At an event for female judges in the 1980s, during Sandra Day O’Connor’s first term as the first female Supreme Court Justice, a law professor asked “How do you take care of your family and have a career?”
“Always put your family first,” O’Connor answered.
It was an inspiring answer, but all the trailblazing women in the room understood it was not the full truth. No one gets to the absolute top that way, especially not back then. As Evan Thomas would write in his fascinating book on O’Connor, First, the women in the audience suspect that the real answer to the question was “by constant struggle,” by painful choice, and by tradeoffs.
“They were looking for a story,” he wrote, “about her own sometimes amusing battles with the male-dominated legal establishment or how she had raced home to feed the kids after school before working late into the nights. Or at least clarified what she meant, given that she herself had raised a happy family on the way to the top.”
Indeed, later in life, O’Connor would talk about how “desperately hard” it was to balance work and family. She would try to teach her law clerks, male and female, about this struggle. Even later in her career, well after her children were grown, she would model it with her husband, who was dying of Alzheimer’s disease, by bringing him to the office with her most days so they could be together and she could watch over him.
But in those early stages of her pioneering career, she did what a lot of us do. She was glib, she glossed over the obvious difficulties, she pretended everything was copacetic. You could call it heroic, you could call it humility, but what you couldn’t call it was particularly helpful, at least not from the perspective of parents looking for guidance.
We can help each other—current and prospective parents—by being honest about how damn hard this is. We can be up front about the struggle. We don’t have to grit our teeth and hold our breath and hope for the best. We can share what we’ve learned. We can support each other.
We can inspire each other to be better. And in so doing, find a bit of relief in the process.
P.S. There are just 3 more days to sign up for the 2022 Daily Stoic New Year New You Challenge! It’s 21 actionable challenges—presented one per day—built around the best wisdom in Stoic Philosophy and backed by painstaking research, timeless science, and feedback from thousands of past participants. This year’s challenge was built to help you take control of your time, be more patient and understanding, break negative thought and behavior patterns, and, as we talked about yesterday, show your kids that you’re a parent who challenges themselves. It begins this Saturday, so go sign up right now!