Is pregnant PM a world first?

January 19, 2018

Is this another world first for New Zealand?:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her partner, Clarke Gayford, have today announced that they are expecting their first child in June.

“We’re both really happy. We wanted a family but weren’t sure it would happen for us, which has made this news unexpected but exciting.

“Yesterday I met with Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, to share the news and to ask him to take on the role of Acting Prime Minister for a period of 6 weeks after our baby is born.

“As is the case when I am overseas, Mr Peters will act as Prime Minister, working with my office while staying in touch with me. I fully intend to be contactable and available throughout the six week period when needed.

“Mr Peters and I have a great relationship, and I know that together we’ll make this period work. I will make arrangements for appropriate Ministers to act in my other portfolios over the six weeks I am away from Parliament.

“At the end of my leave I will resume all Prime Ministerial duties.

“Clarke and I are privileged to be in the position where Clarke can stay home to be our primary caregiver. Knowing that so many parents juggle the care of their new babies, we consider ourselves to be very lucky. . . 

Several women have become mothers while they’re MPs but this is the first New Zealand Prime Minister to be pregnant in office.

Jenny Shipley’s children were in their teens when she became PM and Helen Clark didn’t have children.

Someone with a better knowledge of New Zealand political history than mine might correct me, but I can’t name a New Zealand Prime Minister who became a father while in office. *

My knowledge of international political history is even more scanty. I can name several women Prime Ministers with children but none who gave birth while holding the office.

My generation was probably the last to be brought up thinking we’d marry and have babies, in that order, and that at least while the children were young would put mothering before paid work.

Younger women have been brought up being told girls can do anything which is often interpreted to mean not just everything but everything at once.

That is of course impossible. But younger men have also been brought up with the expectation they will play a much more active role in parenting than the men of earlier generations did.

Providing the pregnancy, birth and childhood go smoothly, it is possible for a woman to grow and deliver a baby, take some leave, then return to work and for the baby’s father to take on the role of stay-at-home parent.

As Liam Hehir says the country should keep running while she’s on leave.

. . . This is good news. Children are a blessing. But apart from happiness for Ardern and her partner, there is another reason to be glad. This is an opportunity for New Zealand to demonstrate its bona fides as a mature and stable liberal democracy.

The good governance of this country should not depend on the constant availability of any one person. If a system breaks down over the temporary absence of a single individual, then that system is not fit for purpose. The prime ministership is not, and should never be, be a single point of failure for the country as a whole. . . 

Mark Richardson was roundly criticised for asking Ardern about her plans to have a family.

The criticism wasn’t entirely fair. The couple’s family plans are their own business but a question on the impact that might have on the country is legitimate.

At the time I thought the critics were underestimating the demands of both roles – that of Prime Minister and parenting. But others can deputise for the PM.

Women have been raising families while their children’s fathers were in demanding jobs for aeons. That is still more common but men are increasingly taking on parenting to enable their children’s mothers to pursue their careers.

Before he was an MP, Bill English was a stay at home parent while his wife Mary worked as a GP.

New Zealand’s systems should be robust enough to ensure there is no cause for concern about the running of the country while motherhood takes priority for Ardern and the running of their home and family is not our business.

I wish them well and I hope that everything goes as planned.

Whether or not it does, I hope that the baby will come before the country.

There are plenty of other people who are able to put New Zealand first. All babies deserve parents who will put them first.

* Update: The Herald says: Benazir Bhutto, then President of Pakistan,  gave birth to her daughter Bakhtawar on January, 25 1990,  while in office.

 

 

 

 


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