Sarah Palin: Family-Values Feminist?

I don't know any women like Sarah Palin.

Most of the women I know became far less ambitious when they had just one child. That one child caused them to see their role in life quite differently. I know many women -- doctors, lawyers, journalists, business executives -- who've given up or postponed or cut back on their careers because they wanted to care for their children. I know a lot more women who desperately want to cut back but can't because their families need the money.

2008-07-22-otb_godscountry.jpgI don't know any women with five children, but I know plenty of mothers with two and three children. They shudder at how much responsibility having five would entail. These mothers are almost impossible to get time with. Being with their children, listening to them, insuring they're safe and making good decisions, dealing with school and extra-curricular activities takes more time than there is every day. One has a 17-year-old daughter, who is getting extra maternal attention right now. "All the adult decisions kids have to make frightens them," the mother said. "I have to protect her."

I'm told that Palin is part of a new trend: women with high-powered jobs who also have lots of children. I guess that's the latest version of having it all. I probably don't understand that because I'm a boomer. We tried it. Nobody gets to have it all.

But Sarah Palin is not like any of the women I know.

I don't know any women who would have agreed to run for vice-president of the United States knowing that their ambition would expose their unmarried, pregnant teenager to national publicity.

Issuing a statement that said her daughter would have to grow up too soon wouldn't have been nearly enough for the mothers I know. They wouldn't think that a quickie marriage between two teenagers would make everything fine. They would be soul-searching, repenting, anguishing over how they had contributed to this disaster.

Maybe Sarah Palin is doing that. Maybe she's doing it privately.

But again, I'm at sea. Bristol Palin has been nationally shamed because of the attention her mother's ambition has drawn. Party pictures are already circulating on the Internet. It's likely to get uglier.

Obama would like to spare her that. He's promised to fire anyone on his staff who throws the first stone. (He's got this follower-of-Jesus thing.)

But Obama shouldn't have to protect Bristol Palin. Her mother, who is said to have known about her daughter's pregnancy before she accepted McCain's offer, should have done that.

I don't mean to sound old fashioned or judgmental. I'm pro-choice. Sarah Palin has made her choices, as she has the perfect right to.

It's just that that she is outside my experience. I don't know any mothers who would have accepted McCain's offer knowing what Sarah Palin is said to have known. If the pregnancy had surprised them after their acceptance, they would be taking as much blame on themselves as they could, shielding their daughter, berating themselves, deflecting attention from their darling child. Publicly.

All the mothers I know blame themselves far too much. I'm not saying they ought to. Only that they do. Something happened to the ambitious, driven, career-focused women I know when they became mothers. Their values shifted.

But then my experience isn't all encompassing. I don't know any mothers who crusade for family values.

I only know women who live them, quietly, without lectures, without trying to make other people live as they do, without pride, with lots of guilt because they can't do better.

I talked to one of them today. She asked, "What exactly does the Religious Right mean by family values?"

A good question.

Christine Wicker is the author of "The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church." Her website is