I don’t often get involved in political debate. Even with the European Referendum, I had my opinion, voted with my conscience but didn’t really engage with the heated conversations that surrounded me. Don’t get me wrong; I care immensely about what happens to our country. But often there is an edge to any discussion that skimmed around the notion that to vote to stay in was to vote for one’s children’s future. I am not so much hurt by this concept but interested in the question, ‘If I don’t have children, whom am I voting for?’
In pre-referendum discussions I would often have the vision of me adrift in a space- craft, looking longingly at the world below. My friends’ and acquaintances’ comments were not at all meant to hurt or to diminish me, they were simply, and quite rightly, stating their point of view and, as any parent would, selflessly considering their children’s needs before theirs. But my little space-craft day-dream was telling me that I was still affected by the spurious, often unconscious, notion that to be a parent is somehow to have a deeper investment in the future of our world than does a childless person.
Then enter Andrea Leadsom who is quoted as saying in an interview with the times ‘I have children who are going to have children who will directly be part of what happens next.’(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36752865). Taken in isolation, there is nothing inherently wrong with this comment. It is a fact (unless, of course her children, for whatever reason, don’t have children). What makes the comment, in my opinion, ill considered at best and heartless at worst, is that she apparently said it in response to what makes her different to Theresa May.
As a childless person one of the things I struggled with most is the fact that I will have no genetic link to the future. That is one of the most difficult losses to navigate. What Andrea Leadsom and many others who are engrossed in their own type of parenthood fail to see is that there are many ways to be a mother or a father. There are teachers, nurses, midwives, charity workers people who volunteer with children or vulnerable adults, mentors of all kinds (the list goes on) who all care about the world we are leaving to future generations and who all leave something of their DNA behind.
Childless people are not necessarily isolated beings floating in a space of ‘don’t care’. And let me be clear – I include in this statement people who are childless by choice and people who do not have nieces and nephews or stepchildren.
Theresa May has remained dignified throughout this furore. It is reported that she has said she and her husband did want children but that it did not happen for them and that ‘you accept the hand life deals you’. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/09/andrea-leadsom-told-to-apologise
I have often made comments similar to Ms May’s. Her comment alludes to an acceptance and a coming to terms with her place in the world. Yet, I suspect that behind that comment lies a trail of very difficult days, weeks and years.
Just for the record, I do take issue with the line of questioning that so many interviewers take with women in prominent positions – that of ‘how do you balance motherhood with your career?’ Men in similar positions are not asked this question. The question that led to Ms Leadsom’s ill-considered comments was, ‘Do you feel like a mum in politics?’ Replace the word ‘mum’ with ‘dad’ and you might see a seam of sex-inequality still running through our political and business world.
Leading questions aside, I hope that the publicity surrounding Ms Leadsom’s comments will have a positive effect. Perhaps it will open up a wider discussion about childless people, whether through choice or otherwise, and their place in society. We have a very real stake in the world and in the future. I care about the children of others – whether they are genetically connected to me or not. And as a childless person I have a right to have my own particular legacy to future generations acknowledged.