I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved.But in January 2011, when my two-year public-service leave from Princeton University was up, I hurried home as fast as I could. When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him.Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me.But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury. All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange.
But almost all assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.
I concluded by saying that my time in office had convinced me that further government service would be very unlikely while my sons were still at home.
The audience was rapt, and asked many thoughtful questions.
My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.
As the evening wore on, I ran into a colleague who held a senior position in the White House.
And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.