Can women have careers without neglecting their children? Can women have children without neglecting their intellectual gifts? In short, can women have it all?
My mother taught me that the answer was no. She quoted former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher fondly and often: “A woman can have a great career and a great marriage. She can have a great marriage and great kids. She can even have a great career and great kids. But she can’t have all three.” That kind of thinking leads a woman to wonder, as soon as she sees the first plus on the pregnancy test, is this the first day of a life filled with irreconcilable choices?
I know intelligent, educated women who became stay-at-home moms and never looked back. They love cradling a newborn in their arms, they feel fulfilled by baking, gardening, decorating, arts-and-crafts, and homeschooling. I wish badly to be like them.
But newborns exhaust me beyond measure. I should know — I’ve had six. And domestic tasks drain me and bring me no pleasure. Finding innumerable surprises like ball-point-pen drawings on my fine china has made me wonder why I bother. More than 10 years of practice, and I’m still no Martha — or Martha Stewart — and probably never will be.
My spiritual director has chided me often about my devaluing the work of the home. She urges me to focus more of my energies on the dishes, the laundry, and household organization. She warns me against distractions like writing and blogging. “Which will you choose?” she asks me seriously. “Your career or your home?” But like St. Therese of Lisieux as a little child, I want to choose all. St. Gianna Molla was a practicing physician and mother of four kids. The Blessed Quattrocchis, the only married couple to be beatified together, both worked in education while raising a family.
I know that marriage is my vocation, my primary calling. And yet God also gave me certain gifts. I graduated high school at age 14, college at age 18, and law school at age 21. On the cusp of partnership at a large New York City law firm, I gave up the practice of law to stay home and raise my children. “A law firm can always find another lawyer,” my husband said, “but no one else can be the mother of your children.”
That principle guided my choices for most of our marriage. About three years after I quit working as a lawyer, my former boss called to offer me a job. Four days a week, no in-court time, no business travel. But biology and vocation called the shots. I was pregnant then with our third child, due to be born in six months. My husband and I hadn’t yet mastered NFP, so I spaced our children two years apart by on-demand breastfeeding, day and night. I couldn’t take a job for six months, go on maternity leave for three months, and come back to work only to get pregnant again right away. It wouldn’t be fair to my boss or good for my professional reputation. So I said no.
I met the woman who took the position my boss had offered. “It’s a dream job,” she enthused. I felt my heart crack a little, because I knew she was right. Part-time jobs in the legal industry, jobs that promise 9-to-5 and really mean it, are as rare as the Yeti.
The same choice faced me again recently, this time in a seemingly simple question, “Are you still available?” The question came from a lawyer in the area, whom I had met through a combination of fate, networking, and the possible intervention of the Holy Spirit. In December 2011, I received a fundraising letter from a fellow alumnus of the University of Virginia Law School. The letterhead bore the address of a local Long Island firm that specialized, like me, in intellectual property law. For six months, his letter sat on a corner of my desk. I didn’t have time to go back to work. With six kids age 10 and under, I barely had time to shower. After eyeing that letter for six months, I decided to either call him or throw the letter out.
I picked up the phone. We agreed to meet over coffee. At the meeting’s end, he told me that if he needed me, he’d call. Time passed, my youngest child started nursery school five days a week, and my husband and I learned NFP. A year and a half later, in mid-November 2013, the email arrived. “Are you still available?” The job was part-time, from home. The kind of job that doesn’t really exist in the legal field. And let’s just say that it pays better than blogging. I had found the Yeti, and it was in my backyard. Even though Christmas was hurtling around the corner and I was knee-deep in preparations to host my first online marriage enrichment retreat, I said yes.
How will I balance law, mothering, and marriage ministry? The short answer is trust in God’s masterful planning skills and near-obsessive use of my smartphone’s calendaring app. From a big picture perspective, I prefer not to see it as a conflict of interest, but rather a gift. My sister-in-law taught me that. When she was offered a moonlighting job to work on Good Friday, she snapped it up. The family fretted about it — wasn’t the job offer a temptation to take her focus away from God during one of the most sacred days of the year? With her characteristic sunny cheerfulness, my sister-in-law laughed at our worries. She needed the money, she said, and she saw the job offer as a gift from a loving God.
So sometimes we have to say yes to our gifts and our calling, and see where God takes us. Anything else would be ungrateful.