In response to my initial post about Palin, Beth posted a comment questioning her judgment as the mother of a child with Down syndrome choosing to take on the responsibilities of being VP.  I wasn’t particularly swayed by that argument — for one thing, I suspect that the day-to-day responsibilites of being VP are probably less than those of being Governor of Alaska.  Not to mention that with the employment opportunities for oil field workers being somewhat limited in the greater DC area, her husband would probably wind being available for parenting duties more or less full time.  (I’ve heard some people say he’s already doing the SAHD thing now, on leave from his other jobs, but haven’t read anything authoritative.)  I did wonder a little about the time/travel involved with campaigning, but was planning on ending with a somewhat smug comment about basically trusting people to make good decisions about their families.

I’m feeling less smug and more judgmental today.  Not because Palin’s teenage daughter is pregnant, but because, knowing that her daughter was pregnant, she accepted the VP nomination, and the media frenzy that goes with it.  And that seems like a pretty crappy thing to do to a teenager who is already in a stressful situation.

Does that change my vote?  Not in the least — I was never going to vote for McCain.  But it does make me think somewhat less of Palin as a person.  And it makes me eat a little crow about my claim not to judge other people’s parenting.

20 Responses to “judgment”

  1. Beth Says:

    Just to clarify, I believe it is important for a mother or a father to stay at home with an infant as long as they can, preferably a few years, and care for it themselves. That is what I believe is the best case scenario, the best thing for the child. I don’t believe it has to be the mother, although I do believe that most mothers would naturally want to do this if they could, if they wanted the child to begin with that is. But I think it’s fine if it’s the father, and I also think it’s almost as good if the primary caregiver is someone who loves the child, like a grandparent or other relative.
    I do not believe you can pay strangers to care for your child and expect them to care for them as much or raise them the same as you would.
    I know that for many parents not working is not an option. I do see the need for daycare in cases where better options are unavailable.
    What I don’t agree with is parents choosing not to be the primary caregivers for their infants simply because they can think of other things they would rather do. I just don’t get that.
    Also, I have a problem with someone who is a highly visible public figure setting the example of not putting your infant first. I will not attempt to make a case involving the older children, that’s a different story, although also debatable. But for an infant, whether it has Downs Syndrome or not, I think it’s very important for them to be primarily cared for by someone who loves them more than anything in the world.
    I can understand how some who have chosen not to do what I suggest would argue pretty vehemently against it. I’m just saying this is my opinion. And I hate to see Sarah Palin setting this example for other mothers and young mothers, that you can presume to be the Vice President or possibly the President and still do a good job mothering your baby.
    I am relieved to have learned that perhaps her husband will choose to be the baby’s primary caregiver.
    I feel very sorry for young Bristol Palin. I doubt she had any say in or any idea that she was going to be the focus of so much media attention and public speculation about her life. I wish Sarah Palin would withdraw if for that reason alone. That poor kid is now being put through the ringer and I hope she can handle it.

  2. Mamalooper Says:

    We need a few different words that mean “judgement”, especially with respect to judging parenting of others! Like you, I too try not to be judgemental, try to take into account someone else’s situation, etc. but we all end up doing it. In order to be a parent like “this”, I try not to be a parent like “that”. And “that” is something I don’t value and I suppose bells ring when it crosses the radar.
    Now WRT the intersection of judging the parenting (a somewhat private endeavour) of a politician (a public role), for me how someone carries themself in their private life does have an impact on how I judge their ability to serve.
    Although I am much, much more openminded in many ways as I grow older, in other ways I AM more judgemental. Perhaps for me it’s all just too close to home and less of an “academic” discussion since I became a parent almost three years ago.

  3. amy Says:

    Well, hang on, now.
    First of all, she was going to be subject to a media circus where it counted anyway, and that’s Alaska. I’d expect the family went over that when they first heard she was pregnant. If she’s five months, then by the time they knew, her mom’s name was already being floated. Likely they had some conversations about that at home.
    Second, I rather doubt she’s going to be out on the trail with her mom. The girl’s finishing up highschool and no doubt the idea will be to protect her and the baby by keeping her out of the limelight most of the time, except to make the point of how they cleave to family, do what’s right, etc.
    Third, among the constituency that’s going to fall hard for Palin anyway, this is not that big a deal. Teen pregnancy is no rarity in the Bible Belt, and something tells me that what’ll bring a tear to the eye is how the family does right by the girl and the baby, supports the youngsters in their marriage, etc. (I’m a little north of the BB, but it’s no rarity in the dorms, either. It hadn’t occurred to me, before I moved here, that a girl might take the campus shuttle from her dorm to the hospital to deliver. It’s definitely not 1986 around here.) I am, btw, imagining a close shot of Sarah seated with her arm around a lovely and pregnancy-glowing Bristol, and I think a lot of people will be moved by it. They’re going to be poster children for personal responsibility.
    Fourth, the kid’s name may be getting put through the wringer, but I don’t know how involved she is with the whole thing.

  4. merseydotes Says:

    You know, I find it kind of refreshing that we have someone in this race whose ascent hasn’t been meticulously choreographed for years (or decades…or generations). While I find most of Palin’s politics abhorrent, I don’t find her personal life very upsetting – I get the sense that she has kind of a “make it work” attitude. I like the fact that she proudly owns what many would (and do, see the comment that started this) see as liabilities.
    In the end, I think the daughter’s pregnancy is a blip. Obama has been very clear that this will not be a subject for discussion. I think it goes away and only reappears in the media when Bristol gets married and again when the baby is born. Bristol Palin is not a celebrity, and she will not be stalked by media the way Jamie Lynn Spears has been. It was smart timing by the McCain/Palin campaign because Palin is all the news this weekend anyway – sweep this into it and it all fades back to background quickly.
    And I suppose the coin could be turned to the other side – was it selfish of Palin to accept the VP nod when her daughter is pregnant or was it selfish of Bristol to get pregnant at 17 when her mother is a rising GOP star? In my opinion, it’s not asking so much of a 17-year-old to not get pregnant (society expects it, and it’s the norm, even among sexually active teenagers), but it is asking a great deal of her mother to decline the chance to run for VP because of her daughter’s decisions.

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    If I’m going to be judging Palin’s parenting skills, one thing that sticks out for me is that she got on a plane for a nine-hour trip home to Alaska when she was leaking amniotic fluid, with a known high-risk pregnancy. Sure, it would be pretty inconvenient to govern Alaska while stuck on bed rest in Texas, but it would still have been the responsible thing to do for her unborn child.

  6. Amy P Says:

    “I feel very sorry for young Bristol Palin. I doubt she had any say in or any idea that she was going to be the focus of so much media attention and public speculation about her life. I wish Sarah Palin would withdraw if for that reason alone. That poor kid is now being put through the ringer and I hope she can handle it.”
    BP lives in a small town anyway, and (based on the Time write-up) it sounds like locals have known about the pregnancy for some time. As long as she doesn’t turn on CNN and just goes about her daily business, it need not bother her much at all.

  7. Anjali Says:

    I don’t fault Palin at all for running because she has a pregnant teenager. For any teenager, having a parent thrust into the media circus will be difficult — more so for a pregnant teenager, I realize — but if there’s any time in life where a teen should accept responsibility and bare the consequences for their actions, it’s when they become pregnant. Palin’s not the one who caused the pregnancy and she shouldn’t be judged for it.
    I’m appalled by Palin’s nomination for a host of other reasons, namely, her lack of experience and the fact that McCain had barely ever talked to her prior to nominating her for the 2nd most important job in the world.
    I was voting for Obama, regardless.

  8. bj Says:

    You know, seeing all the different commenters (everywhere, not just here) take on slightly different roles has me thinking how much all of this is just situational.
    So, in terms of whether Palin *can* do this (meaning run for vp) — well I think that’s up to her. I think men have, and I think Obama is changing his relationship with his young daughter’s forever by running, even while he’s also changing America for them. Those are tough things balance against each other, and Palin had to do the same balancing herself. The fact that she’s the mom certainly doesn’t change things for me, except that I do want to know how she does it, because I am a mom like me, and see her as a role model (not Obama, who isn’t).
    These things always become stand ins for how we want to run our lives and what dreams we have for ourselves and our children. The route of Bristol Palin’s life is not what I want for my child, and I am going to discuss this endlessly, to try to avoid that path for my child, as best as I can.
    I think merseydotes is wrong and that this thing will not go away, because I think people will keep thinking about it. I don’t know if it will affect the election, but I don’t think it will go away. There’s just too much I want to know (I won’t necessarily learn, but I still want to know) things like when, and who, and what will happen to their marriage under these circumstances. It’s a public case history, and there will be enough interest that it won’t go away as long as Palin is a public figure. Bristol (who is not a public figure) will get a pass from the main stream media, but not from the rumor mongers and people who just can’t help thinking about it.

  9. amy Says:

    “If I’m going to be judging Palin’s parenting skills, one thing that sticks out for me is that she got on a plane for a nine-hour trip home to Alaska when she was leaking amniotic fluid, with a known high-risk pregnancy. Sure, it would be pretty inconvenient to govern Alaska while stuck on bed rest in Texas, but it would still have been the responsible thing to do for her unborn child.”
    You know, most of the time bed rest is prescribed to protect the doc & hospital, not the child. The only thing about the pregnancy that was high-risk was the trisomy. The woman had already had four children and appeared to know something about her own body, labor, and delivery. The child was born safely and appears to be well.
    I have a child too, by the way, and I’m the no-fun neurotic Jewish mom who doesn’t let her do all manner of Dangerous Things. I quiz her dad about the bike route he takes home with her from the daycare, block by block, to make sure it’s safe. But I look at this picture and say that apparently the lady knew what she was doing.
    bj’s point about Obama and his girls is exceptionally well-taken, by the way. I’m no fan of using children in political campaigns, ever, and if he wins, Daddy will effectively be out of their lives for the next four years, and they’ll grow up in the same miserable, high-security spotlight that Amy Carter and Chelsea Clinton and all those other kids endured, only more so, because they’re black. Personally, I don’t think that’s a nice thing to do to a child. But I don’t hear people criticizing him for this.
    I would not vote for Palin, but it really, really disturbs me to see all the frothing scuttlebutt about her reproductive life, including all this positively insane stuff that was floating around about her son being her daughter’s. She is — hello — a governor, and a popular one, and I may not like her positions, but I’m betting she’s no dummy.
    I think the focus on Palin’s mothering is sexism, plain and simple.

  10. bj Says:

    “I think the focus on Palin’s mothering is sexism, plain and simple. ”
    I largely agree, except for this narrow window. I know how men do what she’s apparently trying to do now. They leave the day to day care of their family to others. There are costs to that, for the men, and their families as well, but they decide to do it anyway because they think their service to society is more important than the costs to their family. For the flip side (assuming that we don’t think there’s a hidden story) we have Mark Warner, who said he’d decided that the benefits weren’t worth the costs to his family.
    It’s absolutely fine with me for Palin to take that path, as it would be for a man. But, I keep wondering if she’s figured out some other solution, that allows her to be integrated in the care of her family, while also fulfilling her responsibilities to the outside world. Maybe not, but than she can say that, and destroy my fantasy that there is some other mythical path.
    (and, you know, this political season has really destroyed my ability to think that a politician is just not stupid enough to do that, though Gary Hart & Bill Clinton has put me well on the path)

  11. jen Says:

    Throughout this Palin thing I’ve had to remind myself, again and again, that the goal is for a female politician to be judged just the way I would judge a male politician. For me, with men in office, I strongly believe in private life vs. public life. For example I did not think it was a big deal that Clinton had an affair while he was in office. It’s really a personal thing. I think of both Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, how productive their time in their roles was, and how they would have been torn asunder by inquiries into their personal lives. And I just don’t see that it necessarily matters.
    And so when the Palin thing came up, my first thought was, “I’m proud of myself that I dislike her only for her policies!” And then I heard about the very small Downs’ kid at home, and I thought, hmm. Which mostly meant, wow, we barely survived that phase even with my husband staying home. I can’t imagine piling more on.
    And then I heard about the pregnant daughter, and I really thought, hmm. Unlike Amy P’s world, in my circle a daughter coming up pregnant is pretty much an unmitigated catastrophe. I hold teenage parenthood to be much more of a stigma than some readers here seem to, and so I was immediately concerned about protecting the daughter.
    In short, I was not viewing any of this Palin personal life stuff as, “It’s not my business”, or even, “It’s her family, it’s her decision.” I was investigating every small bit of her decision-making process to see if I agreed, at a level that I just never really do with a man. (Although I have noticed that most men are not asked to bare so much of their private lives in public. Perhaps we should start asking male candidates what time their kids are going to bed, and if they are there to tuck them in? We might learn something.)
    And so for me, after a few days of thinking it over, I’ve decided Obama is right. I look forward to a vigorous debate on the issues, and discussions of children are not appropriate. But even for me, a working mom with a stay-home husband, I had to process the whole thing, and it took a while. It could take our nation a long, long time to come to terms with all of this.

  12. Beth Says:

    The more I read about the whole Palin thing, the less I want to post anything about it. My initial gut reaction was just that, a gut reaction, but I am now thinking that the most appropriate thing is for me to analyze the evidence for myself and make a decision as to who to vote for, but not to discuss it publicly. Part of what made me feel this way was reading today on one website all about Bristol Palin’s boyfriend and what he said on his MySpace page before it was taken down by him. I also find myself learning all the evidence that some people are providing that indicate the baby, Trig, is not really Sarah’s biological child. And then there’s the details about her water breaking, the long airplane flight back to Alaska, etc. And so I read this stuff or hear it on TV and then I form an opinion and…that’s where I think I need to put on the brakes. Because it’s all getting kind of sordid and uncomfortable. I think I know too much about them already.
    I do definitely think that Gov. Palin’s children (and her daughter’s boyfriend) are now under scrutiny they would never have asked for, and I don’t think they have to watch CNN or live in the lower 48 to feel the repurcussions. I think they are probably hearing about it all every single day now from all kinds of sources (friends, so-called-friends, acquaintences, people at the mall, strangers on the internet, etc.) and I don’t think it will stop anytime soon.
    Except from me. I think I’ll keep my thoughts on the subject to myself now, just for my own peace of my mind. I am losing any desire to share my thoughts and opinions on the whole thing because I wish I didn’t even know about it. I can’t imagine how it’s all going to turn out, though.

  13. amy Says:

    I don’t really have time to do a full-blown thing, here, but it strikes me that the teen-pregnancy thing is the crashing point of several waves of social movements & stasis over the last couple of decades.
    – Decriminalizing women’s sexuality and doing the sort of sex-promotion that you get in sex studies leads to freer sex and less stigma when a teen shows up pregnant.
    – Having sex while refusing to use contraception or abort puts the kid in the position of showing up pregnant.
    – What hasn’t changed is what happens next in the usual story: Levi, or whatever the dude’s name is, decides it’s all too heavy and the girl’s a nag, and next thing you know she’s a single mom without an education. Then she’s responsible for carrying the childrearing, the homecare, and the money end, while attempting to get herself an education. Likely Bristol will be better-supported than most in that position, but frankly unless there’s big money in that family we haven’t heard about, she’ll be struggling if Levi leaves her high and dry. That family makes good money, but three more kids to raise, and one of them Downs, isn’t cheap. And that’s the kind of setup that hurts women over decades.
    The misogyny that says it’s fine to let guys off the hook that easy — mainly because it costs the state more than it’s worth to state coffers to chase them — that hasn’t changed a bit.

  14. LP Says:

    You know what I realized when Edwards was announcing his wife’s cancer? I don’t want politicians with family health issues reaching for the top offices of our country. Dude, if your wife’s dealing with cancer (and who knew at the time that we’d find out about a mistress later on?), I want you to be compassionate enough to focus on her health. Now I feel the same way about Palin. Ma’am, you’ve got an infant with Down’s and a pregnant 17-year-old? You AND your husband need to focus on them right now. I feel like I’d still have that thought if she were a man because I remember being angry at Edwards for continuing to campaign. Of course, any politician or his/her family can develop health problems or have social issues once someone takes an oath of office, but I feel it’s pretty irresponsible to campaign when you already have these distractions.
    (As I have a chronic health issue and am a relatively new mom, I feel comfortable calling a health issue or pregnancy a distraction to a spouse.)

  15. amy Says:

    LP, should that not be the decision of the family?
    First of all, politics is for crazy people who can’t be bothered to go do something productive with their lives. The loony factor cannot be overestimated. You should not expect normalcy and sense out of these people any more than you should expect artists to be sweet people who’ll pitch in to organize the Rotary picnic. Stop and think for a minute about what’s required, psychologically, to wake up and say, “I want to be President of the United States, and I’d be a damned good one, because I know what’s best for the entire frigging world, literally, and people should give me hundreds of millions of dollars to throw around so I can get that job.” I mean you have to be a complete nutcase in the first instance.
    Beyond that: If Elizabeth Edwards didn’t want her guy campaigning, then give that lady an Emmy. I met her in a small town-hall here, and she looked like she was wrapped in a blanket of feeling like hell. Like to the point where you wanted to ask her if she didn’t want to just go lie down somewhere and suck on some ice chips. But she was obviously serious and determined to do this thing, and as far as I could tell she was a (remarkably) lucid, grown woman who knew her own mind. I did wonder why she wasn’t spending some of these last months with her kids, instead of on the trail, but it occurred to me that it’s a hell of a morbid thing, being on solid deathwatch next to your mom. So long as someone the kids loved, and who loved the kids, was there to help them with the fact of their mother’s impending death, I see no problem.
    I am a single mother who must make money regardless of how I’m feeling, or how my daughter’s feeling. I can recall a marvelous day last winter when I got up with the flu and a 104F temp, shoveled an 8-inch snowfall out of the driveway, took the kid to daycare, and came home to meet a deadline. I am frequently in mind of something I heard Arlen Specter say when Brian Lamb asked him about going to work looking half-dead with cancer: He said he figured he could stay home and feel like hell, or go to work and feel like hell. Something tells me that after raising 3.5 kids, your general inclination is to get up and go to work.
    Mr. Palin is home with the family, taking care of the day-to-day worrying. That’s currently his job. The baby has Downs. He’s not dying or in and out of the NICU, and the family has at least two built-in babysitters. My impression is that Todd Palin can read and is able to speak with doctors about whatever extra help the baby may need. The girl is also not dying; she’s pregnant, looks healthy, has supportive family, has prospective in-laws, and is in school. So I don’t know how much more “focusing” there is to do. What is Palin supposed to do: go home and spend the next few months hovering over her husband and the children?
    As for distraction factor: yes, there’s always going to be some distraction. Pregnancy, illness, death, financial ruin, war — people live with these things. People also learn how to work despite them, because they have to. At that level, if people are obviously distracted and incompetent because of it, you can be sure that a whole pack of vultures is ready to move in and take over. I suspect that a lady who has the presence of mind to give an important keynote while her water’s breaking, and then zip off to have a healthy baby, will be able to handle the distractions of knowing that all is not out of the Lands’ End catalogue at home.
    Her views horrify me, but I think she’s goddamned impressive, as nuts like politicians go. As are the Edwardses.

  16. jen Says:

    Amen to the “all politicians are by definition nuts” thing. Makes you wonder how to define “normal politician.” (And who in god’s name marries a politician?)

  17. LP Says:

    Amy, you’re right, it is the decision of the family, as it obviously is for Sarah Palin and it was for John Edwards. I’m just saying that as a voter, I’m turned off by candidates who already have a life full of personal drama (health issues, pregnancies, affairs, legal issues), and I generally don’t vote for them.

  18. dave.s. Says:

    When you think about it, the most ‘normal’ Presidents we have had in my lifetime have been – Truman, Ford, Ike. The accidental Presidents. Either parachuted into office by a death, or elected by acclamation because of his other career in winning WWII. The ones who schemed for it since forever, not so much.

  19. Elizabeth Says:

    I don’t know, I was pissed at Clinton because he was so concerned about his electability that he triangulated his way into welfare reform, but then pissed his presidency away because he couldn’t keep his zipper closed. And I’m pissed at Edwards for the selfish arrogance of running for president knowing that his affair could have blown the election for the Democrats. (And for making Elizabeth’s life harder when she’s got enough on her plate.)

  20. Stute Fish Says:

    knowing that her daughter was pregnant, she accepted the VP nomination, and the media frenzy that goes with it. And that seems like a pretty crappy thing to do to a teenager who is already in a stressful situation.
    Or, from another perspective, she’s setting an example for her kid (and for every other mom and mom-to-be in America) that being a mother doesn’t mean you have to stop moving forward in other areas. It doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and be nothing but a mother. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a vibrant career.
    I think Palin would be a disaster as VP and as a lifelong liberal, I was never going to vote that ticket anyway. But any kind of high-profile political office is hard on the kids, regardless of how stable their lives are, and any kind of work (or advancement) generally means some sacrifices on the home front. As a working mom, I think it’s kind of awesome that we have a mom of young children with a stay at home husband running for high office. God help us all if she wins, but let’s not judge her for the way she chooses to work her second shift, eh?

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