Jacinta Ardern leaves ‘exhausted’ as family wins over politics

From leave to resignation, the choices of other leaders

”I’m human”, said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after announcing her imminent resignation and just before asking her partner “to finally get married”. ”I’m exhausted”, she said in an admission of tiredness due to the institutional role she held, but also of the awareness of wanting to devote more time to her family and to get married, after having postponed the wedding due to the restrictions decided by her government to deal with the resurgence of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Six years ago, his predecessor, then New Zealand premier John Key, resigned, also citing ”family reasons”. In particular, he said that his tenure had required great sacrifices “from those dearest to me”, that his wife Bronagh had endured “many lonely nights” and his children Stephie and Max had been subjected to “extraordinary levels of media exposure”. Acknowledging Bronagh’s “sacrifice during my time in politics”, Key said that “now is the right time for me to take a step back in my career and spend more time at home”.

Without going so far as to resign, before him the Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen did not hesitate to take a two-month parental leave to look after his six-year-old son in the midst of the security crisis related to the threat posed by Russia. This happened last December and Kaikkonen is still on leave, despite the fact that Finland is engaged in the difficult match for NATO membership which sees Turkey rowing against. “Children only stay small for a moment, and I want to remember that in ways other than just photos,” Kaikkonen tweeted, assuring that Finland’s security “will be in good hands.”

Still in Finland in 1998, then Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen did school, taking parental leave, albeit a shorter one. However, the two are not an isolated case in the Nordic countries of Europe. At the end of 2020 in Denmark, Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen took parental leave, stating that his son had “mostly seen his father on TV”. His example in Denmark was followed by the Ministers of Immigration, Mattias Tesfaye, and of Culture, Joy Mogensen.

In April last year, Belgium’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes resigned to take care of her husband, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A decision taken in agreement with the Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo who asked for “the utmost respect” for her. Wilmès had been Prime Minister of Belgium between 2019 and 2020 and she married former Australian footballer Chris Stone in 2009, with whom she has three daughters. “Being a minister requires rigor, availability and a total commitment that would not allow me to provide the help and comfort that Christopher and our children will need in this difficult period,” the deputy premier wrote on Twitter. Her resignation, initially temporary, was definitively formalized in July.

After receiving “devastating” news about her family, Housing Minister Kelly Tolhurst resigned in Great Britain in January two years ago. In a letter sent to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the 42-year-old Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood announced the decision taken ”after deep thought and much consideration” to leave office to spend “precious time” with the loved ones in the “next months”. This news was welcomed ”with sadness” by Johnson.

In order to have ”more time for the family”, Sigmar Gabriel, former leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), former foreign minister and vice chancellor of Germany, has also given up on politics. In January 2017, his decision to step aside – after already while he was in government he had ‘taken’ Wednesday afternoon to be with his young daughter – announcing that he would not run again in the Bundestag elections and that he would renounce the presidency of the SPD, led the former president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz to the leadership of the party until 2018.

Steph Ryan gave up her political career in Australia for family reasons, or for ”a second baby on the way, already having a little one running around the house”. Elected when she was 28, she was the youngest MP in the Australian Parliament and the first woman to be named leader of the Victorian Nationals. She served as shadow minister for water, public transport and road regulation when she resigned at 38. Also in Australia, Perth Federal Labor MP Tim Hammond has decided to resign and give up politics, admitting that he underestimated the impact that her institutional career would have on her family. In 2013 Brendon Grylls, MP for Perth in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly for the National Party of Australia, announced his decision to resign to spend more time with her children, to be able to attend more school meetings.