"Why," my dear husband asked, "are you taking Sarah Palin so personally?"
I think it's because MY youngest child is 13, yet I am still arranging my career to suit her needs.
Looking over my female friends — educated and accomplished — it is
hard to think of one who has not trimmed her career sails to
accommodate family life. Amazingly, I know more women who have opted
out than who work full-steam ahead.
(Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post)
I really appreciated Marcus' opinion piece about juggling family and work, about her assumption that she would go right back to it after having a baby and the various permutations that have evolved since then to make family life possible.
When I finished seminary, a process I delayed to be more available to my three children, I was 41 and already had a limited career window open to me. I undertook my first job search casting a very limited geographical net in hopes that my children would not have to move away from their father. There were five openings in the area, three full-time and two part-time, and happily I had the opportunity to interview for all of them. Two churches turned me down, one dropped the contact ball, and one expressed further interest but had not come to a decision when I received the call from Small Church.
On a hot, hot day in July, I sat around a restaurant table with my three children (16, 11 and 7), my soon-to-be-husband *and* my former husband, and we all discussed the possibilities. Both jobs were full-time, one as an associate in a church that bore a fairly strong resemblance to Large Church, our church home for 15 years. It had programs, and lots of families, and liberal theology and good music. Small Church was, well, smaller, more blue collar, just different. But the job seemed more compatible with our family life, our two-household family life in which I was the primary, day-to-day parent. My part-time education and previous part-time work would give way to a full-time job, but I took the one that was likely to be closer to 40 hours a week than 80, that was a little closer to home, that I had a feeling would allow me to be the mother I wanted to be at the same time I became a pastor.
I chose the mommy track.
Ironically, I made a conservative choice, although I am liberal. This is bothering me today, that a family values choice will likely limit my career potential.
Now I am 47. I have six years of experience. My children are 22, nearly 18 and 13. I am *still* the primary, day-to-day parent. To make a serious career move, I still face the need to move, but now it's not a question of separating the children from their father but from me, since a 13-year-old girl sees herself as being the one to choose and the uproar that insisting on taking her away would cause might make things worse rather than better.
But the truth is still the truth. The right kind of parish job, the job on the mommy track, allows a person to come home after school and check in, limits the number of evenings out, accepts more presence of the family. It's possible I could continue to give her that for five more years.
And this is where I take Sarah Palin personally. How was she not limited by having so many children? How do you leverage a job as mayor of a town of 6000, which I imagine is comparable to being a small church pastor, into being governor of a state ten times larger? I can promise you, few mothers who are pastors would make the leap from a 100 member church to a 1000 member church as head of staff, and if you know of one, I'd like to hear about it.
I'll never know, probably none of us will, how representative the human interest stories about her governorship really were. Did the baby come to the office all summer? Was Piper in the elevator with her puppy once, or all the time? On those days she worked from home or Anchorage and charged a per diem for staying in her own house, could she really get any work done?
In my experience, the answer would be: "Sometimes yes, and sometimes no."
I'm glad I went to Small Church when I did, glad that when a child was sick I didn't have to answer to a supervising male colleague who had never been the one responsible for caring for little ones. I'm glad I had flexibility and received understanding when I was on my way to visit Cora and got the call from school that the then-Little Princess required a pick-up because her stomach hurt. I'm grateful to Cora who saw me another day, and who I loved, too, and I'm grateful to my children, two out of three who visited Cora on other days, and to Cora who welcomed my visits with Sam and Molly, one at a time.
But despite that gratitude, I reach this crossroads in my life frustrated and perplexed about how to make the next move, trying to weigh all the factors and know what's right and what's best and what may feel useful and satisfying and above all, meaningful, while in the midst of it, grocery shopping and doing the laundry having a marriage and being a mother and writing my own material.
And that's why I'm taking Sarah Palin so personally.