I had an incredibly challenging year last year. I stood for parliament, I worked full time. I tried to keep things going at home and pay the mortgage.
I was incredibly pleased I made the effort given the result but I had absolutely no idea just how hard entering the political arena would be. Nothing can prepare you for it. It is a huge learning curve. The only similar experience I had to fall back on was having my first child. I remember saying to my mother it was like having a bus run over you, then they give you a baby to look after.
I got pregnant about the week before I interviewed for my dream job as a lawyer at the Union Law Centre in Otahuhu. I was morning sick on my first day. I had to break it to my boss. The good news is he is still my friend. I went back to work pretty quickly as I had no maternity leave or payments. It was really hard but it is probably why I am still in law today.
When I returned to work I had very mixed feelings about what I was doing. It likely didn’t help that my son had colic as I was sleep deprived. I cried a lot. I often judged myself as a pretty lousy parent and I was worried others judged me harshly for going back to work. Friends who stayed at home with their children tell me they felt judged for doing the opposite, so apparently you can’t win.
Despite the crying, it was the most amazing time of my life.
When Jacinda announced she was pregnant I was over the moon for her. The pleasure I had for her personally, that she and Clarke wouldn’t miss out on this amazing experience, is also a feeling that translates into why I feel it is so important for the rest of us, that our Prime Minster can have a baby while in office.
Yes, working women will take heart. Women who have worked while having babies have often been portrayed as cold-hearted but it is clear that is the last thing that our Prime Minister is. We will see these stereotypes blasted out of the water.
Fathers who want to stay at home will be equally grateful, but working mothers and stay-at-home fathers aren’t the only ones who benefit. The way I see it, even those who don’t have children benefit from the fundamentally more human approach the Prime Minister is taking to being our leader.
For me, I don’t want a Prime Minister to prove you can work and have children by being superhuman. I want a Prime Minister who can be recognised as a leader while being allowed to be human.
That is what I want for New Zealanders in general. I stood for parliament because I was worried that the prevailing ethos treated people as if they were machines. I saw people being treated like failures if they didn’t fit a predetermined mould or they stumbled. Many people felt like failures when it was just that wages were too low, house prices too high and expectations were unrealistic given how tough life can be and how different we all are.
A country where the Prime Minister has a baby is a country embracing a more interesting and realistic approach to what being human is about. That is why I think it reflects a much broader change than one effecting woman working while having babies.
Simon Wilson said in the Herald recently about Waitangi Day this year: “The new day is today. We are in it now.”
Mr Wilson was talking about the approach the Prime Minister took to that celebration, acknowledging it was not all easy but giving the process of making real connections real time, in this case a week, rather than treating the Waitangi celebrations superficially. For me, we are undergoing a fundamental change to a better, more realistic way of relating to each other. It was present at Waitangi but it was when our Prime Minister announced she was having a baby that I knew the new day was today, and I wish her all the best. (HELEN WHITE)
Helen White representing Labour for Auckland Central.