The headlines were perplexing. “Tammy Duckworth is pregnant, would be first senator to give birth in office” and “Tammy Duckworth set to be first Senator to have baby in office” made it seem as if Duckworth would be delivering a child in her office. But it turns out she is simply the first female senator to have a baby while holding the office.
Duckworth is not alone in the ranks of high-powered women having babies. Last week Jacinda Ardern, the newly elected prime minister of New Zealand, announced that she too was pregnant. During the election, the topic of whether Ardern wanted to have a family often came up. Her childlessness was seen as a minus for her. She’s now facing criticism for not having been straightforward about her plans during the campaign.
It’s 2018 and women in positions of power are having babies. It shouldn’t be strange that elected officials can have children while working. Yet the surprise with which the news of both these pregnancies were announced shows we still have a way to go in our expectations of powerful women having families.
A few years ago, Marisa Mayer made news by becoming the CEO of Yahoo while pregnant. She went on to have twins a few years later. At first the conversation centered on whether a new mother can perform such a serious role. But soon the criticism became that Mayer wasn’t taking enough maternity leave – only a month compared to the 16 weeks maternity or paternity leave taken by other Yahoo employees. Mothers can’t win.
Duckworth might be the first woman having a baby while holding the job of U.S. senator, but she likely won’t be the last. That’s a positive development for mothers, fathers and us all.
In a nasty column in the Daily Mail, Liz Jones railed against working mothers in general, and Ardern in particular, saying mothers are more checked-out than other workers.
It’s true that working mothers have a lot of balls in the air.
“How does she do it?” is a question often asked of women balancing work and family life. And while the question sometimes bothers women – Tina Fey famously wrote that she finds it judgmental – in fact it’s not a bad question.
But the question shouldn’t be limited to just women. When we say we want involved fathers then the expectation is that they will have to perform a similar juggling act to mothers.
And the fact is that fathers do. We’re living in a time of higher engagement by fathers in the lives of their children. A Pew poll in June found that American fatherhood has changed dramatically in the last few decades.
The poll found “the ranks of stay-at-home and single fathers have grown significantly.” (For example, Prime Minister Ardern’s husband is a stay-at-home dad). The poll also found that fathers see parenting as just as central to their identities as mothers do.
Men want the added responsibility and they’ll get it as women pursue jobs and continue having children.
Tammy Duckworth lost both of her legs while serving in combat in Iraq. The idea that she can’t have a baby while a U.S. senator is absurd.
Male senators grow their families while serving in the Senate all the time and no one thinks that odd. Duckworth might be the first woman having a baby while holding the job of U.S. senator, but she likely won’t be the last. That’s a positive development for mothers, fathers and us all.