In March, Jessica Rowe looked down the lens of the Studio 10 cameras and made an announcement.
“I’ve decided to leave Studio 10. It’s been a very hard thing for me to do. But it’s because my family need me… I want to be a present mum for my girls… I want to be there in the mornings for them, I want to take them to school, I want to do canteen duty – heaven help them with the sandwiches. But it’s something that I need to do.”
The 47-year-old journalist’s departure shocked viewers and inspired dozens of column inches, as commentators used the news as fodder for debating and dissecting the plight of working mothers.
While Rowe said the reason for her decision was simple, after four-and-a-half years on the program, it wasn’t one she came to easily. Speaking to Mamamia‘s No Filter podcast, Rowe explained that Studio 10 had come along at the perfect moment; a time when she was grappling with her professional identity, trying to reinvent herself.
“I grew very much as a person [while on Studio 10]. That job helped me feel more comfortable with myself. It made me embrace my vulnerability more, because I’d talk about that on TV and and then the feedback that I’d get from people encouraged me to do it more. Because it was,’Yes, that’s how we feel. That’s how I feel,'” she said.
“It was wonderful for a time. But like so much in life, things change and circumstances change; your kids grow and their needs change, as do mine.”
“I thought, ‘Something has to give.'”
With her children – Giselle, nine, and Allegra, 11 – careening toward their tweens, Rowe decided it was the time to lean into her family.
“I’m embarrassing anyway to my daughters, but sooner rather than later they won’t want to have a bar of me and I know the importance for me of sowing the connections now,” she told No Filter host Mia Freedman.
“So when they do go their wayward ways – as we all do as teenagers – I want them to know that I’m there and that we are there for them… that I want to be their number one and they know that.”
It was something that had played on her mind for long time before the announcement.
“[I] thought long and hard about it, and I think I procrastinated and wavered for six, seven, eight months about what I was going to do. And for me it really crystallised last Christmas when we went on a family holiday and it was just the four of us. We had a best time. We were all present, we were happy and lighter – all of us,” she said.
It was on that beach holiday that Rowe told her husband, Channel 9 news anchor Peter Overton, that she was leaving her job. Yet rather than stand down immediately, together they decided she ought to live with her decision for a while, to test it.
“I worked a few more months and that was when it was clear to me that it was time to step away, because it those sorts of feelings that I’d had before the holiday were still very much there,” she said.
“I thought something has to give, and for me it was taking a step back from my career and reassessing what’s right for me now.”
Rowe knows she is lucky, that leaving the workforce is not an option available to most parents.
She also makes it clear that her decision should not be interpreted as some sort of statement about feminism or parenthood or working women; it was a personal choice, and nothing more.
“My brand of feminism is about supporting the choices of other women,” she said. “My brand of feminism is saying, ‘Yes I support that choice of yours even though it’s not something I may do.’
“I want to make that point that, yes, I know that there’s a lot in my favour that makes the decision easier for me, but of course there is still a part of me that thinks, ‘Well what does that mean for my career?'”
Because stepping away was still a significant professional risk for Rowe, and this is not a retirement. She ultimately plans to come back to the media in some way.
“I’m a huge believer in taking a risk. I’ve done that in my life both personally and professionally,” she said.
“And it’s when we take those risks when we just take that step out of the blue that other sorts of things present themselves, and that’s what I’m excited about.”