The politics of having children

First of all, a quick disclaimer (generally the sign of a good blog post). This post has nothing to do with political allegiance and everything to do with moral allegiance.

On Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern was named leader of the opposition party. On that same day, she was asked on a prime time TV show whether she was planning to have children. As a 37 year old woman, apparently this was an acceptable question to ask. Jacinda handled the question with poise and dignity and the presenter retreated. As a voter, what would have been more interesting to hear would have been more about Jacinda’s priorities and her role as a leader.

However, yesterday the line of questioning was pushed further on The AM Show when Mark Richardson said that the country had a right to know, and that employers should also be able to ask their employees whether or not they’re planning on having children.

It saddened me that instead of celebrating the fact that we clearly have a young, bright and talented woman in charge of the opposition – the debate immediately turned to whether or not she had the right mindset for the role because of her aspiration to have children.

What. The. Hell.

As a woman and a mother who has experienced the “juggling act” (and still does) I thought I might enlighten you on what it takes to become an “expert juggler”.

The night prior to giving birth to our son, I finalised the business plan for My Food Bag. He was 4 weeks old when we pitched the plan to our board. When he was 6 months, we launched the company (while still running our highly successful childcare company and being a full-time parent). Since then, we’ve experienced two late pregnancy losses and finally added our daughter to our family. We also grew the business from $0 too $100M in less than three years, went through two major transactions and created one of New Zealand’s fastest growing businesses in the last decade. All while having children, being incredibly present parents (kindy drop-offs, pick-ups and play dates) as well as dealing with the highs and lows of adult life. I’m not saying this mantra or approach suits everyone, but I’m a firm believer that nothing is impossible.

“Doing it all” doesn’t mean “doing it alone”.

It does, however, have everything to do with surrounding yourself with incredible people, because when you do – anything is always possible.  Yes, my personal situation might be considered unusual in the sense my husband and I don’t just share parenting duties, we are also Co-CEOs.  No, it’s not common.  Yes, it works for us. The point is that the last time I checked, a baby takes two people to be made. And how those two people decide to raise their child is really up to those two people. Not you, not me, not the milkman and certainly not a TV personality. End of discussion.

Then there are the remarks around ‘employers having the right to know’. Speaking as an employer of a team of about 150, I certainly do not feel that I have a right (or a need) to know. My priority however, is to support our team to be the best they can be in their personal lives – because trust me, that’s the key to creating a high performing team.  At My Food Bag we’ve put our money where our mouth is and introduced an incredibly generous, unprecedented (and unrequested) parental leave scheme, enabling either parent to stay at home with their child/children. For that reason we attract and maintain incredible talent.

Lastly, this week, I spoke to a group of about sixty 10-year-old girls at a school in Auckland. One of the first questions which came up was whether I believed women ‘could have an important job and babies’ and it mortifies me that this debate even exists in the minds of our future female leaders in 2017.

Lucky for those girls, I had the opportunity to set them straight and tell them they can be WHATEVER they choose to BE and always to DREAM BIG. I only wish I could whisper these words in every little girl’s ear that was questioning whether this was still true.

So now I’ve said my piece – let’s talk about the skillset required to lead this country. What the priorities are and what change is required. Let’s focus on:

Who is most competent.

Who has the best experience.

Who will make the biggest difference.

What policies are important.

And what type of leadership we require over the next 3 years.

Because really, that’s the only debate we should be having right now.