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Change diaper, Change the world, repeat...

National | FAMILY: More stay-at-home mothers are working part time from home; these three found a way to contribute to the pro-family movement by being in the professional world but not of it

Issue: "Iraq: What went wrong?," May 15, 2004

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.

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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.)

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