Sarah Palin and the Politics of Mommy

So just how important is the mother?

That’s the latest question to result from the Sarah Palin disaster. Putting aside the mental gymnastics (or gross hypocrisy) necessary for the evangelical right to embrace her thoroughly modern take on parenting, and the question of whether or not a man would be asked the same thing, what does it mean to have the woman who is potentially running the country facing an extremely difficult period in her family life?

As Sally Quinn of the Washington Post put it:

Not only do we have a woman with five children, including an infant with special needs, but a woman whose 17-year-old child will need her even more in the coming months. Not to mention the grandchild. This would inevitably be an enormous distraction for a new vice president (or president) in a time of global turmoil. Not only in terms of her job, but from a media standpoint as well.

Assuming that Sarah Palin adopts, as is her prerogative, a traditionally male role in embracing her new job – sixteen hours days, lots of time away from the kids, a severely reduced family life – will America accept it?

I am guessing no. The reasons for this are manifold, but at root, we still believe that mothers have an irreplaceable role as the parent of their children, particularly newborns. Is this fair? I don’t know. There are millions of years of biological reinforcement at work here. Mothers give birth, feed, and nurture their children. Nowadays, they are only seemingly necessary for the first part of that equation, but the sense lingers that perhaps necessity dictates more.

I can only say, in my experience, the mother is irreplaceable. And that the ties that bind the mother to the child are stronger than any calling. But Sarah Palin might experience motherhood differently, and we should give her that benefit of the doubt. However she plans to raise her children – provided they are not abused – is none of our business.

The only question we may ask is, will it effect her performance. If she says no, that’s good enough for me.

But I’ll close this post with this excerpt from a story by Jodi Kantor and Rachel L. Swarns in the New York Times:

“You can juggle a BlackBerry and a breast pump in a lot of jobs, but not in the vice presidency,” said Christina Henry de Tessan, a mother of two in Portland, Ore., who supports Mr. Obama.

Her thoughts were echoed by some Republicans, including Anne Faircloth, daughter of former Senator Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina. Being a governor is one thing, Ms. Faircloth said, and Ms. Palin’s husband, Todd, seems like a supportive spouse. “But running for the second-highest office in the land is a very different kettle of fish,” she said.

Many women expressed incredulity — some of it polite, some angry — that Ms. Palin would pursue the vice presidency given her younger son’s age and condition. Infants with Down syndrome often need special care in the first years of life: extra tests, physical therapy, even surgery.

Sarah Robertson, a mother of four from Kennebunk, Me., who was one of the few evangelical Christians interviewed to criticize Ms. Palin, said: “A mother of a 4-month-old infant with Down syndrome taking up full-time campaigning? Not my value set.”

This issue is not going to disappear.

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4 Responses to Sarah Palin and the Politics of Mommy

  1. Emily says:

    As a mother, I have mixed feelings about this. In spite of myself, I do take issue with her judgement. You’re talking about a 4 month old, not a four year old. It must have been a difficult choice for her. And in the balance, it might be worth it to the whole family if mom becomes Vice President. I just can’t see how she can manage both. It’s either/or.

  2. MadWoman says:

    Impossible. An impossible situation. The worst part about it is she’s really not qualified for the job. All this fuss over the wrong woman.

  3. An outstanding choice who has proven she can handle vast, complex challenges. She will do an excellent job, with Dad and other around to help with the family.

  4. houser says:

    Charles – How has she proven she can handle vast, complext challenges. We know nothing about her except she’s a woman and a conservative. What challenges are you referring to that are relevant to the vice presidency? And please don’t tell me commanding the Alaska National Guard. Give me a real one.

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