• Britt Riner

The ABCs of ACB

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

You’ve heard the phrase, “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten.” I think that's true, but the truth is, life can feel pretty complicated when navigating big decisions in growing one's career and family. Watching Amy Coney Barrett and her entrée into the public arena these last few weeks, I've had a surprising refresh of simplicity amidst complexity. A lot of what I need to know in pursuing my callings in work, motherhood, and community can now be summed up in "The ABCs of ACB." Below is a brief explanation of how I realized that I identify with and am inspired by the Honorable and phenomenal Amy Coney Barrett.



A - Accept that life is hard . . . and that it can still be good.


In a fantastic interview (abridged version here, full version here) with The Notre Dame Club of Washington DC, Judge Barrett covered a range of topics from her teaching philosophy to her and her husband’s decision to have a large family. Speaking of the latter, she recounted how she learned she was pregnant with Child #5 the same day they had to make the decision as to whether they would adopt Child #6 from a Haitian orphanage. What made this decision particularly complicated was that bureaucratic snafus throughout the adoption process initially rejected their adoption application. Judge Barrett and her husband had sadly accepted that their wish to adopt would not become reality. Then several weeks later, after the tragic 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, the Haitian government made adoption process exceptions, providing the Barretts with an unexpected decision to make. To help her process the decision, she took a walk -- mind you, in January, in South Bend, where the average temperature is 31°F high, 17°F low. She walked to the cemetery on Notre Dame’s campus. In her interview, she recalls thinking as she beheld the gravestones, “Well, if life is hard, at least it’s short.” I love her simultaneous sense of humor and grasp on reality. Life is indeed hard -- and worthy of its challenges. Judge Barrett didn’t expound further in her remarks, but I imagine she was moved by surveying the tombstones of those whose lives on earth had ended, which had a powerful way of silently saying “You don’t know how long you will live; make the days you have count.” She chose to adopt her son, give birth to her daughter, and not too long after, give birth to another son. She chose to do the hard -- and believe in the good to come.


Life was never meant to be easy -- with or without kids. I remember when my husband and I were discerning when to start trying to have a baby. I was ready, he wasn’t so sure. He was concerned that having a kid was going to make our life harder, more stressful, more complicated. We had just come out of a grueling year professionally and interpersonally; could we handle all that came with raising a child? Did we really want to take on all that stress at this point in our lives? We brought this topic before many people we trusted, one of whom was our marriage counselor. He asked my husband, “When you married Britt, did your life become more complicated?” I braced myself as my husband contemplated his answer, “Well, if I’m being honest, yes.” The marriage counselor asked a follow-up question, “And when you married Britt, did your life become more joyful?” He quickly answered, “Absolutely.” The marriage counselor spoke once more, “So you had more stress and more joy, but was the joy worth the stress?” A light bulb went off in my husband's head. He squeezed my hand reassuringly and replied, "Yes, without a doubt."


Soon after, my husband told me he was ready to welcome a baby into our lives, ready for all the stress and joy she would bring. And she has brought both, as have her brother and sister after her. Overwhelmingly, however, they have all brought more joy than anything else. We learned to accept that much of life is hard, and within all those hard things, there is even more joy and goodness for us to discover. And for all the in between, one learns to ask for help -- from friends, family, babysitters, therapists -- and that lessens the burdens of the hard and expands the joy of the good.


We learned to accept that much of life is hard, and within all those hard things, there is even more joy and goodness for us to discover.

B - Buy the minivan . . . and let go of the van-ity.


There is a viral video of Judge Barrett, her husband, and children leaving their home to head to the airport for President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination announcement. Many have noted how transporting her large family required two vehicles -- one minivan and one Suburban. I know we’re not supposed to judge people by their cars, but instantly, I loved her more when I saw her wheels!



I once drove a car that (I’m embarrassed to say) made me feel glamorous. It was a sharp-looking SUV that worked with two car seats, and was a sleek ride if the kids weren’t in the back. When my husband and I learned that we were pregnant with Baby #3, we realized that our family was going to need some more space -- and I was going to need some humility.


Other moms had convinced me that the minivan made 100% sense. Nevertheless, as silly as it sounds, I wondered if my colleagues would still take me seriously as a business and civic leader if I rolled up to meetings in the minivan. Even if they didn’t see me park, I always seemed to have post-meeting meetings with others as we walked back to our cars; I anticipated feeling embarrassed. I honestly didn’t know any other moms driving minivans to board meetings or client presentations. I was concerned that if people saw my “mom-mobile,” they might not think I was as committed to the work as they were, or as I had once been.


Finally, I decided to take my worry and turn it into an opportunity to blaze a trail for would-be minivan moms all over the USA. I would show my colleagues that minivan mamas are not only just as good as those who drive other vehicles, but I can actually do more things, and do them more deftly because of minivan functionality! Ironically, it’s when I let go of my van-ity and embraced the minivan that I felt the most empowered. I wasn’t leaning on my car to give me street cred; I wasn’t denying my motherhood. I was standing on my own ideas and personhood, including both my roles as mother and community leader.


I was standing on my own ideas and personhood, including both my roles as mother and community leader.

The current spotlight on ACB has further enriched my appreciation for work and parenthood in all its permutations. It’s clearer than ever that a woman is no more or less a mom pro if she drives the minivan or a "nice car" (whatever that means for you!); if she carts around multiples or one precious child; if she drives a Cheerio-studded van, a Legos-clad SUV, or a Crayon-filled sedan. The point is that Judge ACB's confidence comes from who she is holistically rather than any worldly possession that may signal “success.”


As we think of expanding our family further, we’re looking at trading my husband’s car in for a Suburban, so the Barretts just might be sparking a phenomenon worthy of MotorTrend’s attention. I just hope Judge Barrett keeps driving the minivan to work when she takes her chambers at the Supreme Court.


C - Children are your greatest impact . . . whether or not they are “your own.”


Many women will laud the example Judge Barrett is setting for little girls growing up in America today, and (in case it’s not already clear) I’m one of them! I’m the mother of two daughters, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have ACB as one of their role models. During the Senate Judiciary Hearings, Senator Ted Cruz said, “I think you’re an amazing role model for little girls," and Senator Lindsey Graham went even further as to say:

What I want the American people to know, I think it’s OK to be religiously conservative. I

think it’s OK to be personally pro-choice. I think it’s OK to live your life in a traditional

Catholic fashion. And you’ll still be qualified in the Supreme Court. So all the young,

conservative women out there, this hearing to me, is about a place for you. I hope when

this is all over that there will be a place for you at the table. There’ll be a spot for you at

the Supreme Court, like there was for [Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg.


I’m also cheering for Judge Barrett for another reason: for the example she’s setting for little boys growing up in America. I also have a son. I want him to grow up seeing and respecting many sharp, talented, faithful, ambitious, loving women, like Judge Barrett. In doing so, he will not only see a woman as his equal, but also desire to see those traits in his friendships with girls and someday his wife. As my daughters approach dating and marriage, I hope they choose men who respect their womanhood, value their vocations, and support their dreams -- just as Mr. Jesse Barrett has exemplified. I am so thankful America has ACB's story to tell its boys and girls (cue the children’s books to come!). ACB’s powerful story speaks to the many people in her realm of influence: as Mama Barrett, her own kids at home; as Professor Barrett, the law students she mentored; as the soon-to-be Justice Barrett, all the children of America who are looking for examples of faith, family, career, and impact.



I also have a son. I want him to grow up seeing and respecting many sharp, talented, faithful, ambitious, loving women, like Judge Barrett.

If you haven’t watched the brief testimony of Laura Wolk, the first blind female Supreme Court clerk, it is a must watch. In it, Laura shares that she was drowning in coursework her first year of law school at Notre Dame. The specialized assistive technology she had requested had not been provided to her due to bureaucratic processes at the university. She confessed her situation to then-Professor Barrett. Responding to Laura’s burdens, Barrett said, “Laura, this is no longer your problem. It is my problem.” Promptly, the technology showed up. To this day, Laura does not know how it arrived, but she knows she had Professor Barrett’s empathy and accountability to thank.



While I am sure Judge Barrett’s active compassion for Wolk is a natural trait, I imagine that being the mother of a child with disabilities has made that trait even more committed in ACB -- evidence that the impact of one of her children has been a blessing to another parent’s child. I also find this stunning -- Judge Barrett had no idea that by helping a young student, she would be creating the very storyline that -- seven years later -- would be shared with Senate Judiciary Committee members evaluating her character for a seat on the Supreme Court. What would the world be like if we, like ACB, helped others as if they were "our own?"


What would the world be like if we, like ACB, helped others as if they were "our own?"


I will end this article in the words of Judge Barrett, the person who will be our next U.S. Supreme Court Justice; the mom who will have incredible impact on the interpretation of our laws for generations to come: What greater thing can you do than raise children? That’s where you have your greatest impact on the world.”


“What greater thing can you do than raise children? That’s where you have your greatest impact on the world.” - Judge Amy Coney Barrett

P.S. Taking cues from this Primerrily ACB inspiration piece, "Show, don't tell", I showed my kids several clips of ACB in effort to explain -- in toddler terms -- who she is, what the Supreme Court is, and the process for picking the newest Justice. The photos in this article are evidence of this. As the photos also attest, I gave them popsicles and a bottle to help them stay focused (it worked for part of the time) but just when I thought I had held too-high expectations for what I could meaningfully share with them, my oldest piped up, “Mama, I think we need to add Judge Amy to our gratitude pumpkin!” (See image above, top left). The ABCs of ACB washed over me. My work for the day was done.


P.P.S. For all the little girls in your life, you're going to want to get them an ACB T-shirt before they sell out!


Check out Primerrily’s other pieces on ACB below:

7 Kids, 7 Parenting Tips from the Incomparable ACB

Show, Don’t Tell



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