Ruth Davidson’s resignation as leader of the Scottish Conservatives sent some into a flurry of speculation that she was, perhaps, using her family – mostly her baby boy – as an excuse to get out of serving a prime minister she would presumably happily smear with the contents of a nappy. Polly Toynbee tweeted “Ruth Davidson does a disservice to mothers: many do very well in politics. Covering her resignation with ‘motherhood’ excuses is deeply depressing”.
I know from experience that stepping out of the door to go to work and closing it while your baby wails for you is also deeply depressing.
Maybe it’s not all about the baby, but so what if there is an element of ‘hold on now this is one sacrifice too many’? Most parents who are in all-consuming jobs, where the working day isn’t over until it’s over, can recognise the moment when you realise that the position you have, what you have worked to build, is simply not worth sacrificing seeing your lovely squashy baby for.
So you want to take your foot off the gas, but realising this and actually doing it are two different things, especially when your job is so much a part of your identity and one that you cannot do part-time. So many career women feel the responsibility to be seen as someone whose work is not hindered by motherhood. Toynbee’s attitude comes from a place where all feminists, myself included, want women to have equal representation in positions of power, and get the support they need to bear and raise their children as well as holding leadership positions. I get that. But as a feminist, I support and respect any woman’s decision to change her direction – to halt and reassess what is best for her.
What does disappoint me is to see people accusing Davidson of using motherhood as an “excuse” to bow out. Most of us have defaulted to the old “couldn’t get a babysitter” line to swerve a party that we were too tired to go to, but it’s a bigger leap to imagine a woman using her baby as a mere excuse to bow out of a job she has dedicated eight years of her life to. That does a disservice to women, and is deeply depressing.
My own feet did not touch the ground after I had babies. Four weeks after a C-section, I was up on stage at the Latitude Festival. I was trying so hard to prove to my industry that, despite having just had a baby, I was still in the game. I was praised for working so hard when my babies were small – told that I was working for them, that I was setting such a good example, that I was a strong working mum – but not seeing my children didn’t feel like strength. Sometimes I was rushing around so much that I wanted to just collapse face down in a puddle. Often I was so tired that, when I was with my children, I was no fun.
I know that, for many of us, it is not an option to slow down. Not everyone has choices in their career or is in a financial position to give up a job or go part time to be with our children more. I don’t think the position of leader of the Scottish Conservative party was a job Ruth Davidson saw advertised online and applied for on a whim; likewise, turning her back on it was not something she did because she didn’t fancy the hard work anymore. But it’s not her job, or any woman’s job, to stay in a position that is making her unhappy set an example others want.
I know talking about parents who work (let’s face it, mothers who work) is a minefield. Whatever you say, some people will immediately think that you’re accusing them of not being a good enough mother, and I know this because I myself am “some people”. I have bitten the head off anyone who has offered unsolicited opinions on my work/life balance or, to be fair, just suggested I sit down for a moment and have a cup of tea (“As I have TIME for TEA!”). When you’re swept up in a whirl of work and home responsibilities, loving care is not always immediately appreciated.
But sometimes it feels like we fetishise “hard work” and play down the joys of life with our children, who are little for such a small amount of time.
Two years ago, my daughter, aged four, started to do impersonations of all our friends and family. They were sweet and hilarious until someone said “do mummy”. She thought for a split-second, then rushed around the room, blowing kisses and saying “Bye! Bye! Mummy’s got to go! BYE! BYE! BYE!”. That was it. That was the way my four-year-old child saw me, her mother: the woman who is always leaving, always saying goodbye.
At the moment, I am my children’s favourite person to hang out with, but I know that’s not going to last forever, so I made changes, which I was lucky to be able to.
Davison clearly got to a point where enough was enough and the sacrifice was too great. Giving up the “top job” does not mean that she’s giving up on politics and everything she’s fought to achieve. She did not do mothers a “disservice”. Actually, she showed us that she had the strength to admit that this was not how she wanted her life to be, and not to be railroaded by the judgement of others or the expectations of the Polly Toynbees of this world. She liberated herself. She chose to shape her world as she wanted. She chose life.