This is the transcript of a virtual panel hosted by Public Discourse and moderated by managing editor Alexandra Davis on November 6, 2023. Six panelists offered their reflections on considerations for young women who hope to flourish in their professional lives while remaining attentive to their families and faithful to the formative work of the home. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Alexandra Davis: There’s no shortage of material geared toward the ambitious professional woman today. We have ample resources on how to determine what type of work we want to do, how to find it, and then how to succeed once we’ve gotten there. But for the young professional woman who knows that she might one day like to have children, and who wants to know how to craft a sustainable career that’s friendly to family life and its many joys and attendant demands, there’s woefully little guidance. Choosing to pursue meaningful work while also growing a family can be enormously fulfilling, but it’s hard managing the dual demands. Growing both a family and a career requires a certain finesse and an ability to be flexible and adaptable, to not take anything too seriously, and most importantly, to not get too attached to plans.
But there are certain things we can do to prepare ourselves for this joyful juggle. And for those who accept that challenge, it can be immensely rewarding. Our panelists are going to share how they structure their lives in a way that allows them to pursue creative, intellectually inspiring work, while remaining open to life and open to taking on the good work of the home. I know their insights will prove illuminating.
I want to start by asking each of you to answer one particular question to set the stage for our discussion tonight. Tell us a bit about your professional background and what your day-to-day looks like right now: your work obligations, your family obligations, and how they both fit together.
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April Readlinger: Sure. Alex, thanks for putting on this panel. I wish I had an opportunity to see a panel like this many years ago when I was embarking on my career.
I practiced law for sixteen years. Right after law school, I worked as a career law clerk for two different federal judges. And that was a great position. I loved that job. Ironically, it was before I had children, and that position was very flexible. So it was kind of funny. After I’d worked there for about eight years I decided to go practice in New York and do international litigation. It was before I had kids, but when I was there, I ended up having my first daughter and it was a little bit tough, those first couple of years with her, trying to work at a big law firm in New York.
And then I had my second daughter a few years later and I decided at that point that I needed to make a move. And so then I stopped practicing altogether after doing it for sixteen years. Shortly after I stopped, I was approached to come work at CanaVox, and the first thing I said was, “Hey, I’ve decided I’m not going to work, so no, I’m not going to do this.” And they said, “No, no, no, this is a really great opportunity. It’s family-friendly. You’ve got to take a look at it and see if you want to come work with us.” And that’s where I’ve been for the past nine and a half years.
Every day, I get up before everybody else does, about 4:30, five o’clock, and try to get a few hours of work in before it gets a little hectic. Then I get the kids off to school. I have one in college, but now I still have two younger ones. I get them off to school, then do a little bit of work until about three o’clock when I go pick them up again. So it’s kind of a broken-up day, but I try to work in pockets of time.
Taryn DeLong: I come from a long and varied path toward editing as a profession. During my last six years in the full-time workforce, I was the editor for an online business publication, and then I left when my daughter was born. I work part-time without childcare—so in the margins when she’s napping, when she’s in bed at night, and occasionally if I get a few minutes while she’s playing on her own—but she’s two and a half. So my day’s full of diapers, and play dates, and library story times, and then working when I can.
Erika Bachiochi: I have three children in college now and four at home. So I’ve had very varied work–home balance (I don’t know if “balance” is the right term). I had my first child when I was in law school and then really intended to be home entirely. Why did I go to law school? That’s a whole other question. And it turned out that we did need me to make some money. So I did start working during nap times. I’d occasionally have a babysitter, and I did that for the first six children. They all came within ten years and I really didn’t work all that much. I spent a lot of time reading. So it’s like I had a graduate degree and a law degree. It was kind of extending all of that learning, which was really wonderful.
My work was project-based, very part-time. Some weeks would be three hours a week, other times would be ten, or if I had something to finish up I’d do it on the weekends. But I had a lot of small children at once. I never thought of myself as having a career at all. It was very much, I guess I’d say vocational—being sort of called to respond to questions I had, things I was reading and wanted to write. And then I started to be asked to do bigger things, which surprised me at that point. I just followed my questions intellectually and I fell into a niche expertise—which again, I never considered really a career, just sort of responding to questions that I think a lot of other people had, and that I tried to answer in law review articles.
Fast forward many years, and I work within the intersection of constitutional law and political theory—which were both things that I’d studied—and women’s studies. I had a seven-year gap between my sixth and seventh child, and I actually was a visiting scholar at Harvard Law one year; and so I thought things were sort of shifting over to where I was going to be working a lot more. And then my seventh child came when I was nearly forty-four (I guess I just gave away my age). She went to more preschool than my other kids had, mainly because she really wanted to—it’s an amazing Montessori program at a classical school I helped to start. So now I work almost full-time because I have all these helpers driving my kids places. I’ve actually never paid for daycare. I’ve had babysitters and things like that, but I’ve been blessed to have a lot of friends helping out.
Haley Stewart: It’s been fun to hear how different everybody’s journey has been. So I got married very young halfway through college. We were surprised with our first baby just after I graduated. And so I was kind of starting work life and motherhood all at the same time.
When I was pregnant, I was working at Baylor at the Center for Christian Ethics as a publication specialist and continued doing that when my oldest was about fifteen months old. And then we moved, and at that point, I started on this meandering journey, and I didn’t know where it was headed. I was mostly home, and that was when I started writing. It was just a personal blog at that time. I was just reading and writing and processing young motherhood, and then that turned into freelance writing which turned into writing books.
And so it continued growing. I continued working in the margins while my three oldest were little. And then after my fourth was born (she’s five years old now), I started transitioning to more writing. I was still on my own schedule. My husband cut back his hours to homeschool our kids in the morning so I could write in the morning, and then I’d take over and he’d go to work. And so we were kind of tag-teaming the homeschooling. And then a few years ago, we discerned that our oldest would do better in a traditional school environment. So he went to school. We really liked the school, so we sent everybody to school. And then things opened up for me to work full-time for the first time in twelve years. So now I work for Word on Fire and I run their children’s book imprint. It’s been this interesting adventure where I didn’t know what was coming next.
Katy Faust: I didn’t really have a career plan. After we got married we moved to Taiwan for our first year of marriage, and then we moved back to Colorado so my husband could go to seminary. I worked at a Chinese adoption agency, and loved it, and realized that I loved working in an office. And when I got pregnant with my first, I was really at a crossroads. I knew I wanted to be a full-time mom, but I also wanted to work. And I was like, “I just want to do both. How can I do both? How can I be a full-time mom and work?” And I realized I couldn’t do both, but I really, really thought for a long time, “What do I do? Do I mother during the day and work at night?” But ultimately I got to the point where I said, something’s got to give.
And I chose the kid. It was a good choice, but I mourned. I mourned. I probably had dreams for the next year and a half of my bosses at the adoption agency coming back and begging me to start an office in my house because I loved working.
So I didn’t ever think I was going to go back to work. I think I kind of believed the feminist lie that once you’re out of the workforce, that’s it, it’s over, you can’t take a break—and I didn’t have any plans of working. I was really involved in our church. We ended up having three biological kids. We adopted our youngest about twelve years ago, and that was a very emotionally demanding process for several years after we had him. So a lot of my focus was going towards mom life, and I didn’t try to move back into the workforce. I just got really, really angry. I got angry at what was happening in the world, and I thought, somebody needs to say something about X, Y, and Z. So I just slowly started writing on my own. And then, interestingly, with every new bit of independence and self-reliance and self-governance that my kids reached, slowly, work would start to fill in those spaces.
And so now I’m at the place where I’ve got one kid in college, I’ve got three kids at home, and like April, I wake up at about 4:30, knock out at least two and a half hours of work before everybody wakes up, put on the apron, serve the breakfast, kiss the faces, slam the door, work like crazy, get up, go pick the kids up from school, come home, and then work on top of everything else. I work in line at the grocery store, dictate e-mails while I’m on the stair-stepper at the gym, or just tell people if I’m having a staff meeting, “FYI, I’m going to be roasting vegetables.” And that’s kind of how it rolls for me. The good news about having an office at home is I clean and cook and do a lot of the household care and mothering care on top of my work life. So that’s kind of how it all gets done: two things at once all the time.
Kelly Hanlon: I took a traditional path. I thought that after college I was supposed to work and make a name for myself and make a career and then get married and then have kids, and that’s how life would go. And as we all know when we make plans, sometimes God has other plans for us. And so while I was busy making those plans, I ended up getting married in my early thirties. My husband passed away unexpectedly about two and a half years after I got married, and that very much delayed having kids. And so at the time that I got to Witherspoon, my husband had passed away and I was doing freelancing and gig work and had created a small consulting firm. I was working in the higher education space. I loved what I was doing. I wasn’t looking for a job.
I thought, “This is my life now. This is what I’m meant to do. I’m meant to work and this is my calling.” And yet again, there were other plans that God had for my life. I met my husband, I had lunch with my boss, Luis Tellez, who is very convincing. And I went into the lunch thinking, I’m not going to go to work for Witherspoon. I am very happy in my professional life. I am dating this wonderful man. And that’s all there is to it. Well, I took the job at Witherspoon six and a half years ago. I got married five years ago, and now I have two little kids under three who are just such a joy. So I am an old new mom, and life took all kinds of unexpected turns.
Like April, like Katy, I find myself getting up at 4:30 in the morning to work. I have a hybrid schedule. I’m in the office a couple of days a week. Today I’m sitting in a hotel room in Palm Beach on a fundraising trip. And so I actually don’t have small children in the background, but I have a hotel room. So you just kind of roll with it.
There are a lot of things that are amazing about being a working mom. And as others have said, I squeeze in work wherever I can. Having a flexible schedule is really, really key and really helpful with having small children at home.
Alexandra Davis: It’s been so illuminating listening to each of you because everybody’s path has been so different. I’m listening to you all speak, and I’m seeing this common thread. You took steps, you made decisions. This wasn’t necessarily a road-mapping process, it wasn’t necessarily top-down planning. Your careers, in many ways, were born out of making the next right decision and then another and then another, whether it’s having that lunch, starting that business, pulling back to regroup when you’ve had your first child.
Haley, your path to Word on Fire has been so fascinating. And I want to ask, what is one decision that you made that really fueled your career while also helping your family?
Haley Stewart: I’m going to go with something that I said no to, which, looking back, I’m almost surprised that I did, but it was the right decision.
When my oldest was a toddler, I got accepted into an art history Ph.D. program. I started that program and pretty quickly realized that the timing wasn’t right. I wanted to have more babies, but I have really rough pregnancies. I have hyperemesis when I’m pregnant, so I’m out of commission for nine months. And so I knew, okay, if I get pregnant, I’m not going to be able to do this program. I was feeling torn in multiple directions with a high-needs toddler and my program. I started wondering, okay, if I do art history, if I move toward academic life, how am I going to fit everything I want to do with motherhood? How am I going to have more kids? Will I just have to put off growing our family for so many years? I was feeling unsettled about continuing in this program.
So I reached out to the director of the program and he got me in touch with the one female professor in the department who had children. She called me to talk through this and it was a very illuminating conversation, but not in the way that she thought it was. She was saying that this was my one chance to do anything valuable with my life. If I dropped out of this program, then I’d be throwing everything away. She was basically saying that all of the work of caring for a toddler, which is where I really felt called to be at the time, was just meaningless drudgery. I was going to become intellectually stagnant. My life would be over. And then the really interesting thing she said was, “at your son’s age” (he was eighteen months old), “a dog could take care of him.”
She was talking about how I could compartmentalize my life, have someone else to do this meaningless drudgery, and I could do something interesting. And I didn’t want to compartmentalize my life. I wanted to integrate my life, and I didn’t see how this was going to play out into the kind of family life I wanted. This is not to say that you can’t do graduate school and have children, that’s not the case at all. But in my situation, I couldn’t see how this was going to work. And so I did quit the program.
I didn’t become intellectually stagnant. None of those horrible things came true. And I think that what I’m doing now is a much better fit for me. I just kept learning. I kept reading, I kept writing, I kept thinking, connecting with people whose ideas I thought were interesting, and things just kept moving.
So it was just this interesting time of discernment where it probably seemed like a really stupid thing to do, to drop out of this program where I was fully funded and this was this great opportunity, but it wasn’t a great fit for me at that time because I was being called to do something else. It wasn’t the end of my professional life or my intellectual life. So I see that as kind of an interesting turning point in my story. And I also think that I don’t want other young moms to feel that you can’t ever pursue other things if you’re feeling very strongly called to be home at that time.
Alexandra Davis: Listening to you just now made me think about this perception that just seems pervasive. There’s this concept that having children will torpedo our careers. I was at a conference recently, speaking to a woman who was pregnant with her first child, and she told me that she feared that she was going to become a “shell of a person,” and that she was very concerned about what having her baby would do to her growing business.
I want to turn to Erika for a moment. Erika, you had said something in the beginning that was so intriguing. You said that when you were in law school and you got pregnant with your first child, you didn’t intend to have a career. You thought, okay, I’m going to stay home. This is what I’m going to do now. And then fast forward some time and all of a sudden you have this distinguished career as a scholar. So how would you respond to the woman who says, “I’m concerned that if I have children too young or if I have too many too soon, that will be the death knell of my career?”
Erika Bachiochi: Thanks for asking me that. It’s a real privilege to hear from all of you. In light of a book that I’m working on now, this is research for me. I think it’s really important for me to say a bit about where I came from. My mom was married and divorced three times; and so I did not have any sort of script when I came into the Church as a Catholic and then married my husband, who is from a much better family than I. And he is a really incredible man who in some ways loved me into just—I mean—his stability loved me into a lot of healing that I’d started in Alcoholics Anonymous and in other places. So there was a way in which not having a script, not having a lot of models, went well with my being a theorist at heart.
I really kind of read my way into a philosophy of both mothering and home life that helped to answer a lot of the questions I had—or the qualms that I had as a pretty hardcore feminist in college, prior to my conversion. So a lot of that is just the way in which, when we have children, our hearts grow—and I think there’s a way in which our minds become much deeper and more reflective—that we understand life a lot better. And so in any kind of work that we do, the way in which we are given a perspective is much broader and deeper than what the work on a page or out in the world or something might give us—the latter tends to be kind of transient, about money or fame or just “helping a person” or something. The new perspective transforms us as human beings who then bring something entirely different, I think, to the world of work and the public square.
Women who don’t have children, I mean, I don’t want to say like, “Oh, they are progressive”—but they tend to be more progressive, I guess is the best way of putting it, and focused much more on how well they can do in the marketplace. And then when women have children, there’s a way in which the things that they care about in the world really change a lot. And you can see their politics shift too. And so family becomes so much more important—and then it becomes more coherent to them why politics and an economy should be shaped around the family, which is a more conservative position.
Having one child after another, especially for me—having not had a script, having not seen anybody else do this—I just really moved by faith in what I was called to and what I believed to be true about sexuality and marriage. I have an incredible husband and knew that we would be bonded through all of this and come together more closely. It just really transformed me in so many ways.
I cried a ton. It wasn’t easy at all, but it made me dig a lot deeper spiritually. It made me desire to be transformed sacramentally so that I could just not care so much about myself. As Bishop Barron—your boss, Haley—says, our life isn’t about us. And when that happens, we just become clay in the hand and become instruments. And then, as I always tell my kids, it’s like a superpower. Because we’re not really doing this for ourselves, it’s just whatever God wants, and he has a lot of power.
Alexandra Davis: Taryn, I wonder if you might speak to this as well. You’re currently working on a book about the feminine genius in the workplace, and you also lead a business that has been growing so rapidly. And meanwhile, you also have grown your family. So I wonder if you could speak to this issue of what you would say to a woman who’s concerned about what motherhood will do to her capacity to thrive in the workplace—to be a leader, to grow intellectually?
Taryn DeLong: I think the thing that came to mind when you used that phrase becoming “a shell of a person,” was that becoming a mother broke me in the best way. I became a shell, but then I became full again. Everything that I thought that I knew was just completely changed. And I think that ultimately gave me more confidence in myself and more confidence in my priorities. Because when I have an infant, or now a two-year-old, who is demanding my time and my attention and my love, I have to make decisions about what I can and can’t do.
The business is growing fast, and my co-president and I are both moms and we’re both busy, and so we just hold on very loosely. We come at this from a Catholic perspective, and we turn it all over to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that surprises us, and sometimes we have no idea what’s happening. But that is the only way that I think I can do the mom thing and the business thing and the writing thing—is just to hold on very loosely to my goals. And then when God says, “This is not what’s going to happen,” sometimes it results in tears. I don’t like it when my plan is not God’s plan. I would really appreciate it sometimes if he would just agree with me. But then motherhood has taught me—in a way that nothing else has taught me—that my plans are not always what’s best. And it’s taught me how to hold on loosely, let go when I need to, and then shift.
Alexandra Davis: This concept of holding loosely, I think it’s a skill that life often forces us to hone and refine. Circumstances change, our desires change, our family situations change, and sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we end up taking a sharp left turn, or maybe even a long meandering one.
April, I wanted to pull you into this and ask you a little bit about your career pivot, but specifically, what factors went into that discernment process, and then how ultimately did that pivot affect your family life?
April Readlinger: I had it all planned out. I graduated from law school. I clerked. I actually had a failed marriage along the way, and I was just focusing on my career. And then I met my, well . . . I didn’t meet my husband. I’ve known my husband since we were fifteen. We reconnected. We got married, I had this job, and then I had my first daughter, and I said, “Well, I can do this.”
It worked for a while . . . sort of. And then I had my second daughter, and it got a little bit harder having two little kids. And my husband asked, “Is this the kind of family we want?” I told him, no, it wasn’t what I wanted, but it really was. How would I stop doing something that I’d been doing for sixteen years? I really did love going to New York every day, and I didn’t want to quit.
But ultimately, we were on a little honeymoon in Bermuda, and my husband asked, “Why don’t you just take a break?” And I said, “Maybe I will. I’ll take a break. It’ll be good.” And I just decided to go for it. I took a leap of faith and I was on the beach and I was telling my law firm, “Hey, guess what? I’m not coming back.”
It was the best decision I ever made. It was a little scary. I will say, the first six months, I didn’t know what the heck to do with myself. It was a little hard, but it worked out.
And then oddly enough, I was approached by the folks at Witherspoon to start working for CanaVox. It was a great fit. It was family-friendly, and I was able to draw on all of those skills I had honed as a lawyer in practice even though it wasn’t legal work I was doing. And what’s great about what we do is also we tap into other mothers who work part-time as well. Our whole team at CanaVox is part-time moms. And so it was the best thing I ever did to take that break and pivot from practicing law.
Alexandra Davis: Kelly, I’d love to hear your perspective on this as well, because you also had a substantial career pivot that involved Witherspoon.
Kelly Hanlon: I graduated from college and went to work for an organization called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Delaware. It was my first job out of college. I loved it. I got to travel all over the United States, meeting interesting people and academics and students, talking about all kinds of things that I was fascinated by, from philosophy to political theory. I thought it was great. And then some changes happened there in terms of leadership, in terms of the donor support, in terms of institutional focus. And I was at a point where I had to decide either to stay there or pivot to something else.
Both of my parents were entrepreneurs. They owned their own businesses, and I sort of always had that bug, but I never knew what I would do if I went out into business on my own. So I decided to take a leap of faith and quit my job, and I ended up doing consulting work, as I said, in the higher education space. I set up a small LLC and was very happy. I had three to twelve clients at a time. It was enough to pay the bills, enough to pay some independent contractors and subcontractors. I could still have those interesting conversations, still work in a higher education space. I could set my own schedule. Things were going really well and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Then, as I said, I ended up talking with Luis Tellez. The executive director of Witherspoon had moved to a different position and they were looking for a new executive director or director of operations. And I sort of went into the conversation thinking, “There are some things I need. There are some things I like about the flexibility of consulting work that I’d like to preserve.” I lived outside of Philadelphia and didn’t want to move to Princeton, but I also didn’t want to spend a few hours in the car every day commuting. So we worked out a flexible schedule where I was going into the office two or three days a week.
I took the job. And then through our sister organization called the Foundation for Excellence in Higher Education, I was able to maintain the consulting work that I love so much. Now, I consult with twenty-eight grantees still working in the higher education space across a range of disciplines, from politics to economics to medicine and human flourishing. And so it was kind of the best of both worlds.
It’s been interesting to hear some of the other women on this call. Sometimes there have been pivots away from full-time jobs when motherhood came. And in this case, because Witherspoon is so family-friendly, I was able to still lean into work and start a family and have young children at home like Erika and Taryn and others—fortunate that we can have the kids at home. We haven’t had to put them in daycare. So we’ve had in-home babysitters, we’ve had friends, we occasionally go for extended visits to see grandparents and have them help with the kids. But it’s kind of a range of things when dealing with small children and making sure that they’re getting what they need—but also that I’m freeing up enough time to work full-time.
Alexandra Davis: There’s another issue I’d like to explore. I’m going to call it the “big green elephant in the room.” It’s the issue of money. For young women who are new to their careers and thinking about all of these issues that each of you have brought up—flexibility, finding family-friendly work, creating a margin to take a step back if needed—what are some financial considerations that might allow for this type of career flexibility?
Katy Faust: When I stopped working, my husband was the full-time breadwinner, and he was an associate pastor at a small church. It was lean. I was on WIC. We had nothing. And the money—when his paycheck would come in, fifty percent would be gone the first day. And so we had some very, very lean years.
It does take a lot of creativity to scale back when you’ve got young kids. But here’s what I will say: we lived so much better on so much less than I ever thought we could. When we had two incomes, I didn’t know how we were going to do it if we lost one income, but you learn to be very creative with the resources that you have. And what I found is once I was at home full-time managing our resources, I could stretch those resources so much further. We didn’t buy anything new. I became a thrift store expert. We dressed well and we ate well. But it was because I turned into a professional gleaner. And those lean years lasted a while—probably ten years that we really, really were tight, and where I even felt jealous when my husband would talk about going out to eat for work or going out to eat with colleagues, because I thought, “I haven’t been out to eat. I haven’t gone to a restaurant for two months.”
But it was worth it. And I think a lot of your people that are listening, they might not get to the place where they have that kind of extreme leanness, but would never do anything differently—because any amount of work I considered meant trying to find some side hustles, but that would’ve pulled me away from my kids when they were the youngest. If I have one piece of advice for people when they first have kids, it’s advice that I did not take very well myself: it’s okay to let your world get smaller when your kids are young.
We still joke with our oldest daughter that we just gave her a pack of gum for her birthday until she was five. And she loved it. She didn’t know any differently, but that’s what she got. And I will tell you that there’ve been some really wonderful benefits to that leanness. Our kids appreciate the value of the dollar. If we give them some gas money, they’re thrilled that they didn’t have to earn it themselves. Or if we do take them out to eat, it’s not a given that they’re just going to eat whenever they want. So my guess is you may not find yourself in that kind of extreme leanness, but don’t let it scare you. If it means that you have to scale back a little bit, you’ll be okay, and it’s not going to last forever. And the attention that you can give to your kids when they’re young is absolutely going to be worth the coupon clipping.
When I did start to slowly integrate work into my life, it was a battle not to allow work to overtake my time focusing on my family because it’s exhilarating. I love my work. All the women on this call are doing incredible things and incredible work. And so for me, I just had to institute a little rule for myself, especially once my kids got to be teenagers and they were very independent. That was, if they asked for something, the answer was “Yes.” If they said, “Can we go somewhere? Can we go work out? Can you take me for coffee? Will you drive me to my golf match even though I already have my driver’s license?”—the answer was “Yes.” If they wanted to connect, the answer was “Yes.” So I had to put that little check in place for me to make sure that, especially when my kids were older, the career and the work never overtook the family needs.
Erika Bachiochi: I learned a lot from something my daughter wrote. She’s a philosophy student at Notre Dame. When she was in high school, she was asked to write something about observations of women in her life, and she chose to talk about me. She said that the duties I had at home and the duties I had out in the world with my work, the work of the home and professional work—that they weren’t at all divided, that there was a deep integration. Because what she observed was that I saw them both as fodder for love of God and others.
It was very striking to me because I hadn’t tried to do that on purpose. But it got me reflecting more and more about this idea of the duty of the moment. Of asking, “What is the duty that’s required of me right now?”—then prioritizing those duties. Sometimes my work actually is the duty of the moment. Like this call. There were other things that people in this house wanted me to do, but this was the duty of the moment because I had it scheduled. And there are times when I will have to put aside work—even as someone who’s working pretty close to full-time—because a child needs me.
When your children are young, they really do take up a lot of time.Pparenting young children involves a lot of manual labor. It’s changing diapers, it’s running around after kids, and it’s a lot of screaming. I would just put a plug in for the adventure of human character formation. I love my intellectual work, but there’s nothing like now having several adult daughters and now some teenage boys, there’s nothing like forming characters. There’s nothing like the work of formation, because it’s not only forming them, but it’s forming me. It’s forming my husband at the same time.
It’s amazing that when you give a lot of direction, but then a lot of freedom, and you teach your children how to pray, they become these incredible people who you want to spend a lot of time with. I think that was beautiful to talk about, Katy. Your world gets smaller when your children are young, and then there’s a way in which your world gets just so large. And there’s dating and other people who are potentially going to be coming into our family at some point for all of us. My real pitch is just that there’s so much more. I mean, there are those small times when the children are little, teaching them “please” and “thank you,” and all of those kindnesses that are shaping their character so much. And to see it bear out into exceptional human beings—you wish you had been able to see all that when they were little. It’s just so worth all the sacrifice, all the love, all the “I can’t believe I have to do this again,” whatever it is. Because as I always say in my house, it turned from a table of crying to a table of laughter, and there’s nothing like it in the world.
Alexandra Davis: Does anybody else have anything to say specifically about this issue of how our work in the home, our work as mothers, can feed our careers? And how our creative pursuits, our intellectual pursuits, our responses to the duty of the moment—even outside of the home—can serve in this great work of character formation, of shepherding our families and helping them grow in virtue?
Taryn DeLong: I love this idea of the duty of the moment, and it’s something I struggle with because my brain is constantly saying, “What about this project and this idea and this meeting and this call and this panel?” And sometimes my daughter just wants me to sit and read the same book that I just read to her. But I think that having to pull my attention, pull my presence, into the duty of the moment, whatever that is, whether I want to or not, is making me a more virtuous person—sometimes in spite of myself. And that’s something that I bring to my work. That’s something that I bring back into my mothering, into being a wife, and just being a human being. And so it is hard, hard work, but I love that idea of focusing on that duty. What is God calling me to do right now? I think that forms virtue and character that then trickles into every other part of your life.
Haley Stewart: I see a Q&A question about mom guilt. How do you deal with that? I think that I dealt with mom guilt more when I was almost one-hundred-percent home, and I wasn’t working. And I think it was completely my perspective. It was that instead of thinking about “How is God calling me to parent? How is he forming our family life?” I was trying to think, “How can I be the absolute best mom? Win the mom prize?”—which doesn’t exist—How can I do it “right”? My desire to see how important this work was got twisted into a desire to be “so good” at motherhood. Then everything felt like guilt because I couldn’t be that kind of imaginary mother I had in my head.
I think that seeing myself as a human person who’s part of the family and who also gets to thrive the way I want my children to thrive—I think that helps me not deal with that mom guilt anymore. I want to model for my daughters and my son how joyful parenthood can be and how you can still be learning, and growing, and sending things out into the world, while simultaneously being present to your children. So I just focused on pushing away that mom guilt for this imaginary family life, and just really focused on “How has God wired me? What gifts he has given me to love my family and to send good things out into the world?”
April Readlinger: I agree. My family has helped form me and I’m a much better person. I’m a much better worker. I’m just better all around because of all of the struggles that I have to go through with them. Like you just said, Taryn, I think having to do those things that we don’t want to do helps us grow so much. And that’s what my family has done for me. As much as I say I do for them, they’ve done far more for me.