Hooray for Karen Hughes.

This Mother’s Day, she gets my vote for Mother of the Year. (Of course, I’d normally vote enthusiastically for Joanna Knox, mother of our daughters, Lindsay and Molly. But this year I’m setting aside my own family biases and giving the rest of the world’s moms a chance.)

Karen Hughes, counselor to President George W. Bush, is quitting her White House job to return to Austin with her husband, Jerry, and 15-year-old son, Robert. She explained she wanted to “spend more time with my family.” And for perhaps the first time in the history of Washington, even skeptical Beltway insiders believe that line.___

Unfortunately, in this day and age, I must begin with a few explanations:

First, this isn’t about politics. Sure, Hughes is a former Texas Republican leader who works for the Republican president of the United States. I don’t care if she is a Republican, Democrat, Huguenot or tree-hugging Greenie. Hughes’ decision to put family above career is a breathtakingly non-political action in an age when almost everything gets politicized.

Second, this isn’t about women’s roles in America. Although firmly ensconced atop the party that touts “traditional family values,” the Hughes family has been singularly non-traditional. When the Bushes moved to Washington, the Hughes did too. He followed her job, and he gave up his law practice in order to avoid conflict of interest. Karen Hughes—the highest-ranking woman in this or any U.S. presidential administration—demonstrated that a woman can handle a tough job as well as any man and that women should be given that chance.

Third, this isn’t about working moms. By all accounts—and many of them come from cynical political reporters who trust no one—Hughes was a wonderful mother way before she told the president she will head home to Texas this summer. Besides, many other fine, fine mothers work beyond their homes. No one outside a specific family can presume to make appropriate decisions about whether or where a mother is employed.

No, this is about family, priorities, self-sacrifice, faith and love. Any parent who organizes life and family around these principles deserves high praise.

Reporters who covered Bush in Austin and on the election trail have noted Hughes steadfastly refused to cast her family in a secondary role. She made time. She “home”-schooled Robert during the 2000 presidential campaign so they could be together. She worked hard also to be a good mother to Jerry’s daughter.

By several accounts, detailed in Time and Business Week magazines, Hughes decided to leave Washington for Texas this spring after a trip home to Austin. She realized that, while she was living a politician’s dream, she and her family were missing out on too much—watching their young granddaughter grow up, spending time with longtime friends, giving Robert the freedom to finish high school with friends he has known virtually all his life. When she totaled the debits and credits of their family life, Austin came out the clear winner, and they decided to place their priority on what they believe to be most important—family.

That meant a self-sacrifice for Hughes’ career. Of course, she’ll be just a phone call away from the president. But she has turned away from one of the most coveted jobs in the country. Politicians and political consultants usually pass through those corridors once, and she has said 18 months is enough in order to provide her son three more years of “normal” family life.

Close observers also report that faith plays an important role in the Hughes family. New in Washington, they actively visited congregations before settling on a church home. On a practical weekly basis, Hughes has spurned the high-profile ego-filling Sunday morning political talk show circuit so she and her husband and son may worship together.

Moreover, a mother’s love apparently pushed her to make the decision to quit Washington for Texas. A mother’s heart instinctively keeps pace with the rhythms of her children’s lives. Hughes seems to recognize that, while she may miss out of a few fascinating years of her career, the time away from her son never could be replaced. Her love for that boy compelled her to spend time with him instead of with national rulers and heads of state.

Karen Hughes has set a stellar example, not only for mothers, but for all parents. We live in a society that honors commitment and faithfulness–to work. But someone wisely observed, “No tombstone ever read, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.'” America would be a stronger nation if more parents would follow Hughes’ example of priority on family.

Hard work is seductive to Christians who labor out of gratitude to God for strong minds and healthy bodies and who see service through work as an act of worship. But no matter how important or noble the labor, it is secondary to the first institution God created—family—and to the first task God assigned parents—raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Hats off to Karen Hughes, and happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.

Marv Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard. This column was reprinted with permission.

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