Monday, September 01, 2008

Sarah Palin's Family Values

UPDATE: For my take on Tuesday, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-debra-haffner/bristol-palin-mary-cheney_b_123164.html ...and if you have ABC News NOW on your cable system, I taped a piece with Annie Pleshett Murphy earlier today.

Monday's Post:


When I told my 23-year-old daughter the news about Sarah Palin's daughter, she said, "Mom, this must just be a joke. Did you check?"

The Democratic candidate has asked that his family and children be off limits. The Republican party says that this pregnancy is a PRIVATE FAMILY MATTER, although their policies surely don't support privacy for all women dealing with unintended pregnancies. Gov. Palin, according to MSNBC, has said that this was her daughter's own decision.

Really?

In 2006, Gov. Palin reportedly said that she would not support abortion even in the case of her own daughter becoming pregnant from rape. She opposes comprehensive sexuality education, and supports abstinence-only-until-marriage education. I can't know, of course, but I'm wondering how much talk there was about sexual limit-setting beyond "just say no" and contraception in the Palin household. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that there wasn't much discussion either about all of Bristol's legal options when she told her parents about her pregnancy.

The research, as I've written about in my books for parents (see the list to the right), is quite clear. In homes where parents talk openly about sexuality with their children, including their values about premarital sex, contraception and STD prevention, their children are more likely to delay sexual activity and more likely to protect themselves if they do have sex. Perhaps Gov. Palin should reconsider her positions on teenage pregnancy prevention.

But something else has been bothering me all weekend, that seems even more troubling in light of this news. In my books, I have quoted the adage, "you are only as happy as your most unhappy child." Gov. Palin is the mother of a newborn with a disorder and of a 17-year-old who is about to have a baby while she's in high school. I have only the greatest compassion for what these past five months must have been like in her family. I've sat with enough families with children with disabilities and pregnant teens to know how heartbreaking these situations are -- and how much they demand of parents.

How is it, then, that she decided THIS was the time to run for national office? My family values -- and the decisions I've made throughout my career -- have always put challenging times in my family first. How come the "family values" folks aren't talking about that?

16 comments:

DiscoverUU.com said...

This is one of those tough things. You want to agree to leave family out of it, but when it's a personal example of an extreme national policy, like Dick Cheney having a homosexual daughter or Palin having a pregnant teen... when their own family is an example of the difficulty their views present, the manner in which they process it seems to be relevant.

If Obama was a huge proponent of affirmative action and had two children who were poor students currently placed in top academic institutions, I feel it would be a topic he should have to at least address.

As it is, Palin's daughter is not having an abortion, so there's no inherent conflict between policy and action on that level, but the sexual education aspect you point out should be a valid topic for questioners.

Chalicechick said...

On my blog you wrote:

"CC, oh I respectfully disagree. Yes, underage children should be off limits, but her policies on relevant issues should not be."

If you agree that underage kids should be off limits but think Palin's policies should not be, then the path you should take is clear: Talk about the policies, leave the daughter out of it.

CC

Joel Monka said...

To be fair, there is no evidence that I've seen that SHE decided THIS was the time to run for national office. She entered no primaries, and wasn't a part of the McCain candidacy; to all appearances McCain surprised her as much as the rest of us. She told McCain about Bristol, and he was ok with it. Given that, the decision was an easy one- just nine weeks of stumping, and win or lose she has a resume enhancer that will carry her career for the rest of her life. Nobody would blame her if they lost, as the ticket was headed by "Bush III", and they were running against an historic ticket. If they win, she's part of a huge upset victory... and it's all bought with a mere nine weeks, when other candidates spent years and their personal fortunes and still didn't get picked! That's like the Army telling a new recruit that if she can get through boot camp she gets to start out as a major general! She'd have been a fool to refuse. In fact, with Senator Obama's gracious statement guaranteeing this will blow over shortly, it is still the right decision for her.

I don't know Bristol, but I can't imagine that she asked Sarah to refuse- after all, no decent person knew how nasty Daily Kos was going to get.

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel Monka wrote:
-snip-
"To be fair, there is no evidence that I've seen that SHE [Gov. Palin] decided THIS was the time to run for national office."

So you're suggesting that being a VP candidate is an involuntary act and Gov. Palin could not tell Sen. McCain "no"?

Wouldn't this involuntary VP draft be a violation of the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution?

:^)

Cassandra said...

I don't see why the failure of a politician's child is necessarily the fault of a politician or a politician's beliefs, as you seem to suggest. If a Democrat's daughter were in the same position, I wouldn't assume it was the fault of a "comprehensive sex ed" program. Sometimes, children make poor choices in spite of our best efforts. That doesn't mean the values we try to instill are at fault.

Lizard Eater said...

Jamie Lynn Spears, Bristol Palin, the "pregnancy pact" of 17 teens, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" is a big hit ...

So, is the Time "Person of the Year" going to be a pregnant girl, in silhouette?

(No intended snark.)

Chalicechick said...

(((Sometimes, children make poor choices in spite of our best efforts. That doesn't mean the values we try to instill are at fault.))

Yeah, that's part of the reason that I'm calling for leaving the kid out of the discussion and focusing on the policies.

One of these days, this is going to happen to a Democrat's kid, and I for one don't want to listen to: "If she'd only been taught about abstinance, this wouldn't have happened."

But if that happens, we pretty much deserve it at this point for making an example of Bristol Palin.

CC
who had comprehensive sex ed as a kid, and certainly saw several girls in her school get pregnant anyway.

Mona said...

"Sometimes, children make poor choices in spite of our best efforts." ?

Poor Bristol is the last one who should be criticized here: how about the education system (i.e. her mom) and her parents who should be complementing the education that her school isn't providing, as noted in http://www.dinahproject.com/blog.asp

Debra W. Haffner said...

I think we are forgetting that it is Sarah Palin who introduced her family to us -- I don't think it's quite fair that she gets to "use" Track in the military and Tris' birth as examples of her policies and then tell the media or concerned citizens that her daughter's pregnancy isn't to be discussed.

Chalicechick said...

I'm not saying we shouldn't add to this girl's humiliation because Sarah Palin asked us not to.

I'm saying we should keep our criticisms to Palin's policies because it's the right thing to do.

Think about it, this poor kid not only knocked up, but having to watch her mother attacked over and over for what the girl has to be thinking of as her own mistake.

Yes, we're scoring a few political points here, but can you imagine the damage we're doing to Bristol?

Do we even care?

Discover UU's point, which he intended in the opposite direction, really did it for me:

"If Obama was a huge proponent of affirmative action and had two children who were poor students currently placed in top academic institutions, I feel it would be a topic he should have to at least address."

Can you imagine being one of Obama's kids, having a bad semester and then Dad having to explain it to the entire country?

Now, not all school problems mean the kid is too stupid to be at a good school. There could be another explanation. But you know bloggers won't stop to consider that any more than they've stopped to consider that maybe lack of comprehensive sex ed wasn't the root cause of Bristol Palin having unprotected sex.

CC

Robin Edgar said...

Joel Monka said - "no decent person knew how nasty Daily Kos was going to get."

Are you serious Joel? Most people who know me think of me as a "decent person" yet I could have predicted how nasty Daily Kos, to say nothing of various other U*U hosted blogs. . . was going to get. Take a cue from one of your own recent blog post titles Joel. . .

Debra W. Haffner said...

Fascinating comments all. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I thought I had been clear about my compassion for what it is like for families faced with newborns with disabilities and teenagers with pregnancies. I'm sorry if that didn't come through. But, Governor Palin and Senator McCain couldn't be so naive that they thought this wasn't going to come out, especially as she has provided us with so much detail about her other children.

I hope all of you who are parents are using this teachable moment to talk with your own!

Robin Edgar said...

To be clear, I did not mean to suggest that your own post was "nasty" when responding to Joel Monka's comment Rev. Haffner, but some other U*U bloggers certainly have made rather nasty blog posts or comments about this matter. I think your post is amongst the more reasonable ones dealing with this issue and it is well within the subject matter that your blog normally deals with. I think Joel Monka makes a valid point when he suggests that Gov. Sara Palin may not have actively sought the VP nomination and may have had to make a very difficult personal choice when John McCain did contact her. Who is to say that she did not discuss this matter with her daughter and the rest of her family before deciding to accept the nomination? At least she seems to actually practice what she preaches when it comes to sexuality, even if most U*Us disagree with her stance. Deciding to bring a Downe's Syndrome child into the world could not have been an easy decision for Gov. Palin to make. At least one U*U blogger, who seems to hold to the old Unitarian proclivity towards eugenics. . . seems to think that Gov. Sara Palin should not have been so ProLife when it came to the life of Trig.

Joel Monka said...

You're right, Robin, i was naive. I knew that DK and others would be vicious towards the candidates; that's normal for both sides. But i didn't expect it to spill over to children.

I guess I was also naive to believe that everyone could see the difference between saying "Her pro-life positions make her wrong for the Vice Presidency," and "I bet her daughter is pregnant because pro-life whacko's don't tell their kids where babies come from." I guess I was naive to think we had gotten past telling women who are trying to break glass ceilings that a woman's place is in the home.

ogre said...

Joel,

But i didn't expect it to spill over to children.

Seriously? After Sen. McCain's incredibly cruel--and non-election--joke about Chelsea Clinton being ugly?

After the Bush campaign (in 2000) unleashed its smear about McCain having an illegitimate black child who he'd taken into his family (adopted, born in Bengladesh)?

You actually thought that? Really?

Bristol Palin is 17, and was (by AK law) over the age of consent. Able to drive, legally. Not yet fully, legally adult, but old enough that the military is trawling her age group for volunteers to go face serious risk of death or permanent injury.

Portraying her as a child is an absurdity. She's not 8, or 10... or 13.

I guess I was also naive to believe that everyone could see the difference between saying "Her pro-life positions make her wrong for the Vice Presidency," and "I bet her daughter is pregnant because pro-life whacko's don't tell their kids where babies come from." I guess I was naive to think we had gotten past telling women who are trying to break glass ceilings that a woman's place is in the home.

Odd, I didn't see anyone suggest that Palin ought to retire from the gubernatorial post because she had a Down's baby. Her "merely" being governor is punching a hole in the glass ceiling--particularly in a rather macho, male-dominated society like Alaska's. Being that with a young family is doubly so.

But the idea that she's ready to be preznit because she was mayor of a teensy burg for a few years (bringing on a huge deficit and stirring up major controversy) and has been governor of a state with the population of a decent sized city for 20 months is equally absurd.

Emily Shepherd said...

Just because someone gets pregnant doesn't mean they don't know anything about sex prevention, and just because someone uses protection doesn't mean they won't get pregnant. I know of a NUMBER of women on the Pill or an IUD who got pregnant anyway (though generally they were married, engaged, or otherwise in a long-term relationship so it doesn't "look" as bad). I don't think the Palins should (or could!) hide Bristol's pregnancy, but I think taking the pregnancy as indicative that obviously there was no discussion of sex in their home or community is a little extreme. I come from a deeply red state (and am conservative myself) where I'm sure sex ed is not at its most comprehensive level, and I assure you that pretty much everyone in my school knew about sex and condoms well before age 17, even when they were told to wait until marriage.

My husband and I do not support abortion (or premarital sex) under any circumstances, just like Gov. Palin, but by no means will we stay silent on the subject of sex with our children. We will probably talk about it more than ever. I am 7 months pregnant with our first child - a girl - right now, and if she were to turn up pregnant at 17, we would not say that what happened was right, but we would show her a lot of grace and love, too, to help her deal with it in a spiritually and emotionally healthy way from that point on.

Finally, it makes me sad to read the following: "I've sat with enough families with children with disabilities and pregnant teens to know how heartbreaking these situations are -- and how much they demand of parents." Why must these situations be heartbreaking? What is so heartbreaking about a child that needs extra love and attention, the very least of the "least of these"? What is so heartbreaking about becoming a grandparent and having the chance to help your daughter grow up and mature through an admittedly tough situation? What is so heartbreaking about having demands on us? It only grows us in selflessness, if we let it. God tells us to be "thankful in all circumstances" and I believe that ALL circumstances certainly includes being blessed with a Downs syndrome child and having the opportunity to show your own daughter the true meaning of grace, love, and support.