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Valerie Young's picture

I loved the visibility of mothers in the Sochi Olympics.  I appreciated the fact that the commentators mentioned whether a particular athlete had children.  Even the sometimes corny P&G commercials about moms were significant.  The athletes don't achieve their current status on their own.  Many people contributed to their success, and their mothers without doubt played a very central role.  The P&G ad  that totally captures the courage and ferocity motherhood requires is this 60 second spot, featuring the mothers of paralympians.   "You could have protected me.  You could have taken every hit.  You could have turned the world upside down so that I would never feel pain, but you didn't.  You gave me my freedom because you were strong.  And now so am I."  Sob.

Yep, that's motherhood in a nutshell.

So it gave me pause when I saw that Cosmopolitan magazine published an article titled, Why Is It Such a Big Deal When an Olympic Athlete Is a Mom?  I nearly spit out my morning coffee.  Did the writer not have a clue?  Was she kidding?   Didn't she know that the old joke about mothers not being able to pee alone was, in fact, no joke?   When your kids are very young, just getting a shower and finding clean clothes to wear is a major event.  When they are older, finding the time and energy to devote to yourself is the first thing to go, or happens only with much advance planning and the active involvement of others willing to temporarily take your place. The inordinate amount of time and resources it takes to train a world-class athlete is just unimaginable for most mothers, for whom providing emotionally and materially for their children takes all they have, and more.  It IS a big deal when an Olympic athlete is a mom.  In fact, it's a HUGE deal.  It's only recently started to happen, and is still quite rare.

Then I actually read the article.  And poured myself more coffee.

The author's real beef is the double standard between male and female athletes, not the many references to the maternity of athletes like Noelle Pikus-Pace.   And  she's right.  Nobody asks the dads how they manage to get to practice around their kids' schedules, or sleep through the night with a colicky baby in the next room.  It's the same in political campaigns.  If the candidate is a father, he won't have to field the question about the quality of his parenting or who will look after his kids while he's busy with his stump speech.  You run into it in job interviews - women will be asked if they have children, and mothers will be asked about the reliability of their child care arrangements, part of the hiring process spared the average man.  Women are just held to a completely different set of standards and expectations.  It's the world we live in.

The Cosmo author complains bitterly about the divide and claims her reality reflects child care as a more gender neutral activity.   She writes "...I see a lot of guys who are shaking things up at work in a big way so they can raise their kids. My friends' husbands give up travel to stay home, change up their hours in the office, and do school drop-offs and pick-ups... But parenting is a huge part of their identities, not just something they fit in between hours at the office."  Oh!  If only that were the common experience.

Maybe current Cosmo readers and writers have achieved that cultural shift that has eluded us up until now.  Maybe the men and women becoming parents today can slip the yoke of gender-specific behavior that has burdened us for too long as individuals, families, a national economy and a global competitor.  Maybe the moms we see in the Olympics will allow us to see women's accomplishments in their full variety.  Men could take paternity leave without feeling like they have lace on their jockey shorts.   Mothers could be just as likely to be offered jobs as dads, get the same starting salary, and no longer be regarded as less competent and less committed because they have kids.

After all, the focus, discipline and drive it takes to create fully functioning people deserves as much celebration as the grit it takes to skate the fastest 500 meters or super combined.   Especially if you never get to go to the bathroom alone.

'Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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