Palin Hits the ‘Motherload’
Posted by crustyriotgrrl on October 2, 2008
I was driving to school to pick up the kids, listening to conservative talk radio. The subject was, of course, Sarah Palin, and the villains were, of course, liberals. Not just any liberals, but feminist journalist turncoats who preach gender equality until Republicans practice it.
I was, it turns out, among them.
I’m not telling this story to brag of my notoriety — I was far down the list — or to boast about being the Good Mommy. As my kids would be delighted to tell you, I’ve been anything but recently, as the national conventions collided with the start of school.
But the moment captured the topsy-turvy nature of the Palin debate: The loudest voices in the usual stay-at-home chorus cheer Palin’s careerism, while many working moms wince at the thought of a vice presidential mother of five.
Like a Picasso portrait with body parts askew, nothing in this political set piece is in its accustomed place.
My colleague Sally Quinn put it most provocatively. “Is she prepared for the all-consuming nature of the job?” Quinn wondered. “When the phone rings at three in the morning and one of her children is really sick, what choice will she make?”
Quinn was skewered, but she’s hardly alone in her conflicted response. I watched a focus group of undecided married women convened in Las Vegas by a Democratic-leaning organization (Women’s Voices Women Vote) react to Palin’s speech. It took just a few minutes for the mommy debate to erupt, unbidden but fierce.
“She felt like she was one of us,” said one woman, an office manager mother of four. “She has family, she works, she has earned what she’s gotten instead of marrying into it. . . . I know there’s some controversy . . . but a lot of us work and have babies and all that.”
“But can you be president with a tiny baby and a big family and give both what they deserve?” interjected an accountant who works from home.
“Well, what if it was a man? . . . That’s where it’s a double standard,” the office manager said.
“I’ve heard there are plenty of high executive women — the job is first, the children have the nanny, the dad helps out, and they survive,” offered another woman, a grandmother. “I think she can do it.”
“Not if she’s really committed to her family,” said a recent retiree. “I think she’s bitten off more than she can chew.”
This is part of the never-ending conversation among mothers, working and stay-at-home, full-time and flex. Is there a mother around who heard Palin’s story and didn’t reflect on her own choices?
I don’t question whether Palin can pull off the most impressive juggling act in the history of working moms, balancing, as she told People magazine, BlackBerry and breast pump. But I do wonder — somewhat to my astonishment — why she’d choose to, and I suspect many mothers feel the same.
Looking over my female friends — educated and accomplished — it is hard to think of one who has not trimmed her career sails to accommodate family life. Amazingly, I know more women who have opted out than who work full-steam ahead.
This is not what I expected. Fourteen years ago, pregnant with my first child, I listened to two female friends, then high-powered Capitol Hill lawyers, discuss their dream part-time schedules.
“Not me, ladies,” I thought, smugly certain. Eight months later, maternity leave up, I was in my editor’s office, announcing that I wanted to scale back to four days a week. In a few years, I was down to three — and my friends had left their Hill jobs. Now I work full time, but not without ample agonizing and only because of a flexible boss.
My husband is a terrific dad, but the stark truth is that he does not feel the same homeward tug. He did a great job managing during the conventions, except for the unfortunate incident with the wrong doctor form for school, but when Julia needed to make lemon squares right away, I gave long-distance instruction from St. Paul — on deadline, naturally.
I would not, in truth, have it any other way. Wondering about Palin’s choice does not make me less of a feminist — just a realistic one. When I got home, I took the day off to clean the kids’ closets and get some meals in the freezer. Like Sarah Palin ditching the executive chef, I felt much better.
Source: Wasington Post, September 10, 2008; A15