No job is more important

May 12, 2002|By Therese J. Borchard

IT'S A bad time to be a feminist. First, Acting Gov. Jane Swift drops her re-election bid in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race in order to care for her three young daughters, saying, "When the demands of the two tasks that you take on both increase substantially, something has to give."

Then economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett grabs the public's attention with her book Creating a Life, highlighted in a Time cover story and on just about every prime time news magazine - reminding women that modern science can't reset their biological clocks.

And then, by far the worst setback, Karen Hughes, the most powerful woman in White House history, announces she is leaving her post as counselor to the president because(drum roll please) her husband and 15-year-old son are homesick.

What could possibly happen next? Will Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, deliver her abdication speech in order to become a nanny to the neighbor's kids?

Have these women lost it, projecting the exact image and stigma that feminists have so adamantly fought against for the last century? Did they catch a bad case of Momingitis, the contagious disease circulating in cubicles around the country just before Mother's Day, which infects women with such symptoms as wanting to cradle cute, chubby cherubs that flash their bright eyes on Huggies ads?

Or have these women and many more finally come to their senses?

I'd be eager to bet common sense is once again in vogue.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not the June Cleaver type. I don't spend my days sewing drapes for the nursery or color-coding my baby's onesies. I actually use my mind. I read the paper. I write, part-time.

But I have only recently started to feel OK about my decision to exchange the briefcase for a diaper bag, wasting my hours wiping strained squash off my 9-month-old's chin, instead of covering the Vatican meeting of American cardinals for a major newspaper.

I attended an all-women's college that instilled great confidence in young minds, encouraging them to go forth after the commencement address and conquer the corporate, political or academic world. I am grateful to my professors for pushing me along until I could dismantle the training wheels of my bike and ride by myself into the unknown "real world." But I wish motherhood were mentioned among the list of prestigious professions worth pursuing after we finished our required credits.

Because it is the most important job.

I think it was Maria Shriver who said life isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. And sometimes you need to walk or take time to play with your kids along the way to the finish line.

Like many ambitious women struggling to balance career and family, she was caught in a crossfire, especially when her kids were young. In her best-seller Ten Things I Wish I'd Known -Before I Went Out Into the Real World, Ms. Shriver tells a poignant tale about the time she was interviewing Fidel Castro for an NBC special on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

She could not bear to miss her daughter's first day of school, so she interrupted the interview, flew home to Los Angeles to be there for the Kleenex moment, and then back to Cuba to finish the interview. Even Mr. Castro understood why she would inconvenience the entire media crew for such a trivial task, and asked Ms. Shriver once she returned, "How was the first day of school?"

OK, most women don't have the combined household income to pay for a harem of nannies. Many women can't afford the luxury of staying home full-time to raise their children. And some women feel that they are better mothers because they work. A few super women, such as radio and TV news analyst Cokie Roberts and novelist Anna Quindlen, succeed at gracefully balancing career and motherhood, knowing when and where to give into the demands of each.

But for the vast majority of moms, it's tough doing two jobs well. And that's where common sense comes in.

Therese J. Borchard is the editor of I Like Being a Mom, to be published by Doubleday next year. She lives in Annapolis.

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