KC Moms That Inspire: Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County Prosecutor

This year for Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating motherhood by featuring several local moms who play important roles both in their families and the Kansas City community. These moms have encouragement for all of us as we care for ourselves, our families and our work.

jean-peters-bakerJackson County (Mo.) Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker is the mother of three children. Along with her husband, Doug, she has fostered and then adopted two of their three children and are passionate supporters of foster care and adoption. Baker is the second woman elected to lead the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office.  In 2011, she prosecuted the bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for failing to report potential abuse of children by a priest. In another case that attracted national attention, Baker was named special prosecutor in October 2013 to investigate the filing of charges in a high-profile sexual assault involving high school football players in northwest Missouri. 

KCMB: What motivated you to be a foster mom and ultimately adopt from that experience?

JPB: From many years in the prosecution profession, I saw so many children who simply needed a home. These children committed no offense, were completely innocent of the circumstances that surrounded them and each of them relied ENTIRELY on us to find a forever family. I also knew that I wanted to be a mom, so I decided it did not matter how I became one. This took some convincing with family members, though little was needed for my husband to love the idea of adoption.  For reasons I do not fully understand, a bias exists against adoption and firmly against adopting a child from the foster care system. Perhaps this bias stems from a belief that these children are damaged somehow. They are not. We are a damaged community that allows children to grow up in foster care because adoptive parents are not available.

You obviously chose a career path that requires a lot of time and energy. How did you (and continue to) balance your responsibilities in both arenas?

This is hard. Really hard. The way I managed to balance these competing interests was with a partner. My husband is my partner in all respects. When the demands of my job increased, he picked up more of the responsibility for our children. We also made tough choices together. When my job choices demanded long hours, and we were struggling to manage our lives, my husband took a job that allowed him more flexibility for our children. That may sound great and such a simple solution, but that also meant less pay. We could not have it all, and we wanted our kids to receive the balance of our time. So we restricted our lifestyle to what we could afford, rather than what some of our friends were able to do.

How do you handle the inevitable mom guilt we all experience as we work to take care of ourselves as mothers, our marriages and kids?

I have missed some soccer games and even the occasional school meeting. And though my husband capably managed those activities, it is painful to miss out on some events. It is easy to look back with a pang of regret for not serving as “the mom” assigned to my kids’ classrooms. But I don’t live with regret. I manage to balance reasonably well and then live with those choices. My kids and husband are healthy and happy and each of them respect the work I do. I do not see myself as different as other working parents. We are all just doing the very best we can.

You see a lot of examples of negative family situations in your job. Does this affect your parenting?

These horrible family situations make me a better mom. I see that not everyone has the opportunities I have. Not everyone was given the same starting point in life. Those negative images motivate me to work harder to make a stronger community and those negative images do not come into my home, but I do want my children to know others are not as fortunate as them. We focus on giving back as a family and find family charity events to do together. And when the image of an injured child haunts me, I am reminded how grateful I am to have beautiful children with bright futures.

What is your advice for mothers in the trenches with young children?

I was coming of age during the 1980s. This was an era of “you can have it all,” meaning you can have the high-powered job, serve on the PTA, have a wonderful marriage and manage it all. I have found the rhetoric from that era to be way off the mark. There are 24 hours in a day, that’s it. If you spend 12 of those hours working at a high-powered job, have commute times, sleep for 6-7 hours, there is little time left.  So you must make choices. Some women choose to stay out of the work force for a time to be the daily caregiver for our kids; others balance the demands of a job with quality time with kids.  I just tried to remember that parenting little ones was only temporary. That meant I needed to give those early years time to be a Mom, but plan for the time when I would fully re-enter the workforce.

So you can’t have it all. No one can. But you can make good solid choices for your family and live in the present – not in regret.

Read about other KC Moms that Inspire:
Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician

Sarah grew up in Manhattan, Kansas (Go Cats!), she moved to Minnesota where she met her husband, Shea. Realizing how much she hated snow in May, she convinced him to move to Kansas City in 2010. Together they have lived in Midtown, Waldo, the Plaza, and now Overland Park. Sarah is mom to 10-year-old, Henry, 7-year-old Clark and 5-year-old Lucy. She has her master’s in urban administration and is passionate about making Kansas City a more equitable and supportive community. In between the crazy, she likes to drink coffee, run, hike, travel as much as possible, and experience all things Kansas City!