This weekend, Americans pay tribute to mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers all across the country. Some families are lucky enough to be anchored by women who excel at being all three. There’s a family you may have heard of in Alaska that happens to be included in that fortunate bunch.
Sarah Palin is a household name worldwide. The former Governor of Alaska and first GOP Vice Presidential nominee is as famous as it gets. Many of her family members enjoy a following of their own as well. Todd Palin is a world champion Iron Dog racer. Bristol Palin is an author, blogger, and a two-time Dancing With The Stars competitor. Even Governor Palin’s dad and brother Chuck Heath Sr. and Chuck Heath Jr. have a throng of fans after writing the very enjoyable book Our Sarah: Made in Alaska. But while all of these Palins and Heaths may be better known, all of them are likely to point to someone else as the backbone of the family.
Sally Heath rarely gives interviews. She does not seek the spotlight. Unlike her daughter, Sarah, you’ll never catch her tweeting or posting a major political message on Facebook. Mrs. Heath enjoys playing her role away from the limelight. Her role however, while perhaps unnoticed by the media machine, has been critical in shaping her family.
While Sally Heath may be soft spoken, she isn’t shy when it comes to the pride and love she feels for her family. That’s understandable. Mrs. Heath raised four successful, thoughtful, caring children who all went on to raise superlative families of their own. According to Mrs. Heath, one of the keys to raising children is knowing when to help and knowing when to step aside. “You do what you can for the kids, but they choose their own way and you pray they’ll stick to the morals and teachings they’ve received over the years,” Heath said. “For the most part I would say we have been blessed that way, but I have to give credit to so many family members and friends too because Chuck and I, and the kids and their friends too, we’ve just all lucked out with the most wonderful things in whatever communities we live in. We’ve had good influences on the kids.”
Mrs. Heath may be a bit modest. Ask her children or her husband and more credit is usually heaped upon her.
Mrs. Heath contends that instilling a firm foundation in children when they’re young will serve them well as adults. Sarah Palin and her siblings seem to prove that theory true. “Just the fact that they’ve worked hard for everything they’ve achieved, they certainly didn’t come to us for finances or very seldom for advice, thank goodness, because I’d hate to be responsible for giving them advice”, Heath said. “If we’re going to get credit for the good things they’ve done, that means we have to be blamed for any mistakes they’ve made, so they have pretty much been on their own.”
Of course as little ones Chuck Jr., Heather, Molly, and Sarah were not on their own. They were given crucial guidance from their mom. Chuck Heath Sr. often credits his wife for teaching the Heath children to serve God. Sally Heath takes her Christianity seriously and she has passed that on to her children. “The faith has been pretty central for the family, that’s for sure,” Heath said. “I have faith myself and the kids found that was something worth striving for, or accepting. That is wonderful because it sure brings a lot of peace of mind because every family has issues and boy you need that strength that faith can bring.”
Sarah Palin often talks about leading with a servant’s heart. You can clearly see where that comes from.
As we honor moms this weekend, Sally Heath vividly remembers the special times she spent with her children on Mother’s Day. “Especially the ones where they would get up and fix the breakfast,” Heath said. “Get the breakfast, bring it upstairs to bed, those are my best memories of the kids taking over the house for the day and just letting me do whatever I want. Those were wonderful times and it hasn’t changed much, I’m sure, with their kids. Their kids seem to carry that tradition on, taking care of their mothers too.”
As far as the breakfast concoction put together by little Sarah and her siblings, Mrs. Heath would eat it no matter how strange the ingredients may have been at times. “It didn’t matter,’ said Heath. “They had cereal with whatever they could find around the house to make it look pretty: the raisins or the graham crackers. It was always fun to have. And cocoa, instead of coffee. It was pretty nice.”
Sarah Palin is a unique figure in our country’s fabric. She’s an innovator. So it’s no wonder that she has always been creative. Her mother fondly remembers one Mother’s Day gift from a young Sarah. “She made a card one year,” Heath said. “I still have it. It was just so clever because the kids always made fun of me because I’m so thankful for the little things. You know, find a nickel in the washing machine or just little things I seem to always be thankful for. The sunshine or the pretty music in the morning. So Sarah made a very elaborate Mother’s Day card with pictures of what she thought looked like me and making those comments about everything that she remembered me being thankful for. She was clever at doing things like that.”
There is no text book for being a mother, and different isn’t always better or worse. Sometimes different approaches can be equally effective. For instance, Sally Heath’s style is not the same as Governor Palin’s. “Things are just different now, of course,” Heath said. “When the kids were real little, I was certainly home more because we didn’t have the conveniences to make household chores go faster and easier. I just worked half days and that’s just wonderful because that’s when the kids were all in school, but nowadays it’s so common that women are out of the house all day long, but when they’re home they sure do work hard.”
Different approaches with similar results. Sally Heath raised four wonderful kids. Sarah Palin is raising five loving children. Both mothers are doing it right.
Mrs. Heath also credits men like her son Chuck Jr. and son-in-law Todd for getting their hands dirty in the tough job of child raising. “The man pitches in and helps so much,” Heath said. “It’s just wonderful that dads carry so much of the load. Like you, going out, coaching for your kids, watching them all day after you’ve worked eight hours.”
Mrs. Heath throwing a compliment my way. It’s just like her to turn the focus away from herself to compliment others. Even in an interview setting she has the well being of someone else in mind. Sally Heath is the real article. She is ‘as advertised’ by her loved ones.
Nowadays, Sally Heath is busy being a grandmother. All of her children have families. Mrs. Heath is even a great grandmother since Track Palin and Bristol Palin both have little ones. Mrs. Heath gets the chance to witness something not everyone gets to enjoy. Watching a granddaughter raise a child. “That is really something to see,” Mrs. Heath beamed. “I wish I could spend more time with her. The patience that these girls have, now with their kids, and the enjoyment that they have. They find time to play with the kids and to just watch the kids develop more. So it’s fun to watch Bristol and Tripp and she can enjoy and really appreciate each stage of development.”
It’s evident that Bristol Palin is doing a tremendous job being a mom, just like her mother and Grandmother.
Some sage advice on mothering from Sally Heath, a woman who has succeeded in this arena. “One of the keys is listening, without judging,” Heath said. “Look them in the eye and honestly pay attention to what they’re saying. I wish I had more just listened, they’re so interesting, and every day I knew they had things to share with the family, and you just get so caught up in the duties around the house, it’s too easy not to take the time to listen to them. Really there’s so much teaching to do without saying a word to them. You are the way you act and if you want your children to be like you, you better be towing the mark all the time. They’re very observant and they don’t forget the slip ups that we all make.”
Judging by the way the Heath kids turned out, the Sally Heath slip ups were few and far between. Happy Mother’s Day to all the great mama grizzlies out there, doing their best for their cubs each and every day.