Column: Kellyanne Conway plunges into the Mommy Wars

WASHINGTON -- As if she didn't have enough on her hands with the president-elect, Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway has plunged full-force into a topic at least as emotionally charged: the Mommy Wars.

WASHINGTON -- As if she didn't have enough on her hands with the president-elect, Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway has plunged full-force into a topic at least as emotionally charged: the Mommy Wars.

  Speaking at a Politico "Women Rule" event Wednesday, Conway cited her four young children as the reason for declining a White House job.

  "My children are 12, 12, 8 and 7, which is bad idea, bad idea, bad idea, bad idea for mom going inside," she said. "They have to come first and those are very fraught ages."

  When the possibility of an administration role came up in her talks with senior officials, Conway said, they would say, "'I know you have four kids but ...' I said, 'There's nothing that comes after the "but" that makes any sense to me so don't even try.' Like what is the 'but'? But they'll eat Cheerios for the rest of the day? Nobody will brush their teeth again until I get home?"

  The question for "the male sitting across from me who's going to take a big job in the White House," Conway said, "isn't: 'Would you take the job?' ... The question is: 'Would you want your wife to? Would you want the mother of your children to?'"


  OK, this is the wrong question but not necessarily the wrong answer.

  It's the wrong question because the test shouldn't be whether the men would want their wives to take on the burden of a White House role. It's whether their wives would want to.

  It's not necessarily the wrong answer because, as much as we should insist that the decision about how to juggle work and family should not be dictated by gender, it would be unrealistic to think that gender does not play a role in many women's choices.

  Is that a matter of biology and inherent difference between the sexes? Is it a consequence of longtime societal arrangements and cultural expectations that are evolving, however slowly? I don't know and I'm not sure the answer matters to anybody's -- any mother's -- individual decision-making.

  It didn't matter to mine. I have half the number of children as Conway and, when they were young, was confronting a job far less all-consuming than one in the White House -- a workplace where, as former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel once said, "The only family we're going to be good for is the first family."

  Still, and completely contrary to pre-pregnancy expectations, I found myself wanting to scale back after my daughters were born.

  I did, with help from an accommodating employer. I took myself out of an editing role because I could not envision a family-friendly future on that track. I became an editorial writer, then a columnist, and worked every permutation of part-time work imaginable: three days a week, four short days so I could pick the girls up at school.

  Now the nest is empty, and I am back full time plus. It was the right decision for me, and for my family. And if Conway were my friend, I would advise her to make the choice that feels right, but also that the cliches are true: The time with the kids goes so fast. You can't get it back.


  The Mommy Wars rage so fiercely because the emotions they evoke hit so close to home. The stay-at-home moms or mommy-trackers feel disrespected; the multitasking Superwomen feel even more judged, as Bad Mommies. Each side is inclined to feel slighted by the other.

  Which is why Conway's comments, especially in the raw aftermath of the Trump campaign, were destined to incite. Conway, Suzanne Monyak wrote for Slate, "seems to believe that it is the onus of the woman in a family to sacrifice her career opportunities so that her husband may have his. Even more troubling, Conway implies that (BEG ITAL)no(END ITAL) good mother should take on such a job -- an attitude that feels ripped out of 'Mad Men.’”

  But you don't have to be stuck in the '60s to express queasiness about taking such a demanding job. And Conway didn't say that wives should scale back to accommodate husbands so much as she seemed to recognize the current reality that, when something's got to give, it's the mom who's going to do the giving.

  In a perfect world, sure, maybe, the division of family labor would be perfectly equal. Meanwhile, as Conway said, "we still have to make choices and there are limits." If her decision is to put time with kids over time in the Oval Office, that seems as entitled to respect as if she had chosen the opposite.

Ruth Marcus' email address is .

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