Photo from: http://www.salon.com/topic/michelle_obama/
It seems that the issue of women and work is a never-ending saga. Since the Republican and Democratic conventions I’ve been thinking about the issue of women, politicians and being a mother. Ann Romney, a stay at home mom, was expected to “humanize” her husband, and let the country know what a great father and husband the Republican candidate is and why he’s the right man to lead the country. Michelle Obama played a similar role at the Democratic convention, reminding viewers of their strong marriage, but it was interesting that Michelle emphasized her role as “mom-in-chief,” but didn’t mention that she had a career, or that as First Lady had an important role to play, as seen in her initiatives with childhood obesity and support for veterans and their families. So was Michele’s focus simply designed to be a counterpoint to Ann Romney’s speech? Does it matter that Michelle focused on being a mom vs. a career woman?
In my own twitter profile, the first words used to be “soccer mom” — I recently changed it to blogger, since that seems to be how I spend a great deal of my time these days, but my main career is professor. I don’t necessarily want to downplay that, but I think it’s cool that I can be a mom, blogger and a professor. I wonder how many men put father first? Many commentators have pointed out that few people have criticized Paul Ryan the way that Sarah Palin was over her decision to run for office while having small children. I know I have made my own career compromises in order to avoid taking time away from my kids and so has my husband. I will always proudly put my role as mom at the top of my list of accomplishments – at least for now that is my most important role in life. But I will feel better when more men feel the same about being a father and support women in their careers the same way they expect to be supported.
I think we are in this interesting time when women are getting past the “supermom” era, and realizing that we need to look at families as a whole. How do we make it easier for men and women to be able to pursue their careers and parenthood? Can we honor Michelle Obama for having a career and being “first mom?” How about just having a more open dialogue about the way we criticize women who manage to balance careers and families, while we ignore men’s roles in their families, assuming it’s OK for them to work long hours and miss out on so much of their children’s lives. Haven’t we gotten past the era of “Cat’s in the cradle” – the song that epitomized the life of the work-a-holic father? And it’s about time we got past the idea of “supermom” — we need to work harder towards developing a society that acknowledges and supports both working parents. For example, schools and employers could be better about accommodating the schedules of parents with school-age children (OK, so that’s my pet peeve right now, but it’s a big one).
I will continue to think about these issues — as I wrote in my previous post, each year brings new challenges to being a parent and having a career. I will continue to be grateful that I have a husband who is a great father and partner. But I also realize that we have the advantage of the financial means to make things work. For now, I will do what I can to help move along the work that needs to be done to develop policies that will strengthen families at all income levels, including supporting politicians (particularly women) who call for policies that support working parents.