by Stephanie Fawkes-Lee
During the heart of my child-rearing years, a mother of one of the Girl Scouts I was leading said, “I would volunteer to lead the girls, but I have a marriage to work on, so I don’t have time.” The statement floored me. As a single parent raising three children on my own, going to college in order to home school my child because the middle school principal told me that they “just didn’t know how to educate” my son, it just never occurred to me that I was the one with spare time. Especially since at that time I was averaging about 3-4 hours of sleep at night. But upon further reflection, this mother had a valid point.
It is simply a matter of priorities. If you want to concentrate on a marriage, a career, serving in the armed forces, running for public office or doing good works, any of these endeavors will takes time and dedication. There is less time available to give to your children, which may or may not be a problem, depending on the needs of the children.
My decision to choose parenting as a career was not plotted out, like choosing a major in college, picking the right internship and taking the precise calculated steps to wind my way up the corporate ladder. No, for me there was simply an ingrained sense of responsibility. If I brought these three people into the world, it was up to me to do whatever I could to meet their needs. My parenting skills were far from perfect, but all three are now well-educated, interesting adults that are exceedingly enjoyable company, so it was a good decision for me.
But parenting as a career is not for people that want any kind of compensation (including money) or need appreciation and recognition. Who wants to be “on call” 24/7 or deal with derogatory remarks from society? After all, single mothers are considered the core of society’s ills. No, parenting, especially single-parenting is a tough career choice.
Women didn’t have many choices prior to the 1960s. Marrying and having children used to be an admirable goal for women. Television embodied this with June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver fame or Margaret Anderson from Father Knows Best. Audiences learned good parenting skills through watching the struggles of the Cleavers and Andersons in raising their children. And they very much worked as a team in making parental decisions. It was certainly a wonderful ideal to be raised in the Anderson or Cleaver household. But feminism entered the picture as women started realizing that there may be more to life than reproduction and a clean home.
The great thing about the Women’s Movement is that more doors finally opened for women to choose from a variety of careers outside of the home. Some women, recognizing that they wanted to devote themselves to a career, chose to pass on motherhood. Whereas, other couples do the juggling act where both parents work outside of the home and raise children. My oldest friend continued to work and her husband was a full-time, stay at home dad. There is no right way. There is no clear cut parenting model. So with today’s diverse family dynamics, it is important that elected officials show sensitivity, understanding and also respect the needs for all of their constituents.
Instead, a curious trend is taking place as political pundits pound the campaign trail. The first time I noticed this peculiar campaign ploy was with Iowa State Senator Joni Ernst. She stumps that she is a mother first, then a soldier and last a proven conservative. Why mother, not a parent? It could simply be because it isn’t possible to be a parent first if you are actively serving in the armed forces or follow a career path. Or is there another reason?
What made me start to realize that the Women’s Movement took a serious hit in this campaign cycle was when her campaign strategy for a US Senate seat listed her qualifications as: castrating pigs; driving a Harley; carrying a gun in her purse, along with a lipstick; and of course, the mother (not parent) plug that has successfully garnered the vote from men. My husband, Marty asked me why she didn’t list being a wife, and I had to gently educate him that it would interfere with this contrived sexual fantasy of a Harley riding, gun toting, mother (depicting fertility/sex) and it is vitally important that she carries a purse and a lipstick. You don’t want her to appear too butch. Yes, the Women’s Movement took a hit.
Ernst is drawing support from more male than female voters. The media reports that this is because women tend to vote Democrat. I believe it is because women tend to be more discerning as voters and demand reasonable qualifications for public service. Bruce Braley has stronger qualifications for the U.S. Senate. This could be why Ernst is being promoted as a sexual object and Braley is not. It could very well be that in Iowa the only way a woman can be elected to a higher office is to promote her sexuality, instead of her intelligence and qualifications. Since a woman has never been elected to a higher office in Iowa, this sadly may be a legitimate strategy. It could also explain why some members of the media are complaining that the Ernst campaign won’t allow her to be interviewed.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just Ernst that is listing being a mother, or for male candidates a father, as a qualification for public office. Kim Reynolds was quoted in a recent press release as “a mother and grandmother”. When did parent become a dirty word? Parenting is an honorable profession. Any number of living organisms with the right reproductive system can become a mother or father. It has always been my belief that children are the greatest investment for the future of our country. Using the act of reproduction for political fodder instead of promoting the pride of parenting is deeply disappointing. Especially when it becomes increasingly clear that fewer and fewer people truly respect parenting as a career.