I made a conscious decision to skip town last week ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and I didn’t watch much of either convention. This is not a political blog, but let’s just say I am not excited about voting for president this year.
I did, however, watch Chelsea Clinton’s speech introducing her mother. The younger Clinton noted that her mother had been to “Every soccer game, every softball game, every piano recital, every dance recital.”
And I thought, oh no. Here we go again. Here we have someone who is a working (and very newly postpartum!) mom herself rehashing the trope of the perfect mother never missing a soccer game. Not only is it probably not true, it’s harmful to the larger cause of parents trying to integrate work and life.
I’m not the only one who noticed this. Samantha Ettus describes a similar feeling in this essay for Daily Worth. I suppose it is understandable why Chelsea Clinton felt the need to talk about her mother this way. I’m old enough to remember the brouhaha about whether Hillary Clinton should have stayed at home and baked cookies, a major source of political chatter back in 1992. Running for president is not a traditionally feminine activity, and so this trope is about reassuring listeners that the woman who may be our first female commander-in-chief is still maternal and nurturing.
I have no doubt she is. I have no doubt that she raised Chelsea very well and that they built an incredibly tight relationship of the sort many of us would love to create with our daughters. I also have no doubt that they built this tight relationship despite the elder Clinton occasionally missing events in her daughter’s life. How could she not? Even the parent of an only child can be called away for extended family responsibilities, or First Lady duties (in Arkansas or Washington). A parent can have the flu. Or get stuck in traffic. Unless Chelsea Clinton has the ability to be in two places at once, as a parent of multiple children she will inevitably face the moment when her kids have soccer games simultaneously and she will have to miss one!
But that is OK, because you can be an excellent, involved parent and miss soccer games, softball games, piano recitals, dance recitals, and so forth. Setting this up as evidence of good parenting puts added stress on parents who simply won’t be able to meet this definition of never missing anything. Their jobs aren’t flexible or they’re on their own and have to take care of other kids during events. Or maybe they have their own soccer games to attend. Parents can have lives beyond their kids.
Since part of Hillary Clinton’s platform is about addressing issues facing parents, it’s too bad this narrative got such a prime time spot. Here’s hoping that in the future, not only will it be possible for women to run for president, women won’t face absurd expectations about motherhood as well.
In other news: My husband baked cookies with our daughter last night. They are really good. I think I ate half a dozen of them today.