Working moms around the country, myself included, have rejoiced in the spotlight on Sarah Palin: finally, a working mom like us who juggles the messy chaos of “having it all.” What a relief after decades of a two-party system (and I’m talking about the wives here, not the candidates). Women in politics seemingly had only two choices: Choice A --coiffed demure stay-at-home wives like Laura Bush, Elizabeth Edwards and Nancy Reagan, smart women honored to sit a few steps behind their men at the podium. Choice B -- angry, conflicted women (think Clinton, Ferraro, Pelosi) who either have zero children or delay their careers until they are practically grandmothers, and wear compromise like a brass shield salvaged from a Middle Ages battlefield. Sarah Palin’s uncontrollable brood, her zest for work, and her feisty tone resonate with working moms who rely on moxie to get through each and every rockin’ roller coaster day of working motherhood.
However, even if you like Sarah Palin, here’s the problem with her candidacy: she makes being a working mom look too easy. Marriage and pregnancy at 24? Five kids born over 20 years? A pregnant 17-year-old daughter? An infant with Down syndrome? A career with 24/7 responsibilities? Zero paid childcare? Three days maternity leave? A husband with a career exploring far off oil-fields and commercial fishing, whose hobby is stressful, dangerous, time-consuming champion snowmobile racing?
I can almost hear the new Republican retort to the building blocks of working motherhood: more plentiful, affordable quality childcare; healthcare reimbursement for birth control; more generous FMLA regulations; and incentives for companies to offer extended leaves, part-time positions, and flexible work schedules. What is the big deal, ladies? If Sarah Palin can go without those frills, why can’t all of you?
But I’m here to say, proudly, that there is no way on earth most working moms I know could juggle work and raising kids without everything Sarah Palin publicly eschews.
Let’s go down the list of essentials Palin apparently has done without.
First: Birth control. Although this may shock my friends in the Republican Party, I didn’t wait until either my first or second marriage to explore my sexuality. I’ve been lovin’ it for nearly three decades. Without the right to choose when and how many babies I’ve had, I’d probably have at least a dozen by now instead of three. Given my temperament, I can’t promise that all of those would have made it past the terrible twos. I’m pretty sure every one of the employers that hired, paid and promoted me over the past three decades would have fired me for all the sick days and maternity leaves I would have had to take to care for those 12 kids. Not to mention how much fun it would have been for my Harvard College and Wharton business school classmates to have my babies running around our study groups and final exams. And the dads? Well, if I were tied to my high school or college boyfriends by a mutual child, I think instead of providing emotional and economic security for my family, I’d be spending my days in an insane asylum or women’s prison (after the funerals, of course).
Second: Reliable, quality daycare. Women simply cannot go to work without it. I wish I could honestly say men can’t go to work without it, either. But we all know their solution: they schedule business trips or simply shower early and skedaddle to predawn meetings in order to moot the issue of who is responsible for the kids. Or, ala Bill Cosby’s hilarious comedy routine, act like such idiots around young children we are terrified to leave them in charge. And although, like Palin, some of us have sisters, mothers and aunts willing to pitch in, a lot of those women have fulltime jobs and fulltime children themselves.
Third: The need for employers to respect that moms need to be moms first and employees second. When a child is sick, we need to be able to care for him or her. Period. We can be good employees and good moms simultaneously, but we need a little kindness, consideration and flexibility to pull it off. Simple things like the freedom to bring a nursing infant or well-behaved teenager to work upon occasion. The ability to telecommute if needed, or to work a 7-3 shift instead of 9-5. Promotions and pay raises for results achieved, not face time. Plentiful off-ramps and on-ramps when we need a break in order to be present for our kids for a few months, or years, if our families need us. Since some kids have trouble scheduling their neediness between 7-9 pm every other Wednesday.
So Sarah, put on some more lipstick. Keep telling it like it is. But don’t forget about the real moms out here who most days don’t have time for makeup and speeches.