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A Mother's Job

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Saturday, May 09, 2009

"You have so much responsibility. It's just hard work all the time," said Bristol Palin, the new spokeswoman for the Candie's Foundation to prevent teen pregnancy, at an "Event to Prevent" town hall on Wednesday.

I've got news for you, Bristol. It gets worse. Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems. Or at least big worries. The point is, it's hard enough for grownups to raise kids. Kids raising kids don't stand a chance.

That's an important message that girls and boys need to hear.

But why are Sarah and Todd Palin letting their daughter be the one to deliver it?

I know. I'm a mother. Assuming that Sarah Palin had anything to do with her daughter's decision to inject herself into the middle of this debate is assuming that she has a degree of influence over her daughter that most of us don't even kid ourselves into believing we have. Still. Did she tell Bristol that the press would have a field day with her? Did she explain that she might get free Candie's shoes, but she would also be a target for ridicule? Do people even wear high-heeled Candie's in Alaska? I always thought not wearing high heels would be one of the advantages of living in Alaska. Why does Bristol need this gig?

Bristol is selling abstinence, advice the teenage mother obviously didn't follow herself. "I just want to go out there and promote abstinence and say this is the safest choice," she said on one national morning show. Levi Johnston was on another, saying it would never work. These are not tapes you save to show your child. Can this really be what the Palins had in mind?

Bristol and Levi used condoms, except when they didn't use condoms. If Bristol were out there telling teenagers to use condoms all the time, she wouldn't get so much ridicule. Conservatives will complain that she is the victim of the biased media, which doesn't like either abstinence or Sarah Palin. The problem is that her critics have the objective evidence on their side: Condoms work and abstinence doesn't. Texas, which is Ground Zero for abstinence education, has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

The challenge for Bristol, of course, is not just that her case is tough to make on the merits, but that many of those listening don't start out sympathetic. It's her name that gets her attention, and much of that attention is negative. Then again, the country is full of teenage moms who would love free shoes and would be happy to say almost anything to get them -- but their last name isn't Palin. That's not fair, either. As any mother will tell you, lots of things aren't fair. "What is, is" might as well be the theme for raising children.

A year ago, Sarah Palin was the up-and-coming governor of Alaska. No one outside that state knew word one about her family. Was it better for them? I remember sitting with Geraldine Ferraro once, after she had gone through the bruising 1984 campaign, after she had lived that dream so many of us dreamt with her, only to see her family being hounded in every direction. Is this the price of ambition, we wondered. Thank God she didn't know that before. What mother could do that to her family?

Politics takes a toll on the families of politicians. I don't know whether Bristol is having fun right now, but I hope so. Still, I have no doubt that the best advice a mother-in-politics can give her children is to keep their heads down, that the best thing to do with the media is demand they leave the kids alone.

Sarah Palin may well have told her daughter just that. And her daughter may well have decided to do with that advice exactly what so many teenagers do with the advice their parents give. And then the parents have to do what Sarah and Todd are doing: Take one step to the side, smile brightly, and tell their daughter how proud they are of her. Being a mother isn't about being right. It's about being there. Happy Mother's Day to all.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

See Other Political Commentaries

See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich

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