In the second of our blog posts exploring diversity in elected office we hear from Cllr Shona Haslam, Leader, Scottish Borders Council, on the challenges of being a Councillor and managing the ‘mum stuff’…
‘I couldn’t do your job’ has to be one of the most common phrases I hear on a daily basis. I often ask myself why I do it and why I enjoy it as much as I do. The abuse on social media, the lies that appear about you in the local papers, the people that stop you on the street to shout at you are still outweighed by that email you receive from a grateful constituent who has been battling for years to get the support she needs for her son/daughter who has been struggling at school. It is the little triumphs that make the job worthwhile and the stuff that no one ever sees or ever reads about.
But it is hard. For me it isn’t being a woman that makes it hard. I have never suffered discrimination or felt that my career has been held back because I am a woman. I have felt those things because I am a mum.
When I was elected the local paper article began “Shona Haslam, 42 mother of 2.....”. Seriously, that is what it said. Not “Shona Haslam, former director of Asthma UK Scotland and Peeblesshire Youth Trust”. Or “Shona Haslam, local community councillor and activist”. But “Shona Haslam, 42 mother of 2.”
I have two gorgeous boys, 14 and 10, who I adore, I love spending time with them and I love being mum too. I am a typical mum of boys, spoiled rotten on Mother’s Day, spend most of my life at weekends on a muddy playing field or up a hill freezing. Being a mum does bring challenges that I think are very different to men who have kids, and a wife who is mum.
Councillor Shona Haslam with her children.
Let me explain, mums and dads are different. I don’t know why, I don’t know what the answer is, it is just true. My husband does all the cleaning, all the washing, he is at home when the kids go to school and he picks them up after school. But for some reason I am still Mum. It is still me that the kids need when they are feeling unwell, or when they have a question about girlfriends, it is me that they come to when they are upset or hurt and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Balancing that with being leader of a council is tough though.
Councillors often have more than 5 community councils to attend in a month, council meetings in some areas are still in the evenings. We can’t claim child care expenses (my first job where this is the case), if a child is ill and it is budget time then forget it. It is not a family friendly lifestyle that is for sure.
I look on twitter on a Saturday and see all of my colleagues out delivering leaflets, having surgeries and I think that I am failing somehow because I am doing the football/rugby/swimming/biking shimmy. Am I failing? Should I be out doing all of that stuff? If I was out doing that would I be failing at the Mum stuff?
How do you find that magic balance, where you can be the councillor you want to be, be the mum you want to be, be the wife you want to be, be the person you want to be? Or are we just destined to do all of them at 80% capacity and accept that we are never going to succeed at doing all of them at the same time? (And 80% is not a bad tally.) Answers on a postcard.
What would you put on a postcard to Cllr Haslam? Has your Council employed, or does it intend to employ family friendly policies for elected members? If so why not share your good practice.
Comment below, join us on the knowledge hub Women in Local Government to share your views or contact Hannah.Axon@cosla.gov.uk.