What To Tell Our Daughters About Having It All

I am fascinated by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic outlining why “Women Still Can’t Have It All”.  [1]  It is an article worthy of thoughtful consideration.  But if women can’t “have it all”, we still have professional and personal options that exceed any expectations I had as I began my career 41 years ago.  Those of us who are trained for, and aspire to, professional lives can progress in our careers while raising happy, well-adjusted children. Maybe we won’t ever become a Secretary of State or Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, but we can be doctors, lawyers, government officials, fire fighters, and hold a host of other diverse jobs. [2]

DSC_0009Now, granted, I am not Anne-Marie Slaughter.  I will never have the opportunity to hold a position at the level Ms. Slaughter walked away from.  I do not know what pressures she faced.  But during the years Meg was growing up, I had periods of time in which my work seemed all-consuming.  There were certainly times I don’t know what I would have done without the loving support of Terry, my parents and Meg’s dad, a devoted father.

My generation of women is fortunate to have opportunities that far exceeded those available our mothers. I do not ever recall setting career limits on myself. I did look at my feminist world view and acknowledge, at least to myself, that if my world view was incompatible with having children, feminism wouldn’t last long.    With that in mind, I made career decisions that were consistent with combining career and family.

I was born in 1946, graduated from law school in 1972, and combined raising Meg and working in a challenging career.  If I made career sacrifices for Meg, I also had a great time as I juggled career and family. My friends have lived similar lives as they, too, have faced the challenges of our chosen lives. We have overcome challenges we never anticipated, but we’ve had a great time.  So what do we tell our daughters that will help them on their collective about balancing professional and family commitments. We can share our personal experiences.  Here are a few suggestions:

DSC_00101)  Make a smart decision about who you marry.  It is sad to see new mothers complain that their husbands are too busy, too important, or just unwilling, to help them care for their homes and children.  Seriously, if you don’t have a supportive spouse or supportive family, your career options are likely to be significantly reduced.  You may physically be able to have a career, and a family, cook the meals, clean the house, shop for groceries, pay the bills and otherwise keep the household going; but it would be hard to feel good about it.

2)   Spend the money.  My lawyer friend, Jennifer, quotes me–and I quote her–with this bit of wisdom.  It doesn’t matter who actually said it first.  If you are fortunate enough to have a two career family or a professional income, don’t fight with your spouse about who will handle chores like cleaning the house, mowing the lawn or even ironing his shirts.  Hire someone to do those chores.  If you can afford it, both you and your husband will more effectively balance family time and career time if you pay for outside help.

3)  Way too many professional couples put their desire for material possessions ahead of the best interests of their children.  Spending money to simplify life and to enhance your children’s lives should be valued as top priorities.  The quality of your children’s lives is way more important than expensive homes.  Possessions, excessive debt, and keeping up with the Jones should never take priority over providing for your children.

DSC_00034)  Find quality child care.  Whether it is at your home, at school, or in another nurturing environment, make sure that your children spend time away from you in an environment in which they are loved, intellectually and physically stimulated, and happy.  When Meg was little, I spent significant money on high quality child-care.  As she grew up we were able to transfer some of that expense from nannies to great schools and after school care.  See rule number 2.

3)  For years I brought work home at the end of the day.  Meg remembers that while she did her homework on the computer I was often working in the same room.  It certainly taught her to value study, hard work and education.  A bonus was that if she needed help with her homework, I was nearby.

4)  Cook on weekends and/or combine home cooking with high quality carry out.  I always wanted Meg to learn how to cook from me. In our home, meals were a very social activity for the two of us.  When Terry joined our family that didn’t change.  It was fun.  Cooking together taught her life skills and healthy eating habits.  It also made the kitchen smell great. [3]  But it wasn’t ever a burden.  In a pinch, I always had something in the freezer that I could serve with fresh vegetables and salad.

DSC_00055)  I regularly participated on boards and non-profit groups in addition to holding down a full-time, demanding job.  But I generally limited my participation to organizations that met early morning, noon, or at 4:00.  Rarely did I leave Meg for evening meetings or social activities.  It just wasn’t worth it.  Our rule of thumb–evenings and weekends were Meg’s time. As she grew more independent, Terry and I were able to expand our social calendar.

6)  As Meg matured, her after school schedule involved studies, friends, sports and music.  She was able to participate fully in these and other activities with friends until one of us picked her up from school. Those activities helped her develop as the wonderful person she is today.

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7)  Try to take your child to school.  It is amazing what you learn about their lives by observing whether they are happy to start the school day.

8)  Flexibility is extremely helpfully in finding balance.  By having our children when our careers were already established, my friends and I were able to have greater flexibility to participate in school activities.  I looked at it this way–many of my friends found time to play golf, the rest of us watched our children play sports. It just meant more time working at home after hours.  See 3 above.

9)  If you reach the point where you believe your family is sacrificing too much for your success, consider a change.  Don’t feel defeated, don’t feel that you have sold out. One of my most successful friends stayed home for the first years of her daughter’s lives.  With all of her success, she is a senior attorney in her firm and has a very close relationship with her family.  She works long hours, but has prioritized her children’s needs and time with her husband in a healthy way.  Her family has always been close. She rarely sees her friends.  Nothing wrong with that! We all understand, we are in the same boat.

IMG_2091If Professor Slaughter is correct, that she should no longer sacrifice her family to the overwhelming schedule she faced in the State Department, I would argue that men can face similar dilemmas.  Joe Scarborough, host of “Joe in the Morning” on MSNBC, describes that his resignation from his position in the U.S. House of Representatives shortly after being elected to his fourth term was motivated by his concern for his two sons: “they’re at a critical stage of their lives and I would rather be judged at the end of my life as a father than as a congressman.”  He is not alone.  Would anyone suggest that either  Scarborough or Slaughter is a failure for making compromises to meet the interests of their children?  Surely the answer is no.

DSC_0005From the 1960’s and 70’s until today, the world of mothering has significantly changed.  Has my generation of women successfully maneuvered the challenges of happy families and fulfilling professional lives? Maybe not completely.  But I have few regrets.  Meg knows she was-is-and always will have top priority  in my life.  As she and her generation of women take on the responsibilities of family and career, the proof that my generation has successfully combined family life and professional commitments is found in the quality of their lives and the lives of their families.

IMG_0009How do you know whether you are successful in balancing your career and family?  I like to think that the quality of our children’s lives answers the question.  Meg is a happy, productive 29-year-old.  She is well-traveled, well-educated, and leads a rich full life.  Married and living in California, with her husband and two dogs, she is a loving, caring person.  She gives every indication of being proud of her family, her parents and all of our life choices.

What more can we ask for?  I can’t think of a thing!

[1]  Professor Slaughter was the first woman Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. Her article appeared in the July-August 2012 issue of the Atlantic.  At the end of a two-year sabbatical from Princeton University she left her position with the Obama Administration and return to her faculty position as Professor of Politics and International Affairs.

[2]  As Shania Twain sings in She’s Not Just A Pretty Face:  “She is a soldier.  She is a wife.  She is a surgeon, she’ll save your life . . . She’s not just a pretty face.  She’s got everything it takes. She’s mother of the human race.  She’s not just a pretty face.”

[3]  I grew up in a home where the smell of food permeated the house.  Continuing that tradition was important to me.

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The opinions expressed in this blog are not the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

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Women’s Suffrage And The Importance of Voting

Because we are on the eve of a national election, I think it is important to remind ourselves, as women, of the sacrifices made by earlier women who worked and sacrificed to secure this basic right for women–the right to vote.

My grandmother, Mary Lewis, was an early feminist and suffragist.  My grandfather, Frank Mesle, being a wise man, wooed her by respecting her beliefs and making them his own.  One of his early letters to her in 1910 included the following quote from an unknown source:  “When the husband gets ready to regard his wife as an equal partner…when he will grant her the same privileges he demands for himself; when he is willing to allow his wife to liver her own life in her own way without trying to ‘boss’ her, we shall have more true marriages, happier homes and higher civilizations.”

It was ten years later, when my own mother was one years old, that women gained the right to vote.  I was born a mere 26 years later.  Not a very long period of time in the history of this country.  But worlds apart in our understanding and expectations of women’s role in society.

Until the  mid to late 1900’s, women were, in many significant respects, under the legal control of husbands and fathers from birth to death, without the right to own property, vote or participate meaningfully in business or government.  The obstacles to equality for women are nowhere better illustrated than in the Supreme Court’s 1873 decision in Bradwell v. Illinois. [1]

Born in 1831, Myra  Bradwell’s husband was a successful lawyer, judge and member of the Illinois General Assembly.  Myra was a teacher, respected citizen and active in the community.  She founded a legal newspaper and supported women’s suffrage reforms, in addition to  engaging in a wide variety of other activities of no small import. She undertook legal training with the hope of being admitted to the Bar of Illinois.  Her application for a license to practice law was rejected by the Illinois State Supreme Court because, as a married woman, she could not enter into any legal contracts–a basic requirement of practicing law [2].  Ultimately Bradwell appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court claiming a violation of the 14th Amendment.  In writing the decision adopted by the  Supreme Court, in language feminists can quote to this day, Justice Joseph Bradley wrote: “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life…[T]he paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the creator.”

Undeterred by the Supreme Court’s ruling, and presumably rejecting the notion that  God believed women should be so limited, feminists continued to press for Constitutional protections, primarily focused on the right to vote.  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, dedicated their lives to the struggle for women’s rights: woman’s suffrage, the right of women to own property, retain their own earnings, and to have access to academic opportunities.  From as early as the 1850’s, Anthony and Stanton traveled throughout the United States and Europe in support of women’s rights.  On July 4, 1876, in Philadelphia, Anthony presented on behalf of the National Woman Suffrage Association the  Declaration of  Rights of Women of the United States [3]. Her lengthy speech, while compelling, [4] is particularly powerful concerning the denial of a woman’s right to vote:  “ Universal manhood suffrage, by establishing an aristocracy of sex, imposes upon the women of this nation a more absolute and cruel depotism than monarch; in that, woman finds a political master in her father, husband, brother, son….”  Stanton died in 1906, 14 years before her vision of universal women’s suffrage became a reality.  In 1979, in honor of her role in the struggle for women’s rights, the U.S. Mint issued a dollar coin with her image.

The final struggles and success of the so-called suffrage movement is well described in the powerful movie, Iron Jawed Angels[5].  This movie focuses on the period immediately leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment. It tells the story of the relentlessness of women leaders like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who through the early years of World War I fought tirelessly to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to endorse their right to vote.

As the U.S. was entering World War I, some 35 years after the Bradwell decision, suffragists began to picket of the White House.  Their theme was questioning why we should be fighting a war abroad in defense of Democracy when women at home did not experience Democracy.

Despite romantic descriptions of women’s delicacy and timidity, women engaged in the feminist movement behaved, and were treated, without regard to any such perceptions. Their leaders were fined and then imprisoned for 60 days for “obstructing traffic”. They continued to picket.  Alice was sentenced to 7 months in prison.  She was ultimately placed in a solitary confinement and began a hunger strike. Attempts were made to have Alice declared insane. [6] Ultimately she was  force fed by her jailers, who repeatedly fed her through a tube down her throat.  Denied access to the public, their families and even lawyers, it was the husband of one of the leaders of the movement who ultimately advised the press of the treatment of these women.

Learning of the treatment of the suffragists, on January 9, 1918, President Wilson reversed his opposition to women’s right to vote. He urged  Congress to vote in favor of a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing women’s right, stating:  “we have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”

On June 4, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote, by one vote.  On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment.  The Amendment became law.

The sacrifices of women like Alice Paul were life changing. Without her bull-headed resistance to the status quo, women’s suffrage may well have been delayed for years.  Her sacrifices and the sacrifices of women before her, secured the beginnings of real change for women’s status as full members of society.

It is important that all women honor and acknowledge the sacrifices from the past.  Please vote on November 6, and every election.  Vote for the candidates of your choice, but vote.

[1] Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130 (1873).

[2] It is not to be ignored that she was denied a license because legislatures controlled by men denied her, and all women, basic rights to own property, enters contracts, keep their own earnings and otherwise control their own destinies.

[3] The original Declaration of the Rights of woman and the Female Citizen was written by Olympe de Gouges a French patriot, in 1791.  It is modeled on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted in 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly during the French Revolution.

[4]  This speech also includes a quote from Abigail Adams, who said: “We will not hold ourselves bound to obey laws in which we have no voice or representation”.

[5]  Released in 2004, the movie starred Hillary Swank.

[6]  Historically,  male doctor, refused to find her insane, stating that bravery in women has sometimes been mistaken for insanity.

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The views presented in our blog do not represent the positions of our families, our friends or our employers.