Leader of the Labour Party, Ivana Bacik is mother to two daughters, aged 14 and 16
There are quite a number of different lessons that [the girls] have taught me over the years, particularly as young children.
The best advice I got when I first had a baby, which I still think is brilliant, is ‘never try to make a happy baby happier’. Basically, if the child is happy, don’t intervene to try and make them happier — if your baby is sleeping peacefully, don’t wake them up because you think they’re hungry. Or if they’re playing contentedly with a soft toy, don’t give them another one because you think they’re getting bored with it.
When you think about it, it’s a great life lesson. We tend to attribute feelings to babies, whereas when they’re very small, if they are happy, just leave them be. I have used that lesson in all sorts of settings over the years.
You learn to survive on very little sleep, and there’s an excellent lesson to be gained in time management generally. I’ve seen research that says mothers are really efficient time managers, particularly those juggling paid work, home care and childcare — I’m all about getting more jobs done in a compressed time.
I’m definitely aware of the danger of ‘presenteeism’, or back-of-the-chair syndrome — where people want to be seen to be in the workplace for long hours. But there is a tipping point where it impedes productivity. Those who are caregivers of small children may tend not to fall victim to presenteeism.
One time-management tip I use is to compartmentalise — to get one job done and not think about anything else. I also love making lists every day.
On the positive side, I have learned about the joy of parenting. We don’t often talk enough about that, especially in settings where we’re talking about women’s career progression and the difficulties of childcare. There’s the lovely quiet enjoyment of just spending time with your children, and I’m glad to say I’ve really enjoyed that at every age.
There’s a wonderful point at which you’re taking them to the playground with a cup of coffee and meeting other parents. It’s a really joyful time.
It’s also great to find commonalities with them now they’re older, and to have really interesting conversations with them. I’m a massive Star Wars nerd — I have been for years, since I was a kid — and I’m delighted to say that I’ve been surpassed on that path.