On Politics, Parenting and Possibility

OPINION: First things first –  Jacinda Ardern was absolutely spot on this morning to call out Mark Richardson on the AM show for his ignorant, sexist and discriminatory questions and comments about her plans to have a family, or not. In short, not only was it none of his business (or anyone elses) but as Dr Jackie Blue has rightly pointed out: it’s illegal.

But given that we’re talking about the issue, I’ve decided to lock myself in the bathroom (the only room with a lock in it in my house lol) to give myself five minutes without my three year old clobbering me (he wants a piggy back)  – so I can contribute my thoughts to the conversation about the bigger picture and – possibly more important – issue at hand.

The question being: what’s it going to take before politics – or any other professional sector in our society – can be a space that’s fully inclusive of children and parents?

As former Green MP Holly Walker has aptly written in order to make the necessary structural and cultural changes that are required – we need to talk about the issues that need to be addressed.

So here’s my two cents as a 34 year old career-mother of two young children who is running for Parliament this year on the Green Party list – a decision that I haven’t taken lightly and which I’ve previously written about, most notably in a blogpost earlier this year that started with an expletive….. and followed up by a later piece called Life as a Politician-Poet-Policy-Analyst-Parent. pieces which I know have been widely read and which have resonated with parents that I’ve spoken to – and which are just a tiny drop in an ocean of literature, including Holly’s (excellent) book – that discuss the issues.

So here’s what I think the biggest issue that needs to be addressed before we start to see any meaningful changes in our society: no one is listening to parents and caregivers when it comes to shifting the status quo.

And the status quo is that our economic model does not fully factor in the gross (as opposed to net) cost of caregiving work to individual households.  To put it simply, the real cost of care is being carried by families – and often one parent who either takes time out from their paid employment, or takes a job with less pay and more flexibility, or forfeits their sleep (and arguably their wellbeing)  by trying to catch up on or undertake extra work between the hours of 3am and 5am before the kids wake up.

And how do I know this? I know this because I’ve tried every household caregiving/economic model possible and because none of them are foolproof when it comes to the real and actual costs of care to New Zealand families. And that’s because the economic assumptions that underpin the model are flawed and need to change. Assumptions like: children must been seen and not heard in order for business or work to occur; five days of sick leave for a full time worker is sufficient and will account for not only their own ill health but also the times that their children are sick (go figure); access to affordable, safe and reliable before and after school care is available; that parents can afford more than one car; that parents can save a house deposit and rent at the same time (yeah right); and finally that when everything hits rock bottom and you’re burnt out, tired and stressed, someone will be there to give you a hand so you can have a break from your kids when you actually need the help.

So in short, as I see it until these false assumptions are questioned and properly addressed in policy and practice throughout our society, nothing is going to change and the social cost will continue to be borne out by parents, caregivers and their dependents. Which is why I’m standing for the Green Party of Aotearoa with a commitment to immediately lifting incomes by Mending the Safety Net when we’re in government, introducing a Budget for All Mothers and putting in place the transparency mechanisms required to ensure Equal Pay in Aotearoa New Zealand is just that: Equal.

Those are the possibilities that 23 September (my 35th birthday) presents. This is an important election New Zealand – and a commitment to giving your Party Vote to the Greens means we CAN and WILL change the status quo – for parents, caregivers and all of us – so if you’re listening, please show it by giving us your vote.

~ Leilani