(fashion) I felt an unexpected surge of emotion reading Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s moving letter of resignation last week because it is one I have written many times in my head – and even sometimes in draft on my iPad – but have never sent.
The detail that so chimed with me and, I believe, will do so with millions of working mothers, was her description of how the prospect of spending hundreds of hours away from home on the campaign trail would have once fired her up, but since the birth last October of her son now filled her with dread.
It’s clear Ruth had a demanding job that involved being on call from early morning to late at night, always available for interviews, always well briefed, always looking polished. But her moments of reflection on the time and care she could expend on her infant son, Finn, also made her worry that the pressure of politics had made her a ‘poor daughter, sister, partner and friend’.
Ruth Davidson and partner Jen Wilson with their young son Finn
I feel as if my busy career has made me poorer at these things, too. I don’t want to stretch the analogy; I’m only too aware I’m making TV shows rather than running a political party. But I also spend hours travelling and filming while juggling the needs of a family. And sometimes – hence the unsent letters – it can all feel too much. And I suspect many working mums with far less support than I get would wholeheartedly agree.
It’s a pet peeve of mine that many successful women never share the obvious secret of how it’s done. How many times have we read interviews with, say, an actress or businesswoman in which they casually throw in the fact their son arrives home from cricket or their daughter from ballet? Well, who took them there? Who brought them home? Who washed the kit and made sure they had everything they needed? I’ll tell you who – the hired help.
I’m not ashamed to say I have had a nanny for the past 13 years to help me look after my four children. I also have a housekeeper and a PA. It’s expensive but luckily television presenting is well paid. Even a politician as prominent and successful as Ruth Davidson couldn’t afford that level of support on her salary. In a sense, the very fact she is so capable and successful, and still feels the need to resign, shows how tough it is for women from all walks of life to juggle homes and careers.
Ruth Davidson and partner Jen Wilson after she gave birth to baby Finn last October
There are couples who manage to share the child-caring duties, and there are many brilliant stay- at-home dads. But the responsibility for holding everything together and remembering all the little things that keep families working smoothly – the birthday presents and cards, the packed lunches, the clean, ironed clothes – usually falls to the mums. Of course, most can’t afford to hire staff. And because house prices mean two incomes are needed to pay the mortgage, most can’t give up work. They just have to struggle through, feeling guilty they can’t give everything as much attention as they’d like.
Perhaps it’s because caring and nurturing are seen as women’s roles that they are not really valued by many people.