Tūtānekai Smith-Coffey , the 6-week old son of Labour Party Member of Parliament Tāmati Coffey and his husband Tim Smith, grabbed headlines when he was momentarily cared for by a famous babysitter. Trevor Mallard, the Speaker of New Zealand’s House of Representatives, cradled and bottle-fed his colleague’s baby during a debate at Parliament.
On his first day back at work since taking paternity leave, Coffey was cuddling Tūtānekai in the chamber when Mallard offered to hold him. Mallard continued his duties while holding the baby, who fed quietly even as the hall rang with the heated voices of the MPs. “Normally the Speaker’s chair is only used by Presiding Officers but today a VIP took the chair with me,” Mallard tweeted.
The photos easily went viral, generating widespread praise for the Speaker’s sweet gesture. Among the deluge of the responses to the photos, one person tweeted, “Thank you for normalizing the family unit. We need to see more of this. Workplaces need to adapt to enable this behavior.”
Trevor Mallard is not new at multitasking though. Whenever possible, he tries to help care for MPs’ babies. “There are times when I can be vaguely useful.” In 2017, Mallard relaxed the rules in Parliament to make the legislature more child-friendly. Among the early beneficiaries was Heeni, then three months old and daughter of Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime, who sat with the Speaker while Parliament fittingly debated extending paid parental leave.
New Zealand lawmakers are increasingly opening up to the idea of children at the work place, following the example set by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The Prime Minister made history as only the second elected leader to give birth while in office. Soon after childbirth, she returned to work, while her partner Clark Gayford stayed at home to take care of the family. In 2018, Ardern brought her daughter to the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit at the United Nations, gaining distinction as the first female world leader to bring her baby to the UN General Assembly. Her actions resonated worldwide with powerful messages on women leaders, gender equality, parenting roles, and the relationship between work and families.
Fellow lawmakers also congratulated Tāmati Coffey. Tūtānekai is one of many other babies in parliament, as about a dozen MPs have young children. On his return to work, Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman stated, “Who needs to see this today? Every single last one of us, that’s who. Here’s a brand new papa holding his new born in our House of Representatives right now.” Fellow Green Party MP Gareth Hughes added, “Lovely to have a baby in the House, and what a beautiful one.” Coffey expressed his gratitude to his colleagues, saying he felt “…supported by my colleagues from across the house.”
At the moment, New Zealand and a handful of other nations may be the exception in terms of child-friendly political environments. However, Trevor Mallard, Tāmati Coffey, and Jacinda Ardern are proving that parenting and politics can go hand-in-hand.
Watch Mallard and Coffey, with baby Tūtānekai, discuss the viral moment in the interview below: