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Our Daughters' Daughters Will Adore Us

The role of children in a career

Our Daughters' Daughters Will Adore Us

For those of you who don’t have the entire Mary Poppins lyrical catalogue memorized, this is from Mrs. Banks’ song about her work with the women’s suffrage movement:

“Our daughters’ daughters will adore us, and sing out in grateful chorus, Well done!, Sister Suffragette!”

When I was a kid, this song was my least favorite part of the movie. The mom was so earnest and annoying, so incredibly disengaged from Jane and Michael, whom she referred to as “the children.”

I rethought this part of Mary Poppins as an adult and working mother after reading I Don’t Know How She Does It, the all-too-close-to-home tale of a London investment banker with two children under the age of 7. In the book, the main character is watching Mary Poppins with her daughter, who asks “what’s a suffer jet?” The mom explains about women’s right to vote and says, “Because back then, in the olden days, women and men were—well, girls stayed at home and it was thought that they were less important than boys.”

Mary Poppins came out in 1964. When I was a kid, they would show this movie on TV once a year and occasionally at the drive-in theater. By the time I had my daughter, we could buy a DVD and watch it at home anytime. I suppose if my 15-year-old wanted to watch it tonight, we would download it from Netflix. When I got home from work. Later.

Will our daughters’ daughters sing out in grateful chorus to us? I doubt it. I think women in their 20s and early 30s are incredibly grateful for all of the sacrifices that have been made by women to get to where we are, but I don’t think it occurs to them that they are standing on our shoulders. In the same way that a 7-year-old girl watching Mary Poppins can’t conceive of a time when women couldn’t vote (or that she couldn’t watch the movie whenever she wanted—without commercials!), a working mother today can’t conceive of a time when she could lose her job just because she had children.

There is a lot of space between having a job and having a career. I have two children and work full-time in a law firm. I know that my job is not in jeopardy because I am a mother (thank you, Family Medical Leave Act), but is my status as full-time mom a factor in my career? Reasonable minds can, and certainly do, differ.

“Availability,” “commitment,” “dedication” and “responsiveness” are subjective criteria by which we are all judged. If my clients think that my priorities are at home, I could lose work. Since I’m an incredibly proud and committed mom, my priorities are at home (or at school, or on the soccer field). All priorities are my first priority—long live Supermom!

While not all employers perceive that women with children are less available or committed to their jobs than men with children, it is true that women with children are not compensated in the same way as men with children.

A study last month from the City University of New York reported that men with children outearned men and women without kids, as well as working moms in New York City (the study was based on U.S. Census Bureau data between 1990 and 2010). Women with children earned an average of 41 percent less than men with children within all levels of education and in all five categories of employment—management/professionals, service, sales, construction/natural resources, and production/transportation.

There are real-world consequences associated with our priorities, and with our perceptions of other people’s priorities.

We are drowning in opinions on working mothers, compensation disparity, defining success, work-life balance and “leaning in.” I have the privilege to know and work with women that I would define as incredibly successful, and I am convinced that they would not define themselves that way. I recently asked one of my partners how she was doing and she started to answer and then burst into tears. She missed her baby and wanted to be at home. It was just that simple, on that day.

For me, every day is that day. I haven’t made it to every Mother’s Day tea or school play, nor have I been on every client call. I try to give myself permission to do the best I can every day, both professionally and personally. I try and make the best choices I can each day based on what is going on right now. I hope that I’m successful at it.

Our daughters’ daughters may not sing out in grateful chorus, but mine did write me a poem when I told her I was working on this column:

“Atticus Finch inspired a nation
A lawyer’s career its dear aspiration
Of the bright young law students, with lofty education
Few high courtroom dreams would reach realization
Yet there was a chance of lucrative consolation
By joining the ranks of the gaming conglomeration.”

Jennifer Carleton is a partner in the gaming group of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. She counsels gaming companies on corporate and regulatory matters, focusing on the licensing aspects of deal structures and transactions, mergers and acquisitions, reorganizations, and public finance. She has spent the last 17 years of her career in gaming.

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