Black Career Women and Strategic Mothering
I was excited to have Riché Daniel Barnes join one of our Thursday webinars. 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 and 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 and I ended our conversation by talking about the growing divide between the haves and the have nots.
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 for our full conversation with Riché. Get inspired by how these mothers redefined marriage, motherhood and community.
Virtual Visits with Grandma
By Diane Mangano-Cohen
For twenty-five years I have had the privilege of being a grandmother to six amazing individuals.
Until recently I have enjoyed weekly visits with my two youngest grandchildren, but social-distancing has changed all of that. There is no more once-a-week childcare for my adorable twenty month-old granddaughter, and no more special time with my curious kindergartener-grandson.
After a few weeks of social-distancing, I realized it was time for a little creativity. I missed my grandchildren and our routines, and I knew their parents needed a break from the constant supervision.
The answer I came up with? Finding virtual experiences that my grandchildren and I could share using the internet.
To design our virtual visits, I used what I knew about my grandson’s current interests as my starting point. I made suggestions and then we brainstormed together on virtual trips to cities, museums and animal habitats. At my grandson’s request, our “visit” to Paris included showing him where Lafayette’s tomb is–he is a big Hamilton fan! I had not known that Lafayette was buried in Paris and together we learned that dirt from Boston’s Bunker Hill is in his burial plot.
I also learned when visiting one of our travel locations it’s a great way to talk about the world and local customs of the people. I share how far away the location is and how long a plane ride takes to provide some context. This is a time-intensive process, but with my own social-distancing, this is a great way to keep me busy and keep my mind stimulated.
Some days my grandson is more attentive than others. Being flexible and being able to switch gears helps us both.
Some visits include art projects after watching the specific artist’s techniques, giving us both a creative outlet. Sharing our work at the end allows us more interaction. For our “Mondrian” project I used pre-cut black construction paper and crayons and my grandson did an amazing job using only Legos.
When researching a recent topic, I do a Google search by typing in, for example: “Best place to virtually see spiders.” This search resulted in a huge variety of websites and YouTube videos. I selected several videos to watch to find the one I felt would best hold my grandson’s interest. I am learning a great deal by viewing these videos to find the age-appropriate and interesting presentation, and have found the whole process very engaging.
Timing my visits with his sister’s nap means both parents have extra time to work or just be off-duty – truly a win-win-win.
Technology has been key to making this happen, and we are fortunate to have both computers and iPads available. We have used both on almost all virtual visits. I can see his face and I know when I need to re-gain his attention with a simple, “Buddy, you still there”? What my grandson needs most is company. We have conversations; but sometimes I’m just a trusted, reassuring voice while he plays with Legos, magnetic tiles or draws.
Video-visiting with the twenty month-old is very different. She tugs at my heart strings when she hugs or kisses the screen. We dance, sing, read stories, eat meals together and just look at each other.
Last night I also video-visited with my oldest granddaughter who is about to turn 25. Working from her apartment in Dallas proved to be too confining, so she is now staying in a Tiny House in the Mountains of Colorado. I also send her a daily “Good Morning” text, which I can tell brightens her days.
I’m really pleased with all the different ways my “virtual grandparenting” has evolved – and like any activity done from the heart, it has provided me with more benefits than I give.
Want to discover how to create a more resilient family – even during the Covid-19 pandemic – through rest, focus and connection? Listen to the above YouTube recording of our recent Thursday webinar.
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.
Meditate—Just 5-10 minutes a day. I use a popular meditation app that has content for the whole family; over the years the kids have used it to ease worries or fall asleep. I switched to a family plan so we could all give meditation a try.
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.
A World Increasingly Obsessed with Work
To understand how we became a world so obsessed with work, you have to understand “systems thinking.” It helps identify the multiple forces that brought us to this present moment, and provides insight into how to make change.
Below are some of the “Laws of Systems Thinking” Peter Senge outlines in his book, The Fifth Discipline. We’ve taken the liberty of applying them to the issue of finding time for both work and family.
Listen to the YouTube recording to hear our powerful conversation with Peter Senge about this troubling problem, and how we can use systems thinking to create more satisfying lives.
Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants
It’s hard to develop solutions that take the whole system into account, but unless we do, real change is not possible. When it comes to work and family both sides impact the whole. To make change, we can’t just focus on changes at work OR home – we can’t cut the elephant in half – we must make changes in both arenas.
Cause and effect may not be closely related in time and space
Systems are very complex, and over time a change in one area may have unintended consequences in another. We can see this from the problem progressive countries faced when long paid parental leaves inadvertently contributed to gender inequality. Luckily, many of these countries are now addressing this problem by requiring fathers to take a certain percent of paid time off as well.
Today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions”
Assumptions around the need to be physically present to get work done are certainly archaic, but it may have been the only way to get work done during the industrial age. Today, the opportunities and challenges of new technologies and a global economy make it much easier to “blend” work and life. However, read on to see how today’s solution is creating problems for tomorrow.
The cure can be worse than the disease
Today, for some people, “blending” has literally become never turning off work. We can see this in Shark Tank super-star Kevin O’Leary’s comments, when he said, “I don’t have a division anymore between vacation time and work. It’s always both. I work every day.” And that rule also applies to his employees: “Do I expect my employees to respond to me when they’re on vacation? 100%,” he says. Is “blending” the only option in today’s 24/7 global economy?
Faster is slower
In today’s global economy, some believe the only answer is working harder and faster, but perhaps there is a better way … Instead of prioritizing work over the rest of our lives (and the environment!), we believe we need to develop a new mental model that allows all of us to live life at a more human pace. We at ThirdPath call it “Work-Life Integration” — prioritizing work alongside other life interests — whether it’s caring for our children, our aging loved ones, our communities, or caring for our environment.
Small changes can produce big results — but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious
Click on the YouTube video to listen to our conversation with Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline – one of the most well-known books written about systems thinking. We explored the growing problem of “workism” – the pattern of people seeking validation exclusively through work — and how to use systems thinking to fight against it.
Pauses Increase Happiness and Effectiveness
Are you feeling the need for a pause in your life? Luckily, there is a good deal of evidence that shows taking a pause helps us to live happier lives AND become more effective at work.
Joe Robinson, also talks about this in his book Don’t Miss Your Life, where he points out… “Satisfying work and a well-lived life are the result of thinking, assessing, and having the attention to create a better pathway forward. Something no one else can do for us. What you want doesn’t happen on its own. You have to make it happen.”
Here are 8 different beneficial pauses, big and small, that Robinson suggests we start implementing today:
1. Big Picture Pause.
Set aside a chunk of time, say, 30 minutes this week and then once a month, to think about where you’re going at work and life this year and why you’re going there. What are your work goals? Life priorities? What’s missing from the picture? What do you need to change? How can you do that?
2. Work Effectiveness Pause.
Review tasks and identify ones that are frequent bottlenecks and time-wasters. How could they be adjusted for less stress and more effectiveness?
3. Priorities Pause.
Set aside 10 minutes at the end of the workday or at the beginning to map out the top five tasks on your list for today or tomorrow.
4. Balance Pause.
Each Friday, take a few minutes to assess the state of your work-life balance. Are you out of whack? What needs to happen to have a better work-life fit?
5. Recharge Pauses.
Fatigued brains look like ones that are sound asleep. Pause when the pressure peaks, you’re stuck, concentration fades, the daydreaming begins. Take a walk, listen to music, or plan your weekend to build up energy and cognitive resources again.
6. Free Time Pause.
Take time to put together a free-time log for a week of all your time outside work. Where are the time sinks? Where are the free-time slots you could schedule a new hobby or activity? What would you like to do? Salsa dancing? Cycling?
7. Vacation Pause.
Figure out at the beginning of the year where you want to go on vacation and when you want to go. This makes it easier for coworkers and managers and locks them and you into making the holiday happen at the most opportune time, with plenty of notice to make workflow adjustments.
8. Life List Pause.
Take some time to think about what you’d like to do on this planet for the experience of it. What’s on your Life List? Sail the South Seas? Learn guitar? Keep a rotating list of five experiences and start jotting down steps to make them happen.