WASHINGTON – Even as House Speaker John Boehner was offering his members remedial lessons on how to talk to women, his Democratic counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, was discussing motherhood and work in a way that likely would have landed her in a heap of trouble if she were a man or a Republican.
Pelosi’s comments came during a revealing mother-daughter panel – the House minority leader and her filmmaker daughter, Alexandra – sponsored by Politico.
Nancy Pelosi described being approached to run for Congress at 46, after years as a carpool-driving, cake-baking, stay-at-home mom who also managed to head the California Democratic Party. Her four older children were in college; Alexandra was a high school senior.
Pelosi approached her daughter with a heavy dose of pre-emptive mommy guilt: “Alexandra, Mommy has this chance to run for Congress, but it would be better if it were a year from now. … It’s up to you, if you want me to be home with you, that’s perfect for me.”
To which, Alexandra, in a response familiar to any mother of teenage daughters, instantly replied, “Mother, get a life.”
Interestingly, however, grown-up Alexandra, and her three sisters, turned out to be more like their mother – Version 1.0 – than that bit of adolescent snark would have suggested. All four Pelosi daughters have juggled children and careers.
“They found work situations that worked for them,” Alexandra told Politico’s Lois Romano. “Everybody role-modeled themselves after the first version of their mother – not the I’m-going-to-go-take-over-the-world second-act version of their mother. Everybody developed careers, but in their own time, and in their own way … so they could stay near their kids.”
At which point Nancy Pelosi made clear that she thought that was the better choice. “I think they [her daughters] all understand: It’s really an important responsibility to have children. They are not accessories. They are people. And the investment that you make in them – time goes by quickly. … But it is really an opportunity that you just can’t get back and you don’t want to have any regrets about that.”
It was also clear that Nancy Pelosi is no Sheryl Sandberg. Pelosi’s mind-set is less Lean In than Throttle Back, or at least think hard about doing so. For all her bona fides as a San Francisco liberal, Pelosi remains very much the “1950s housewife,” as Alexandra phrased it.
Of course, the Pelosi model – kids first, career after – is not easily replicable these days, even for those with the luxury of choosing not to work. It is hard enough to relaunch a career once your kids are off to school, no less start one.
The off-ramp is easy to take; the on-ramp difficult to find. Pelosi said that the time a mother spends at home “counts on her resume. That’s not a blank – it’s a gold star.”
I find myself in the seemingly odd position of agreeing with both Sheryl Sandberg and Nancy Pelosi. Women shouldn’t limit their options prematurely. Neither should they lose sight of what truly matters. The nest empties more quickly than you ever dreamed possible.
Washington Post Writers Group