Mary Ann Walsh of Walsh Family Domestic Enterprises

By Amy K. Lenceski

That’s my mother, Mary Ann. She was a hoot, a trip, a riot.

Back in the days when people still wrote personal checks, and retailers could still ask you 50 questions about your life when you tendered a personal check (What’s your address? What is your date of birth? Who is the father of your children? Does he work? Do you work? What’s your blood type?), my mother was always ready to make the most of the question, ”Where do you work?” Mary Ann would say, in the most poised manner, “I’m President and Chairman of the Board of Walsh Family Domestic Enterprises”. In other words, she was a stay-at-home mom, or as people used to say when it was still politically correct, a homemaker or housewife. Mary Ann would wait to see if the cashiers caught on. Teenagers would be like, “Whaaaaat?” Adults got it, and laughed hysterically. It was funny, but she was serious in some respects – her job was that important and she was proud of it.

Mary Ann Walsh (born 1938, died 2010)

Mary Ann Walsh (born 1938, died 2010)

Mary Ann used to say, “Behind every successful man is an exhausted woman” and indeed she was, most of the time. And, my father was incredibly successful. I think sometimes my mom died of exhaustion. Just pure exhaustion. She used to tell us tales about September, 1981, and she even saved a copy of her calendar for that month. It was the busiest month of her life as a SAHM. She was on committees at church, school, the tennis club, and the neighborhood association, and she performed all of her committee duties gracefully, while shuttling my brother, my sister, and I all over the city for athletics and extracurricular activities, and while maintaining the household, feeding us, clothing us, and making sure that we were forming into well-rounded, ethical, productive people. The woman was just amazing and brilliant. Everyone knows a SAHM today like this. She is brilliant and could run a corporate empire – but she’s chosen to stay home and everyone should respect her for it.

Starting a family

Starting a family

I’m not sure sometimes if my mom got that choice. Was it a choice back then? When woman would joke that they went to college to work on their “M.R.S.”? Nevertheless, my mom Mary Ann has been the one to give me the choice to work outside the home. My father deserves equal credit for his unconditional love and acceptance of me. How else could a career homemaker and a successful businessman produce two women, my sister who owns her own real estate brokerage, and myself, an attorney, who are fiercely independent and entirely committed to having both a professional career AND a family? I do not mean to ignore the compelling factor of financial need in mothers choosing to work outside the home.  Of course, many working mamas, including myself, feel oftentimes that there is no other choice.  But I do not think that financial necessity paved the way for women, and specifically mothers, to eagerly stake out and embrace their opportunity to have a career.    How exactly did we turn out so different, or rather, are we even that different from our mother Mary Ann?

Peter, Helen and Amy

Peter, Helen and Amy

When my mother met my father, she was a registered nurse and a second lieutenant in the Air Force. She got married and started her family, and then her nursing career was pretty much over. I have many friends in my generation whose mothers did work, but the norm here in upper-middle class Midwest America in the 60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s was that the mother would stay at home while the husband went to work. During the sweeping changes of the 80’s when women tenfold entered positions of power and profession like never before, my mother felt sorry for them at times. But, she was excited for them too and their possibilities. She would say, “I saw this beautiful women in a power suit at the grocery store at 5:30 with all of her kids and she looked so stressed out. She had this frantic look on her face like, ‘What the hell will I prepare for dinner?’” (As an aside, my husband and I have this exact feeling at 5:30 like just about every weekday.)

Mary Ann getting dinner on the table

Mary Ann getting dinner on the table

Really what Mary Ann felt was empathy. I feel this empathy too. I mean, I have that same feeling when I pop into a grocery store for something at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday and see a mom with three small children hanging off of her. All she wants is to get the damn groceries and leave. But, everyone wants a damn snack. Connor won’t stop hitting Olivia. Sasha just peed her pants. Connor just turned the carton of eggs into a football. And all the Mom wants is to get the damn groceries and get the hell out of the store. And she has like another 8 FREAKING HOURS with these gremlins until some relief (hopefully) comes home from work tonight at 6:00. And I just want to say, “Can I help you? You’ve got this. You’re amazing and brilliant. Hang in there!” I hope that we all have this empathy among mothers – working mamas and SAHMS. All of our jobs are tough and exhausting. No matter how we balance our work and our families, no woman with children has it easy.

Indiana Winter fun

Indiana Winter fun

Mary Ann had admiration too and she was excited for what women were doing in the workforce. Her friends who did work were spoken of with great respect by her, and she was always a little astonished at how they could do everything that they did. She went to school to be a nurse and sometimes, when she talked about the nursing days, you could see a little sadness in her eyes. She was so proud of what she accomplished in just a few years of nursing. She had to give that up to be a SAHM. And again, I think all mothers share this. We have all given up something up by the job we chose. As a working mama, playgroups and classroom volunteer time are harder to find. Someone else will kiss my toddler’s boo-boo during the day. I have given up a lot, it hurts sometimes, and it is not easy.

Helen, batter's up!

Helen, batter's up!

Mary Ann was excited for her girls, my sister and I. She was excited at all the potential and opportunity there was for us. Even as young girls, she made SURE we played softball and basketball, because she didn’t have a chance to play those “boy sports” growing up. She would brag about her “tough” girls who could hit homeruns and slide in the dirt all the way home. We could pitch a tent and cook over a fire, because we were girl scouts. We were raised by my mother and father to believe and know that we really could do anything we wanted to…including having a career outside the home. She did not quite know the details of how we were going to have careers, but she knew education was imperative. She knew that and pushed us to college. She would say to me over and over again, when I championed any task, “You go girl.” There are million great stories that I could tell you about my mother Mary Ann.

I think, or rather, I hope, that our generation of working mamas, whether one is “President and Chairman of the Board of Family Domestic Enterprises” or one is climbing the ladder all the way to the top of Corporate America, is in their current job by choice. My mother Mary Ann gave me the choice to have a career by all of her encouragement and hope for me and really, for all women ~ I’m forever indebted to her.

About the Author: Amy K. Lenceski is an attorney at Landman Beatty, Lawyers in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her sister Helen Metken is Owner Broker of RE/MAX Ascent in Westfield, Indiana.