As Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's Supreme Court nominee, began her opening remarks at the confirmation hearing earlier this week, she addressed her children: 

“Girls, I know it has not been easy, as I have tried to navigate the challenges of juggling my career and motherhood," the federal judge said to her two daughters, Talia, 21, and Leila, 17. “And I fully admit, I did not always get the balance right.”

There she was, a judge poised to assume one of the most prestigious roles in the United States and make history as the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice, and before a single member of the Senate Judiciary Committee could question her work or devalue her record, she seemingly beat them to it: she was already making an apology.

Related: What I didn't understand about being a working mom until I was one

It’s something working mothers around the nation either deeply understood or barely registered. The idea that a woman would grapple with the commingling needs of her career and her family is so ubiquitous to the modern motherhood experience that discussing it feels unnecessary—akin to asking a neighbor, “how was your day?” or commenting on the weather. 

Perhaps that’s why her role as a mom was barely discussed in the three long days of hearings—in which she was asked to answer for her supposed leniency in child pornography cases and was grilled about her stance on critical race theory, a ploy that involved Ted Cruz holding up a copy of the children’s book, Antiracist Baby. Perhaps it wasn’t a consistent discussion topic because it could actually be inferred as sexist, or at the very least anti-feminist, to comment on her dual role as a parent. 

For certain, there have been a total of 120 justices to sit on the Supreme Court bench—115 of them, men. Many of these men have also been parents, but raising children is rarely, if ever, discussed when they’ve been considered for high-profile public service jobs. On the contrary, even Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the two female justices who do not happen to be mothers, garnered mixed attention for their childfree statuses at the time of their hearings. Op-eds, for instance, criticized Obama’s selection of Kagan as a missed opportunity to have the voice of a mother on the bench, yet finding press about the added value of a father’s perspective rarely turned up for their male counterparts in recent years. It didn’t make headlines when John Roberts and Samuel Alito became justices in the early 2000s, and— aside from attempts to bill him as a “father of daughters” in order to diminish sexual assault claims—it certainly didn’t dominate the news cycle for Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

Perhaps this was enough of a damning precedent to warrant keeping it out of future Supreme Court nomination hearings: that by continuously calling attention to a woman’s motherhood status, it upholds the deep-seated notion that raising children is the work of women. 

Related: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s remarks on working motherhood go viral

But then there was Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Just two years ago, she was in the exact same seat that Jackson is in now. Confirmed to the Supreme Court in a record 30 days, Barrett wore her working mother title like a badge of honor throughout her hearing, and senators on both sides of the aisle addressed her parental standing with respect and reverence. The fact that she had seven children between the ages of 8 and 18 seemed as much evidence of her professional aptitude as her courtroom credentials. To wit, when Democrats expressed concern she’d vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley made no mention of her scholarly writings on the subject when he said, "As a mother of seven, Judge Barrett clearly understands the importance of health care." Aside from a glib remark about who does the laundry in her home, Barrett—a self-proclaimed carpool driver and birthday party planner—was lauded as a “superstar.” She was called “remarkable.” Anyone who dared question her nomination was billed as anti-feminist and anti-family. 

For better or worse, this has not been Jackson’s experience over the past few days. She wasn’t asked, “how do you do it?” She wasn’t celebrated for the children she raised or the theoretical balls she juggled at the top of every senator’s list of talking points.

Pool/Getty Images

Whereas Barrett’s experience seemed to spotlight the achievements of working mothers, Jackson’s hearing served as a not-quite-as-shining reminder of the historically overlooked achievements unique to Black working mothers. 

Indeed, Black working mothers are such a fixture of our nation’s history—they have been working outside the home for more than two centuries, far longer than mothers along all other racial lines—that their contributions have evolved to be much like faded wallpaper in an old home. Expected, and decidedly unremarkable. 

Forgotten among the struggles of working mothers, generally, is that Black mothers have always been more likely to work. At 78 percent compared to 66 percent, they still have a higher participation rate in the labor force yet earn less than white mothers. Considering two-thirds of Black mothers are equal, primary, or sole earners for their households, this means that those income inequalities have a far greater negative impact on their families. 

Related: Giving birth shouldn’t be a death sentence, but for Black moms, this is the reality

By not addressing working motherhood, it becomes easy to ignore the barriers women face. And by only acknowledging the working motherhood of moms like Barrett, it becomes easy to deny that moms like Jackson exist. 

But it is these Black working moms who face the dual forces of sexism and racism throughout their lives and their careers. In order for them to succeed, they have to work harder for less. And then, after all that sacrifice, they—as Jackson did—still feel the need to apologize for it. 

One of the few mentions of Jackson’s parenthood aside from her own opening remarks were those of Senator Corey Booker, who asked her to elaborate on her “provocative” statement—her apology for not finding the proper balance between completing her work and raising her daughters.

Related: Being a working mom is my identity. But can we drop the label?

“I had struggled like so many working moms to juggle motherhood and career,” she responded. “And it takes a lot of hard work to become a judge, to do the work of a judge, which I’ve done now for almost 10 years. You have a lot of cases. It’s a lot of early mornings and late nights. What that means is that there will be hearings during your daughters’ recitals, there will be emergencies on birthdays that you have to handle. You don’t have to be a perfect mom. But if you do your best and love your children… things will turn out OK.”

As the Senate prepares to vote on Jackson in the coming weeks, it’s likely that she will be confirmed. 

What’s less clear is whether they’ll have taken into consideration her work outside of the judge’s chambers or if they too will overlook the struggles of another Black working mom. Perhaps her statement wasn’t an apology after all, but a call to be seen as one.