Jane Pauley talks about the priorities in her life

ALTHOUGH Jane Pauley wears two hats -- TV newswoman and mother -- she believes she has her priorities on straight: ``The children come first.'' Miss Pauley, wife of cartoonist Garry Trudeau, mother of 14-month-old boy/girl twins, is co-host of ``Today'' (NBC, weekdays, 7-9 a.m.) and now the anchor of an NBC White Paper special: Women, Work and Babies: Can America Cope? (NBC, Saturday, 10-11 p.m.).

She makes it clear that her dedication to husband and children does not mean her position as ``the grande dame of morning television news'' is not an important aspect of her persona. Miss Pauley seems to thrive on her busy, varied life and, since her maternity leave, has been heralded by critics and colleagues alike as ``a new, mature woman.'' And most attribute the change to motherhood.

I chatted the other morning with this still-pretty-and-perky, even if ``new, mature woman,'' in her comfortably ``undecorated look'' office at NBC headquarters in Rockefeller Center. Although she had just returned from the ``Today'' set, after a quick taping of on-air promos for the NBC White Paper, for which she acts only as anchor rather than reporter, she seemed well groomed, well adjusted, and in complete control of the moment.

She ordered a hot drink and quickly looked over a folder of background notes on her desk. Then she took a seat behind her desk, at the same time making sure the interviewer was ensconced in a cozy Kennedy-era rocking chair . . . albeit slightly lower than her own chair.

``New, mature Jane Pauley,'' she mused amusedly. ``What they mean is that I've grown. Well, after eight years at the job, isn't it only natural? It's age and experience, not hormones, that did it.''

Jane Pauley is personally involved in all of the problems outlined in ``Women, Work and Babies: Can America Cope?'' documentary. But she never mentions her own situation. Can she cope?

``I tried to keep my own personal life out of it, because I didn't want it to look like an exploitative setup,'' she says with a chuckle; ``yet . . . here I am talking to you surrounded by pictures of my children on the desk. I don't think of myself as representative at all. I have a lot of advantages that the women in the documentary don't have. I have been discriminating about child-care help and can afford to be. I also have the luxury of a very flexible schedule. I don't have to catch a commuter train in the morning [she leaves her comfortable Manhattan apartment at 5 for the 7 o'clock start of ``Today,'' before the children are awake, if she is fortunate], and I don't come home after dark [she can return to her apartment by 11 a.m. most days], and I can spend most midmornings, lunch, and afternoons with the kids. Sometimes homework for the next day's program is brought to my door if I can't come to the office. So I put in a full day's hours but I have the luxury of doing so at home.''

``Women, Work and Babies'' is a prime example of the new direction in NBC News. It is solidly interesting as well as informative, honest yet hard hitting, and totally relevant. Now that two-thirds of American families include a working mother -- there are 19 million working mothers -- the fact is that America is not coping with the problems of child care and maternity leaves. Though the documentary does not offer any solutions, it does a public service by italicizing the fact that there has been a social revolution that has not been integrated into our society.

``There are no quick fixes,'' Miss Pauley concludes after serving to introduce the incisive reporting work of Lisa Meyers and Jack Reynolds. ``Society has just begun to recognize that we have a problem . . . we have not yet begun to solve it.''

Well, a straightforward TV program such as this can do a great deal to help alert America to the fact that the problem will not go away if it contunues to be ignored.

Has motherhood changed Pauley's work habits?

``I've been forced to learn how to be efficient. I know what I have to do and I don't waste time doing things I don't need to do. I'm really focused.''

Has motherhood changed her attitude toward work?

``I don't want to dwell on my personal experience too much, but, as any woman in a work/baby situation will attest, coming back to work is a wrenching experience. I came back to work when my children were two months old. At that early age, they seem to have little awareness of anybody but their Raggedy Ann dolls, so it wasn't a matter of them missing me. I was missing them. . . . However, I have learned I can be a full-time employee at NBC and still be very close to being a full-time mother. But only with help at home.''

The documentary deals mainly with the generation of working mothers with children under age 6 -- Jane Pauley's generation -- and she wants to make it clear that it is an ironic situation: ``Most of us in the baby-boom generation were raised by full-time mothers. Even as recently as 14 years ago, 6 out of 10 mothers with babies were staying at home. Today that is totally reversed. Does that mean we love our children less than our mothers loved us? No, but it certainly causes a lot of guilt trips.''

Are more women today choosing to give up their jobs and stay at home with their babies?

``That's a personal decision many women are struggling with right now. Many women I know did not go back to work like I did. I see that happening more and more. That is going to have an impact on career attitudes down the road.''

Pauley stresses that the focus of the documentary is tilted toward career women in executive jobs. ``Women who must work to help support their family have always been here, struggling alone. It's not a new phenomenon. What is new is this generation of career women who must weigh their personal satisfaction from the workplace against a yearning and need to be hands-on mothers at home. The women who must work to raise money can justify leaving in the morning. But women who choose to work carry a greater burden of guilt.''

Are there signs that America is coping with the problems of working mothers? ``No, That's what's so sad about this documentary. Women are not going to find a lot of comfort in it unless it is in knowing that so many other women are in the same boat. But misery loves company, so maybe there is some comfort in knowing that we are part of a broad phenomenon.

``The bad news is that although working women will come away understanding their problems better, they may feel a bit more guilty than ever about leaving their kids with others. The good news is that at least we are now talking about it.''

Pauley is not a complainer and has obviously adjusted to being ``second banana'' to Bryant Gumbel on the ``Today'' show. She makes it clear, however, that although she is called ``co-host'' on the ``Today'' show, she recognizes that she is actually ``the lesser of two equals.''

``There is the perception that we are equals. But, in fact, Bryant Gumbel is the head guy, although not in the absolute way that David Hartman rules the roost on ABC's `Good Morning, America.' ''

When Barbara Walters was a regular on the show at the time Frank McGee hosted it, she was relegated, she now confides, to ``women's'' material. ``Unlike Barbara,'' Pauley explains, ``I get a good share, if not 50-50, of the meatier stories. . . .However, in the long run, I'm second among equals.''

Pauley explains that she is able to accept the situation because ``I'm not driven by killer ambition. I'm not a workaholic. I'm a good team player. I don't have to be captain, but I do want to play on a winning team. Right now I'm very much at peace in what I consider one of the best jobs in America.''

Even though the children must be left at home for some of the time? She laughs, then shrugs. ``My son has been known to throw a book at the television set when he called for me to come play and I was obviously busy in the box. But I'm told that children of television performers grow up thinking that all mommies or daddies work on TV and that it's no big deal.''

Is it a big deal? She thinks for a moment, but only a moment. ``It's only television.''

Then she says, with a look of joy and anticipation in her eyes: ``Since the interview is over, can I show you some snapshots of Ross and Rachel?'' A Friday column

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