Opinion: That Aussie author is wrong about Jacinda Ardern

  • 23/07/2018

Tash Barneveld for The Spinoff

OPINION: We all knew Jacinda Ardern's performance as a parent would be endlessly scrutinised, opined upon, and criticised as long as she was prime minister. I mean, here I am, writing yet another opinion piece about it. But I felt like I had to.

Natalie Ritchie's story in the New Zealand Herald was just the latest in a tidal wave of words about our prime minister. Isn't it incredible how one woman, making one choice, can inspire so many to speak?

How people parent is none of our business. The choices we make about our families are as individual as we are, and there should be no obligation whatsoever to disclose reasons behind our life choices.

Why should it be any different for our prime minister?

There are a lot of problems with Ritchie's piece but the most stark is how she abides by the patriarchal stereotypes she claims to be railing against. For one thing: she pushes the sexist age-old assumption that a mother is the only capable parent, and should therefore opt to work fewer hours and hand off responsibility to colleagues who are (as Ritchie would have it) more focused and therefore capable of carrying out their duties.

There seems to be little understanding that many women want to return to work; Ritchie's argument erases the idea of work as rewarding in and of itself. As a voter I damn well hope our prime minister is itching to return to the important job of making critical decisions to impact the future of our country. If she doesn't, I have confidence in her to have the self-awareness and support to choose her future path.

PM Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford announced the birth of baby Neve on social media.
PM Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford announced the birth of baby Neve on social media. Photo credit: Instagram / @jacindaardern

We have no information regarding the workplace systems that may have been adapted in order to support Ardern in continuing her work, nor the specifics of how Neve's care will be arranged. Attacking Ardern for "offloading" and "expelling" her daughter perpetuates the demonisation of women for choosing what is best for them and their families.

I for one have a far more optimistic view of the prime minister's parenting arrangements. Neve will have a positive male role model who demonstrates how the work of caring for others can be successfully and willingly done by men. She'll have a mother who comes home satisfied and fulfilled by her work, and is a better parent for it. She'll be part of a nation which embraces family work-life arrangements covering a full spectrum of options: not either/or.

I'd like to challenge Natalie Ritchie to sit with her discomfort over Ardern not being the lead parent. Consider where this discomfort originates - and why she deems it necessary to criticise with such harshness.

Why are we afraid of women who choose work first? Why, even as we shout louder for family-friendly and flexible workplaces, do many of us struggle to abandon the idea of the mother as the only one capable of parenting?

We all have the right to decide what works for our families, and ours alone. If the choices someone makes leads to your discomfort, take the time to ask yourself why. It's OK to be uncomfortable. It's OK to disagree with the choices of others (including those of our leaders). It's not OK to project what we think is acceptable parenting onto anyone else.

Regardless of what Ardern does, she's going to get some of it wrong - just like all of us. She's making decisions that reflect the society we live in, and while we all want it to be better or different, this is but one step on the way.

Change doesn't come quickly, it happens slowly. Having such a high profile person on a journey many of us identify with is an important part of progress towards equality; an equality that benefits everyone, not just a privileged few.

Tash Barneveld owns a yarn shop and co-organises WWGSD while parenting her two year old son and two stepdaughters.