Seriously, what does that mean—having it all? To me it is a particularly galling question because it is almost always asked of women, not men. I was struck this past week by the powerful presence of Ketanji Brown Jackson, testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Michele Norris of the Washington Post captured the conundrum for women: “The timeless truth Ketanji Brown Jackson said out loud” (March 23, 2022). Jackson admitted in public, in the presence of her two daughters and husband, that in trying to “navigate the challenges of juggling my career and motherhood. . . . I did not always get the balance right.”

Ms. Norris took this pivotal moment to acknowledge that such an admission is likely true of every single woman who has tried to “balance” family and children. We often fail; we often feel inadequate to the challenge. Both Norris and Jackson say that we just have to do our best; we have to think of the experience as a journey, not a destination.

I have a vivid memory from 1992. My husband and two children had just moved with me to Des Moines, Iowa, for me to become the first female senior administrator at Drake University. I was not just a member of the cabinet; I was the Provost, second officer. In Mick Ferrari, I had a spectacular supervisor and mentor; I had a number of great colleagues on the cabinet, particularly Pat Cavanaugh (CFO) and Don Adams (Vice President of Student Affairs). In other words, I had great support at the office. But I also had a teen-aged daughter. Pauline has since become a remarkable woman, an old soul who makes a real difference in young people’s lives (in her work with the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency). But she was 13 in 1992 and she was pushing every boundary that could be pushed.

On my way to an evening obligation at the Ferrari’s home, Pauline and I had some huge argument about something very important—perhaps a tattoo! When tempers cooled, my husband and I went to the dinner. Mick greeted me at the door and asked how I was. My response: “I can either be Pauline’s Mom or I can be Provost at Drake!” Because Mick remembered similar heated exchanges between his wonderful wife, Jan, and their daughter, he responded: “Well, I hope I won!”

I hope that in the end they both won, because I learned so much from working with Mick and because I love my daughter to the moon and back and I feel immense gratitude and joy that she is my daughter.