A passionate believer in the rights of women (especially mothers), Kaylie Astin is the founder of www.familyfriendlywork.org, where she blogs and raises awareness of work and family issues. She is also an aspiring novelist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications such as Boys’ Life and Children’s Writer. Kaylie received a bachelor's degree in music and resides in Utah with her husband and three children.
I have always believed that the work of mothers matters.
That’s why I assumed, growing up, that staying home to take care of my family was the only way to go, especially when I heard leaders within my faith talk about the value of mothers staying home. When I became a mother myself, I quit everything, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I couldn’t imagine going to the grocery store, let alone going to work, while someone else watched my baby.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that though I’d always dreamed of raising a family, something was missing. I had other dreams and interests, and these dreams hadn’t died when I became a mother. At first, when I compared myself to other Mormon women who loved staying home, these dreams made me feel guilty because in my mind, family was supposed to be all I wanted.
I tried to fill the void in my life. I scrapbooked, planned a music advertising business, got sucked into multi-level marketing, invested in real estate, wrote novels, blogged, opened an Etsy store, and wrote for magazines (not all at the same time). I needed something, I knew, but nothing felt right, and I became increasingly desperate. The ambitions I’d been squelching were stubborn. They wouldn’t go away. I considered going back to work, but couldn’t find a part-time job that paid more than minimum wage.
Wasn’t there a way for women like me to combine ambition with family instead of choosing one or the other?
One day, I heard Quentin L. Cook, the former vice chairman of Sutter Health System, a leader within my faith, say the following, “I would hope that [Mormons] would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.”
This single sentence was like manna from heaven, balm to soothe my troubled soul. I wanted to do some type of work. Until this moment I believed I would have to choose family or career. For me, Quentin Cook's speech was more than an acknowledgment that Mormon women worked. In that moment, I felt I had been given providential permission to work. Moreover, this sermon was an invitiation for me to fight for families in the workplace.
And suddenly, I knew I had to do just that.
I began by researching, and what I found ignited my passion to make a difference even more. If mothering was so important, and so many mothers worked, why hadn’t workplaces recognized this? Why, for so many women, was it a choice between feeding their children and raising them?
I considered many ways of putting myself “at the forefront”, knowing I wanted to reach as many women as possible. I wanted to help women learn about different kinds of work arrangements and figure out how to negotiate them. I hoped women would talk to each other about guilt and child care. I wanted young women to understand the importance of education.
I also noticed there weren’t many resources for Mormon women, in particular, to learn and talk about work and family issues. With family being so important to our faith, how could we help workplaces accommodate our priorities?
So I decided to put together a website.
It sounds easy, but it wasn't. First there was the minor issue of not knowing how to build a site. Then there were snags like technical difficulties, domain name changes, re-designs, and re-writes. But finally, in February 2012, I launched my site, www.familyfriendlywork.org. But the dream doesn't stop there. Now I'm working to get as many people involved as possible. I plan to add more information to the site and form partnerships with like-minded organizations also agitating for change.
The more I learn, the more I appreciate the silver lining in my struggles. The lack of an outlet for my ambition has created its own kind of ambition -- to share what I've learned through an often frustrating process with women in search of work-life fit answers.
I still believe that mothers matter, but not every mother wants to or can stay home. Most workplaces operate on a model that allows parents little time with their children. If workplaces accommodated the needs of families, they, their employees, and all of society would benefit. Here's hoping my site makes a difference.
Have you found yourself grappling with how to attend to others' dreams as well as your own?
Do you remember a time when a single sentence or phrase from someone you revered triggered a paradigm shift?
How do your deeply-held beliefs inform your dreams?