Honoring the working moms who came before me

To close out women’s history month, I interviewed one of the most influential working moms I know:  my own mom, Josephine Yu.

The conversation centered around both her and my grandmother’s experiences as working mothers. This was the first time I heard these stories in a more holistic way, and wow – hearing them in the context of being a mom and CEO evoked more emotions and depth of insight than I could have ever have imagined!  Here are a few of my takeaways:

My grandmother was the G.O.A.T working mom of the early 20th century.  She studied to become a midwife in Taiwan, during a time when most women didn’t go to school beyond the elementary years.  She practiced for nearly 50 years, likely delivering thousands of babies.  She also financially supported my grandfather so he could go to dental school in Japan. She raised 7 children while working full time with an unpredictable schedule.

Sadly, I never knew her.  But so much of her personality and values are eerily aligned to my own. First, I only recently connected the dots to the similarities in where we’ve chosen to focus our careers.  Grandma supported mothers from prenatal care through postpartum, and my mom said she had an unwavering commitment for her clients.  She worked incredibly hard, driven by a passion for her work.

She also highly valued independence.  She taught her daughters the importance of getting an education and not to rely on a partner to support them, something that wasn’t exactly the norm back then. She also loved being social and singing karaoke. (I think learning this was what sealed it for me – we would’ve been best friends.) When I asked my mom what she thought her shortcomings were, the only thing that came to mind was that Grandma wasn’t good at housework or cooking (that’s me, hi!), she left most of that to my grandfather and their children.  How’s that for Fair Play? 😊

Despite my grandmother being so busy, my mom felt happy and loved.  I thought this perspective was a breath of fresh air, given the amount of pressure I constantly feel to parent perfectly.  She sensed that Grandma was happy and fulfilled, and that created a home happy and fulfilled.  Mom was similarly committed to her career as an optometrist and solopreneur, working hard to build a business she loved after immigrating to the U.S. in the 1970’s.   She would often miss my sporting events, be home late, and there were lots of fast food dinners.  But I too remember a happy childhood and was never resentful of my mom.  She chose not to feel guilty.  I could sense that, and in hindsight, I am proud that she held such strong convictions.

My mother and grandmother’s fierce independence and entrepreneurial spirit are tremendous gifts, with lessons in both what I’d like to carry forward and potentially do differently.  There is no doubt I can attribute much of my success to their hard working, creative, and restless spirits.  Yet I recognize that I can define my own unique approach to working motherhood.  Yes, I anchor a significant portion of my identity to my career.  At the same time, I want to develop a closeness with my children that I didn’t quite have with my own mother, nor she with hers.  Not better or worse – just my own, and one that I should feel good about.  I hope to pass this on to my own daughter, Josie.

With that, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the interview:

“I think mothers these days put too much pressure on themselves.  My advice would be to try and take some of that pressure off – kids can sense when we feel like we aren’t good enough or feel guilty.  It’s much better to be happy with yourself – a happy mother means happy kids!”

Happy women’s history month to all!

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