A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO IN Reston, Va., Kristi Stone Hamrick picked up her ringing cell phone and found a New York Times reporter on the other end. The reporter wanted Mrs. Hamrick, a media spokeswoman for Rev. D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, to comment on a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of conservative nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. Cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder, Mrs. Hamrick delivered a string of lucid quotes on the topic-but not from a traditional office. She was at home, seated on her bathroom floor, chatting while tossing Cheerios into a toddler potty.
The little whole-grain Os made a perfect target for her son Garrett, who was potty training at the time. "Good!" Mrs. Hamrick cheered when Garrett proudly nailed a Cheerio flotilla. Hanging up the phone, she held up his favorite book on the topic, I Can Go Potty, starring Kermit the Frog. "See how Kermit washes his hands afterward?" Mrs. Hamrick asked. She then dialed Washington, D.C., to set up a press conference, shouldering the phone again as she hoisted Garrett to the sink.
Garrett is 5 now, but Mrs. Hamrick recalls the Cheerios incident as a typical scene from a blessed and busy life spent balancing her callings at home and in the public square.
Mrs. Hamrick, 40, is one of an emerging group of women who have faced a choice: Continue in paid work in support of conservative values or stay home to nurture their kids. WORLD spoke with three women who have chosen not to choose. Instead, they're working part time from home, advocating for family values in public while living them out in private.
Women striking this balance stand at the nexus of larger trends: The Census Bureau reports that labor force participation among mothers of infant children fell from a record high 59 percent in 1998 to 55 percent in 2000, the first significant decline in 25 years. The drop is primarily among white, educated, married women over 30. Meanwhile, spurred by a yearning for family flexibility, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 14 percent over the past five years, according to a 2003 report by Business and Professional Women USA.
Anecdotally, stay-home moms in the public square form a growing group. Leaders of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in the 19th century often worked out of their homes, and 21st century technology is aiding a resurgence. "I'm seeing more women like myself," Mrs. Hamrick said. "More and more of my friends are putting their children first, but also trying to contribute" to pro-family social change.
After graduating from Indiana's Anderson University in 1985, Mrs. Hamrick worked as a journalist at the Indianapolis Star and at the Christian news network CBN. In 1991, she moved to Washington, D.C., and signed on as press secretary for the Family Research Council (FRC). Within six months she met Michael, her future husband. The couple married the following year, and by 1997 were expecting their first child.
"I knew I didn't want to work full time after the baby was born," Mrs. Hamrick says now. "I knew I wanted to spend time with my children while they were young." At the same time, though, "I didn't feel I had to define myself by working or not working."
So she talked with then-FRC head Gary Bauer and the leaders of other conservative groups she'd worked with. Might they hire her as a part-time media consultant-but as one who worked from home? That was seven years ago, when home-based, white-collar work wasn't as normal as it is today. "People were receptive in theory, but from a logistical standpoint were initially skeptical as to whether it would work out, whether it would be good for them," Mrs. Hamrick said.
But success created its own buzz, and today Mrs. Hamrick still works for many of those same people. In an office area in her family room, she puts in, on average, 10 to 20 hours per week, juggling short projects (like stirring up publicity for new books) with her long-term job as press secretary for Mr. Bauer's newer pro-family group, American Values. Occasionally, she travels, providing "media training" (a sort of boot camp on crossing wits with reporters hostile to a conservative worldview) for groups like Focus on the Family.
Mrs. Hamrick wraps all that around her own family activities: grocery shopping, bandaging boo-boos, cleaning house, whipping up mac-and-cheese, and taking the kids to the park. (Along with Garrett, she is also mom to Lauren, 6; Corrine, 4; and Ethan, 18 months.)
"You do a little at your desk, throw in a load of laundry, read a book to the kids, do a little more work," she explains. "You move all the pieces forward incrementally all the time."
Mrs. Hamrick sometimes meets Christian women who are concerned that paid work-as opposed to volunteering-is unbiblical. But she points out that the "excellent wife" of Proverbs 31 ran a home-based business and contributed to the household bottom line.
"The Bible doesn't say that paid or unpaid work is redeeming," she said. "It says whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord. I do get a lot of satisfaction out of the fact that I have been promoting conservative family issues and living it out, too."
Colette Wilson (age 54) is also living out her convictions. An Escondido, Calif., attorney who focuses on battling abortion, Mrs. Wilson works from home, mothering a pair of preschoolers while researching abortion case law, writing legal briefs, and collaborating with other pro-life attorneys across the country. Some days it's a stretch, she says. But she'd never give it up for the alternative: "It would be real easy to get a 10-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week job as a lawyer. So great: I could make $120,000 a year working in an office 60 hours a week. What's left?"
The way Mrs. Wilson sees it, her children, Paul, 5, and 3-year-old Vida have the advantage of a two-parent family-one they would not have had if they'd been raised by their birth moms, both unwed teenagers who placed their babies for adoption. "These children were entrusted to us by their birth mothers," Mrs. Wilson said. "We felt an obligation not to stick them in day care."
Vida, for one, is happy not being stuck. "Daisy! Lot! Go back outside," she says when the family dogs trail into the living room behind her. A brown slip of a girl in a pink T-shirt, denim shorts, and a Band-Aid on her knee, Vida crawls up onto the couch next to her mom, settling in to browse through a Berenstain Bears book. All her life, Vida has gotten to snuggle with mom, even when mom was busy practicing law.
She practiced it long before Vida came along. After graduating from law school in 1985 and passing the California bar exam first time up, Mrs. Wilson tried the law-office route, working at a Los Angeles municipal-law firm. Then she put in time as a child-services attorney for the State of California. But in the late 1980s, at the genesis of the "rescue movement," pro-life activism, she said, "grabbed me and just pulled me in."
"I had always been pro-life, but I had never been active about it," she said. "I had never even written a letter to the editor." But after joining one of the first peaceful sit-ins staged by Operation Rescue-and getting arrested and jailed-Mrs. Wilson felt she needed to use her legal training to aid the unborn.
It was a vocational calling that yielded not only spiritual satisfaction, but also a husband: She met Tim Wilson, a carpenter, at the court trial of a group of pro-life protesters. Mr. Wilson was one of the defendants, jailed for "going limp" when law-enforcement officers broke up a sit-in. The Wilsons fell in love at the county jail: He was a prisoner; she was his lawyer.
After marrying in 1990, the couple remained involved in pro-life activism. Unable to have children, they decided to adopt. Paul came along in 1998 and Vida followed in 2000. The Wilsons adopted both at birth. Now, working entirely from home, Mrs. Wilson networks with other pro-life attorneys from groups like the American Center for Law and Justice and the Thomas More Legal Society.
The latter association ushered her into one of the longest-running federal cases in American judicial history, the landmark abortion case National Organization for Women (NOW) vs. Joseph Scheidler. Working part time from February 2002 to summer of 2003, she pored over the 5,200-page transcript from the 1998 trial, constructing an 800-page digest that organizes every exhibit, witness, fact, attorney "sidebar," and case citation in the case.
Then, as now, Paul and Vida often camped out on her lap as she worked. But the work itself, she said, can sometimes seem like a distraction. "The very reason you're working from home is so that you can be with your kids, and your kids are just so interesting," Mrs. Wilson said. "Sometimes it's hard to buckle down, apply discipline, and actually get the work done."
Work on the Scheidler case, now pending before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, still keeps Mrs. Wilson busy. Meanwhile, she's hoping to add more
pro-life legal projects to her plate through an association with the Alliance Defense Fund, a public-interest law firm.
"That would be a dream job," she says, "to work on cases that are benefiting the kingdom of God, and pushing back against the culture of death."
While Mrs. Wilson practices law in California, stay-home mom Keri Weems fights for family-friendly laws in South Dakota. Rep. Weems, 38, a Republican lawmaker and mother of three, serves in the South Dakota legislature. It's a part-time job that pays a little over $6,000 a year.
"When people ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a stay-at-home mom," said Mrs. Weems, speaking on her cell phone from a school field trip to the butterfly hatchery with her kindergartner, Koressa. "That's my first job. It's the same job every other stay-home mom has: letting their kids grow and develop and coaching them along the way. Then my second job is I'm a legislator."
Formerly a city council member, then deputy mayor (also part-time jobs) in Brookings, S.D., Mrs. Weems moved to Sioux Falls in 2002 after her husband Jay changed careers. Later that year, she saw an article in the local paper about a statehouse vacancy created when a lawmaker resigned to start a new business.
Right away, she called Mr. Weems at work. But he brought up the topic first: "Did you read what I read?" he asked. "Are you talking about what I'm talking about?" she replied with married-couple telepathy. "Yes," he said. "I think you need to do it. Start making the calls."
"We both knew it was the right thing," Rep. Weems says now. South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds did too, and appointed Mrs. Weems to the vacant seat in 2003. She's since served two sessions in Pierre, the state capital.
When the legislature is in session, she spends five to six weeks in Pierre. On weekdays, while she's on the House floor, Mr. Weems takes care of the kids back in Sioux Falls. On weekends, Mrs. Weems travels home. Sometimes, the whole family visits her in Pierre, staying in a hotel, or lodging in nearby Gettysburg with Mr. Weems's parents.
On one such trip, Koressa visited her mom on the chamber floor at the House of Representatives. When she hopped up and snuggled into Mrs. Weems's lap, someone said, "Can I get her a chair?"
"No," Mrs. Weems answered, smiling. "She's got the best seat in the House."
The 46 weeks of the year that she is not at the statehouse, she's at her own house, keeping up with her son Jonah, 3, and school activities for Koressa and Kortney, her fifth-grade daughter. She also works from home, researching and tracking legislative issues via phone, correspondence, and occasional meetings.
For Mrs. Weems, the attraction back to government after moving to Sioux Falls was "the real impact of state laws on people's lives." She has already sponsored successful legislation on issues such as identity theft, vehicle use and licensing, and damage disclosures in auto sales. But one law she sponsored that didn't pass has become for her a passion. That measure would require healthcare workers authorized to order pregnancy tests to give any woman who tests positive information on prenatal care immediately. That means abortion workers, too. She's now working on a new draft of the law and will push to pass it during the next legislative session.
Harder than passing laws for Mrs. Weems, though, is "leaving my children for six weeks of weekdays," she said. "And yet my husband and I both feel it is so important to have conservative voices in the legislature. Otherwise we're not represented." The Weemses together decided that the kids would be OK while "I was out making laws and impacting people's lives. And I have the major advantage of being home with them the rest of the time."