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Panelists tell women to seek ‘balance’

Christian Myers | Monday, September 9, 2013

Can Notre Dame women have it all?  Panelists Muffet McGraw, Susan Pratt-Rosato and Dr. Mary O’Callaghan addressed this question for this year’s first installment of the Professors for Lunch series.

The panel discussion, titled “Can Notre Dame Women Have it All? Career, Family, and the Pursuit of Post-graduation Happiness,” brought the three women to the South Dining Hall’s Oak Room on Friday at noon. The audience was filled with members of the Notre Dame community, especially young women, eager to hear about the opinions and life experiences of the panelists.

O’Callaghan, a Notre Dame alumna, stay-at-home mother and activist for children with disabilities, began the discussion. She said she was glad to be part of this discussion.

“I’m really grateful to be part of this discussion, and it’s great that we have this conversation here because we can move beyond the rhetoric and think about how we view our vocations,” O’Callaghan said.

She said it was important someone tell female students at Notre Dame that some of them will want to be stay-at-home mothers.

“There’s a big emphasis on career success for Notre Dame graduates, but we do you a disservice if we don’t also tell you some of you will feel a strong pull to stay at home with your children,” she said.

O’Callaghan and her husband had their first child while they were both in graduate school and shared the child-care duties. She said she was drawn to the idea of staying at home.

“I felt being a mother really resonated with me on a deep level. It was simply my personal response to having this baby in front of me,” she said.

O’Callaghan said she decided to finish her degree before becoming a stay-at-home mother after a friend advised her that people would more readily listen to what she had to say down the road, if she completed her education.

She said this advice has paid off in her efforts as co-founder of InForming Life, a non-profit organization that offers support to parents whose child receives a pre-natal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome.

O’Callaghan also said there is a misconception that she and other well-educated stay-at-home moms are wasting their education.

“Universities aren’t glorified vocational schools, and education is about more than career preparation,” she said. “Most of the stay-at-home mothers I know have found creative ways to use their education.”

Pratt-Rosato, a Notre Dame Political Science professor, said that she initially found the question “Can Notre Dame women have it all?” somewhat offensive. She said she needed to know what “all” means because it is impossible to truly have everything one wants.

“Can we have it all? Obviously no. We’re not Hermione Granger. Dumbledore didn’t give us a time turner so we can be a Fortune 500 CEO and then go home and breastfeed,” she said.

She said, rather than trying to “have it all,” women should seek the balance in their lives that is right for them.

“Life is about balance, and balance isn’t going to be the same for all of us,” she said.

Pratt-Rosato said what bothers her most is the sense of guilt among both mothers who remain in the work force and mothers who stay at home.

“That is the part that angers me, that we have to feel guilty about making a choice,” she said. “Recognize that life is going to present you with choices and see them as opportunities. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and know there’s no wrong choice.”

She said women’s reactions to this question are bound to change over a lifetime.

“What you want now in your 20’s is going to change in your 30’s, in your 40’s, in your 50’s and in your 60’s,” Pratt-Rosato said.

Pratt-Rosato also echoed O’Callaghan’s opposition to the idea of stay-at-home mothers wasting an education. She said it is worth getting an education for its own sake.

“Education can be an end in itself, it doesn’t have to be a means to something else,” she said.

Pratt-Rosato said young women should not lose sight of the fact having the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom is a “luxury” and many American women don’t have that option.

Muffet McGraw, Irish women’s basketball head coach, said in addition to choosing between the home and the workplace at the individual level, there should be an effort to change how we view the question on a societal level.

“When you make your choice you have to make sure it’s a choice you’re making and not one you’re backing into,” she said. “The more confident you are when you make your choice the better you feel about it.”

McGraw said in her case stereotypes about men and women have never fit her.

“Women are supposed to be warm, sensitive and caring, but I’ve never been like that. Men are supposed to be ambitious, driven and confident and I’ve always been all those things,” she said.

She said women need to challenge these stereotypes and need to make a greater effort to project confidence.

“We just don’t sell ourselves. Believe in yourself, know what you can do and then tell people you can do it,” McGraw said.

The Professors for Lunch panel series is sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Tocqueville Program.