The Work/Mothering Cohesiveness of Sarah Palin

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I just finished Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidate.

I’m going out on a limb and asking readers to put aside their political venom to discuss the merging and blending of mothering and working.

Take a deep breath. This isn’t a post about abortion. It’s not a post about Bristol or teen pregnancy. This post doesn’t discuss energy, ANWAR, death panels or the health care bill.

For the duration of this post, if it’s humanly possible, put aside your opinions and positions and accept my invitation to look at Sarah Palin in the context of her ability to govern and mother simultaneously.

Sarah Palin is a bad-ass mom.

A quick-run down of what I consider bad-ass mothering: campaigning for mayor and city council door-to-door pulling a wagon full of toddlers, toting her children all over Alaska to campaign for Governor, giving birth while Governor, breast-feeding a Down Syndrome infant while on the campaign trail running for Vice President of The United States of America.

She didn’t strike a “balance” between work and motherhood – she cohesively merged her work and motherhood seamlessly. Doing so was to the benefit of her personal fulfillment, her children and her work.

She felt a calling for more than motherhood, didn’t see a conflict and just DID it. She didn’t wait for the historically patriarchal Republican Party’s permission. She just did it.

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How did she do it? She did what mothers have always done throughout the history of mankind – she did what she needed to do and took her kids with her or found someone to watch them.

The youngest daughter Piper, one of the primary characters in the book, appears at her mother’s side at nearly every pivotal moment in Sarah’s political career. Piper might actually be the most empowered girl in America, next to Willow and Bristol. Like other children throughout the history of moms and kids, she tagged along behind or beside her mom. The only difference is that instead of cleaning the house and doing dishes, Piper’s mom campaigned, governed a city, then a state, and then ran for vice president. She made speeches, mingled with voters, went door-to-door, and posed for photos ops. She signed laws, dealt with reporters and balanced budgets.

The most beautiful thing about this book and Sarah Palin’s perspective is that there is no conflict at all between mothering and governing or mothering and working. She doesn’t even waste a single thought on it.

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She does not apologize for having children, for bringing children on a campaign, for a baby crying in the background of a phone call, for a child’s presence at a press conference or a State dinner, for her child answering a reporter’s question, for her children being present at the signing of bills, at the governor’s office or even playing hide and seek in the halls while she hammers out a budget through the night.

Sarah is there, therefore, her children are there. Duh, of course they are.

Think about that for one second. Replay, in your own brain, the number of times you apologize for your children’s presence. Too loud in church, disruptive in a meeting, no babysitter for a social function, working from home due to ear infections . . . and on and on. Think of all the guilt you’ve wasted over it.

She doesn’t talk about the stress of it either. Mothering is a pleasure. Governing is a privilege. She loves doing both. She has passion for both roles and finds them fulfilling. Why would she surrender one to an outdated traditional expectation?

She also does not apologize for leaving her children to pursue objectives child-free. She went to a hotel in California, leaving her family for a few weeks for some precious peace and quiet to work on her book. During the Vice Presidential race of 2008, she campaigned away from her children on weekdays so they could continue going to school in Alaska. Her husband, Todd, their parents, their extended family, close family friends, her children’s friends and parents and a hired babysitter all pitch in to make sure family life keeps trekking along while she’s away. Of course they do. It made me think, “wait, why are we making this so hard?”

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She didn’t quit when her family life got complicated. It got pretty complicated when she had an unplanned pregnancy while Governor of Alaska, then found out the baby boy had Down Syndrome. It was further complicated when, a month after giving birth to Trig, her teenage daughter, Bristol, confessed she was pregnant. Her oldest son had joined the military and gone to Iraq and could die at any moment. Any normal family would have a very difficult time adjusting to those circumstances. Before any adjusting could happen, Sarah Palin was asked to run for Vice President and hit the campaign trail. And she did it. Come on, I know women who have an emotional breakdown and take a sick day when they get their period every month.

There is a vital difference between her life and most working women’s lives: Sarah Palin is the boss.

She has no boss telling her its inappropriate to bring her kids to work, inappropriate to campaign pulling a wagon full of toddlers behind her as she talks to voters door-to-door. She has no human resources department counting her sick days and no one telling her she can or can’t be home at 3:00 to greet her kids after school. There is no one telling her she can’t work from her kitchen table when she needs to. No one telling her it’s unprofessional to bring children to a budget meeting or a major speech.

Some of us bang our heads against the brick wall of the patriarchal work-day establishment asking for maternity leave, paid sick days, family medical leave – talking to employers and trying to convince human resource departments of our worthiness as mothers and workers, and arguing over legislation, trying to convince politicians to support family medical leave and a flexible workday – and raging against the fact that our available choices all suck (I mean Me here).

Sarah Palin went around the brick walls. She just believed such nonsense didn’t apply to her. So it didn’t. I’m fairly certain it won’t apply to her daughters either.

McCain Palin 2008

Photos from (but not in this order) Positives in Politics, ivstatic, Kansans for Life, NY Daily News,† Telegraph.

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9 comments ↓

#1 Mirinda on 03.10.10 at 11:05 am

That delicate work life balance is so much harder for women that we spend our entire lives finding it, inventing it, creating it. For the last 5 years my work and personal life have been merged. It was great, and now Iím tired so I am looking for more separation between my work and private life. Sometimes itís great to be able to fold laundry while making a business call, and sometimes itís great to be able to leave work at work.

We need to have the freedom, support, and flexibility to do what is best for our families, whatever that may be right now.

#2 Tracee on 03.10.10 at 11:08 am

I agree. I used to think that working from home was ideal. Until I did it. Now, I think its a blend that works well now.

#3 Jenny on 03.10.10 at 3:29 pm

I was never a fan of her. She seemed kinda fake to me.

#4 Rebecca on 03.10.10 at 3:34 pm

The idea of working at home seems awful to me at this point. As you know Tracee I’ve been home for about 2 and a half months now, and while it’s nice (and I feel very privileged to have this opportunity), frankly I can’t wait to have work outside. If I were writing a book like Sarah Palin, I too would want to go somewhere totally by myself, and I only have 1 toddler, not a large family like she does.

As much as I disagree with her on so many issues, I absolutely love the way she shattered the Republican and far right (it’s hard for me to separate those) patriarchal complex.

#5 Shauna on 03.10.10 at 6:47 pm

I think in this post, I may stand out as a dissenter, but I love Sarah Palin. I agree with her policies on economics and I am pretty far right and conservative myself. I was amazed how often I felt myself defending her choice to be a working mother. I found myself explaining, loudly, that maybe the best thing as a mother she could do for her children was to try and provide a better world for them. I find it amazing that so often people think that working mothers are selfish – I think anytime you put your children first, which I think Sarah Palin did, it doesn’t matter if you work from home, you are a stay at home mom, you work in an office building or you pull your kids around in a little red wagon trying to change the world, you’re being the best mom you can be.

#6 Tracee on 03.10.10 at 8:08 pm

Full disclosure, I’m a Democrat, and I couldn’t believe how many democratic feminist women were arguing against her ability to govern and mother. It made me question who was really on my team. And whose team I was on.

I agree with Shauna – if you’re out there trying to change the world . . . you’re being the best mother you can be.

Ellen Gerstein posted this lovely post about work and mothering today on Facebook http://jaelithej.blogspot.com/2010/03/to-my-friends-who-work-outside-home.html

My 2016 fantasy involves a contest between a Democratic Woman and a Republican Woman. Wouldn’t that really change the world! Breath. of. fresh. air. New life.

#7 Shauna on 03.11.10 at 12:03 am

I know that we may differ of politics – but in the end we are all women, mothers trying to make the world a better place one day at a time (can you hear the Battle Hymn of the Republic playing in the background) and when we stop attacking eachother and start being united we will move mountains. I don’t care if your Democrat, Republican, or a member of the “Elect a Naked Mole Rat” party – I respect you for getting up, getting out and telling Barbie to “suck it” as you shatter the glass ceiling with a Baby Bjorn strapped to your front and spit up down your back!

Whew. I got a little fired up. What’s a little hormonal meltdown between friends? :)

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