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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pilot Moms

"Women can be wives, mothers, and pilots too, 
we don't have to choose." 

This what I wrote United Airline's HR department after I was turned down because, as one of the interviewers said, "You are apparently not a dedicated pilot. You only flew three flights in three years." Yes, I had three kids, in three years, while earning my 4-year degree. Touching a plane once a year to remind me of what I was destined to do.

Less than 6 percent of the licensed pilots are women, and even fewer are employed. One of the primary reasons is the challenges of the job with having children and managing a household. If that's not difficult enough, the guilt associated with going to work while your kids are at home is sometimes overwhelming. 

When I hear a woman thinking about giving up her career... I am the first to give her a lecture to stop. I was having this conversation with a female captain, and three kids, and she sent me a great article.

Ladies, if you are thinking about giving up the career... whatever it is... rethink that before you have regrets. You can do it all and your kids might just learn something. I am one to prove that you can have a successful career, healthy and happy children and enjoy the benefits of your career while they are raising their families.

The following article is for all of you women who are faced with this decision.

Written by Lisa Endlich Heffernan

"The most expensive decision of my life I made alone. There was no realtor, no car dealer and no travel agent when I chose to leave the paid workforce. There was just me looking at my husband, my children and the chaos that was our lives. At no point did I calculate the lifetime impact of diminished earnings and prospects. I looked at the year we were in and the following year, and I bolted.

No part of my brain sat itself down and thought, What is the price, both in this year's dollars and my lifetime earnings, to leaving the workforce, and is it a decision that I might regret a decade or two from now?At no point did I examine the non-monetary cost that would loom just as large. At the time, it seemed forgone: We had two demanding careers, two small children and another on the way, and two adult lives hopelessly out of control.

One day I was working on the trading floor of a London bank and the next, I was on the floor of my children's playroom. Not once did I think, at age 33, of what the job market would look like for me a few years down the road. Therein lies my most expensive mistake.

I stayed home with my kids because I wanted to be with them. I had a job that allowed me very little time with them on weekdays and I felt our time was short. I did not stay home because I believed they needed me or that the nanny I had hired could not do a great job.

Now, on the downslope of parenting, I have misgivings aboutmy decision to stay home. While I don't know any parent who regrets time spent with their kids, especially kids who have moved on to their own lives -- and I include myself among them -- in hindsight, my decision seems flawed. Although I am fully aware that being a SAHM was certainly a luxury, staring at an empty nest and very diminished prospects of employment, I have real remorse.

I let down those who went before me. In some cosmic way I feel that I let down a generation of women who made it possible to dream big, even though I know the real goal of the Women's Movement was to be able to dream anything. One summer in the 1970s, I read The Feminine Mystique while curled up on a couch in my grandparents' home. The book spoke to me and my mother and my grandmother spoke to me, warning me not to tread the path they had taken, leaving the workforce after their children were born. But the book and my mother spoke to a young ambitious preteen, not a young mother. Betty Friedan or not, I stayed home for almost two decades raising three sons.

I used my driver's license far more than my degrees. I got my driver's license after a short course and a couple of lessons in 11th grade. My post-secondary education took six years of hard work and yet, for years, I used my drivers license far more than my formal education. On one level, I felt like I was shortchanging myself and those who educated, trained and believed in me by doing this.

My kids think I did nothing. They saw me cooking, cleaning, driving, volunteering and even writing, but they know what a "job" looks like and they don't think I had one.

My world narrowed. During the years at home with my children, I made the most wonderful friends, women I hope to know all of my life. But living in the suburbs among women of shockingly similar backgrounds, interests and aspirations narrowed the scope of people with whom I interacted. In the workplace, my contacts and friends included both genders and people of every description, and I was better for it.

I got sucked into a mountain of volunteer work. Some of this work was deeply meaningful and some of it trivial in the extreme. Whether it is sitting on a hospital board or raising funds for a nursery school, volunteer activities involve a flurry of activity, but at the end of the day, those who are running the organization carry on and my job was over.

I worried more. Being around my children so much of the time gave me the chance to focus on them at a granular level. And I feel fairly certain that neither they nor I benefitted from the glaring light I shone upon us. Helicoptering takes time, and I had the time. If I had worked outside our home I would have still worried about them, but might have confined my concerns to more substantive matters.

I slipped into a more traditional marriage. Before our children were born and when they were young, my husband and I did the same job. We left in the morning together and came home together to stare at each other and at our small children through a blinding haze of exhaustion. In every way, my husband sees me as his equal, but in the years that I have been home, our partnership has developed a faint 1950's whiff. He doesn't ask me to run to the dry cleaners or fish store, but let's be fair, they are both closed by the time he gets home.

I became outdated. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, I worked in banking on Wall Street in a technologically cutting-edge department. Just as I mastered every new computer, it would be whisked away and replaced by newer, faster models. I was au faitwith software the public wouldn't see for years and anything I didn't understand was explained to me by MIT-trained analysts. I have kept up with technology, but not in the aggressive way I once did in my job. In my world, I often use my young adult kids as tech support and endure their snide remarks and eye-rolling, knowing deep inside that at one time, it was very different.

I lowered my sights and lost confidence. But far and away my biggest regret about my years at home was that I lowered my sights for myself as I dimmed in my own mind what I thought I was capable of. I let go of the burning ambition I once held because I didn't feel as though I could hold it and three babies at the same time.

My husband did not do this, my children did not do this, I did this. In the years that I was home, I lulled myself into thinking that I was accomplishing enough because I was. I was raising my children and as any parent who had spent a day with a child knows, that can fill all of the hours in a day. What I hadn't realized was how my constant focus on my family would result in my aspirations for myself slipping away. And despite it being obvious, I did not focus on the inevitable obsolescence that my job as mom held.

If I could wind back the tape, have a do-over, what would I have done differently? Looking on at my grown and nearly-grown sons, I am grateful for the gift of time we had. Yet, I wish I had tried to keep a finger, a toe or a hand in the working world to ease an eventual return. I did not have a job well suited to part-time work, and work at home was technologically impossible at the time. But, the solution required imagination, not capitulation, and with hindsight, I would have recognized that over time, my parenting and career would both ebb and flow, but neither would -- nor should -- ever end."

And if this hasn't convinced you, 
check out Major Caroline Jensen. 

Enjoy the Journey!
XOX Karlene

Author of Flight For Control and Flight For Safety,
If you haven't read's time!


  1. I think United made a big mistake. And I also think you're better off now based at home with a better airline for you. I'm so glad it all worked out for you!

    1. Daniel, I could not agree more. I had my moment of devastation, then moved on. And life had a much better plan for me. I seriously would not undo anything.

  2. Spot-on and Heck Yes!! You've done it. While you ARE something special, I do not think that your daughters have suffered; the seem to be thriving. Of course women can do it! (And that interviewer at UAL was an idiot!) Keep on keeping on! - Craig

    1. Craig, Thank you so much. And while that interviewer was a bit shortsighted, he did me the greatest favor. One of the great examples we might think we failed...but it was really the others failure. I will keep on keeping on for sure! :)

  3. Yes, yes, YES!! This is such an undercurrent battle for so many of us, THANK YOU for bringing it up!

    1. It is a battle and the "mom guilt" plays a role. I also wish the airlines understood the extra challenges and honored these women. We can do it all, and our kids will grow up proud, strong, and responsible.

  4. Im 40 and a single mom thinking of beginning pilot training. It has been my lifelong dream, but I gave up when i had my first child at 35 and became a single mom, so i focused on a Masters in education and now, I may be accepted into a flight program with an airline. Im scared hoping my son will cope and do well. Any advice?

    1. Michele, congratulations!!! I am so happy for you. How old is your son? He is going to do fine. My advice... don't try to be a super hero. I was in the era where we had to do it all. If I could go back, I would have found anyway to get help with the domestic chores, instead of staying up all night catching up on the housework and laundry. You can do it all, but find a balance and let things go, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Email me and we can talk.

      I think you should read Flight to Success Be the Captain of your Life. Something for family and for struggles, and for training too! It won't be easy, but nothing worth having is. And, you can do it! The rewards will be many.

    2. Thank you so much for your encouragement. I am so nervous especially for the assessment day. I hope all will go well and I will email you.

    3. It will go well! Keep confidence and the positive outlook. See success and being prepared will get you there!!!

  5. Thank you for the encouragement! I have been made to feel like my decision to go for my dream of becoming a 121 pilot is selfish. My kids are better because they see their mom as loving yet strong and going for her dreams.

    1. I know exactly how you feel. While there will be challenges, as there are with "everything" your kids will be better having you as a role model showing them mom is a competent confident woman. If you have a chance, you should read Flight to Success be the Captain of your life. There are some mommy stories in there. The first was mine dealing with fear, and making that choice. And another friend who was going to give up, but she did not and is so very glad with that decision. You can do it, and your kids will be better. We are there for you!

      It is not selfish to live your dreams and you want that for your children too. Show them the way!

  6. Don't know if you are still replying to these threads but I thank God I found you!

    1. Ah... thank you! Yes.. if it comes to my email, I will respond.

  7. You are so inspiring. Currently reading your book “ Flight to success “ .
    I got my cpl in 2010 and haven’t flown since. Got married had a son and now longing to get back into flying, since my son started school. Truly regret not staying current.
    I feel i have lost my confidence somewhere along way, being a SAHM for almost 6 years. But i’m studying and hoping i will get good at it again.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge through the book.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. No regrets! We have all had them from whatever side of the road we followed. Working and not home enough. Home and not flying. Trying to do it all and not good enough. Never having a family and wishing we would have. Nobody gives us the rules to live by. Each circumstance is different. Nobody is perfect. But with that knowledge, know that you can achieve anything you want if you set your mind to it.

      You will be good at it again. You will be better. You handled a two-year old, you can handle a plane. Just know there is nothing you can't do! I hope you come to Women in Aviation next year! Would love to meet you!!

  8. I felt very neglected because my mother was never home, always on trips. Ofc I never told her that and I pretend I was happy, one would think children are a priority but really aren't. If a woman wants to do something other than be with her kids, she will do it. I see others at least had a father to be with, when you dump everything on man who is on land it is obvious you can "do it all".
    Sorry. Doing some catharsis.

    1. Jenny, I'm sorry you felt neglected. It's also very sad you weren't honest with your mom. Maybe she would have made different choices. Maybe she thought because you were so happy, you did not want her home. Maybe she would have loved an excuse to quit. I also think that when Dad's are pilots, the mother does such a good job ensuring the kids are not feeling neglected... and perhaps Dad's don't have the same ability. There is no perfect world. My husband was born in 1941 and due to finances both his parents had to work. I suppose he could have felt neglected. Instead, he says it was what it was. Maybe your mother thought she needed to give you the strength and example that women could be more than stay at home moms. Perhaps we all need to have a little empathy for others and know that that most people are doing the best they can. Often, when our lives don't work out the way we want, we try to find a reason. But the past does not mean you cannot change the future. It's your choice to decided how you feel about this. You can continue to choose to think that Mom loved her job more than you. Or, you can decide to be proud of a mom who provided you a positive role model and know that she was always so looking forward to coming home to see you at the end of each trip. Which choice will serve your life better? We both know that answer. I'm not defending your mother's choice. I feel bad you felt neglected as a child. However, I think the best thing for your catharsis as an adult is to change how you perceived that event. Change how you perceived the past and you will change your life going forward. Life is a choice. We create our reality by what we think. I wish you the best with this. You cannot undo the past. But you can make the future great. This is your choice. Best of luck. I know you can do it!


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