Check out this intriguing article from The Economist – “The Gruffulo Years: A striking number of Britain’s senior politicians have young children. That is a good thing”. The world changes much more rapidly once its leaders are personally impacted by the same ‘small things’ the rest of us have long been struggling with.
This is why many feminists have argued hard that senior women should stay in the workforce even after becoming mothers; it is important for some decision makers to be mothers and for them to know exactly how much family unfriendly work practices hurt parents/carers. Only if you’ve felt the anguish yourself – of a meeting running so late that you missed the chance to see your unwell baby before the nanny put him to sleep for the night – do you push hard for earlier meeting times, or so the thinking goes. And only then is it possible for the secretaries, who lack the power to change things but who also attend your late afternoon executive meetings (as the note-takers and coffee-makers), to join you in getting away at a reasonable time. Otherwise their babies are stranded too, though probably at a daycare (clocking up fines for late collection by their parents) rather than at home with a nanny.
But, you will note in this article in The Economist that all the senior British politicians mentioned as successfully combining political life with the parenting of small children are men. You could conclude that this is not a very promising sign for women; it isn’t great. However, more and more couples today are genuinely attempting ‘shared parenting’ and that means more fathers are aware of and motivated by family needs. For instance, you don’t have to be ‘equal parenting’ to know how important parental leave might be. Much of the support I have received for my own ‘work and family balancing act’ has come from my bosses – they’ve all been men and they’ve all been fathers to young children. It helps. And this is what that article is arguing.
A centrist Conservative MP makes a matching observation about the youthful circle around Mr Cameron. The Tory party of ten years ago was slow to grasp the importance of social policies. For today’s leadership, children are the “ultimate nudge”, he says, a reference to the Cameron camp’s zeal for “nudging” people into changing behaviour. At its simplest, parenthood exposes even the affluent middle classes to public services, from hospitals to day-care centres or libraries. Despite (mostly) shielding their children from press attention, all three current party leaders claim inside knowledge of the National Health Service and the strains of balancing work and family life…
… With close advisers, the Labour leader has pondered the politics of parenthood: does it make people more conservative, by which he means competitive and sharp-elbowed? Or perhaps (Mr Miliband hopes) parenthood induces empathy and trust, as even flinty individualists find themselves grateful to nannies, doctors or the BBC, with its wholesome children’s programmes…
.. Daily exposure to innocence matters. Parenthood can lead to smugness, but also humility. All parents soon realise how much of child-rearing is improvisation, tempered by exhaustion. Political parents learn that ideology is not everything… The world looks at once kindlier and more fragile with small children in it, and essentially optimistic. In these austere times, that is a source of strength.
(Thanks to Christopher for the tip-off).