“I cannot and I will not give up my family time.” That’s what Paul Ryan declared when asked to be the new Speaker of the House. Kind of ironic coming from a guy so opposed to paid family leave for the rest of America.
If you’ve been trying to stay away from news because there’s too much of the The Donald or you already have Hillary Clinton overload or because Joe Biden Watch 2015 went on too long, then you may have missed perhaps the most shocking and and, possibly, the most important news this week.
It’s so crazy, my head is still spinning.
Former Republican VP candidate and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan – yes, that super-conservative who ran with Mitt Romney for the White House in 2012 – is the newest face of work/life balance in America. Seriously.
Ryan is being begged by certain members of his political party to help save the GOP from itself and take on the role as Speaker of the House. Current Speaker John Boehner desperately wants to get out and thought he had it all lined up, but would-be successor House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy shot himself in the foot by admitting that the Benghazi hearings were really more about bringing down Hillary Clinton than they were with any truth seeking about what happened there. I’m pretty sure after he got the news about McCarthy, Boehner was channeling his inner Michael Corleone – “Just when I thought was out, they pull me back IN!”
That left the leadership of the GOP looking around at each other as if they were searching for a volunteer to take a plunge in an ice-covered lake in the middle of January — Not me! Not me, Oh, hell no! not me!
And with that, a ‘draft Paul Ryan’ effort was born. After his cries of ‘no, no, a thousand times no’ were ignored, he finally issued his ultimatum – he would be the grown-up in the room and consider taking on the job he has no interest in, but only if certain conditions were met, one of them being this:
“I cannot and I will not give up my family time. I may not be on the road as often as previous speakers.”
Even though he’s been in Congress for 17 years, he hasn’t sought out a leadership role and is known for traveling home to his family almost every weekend when Congress is in session (though plenty of them do that). But it is a remarkable thing to admit on the national stage. For a man to admit it. For a powerful man in a national leadership role to admit it and proclaim that it’s non-negotiable.
Sort of ironic for the guy who is so opposed to paid family leave.
Obviously, I don’t expect successful men who are fathers of young children to jump on that bandwagon all at once. But in our era of constantly questioning whether professional women should Lean In or Lean Out, or whether women can have it all, or how working mothers can navigate personal and professional commitments without jeopardizing their paychecks, a man in Paul Ryan’s position stating – not asking or suggesting or begging – that to accept this so-called promotion, he must be guaranteed that it will not mean he has to give up the time he has kept separate for his wife and three children.
Think about that for a minute; because what if, instead of drafting Ryan, the GOP was trying to convince Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to become Speaker? If she had made the same declaration about the sacredness of her family time, it’s a safe bet that that mother of three small kids would have suffered some serious pushback, possibly the career ending kind. A woman cannot get away with a Ryan-like announcement in 2015 — not even on Back to the Future Day. A woman making the same matter-of-fact announcement as if she were telling us she was just stepping out for a breath of fresh air, would be questioned (How can she be a good mother and good leader at the same time?), berated (She is taking on way too much and her children will suffer), and dismissed (Maybe she’s not serious about that national leadership thing at all).
Whether Paul Ryan becomes Speaker of the House or not is beside the point to this conversation. Whether we like his politics or not, he has just become the new face and voice of the never-ending work/life balance debate in America by succinctly and without wavering laying out his terms and conditions for accepting a job, and being respected and admired for it in a way few would allow if a woman declared the same thing. Oddly, the paid family leave legislation he so strongly opposes might just get a boost from his own realization that sometimes your family comes before your job.