In 2004 Lesley Stahl reported an intriguing 60 Minutes segment on stratospherically accomplished stay-at-home mothers in their early 30s titled “Staying at Home .” The moms’ collective accomplishments made me feel like the ultimate slacker – think Stanford, Yale, Harvard Business School, McKinsey consulting, Goldman Sachs investment banking, Oracle sales force, clerking for Ruth Bader Ginsberg. All the women Stahl interviewed had married equally driven men and borne children while working. They’d all made the tough decision to walk away from thriving careers to stay home with their children, because, as one woman said, “someone had to be there.”
As I watched the segment I wondered what these ubercompetitive stay-at-home moms would be doing in twenty years. Would they be content with private lives forever? Once their children left home, would they come roaring back into public life, either though second careers or high profile volunteer positions? Could you be driven to attain lofty accomplishments by age 30, and then let your ambition go – forever? And if you decided to get back into the game in your 50s, at an age when most start to contemplate retirement, would our society let you?
Caroline Kennedy could easily have been one of Stahl’s interview subjects, I’ve thought over the past week, listening to news reports  and reading articles in the Washington Post  and The New York Times  about Kennedy’s interest in Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate seat, after two decades of largely private life focused on raising three children and devoting herself to charity work.
Kennedy’s life has been lived in an elite, accomplishment-oriented sphere, surrounded by exceedingly well educated, engaged politicians, starting with her move to the White House at age three. She graduated from Harvard College and Columbia Law School. She married in 1986 and had three children, the youngest in 1993.
Like many accomplished stay-at-home moms, Kennedy funneled her ambitions into volunteer work, serving on boards and as director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the New York City Department of Education, a three-day-a week job that paid a salary of $1, where she helped raise more than $65 million for the New York City’s public schools.
Kennedy is now in her 50s. Her children are adults, or nearly so. She is one of the 60 Minutes’ moms -- ambitious, competitive, accomplished women, looking to get back into the game, fulltime and full barrel, now that her children can care for themselves. Caroline Kennedy may be the ultimate sequencer, juggling work and career by focusing on one at a time in sequence, instead of trying to do both at once.
So the question becomes: will Kennedy’s celebrity, political and educational credentials, and proven ability to raise millions outweigh our society’s prejudice against stay-at-home moms coming back to work at a high level of responsibility – the kind of glorious achievement some men and women chase for decades, working long hours away from their families? What price might Kennedy expect to pay for her time away from fulltime work? Can she, as a stay-at-home mom with an impressive string of volunteer accomplishments to her credit, zoom up the on-ramp? Can she – or anyone – have it all?