Sunday Star-Times

Ardern news is tough on fathers’ egos

- Jonathan Milne

When I take my three young sons to the local Pak’nSave, staff and shoppers compliment me on what a great dad I am.

I don’t say this to boast. I offer this as a small example of just how deeply ingrained our country’s sexism is around parenting roles.

If the fiery red-headed threeyear-old throws a rafter-rattling tantrum and hurls himself on the floor to beat the concrete into submission, other shoppers offer their wry-faced commiserat­ions. (Let’s not even talk about the time one of the older boys ran the trolley into a stack of discounted bottles of red wine).

If their mother takes them to the supermarke­t and they misbehave, other shoppers look at her like she’s a bad mum.

So Jacinda Ardern’s announceme­nt that she and her partner are to have a baby is perhaps our biggest symbolic challenge to the old gender roles since... well, since women first refused to slice the bread for their husbands’ sandwiches.

What’s been less widely discussed (except by right-wing internet trolls) is the effect on government. That’s a pity, because this baby can and should influence policy in very tangible ways.

Stop. Mama-time. Before those of you who are critics of the Prime Minister howl that her decisionma­king should not be compromise­d by her family life, before her supporters object to the paternalis­tic assumption that a woman decision-maker’s brain is governed by her womb.

It is right and proper that those we elect to government bring their heads and their hearts to the Cabinet table. We do not want our politician­s to be automatons. We expect our leaders to learn from their own colourful lives and those around them. Clearly, that does not mean that a Prime Minister without children cannot be an effective advocate for families. But what it does mean is that the greater the diversity of life experience around the Cabinet table (or, indeed, around a boardroom table, or a kitchen table) the more robust the quality of the decision-making.

So where will the First Baby make a difference? Well, for a start, in Ardern’s capacity as Mt Albert MP she has been lobbying to protect the local kindy. Its reprieve was welcome news, and not just because of her pregnancy, she laughs. ‘‘I thought it was a great outcome – regardless of our circumstan­ces!’’

More seriously, though, Ardern is pushing through expanded support for families, controls to make rental homes warm and dry, the replacemen­t of National Standards in primary schools, and a year’s free tertiary education. She will not just be listening to the lobbyists, business and the unions on these matters – she will also be listening to other parents in her antenatal group.

In April, just two months from her due date, she will attend the Commonweal­th Heads of Government Meeting in London. There, world leaders will focus on delivering a more prosperous, secure, sustainabl­e and fair future for all citizens, particular­ly their young people.

Lest there be any doubt about her capacity to make sage decisions there, it’s worth noting the Commonweal­th of Nations emerged from the gradual breakup of the British Empire. One of the biggest steps was in 1960 when Queen Elizabeth signed off British prime minister Harold Macmillan’s plan to hand the African colonies their independen­ce.

She advised on his famous speech, signalling his plans: ‘‘The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it ot not, this growth of national consciousn­ess is a political fact.’’

The Queen was, at the time, seven months pregnant.

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