Jewish World ReviewDec. 3, 1999 /24 Kislev, 5760
On the mommy track
Lois Beard seemed poised to become the Mother of all Generals. Or at least a Mother General.
Col. Beard, 45, served in the Panama Invasion and the Persian Gulf War. Well-respected, she was
promoted to colonel two years ahead of schedule. Her impressive resume and rigorous training appeared
perfectly suited to keep her on the general's track. Only, that resume also included three children, the oldest of
which is 16. And in favor of them, she recently decided to retire from the Army. One might say she decided to
leave the general's track for something akin to the "mommy track."
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the appearance of the famous and controversial essay,
"Management Women and the Facts of Life," which appeared in the "Harvard Business Review." In that piece
feminist Felice Schwartz argued that companies should find ways to be more responsive to the many women
managers they were losing, women who interrupted or gave up their careers for their children. One idea was
creating a separate company career path for women who wanted to combine work and family _ what came to
be known derisively as the "mommy track."
This sparked a national debate in which Schwartz was excoriated by the elite, including many of her fellow
feminists, for her admittedly provocative suggestion. But what amazes me is that the idea prompting it -- that
mothers often want very different and more limited work lives than their male counterparts -- is still considered in
many quarters the most provocative notion of all.
The New York Times ran a piece about Col. Beard on a recent front page. Granted, for Beard the career
stakes may have been particularly high. And the story had added sex appeal given how far she had risen in a
traditionally male preserve. But in the end Beard was only doing what millions of American women choose to do
every day _ to get on a self-made "mommy track," even when it means sacrificing some career aspirations.
They do it not because they feel obligated, but because they want to.
"Moms Want to Be With Their Kids!" Read all about it! This just isn't news to a group called FEMALE, for
Formerly Employed Mothers At the Leading Edge, headquartered in Elmhurst, Ill. Founded in 1987, it's an
organization that serves "women who have altered their career paths in order to care for their children at home,"
as their mission statement puts it. Or as Joanne Brundage, executive director of FEMALE told me, the
organization strives to make it "okay for women to admit a need and a desire to nurture."
Apparently, that's a truth more and more women are eager to embrace. FEMALE now has 7,500 members
in 185 chapters around the country. A typical member is in her mid-thirties, has two children, and a background
in middle management. Eighty-four percent have college degrees, 30 percent have an advanced degree. A
majority of members stop working altogether for a time to be home with their families, though a third work
part-time. But these mothers all have one thing in common _ a desire to rearrange their work lives to care for
their kids. Is this profound pull we mothers feel to spend a great deal of time nurturing our little ones different
than what most fathers experience? Of course it is. It's not better or more intense than the unique relationship a
good dad has with his children. But it is wonderfully special and very important. The shocking thing is that there
are people who consider such a statement, well, shocking.
This is not to say that women can't have it all. They just might not be able to have it all at the same time. And
so what? Maybe leaving the chaos of children and the demands of the home to experience the chaos of the
office and the demands of a high-powered career isn't such a great trade-off after all. Yes, it's true that some
men are beginning to rearrange their own careers to spend more time with their families. It's also true that many
women can't financially afford to do so. But whether it's nature or thousands of years of nurture, it's almost
always women who will experience the most intense desire to be there for their young _ to be the ones who
So, Col. Beard may have made today's headlines. But in the end she is really just a small part of a very old,
and very beautiful,
JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.
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©1999, Scripps Howard News Service