If you’ve just gotten back from an interplanetary voyage, first, welcome back to Earth. Second, you might not know that Alaska governor and mom Sarah Palin has gotten a bit of news attention since she was revealed as the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Palin’s the “fun” choice so everybody’s been weighing in on her. This is partly because talking about someone else’s babies and family details is a lot less depressing than trying to sort out a war and the economy these days.
So she’s a mom and we all like to talk about other moms, but away from the sound and fury I can’t see that her being a mom means anything. The fact that both Palin and I fit in a category of “moms in their 40s” shows just how meaningless that category is, because as far as I can tell, she and I hold opposite views on just about everything except possibly the pleasures of Alaska salmon, but she’d be fishing it first and I’d just take it straight from the grocer. After all, what does being a mom mean (besides having a child)? Being nurturing? So is that supporting policies that protect the environment, or that make sure you can defend your home with a machine gun?
Over in Spain, as I’ve mentioned, the defense minister is a new mom, and coincidentally this weekend the Sunday magazine of the leading national newspaper had a cover story headlined “Mother and Minister” with a cover shot of Minister Carme Chacon cuddling her baby. Here or in the U.S., it’s an irresistible image to explore – a woman in power who’s also a mother of young children. So there was the picture of Chacon getting something from her refrigerator and the anecdote about Chacon zooming upstairs in the ministry elevator from a meeting to her private apartment, unbuttoning her jacket as she goes, to nurse her crying baby. Vaguely interesting, like the stories about Palin combining breastfeeding and work. But meaningful? The Spanish Socialist minister, who is quoted saying, “I’m a pacifist and the armies of the 21st century are also,” seems unlikely to have much else in common with Palin.
Palin’s also gotten lots of commentary on her personal choices, questioning how and whether a mother with five kids, one a special needs infant and one a pregnant teen, can or should take on the 24-7 stress and time of a vice presidential campaign, not to mention possibly the office (it’s been repeated so much it’s starting to sound like a line for a song in “Sarah: the Musical”). How it will affect the kids is interesting but irrelevant (although Palin has made it a fair topic by making being a mom a main part of her image), how it will affect the job is relevant but unknowable. An average mom probably couldn’t do so well, but an average mom wouldn’t even be in the position in the first place. And let’s get real, we’re talking about kids who now have no more than one degree of separation from U.S. presidents, whose mom, win or lose, can set up a nice trust fund from book royalties and speaking fees. This is not the upbringing the likes of your kids and mine will have. Sure, it’s schadenfreude-ish fun to tsk at the children being neglected (abandoned to their own father?), but although mom might not have time to help decide between the red or the blue back-to-school notebook, she’s sure giving them a different kind of edge in becoming successful adults. Their therapists can sort it all out one day.
So Palin can raise her kids her way, and let me raise mine my way. But that’s of course the real problem and the piece of legitimate interest in the exaggerated examination of her mom-o-rama life: extrapolating from Palin’s personal choices to policies that affect us all. She went back to work three days after giving birth? Does that mean we don’t need parental leave policies? Kids run around the office while she works? Does she understand that doesn’t go over so well in most workplaces? Conservatives have applauded the consistency between Palin’s opposition to abortion rights and her 17-year-old daughter having a baby. If her personal is to be made my political, or perhaps her political to be made my personal, I just might have to check out the Spanish army.