Baskets for Mother's Day
More than thirty years ago, I found myself in the streets of Nairobi, captivated by the rich sights, sounds, and smells of a culture strangely far from home. While so much of that journey was consumed by moments that filled my curiosity, I became entrenched in a particular fascination with the Kenyan women I saw carrying massive baskets on their heads walking along the roadside. Still at a young and impressionable age, I begged my mom to tell me about these women. Where were they going? What was it they carried? How were they able to bear such weight? It was not lost on me that many of the women also carried one or more children, tied tightly to their chest or on back. This arrangement was entirely foreign to me and I was certain it must have been a painful trek to make. But each day, again, we saw them covering a great distance with large loads on their heads and babies clinging to their bodies, with rarely a grimace to be found. In fact, I soon noticed that the women who traveled together often appeared joyful in one another's presence, seemingly unaware of the cargo upon them.
As an entrepreneur and mother of five, I am often asked about my "work-life balance" during interviews. To some of my female partners, the phrase is outdated and even insulting, as it highlights deep-rooted inequities between men and women in the workplace. It is, afterall, very uncommon for a man to be asked the same question in a work-related interview, even though their role in the children's lives should be that of equal significance. To me, however, I always respond to this question the same. "Baskets," I smile and say. "We all have baskets."
Yes, being a working mother has its challenges. We are at a point in our lives where we have transitioned from being the cared-for to being the caretakers. We are mothers to children facing historically unprecedented struggles. We are daughters to parents who need us now more than they ever have. We are the keepers of good health, of a promising future, and of eternal optimism. We are bread-winners and bread-makers. We are the teachers, the jesters, the chefs, the housekeepers, and the law in our homes. We are educators of success and humble students of failure.
But we are not alone, and work is not something to balance with our life; work is a part of our life.
Memories of those incredible African women have stayed with me, both as a constant reminder of the burdens we bear AND as unwavering conviction of our ability, as women, to carry them. Our baskets, our journeys, give us purpose, and our tribe brings us joy along the way. It is critical that we acknowledge this, and that we choose to lead our families and our companies with tolerance and compassion, to honor the weight and the contents of the freight we do not carry ourselves.
This Mother's Day, take a moment to honor the mothers in your life. Breathe in the courage and the strength of the paths they have chosen. Honor the significance of them sharing their journey with you, and find the humanity and the patience to sit beside them, should they stumble beneath a load that has become too heavy to bear.
For we know, they will rise again and will always carry on.