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Let's leave the mom rhetoric out of politics

How we choose to build our families and impart values are personal matters, not public ones.

September 14, 2012|Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times

Everyone else seems to have calmed down. But I'm still shaking my head at the mom Olympics that competed with the real ones this political season.

First, former State Department official Ann-Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic magazine told us we can't have it all. Then Marissa Mayer, the new head of Yahoo, declared she'd work through her brief maternity leave.

The usual chorus of voices rose to defend or attack each woman.

The mommy wars, yawn. I just can't get worked up over them anymore. Sure, I'm almost through raising my children. But from what I've seen, the kids seem to come out the same, whether their mothers worked or not, or how much.

My bile really started to rise with the Big Show, the national political conventions. First up was Ann Romney, who told the Republican National Convention, "I want to talk to you about that love so deep only a mother can fathom it — the love we have for our children and our children's children."

Only a mother? How presumptuous. What about siblings, or lifelong friends? There's no meter on love, anyway. Who's to say how much another person feels?

Romney went on to list things that women have to "work a little harder" at to hold the world together.

"I'm not sure if men really understand this, but I don't think there's a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy," she said. " .... And that's fine. We don't want easy."

Why not? Because then we'd have to stop complaining?

Ann Romney's was undoubtedly a shrewd political message, because if it's one thing that unites mothers on the left and right, it's complaining how hard it is. One of my childless friends said she's heard so many maternal litanies of woe, she assumes motherhood must be ghastly.

Don't get me wrong, I've done my share of complaining. But motherhood is not ghastly. What's ghastly is trying to keep your children in the middle class on what used to be, but no longer is, a middle-class salary. But mother love can do nothing to change that. If only.

Romney went on to rhapsodize about fathers teaching their sons and daughters values. But when it was her husband Mitt's turn, he talked of his long, hard days of travel while Ann stayed at home watching the kids.

"I'd call and try to offer support. But every mom knows that doesn't help get the homework done ....," Romney said. "I knew without question, that her job as a mom was a lot more important than mine." So who was passing on the values, Mr. and Mrs. Romney? Perhaps a teacher, pastor — or just life itself — also helped shape your children. Anyway, making a living is pretty important when you're raising a family.

I expected the mom pandering from the GOP, the family values party. But then Michelle Obama got into the act.

"At the end of the day, my most important title is still 'mom-in-chief,'" she said in her convention speech.

Mom is sweet when my kids say it, condescending from anyone else. It's not a title, it's an endearment, or it should be.

The word "mom" is also a diminutive. And there's nothing diminutive about Michelle Obama. From her bold fashion choices to her push-up contest with Ellen, the word for Michelle Obama is formidable.

What I really liked about her out-machoing Ellen was not so much her athleticism but the unmistakable playground challenge that flitted across her face before she dropped to the floor. It doesn't get more real than that.

Michelle Obama continued: She no longer worried her children would be damaged by growing up in the glare of the White House because they have such a wonderful father.

"That's the man who sits down with me and our girls for dinner nearly every night, patiently answering their questions about issues in the news, and strategizing about middle school friendships," she said.

Well, OK, so I didn't have a husband who discussed middle school mean girls with my daughter while juggling the affairs of state. Does that mean she'll have to change her name to Madge and work in a greasy spoon for the rest of her life, as the nuns used to threaten me?

Not all of us have perfect husbands, or husbands at all. And again, our kids seem to come out all right.

Or they don't. One thing I learned on the journey through motherhood is that as hard as we try to make sure our children get all the things we didn't, and become all the things we'll never be, there's no magic talisman. I've seen the best parents face tragic consequences for their children, and the bad ones turn out stellar adults. Life is really, really tough and it's not fair.

Bill Clinton made a mess of his family life but Chelsea seems to be doing OK. She even transformed Bubba into vegan-in-chief. It's pretty clear who came out ahead in that relationship.

Let's give our children a little credit for their own development, moral and otherwise. However much we loved our own parents, do we credit them with our every triumph — or blame them for our mistakes? Of course not; that would be childish.

And that's how all the mom rhetoric makes me feel: infantilized. Like Ann Romney and Michelle Obama, I love my children so much it hurts. And sure, there are some legitimate policy issues around the work-family balance.

But building a family, imparting values and influencing character are personal matters, not public. They're life, as guaranteed in the most splendid part of our Declaration of Independence — that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" part. And the point is, government has nothing to say about it.

"I want to talk to you about love," Ann Romney had opened. Yikes.

Everybody has a private life, not just mothers. Even single people. It may surprise both parties, but some of us women don't have children. And guess what? We're fine with that! Or we're not. It's no one's business. Love, longing, pride, disappointment — let's leave it to the poets, not the politickers

gale.holland@latimes.com

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