Public Comment

A Giant Leap For Momkind

By Jamie Woolf
Friday November 24, 2006

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi isn’t checking her motherhood at the door. Addressing the House of Representatives, the microphones falter and she says, “Do I have to use my mother-of-five voice?” She has also begun numerous sentences with: “As a mother and grandmother and the leader of the House Democrats…” 

Politicians who are working mothers are not new. The difference is that Pelosi doesn’t cover up, downplay, or apologize for her role.  

Why does she keep saying she’s a mother? Perhaps she knows what we all instinctively know but rarely hear—that what good leaders do closely corresponds to what good parents do. Much of what she needed to know to run the House she learned by running her own home. 

Acts of leadership occur both in the House and at home. Any mother who has raised five children has built expertise in dealing with irrational behavior, listening to multiple points of view, multitasking, and helping rivals get along. Conservative Democrat from Mississippi Gene Taylor nailed Pelosi’s management style when he said, “She puts a very big premium on people who have ideas, but not if you think your idea is to the exclusion of everyone else’s input.” 

Of course she does. That’s what good mothers do. And that’s what good leaders do. What our society sometimes forgets is that mothers demonstrate acts of leadership everyday as they guide their children through the twists and turns of life. They negotiate conflicts, manage emotions, facilitate decisions, and listen with patience, all the while keeping sight on the bigger picture which is to create an environment in which their children can develop to their maximum potential. It’s no surprise that Pelosi, after raising five children, is able to deal with the myriad of daily crises, competing priorities, and important decisions that land on her desk.  

And yet, our culture minimizes the enormous sophistication of the skills parents need to raise children. Headlines like “Temper Tantrums Solved Overnight” trivialize the skills required for good parenting. Stay-at-home moms, when asked what they do, reply that they are “just” moms.  

Even in today’s postfeminist era, working mothers have to downplay their role if they want status, promotions, or raises in the American workplace. Bosses still question, explicitly or implicitly, how much time mothering takes away from their jobs. Being a mother is still seen as taking away from instead of enriching work responsibilities. There are 26 million working mothers in the U.S. But the workplace values have still not caught up.  

Workplaces are slowly catching on that women and mothers naturally have what it takes to be great leaders. Women naturally build relationships, collaborate, and focus on team accomplishment. As Judy Rosener documents in America’s Competitive Secrete: Women Managers, “Women speak and hear a language of connection and intimacy, and men speak and hear a language of status and independence. Men communicate to obtain information, establish their status, and show independence. Women communicate to create relationships, encourage interaction, and exchange feelings.”  

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A home requires all the tact and all the executive ability required in any business.” Pelosi takes good housekeeping to a whole new level. By leading by example, and as a woman, leader, mother, and grandmother, she has the opportunity to bring new respect for America’s momkind. 


Jamie Woolf, an organization development consultant, does webcasts and conferences for Working Mother Media and consults on how parents can become leaders through The Parent Leader,