The waiting list to adopt a child isn't like other waiting lists.
"A lot of people think you're moving up on a list as time passes," says Kristen Anderson, 37, a school librarian in Evanston. "But that's not how it works."
She and her husband, Jamie, 42, an advertising executive, started the process in 2011. Their inclusion on a waiting list means they've completed the paperwork and background checks and home visits. They've composed a book of photos and stories about themselves.
One page reads: "Kristen always says teaching is learning twice. Parenting, we feel, is living twice. We will bring our child on the journey that is life — working, serving, learning."
Their adoption agency uses the book to match them with their eventual child.
"It gives the birth family an idea of who we are and what it would be like for their child to be in our home," Kristen says.
It's lovely. And excruciating.
"I call them bites, when we find out somebody's interested in our profile," Kristen says. "We had a bite last summer, and we got all excited, but it was a no. That one was so disappointing. We've had two other bites, and after the third I feel like I'm getting used to this process and learning to remain neutral until we find out they really did choose us."
When possible, the agency tells them why a family passed them over.
"Recently we got feedback from a birth family that they didn't think we had 'the time to parent,'" she says. "They were obviously looking for a stay-at-home mom."
Working parents hear this a lot: Someone else raises your kids while you work. As though parenting only occurs during office hours. As though you surrender your parental responsibilities, love, vulnerability when your child spends the day with another grown-up.
I love my daughter's first-grade teacher, but she's not raising her. She didn't teach her to ride a bike. She doesn't paint my daughter's toenails. She's never taken her to the emergency room at 2 a.m. (Though I might let her.)
Most jobs leave plenty of time to parent.
We're asking all the wrong questions in this work/don't work discussion. Can women effectively parent and work? Of course we can.
How about: What makes you the best version of yourself? What do you want your kids to see you doing? What makes you happy?
We have Warren Buffett, in Fortune, touting the economic benefits of a country using 100 percent of its human capacity, instead of just the male half. We have Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg urging women to lean in for the good of our sisters. We have journalist Hannah Rosin declaring "The End of Men" (her 2012 book) and recording how women are outpacing men.
Women in the workplace have never had more cheerleaders.
But that doesn't erase the doubters. And it doesn't provide enough clarity when one woman, one mom, one would-be mom, is trying to decide what's best — not for society, but for her family.
Here's what's best for her family: What's best for her.
"A content, fulfilled mom who loves her work with a passion and is making a difference will pass that on to her child," Arden Greenspan-Goldberg, a nationally recognized family therapist, told me. "The two are not mutually exclusive."
Leaving a job to devote yourself to child-rearing is a beautiful decision. It makes many parents very happy. Other parents derive joy from their careers.
The joy, I think, is the important part.
Kristen is reminded lately of a quote from author Richard Wright: "Life becomes sufficient unto life; the rewards of living are found in living."
It seems to me a wonderful motto upon which to frame this endless debate: What do you find rewarding? Do that. Do it with your whole heart and do it happily.
"I've always felt that my work gives me purpose," Kristen says. "It's a way of serving others."
Is there a better way to parent, than with purpose?
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