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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 05/17/2011

Cheri Daniels and the curse of ‘Mother Love’

Cheri Daniels is a feminist.

Cheri Daniels is a monster

Cheri Daniels is giving us a bracing lesson about our cultural confusion over parental roles in modern America.
Cheri Daniels speaks at a Republican Party fundraiser in Indianapolis. (Darron Cummings - Associated Press)

Let’s review: Cheri Daniels is the wife of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, the possible Republican presidential contender. The two have four daughters and have been married some 30 years.

It hasn’t been a linear marriage though. In 1993, when her daughters were between the ages of 8 and 14, Cheri Daniels divorced Mitch, married someone else and moved to California. Three years later, she and Mitch remarried.

This might be a forgotten footnote in the Daniels’ public biography, except for one detail. When Cheri left, she did not bring her daughters with her. She left them in the custody of Mitch.

Cheri has never publicly addressed this episode and, from the outside, the family has seemed to have moved on. But now, because of her husband’s prominence in national politics, Cheri Daniels is facing harsh judgments. Mirroring similar reactions across the country, several comments after a Washington Post article last week condemned her for “abandoning” her children.

“There’s this thing people can’t get over, this thing called “mother love,” “ said Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, a writer I called after I read the responses to the Cheri Daniels article because of her experience on this front.

Earlier this year, Rizzuto wrote an essay in Salon about her decision to temporarily move away from her husband and young children to pursue a professional opportunity. When her marriage fell apart during the separation, she decided not to not seek full custody.

Her essay drew hundreds of comments. Follow-up stories garnered thousands of comments. Television shows came calling. “At one point I was getting an e-mail every 30 seconds,” she said. “People were going nuts.”

Some of the responses were supportive, but many more were angry, especially those from men, Rizzuto said.

“They said I abandoned my children and my husband was a saint. That wasn’t fair to me but it also wasn’t fair to him. He was just being a father. ... We value women for their caretaking roles, but who takes care of us? We’re supposed to put ourselves at the bottom of the list.”

Rizzuto, whose sons are now 13 and 15, currently lives near her children, their father and his new wife, who have primary custody. She said that she sees the boys three times a week and occasionally talks to them about her decisions. “I feel like it helps them learn that you don’t have to do everything people say you have to do in the way they want you to do it. That you can love other people and still love yourself.”

Why is it more acceptable for a father to choose to leave a family situation than it is for a mother? Is this cultural bias or is a women’s choice to leave worse in some way?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 05/17/2011

 
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