Sotomayor and motherhood

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My earlier post on Sotomayor sparked some interesting conversation among my friends on Facebook that I thought worth bringing back to the blog. Most of it -- unsurprisingly, considering my demographic (thirtysomething mothers of young kids) -- was about motherhood.

First came discussion of Sotomayor's mother, and how the part of the nomination that sparked the most emotion was the vision of Sotomayor's mom weeping in the front row. (It's powerful: my eyes fill with tears again as I type these words.) I, too, feel that the story of Sotomayor's success is, in large part, a story of what good mothers can accomplish, raising children who are somehow able to believe in their own potential and transcend difficult circumstances. Too often, mothers (especially, historically, Jewish mothers) get slammed for this, deemed too pushy and too invested in their children's success.

For me, the role of Sotomayor's mother stood out in contrast to Obama's too-rosy claim that "anything is possible in America." If anyone is responsible for making the impossible possible, I'd vote for mothers over some vague, idealized notion of "America."

And then, my friend Chavi posed an excellent, sobering question: would Sotomayor's success have been possible if she herself was a mother?

I've written before about the issue of motherhood, ambition, and career, and I have to say that in my own Ivy-League-graduate sample pool, most of the meteoric success stories are either men with wives who don't work outside of the home or single women. Putting on my JWA thinking cap, I recall that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has kids, though she hid her pregnancy for fear of losing her job. Bella Abzug had kids, too, but also the world's most supportive husband, as well as a lot of hired help. If Sotomayor did have kids, I'll wager her mom would still play a central role in making her successful life possible, similar to the role Michelle Obama's mother has played in the First Family's story.

So what do you think? Am I over-valuing the role of Sotomayor's mother? And am I over-stating the obstacle of motherhood in women's career trajectories?

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