When Karen Hughes announced she was resigning her high-power White House post to spend more time with her family, it came as no surprise to me. Though I don't know Hughes well, I always suspected this was a woman to whom family meant more than political power.
I watched her on the campaign trail in 2000 as she ran around the country with then-Governor Bush in his White House quest, her teenage son in tow. I vividly remember one shot on the evening news with Hughes stepping off the campaign plane with her son by her side. It was clear she wasn't willing to give up a year of her son's life, no matter how important her job.
I knew exactly how she felt. Torn between her duties to her job and her desire to be with her child, she took him with her whenever she could.
I made similar compromises when I worked in the White House during the Reagan administration and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1986 when my children were still in school. I tried squeezing in a few hours here and there by taking the kids with me whenever I could. But it was never enough time.
There is simply no way that a mother can reach the pinnacle of the professional world, whether in politics or business, without feeling she's short-changing her kids. Fate -- or rather, the Maryland voters -- settled the dilemma for me, and I have no doubt my kids are better off for it. I continued to work full-time after my Senate run, but almost exclusively from home.
Climbing to the top of any profession takes a single-minded devotion that simply doesn't jibe well with parenting. I don't know many fathers who juggle the demands of professional ambition with family life well either, but it's even harder for mothers. I'm convinced kids suffer more when Mom's ambition dictates family sacrifice.
I can't count the number of school performances, baseball games, track meets and teacher conferences I attended for my three sons -- but each of them remembers the events I missed because of work, and I never hear the end of it. As far as Mom is concerned, you can be there 99 times out of 100, but it's the one time you don't show up that your kids remember best. Children simply don't hold Dad to the same standard, and there's no use trying to convince them otherwise.
There's a reason why so few women who make it to the top have children in the first place. One recent study by Sylvia Ann Hewlett showed that 49 percent of the most successful women -- those who earned $100,000 a year or more -- were childless at age 40. Children serve as a brake on the kind of ambition it takes to make it to the top.
Try telling yourself the brief that has to be filed in the morning is more important than the colicky baby who can only be consoled by the sound of your heartbeat as you hold him to your breast. Try explaining to a 5-year-old that you have to miss his school play because your biggest client is in from out of town and wants to have dinner instead. Try finding somebody whom you can trust to keep an eye on your moody teenager when you're on the job 60 or more hours a week.
Kids have a way of making demands on their mothers' time. There's no way around it. Although some experts tried convincing mothers that it was the quality -- not the quantity -- of time spent with children that mattered, the kids let us know they saw things differently.
No doubt, President Bush will miss Karen Hughes' good counsel -- but her son would miss it even more if she had decided to keep her job in Washington.