Striking a balance between family, marriage, and career

The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture and the Constitutional Studies department co-sponsored a panel discussion titled “Can Anyone Have it All?” The panel, held on March 1, featured Dr. Elizabeth Corey, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Baylor University (and AEI’s Values & Capitalism Visiting Professor), and Jesse Barrett, attorney at South Bank Legal and Adjunct Professor at University of Notre Dame Law School. The discussion was moderated by the Editor-in-Chief of The Rover, Keenan White.

In her opening remarks, Corey outlined her view on striking the proper balance between family and career. She reiterated the perspective of her 2013 First Things article, “No Happy Harmony,” in which she argued that the conflicts between motherhood and careers are more deeply entrenched than modern society typically likes to admit. The tension between motherhood and careers is not due to external sociopolitical factors, Corey asserts, but rather stems from a permanent conflict between the orientation of self towards a professional mindset, and the orientation towards a maternal mindset. Motherhood requires putting away one’s own “quest for achievement” for the sake of one’s children. Reflecting on her own career trajectory of securing a tenured faculty position, Corey noted that her success was dependent on a significant amount of self-promotion and CV building, which, she perceives, demanded a self-centeredness that is opposed to the demands of motherhood.

Barrett, married to Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit, provided the perspective of a working father. He acknowledged that working fathers do not face the same challenges as working mothers, and also recalled how he had not initially anticipated a potential conflict between his desires to have a career and family.

“Of course it’s a balancing act, of course it’s a struggle…there’s sacrifices made,” said Barrett of managing a professional career and family life.

Barrett categorized his anxieties as a working father more in terms of ensuring that he was giving his children “enough time”, rather than worrying about the deeper questions of emotional fulfillment.

In response to a question inquiring how the speakers saw the different roles of mothers and fathers playing into this conversation, both panelists acknowledged that there are differences between men and women. The speakers drew on their personal experience in describing how, within their own families, they and their spouses had fulfilled different roles, simply due to one spouse being better adept at fulfilling one task than the other. Barrett admitted that he typically left heart-to-heart conversations with his teenage daughters about their feelings to his wife, (drawing a few laughs from the audience). Both spoke mostly in terms of personal anecdotes and observations rather than offering an outline of some abstract view of the roles of men and women: they themselves had operated in different roles from their spouse, but it was more grounded in ensuring that every task was completed, rather than strictly defined parental roles.

Barrett encouraged young people who are thinking that they might want to have a career and a family to start both thinking and talking with their partners in the present. He also emphasized choosing a career path with inherent flexibility. (Law, he noted, is something that one can practice in a variety of geographic locations and can do from home.)

Questions were raised about how this discussion is relevant for more working class jobs where there is no such flexibility. Policies such as childcare, which the panelists did not initially identify as helpful to their particular situations, would be more important for those kinds of jobs which are inflexible by nature. The panelists also touched on the different goals that families will have for their children. All families want to prepare their children for success, but how success should be defined is more difficult to define. Barrett warned against confusing setting up a child for mere professional success over raising a child to be successful as a person: “when that’s the focus, the focus necessarily isn’t on the relationship, [or] doing the most good you can do.”

When asked what their one piece of advice would be for young people considering having a family and a career, Corey suggested asking oneself, “What do you want an ordinary day to look like?” and suggested taking one’s family and career aspirations into account when choosing a spouse.

Barrett offered a similar suggestion, stating “I would just encourage you to set yourself up on a path that gives you the most options so that, down the road, when you meet the person you want to marry […] that you’re in a position to [have a family and a career].”

Teresa is a senior studying Biology and Philosophy. She is the oldest of 12 children and enjoys reading, painting, and petting cats. You can reach her at