“The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world.” I first heard that saying from my mother, who homeschooled five children. I hardly ever hear that proverb anymore, and now that I’m raising my own children, I often find myself doubting it.
Every day, well-educated, economically stable women like me get the message that the hand rocking the cradle would be put to better use rocking the world in some other way, that full-time motherhood is a waste of our potential. As we busy ourselves with fixing lunches, scrubbing the bathtub, and herding a litter of tiny troublemakers through the checkout line at the grocery store, the thought might cross our minds that there’s something to the criticism.
I value my motherhood above any other responsibility I have in this life. I respect other stay-at-home moms (SAHM) for their commitment to raising their children full-time. But like so many other mothers who “stay home,” mothering and home-making are not all the work I do.
In my case, I write and podcast. I don’t do it because I’m afraid of being judged for being a strictly SAHM. This work is my way of attempting to rock the world outside the comfort and relative serenity of my happy family.
A Quiet Demographic with a Serious Charge
Thousands of other mothers do similar work. While we can only speak for ourselves, we often find that we are giving voice to a demographic that tends to keep quiet—not because they don’t have opinions, but because they are busy rocking the cradle. I cannot call myself “just” a stay at home mom because politically motivated parties will not simply leave me and the SAHMs alone to parent freely and peacefully, and I am in a position to speak up about that. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s my way of keeping the world from rocking my family too hard.
That brings us to the present debates over the Equal Rights Amendment and universal paid parental leave, issues where SAHMs deserve robust representation. Helen Andrews, the managing editor of the Washington Examiner, recently penned an article for The New York Times titled “Where Are the Socially Conservative Women in This Fight?” in which she lamented that men seem to be at the forefront of championing the socially conservative stance that women should not be assumed to be better off working than managing families and communities.
From where she sits in the auditorium of public discourse, the loudest voices decrying that the “American family is once again in crisis” are male. “That’s a difficulty,” writes Andrews, “because there are some arguments that it’s easier for a woman to make,” adding that “the optics have only become more important in an age of identity politics.”
Yet from my position, I can see and hear politically focused arguments from socially conservative women all around. If it was ever true that women’s commentary suffered the constraints of the “insufferable sameness” of the Mommy Wars, in which essays “went round and round about whether women can ‘have it all,’” and arguments about breastfeeding in public and defenses of attachment parenting defined the commentary landscape for women, it isn’t true anymore.
We’re Already Vocal. Start Listening
Not only are we present and vocal on pressing political issues across the internet and in print, but so-con women have also found a reliable platform at The Federalist for years. The Federalist publishes a wide variety of perspectives of women who aren’t full-time politicos daily: pro-life women, women who live in flyover country, mothers raising five or more kids, adoptive mothers, mothers who homeschool, mothers with chronically ill children, women who care deeply about matters of faith, and many more.
This isn’t some token gesture to keep social conservatives reading the publication. We pack the lineup day in and day out because our voices matter, and not just on issues related to parenting. We weigh in on hundreds of political and cultural matters that affect us. Like people from any other walk of life, our vocations and life experiences color our outlook on virtually everything.
The political voice of the full-time or nearly full-time mother is not hard to find, but it is hard to amplify. This is where Andrews’ complaint of a male-dominated social conservatism could benefit from some practical observations of SAHM life, which would lead her to the important acknowledgment that the women she seeks to lead social conservatism are caught between a rock and a hard place.
As a stay-at-home mother, it’s not too difficult to hammer out an essay every couple of weeks on a topic you care about. It is much, much harder, however, to “lean in” to a career in political advocacy, organization, or commentary when your work time is often a series of minute-by-minute interruptions by highly dependent individuals (many of them joyful interruptions, but interruptions nonetheless).
Family-focused women do any number of things one would expect: build their lives near extended family, in a safe, quiet area, in a strong faith-based community, or in a low cost-of-living area that allows one income to suffice. Essentially, they build their lives around optimizing their family’s situation, not their career options. This family-centered approach to life makes it much harder to justify uprooting your family and relocating to the Acela corridor so you can do find a “real” job in politics and do all the networking required to build serious influence.
Schlafly Was One of a Kind
Andrews opened her article with a description of the work of the late conservative heavyweight Phyllis Schlafly, who is most known for defeating the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA (which is now getting a fresh hearing in Congress for the first time in several decades). There is no one like the tireless, unflappable Schlafly leading the so-con fight today, Andrews observes. While it’s fine to wish there were, it is unrealistic to expect it.
There has only been one Phyllis Schlafly in the last century for good reason. It takes a rare kind of fortitude to run a campaign while pregnant and travel all over the country doing incredibly stressful political work while parenting six children—even with “Cheaper By The Dozen” approach Schlafly espoused of having older children parent younger children.
Unlike the social conservatives whose work is so often featured here, Schlafly was not primarily a “home-maker”—not for the majority of her career, anyway. As her critics point out, the queen of time management hired a housekeeper at one point. Schlafly advocated for traditional sex roles but, practically speaking, she was still primarily a career woman.
This is not to imply that Schlafly was a hypocrite. She took an enormous burden on her shoulders to fight for what she thought was right. Sometimes social causes require family sacrifice. As she saw it, “I always did feel that the leaders of the effort to beat E.R.A. had to be women.” Nor am I implying that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with working outside the home.
But Andrews seems to be asking mothers who value raising their own kids, one of the defining features of socially conservative women, one of the very things under attack by modern leftism, to give up practicing what they preach so they can preach louder and to bigger audiences. This is rather like asking a frog to give up living by the pond.
Although we may take interim periods to be more active in other work, doing what we can where we can, the motherhood vocation is fundamental to our identity. To “lean in” to the fight full-time would mean leaning out of mothering, and we’d lose much of the very perspective that makes our contributions to the discourse so valuable in the first place.
Tag Teaming Is More Possible than Iconic Figureheading
Even if Andrews were to call on women who don’t have children yet to lead a ceaseless Schlafly-esque charge against socially progressive policies, she’d be asking them to put their family aspirations on the back burner for an undetermined length of time, and by the time their fertility starts to wane, they may even feel guilty for abandoning the fight in favor of “personal” choices. If Andrews were to call on women whose children are already grown, they can’t speak to what active mothers today face the same way active mothers can. At the speed at which politics and technology moves these days, they are almost products of a bygone era.
Yes, women who can’t have (or don’t want) children are helpful, powerful voices for social conservatism. Working moms, too. But again, personal experience shapes perspective, and no one can defend full-time mothering the way a full-time mother can. There is no authority or credibility on the issues quite like that of the people who are directly affected by them.
The pursuit of a single figurehead, or even a handful of powerhouses, to defend social conservatism, may be a dead end. Social conservatism doesn’t need another Phyllis Schlafly, anyway, but a whole chorus of well-spoken socially conservative women working together to push effective arguments and advocate for family-friendly policies that don’t pressure women to step away from the cradle.
Elevate Those Who Aren’t Easiest to Book on TV
We need legacy media to be more open to giving airtime and print space to women who are not in politics full-time. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” will be the downfall of the conservative movement. Thousands of smart, passionate female communicators are being overlooked because of where they live, how socially disconnected they are from the Beltway, or how many social media followers they have.
True, they can’t drop everything to do a media hit on 10 minutes of notice. They don’t live a subway ride away from a TV studio. But this is the digital age, where women can live outside major metropolitan areas and still produce quality content and connect to wide audiences. Some openness and flexibility would go a long way toward amplifying an underrepresented yet highly competent demographic that deserves a seat at the table in public policy.
Socially conservative mothers like me don’t live for politics; we’re involved in politics because we want to live our lives how we see fit, without government imposing its will on us. We want others to have the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The hand that rocks the cradle still rocks the world and the conservative movement would do well to champion that.