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Morra Aarons-Mele Headshot

Working Mom Guilt is a Political Issue

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At what point does working mother guilt become a political argument? Now. In this year of the "Mama Grizzly," it's important that women feel the political choices they make support their own personal life choices. It also helps that women feel the candidates we support understand our choices and dilemmas as we attempt to tackle the Sisyphean task of being a working parent in a rough and scary economy. Michelle and Barack Obama did a brilliant job of this during the 2008 election. But this time around, in the midst of an even worse economic time, Progressive messaging can make us feel even worse. This is criminal since if the GOP and Tea Party win in November, women and children will suffer.

There's no argument working families have it tough: the national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, leaving many parents simply happy to have a job, and legions of parents each day feel the tug between breadwinning and childrearing. According to the Shriver Report, nearly 4 in 10 mothers (39.3 percent) are primary breadwinners, bringing home the majority of the family's earnings. Nearly two-thirds (62.8 percent) are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, bringing home at least a quarter of the family's earnings.

In the majority of two-parent families, mom carries the burden of quality of childrearing much more heavily than does dad. This is a cultural issue the left and its feminist founding sisters have not been able to effectively address, except to concede there's no good answer. It just leaves everyone feeling crummy. This issue transcends class and income, too.

She's had plenty of critics but I absolutely agreed with Penelope Trunk's recent TechCrunch piece in which she explained so simply "why women don't have startups: children." There is no working mother who has not questioned what would happen if she stayed home with her kids. A very high-achieving friend of mine, who left her power job to work for herself and raise her kids, relayed an anecdote about her 3 year old's incredible writing skills and closed with this,

"If I was still at (Insert name of high-paying, elite MBA employing consulting firm), she wouldn't be writing like this."

The pangs are universal and of course they effect how we vote because they affect our sense of hope and optimism. I don't know about you, but when I hear Julie Lassa speak openly about her struggles, I'm in her corner. When I read about education reform and family friendly work policies from my favorite voices on the left, I want to stick my head in the sand (or the oven). It's yet another example of the left losing the messaging war against women. For example, writing on the Huffington Post on why workplace flexibility is so crucial, the New America Foundation's Lisa Guernsey writes,

Why do we need better balance? Let's be blunt: to ensure our country's economic competitiveness in the years ahead. Today's kids are tomorrow's workforce... To succeed, they will need parents who give them more than the roof over their heads and the shoes on their feet. They will need their parents' time.

On the face of it, a completely rational argument about why the workplace must change to fit the fact that moms must go to work now. Not that different from many arguments we hear about the escalating deficit: it hurts future generations. But unlike arguments about deficit reduction, in which it's always Washington's fault, in the case of our kids, it's mom's fault.

Lisa Guernsey says parents must provide time for conversation ("Do you see the tractor? Where do you think it's going? Let's go watch."), time for reading aloud, time for positive discipline, and time for play.

The problem? "Paychecks don't come from making time for the kids," she writes. No kidding. And that's why this is an impossible argument for 99 percent of working mothers to entertain. It's truly a catch 22, and reminding us of it only makes us bitter.

This article makes me feel better about paying out most of my income for the best possible childcare. But it also makes me feel like, how can parents win? If I work hard, like I'm supposed to, I'll probably ignore my child, and he'll suffer along with the rest of America.

I don't think anyone would give Sarah Palin "Mother of the Year Award." But I have to respect the woman because not once has she ever admitted a shred of guilt for the fact that she uses her younger children as props and her older children are regular tabloid fodder. And yet she has built a culture around the notion of hard-working moms who can help fix this country. She does not focus on mother guilt, ever. Guilt isn't in her vocabulary, and that is very seductive when every choice you make feels like a trade off.

As Margie Omero writes in her survey of "Walmart Moms" she's polled over several months, swing vote women vote based on how candidates will treat the issues that are most crucial to these women's lives. Omero writes candidates should "Put policy positions in the context of how they would affect women and families."

To succeed in our political climate, candidates need to put positions in a context that absolves us our guilt. They do this with the economy (Washington's fault); the environment (nobody's fault), high health care costs (Obama's fault, apparently).

I think it's emblematic of why the work-family "movement," like the feminist movement, is stuck. From a political perspective, this argument is a typical liberal think tank approach to framing an issue around personal responsibility and guilt and needing to do more, and it has to stop -- because the other side is too smart to play that game. I honestly think this is why the Tea Party is SO successful from a message perspective. They'd never write an article like this. Sarah Palin, I guarantee you, does not point out tractors with her kids, and she doesn't yell at other parents to do that. She just blames Washington and everyone feels better and gives her another donation.