Scotland

How do you juggle being a parent with being a politician?

UK Parliament & Scottish Parliament

MPs have been debating whether the House of Commons should be more family-friendly.

Some say the parliament needs to modernise and stop hiding behind its "Victorian values".

Others are in favour of maintaining traditional rules - for example, they are opposed to breastfeeding and bringing babies into the chamber.

BBC Scotland has spoken to politicians about how they juggle their personal lives with their professional lives.

Balancing act

Kirsty Blackman, MP for Aberdeen North, said it is "manageable" to be an MP and a mum to young children - hers are aged two and four - but that it is not always an easy task.

She said for single parents, or people without a strong support network to help out with childcare, it would be impossible to be an MP unless the House of Commons reformed to be more accommodating to parents.

Image copyright Kirsty Blackman
Image caption Kirsty Blackman has previously tweeted her support of breastfeeding

When her young children visit her in London, she sometimes has to entertain them in the parliament until the day's voting is over - often after 23:00.

Because her children are too old to be taken into the voting lobby - only babies under one year old are allowed in - she is faced with leaving her children in the care of the party whips' office.

Ms Blackman said the parliament should become more family-friendly to allow a wider range of people to become MPs.

"It worked out for my family because of the flexibility of our circumstances - my husband has reduced his hours at work. Becoming an MP was something that was really important to me and something I really wanted to do", she said.

Image copyright Kirsty Blackman
Image caption Kirsty Blackman MP shared this picture of her children having a 'picnic lunch' at the SNP conference

But at home in her constituency, she often enjoys taking them along to some of the events she has to go to.

She said she thinks it is important that her constituents see her in her capacity as a mum as well as in her role as an MP.

Progress

Jo Swinson, who was the MP for East Dunbartonshire until May's general election, said that the House of Commons was more family-friendly when she left than it had been when she was first elected 10 years before, but said there was still a lot of progress to be made.

However, she said, modernisation faced opposition from some more traditional-minded MPs who seem to be stuck in the past.

Ms Swinson gave birth to her first child, Andrew, when she was an MP. Her husband, Duncan Hames, was also an MP.

Her son was the first baby to be taken through the voting lobby - by her husband - after the rules changed to allow babies under one to go into the voting lobby with their parents.

Image copyright Jo Swinson

It was "crystal clear", she said, that she and Duncan wanted to combine having a family and being MPs.

She said this brought its own set of "logistical challenges", but acknowledged that "a lot of people have it a lot tougher" than MPs.

She said: "You need a range of experiences for a successful, representative parliament - including parents of small children.

"Being an MP can't be made an entirely family-friendly job, but the people who sign up to public service in that way recognise that there's no way around that sometimes.

"However, there's a lot more can be done to make things easier for MPs with children. There should be no additional barriers but in place to make it less family-friendly than it needs to be."

Unavoidable consequences

But being a parent of young children and being an MSP is an easier combination, according to one parliamentarian.

Aileen Campbell, Scottish government Minister for Children and Young People, was the first Holyrood minister to go on maternity leave when gave birth to her second son, Crawford, in 2014.

She said she discussed her maternity leave with the first minister, who "wanted to send a clear message: you can have children and still have a place in politics".

Image copyright Aileen Campbell
Image caption Aileen Campbell holds her son, Crawford

Ms Campbell described it as a "very welcoming" and "accommodating" place to be a parent.

She said she felt comfortable enough to breastfeed her young son around the parliament.

"There's a quiet, safe and comfortable space for breastfeeding, but I have sat out in the parliament's garden lobby and breastfed out there," she said.

"As a country, we need to make women feel comfortable doing whatever they think is right for them when it comes to breastfeeding."

Image copyright Aileen Campbell
Image caption Aileen Campbell shared this picture of 'Auntie FM' Nicola Sturgeon holding baby Crawford

On visits to the parliament with her children, she said everyone - from the first minister to the security guards - was "keen to get in a wee cuddle with baby Crawford".

Small gestures, Ms Campbell said, made all the difference: "even little things, like organising me a parking space that was suitable for me to manoeuvre the buggy around."

However, she said that being a parliamentarian had some unavoidable consequences on family life.

"The reality of the job is that you're elected to serve your constituents for a term, so while I had maternity leave from my ministerial duties I still had constituency duties."

But she said she has managed to strike a balance between work and family: "My husband is a stay-at-home dad, but whenever I possibly can I get home for the children's bedtime."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites