About ten days ago, New Zealand received the news that our recently-appointed Prime Minister is expecting her first baby. Gasps everywhere, the Facebook feeds of Kiwi women going crazy! It has given us a lot to think about.
Jacinda has been open about her struggle to conceive and New Zealand knew this before our general election in September, 2017. Once she unexpectedly became leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, only weeks before the elections were held, she stopped trying for obvious reasons. This pregnancy came as “a happy surprise” for Jacinda and her partner, Clarke, when she was in the middle of negotiations to form a coalition government after our elections.
Life has been full of surprises for Jacinda in the last few months, asking her to step up more and more. Within the space of approximately 4 months, she became leader of the Labour Party, then Prime Minister of New Zealand and, now, Mother.
Imagine that moment when she first realised she was pregnant. What was her first thought? “I can’t believe it, this is wonderful!” or “oh no, I’ve got to tell the whole country that their new Prime Minister is pregnant!”? Were her tears those of joy or apprehension? Although she and is clearly thrilled to have become a mother, I have no doubt that, in private, she has experienced plenty of moments of panic and overwhelm. What she’s good at, though, is meeting the challenges Life believes she is capable of.
Always realistic and positive, Jacinda has explained to the country her plans to have 6 weeks off work when the baby is born then for Clarke to take over as the stay-at-home parent. Her deputy, Winston Peters, will act as Prime Minister while she’s away. Speaking to the press, Jacinda said a number of times that she feels she is in a “privileged” position with lots of support around her to help make this juggle of two extraordinary roles possible. She also said that, while she and Clarke have a plan, nothing is set in stone and they will be flexible, adjusting things as they need to.
“CAN SHE DO IT?”
This is the question on everyone’s minds.
There have been a few female politicians in New Zealand who have stepped down from their roles because, despite their best efforts, they just couldn’t find a way to make caring for their babies & young children and fulfilling their parliamentary roles work. As you can imagine, the press were quick to remind Jacinda of these women’s stories and to ask her how she thought she was going to manage it with even more responsibility than these women had.
Jacinda made two points in response. Firstly, that each woman’s situation is different in regard to the amount and type of support that they have available to them and that she has a “village” of helpers surrounding her. Presumably, being Prime Minister, she has financial and other resources available to her that these other political mothers did not. Secondly, she said that women all over the country have successfully found ways to juggle full-on jobs and mothering and she sees her position as no different. She knows it’s no mean feat to lead the country and mother a baby at the same time but Jacinda feels that the women who have done this in the past have “paved the way” for her.
Here is a video of her first interview with the press outside her home (it beings 9mins in).
But, here’s the question – would people be asking “can she do it?” if Jacinda were male? When Tony Blair announced that he and his wife, Cherie, were unexpectedly pregnant during his term as Britain’s Prime Minister, the public response was only positive and no one asked if he could do it. I don’t recall what the Blair’s specific childcare arrangements were but Clarke being the stay-at-home parent is no different to Cherie or any other parent staying home with their baby so that their partner can go to work.
Being young, female and Prime Minister, Jacinda was already a trailblazer and now she is even more-so. I regard her as a role model. My aspirations are different to hers, but here’s what I appreciate about Jacinda –
* her personal compassion & openness (rather than presenting a perfect picture of herself).
* her willingness to look for and receive the support around her (rather than insisting she will do it all herself, as many of us women mistakenly believe we must).
* her determination to make things work and her willingness to be flexible & creative in the face of unexpected challenge.
For me, it’s not so much that she shows me what can be done but how to go about it. I believe our world leaders are here to teach us something. Not all are role models, some serve to highlight for us what we don’t want to spur us into action (guess who?). But Jacinda is a role model for women – baby or not.
IN SUMMARY – ALL EYES ON JACINDA
The New Zealand Labour Party did not get the highest number of votes in the general election. They were able to get into power by creating a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party. There are some New Zealanders with the attitude “I didn’t want Jacinda to be Prime Minister in the first place and now she’s pregnant! What a mess!”.
So all eyes are on Jacinda. But they were already on her, given her quick rise to Prime Minister and her youth especially. Some will be looking on, unfortunately, in judgement. Others will be willing her success and happiness all the way – and I will be one of those.
Much love to you and your little souls (yours too, Jacinda),
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