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.