And so this young wife and mother named Sarah Palin came into the spotlight. In the days following I've heard some sharpening of knives.
Palin is a mother of five children, her oldest son is headed to Iraq soon, her youngest is a baby with Down's Syndrome. This young child indicates that her commitment to life at all stages is something more than a political sound byte. Nevertheless, Palin continues her career. Check out the way she does politics in this photo. It reminds me of Pakistan's Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto's, way of doing politics. In May 1994, journalist Claudia Preifus described Bhutto's plane for The New York Times Magazine.
"In all the world there cannot be another plane quite like the official jet of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. The front section is a kind of office-cum-nursery, jammed with toys, briefcases, newspapers, nannies and Bhutto's children, Bilawal, 5, Bakhtawar, 4, and Asifa, 1. In the main cabin, political advisers, security commandos and generals are keeping an eye on the Prime Minister they cautiously support,
"Hello gentlemen . . . Hello, babies," Bhutto calls as she enters the plane. It is both jarring and interesting to see soldiers saluting a woman with children on her lap."
One conservative Emmy award winning journalist and author, Liz Trotta, claims Palin might not be able to balance work and home responsibilities, that conservatives have a right to ask how Palin will care for her children (even though we do not ask that of Obama as a father, we assume his wife will cover those responsibilities). Conservatives believe bringing up children is a full-time job (they also believe women are built to take the lion's share of this job- I've discussed my belief about women being built or designed to be full-time mothers here "When Religion Hurts Women"). Conservatives care deeply about family values. Which brings me to an interesting philosophical question. Does family values have to mean that a mother stay home with her children? Trotta believes conservatives will disapprove of Palin running for Vice-President, because a mother belongs at home. Watch the feisty short exchange between Megyn Kelly and Trotta here.
When a working mother values her home and family, what should she do? As a recent friend of mine said, "My wife stays at home with our two children." I told him I thought that was great, and then asked, "Does she want to stay home?" He replied, "She realizes the value of watching our children grow up. Being with them for these moments is priceless. She doesn't have to ask the caretaker what happened each day because she was there. And my daughters are growing up so fast. There's no way of getting that time back." I have to admit that I cringed when I heard that because it sounded like an apologetic justifying why they've decided she should stay home not what his wife had actually wrestled with and decided upon for herself and her family's best interest. The answer was scripted (to be fair, I should say it "sounded" scripted to me). It reminded me of the many responses of mothers, responses that are not examined by us, responses we expect from mothers. I'd like to examine this response for the sake of Palin and for the sake of mothers everywhere.
I value childhood as a significant time. I value family immensely. I honor and admire women who've chosen to stay home with their children. I'm so grateful for the hours upon hours that my mother gave me during childhood. But there are some problems with the belief that only stay-at-home mothers really care about family values.
Problem #1- it assumes that being physically present is the only way to show care and concern for family values. But physically present mothers can sometimes be emotionally absent, intellectually stunted, psychologically unhealthy. But few conservatives decry these damaging affects on children, though these are as real and significant. Conservatives often make the mistake of assuming being "there for your kids" is enough, when it is not.
Problem #2- it assumes that women are the only capable, proper caretakers, sidelining capable fathers. For instance, no one has asked Obama who will be caring for his children while he runs for office. This double standard is common among conservatives, but it is inconsistent and unhelpful given how many conservatives are also Bible-believing Christians (like myself). Because as we ought to know, in Scripture God himself is clear to point out that parenting is a two-person task, and never commands mothers to stay-at-home as their God-ordained duty.
Problem #3- Many women have included others women and men in the task of caring for their family without sacrificing their children or their careers. If you begin asking children of working mothers, you will find incredibly creative, valuable and clever new ways of mothering. You will also find children who are as grateful as I am for my mother. It is the children of constantly absent mothers (and this can be emotionally or physically) who are embittered or feel neglected. I know from watching and listening that you can be an excellent mother and still work full-time outside of the home. It is difficult and demanding, more so because we have so few visible examples to watch and emulate. I hope Palin's instant visibility will begin to change that and offer women more viable, God-honoring options.
Problem #4- This view idolizes childhood as the most important time a mother can be present, when in reality, childhood is no more important than the tween years, the teen years, the adult years. I want my both my parents to "get" me and what I'm doing now, perhaps even more than when I was a baby. Why? because I'm grown-up, I know when they're resisting me, on board with me, distant from me. I can pick up all these clues and remember them vividly. Children will remember, too. We all know about "childhood scars", but let's not forget that adults need love and support just as much as children.
Problem #5- What about the significant thesis that "Mothers Lead Best" argued by the new CEO of Zondervan, Moe Grzelakowski in her book Mothers Lead Best: Fifty Women Who Are Changing The Way Organizations Define Leadership. Grzelakowski found that in mothering women develop: superior negotiating skills, warmer interpersonal skills, the ability to differentiate between protecting people and taking smart risks, patience, crisis management skills, alliances and better communication skills. She found that mothers learn to work better with men, than childless or single women. I caught up with Moe and asked her a few questions about her thesis and this book project.
J: What books or individuals inspired and strengthened you in your work (both in and out of the home)?
M: My parents were the most influential. They had six kids and both worked when the youngest started first grade. Despite this my mom was the head of the women's group at church and my dad led the men's. We had the closest family in the neighborhood (and the most organized!) So in essence - working and raising a family was second nature for me.
J:What can mothers who choose to stay home do to support mothers in
working environments outside the home?
M: Focus on being good at what they do and appreciate the incredible contribution they, themselves are making. If they are aware of their own self worth - they will be naturally supportive of others.
This last point is interesting. I wonder if more stay-at-home mothers would be supportive of working mothers if they were convinced their sacrifices were right for them, and not a dogma to enforce on mothers everywhere.
Moe's book helped me realize that if we really believe mother's are so important to a family, for their abilities to nurture, read people, intuit, multi-task, offer compassion, resolve paradoxes, ambiguity and navigate unpredictable situations, then perhaps we need a mother very, very near the president, with enough power to change things beyond influencing him as his wife.
Problem #6- In Ruby Slippers I write about how God thinks men and women are a good team. He started his Earth creation with the ratio of men to women being 1:1. I believe the best team effort for running anything, whether it be the family, the business, or the country is a man and a woman. If we keep women out of such a significant job as Vice-President based on our personal conviction that we would like to be home with our children, then we are effectively baring women from freely and individually choosing how our gifts best fit into our families and our world. I don't think we can decide this for Palin, we can decide this for ourselves. We do not know her resources to hire help, we don't know how much she has delegated child-care responsibilities to her husband, her daughters and we do not know how her individual gifts (though I hope we will get a chance to see these in action soon).
Palin's mothering skills are taking a hard hit as her 17 year old daughter, Bristol, has recently announced her pregnancy and intention to marry her child's father. I've been surprised at how liberals are now questioning if Palin can adequately care for her growing family and run the country in such a demanding job as the vice-presidency. The Wall Street Journal quotes one social worker, Barbara Licthman, a liberal woman living in Florida, who accuses conservatives of being hypocritical, "When you're campaigning for vice president, you're on 24/7. Who's watching the baby? And what kind o f nurturing is going on in that 17-year-old's life is she's pregnant." I believe this expresses what many people think, but haven't brought themselves to say.
If so, then let me point out something. Have you noticed, no matter what the child's age, if a child has a deficiency, it is the MOTHER who is responsible for it. If the daughter is pregnant, the mother failed to nurture. If the baby has needs, the mother must meet them. This heaping of more responsibilities on mothers is inappropriate and at core, un-Biblical. It is voicing our judgment of condemnation and blame, when only God can be a just judge.
I have yet to meet a mother who does not struggle under the guilt, the weight of societal pressure to be the ideal mother, to prove that she really loves her children BY giving up her personal time and career goals to prove her undying family values. I thought liberals believed in freedom of choice! I guess that's just for women who want to terminate their pregnancies, it's not for women who believe in God-sanctioned, time-tested, viable options in raising their children.
Isn't it possible that Palin's daugher, Bristol, a 17 year old women, chose to have sex, that her mother is not responsible for her daughter's choices? When you are 17, no amount of nurturing will keep you from doing what you like. This is the age when children are nearly adults. It's time we stopped blaming parents, particularly mothers, for their adult children's mistakes.
Palin worships at Juneau Worship Center, which is affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God. I'm glad she belongs to a church that recognizes and validates women leaders (For an exmample see my blog covering Aimee Semple McPherson "Is America Ready for a Female President?"). In many ways, Sarah Palin reminds me of the woman in Proverbs 31 who also has children, but like Palin, works with eager hands, provides food for her family (Palin answers her Blackberry while she pumps breast milk for her infant), considers a field and buys it, out her earnings she can plant a vineyard (Palin has invested in the state of Alaska, working hard to cut out corruption and now her earnings have given her a chance to invest in larger things). The Proverbs 31 woman is beautifully clothed both with fine linen and strength and dignity. In the face of the media frenzy upon her personal life, Palin and her husband, Todd Palin have conducted themselves with both dignity and strength. I know many will be watching both of them as they draw nearer to the white house. Finally, and perhaps most important for those who believe a woman's place is in the home, let us us not forget that the ideal woman in Proverbs 31 was one who "watches over the affairs of her household" but also one who had traded in the marketplace. If the Hebrew patriarchal culture could honor such a woman in their city gates, shouldn't we modern Americans be able to do the same?
A few months back, I heard a lot of people say that though America was ready for a woman president, they weren't excited about Hilary Clinton. Well, they now have a chance to put their vote where their mouth was. We'll see in November.
I, for one, am impressed and delighted to have a chance to vote for a working mother like Sarah Palin.