Like so many women in America this election year, I find myself asking: "What the heck is going on?"
Now, with the pick of Gov. Sarah Palin to be the Republican vice presidential candidate, my head is literally spinning off my shoulders. Not because of her qualifications (or lack thereof), which should be closely examined and debated. Not because her teenage daughter is pregnant. Not because she chose to have that adorable baby that everyone in American has rightly fallen in love with.
My head is spinning because this pick represents the GOP's (and particularly the religious right's) sudden and inexplicable betrayal of its position on the importance of mothers staying at home with young children.
As a woman who stayed at home and raised four children, I know how hard that job is. Now, as a grandma who takes care of her granddaughter while my daughter works full time, I know how hard working women struggle to be both good employees and great moms. I've been on both sides of the "mommy wars."
After the women's movement of the 1970s, the religious right struck back with its mantra that women who stayed at home with young children were valued, even noble in their choice. The scenario of "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" was back in play.
The contributions of stay-at-home moms had been devalued, and by the 1980s the GOP in its marriage to the Christian right would be their champion. Stay-at-home motherhood suddenly had status again.
Now evidently, juggling five children, one an infant with special needs and another a pregnant teen, will be possible while potentially being president of the United States and leader of the free world.
Let me be very clear here. I am not saying that it's not possible for Palin, or any other woman for that matter, to do that. Judging the parenting practices of presidents and world leaders should not be part of the national conversation.
However, what I am saying is that this is a clear reversal of the religious right's previous position. After stay-at-home moms carefully remove the knife from their backs placed there by McCain's choice, let's take a minute to reflect.
I think I have a way for all of us to move forward. Maybe we can finally end the "mommy wars."
First, can we all agree that raising children is an important job, probably the most important job any of us will ever do, and that it takes an amazing skill set to do it? Second, can we accept that women are going to work in all kinds of jobs from store clerk to political leader?
And, can we answer this question: If women work alongside men equally, and children really are our society's highest priority - what will we do?
Here is where the real politics kicks in. We must accept that we are all in this together. Hillary was right, it does "take a village" to raise a child successfully. So, how do we create this village for our nation's children?
First, can we finally say that people who are caregivers deserve our respect, training and a pay scale that will attract quality people. Well-trained nannies, affordable day care and loving environments can't just be for the wealthy.
Public education needs to provide universal preschool nationwide at age 3 and more extended-day and afternoon programs where children can be safe and productive until their parents can claim them after work. Teacher's pay must be increased so that we can attract the best and the brightest back to this incredibly important profession.
New programs could provide a whole new set of jobs people will be excited about if the salaries are decent. The controversy over Palin's parenting may be just the wake-up call America needs. Let's build this village for all of our children. The future of our society will depend on this. As Sen. Joe Biden has said: " Don't tell me what your values are, show me your budget." As this election draws near, look for candidates that support preschool, after-school programs, pay raises for teachers, quality and affordable day care, paid maternity leave, and pay and tax incentives for stay-at-home caregivers. I think that if you do that, you will vote (like I am) for Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Don't vote against Palin based on her family, but please vote for policies that will support all women, all children and all families.
* SHAUNA MOENCH is a Salt Lake City grandmother and formerly vice president of In Your Face greeting cards.