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Family

Jacinda Ardern on life with toddler Neve and the family support she treasures

"Motherhood is a joyful, joyful thing but it's also tough," she says.

Jacinda Ardern is not one for introspection – not because she doesn't see the value of it, but because at this stage of her life, there just isn't time.
Our Prime Minister has inadvertently become quite an expert in one-upping her previous year. And of course, 2019 has been no different.
"It's been a big one," Jacinda admits. "But it's been rewarding. That's how I think I'll feel at the end of the year."
For her Australian Women's Weekly cover shoot, we have a brief but action-packed window with the Prime Minister to talk about the past 12 months and, of course, all things festive.
This Christmas, Jacinda, her fiancé Clarke Gayford and their toddler Neve will be in Gisborne for the holidays, surrounded by loved ones.
"The lovely thing about Christmas this year is that my family are going to come over and be there with Clarke's family, so my mum and dad and my sister and her husband and all my nieces and nephews will be there, which is really lovely. We'll all be there together, so we won't have to do a split Christmas."
Neve, at 18 months this December, is turning into exactly the kind of child you would imagine a charismatic world leader and a popular television presenter would have: full of personality.
"With a father like Clarke, that was always going to be inevitable," Jacinda says, smiling.
"It's one of the things I've found most rewarding about this year is that she's just developed… she's her own little person. And that's really lovely; you see snippets of who she's going to be, and she's curious and she's funny. And she doesn't need me," she jokes.
"Except for sustenance and nappy changes – and even then, she could take it or leave it."
Jacinda says little Neve is full of personality.
Clarke and Jacinda are big fans of dressing Neve up in adorable costumes for Christmas; last year there were two holiday-themed onesies and this year Jacinda is quite taken with a miniature Santa suit.
She pulls out her phone to show us videos that have been sent to her by either Clarke or one of the proud grandmothers (Jacinda is very open about the fact that it's a full family juggling act to make it all work).
In one video, a sleep-mussed but perky Neve walks wonkily forward to Clarke and bellows a very enthusiastic "HELLO" to the camera.
"Look at that hair: straight out of bed," Jacinda grins.
There's another video of her "playing" the piano, before a photo of Neve getting ready to help Clarke in the garden.
In it, she's wearing a pair of traditional pyjamas Jacinda picked up in Japan, a knitted dressing gown made by a friend and a pair of caterpillar-print socks, her blonde head mostly obscured by a large pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
"Clarke dresses her mostly," Jacinda deadpans
Having a rewarding home life is what she is most grateful for.
"I just have this whole extra layer to my life now," she says.
"But I also wouldn't have the chance to enjoy it as much if I didn't have my family members helping as well. So I'm definitely grateful for my family."
They have been the grounding influence to a professional life that has run the gamut from joy to adversity, and back again.
In 2017, Jacinda became Labour leader, then Prime Minister in a three-month period. In 2018, she made global headlines when she announced she would be the second leader, ever, to give birth while in office.
In 2019, an image of her face was projected onto Dubai's towering Burj Khalifa and Oprah Winfrey told the Women in the World Summit that all women should "channel their inner Jacinda".
That's a remarkable series of events for any leader, let alone one from New Zealand.
In fact, Jacinda's global acclaim has been a beautiful point of difference to the scandal and catastrophe news cycle that has plagued the world for the past few years.
If you have travelled overseas this year, you may have realised that our Prime Minister has – for now – overtaken Lord of the Rings, the All Blacks and, yes, maybe even sheep as the topic most associated with our small country.
When I bring this up, she starts to answer, "One of the things…" before pausing and then stating simply, "That was March 15."
The Prime Minister after a visit to the Kilbirnie Mosque in March.
The Christchurch mosque attack was, as she says, an event "no one wanted New Zealand to be known for". But now, we are.
Even though Jacinda and our entire country were praised for our response to the atrocities, it's still an uncomfortable truth: New Zealand only made headlines for all the right reasons after we made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Jacinda is very clear what she wants us to focus on when it comes to New Zealand's Muslim community.
"Just how incredible they were in their response," she says.
"One of the most memorable moments for me was the day after – the day after! – going down to Christchurch and just not knowing what to expect.
"Here was a community where some of the people I was going to meet were in the room during the attack. To arrive and then have the same people who the day before I had seen images of, covered in blood outside the mosque, thanking New Zealand…
I found that overwhelming, to hear that kind of language. Thanking New Zealand for their response, thanking New Zealand for reaching out. For me, that was the thing that set the tone for everything after, and that came from the Muslim community.
"I just hope that we all remember that – we remember their response and we remember the stories of their experiences as a community. Because there is discrimination and we have to keep up the work to weed that out, because that's not how we want to see ourselves."
Jacinda was recognised globally for her empathetic response as a world leader – and her immediate work on gun reform; helping to unite a grieving country, all while managing to keep herself in check during what was a deeply overwhelming time.
"I had my own private moments. But when it came to the public... no one needed to see me having emotional moments – they needed me to do a job. So that's what I did," she says, before adding quietly. "I definitely felt it though."
One week after the attack, when the Burj Khalifa was lit up with the photo of Jacinda in a headscarf hugging a woman, the real-life Jacinda wasn't quite sure what she was seeing.
"I thought it was photoshopped," she recalls.
"I remember thinking, 'What an odd thing to do; why has someone photoshopped my face onto a large building?' We were still so focused on what we needed to do, I don't think it particularly dawned on me."
It was the same when Oprah announced that Jacinda had "set a global standard of leadership" at the Women in the World Summit speech in April.
"That was one of those 'whaaaat' moments," Jacinda says.
"I was in the kitchen, trying to get breakfast ready for everyone. Clarke showed me on his phone. It was quite overwhelming," she says, and shrugs.
"And then I went back to getting breakfast ready."
Jacinda's image projected onto Dubai's Burj Khalifa.
In a recent edition of National Geographic, the US magazine included Jacinda in a series featuring high profile women (including Oprah and journalist Christiane Amanpour).
They asked the group six questions about gender and power.
When answering the question "What is the greatest hurdle you've overcome?" Jacinda responded simply: "Myself… no one will be a bigger critic of me than me."
This is not a new theme for the Prime Minister, who has been open in the past about the sense of anxiety that walked alongside previous high stakes roles in the public eye.
She's always had a self-critical streak, Jacinda admits, but she doesn't believe that it's that unusual a characteristic.
She believes showing the human side of being a leader – good and bad – is one of the key things those in her position should do.
"I actually think the key is not pretending it's easy, so I'm very open about the things that I find tough about being a mum and being in this role," she says.
"If we're thinking about what we can do for the next generation, we can show them that you don't have to be perfect… if you lack confidence in yourself or that you think you're not good enough, actually, most people who have been leaders have felt like that at some stage. If we try and pretend that it's easy or that we're perfect, no one will be able to see themselves in leadership roles.
"By and large – women in particular – Kiwis are humble. We tend to diminish our abilities. So unless people can see themselves in us, see a bit of imperfection, they might not ever strive to take on those roles. Talking about resilience is one thing but, also, so is talking about when it's hard."
I mention Meghan Markle, another public figure who has talked about struggling with being in the limelight so soon after having a baby.
Jacinda hasn't seen the well-publicised documentary covering Prince Harry and Meghan's tour to Africa, but she does feel it's important for women to be allowed to be honest.
"My view on motherhood and leadership – just from my own personal perspective – is that, if anything, it's just given me an insight into what thousands and thousands of mothers are doing every day. I'm really grateful for that insight. It gives me a huge amount of empathy for all mums – whether you're a working mum or a stay-at-home mum… especially if you're a sole mum."
"Motherhood is a joyful, joyful thing but it's also tough," she says.
"So I see it as having been hugely beneficial – beyond just the joy of being a mum – as someone who is involved in policy and trying to think of ways to make people's lives better, to have that personal insight. It makes me appreciate all mums and dads."
Last month, Labour released a short video where Jacinda was challenged to name as many policy changes as possible they had brought in during their past two years in power.
The high-energy video, which briefly went viral, highlighted some of the policies Jacinda and her team are most proud of: extended paid parental leave, the families package that has helped over 380,000 Kiwi households, the Child Poverty Reduction Act and more.
When it comes to policy changes, Jacinda might, just occasionally, allow herself a rare moment of self-congratulation.
"When we finally got an agreement from our farming leaders around how we were going to tackle agriculture and climate change, after that I sat back and thought, 'that was historic. That was a really big moment and that will make a difference,'" she says.
"I felt that way after the budget… when we rolled out a whole new layer of mental health care in New Zealand. When I get to see these things in practice, that is really rewarding. So yes, I do have those moments but, yeah… they last about 10 minutes."
Comments such as these give the impression that she views herself as the team coach, rather than the star player.
"I absolutely see myself in that role, yes. That's how I see myself."
The competition between the two political sides is already starting to gear up as we head into 2020, an election year. It feels too soon, Jacinda says, and with still so much work to be done.
"I'm going to be campaigning hard for the chance to keep going, because I'm a finisher, completer. I want to finish what I've started – and there's a big programme of work."
Child poverty, mental health… improving an entire country's wellbeing is the kind of goal that requires time, just as much as it requires optimism.
There's also a wedding on the cards – Clarke proposed in April – but when asked if that's likely to be a pre-election or post-election event, Jacinda gives me the side-eye.
"You're asking as if I know," she laughs.
"We haven't set a date yet, which is probably indicative that it might be slightly ambitious that it'll be any time soon."
Engaging Jacinda in wedding talk is a little like getting blood from a stone.
For example, what kind of bride do you think you'll be? "What are my options?"
But she does let slip they won't just be turning up to the registry office for a speedy ceremony.
"I don't think either of our families would accept a registry situation," she laughs.
"Both Clarke and I see weddings as a chance to spend time with your friends and family, so it will be pretty focused on that."
And Neve – who is a big fan of singing and dancing – will no doubt play a part.
"Oh, she'll try and play a starring role," Jacinda says.
"She'll make herself known to people – one of her favourite words is 'hi'. And if you don't say hi back, she just gets louder and louder and louder."
Speaking of Neve, has there been any discussion about having a second child?
Asking any parent with an 18-month-old if they've considered having another baby is always a risky game – it's not the smoothest of parenting times – and particularly when their first child was global breaking news.
"We haven't given it a huge amount of thought, simply because it's quite busy, having a child," she answers drily.
"I still try my best to be there, as much as I can, so in Wellington I will try and get home to put her to bed and then carry on working. So that's quite a lot to try and balance. So there are no current plans there, I have to say."
In July, Jacinda will turn 40.
It's an understatement to say she's done quite a bit with her 30s, so the impending big birthday doesn't loom too large. But it is still something of a landmark.
"My expectation of where I would be at 40 was completely different," she says.
"I thought that I would be married and have quite a few children. But you never know," she laughs.
"I don't think I'll get to celebrate it much, because it's an election year."
Does she have an alternative plan if the results don't go her way?
"Oh, I've never had a Plan B," she says. "Maybe that's how I've ended up here – I've just said yes and kept going."
"I genuinely don't think about it – here is my focus. I can't imagine ever doing anything as rewarding as this. How could anything, ever, feel as rewarding as being able to make a difference to your home?"
Maybe she's peaked at 39? She laughs.
"I'll just go and grow vegetables somewhere sunny, I guess? But no, there's no Plan B. My utter focus is New Zealand."
So much of who she is as a leader comes down to her Kiwi upbringing, she believes.
"I never sit there and analyse whether or not my response [as a leader] was because of my gender or just because of who I am and how I was raised in New Zealand," she says.
"We're a small enough country that, in politics, we just get to be ourselves. We don't need to over-engineer things… we just are who we are."
Jacinda on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
After everything she's been through, there is no dimming of the enthusiasm that has taken her so far.
In 2017, Jacinda campaigned on "relentless positivity" and a government that prioritised kindness, and that is one of the reasons she has remained a guiding light in troubled times.
Hope, humanity, peace to all mankind.
They're words that get bandied around a lot at this time of year but they form the bedrock of what Jacinda believes in, both as a Prime Minister and as a human being. She never loses hope.
"I get to see the good in people, every single day. There is still so much good, and it absolutely outweighs all the horrific things we've seen over the past year. I still believe that – and in fact, if anything, it's only been reinforced for me," she says.
"And our job is just to amplify that more – globally, that's what [leaders] need to do. Keep reminding each other that, in amongst all of the differences we might have politically or in terms of culture or religion, there is still our shared humanity. And if we keep focusing on that, that is what will lead to a more peaceful world."

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