Okay, so putting Sarah Palin in the headline was kind of cheesy, but it really is the topic of the piece I wrote for today’s issue of the Alameda Sun:
(It’s Mom Mom Mom #31)
Since the nomination of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential candidate, the question of “can you really have it all?” has reared its ugly head yet again.
This usually happens when a woman makes it into the limelight, as it’s a question directed primarily to women—and mothers, in particular. By the media’s standards, “having it all” means having a career, a husband and children, as well as a beautiful home and throwing fabulous Martha Stewart-like poolside dinner parties. (Okay, so I added that last bit, but that’s part of my own personal “having it all” definition. More on that later.)
This time, the question comes up in reference to Governor Palin’s nomination. Before we even question whether the Governor is qualified—through her education, background and experience—to vie for the job of Vice President, we first ask about lifestyle and logistics. It sideswipes the more important issues of her capability and level of expertise. It refers to the fact that she has a high-powered career, a husband and five children— including young ones, a seven-year-old daughter and five-month-old baby boy. She also lives in a beautiful home in Alaska (yeah, I watched the Charlie Gibson interviews and saw them walk down through her backyard to her lakeside dock looking out at some Alaskan mountain). To many in the world, Palin seems to both do it all, as well as have it—all with a big smile on her face.
Somehow, this leads me to a bigger, more pertinent question: Is motherhood a career of its own? And, if it is, then don’t mothers automatically “have it all”? According to the media, a woman who is married, has all the accoutrements attributed to “having it all,” and has chosen motherhood as a career isn’t a contender for the life we women are supposed to dream of having. Likewise, a woman with only a career and children, but no big house or husband, is lacking, as is anyone in any of the other possible circumstances of a woman’s life, with or without husband, children, the big house, etc., because, as we all know, a man and a career and children complete us, ensuring that we certainly “have it all.”
It’s become an enormous double-edged sword. I believe that our society diminishes the importance of motherhood, its role in our lives as women and how it affects the lives of our children. At the same time, for mothers, the heavy work of infancy and school-age is short-lived, but our role to model a life suitable for our children to emulate—embodying the characteristics, morals and principles of hard-working, wage earning, self-sufficient individuals in society—are long-standing and lasting. These are attributes I want my children to have, but they need to learn how to live this way in their time with me first. What better way than to watch me do it successfully?
I do not endorse Governor Palin as a vice presidential candidate, nor do I embrace any of her politics in any way whatsoever. I also completely disagree with her choice to run for Vice President during the heavy workload time of her children’s lives. I am not saying that a woman cannot work when her children are young. Nor am I saying that a woman cannot be Vice President or even President, for that matter. For me, it’s all about timing and the requisites of being able to do the job. However, I do believe that Palin represents just one example of a woman having it all, successfully, on her own terms. That’s really what it must come down to, that each woman ask the question and try to come up with the best answers: What does “having it all” feel like for me and my family and how do I make that happen?
My mother was desperately unhappy in her career as a mother; she had no choice at the time. I do believe that she would have been more satisfied with fewer children and a career of her own. My own children benefit from my work financially, of course, for how else would they eat, but also in many other ways. I have shown them yet another way to “have it all.” I consciously choose to work from my home, a hard-earned and won facet of my own personal “having it all.” My life has not turned out exactly as I planned it, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still consider myself “having it all.”
From my perspective, the media’s version of “having it all” (including Palin’s scenario) really means you have a lot of help and a lot of money–to pay for the help and for all that stuff you have when you have it all. By those standards, I don’t have it all right now. While I am perfectly happy with the three kids I have, I need someone who can come over and clean my house and cook my meals every day. Give me that and trade in my minivan for a convertible Mini Cooper and I’ll consider myself “having it all.”