Should being a mother disqualify you from certain jobs? It might seem like a woefully outdated question for 2016, but that’s exactly the question a male politician in Ohio raised when he wondered if his opponent, a mother of two, was up to the task. It’s also a question that the mother he criticized insists “crossed a line.”
Like many politicians Jennifer Herold has kids. It’s not usually an issue, but it’s one that her opponent, Tom Patton, tried to manufacture when he urged her to consider how the job might affect her 1- and 3-year-old sons. Specifically, he wondered if “anybody explained” to the “sweetie” that she’d have to leave her house once in a while to govern. He told the host of radio show America’s Work Force on Jan. 18:
“The gal that’s running against me is a 30-year-old, you know, mom, mother of two infants … I don’t know if anybody explained to her you have to spend three nights a week in Columbus. So, how does that work out for you? I waited until I was 48, until my kids were raised and at least adults, before we took the opportunity to try.”
Whether or not she is qualified is for Ohio voters to decide, but his decision to wax philosophic on a radio show about how her status as mother might be detrimental to her ability to govern certainly speaks volumes about how Patton views working moms. It’s so out of touch and tone deaf that you can’t help but wonder if anyone explained to the sweet little shmoopie-poo that when you say things on the radio, people can actually hear them. Even ladies, since they don’t need their ears to make sandwiches and change diapers.
Someone might have further pointed out that when you say grossly sexist things that are irrelevant to the conversation at hand, people might also take issue with that. Herold and her constituents certainly did, and she took him to task about his comments in a long Facebook post that criticized his misguided concerns:
There’s a lot that Patton got wrong, and Herold articulates them pretty well. Namely, the fact that this question of “won’t anybody think of the children” wouldn’t even be a question if she were male and that motherhood, far from being a distracting, detrimental albatross to carry into office, is, if anything, a strength. Which is a really good point.
Mothers who work spend an awful lot of time trying to convince people that we aren’t hurting anybody. We reiterate to all manner of concern trolls that our kids are fine, that we won’t accidentally replace that important client brief with a copy of Pat the Bunny and that we won’t muck anything up too badly on either front. We pinkie swear that we’ll be borderline competent both at home and at work, the very least that anyone can expect of us.
The problem with this is really twofold. First, it’s a rare working father who will be asked how he plans to balance the stress of parenting with the stress of work when he announces the birth of a child. No one is asking him how he’s going to “have it all” or informing him with sneering condescension that when his child arrives he’ll surely change his mind about returning to work.
That’s weird and gross on its own when you spell it out like that, but there’s something else we overlook. So many working moms are so busy trying to convince everyone that we’ll be good at what we do in spite of our motherhood that we don’t spend a lot of time owning that we might just be good at it because of it. That’s especially true when it comes to politics, where part of the job is making decisions that affect other working parents and mothers.
Working and parenting at the same time isn’t easy, but it is increasingly commonplace. Spotting a woman at work who has a kid or two isn’t like spotting a rare species of unicorn out in an enchanted forest. It requires a talent for synchronizing schedules, prioritizing with ruthless efficiency and keeping track of a million moving parts, all of which are great qualities to have in an employee, regardless of equipment type. And women who know firsthand what challenges are unique to having a family and a career are especially equipped to turn a critical and empathetic eye toward legislative measures that will affect all families.
Far from being a weakness, mothering and existing in other places that are not the home is in fact a great strength. Patton is a father. He’s a widower who raised his children and worked simultaneously. He, of all people, should know that pulling it off isn’t just possible — it’s phenomenal. His mistake is assuming that mother as caregiver is the default as opposed to just one of many options.
Surely someone also explained to Herold’s husband that, if elected, she’ll be gone once in a while. It’s something they likely considered as a family when she decided to run for office, and surely he feels equipped to handle it.
It shouldn’t even be a conversation, but if it is, let it end there.