Spotlighting the Strong Women in My Life - Part Four

Any acknowledgement of the strong women in my life would be incomplete without mentioning the strongest influence I have had in this: my mom.

Growing up, I think I felt like everyone had a life and parents like mine.  We didn't have a lot of money, I figured no one did.  My parents were fairly strict but also easy going, I thought everyone's were.  My family faced a lot of hardships with my dad's health, but my mom always remained so calm that I thought this was just normal.  It wasn't until I was in my pre-teens I think that I started realizing that my family was odd!

My mom had a difficult upbringing, to understate it.  She did not grow up the way I did, in a secure and loving home, having some degree of certainty.  As a little girl when my mom would challenge me to try things I remember thinking to myself, "my mom would never let anything bad happen to me."  I don't believe my mom grew up with this same confidence.

Of course, the woman I know as my mom today is someone she has grown into over the years.  I did not know her when she was twenty years old, and she will be the first to say that she is not now who she was then.  My mom made choices: choices to live a different life than what she had known as a child.  My mom made choices about who she would marry and how they would raise their children, sometimes making huge sacrifices to do so, but my mom took ownership of those choices.  She made decisions about her career progression, sometimes difficult.  When I was six years old, my dad had a stroke and for some time was incapacitated by it.  My mom was only thirty years old at the time, pregnant with her third child, working very hard to make ends meet.  I remember certain things about this time period very vividly: my mom's calm demeanor (despite what she must have been feeling), three meals a day, a sense of security every night at bedtime.  This was not a given, my mom chose to make these things the reality for her children, and I think about myself now, older than she was then, and I cannot begin to comprehend how difficult it must have been.

I have also had the special privilege of working closely with my mom in a professional setting for the last twenty years.  When I was sixteen, she recommended me for a job in billing at the lab where she worked.  For three years there I learned about management and leadership by observing her.  After relocating to Texas, I did the same thing, working along side her.  She took time to teach me aspects of the job far outside of my own scope, giving me a broad knowledge of the business that I wouldn't otherwise have.  In my current job, I view her as one of my most valued business partners.  We share information to make decisions.  We use each other as a sounding board for ideas and feedback.  We support one another in taking a tough stance when no one else will do so.

It would not be an overstatement to say that so much of who I am professionally is a direct product of her time, leadership and support.  There are challenges to working alongside your high performing, outspoken mother, but those challenges are so far overshadowed by the benefits.

In more recent years, as my dad's health declined, I watched my mom again.  She had long been the provider and care giver in the family, a role she never complained about.  She handled the challenges of his health at the end with grace and adapted to her new life after his passing with real courage.  She has never once uttered the words that life is unfair to her. Quite the contrary, she describes herself as extraordinarily blessed.

We all gain strength in different ways and by different influences. My mom will no doubt attribute much of her own strength to the love and support of my dad, who opened her eyes to a different life than she had ever dreamed.  She has also sought out professional mentors over the years who have empowered her to make decisions and speak up.  My mom would also state (as did my dad) that the legacy that she is most proud of is that she has four highly productive, functional and accomplished children, and that we are the living proof of the good choices that they made together.

I laugh when I think that my mom today is silly, hilarious, sometimes crazy.  Sometimes in a meeting I will roll my eyes and she was erupt into laughter.  I think that my mom is known in these two ways: she is sometimes the only one in the room to speak up about the difficult thing, but her preference is to make her life and her work fun for everyone.

Is my mother perfect? No.  And I do not believe I am portraying her through an idealized perspective.  But when people complain to me about how they have no choices or "I just wasn't raised that way" I always think about my mom.  She wasn't raised that way either.  She made hard choices to have a different life, but those choices have paid off.  To me that is the epitome of female empowerment and strength.