Moms today are at a new crossroad, and Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In has initiated a fresh conversation about women and work. It's seems to me, however, that what's still missing from the conversation is an appreciation for the unique perspective and life skills that moms bring to the workforce.
I've interviewed a number of women for my video series "Moms Change the World," and I'm beginning to see that there is something unique that occurs when motherhood becomes the lens from which women approach their work. This new perspective colors what women desire and how they want to express themselves in the workplace. It is much more complex than deciding whether to be a stay-at-home mom of whether to work out of the home.
Every mother I've spoken with has related that she wanted work that added meaning and purpose to her life. Most women have been transformed by the experience of becoming parents -- having a child has led them to see their connection with the world differently, and has instilled in them a determination to make it better, however they may. No longer are they simply seeking a paycheck, a title or an office with a view. These women are determined to create purpose through their work, by any means necessary. I recently interviewed Ruth Kennison, founder of Bonaparte Chocolate and an instructor at The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories who spoke about her effort to integrate her career and family in ways that many moms might find relatable and even inspirational. In Ruth's view, she didn't see that her career, happiness and family had to be fragmented. She saw the most important aspects of her life like the pieces of a puzzle, connecting to create something whole and unified.
Ruth is very much like the other women I speak with -- they are not enticed by what they used to deem to be success. They aren't in search of more money simply for the sake of having more stuff. Ruth made a choice to become a chocolatier because she wanted to share something she loved with her family and community. To further her education, she went abroad to visit bakeries and chocolate shops, but having her son take the trip with her was paramount. Ruth didn't see herself leaving the home for eight hours a day to be in an office and then returning at dinnertime. In her mind, that lifestyle didn't feel like success. She asked herself, "What else is possible?" For her, the answer was chocolate. Making chocolate allowed her to follow her passion and include her family in her adventures.
Meeting women who are so dedicated to improving their community has been an inspiration to me. Ruth, for example, is keenly aware that the pleasure she derives from her work is then expressed in her family and from there into her community. When her son tells his friends, "My mom and I made this chocolate," his self-esteem and his relationships improve. Ruth acknowledges that though she gained a great deal from her childhood experience (with an at-home mom and a working dad), the model of the traditional, selfless mom had no more resonance for her than the nine-to-five mother glorified in the '70s. She wanted to chart a course that accounted for her needs as well as those of her son and her family. Women today understand that their own happiness and pleasure are an important component of the lives of everyone they touch. This sounds like a simple truth, but women's roles as nurturers -- of the family's income in addition to the family members themselves -- has left many women with little sense there's room for their own fulfillment. Ruth shared that she went deeply within herself to discover her desires and to move past her fears when she decided to become a chocolatier. Her focus was greater than money. The joy in herself and in the energy that she emits to her community has turned out to be priceless.
This is an exciting time for moms, because devotion to creating a better world for a living is becoming the new normal. I myself am a mom who works from home. I have learned that it might be a lot easier to ride a ship that's already sailing than it is to build a new one from scratch. But with my own little boat, I can take on whatever cargo I want, and I can use it to deliver whatever the world calls me to bring.
Follow Monique Ruffin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moniqueruffin