Is Caroline Qualified?

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There’s been quite a hoopla these days over whether or not Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be a U.S. Senator. Kerry Kennedy, Caroline’s cousin, stated that she thought it was important to have a woman in that position. I agree that we need more women in Congress, especially the Senate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any woman will do. (Think Sarah Palin.) Kerry also pointed out that Caroline has years of experience working for non-profit organizations, which included being a phenomenal fundraiser, plus she’s a lawyer, has written two books, and raised three children.

Wait! What was that last qualification? She raised three children? How does that qualify her to be a U.S. Senator? My answer to that is another question: How does it disqualify her? Raising children, most parents would agree, is the hardest job in the world. Ann Crittenden, author of If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything (2005) and The Price of Motherhood: Why Motherhood Is The Most Important–And Least Valued–Job in America (2002) would probably support Caroline’s appointment wholeheartedly. But in an editorial about her qualifications in The Saginaw News today, being a mother is only mentioned incidentally.

There are two issues involved here. Should a woman receive credit for child-rearing? And should she receive credit for non-paid work? It has been reported that Caroline raised $70 million for New York City public schools. This is not small potatoes. That skill should come in handy when she has to raise campaign funds when her appointed term is over (assuming that she wants to run for election then). That and the two books she’s written should count for something professionally. But what about the fact that she is a mother? Does that give her a special dispensation?

All too often, a woman’s motherhood is seen as only giving her credentials for working on behalf of other mothers. Michelle Obama seems to understand that this is an accepted role for her to play; she is on record as saying that she wants to work with military families. But that’s the First Lady. America is notoriously conservative when it comes to what it wants its First Ladies to get involved in. What about a U.S. Senator? If she has mainly been a mother, is she deemed only suitable to work for mothers and families?

Why does everyone seem to think that a woman becomes stagnated by staying at home with her children? Isn’t it even remotely possible that she might have been challenged even more than she would have been if she were in the “outside” world? The fact that we look down on SAHM’s has more to do with our denigration of motherhood than with the reality.

Isn’t that what Caroline’s critics are really saying? That she essentially stood still all the years that she was at home raising her children? What about all the responsibilities that go with raising children? Don’t they count for anything?

I think there needs to be a change in the thinking of Americans about what women uniquely have to offer if they are mothers. We need to let go of the idea that being a mother is on a par with being a housekeeper or nanny. Motherhood is so much more than that and it’s about time that it be given the respect it deserves.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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