For Deena Mitlak, BC ’12, having a working mom is part of what drew her to Barnard. But at a panel on Wednesday, she joked that having an accomplished mother has its downsides.
“I remember thinking that I wanted food to taste better than that,” she said, explaining that neither parent had time to cook. “I think that’s why I started to cook myself, and I’ve even taught my mom a thing or two.”
Around 60 Barnard alumnae, moms, and current students came together Wednesday to talk about careers, motherhood, and its challenges at a panel event featuring prominent alumnae and their daughters, who are current Barnard students.
“Unlike my mother, I was a newspaper columnist and a novelist. So I was winding up trying to be both my mother and my father at the same time,” said Anna Quindlen, active Barnard alumnus and prominent journalist, who opened the event. “In this age of second-wave feminism, it felt like every moment [of raising her daughter] was a teachable moment and every moment missed was a sign of a terrible mother.”
The three alumnae sitting on the panel were Tirza Wahrman, BC ’78 and current deputy attorney general of New Jersey, Michelle Friedman, BC ’74 and a psychiatrist, and Sharon Cromer, BC ’80 and a senior deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
All of the women sitting on the panel were in some ways influenced by second-wave feminism—there was a round of applause when former Dean Dorothy Denburg pointed out that none of the panelists had the same last names as their daughters.
Cromer stressed the importance of raising her kids in a “working family unit.” As a Foreign Service Officer, Cromer and her family travelled the world, but she said that no matter where they were she tried to include her daughters in her work.
“My mother’s professional success was dependent on all of us … and I naturally became curious,” her daughter Simone Sobers, BC ’13, said. “Despite the lack of Barnard sweatshirts or paraphernalia, she inspired qualities in us that are synonymous with Barnard.”
Friedman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said that she didn’t have many role models growing up as far as education was concerned.
“We lived on a farm. While I knew that I wasn’t going to be living that kind of life,” she said, referring to her mother who never attended college, “what I did have was a model of tremendous determination and dedication.”
For Friedman, that example is important whether you work or not, and that she hopes “that will be the legacy that I leave to my daughters.”
All of the women on the panel said that they hoped they showed their daughters that they can aim big.
“When you ask the question how does one define success, I think with women it’s more diffuse,” Wahrman said. “It’s not just the paycheck one brings home, it’s the kind of financial security that you can provide.”
But some of the women at the event said they don’t see working and motherhood as being an easy thing to juggle, and some said that they often feel alienated and lonely.
Jenny Mincin, BC’96 and a current Ph.D. candidate who attended the panel, said that balancing a job, a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and a demanding academic schedule has proved harder than she thought.
“It’s rushing to catch the train at 6:30 in the morning to get to work for a demanding job and if I’m lucky getting home in time to get dinner with my husband and my daughter, and not being able to connect with other women,” said Mincin.
Robin Segal Skolnik, BC ’76, who came with her daughter Talya, BC ’13, said that she decided to leave her job when she was raising her children.
“We all have war stories, working mom or stay-at-home mom,” she said. “I always allowed my children to choose their own path.”
To Mincin, feeling doubt and indecision is natural.
She added, “The biggest disservice you can do to yourself is not considering stopping.”