Stephanie Smith: Motherhood is not a badge of honour

Andrea Leadsom is a mother. You might know this already, even if you know nothing else about the Tory leadership candidate, because she keeps mentioning it.

Wednesday, 6th July 2016, 9:18 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th July 2016, 10:22 am
Conservative party leadership contenders Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and Justice Secretary Michael Gove on The Andrew Marr Show. Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

“I know, as a woman, how to succeed in a man’s world and how to fight the unfortunate prejudice that many working mums experience,” she informed us in a leadership speech which culminated with the stirring promise, if she becomes PM, to aim to “guide our country to the sunlit uplands – a future for our children and grandchildren of aspiration, tolerance and hope”. Singing Edelweiss as she goes.

Theresa May, the front-running leadership candidate, does not have children. I’m not sure about the three original male candidates (Michael Gove is the only man still standing); it’s not been mentioned quite so much.

Mrs Leadsom has been accused of “playing the mother card” in her bid to become Prime Minister. In doing so, she seems to be attempting to harness some of the characteristics that Margaret Thatcher, Tory mother of all mothers, was deemed to have bought to the role – a firm hand and a “mother’s always right” approach that male Conservatives in particular seemed to find strangely comforting.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Motherhood is a job qualification now, to add to your CV. It proves you know how to “juggle” in your “struggle” to “have it all”. Women who are not mothers, and presumably all men, don’t know they are born when it comes to efficiency, time management and multi-tasking. They have never had to change a nappy with one hand while signing off on a multi-million euro contract with the other – at least when the nanny’s ill or AWOL.

Although it is indeed time that working mums had a champion in high office, it is patronising, and frankly worrying, to suggest that mothers have special insight and strength that makes them superior. Not only is it dismissive of women who are not mothers, it is insulting to all the men, dads or not, who struggle and juggle alongside women, often in very similar ways.

What I have learned from being a mother is that I am rarely right and that I will never ever get it right, no matter how hard I try. I don’t think that makes me better qualified to do anything, except maybe feel a pang of guilt as I pray I can get to the end of Holby without demands from one or other of my children, either for cash or to sort some irksome menial task.

As The Jeremy Kyle Show demonstrates each weekday morning, motherhood in itself is not an indicator of compassion or capability. It is a privilege to be a mother, but it’s not a badge of honour, to be pinned with puffed-up pride next to your campaign rosette.