The other night watching the potential first woman vice president give her speech at the Republican National Convention, I had such conflicted emotions. I wanted to say, “You go, girl,” in my least cheesy of voices. But as young Piper licked the palm of her hand to slick down 4-month-old Trig’s baby locks I wanted to scoop them up and shield them from the storm.
Electing Hilary was putting a woman in the white house. Electing Sarah is putting a mom in the white house. Hillary’s child is grown and no longer depends on her the way an 8-year-old and a 4-month-old depend on a mother, not to mention three other children one of which is a 17-year-old mother to be. And while a mother’s work is never finished no matter how old her children are, her role in their lives changes dramatically over time.
With Palin we’re asked to re-examine a mother and father’s role in the family and to develop new standards and expectations. And I’m not saying this is a bad thing necessarily. But in general a mother’s role in nurturing is much more involved than a father’s. In general, fathers tend to be able to say I have a late meeting or I’d like to go do X and slip on out. While mothers IN GENERAL have to solve the kid puzzle if they have a late meeting or want to go do X all by themselves … arrange pick-ups, drop-offs, meal plans and often still cook, lay out pajamas, etc. And maybe it is not so much that mothers are actually expected to handle all of this, but more they feel like they should or feel like it is expected of them.
In my own little family, it is my husband who has stayed at home with our youngest daughter all summer. It is he who generally bathes the children. He is the one that does the laundry and gives me crusty looks when I forget the Spray and Wash. He’s probably changed more diapers than I have. Our roles in the family are not 1950s by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a fiercely independent woman. I’m strong and determined and was raised to believe I can do anything I want by another fiercely independent woman who is strong and determined. But I can’t imagine growing up with out complete access to that woman. I wouldn’t have been able to get through my second gymnastics meet if she hadn’t had gotten me over my shyness with a special magic leotard. I surely would have died by now with out her behind me constantly saying, “Lindsey! People die that way.” And on more than one occasion when words really did hurt, she picked me up brushed me off and showed me I was important in a way that only a mother can.
And during the Republican National Convention I watched a strong well-spoken funny spunky woman who I’d really like to meet and have lunch with, yet I kept finding myself wanting to cry for Piper and Trig, who potentially won’t have quite as easy access to their mother. And maybe in their family this has all been worked out and they don’t need my empathy.
It’s not necessarily a fair position for a mother to be in … to have to choose opportunities of a lifetime over her small children. But often a mother does and in a way that fathers do not have to or are scorned for doing so.
In my own very non-first-woman-to-do-something, not out-in-the-public life have been passed over for promotions, cool assignments and even stock options because I was either pregnant or the mother of young children. I’ve overheard, “we can’t give that to Lindsey; she has a baby.” I’ve been told to my face, “I’d like to promote you, you’re perfect for the position, but we feel we sort of have to protect ourselves and you may say that you are going to come back after having the baby, but you may change your mind once the baby comes.” And yes all of the above are technically illegal. But clearly there are some limits to my schedule as a mother of small children.
But, Sarah Palin stood up and said not mine. I can be the Vice President of the United States and the mother of five children. However I’m not so sure if I want to say “go get ‘em,” or invite Piper to come live with me.
So I’m not exactly sure what I’m getting at other than I totally don’t feel it is right to hold a woman back … that you can have your children and have major career also. But I know how hard it is to balance my schedule at work with being a parent and I’m not even the vice president of company much less of the United States. But in the wise words of my friend Lillie-Beth, “Something’s gotta give.” So I guess I’m utterly conflicted on what I think about her committing to this opportunity. Because I would hate someone to look me over because I have small children, but I also feel like my kids need me. I think kids need both parents. But I don’t want someone else limiting my opportunities based on assumptions that I wouldn’t be able to handle something because of my young family’s needs.
So what do you think? Is it fair to view Sarah Palin as a mother? How do you balance your career and motherhood or fatherhood? How would you raise you children in Alaska while serving as the Vice President in Washingon, D.C.?
- Lindsey Johnson