So, our Prime Minister had a baby this week. A little girl. The PM will take six weeks “off” – but with her fingers still on the pulse. And then she will be back to work, leading the country.
Jacinda Ardern announced her pregnancy merely weeks after being sworn in as Prime Minister. The announcement prompted a nationwide conversation about working mothers and gender equality.
The question is – are we going to see a “superwoman” or are we going to see a real-life role model?
Jacinda Ardern has been ‘credited’ as a role model for all us working mothers and Mums to be.
“Although she will become the first elected world leader to take maternity leave – and only the second to have a child while in office – Ms Ardern has played down the significant global attention she’s received as a role model,” Nine News Australia.
“Grant Robertson [Minister of Finance] called the new mother a role model for working mothers”.
As a working mother, with a little more than four days’ experience, I think this could go a few different ways.
Firstly, I’ll caveat upfront I’m not a political supporter, so I’m going to keep this non-political.
So, Mother to Mother, I wish Jacinda the best with her precious little girl. I hope she gets to enjoy this newborn stage – when the little bundle just eats, sleeps, poops – and cries when she wants to eat, sleep or poop. Her precious little newborn who doesn’t really want to be out in the big bad world.
I hope that she has time to get to know her baby, to know her signs of hunger and sleepiness, and to know every little wrinkle on her (maybe?) chubby little legs.
I hope she gets to sit on the couch with a TV remote, comfy pillows and chocolate biscuits to settle into those ever-so-slow newborn feeds.
Let’s roll this forward six weeks, the Prime Minister is back at work.
Back in the office. Back making decisions for the entire country (let’s hope she’s not too sleep deprived!), attending meetings with world leaders and being an ambassador for New Zealand, and for women, worldwide. With baby Neve in tow.
I remember when my first baby was six weeks old. She had started to settle into a “routine” – and by routine, I mean she had just started to tell the difference between day and night. I could finally leave the house without it taking an hour (by which time she would have been ready to go back to bed in any case). I had worked out how to put her in a car seat, and put the car seat in the car, and get to the grocery shop ON MY OWN! More often than not I managed to get out of my PJs and get dressed before dinner time, although I don’t think I had yet “done” my hair.
And every week we got out of the house and went to antenatal class. We got to talk to other new mums – what nipple cream are you using? Have you done it yet? When do you get your first period after having a baby?
Is any of this traditional Mum support going to be available for the PM? Can you imagine it – a bunch of new mums sitting around in a circle, babies cuddled in front, talking about whether breastfeeding is a reliable contraception with the Prime Minister. As funny as it sounds, where is she going to get the support from?
What about the pressure? The mounting pressure on her over the last 7 months to perform as the perfect Prime Minister, the perfect mother, and the perfect role model. What if it doesn’t work out like that? What if baby doesn’t sleep? What if our PM just wants to curl up in bed with her snuggly newborn, smell her hair, and sleep away the afternoon.
What if our PM gets the baby blues?
Or is she going to put on her public superwoman cape? Immaculate hair and a perfect smile for the paparazzi the minute she leaves her front door – whether she is out for a meeting with an international leader, or running to the shop for maxi pads and nappies.
“New Zealand Prime Minister Serves as Role Model for Working Mothers.” Cynthia McFadden, correspondent. NBC Nightly News. NBCUniversal Media. 17 Apr. 2018. NBC Learn. Web. 21 April 2018.
My fear here – there is enough pressure on everyday women already.
To have the leader of the country “doing it all” – strong, perfect, flawless – is not helpful for us mere mortals.
I’ve seen the pressure women are put under. The fact that we can earn a wage, often means we are expected to. I have heard so many new Mums say “I have to go back to work – my husband is an Accountant“, and I’ve seen new Dads push their wives to go back to work fulltime – because they can.
It might sound like a first world problem, but sometimes you wonder, if only I made a minimum wage, and it wasn’t worth the daycare bills – then I could have a choice to stay home with my precious new baby.
So let’s hope we don’t have another superwoman on our hands.
Let’s hope Jacinda shares her journey – screaming baby and sleepless nights and all. I want to hear the struggles, and I want to know she has support. I’d like to see our PM take time out to herself and to spend with her little family.
I want to know she is not perfect and that the rest of us mere mortals don’t have to be either.
Then we could see a true role model. An “A-Political” role model. A Prime Minister that truly can be a Mum, and be great at her job.
And then there’s Clarke.
As I’ve said before, women’s rights have progressed so much that we can work in high-level jobs historically reserved for males. We can have careers. And we can still be mothers. But having careers – and being mothers – and trying to run busy households, means we are trying to do it all. And we are stuck. We only have so much capacity and so much time in a day. It just isn’t sustainable.
Which means the women’s revolution cannot move forward until there is a male revolution. Where it becomes acceptable for men to stay home and look after the children. Where the male contribution to the children and the home is valued.
So the role model here isn’t just Jacinda – let’s not forget about Clarke, her Partner. The spotlight on Clarke and his role in taking time off work to be baby Neve’s primary caregiver is key. It’s key to a male revolution – and its key to true gender equality.