Watching Amy Coney Barrett with her family in the Rose Garden while she was being nominated for the Supreme Court was a moving and inspiring experience for all working women—or should have been. A relatively young mother of seven children who is also a law professor, judge, and now Supreme Court nominee is not something you see every day. Personally, I thought she glowed with grace and poise, and that was even before her speech, which began with a beautiful tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had occupied the now open seat for 27 years. Speaking appreciatively, and at length, about the glass ceilings that Ginsburg had “smashed” over many decades, Barrett credited the late justice with having paved the way for the success of so many working women like herself—and me.
As any working mom knows, balancing job and child-rearing is a constant struggle (and an unprecedented one in the time of Covid). Seeing someone do it with such joy and gratitude is very refreshing. Barrett and her husband Jesse, who is also an attorney, seem to have struck the magical balance between two working parents and a houseful of young children. In her acceptance speech, she noted that every morning Jesse asks her what he can do for her that day. She said she usually replies “nothing,” but added that he still manages to “take things off her plate.” For those of us in the trenches, this seems like something out of a fairy tale. Husbands don’t really do that, do they? When I read my husband what she had said, he rolled his eyes and quickly told me that he would NEVER ask me that question because he was positive I would promptly hand him a long list of things I needed done. Probably true.
I have read many articles over the past week not only attesting to Barrett’s brilliance and understanding of complex legal issues, but to her kindness, patience, and love of family. She opened her home and her heart to two adopted children from Haiti. I went to Haiti in 1997 on a volunteer trip. The poverty there was unbelievable and will be forever etched in my memory, especially the plight of children with no homes or families. I asked our trip leader if we could bring some of these young kids back to Manhattan with us. We were all young, single professionals with means so I thought there must be some way we could help even just a handful of these sweet kids. He looked at me like I was a bit crazy, but appreciated my offer and asked that we continue to support the mission down there. I’m so glad the Barretts succeeded in bringing these kids from Haiti to the U.S., and hope their actions inspire other young families to show the same care and compassion.
My favorite moment watching the Rose Garden ceremony was when their youngest son Benjamin jumped up the steps one by one on the way back into the White House. Benjamin, who has Down’s syndrome, is the cutest thing ever. I, too, am the mother of a young child with Down’s syndrome. In an interview last year, Barrett discussed how hard it had been when they received the diagnosis and yet what joy Benjamin has brought to their lives. Like Benjamin, my Maggie is not able to speak, but understands everything and is quite clever. Barrett mentioned that every night her children have to say one thing they are thankful for, and often this “thing” is Benjamin. In our family, Maggie is also the most beloved sibling—my other three children will do anything for a “Maggie hug.” No matter what the situation, Maggie brings you back to what’s really important in life and makes you a better person than you are. I’ve not only experienced this in our family, but also hear it from her teachers, therapists, and other parents at school. You can’t be a mom of a special-needs child and not have a greater understanding and appreciation for the daily struggles of others around you—that is a gift Maggie has bestowed not only on me, but on the rest of the family as well.
Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination gives me hope for the future. This is a new frontier for working moms. After the unique quarantine-inspired work environment that we have all experienced over the past six months, even the stodgiest of old, male-run companies have realized that workplace flexibility is not a detriment to workplace productivity. Workplace flexibility is imperative in order to keep moms in the workforce. Ninety-nine percent of the working moms I speak with report that they still do the doctor’s appointments, the teachers’ meetings, coordinate after-school activities, and a host of other non-job-related tasks—don’t even get me started on laundry! They often work twice as hard as most of their male counterparts because they are expending at least twice as much mental energy on any given day.
Last winter, the CEO of my company gave a great talk to a roomful of female insurance executives in which he said he was the first to admit he had no idea what it was like to be a working woman. I almost burst out laughing. Because during the entire walk from my downtown office to that event I had made no fewer than eight phone calls, all just to deal with a potential case of pink eye in one of my children—calls back and forth with the school, babysitter, doctor, pharmacy. This kind of urgency doesn’t happen every day, but it’s not infrequent either. (I was glad to find out they were serving wine at the luncheon.)
Amy Coney Barrett is carrying on Justice Ginsburg’s glass-ceiling-smashing legacy. Suddenly, it seems that working moms fit in—we are not outliers. We may even be, dare I say, cool! There are so many moms out there who have quit the workplace, not because they are tired of the grind, but because they do not believe they can adequately handle both mom duties and career duties. Barrett has shown our generation (and our children) that with the right workplace, the right family, the right support, it can be done—and done with joy. Thank you, Amy!