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Career > Her20s

My Mom Went To Smith, But She Didn’t Save The World: A Story About How We Measure a Woman’s Success

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Smith chapter.

I think it is safe to say that feminism is the word of the moment. Recently, celebrities like Emma Watson and Beyoncé have helped popularize feminism and the belief that women can “do it all.” Like many women in today’s world, I would say I am a feminist. I believe in gender equality and, in my opinion that is what it means to be a feminist. Sometimes, though, as we continue to promote women and their ability to “do it all,” we forget about the inherent struggles that come with “doing it all,” especially raising a child. Working and having kids, no matter your profession, is never easy, especially if you can’t afford child care. I’d like to tell my story with the hope that we can recognize that as a woman it’s okay to work full time OR to be a stay at home mom. Sometimes society puts so much emphasis on women in powerful positions that we forget to give credit to women whose full time job is being a mother.

My mother graduated from Smith College in 1985 with a degree in Psychology. She initially wanted to pursue a career in education, but her father convinced her otherwise and she proceeded to attend law school at Boston University where she graduated in May of 1988. Soon after passing the bar exam in August of ‘88, she landed a job at a Boston law firm, Taylor, Anderson, & Travers, where she became a Senior Associate and was the firm’s Paralegal Administrator in charge of the firm’s entire paralegal staff. It appeared that my mom was on a fast track to the top, but in 1993, shortly before she got pregnant with me, my mother declined a partnership opportunity to launch her own law practice.

You might wonder why she would turn down such a great opportunity, but she had witnessed other women in her firm try to juggle a baby and work, and it didn’t seem worth it. My mom described the moment that she realized she couldn’t work at the firm if she was going to try to have kids. She said, “It had become very clear to me, watching the women in my firm, that having kids while there was a detriment. Another female lawyer’s son fell down a flight of stairs, smacked his head on a marble foyer, and couldn’t be roused – I was in her office when her nanny called – she told the nanny to take her son, who was 2, to the ER and she would check in later. Even though I didn’t have kids yet, I was astonished. A few weeks later, I gave my notice.”

Most other lawyers at the firm were unsympathetic toward women who had just given birth, and the partners of the firm (who were all men at the time) expected a woman to be able to bounce back from pregnancy and return to work as if nothing had changed. The men dominated the profession and for a woman to succeed she essentially had to let go of some of her “womanhood” in order to compete with “the boys.” After my mom left the firm, she began teaching courses as a law professor on and off over the years, and she did research and writing for other lawyers as a sole practitioner.

I have two younger sisters, one born in 1996 and the other in 2000, and as the years went on, my mom started to do most of her work from home. The fact that she was doing research and writing for other lawyers as opposed to going to court was beneficial in terms of being able to make her own hours and do most work at home. It also meant, however, that her income decreased significantly, not to mention that it’s certainly not easy to write an appellate brief with three little kids running around.

The further away my mom got from her days at the law office, the more she felt discontent. She wanted to be the best mother she could be, and she knew that she couldn’t accomplish that while working at a law firm, but she also felt societal pressures telling her to work. She graduated from Smith College, the land of women who take on the world, and she felt like she was just another housewife.

Finally, in 2007, my mom went back to school to become a guidance counselor. My father had just retired, and my sisters and I were getting older so it was not as necessary for a parent to be around at all times. We were all so proud of her for taking a chance and pursuing something she had always wanted to do, and we knew that she had waited so long so that she could be there for us instead of doing something for herself. As we expected, she was hired as a guidance counselor shortly after she got her degree, and two years later she was already principal.

My mother has always been great at everything she does whether it involves an appellate brief or running a school. Her experience has made me realize that sometimes raising kids and having a job at the same time is just unrealistic, but that does not mean that you can’t be a successful woman. Even if she hadn’t gone back to school, she still would have been successful in my eyes. As a mother she was always there no matter what and that is something I would not be able to say had she kept her job as a lawyer.

So before we measure a female’s success based on the male definition of power, I propose we should think about the many ways a woman can impact the world, even if that impact only affects her children.

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