The Best and The Brightest

The Best and the Brightest

The Best and the Brightest

Funny how everyone talks about choices for women, but when one of us makes a choice the criticism can be fierce. I remember an episode of the television newsmagazine, 20/20, featuring some of the best and the brightest women in America. These women had quit their jobs and opted to stay home with their small children. They were graduates of Stanford, Yale and Harvard, with high profile jobs in law, finance and business. They were the ones slated to have an impact on the world, to be something great. What on earth were they thinking? The guest on the show, an Ivy League professor, argued, ‘It’s a crime for such women to squander their education and talent caring for their children.’ “It’s wrong,” she insisted, “and I can tell them it’s wrong because I’m a philosopher.”

I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the group of professional women being critiqued by the older professor. They were quiet and unassuming, and looked a little hurt. The professor, a philosopher and also a mother, insisted she had made the “right choice,” that is, to let other, less brilliant stars take care of her daughter.  Aside from being amused, I was saddened by her critique. I wondered, “When will women start showing understanding toward other women, instead of being so judgmental?” After all, the philosopher’s logic was that these gifted women should subordinate their family desires to the greater goal of advancing women’s voice and presence in the professional world. Yet, had she considered how distinctly altered that voice would become after they had taken time to parent with full attention? How would it affect them and change their attitudes toward business practices, public policy and legislation, to name a few examples?

As a mother of two school-aged boys myself, I spent a lot of time at home over the last 11 years (though not all). I can say with some certainty, it makes a difference in how I see the world. The decision of professional women to value the art of parenting is a signal that women’s attitudes toward motherhood may be shifting. More women may be taking note of a need to pay greater, not less, attention to our unique role in forming the next generation. This is one of woman’s greatest joys as well as an unparalleled challenge. If we are lucky enough to have the choice to spend some of our children’s’ early years at home, it seems that the best and the brightest make a distinctly counter-cultural decision. They take on motherhood as something not-to-be-missed. This is good news indeed, from where I sit.

The Lord himself said to his disciples, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus wanted to be near them. When we spend time with our children, they frequently challenge us to examine what we believe about ourselves, the world around us and God. Parenting is a transformative because it not only molds the child, it molds us. It teaches us to see through another’s eyes; it teaches us to live with difference and embrace another person without reserve; it teaches what is at stake in working for a more just world. In other words, the act of mothering teaches us Gospel truths. And when we return to our work outside the family, we will do so with a transformed perspective, a mother’s mind and heart. This may be just the remedy our war-weary, profit-crazy society is longing for.

Copyright 2012 Julie Paavola


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  1. Patti Holtzer on

    Hi Julie! I am the coordinator of a ministry to Catholic women called Magnificat. You can learn more about our ministry by viewing our website: We host four Breakfasts a year and invite an inspirational Catholic woman to speak at those Breakfasts. The Lord has sent us amazing Catholic sisters whose stories of God’s power and love in their lives have blessed hundreds of women over the past five years. We average about 225 women per Breakfast and have had as many as 430 in attendance. We would love to have you come and speak at one of our Breakfasts, but would need more information if you are interested in speaking at one of our Breakfasts. Currently we have two dates available in 2013: April 13 and July 27 and we are presently setting up dates for 2014. We are looking forward to hearing from you, Julie.

  2. Julie Paavola on

    HI Patti,
    I would love to speak for your group. Please let me know what you need and we can take it from there. I recently gave a talk to a women’s group dinner entitled, “What Women Want: Finding Community in a Busy World,” and the women loved it. I also have a list of other talks for you to choose from.
    I’m glad to know the work you are doing, providing fellowship and mutual support to women in their faith journey. You can contact me directly with specific questions:
    All the best,

  3. Julie,

    I appreciate your encouragement to not judge or look down on women who stay home to mother their children. I, for financial needs alone, will continue to work while my mother in law and my son’s god mother help raise my son. I do not think all or even most women who continue to work are negligent mothers, but there is no denying the parenting time that is lost during the 8 hr day (9-10 hrs if you include 1 hr lunch and potential travel time) of work 5 days a week. On these days, the mother is gone more than half of the day that the child is awake. Unfortunately rising costs of living and societies negative outlook on “stay at home mothers” are pushing more and more moms out of the home and away to work.

    I cant help but wonder when we look at the level of crimes and the shortfalls of education, how this world would be if more women had the opportunity and were encouraged to stay home and raise their children, impart good values into their growning minds, and work closely with them to maintain their education.

  4. melanie jean juneau on

    Wonderful article, powerful message.
    Rather than enter a M.A. program in English Lit, I was led to get married and ended up with nine children. We raised them on a hobby farm and we are surprised and delighted by how well they are turning out. God’s mercy and grace became more powerful with each child, but the judgment and condemnation from society and even within the Church was crushing at times. Yet His joy kept reasuring us that we were on the right track,
    My message to the world is ‘that the role of a stay at home mum is NOT a default job for women who were not successful in the world of power and money. Mothering is essential to the spiritual formation of the next generation and the future of mankind rests in her heart and spiirit.

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