America is cheering for Michelle Obama, the self-declared “mom-in-chief.” She’s checking out D.C. schools; she’s making sure she’s home for the girls’ bedtime; she’s doing everything but putting on puppet shows with lonely goatherds who yodel.
Nothing wrong with any of that. But is it all necessary?
Lately I’ve been reading “The Nurture Assumption,” by Judith Rich Harris, and its main assertion is that while parents do play some role in molding their children, the believe-it-or-not bigger influences on child development turn out to be the child’s environment, social group and genes. That’s why, for instance, the children of immigrants usually grow up speaking accent-free English. Clearly, they didn’t get that English from their parents; they got it from their peers. And if something as basic as language flows into children from a world beyond the porch, it’s likely a whole lot of other stuff does, too. Interests, habits, outlook. All of which means: Our parenting does not have to be full-time, hands-on or perfect because it is only one ingredient in the recipe for a person.
If perfect parenting were the key to perfect kids, explain this: A boy is born to a teenage mom. His dad skips town when he’s 2. When the boy is 10, his remarried mom drops him off at his grandparents’ place, and she skips town, too.
He grows up to become the first African-American president of the United States.
Another boy grows up in a loving family of two parents who are still together 60-something years later. He’s one of six children. The mom stays home to nurture them all.
He’s the guy moving out of the White House so the other guy can move in.
Loving, engaged parents are a blessing, no doubt about it. But if there’s only one way of raising a successful kid and that is to create an Ozzie and Harriet home, then only one of those two boys should have made it to the Oval Office. (Of course, that may actually be true. But that’s another column.)
Point is: Maybe Mrs. Obama doesn’t have to give up her career, or even the promise of a new career, to make sure her kids are raised right. The children of working moms do fine.
Mrs. O must have believed this at some point herself. She did, after all, graduate from Princeton and Harvard, which indicates a certain ambition. She also did, for a while, mentor a young lawyer named Barack, so it’s not as if she has been hanging on to his coattails all the way. For a while, he hung on to hers. She became a high-powered exec and even out-earned her husband until recently. So why is she donning the apron of domesticity?
Probably because, like her husband, she is playing by the “Don’t Do Anything the Clintons Did” playbook.
Bill was a hound dog, but Hillary was even less forgivable. She was a smart female lawyer from the Midwest with a degree from an Ivy League school who — Oh, wait. That’s Michelle.
You can see why the parallels are too close for comfort. So while Hillary snarked about how she didn’t want to sit around baking cookies, Michelle has not even insisted on using her maiden name. Nor does she seem particularly eager to reform the health care system. Or wear a headband.
As first lady, she has said she’ll focus on military families, which is fantastic, and also the difficulties faced by working moms.
But one difficulty we working moms face is that society still thinks that stay-at-home moms fully focused on their kids are the ideal.
Guess that’s not a problem she’ll address immediately.
Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at Advertising Age.
©2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.