WASHINGTON — The word is out that Chelsea Clinton is with child, making the favorite Democratic presidential nominee a soon-to-be grandmother.
The headlines were inevitable — “Grandma Hillary” — followed by the similarly crucial question: Will being a grandmother help or hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances in the 2016 election?
Note: We do not yet have another Clinton presidential candidacy, but we may as well have. She’s running in the American mind if not in fact.
Other questions have run the gamut from “Will Hillary give up her presidential aspirations once she’s a grandmother?” to “Is Hillary too old to run?”
The latter question is based on the dated assumption that grandma-hood makes one “old.” The former inspires contempt from women who fume that no one would ever ask the same of a man.
Is a man too old? Ronald Reagan, almost 70 when elected, wasn’t. Would a man give up his political or any career because he became a grandfather?
It is true that we would never consider asking men such questions. But it is also true that women and men are different (hold your horses) when it comes to babies. Women don’t love their children or grandchildren more than men do, but their roles are significantly different. I know, the spoiler rides again, but most adults really do know this.
That we are different speaks to women’s obviously greater role in childbearing and the attentions that babies need from them. It also speaks to the very qualities (nurturing, communication, intuition — which parent wakes before the baby cries?) that many career-bound women seem unwilling to acknowledge.
The reasoning isn’t complicated, but it is both sad and perhaps self-defeating. Women assume, probably correctly, that admitting to instincts and maternal pulls would suggest that they’re less committed than men to their professions — a First World problem, we remind ourselves — thereby risking hard-won advances in the workplace.
But there is another way to look at things, and many women do. Often, having a baby or a grandchild gives one an unexpected pause. One day your nose is to the grindstone, blinders affixed to block distractions, and suddenly you find yourself mesmerized by this tiny human being who is wholly dependent on you. Career-shmeer. Whether mother or father stays by baby’s crib, most mothers profoundly want to.
We don’t need breast-milk expression stations in workplaces so much as we need padded crying rooms for mothers too soon separated from their newborns. Which is to say, priorities change without our permission when the greatest love of all enters our lives. This happens to Democratic as well as Republican women.
Thus, it is not crazy to wonder whether Hillary Clinton, 66, might pause and think: Do I want to suffer through another campaign and then bear the burdens of the world at this point in my life? Or do I want to enjoy this new little life and work through the family foundation on my own schedule?
I said it’s “not crazy,” to wonder. I didn’t say Hillary necessarily would answer affirmatively to the second question. But nor are the two questions necessarily mutually exclusive. Barring health concerns, Hillary most likely will run because she’s duty-bound to play out her role in American history.
What also irks women is the sense that the “grandma” title, which seems to be favored over “grandmother,” diminishes Hillary’s familiar resume as a public servant. Even the word grandma connotes “old lady,” despite the near meaninglessness of numerical age these days. The Drudge Report selected the least flattering photograph of Hillary to accompany its “grandma” headline, showing every line and crinkle in the harshest possible light. High definition flatters no one.
Besides, a few months shuttered away with a personal trainer, stylist and the doctor of her choice, Hillary rebounds refreshed and invigorated by the new member of the family. There’s nothing like a baby to make everyone feel young, as I recently learned when my daughter-in-law gave birth to the most perfect baby on the planet.
Joy is the ultimate anti-aging potion.
Moreover, I would submit that Chelsea’s baby gives Hillary Clinton all the more reason to run for president. She not only will want to help shape a world in which women lead nations but also one in which babies and grandmotherhood are celebrated as integral to women’s lives — not Photoshopped out as inconvenient obstacles to women’s advancement.
Talk about a legacy.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.