Ardern Got It Right: Bringing Babies To Work Should Be The Norm

The world is changing one baby at the UN at a time.

We failed. Big time.

The first time my partner and I visited a café shortly after the arrival of our son it was a disaster. We awkwardly manoeuvred the pram into a tight spot next to the table, the nappy bag got its own seat and our son began screaming as soon as the waitress took our order. Within seconds, the two coffees we’d nervously ordered to ‘have here’ had been switched to take-away and we were out the door.

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Walking home we felt miserable -- cafés now seemed off limits. When you become a parent it can feel like the rest of the world is fading away while you’re held hostage at home by a tiny dictator who constantly feeds, poops and has bizarre nocturnal habits.

The experience is different for everyone but seeing your old life fade is a common part of those early days. You’re told to be in nothing but a state of bliss over the bundle of joy you’ve brought home, which you never take for granted because it’s a lucky position to be in, but it’s okay to admit it’s hard.

I wish we’d had the image of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, sitting at the United Nations general assembly with her baby and partner when we had our café problem. You can whine about the position of power they are in -- lots of people are, on social media -- but this image is powerful because it tells parents they can maintain their life beyond nappy changes and mashed banana tsunamis.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds her daughter Neve as her partner Clarke Gayford (L) looks on during the UN General Assembly. (Image:  DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

The challenge is making it work. There are going to be a lot of false starts, but it’s essential to keep trying because it’s vital for parents to know they are more than just a parent; like a work promotion, you’re just adding another line to your email signature with a few changes to how your workday runs.

The title of ‘parent’ can box in a lot of people because you feel isolated from the rest of the world, which is a good thing because most of your energy is dedicated to the human you’ve brought into the world. But your mental health can take hit by experiencing a little FOMO or the realisation that the smallest tasks which once gave you a sense of personal freedom are challenging.

Social activities, work opportunities and holidays seem off limits. All of these feelings are triggered by outdated notion of what a parent should be, a myth designed to keep everything separated, mums at home and dads at work -- you must sacrifice yourself at the altar of perfect parenting.

It’s time to shatter that myth and it starts by giving parents the flexibility to be who they are beyond home life, and sometimes that means taking a baby to the UN!

Even the sight of Ardern’s partner, Clarke Gayford, being on hand to take care of the baby while Ardern can participate is huge. The support of a partner is key when people are trying to get back to work after giving birth. More workplaces are offering extended maternal and paternal leave to acknowledge the shift in the way families operate, especially when there are working parents in the picture. Little things like flexible working hours allow for a better work/life balance that has massive flow-on effects to the way mums and dads feel when they return to work.

Again, huge disclaimer: It. Will. Be. Different. For. Everyone. But the common thread is the yearning to grasp a tiny piece of the life you had before children.

There’s nothing to regret. People will try make you feel like garbage for wanting to be anything more than being a parent. In order to be the best person you can be for your kids, you need to maintain your passions.

Sometimes it will feel impossible, but take courage in people like Ardern who are striving to make it work, to make it better, to make it the norm.

During the chaotic early days with a newborn, to adjusting to toddlers and *gulp* teenagers, the little ways we can do things that make life feel a sense of ‘normal’ is important to our general well-being. Having a child is welcoming chaos into your life and the world is already a mad place to be.

Fight hard to not only be a parent, but to be yourself.