September 02, 2008

You can have it all

I've mentioned before that while pregnant I read a great book, and one of the things it says about parenting is that you have to realize, as a parent, that you can have it all, maybe, but you definitely can't have it all at the same time.

But what if you get it all at the same time?

On this blog we have periodically gotten very oratorical about politics, so you all know where I stand. I want to bracket my political inclinations right now and say that--I don't agree with her, a lot of her opinions and decisions make me VERY ANGRY--but I am really feeling empathetic about Sarah Palin right about now.

I don't fully know how to say what I want to say carefully enough--I am not trying to be offensive or argumentative, here, but just to notice that most of my closest mama friends have a very difficult time balancing work and self and mothering. It's tough. Even if you believe that it is important to balance those things, that you could not be good as a mother if you denied your need to be an individual and a professional, it's hard. I'm going to go on the job market this year without a major publication, and that's partly because I chose to spend my afternoons with my son rather than writing, and that was a really good compromise for me, but it was indeed a compromise. Most people I know are negotiating a similar balancing act--you keep your balls in the air, but you know none of them are flying as high as they might.

I normally have a sense of what I want in my life: that my professional life is important, but not the only important thing, and that I don't want my professional life to require me to neglect the other things I love.

I know that, but would I really turn it down if Harvard called and offered me a job? Would I really say no, even if I'd be ambivalent about all the work it would demand?

What if Harvard called, right after I'd just had a child with special needs--needs even more special than the needs of my other four children? What if Harvard called when my oldest daughter needed me more than ever?

What if Harvard called and said: we're calling, but we might never call back? What if Harvard called, and you thought you could really do some good, but weren't sure you could really do all that good right now, but maybe you'd just have to try, because this is your now, this is your moment, this is the time when life invites you and your babies and their babies onto that american idol stage?

A lot of attention has been paid and will be paid and should be paid to Palin's judgement in the next few months. I am not, right now, interested in evaluating the judgement she showed in making her choice. What I just want to say is that this moment in Sarah Palin's life is like a crystallized version, is like the reductio ad absurdum, of a decision all mother's face. It is absurd to be in her position; it is stranger than fiction, it is so hyperbolic I can almost not believe it's real, and that's not even counting all the weird Alaska-moose-cubing bits.

So I empathize. What I will have to decide, this year as I think about my own career, is whether I sympathize. I will be interested to watch as America judges the judgement of a mother, trying to have it all on our most public stage.

What a strange strange moment, when conservatives argue that a mother of five is qualified to be VP by VIRTUE of her mother-of-five-ness, while even liberal mothers wonder if really this is the level at which you say, you can't really have a professional career at this level, with this kind of family situation. We're all reaching the limits of our ideological foundation. Watching her extremity, we are all stretched too far.


Kati said...

I think the Republicans are partaking in a little gender-baiting. The hardcore Hillary backers rallied at the polls after the media jumped on her for tearing up on the campaign trail. Those were voters motivated to vote against sexism.

The question now is will those same voters get riled up by everyone questioning Palin's judgment as a working mother and future grandmother -- in what a McCain spokesperson has already said is a sexist way?

You can empathize with Palin and vote for Barack. The gamble is whether women who sympathize with Palin will do the same.

Kelli said...

And, I know I'm stating the obvious, but no one questions whether any of the men who are running, or have run, for president should have, even if they had small children. Somehow, it's different for women. And before having a baby, I would have chalked it all up to society and it's inherent sexism. But now that I have a little one, I realize that indeed, it just IS DIFFERENT. And hard. And balancing yourself as an individual and yourself as part of a family, or part of a country, or part of a political movement, or all of those, is really tough. I'm glad no one is looking too hard at my decisions, frankly. They'd see a lot of lazy mothering already.

Sometimes, life hands you things when it's not convenient. That's kind of how life works. And showing your daughters -- and/or sons -- that you can be a full person and lead a fulfilling life is a pretty important thing to show them, no matter how you do it. Working, staying home, writing, reading, riding a bike -- whatever makes you feel good about you (in a real way, not a selfish uberhippie "It feels good, so do it" way), is also good for them. Good luck on the job search. Hopefully, you'll get that call from Harvard (or maybe Brown) any day now.

Michelle said...

I'm perplexed by all the talk about how this choice for VP is sexist. A woman is on the Republican ticket for the first time in our history, and that is cause for celebration any way you slice it, even if you disagree with her on the many positions she has taken on (to name a few) oil drilling, abortion, creationism, gay marriage, and global warming in the past. And whether or not you agree that McCain made a stupid mistake not having properly vetted her (which he has denied heartily), or made a brilliant choice of a very conservative and very aggressive female reformer, he got his base jazzed and (mostly)united for the first time this go 'round (that I can tell). So, personally, my initial thought is that the gamble on an essentially unknown running mate is paying off for him (so far, anyway).

And far be it for me to pass judgement on other mothers for choices they make with their careers (or anything else for that matter, except maybe abusing a child). Because we all live our own lives, and we do what works for us within our sphere of experience. If you did get a call from an esteemed university and offered your dream job, whether or not you took the job, you could argue it was for your family's sake. Either choice demonstrates thoughtfulness, strength, and forward thinking. Palin is dealing with familial challenges just like anyone else. I think it is absurd to insinuate she can't do this job because she is a mother. People should focus their attention and criticism on her positions on the issues that resonate with them and leave her family out of it.

Anonymous said...

The problem with liberals is that we sometimes get too empathetic and can see the other side to the point so much that we miss the larger point. I'm sure you think it's commendable for you to be so respectful of her choices but you're getting a bit analytical if you assume that she thinks like you and raising her kids like you, and is not just not using birth control and having kids and letting the older ones raise the younger ones. Just because you wouldn't do it doesn't mean that she wouldn't. I personally know some ruthless ambitious women who have done that and take the praise of "balancing family and work: they're amazing blah blah". If you look at her kids you can tell that those older girls of hers are made to care for the younger ones and it's not a choice of thiers. Just sayin... by all indications this is a ruthless and ambitious woman who will make others bend to her will, children included.

sarah b said...

It'd be easier for me to feel some empathy for her if she actually seemed to have that true heart she claims she does. But she talks out of both sides of her mouth on the motherhood issue; she leans heavily on motherhood to appeal to voters, making it appear like it's just no thing for a smart, ambitious woman to be able to manage five kids and a governorship (and now VP campaigning)-- but doesn't acknowledge what I'm sure has to be a radically non-traditional division of labor at home. I.e., her husband is much more likely the "hockey mom" in that family, right? So she does one thing, while *pretending* that she is doing another and that pretending part is chilling: because it says to women everywhere "quit your whining about equal pay and just roll up your sleeves." She's making feminism, and what it strives for invisible for expressly political purposes, and I can't get behind that.

Sheree said...

Thanks Sarah. I was hoping for your affirmation.

I think its courageous to put yourself out on the job market with what you see as a hole in your resume. In my limited job searches, its been apparent that what I saw as missing from my own resume wasn't noticed by my future employers. Even so, I'm afraid of the gaping hole in my own resume--I'm attempting to fill it in this year.
Good luck with your search, I hope the Harvard's out there pick up on what is there as an indication of what will be added.

Amy E said...