Become a mum and your previous existence is wiped out

Whatever you may have achieved or be interested in is no longer remembered, as you are now seen as a walking repository for Wet Wipes

Stella Creasy
Saturday 25 March 2023 14:41 GMT
Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy holds baby as she is sworn in

An MP recently visited a girls’ secondary school in his constituency and told pupils that I was “as usual pushing too far” in expecting parliament to become family-friendly.

His audience were not yet able to vote, but he wanted to ensure that they knew the limits women who have babies can expect to be subject to. He is not alone in reinforcing the idea that motherhood must always come at a cost – even if fatherhood rarely does. After the celebrations of Mothering Sunday, what comes as a shock for the rest of the year for many women is just how much damage having children does to your life chances.

The raw deal of motherhood is relentless – encouraged by the mantra that if you aren’t struggling, you’re doing it wrong. This view is perpetuated not least by other mothers, arguing that they didn’t complain, so why should you; that “you’re not the first person to have a child”, so why should your experience be any different or better?

Become a mum and your previous existence is wiped out – whatever you may have achieved, or be interested in, is no longer remembered, as you are now seen as a walking repository for Wet Wipes. This can only be prevented if you act as if your children do not exist – hardly spending time with them, and so burning a hole in your heart in the process.

The gender pay gap is now increasingly a punishment for motherhood, hitting women aged 30 and over whether they have children or not, as employers see all of them as risky.

Some 19 per cent of the British public judge a father who looks after his own children as “less of a man” – an attitude that is becoming more popular among younger generations. Headlines agonise about why women are “putting off having kids” or “deciding” to remain childless – as if this personal choice should ever be anyone else’s business.

Conversely, little attention is paid to how IVF is essentially privatised because access is so restricted, or how childbirth is one of the most dangerous things women can do, especially if they are from minority community backgrounds.

The impact of miscarriage is minimised and gets scant public investment, even though it has numerous effects on mental health. Our mental wellbeing is not only affected by baby loss but by pregnancy itself, not to mention new motherhood.

Of those who aren’t made redundant during maternity leave (thousands are) and manage to cover their childcare costs, 86 per cent who work flexibly report suffering discrimination from their employer.

It’s not rocket science that combining caring for children with “traditional” working hours, and locations, is challenging. Yet even with the pandemic providing many industries with experience of how to work differently, the expectation is still that parenting takes a back seat if you want to progress.

Those in jobs that can’t be done at a distance – often the lowest paid – get almost no attention at all. Cute videos of parents being interrupted on Zoom have given way to the reassertion of a macho culture wherein being able to socialise – usually in a bar – means being where the deals and networks of influence are made.

When the government has finally committed to start putting money into childcare, it may seem churlish to complain. Public debate is finally moving away from whether the state should “pay for kids you shouldn’t have if you can’t afford them” – a critique, I notice, that is never raised about roadworks by those who don’t drive.

Yet although it has become socially acceptable for politicians to talk about childcare as economic infrastructure, and not something only women are expected to advocate for, still some complain that any mum who doesn’t yearn to be parenting full-time is behaving scandalously.

Until we stop punishing women for being people as well as parents, progress will always be hard work, because it will be seen as an indulgence rather than integral to a functioning society.

To change this narrative, we must stop presuming motherhood – whether it happens or not – to be a cut-off point for the possibilities open to women. That requires not just properly funded childcare, but investment in maternal health, and normalising family commitments as part of the pattern of daily life.

It also means turning our focus to the dads – not applauding them for doing a bit of “daddy daycare”, but asking how they can become 50/50 care partners.

Movement on childcare funding shows that mothers are now being recognised as a political force – as long as they don’t ask tricky questions about whether the money will actually deliver truly free hours, because that would be a sign of ingratitude.

That’s why, in the run-up to the election, it’s even more important to keep pushing those limits if we are to end the motherhood penalty.

Equality won’t be MPs on school visits telling boys to expect a pay cut if they become a dad; it will be when parenthood is truly considered important enough to invest in for all. Not just for a day, but every day.

Stella Creasy is a British Labour and Co-operative Party politician who has been MP for Walthamstow since 2010. Visit

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in