The mother of all disputes
Some time ago, as parents of a small child, we had the possibility of buying a house with some friends who were also new parents. The project didn’t work out, and with hindsight it was probably a good thing for many reasons, most of which are too personal to share. But we remained good friends nevertheless.
Motherhood was something I somehow drifted into rather than planned seriously, and because I started the whole process in my mid 20s I probably took it all rather for granted. Then my friendship group entered their 30s and events moved on. By the time we were all in our 40s we were in one of three groups: those who had children, those who had made a conscious decision not to, and those who had not been able to have children, yet had managed to accept the fact – however difficult that was.
I can genuinely say that whichever of the groups we women belonged to, our relationships were not affected. Those with children often had more practical constraints and usually less money, but there was never a sense that any of us had a greater claim to the moral high ground. The mothers did not claim to be more empathetic and less selfish, and those who did not have children never pointed out the problems of overpopulation in a crowded world with diminishing resources. We’re all still great friends.
And now I find myself an unwilling observer of a distinctly ugly competition. Two women are competing to be leader of the Conservative party. One has children and the other doesn’t. The one with children has made a great play of this fact, claiming that she has a greater investment in her country’s future. She has gone on record to pity her rival for not having children. She has also gone on record to deny that the contest is anything to do with whether the candidate is a mother or not. And while we’re on the topic of investments, let us not forget that this particular mother’s investment is so important to her that she has set up off-shore trust funds for her children to ensure they do not pay tax. Now this will really help the country, and we should all feel a bit safer in her hands.
It is a highly insidious line of argument. I cannot remember an occasion when there were two men in competition for the job of leader of the Tories or any political party, where their parental status was even mentioned, let alone discussed, let alone was considered relevant for the job in hand. And was Margaret Thatcher’s status as mother ever debated in relation to her ability to govern? David Cameron had a disabled child who tragically died; did this give him a moral right to claim a higher compassion quotient?
Every single person faces challenges in their lives; being a parent has nothing to do with one’s ability to manage or govern. It is sickening to observe someone who would be Prime Minister resort to such disgusting, sexist and unfeeling behaviour. May the best woman win.