What comment did someone make that stuck with you for a long time?

For me it was one made by one of my male law school classmates 22 years ago.

It was on-campus recruiting for 2Ls. Big law firms come on campus to interview for coveted summer clerkships. Snag one of those clerkships and you are (almost) guaranteed a prestigious job right out of law school.

Good bye student loans and ramen, hello entry-level BMW.

In assessing the competition, one of my male classmates thought his odds were much better than they would have been 10 or 15 years prior thanks to women (finally) making up 50% of the law school class.

Here’s the comment. “In 2 or 3 years, they’re just going quit and hang up their diploma on the laundry room wall. I know it and every dude interviewing knows it too.”

I have thought about that comment often over the years—as if where my diploma resides is somehow a reflection of how seriously I take my career. My worthiness as a lawyer, if you will.

So where has my diploma resided in the last 20 years? My office in the big law firm I started at right out of law school (yes, I did manage to snag one of those clerkships). My office in the small law firm I joined a few years later.

And today?

My diploma hangs on the wall of the family den that also serves as my office, a den that shares a wall with you guessed it, the laundry room.

Too close for comfort for my ego.

7 years ago, after having my 4th daughter, I just never went back to work. Emptied out my office and unceremoniously dumped the contents in my dining room.

Boxes of mementos. Stacks of books. The remnants of a professional life.

It took months for me organize the stuff, and years for me to regain some semblance of a professional life. A part-time practice that fits into the nooks and crannies of my stay-at-home mom life.

7 years in, I still cringe at the stay-at-home mom label.

Don’t get me wrong. I love taking care of my girls. I love spending time with them. I love getting wrapped up in the minutia of their lives. I know they need me. And I know this is all just one phase of my life, one act in a multi-act play.

But there are days when I stare at that diploma and wonder if I’m where I should be. One thing for sure, it’s not where I thought I was going to be 20 years ago listening to that neanderthal of a classmate.

Where do I want my girls to be when they are my age? Where should their diplomas reside?

My daughters are constantly told that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. Am I a good enough feminist for my 4 daughters if I’m not doing what I wanted to be when I grew up?

That’s a question I’ve been struggling with a lot with lately.

Feminism is about equality in opportunity. It’s about having choices. I don’t think staying home with my kids was “selling out to the patriarchy.” It was making a choice that was best for my family, a (hopefully) temporary choice that comes from privilege most women don’t enjoy.

I guess being a “good enough feminist” for my girls means acknowledging the struggles I’m experiencing and using them as the impetuous to make a few changes in my life, changes that are best for me. Perhaps I need to expand my professional life a little more. Or write a book. Or just do something that is different.

Stay tuned.

Have you taken a “pause” in your career to spend more time on family responsibilities? Are you struggling with that choice? Leave a comment or send me an email.

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