Early this year when the Pentagon’s highest ranking female resigned to spend more time with her children, eyebrows raised.
Michèle A. Flournoy, former Defense Undersecretary for Policy, is married to a high-ranking naval officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The couple has three children, ages 14, 12 and 9. Ms. Flournoy—often at the Pentagon from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. as well as many weekends—cited long hours, saying her job “does take a toll on the family.” After she and her husband discussed the issue, they made the difficult decision that she should step down.
In a recent NPR interview, Flournoy says she is someone who believes “you can have it all—you just can’t always have it at exactly the same time with equal intensity.”
She went on to say that “…we as a society haven't figured out how to adequately support women so that they can have periods of rebalancing and still continue to progress in their careers at a rate and at a level comparable to their male counterparts.”
In a 2010 TED talk, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg discusses some of the unique challenges that professional women face, offering insightful advice for women who desire to leave their mark on the world through their work.
“Women face harder choices between professional success and personal fulfillment,” she says. “……this speech comes with no judgments. I don’t have the right answer; I don’t even have it for myself. This is hard. I feel guilty sometimes…I know no women—whether they’re at home or whether they’re in the work force—that don’t feel that at times...”(You should watch this. Really.)
These high profile women and their stories have resurrected an old conversation. Can women have it all? Is it possible to balance career and family? And how does a woman of faith blend these roles with integrity?
Network member Susan DiMickele wrestles with these questions every day. As a partner in a busy law firm, mother of three young children, and a Christ-follower, DiMickele sometimes finds herself weaving these roles together in surprising ways. In her latest book Chasing Superwoman: A Working Mom’s Adventures in Life and Faith, she invites us into her world. Below is an excerpt from chapter two: Superwoman Has a Day Job.
Nick always asks me why I work while other moms stay home. There’s no simple answer. The easy answer is that I work for money. But that’s not the only reason I work. This isn’t the answer I gave him.
What working mother hasn’t had her children ask her why she works? It’s a fair question with a host of possible answers. Money, of course, is the easiest concept for kids to understand. Some of my friends tell their children, “Mommy works so that we can pay for our house,” or “If I don’t go to work today, we might not be able to go on vacation this year.” While I often resort to these easy answers, I also try to explain to Nick that God gives us all gifts and talents, and I’m simply trying to do my best at my job. I go on to explain that while I would rather not go to work some days, I believe it is the right thing to do, even though it can be hard. Nick understands that it’s important to do your best, but he also understands that a job provides money, which isn’t a bad lesson in and of itself, but I never want him to think that work is only about money. Work is about so much more.
Some working mothers set out to pursue a career with determination and never even consider staying at home full time to raise children. Others don’t have a road map or master plan, and while we constantly feel the tug between home and work, most days we are thankful for our jobs. Still other working mothers would rather not work at all, but we simply need the income to provide for our families. I’m a mix. While I can’t imagine life without my lawyer cape, sometimes the life of Lady Lawyer is a handful to juggle with small children.
Sometimes I envy my friends who work out of their homes, like Self-Employed Stefanie, my best friend from college. Stefanie and I never missed a party or a social gathering in college, and unlike me she wanted nothing more than to start a family in her twenties and be a full-time mom. But life doesn’t always turn out as planned. When her husband was without an income and they had a young child to support, she started a part-time home business that became successful (she’s more driven than she likes to admit), and now she and her husband work together, out of their home, in a family business. So in between client calls she bakes casseroles, and she takes breaks during the day for carpool duty—but that just means her workday lasts longer and starts earlier than most.
There’s no easy path for a working mother. In fact, Self-Employed Stefanie will tell you that working out of your home with small children can make life more complicated, not less. At least Lady Lawyer gets to sit at her desk and drink coffee without the distractions of screaming children and dirty laundry. So even though I spend more hours away from home than Self-Employed Stefanie, neither of us can claim the other has an easier day.
My best friend from law school, Sassy Shelly, also works out of her home to be with her four kids, three dogs, and five cats. I don’t know how she gets any work done, but she never studied in law school and always seemed to get by just fine. Unlike most of my classmates, she wasn’t uptight or intimidated. While everyone else was fighting over the library carrels and the study guides, Sassy Shelly and I shunned the library and regularly met at the coffee shop to study. Instead of studying, however, we always ended up debating religion or politics. Sassy Shelly would always take the opposite position of mine, and she would argue that religion was for the illiterate masses, uneducated, and weak. The great thing about Sassy Shelly is she has an opinion about everything, and she knows something about everything, which makes her one of the best conversationalists on the planet. Studying could wait. World problems needed to first be solved, and I cherished those times together, even if we never got any studying done.
Now that Shelly is married with four young children, we don’t hang out in coffee shops and debate politics nearly enough. She’s one tough lawyer, and like me, she’s trying to juggle it all. So when I call her from work and hear her kids and the dogs in the background, I’m reminded that the peace and quiet of my office isn’t so bad after all. She and Self-Employed Stefanie remind me to be careful what I wish for when I complain about spending too much time at the office.
Sassy Shelly and I always complain that we don’t have jobs that actually help people. Why didn’t we become nurses who save lives, or teachers who impact the lives of sweet little children? Instead, Shelly is busy helping her company ship more jobs overseas, and I’m busy working at one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the world. We represent business. Big business. Sometimes I wonder how that fits into my faith or into motherhood.
During the month of January we will be discussing Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior.We hope you’ll join us on Monday mornings in January as we welcome the New Year by lingering over Professor Prior’s words together. You may link up with a post of your own or jump in the conversation in the comments. We will cover the first three chapters on Monday, January 7.