"Working Mothers, Barnard Daughters": Making Ambition and Motherhood Work Hand-in-Hand

By Molly Scott

What we wish working motherhood looked like

On Wednesday night, October 26th, a group of three accomplished Barnard alumnae and their current Barnard daughters sat on a panel to talk about the challenges of balancing a career with motherhood. This concern is a common one when it comes to career choices for Barnard students and other ambitious, yet family-oriented individuals who know they want children in the future, but are unsure of how their career choice will affect their ability to have a successful family life. The mother-daughter panelists were:

  • Deputy Attorney General of New Jersey Tirza Wahrman (’78), and Deena Mitlak (’12)
  • Psychiatrist Dr. Michelle Friedman (’74), and Sarah Belfer (’12)
  • Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Africa of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, D.C. Sharon Cromer (’80), and Simone Sobers (’13)

The 3 mothers, along with Anna Quindlen (‘74) and Vice President for College Relations Dorothy Denburg (‘70), spoke about their personal experiences with their careers and their daughters, while the three current Barnard students expanded upon growing up with a busy mom. Denburg led the panel with each mother-daughter team giving some advice based on their personal experiences. Simone Sobers has spent her whole life living abroad because of her mother’s job. Sobers and her mother Sharon Cromer both used the phrase “working family unit” to describe how their family functioned while overseas. As a child, Sobers realized that her “mother’s success was dependent on all of us.” Cromer also said that she modeled mothering after her own mother. She told the audience, “we had dinner together every night.” As someone who has contemplated this very issue, it was really reassuring to see such a busy mother still have time every day to spend with her children.
Tirza Wahrman said that mothering was something that she “got better at with time.” For the members in the audience who were mothers as well, this rung true for them too. Her daughter, Deena, commented on her mother being both a lawyer and a mother: “It’s not easy, but it’s really fun and fulfilling.” Dr. Friedman was also “astounded at how much fun it was” raising her children. As for advice for future mothers, Wahrman said, “men really need to be part of the answer.” She explained that her own husband was a key player in raising their children. In fact, all the mothers acknowledged that their husband was vital in raising their daughters and all the daughters on the panel had nothing but wonderful things to say about their father’s efforts in raising them as well.

Rosie the Riveter was a working mom!

Denburg asked each mother to define success in terms of balance. Cromer felt that success was having daughters “who know and understand the world and how it works.” Wahrman said that success was “not just the paycheck one brings home.” Looking back at their mother’s techniques and success, some of the Barnard daughters conveyed that they, too, valued the balance in their upbringing.

It was an incredibly powerful experience to see these accomplished women with their daughters. The main pieces of advice of the evening were to remember that your husband is your partner in childrearing (you don’t have to do it alone) and to set a time of day (most likely dinner) when the family is together and all electronics are off. The equally emphasized ambition and motherly characteristics of these successful women—both in their careers and in raising daughters who hold up to the high standards of being a Barnard woman—conveyed ultimately that balancing career and family is difficult, but can be immensely rewarding.

Molly Scott is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing. She was also brought up by a working mother.

For more events at Barnard, Columbia and throughout the city, keep checking The Nine Ways of Knowing Event Calendar.

Image courtesy of wednesdaymartin.com and mamdblueroom


2 thoughts on “"Working Mothers, Barnard Daughters": Making Ambition and Motherhood Work Hand-in-Hand

  1. First, nice article Molly! Secondly, most women will have to make the very difficult decision about either postponing their career and staying at home vs. going back to work after the birth of a baby. This is a hard decision as we have spent many years preparing ourselves for the work force through education, training, and working in the field. I must say that both paths require long hours and are not easy. I feel a woman needs to look at her life and evaluate what will be healthiest and best for her and her family at the time. Both paths are admirable and women should be respected for either decision. Being a part-time professional, I always enjoyed and felt good about being at home with my children but at the same time continued to pursue my professional path. This balance felt good for me and our family. Women will need to give something up and if working full time will require help from her partner with domestic chores as well as with shared childcare responsibilities.

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