Today’s Parent interviews Green Party leader Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May says she struck the baby jackpot when her daughter was born. Here, she shares what being a mother has meant to her.

Quote_May_660 Illustrations: Aidan Kim, age 6

ELIZABETH MAY, leader of the Green Party.

AGE: 61

FAMILY STATUS: Mother to Cate May Burton, 24.

GO-TO BEDTIME STORY WHEN HER DAUGHTER WAS LITTLE: “Of course, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. But Goodnight Moon was a favourite when she was really teeny.”

WHAT SHE’D DO FOR PARENTS AS PRIME MINISTER: “As a parent, now that I’m 61, my early baby days are well behind me, but I’m always thinking about how to make life better for Canadian families. We have to help families in this country have time together. It’s a big-picture question. It has to do with the length of the workweek, it has to do with economic insecurity, it has to do with affordable housing, it has to do with access to education. And the idea of time poverty—never having enough time to finish all the things you need to do. If you are stressed and preoccupied, it’s really hard to listen to your children. I go by the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, and we really need to think about how important our children are to us as a society. Our economic preoccupations overshadow what we need to do as a society to place a whole system and network of policy changes that ensure that our children start life with confidence and compassion and empathy.”


HER PARENTING PHILOSOPHY: “I was the executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada when my daughter was born, and the organization had me on contract, which meant I couldn’t qualify for maternity leave. I went back to work when my daughter was 14 days old, so my parenting philosophy was ‘Have baby, will travel.’ I was with my daughter in a close and bonding way for the first three years of her life. We didn’t spend a night apart until she was three years old. I would take my daughter with me to meetings. We travelled, and I would find babysitters in other countries. It really worked extremely well. And it meant that I never had to go through that sudden wrenching decision of ‘Okay, now I’m going back to work and I can’t be with my baby all the time anymore.’ Everybody is different and everyone makes their own choices, but I am very grateful.”

HER PARENTING STYLE: “I didn’t know I had one until I met Jane Goodall. I had my baby with me and we were talking about how I was raising my daughter and she said, ‘Oh, you’re a chimp mom. You’re raising your daughter just the way a chimp would. Good for you.’ So apparently my parenting philosophy was to be a chimp mom.”

Cate May Burton and her mom, Green Party leader Elizabeth May. Photo: Green Party Cate May Burton and her mom, Green Party leader Elizabeth May. Photo: Green Party

ON BEING A MOTHER: “I realized I won the baby jackpot from the moment she opened her eyes. How does being a leader of a federal party and an MP compare to being a mom? Nothing in this world could ever replace how blessed I feel to be a mom.”

HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A SINGLE PARENT: “It’s always stressful financially, but she was such an easy baby. While it would have been nice to have a partner through all of life, I have to say that [being] creates a different kind of closeness. I worry that sometimes I put too much of a burden on my daughter, given how much I depend on her. I’m so lucky that she’s there and as committed to the same causes as I am. I would never have decided to run for leader of the Green Party if she hadn’t thought it was a good idea.”


ON HAVING CATE WITH HER ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL: “Eleven whole weeks with my daughter? It’s such a big treat. She is totally honest. If she thinks I could have said something better or explained a point better, she will tell me. If she thinks I said something particularly well, she’ll say ‘Boy, that was really good; you should say that again.’ If I’m putting on a jacket that doesn’t go with my dress, she’ll be the one to say ‘Mom, no.’ She’s just very supportive, helping and caring.”

Photo: Green Party Cate May often joins her mom, Elizabeth, when campaigning. Photo: Green Party

HOW TO RAISE A GOOD KID: “My approach with little kids has always been to respect their intelligence. And so if I had to go to a meeting, which meant I wasn’t going to be home with my daughter, I didn’t say ‘I’m busy, you stay here.’ I took time and care to explain. At one point, when she was in grade school, I was feeling bad about being away. She said, ‘You know, Mommy, the thing is, I don’t resent it because I know you’d rather be here with me. But what you are doing is important.’ It’s impossible to explain how that happened. I could do the same child-rearing with a different child and there’d be a completely different result. I’m not saying I had any kind of special gift as a parent. The gift I got is the way my daughter is.

ON DISCIPLINE: “I still regret it to this day that I spanked her. It was on her birthday. A friend of mine had gone to a great deal of trouble and made her a cake in the shape of Barney. And I said, ‘Be sure to thank her for that, sweetheart.” She was in a bit of a mood and said, ‘Nope. Nope.’ And I said, ‘But you have to. If you don’t thank her, I’m going to spank you.’ It was a terrible thing to say. It was an ultimatum: It meant if she didn’t do it, then I’d have to spank her on her birthday. But I don’t know whether it was the right thing to do or a bad thing. You never really know, but she never again failed to thank somebody for something nice they did. I never saw that smirk on her face again after that. It grieved me terribly and I never spanked her again.”

MOMENTS SHE SAVOURS: “We’ve always liked reading aloud to each other. As she was growing up, we both became Harry Potter fans. We’d get really excited when a new book was coming out and we’d queue up to be the first ones to get. By the time the last ones were coming out, she’d be reading them to me. She’s an extremely good writer and a very good editor, so when I write blogs, I’ll pass them over to her. We collaborate very well.”


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