Dr Joseph Muscat was elected to the European Parliament 2004 and won the 'Outstanding Young Person of the Year' for his political work in 2006. He was elected Leader of the Malta Labour Party (Partit Laburista) in 2008 and is the proud father of two young girls. Dr Muscat shared his experience about parenthood with Ramona Portelli.
Interview conducted June 2011
Introduce yourself [where do you live, age, occupation, hobbies]
I am 37-years old and live with my wife Michelle and children in Burmarrad. I am the Opposition Leader and Leader of the Labour Party. [Now Prime Minister of Malta, updated in 2013]
How long have you been married to Michelle?
Michelle and I have been married for 10 years – we got married in 2001.
How many kids do you have?
Two girls – twins.
What are their names and ages?
Etoile Ella and Soleil Sophie both 3 years old.
What were your first thoughts when you both got to know you’re becoming parents for the very first time…and what were your reactions when you both got to know you’re becoming parents of twin girls?
The first time Michelle got pregnant we were overjoyed – but later it turned into sorrow after we lost our baby. Life gets tougher and when Michelle was pregnant again with our twins, it was a rollercoaster journey. We were delighted but also afraid that we’ll lose these two as well since every step of the pregnancy had lots of complications.
Etoile Ella and Soleil Sophie arrived at thirty three weeks of pregnancy, a little bit premature ... and the world changed overnight. That was the most amazing experience of my life.
How did you involve yourself during Michelle’s pregnancy?
It was a tough period. I almost set up office in hospital next to Michelle. At the same time I was working on my Ph.D and working in Brussels but the good thing about it was that I got all the layette and oversaw the decoration of the nursery as Michelle was stranded in hospital and just managed to design it. Although it was a very stressful period, it was also a loving time where we bonded as a couple and it served us a lot when the little angels “disrupted” our quiet life!
In your opinion, how do you describe a great parenthood?
The essence of parenthood is love. People tend to tell you that quality time with your kids is crucial. I add that quality in little time is not enough. So even in my heavy schedule as Opposition leader I make sure I spend as much time with Soleil Sophie and Etoile Ella as possible.
Can you name one thing or more, that makes your children unique and that you won’t forget throughout the years?
Etoile and Soleil are not identical twins and their characters are unique in their own way. Etoile is the one who is more reserved but assertive, while Soleil is more open and loves pink! I will surely carry their characters with me all my life, and there is no way I will forget the time I spend with them.
You are a very busy political person. How do you manage to be a good father?
It’s all about managing your time well – but most importantly it is about being there for your children whenever they need. I also tend to work in tandem with Michelle. If when I am not there she gives them a little punishment, I do not over rule it when they run up to me on my arrival home. It is very difficult to do especially when you see their smiling faces, but I know that showing them consistency will give them stability when they start growing up.
Was there a difference in your relationship with Michelle, following your children’s birth?
Our relationship didn’t change, but our lifestyle had to change drastically. Michelle gave up her career in marketing, and I took up the party leadership five months after the twins were born. We promised each other that we would make sure that we share responsabilities and be there for our children all the time.
Are you planning to have more kids in the near future?
There are no plans in the forseeable future. We are concentrating on raising our children and they have just started school. All our energy is focused on them at the moment. However, if a new baby comes along it will be greatly welcomed in our household as the girls are at the age where they are fascinated by babies and have been asking for one!
Do you dream of something particular that you wish your children will do in their future?
As long as we give them all the basics for a healthy upbringing and a good education, which will give them independence I will not interfere in their future.
What suggestions can you share with our readers for a better childhood in Malta?
Education is key. The education system has to be more inclined to reflect a healthy childhood rather than strict textbook work. There have been some improvements to this extent in our education system, but more needs to be done to include social skills which our young children are coming across in their lives.
Is there any favourite part about your children’s school experiences?
I see that they now have their own life, with their own friends, and they can make up their own mind. It’s fantastic!
What do you think is the most important thing that the children learn in their classrooms?
The key is teaching social skills in class to our children. Society is changing rapidly and our education system needs to keep up with these changes. There is a disparity between what our young ones are being thought on their textbooks and the new realities they are facing, such as the Internet.
What is your method of discipline as a father?
My method is to set an example. I cannot expect my kids to help out in house work, if I do not do housework myself. Of course I do give them a certain look when they are not behaving, which they clearly understand.
Which are your kids favourite activities?
Etoile Ella and Soleil Sophie attend singing classes which they love. However now Etoile wants to play football and do gymnastics while Soleil wants to become a ballerina, a fairy and a mermaid!
From your experience as a parent, what are the challenges that parents face nowadays?
There are various challenges which we are already experiencing. TV, radio and the Internet are part of our lives. So we need to educate them to realise what’s good for them and what’s wrong. Take the Internet, children nowadays need to be aware of what constitutes abuse and how to use the Internet for education purposes. Parents need to be as educated as possible on these issues so that they can help their children meet these challenges.
In your opinion, how well prepared are local schools to educate children?
As I said before, there have been some improvements but surely there is much more to do to have our children prepared for today’s challenges.
Do you think divorce is healthy or perhaps unhealthy for the kids involved in that family?
Divorce is as unhealthy for children as much as separations and annulments. What is worse for children is to have to live with their parents not able to be married and instead forced to cohabit.
What would your advice be to others who are becoming parents very soon?
To make time for their children and put the family first at all times. Strong families should be built on love and care for each other. Communication with your spouse / partner is key to build a long-lasting strong relationship based on love.