By Jennifer Sargent of Portland, Oregon. Jennifer is the regional communications director for ILWU. (She notes: her comments here are her own, and do not represent her employer.) Previously, she contributed "No, I didn't endorse Mike Delman. I've never heard of him."
In all of our talk about Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's qualifications for a spot in the White House, the question has been raised as to whether a woman can mother and steer a really big ship at the same time.
While Ms. Palin and I are on the opposite end of just about every spectrum, and she does not have my vote, my answer to this mother/work question is this:
Raising kids is a great plus on her resume: Parenting an infant, toddler and older kid(s) is a seriously humbling, @$$-kicking, life-long boot camp that you can't get in any Master's program. Pay attention while your kids are growing, and you'll be a better CEO -- or elected official. My hat's off to her.
I've had some challenging jobs, but nothing as demanding (and rewarding, but that's a separate post) as raising my 5-year-old daughter. Ms. Palin has four more than I do, and already diaper duty has made me:
- Capable of doing more things in less time than I ever thought possible
- More able to get perspective and decide what's worth prioritizing
- More driven to do my job well, because there's a cute 5-year-old watching and charting her own course
- Better at time management because I don't have time to dilly-dally like I used to
- More responsible, because stability has surpassed adventure as my top interest ... for now
- More grounded in dealing with difficult people, because I know they started out as helpless nippers like the rest of us and are probably doing their best with what they were given
- More motivated than ever to make the world a better place for my daughter -- and the people she'll have to deal with for the rest of her life
The list goes on and on. I'm not the only person who's "new and improved" after serving in the job of parent, and I know that some people will seem inept even after raising 10 kids. But my defense of "mother-as-VP" goes like this:
I think we would all benefit from having a woman (hopefully a progressive woman) President or Vice President who's been galvanized -- and softened -- by the demands and wonders of raising people. It's a humanizing experience that can make more compassionate, organized and motivated leaders of any of us, men and women alike. (I'd like to think that parenting has had a positive effect on some of the male executives we've had over the years, though I can name a few who should have spent more time learning their nursery rhymes.)
People talk about the VP's family -- who would take care of the family? But that's the family's business, not the electorate's. Trust me; committed people can make it can work.
I was really fortunate to have enough savings to stay home with my daughter when she was younger, and I wish for that option for any mom -- or dad -- to be able to choose for as long as they want. But those who choose to work -- or run a country -- can still be great providers at home. In my case, I realized that, while no one loves my daughter as much as I do, there are plenty of people who are better cooks, who have far more stamina for sitting on the floor and playing games, and who can teach her a wider variety of things than I can.
And at the end of the day, we are more excited to see each other than if we had spent the whole day together. Our own time together is energized because we are both interacting with people our own age during another part of our day.
When I started looking for full-time work when my daughter was almost two, I was disheartened -- and scared -- when the "can a mother work hard in this job" question seemed to threaten our future prospects. I actually had a potential employer, who had courted me for weeks, find out I was a single parent and tell me, "The woman whose position we are filling was also a mother, and she found the demands of this job too great for her. We don't want to make that mistake again."
In other words, they linked her time management skills to her parenting status, and they may not be correlated at all. The woman may well have used parenting as a more palatable -- and unfortunate for the rest of us -- excuse to leave behind a work situation that she didn't like for other reasons.
(Note to moms -- don't ever tell an employer that parenting is a handicap for you. They will falsely assume it applies to the rest of us. We need to build each other up and model parenting as the asset that it is.)
Fortunately, I later went to work for my former employer, the Oregon AFL-CIO. We had a union contract that protected family values like sick time to care for family members, health care benefits, etc. Just as important as the contract, though, was the fact that my boss, Tom Chamberlain, was a superstar when I needed flexibility. I couldn't work the same 14-hour days as my colleagues at crunch times, but I could do many things at once while I was there.
It's been pointed out that people don't question the ability of fathers of small children to be effective in their jobs. I think that's because people make the (often false) assumption that fathers have a partner who can pick up the slack at home. That was never totally true to begin with, and times have changed. Sometimes there's only one parent, and sometimes the dad is better at parenting and the mom is better at her career. Sometimes there are two dads, two moms, or you name it.
So my hat's off to the mother who ends up being elected to be President or Vice President someday. We will be better off for it.
I'm not voting for Sarah Palin -- for reasons that have to do with her politics, specifically (and ironically) those involving her lack of support for parents and working families. But for me, parenting experience is a plus, not a minus, on her resume.