An Empty Tank But A Full Heart

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20 January 2023

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The sudden shock announcement of the resignation of our Prime Minister caught us all off guard yesterday and yet it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The rumours were swirling last year that she might not want to run for another term yet we thought she would continue on undaunted. (Heck we even wrote about what that would look like here in an unfortunate clash of timing.). Hadn’t the spirit and resolve of her tenure only ever been thus. Resilient in the face of adversity, impervious to the vitriol and the personal jibes against her. 

We all know a Prime Minister’s workload is the size of a Russian tank and yet the rare glimpses we had of her juggling a child with a hectic schedule – that infamous facebook live stream with little Neve asking for a bedtime story, kisses at the UN – let us imagine that it was all doable. Last year WOMAN reached out to Jacinda Ardern for our Mother’s Day issue for a contribution to a story we were running about motherhood. I have no doubt that if we had asked her for something about herself she would have declined, but this was an opportunity for her to express gratitude in public to her own mother and she didn’t turn us down.

It’s a frank and honest letter written in the stretch of time post dinner when (let’s be honest) that extra shift of work is often done by women.

She’s writing from the Beehive. Late at night. Her own mother is looking after Neve. There’s a level of exhaustion in evidence – the time is late, there’s a mountain of work on her desk and she’s still not home. Her letter outlines to her mother all the things that have made her so grateful for her love. It tells us more about our Prime Minister than if we had interviewed her ourselves. As a woman leader she has modelled the very attributes that she herself admires in others. Perseverance, empathy, kindness. She is a person of genuine integrity and no one listening to her announcement yesterday would doubt her commitment to her job and to her family. As she says to her mother, so we say to her now “you were more than good enough”.

The Prime Minister’s letter to her mother

Dated May 2022

“Dear Mum,

I am writing this from my office at the Beehive. It’s just gone 10pm. Clarke’s away filming, so you’re at home with Neve. When I left this morning, you were in a nightie, patiently sitting with my three-year-old daughter who has no concept of time. She thought 7am was a perfectly respectable moment to start a craft project (a unicorn mask with bedazzling, to be precise), and you knew that if you sat down with her, distracting her with tiny pink gems, it would be easier for me to slip out.

I don’t believe that having kids makes us love our mothers more – for me, that vessel was already full. But having a daughter and watching you with her reminds me of what it was to be raised by someone with so much kindness, patience, and care.

“And yet, you have never claimed perfection, and nor do you expect it in others – including your kids”

I watch our young people now and feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Not only do they have the same pressures that past generations felt, but also they have the added weight of their lives being documented and commented on in a way that others before them have not. Being a teenager was already hard – it now seems relentless. It feels like one of the few antidotes is the unconditional love of others in our lives. And I always had that.

I remember the first set of serious exams I faced as a young person – I would have been 16. I studied hard. Even though I had two more years of this kind of assessment, it felt somehow like these exams were make or break. I was almost through them all when I fell at the last hurdle, mistiming my last exam and failing to finish a critical essay. I was gutted.

I remember arriving home and you asking me what was wrong. I could barely get out the words before I burst into tears. I can’t remember every word you shared, no doubt I was still rerunning the day in my head, but I do remember how you made me feel. That I was loved. And that the only thing you expected from us as your kids was that we do our best – whether it was school, relationships – life. You just wanted us to try, and be kind.

You then decided to distract me, so you drove to United Video and hired Mr Holland’s Opus. Not your best choice. While it has a strong “life doesn’t always turn out as planned” theme to it, it’s otherwise 143 minutes of gut-wrenching anguish. Still, I appreciated the gesture.

But that was just one minor moment of many. And in all of life’s twists and turns, I can hand-on-heart say that there has never been a time in my life where you, as my mum, made me feel as if I wasn’t good enough. In a world full of quick judgements, where it’s so easy to feel full of self-doubt, I can’t imagine a greater gift from a mother.

To Mum, on this Mother’s Day, my greatest desire is that you feel the same in return. That you never cast your mind back, as mothers and women so often do, and question whether you were good enough. Whether you met some impossible expectation that for whatever reason we place on ourselves as parents.

You were more than good enough. You are my beloved mother, and I will be forever grateful for you.

Love, Jacinda”

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