Saturday, August 30, 2008

Five is enough. Or maybe too much?

So late last night, the wife raises an interesting point about this whole Palin thing that I hadn't even thought of. The reason I hadn't thought of it is that I'm a Guy, and though I'm hardly the typical Guy in many respects, one thing I share with my fellow Y-chromosomers is this: Right or wrong, I've never tended to think of work in terms of any impact it might have on my home life. Your job is your job, and you basically follow Nike's advice: Just do it. (In my case, it helps that I've largely worked at home. The 9-to-5 world is someplace that I should never, under any circumstances, be. That much I've learned about myself.)

Kathy, though, is a Mother in the classic tradition. She never bought in, not one bit, to the "you can have it all" mantra of feminism's second wave, which, for the most part, is the one that remains culturally entrenched. (The first wave, of course, was the angry, "women need men like fish need a bicycle" revolt.) It tells you all you need to know about Kathy's general attitude towards working moms, especially the ones who choose to work "for their own fulfillment," that sometimes when we pass a day-care center in the morning on the way to breakfast, she'll glance over and say, "Oh look, Stephen...there are some women dropping off their hobbies at day-care!" Kathy has also worked in day-care, and has had to rock many little children to sleep in her arms as they cry for their mothers after being dropped off.*

The point here is that Kathy was talking with her lifelong best friend, who is like-minded, and they find it ludicrous as well as somewhat offensive that a woman with five kids, one of them a special-needs infant, would take a job in public life at all, let alone agree to serve as vice-president (and potentially the nation's chief executive). "There is no way a woman in that position could do justice to both roles," observes Kathy. "She's either going to be a half-a-mother or a half-a-vice-president, or both. And if she gives her all to the government job, then it ends up with someone else raising her kids." Kathy and her friend don't see how it could be otherwise.

This makes me wonder several things.
First and foremost, I wonder if the media will go anywhere near that one. Can you imagine a touchier subject in this, the Year of the Woman?** Especially since, as Bernie Goldberg sagely pointed out in Bias, so many women in media are themselves working mothers with young kids in day-care. I also wonder how many other mothers there are whom Kathy speaks for. And I wonder how the Christian right, which fell all over itself yesterday in praising McCain's new running mate, reconciles all this with its own views on motherhood and family.

Like I say...should be an interesting couple of months.

* Day-care workers don't tell you that stuff when you come to collect your kids at the end of the day. They just smile and give you the little drawings the kids made, or the bead necklaces that say I LOVE MY MOMMY!
** OK, I suppose that even before that, it was the Year of the Black Dude. But you get my drift.


Elizabeth said...

Fair questions, Steve. But from what I heard so far, Palin is very much a hands-on mother with enormous and enviable supplies of both energy and drive. Frankly, I cannot imagine how she is doing it, and would side with Kathy in general in my doubts. But.

I know women who do it all -- and seamlessly, it seems. Not many, but they do exist. They are tough, determined, and have excellent organizational skills that make their home and work life run smoothly, as much as it is possible. It's a gift, IMO, and a rare one at that (the amount of energy in particular -- it is simply rare among us mere mortals).

Another thing to consider is Palin's possibly stay-at-home husband. I don't know if that's the case, but (strong) chances are that he is more involved in raising the kids and more hands-on, given her busy life. And why not.

I suggest we reserve our judgment until we learn more about her. (BTW, I never hear similar criticisms raised about male politicians with several offspring at home. How can they be good dads if they spend so much time away?

Oh, wait, they have wives who take care of the home and family business. So maybe Palin has a husband who does the same. Let's wait and see.)

RevRon's Rants said...

That 3AM call comes in, and at the same time, your child awakens with night terrors borne of a 103 degree temperature. Which do you answer first?

Having raised my own 2 kids as a single parent, I know what my answer would be, but I was never faced with having to choose between an oath of office or my children's needs. When the choice was between my career ambitions or my children's needs, the answer for me was always clear, and would have been the same no matter how many Secret Service people I had at my disposal.

I wonder how clear that choice would be for Palin. I also wonder how that choice would fit within the framework of "family values" so loudly touted by the religious right.

roger o'keefe said...

Once again, Steve, I have to compliment you on having the perceptiveness or the sheer balls to say what no one else says. You're right, there's no way any of the talking heads in MSM will touch this one with a 10-foot pole. It's not even on the table. In fact they revel in the idea that a woman with five kids would prove herself allegedly worthy to take a demanding Washington job like this. It validates everything they want to believe about women and themselves and possibility. That's one more reason why I respect you for this, by the way, because I assume you still have to work with some of those people or even depend on them for freelance income.

What I do wonder, though, is how they make sense of her being on the "wrong" ticket. This was supposed to be Hillary Clinton, or at least a Democrat!

Steve Salerno said...

Since you brought it up, RO'K, I won't deny that some of the stuff I've done on this blog has caused friction in my "other professional life." It goes back to the same thing we talk about all the time: There is very little appreciation for nuance, even among highly intelligent media types, and when it comes to self-criticism (or even mere criticism of the media's sacred cows), still today, a decade post-Bias (or at least a decade after the WSJ column that started it all), there is very little tolerance for "disloyalty."

Anonymous said...

If nothing else, Palin has turned out, so far, a kind of a test revealing your prejudices. It is unbelievable to watch.

Hardly an argument here about Palin's positions on various issues, which are definitely worth criticizing (such as her archaic position on abortion), but plenty of condemnation of her for personal reasons, such as her mothering, about which none of you guys have a clue!

Shame, is all I can say. Sexist prejudice at its worst, because concealed as intellectual and presumably justified "concern." Very disappointing. But not surprising, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

I am with Kathy Steve. I was thinking the same thing about Palin. I do not buy that any woman is being honest when she says she can "do it all." I believe those who say they can "do it all" are in a form of denial. It was a dream sold to women that has never and should never come to fruition. Life is about making choices, but no one wants to hear that. I think a woman can have a career and family, but not at the same time.

Here is the problem with Palin, she is selling herself on the anti-abortion traditional values ticket. What is traditional about her? Is she breastfeeding her four month old special needs child? Is she bonding with this child? Her husband cannot breast feed and it is best for children to be breast fed. Now she could be pumping her milk, but she does not look like she is nursing.

I am still nursing my twins and they just turned one. I teach one class and write. When I decided to marry and have children, I made a CONSCIOUS decision that I would raise my children and found a job where I could. I planned my life accordlingly. I have extended family to help me, but I wanted the full experience of being a mother. I have a great husband who is very hands on too, but my twins do prefer me. Maybe it was that eight in half months in my womb.

I am an Independent, but I do not like Palin just for this reason.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention, when I wrote a piece about my biological clock ticking and making choices, no woman's mag would touch it. No one wanted to hear my views about career and raising children, or the reasons why I waited to have them. I had to follow the "I am Wonder Woman" and will be taking on the world mantra. They did not like it when I pointed out I had a great career and can have another one after my children are older. Careers do not have the same shelf life as people, which children will become. They wanted me to follow the standard formula that has been so ingrained in the American female psyche for so long that is not even allowed to be questioned.

This idea of "you can have it all" fits nicely into the SHAMscape.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>"Oh look, Stephen...there are some women dropping off their hobbies at day-care!"

Killer line of the year!

And exactly fits the kind of "motherhood" I see all around me.

Anonymous said...

"Hardly an argument here about Palin's positions on various issues, which are definitely worth criticizing (such as her archaic position on abortion), but plenty of condemnation of her for personal reasons, such as her mothering, about which none of you guys have a clue!"

I have a clue about "mothering" and I would say Pahlin's "mothering" and stance on abortion are political fodder. How is it anti-abortion is not a personal topic, but motherhood is? They do go hand in hand.

Steve Salerno said...

Wow. I step out for a few hours and all kinds of stuff happens. For reasons of time and consolidation of effort, I'm dealing with the main thrust of those comments/issues here on this post, so I apologize to contributors who made comments on the three or four other related posts/threads.

I don't think you can use the criticism of someone's mothering skills as an automatic litmus test for sex or gender bias. That really comes down to a matter of opinion, and whose ox is gored. For years now, women--and other formerly oppressed groups--have deflected any and all criticism by instinctively labeling it some kind of "ism." That is an unfair debating tactic, in my view, and only serves to stall the kind of honest progress most of us would like to see. In fact--to push the envelope a bit farther--I have never understood why Fortune-500 America caved so easily on the issue of gender equality in the workplace. Here are some facts: Men don't get pregnant, men don't get PMS (or use PMS as a convenient alibi for certain unproductive workplace behaviors), men don't take nearly as much time off for health-related reasons; men don't take nearly as much time off, period. Why is it inherently unfair for an employer to consider such matters? Why is it inherently unfair for the American electorate to consider the fact that this woman has five kids--and to also consider whether her pursuit of a career, especially at such high levels, is unfair to those children? I don't see any kind of automatic "ism" buried in any of that. (What I just wrote happens to be exactly how my wife feels about Palin. Is my wife gender-biased against women? Is my wife objectively "wrong" for thinking that women basically do belong in the house, once they have kids?) Yes, we have passed laws that say you can't discriminate against women on the basis of most of the factors I just listed...but opposition to those laws is not inherently immoral (or even illegal in the "supra" sense. Laws change).

I also think that if women do end up casting aside some of their core values (like abortion rights) merely to put A Woman in the White House, that would be tragic--and telling--indeed. And for the record, though I support Obama--more strongly each day--I stand by what I said in a post some months back: that if I were him, I would go before the cameras and say to America, "Look, if you're voting for me because you're black and I'm black, don't bother. I don't want your vote on that basis."

My wife doesn't say much about a lot of things, but when she does get off a line, it's usually a good one: pointed, acid, and pithy, and memorable.

Anonymous said...

Now that you've done the proper bashing of those neglectful mothers and awful day care centers, let me ask you (Steve and all) this:

What do you propose mothers who are not independently wealthy and have to work for a living do? Any rational suggestions?

As a former single mother of two I had to go to work right after my second one was born, when my husband decided that this marriage and family thing was not for him. I had no choice but to find daycare for my kids, and everyday I blessed its existence. It allowed us to survive. My kids are grown now and great human beings. Being in daycare has not damaged them, as far as I know. But not having daycare when they were little would have been a disaster for us.

Perhaps you need to take off your blinders once in a while and acknowledge the reality as it is, not as you'd like it to be.

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. A "good line" means simply that--a good line. It doesn't mean I endorse its truth. There are plenty of people on both sides of every issue that get off good lines.

Anonymous said...

To RevRon:

Luckily, Sarah Palin won't have to make that dreadful choice between the 3 am phone call and consoling her crying child (or subjecting the poor things to the unspeakable horrors of daycare). She has a devoted husband who takes his fatherly duties responsibly and is there for the kids and for her. She also has members of her extended family ready to step in at a moment's notice.

Where do you guys get this idea that raising children is the mother's domain only? As long as humanity existed, it's been a community project (yes, it does take a village, as Hillary said) where extended family and distant kin as well as the community participated in the process. It's the socio-economic changes in the modern American society, changes that have created the nuclear family, that shifted child-raising responsibilities exclusively into mothers' laps--with unhappy consequences for all.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 2:59, there are situations, and there are situations. And again, please realize--I wish I didn't have to keep saying this--that in many cases I'm mostly "throwing ideas out there" for people to react to. You've reacted, and others have reacted, and now we're all reacting to each other. That doesn't make any of us "right."

But to return to my first line above: I think what upsets many people--male and female--who have had about enough of the argument that goes, "I don't have to give up the rest of my life as a human being just because I had a baby or two," is the total abdication of responsibility. It is true that some people are trapped in circumstances that are not of their own making. It is also true that many people--in their pursuit of personal gratification--throw balance and common sense completely out the window. Let me use an example from another realm. Every week in winter you'll hear stories about mountain climbers who got trapped on some peak and had to be rescued, often at great public expense. we want to just let the mountain climbers die? Of course not. But whose fault is it that they're up on that peak to begin with? I think it's a valid question. And it applies to many single mothers (and I'm NOT SAYING IT APPLIES TO YOU, Anon, because I don't know your circumstances) who have babies they probably shouldn't have had. And that isn't an argument for abortion, either! I'm just saying, this notion that we can all do whatever the hell we want to do, as hedonistically or narcisstically as you please, and then expect people to cut us slack (or even pay the freight) when we make decisions that may do harm to those who depend on us... I think that bothers a lot of people today.

Anonymous said...

All right, Steve. So what solution do you propose for mothers who have to work to earn a living (a majority of women in the world), regardless of whether they are married or single? Intact families nowadays cannot manage on one spouse's wages. What do you suggest they do with their kids if daycare is such an evil in your eyes?

Elizabeth said...

I'm just saying, this notion that we can all do whatever the hell we want to do, as hedonistically or narcisstically as you please, and then expect people to cut us slack (or even pay the freight) when we make decisions that may do harm to those who depend on us... I think that bothers a lot of people today.

That's some broad brush you use here to paint working mothers and their choices, Steve. Have you noticed that most women with children, married women included, *have to work* to support their families? You may want to step outside of the comfortable middle class (and above) zone to see what women's lives, and parents' lives in general, are like. Work is not a "hedonistic" or "narcissistic" pursuit for 99% of women in the world. And neither is motherhood (nor is motherhood an "option" for a majority of women all over the world, the US included).

I too am curious what realistic solutions you'd suggest for working families where the mothers' income is necessary to meet the family's needs.

Elizabeth said...

But whose fault is it that they're up on that peak to begin with?

Yeah, really. It's their freaking fault to be born to begin with, and require air and nourishment to live, goddamn it. Stinkin' narcissists/hedonists.

Seriously, what a misguided analogy. Steve, if you're ever in IL, stop by and I'll take you to visit the meat factory where my mom works in back-breaking conditions. The factory employs mostly women of reproductive age, a majority of them married mothers. You can tell them all about their narcissistic/hedonistic urges. They'll be a receptive audience, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

This is completely ridiculous. There seems to be an assumption in all of this that there is no such thing as a stay-at-home dad. Yes, she may have five children, but it's not as if she is the only parent here.

I wonder if you would be raising this same question if Obama had five children. Would you?


Anonymous said...

Steve, my take is that Palin is a trojan rabbit: she has no chance of getting inside the walls, she's just there to look cute. By the time election day is upon us, expect her to want to spend more time with her family, so the Republicans can pick some boring old white guy, while still being able to say "Well, we tried our best."
Robert Pepper

Steve Salerno said...

First, I'm curious about something ("a procedural question"): Some of you seem to be piggybacking onto comments by others that hadn't been posted yet. In other words, I'll receive two comments for my approval simultaneously--and one seems to have been written with knowledge of the other. How is this possible?

Analogies aren't perfect. We use them simply to get people who appear to be guilty of rigid thinking to expand their context and think more "outside the box" (another phrase I hate). I don't claim to have solutions here (and for the record, I'm not even making all of these arguments in my own voice, necessarily; I'm "throwing stuff out there"). But since this has developed into a tempest in our little teapot, let me just throw a few more questions out for discussion:

1. Why are there so many single mothers? Was that unavoidable?

2. Do parents really need that 4-bedroom home in the suburbs? Or would they be just as happy, if not happier as a family, if mom stayed home and they lived in a two-bedroom apartment? (It's just a question, folks, not an accusation. OK?)

3. Why don't we all live close together in cities, or even physically with each other, generation living with generation, as used to be the case in the old days? Think how many other things would be different. Less commuting. Lower gas prices. Less dependence on foreigners who would really like to kill us, if they could. If people did need to work, they'd have built-in day-care from grandma and grandpa instead of indifferent teenage part-timers who specialize in shaken-baby syndrome. And we could all get by sharing one car, two at most, which means less expense for cars, insurance, etc. So less need for everyone to work.

Pointing to a social condition that--some folks feel--has gotten completely out of hand, and saying on that basis, "You need to get in touch with reality," is a little bit (analogy warning!) like my living in the old South and saying to a reformer, "Hey, slavery is just how it is, deal with it."

Is it not at least possible that maybe we need to change the social schema to conform more to what (again, some folks feel) we ought to be doing, instead of continually learning to accept lower standards in order to accommodate the social schema?

Steve Salerno said...

Chris: I dunno. Is it the same thing? I guess it depends on how one views the respective roles (if any such fixed roles exist) of men and women, fathers and mothers.

Here I fall back on that noted philosopher, the Socrates of our day, Bill Maher: "Sometimes there are double standards because it's two different things."

Also, if we're going to admit that question--if we're going to say a mother is exactly the same as a father, and by extension a woman is the same as a man--then are we prepared to follow that reasoning right on down the line to its logical consequences? The implications for the women's movement would be profound--and, I think, unwelcome.

Elizabeth said...

OK, Steve, about your points -- no.1 I won't touch here -- it is really a complex issue, much more so than sometimes we allow ourselves to acknowledge.

No.2 -- I am not talking about comfortable suburban 4 bedroom home with 2 car garage, plus brand name clothing, etc. Steve, take a look at lives of working class families and show me what luxuries they can part with: their one-bedroom apartment? food? electricity? kids' shoes? It takes two incomes just to make ends meet, to survive. Please tell us what alternatives to daycare do you propose for them if the options you describe in no.3 are not available?

As to no.3, I agree with everything you propose, but also say that these options are unfortunately unrealistic given the US geography and economic reality.

BTW, I was a daycare kid. Hated every minute of it and would not consider it the best option for raising kids. But sometimes it is the only available (and/or humane) option.

Steve Salerno said...

I'm rereading a lot of what I've written today--and it was written quickly, on impulse, between other errands/activities--and I'm realizing that I've come off as a callous SOB. I should mention again that I have a daughter who is a single mother, and a son who was a single father for a time, until the little girl he'd raised as his own for two years was taken from him following a paternity test. I've watched my family go through a lot of the very things that we're discussing here in such abstract terms. Even my one child who has enjoyed a mostly "normal," successful life--my eldest son, who actually got married before having kids (imagine that!)--has three daughters who have spent at least part of their lives in day-care. I know these aren't easy issues, by any means (though you should also know that I will say, directly to my children, the kinds of things I say right here on this blog). I guess what I'm really saying is that many of my comments, which may seem harsh, are motivated by what you might call "disappointment fatigue," and a nagging sense of this isn't the way things are supposed to be...

Elizabeth said...

I dunno. Is it the same thing?

Is it different? If so, how?

As a kid, I much preferred spending time with my dad than my mom. My parents tried to work opposite shifts so one could always be home with the kids, and for the time where their work schedules overlapped, my brother and I were in daycare. I loved the days spent with my father. In my opinion and experience, it's not the gender of the parent (or caring adult, if need be) that matters, it's the quality of parenting (care) the adult provides.

On the issue of single mothers: After reading your last post, Steve, I remembered you told us Kathy was a single mom when you met and married her. So I'm guessing she too, presumably, had to face some form of work vs.childcare issues. Right?

And lastly, going back to Palin, it appears that she has the devoted husband/father and extended family on hand to help her care for her 5 kids. Exactly what you advocate in your no.3 point, no?

I'm no fan of the woman's political agenda (in fact, I'm strongly opposed to it), but I too say let's not get into judgment of her mothering skills as qualifications for her office, especially since we are not privy to details of her family life, and, furthermore, since we do not use this criterion in judging male politicians, do we.

RevRon's Rants said...

Before our assorted anonymi get too comfortable on their collective (and defensive) high horses, I'd remind them that I raised 2 children as a single father, and there were times when I simply had to make a choice between my children's needs and my other responsibilities. Faced the same choice a number of times when I was married, as well. And the choice was always clear. The kids came first. For that reason alone, I would not even consider putting myself in a position where making that choice would be detrimental to something as critical as the peaceful function of the free world. Of course, with my history, I doubt such a decision would ever arise! :-)

Being a parent - even with a partner - of a special needs child in particular infers a level of responsibility that simply can not (or should not) be shared or delegated. So does holding the position of President or Vice President. I would suggest that one must have their priorities straight - and be honest about them - when considering whether to assume such critical additional responsibilities. No denigration of mothers; just a responsible assessment of parenthood, IMO.

Anonymous said...

"I'm just saying, this notion that we can all do whatever the hell we want to do, as hedonistically or narcisstically as you please, and then expect people to cut us slack (or even pay the freight) when we make decisions that may do harm to those who depend on us... I think that bothers a lot of people today."

I'm sick of it myself. Sure there are mothers and fathers who need daycare, but I know plenty of women who had children like accessories. I have seen it first hand. Have a baby, take six-weeks off, go back to work. Put baby in daycare, even though there is a grandparent or extended family around. Even though they could scale back and spend time with the child. Why have the baby to begin with? Why not just get a pet? These are important questions, because as a society at some point we pay for these children.

Anonymous said...


Please forgive my complete un PC comment but I really think that deciding to have 5 children in this day and age when the planet is struggling with overpopulation and natural areas - such as Alaska suffer from the harmful effects of global warming. It shows a complete lack of sensitivity and modern intelligence - and for that I would not choose her to make such serious decisions for a continent as powerful and large as North America. She either doesnt know how to use birth control or doesn't really care for the future of her kids anyway.

Anonymous said...

At least two other things drive day care supervisors crazy:

Parents who arrive late to collect their kids--consistently late.

Parents who are jabbering in cell phones

Parents who drop off a child at day care who is ill and needs to have been kept HOME.

I dont get it. What is the point of having children when we are so rushed and hectic that we barely have time to hang out and enjoy their company?

I knew 20 years ago that I was not cut out to be a parent, because I didnt want to live my life in a blur.

That was twenty years ago, and and from what Ive observed on the sidelines, its become even worse today.

Cal said...


I'm curious if your wife feels any different for those parents who use nannies to raise their kids.