Black Career Women and Strategic Mothering
Once again we will have Riché Daniel Barnes join our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars this month. Her amazing book, Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood and Community taught me how much the Black professional mothers in her study have in common with our Shared Care families.
Her study reinforced how the dichotomy between work and family isn’t working for anybody.
To challenge this, these Black professional mothers had adopted a more flexible approach that provided a wider range of options to meet their responsibilities around work, family, community and marriage.
When I asked Riché what prompted her to begin this study, she explained, “I was in grad school, so I had time to take my daughter to the library a couple times each week and I kept on noticing the same Black mothers who were there as well. Every Black woman I knew had always worked. But this group of women were showing up week after week. Some of these mothers were taking time for family alongside their careers. Some were not planning to go back to work. Some were planning to go back, they just weren’t yet sure when.” And all of them, Riché pointed out, were doing this without any role models.
Riché uses the concept of “Strategic Mothering” to describe what she observed.
This is an approach Black women have used for generations as a way to strengthen their communities through their work as caregivers, culture bearers and community builders. Whether flexing a full time job, working reduced hours, or temporarily stepping away from their careers, these Black professional women were searching for ways to break down the dichotomy between work and family.
In a previous interview, when asked how their more flexible approach to work and family was an example of “Strategic Mothering”, Riché answered, “In the time span that I interviewed these families, only 2 have ended in divorce. These women saw having an intact family as important to the community. Family life is devalued. Marriage is devalued. The majority of black children are being raised in single-parent households. These women saw what they were doing — by staying together — as ‘raising the race.’”
However, as Riché clarified, these mothers hadn’t arrived at these answers just by choice.
Their strategy was based on a history that included slavery, Jim Crow and systemic racism. This historical context helped illustrate why, as Black women, it was assumed they would combine work and motherhood. It also underscores how the ongoing racism Black families face – including Black professional families – makes it extremely risky to rely on just one parent’s income.
Riché explained, “These families knew they were making a precarious decision. Even as professional families, most were just one generation away from not having had anything. And because their financial circumstances were often dependent on an employer – they knew they had to put other types of financial solutions in place for themselves.” For many, this meant having some other type of income producing activity on the side, whether it was real estate, something entrepreneurial, or something else.
Riché points to the need to create better public policy to address this problem.
Riché argued, “We are putting more responsibilities on families to take care of themselves, and we’ve eroded the safety net that so many of us have worked hard to create.” Going forward, we need to create good public policy and good workplace policies. Unfortunately, Riché concluded, our country does not seem to be going in this direction. “We need to pivot our conversation and recognize that families can’t do all of this work themselves.”
Check out the above YouTube video to listen to our first conversation with Riché. Then register to join us on 1/14/21 @ 1pm ET to learn more about this important topic.
Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community … Read on to learn about Sergio’s journey as a non-traditional father and husband.
The Essence of Sergio Rosario Díaz
Yet, despite his pride, Sergio hasn’t always opened with the military part of that description.
Why not? It seems that many folks have a very specific idea in mind when they hear the term “military spouse.”
As Sergio says, “I can be a good spouse without solely being defined as a ‘military spouse’ . . . your roles are defined by who you are, your essence, not by where you work or what you do.”
Sergio recently joined ThirdPath’s team as a Marketing and Social Media Associate. He is going to help grow ThirdPath’s social media presence. And like all of our employees, he has a multidimensional spirit that we benefit from.
In addition to working for ThirdPath, Sergio is the director of Proyecto Piquete, a band focused on folkloric rhythms from Puerto Rico and oral history through music. He manages Soy Super Papa, a community whose mission is empowering fathers to focus on highlighting their roles in society and within the family.
So “who” Sergio is can be many things. He is an educator and an entrepreneur. He is a community leader and a drum instructor. He is a doting dad, caring husband and supportive spouse. That is his essence.
Sergio met his wife, Lyn, in Washington, D.C. She was working as an attorney in the U.S. Army and he was employed by a large family services organization.
They had a daughter, Stella, who they started in full-time childcare. But childcare was expensive, and it made for a stressful start to their life as a family. So they talked about it. “I think,” adds Sergio. “The most important part of the story was the communication throughout the whole process.”
“Communication is key,” he says. “I feel that is something anyone who reads this story needs to know.”
Then, two big changes were made. They moved to North Carolina, and Sergio left his job to become the primary caregiver for Stella. However, it turns out that the concept of being a stay-at-home dad is often met by the same antiquated notions as military spouse.
“It’s very hard. When people first meet you, the first thing they ask is what do you do for work? Instead of asking, how are you? Tell me your story. The first thing they want to talk about is work. And living in D.C. or other big cities, it’s even more that way.”
“If you are thinking about doing something less traditional, you need to have good communication. And when stressful situations come, criticism from the family, from friends, from relatives, the first thing that needs to be done is to communicate with your significant other, just let them know how you feel.”
It’s also about support, both personally and professionally.
Sergio was able to focus on his professional identity through drumming, entrepreneurship and educating, while Lyn pursued her goals within her military career. Depending on the circumstances, they would prioritize different roles.
“In my case, when it’s about the military community, I tend to shift to a supportive role. When we are in the musical and cultural community, I take the lead in the role, and my wife is a supporter. So we each feel important in our own communities, but we also both support each other.
Sergio and Lyn have an incredible partnership where they see each other as very capable of caregiving and very capable of having their respective professional identities.
They also understand each other’s responsibilities. “When we sit and watch TV, it’s because we both have time. So we respect each other’s chores, duties, exercise time, all these things. Musical time, when I’m recording, she respects my time and she goes and does her own thing. So it’s about balancing those chores, those responsibilities.
We knew when we first met Sergio he was the right guy for the job. Not only does he bring great skills and a passion around involved fatherhood, he and his wife also have a great team at home – and we’ve certainly learned how all of these things help develop a more creative and committed employee for the long run.
All year long our Thursday webinars will explore new approaches to work and family to help you find a more sustainable solution during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. Here’s where you can find out what’s happening next.
Or, click the above YouTube link to watch this season’s opening webinar. Sergio joined us along with two exciting book authors as we explored how to rethink the mental load as an important step to creating more sustainable solutions (and greater gender equity too!)
10 Proven Ways to Balance Family and Work
Does it sometimes feel challenging to create a team approach at home?
Listen to our recent Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar to discover how you can strengthen your partnership at home as you navigate work and family through the pandemic. Our guests were Catherine Aponte and Rachel Allender, both long time ThirdPath community members who work with couples.
Researchers at Colorado State University studied 47 middle-class, dual-earner couples with children to identify key strategies for successfully managing family and work balance. Here are the 10 ways these couples found to balance family and work.
1. Valuing Family. Successful couples stress the importance of keeping family as their highest priority. They create family time such as “pizza night” on Friday, or bedtime stories every night. It is not uncommon for these couples to limit work hours… or make career changes… to keep family as the number one priority.
H (Husband): …Every night, one of us reads with our son for about 20 minutes.
W (Wife): …David was going to go to medical school…. creating eight-plus years of being an absentee father…. we said no…. we needed to pursue something else.
2. Striving for Partnership. Being partners means being equally valued.
H: …My job is both earning and caring, and so is hers.
H: …If I win and she loses, then we both lose.
W: …We continue to talk about career…where do we want to be?
3. Deriving Meaning From Work. Successful couples experience enjoyment and purpose from their careers and jobs.
W: …We both really like our jobs…they’re stressful at times, but we…feel good about what we are doing.
H: …I get a great deal of satisfaction from my job.
4. Maintaining Work Boundaries. Successful couples make a commitment to maintaining control over work, not allowing careers to dictate the pace of their lives.
W: …We both like our jobs, but, when it’s quitting time, we’re out of there.
W: …When you’re at home, you’re at home; and when you’re at work, you’re at work.
H: …We’ve always said “no” to jobs that required long hours…weekends, lots of overtime.
5. Focusing and Producing at Work. Being productive at work is important to successful couples. Setting limits on their careers has not adversely affected their productivity.
H: …We both pull our weight at [our] jobs. [No one] has felt we’re slacking off or getting off easy because we’ve got kids.
W: …I don’t mess around. When I’m there, I’m working.
6. Prioritizing Family Fun. Successful couples use play and family fun to relax, enjoy life, stay emotionally connected, and create balance in their lives.
H: …I think a lot of our family bonding revolves around these excursions, going on lots of hikes or bike trips…sometimes fishing, concerts…the three of us.
W: …Once in a while, we’ll just try and do stuff off the cuff; one night we had a camp night in front of the fireplace.
7. Taking Pride in Dual Earning. These couples believe dual earning is positive for all members of their family and do not accept negative societal message about their family arrangement.
W: …Of course [children] fulfill you, but they can only fulfill a certain part of you.
H: …One of the nicest gifts that Patty has ever given me is to go to work and to bring home a good income.
8. Living Simply. These couples consciously simplifying their lives.
W: …We don’t go out to eat. We don’t need cable. We don’t need to sit in front of the TV anyway.
H: …We don’t use credit cards. We can’t have fancy cars where the payments just eat you up.
9. Making Decisions Proactively. Being proactive in decision making is most important. Successful couples are vigilant in not allowing the pace of their lives control them.
W: …If you define success as what you do at work, then that is all you will do…if you define success as having a happy family and a happy marriage and [being] happy at work, then you make all those things happen.
H: …We talk a lot during the day…[about] anything from getting the oil changed in the car to who is bringing plates over to mom’s house. There’s not much I don’t know about.
10. Valuing Time. Successful couples try to remain aware of the value of time.
W: …I think you are almost forced to make better use of the time that you have together by the nature of the fact that you work.
H: …We try to do a lot of our [house] work during the week, so that the weekends are free.
To learn more about this study, find the full post on Psychology Today.
A Team at Home Makes Tough Times Better
By Janna Cawrse Esarey
A couple weeks into the Covid-19 pandemic, with schools, businesses, and fishing closed—my husband LOVES fishing—the mood in our household turned bleak. I got sighy. My husband got grumpy. And our two daughters, ages 11 and 14, got zombified by TikTok.
We needed to regroup.
But now, a few weeks in, our sweet moods were turning sour. Money stress. Anxiety about the future. Social withdrawal.
After a preliminary huddle with me, my husband called a family meeting. We needed more structure to our days, he explained to our girls, a routine that promoted health, productivity, and joy for each of us.
We made a huge rambling list of possibilities: activities we wanted to do (theme dinners, read-alouds), skills we wanted to learn (photoshop, carving), habits we wanted to develop (meditate, exercise), passions we wanted to pursue (aerial silks, dog training), home improvement projects we could finally knock off the to-do list (weeding, hang art, save the amaryllis). Some of the activities were frivolous (watch every Star Wars movie in the so-called correct order). Some were serious (read half a dozen memoirs to help me hone my writing craft). But all ideas went on the board.
Next, my husband wrote up a Plan of the Day that included various buckets. We figured if everyone could try to do something from each of these categories daily, pandemic life in our house would be much better. Heck, life would be better.
Read more …
Work/School—I rise early and write every day before heading to work to deliver meals. That leaves my husband Zooming on business while overseeing the girls’ distance learning through their public schools. We’ve told the girls their number one lesson in every subject right now is self-direction. It’s a legitimate and valuable lifelong skill; what an opportunity to learn it.
Home—Kids are often more capable than we think. I was surprised when my husband taught our youngest to iron at age five. I taught the kids to do their own laundry around that age, too. These days they’re tackling more than just the basic chores (clean bathrooms, vacuum). They’re also trimming hedges, hemming curtains, power-washing the deck. When kids contribute authentically to housework alongside adults, they know they’re part of a team.
Exercise/Nature—Where we live we can still exercise outside, thank goodness. Even just walking the dog counts as much-needed time in nature. In addition to us each trying to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, our youngest is in charge of the Daily Exercise Challenge. Our eldest won the wall-sit contest. My husband won at plank. I always win at Most Likely to Laugh Hysterically While Competing.
Skill/Passion—These buckets are often the best parts of our days. They’re self-chosen, self-motivating, and, therefore, the best way to get our kids off the screen. Or, if the skill being learned is screen-based, photoshop, say, at least they’re giving TikTok a break.
Eat—Our school district is making sack lunches and breakfasts free for all students, a huge help for us financially and logistically during this stressful time, so that just leaves dinners to plan. Normally, my husband is the chef, but now each of us is taking a turn. The girls came up with the idea of International Night twice a week; two people cook and the other two present fun facts about the country.
Morale in our home has improved. We don’t accomplish every bucket every day, of course—and we still experience a good bit of cabin fever—but we’ve had some pleasant successes and fun surprises.
Janna Cawrse Esarey is a writer, mother, sailor, and school bus driver on an island near Seattle. She is the author of the travel memoir The Motion of the Ocean and is working on a new memoir called MATE about how navigating modern parenthood is more perilous than sailing the Arctic. She knows; she’s tried both. Visit saildogbark.com where you can drop her a line.
Want to discover more about how parents are creating a “team at home” to manage the unique needs of their families, adjusted work responsibilities and time to recharge during this period of crisis? Listen to the above YouTube recording of our recent Thursday webinar.
Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community … Read on to learn about Julian’s Shared Care story, or watch our YouTube interview with Julian.
Graduating from college in the early 1980’s having studied social work and childcare Julian found it difficult to find work in his chosen field given the state of the economy at that time. He was newly married, had a young step-daughter and a new baby on the way. As a result, Julian took a job in building maintenance working double shifts to help make ends meet.
After the birth of their third daughter, Julian was at home with the girls during the day until he left for his night time maintenance job. Then Debbie would take over, making dinner, bathing and putting the three girls to bed. This arrangement lasted for almost 10 years until their youngest daughter reached 3rd grade.
Some would think a schedule like this was problematic, but Julian treasured these years. Walking the girls to and from school each day and attending school events and trips, meant everyone could see what an involved father he was.
Read more …
Julian remembers some of the challenges as well. To begin with there were many days when a full day of parenting, followed by a full shift at work was exhausting. In addition, money was always an issue. They rented a house to keep expenses low, and when the car died, they used public transport, not buying another car for years. But both parents new the time they had with young children was finite. Once when Julian was offered overtime at work, he turned it down. He knew the extra money would help, but he preferred to have the extra time for family.
Julian knows his decision to be an involved father was influenced by his own childhood. “My dad was not there for me in my life and that affected me. It made me want to be in my girls’ lives.” He continued, “My mother was at home with us when we were young, but eventually she became a single mom. She made many sacrifices for us. She had seven kids and she leaned heavily on the older boys, as there was just one girl. We boys were the babysitters, and we learned early that being a parent meant sacrificing.”
When asked about the impact of the decision for both parents to share in the care of their children Julian explains; “We were able to take advantage of an open door. This schedule wasn’t planned, it just worked out for us, and my daughters and I forged a strong bond as a result. If I had not been at home all those years, I probably would have had to work much harder to have those relationships.”
Today Julian is the director of a childcare center for a vibrant community church. As he reflects on his story he said, “Hopefully now I am in a position to help teach and guide parents. When we have problems in our families, we have to take a deep look and ask ourselves, what can we as a community do to help?”
Want more inspiration? Tune in to our next Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar to meet more inspiring pioneers doing work, family and leadership differently!