Women are smarter with kids

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Cindy McCain has four chil­dren, in­clud­ing a daugh­ter adopted from Bangladesh. Michelle Obama has two school-age daugh­ters. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has five chil­dren, in­clud­ing an in­fant son with Down syn­drome. Jill Bi­den raised a daugh­ter to adult­hood, as well as Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr.’s two sons, who lost their mother in an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent when they were young.

It is un­likely th­ese women were weak­ened by moth­er­hood.

But the el­e­va­tion of Mrs. Palin to Repub­li­can vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee has pro­duced more than a lit­tle cluck­ing in the me­dia about whether she can do the job while she has chil­dren at home.

Oddly, the other wives were not tar­geted this way. Maybe it’s be­cause they will have “light duty” as first or sec­ond ladies of the na­tion. Or maybe they fit the me­dia’s mold for work­ing moth­ers, whereas Mrs. Palin smashes it.

I would like to ref­er­ence the work of a jour­nal­ist whose po­lit­i­cal views are un­known to me but who doesn’t doubt, at least in the­ory, that Mrs. Palin — and Mrs. McCain, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bi­den — can rise to the tasks that come be­fore them.

Moth­er­hood sharp­ens the mind, Pulitzer-Prize-winning in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Katherine El­li­son con­cluded in her 2005 book “The Mommy Brain: How Moth­er­hood Makes Us Smarter.”

Ac­cord­ing to re­search, moth­ers are likely to be ex­cep­tion­ally re­source­ful prob­lem-solvers. They’re “looking out not just for No.1, but for Nos. 2, 3, 4 and so forth,” Mrs. El­li­son once told me.

Moth­ers are also likely to have height­ened sen­si­tiv­i­ties to peo­ple’s needs and all kinds of smells, sights, sounds and move­ments. “Mom radar” is how Mrs. El­li­son puts it.

So why do some peo­ple think moth­er­hood turns women into ditzes who can’t speak a co­her­ent sen­tence or re­mem­ber any­thing for more than two days?

It’s be­cause preg­nancy and (sleep-de­prived) new moth­er­hood do af­fect women’s brains — in fact, women’s brains shrink slightly dur­ing and af­ter preg­nancy. This ap­par­ently leads to a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in con­cen­tra­tion, mem­ory and ex­pres­sive lan­guage skills.

But a few months af­ter birth, women’s brains not only re­gain their nor­mal size, they re­turn with a greater ca­pac­ity for per­for­mance, so­cial skills and emo­tional in­tel­li­gence.

The fe­male brain is al­most re­mod­eled, neu­ro­sci­en­tist Craig Howard Kins­ley said in a 2006 ar­ti­cle on “The Ma­ter­nal Brain” in Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can mag­a­zine. His stud­ies com­par­ing “vir­gin” rats with mother rats show that the moth­ers are bet­ter at for­ag­ing for food, find­ing their ways through mazes, build­ing nests and pro­tect­ing young rats from preda­tors. “What is more, the cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits ap­pear to be long-last­ing, per­sist­ing un­til the mother rats en­ter old age,” Mr. Kins­ley wrote.

I re­cently checked with Mrs. El­li­son (www.the­mom­my­brain.com) to see what she says to­day about moth­ers’ brains.

“The job of a mother can re­sem­ble that of a CEO, with mul­ti­ple and var­ied re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, a great need for flex­i­bil­ity, and cool­ness un­der pres­sure and other di­men­sions of emo­tional in­tel­li­gence,” she said.

Does moth­er­hood au­to­mat­i­cally turns ev­ery woman into a fo­cused, re­source­ful strate­gic plan­ner? No.

Are women who don’t have chil­dren less qual­i­fied for pub­lic lead­er­ship? No.

But for most women, moth­er­hood ap­pears to be one of their great­est as­sets.

Cher yl Wetzstein can be reached at cwet­zstein@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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