ESSAY- Bad mommy? Taking aim at Elizabeth Edwards a bad idea

Here we go again.

Why is it always that women and their parenting, or alleged lack of it, get center stage in the tedious debate about kids and political campaigning? Where are the men in this equation? And why are women so sanctimonious about the choices other women make as parents? Do they really have such utter certainty about their own abilities as mothers, their own flawless judgment, that they feel compelled to assail Elizabeth Edwards about her parenting?

Apparently so. The latest self-righteous salvo came courtesy of a mommy blogger named Rebecca Eisenberg, who apparently felt it imperative to respond to an article in The New York Times where Edwards talked about her decision to bring her two small children, Jack and Emma Claire, along with her on the campaign trail with their dad. I'm not sure why, but Eisenberg felt it her job to scold Edwards, who seems like a perfectly capable parent to me, and tell her exactly what she thought of that idea.

"You are being a terrible mother," she chastised Edwards on something called the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, "forcing your young children, who should be in school, to ride in buses and talk to the press when they obviously don't want to. This election is not about them."

Now I have several problems with that statement, aside from the italics. How does she know Edwards is a "terrible mother"? Has she seen this first-hand? Does she know something about Edwards' parenting and her relationship with her three children that we don't know? What, exactly, does a "terrible mother" look like? I really haven't met many I'd feel comfortable pronouncing as flat-out awful, so I'm not sure I'd recognize one.

As for the school issue, I'm all in favor of taking children out whenever possible. By all means. Between the endless testing and suffocating policies of No Child Left Behind and the lack of real funding for public schools, it's not like they're getting a bang-up education sitting in class. How better to absorb geography and history, law and economics, a sense of democracy and community, than a road trip across America? You can be sure that the Edwards children won't have trouble finding the U.S. on a world map or, for that matter, speaking in coherent sentences.

But back to the controversy. Eisenberg got a lot of heat for her remarks, as she should have. If you're going to attack the wife of a presidential candidate who's a lawyer, a woman widely admired for her intelligence and strength, not to mention a cancer patient, you'd better be prepared for some blowback. And to hear from Elizabeth Edwards.

"You don't get to say I'm a terrible mother because you think you wouldn't make my choices in my situation," she blogged her accuser within hours of the post. "You don't get to judge me because you think you know exactly what you would do if you had my disease. I want to be really clear: you don't know. And if the sun always shines on you– and I pray it does– you will never know."

Not long afterward, Eisenberg backed off, writing that she had "changed her mind" about some of her comments. But if she didn't believe what she wrote about Edwards to begin with, then why did she say it?

My main problem with her attack, however, was that it reinforced a stereotype about women. You know, the one of women as small-minded, petty and, yes, jealous. I can't have what you have, so I'm going to make you pay for it.

You don't hear men resorting to that kind of backbiting. Has John Edwards slammed Barack Obama for leaving his young daughters at home while he kisses someone else's babies on the campaign trail? Has he ever even hinted that Barack might be a less than loving and devoted father? No, and I doubt that he will. That's because men get to fight about the important, big-picture stuff like heathcare reform and the war in Iraq, not the trivial garbage like subjective notions of parenting and how many minutes a day a "good dad" spends with his children.

Elizabeth Edwards has incurable breast cancer. Not even her doctors know how much time she has. I think she and her husband probably know better than anyone how to confront that reality with their kids.

Mona Gable's articles on politics and parenting have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Health, Child, and Salon. This essay originally appeared in the on-line Huffington Post.