My first inclination for this post was to write about the burgeoning controversy surrounding Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was recently invited to join Republican-nominee John McCain as his running mate.
No doubt this is news, as this appointment of a woman as VP is true history for the GOP, whether it is truly progress is up for debate. But in gathering my notes, thoughts, and stomach to lend keystrokes to a blog post and join the chatter of pundits, I began to loose momentum. Why you ask?
Maybe it was the rapidly expanding furor and conjecture over Palin the woman/mother, rather than Palin the candidate. Admittedly, Palin’s political career has been brief and lacking a great deal of applicable experience necessary to run a country. So, instead of getting hung up on bills authored, votes cast, and legislation passed, we get a political firefight involving sexism, gender equality, and parenting.
This is most assuredly eleventh-hour clamor, provided as a much-needed final act to a rudderless political campaign that threatens to unceremoniously sink with the reprehensible legacy of the current administration. It is cynical, misguided, and hopelessly sad when more than anything the citizens of this country need a serious awakening.
But, really, I don’t want to natter on about politics or Palin (at least not directly). Throughout all this widespread partisan noise, I was reminded of the astonishing degree of judgment and dismissal that is unwittingly invited into your life, like a warm blanket of smallpox, as a byproduct of parenthood. Palin is getting it from all sides, from being a working mom with five children, for not ceasing work for more than three days to provide devoted care for her newborn with Down Syndrome, and more infamously, for having a teenage daughter who is pregnant.
The logic, I assume, is that since her experience in the public sector is so thin, that she should be critiqued by her dominant experience, her parenting.
Politics aside, being a parent is an exceedingly complex responsibility that is fraught with a great deal of contentment, hesitation and self doubt, and the mere act of bringing a child into this world leaves you, the parent, completely open and vulnerable to constant evaluation and criticism from everyone around you. Some of this criticism may be rooted in genuine concern for the child, but most often it is just noise and gossip, as a means to gain that elusive sense of superiority. I have witnessed it, felt it, and deflected it, and no doubt you have too.
To be clear, this is not meant as a defense of Palin the candidate (I wish her the best with her existing role as governor of Alaska, and that is the absolute extent of my support for her!) but I do sympathize with any parent (mother or father) who routinely finds themselves the subject of so much odious scrutiny and trifling judgment. The sad truth of the matter is that skewering parents might just be as enduring and American as dirty cynical politics.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.
Parenting at the Crossroads