Sarah Palin's Parenting Choices Under Fire

Sarah Palin, who has morphed into America's new conservative feminist, has turned the question of women's right on its head, complicating the already contentious Mommy Wars.

Christian conservatives are now touting what some say are "un-family" values, and longtime liberals are finding themselves critical of a woman's choice to raise children and earn a living, calling it "bad parenting."

With five children, including a 5-month-old infant with Down syndrome, the Republican vice presidential nominee faces enormous challenges as the ultimate working mother. And with her unmarried daughter now pregnant, she will have the additional task of being a grandparent.

Many working mothers say their own experience juggling motherhood and a career convinces them that Palin's children will bear the brunt of her choice. Already, 17-year-old Bristol has been dragged into the 24-hour news cycle.

But other women across the political spectrum have asked why men should not also be held to the same standards of parenting.

"Having young children didn't prevent JFK, whom I hear is America's most beloved president, from being president," said Ann Coulter, the acerbic right-wing commentator.

"If Palin can't do that, then you're saying that no woman with children can ever be equal to a man in politics and can certainly never be a president or vice president," she told ABCNews.com.

Coulter: Mr. Palin Needs to Step In

But, she and others concede, Palin will require help. "As there are no fisheries and no oil rigs in D.C., Mr. Palin ought to be able to spend more time on child rearing," said Coulter.

New York City Democrat and "Mama Bird Diaries" blogger Kelcey Kintner agrees it's Palin's decision, but says, "I know I couldn't do it."

"Damn, I almost had a breakdown in the car today when both my kids were crying and whining at full crescendo as we hit loads of traffic," said the 38-year-old mother. "I'm definitely not cut out for the veep spot. But maybe she is."

If John McCain is elected, Palin will be the most visible working mother in America, representing 61 percent of all mothers, according to an ABC News poll. Of those, 45 percent work full time, 16 percent part time and 37 percent said they're "on a career track."

But a mother's dirty secret is that 85 percent of them hold down the primary child-care responsibilities, according to the same poll. Just 13 percent said their spouse or partner had main (2 percent) or equally shared (11 percent) responsibilities raising the kids.

Balancing Work and Family

No one understands juggling a political career and motherhood better than Jane Swift, who had a 3-year-old and gave birth to twins while serving as acting governor in Massachusetts in 2001.

Swift dropped out of the race in 2002, giving the press "one throwaway line," that she couldn't handle the combined stress of parenting and politics, according to Swift. In fact, she said she couldn't compete with the wealth of her opponent -- Mitt Romney.

Romney -- who went on to run for president in this election -- has five children, but "no one focused on that," said Swift, who now works as an educational consultant and teaches a course at nearby Williams College. Her husband is the primary caregiver.

"We have different standards for mothers in the workplace," Swift told ABCNews.com. "Sen. [Barack] Obama has two children, but we don't ask a lot of questions of his wife on how she raises them. It's a double standard."

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