Susan Edmunds: Being a good mum doesn't mean staying at home video

We don't need to know what Jacinda Ardern plans to do with her uterus.

We don't need to know what Jacinda Ardern plans to do with her uterus.

OPINION: New Zealand has turned itself inside out arguing about whether it's acceptable to ask new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern whether she wants to have children.

It's been heartening to see how many people acknowledge that it's wildly inappropriate to wonder what a would-be prime minister wants to do with her uterus.

But the more pressing issue seems to be that we cannot shake the idea of what we think "a mother" should be.

I have lost count of the number of people who said she couldn't be a "good" mother and a "good" prime minister at the same time. Someone would have to miss out, they said.

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No, we don't need to know about Jacinda Ardern's baby plans. Ever.


The assumption seems to be that the only way to be a "good" mother is to be 100 per cent hands-on at all times - and any kids getting any less than their mother's undivided attention are missing out.

It's the same mindset that drives even less high-achieving mothers mad trying to make sure they give their children magical childhoods, while keeping the house Pinterest-worthy and the career LinkedIn-ready, all while people fall over themselves to tell them how great it is when their partners "help out".

Why does this double-standard persist?

While we accept our current male prime minister with six kids (and a predecessor, Jim Bolger, had nine), we cannot seem to process the idea that a woman could have even one baby and maintain a high-level career at the same time.

Could Ardern have a baby while she was prime minister and stay at home for a year, hosting coffee group and attending baby gym? Probably not.

But it's past time we acknowledged that there is more than one way of being a mother, and breastfeeding aside, men can do everything that women can, to raise their offspring.

Ardern could be just as good a mother sharing the load with her partner, or calling in outside help.

It does not seem to have occurred to anyone that her partner might be willing to become the stay-at-home parent, or even to put his career on the backburner slightly to support her in the fulfilment of what is probably a lifelong dream.

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If she chooses, Ardern the prime minister could be a loving mum to her kids and a fantastic role model to all of our daughters who might want to see that they can aspire to the highest office without having to sacrifice a family.

We might even be forced to question some of the artificial boundaries that we try to draw around work and home life, which make some women feel embarrassed about letting their domestic obligations seep into their professional lives.

Having a baby while serving as prime minister would be hard, undoubtedly. 

But if Ardern could be the catalyst for New Zealand shaking up its thinking and realising that there is more than one way to be a "good" mother, she would do a service to us all.

The key phrase in all this, though, is: If she chooses.

Her plans are hers alone. We should put this outcry - and the rest of our handy stockpile of judgement for parents - aside and just let her get on with it.

I'd like to see her handed precisely as many questions about her reproductive organs as have been levelled at Bill English and John Key over their careers. 

How about we get her to make a pizza, instead?

 - Stuff


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