Jonathan Milne

Jonathan Milne is deputy editor of the Herald on Sunday.

Election 2011: A life less ordinary for family

Our Average New Zealand Household has tough question for Key and Goff.

Mike and Emily Wilson with daughters Bella, 4 and Caitlin, 18 months. Photo / Janna Dixon
Mike and Emily Wilson with daughters Bella, 4 and Caitlin, 18 months. Photo / Janna Dixon

Spending most of the first year of their baby daughter's life at the side of her hospital cot clarified a few priorities for Mike and Emily Wilson.

Life had been a bit of a joyride for Mike and his teenage sweetheart until then - finding their feet, finding work, getting sacked, finding more work, having their first child and marrying in Tauranga.

Then, last year, after four visits to the doctor, their second baby, Caitlin, was diagnosed with serious kidney reflux.

"She used to scream all day," says Emily, 22.

"She didn't really sleep. She looked physically ill and she lost a lot of weight."

Suddenly, life became serious.

The week of her first birthday, Caitlin had surgery to correct the problem.

She is now a happy 18-month-old toddler, walking, beginning to talk, following devotedly after her big sister Bella, 4.

But money is tight: Mike, 25, is paid just $40,000 as the night host for The Rock radio station. They moved to Auckland in June, to a three-bedroom bungalow in Ellerslie with a big back lawn, a trampoline and a swingset - but they rely on an accommodation supplement and tax credits to pay for the weekly rent of $430.

Mike is working up to six days a week, and Emily fits early childhood teacher training around looking after their daughters.

Last month, the Herald on Sunday embarked on a search for The Average New Zealand Household. The questionnaire was somewhat tongue-in-cheek because there's no such thing as "average".

But there is a serious intent to our search. Some of the challenges faced by Kiwi families are common to many.

From dozens and dozens of applicants, we narrowed them down to four finalists who summed up some of the challenges facing the country ahead of this month's election.

Readers' votes and interviews with the finalists helped decide which family should put a question to prime ministerial contenders John Key and Phil Goff - who have both spoken of helping typical, working New Zealanders.

The winners are the Wilson family because, for them, the challenge is wider than just finding the money to get by. It's about finding time to spend together and with their girls.

"It's quite hard, because we live away from family so we don't have anyone else to watch the kids," says Emily.

"And we don't have time together in the evenings because Mike's at work."

For the Wilson family, it's about quality of life - and when people are working harder and longer than they have in generations, that's a question that resonates with many.

This week, the Wilsons will get the opportunity to ask that question of the two men who are vying to be prime minister.

- Herald on Sunday

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