Ethics Dunce: Professor Lara Bazelon [UPDATED]

The click-bait headline is, I’ve Picked My Job Over My Kids : I love them beyond all reason. But sometimes my clients need me more.”

The author is well-published law school professor Lara Bazelon, who often opines at Slate. I could, but I won’t, give Bazelon the benefit of the doubt, assuming that as a lawyer and advocate, the article is intentional hyperbole and intended to both spark debate and to assuage the conscience of other working moms. Lawyers, however, are not supposed to mislead or lie. If Bazelon doesn’t believe that she has picked her job over her kids, then she shouldn’t write it. If she does believe it, then she is rationalizing away a breach of duty.

There are millions of working mothers who have no choice other than to work when their children may need them, but Bazelon is not one of them. She writes,

“My choice is more than a financial imperative. I prioritize my work because I’m ambitious and because I believe it’s important. If I didn’t write and teach and litigate, a part of me would feel empty.”

Clearly, Bazelon has options. She doesn’t have to make the welfare and happiness of her children subordinate to her various professional pursuits; she chooses to. That’s a betrayal of trust.

I have faced this conflict; my wife has, and my parents did. We were all quite aware that being the kinds of parents the responsibility of raising and caring for children demands requires career compromises, the lowering of goals, and the restriction of ambition. I have made a life’s study of great and successful men and women, and the individuals  in that category who fit the description of good parents are exceptions and outliers.

I knew and worked for one personally; the current President of the Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue. There are few people more ambitious than Tom, and even before he became the head of the Chamber, he had a demanding 60 hour+ a week job that required considerable travel. Yet Tom would excuse himself from any meeting to take a phone call from one of his three boys. He coached their teams; he was a Boy Scout leader. Tom insisted as part of his various employment contracts that he would have the flexibility he needed to be an active, involved father.It was impressive to see, and I saw it for almost seven years.

My own father carried the theme farther yet: abandoned by his dad as a boy, Jack Marshall Sr. refused promotions, travel and the call of his own ambition to make sure, as he told me later, that he could eat dinner with the family every evening, and could devote himself to parenting every weekend.

Bazelon, in contrast, writes,

Here are things I have missed: my daughter’s seventh birthday, my son’s 10th birthday party, two family vacations, three Halloweens, every school camping trip. I have never chaperoned, coached or organized a school event.

That’s not all; she also tells us that when her son was 4 and her daughter was 2. she moved to another city for a several months, commuting back and forth by plane, but admits that she “was often not fully present” when she was back with her kids.  “My client needed me more than my children did,” she rationalizes.  “So he got more of me. A lot more.”

This is vanity. I’m sure Bazelon is a fine lawyer and a professor, but there are plenty of others equally talented or better. She wasn’t, and isn’t, the only lawyer who can achieve the best result for her clients, but she is her children’s only mother. Lawyers, politicians, doctors, corporate executives, even leaders are surprisingly fungible; there have been some indispensable people, but not many. Mothers are not fungible.

Bazelon could avail herself of  the luxury of citing the #1 rationalization of high-achievers: most of them were inadequate parents; “Everybody neglects their children.”  The list could reach to the sun; the evidence is the broken families and troubled offspring they left behind: John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Clarence Darrow, Dwight Eisenhower,  too many singers and musicians to consider without getting depressed (John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Richard Rodgers…), even more actors and sports figures. Great writers have been infamously terrible parents, as have military leaders and heroes.  I understand: had they not prioritized their time and passion the way they did, civilization and the culture might be poorer for it.


I’m glad these geniuses and standouts made the choices they did, but then I didn’t have to be raised by them. I am more glad still that my own parents, as talented and smart as they were, decided that my sister and I were their top priority, and that they were willing to sacrifice and forgo other personal achievements to make sure that the children they brought into the world could depend on them, literally until the day they died.


27 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Professor Lara Bazelon [UPDATED]

  1. Early today I wrote this for the religious column I help write in our local paper. Not exactly the same topic, but a stark contrast to how we approach kids. I know you’re not religious Jack, but I still hope you appreciate it.

    About 8 ½ years ago, I became a father. As I looked down at my newborn son, I couldn’t help but note was how small he was. How beautiful he looked. How unprepared I was to be in this situation. It’s funny the way life teaches us lessons. For example, did you know an 18-month-old could lock you out of your house? Or that a 2-year-old could operate an elevator? How about a 3-year-old using deception to win a game of hide and seek? Maybe that a 4-year-old could teach himself to swim?
    It hasn’t been easy taking care of my oldest. From the beginning of his life, he has always been too interested in what was going on to care about being held or even staying in one place. His confidence has given him a unique perspective on the world where everything is a new adventure. It seems that he always must be in the thick of things. But here I am, trying to keep up, increasingly more aware that I am falling further behind and time is running out.
    So, what can I do? What would you do? I know we are not alone. There are roughly 83 million families in the United States (14 million single parents). All of us are trying to raise our children to the best of our abilities, while keeping up with their talents, working, managing the home, and everything else that requires us to balance the scales of life. Even when money and resources are not a problem (for most of us they are), it is still no easy feat.
    Children are one of the many gifts God has given us. The most perfect being in all of creation decided an imperfect being was going to take care of two children. What could possibly go wrong? Perhaps the older of the two would find the cake from the previous night and get it all over the furniture while the parent was locked out. Or maybe, he would roam the halls after getting off the elevator and then get back on, while his dad searched. Did he know I could tell he was in the bathroom, when he told me he was in the bedroom during our game of hide-and-seek? Did he count on me to save him when he took off his life jacket to finally swim on his own?
    When it comes to parenting, our job is to work ourselves out of a job. God’s high calling for us is to be healthy adults, responsible citizens, and loving parents. Paul writes in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” There is no sure-fire way to be the perfect loving parent because, let’s be honest, sometimes they drive us crazy. There are ways to help you be a better parent. First, seek wise counsel. Talk to your parents, make friends with other parents, and/or look up community resources. Find something that works for you and your situation. Second, show your children love, not acceptance. Children need to feel physical and emotional love such as a hug or words of encouragement. You don’t have to agree with everything they do (and certainly not accept everything they do), but grace should always take precedence over discipline and control. After all, God gives us grace even when we don’t deserve it (Romans 3:23-24).
    Third, give them discipline and guidance. Not out of anger, but to teach them to be better. After all, those who love their children are careful to discipline them (Proverbs 13:24). Finally, teach them about the love of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-8). It is in God’s love where we truly learn to love others (Galatians 5:13-15). As you move forward, you will adjust, but stay consistent and know you are not alone.

    • That’s a wonderful column, JP. I especially like how you point out that God, who can do everything and doesn’t need us, nevertheless entrusts the rearing of our children into our care. How sobering is that thought!

  2. This sounds more like she puts her needs and wants ahead of both client and children. Her client merely indirectly benefits as she works to avoid an emptiness in her life.

  3. Wow…my husband could have written this for he too “refused promotions, travel and the call of his own ambition to make sure, as he told me later, that he could eat dinner with the family every evening, and could devote himself to parenting every weekend.” We live humbly after 49 years of marriage, but don’t regret a minute of putting other things aside for the enjoyment of watching and guiding our two daughters as they grew into totally different but equally amazing young women.

    • My wife and I take a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction in noticing how much our daughter and son model their parents in how they conduct their respective family lives. Honestly, some things they do differently but family is still paramount to them. So they, and their kids. have got that going for them.

      And honestly, I could have been a better dad, but in retrospect, I think we all could have done better at almost everything we’ve tried. It’s better to have tried.

  4. Hey! One of her areas of expertise is … Ethics!

    She’s also a social justice warrior and divorced and, in her words, has “struggled to create a different kind of family.” She’s also obviously very adept at tossing around Authentic Frontier Gibberish.

    She also thinks Kamala Harris is on the wrong side of history.

    I guess her criminal defendant clients are her family.

    • Much like a freak show, it’s the kind of display that you feel guilty watching, or in this case reading. “Come see the bitter, aging, and lonely professional of little consequence desperately try to rationalize a lifetime of bad personal decisions!”

  5. My wife left her work as a process engineer at the refinery where I work when she became pregnant with our first child. (We actually agreed she could quit so that we had the chance of conceiving. Long story short, when we agreed she could quit, she tested pregnant mere days later!) Since then, she has received a great deal of scorn from friends, family, and acquaintances because she is not a working mother. She has devoted herself to raising our kids despite having a lucrative career ahead of her. Even worse in the eyes of those around us, we’ve chosen to homeschool our children, which means that burden falls mainly on her while I work most of the day.

    What kind of epithets does she receive? That she’s lazy, that she’s spoiling our kids, that she’s wasting her life. When it comes to the homeschooling, she’s told endlessly that she’s ruining our kids’ chance of having a social life or any normal interaction in society. The animus directed toward mothers who stay at home is intense and unrelenting.

    So maybe we’re a bit defensive about the topic. And maybe we’re just as judgmental, looking at what other people do with their kids. We’ve seen numerous speakers who demonstrate that, unless the mother is making a significant wage (like an engineer’s salary, to be fair), the cost of day care, and cost of continually taking time off of work to care for a sick child, and so on, eventually outweighs the monetary compensation of the second job. But even more, we witnessed friends who grew up with both parents working, and the anecdotal evidence at the very least suggests that those friends tended to get into trouble more and tended to have greater relational troubles. And the psychology says that those kids go out looking for affirmation (or at least attention) that they don’t get at home. We want our kids to know they are loved, they are worthwhile, that they have our dedication to them.

    When it comes to schooling, the studies we’ve looked at time and again say the number one predictive factor of success is parental involvement. That is why, overall, homeschooled kids outperform their peers in practically all categories. But even if we weren’t homeschooling, we would want to be deeply involved in their education, because parental involvement is crucial. Both my wife and I feel that a great deal of problems we have in our society come from the abdication of parents from the role of parenting. We don’t want to be the same.

    But there’s more to it even than that. In terms of finding what is important in life, the service to others ranks pretty high. In that regard, I could almost sympathize Ms. Bazelon. It is fulfilling to devote ourselves to the service of others. But, and perhaps this my Catholic worldview speaking, if your vocation is to providing legal services to clients to the exclusion of any other type of service, shouldn’t you be willing to forego other vocations (such as parenthood) so you can properly devote yourself to what you find important? And if you do decide to have children, how do you justify placing them second to your career?

    Now let me qualify for a moment. I work from the paradigm of a married mother and father, with one of the two staying at home with the children, because someone has to earn a living. I don’t insist that it be the father who is the breadwinner. I did try to convince my wife that I could stay home with the kids while she kept working, but she refused to have anything to with that notion. So I’m not insisting that the wife remain at home in stereotypical fashion, even if our own arrangement is stereotypical. What I am insisting is that if a husband and wife determine a calling to parenthood, then one of the two should be willing to place career aspirations aside. If neither is willing to do that, then maybe parenthood isn’t their vocation. Situations outside this paradigm (a single mother or divorced parents comes readily to mind) require their own special analysis. If you have no choice but to work to just make sure your child has a roof overhead and food on the table, then that is what you have to do.

    But within the paradigm of parents working so much that they have no role in their children’s upbringing, I can only defer to Harry Chapin’s “Cat in the Cradle”. The breakdown in parenting leads to breakdown in relationships, and while our kids may not listen to what we tell them, they will tend to emulate us.

  6. A few years ago I had the decision of taking a promotion and pay raise coupled with lots of international travel or leave the company (my division was being shut down and they wanted me for another). We had a small child at home and my wife was pregnant with our second. My wife is a stay-at-home mom, so I was (and am) the sole income. I chose to leave and ended up in a position that was a 20% pay cut from my previous one. But I have a lot of flexibility for my family and the office is deserted by 5:05 every day. My father was abandoned by both parents by the time he was 12 (long story) so he tried his best to always be involved with his kids. And I want to carry on that legacy.

    However, a subtle version of this is common in society where it’s about increasing the family income. We know many families where both parents work long hours to have a nice house with a big swimming pool. Or both drive Mercedes (or fancy pickup trucks since it is Texas). Or just lots of stuff. They could all be comfortably mIddle class on one income, but aren’t satisfied with that. I talk to a number of parents of my kid’s friends and they all a jealous of my hours (technically 37.5 hrs per week), but none are willing to take a pay cut for it.

    Materialism and greed is a sickness deep within the American psyche.

  7. Long rambling interlude:

    Daughter just turned 7; son just turned 4. I have seen them every single day of their lives. They have not always seen me, as recent trials 90 miles from home have had me leaving home as early as 5:30 in the morning and returning as late as 9:00 p.m. at night, the latest being midnight. That streak will not/should not/ can not hold. But, it is important to hold as long as possible.

    It has not for my wife. Certain hospitalizations have meant days where she has not seen our children.

    She has given up career advances and avoided managerial responsibilities that would keep her away from the kids.

    Were we able, I would be fine if she stayed home, but that is an unlikely scenario.

    It would require me to go to Big Law, and be a cog. I could, probably, but I don’t wanna.

    I employ myself (and several others) just like my dad did. Owning his own business, he had the ability to show up at my 8th grade baseball games at 3:30 in the afternoon. Of course, he was embarrassing, encouraging the batters on my team with the cry, “good eyeballs!” When my teammates made fun, I just asked where their dads were.

    And, boy, did I piss off my wife’s parents. I explained to them that I have the flexibility to not work if I don’t want to. Being employees who diligently worked themselves into a comfortable retirement. Good for them; they made their choices; they made their sacrifices. They don’t seem to understand the trade-off I know I am making. But, like I said, they are employees.

    A friend of mine has often said, “I am self-employed so I get to pick which 70 hours of the week I work.” Funny, but true. My wife will sometimes complain that, even when I am home, I am still working. I tell my associates ghat, as a lawyer, they are a lawyer at all times. People don’t have legal problems on a 9-5 schedule. If DWI calls from hail occurred at 2pm instead of 2am, it would be easy. But, they don’t. The fact that I am always on call makes it easier for me to leave the office early most days.

    Our office is closed on the 5th. We like to give our employees extra time to be with their families on such a long weekend. I will probably go in for a little bit for some end of month paperwork.

    Trade offs….


  8. I’m not sure…. I’m about to express an unpopular opinion.: in 21st century middle class America is it a problem that parents spend too little time with their kids?

    I work too much, my wife and I take vacations and leave the kids at home, I’m not always home for dinner and yet, I have spent more time with my 11 year old son thean my dad has spent with me in what is closing in on half a century.

    My parents did not treat me like the sun rose and set with me. So when my team did not finish first, I didn’t expect a trophy nor was I surprised when I didn’t win one. They didn’t help me with my homework. So I figured it out myself or, as I got older, chose subjects that fit my aptitude. If I wanted something, I had to work and save for it. So when I got to college, I wrote checks for tuition out of my personal checking account. If I dared complain about my coach, they would have looked at me like I was from Mars. So I practiced harder or rode the bench. If I had a problem with a kid at school, no one called the teacher to report bullying. So I worked it out myself.

    So I tell my kids I love them ten times a day. When I get home from work until they go to bed, that’s their time with me. If they demand attention, I’m going to give it to them because I love them and someday I wont have that time. If they’re being bullied at school, the teacher is going to hear about it. If they want it, all they need to do is ask.

    I’m not sure they’re better off.

    • Nice comment, EO. Yes, it’s a double-edged sword. If the parents aren’t happy with their lives, the kids aren’t going to be happy. I was selfish. I played too much golf to get away from work. But my kids had their lives. I never helped them with their homework, and neither did my parents help me with mine. Doing my homework was my job. There are lots of ways to successfully raise kids. I think a parent has to trust himself or herself and make it up as we go along.

  9. It used to be downright cliche to say that “no one on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time at the office.”

    Now here come 1,000 identical think-pieces from the NPCs at Salon and Huffington Post: “No, You Won’t Regret Spending More Time At The Office: Why Working in a Cubicle is More Important Than Your Stupid Kids.” All written by human cautionary tales.

  10. Am I the only one to find the choice of the photo to publicise with is… “interesting”? I get that there can be accidental peeks when wearing a dress, but this lady presumedly picked out that photograph specifically to through out there. Usually that choice doesn’t include photographs with a view of panties.

  11. Jack, for archival purposes: Her first name appears to be “Lara,” not “Laura.” You might want to change it.

  12. My dad was a truck driver and an alcoholic. He was gone for weeks at time and when he was around you wish he wasn’t. I decided early on to be a different parent.

    According to the Federal government my family lives in poverty. There are 8 of us, and I make less than $43,000. Yet our quality of life is excellent.
    Both of my vehicles are paid for. Yes, my “newer” auto is 8 years old, but it runs well and has never given us any issues. My old truck, purchased to make fixing our house easier, is ugly and rusty but paid for and also reliable.

    My wife and I both have cell phones-we replaced our land line years ago. Once upon a time food was our biggest expense, but the growing monstrosity that is health care has passed that. We still get by just fine, though. Beans and rice can be made many ways.

    My wife stays home with our children, not because she has to, but because she wants to. She is the brains of this house, and could most likely make more than I do. We choose, however, to homeschool our 6 kids.

    My parents divorced when I was a kid, and my wife’s parents were never married. She is the result of a bad date and a bottle of wine, or so I am told. We knew the statistics were against us, and we chose to never use the “D” word. It is not an option in our house.

    I don’t say any of this to guilt anyone, or to puff myself up with pride. I have made decisions in life and I am happy with them. We could dump our kids in school and more than double our income tomorrow if we wanted, but I feel we would miss so much joy.

    I feel sorry for Ms. Bazelon because she feels her importance is based on what she does. As her kids get older I think she will have regrets, if she does not already.

    I will not. My small house and old cars are a simple and easy sacrifice for my children. They need a family more than I need the fulfillment of a six figure job.

  13. There is a fundamental flaw in your thinking, Jack. You presuppose your entire argument on the premise that having children is an act of selflessness. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are NO philanthropic arguments for having children. It is THEE ULTIMATE act of ego fulfillment. Mothering is the selfish act, not working to fix a broken justice system. Personally, I believe that if more people were like Professor Lara Bazelon, this world would be a far better place, and I thank God women like her are running for office in record numbers. I suppose you think they should stay home and not fight for the future of our Democracy in our nation’s capital? For you to make her the center of ethics column in 2019, under this Trump Presidency seems entirely clueless to me, and speaks more to your anxious masculinity. A dunce indeed.

    • Let me guess: you didn’t read the post, right? The reason Bazelon is an Ethics Dunce is that she had children, and now says they aren’t her priority. By any measure in ethics, human beings take priority over other objectives. Bazelon was just rationalizing a breach of parental duty.

      Second, who said “philanthropy” has anything to do with child-bearing? Were you perhaps meaning “altruism”? People and parents have many reasons to choose to have children–some may be selfish, many are not. Claiming that people only have kids for a single reason is obviously nonsense, as is claiming, against all observations, statistics and experience, that no sacrifices are involved.Parents sacrifice money, time, professional goals, freedom to do and go where they please when they please…the list goes on and on.

      Somebody needs to watch “Parenthood.” Or pretty much any functional family.

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