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New mothers as legislators

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When I first heard that Jennifer Buck Wallace is expecting her first child while running for the 51st District Representative’s seat in the Tennessee Legislature, I knew that her opponents, both Republican and Democratic, would try to use this pregnancy against her. Lo and behold, last night I found myself answering a phone survey that included a jab at Jennifer for just that. On behalf of all women, I’m bloody tired of this.

My only acquaintance with Jennifer Buck Wallace was while she was on the regular staff of the Tennessee Democratic Party and I was a volunteer. I know from Facebook that she has a stable marriage and a cat. She is currently involved in Organizing for America, and I know her as an influential force for change. That’s why I plan to vote for her.

Service in the Tennessee Legislature is a PART TIME JOB. Every current member of the legislature who is not of retirement age lists some sort of profession. Those who have children list them proudly. – So why do people think a new mother would ‘not have time to attend to what is happening in the legislature’?

Yes, this was the thinking in the 1950s and 1960s, frequently reinforced by fundamentalist preachers and by the media of the era. This was the idea I grew up with, and, frankly, I was in no hurry to grow up. After marriage, everything was downhill. You spent your life taking care of your husband and kids, forgetting your own talents and interests. – With some amusement, I noticed evangelists began backing off this idea when one income would no longer support a family. The late Ira North, of Madison Church of Christ, was the only man I ever knew who preached that professions were proper for married women. He even dared to say some women would be dissatisfied with their lives if they could not follow their callings.

Now there are more women than ever in the workplace – and not just because they are single mothers who never bothered to get married. We now have families below the poverty line with both parents working. What good is having your mother home all day if she

can’t get the food to feed you?
I myself went to work when my son was 18 months old. I might have conformed to the stereotype longer if my then-husband hadn’t made it clear he wanted me working. A mentally challenging job was wonderful for me, and my young son was soon socializing well in day care. Baby care books talk about the importance of building a strong relationship in the child’s first year of life. How can you build a relationship with somebody who is asleep 80% of the time?

By the way, my own son grew up so well despite his working mother that his mother-in-law once told me she was ‘borrowing’ him. It’s not easy to raise a son anybody would want to borrow.

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