When she’s not presenting her Channel 4 lunchtime show, Steph McGovern is living the life of every parent of a child under three: juggling childcare and marvelling at bumblebees.
“It isn’t for everyone,” says the host of Steph’s Packed Lunch on becoming a mum. “And I think the thing is, you don’t need children to make your relationship better. I’ver got a great relationship anyway and having a child isn’t the thing that makes things better.
“You have a child because you both want to share experiences with someone new who loves you unconditionally and that is fabulous, but it is also hard work.”
The 40-year-old is notoriously private about her family life, choosing to keep her daughter and partner’s name out of the media. But to mark Pride month, we’re chatting all things same-sex parenting.
“I think we are amazing at tag-teaming. You know what they say about that whole ‘mum guilt’ thing? Well because we’re both mums it feels really equal,” says Steph.
“We’ve both got good jobs so we’re both doing that ‘can we balance our career and being a mum?’. Weirdly there’s no stereotypes on us. There’s not like one of us is the dad and therefore they’re meant to go out to work…you know there’s none of that.
“And I do think that’s partly because – whether it’s right or wrong – it’s often assumed that it’s the women who end up doing most of the child care. But when it’s two women there’s no debate about that. It works really well.”
Though there are now more than 212,000 same-sex families in the UK, many schools and nurseries still defer to heteronormativity.
“I know a friend who’s child came home with a Father’s Day card and she has two mums and the nursery hadn’t realised for whatever reason and those days, if that ever happens, might be hard,” she says. “I remember filling out some forms when my little girl was first born and it was like ‘father’, ‘mother’ and all that, so there’s still those things.”
But, overwhelmingly, Steph’s experience has been positive. “My view of it is, it’s our job as happy, confident gay women to tell people and make them aware of where they’ve got it wrong, because it’s not malicious,” she says.
The best thing about being a parent, she says, is watching her daughter experience things for the first time.
“So like yesterday, I was putting the bins out and my little girl followed me out and she noticed some flowers in next door’s garden and then she saw a bumblebee fly out of one and she was like, ‘Ahhhh bumblebee!’ She just stared at this flower and this bumblebee and I thought, ‘Wow, you’re seeing that for the first time. Your little mind’s just been blown!’”
She says she swaps stories like this and plenty of parenting advice with Packed Lunch team members Gemma Atkinson and Luke Kempner behind the scenes on Packed Lunch. Luke’s daughter is teething at the moment, and his co-hosts wasted no time telling him how he can support his wife.
“Me and Gemma were like, ‘Right, this is what you need to do love. You need to remember that your wife’s doing all of the breastfeeding, so you need to take on other jobs for her because you can’t do that bit. You need to tag team in the night. Don’t both of you stay up and try to do the whole thing,’” says Steph.
“And with me and Gemma, we’re just talking about all the bugs our little girls are getting! We don’t compare, like ‘is your daughter doing her spellings yet?’ because I don’t think that’s healthy. Everyone grows and develops at a different pace, but we do compare medical things because that’s what you spend most of your time worrying about.”
It’s certainly a change for Steph, who forged her career as a business reporter for the BBC before landing her own Channel 4 show in 2020. She seems to have taken to the role of mum just as easily.
“I’m really lucky that I’ve lots of friends who have done it before us and paved the way,” she says. “It’s not as scary as you might think. The scariest bit is the sleep deprivation, but everyone’s going to have that.”
Despite being out to friends and family, it was only when she announced her pregnancy that the outside world heard about Steph’s sexuality, because, as she puts it, “Obviously, everyone then asked questions.”
She was “anxious” about the story breaking, but was quickly reassured when the messages of congratulations started rolling in.
As her daughter gets older and asks more questions, Steph acknowledges there might still be some elements of same-sex parenting to figure out. But isn’t that just what all parents are doing, muddling along and filling in the blanks as they go? And who knows, with more queer families living their authentic lives in the public eye, our kids may even surprise us.
“It’s funny because I’ve said to my partner, ‘What do we do when we start getting asked the questions like ‘why don’t I have a daddy?’’ or whatever else,” says Steph.
“The other day one of my little girl’s cousins was round and said to her mum, ‘Why don’t I have two mummies? I really want two mummies.’ And I was like, that’s really funny, I hadn’t thought that. The other side of this is kids asking their parents why they’ve got mummy and a daddy and not two mummies.”
Read the full interview with Steph McGovern – where she talks Packed Lunch, Pride parenting and more – on HuffPost UK Entertainment.
Steph’s Packed Lunch airs Monday to Friday at 12.30pm on Channel 4 and All4. Steph’s Packed Lunch Pride Special airs Friday 1 July, 11.30am, Channel 4 & All 4.