What do new GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan and former GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin have in common?
They're both the parents of young, school-aged children. Ryan's children -- ages 7, 8 and 9 -- are in that childhood sweet spot. They're just old enough not to need attention every moment of the day, but there's plenty of carpooling, after-school activities and homework to be done that means parents don't get to sit down until after the kids are asleep -- if they're lucky.
Parenting in the 21st century is a full on, tag team sport. Except that for some reason, we still live in an age where mothers are expected to be the ones who carry the load, while dads (I know there are exceptions) chip in less frequently.
The not-so-funny thing is this: The media outcry over "who's going to take care of the kids" was deafening when Palin accepted John McCain's invitation to join him on the 2008 Republican ticket. I have yet to hear anyone ask Congressman Ryan how he can possibly hold up his fatherly duties to his three elementary-school-aged children while doing his job as a Wisconsin representative AND campaigning across America as the person Mitt Romney hopes can save his presidential campaign.
Of course, I know some people will say, "Well, he has a stay-at-home wife and Palin's husband worked outside the home for a living." Except that's not really the issue. I explored this ongoing double-standard in the chapter of my book, Mothers of Intention, entitled "Who's Taking Care of the Kids?"
As I remarked in that chapter: "We're a country with some serious mother issues." We still are. Those issues haven't gone away and, sadly, they probably won't in my lifetime. It's not just a conundrum about how modern motherhood plays out in the political realm -- there are plenty of other media portraits of motherhood responsible for the ongoing belief that if you're a woman with small children, you're the one who must shoulder all the responsibility for your kids' upbringing, regardless of whether you also have what George Clooney's character in the movie Intolerable Cruelty called a "square" job.
Regardless of who is bringing home a paycheck, we continue to collectively obsess with "having it all" and work/life balance and who is or is not a "working mother." These so-called debates refuse to vanish and will continue to keep our attention as long as a June Cleaver version of motherhood is stuck in our heads.
Rick Santorum got a bit of a pass on this recurring meme since he was very public about the time he took away from the campaign trail to be with his young daughter Bella, who has a condition called Trisomy 18, which occasionally requires her to be hospitalized. But at least we were talking about a portrait of modern fatherhood where a high-profile dad visibly took time for his young child who needed him.
Whether you agree with the conservative politics of wunderkind Ryan or uber-mom Palin or not, one thing I would love to see change is the assumption that dads of small kids get a pass when it comes to the discussion of taking care of families. Or -- if they continue to get a pass -- then mothers of small children who run for office (or hold high level power jobs like Marissa Mayer) should get a pass, as well. Can we take our collective judgment about who should be taking care of the kids and refocus the conversation on these two questions: (1) How can we change policies so that mothers and fathers alike can take part in the obligations of child-rearing? and (2) Can we all agree that it's time to quit beating up on the mothers of America when it comes to this wide-ranging, "all-having" conversation?
Joanne Bamberger is the author of the Amazon.com bestseller, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, the first book to examine the rise of the political motherhood movement.. Joanne, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and political/media analyst, is the founder of the political blog, PunditMom. She also contributes at Politico Arena and Babble Voices.
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