My mother accompanied me to freshmen orientation. When we dropped into the Honors Department office, everyone turned and warmly welcomed her by name. They knew her because she was a student at the university. My mother and I had a two year overlap in our undergraduate education. She would sometimes swing by my apartment to drop something off on her way home or I would go visit her in the photo studio where she spent a lot of time working on projects for her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts. I realized it was unusual that a mother of four was going to college, but I did not realize the extent of the challenges she faced until I decided to return to school after being a mostly stay-at-home mom for a decade.
Transitioning from being a stay-at-home mom to the professional world is not an easy task. A Brookings Institute study indicates that “the longer a worker is unemployed, the less likely they are to get a job in a given month” even if that unemployment was due to a noble cause. Making the transition can be a huge leap not only due to resume gaps, but also due to an overwhelming sense of imposter syndrome many former stay-at-home parents feel. When I decided I wanted to rejoin the professional workforce, but not as a teacher (my pre-children profession), I looked around at my peer group and realized everyone had chosen a track and stuck to it: stay at home parenting or working mom. It seemed like an impossible feat to transition from one to the other, until I retold myself my mother’s story.
My mom quit her university studies when she was 21 because I came into her life. She spent the next fifteen years of her life as stay-at-home mom before she decided to finish earning her college degree. It took her more than the typical four years to finish school because of the demands on her time, but she kept at it until she had her diploma in hand.
I had major hesitations about going back to school, but I told myself if she could do it, I could too. I now have one quarter to go until I walk across a stage and receive a diploma for my Master’s in Communications from the University of Denver. When I have overwhelming days, where this change feels too big, I re-tell my mom’s story as encouragement. Without her story, I do not know if I would have even started this journey. It may have seemed too impossible. Too far out of reach.
I recently attended a thought plenary where Mark Chambers, Director of Earth Alliance, talked about the zero energy buildings workforce, but his advice applies here too. He told students that stories are critical in creating change. That stories are how we let people know what is going on and what matters. Stories are also how we can take the aspirational and see it in everyday life. In her book, Stories that Stick, Kindra Hall says that storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in existence as it is able to “captivate, influence, and transform” us.
Whether we are fighting climate change or empowering women to rejoin the workforce, the world needs change makers and storytellers. Thanks for being both, mom. Happy Mother’s Day!