Amid all the recent buzz about Caroline Kennedy’s bid for a U.S. Senate seat, there has been a great deal of talk about her connections, her power, her wealth. But the way I see it, if you strip away the glamour, the name and the money, then Caroline is . . . me. And many of my friends. Maybe even you. If, that is, you happen to be a midlife woman raising kids and returning — or thinking of returning, or hoping one day to return — to the full-time workforce.
A great deal of the criticism around Kennedy’s interest in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat sounds an alarm for women like me. We’ve been at home with the kids, sure, but we’ve also been busy with lots of other things. We’ve been working part-time, consulting, freelancing. Like Kennedy’s, our resumes don’t conform to the conventional, one-job-after-the-other sequence that recruiters expect. When I read a sniping post on Gawker.com that “Caroline has been a happy housewife since getting her law degree, published a few ghost-written books and sat on a few boards that used her celebrity to draw donations,” I thought, hmm, wait a minute. Couldn’t there be a more inventive way to look at her CV? …
…that’s when I caught myself, and my more out-of-the-box side spoke up: Kennedy had young children, and no matter how much child care her money could buy, she clearly wanted to be a very-much-there primary caregiver. Perhaps, like many women in her situation, she found stimulation and satisfaction in whatever tasks most easily fit her schedule and her life, and her kids’ lives. You could say her work history was spasmodic; you could say it was scattershot. But you could also say that as her children have grown up, her focus on public life has intensified, culminating in her fundraising for the public schools and her participation in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. You could say that, consciously or unconsciously, she was preparing for this moment.
Rather than a privileged aberration, I prefer to view Kennedy as a bellwether, a case study in how things could be if only the workplace were more accepting of an unconventional CV, one that may brim with great experience and skills and talent but is also peppered with gaps and one-off projects and volunteering.
Raising children is a very noble pursuit, and calling for Americans to be “more accepting of an unconventional CV” for mothers reentering the workforce is understandable. But that is a far cry from thinking Caroline Kennedy should fall into one of the most powerful positions on earth because she was “unconsciously” preparing for the job of Senator.
On that score, even if you have your doubts about Sarah Palin’s experience, it’s still fair to say that as a popularly elected governor that Palin was more qualified to be VP than Caroline Kennedy’s history as a well-connected poetry anthology editor qualifies her to be Senator from New York. But just as a thought exercise, imagine the reaction if the Washington Post had published a piece on page B1 of the Sunday Outlook section urging people to be “inventive” when examining Palin’s qualifications? After all, she has small children so cut her some slack…
Yeah, thought so.