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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the June 11, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Teena Long Cahill, a 57-year-old psychologist,
was born nine months after the end of World War II. She is the eldest
of the baby boomers, the generation of emancipated women who pioneered
in balancing career and family.
Mia Cahill, a 36-year-old attorney, is Teena’s daughter. She
and her peers were raised to expect to juggle career and family with
They will present a joint lecture, "Mothers and Daughters: Working
Women and the New Old-Girl Network," on Friday, June 13, at 7
p.m. at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Wellness Center in Hamilton.
They will discuss how baby boomer mothers and their daughters support
one another, and whether the realities of the mothers’ lives apply
to the realities of the daughters’ lives. The lecture is free; call
"I’m of the first generation that went into the professions en
masse," says Teena Cahill, "and our daughters are following
us. For me there weren’t that many expectations." When baby boomer
women managed to "have it all," to successfully juggle family
and career, it was an accomplishment above the norm. Now one-fourth
of today’s women make more money than their husbands and 30 percent
of the women are the head of their household. "Now we have
If expectations have changed, so have circumstances. "When we
baby boomers were young, families didn’t usually move away, and the
community and extended family were available to a large number of
our mothers," says Cahill. "Young women today work to create
communities. Many of them travel, and they band together to create
a community of support for one another."
On June 13 the daughter will tell about her peer group’s parenting
communities, and the mother will discuss intergenerational
They come from an unusual perspective, because they all live in the
same house — grandmother, grandfather, daughter, son-in-law, two
children, two dogs, and sometimes the babysitter. "Now that both
ma and grandma are still working, we need to learn how to help one
another," says Teena Cahill. "My daughter and I work very
hard to create a community that enriches everyone."
Teena Cahill grew up in a traditional community, a Midwest farming
town, where her family lived with her grandmother and three aunts.
Her grandmother was twice widowed by the time she was 34, so she
as a hotel cook and raised five daughters by herself. "My
had lots of friends, had status, and was a lot of fun. Grandma taught
me the joy of her community — the hotel, her church, her senior
citizens group — and she worked until her eighth decade. She
me never to give up, and I learned you could have a great life, no
"I come from a family of great tough women," she says,
I was nurtured by `the village.’" Teena’s mother, the youngest
of five girls, worked for the state, and her father had a factory
job. Teena was the perennial winner of public speaking contests, and
she won a scholarship to Ohio State at the county fair. Then she
and had a daughter and two sons (both married, one living in Alberta
with two children and the other in Denver). She was divorced, went
for her doctorate in psychology at Florida Institute of Technology
in Melbourne, had various teaching jobs, and remarried. She maintains
a private practice on Spring Street.
A cognitive behavioral psychologist, she holds the theory that stress
isn’t necessarily bad. "We were made with the emotions to handle
stressful situations," she says, "and we know that the more
we tackle problems, the more self esteem goes up. We need to validate
children’s feelings and reframe how we look at world. Thoughts affect
our feelings, and feelings affect our behavior." She contributed
these ideas to a post 9/11 book published pro bono by the New Jersey
Psychologists’ Association ("Shocking Violence II," edited
by Rosemarie Moser, Charles Thomas Publishers). Her advice:
only the ultra feminine or ultra masculine styles of responding.
best style for mental health is to have an androgynous style of
because it gives you so many more strategies to take on the
says Cahill. "But a new skill set has to be learned."
New skill sets are needed in the practical arts as well. Today’s
mothers want to pass on different skill sets from the traditional
ones. "I was determined that my daughter would learn to write
a dissertation," says Cahill. "As joyful for me as it was
to help her learn to make chocolate chip cookies, it was even more
wonderful to watch her — and help her in a very small way —
to write her dissertation."
The skill set for boys has expanded too. Cahill notes that, as a
mother in graduate school, she was very busy indeed, so her sons
to cook (they are gourmet cooks now). "And as soon as they were
tall enough to reach the washing machine, I taught them how to use
it, and they all did their own laundry from the age of 10 or 11. I
believe that is a wonderful gift I gave my daughters in law. That’s
how having a working mom trickles down and helps future
husband became disabled, and he needed to live in a place without
stairs, the two families bought a house that can serve them both.
Cahill notes that, in 1880, 46 percent of the people over the age
of 65 were living with their children and thus able to serve as
babysitters and cooks. In 1990, it was just five percent. Though
together is helpful to both generations, she believes she and her
husband are the big beneficiaries. "Financially and emotionally
the children don’t need us. They can hire the services we can provide,
but we could never hire what they provide."
Of course not every family could do this, and Teena Cahill’s joking
is only partly in jest: "I am not sure that anyone other than
my daughter would want me. I love my daughters-in-law but I don’t
think they would want to live with me. It works best with a mother
and a daughter. We have the same ideas about child rearing, but I
have a lot of opinions, and my daughter is very strong. If we have
an argument, the men take off, and it ends up with us crying and
The blended living arrangement not only gives grandparents access
to their grandchildren, but also some exposure to their daughter’s
friends and their grandchildren’s friends. "From my perspective,
successful aging is defined as being involved and feeling part of
the whole life process," says Cahill.
"One of my husband’s jobs is to do the spelling words with our
granddaughter, and this exercise is really not about the words, it
is about developing good study habits," says Cahill. "Think
about her memories. She has this memory of Grandpa spending time with
her every week. And Grandpa, who is very bright, has the weekly
to set up extended family relationships that can be tapped in times
of need. Older women need to "live wide" — adding younger
people to their pool of friends, perhaps by doing volunteer work —
in order to live long. "A study at Harvard, the longest
study of mental health ever done, very clearly shows that as you get
older, you need to increase your community. At any age, but
as we get older, we have to grow past ourselves, and find a way to
contribute to the community," she says. "Ninety percent of
the people who are getting older are living alone, and I say, you
might want to think about that."
She tells of how, when her husband had a cerebral hemmorhage and
the hospital gave him no chance to live. She went into a panic.
I realized that 10 hours ago they said he would die, five hours ago
that he would die, and five minutes ago, but he hasn’t died yet, so
I decided not to wait for him to die but to plan on him living. And
the minute he died I would deal with it then. I went from despair
to hope, and that affected my behaviors, and I ultimately got him
to a hospital where they had some hope."
When daughter Mia takes her turn to tell how the new
network might work for the younger generation, she will emphasize
how to create community by helping each other out. Women who are
school volunteers, for instance, help each other both in traditional
ways (recommending good summer camps and pinch-hit babysitting) and
in professional ways (such as helping each other make connections
in the corporate world). Many mothers who have had professional
are looking for part-time and contract work and they network with
their friends to accomplish this.
An example of how a community can work: A school volunteer group had
a newsletter to publish. Someone they knew was looking for work in
publishing. "Women were saying, if we give it to this
she can put it on her resume, and that might help her get another
job," says Mia.
people around you, and how they might help you access other
says Mia. "Think of your relationships as a source of
success, sometimes, but I had the guts to try new things," says
Mia. Her family lived in West Windsor in the mid 1970s, and she
being one of the first girls to play in the West Windsor baseball
league. "I wanted to do it and was incensed that they didn’t want
girls to do it. And I was such a bad baseball player, like the worst
one in the `Bad News Bears.’ It was a miserable experience for
But other people who came after me who more accepted — and better
players than I."
living situation is just that taken to an extreme," says Mia.
"Not everyone could — or would want to — live with their
parents, but the idea of reaching out and drawing on your
is something everyone can do."
After graduating from Princeton High, Mia Cahill majored in political
science and psychology at the University of Delaware (Class of 1988),
earned both a law degree and a master’s in sociology at the University
of Denver, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Both schools
are known for using social science research to study law. "It’s
a field of professors and economists who look at how law operates
in real life," she explains.
In Colorado she met her future husband, a Romance language major at
Colorado College. With an LLM degree in international business law
from the University of the Pacific, he is an attorney at the United
Nations. But before that, in the early 1990s, he worked for the U.N.
in Vienna, while she commuted between Wisconsin and Austria.
Needing to juggle research, the birth of two children, volunteer
and regular commutes to her teaching job in Wisconsin was what started
her on the path to serious networking. In Vienna she headed an
mothers group, was active in the American Working Women’s Association,
and volunteered at the U.S. Embassy with the Vienna Women’s
which paired Western women with those from former Eastern bloc
to teach entrepreneurial skills.
Meanwhile, for her thesis, she interviewed European and American CEOs
and surveyed their employees. "My area of research is that there’s
law and there is real life, and they are not necessarily the same
thing. I focus on how ordinary people decide what legal rules apply
to them," says Mia. "Sexual harassment law in the 1990s was
incredibly ambiguous, and I did a cross national study on how people
in corporations decide what the rules are. I argued that a lot of
what plays into it is cultural assumptions."
Upon her return to the United States, Mia Cahill taught
at New York University’s Institute for Law and Society, published
her book (The Social Construction of Sexual Harassment Law: the Role
of the National, Organizational, and Individual Context (Law, Justice
and Power, $79.95), and worked briefly at Mathematica Policy Research.
She also worked at an Alexander Road-based law firm, Maselli Warren,
before starting her own law practice in April (5 Independence Way,
Suite 300, 609-514-5120; fax, 609-452-8465).
Now she does family and employment law, mediations for the court on
civil rights and employment issues, and consults with small and
businesses, particularly on how to put fair procedures in place.
"I love to go to court because you can be on the side of
right," says Mia Cahill. "You can stand up and say `This is
right — legally, factually, and morally right.’ There aren’t many
opportunities to stand up and make a case for something you believe
Her sense of justice? "It came partly from my upbringing. I
there was something I wanted and didn’t get, and I screamed
`That’s not fair.’ And my mother said, `Life’s not fair.’ That was
a hard pill to swallow. There are many reasons why life isn’t fair
and I am willing to expect many of them, but anything based on gender
is outrageous. Telling somebody that she can’t have a job because
she has children is wrong, and in fact, illegal."
Cahill found that out when she tried to show her granddaughter how
the washing machine worked. This smart child had heard the legends
about how her mother and uncles were taught to do wash. "She
at me and said No," says Teena Cahill. "She knew what was
Still, says this grandmother, smarter is better. "My grandma
thought I talked too much. She thought I had a smart mouth because
I would speak up. But I hope my daughter has a smart mouth and I hope
my granddaughter has one too. Everyone should own the right to say
what they think and change the world."
— Barbara Fox
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