People criticize GOP candidate Rick Santorum for leaving his sick daughter's side to campaign for the presidency. “She the People” writer Patricia Murphy wondered whether the criticism would be even harsher if Santorum's wife was running for president instead.

The old double standard: OK for a dad to work long hours, but not OK for a mom. Some have accused Santorum of hypocrisy for talking about putting family first while he’s out on the trail with an ill child at home. (His 3-year-old, Bella, has the genetic disorder trisomy 18 and was hospitalized with pneumonia recently.) Only, aren’t those critics people who would never vote for him anyway?

Here's something you'll never hear from a social worker: "We had to put that little boy in protective custody because his mother made him practice piano too much."

Or: "His parents put pressure on him to get good grades. He's in foster care now."

Or: "The mother of this sweet girl entered her in beauty pageants. Mom's out on bail now, but prosecutors have a strong case."

I've seen a few movies and TV shows about these child beauty pageants. The parents are sometimes silly, always proud, and always deeply involved in their child’s life. I'm sure all that involvement (or obsession) will produce a few psychiatrist bills in a decade or two. 

But that's better than a permanent limp, which is what some kids get as a result of real parental abuse. If not an early grave.

And, most commonly of all, there’s apathy, often manifesting itself as non-payment of child support.

In the cases of Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin (who also got lambasted): Yes, they campaigned while also being parents. But unless their children were locked in closets and told: "Be quiet till I get back. Here are some dog biscuits for you to eat," I'm not calling child services.

I would suggest to those critics that they volunteer at their local domestic-abuse shelter, or at a day-care center in a working-class neighborhood. Or talk to some Legal Aid attorneys. Or visit a few sex-abuse survivor groups. They'll get a real education on good parenting, indifferent parenting and very, very bad parenting.

And sorry, Sarah Palin, but sugarcoating our challenges doesn’t help. "A perfect child in an imperfect world," said Palin about Santorum's special-needs daughter Bella. No, Ms. Palin, Santorum's daughter is an imperfect child, just like the rest of his kids, all five of your own children, and everybody else’s, too.

Even if we're born with 10 fingers and 10 toes, we're all vulnerable to disease and bad luck. Using language to pretend that a disability makes someone more "perfect" does a disservice to those who need real support from parents and from communities.

Vincent van Gogh was about as screwed up as they come. But who would have wished him an even earlier death?

I'm not worried about the way reasonably competent people, including politicians, parent their children. The results speak for themselves. There's a much more pressing problem: How we do we provide food, shelter, education, mentoring and freedom from violence to unlucky children in our own communities?

Once we take a good look around us, we might say to the men and women running for public office: Thank you for taking on the punishing schedule of a political campaign, and for leaving your children in good hands. And hey, if you make it to Washington, look out for the other kids out there, will you? Please?

Donna Trussell is a Kansas City-based poet, fiction writer, cartoonist, ovarian cancer survivor and foster mom to homeless kittens. She is a native Texan and a former film critic. Follow her on Twitter @DonnaTrussell