Saturday, September 13, 2008

Parents and Politics

Jefferson Airplane--"Pretty As You Feel" (mp3)
Wolf Parade--"I'll Do Anything" (mp3)

I agree with Todd Palin about one thing: children are a gift from God. But that's about as far along the same path as he and I go. His glib follow up, "The more the merrier," ignores that obligation that comes with parenting and implies that the number of or kind of children you add will have no impact on the life goals you are pursuing. Those of us who are parents must call 'bullshit' right there. We all know how each child changes the family mix.

There is much being made of the wonderful parenting taking place in the Palin family these days, and how Mrs. Palin must be a noble, courageous woman to be able to juggle a husband and 5 children with a career and hunting. Admittedly, to pull that off would require some incredible skills.

But I must challenge her choice. If you're going to continue having children, because of your religion or carelessness or good luck, that's fine. But when you keep having children, then you must make the children your priority. It isn't the more the merrier, it's the more, the more re-evaluation of what's important. And I believe that's even more true when your last child is special.

Now, this is not some sexist slam, trying to argue that a woman can't raise children and have a career or even become a vice-president. My wife and many women I know do a great job with both. Many men I know do a similarly great job, and I would be making the same comments about a father in this situation. The Palins, though, are doing their many children, especially their youngest with Down's Syndrome, a grave injustice.

I don't have an autistic child or a child with Down's Syndrome, but I have often observed families who do. And the reality it this: those families are changed in profound ways. They are not necessarily good ways or bad ways, but they are profound ways. A special child needs extra help in navigating the world and stability in his or her interactions. And that takes time, commitment, patience and sacrifice. I've been amazed when those parents remained calm when their child was screaming on a subway train. I've seen those parents acting naturally when people are staring. I've watched those parents help their child to interact with other people who have no idea how to interact with them. I've heard those parents roaming through the neighborhood at night in a driving rain, calling and searching for their lost son.

In the end, the Internet rumor about who is Trig Palin's mother is beside the point. The real question should be: who is doing the mothering and fathering of the child? And as soon as we remind ourselves a) about the grueling, on-the-go nature of the campaign trail, and b) the unbending rule that there are only 24 hours in a day, we can infer pretty easily who isn't doing those things.

Utlimately, the parents of the world settle into two camps--those who put their own needs first and those who put their children's needs first. It is possible, of course, to do some of both, but I would argue that it is impossible to strike a balance between the two. One of the two sets of needs must rule. In the case of the Palins, I believe that they now have the blessing of a child who, by his own nature, should have made that choice clear for them. And they have already rejected that choice--deciding instead to make their baby son a badge of honor for a political agenda. That's a shame.
To be fair, I'm not sure that I believe that any child should be subjected to the rigors of parents' political careers. Child-rearing and vote-chasing just don't seem compatible to me. And I know there are undoubtedly many historical examples to refute what I'm saying. And, certainly, the Palins may think they are ahead of the Kennedys, who essentially locked the "retarded" sibling in the closet of an institution rather than to have her in the public eye.

Perhaps, but rather than hide children away, except for photo ops, the Palins have dragged theirs into the political fire. A self-aware Palin, as opposed to the narcissistic one we seem to be observing who tries on 300 pairs of glasses in her kitchen and makes her family vote on the best pair, would have to realize that, hard as it is to admit, the country was not going to be harmed in the least if she had decided not to run with McCain in favor of her family. Instead, she told Charles Gibson last night that she did not ever hesitate to accept the nomination and that "I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink. So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate."

Sometimes as a parent, you have to blink, you have to look at and talk to your family, you have to put your own goals aside, because you are always a parent first, in my humble opinion.

Wolf Parade and Jefferson Airplane are available at Itunes.


Mark said...

I do have a child with autism, and here's why I'm voting for CHANGE with Obama-Biden.

karos said...

Beautifully said. The more I read about Palin, the more freaked out I get anyway. But as a mother myself, I can't imagine the kind of self-centeredness it would take to put your young family through the rigors of life in public office and the scrutiny to which their lives are now being subjected. I can't get beside a woman (and her husband) who would not reveal to her family that its newest member would have some challenges. She talks about making a "choice" she'd readily remove from all women in all circumstances. It wasn't a choice to make, in her mind, so why does she continue to call it one?

Todd Palin may be prepared to do the lion's share, but I just think the whole situation is weird.

Palin has demonstrated how rather vacuous she is in the Gibson interviews. I think her wording was bang-on though, when it comes to her "being wired."

It's because she's a fucking robot.

Billy said...

Apparently my third child has cost me all ability to obsess over fantasy football, so I know exactly what you're saying.

If it's possible, I think your comments are fair, yet sexist. The truth is, our history is filled with husbands who fathered four, five, eight children, and continued moving up the corporate ladder and working long hours and days with little or no contact with their families. Only in the last 20-30 years have fathers been held to a higher standard, and even then only in certain small circles.

Even in 2008, none of this story is remotely unique if you're talking about men who value career advancement over quality family time. But because it's a mother, and because it's the VP candidate, it becomes an issue. And I'm not sure I'm any more comfortable with that than the claim that Bill Clinton getting his sno-cone blown is more immoral than when someone else does the same. Our world is full of enough double-standards for people in the spotlight without us piling more of them on.


Yet, sexist or not, she's their mom. She bore five children, most recently a child that will take the time and attention of six children. For her not to even blink? Wow. It certainly gives any parent pause, sexist or not.

Bob said...

Well, in my non-sexist defense, I do write from the perspective of someone who continues in his current job until his daughter finishes college,so I am putting my money where my mouth is.

Anonymous said...

all i know is they passed the ds baby
around as a prop at the convention.