Would Alex Salmond have been first minister if he’d had children?
Asked no one, ever.
And yet this sort of question has been asked about Nicola Sturgeon many times, and she addressed it recently when she spoke about how she had a miscarriage six years ago at the age of 40.
“If the miscarriage hadn’t happened, would I be sitting here as first minister right now? It’s an unanswerable question. I just don’t know. I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know the answer. I’d like to think yes, because I could have shown that having a child wasn’t a barrier to all of this, but in truth I don’t know.”
It’s great that Sturgeon is being open about her miscarriage, but let’s put that aside for a second. Let’s focus on the fact that it’s 2016 and people are still asking if motherhood and powerful career-womanhood are compatible.
Isn’t it time we stopped asking women these kinds of questions?
Yes, having a baby changes your life. A lot. As a mother, you may choose to sacrifice your career for your family by cutting back your hours, choosing a job that pays less but has more flexibility, or giving up work all together.
But if you don’t want to compromise your career, it’s not like you have to be stuck at home with a small child until you can ship them off to school in a little tie and sturdy black shoes. There are, after all, nurseries. And nannies. And grannies. And, lest we forget, FATHERS.
Fathers are just as capable of doing baby stuff as mums (minus the boobin’, but that’s where breast pumps and formula come in). They can change nappies and read board books. They can clean up sick and push a pram. They can it in a circle in Bounce and Rhyme and sing “The Wheels on the Bus” awkwardly with a bunch of other uncomfortable parents. Let’s not sell fathers short. They can do it all.
Given that dads are perfectly competent baby-raisers, if we’re going to question whether mothers can have high-powered careers, we should be questioning dads too.
“You’re planning to work even after your wife has a baby?” we should say. “Are you sure you can manage it? Won’t you miss your baby if you have to work long hours? Come on – do you really think it’s possible for fathers to have it all?”
Or maybe we should just recognise that balancing a career and a family can be hard regardless of your gender. Childcare is flippin’ expensive, which can mean that it’s actually cheaper for one parent to give up work than to put their child in nursery. Employers are often reluctant to offer flexible working. Professional part-time jobs are few and far in-between.
“There is still so much to do, through better childcare, more progressive working practices and more enlightened attitudes, to make sure we don’t feel we have to choose,” Sturgeon said.
She’s right. Mothers shouldn’t have to choose between a career and a family.
And neither should fathers.