Editor’s Note: Click here for additional opinion pieces advocating for the various presidential candidates, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Last week, I was speaking to a dear friend from church on the phone. Like most mothers, I was multitasking — scrubbing my counters, editing my son’s essay and watching a rack of brownies I had popped in the oven for the neighbors. As our conversation drifted from our children and their families to the presidential election, I stopped cold. My friend was planning to vote for Donald Trump in November. We often differ on politics, but usually I can follow how she’s reached conclusions separate from my own. Yet this decision baffled me. And within the week, I had two more nearly identical experiences.
As I listened to each of these friends — women I’ve admired and respected for decades — explain their inclination to vote for this year’s Republican nominee, I felt a huge disconnect. How could they possibly be following the same presidential race I was?
Don't get me wrong, I don't subscribe to everything Hillary Clinton says. When Hillary infamously observed, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas” over 20 years ago, it struck a sour chord with many of my fellow homemakers. Mothers who had chosen to raise families rather than pursue professional careers for which they'd prepared — using their skills and talents to enrich home and community in innumerable ways — couldn’t quite forgive the implication (perhaps perpetrated in the press) that Clinton had disparaged that selfless dedication. I, too, “stayed at home and baked cookies” on occasion, but Clinton's flippant aside was a far cry from describing my life. And the comment didn't offend me because it so obviously didn’t apply to me or any of the women I knew who were actively engaged in the tireless work of, as one Latter-day Saint religious leader said so perfectly, “forming character and shaping souls.”
On the surface Hillary Clinton and I have led very different lives, but we started in a similar place. In 1970, we both attended Yale University — she, the law school, and I, the divinity school. Both our childhoods had been impacted by the harsh realities through which our parents had lived: our fathers (hers forged by his time as a U.S. naval officer, mine by his work in the Hungarian resistance and in forced labor camps during World War II) were no-nonsense men who demanded excellence from their children. Clinton’s mother was horribly neglected as a child — left alone without food for extended periods and eventually abandoned completely; my own mother had a charmed childhood until the Nazis arrived in Budapest around her 13th birthday, when her father was murdered and she was separated from her family and driven from her homeland. Regardless of some surface similarities, my path and Clinton’s diverged sharply post-graduation.
After 30 years of near-constant exposure to the Clinton family, many of us feel familiar with the trajectory of Hillary Clinton’s life and career. She married Bill Clinton and moved to Arkansas, where their daughter, Chelsea, was born. She worked as a lawyer, served as first lady of that state and the United States, as a senator and as secretary of state. This year, she’s running for president.
As for myself, I knew I wanted to devote my life to rebuilding a family annihilated by the Holocaust. I chose to stay at home and raise 11 children — 10 biological, one adopted as a teenager from Honduras. Much of my time as a young mother was filled with changing diapers, driving to soccer practices and tending pets, gardens and elderly grandparents. Those in need were always welcome in our home and hundreds of foreign exchange students called me their American mom. Service became a way of life for me and my family as we contributed to our church and inner-city community through countless volunteer activities. I loved and encouraged my spouse, an inventor, and he reciprocated as I worked to educate our 10 young children at home.
It’s easy to forget or disregard why Clinton chose the path she did because it’s a path so different from our own. But, as her running mate, Tim Kaine, has said, to understand whether someone is authentic, you have to understand her motivations. Clinton’s motivations are quite similar to those that have inspired many of us to become full-time mothers. Her own mother’s abandonment inspired in her a devotion to children, women and the disenfranchised.
She never wanted a little child to go hungry, to feel unsupported or alone, so she chose to make use of her abilities at the Children's Defense Fund. There, she went door to door to discover why 2 million American children were out of school. She found many schools were denying access to children with disabilities. The report that resulted from her efforts led to a law guaranteeing access to public education for children with disabilities. She went undercover to expose school segregation in the South and helped start a program in Arkansas that taught parents without affordable preschool to be their children’s first teachers. She worked as a full partner with her husband to harness their talents and build a life around public service and advocacy.
There were many bumps in their road, as there are for all of us. The Clintons’ bumps were often bigger and always more closely scrutinized than your average family. They endured a slew of glaringly public personal humiliations, political losses and financial failures. But after each nadir, Hillary dusted herself off and re-engaged in service — continuing to contribute to the world in ever-more consequential ways. She demonstrated that forgiveness and resilience yield rich rewards. In that way, she’s a worthy role model for all of us.
A brief word on Clinton’s opponent: One could draw parallels between Donald Trump’s life and mine, too. His parents grew up in immigrant families; they worked hard to provide their children with opportunities they never enjoyed. With their support, Trump attended top universities and started his career (financed by a multimillion-dollar loan from his father). Yet, somehow, his son touts Trump as coming up from "just about nothing." How could someone so incapable of understanding the things which made him as a man ever hope to understand how to make an entire country “great”?
Time and time again, the Republican nominee for president has made it clear that the only thing motivating him is himself. I simply cannot imagine myself — or any of my fellow mothers — tolerating a child blathering as he does. At 70, entitlement, crudeness and myopia remain fixtures in his life — which consists of a series of aggressively broken commitments to others: his wives, his clients, his employees, his fellow businessmen, his political opponents ... I could go on. I fervently hope the American people do not add themselves to his long list of scorned partners in November.
Clinton once said, “There is more than enough of the American dream to go around if we are committed to growing it, nurturing it, passing it on to our children and grandchildren.” In our own ways, Clinton and I have committed our lives to passing the American dream on to as many as possible. But we’re just building on what our parents did before us. When I look at my children and their successes, I see in them the rich legacy of my mother's and father’s early struggles. When Clinton accepted the nomination as the Democratic candidate for president — in many ways the pinnacle of a long, difficult career and a historic milestone of no small note — she chose to speak of her mother, Dorothy.
In Clinton, I see someone who relates to the best part of who I am. She has proved her ability to keep calm and carry on under the most strenuous of circumstances. She is a leader who listens, who studies, who works, who never gives up and who has been true to her commitments at every turn. She is prepared to lead with the same balance, thought and fidelity with which she has approached so much of her life. It is my prayer that my friends, my fellow mothers and my fellow Americans will choose the serious, motivated, right-minded option for America and elect Hillary Rodham Clinton as president.
Since 1983, Annette Tillemann-Dick has been a home-schooling advocate. A mother of 11, she was in the first class of women at Yale University and subsequently received graduate degrees in journalism and religion from Stanford and Yale. She currently is a small-business owner in Denver.