If I’ve learned anything as a mom, it’s that parenthood is one never-ending learning exercise. Whether it’s the myriad of ways pregnancy teaches us about our bodies, the exhausting and sleep-deprived lessons we learn postpartum, or the painful realization that when we celebrate our children’s milestones we’ll also mourn the passage of time, being a mom has been a series of teachable moments and learn-as-you-go tutorials.
But I’ve struggled to come up with a lesson I’m supposed to learn from 2020. What can we glean from a time when over 280,000 of our fellow Americans have been killed by a virus that has been repeatedly downplayed by our elected officials? What am I supposed to take away from millions of Americans losing their jobs, the 8 million who slipped into poverty, or the 865,000 women who were pushed out of the workforce in September alone? I already knew that working moms lack real, tangible, systemic support in this country. I already knew that systemic racism remains prevalent, which is why the virus is disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx communities. I was already painfully aware that even though more moms are working outside the home, we’re still shouldering the majority of the child rearing and household responsibilities. These realities are nothing new.
It wasn’t until recently, when I was laying in bed with my daughter, that I uncovered the lesson I am going to take away from a truly disheartening and difficult year.
In the haze of another Groundhog’s Day-like morning, I asked my daughter, “Who is my amazing little girl?” She looked up at me and said, “Who is my Strong Like A Mama?” an ode to a recent virtual event my company, HeyMama, threw earlier this year in support and celebration of moms. During a time when it can be difficult to see the forest through the proverbial trees, I realized all that my daughter has learned this year, as she watched her mom, a CEO and co-founder of a startup company, run a business from home.
Every day, my daughter, Lili, works with me at my desk and hears me on all of my morning calls. She joins me on Zoom meetings to say “hi” to my team members, and has become accustomed to hearing me map out 2021 business strategies, create sales presentations, and lead mandatory team meetings. She has gone out of her way to suggest potential business partners I could consider — people she hears about on the various podcasts she listens to — and often comes to me with ideas for my business.
My daughter has also witnessed what is possible when women support, encourage, and inform one another. As the co-founder of an online community of work-driven moms, my daughter has watched (and had far too much fun helping) me open packages from other women entrepreneurs sharing the fruition of their endless dedication and hard work. Everything from bath bombs, to jewelry, clothes, subscriptions boxes, and glasses, she has become accustomed to watching working moms support, both financially and emotionally, other working moms.
The environment my daughter has grown up in is certainly not the environment I was accustomed to as a child. As an immigrant, and then a single mom, my mother worked three jobs to support her family. She worked out of necessity, not passion, and there wasn’t a community of entrepreneurs around me from which I could learn from or emulate. I never had the opportunity to watch my mom pursue a dream she loved — she gave that up so that I could have a better future; the chance to pursue what was out of her reach. She taught me that I could achieve anything I set my mind to; that my work ethic would guide my success; that a goal reached is the end result of determination in action.
My daughter, on the other hand, has had the opportunity to watch her mother work because she wants to, not just because she needs to. (And as a single mom who has never not worked, I have always needed to.) She knows that there’s a whole world of entrepreneurship available to her — one that is valid, realistic, and exciting. A career that provides her freedom, opportunity, and encourages her to dip into her untapped potential is not foreign to her, but one she feels comfortable pursuing. And of course, she has also seen that running a business while raising a family is not always glorious or glamorous. It is difficult. It is exhausting. It can be terrifying. But it is worth it.
Every day that this pandemic rages on has been a game of tug-of-war between focusing on my daughter and focusing on work — a game I don’t always “win.” But my daughter knows that I have found my calling in entrepreneurship, and that I am doing important work that I love and that fulfills every part of me.
This year, I have learned how proud my daughter is of me. She has told me as much, and every day I see it and feel it as she continues to watch me work from home, run a business, and manage the many responsibilities of entrepreneurship and motherhood. She knows that her mom is respected, and is admired for her abilities outside of parenthood — for her contributions to a business that fulfills her and inspires others; the energy she gives back to the world; the way she leads and encourages the people she works with; the ideas she has the courage to share and the business decisions she has the power to make.
I have learned that my daughter has seen, firsthand, that her mom has different sides of her. She knows that to have a family and a career is more than just a juggling act — it’s inspiration, clarity, confidence, and creativity. Most importantly, she knows that in a year of so much uncertainty, the future is still boundless in its possibility. She, like her mom, will create her own career journey, and motherhood doesn’t have to be a hindrance, but can actually help her build it in a way that works best for her.