DOES being a parent make you a different person? I am a parent times three and have no idea.
This tricky question arises thanks to that irksome woman who wants to be prime minister. No, not that one – the other one. I had no intention of returning to Andrea Leadsom this morning, as she doesn’t make my heart sing, but there you go.
The front page of The Times has the headline: “Being a mother gives me edge on May – Leadsom.” Mrs Leadsom, who is 53, has two sons and a daughter (the same formation as in our family). Mrs May, who is 59, is married but never had children; she has said little about this, but has suggested that being childless was not a choice.
In an interview with The Times, Mrs Leadsom said: “I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible.” But she later suggested that being a mother was an advantage – “Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.”
After the interview was printed, Mrs Leadsom took to Twitter, tweeting directly to The Times: “This is the worst gutter journalism I have ever seen, I am so angry – I can’t believe this. How could you?”
Before going any further, it is worth pointing something out. If Mrs Leadsom thinks that is “gutter journalism”, she should shuffle down to the newsagents and read some of the other newspapers.
What happened here seems simple enough: a politician gives an interview because she wishes to put her case and be seen; a delicate topic is raised and addressed; the report is written and, on publication, the politician comes out in boils of righteousness.
The Times recorded the interview and an excerpt was played on the BBC Today programme this morning, containing the quotations on which the headline was based. A headline condenses a story into a few words, and the one in The Times encapsulates what Mrs Leadsom says, although the words chosen are the newspaper’s, not hers.
The only way Mrs Leadsom could have avoided this row would have been to decline to answer questions about being a parent. Instead she went for the “both-ways” approach: suggesting it would be unseemly to make the comparison, then going ahead and saying that as a mother she has a better understanding of life.
Cake having been had and eaten, she brushed the crumbs off her lips and took to Twitter to complain. In political terms, being a parent surely makes no real difference, and it was foolish of Mrs Leadsom to go on about “being a mum”. Motherhood didn’t exactly soften Margaret Thatcher, so there is no reason to suggest that having given birth three times will make Mrs Leadsom more or less of a politician.
Does being a parent make you a better or wiser person? No, I still don’t have a clue. Life took a turn years ago and the me without children followed a different route. That version of me would have lived a different life, a wealthier life in all probability, but a life less rich in human experience. And that me wouldn’t now have three grown-up children taking their own paths up the mountain.
I recall that when the children were young, we could be very child-centred, suddenly aware of the importance of our children and of all children. Young parents tend to be obsessed with children to the point of being a little boring on the topic. I am sure we were at times. It’s the nature of being a new parent.
Then life moves on and, while you don’t love your offspring any less, they have their lives, you have yours; the paths separate, cross again, but the parental geography is always there, the family map with its different contours.
I know that I am a different person than I would have been without children; different but not better, and certainly not more suited to making sense of life than if I had remained childless. Just a man trying to do the best I can, to slightly misquote Van Morrison.