Motherhood's big secret, and why we need to talk about it.


Motherhood's big secret, and why we need to talk about it.

This is the text of a TEDx talk by Mindr's founder, Sarah Lux-Lee, at TEDxBushwick Women on Friday, November 3rd, 2017. We will share video footage of Sarah's talk once it is published by TEDx. To join the Mindr community, sign up online and become a part of the conversation on Instagram and FacebookCover photo by Mia Oh Photography.

On a sunny day in May last year, I put on a powder blue graduation gown, placed the cap on my head, and stepped into a sea of fellow graduates. We were celebrating the completion of our public policy Masters at Columbia University. The air was electric. We were excited, our families were excited, and our Professors were so proud of everything we’d achieved and learned, and what that learning would mean for our future. It was a really magical day.

When I got home that night, I put away my cap and my gown, and patted the baby bump that had been hiding underneath it. You see, I was 34 weeks pregnant that day - my daughter Ella would be born six weeks later.

That day felt like a pivot point. I was closing the door on a time of learning, stimulation and growth, and opening a new door to a time of love, warmth, and deep connection.

Or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

Turns out, that’s what a lot of people think is the trade-off that women make when they have a baby.

A Princeton study found that when a female professional has a child, she is perceived as a little warmer and friendlier, but a lot less competent than she was before.

Let that sink in. Just the fact that a woman has a child is enough to make her colleagues think she is nicer, but less intelligent, than before.

This perception that mothers are warmer but less competent than other people isn’t just offensive. It's also having a very real impact on women's bottom line. The pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is even larger than the gap between women and men. Mothers lose about 7% of their earning ability for every child. We are offered about $11,000 less for a starting salary than identically qualified people without children. We are paid about 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers, who by the way, are also parents. We are less likely to be hired. And when we do get hired, we are more likely to be passed over for promotion, and less investment is made in our training.

This is holding women back, and it's keeping women down. 2.7 million American families with a working mother live in poverty. 2.1 million of them are mother-only families. The motherhood penalty is something we can’t afford to ignore, not here in the US, and not in the many other countries where this phenomenon exists, from the UK to Australia to Japan.

One of the justifications often given for the motherhood penalty is that all this baby-making and rearing takes away time that a woman would otherwise be investing in her skills and experience. The formal name for this is “human capital theory.” I prefer to use the colloquial term, “hypocritical nonsense.” And here’s why.

For starters, the experience of having and raising a child is a vibrant training ground for skills and expertise that every employee needs. So while some people say “motherhood is the hardest job,” I would argue it’s one of the most powerful boot-camps for any job.

Tell me who has more resilience and grit than a mother who has rocked a screaming, colicky baby through the night, after months of sleeping no more than two hours at a time, and then gets up in the morning with a spring in her step because that’s what mothers do.

Tell me who knows more diplomacy and tact than a mother who has to sit down with a young child to explain racism, or homophobia, or extremism, and still have that child walk away feeling safe, and supported, and like they can truly achieve anything they set their mind to. 

Tell me who is more resourceful than a mother feeding hungry mouths and facing the endless churn of childcare costs, while losing 7% of her earning ability for each child.

Motherhood teaches us perspective and passion, focus and flexibility. It gives us humility and a hunger to achieve, provide and lead by example. Motherhood teaches us to be level-headed in the face of a crisis, dependable at every turn, and agile in the face of change. In short, motherhood makes us ninjas. And ninjas are an asset in any workplace.

"In short, motherhood makes us ninjas. And ninjas are an asset in any workplace."

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently wrote that her career success happened not despite, but because of, being a mother. Law and motherhood, she said, each provided her a respite from the other. They gave her a fresh perspective, and a sense of proportion that many of her colleagues lacked.  

And she isn’t alone in crediting motherhood with part of her success – a recent study by the Federal Reserve found that over the course of a 30-year career, women with children are more productive than other workers in nearly every career phase.  Sure, there might be a temporary dip, like when your toddler just learned that snails are a fun thing to eat and is vomiting everywhere while demanding an explanation of how rocketships work, but overall, the evidence is in and motherhood makes you better, not worse, at work.

So that’s why the motherhood penalty is misguided. Let's talk about why it’s hypocritical.

Despite the sleep deprivation and the distractions, for many mothers having a baby is a time of renewed creativity, a desire to learn, and an entrepreneurial spirit. Harvard researchers have explained that this is in part a result of a heightened sense of altruism among new mothers, a desire to connect with others and give back to their community during this transformational time in their lives.

But when new mothers look out into the world for a place to channel all this creative energy, they find they’re not welcome.

For one thing, as a society we’ve conditioned ourselves to see breastfeeding and breast pumping as distasteful, or in the words of some our leaders, disgusting. We judge women for breastfeeding, in the same breath as telling them that breastfeeding defines their success as a mother. We want them to do it, but somewhere hidden away, where we don’t have to see it or think about it.

Another thing we don’t like is noise. Not the cheerful, raucous kind that toddlers make when they’ve discovered something new, not the scared and questioning kind that a newborn makes in new surroundings, and not the kind that a mother makes when she's making everything better. We find it distracting, we find it inappropriate, and we think it should stay at home. We let 20 million college students distract themselves and each other with smartphones and laptops in classrooms across America, but one small child in a place of learning? Well that's a deal-breaker.

We expect new mothers to be unseen and unheard. They definitely shouldn’t be in our libraries, or our classrooms, or our public lectures. If they congregate at all, it should be somewhere far away from us, on a multicolored mat, where they can sing about animals and talk about diapers like they’re meant to. And when they return to work, they’d better come back without any hint of this life-changing experience they’ve just had, or the tiny human that now defines them. 

We shun new mothers. We deny them entry. And then we charge them a motherhood penalty for not using this time to the fullest.

So I come to you today with one important idea worth spreading.

It’s that mothers have creativity, curiosity, compassion and capability that, if tapped, would unleash a torrent of intellectual capital, driving our societies and economies forward. But only if we figure out how to harness it.

"Mothers have creativity, curiosity, compassion and capability that, if tapped, would unleash a torrent of intellectual capital, driving our societies and economies forward."

So what would that look like?

Well, it starts with welcoming new mothers into our public spaces, our social spaces, our intellectual spaces, and our civic spaces.

It starts with creating safe, clean places for them to pump. And just so we're clear, a toilet stall does not count. It starts with purpose-built, private spaces for them to nurse if they choose that privacy, and being genuinely welcoming when they nurse in public.

It starts with changing tables in restrooms, and ramps for strollers.

If you’re an employer, you probably already know where it starts. You know about flexible hours, and paid parental leave, and evaluating the quality of work rather than face time. You know about having a mother’s room for pumping, and considering the needs of all parents and care-givers so we can all share the caregiving load. But you might not know you need to do these things not just because it’s right, and not just because it’s important to the mother, but because it is the only way you get to tap into this powerful workforce, which has been shown to outperform any other. In a millennial market, where employers are constantly chasing after their people, to generate loyalty, to create buy-in, to make them stay, this is too big an opportunity for you to miss.

For all of us, it starts with increasing our tolerance for a little noise. In our cafes, in our classrooms, and even in our boardrooms. Because there will come a moment for every mother where her childcare solution fails, and she is faced with a choice: between an opportunity for her growth and advancement, or being there for her kid. It starts with not making her choose.

Some of you are sitting here feeling skeptical. You’re thinking, you can’t have a baby in a boardroom, that’s ridiculous. You’re thinking, new moms have enough going on already, they don’t have the energy to think about intellectual or professional or civic or social opportunities. So I’m going to tell you about a little experiment.

It’s an experiment that started in Brooklyn, shortly after that graduation day I told you about. My daughter Ella was three months old, and it was the time of the Federal Election. There was an odd energy in the air, in the playrooms and at the parks. We were all still singing about animals and talking about diapers like we were supposed to, but there was an undercurrent. A little fear, some uncertainty, a lot of thoughts about how the debates were progressing and what the outcome might be, and a desire to become more involved, to contribute. So I booked out my favorite local café, and brought in a renowned political science Professor from Columbia, and we had a talk. Much like this one, but with 40 new parents in the room, and 40 babies. And believe me, there was noise. And there was breastfeeding. But there was also a vibrant political discussion, facilitated by a global expert, and everyone walked away a little wiser, and better supported, and a lot more civically engaged.

Since then, the experiment has grown into an organization called Mindr. We run talks, workshops, classes and events led by global experts, where crying babies are always welcome. We’ve held talks on entrepreneurship, teaching people how to take an idea and turn it into a viable business. We’ve had climate change discussions, and design workshops, and reflections on the future of feminism, all with babies in the room. We recently took a delegation of 10 Mindr moms to a conference by the United Nations, to contribute their thoughts on how we can harness female innovation. And we worked with the organizers of that conference to create a safe, clean and pleasant place for those women to pump.

There’s a radical change going on right now, in the way new mothers see ourselves and what we can do. We are reclaiming and reshaping our identity during this important moment in our lives. And we are saying hey, you know what? Maybe becoming a mother did make me warmer. But you can bet it also made me more competent.

So now you know the secret: motherhood is not a penalty, but an asset. To the individual, to the economy, and to society.

The question is – what are you going to do about it?

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5 ways we are raising a Jewish-German child in America


5 ways we are raising a Jewish-German child in America

#Mindrmama Janna Maland is a finance lawyer balancing out that corporate life with some mom-ing, crafting, baking and traveling, and blogging about all of it over at This is her second post in a series on "multikulti," her multicultural approach to raising a German-Jewish child in America (you can read the first in the series, about bilingual babies, here.) Stay up to date with all #Mindrmama musings by signing up here and joining Mindr's online community on Instagram and Facebook.

"Multikulti" is maybe one of my favorite German words. Its meaning is pretty obvious if you ask me - it's short for multicultural. Remember my post about raising a bilingual child? Well, for many multilingual families, including us, languages are only one among many facets of raising a multicultural child. For us, two other big ones are nationality and religion: I was raised Christian-Lutheran in Germany and Dan was raised Jewish in Miami. 

This post is something I struggled a lot with and debated writing at all because it is so very personal. You know how they say don't talk about religion or politics online? Yeah... add a sprinkle of World War II for good measure (there, I said it), and voilà, I present you with the ultimate forbidden fruit of a blog post.  

Ultimately, I was inspired to write this by two conversations I've had with fellow moms who are raising mixed faith kids - one Christian-Bahai combo and one Jewish-Muslim combo. If your first thought is "that's so cool," you are not alone - I completely agree! At the same time, navigating two (or more) cultures, two (or more) languages and two (or more) religions can sometimes feel like a minefield in which you make one wrong step and someone feels left out, misunderstood or hurt.

As with all difficult topics, I get the feeling that a lot of people would like to talk about it, but aren't really sure how without diving right into that minefield. That includes me, by the way - but hey, here's an attempt! These five things have worked for us so far:

1) Communicate

As with everything in life, communication is key. We make a point to voice when we feel uncomfortable with something, or when something feels a little too foreign to one of us. For example, I didn't want any Hebrew at our wedding because I don't know the language and didn't grow up hearing it. D was uncomfortable with baby names that sounded too German - I looooove the name Friedrich for a little boy, but that just wasn't going to fly. It can be challenging to hear these things, but it's too important to us that neither one of us feels that their culture is taking a backseat in bringing up our son Magnus.  

2) Storytime! Music time! 

Read or tell the stories and sing the songs that you grew up with. Raising a child abroad (and for me, the US is "abroad"), or with someone who had a completely different upbringing, is hard because naturally, our toolbox for raising children is full of all the stories, songs, little sayings and sweet nicknames we grew up with. Being surrounded by people who don't know the same things can feel pretty isolating. We always sing a German lullaby at bedtime, and we each read books to Magnus that we grew up with. Once he is a little older, those books will likely include Biblical stories - and guess what, we are pretty lucky because we share the Old Testament, so a lot of the stories are actually the same!

3) Embrace the whole beautiful mish-mash. 

We don't like to say Magnus is "half" Jewish or "half" German or "half" American. If you're thinking, yeah, duh, he'd have to be a third each to get the math right, allow me to remind you that we live in a world of alternative facts (#thankstrump), and he can be American, German and Jewish, and all of those things 100%. (See, I told you I was going to fit in politics somewhere.) Kidding aside, what I mean by that is that we are making a conscious effort not to limit any aspect of Magnus's heritage but give him as much exposure as we can manage to every facet of it.

4) Don't hide your history. 

The big, ugly elephant in the room.

The combination of Jewish and German, as opposed to just any two nationalities or sets of religious beliefs, comes with its own unique challenges, and is therefore at the heart of what this post is about.

This is and has always been a big deal for D and me and will probably become an even greater challenge once Magnus is at an age where he starts asking and learning about history. D and I both grew up learning a lot about World War II, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. We both grew up with a firm and unshakable understanding that what happened in Germany in the 30s and 40s was evil, horrible and wrong, and with a strong sense of obligation to remember and talk about it so that we can prevent it from happening again. And we both want to instill that understanding and sense of obligation in our baby boy. But there is no denying that we also grew up on opposite sides of the equation, and I'm sure other mixed families can relate when I say it makes me a little nervous that neither D nor I have any experience or wisdom to share on what it's like to be a mix of those opposite sides. All I know is that we will do everything in our power to raise Magnus with tons of love and pride in who he is, and not shy away from talking about this difficult piece of history. 

5) Celebrate - the more the better. 

Every since we first started dating, D and I have embraced each other's celebrations - after all, who doesn't love a good party! We have traditionally done Chrismukkah at our home, I once colored and hid Easter eggs for D's first Easter egg hunt, and he has introduced me to apples and honey for Jewish New Year as well as the beauty that is Manischewitz (don't judge, that stuff is delicious) once a year for Passover dinner. We've hosted Shabbat dinners where D was not only the only American at the table but also the only Jew (I remember a specific one where it was D, me, two Indians, two Mexicans and two British people - it's like there's a "walk into a bar" joke in there somewhere, don't you think...), and we broke the fast with an epic bagel spread on Yom Kippur!

If you see a pattern here, you would be correct - the common denominator is (obviously) the food. Food brings people together, and it's easy and fun to learn by trying different foods. In fact, one of my favorite question to ask people around the holidays is what food their families traditionally eat - so if you are reading this and have a great holiday recipe - whatever the holiday may be - please share!! Oh, and a bonus of this Jewish-German-American power combo of ours: We never have to fight about where we spend Thanksgiving or Christmas - it's easy: Thanksgiving with D's family, Christmas with mine :) 

... Whew, you guys, writing this definitely took several boxes of cookies and a lot longer than I thought,  but I hope you enjoyed! By the way, I absolutely love hearing from you and reading about other multikulti families' lives, so holla at me.

xoxo, J

PS: The beautiful photos below are from Magnus's Jewish babynaming, which we celebrated a few weeks ago in Miami!  


Mother Untitled: A Mindful Work in Progress


Mother Untitled: A Mindful Work in Progress

We are so excited to launch this monthly column by #MINDRMAMA Neha Leela Ruch of Mother UntitledNeha is a wife, mother and writer in the Flatiron neighborhood of New York, and Mother Untitled is her lifestyle website for ambitious women making conscious choices to focus on family while finding ways to stay creative and connected.  Today, Neha reflects on remaining mindful during time spent with her son and friends, despite all the distractions.  It's an important conversation we'll be continuing in person, at tomorrow's Manhattan event with mindfulness expert Randi Zinn - you can register to join us here

When a dear friend yanked my phone out of my hand during a playdate at the beginning of the month, I was a little thrown.  Her rightful defense was I had disappeared into a black hole, my face apparently going blank, as I fixated on the screen.  I could quickly recall that my head had indeed gone down a rabbit hole after seeing one tiny picture during a quick check of the Instagram machine. I had felt instantly stressed about things completely unrelated to the present lovely moment as our boys played together.  Cut to as I fell asleep that night, feeling intensely guilty for invading on this time with Bodie and in our friendship.

I used to proudly never have my phone around me.  And I still don’t, not nearly enough as I should while equally proudly running a lifestyle site.  I am always apologizing for delay in e-mail or text and please don’t leave me a voicemail - I still have some from when my husband and I weren’t married.  Bodie doesn’t help the cause for my husband and mother who call each other when they can’t get in touch with me.  He isn’t a fan of anything that takes my attention from him (we’re working on it), device included. 

I consciously chose to focus this time on raising a little person but while I simultaneously find space for my creative work and relationships, when I can manage to sneak a “quick peek”, I get sucked in.  My brain quickly jumps from cute Instagram square to an internal monologue about how I could be moving faster and did I remember to get my nephew a present?  And then I’m as far away from my son as possible.

Phones are an incredible asset to modern mothers, I think.  The online and mobile spaces allow creativity, connectedness and communication so even if we choose to focus this time on family we have a bridge to the other parts of us.  But for me, if presence - emotionally and physically - is my intention as a mother then I have to solve for the intrusion.

It’s not possible to suggest that we put our phones away completely.  But my same friend who caught me in phone paralysis suggested I keep my phone in a separate space - a counter above Bodie’s line of vision or further still, my nightstand in the bedroom.  I can still check in on messages or e-mail every half hour or hour but keeping the device physically separate from Bodie’s and my shared space gives me the clarity of mind and sight so I can observe, relate and appreciate those moments with him.  It lets be more attune to his needs which leads to a calmer  toddler which results in a happier me.  Having to physically step away to engage on my mobile makes me more conscious that I’m away so I’m more apt to get done what I need and then step back as opposed to mindlessly scrolling or skimming triggering a tailspin of unfocused thought. 

Mindfulness has felt like an ethereal concept to me until this. This tension between motherhood and my other identities seems to have come full focus in this clash between physical presence and online connectedness. As with anything I imagine we all have a unique version of balance between the two, but for me, for now, shelving my mobile helps me see our world a bit more clearly and sleep a little bit better. 

Have you encountered a similar struggle? How do you manage your own screen time around your kids?