Nay Saying

Carla: I am going to say something unpopular. At least I would find it unpopular if someone else were saying it. So here goes: I’m not sure Sarah Palin is a good example for mothers.

First, the qualifiers. What I want to say here has no relevance on her ability to serve as VP. In some ways, her superhuman drive and energy and whatever else it is inside her that has helped her function as a mayor/governor is exactly what a person needs to succeed in the second highest office in the country. I’ve never been the VP of anything, so of course I wouldn’t know for certain, but I would think that being the Veep demands a lot of long hours and very little sleep. It demands the ability to think clearly and make decisions under pressure. It demands tact and resilience and diplomacy and the strength to ignore your critics when you believe you are acting for the good of the country. From the very little that I know of Sarah Palin, she can do all of that. So I am not in any way questioning her worthiness to serve as Vice President.

Qualifyier #2: I have no idea what kind of mother Sarah Palin is. Her kids are lovely and her family seems connected and happy and proud of her. She seems to have done an admirable job of shaping her work around her family and not vice-versa. She really does seem like she’s found a work/life balance that fits who she is. 

But here’s my deal: I think Sarah Palin is an anomaly. She is that rare human being who has trawler-loads of energy. She has a drive that keeps her moving forward even when she’s just given birth. She is a woman who likes to win and knows how to make it happen. That’s all fine, but I don’t know how many of the rest of us can or should aspire to be that kind of woman. I don’t know that it’s healthy or wise for moms like me who can barely keep track of who needs to be where when to look at Sarah Palin and think–Hey, she’s one of us! She’s not. At least not the “us” of moms who struggle to find the energy to take a shower, the moms who forget appointments and lose important paperwork, the moms who need more than a day to recover from childbirth. There’s a reason she has accomplished everything she has and it’s because she’s anything but an average mom.

Oh and here’s a little something that connects to our conversation from yesterday (don’t you like how you were the one to send it to me and tell me how to link to it, but I’m the one taking credit for it now?).

Caryn:

My numbered responses follow. They may or may not have anything to do with what you just said.

#1. We can totally make you VP of the Mommy Revolution, Carla! You could’ve just asked and didn’t have to go about it in such a roundabout way. Of course, that means I’m president—and because it’s a revolution, that really means “dictator,” some may even say “tyrant,” but whatever. Either way, I totally rule.

#2. I hear you on the whole Is Sarah Palin good for the rest-of-us-sorry-mom types, but I disagree with you. There will always be (and have always been) those who seem to put the rest of us to shame. If we look at it that way. I totally believe that God specifically calls each of us to certain places, duties, roles, abilities and gifts us accordingly. Because I, too, lose school forms and can’t schedule a play date to save my life, I wonder how I’d handle something like the vice presidency. Then again, maybe it’s because I don’t do those things well, that I could….

#3. For what it’s worth, after my youngest was born, I was back “at work” (albeit on my laptop) while still in the hospital. It didn’t mean I’m against maternity leave (I took six months off after each of my first two), but simply reflected life circumstances. I needed to—and God showed up and helped me out. So I like to think the same of Gov. Palin. I hope this doesn’t mean she’s anti-maternity leave.

#4. All that said, I think being the kid of any type of politico would stink. And I’m talking about dads and moms. I remember one time I was at a political fundraiser and ended up in the bathroom as the same time as one of the politicians daughters. Another woman, approached the hand-washing daughter and gushed, “It must be SO wonderful to be [so-and-so’s] daughter.” I’ll never forget the girl’s wide eyes and fakey smile as she gave a slow, “Oh, yesssss.” I’m not saying she doesn’t love her dad or isn’t proud to death of him—and to be his child—just that it’s not necessarily “wonderful” to have a parent called to public service. Many pastors’ kids will tell you the same thing. Probably writers’ kids too…..

#5. I think she’s good for moms because it opens up who and what moms are. If a woman can nurse her baby in the whatever-shape office of the Vice President of the United States of America, then it can’t be long before we’ll see nursing moms in cubicles across the land (or wherever we moms may work or do whatever we do). (Sorry, this had nothing to do with anything except that I’m nursing my too-old-to-be-nursing-still son…).

 

Carla: Fine points all around (except for #1–watch your back). Still, I do feel like those of us who parent in the post-feminist world feel extraordinary pressure to be perfect overachievers in every arena. If we’re at home, then we feel like we have to make smiley face pancakes and have a stash of craft supplies that puts JoAnn Fabrics to shame because that’s how we prove to the world that we are great moms. If we’re working, we feel like we have to push for promotions and be on the top of our game if only to prove that we can excel in the workforce even when we have children. I feel like so many moms are just trying to get through the next 45 minutes and that all of this “moms can do anything!” talk–while helpful in the glass ceiling sense–is also one more way of convincing us that whatever we’re doing, it’s probably not enough.

As a woman who has nursed her baby in design meetings (there was one guy in the room, but he has 8 kids and I surely wasn’t going to show him anything he hadn’t seen before) and caught up on e-mail while still wearing the mesh underwear and ice packs (too much?), I don’t fault the woman for wanting to get back to doing what she loves. But I also think we need to be wary of cheering on a model of motherhood that few of us can live up to. So instead of saying Palin is one of us, maybe we need to admit that she’s not and cheer her on anyway.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Hello, Revolutionaries—

    Just to add my two cents to this fine discourse…I think the value of Sarah Palin’s example to Christian moms is not the specifics of her extraordinary life which most of us cannot and will not and will not want to emulate. But what she gives is a validation and freedom for the Christian mom who has some sort of vocational dream outside the home–that it is indeed OK to have those dreams and even, egads, pursue them! I know for myself, although my life is certainly a disorganized mess and it often feels like I’m hanging on by my fingernails, I still long to do more things that are separate from my life as a mom, and Palin’s story has given me more motivation to think about how even in small ways I can try to balance my life a little more in the direction of work than home. (Since right now it is almost completely weighted towards home, which for me creates its own set of stresses.) Although I will not even approach the kind of lifestyle Palin leads, nor do I want to, I do want to give my vocational dreams a little more opportunity for expression, and Palin’s example has given me more freedom to do so, without as much guilt as I usually feel about this topic. After all, if James Dobson can affirm her as the next VP of the USA, then perhaps my desire to spend a few hours more here or there each week on my non-mom projects won’t be viewed as a total betrayal of my family!

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  2. I must say, this is just priceless dialogue. Carla, your “wearing the mesh underwear and ice packs” comment had me doubled over. Oh, how I can relate. After four hours of labor, I finally – at 9 PM, three hours before delivering my daughter – I canceled a conference call I had scheduled for the next morning, because I wasn’t sure till then that the contractions were for real and didn’t want to cancel it if they weren’t. And I was on my laptop the whole time I was at the hospital.
    I agree with Carla that Sarah is not the ordinary mom. She is extraordinary. And her family circumstances are unusual as well since her husband’s job dynamics are more unique that that of the men in most families.
    I also agree with Carla that, in a way, we lose out if we look to Carla as the ideal. In my own observations, I see far more women overexerting themselves trying to do work+family+life and winding up tired, stressed, burned out, and facing marital strain than women underutilizing their potential and feeling bored. It is VERY hard to find the balance.
    I really like what Caryn said: “I totally believe that God specifically calls each of us to certain places, duties, roles, abilities and gifts us accordingly.” This is the key – certainly in my own life. It takes a LOT of discipline, self-awareness, and brutal honesty to gage the circumstances of one’s life in its varying phases and take on the right amount – the stuff that God is leading to, and not more or less. And in my view, when we overshoot it (which is my personal tendency), it can do a lot of damage to our personal, spiritual, and family lives.

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  3. Well, I’m all for “looking to Carla as the ideal” 🙂

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  4. Ok ladies…I don’t mean to point this out…but doesn’t this line of thinking go completely against the mom revolution? Isn’t it about moms being more than just moms…and doing it on our own terms?

    Shouldn’t we revolt against measuring up to ideals not only dealt out by others but also by those we place on ourselves? Aren’t we revolting about placing barriers on ourselves based on the fact that we are mothers (in addition to other roles)? Shouldn’t we be building each other up instead of measuring each other up?

    I for one, am grateful for Sarah Palin for the simple reason that she can be Sarah Palin. Just as I admired other women in American history (and other women in my life), I didn’t want to be them. I was simply grateful they were who they were. They helped make this country what it is, and Sarah Palin might be able to contribute in ways that we would never expect specifically because of who she is. It doesn’t make me feel less of a mom. It doesn’t make me think that she is not like me.

    I feel, in fact, that she is EXACTLY like me. Chasing her passions while being a mom. Making time for everything that is important to her both inside the home and outside. And… I’d bet good money that she fails at it as often we do. Even losing homework papers…

    Reply

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