Last year, we spoke with Margie Abbott, the new Prime Minister's wife about motherhood and raising children in the context of public life.
Married for 25 years, Margie has been a 'Parliamentary widow' for all but six years of her marriage with Tony Abbott entering Parliament as the Member for Warringah (based in Sydney's lower north shore and northern beaches) at a by-election in 1994. She is a busy working mum and a private person - whose life is about to change.
Margie has already indicated that she intends using her voice in her new role as 'First Lady' (to use the American term) to champion early childhood development and especially for children at risk.
This is an edited extract from last year's interview.
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Like many mums with young adult children, Margie Abbott looks back in amazement at how quickly the years have passed. She says she now spends family time shifting life around to suit the busy schedules of her husband, her two daughters at home and herself.
Margie is the proud mum of three daughters - Louise 24, Frances 21 and Bridget 20 - and has a busy job as director of a childcare centre in North Sydney. Their eldest daughter, Louise, works for the United Nations in Geneva.
Born in New Zealand, Margie moved to Sydney in the 1980s for a consultancy role, before moving into a marketing role at a merchant bank. She was introduced to Tony Abbott by mutual friends when he was working as a journalist and as she says, "the rest is history".
“For me, motherhood is the ‘ultimate experience’. I love being with the kids and being a mum.
“This was the first year we went away for our annual ‘family’ beach holiday without our girls. I was looking around at all the young families on the beach having fun and felt sorry ours are over. It just goes so fast and I just love having our children about,” says Margie.
She describes her daughters as 'grounded', but says they’re not perfect.
“They’re typical young adults doing the best they can and we’ve done our best to prepare them for a journey ahead.”
Margie did not return to work until her kids were at primary school. She describes the decision on whether to stay home with your children and/or return to work as 'a very personal one'.
“I enjoyed being a mum at home, getting involved in the tuck shop and being a volunteer. Financially it wasn’t easy, but it was what I wanted to do.”
“It was the right choice for us, but may not be the right one for others.
"Having a husband in public life, who isn't always available, I felt it was important that I was home with the children. I was everything for the girls. When Tony was about, he was great but for a large part I was it.”
“To be the very best mother you can be, you have to be true to yourself.”
“Not everyone is going to be their best selves at home. Dads can equally do a good job. Nobody should be judged on what they decide. It’s a personal choice.”
Margie says motherhood is challenging.
“I’m dealing with young mothers everyday and I see what a huge juggling act it is for them with many tough decisions about kids, work and family.”
Despite having a husband who was away from home a lot and family in New Zealand, Margie says she never felt like she was on her own.
“I was very much involved in the community and schools. I think loneliness can be a danger for others, perhaps those who try to be all things and can’t connect because they’re trying to do everything.
“For me, I had the support of our wonderful friend Col who I met through the Girl Guides movement. She’s a part of our family and I couldn’t have done it without her. Having her support was priceless.”
Margie says she also made a conscious decision in bringing up her children to keep them out of the spotlight until they were old enough to make their own decisions.
“We’ve supported Tony. But it wasn’t until the 2010 election, when the girls as young adults wanted to make public appearances. They enjoyed it.
“Politics can be a lonely experience and they wanted to support their dad.”
And how does Margie cope with the media spotlight and criticism of her husband?
“I turn off when it’s on. For me to function and stay happy and calm – I have to keep it at arms length.”
“When Tony walks through the door, politics is forgotten and he is simply Tony. A husband and dad."
Margie’s learnings from bringing up her three daughters:
- Setting priorities and being organised is important.
- Kids need to realise that you are an individual and you have a life a part from them, so have some ‘me’ time away from the kids by reading a book or doing some exercise without feeling guilty.
The photo in last year's story.