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on being a working mom

I am a working mom.

This is something I never would have expected to say about myself 15 years ago.

And yet, here I am, happy and fulfilled (and often a little overwhelmed) by being a mom and a working woman.

learning-to-sew

I’ve been coming into this title, beginning to both admit and embrace it. It’s taken me a while, honestly. If you were to ask me last year what I do, my answer would always be “I’m a mom.” Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the truth is, I’m a mom and I run a business. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

pattern-making-with-the-ladies

I’m in Rwanda with a group of 11 other American women, all of whom work. They are smart and beautiful and talented beyond measure. Those who have kids, adore them. They are lovely moms and also do their work with excellence. It is so inspiring to be with these women.

I was lovingly scolded at dinner the other night because I was dismissing my business side. Not taking credit for the hard work I do. No more.

I am a working mom.

ladies-sitting-on-steps

We spent our day yesterday visiting with a group of working moms at the Umucyo co-op. They started their business just over three years ago, going through sewing school to learn a trade and joining forces with one another to create jobs for themselves. They did not do this on their own; a profoundly compassionate and intelligent woman named Jennifer (an American living in Rwanda while her husband started a business here) lived in their poor neighborhood and became their friend. They began to trust her, she saw their great need and knew that while sharing her food and buying them eye glasses were necessary and important, these gestures were not sustainable. Someday she would move away and she would no longer be able to provide snacks and school tuition and wanted to offer them a way to provide for themselves. She met Jessica right at the beginning of Noonday, they dreamed together and empowered 11 women to start a company who created products that noonday could buy.

These women, who were sad and hopeless struggled to provide food for their families and could not send their children to school (p.s. the ability to send your child to school is the best indicator in a developing country that you are earning a living wage. If you can afford tuition – about $8 per semester – it means you can handle your basic needs.) So these original 11 women were in need of work, in need of purpose and most of all, in need of something sustainable to pull them out of their desperate situations.

sewing-machine

I wasn’t sure what to expect from our visit. I hoped the shop was clean. I wanted to believe the hours and pay were generous. Mainly, I needed to know that the women were happy.¬† But I wasn’t sure. You never really know what it’s like and I felt excited and nervous to see for myself.

My friends, it so much more beautiful than I could have imagined.

First of all, their studio space is wonderful. Light and open with fluttering curtains and old-fashion pedal sewing machines set around the perimeter of the room. If I could build a studio, it would be this one.

Because they collectively run their co-op, the work hours are decided as a group and they set wholesale prices based on cost of materials, labor requirements, shipping and taxes. These women, who once were jobless and hopeless, are not only seamstresses, they have become business women.

emily-and-mary-sunshine

And it has changed their lives.

working-on-patterns

Just three years after their sewing co-op began, these women are thriving. They are able to send their children to school. One moved out of her one room home to one with three. New women have been interviewed and welcomed into the group. They have supported one another with loans when needed. They have purpose.

They still face challenges, of course. Challenges unlike anything I face as a working woman in America. They live in a country where there is little economic opportunity. They worry their children will finish school but will not be able to find work (a very real problem in Rwanda). Tariffs are high and so it is expensive for foreigners to do business here. Violence is common and an everyday worry. All have been impacted by the unthinkable genocide 20 years ago and many have taken in orphans to raise along with their own children. Life is not easy for these women, but it is no longer hopeless.

braiding

Our lives are very different, but our human spirit is the same: we are creative women who love our children, we find joy and purpose through our work, and we take pride in how we can use our talents to make our lives better.

We are working moms.

I have never been more proud to be in that group than now.

45 thoughts on “on being a working mom”

  1. I see that you were profoundly touched by what we in South Africa call “ubuntu” – I am what I am because of who we all are. One of the (many, many) reasons we choose to stay in South Africa when so many leave to ” greener pastures” is that the presence and power of God is so evident, despite the poverty, and seeming hopelessness of it. I will love to see what the Lord does with all of you going forward!

  2. I LOVE this! Sewing machines as an income maker have been a part of my life ever since my mom started using her skills when I was in high school. It’s so amazing to see what women can do when they work together with their God-given creativity! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I read your blog this morning, coming through to my email at the most perfect time. I am a working mom and I’ve struggled the last 24 hours with that because of mom-guilt that I’m not there all the time. So I sat tears pouring from my eyes, deeply encouraged by your post. I am a working mom and I’m in a community of other mothers out there that do this too. It’s okay…. so thank you.

  4. This is stunningly beautiful Emily. As a writer, you share your perspective. How it is perceived has more to do with others beliefs than your own. You sharing your pride and heart about your place in life is your own story, not one to be taken offense to by others. Anyone who reads your prose could gather that you are a thoughtful, kind, considerate person, not one to place more value on one side of the working/stay at home mom debate. There is no debate. We all do the best we can with what we have. Just support each other. Period. That is how these women in Rwanda are surviving, by supporting one another. You all are having a life-changing experience there, soak it up and bring it back here. We could all learn from each others stories. Peace.

  5. Em (can I call you that?),

    This was a wonderful post and although there is a sensativity to the term “working mom” within our first world culture…it is very apparent that your heart and intention was to express your love and admiration for the women you met in Rwanda. My hope is that you are not discouraged by previous comments. Your life and blog is a beautiful testament to your faith and God-given talents, which include both “in-the-home and out-of-the-home” work. When we sweat the small stuff, we miss the big important eternal stuff. Keep on keeping on sister!

    Eccl 3:11

  6. Oh, Emily, such a heartfelt and heartwarming post. I follow you avidly and love all that you do….you are my go to for inspiration. Wow; a post about makeup and eyelash extensions followed by your journey to see and help Rwanda’s women – yes, life is such a queer mix. And it’s it’s wonderful and affirming that we, as women, can hold and manage that opposing complexity and range. You show that the Rwanda women can thrive doing so….it brings out unfathomable strength – and pure love. I am not a mom but your message resonated at such a deep level that I was moved to write. Thank you for taking us with you. XO

  7. This post makes me so proud of you and encouraged by your experience and I dot know you but I feel I do. What a joy to feel in sharing kindred thoughts and dreams. Blessings…

  8. Love this post! Please tell us how we can support these women, are their products for sale?
    Signed a proud, working (also stressed and tired but that’s ok ) mom of two in Florida.

    1. Traci,
      Yes! You can support them by supporting Noonday. This group in particular makes only cloth items and the only thing available today are these:http://www.noondaycollection.com/bags/market-tote-bag

      We have just created new products while being here and they will be voted on at a nation-wide trunk show on August 7th and the top two items will be ordered and sold in January.

      Currently, the ladies are making little jewelry bags that noonday jewelry is packaged in.

      This particular co-op has also done work for Matilda Jane.

  9. All moms are working moms. Some have different job descriptions and different compensation, but all moms share the commonality of raising and loving the kids in our care. As someone who lived in Malawi for several years, I can attest to the fact that most women in Africa work harder and are paid infinitely less (unusually not at all) than most first world women. It’s too bad you made this distinction in your post. It doesn’t accurately describe mothers around the world and I don’t think it is a helpful for us as women to reinforce these categories/misnomers.

    1. Kendra, thanks for your perspective. Yes, all moms are working moms. In my christian upbringing i think there were unspoken (and maybe spoken) pressures and expectations that a good wife and mother was one who did not work outside of the home (or in my case, inside the home). All I’m trying to say here is that being a mom and working an outside job is not shameful or contrary to Christianity, but in fact has made me a better person and a proud point in my life. I connect with these women across the globe on this level – we are moms who work to provide for our families and it is empowering.

  10. Emily You just gave me a air standing on ends chill moment! I really wish I could do something like that. You still even look stunning in all the photos! and your right the women from the co-op seem just as beautiful and happy! What is the weather like there? Where do you sleep? Please share more…Praying for all of you.

  11. I envy you,working moms. I started out young as a mom, I stopped going to university to take care of my kids, and now am having a hard time about money matters. I want to earn the title “working mom” but I just don’t know where to start.

  12. Loved this! Style for justice is amazing.. What a wondering project to be a part of! Continued prayers for you ladies !! WhAt an amazing group!

  13. Beautifully said, Emily. Your words are always genuine and full of grace. After reading your post, I got to wondering if there is a way for us to assist with tuition costs for one of the families? I was a student once and would have loved to had some help. $8 could be put to some wonderful use!!! I am sure there are others who are inspired to do the same after reading your post. Thanks Emily!

  14. Beautiful. Brought me to tears. Love your blog but I am especially enjoying reading about your trip! Have heard of Noonday through your blog and others I follow but seeing first hand the faces it impacts has driven me to share the links to this post and Noonday’s site with my family and friends.

  15. I love your website, blog, impeccable style, fresh and windsome ideas…. really everything! And I mostly loved this post. So much of it resonated and was inspiring. I hesitate in even writing for fear of seeming “nit-picky” but I write in the spirit of hopefully helpful feedback. The moment you shared that you were a “working mom” I winced. Recently I filled out a brief application for a new credit card. When the clerk asked if I worked I almost said, “No”! But then I took a deep breath and said, “I am a wife, mom of 5 kids (ages 3-14), and I homeschool them all. Yes mam, I work… very hard.” I ususally answer that question in the negative knowing that the inquiry is in regards to a “real job” outside the home with a real paycheck.

    I completely assume the best of intentions in your bold declaration here. But know that at least for some, like myself, it leaves an unwanted distinction. I feel that it is a false dichotomy…. some have dubbed it “The Mommy Wars”. Pitting “working moms” against “stay at home moms”. My perspective has changed over the years and I realize now that the minute you say, “I am a MOM” you are also declaring that you work. And you work hard.

    As a fatihful reader of your blog, I have never doubted your status. You work. Some of your work is with your little ones. The mundane tasks that often go unnoticed. Some of your work is lived out in your unique talent and abilty to make your surroundings beautful. I truly admire you. I do not have that same gift (as an aside… my husband is a former architect and has equally wonderful style and taste. He appreciates your designs as much as I do!!).

    We don’t know each other but I feel as though I am writing a friend, letting you know how your words landed. I am your mom friend. I am a friend who also is a “working mom”. I don’t have a business, a website, or a paycheck. But I am a working mom.

    I realize that the heart of this post was to bring attention to these beautiful Rwandan women and their work. I deeply appreciate you elevating our perspective and helping us to see outside of our American “4-walls”.

    With much Admiration and Respect,
    Diane

    1. I totally get it Diane, and thank you for your gentle words. In my personal story, there was something elevated about being a stay-home mom and something almost shameful about choosing to be a mom and work at a job. I know this is not true, but it was just a subtle expectation in the christian culture I was raised in.

      My goal here is not to dismiss the hard work of being a mom. Of course it is not! And it is also not to say being a working-at-a-job mom is better. Just to stand in my own life and be proud of where God has me. I can be self-depreciating at times and am learning to accept all of who I am and what I do and take joy in it.

      Hope this makes sense :)

      1. Thank you so much for writing back and clarifying. That makes perfect sense. And I agree, there has been an expectation in many christian circles that the only acceptable choice is to be a stay-at-home mom. I realize that as I read your blog, I am peeking in on your journey. And at this point in your journey, you are learning to embrace what the Lord has given you. I applaud your choice to take joy in it! Well done!

        I wonder if you would enjoy the book, “The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home” by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank. It speaks to the exact thing you mentioned here…. the elevation of being a stay-at-home mom and the subtle shamming of those who also have chosen to work outside the home. She does a great job in validating both while not compromising Biblical distinctives.

        All the best to you!

    2. I hosted my first Noonday trunk show on Monday and I was so inspired by the story that I am sharing it on my blog today too! I experienced 10 years of infertility treatments unsuccessfully, as well as a failed adoption. I realized that God has other plans for my life, so I am happily raising our precious daughter, running our family business, and searching for God’s will. I have always had a heart for children, and I am a trained labor nurse. This Noonday show was one way I felt that I could reach children and women who felt unloved. Lisa is my Noonday ambassador and she is generously giving away $25 worth of free Noonday accessories on my blog today. This is not a sales pitch – I simply feel compelled to share. If you would like to share this with your readers, please do. Perhaps someone who could not otherwise afford to purchase a piece will be able to select something they love with the gift card and share the story with others. I am at http://www.charminglucy.com. Blessings(: Susan

    3. This is absolutely beautiful!!!! I have heard of Noonday and this opportunity for these beautiful women! I am looking forward to seeing more of the trip!! Blessings and prayers to you ladies!

    4. Beautiful post! I, too, am a working mom and have often felt ashamed of it. This post proves that working can do so much for the mom and the family besides just bringing in money. Thank you for the reminder that I can hold my head up high and be proud and grateful for my job and all it teaches me (which I can then pass on to my kids). When I’m having a tough work day, I’ll remember these women – and I know I’ll get through it much easier :)

    5. This brought tears to my eyes. There is something so fulfilling to be able to provide a better life for yourself and your children by doing something you absolutely love and take pride in doing. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I hope to experience something as life changing as this at some point in my life. Keep inspiring! God is good!

    6. This is a wonderful post, Emily. Most of us are working moms in some capacity now, and it’s nice to be reminded that we’re not alone in our sometimes wonderful and sometimes painful journey. It’s also so interesting to gain the perspective you’re getting there – and to see the beauty coming from those wonderful working moms. Very cool. thanks for sharing.

    7. So, so beautiful! I love this post! Glad to see sustainable help given to those who need it. What huge, huge blessing. Thank you for sharing. :)

    8. Emily, blessings to all of you! Thank you for sharing your story while there. A glimse into these women’s lives. Prayers going up for you all. Be encouraged!

    9. Love this post, Emily. This post made me realize that I am also proud to be a working mom. Praying for you and the women of the co-op. XOXO

    10. Oh Emily!
      You are so amazing and I am thoroughly enjoying following your travels and experience. You will come home a different woman and mom–life changing! Thanks for sharing. Ps…I am waiting for THE picture–you know the one with my secret BFF. :) hugs to you.

    11. I struggle to label myself this way as well, but it is true. I’m an interior designer with my own company and have recently become the Creative Director for a socially minded home accessories company (all made by our co-op of sweet ladies in Kigali). How I could do these things and not consider myself working, I don’t know. But you’re right, it’s an honor to use the gifts and talents God gave me inside and outside our home. I shouldn’t sweep any of it under the rug or minimize it. Thanks for sharing! I’m encouraged to embrace it all. Blessings for your time in Rwanda!

    12. So beautiful, thank you for sharing. I too am a working mom and need to “own” that title more. Also, thanks for so lovingly sharing your stories on your blog and Instagram while in Rwanda. I traveled to Kenya a few years ago on a mission trip and it’s tough to process and regurgitate all that you see/learn/experience while in Africa. Kudos to your eloquent words and pictures!

      1. Emily, beautiful words and such an encouragement-thank you. I shared your link on my blog this morning, quoting your last words from them post. Have a blessed time!

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