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A future with mothers in the House?

Thalia Kehoe Rowden imagines a future where we have mothers of young children and babies in Parliament. What a world it could be…

Today in Parliament, the House passed a unanimous motion of congratulations to Prime Minister Golriz Ghahraman, on the birth of her third child.

In a statement to the House, Acting Prime Minister, Kiri Allan, who has also held the role during Ms Ghahraman’s previous two periods of parental leave, said mother and baby were both well, and resting, along with Ms Ghahraman’s partner and two older children, in one of the sixty-two whānau suites at the recently built Whare Manaaki in Newtown. It is likely, Ms Allan said, that the family will remain at Whare Manaaki for two to three weeks, before transitioning back to Premier House, accompanied by a nanny under their universal Best Start entitlement.

Ms Allan, who has been Acting Prime Minister since Ms Ghahraman began parental leave six months ago due to hyperemesis gravidarum, said the Coalition Cabinet remained united behind Ms Ghahraman and wished her all the best for enjoying having a new baby in the house. Ms Allan joked that a household with three pre-schoolers would be not unlike the House of Representatives, except perhaps a little more civilised and reasonable.

The Leader of the Opposition said, in his speech on the motion, ‘As a beneficiary, myself, of New Zealand’s world-leading parental leave policies, I offer my congratulations to Ms Ghahraman and her family. Just last night, my daughter was playing ‘prime minister and cabinet’ with her dinosaurs, and I was reflecting on how far we have come, since the days when fewer girls than boys aspired to serve their communities through political representation. Ms Ghahraman is part of a long line of women in politics who have shown children like my daughter that politics is for everyone, and for that, I thank her. I just hope the toys at my house keep voting National.’ The Opposition Leader spent several years as primary caregiver for his children, and has been a vocal advocate for children’s rights, both in and out of the House.

Small Pollies, the onsite parliamentary childcare centre, also released a statement celebrating the new arrival, saying the staff were looking forward to being part of the family’s support network when Ms Ghahraman was ready to return to duties, part-time or full-time. The couple’s first two children have been enrolled at Small Pollies, and sources say they are likely to use their new child’s childcare entitlement on a Small Pollies caregiver to be present in their home for 20 hours a week, before beginning attendance at the centre.

Throughout her pregancies and parental leave over the last six years, Ms Ghahraman has participated in Cabinet meetings at least twice a month, State visits, and even the occasional debate in the House, often working around 20 hours a week while still spending much of her time with her young children.

Her children have become familiar sights – and sounds – in the House and Beehive, and Ms Ghahraman’s practice of breastfeeding in the House during debates has been credited with an increase in breastfeeding rates nationally, though Ms Ghahraman has previously made statements saying this increase has more to do with the combined work of the Ministries of Health, Women, and Social Development to provide wraparound lactation support to new parents, including home visits to every family in the initial six months of breastfeeding.

As has been their practice over recent years, Ms Ghahraman has said she will continue to share primary caregiving duties, and the statutory 36 months of parental leave, with her partner, who is said to be delighted with the new addition to their family, and grateful to the world-class maternal health system that has provided so much support to both parents throughout pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.

The Mental Health Foundation also released a statement today, thanking Ms Ghahraman for the recent funding boost for perinatal mental health services. The organisation’s chief executive said, ‘We are delighted that Ms Ghahraman has not needed our services, and wish her and her family all the best for the settling-in period. We are also very pleased that the recent funding changes will allow every parent in the nation to access vital health services throughout pregnancy and for up to two years after the birth of a child. The budget increase is a very welcome acknowledgement of the importance of healthy, thriving families to the wider society and economy, and allows DHBs to provide services in accordance with evidence-based best practice.’

Thalia Kehoe Rowden is a former Baptist minister and current mother and development worker. She writes about parenting, social justice and spirituality at Sacraparental.com.

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