… I have no doubt she would be getting roundly condemned by the Republicans, and especially conservative evangelicals, about her “poor choices” — and her daughter’s. Since when did the “values voters” crowd decide to rally behind not just a working mom, but one with so many competing family concerns? They would be vilifying her if she were Obama’s VP pick, accusing her of neglecting her large family, her special-needs child, and her teenage daughter who would clearly prompt the question, ‘if she can’t keep things in order at home, how can she run the country?’
James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, has come out strongly in support of Palin, even acknowledging that her addition to the ticket has moved him to renege on his former statement that he could not support John McCain as the Republican nominee. And while I agree with him — and with Barack Obama — that Bristol Palin’s plight shouldn’t be the subject of such intense public scrutiny, the disingenuousness in conservatives’ ardent embrace of Palin must be interrogated. Dobson’s organization is clearly in the camp that believes families are better off when mom stays at home. The section on motherhood on Focus on the Family’s website has links for stay-at-home moms, but few resources for working moms. And no such distinctions at all for dads.
Responding online to a reader who asked, “Is it important for mothers to stay home during the teen years?”, Dobson said, “Many will not agree with my opinion on that subject, but it is borne of experience with thousands of families…the heavy demands of child rearing do not slacken with the passage of time. In reality, the teen years generate as much pressure on the parents as any other era…Someone within the family must reserve the time and energy to cope with those new challenges. Mom is the candidate of choice. Remember, too, that menopause and a man’s midlife crisis are scheduled to coincide with adolescence, which can make a wicked soup! It is a wise mother who doesn’t exhaust herself at a time when so much is going on at home.” (Find full text here.)
As a 40-something part-time working mother of a teenager myself, I can appreciate the reader’s question, and the challenges Dobson acknowledges. But what galls me is the enormous shift in perspective that is engendered by prioritizing party first. Hillary Clinton was attacked years ago for not being a mom who stayed home making cookies, and who didn’t apologize for it. Now, Sarah Palin, who apparently put speech-making ahead of getting to a hospital to ensure her premature infant’s welfare, is the darling of the right. Where are all those critics who would otherwise be asserting that Bristol got pregnant as a bid for attention, because her parents, especially her mom, was otherwise engaged? Where are the arguments that if Sarah Palin had spent more time around the family house rather than the state house, maybe her daughter wouldn’t have made a choice that led to a child? You know that if Ms. Palin were of a different partisan stripe, such questions would be flying around the conservative blogs and airwaves thicker than a cloud of North Slope mosquitoes in July.
And if Sarah Palin were a man…well, we wouldn’t be having these conversations at all. At least not beyond whether a year and a half governing the state of Alaska qualifies a former small-town mayor to be vice president of the United States.