The XX Factor

Wendy Davis’ Daughters: Our Mom Did a Great Job 

Wendy Davis’ daughters reject the claim that their mother was a bad mother.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

With the increase in female faces on the campaign trail, it was probably inevitable: The “mommy wars” have come to politics. After Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News published a provocative piece intimating that Democratic candidate for Texas governor Wendy Davis was a gold-digger, self-selected expert on good mommyhood Bristol Palin took the bait. Working herself into full-blown sanctimommy mode on Friday, Palin accused fellow teen mother Wendy Davis of being a terrible mother because her ex-husband, Jeff Davis, appears to have contributed more to child care than is standard for American fathers. Palin wrote:

Is everyone paying attention? This woman is the hero of the Left? A woman whose ambition and ego were so big she couldn’t have both a career and kids at the same time.

Did Wendy Davis take her two daughters and drown them in a lake so she could have a highfalutin career as a lady politician, as Palin’s phrasing might suggest? No. The basis for the accusation that Wendy Davis rejected motherhood is the discovery that while Davis did spend the majority of their youth living with her daughters full-time—and took care of the older one by herself until the girl was five—the girls did, horrors, stay behind in Texas for a few years while their mom went to law school (and visited reguarly). And after the Davises divorced, Jeff Davis got primary custody of the one teenage daughter still living at home. Next we’ll find out that they occasionally hired babysitters, those horrible neglectful monsters. 

Gosh, children are sooo inconvenient, huh? I’m glad my mother didn’t put motherhood on the shelf when she was elected to City Council, then became our mayor, then Governor. Oh sorry – I mentioned my mother. … Have you liberals gone into a tail spin of hate already? Did I lose you?

While this sort of nonsense is better housed on Facebook than injected into the supposedly serious world of politics, the “bad mommy” narrative has gotten to the point where Davis’ daughters have entered into the conversation. In an open letter mailed to journalists, Dru and Amber Davis assured the public that while their family may have been slightly untraditional, they were not harmed by having a human male pack their school lunches and tuck them into bed. “She never missed a school performance or a parent-teacher conference,” Dru wrote, adding that her mother was her Brownie troop leader. Amber directly defended the choice to have the girls live with their father instead of their mother during the Harvard years: “Dru and I lived with her the first semester but our parents soon realized that it would be better if we stayed in our childhood home in Texas, be around extended family and attend our regular schools.”  

The Davis daughters appear to be unharmed by having their father as a primary caregiver for some years, but sadly that fact will likely not quell the carping about Wendy Davis’s personal choices. The mommy wars aren’t about children. Children are mere props used to advance the real purpose of the mommy wars: enforcing traditional gender roles and posturing about who is the champion at being a woman. Meanwhile, it continues to be impossible to imagine a single male politician ever being castigated because he spent some time away from family to advance his career.