Heather Roy

22 July 2018

Being a first time Mum is really hard. Overwhelming love for this tiny human being we’re getting to know coupled with the magnitude of caring for them is physically and emotionally draining.  I clearly remember, in the weeks after the birth of my first baby, considering the day to have been a success if I managed to get one housework job (like hanging out the washing) done in addition to feeding and bathing my son and getting him to sleep. Cooking dinner was an added bonus. I was so tired I would fall asleep each time I sat down to breastfeed.

I was reminded of how overwhelmed new motherhood made me feel when reading Natalie Ritchie’s article PM Jacinda Ardern urged by Aussie journalist to ‘lead like a woman’ published in the NZ Herald this weekend. Being a new Mum and PM is not going to be easy, now matter how effortless it may be portrayed.

Ritchied noted of Ardern:

“ … those images of that Maori korowai forming a sheltering vignette around her near-term tummy sent two conflicting messages, one a positive: “Look! Mothers can lead a country!”, and one a negative: “Long-haul travel? Intense schedule? Easy. Motherhood is nothing.”

Back home, Jacinda showed worrying signs she sided with the latter view. She continued to travel and to post what appear to be personally written updates on Facebook until June 18, a few days before the birth, with scarcely a word about fatigue, excitement, or bub-preparations.

What the women of New Zealand would have loved to hear was defiant honesty and connection — “Does this feathered cloak make my ankles look puffy? Put your feet up, mums-to-be of NZ! Pregnancy is harder than being PM! …”

Many consider the Prime Minister to be an amazing role model – a woman succeeding in a man’s world who is now a mother too. The perception in/by the media is of a woman who can manage everything. **NEWSFLASH** – It’s just not possible to “do it all”. No-one can. There’s no doubting our Prime Minister is very able, but the illusion that doing everything is possible and manageable just sets many kiwi women up to fail. At the very least it promotes a feeling of inadequacy for those who feel they’re not the perfect Mum and career woman combined.

Ritchie commented that “flipping the script” – Mum working with Dad at home caring for the baby – merely perpetuates the old style patriarchy while pretending to do away with it.

“If Jacinda truly believes the Prime Ministership is for women, she will unlock the role from a timetable and conditions designed for a man with a 24/7 wife at home.

What if she led like a woman by forging the first nation to boast a truly female Prime Ministership that accommodated motherhood’s sleeplessness and physical debilitation, the time-consuming and unpredictable daily childcare routine, and a child’s need for a mother’s presence?”

All good points to be raising. Is feminism about women acting as men have for time immemorial, or is it really about forging a way that allows equal opportunity? My vote is for the latter.

I’ve been asked often to speak to groups of women. Usually my topic has been ‘Women can do anything, but not everything’.

I firmly believe that women can do anything … but we shouldn’t confuse this with women doing everything. It just isn’t possible to do everything and remain sane. So, just like our men folk, if we are working we sometimes miss our children’s first steps, or their school performance, or first musical concert. This doesn’t make us bad parents – it means we are human and have to make choices. Fortunately we live in a country where this is largely possible. I think we women are very good at one thing – beating ourselves up about what we can’t or haven’t done. Instead we should focus on what we want to do really well, and when we get there we should celebrate that success.