Politics and parenthood

by Damien Hickman

My 11 week old daughter likes to sleep while going for a 'walk' in her pram. Recently as I we walked along, left to my thoughts, I realised that politics is a lot like parenthood. Both are journeys of unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows, sheer exhilaration and utter desperation. Former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson is famously quoted as saying: 'A week is a long time in politics'. He must have been a parent. With sleepless nights, never ending feeds and nappy changes, plus the repetitive 'walks' around the block trying to get the little one to sleep, he could have easily said: 'A week is a long time in parenthood'.

Anticipating the mood in the 'electorate' is an essential skill for new parents and governments. Sometimes you get a squawk only to be followed by a smile. At other times you may get a giggle that turns into a cry. This makes coming up with a policy to address issues in a way that keeps everyone happy an 'unknown'. Maybe former United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was speaking of parenthood when he said 'There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know'.

With ears keenly trained for the smallest whisper, the slightest noise, or any hint of an internal revolt – politics is a lot like parenthood. My wife and I have mastered the art of sensing disquiet. Our preferred tactic is to stand frozen still outside a slightly ajar door, too making sure we don't breathe too hard so that we don't draw attention to ourselves. I am sure it looks hilarious, but we know that if you don't keep the backbench happy – it will cause significant unrest.

In modern politics, you have to constantly feed the media. Not unlike my little girl. It is exhausting and relentless. If the media is not fed enough or when it demands - you certainly you know it. Then at the end of all this feeding is the end product of which you have no control, and is nothing like you put it. Dealing with this process is one of the 'joys' of politics and parenthood. The early morning nappy is very like the morning paper – you open it up and say to yourself: 'I can't believe how much s**t there is in here'.
Parents and governments both know the pressure and influence a vocal minority can exert. At the moment my wife and I have a clear majority in the 'house. However, our cross bencher definitely holds the balance of power. From time to time our unique and at times confounding electoral system allows a vocal minority to hold sway over government. With power incommensurate to the size of her constituency my little girl has somehow managed to make those in our 'government' adopt uncomfortable positions without a word of protest. Larger powers willing to do anything to make her happy. Suffering great pains to keep the peace. I know the feeling Julie Gillard must have nursing a minority government - arms and back aching, wanting to change position but knowing if you did it would make things worse.

Yet there is one important way in which parenthood, thankfully, is not like politics. That is, the bond of loyalty and unconditional acceptance. Lucking for this new Dad, no matter how badly I sing my lines or how much she disapproves of the 'bedtime now' policy, the one thing I do know - is that from her wonderful gummy smile this little powerbroker is sticking with its leader.

Damien Hickman is PhD Candidate in Political Science and proud father of Liesel Grace.

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