Women's work in a `family-friendly' world

As a working mother, I don't quite know what to make of Take Our Daughters to Work Day created 10 years ago today by the Ms. Foundation for Women "out of concern ... that adolescent girls experience a lowered sense of self-worth in preteen and teenage years."

The idea is to show girls how women are fulfilling dreams and finding success in the workplace. I am skeptical there are that many girls or boys who haven't been to work with their parents, providing Mom or Dad still has a job.

The first time I took my daughter to work, she was in utero and daycare wasn't an option. Over the years, I was fortunate enough to fashion my career in a way that Kate spent many, many, many hours with me at work.

If you were to ask her, I am sure she would lobby for "Mom, Let Me Sleep in Late Day."

She displayed an early flair for journalism. One afternoon, when she was 7 or 8, she walked over to The Record-Courier after school as she did most every day. (The R-C was `family-friendly" long before the term became a White House buzzword.)

I wasn't there when she arrived, and when I returned to the office there was a note: "Mom, I am at a fiar with Lisa."

"Lisa" was Lisa Wixon, who also grew up at the R-C and had come back to work for a year. The fire alarm sounded and there was nobody around to keep an eye on Kate, so she went with Lisa. I was never so proud in my life.

In my experience, the all-time working mom honor goes to Treva Lind, a former reporter for The Record-Courier who brought her 5-week-old son to work during the Jan. 1, 1997, flood so she could help me put out the paper when most of the rest of our staff couldn't get to the office.

I still get goose bumps thinking about it. She put the baby in a little seat under the desk which she gently rocked with her foot while making telephone calls and writing stories so we could make our deadline.

I really wish I could take my late mother to work so she could see what she started more than 40 years ago when she made the decision that working as a children's librarian rather than a stay-at-home mom would better serve us all.

She waited until we were old enough to watch out for each other and get dinner on the table. Her example still is the best I know of a woman "fulfilling dreams and finding success in the workplace."

She taught me I can't have it all, but there's nothing wrong with trying.

Perhaps that is the same message White House presidential adviser Karen Hughes heard as a girl growing up.

Much is being made this week of Hughes' decision to leave the White House and return to friends and family in Texas.

Hughes is being called the most influential woman in President Bush's inner circle. According to an article in the New York Times, she is the one who turned Bush into a "compassionate conservative" and wrote much of the president's Sept. 20 speech reassuring the nation after the terrorist attacks.

Hughes has made the choice to go back home to spend more time with her husband and 15-year-old son. Her decision strikes a chord in every working parent I know.

While most of us don't have high-powered, high-profile jobs to leave behind or even the choice to quit, we recognize the familiar tug between work and home. We're not West Wing advisers, we're waitresses, store clerks, casino workers, newspaper reporters, teachers, police officers, firefighters and government employees.

We won't be dialing up the president from our palatial Texas estate to say "howdy," we'll be chopping carrots to take to a softball game or gluing sugar cubes to create Big Ben for a social studies project. Now, Ms. Hughes says she'll be right along side us.

She told the New York Times her resignation wasn't a sign that women could not balance a high-powered career and family life. "I really think if you look at it, my career is an affirmation that women and men can make their families a priority and still pursue their careers," Ms. Hughes said. "I hope it's an example that women have more options."

They often say that right before they quit.

Sheila Gardner is the night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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