Do critics of New Zealand’s female PM have a point?

Posted in Work and Finance.

Lucy Kippist considers herself a feminist, but she’s wondering if some of the criticism of New Zealand’s PM might ring true …

“This woman needs at least 6 months off”

“One’s baby plans are a personal issue, but I do think people have the right to know how their prime minister intends to do her job when as a new mother she also will have a full-time baby job.”

That’s a quote from an article by News Corp columnist Angela Shanahan, on New Zealand’s new, and very pregnant, prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

“This woman needs at least six months off, not six weeks,” Angela wrote in response to Jacinda’s decision to have a comparatively short maternity leave, to return as leader of her country.

Needless to say the column caught the attention of many and made them angry. How dare this woman question Jacinda’s right to be PM and mother, many have said. Why dim her incredible light at such a pivotal time in gender relations, politics and history, said others. 

But I’m left a little torn. Because while I agree that Angela’s tone is indelicate, and parts of her argument (like the quote above and her pre-conceived notions about breastfeeding and Jacinda’s ‘greenie leftie status’) offensive and flawed, there’s some truth in her words. 

Read more about working mums:

Jacinda’s high profile position and impending motherhood establish her as an incredible patriot for all women, especially the younger women who will follow her. 

Her appointment as prime minister is triumphant and a symbol of hope.

Of that, there is no doubt. 

But, for Jacinda, it could present a magnificent and very personal burden. 

It’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel once your baby arrives

Imagine yourself with a six-week old baby and the responsibility of leading your country – at the same time. 

I don’t doubt that Jacinda will rally all her resources, and the fact her husband will provide support as a stay-at-home dad, is one of the things I love most about her story.

Yet, like Angela, I too have concerns about how Jacinda will feel once her baby arrives. 

Nothing can prepare you for the emotional toll of parenthood, and while it sounds like a cliche, until you hold that baby in your arms, you’ll never be able to comprehend the changes to your inner life. 

The inner burden of parenthood

In a recent article for The New Yorker, mum-of-two, Kimberly Barrington writes poignantly of the cost of being a woman who “has it all”.

She is exhausted, torn, overwhelmed, angry, sad and happy.  In short: she’s emotionally taxed.

Kimberley writes: “I have kids who have forced me to do everything in my life with greater efficiency and the professional assumption that I’m now less efficient after having kids…

“I have the perseverance to pump breast milk what feels like a thousand times a day while on a weeklong business trip and the audacity to expense the cost of shipping said breast milk home only to have that expense denied because what does being away from an exclusively breast-fed baby on a business trip have to do with work OH MY GOD DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW VOLATILE I AM RIGHT NOW?

“I have male colleagues who tell me I’m not aggressive enough and that I will never get what I want out of my team and female colleagues who tell me I’m too aggressive and that I make them sad.

“I have breadwinner status and lead-parent status. I have so much status.

“I have righteous anger and more righteous anger.”

Nobody can predict how life will unfold for Jacinda Ardern.  Nobody can say if she’ll bottle feed or breastfeed, how many terms she’ll serve as PM, or whether her husband will enjoy the stay-at-home role.

What we do know is that she is making a courageous but daunting decision – accepting two of the most significant responsibilities anyone could have in a lifetime – at the same time. 

It’s my hope that in all the support she seeks for her beautiful new baby and husband, she will also invest in her own emotional wellbeing, to ensure that she can carry her magnificent burden.

This post was originally published on Kinderling Kids RadioDownload the Kinderling app for more great stories. 




Get more babyology straight to your inbox