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This morning I nearly ran my mini van off the road when I saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me: “Don’t vote for Hillary or she will make us all clean up our rooms.” This is the straw that broke this mother’s back.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Hillary Clinton’s public embrace of motherhood has sparked a flurry of attacks on the work of mothers. Obviously, it is Pelosi and Clinton’s impressive professional skills, not their motherhood, that qualified them to break through the marble ceiling. Still, the devaluing of mothers’ work that has quickly become fodder for countless bloggers and journalists is infuriating. As a leadership consultant, I work with business leaders every day. I’m always struck by just how much their work corresponds to the daily work of a mother. Who else but a mother fosters compassion, negotiates conflicts, and teaches communication skills, cooperation, empathy, and decision making? Who else builds human capital for this country? Leadership skills cross over from home to work and work to home. Motherhood and leadership are not antithetical. In fact, a mother of three who is juggling schedules, managing a home, and keeping her children happy and cooperative has a lot in common with a CEO who puts out daily fires while fostering a work environment where each person feels motivated and valued. And yet somehow, even in the era of political correctness, it is still acceptable to reduce mothers to mere nose wipers.

Dana Goldstein, in The American Prospect online, writes, “If women want to get out of the nursery and into public office, we ought not to have our leading female politicians sending the message that scrubbing dishes and changing diapers are prerequisites for politicking. Pelosi and Clinton's pandering to outmoded gender stereotypes doesn't assuage doubts about women ascending to the highest reaches of power. It reinforces them. When Clinton and Pelosi claim political capital due to their experience as mothers and homemakers, they are selling their ambitious selves--and, indeed, all women--far short.”

Why must we equate motherhood to scrubbing floors? Not only do mothers demonstrate acts of leadership at home as they rear their children, but 49% of working women are mothers who together contribute $476 billion a year to their households.

Goldstein’s comments imply the tired either/or argument. Must we expect successful professional women to put their family second? Are Pelosi and Clinton compromising their professional reputations by portraying themselves as mothers first? The trust is that Pelosi and Clinton, now that they have the country’s attention, would be doing a terrible disservice to mothers if they did not proudly proclaim themselves to be family-first kind of women.

We are at a critical juncture. Unfortunately, the women’s movement left motherhood behind when it became clear that balancing ambition and motherhood was often an impossible juggling act. Talk about cleaning up our room. Let’s face facts. Over 80% of American women are mothers. 26 million American women work for pay and I bet not one of them would tell you that their job is more important than their child. To expect Pelosi and Clinton to downplay their motherhood is to miss the perfect opportunity to finally give the work of motherhood the respect it deserves. These women are in a position to advocate for family friendly policies and economic equality and support. Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University found that mothers earn 27% less that their male counterparts while non-mothers earn 10% less. The United States lags in maternity leave and subsidized childcare. This lack of support is directly connected to the “mommy wage gap.” Whether calculated or not, Pelosi and Clinton’s focus on motherhood sets the stage for positive change for American mothers.

A new image of leadership is forming right before our eyes. I, for one, am thrilled Pelosi publicly credited her parenting skills for helping her become an effective leader. Since announcing on her website "I'm in and I'm in to win," Clinton has repeatedly referred to herself as a mother who has gained valuable and transferable skills from her job as a mom.
It’s time to discard outmoded stereotypes and reinvent motherhood. For too long, mothers have been stuck in a lose/lose debate. When they focus on their careers, they are rebuked for being bad mothers. When they focus on motherhood, they are rebuked for weakening their public power. Pelosi and Clinton have the perfect opportunity to initiate a much-needed pro-family national conversation, and luckily, for women everywhere, it looks as though they’re taking their role as leaders and mothers quite seriously.

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