Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The spawning of columns-- just too funny not to share here . . .

The following is an example of the breeding of columns in real life. I was asked to do a column for the Springfield Business Journal just after John McCain nominated Sarah Palin. The guidance I got from the editor went something like this: I know you have a big family (blended family of nine). I was wondering, with all the commentary about Sarah Palin and her large family, if you could give your perception of "doing it all" as a professional.

Here is my column, attempting to be very politically middle of the road:

As a woman and mother with a career and blended family of nine children I have watched Sarah Palin’s family closely as the spotlight has shone brighter on McCain’s choice for a V.P running mate. Is it possible for her to effectively parent her five children and have such a demanding career while campaigning in this presidential election?

I have an unequivocal answer to that question: she sure cannot do it alone.

We are all individuals with distinct capabilities and my years working as a nurse, parent educator and psychotherapist have given me perspective as I, for the past twenty years, have juggled work and family and have watched my clients do the same.

There is no set prescription of how much is too much when it comes to the burden of a workload on a family. Each parent has to measure how effectively they can maintain their health, their wellbeing and functioning and that of their family’s with the amount of time and energy their career requires.

Busy parents are frequently asked how they do it and I’m sure the Palin’s will be fielding similar questions. My primary strategy in juggling our busy household and the comings and goings of nine children has become: expect the unexpected. As I have explored my core values and their relationship with my stressors, I have actually surprised myself. Of course I highly value honesty and integrity and loyalty and similar values, but one value that came to light that wasn’t as obvious to me was Predictability.

As I investigated what most frequently causes stress in my life I realized that unpredictability was the overriding theme. I began working on a new concept: expect or predict unpredictability. We cannot schedule when our children are going to be sick or when that relaxing evening I fantasized about will turn into running to purchase items for the homework assignment due tomorrow and when I started expecting chaos it was amazing how well things actually seemed to run.

We do have our little techniques that build a foundation that makes our home function well. Everyone is responsible for cleaning up his or her messes. Yes, tweaks will be needed, but the children learn as they assume responsibility. We designed a clothing organization system in our laundry room that doesn’t require clothing to leave that room unless it is on their body; good-bye clothing clutter. We still use the timer to signal when it’s time to get out the door and bedtimes.

More importantly, I think, is the balance of fun time. We work on having some good old-fashioned adventures when we are able. Theirs is the childhood full of the type of play I remember—hours outdoors concocting schemes, going deer watching, fishing, catching bugs . . .

But the absolutely integral ingredient to a smooth balance between home and work life is the need for teamwork between family members and adults. The need for single working parents to enlist the support of helpful adults cannot be emphasized enough. Sometimes we have to create our village that will help us raise our children.

As I watched Palin’s older daughters take care of their newest sibling, it looked familiar. When our four year old was born our midwives, who had large families of their own warned us, “This will be so different. You won’t believe what a help the older ones will be and what a joy it is to watch them.” They were right. Their involvement wasn’t out of obligation or per their parent’s request but out of love and care and the desire to be a contributing member of our family.

While it might not seem a true feminist perspective, with my husband’s career as a busy physician and the accompanying unpredictable hours, I look at the balance needed on the home front as supporting the good work he does outside the home; with a house full of children, this is even a more pertinent issue. I transitioned my private therapy practice into an online coaching practice so that I could work from home for some of the time. This transition allowed me to give the clients I was leaving a professional option for contact if they needed it. At the same time I have been able to find part time opportunities within my area of interest and expertise that allow me the flexibility to be the first line contact for our children when they are ill or in need.

My children are blessed. They have fathers that are not mired down by traditional gender-related child rearing roles. Any time my husband is with our children he provides them with all the love, care, support and absolute fun I could wish my children in a lifetime with a father. He role models that fathers can do laundry, grocery shop, cook, read stories, tuck their children in, help with homework and then be up and taking care of a patient at 7:00 a.m. the next day. The children see a father that loves to work at home with his family and loves to go to work to provide for his family.

I’m afraid the question in my mind isn’t so much, is Sarah Palin able to handle everything on her impossibly full plate, but will Todd Palin provide his family the firm parenting foundation required in their mother’s absence? For Sarah and her children’s sake, I hope Todd Palin is a fraction of the father to their children that my husband is to ours.

Becky Aud-Jennison , MA, LCPC, is the Heart Support Counselor at Prairie Heart Institute and has an online business at

Along with the above column in the October issus of Springfield Business Journal, Bridget, the editor had printed a resounding endorsement in her monthly column of, not only how mothers are capable of doing it all, but how I (gasp) am an example of that. This is Bridget's column:

As a mother myself, I couldn’t
help but feel a little offended when people questioned whether a “hockey
mom” could handle the responsibilities of being our nation’s vice president.
Matt Damon, who apparently thinks his opinion matters because he wrote a
good movie script once, said the thought of Sarah Palin acting as vice
president was like a bad Disney movie. And then there was Pamela Anderson,
known for her fine work on Baywatch, who said Sarah Palin needs to “suck
it.” (I won’t even go there.)
Well, I’ve decided to buck what my idols say and tell you that I think Palin
is more than equipped to handle the responsibilities of the vice presidency,
not despite the fact that she’s a mother but because she’s a mother.
Let me give you some evidence to back my statement. Palin was chosen about
the time we were planning the October issue of the Business Journal. For our
monthly Working Woman column (page 37), I decided to ask Becky Aud-Jennison,
a working mother who has a blended family of nine children, to write this
month’s column. I sent her an email on a Thursday to see if she would be
interested in writing something for us on whether a hockey mom could handle
the job of vice president.
Becky replied promptly and said she’d do it. I gave her a two-week deadline.
The next day, Becky’s article was in my inbox. There was nary an error in it
and she fit right into the guidelines I gave her. I asked her for her photo.
She sent it right away. Then, one week later as she was heading off to a
family vacation, she touched base with me one more time just to make sure I
had everything I needed.
Can you imagine what our country would be like if we had a bunch of people
like Becky Aud-Jennison in charge? Do you think she would have sat back and
let the economy collapse right in front of her eyes? I don’t think so.
Now, will I vote for the McCain-Palin ticket? You can look up my voting
records later if you are interested in finding that out.
I’m not asking people to vote for Palin, but I’m hoping people will consider
Palin for her credentials and remember that her “hockey mom” status is an
asset and not a liability.

Then . . . I immediately had to whip out my response to her response which was printed in this month's SBJ. This is Becky being real:

Unpopular Vote

Last month I wrote a column for this publication. Given all the hype about the recently nominated Palin and opinions regarding whether she would be able to handle parenting and potential V.P. duties, Bridget, the editor, asked me to give my perspective about the challenges of career and having a large family given that I am a professional with a blended family of 9, ages 4-21. Then, my column apparently spawned Bridget’s column and herein the breeding of columns continues.

Bridget, in her column, had wonderful things to say about her perception of my abilities based on the timing and quality of my response to her request. And don’t we all love it when our efficiency and good work is recognized? So thank you to Bridget for the resounding compliments.

But, I had to laugh (out loud) when I read Bridget’s personal endorsement, which included among other accolades, “Can you imagine what our country would be like if we had a bunch of people like Becky Aud-Jennison in charge? Do you think she (she means me!) would have sat back and let the economy collapse right in front of her eyes? I don’t think so.”

My husband read it. And he laughed. Out loud.

One of my son’s read it. And he laughed. Out loud.

Still aglow from her kudos, I was forced to initiate my deep breathing exercises. Imagining the contrast between “working mother” and sitting in the White House, in any capacity, almost gave me a panic attack. So I feel compelled to come clean. Stealing from David Letterman’s Top Ten List format, I’ve narrowed it down to 3 (but could easily have expanded it to twenty).

The top 3 reasons you would not want me, or anyone wired like me, in the White House at this phase in my life:

3. I have kids in my head and that does not leave room for bombs, nor budgets, nor foreign affairs . . . ad nauseam. Forgive me my feminist sisters, but after being this gender for 47 years and counseling women for over 20 years I have come to a conclusion. We are inherently, genetically, wired to help our species continue to procreate and although many women (many of my dear friends) have bypassed that option because they had, uhm, what’s it called? oh, yeah: choice, I firmly believe that once we become mothers and unless we are neglecting our nurturing drive (neglect spawned of myriad causes including overachieving) we have a primal instinct to care-take our children. That means that if I have children under the age of 18 they get primary occupancy in my brain: I cancel appointments for them, I switch jobs for them, I prioritize around them—THEY come first. That would not be an option in the White House. That is an internal drive I cannot ignore; and if forced to, I would be rendered incapacitated-- which I am told is not on the list of ideal qualities for the White House.

2. And speaking of incapacitation, as I have to remind my husband every month, sometimes my hormones speak for me. I remind him that these issues that have to be addressed immediately are really relevant in my life and always concern me—I just can’t shut my mouth or not act on them when I am hormonal. I do not censor and I do not have great impulse control for at least 4 days a month—and honestly, those are not traits I am extremely gifted at the other days of the month. Trust me, you do not want me, or anyone with my wiring, having any red buttons or red phones at their fingertips. (and the family said, Amen)

1. Sleep. I need it. Eight to nine solid hours of it. Every night. If not, I need a nap. Why you ask? Read number 2 again and add even more irritability and whining. I have gotten the impression that sleep is not a guarantee in the White House.

Oh yeah, my son had another reason to add to the list: we wouldn’t have had the ultimate bonding experience of doing that groovy leaf collection that he put off until 5 days before it’s due date; if he hadn’t had the aid and persistence of his ever-present mom it wouldn’t have gotten turned in today.

Case closed: we do not want a bunch of “me’s” running our country. Please. If given the opportunity in the next 14 years: do NOT vote for me!

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