"Ruining their lives," "Selfish and self indulgent," or "overambitious." These are all characterizations given to women who choose to...GASP...have children while in political office.
But the issue isn't limited to public office. Women at law firms, advertising agencies, and professions across the spectrum are sometimes shoved into the closet, if not out the door, when they decide to have a family. If they maintain their position or advance, they then begin a balancing act akin to walking the balance beam to ensure their children are well cared for and they are excelling in their own right. A new profession came onto my radar with all of the Olympics coverage: mother/world-class athlete.
Before I get too far, I have an admission: I am not a mother, let alone a working mother.
Despite many advances for women in politics, it's still a shock when a woman chooses to have a child during her term in office. (Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's pregnancy caused some to remove her from a list of McCain's potential vice presidential candidates.) Jane Swift of Massachusetts was pregnant with twins while she was running for governor (and delivered them while serving as acting governor) and she faced a barrage of criticism echoing the sentiments above. Some may always see pregnancy and politics as going together like oil and water, but at least we've seen some advances. And just like in politics, when a woman takes time out from her sport to give birth, it is equally as shocking.
Sports Illustrated ran an article this week titled "Mother Load," about women athletes on the United States Olympic team who are also mothers. This year, there are 20 mothers out of the 286 women on the team. Being a world-class athlete takes dedication and time, and any woman who can balance raising a child with training deserves a gold medal just for that. But these women don't expect praise for raising their children, nor do they expect kudos when they come back to the sport after giving birth (much harder presumably than returning to the nonphysical world of politics). They want to win gold medals and they do so with the support of their children and spouses.
The same goes for women in politics. With the support of their families, women can have it all. We can run for office or be an Olympian and have a family simultaneously. It is worth pointing out, however, that despite much improvement, articles like the one in Sports Illustrated show that we haven't come far enough. Until it's commonplace for women to have children and still do the stuff of their dreams, whether it's winning Olympic gold or the presidency, it's evident we have some work to do.
But for the time being, congratulations to all of the women, this month in particular the Olympians, who make it work and make it easier for the rest of us to have it all, too.