Caroline Kennedy: Stay-at-Home Mom Turned Senator?

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.

 

leslie morgan s...
01.11.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Lesley Stahl, are you reading? Track down those moms and let's have a follow-up!

IgotUbabe
01.02.09

I vividly remember the Lesley Stahl segment. I was fascinated by the women and their success. At the time I was a single professional women, proud of my career accomplishments. I wanted chidren but wondered if it was worth giving up my career over.

While not a fortune 500 CEO, I am successful in my career and now have a 16 month old son. Each day I wonder if I'm doing the right thing by working so much. It would be great to see a 60 Minutes follow up of those moms featured. I wonder how they all feel now?

leslie morgan s...
12.24.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

When people say Caroline Kennedy is unqualified I think, um...remember George W. Bush? Dan Quayle? I think it may be an unconsciously sexist accusation...and Sofia Bean is right: stay-at-home mom is a totally outdated term. We have millions of incredibly smart, hardworking, dedicated moms in this country who are unpaid but still working hard for causes they believe in. We need a new, more accurate term.

noholzbarred
12.23.08

Wait, how is it that writing several books doesn't count as work? I would think writers would be the first to recognize that Kennedy has been working PLENTY while out of the salaried workforce.

purplebunny
12.23.08

Fascinating... I am from NY and do feel mixed about this... although I think Caroline would be a great Senator. What facinates me are mommy war responses. Why are we as women always so polarized about this? I understand both sides as I have struggled to keep one foot in both worlds working on and off f/t, p/t and not at all for a while. I feel like I don't do anything really well any more, but I'm personally happier being there for the Halloween parade and snack time after school most days. I guess I've come to realize that one cannot expect to jump back in and have a prestigious job but one also can't expect their kids will be 100% adjusted and successful just because you are with them way more. Each mom has a struggle with their choice. What I'm opposed to is the family dynasties, although I'm much happier with the Clinton and Kennedy family/offspring claiming their spots... For my money, Caroline has more going for her than Palin or W. for that matter. Let's not forget the class/ economic component--it is a luxury to stay home for many thsese days. I think if parenting was made easier in the workplace i.e. better vacations, family friendly attitudes--in general if we move more towards the European model (cause what we're doin' ain't working for anyone but the CEO's) the choices would be less polarized. I feel for women who have missed so much of their children's lives but also I question the fancy cars, new kitchens and the 'need' to make more $$--ambition is a different story... I dunno it's such a hard topic--one I never considered growing up in the 70's and 80's when I assumed I could do it all.

stresso
12.23.08

I think she would bring an excellent perspective to a Chamber where it is still TOO MALE. Clearly she has the brains, and can raise money - as evidenced by her work fundraising. This is a reality of modern campaigns -- look how much Obama raised. I say Go Girl!!

traceytax
12.23.08

Another example of the elite world of American Politics...are there only 3 families in America that we have to chose from...Bush, Clinton or Kennedy? Being a Kennedy and volunteering for 20 years does not make someone qualified to lead a community in politics. Being a stay-at-home parent is a career choice. Being a working parent is a career choice. One's choices should directly affect how their careers develop. I agree with the previous post. I am an attorney and I would be very upset and would totally lack respect for someone that took 20 years off from a legal career to raise children and was elected to a leadership position in my firm just because they had a prominent social position.

AmyF
12.23.08

It's funny how "stay-at-home" mom doesn't mean you stay home with your kids anymore. It just means you don't make any money. Seems like Caroline Kennedy had plenty of law experience before she had kids, knows the law because she wrote a book about it, is incredibly involved in public education and fundraising, and she even lives in New York. I don't see how that is not qualified for public office.

Amy
www.sofiabean.com

leslie morgan s...
12.23.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I see this a lot -- frustration from SAHMs that WMs seem to "have it all" and vice versa. I totally understand both sides of the story. But I think it's important that we value the unpaid work that moms do -- raising kids and volunteering can strengthen your judgment and qualifications as a manager and an employee. And DEFINITELY as a politician who understands the unmet needs of women and children.

westchestermom
12.23.08

I think it is unfair. I don't have a problem with a return to work, but there are a lotof other women in NY politics that managed to run for local office and then the House that probably have more experience and have paid their dues. There are a lot of things that I have missed in my daughter's life in order to build a career in banking. If someone else sat out for 20 years and had a chance to participate in every aspect of their kids life, and the financial means to spend a lot of their own time volunteering - and then after twenty years got 'appointed' to a senior position at my bank - I would be pissed. I have 20 years of missed social appointments, lost sleep, late nights and misery...it just doesn't seem fair especially because you are well connected.