Raise them up: Cultivating female leaders in tech

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion at my alma mater, University of Washington. The topic was centered around what it is like to be a “Woman in Tech”, and I was joined by fellow female panelists representing from Amazon, Adobe, and Tableau to speak to the University’s Undergraduate Women in Business club. The conversation involved prepared topics, as well as questions from the young women in the audience, and it proved to be one of the most valuable hours of my time I have spent in recent memory.

I have been a “Woman in Tech” for the entirety of my professional career. I’ve worked both in research and in software, and both fields were widely dominated by the opposite gender. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but it was impossible not to notice the wide discrepancy. As I got further down my career path, I began to see the way the deck was really stacked. From sexist comments, to being underpaid in comparison to my male counter parts (when I was both more qualified and higher performing), to consistently being the only female in the room, I encountered just about every scenario you’ve heard countless other women complain of in this industry.

I didn’t let the situation hold me back, but I was never about letting it pass as an acceptable status quo either. In situations or roles where the misogyny was too much to bear, I moved on to companies that seemed to more aware of what century it was. As a whole, the further I’ve advanced, the better things have gotten. But that is a large part due to my awareness and due diligence, not because the state of things has changed dramatically. After having worked for disappointing orgs in the past, I have learned quite well how to ask the right questions to weed out company cultures that breed sexism and inequality. I wish I could look back and be wowed by the way things have changed. Unfortunately, in the tech space, these types of companies still make up the majority.

That’s why I have realized it is time to do something about it. Participating in the panel was one small way that I hope that I could arm my fellow females with the insights they need to change this industry, and the place that women hold within it. Progress never seems to happen when people sit back and wait. I hope that by speaking out about my experiences, I can help empower other women to stand up for themselves and demand for equality within tech, as well as all other professions. I hope that in doing so, we can create the change we’ve so long been seeking.

 

The toughest question for me personally during the panel discussion came up when someone asked about having children and managing that with work obligations. Hearing from a fellow panelist from Adobe about how nothing has changed since she had children over 20 years ago really struck a nerve with me. In America, we are so far behind the rest of the modern world when it comes to paid maternal leave, and early childhood care options. The impact and negative result this has on women in the workplace is glaringly obvious. The biggest barrier today to women progressing in their careers is choosing to have children. The vast majority of women either see a drop in wages or drop out of the workforce all together under the insurmountable pressure to be super mom and a stellar employee. It’s a pressure that our male counterparts simple do not encounter.

I have worked hard to progress far enough in my career that I can negotiate something different than this for myself. I have also been fortunate to have found a path where I am working for a company that never once has asked me to compromise between the two things, and focuses on putting family first. It’s not all talk either, when my (male) bosses have a new baby, they take leave. When we negotiated my contract with the company, ample maternity leave was added without question. It helps that the company is from Australia, a place where these types of benefits are common place. But it meant a lot more that it came from our company’s core values. It means when the time comes for me to take that leave, rather than feeling questioned or compromised, I can feel celebrated in choosing to grow my family and entitled to well earned time off.

However, the problems women face in tech isn’t just about maternity leave. And it isn’t just about sexism. It’s about equality. And that’s where we as women really come in. We need to be helping each other level the playing field. I’ve experienced it myself, and I have spoken to enough fellow women to know: we aren’t doing enough to help each other. In order to have more women in tech and in leadership, we need to open the door and help raise up the next generation of women in this industry and in the workforce at large.

In some cases, this is about mentorship. In all cases this is about being kind. I’ve heard way too many tales of women slamming doors in each others faces, rather than reaching out a hand to open one. Even if we had to fight our way to the top, that’s no reason to hold each other back. It’s just one thing we could be doing, but it would have a huge impact on the pace of our progress.

In addition to that, I believes it’s high time we quit compromising on what matters most to us. Change isn’t doesn’t happen easily, but it doesn’t happen at all if we don’t ask for it. Whether it’s maternity leave, paid sick time, stamping out sexism, or getting rid of gender bias, we all need to stand up and demand that it be done differently. After all, statistically speaking, women already make up more of the workforce in many countries. If we focus on working together for change, we can make equality the reality.

Eating with intuition

You know that old adage "trust your gut"? Turns out, there is a whole lot of truth to it. But sometimes it can just be nearly impossible to listen up and pay attention to your belly. In a world of ever increasingly processed foods, fake scam fit teas, and quick fix diets, it can be hard to weed out what is healthy for you and your body as a whole.

I spent most of my formative years being highly active. I was a little human pin ball bouncing around from kung fu classes to soccer practice to dance lessons. For me, food was just fuel. With the exception of the one night a week my folks made me cook for our family, I didn't think much about the things I was putting in body so long as it kept me full.

My relationship with food went solidly sideways my senior year of high school when I developed bulimia. Looking back, my eating disorder was the result of multiple factors, the primary of which was struggling to find control in my life during my tumultuous transition into adulthood. There was definitely a struggle with body image that also contributed to my bout with bulimia. Being surrounded by ballet bodies day in and day out definitely had an impact with me as my own physical form took on a more curved shape after puberty.

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As I wrapped up my senior year, I started dating someone I still consider a close friend. He was incredibly passionate about health and fitness, and was a co-owner in a growing chain of supplement stores. He was eager to share his passion with me, and we spent a lot of time together going to the gym and cooking food. It was after one of these meals that he first caught me throwing up my dinner in the bathroom. Thanks to his caring words and support, that ended up being the last time I ever purged after eating.

Even though I was able to stop the physical habit of bulimia, the mental struggle that comes with an eating disorder took much much longer to subside. I spent the next year as I moved into college focusing on my new found passion for physical fitness, and threw myself into learning new workouts. I found a love for weight training and slowly, over time, I began to fall in love with this new, stronger version of myself that began to take shape.

Towards the end of my freshman year, I really felt like I was making strides with my working out and pursuing a healthier path. Even though I had finally moved on from my eating disorder, I still was struggling with how I felt physically on the insides. When I had been bulimic, I was use to the bloat and belly aches that come from binging and purging. However, even though I had moved on from my bad "habit", I was still struggling with these symptoms. What was worse was that I felt incredibly lethargic all the time. I was treating my body better than I had in a long time, but I constantly felt exhausted.

It was around this same time that my mom first got test for celiac disease, and discovered that she had a fairly strong gluten intolerance. After reading about the genetic element of gluten related ailments and hearing about my mom's improvement after removing it from her diet, I decided to give it a go myself. The results, were quite simply, life changing. My bloating disappeared, my random insomnia subsided, and most amazingly, my lethargy and the feeling of being in a constant fog lifted completely.

My experience getting rid of gluten was the first time that I started to connect the dots that the food I was eating had a dramatic impact on the rest of my wellbeing. It took a long time to start listening to my body, but once I realized that it was trying to teach me what was right for me, I decided to really start tuning in. Despite my broke college student budget, I began focusing on shifting my diet away from processed foods, and learning how to cook as much of my own food as possible.

Fast forward to four years later, when I first read Kimberly Synder's book, The Beauty Detox Solution. I was really impacted by her message, particularly her emphasis on a plant based diet, her scientific and educational approach to nutrition, and her recommendations about eating your food in an order that is in tune with your body's natural digestion rhythms. I decided to take on a challenge and used her recipes to first transition to a vegetarian diet for a month, followed by a fully vegan diet for the month after that.

Moving to an entirely plant based diet taught me a ton about cooking and really changed my perspective on food as a whole. I loved the experiment of going vegan, and the impact it had on my palette and the food I cooked, but ultimately I really enjoy eating meat and fish and eggs. I slowly began integrating these things back in my diet but kept having as much veggies as possible.

As I began reintegrating these things, I realized the one thing could absolutely do without was diary. I've never been a big milk and cheese fan, and during my vegan experiment I discovered that I loved dairy free alternatives, like almond milk and vegan butter spreads. I didn't miss dairy one bit, and what's more, I noticed that for the first time in years, my persistent skin issues had started to clear up. I realized, once again, my body had been trying to tell me something, it was just time to start listening more. It was then that I decided to ditch dairy for good, and I haven't regretted it once.

These days, I'm still a no gluten/no dairy kind of gal. I occasionally cheat on this diet due to limited options or for a cupcake I can't resist. However, when I stray for more than a day or two, I notice the impact almost immediately, particularly in my gut. The discomfort alone makes me eager to get back on track. I try to focus on meals that are at least 50% or more plant based and look to lean meats and eggs for protein. Quinoa, gluten free oats, and gluten free granola are my go to for grains, and I still eat goat cheese on occasion because it is easy to digest and totally delicious.

As much as I love delicious take out, I really do my best to stick to cooking my own food these days, and I'm pretty proud of the cook I've become. Simply put, cooking at home means that I know exactly what is going into mine and my family's bodies. It's also a great way for us to save money, and a very zen way for me to unwind after a long day. I really enjoy meal prepping for our family when I have time to, and making their favorite comfort foods, all of which I've managed to sneak extra veggies into and take a healthy spin on. Luckily they seem to enjoy the food I make, which is an added bonus. 

In terms of how I shop for and prepare my foods, I hop around between grocery stores a bit. Mostly I find myself shopping at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and our local PCC market. When I shop at a grocery store, I always stick to a set of basic grocery guidelines and make sure to come armed with a list that includes at least three dinner options in mind for the week. I also focus on sticking to the outer perimeter of the store, avoid prepackaged meals as much as possible, and buying organic foods as much as our grocery budget allows. I've also been lucky enough to live in areas near awesome farmer's markets in recent years, and do my best to buy as much as possible from our local farmers when time and seasons allow. This past year we have also lived close to an amazing local produce stand. Although they don't have a ton of organic options, I know that the produce is all locally sourced and I love how fresh the things we get there are.  

If there is one thing I have learned in all of my food experiences over the years, it is that listening to your body is absolutely vital. Our bodies are incredibly intuitive instruments that can tell us a whole lot, but there are so many dietary distractions that it is easy to lose sight of what is right for us. If you a dedicated to developing healthier habits and a fitter life, it's imperative that you learn how to listen to and trust the things that your gut has to teach you.

And if you're needing some help on tuning in, reach out my way

Putting yourself second

If I'm not learning, I am stagnating. I know this. But old habits die hard.

Or so they say.

I tend to lose myself in my partner. In someone else's work rather than focusing on my own. Supporting someone else's dreams is amazing, don't get me wrong. But it is also a good way to avoid your own problems and to keep from doing your own work.

I've got to also chase my dreams. I've got to keep growing, building, doing, and learning.

And that means I need to know how to do some of this on my own.

Doing our own work is hard though. It is some messy shit. But it is also absolutely essential.

For me, this work lately has been a lot to do with my insecurity. I wish I could claim super woman status, but that simply isn't the case. I thought that once I hit a certain birthday I would age out of insecurity and arrive at fully empowered female status. Just like I thought I would age out of acne (although to be fair, an asshole doctor once told me this bullshit).

I still have many years before me, but I know that I'm not going to have things suddenly change. The only thing that is going to keep my own insecurities from holding back or trying to swallow me whole, is myself. Simply put, I need to figure this stuff out alone.

This is because my inner critic is mine and mine alone. If you don't know what I mean when I say "inner critic", it's just because the terminology is new to you. You are in fact very familiar with your inner critic. We all have one. I have to credit Tara Mohr for enlightening me on this.

Think of it this way - Your inner critic is the voice inside your head that jumps immediately to:

"No." OR "You can't." OR "You are not good enough."

It's the voice that second guesses your abilities and heightens your self doubt. It is often the thing that holds you back and makes you overly conscious of what other people might think of you or your actions. If there is one thing you need to know about your inner critic, it is this:

Your inner critic is not you.

Plain and simple. She is something separate than you, and she is fueled by anxiety, the media, ex-partners, overbearing parents, false mentors, and societal expectations.

Remember, your inner critic is not you.

This means, that you can say "Thanks, but no thanks" to the advice and opinions she has to offer. You can choose something else. You can tell yourself:"Yes." AND "I can." AND "I am more than good enough."

This is the work I'm doing right now. You best believe it is a never ending process. But even some of the most respected and powerful women in the world are still working on it.

It's laborious self work, but it can also be a labor of love.  A labor of growth. A labor of self discovery.

After all this it wasn't hard, we wouldn't call it work. No one said it would be easy. But it will most definitely be worth it.

 

this post was absolutely inspired by a poet that speaks so directly to my soul (r.m. drake)

Going Urban

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to receive Bellabeat's latest model of smart tracking jewelry, the sleek and small Bellabeat Urban. To be clear, I been a pretty big champion for this company ever since I bought their first edition, the Bellabeat Leaf. For more details on my love affair and rave reviews of this piece, check out my previous review. To be honest, when I found out the Urban was headed my way, I was not quite sure what to expect. I was an ongoing fan of the Leaf, and had few complaints about the piece or the app that accompanied it. I've given feedback to the Bellabeat team on several minor suggestions, mostly activities I wanted to see added to their standard list such as Barre class and Vinyasa yoga, and was pleasantly surprised when these were added on subsequent software updates. The only main draw backs I found to the leaf were it's size/shape, which could occasionally feel clunky or cumbersome during HIIT and weight training, and the fact that it wasn't waterproof (I freaked out once when I accidentally wore it in the shower for a minute, but it ended up being fine). Apparently I wasn't alone in these perceptions, because the two main touted features of the Urban are it's sleekness and smaller size, and the fact that it can withstand water. If there is one thing I can say about the folks over at Bellabeat, it is that they listen to their customers.

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Over the past three weeks since I started wearing it there have been other things I've noticed about the device, some good and some bad. The main thing I notice about wearing the Urban in comparison to it's predecessor is how incredibly comfortable it is. I forget completely that I even have it on. I have worn it almost exclusively as a bracelet, and the Urban comes with a different bracelet band than past designs. The new bracelet fits my small wrist much more securely than the old band did, and with the device snug, I haven't had it come off or rub or wear in any uncomfortable way, even throughout yoga classes, weight lifting, and sleeping. I've worn it every night to bed as a bracelet since getting it and it's never irritated me once. The past design I would wear clipped to my shirt or pants in the evening, but even then it would invariably press uncomfortably in my skin or fall off and not track my sleep properly through the night. The change in size/fit has allowed me to wear the device much more consistently, and in turn have much more data as to my overall sleep, health, and activity levels.

The second thing I've noticed about the Urban is the ways in which the team has improved the corresponding phone app. Previously the app simply reported your sleep monitoring, activity levels, and fertility cycle. Part way through this year the app added a few elementary breathing exercises. They have now expanded that portion of the app into a full catalogue of meditation exercises, with guided meditations for everything from relaxation to reducing period discomfort to channeling and focusing the mind. I absolutely love this new portion of the app. I have been doing the meditations during my morning commute or when I'm about to take off for a flight, or at any other time I feel they could help me combat the sensitivity of my ever-inflamed nervous system. They help tremendously, and I love tracking them to know that I have taken one small, ten minute step a day to try and calm down my mind and body. In addition to adding the full meditation catalogue, the app also now has a stress monitoring feature that tracks and monitors a correlation between hours slept, activity time, and meditation time in a day to give you a rough predictor of stress levels, and suggests ways for improvement. As a recovering stress addict, seeing these numbers, and getting a gentle reminder that stress does impact my health is helpful to me, even if it isn't something I can't pinpoint or completely quantify.

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The only drawback I have noticed to the new Bellabeat Urban is that the activity tracking is not quite up to par with it's predecessor. The Leaf was always fairly accurate, even from the earliest software version, in terms of steps walked in a day and my varied activity levels. I have noticed on my less active days, particularly this week when I was in bed sick, that the device has synced as having zero minutes of activity for the day. I know I wasn't running laps or anything on those days, but I also wasn't totally comatose. I was walking around the house and up and down our stairs, and I would have expected the device to pick up at least some activity, even if it had been minimal. However, I have noticed user feedback about this recently, and it seems like something that Bellabeat may be working to resolve in an upcoming update.

In general, even though the design is only slightly different, I have really enjoyed wearing and using the latest Bellabeat model. They have maintained me as an avid customer with their continued attention to detail and design, and their intelligent and truly holistically health focused additions to their application. I am a proud wearer of their devices and love chatting with people who ask me about it on the street to tell them more about the brand and the benefits I experience from it. I know that they are also working on new devices and technology around pregnancy tracking, and they recently announced an add on device to hear your baby's heartbeat in utero, which I think is incredible. I love the way they think about women first when it comes to the design and functionality of their offerings, and can't wait to see and support what they come up with next!

Teach them to feel

For those of you who don’t know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I want to be clear here, I know that domestic violence is a many headed monster. It can happen within any relationship construct, be perpetrated by and against persons of any and all genders. However, by enlarge domestic violence, both physical and emotional, is disproportionately perpetrated by (cis)males against their partners. I know many women who have been affected by this violence. I have had friends whose partners come home drunk and swinging, intoxicated with rage, coming after them as the closest punching bag in proximity. I know women who have been shoved down staircases while pregnant with an unborn child. I know women who have had their backs up against the wall as their ex-boyfriend taunted and threatened them with a legally obtained firearm. I know women who have had to rock their baby to sleep on the bathroom floor, hiding behind the locked door from the rants and rage of their partner’s mental instability.

In fact, that last woman was me.

I spent the first few years of my twenties married to a man, the biological father of my son, that suffered from severe drug and alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder. The results of his self medication through marijuana and alcohol meant I was living with a ticking time bomb. Depression or mania could wrap their grip around him at any time, and without a moments notice he would be consumed in a fit of rage, shouting and shaming the person in his path. That person was me.

To be clear, he never once laid a hand on me or my son. I find solace in the fact that the fights and fits often took place after my child was asleep, and from what I can tell through gentle coaxing and the few therapy session he’s had, my son remembers almost nothing of these incidents in his earliest years. I wish I could say the same. It took me a year’s worth of therapy after our separation and subsequent divorce to even begin contemplating allowing myself to be emotionally close to another human again, and to this day I still cower at the sound of a man’s raised voice.

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I pride myself in being a strong woman. Fearless even. But in the midst of his rage, all I could feel was fear. Anger like that in itself is a form of violence, and in my case it felt like something I could never quite escape.

I come from a long lineage of fiercely independent, willful, and courageous women. And almost every single one of them has faced violence in some form at the hands of their partners, many of whom were the fathers of their children. I grew up knowing that history, and determined to break that mold. And yet I found myself a character in the same cyclical story. Within the circle women friends I have had over the years, I know that at least 75% of them have faced similar violence in at least one, if not more, of their relationships.

Think about that.

That is staggering.

In fact, as I reflect even further, I realize that I can only think of two women I know that haven’t told me explicitly about having faced emotional, sexual, and/or physical violence from a partner. I realized I haven’t asked them, and because of that I can’t say without a doubt that they haven’t also been a victim. This violence has touched almost every woman I know.

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How did we end up here? How can we stop this?

I think about these questions more than I’d like to admit. I think about them because I have a five year old son. I think about them because I am trying to do everything in my power to make sure he doesn’t become one of those men.

But as I have thought, and listened, and watched, and struggled with this issue over the years, I have realized that none of these men grew up trying to be one of those men. Don’t get me wrong, there are men out there who got addicted to the high and the power that can come with being violent. I think this is especially the case for men who grew up in a way where someone or something tried to make them feel small. In a way, violence becomes a way to overcome fear and pain, a coping mechanism of fighting back and standing tall. Men like this scare me the most.

And yet, even then, the violence of these men first starts as the result of something else, some other force outside of their soul.

The more I’ve looked, the more I’ve come to find that our society is failing our men. It’s one of those things that once you see it, you start to notice it everywhere. I see it in my relationships, past and present, a long line of men with no proper emotional outlets. I see it in our media, ever stoking and promoting a culture that equates violence with masculinity. I see it in the young men I often share the light rail with on the way home, as the cuss and taunt each other in a struggle for status. I see it in our society’s perceptions and portrayal of men with feelings as being weak, or cissies, or a wusses, or a pussies.

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Do you know what happens to men when they are told they shouldn’t have emotions? When they are taught they shouldn’t feel?

They bury their hurt and pain deep in their gut. The repress sadness and anger until it becomes an aching weight in their chest. Eventually they stuff so much inside they can’t keep in all in. Some men crack and some men explode. Some sink into deep depression, others lash out a spew their suppressed rage on anyone within their proximity. Some men unleash their anger with their tongue, shouting and ranting with the force of every thing they have been holding in. Others can’t even find the words, so they let their fists or firearms do the talking.

Domestic violence is not new. If you look back over the ages, it is there in almost every era, every society. But I would argue that it has increased in it’s reach and deadliness in recent decades due to our culture’s ever increasing projections and promotions of violence in mainstream media and is amplified by America’s increased proliferation and preoccupation with guns.

I’m not looking for a debate here. I’m just going to state the facts:

1. Firearms were used to kill more than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims between 1990 and 2005. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Homicide Trends in the U.S.: Intimate Homicide (July 2007), at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/intimates.cfm. ⤴)

2. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm. (Jacquelyn C. Campbell et al., Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multisite Case Control Study, 93 Am. J. Pub. Health)

3. Research indicates that media violence has not just increased in quantity; it has also become more graphic, sexual, and sadistic. (Violence in Media Entertainment, http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/violence_entertainment.cfm?)

4. By the time the average child is eighteen years old, they will have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders. (Facts and Figures About Our TV Habit. TV Turnoff Network)

5. 88.2% of top rated porn scenes contain aggressive acts. In 70% of occurrences, a man is perpetrator of the aggression; 94% of the time the act is directed towards a woman. (Facts & Figures, Stop Porn Culture, http://stoppornculture.org/about/about-the-issue/facts-and-figures-2/)

And the list goes on and on.

The worst part about all these statistics is that they hardly surprise me. I know that we live in a world that is constantly promoting violence, particularly violence perpetrated by men. I also know that we live in a country that is obsessed with guns. Flipping through my son’s Playmobile catalogue recently, I could only find of a handful of sets that didn’t include guns. He recently was gifted a police officer set where each officer came with their very own AR-15 and not one but two handguns.

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What can be done?

For starters, we need to realize and recognize that domestic violence is an epidemic, and that it affects all of us. I have been hard pressed to come across a single person whose life or the lives of their loved ones has not been affected by it. As is such, it is all of our responsibility to solve.

Secondly, we need to stop passively accepting the fact that our media feeds us and our children a constant and ever increasing stream of violence. Just as we all know sex sells, so does violence. We need to stop buying it and stop watching it. Simple conscious and collective choices can stop making the perpetuation of violence as being profitable for mainstream media, and it should be our duty to consume in accordance to our collective values and actively choose to reject violence in media.

Third, we need to create social safety nets. I cannot believe the number of women I know who have stayed, often silently, in abusive and downright dangerous relationships because they felt there was no where else for them to go. We as a country need to invest in proper and protective financial, educational, housing, and child care safety nets to catch these women and to show them there is a safe way out and a path to a better life. We also need safety nets for the perpetrators and victims of domestic violence, and a shared commitment to proper and thorough treatment and counseling so that we can heal the vast majority of the wounds that have been inflicted on them and by them to better our society as a whole.

Fourth, we need to put in common sense gun control laws that eliminate people with a history of violence and/or mental instability from having access to weapons that can perpetuate further pain in this world. Every single study that has been done around domestic violence and mental health has shown that access to firearms dramatically increases the likelihood of murder, homicide, and suicide. There is simply no room for debate here. Putting the proper legislation in place would have one undeniable result: saving the lives of countless innocent victims.

Last, and most important of all, we need to stop the violence before it starts by instilling and encouraging emotions and empathy in our children, particularly our young men. We need to right the minor and major wrongs that have been done to our men young and old who have been faced with the daunting task of growing up in a world that promotes violence and anger as a sign of masculinity. We need to teach men appropriate mechanisms for emotional expression, and show them the value of healthy, stable, respectful, and communicative relationships. We need to model this behavior for our children, and work to undo and rehabilitate past traumas that many of our grown men hold, so that they can relearn how to express themselves and navigate their emotions in the adult world. We need to teach them that it is okay to feel, and to hold them and heal them in a world that has caused so much hurt.

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I won’t claim for a second that I do everything right as a mother. In fact, the majority of the things I do well are simply things I have learned along the way. But there is one particular thing that happens quite often in my life, especially when my son and I are curled up on the couch together, or sometimes it is just out of the blue. He will let out a soft, sweet sigh, and look directly at me and say: I love you, Mama.

Sometimes he says other things like That makes me angry or I’m feeling sad. Recently when spending time with my mom (his “Gigi”), while I was away traveling he asked her about her plans for the week. When she told him she was flying to Nashville to meet me and that he’d be staying with other family members he looked her square in the eyes with tears in his own and said: That makes me feel emotional.

These statements make me feel so deeply proud. I haven’t done everything right as a mother, but I know that I am raising a son that knows how to feel. A child that is comfortable enough to voice his emotions out loud, be they sweet or sad, to those he loves. Teaching him this skill has taken time and patience, particularly when he went through an aggressive phase of biting and hitting (mostly aimed at me) following the separation of me and his biological father.

Having grown up in a reconstructed family myself, I know the importance of making space for his anger. And from my mom and (step)father I also learned of the healing and affirming power of love and proper modeling of communication and emotional expression. It’s something his new Papa and I work diligently to model for him and teach him daily.

Few of us are lucky enough to grow up without some emotional damage or some type of scars. But all of us have the potential to overcome rather than succumb to a cycle of violence and emotional suppression. It is up to us to heal one and other, in our homes and in our culture at large, by teaching each other it is okay to feel, and then being there to catch, and to listen, and hold one and other when we do.