When a successful woman is portrayed first as a mother and wife and not as she was professionally, it is often criticized, as it is in this article in reference to the obituary of rocket scientist Yvonne Brill.
She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.
What’s difficult for me in all of this is the implication that being a mother is less than being a scientist. It’s a tough issue, because it is certainly true that when a woman is referred to first as a mother and wife and then as a professional, her identity appears to become submerged.
But might it also be the case that we don’t value enough the role of being a mother? Can we be concerned when a New York Times obituary fails to mention a man’s role as a father? I think so. I think the criticism of the Brill obituary is totally valid, and yet I think we have a work-life balance problem in this country that manifests itself even in the way accomplished men and women view parenthood, marriage, and while we’re at it friendship (who ever talks about friendship in obituaries, after all?): as secondary to our occupations. We know that work can’t fulfill everything. Nothing can. But the argument among highly accomplished professionals revolves so much around work at the expense of everything else.
Edited to add a link to this article about Ambition which just came out in the Atlantic: Relationships are More Important than Ambition