Tough Choices

Rough day at the office? Well, that happens. So go home and take a nice relaxing bath, or stop by the gym for a workout or call up a friend and meet for a drink.

Those are good, time-honored antidotes that actually work, assuming that you don’t have kids to pick up from daycare or soccer practice, that dinner will cook itself or be prepared by someone else, that the dog will not need to be walked and the cat will not have thrown up on the rug. And that there’s no homework to supervise, no load of laundry to do, no trip to an ATM required to provide field trip money the next day, no near-empty gas tank waiting to be to be filled, no report needing to be written for the next morning’s meeting, no family member in crisis and no second job having to be shoe-horned into the schedule.

Even when there’s a willing spouse or partner to help, sometimes life is just too full. And the solutions are a bit more complicated than choosing between bath salts and chardonnay.

Everybody’s a little stressed, even in the best of times. And whether times are flush or tough, I think women still bear more of the day-to-day family and household responsibilities, despite 30 or 40 years of feminism and economics combining to change the realities of the workplace landscape. I usually get an argument from somebody when I say that, but I’m sticking with it.

Whatever else the nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential candidate has done, it has certainly brought to light many of the old debates of parenthood and career, the balancing act required to be a parent and a jobholder. And it’s turned some on them on their ear.

There are plenty of people pointing plenty of fingers – some in several directions simultaneously.

Twenty-four years ago when the Democrats nominated the first female vice-presidential candidate – Geraldine Ferraro to be Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 – that candidate’s children were grown. Hillary Clinton’s daughter was grown when she began her own political career.

The current debate has tapped into an ongoing culture war – the so-called “mommy wars” that pit working moms against not-working moms or working not-moms. But this political season there’s been an added edge of prickliness, more intensity. And a good measure of vitriol.

Depending on where you look or listen, there is some thoughtful commentary and debate on family vs. work, but there is a lot of anger as well – from people on all sides of the issue.

True, most of us are spared public discussions about our leaking amniotic fluid and other normally personal matters because we are not in public life.

Questions raised about Palin’s family and their decisions at every step of the way – whether to have a baby at age 44, when to reveal the pregnancy, when to return to work, whether and where to travel, how the baby is cared for – these are questions that many working families deal with. When the family and its principals are not in public life they get to deal with those questions privately. Similarly, most families who must face a teenage daughter’s pregnancy do so in private.

But Sarah Palin made the choice to be in public life and is aspiring to the second-highest office in the country; that brings some heavy-duty scrutiny and rightfully so.

Wouldn’t it be nice if her situation also brought more civility, produced more sympathy and tolerance for all the working families who face tough challenges and tough choices? And if there was less indignant rhetoric about how anybody could dare question her decisions, and whether anybody would even raise such personal questions about a man’s decisions? (Actually, I think they would – and have.)

I don’t like to see people in any walk of life attacked through their children, but it was Palin herself who made the choice to talk about her family and to showcase her children on national TV.

And in the matter of her fifth child, Sarah Palin also had a choice, and she chose. No one tallied up the costs of raising a Down syndrome baby and told her it wasn’t economically feasible and that she should abort. No one imposed a personal conviction. She and her husband exercised their right to make a choice, based on their own beliefs. Had they chosen otherwise, that, too, would have been their right – one that should be respected.

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