USA Today: Nancy Pelosi Speaks About Being a Mom
In her office decorated with bowls of yellow roses this week, the role House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted to brag about wasn't the one she has been playing to hammer out terms of Iraq war funding. Instead, she was dwelling on an accomplishment she insists is even more crucial to the nation's future: "There is no more important responsibility than raising a family," Pelosi said.
Mother's Day this Sunday is historic here because it's the first time a top congressional leader has been one of the honorees. As speaker of the House, Pelosi is also the first woman ever to come so close to the presidency, second in the constitutional line of succession. But Pelosi wants no one to forget that she started out in more traditional women's work.
"I've always taken great pride in the fact that I was a mom, that this was my life's experience and that it brought something to the table," says the California Democrat, who raised five children before entering electoral politics. "Mother's Day is probably one of the most patriotic days in America, because we're saying to moms that we respect what you have done for your children, we respect what you're doing for the country."
Pelosi's emphasis on her maternal qualities is a politically savvy move, softening her image at a time when she's leading her party in a constitutional showdown with President Bush. But it's also culturally significant.
The speaker, 67, is of a generation in which many professional women found it prudent to downplay their family commitments. At the pinnacle of her power, Pelosi has showcased hers. She took her oath of office surrounded by her six grandchildren, and, on the spur of the moment, she invited other members' children and grandchildren on hand for Congress' opening ceremonies to join her on the rostrum. "Somebody like me, as speaker of the house, has a responsibility to the younger generation of women to say: Don't think of this as a minus," Pelosi says. "This is a plus, being a mother, having an experience of raising a family."
Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who says she's no fan of Pelosi's politics, nonetheless hails her efforts as a role model. "She proves you can have it all and do it all, but not at the same time," Conway says. She says Pelosi's "circuitous and unusual" path to power may provide an encouraging example to young women.
The daughter of Thomas D'Alesandro, who was elected to the House the year before she was born and later was mayor of Baltimore, Pelosi grew up in politics. But when she followed her husband, Paul, to San Francisco, her own ambitions took a back seat to family demands. "I had five children in six years and one week," she says, and has "no amnesia about how much work it was."
"When my children were small, I barely had time to wash my face," says Pelosi, whose currently elegant mien and attire have generated -- to her chagrin -- as much ink as her policy positions. She volunteered for the Democratic Party and became California party chair but didn't make her first run for office until her youngest child, Alexandra, was a senior in high school.
Pelosi says her children gave her the scheduling discipline it takes to be a successful politician. Meeting their demands taught her to budget her time: "I was raising them, but they were forging me."
She professes to be "dazzled" by younger women in Congress who are raising families and pursuing political careers. But she advises all new House members that "politics is an insatiable beast" and that they must take time to "recreate with your family."
"It renews you," Pelosi says. "It makes you stronger at doing the job you're doing." Taking her own advice, Pelosi is planning to spend Mother's Day in Texas, where her 8-year-old grandson, Sean, will be making his First Communion. The speaker says she's not expecting the traditional breakfast in bed: "It's his day."
But to hear Pelosi tell it, it's also a day that encapsulates the zenith of her existence.
"Nothing in my life will ever, ever compare to being a mom. Not being a member of Congress, not being speaker of the House. I wish I could do it all over again, but my children won't give me my grandchildren."