No ‘Cookie-cutter’ solutions
U.Va. Family Expert Charmaine Yoest Says Creativity, Flexibility
Are Keys To Resolving Work/Family Issues
May 7, 2004 --
Yoest, a graduating doctoral student in the University of Virginia’s
Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, is an up-and-coming young
expert on family policy issues.
normal counts, her 10 years at the University have been hyper-productive:
Her papers on the
subject are prolific, as are her media appearances,
congressional testimonies and academic presentations. She has
written a book on working mothers and is completing a second
Yoest’s career must be viewed in the
context of a not-so-typical doctoral student’s family life — she
is the 39-year-old mother of five children, ranging from age
10 to infancy.
hope it’s inspirational to some,” she said of her
ability to pursue her studies and career even with a full
capacity mini-van. “Obviously I couldn’t do what
done unless my husband was willing to live a nontraditional
life as well.”
acknowledges that her domestic situation, with close family near
by to step into the child-care
breach and a husband
to reduce his workload significantly to help raise children,
has been unusually conducive to her career. Nonetheless,
like to see more families adopt a “nontraditional lifestyle” to
accommodate childrearing and professional equality among
is such an emphasis on work and family that sometimes the family
gets lost because people are so focused on ‘how
can we facilitate work?’” she said.
regular on the political talk-shows, Yoest is careful with her
words, aware of just how politicized the debate
is quick to emphasize that her pro-family stance in
way negates her advocacy for women to pursue careers
as she has done. The mission, she says, is to find
creative ways to do both — and women require the participation
of spouses and employers to do so.
sees great potential in the United States for a new work/family
says an emphasis on entrepreneurialism
former breadwinners like her husband to try free-lancing.
are increasingly available to American parents, she
even outside academia. Yoest sees these trends as
a more promising
solution than uniform paid-maternity-leave mandates — even
the generous policies common in European countries.
“More and more women are looking at their three-month-old, or year-old
child, and saying they don’t want to go back
to their previous work circumstance,” she said.
In fact, Yoest’s current research project is a national study
of paid parental leave in academia. Her early findings show that
less than one-fifth of higher education institutions provide paid
leave for new mothers, and half of those are elite private institutions.
Yoest herself never took maternity leave, finding that her academic
responsibilities could be managed even with young children.
never easy,” she said of creative solutions to
the work/family conundrum, “that’s
part of why I study it as an issue.”
says her colleagues at U.Va., particularly
her adviser Steven Rhoades, have been supportive
raise a large
has been amazingly good to me. I’m so fortunate to
have landed here,” she said.
of two children of academics, Yoest jokes that
she is the family’s “black
sheep” because she still doesn’t
have her Ph.D. She has fond memories of proofreading
her mother’s dissertation
on the linguistics of presidential debates,
and takes pleasure in the fact that she graduated
from Wheaton College in 1986, the
same year her grandmother received a master’s
degree in divinity. Yoest will defend her
dissertation at U.Va. this April.
told people when I got started that my goal was to be done by
the time I was 40, and they just looked
horrified,” she laughed, “but
I’m right on target.”
a comprehensive C.V., high-powered
credentials and a demanding family life,
is a remarkably relaxed
Yoest is a role model, she is one who
abhors being asked for a blueprint
for success and puts a certain amount
of faith in fate. She eschews what
she calls “cookie-cutter” solutions
and encourages creative solutions for
individuals and their families.
“You make your decisions, you put your family first and then things
kind of fall after that. You can’t
always figure out how it’s all
going to work out.”
Kathleen Valenzi, (434) 924-6857