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If Obama can do it then why can’t Wouter Bos?

March 16, 2010

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Wouter Bos/Photo by Edwin Smulders

If a US politician would resign to spend more time with his family, one would suspect either a serious illness or a sexual scandal. Not so in the Netherlands. Last week, both deputy prime minister Wouter Bos and Camiel Eurlings, Dutch minister of transport, public works and water management, left the political arena because they want to see more of their families.

Bos is a father of three young children and Eurlings and his girlfriend are planning to start a family soon. The initial shock over their successive resignations soon made place for a mostly positive response. Despite the recent government collapse over the withdrawal of Dutch troops in Afghanistan, few doubted the politicians’ motives. Moreover, the two were widely applauded by colleagues and the public alike for setting an example that men, like women, have the option to put their careers on hold and their families first.

Now let’s take a look at the world’s most powerful family man, president Barack Obama. Like most first families, Barack and Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia and Sasha live their lives in the public eye. However, Obama is the first US president who actually claims private time with his family as well. Obama is known to plan his meetings around his daughters’ sports games and recitals and whenever he is not traveling, the Obama’s eat dinner together around 6.30 pm. By the time the girls are in bed, work continues.

Somehow, Obama does not feel the need to sacrifice either his political career or his family. In fact, his dedication to serving the greater good seems to be inspired by his very fatherhood. In an open letter to his daughters, published in Parade shortly after his presidential inauguration, Obama wrote:

“(…)These are the things I want for you – to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.”

Undoubtedly so, strategic considerations played a role in the writing and publishing of Obama’s letter. Nonetheless, I am confident that he meant every word of it and reading his letter you can feel his heartfelt dedication.

The First Family/Photo Getty Images

It may well be the lack of precisely that dedication that has led Wouter Bos and Camiel Eurlings to leave politics. They did not feel capable of combining their work for the common good of a nation with their involvement in raising their (unborn) children. Interesting side note is that both politicians will continue to receive 80 percent of their salary for a year and 70 percent for up to five years thereafter – at the expense of the Dutch taxpayers, who won’t get anything in return. This may have made their decision to quit a little easier.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a mum myself, I put great value on family time and I wholeheartedly agree that ideally both parents play an important role in their children’s upbringing. But I also believe that truly impassioned people can move mountains and may not have to choose between pursuing their family ideals and those of the world around them. Because let’s be real, if the president of the United States still finds the time to tuck his daughters in at night, then surely Bos and Eurlings should.

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