Sunday, 10 July 2016

When you're a parent...

Does having children make you better equipped to run a country? Does parenthood (or specifically motherhood) necessarily make you care more about the future?

There's a bit of a furore since The Times has quoted Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom as saying that having children meant she had "a very real stake" in Britain's future. Leadsom has three children. Her rival for the leadership, Theresa May, has none.

It's been translated and proliferated as 'I'm a mum, you're  not, so I'm better equipped to do this than you are.'

Is it just having children? Or does it follow that the more children you have, the better you would be at running the country? Is that why Queen Victoria was so good? If that's the case, I only have one, so I'm out of the running,

Does this apply to men? Do you need to be a father to be a good world leader? Or is there something inherent in motherhood or the act of giving birth that means women need to procreate if we want to be in charge?

Quenn Victoria, Albert and their nine children. She must have been ace at running the country.
By Caldesi and Montecchi (fl.1857-67) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Does having children make you better at running a country?

Bringing up children is difficult. You learn things you never expect to learn. And the post-child you is undoubtedly different to the pre-child you. Although the same can be said for any profound life experience. 

As a direct result of having a child, I possess a whole new set of skills. This week I added how to remove dairy products from a range of soft furnishings to my knowledge base. Don't underestimate how useful this is. But it's unlikely to qualify me to be Prime Minister, 

Being a parent teaches you just how far you can function without sleep (useful for those high level all night political negotiations), but then so does going to Glastonbury. Remember that time John Prescott had eggs thrown at him? If he'd been my Deputy Prime Minister I'd have been right there with the baby wipes before you could say 'omelette'. And I expect that controlling a gaggle of unruly five-year-olds would equip one with skills that could come in useful when bringing a rowdy cabinet meeting to order, 

Being a parent is difficult. being Prime Minister is difficult. The similarity pretty much ends there.

Does having children make you more interested in the future?

I agonised for years whether or not to bring a child into the world. One of my main reasons for not having children was my concern over the state of the world into I would be bringing them to. 

I'm glad I overcame my scruples, but I still think they were valid. As our own country is in political, economic and ideological turmoil, when terrorism strikes at our neighbours, and people are killed for being gay, black, white, I wonder about the world I have brought my beautiful, innocent daughter into.

Caring about the future, for ourselves, our country, our planet can be a reason not to have children. But caring about these things is certainly not the exclusive domain of  parents. Whether Leadsom's comments were intended, or were distorted, they've been taken as a version of the hackneyed patronising phrase 'when you're a parent...' which assumes that once people become parents they magically gain a wider, clearer view of whatever is up for discussion at the time. It's just not true.

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