Have you ever noticed how some women just seem to have it all sorted? I didn’t realise how multi-talented women really were until I became a mum.
Since the birth of my third child I have appreciated my mother even more, admired other mothers tremendously and realised not only do I have a passion to make a difference in the lives of others, I want to be a good mum.
There are a number of conversations you start having by virtue of carrying out ‘mummy’ duties. Breastfeeding in public places can be as political as protesting or standing on the picket-line. Some people frown, or turn away and look a bit embarrassed and others give a reassuring smile as if to say ‘Good on You!’
Women share quite openly their experiences of Breastfeeding, when they made the choice to go back to work, how to manage illness when the whole family catches a bug, coping with the pressure of achieving work-life balance. This world of conversation can be as foreign to some people as a different language but it’s a perspective into which I have now been inducted.
The fact remains women who choose to Breastfeeding are doing so because they want their children to have the best possible start in life. And we shouldn’t assume that all women who bottle feed didn’t try to breast-feed. It’s not easy business persevering with the right latch and getting the timing right, expressing, producing milk like a well run factory. It can be hard and I support every mum who makes the best choices she can to provide a healthy loving environment for bubs.
Returning to work is a decision that causes a whole heap of stress. If I had a dollar for every moment that I questioned myself on this single issue, there would be a tidy sum put away.
I have heard horror stories of women who returned to work with no consideration about their change in circumstances but I must say that they are the exception not the rule. New Zealand has come along way. We can chalk up many gains for women starting with the first country to give women the right to vote. Progressive change towards family friendly workplaces is considered a requirement for the modern labour market, improving productivity, overall job satisfaction and loyalty of employees.
Labour’s introduction of the Paid Parental Leave entitlement for 14 weeks sought to recognise that there is no greater job than that of being a parent. Sue Moroney’s Bill proposing to extend that leave to 26 weeks is a step in the right direction. Sadly though not surprisingly the Government is seeking to Veto the move, the fact that its on the radar of many families around the country will build momentum and it certainly ‘an idea whose time has come’.
Employers in each workplace should be encouraged to consider what level of flexibility is reasonable and achievable according to their circumstances. In Parliament, if you have the privilege of serving as an MP there are some important obligations that must be met to achieve the required outcomes of the role. But we must remember that MPs have working conditions, hours, workplaces and performance indicators that are very unique.
Our job requires a lot of travel, a high level of public interaction, long hours sitting in Parliament, long meetings, more travel, advocacy and community work, and regular weekend obligations. The performance measures are peculiar consisting of re-election, public visibility, media profile, performance in the House and attendance in Parliament. It’s no wonder that many women get turned off by the whole scene. The whole idea of having children while serving as an MP can be even more daunting.
The short answer is that many women in our Parliament have done this in stoic fashion Ruth Richardson, Whetu Tirikatene and Katherine Rich all had their children while serving as MPs. They for me are examples that it is possible. Politics aside (for a moment) each one made progressive and subtle changes to the Parliamentary environment to accommodate their needs and those serving after them have benefitted.
My call is simple. Consideration of leave provisions for nursing mum MPs during exceptional circumstances where Members are required to sit in the House under urgency. No mum should be required to take their child to their workplace during the evening especially if they have no care provisions. They should be able to have their vote cast in a way that preserves their ability to perform a necessary duty for the role of MP without prejudicing their Party. This is a matter for Parliament to consider.
One small baby step for Parliament would send a signal to all workplaces that working mums are an asset to the workplace not a burden and if they choose to Breastfeed, then that has to be good!