OP-ED: One thing we should do for Mother’s Day? Be ourselves
By DANIELLE AMES SPIVAK
(JNS.org) Last month in The New York Times, author Claire Cain Miller identified how our ever-changing economy is beginning to present new challenges to women in the workplace.
As a mother to three children, a wife to a very busy plastic surgeon, and executive director of the nonprofit American Friends of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO), I experience these challenges every day.
Even now, as I sit here writing this piece on my couch, I’m trying to balance work and life: My laptop is propped up on my knees and my 3-year old son is lying next to me, pleading, “Mommy, tickle me!”
A perfect illustration of the conundrum: I am always on the clock for two orchestras. At home, helming a traditional Jewish household, I’m the conductor of the Spivak ensemble—each musician on a different and often conflicting schedule. And at work, running a premier cultural organization, I lead a team of people dedicated to supporting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
On the days I feel most stretched, I remember what Arnon Adar, West Coast chairman of AFIPO, always tells me: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” He’s right. Being a mom doesn’t hinder my work; it enhances it. And vice versa.
I’m thankful that he, and the rest of the brilliant team I’m blessed to work with, gets it.
Motherhood has taught me to solve problems with out-of-the-box solutions, better understand the importance of trust, and appreciate the profound impact of community and family.
Working has empowered me to delegate around the house and use my management skills to navigate more smoothly through the homework-dinner-bed minefield. Plus, I get to bring home behind-the-scenes cultural tidbits and teach my kids about classical music.
I’m a better mom because I work, and a better worker because I’m a mom.
I’m not saying it’s a breeze. In fact, it’s very, very hard. But I can do it because I know that each piece is part of a whole—a part of me.
And that came from my Mom.
My mom is an endlessly brilliant woman with a doctorate in Jewish studies who lived and worked as a journalist in Israel and Canada, and later was a Jewish community professional, before going back to school and becoming a professor in her 50s. She gave me my work ethic, my love of arts and culture, and my religious and Zionist beliefs.
And she showed me an alternative path to the endless “having it all” debate: Don’t choose your role; choose your self. From a young age, I saw my impassioned, articulate and educated mother as an example of what it means to live a values-driven life, both at home and as a community leader.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand that my mother didn’t serve as president of my Jewish private school or on the board of our synagogue out of obligation. Rather, my mother was actualizing a profound part of her identity by living, mothering and working in a fashion that stayed true to and was informed by her values. Committing to these values allows my mother to live a truly authentic life, driven by a system she has passed on to me.
As a society, we’ve made remarkable strides for women in the workplace. But in the post-feminist era, we’re still grappling with the fallout from that success: Women have more responsibilities at work and at home than ever before.
I don’t have all the answers. And I’d never pretend to.
What I can tell you is this: I’m no longer afraid.
I used to be. Afraid to take on too much, afraid to fail. Sometimes, I’d picture myself standing at the edge of a deep pool of water, scared to even dip in my toe. But when I’d manage to do so, I’d discover the water was warmer than I expected, and then I’d find the courage to take a running leap and dive in all the way.
Mother, daughter, wife, partner, woman, executive, leader … I’m in pretty deep right now. And I’m not perfect, but I’ll no longer allow that to stop me from trying. I’m no longer scared. I’m not hesitating at the edge. Because I’ve absorbed that as long as I am driven by my internal compass, by my values, by what makes me feel real and inimitable, I’ll be just fine.
And it’s my honor and privilege to say: My mother taught me that, and it gives me strength every single day.
Thank you, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!