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09.17.08

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From the Mom Files

This is not at all cool to say, but Sarah Palin's children should take priority

By Penelope Trunk

Sarah Palin is nuts. And the Republicans are nuts for putting her on the ticket. She has a five-month-old kid with Down's syndrome.

Why is no one writing about this? I have a special needs kid. I have two. Here's what happens when you have a special needs kid. You are in shock. You love the kid. I loved my first one so much that even though there was something like an 80 percent chance of having another kid with autism, I had a second kid.

And guess what? The second kid had a different disability than the first. Amazing. Statistically phenomenal, really. But my point here is that I'm very qualified to tell you what it's like to be a breadwinning mom of a five-month-old special needs kid. And it's not just from my perspective. I am a magnet for breadwinner moms. When I write about this topic—being the breadwinner and having a special needs kid—women come out of the woodwork. They all say exactly what I'm telling you now: it's insane. It's insanely hard.

Here's what's insanely hard. You go through a mourning period. Don't tell me about love and how everyone is different. Because everyone is the same about their kids. They love their kids no matter what, and they didn't plan on having a special needs kid, no matter what. So you need time to adjust.

And here's more I know from both statistics and first-hand experience: It's nearly impossible to keep a marriage together with a special needs kid. And it's nearly impossible to keep a marriage together when the husband quits his job to take care of the kids (which Palin's husband just did). And Palin needs her marriage to stay together pretty badly right now.

Who will take care of the youngest member of the family? Certainly not the 17-year-old daughter who is pregnant with the newest kid. So the dad now has three teens at home and soon two kids under one year old at home, and one has special needs. This is not a reasonable job. For anyone.

I have a nanny, a house manager and a cleaning woman who actually shows up every day. I also have a job that allows me to leave at 2:30pm each day. It's a compromise for me. Because every parent in the world has to compromise, and it's fair to judge public figures on the choices they make.

It's really hard to know where to compromise. Here's what I was doing when my kid was five months old: I was at home. Hating it. Telling myself that I was not cut out to be at home. I was sort of a columnist and sort of a mom and sort of a psychopath. Because having a five-month-old with special needs is very, very hard. Not just learning to take care of the baby, but mentally coping.

Why is no one talking about this? The Republicans should dump Palin. She's got too much responsibility at home.

Don't tell me that this is not fair to women. Because you know what? People should have railed against John Edwards running for president when he had two young kids at home and a wife fighting cancer. Fine if she wants him to run for office while she fights the cancer. I get it. But I don't get how the president of the United States was going to have time to console two school-age kids about their mom's death while leading the country. It's irresponsible.

I know it's not cool to tell people how to parent. I know it's not cool because every day someone asks me how I run my company when I have two young kids, and what they are really saying is "You suck as a parent." It's hard to hear every day, so I have empathy for the idea that everyone should shut up about how other people parent.

But it's absurd how extreme these presidential wanna-be cases are. I don't want someone in the White House who has kids at home who desperately need them. I don't want to watch that scenario unfold on national TV. So at some point, it must be OK to speak up. At some point, we have to say that we have standards for parenting, and we want the community to uphold them.

 Penelope Trunk has launched new businesses for multinational corporations and founded two of her own companies.Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.


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