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Jessica Mutch-McKay on why she struggles with mum guilt

The 1News political editor confesses juggling motherhood and her demanding job has its tough moments.
Nicola Edmonds

When it comes to the daily events that play out in Parliament, Jessica Mutch McKay is confident she has us covered.

But if you ask her how she’s doing being both political editor for 1 News and a doting mother to her gorgeous nearly-four-year-old daughter Margaux, she’s less certain she’s got it all sorted.

“I’m totally a professional and I think that I’m a good mum, but I have my moments – sometimes I can be a great mum and an editor, but I’m not being a great friend, a great wife or a great daughter,” she confesses to Woman’s Day.

Peek-a-boo! Margaux likes to give the TV screen a hug when she sees her mum on the news.

Things are easier now Margaux is at an “awesome” daycare, smiles Jessica, 39. “She has great teachers and a little network of besties, which is all sorts of cool, and I’m relishing the time we get to hang out.

“It’s just the best seeing life through her eyes because she has such an amazing imagination. One of my favourite times of day is reading to her before bed, although she’s now got to the age where I can’t skip pages or ad lib – she remembers!

“Sometimes she watches me on TV and will give the screen a hug or a tickle. It’s very cute. There’s nothing better than coming home to someone who is so delighted to see you and isn’t as invested in the minutiae of politics as I am. It lets me switch off from work and go into mum mode.”

But juggling motherhood and a demanding job that plays out on TV is a “really physical” task, Jessica notes. “I’m constantly trying to think quite deeply on big-picture stuff with little sleep, so there are definitely challenges.

With Jacinda and Judith Collins during a leaders’ debate in 2020.

“Like everyone else, I have tough times where I have to figure out what works for my family and me personally. It’s not easy by any means. I try really hard to be present with Margaux, but I definitely feel guilt, which is just another thing to deal with.”

Jessica hopes people don’t look at this story, with pictures where she’s been professionally styled, and think she has it all.

“I don’t want to give the message that it’s super-easy being a mother who works. I do think it’s important that other mums don’t see the photos of me with my hair and makeup done, and think, ‘She’s got it all under control,’ because I don’t.”

But being a working mum at Parliament was made a lot easier when former prime minister Dame Jacinda Ardern had baby Neve, admits Jessica.

“Neve is about a year older than Margaux and I feel like people’s perceptions changed around that time, particularly in this political world.”

Reading a bedtime story to her girl helps Jessica switch off from work demands.

The other thing which came with Jacinda’s time in Parliament, particularly post-lockdown, was a high level of abuse for women whose jobs put them in the public eye. In Jessica’s case, that came when she was reporting news that some people didn’t like.

“You do get a thick skin because if you offer an opinion as a woman, you get a lot more ‘constructive feedback’ than your male counterparts do,” she explains. “When Jacinda was at the end of her tenure as prime minister, it was pretty bad, but then once Chris Hipkins took over, it died away.”

However, Jessica says that now the election is just weeks away, it has picked up again and she often has to ignore the abuse that comes through on social media. “I used to log on to explain things, like the results of a poll and the margin of error, but now I just don’t as I don’t have the stomach for it.”

The worst time for Jessica was during the Parliament protests, when it was her job to be there and report on what was happening, but she felt unsafe.

“I’ve covered war zones and protests overseas, and been in some quite tough situations, but the protests were hard because they were in my own town, and people were feeling frustrated and angry, which was often reflected on me and my 1 News colleagues because we’d been the faces at the one o’clock press conferences and the reporting around COVID.

I found it really rough because I’d never had my ability to do my job impacted like that.”

Fortunately, TVNZ provides security personnel for its political reporters on the election campaign – and Jessica does live with a bodyguard, her husband Iain McKay, 37, whom she married five years ago.

He works for the Diplomatic Protection Squad – which is how they met, when he was often described as Jacinda’s “hot, hipster bearded bodyguard” on social media – and Jessica admits his career is a comfort to her. “It’s really handy in my line of work and it’s nice to have that in my home life too. I definitely feel safe with him.”

Laughing, she adds, “When I’m out by myself, people will often have a chat to give me ideas and suggestions, which is a really nice part of my job. But when I’m with him, they don’t do that, I guess because he doesn’t look that friendly. He’s a very friendly person deep down, but he just doesn’t look it!”

Due to their busy jobs following politicians around the world, Iain and Jessica ended up having their first proper date in Paris, which is where the French spelling of Margaux’s name comes from.

Jessica smiles, “That was a romantic idea and I also liked the way it looked on paper, but we’ll see if the three-year-old agrees with that when she’s 14 and has very strong opinions!”

Iain is also a dedicated father to Jessica’s stepsons, Lachlan, 14, and Logan, 12, who regularly spend time with them and Margaux. She says, “I’ve known them since they were aged four and six, so we enjoy being together.”

As Jessica heads off on the campaign trail and prepares to host a series of 1 News debates, she is clearly very excited. Moderating the First Live Leaders’ Debate this Tuesday, Jess will be at the helm as the two Chrises go head to head in primetime for the very first time.

“There’s never anything quite as raw as doing live television with just you and one or two other people, and I don’t think that ever stops being a big thing,” she tells. “The pressure of debates is pretty big and there’s a lot of expectation around them, so I do feel the weight of responsibility because they help people decide how they’re going to vote.”

With her high-profile job, it’s nice to have burly bodyguard husband Iain looking out for her and Margaux.

Jessica likes to spend a lot of time preparing for her interviews and the debates. “That’s my personality,” she explains. “I like to have a plan and be organised. Then most of the time with live interviews,

I throw it all out the window anyway, but it gives me a certain degree of confidence being prepped, even if I’m probably not going to use it.”

When the election is over, after October 14, Jessica has a fourth birthday party to organise for Margaux, who was born on Halloween, then in January, she has her own 40th birthday to plan.

“But at the moment, I just don’t have the brain capacity to think about either of those things,” she laughs. “It’s almost like my body’s not entirely sure that I’ll live past the election, so I’ll turn my attention to it later!”

The First Live Leaders’ Debate screens 7pm Tuesday on TVNZ 1 and will stream on TVNZ+.

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