(Editor's Note: Today's guest columnist is Jennifer Ehrlich, a mom and a Boston.com producer)
By Jennifer Ehrlich
Forgive me for cutting through the applause for Sarah Palin, the newly
crowned icon of working mothers everywhere, but as a working mother myself I'm wondering how she's going to help my family.
Does that sound selfish?
Well, the way I see it, Palin's presence on stage as a vice presidential candidate is hardly historic. Geraldine Ferraro did that when I was a child.
So far, Palin's status as a working mother tells me what mothers around the country already know: If you are willing, and can afford, to leave your newborn baby and children in someone else's care, you too can take on any job.
The devil is in the details: How to make ends meet once you pay for
childcare and the mortgage? How to save for college and retirement, when the cost of food, gas and healthcare is going up all the time?
These are the economic issues that face families with small children like mine, where both parents work and no one has a spare trust fund.
I am actually not very curious about how Sarah Palin manages her career with five kids, including a newborn with special needs. I know. There aren’t many options.
Someone cares for Palin's children when she is working. And she can afford to pay for childcare, or has really helpful and available family or friends. The same will probably be true for her teenage daughter, soon to have her own child.
And I suppose if Palin becomes vice president, the White House staff will be able to find good nannies for both of them. Or maybe their husbands will take over. It's the 21st century after all.
But that's not going to help the rest of the working mothers in America who aren't vice president, and particularly for those of us who aren't wealthy.
Families all over the country are struggling to afford childcare, yet they can't make ends meet without both parents working. That's ignoring entirely the issue of childcare workers who are underpaid for their vital job.
The Family and Medical Leave Act means women who work in large workplaces have the legal right to 12-weeks maternity leave. But it's not paid leave. Mothers have to find a way to come up with the thousands of dollars we aren't earning when nurturing our newborns.
I’ve never met a mother who feels she’s found the perfect balance between work and family, although it seems being rich helps a lot. It means working motherhood really is a choice, rather than a necessity.
The so-called Mommy Wars between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers are mainly a creation of the media. Most of us don't have a choice. It's easy to forget that about 70 percent of mothers work outside of the home in America.
We've all seen impressive women do exceptional things in our lifetimes. They win Olympic medals, climb mountains, run MIT and Harvard, and fly the Space Shuttle. They've even led countries like Pakistan, Britain, Germany, and Israel.
In April, Palin shrugged off maternity leave and went back to work three days after giving birth to her son who has Down syndrome. Keep in mind, that's a time when babies eat at least every two hours around the clock, and most women are still losing blood. That was her choice.
The larger concern is whether a new administration will offer help for working families that can’t do it alone.
So unless Sarah Palin is going to start talking about tax rebates for
childcare or subsidizing and expanding maternity leave, or slashing
healthcare costs, then she's not really talking about the major issues that affect my family, and other working parents.
She's just standing there, a shining example to us all about how if you try hard enough, you, too, can be vice president.
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