I’m catching up on some material I’ve wanted to post for a few days now… Last Wednesday, Ruth Marcus’ column in the Washington Post was called “Michelle Obama’s ‘Mommy’ Stamp”–where Ruth reacts to Michelle’s declaration that her primary role in the White House will be as a mom, albeit an important one:
“My first job in all honesty is going to continue to be mom in chief,” Obama told Ebony magazine, “making sure that in this transition, which will be even more of a transition for the girls . . . that they are settled and that they know they will continue to be the center of our universe.”…
[Michelle] Obama seems comfortable, now, in the back seat, but that seeming serenity did not come easy. In “The Audacity of Hope,” Barack Obama offers a glimpse of an earlier, more conflicted Michelle, whose “anger toward me seemed barely contained” as she struggled with the pull between work and family while her husband launched a run for Congress.
“No matter how liberated I liked to see myself as . . . the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments,” Barack Obama writes. “Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold.”
Expected to — by whom? Had to — says who? I remember reading this passage two years ago, when the book came out, and thinking: Hey, buddy, she has to scale back only because you’re not willing to…
I remember hearing that passage earlier this year when I listened to the audiobook version, and thinking something quite different–that gee, I guess there are lots of other working moms like me who are their harshest critics and are always trying to be both “super mom” and “super working woman”–and hence always feeling a little inadequate. I heard “expected to” and I knew just which Obama was doing the “expecting”…It was likely Michelle much more than Barack.
And I think Ruth realizes this, too, for she goes on to say:
And yet, Barack Obama could have been describing so many women today when he explained that, for Michelle, “two visions of herself were at war with each other — the desire to be the woman her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids; and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world and realize all those plans she’d had on the very first day that we met.”
This is where the identification comes in. The brutal reality is that, like our president-elect, most men do not wrestle quite so strenuously with these competing desires. So when the needs of our families collide with the demands of our jobs, it is usually the woman’s career that yields…
And Ruth goes on to mention her own struggles with these competing desires–which sound just like mine, and those of many of her working-mom friends she describes. If there’s one thing that working moms are SO much better at than working dads, it’s feeling pulled in so many different directions and feeling guilty. I think men process thoughts and actions too linearly to even notice when there competing demands on their time… Those competing demands typically never even translate into their own competing desires, you see. (They don’t even notice them most of the time.) Women, especially working women who are also moms, are natural multitaskers. It’s been my observation that men, even working men who are dads, have a harder time taking in a panoramic view of the world. They spend much less time worrying about the things on the periphery that they fail to get done, and more time focusing on the things straight ahead that they are able to check off their list. That’s probably why men generally have much more self confidence; they set much lower standards for themselves.
Yes, I generalize and stereotype and do not have any degree in psychology, so I’m sure this will generate some angry comments from working dads out there. Here’s the link to the lively online discussion Ruth had with readers on WashingtonPost.com on the day of her column.
And yesterday, this fun post by Ruth on what kind of dog will become the Obamas’ family dog… although having a couple golden retrievers myself (and a beagle that although smaller is far from what I’d call “girly”), I’m a little more sympathetic to the President-elect’s disdain for those “girly dogs.”