I’ve had a couple of days to watch the craziness that erupted after Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen said of Ann Romney on CNN, “She never worked a day in her life.” Rosen, who has since apologized, was reacting to Governor Mitt Romney positioning his wife as his advisor on all-things-women including their views on the economy. In recent days Romney has told reporters, “My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”
Well, golly, Mr. Governor! Of course we care about the economy. Even Governor Haley could have told you that. Of course Haley got it wrong when she said, “Women don’t care about contraception. They care about jobs and their families.” First of all, contraception and jobs are interrelated. And second, women are capable of caring about multiple topics at once. But as long as candidates view women as a special interest voting bloc, as opposed to half of the people in this country, they will continue to get it wrong when it comes to the “woman vote.”
But women and the economy isn’t the main topic in the fallout after Rosen’s appearance on Anderson Cooper. Mothering is. When she made the comment about Ann Romney, Rosen was questioning the former First Lady of Massachusetts’ qualifications as an economic advisor and spokeswoman for every woman, given her background and chosen path as a mother and wife. Unfortunately, she misfired in her soundbite and sparked an outroar. Democratic strategist David Axelrod tweeted, “Also Disappointed in Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney. They were inappropriate and offensive.” First Lady Michele Obama tweeted, “Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected.” Bloggers and blog commenters went to town defending a woman’s choice to stay at home and raise her family, and explaining the sacrifice and the hardship of life as a “full-time mother”. Even President Obama said, “There’s no tougher job than being a mom.”
I disagree, Mr. President. Mothering isn’t the hardest job. Parenting is. And if we’re ever going to get past the gender gap in this country, we need to shift our thinking about mothering vs. parenting.
The discussion about women choosing to work or stay home is toxic and fraught with emotional landmines. The mere hint of the discussion can spark a “mommy war” and that’s good for nobody. Personally, I bristle at the term full-time mother. I work outside the home eight, sometimes ten, hours a day. Does that make me a part-time mother? And when women who choose to stay home with their children explain their reasons, the benefits, and describe all they do, I wonder what that implies about me and my children. Does that mean my children are deprived? And if I explain that my children aren’t short-changed, am I implying the woman who stays home is innefficient or exaggerating? It’s a no-win conversation. And, it’s irrelevant.
My husband doesn’t work outside the home. Right or wrong, it’s our family’s choice. It works for us and it’s how I know that mothering is not the hardest job. Parenting is. Some days I have it tougher. I get up at 5 a.m. just to carve out time for myself – to exercise or write. My husband sleeps until 6:30 because he can exercise or read while the kids are in school. If I’m having a bad day, I still have to sit upright at my desk and keep my head in the game. He has between the hours of 9 and 3 to be in a bad mood in private if he needs it. And some days, he has it tougher and I walk out the door thinking, “Good luck buddy,” as he deals with whining, tears, missing homework, shirts that don’t feel right, playground politics and a packed schedule that goes until 8 p.m.
But for the things that really matter, we are both there. When the kids are sad, or hurt or sick; when we are worried about their health, their futures, their emotional well-being, we’re both there. That’s the hardest job – and we both own it.
Numerous news outlets have reprinted what Governor Romney used to tell his wife, “Ann your job is more important than mine.” I don’t believe it – unless the Governor was a checked-out dad. For the record, I have no idea what kind of father Romney was or is and you know why? Because we aren’t having the same discussions about men that we are about women. There are no daddy wars. We aren’t scrutinizing men’s career choices nor are we grading their parenting. And why would we? There is no one-size fits all approach to being a man or a father.
And until we apply the same common-sense approach to women, and we stop debating motherhood instead of parenthood, we won’t move the debate forward. Politicians, should take the lead on this one. Paid sick leave, affordable child care, fair pay, access to reproductive rights, and yes, even the economy, are family issues, not women’s issues.