This week I am preparing to present some of my work and expertise at the Women of NATE conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am honored to teach them some of my tried-and-true techniques that keep me going during the long workdays that are infiltrated with supporting clients with some of the worst trauma and pain I’ve observed – not to mention needing to be “on and ready” for my son, and trying to stay present, emotionally available, and open for connection with my partner.
I don’t think I’d be as successful as I am in all of these realms if I didn’t practice what I preach.
As I prepare to speak with over 200 strong female leaders from around the country, I am reminded of the many strong women who were involved in my own upbringing. I often reflect on what I observed and learned, and how I utilize the beautiful painting of resources they created for me.
Both of my grandmothers were valedictorian of their college class, and the first female to attend college in their families. My biological mother was a family lawyer and then was the first female judge in our county of residence. She experienced a lot of criticism throughout her career, and it often came with character attacks around being a female and mother and how this “impeded” her judgment on the stand (as if men couldn’t experience similar challenges as fathers and husbands when making difficult decisions). She (and her family) experienced years of stalking, harassment, bullying, violence, and public ridicule, and this was on top of observing the underbelly of society for the majority of her work day.
I remember sitting on the counter when I was around age 12 and watching her walk in the door and immediately start cooking dinner with a smile on her face. I asked her, “Mom, how is it that you can come home from a day like that and go right into cooking dinner while singing along to the radio as if you’re not even tired?!” She looked at me and smiled saying, “When you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life. I love my work, and I love you.” Well, there ya have it, I guess! Of course, I’m sure it wasn’t that simple, but that was a good enough answer for me at the time.
I never really realized everything my mother did in her time in between motherhood and judgeship until I was in graduate school and randomly attended an awards ceremony because I happened to be in town that day. My mother casually said, “I’ll be receiving a community award today if you want to come by.” When I heard the introduction speech my jaw dropped. The mayor went into a long list of things my mom had created during the past 20 years of her career, including Family Court – a separate court specifically for family law so families didn’t have to wait years to settle disputes from child custody, divorce, child support, etc. Then he handed the mic to Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister to present my mother with the “Peace Award”! I’ve never been so proud to be her daughter. She was raised in near poverty on her grandparents’ farm, only seeing her parents once a week until age 8 because they couldn’t afford to keep her full time. She worked hard, climbed the ladder, and broke the glass ceiling. Her life demonstrated that hard work and determination could do just about anything.
My other mother was Barbara, my family’s housekeeper and nanny growing up. With both of my parents working full time in the legal field and participating in multiple community co-ops and organizational meetings in the evenings, we needed another person to help pick us up from school and drive us around to all of the extracurricular activities of piano lessons, dance class, swim team, and anywhere else we needed to go. Barbara always seemed to know what to say, and when to not say anything. It was like she could read my mind before I even got into her car after school. Her presence was never anything but unconditional love, and raw honesty. She worked long hours for us, sometimes into the later evening if both of my parents were held up. Then she would go home, “take a nap” and head to her night job as a home nurse from 11pm-7am. She was usually at our house by 8am every morning. I never understood how someone could function like that for decades. I would see the exhaustion in her eyes. She never faltered. No matter how tired she was, she was always there to listen, give advice and encouragement, and tell us never to give up on our dreams. She is one of the strongest, most resilient, spiritually-grounded women I have ever known.
I remember going to church with her – and how much more fun it was than the church we went to. I grew up going to Catholic school, attending Episcopal church on the weekends with my family, and occasionally going to Barbara’s Baptist church with her for “fun”. Even though it lasted almost four hours, we were singing and dancing and hitting the tambourines the whole time. It felt more like a spiritual celebration than a sleepy prayer. At my family events, Barbara would often say she was the “fly in buttermilk soup” and when I would go to her church, she would say I was a “white star in the beautiful night sky”. Needless to say, I had the honor of growing up within two different families – very different on one hand, but both filled with genuine love, dedication, and strong women.
Needless to say, with the women who raised me, the bar was set pretty high from the beginning! I recognize they all had their own coping strategies to deal with life’s turmoil and stress, and not all of their tools were going to work for me with the inevitable generational differences. However, I knew that if they could handle life, so could I. After all, I was growing up with more privilege than they ever had.
In observing the vast differences between communities growing up, I feel passionate about bridging the gap between the medical and psychological worlds in an effort to expand access to effective healing strategies to everyone. Our healthcare system requires a complete overhaul, which may never come, which is why I seek to share everything I know and everything I have learned within the books and blog posts I write. It’s not fair that only people who have the privilege of receiving an education, and a good job with good benefits should be the only ones with access to “affordable” healthcare. I believe everyone has all the resources they need within themselves to achieve their dreams and goals – but not everyone knows how to access and utilize them. That’s what I hope to teach and demonstrate through my work.
I am infinitely grateful to all of the strong female leaders who raised me, and all of the others who inspired me and trained me along the way to be my greatest self. Take a moment to thank an inspirational female in your life. Take another moment to honor the amazing feminine power within you (no matter what gender you are – we all have feminine and masculine qualities and gifts). We need all parts of us to work in harmony together – sharing strengths and skills and resources. Together – within ourselves and within our communities – we will thrive. I celebrate you!
“Sacred Mother” by Jennifer McEuen
Whether you choose to take 20-minutes a day for a meditation, or 2-minutes ten times a day to breathe deeply and share loving-kindness with yourself – take care of your spirit, mind, body, and heart. For a start, place your hands on your heart, think of someone that loved you into being, and imagine breathing in their love for the next 60 seconds.