Along with being the oldest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become something of an iconic national symbol, permeating pop culture in ways never before seen by a federal judge.
In short, there’s no debating that Justice Ginsburg is a total badass, and the public’s fascination with her is undoubtedly at an all-time high. Still, when I recently came across an interview of hers discussing the impact motherhood has had on her career, I realized it showed a side of her I’d never quite seen before.
In the interview, published this month in The Atlantic, Justice Ginsburg discusses how she managed the demanding responsibilities of law school in the 1950’s with a small child at home.
You can imagine that there were quite the number of obstacles — including her being one of the few women in her class at Harvard Law School. At one point, the Dean asked them to justify why they were taking up a man’s spot. The challenges of a first-time mom are daunting enough but add the arduous pressures of Harvard sprinkled with some institutionalized misogyny would be enough to make any woman buckle.
Justice Ginsburg discusses how her role as a mother contributed to her success as a law student. She was able to maintain her focus and passion by switching back and forth from the otherwise demanding roles of first-time mom and female law student. Any mom can tell you about the weary juggling act of a working mom but RBG used this to her advantage. She took daily reprieve from the demands of each role by immersing herself in the other. She thrived and graduated first in her class, becoming the first female member of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.
“When I started law school my daughter Jane was 14 months … I attributed my success in law school largely to Jane … I went to class at 8:30 AM … so I came home at 4:00 PM; that was children’s hour. It was a total break in my day … and children’s hours continued until Jane went to sleep. Then I was happy to go back to the books, so I felt each part of my life gave me respite from the other.”
By walking away from her never-ending research to go parent every evening, RBG was able to disconnect and return to her work with fresh appreciation and commitment. I can say the same about being a more engaged mother when I am able to get regular break sessions from the task of raising little humans.
This interview provides insight into the mind of one of the most fascinating women of our time and shows how she managed to navigate the arduous demands of her career and child with deftness.
She was able to defy the stigma and guilt attached to working mothers that still prevails. And all while proving that the quest to have it all may feel impossible at times, but it’s not. At the end of the day, “having it all” just looks different to each of us. For some, it’s taking time off to stay at home for a few years, and for others, like RBG, it’s being able to go for the career you want and making it work, because that’s what’s important to you. Having children doesn’t have to mean you can’t achieve the life you envision for yourself — it may just come to you differently than you imagined.
However you find your own balance, I think we can all learn a thing or two from Ginsburg.