Politics and Parenthood

My Chronicle column this month is on politics and parenthood.
Politics and Parenthood
The Chronicle, February 2012

Canberra FM recently had parents phone in with their favourite parenting disaster stories. A woman told of the time that she was rushing her two children out of the house to get to swim school. Wanting to assist, her 2 year-old shouted out ‘I’ll get towel’. When swim class finished, the discovery was made that ‘getting the towel’ meant helpfully stuffing the swimming bag with paper towel.

The story illustrates the fact that parenting is both more painful and delightful than you expect. When babies wake half a dozen times a night, you quickly realise why sleep deprivation is such a powerful form of torture. As they snuggle close to your chest on a winter night, the bond is so close that you realise there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for this little person.

For my own part, being a father to two young boys has shaped me as a politician. As an article in the Economist put it: ‘Daily exposure to innocence matters. Parenthood can lead to smugness, but also humility. All parents soon realise how much of child-rearing is improvisation, tempered by exhaustion ... The world looks at once kindlier and more fragile with small children in it, and essentially optimistic.’

Plenty of lessons of child-rearing translate well to modern politics. My staffer Damien Hickman likens the media cycle to the feeding cycle. You may prepare a gourmet feast, but don’t expect it to look like that when it comes out the other end.

As the parenting experts remind us, children can’t always control outcomes. Instead, they have control over three key variables: how much effort they put in, whether they learn from experiences, and how they respond to mistakes. So if you’re giving feedback to children, focus on building resilience, not punishing inadvertent errors. (Not bad advice for dealing with pollies, too.)

To recognise Canberra’s new parents, I’m holding an event called ‘Welcoming the Babies’. It’s a chance to meet other parents, connect with community services, and find out what’s available for new parents.

At last year’s event, around 150 parents and children joined us in Commonwealth Park, grabbed a coffee and a sausage sandwich, and enjoyed the sunshine while chatting to stallholders about playgroups, breastfeeding, maternal health, immunisation, toddler sports and social support. As first-time dad Tito Hasan told me, ‘It’s been great to see kids having fun. My wife and I see the range of things out there for first-time parents. I’m looking forward to coming back next year.’

If you know someone with a young bub, please encourage them to come along to this year’s Welcoming the Babies. All attendees will receive a Baby Pack including a formal certificate. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child – so let’s help welcome our newest Canberrans.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com. Welcoming the Babies will be held at Stage 88, Commonwealth Park, 10.30am-12.30pm on Sunday 4 March. To register, email Andrew.Leigh.MP<>aph.gov.au.

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