Mothering is a Plus on a Resume (even for Sarah Palin)

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:

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.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Friends of mine who know the Palins says Todd is a totally absent father. Sarah is raising the kids by herself. The kids refused to move to Juneau so she's commuting back and forth between Juneau and Wasilla.

    That said, VP or Prez is a 24/7 job that involves being away from home for extended periods of time, children take second place to national concerns. So you're going to tell a 7 year old and an infant to buzz off while you're off on a week long trip to foreign capitals, while your hubby is off on the North Slope or racing his snowmobiles. The equivalence between a 9-5 job and a 24/7 job doesn't hold true, especially with small children, with one effective parent.

  • cw (unverified)

    Very well said Sargent. I am definitely not voting for Sarah Palin, for many of the reasons you have noted, but I will gladly vote for YOU anytime, should the opportunity arise...

  • Gregor (unverified)

    McCain announced today that he would name Levi Johnston, the future son in law of Sarah Palin, Energy Secretary in his administration. When asked about appointing a high schooler with no experience, McCain said” This guy is perfect for me, not only is he not afraid to drill offshore, he is also comfortable drilling onshore in unprotected areas.”

    — Andrew [Posted on the NY Times]

  • Nbt (unverified)

    Jennifer, why did you feel compelled to assert parenting experience is a plus, not a minus, on her resume.? Is this a strawman argument? I have heard very few out thee, if anyone, frankly, who are actually are claiming parenting per se is an issue? Isn't the real issue how competent somebody is? Quality of parenting could be relevant there. Do you make that crucial distinction?

    Beyond that though, do you have the personal depth of perspective to see how each of the points you raise, can easily be the root of bad leadership just as much as good leadership? One of the things that comes through in your comment is that you don't distinguish well between the fact in parenting you have control over a child's life, and in a democracy, the most important quality in a leader is for him or her to respect they don't have control over other adults, only their consent.

  • LiberalIncarnate (unverified)

    There is no doubt that being a mother is a tough job. However, personally her having children is not a measure of whether or not she can be VP or President... her character is. She opposes abortion in all cases, believes in abstinence only and is against programs that limit teen pregnancy. Yet, her own daughter is now pregnant!

    So, these things ARE, in fact, valid concerns on her character and judgment.

  • cw (unverified)

    I don't think there is any dispute from this crowd that there are, in fact, good reasons to question Palin's character and judgement. I believe Jennifer is pointing out simply that someone being a mother isn't a reason for us to questions their ability to be a dedicated leader.
    As Bill's comment demonstrates, people do seem to be assuming that she doesn't (or shouldn't) have the time to be a good leader, because it will take her away from her parenting responsibilities. I think it is unfair to make that judgement, and frankly none of our business. Let's not go there, unless you think that a woman's place is in the home...

  • A nation of children (unverified)

    One would think that after 7 years of the most disastrous Administration in the contemporary era, that we'd at least PRETEND to focus on the policy positions advocated by the respective candidates and their parties.

    Whether someone is a parent or not, has nothing to do with whom they'll appoint to the Courts; what environmental policy they'll have; whether they'll foment wars; etc.....

    Looking forward to the debate questions:

    What's your favorite color? What music do you like? What's your astrological sign? Pepsi or Coke?

    I need a drink.....

  • John Reinhold (unverified)

    We will be better of having a Mother in leadership positions because of her parenting experience?

    George W. Bush is a parent. Dick Cheney is a parent.

    Even good parents could make disastrous leaders.

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    cw said: I will gladly vote for YOU anytime, should the opportunity arise...

    Thanks, cw! I am more of a behind-the-scenes gal myself, but I appreciate your vote of confidence.

    A Nation of Children said: What's your astrological sign?

    I'm a Leo, my favorite color is red, and I don't drink soda. How about yourself?

    John Reinhold said: George W. Bush is a parent. Dick Cheney is a parent. Even good parents could make disastrous leaders.

    I agree! They are among the ones who need to spend more time getting in touch with their humanity. Somehow I don't see those two digging into the trenches of nurturing anything -- I'll bet they didn't even feed the cat. Inseminating and parenting are two very different things.

    Speaking of those poor Cheney kids -- I know someone who grew up with the Cheneys, and she said, "There's only one person on Earth who's meaner than Dick Cheney. And that's Lynne Cheney."

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    I suppose Jimmy Carter shouldn't have assumed the Presidency when his daughter was 10. Absentee Dad One, I hear the Secret Service called him.

    How did Hillary Clinton pick up all that "experience" she was supposed to have soaked up in the White House when her daughter was 13? Maybe Bill filled in the gaps.

    JFK had an infant son and a three-year-old when he ran for president. Plus he found time to nail Marilyn Monroe! And Robert! Geez, if he'd managed to survive and get elected in '68, there would have been eleven kids in the White House, ranging in age from an infant to a 17-year-old. No problem though, because he was a guy.

    C'mon people. The President and VP have household staff to attend to the day-to-day needs of their families. Sarah Palin's got plenty of reasons she shouldn't be VP without pretending the size of her family is an issue.

  • (Show?)

    I'm just loving all the cognitive dissonance the Republicans are experiencing. After years of telling everyone that mothers shouldn't work blah blah blah, now they're faced with a working mom as a VP candidate.

    And yes, there's all kinds of reasons to oppose her that have nothing to do with her family. For starters, because she's flat-out crazy.

  • cathy k (unverified)

    As much as I think Sarah Palin represents a poor VP choice, I agree that those out there who question Palin's ability to be VP because she has young kids are asking questions of a woman candidate that are never asked of a man. As a working mother of two young kids myself, I don't know how she's managed to juggle governing a state and parenting, but I do know it's her choice to make and making it doesn't automatically make her a bad mother or a poor leader. (However, the list of other reasons why she's a poor leader is long...)

    Motherhood doesn't replace work experience, but it does augment it. And frankly, as more and more actively involved dads are finding out, so does fatherhood.

  • (Show?)

    I agree that motherhood can and should be something that requires a tremendously diverse array of skills -- and that these skills are not respected nearly enough. Mothers have the negotiating skills of any lawyer, the stamina of any Navy Seal and a near-super-human ability to multi-task.

    Just as listing lawyer or Navy Seal as one part of a potential candidates resume, so should mothering. We aren't just sittin' around....

    and yes, Kari, Palin is batty to the 10th degree...

  • ShaunaB (unverified)

    It's a given that Sarah Palin is bat-sh*t crazy and simply wrong on every issue I hold dear. And even though I'm a working mom, I personally think it's inappropriate for a mom or a dad to take on a job like VP with a special needs INFANT at home. But I agree with Jennifer that it's totally sexist that the issue of "who will take care of her kids" gets raised with Palin and not with Obama, Edwards, or other men who had young children at home when they sought higher office.

  • (Show?)

    I think I've made my position clear, but just to make sure:

    There are plenty of reasons to vote against Sarah Palin: She's a right-wing zealot whose policies hurt working families and the environment, for starters. And there's the ethics problem, abstinence nonsense, etc.

    But I DO think we will miss out on great talent in a more sane, progressive woman candidate when she pops up unless we start NOW to look at parenting as either a non-issue (because it's not our business to run other people's families), or a positive experience that enriches a candidate's skills and maturity.

    Personally, I'm a huge Obama-Biden supporter, because that's the team that supports better wages, better health care, and a lot of other issues that, for me, truly represent family values.

  • marv (unverified)

    As a parent Sarah Palin fired the Chief of Police because he wanted to move bar closing time from five am to two am. A town of nine thousand with forty-two meth labs; children were sleeping in pails. If you get this pal in at the white house you will have full support for the end-time agenda. Jews will have hope if they convert to her version of Christianity before the bombs begin to fall.

    So, guess she is what men and women of good conscience want a heartbeat away from ordering a first strike.

  • genop (unverified)

    The benefit of parenting is the corresponding selflessness it instills in the parent. While non-parents can practice and hone this skill, it is part and parcel of parenthood. I agree, selflessness is a good trait for a leader. Nannies make the time commitment a non-issue. She will need to vet them on their attitudes on abstinence and fire any who might provide the kids with birth control, God forbid. Based upon past experience she would probably pressure her Chief of Staff to fire the nanny, and if met with refusal, fire the Chief of Staff. Top notch selection John McLame.

  • (Show?)

    Kari, I'm shunning Dr. Laura. But have you seen her nudie pics on the Internet? She sure points a lot of fingers for a lady who's lived like Carla Bruni for half of her life.

  • (Show?)

    I'm just loving all the cognitive dissonance the Republicans are experiencing. After years of telling everyone that mothers shouldn't work blah blah blah, now they're faced with a working mom as a VP candidate.

    Okay, Kari, now it's your turn to back up your words. Who are the Republicans who have been telling mothers they shouldn't work? And, no, we don't claim Dr. Laura.

    The cognitive dissonance seems to be on your side, as evidenced by some of the posts in this thread and elsewhere around the internet.

    By the way, I don't think most of the Palin critics posting here believe a word they are saying. I think it is just that some people can't pass up the chance to cheapshot a member of the other party. (I know, because we've got folks like that in my party, too.)

  • Bob (unverified)

    For starters, because she's flat-out crazy Kari, please back that one up too. I assume you're not saying her policy stands make her crazy because they differ from yours.
    She didn't say McCain was a good candidate because he's articulate, bright, clean and nice looking. So it must be something else. She didn't say you couldn't go into a 7-11 without a slight Indian accent. And she doesn't envy Northern slave states for their appeal to Southern voters. So it must be something else that makes her crazy. Or maybe it really is just her stand on the issues.

  • Andrea@Activistas (unverified)

    As a mother-of-two, I've taken offense to the comments floating around about whether she should take on the role of a candidate for VP as the mother of 5 kids - two with special needs (one 4-months and the other 17).

    I think that even if we disagree, it's good that we're are having a discussion about this because it smacks of problems with work/family balance and gender inequality not often discussed. However, at its core, this is really just a political issue. Sarah Palin was selected, in part, because there was an assumption that, by virtue of her very anatomy, she would appeal to disaffected Clinton voters. Her selection was endorsed by the religious right; a group who (over the past 8 years) has become accustomed to having power of the “executive” variety. It was assumed that her positions would appeal to them and her ovaries to women like me.

    And as much as I’d like to see a woman in executive office, I would not vote for someone with positions and values so divergent from my own. Mother or not. Whether this represents feminist progress is another question entirely. The reality is that Sarah Palin is ardently anti-choice (even in the case of rape or incest), favors abstinence-only education and the teaching of creationism in schools. That alone would send me running to Obama, even without all the discussion of her inexperience, Troopergate, and her support of questionable projects (like the Bridge to Nowhere, which she supported before she was against it).

    But of course, these are not the issues we’re discussing, instead the narrative has focused on whether she should be subjecting her family to this scrutiny and who will care for her baby. This represents a problem that I believe reflects entrenched (and sometimes internalized) sexism.

    To read more check out:

  • (Show?)
    Okay, Kari, now it's your turn to back up your words. Who are the Republicans who have been telling mothers they shouldn't work? And, no, we don't claim Dr. Laura.

    Well, Jack, Phyllis Schlafly's been doing her best for nearly five decades to put roadblocks in the way of working mothers. Despite reportedly being pleased with the choice of Palin as the VP choice, her Eagle Forum has opposed (for instance) the Equal Rights Amendment, guarantees of equal pay for men and women working the same jobs, it opposes federal programs to finance daycare for low-income working mothers. She's paradoxically made a career (althought she calls it a "hobby") out of telling and training other women to tell women that they should stay home and raise their families.

    Just for good measure, she's also made the point that rape by a husband isn't rape at all, but that's not exactly germane to the discussion at hand, just an example of some of the crazy stuff from influential members of the Republican machine.

  • positivelyprogessive (unverified)

    Thank you Jennifer for bringing up this topic. It stands as a great opportunity for us to clear parenting from the political table.

    While I would love to see the myriad of politicians exposed for being such awful parents as a means of recognizing how they will provide leadership to the larger scope of family, it is in fact personal.

    Parents are constantly being judged in their personal lives and it's distracting to the actual act of parenting, just as it's distracting the American public currently.

    <h2>Oh how I hope that our hopefuls are consistent in bringing attention to these real facts discussed in this post about the team of McCain/Palin. I hope I hope I hope!</h2>
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