similar things happen. I’m not a hippy, liberal parent but I also think we are not in Victorian times and I don’t believe children should be seen and not heard.”
She said seeing parents juggling their work and family life could become a permanent feature, with the childcare sector on the “brink of falling apart”.
“If seeing something like this on screen makes employers realise that people have lives and are constantly juggling and need flexible working practices, it has to be a positive.”
Haynes said she and Wenham had been in touch after their children’s on-screen appearances. “It was like we were in it together,” she said. “There was a sense of solidarity and we were both pleased it was seen as a positive thing about parenting in lockdown.”
Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality party, said both women had managed the incidents with grace and good humour. “This has no doubt been a feature of their working lives since the beginning of lockdown, along with millions of working women who’ve picked up the lioness’s share of domestic work, homeschooling and childcare,” she said.