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Joan E. Dowlin Headshot

Assessing Palin's Parenting Skills

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Firstly, let me say that it was very brave of Sarah Palin to allow us into her home to see her personal side with her new reality series Sarah Palin's Alaska. At the same time, she must have realized it would open her up to new scrutiny from observers like me (whom she would probably label "lamestream media") who noticed certain subtle flaws in her parenting techniques.

She may say since I have no children I have no right to criticize her and she is probably right. But because she is apparently grooming herself to run for the highest office in our nation, here I go again.

Watching her interactions with her two daughters, Piper, 9, and Willow, 16, I have come to the conclusion that she is a pushover with her children. Allow me to explain. In episode one of her series, Piper and a friend are in the kitchen with Mama Grizzly making cupcakes. Piper deliberately sticks her finger into the batter and licks it then sticks it back in and then licks the hand whisk and puts it back in the batter to whisk some more. Her friend calls her out on it but Momma Sarah totally ignores it as though she didn't see it. Then Piper calls her "Sarah" which she also ignores and later explains to the camera that Piper calls her that when she wants her attention.

This is an obvious sign of disrespect for her mother and maybe the key word there is "attention." Piper is quoted on the plane ride to the lake as saying her mom is always on her blackberry. In another scene in the boat where Piper and her friend are fishing with Sarah and Todd when they come across a mother bear and her cubs. Piper begins making grunting bear-like sounds and Sarah says "Piper, pipe down, you will scare them off." Piper keeps grunting and then finally decides to stop on her own. Again, her second series of grunts are mostly ignored by her mother.

In another filming in their home, Willow is running up the stairs to her room while Sarah is calling her to come down as her boyfriend has arrived. Willow totally ignores her mother's request. Sarah's reaction is to tell the boyfriend he is not allowed upstairs (perhaps hoping her second oldest teenage daughter will not make the mistake her first one made of getting pregnant at 17) as she shows him the gate blocking the steps. She says "you can text her" as she goes back to her nearby computer.

Later the boyfriend sneaks up the stairs and Sarah texts Willow. The boy then slinks down the steps shortly after that. I guess this is what our society has become: discipline through text messages. Whatever happened to good old fashioned face to face confrontation?

Some may say I am nitpicking and that Sarah Palin's girls are just kids being kids or teenagers going through puberty. But I believe these incidents are symptomatic of a bigger problem. All parents are constantly being tested by their children and I feel Sarah failed both in this particular episode. A parent must win the respect of their children by either disciplining them in the moment or at the very least lecturing them on they proper way to treat adults. Otherwise, the parent will be considered milquetoast. This "peace at any price" method of ignoring the bad behavior does not work in the long run.

My gut feeling is that Palin's daughters should have been punished in some way. How, I'm not sure. Maybe we should call in the Supernanny, Jo Frost. They are both a little too old for timeouts. It seems to me Willow and Piper are acting out to get their mother's attention, so "see no evil, hear no evil" is not the answer.

If Sarah Palin has a hard time communicating with her own daughters, how is she going to do with Congress or other world leaders who come to visit the White House? Will she ignore them too?

Ironically, this series is showing a contradictory side of Sarah Palin that is different from the one articulated by her oldest daughter, Bristol's baby daddy, Levi Johnston. He has painted her as a tough authoritative figure. Well, who can blame her for having some anger at the guy who got her teenage daughter pregnant?

This brings up the sexism issue always bantered about by political pundits. To clear the record, I am not being hard on Sarah Palin because I believe women should be scrutinized as parents more than male political figures. Look what happened to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani when his daughter turned against him in the 2008 race for the GOP presidential nomination. He sank in the polls.

I believe there is unfair pressure from the press put on women running for office in both parties (not just conservative women, look at what Hillary Clinton went through in the 2008 Democratic primary). Because women are traditionally seen as the "weaker sex", they often have to project a tough image to stand a fighting chance against the men. Thus, Hillary's chugging of whiskey shots and talk of duck hunting and Palin's frontier woman image of her shooting moose and climbing mountains in this new reality series.

Conversely, this image sometimes backfires as assertive women are often reviled in this society as they are called the "b" word or considered abrasive. I believe Nancy Pelosi suffers from this phenomenon. With all the bills she has gotten passed through the House of Representatives in just two years, she should be hailed as one of the most successful Speakers ever. If she were a man, she would be given credit for her accomplishments, but instead she is accused of overreaching.

It is a delicate balance that a political woman must reach between being tough yet feminine, dedicated to family as well as career, a disciplinarian as well as a diplomat, and someone who can blend faith with principles.

I am not saying Sarah Palin does not love her children. It is obvious that she does as shown by her unguarded moment in a recent Dancing With the Stars episode where her daughter, Bristol, danced a waltz. She looked as if she was ready to cry with an expression that showed both pride and affection as she mouthed the word "beautiful."

She showed a similar vulnerability on her face after the 2008 election while listening to her running mate, Senator John McCain concede defeat. If Sarah would show this real and human side more often I believe she would win more converts to her political mission.

But for me, somehow Sarah Palin must resolve this nagging parenting issue. As a born again Christian, isn't it her obligation to "train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6) as it says in the Bible? At the very least she should teach her children to follow one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12): "Honor Thy Father and Mother."