Natascha Engel: It's no fun being an MP and a mother

Kirkbride and Moran show the difficulties women MPs face

Share
Related Topics

In the furious debate on MPs' expenses, people are beginning to talk about the role of MPs and of Parliament, what they do and what is fair to claim for. The resignation of Julie Kirkbride and Margaret Moran yesterday has sparked particular debate about the needs of women MPs.

I have three small children aged five, four and one. I knew what the lifestyle of an MP was when I chose to run for Parliament, and I chose to have children. No one forced me into either decision.

I love doing this job and I love having young children. Being an MP is fantastically interesting, it's an absolute privilege, but it's certainly not family-friendly. This is a real issue for all full-time working parents. You have to make choices between spending time with your children and promotion (I have chosen the former). You try to do the best you can both at home and at work. Most of the time, you get by. But when children get ill, your carefully-balanced life falls apart.

During my time as an MP, I have taken babies to surgeries and toddlers to public meetings. They live in two places. On Friday evenings they fall asleep in London and wake up Saturday morning in Derbyshire. On Sunday nights it's the other way round. We have two sets of everything. Two sets of toys, clothes, bottles, plastic plates and beds. I can't, don't and wouldn't claim for these items, but it is a heavy cost.

Again, it's a choice. I could chose to leave my family in Derbyshire and spend the week without them in London. I could chose to have them in London and pop up to the constituency at the weekend by myself. But I didn't have a family only to be miles away from them for large parts of the week.

The expenses debate is moving on. It has forced MPs to talk to the people they represent and make them understand what it is they do on their behalf. Only when people realise that we split our time between constituency and Westminster can they begin to understand why we even have a second-home allowance, let alone the items we may or may not charge for.

Once we engage in this debate, people become more interested in the day-to-day workings of what we do. They also question how it is possible to manage a young family with a demanding job. Many of them are doing exactly the same with less.

The issue of expenses is actually about making this job possible to do. The hours and the expenses regime are designed to suit older men whose families have either grown up or who have wives looking after their children.

Many of the women MPs I know, some of them single parents, twist themselves in knots trying to do this job and care for their children in the right way. We want to give all we can to our constituents, we want to take up campaigns and take part in debates on matters that are important to us. But sometimes, when one of your children wakes up with chicken pox and you have to be on committee within the hour, it's just not possible.

I hope we can have a full and rational debate about what kind of Parliament we want, and what sort of people we want to have representing us in Parliament. I hope we can talk more broadly about the lifestyle and sometimes impossible expectations, and come to some workable conclusions, so that Parliament can attract more women with good ideas and yes, some younger women with children too.

The writer is Labour MP for North East Debyshire

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?