Dear NZ, I need your help.

Dear NZ,

I need your help. And here’s why.

About three weeks ago I was visiting a local school and talking to two mums with school-aged children. Like many of the conversations I have with parents, this one traversed the familiar territory of shared struggles, experiences and day-to-day challenges of trying our best to manage the important work of parenting while simultaneously treading financial waters in a city that is becoming increasingly unaffordable to live in. Struggle is becoming the new norm in Auckland.

We drank tea together and by the time mine was cool enough to sip we landed on the subject of our generation. To a greater or lesser extent, all three of us had put our career and educational goals and aspirations on the back burner in order to manage the work of being parents. And each of us was wholeheartedly happy to do that – because we had independently made these decisions in good conscience, for differing reasons but ultimately (and similarly) for the sake of our families and children. But in the course of our conversation we all related to the shared understanding and frustration that for the most part the actual day-to-day work of being a parent often feels more or less taken for granted.  And although this is something I know from first-hand experience, it really hit me when one of the mums said, with her eyes slightly downcast, “I haven’t worked for five years, I’ve just been a stay-at-home mum.” She seemed embarrassed when she said it and the way she emphasised just, the intonation – almost like she felt like less – it made me feel so sad.

In response to her, without even thinking I said the words that go through my brain just about every second of the day: “But you have been working! Parenting and running a household IS work, and hard work at that – it’s just completely under-valued, under-recognised and unpaid!” The words tumbled out of my mouth as I recalled all of the day-to-day shared tasks and skills we all knew were part and parcel of bringing up kids – as a parent at any given moment in time you’re a nurse, a counsellor, a confidant, a teacher, a cleaner, a financial advisor, a nutritionist, a project manager, a rule-maker, a chef, a chauffeur, a scheduling coordinator – you name it, parents do it….as well as

After I said the words, the mum I was speaking to gave me a lovely look that I can only describe as hopeful and kind, and asked me how I had done it, how had I achieved all of the things I had achieved? and how was I managing to do it all while running for Parliament now …as well as…being a parent?

And in response I gave her the answer I always give when people ask me that question (because I do get asked it a lot). I smiled and shrugged my shoulders and said, “oh you know – just like you do the things you do – you know what it’s like, it’s hard but we just do it, right?” But after the words came out of my mouth I almost felt like the answer was somewhat inadequate – like what I actually needed was hours, time and space to give her what she wanted to hear. The secret to my ‘how’.

Three weeks on, and after lots of reflection – especially after all of the public conversation and discussion over the last week regarding our future Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s personal and private choices about whether or not to have children (which is absolutely nobody’s business but her own) – it has finally dawned on me that that conversation three weeks ago with those mums was the key to what I needed to unlocking something that hasn’t been sitting well with me for sometime now…

 

as well as

three little words that capture the point of impact where the proverbial mother ship has hit a societal iceberg here in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

You see I think we have a major issue on our hands in that because everything below the line of …as well as…is so undervalued and unrecognised as valid and important work, a generation of parents including those who want to be parents one day, and women in particular, are silently grappling with what increasingly feels like a cultural, economic and societal unspoken either or choice of having children or not having children based on trying to figure out how not only how much of the above the line…as well as… part of the equation you can achieve, but also how well you can do it.

And as a 34 year old mother of two children (7 & 3) who has somehow managed to not only survive but conquer that societal iceberg with a diplomatic career, first-class masters degree, long-listed-award nominated published first book of poetry and a newly built four bedroom house in central-west Auckland (in the middle of what is probably our country’s worst ever housing crisis) – who is running for Parliament – it is only at this very moment in time, writing this letter to New Zealanders, right now, that it has dawned on me how exceptional, extraordinary and unique my life is.

You see having survived and conquered the iceberg has become so normal for me that until I woke up this morning and wrote this piece, I didn’t even realise that that IS the value that I bring to NZ’s Parliament as a citizen who has put her name up and said I would like to represent you.

Because not only have I done this (and am I doing this now) and surviving, but in doing so I now have the knowledge and understanding of what needs to change in order for others to succeed as parents in our society, both the parents of this generation and the parents of the next. And that knowledge is priceless, its intuitive and its become part of who I am and how I live my life – and if the outcomes from my life so far are anything to go by – then when applied at the highest levels of NZ’s decision-making table, it’s going to make a difference, for good.

And what’s more in standing for and with the Green Party of Aotearoa/NZ I know I’m standing with the Party that has the policies, political will and courage to support me in the application and expression of that precious knowledge to help us make the changes that our society needs so that parents and carers have more choices, and feel supported and feel valued in New Zealand for their work and for the important contribution that they make.

But in order to do that, I need your help NZ. I’m in the top twenty on the Green Party list and I’ve got a very real chance of getting into Parliament on 23 September – but in order to get there I need each and everyone of you to seriously consider giving my party the Green Party of Aotearoa your Party Vote.

And the reason I need you to commit to doing it now – in this election – is because I believe that the particular skills, knowledge and experience that I bring to the table are desperately needed in order to help not only reverse the damage that has been caused as a result of National’s harmful social investment approach  but even more importantly to be part of the conversation around developing an alternative approach to the neo-liberal reform agenda that was introduced by the fourth Labour government in 1984 and which (in my opinion) has in large part been the major contributor to creating the societal iceberg that so many are trying to either survive, conquer or avoid. This is the elephant in the room and I’m comfortable with being the person to name it for what it is – not in a horrible or vindictive or accusatory way – but in an honest and respectful way that is constructive and is going to lead to conversations that will inform the options for you NZ to consider in the future around what our 21st century outcomes are going to be. Because I want them to be the best they can be, not for me – I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted to in my life and career – but for all of the people out there who’ve either hit that iceberg, will hit it, or trying are just trying to avoid it.

And THAT is the reason for why I’m asking for you to give me and the Green Party of Aotearoa/NZ your party vote on 23 September, which just happens to be my 35th birthday.  Your call xo

ngā mihi nui,

~ Leilani