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Making it work: Working moms are not new, but these 6 women find special success at work, home

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 9, 2010 - Previously, three women told the stories of how they balanced family and work coming up in highly competitive fields when women were just entering the labor force in great numbers. Today, we talk with working mothers with children still in their homes.

Unlike the moms in part one, these women, who came to the Beacon's attention through our Public Insight Network, work in a world where working mothers have become the norm. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, three-quarters of moms are in the labor force, and among women with young children, a solid 60 percent still work.

Still some things haven't changed: Many of them still struggle to find good child care and to balance work and life. Like women of an earlier generation, they've adjusted, giving up some opportunities and hobbies to find time for everything else.

And though all six women are quite different, they share a sense of what their careers will teach or are teaching their children -- the necessary contributions women make, how important it is to work hard, and that you can make anything happen if you're willing to find a way.


When Marti Cortez brought her first child home 14 years ago, she set the bassinet up next to the bed and got no sleep.

Instead, Cortez shined her little flashlight into the bassinet, watching Nick sleep and loving it.

By the third day, she thought, "OK, I can't function anymore."

She needed a little balance.

Cortez struggled with the same issues many working moms do, finding good child care, keeping up nursing and her job.

"I would come home at 5:30 to hold my baby, feed my baby, do the bath and dinner, then put my baby to bed and go back to work."

Later, when Nick and his little sister, Gabi, were in day care, she'd tape a piece of construction paper to the room's window and stop by on her lunch hour to watch them.

Now, Cortez is the senior vice president of the St. Louis Science Center, and Nick and Gabi are 14 and 11.

Balance is still huge for the family, and Cortez says her husband, Rick Geiser, has been critical.

"He works just as hard as I do," she says. "In fact, he does all the cooking, the cleaning. We don't have traditional roles."

For her family, Cortez says the key to finding that balance is not lamenting the time they don't have but deciding what to do with the time they do. Each child can be in one sport and one musical activity at a time. They don't want to be overscheduled.

Making everything work is an age-old challenge women face, trying to do it all, Cortez says.

But maybe the real goal should be doing a few things very well. This year, Cortez got one of nine Eisenhower fellowships. Her fellowship will take her to Asia in June and July, where she'll meet with people in education, at science museums and in the private sector to learn about collaborating on educational experiences.

She can't watch Nick anymore with the tiny flashlight. He's too big to hold, already becoming a young man. Young mothers should enjoy the time they have with their babies because babies grow up, she says.

Just enjoy it. "It's the best thing I've ever done."




One day before heading to Jefferson City, Amy Blouin's oldest son had a request. Could his mom please talk to the legislators about lowering the driving age?

"They knew it was an option," she says. "That's how you change public policy, you go to your legislator."

Blouin didn't go to the legislators for that one, but since starting the Missouri Budget Project in 2003, Blouin, the executive director, has worked on pushing forward public policy for Missouri families.

And her kids have noticed.

"Part of it is the kids get to see and experience part of my work," she says. "We talk in my house about public policies and how they impact people."


Blouin has always worked full-time, including with Catholic Charities and the United Way when her two boys were younger.

"Work was something that I wanted to do," she says. "Of course, I had to do it, too."

She was lucky, early on, that she worked in places that were flexible and allowed her to go along on field trips and have time when she needed it.

Managing a career and a family has been all about setting priorities for Blouin and her husband, Joe Squillace.

Today, she sees more flexibility in the workplace in many professions, and thinks some of that is coming from the top of companies instead of from the bottom.

"And I also think part of it's a generational thing, too," she says.

While Blouin is not happy with Missouri's current budget crisis or the cuts being made to what she calls critical services, she is happy with the way her two boys, Christian and Noah, seem to understand and care about what she does and what it means for their worlds.

Not that it helped Christian much. He's 15 now, though, so he won't have much longer to wait to get behind the wheel.




For the circus lady, work is life and life is work and the kids come along for it all.

It's not her concept -- it's a circus concept.

"In the circus, families are together all the time," says Jessica Hentoff, who founded Circus Harmony, a nonprofit social circus that brings together kids from all backgrounds to train and perform at the City Museum. "Your child worked side-by-side with you all the time. That's normal."


It is for Hentoff's household. She homeschools her three children, Elliana, 18; Keaton, 15, and Kellin, 13, and then they all head to the City Museum nearly every night where she teaches the rest of her children, as the kids in Circus Harmony often become.

Hentoff has been married 20 years, in June, to Mike Killian. "We got married in a circus tent, and I came in on a horse."

Hentoff started Circus Harmony before her kids were born, and through she used to tease her students that they were the reason she wasn't planning on having children, she ended up learning a lot about parenting.

"Everyone talks about at-risk kids, at-risk kids," she says. "I actually think all kids are at-risk because of the way that society is in that so many kids are raising themselves."

In addition to their weekly shows, Circus Harmony has had many other projects, including Circus Salaam Shalom, bringing together Jewish and Muslim children.

Now, her oldest is deciding what's next -- becoming part of a circus or going to school to learn to teach American Sign Language, or maybe both. But Hentoff still has many children to look after, from her youngest two to the kids in the circus.

Her kids aren't perfect, she says, but they are part of a family -- one that includes the circus and all the performers. And they always have been.




On the night that changed everything, Khrys Vaughan was getting ready to leave work when a call came in. She had to take it, and it was going to take hours of her time. She couldn't leave work.

Her husband, Brian, was supposed to be flying home, but his flight was cancelled.

The Vaughans have four children from 21 to 6: Michael, Vyctoria, Taelor, and Khristopher.

Her supervisor told her she'd have to stay.

"The light went on," she says. "You can replace me. I'm needed at home."

Two weeks later, Vaughan left the telecommunications industry and began looking for something she could do to work with and help women.

In 2007, she started Her Startup, LLC, which helps women both launch and grow socially aware companies -- "ending the battle between work that matters vs. work that pays the bills," her website explains.

It occurred to Vaughan that she could live what she calls an integrated life, doing what she believed all day, with flexibility and hard work, but doing it her own way.

She sees more of that attitude among working mothers today, who've often been found at fault for working.

"But I think that now they're finally stepping out and exercising their choices."

She thinks women can have both family and career, but they have to make choices -- and it's never easy.

"I think that families are important and they're as important as our careers," she says. "It's not one or the other."


After having a child and going back to work, Amany Ragab Hacking had to have an uncomfortable conversation.

She sat down with her employer and asked for a room where she could use her breast pump.

"It was an accommodation I never thought I would have to ask for," says Hacking, now a law professor at St. Louis University Law School, then a lawyer.

But she asked and was given a special key for a room where she could go.

Hacking, originally from Egypt, has four children now, Ismail, 8; Yusuf, 6; Ibrahim, 4, and Noor, 1. After working for different law practices, Hacking began her job at SLU.

"It's full time, but it's different,' she says.

She also works with the ACLU legal committee and for Interfaith Legal Services.

But the amount of extracurriculars have dropped off quite a bit since becoming a mother.

"I've just had to learn that I can't do everything and be everywhere," she says.

Hacking sees other professional women doing just what she did early on in her career -- asking for what they want.

"More employers in more professions are open to that because they hate to lose them," she says. "And I think women are starting to ask for what they want."

She's also realized that you don't have to do or have everything at once. Some weeks take a lot of time for work. Others take the same for family.

"If you can see the big picture, it can make a lot more sense."




On their second date, Jalesia "Jasha" McQueen Gadberry and her future husband, Justin Gadberry, took on an adventure run that took nine hours to complete.

There was canoeing, mountain biking but no fighting. Instead, the couple listened to each other, worked together and finished the course.

"I still feel like that," McQueen Gadberry says. "I think we very much see each other as equals."


McQueen Gadberry and her husband have twin 2 1/2 year-old boys, Tristan and Brevin, and she's an attorney who left working for a firm last year to begin her own firm with the help of her husband.

"It's a family business," McQueen Gadberry says. "My husband does the business side of the practice."

Together, the couple sets out their own schedules and manage the work with their family.

"My husband takes care of them for the most part and my parents as well," McQueen Gadberry says of her children. Having her husband at home to care for the children has made it easier for her to work and know the boys are well cared for.

Like the rest of the moms profiled here, McQueen Gadberry has given up some other things she used to do, but sees that as a reality of having children, not a sacrifice.

"You have some women that say you can do it all, and you really can't 'cause something suffers."

Life changes with children, but it should, she says. That doesn't mean women should give up who they are.

"You can't forget yourself when you have children," she says. "It's very easy. I think it'd be very easy to live your life for your children."

Working moms have always had the same problem, she says, but the world and how it responds to those women is changing, and the women are changing along with it.

That sends a message to her children, McQueen Gadberry says.

Work hard, "but don't sacrifice yourself for a career or for anything else," she says. "Make your own way in the world. Make it yours."

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