If you’re going to lean in, you need support

baby-diapers-and-wipesJust as I was beginning my career, Lean In was becoming popular. In true lean in spirit, I was told to pursue my ambitions, ask for more, and change the conversation to what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t. I totally bought into the idea that if I put my mind to it I could (and should) do everything in full force.

Then I had a child.

Beyond the baby shoes, ducky washcloths, and teeny tiny onesies, it turns out taking care of an infant is a LOT of work. Even with my husband right by my side, the majority of the care landed on me after he returned to work.  Soon enough I found myself exhausted, overwhelmed, and disconnected. Even if I could do it all, maybe I didn’t want to?

There is no denying the level of pressure women feel on a daily basis to be a certain kind of mother, partner, friend, and professional. I’m all about encouraging women to ask for what they deserve but expecting women to be more, do more, and lean in more is not always sustainable.

I wish we would stop asking women to do more and instead ask ourselves what we can do to give women more choices. And not just choices but also the resources and support to make choices work, like how to end an unhealthy relationship without losing your housing, how to stay in a career but still be able to spend time with the ones you love, and how and when to start a family.

We don’t need to pressure ourselves to lean in, we need people and resources that support us to make the choices that are best for ourselves.

Taking a time out

August is typically a very slow, quiet month for me. Everyone is out on their summer vacation, the office is nearly empty, and my work load is low. But this August was different and by the time my own vacation approached, I felt overwhelmed and overloaded. There was a lot of work I didn’t have time to complete and I knew there would be more waiting for me when I got back. There were a few moments when I seriously considered canceling my vacation. But I didn’t. I packed my bags, and piled into a minivan with my husband, our best friends, two dogs, and supplies for the week. We hit the road to Iowa! The first two days I responded to emails and stressed about all the work I wasn’t doing. The morning of day three, when I woke in the Badlands to bison rolling in the dirt, it hit me: I needed a time out.

As a child I got a time out when I did something I wasn’t supposed to. My parents sent me to my room to cool off and think about my actions. This is not a practice I’ve self-employed often but like kids can get wrapped up in emotion and mischievousness, I had become trapped by the stress of the daily grind, to-do lists, seemingly endless emails, and deadlines.

The very important work I do every day to end domestic violence can seemed infinite. The idea of vacation was grand but when it came down to it, it was hard to take. I’m not alone. A lot of Americans don’t receive vacation benefits, and those who do often don’t take it, even though it’s clear that taking a break can reduce stress and mitigate burn out. I’m part of a movement that promotes self-care all the time, but I wasn’t taking time to care for myself.

four people sitting on a large statue of a jackalopeSomething very powerful and liberating happened to me when I told myself to take a time out. I calmed down, thought about what I wanted to be doing, and then I enjoyed every moment. I swam in algae-saturated lakes, watched friends get married, ate ice cream at Mt. Rushmore, and sat on a giant Jackalope. Today is my first day back at work and I have a ton of work on my plate (including this blog post). But after putting myself in time out, I feel more enthusiastic and determined than ever to be part of this work on ending domestic violence.

Times have changed. Or have they?

“It’s okay, honey, you can say you’re a housewife,” said the county clerk when I was applying for my marriage license. It’s hard to explain the work I do and I’m often stumped when I have to fill in the “occupation” section of a form. Irked by the clerk’s assumption that I was a housewife, I was even more put off that she thought I would be ashamed of it.grandmagritschcropped

Standing in that courthouse this summer, I was aware that I had walked through the same doors my grandparents did in 1949 and my parents in 1974. I thought about how much things had changed over the past 65 years. But really, how different are they?

My grandmother got married during a time that being a housewife was considered a woman’s ultimate calling. Near the end of her life she told me (with a bitter undertone), “I did my duty. I had three kids. I washed socks.” In her eyes, being a housewife was not a choice, but an obligation.

Then came the era of the Do It All woman which sounds impossible and exhausting. Today, things are different but the same sexist expectations exist. My partner and I share household and financial responsibilities, but I know I would be judged if I chose to stop working. And when people come to my home it’s clear the judgment is on me as well. Many women in my generation are trying to figure out what works best for them, even if that means choosing to return to traditional gender roles. It seems whatever we choose, we are criticized.

I want us to stop judging each other and turn our focus on making sure women have options and the freedom to choose what’s best for them. Instead of shaming, let’s encourage each other to make healthy decisions, talk about how to communicate effectively with our partners, and support each other to have relationships that are supportive, caring, and equal.

Are you listening?

We bring you this post from Megan Dorwin, our Policy and Economic Justice intern.

I’m a social worker who spends the majority of her time with other social workers. And there’s a trend I’ve noticed lately about people in the helping professions. We require a lot from our partners and friends.

person-in-crowdAs “helping professionals” we strive to be present, centered, and compassionate, focusing on the needs of individuals and communities we serve. We dedicate one third of our lives to others and, quite frankly, it’s exhausting. As five-o’clock rolls around and I transition back from professional to person, I can’t wait for someone to do the same for me.

I want so desperately to be heard with the same care that I have extended to others throughout the work day. In my personal relationships I feel like I’m jumping up and down shouting: “Listen to me! Listen to me!” It’s about my desire to reconnect with a neglected piece of myself; my longing to feel my own needs and desires being met. Unfortunately, in this process I sometimes end up shouting over those I care about most.

So what’s going on here? In the social work field there seems to be a blind spot in applying our knowledge about healthy relationships and healthy lives to ourselves. I see this in our work environments, educational institutions, and personal relationships. At work it’s about meeting the needs of others. This isn’t a bad thing: it’s why most of us become “helpers” in the first place. But after a while, the work can take its toll on a person. But just because we work in jobs that are emotionally taxing, it doesn’t mean we get a free pass to neglect the needs of others when we see fit. We have to find a balance so that we’re not sacrificing ourselves at work and expecting our loved ones to do the same for us at home.

The people we love and care about want to support us, but they also need to be supported. Yes, sometimes we need to be heard; to share what’s on our hearts and minds. But we also have to step outside our needs and make sure we’re taking care of the needs of those around us. Our lovers, families, friends, co-workers, and communities will be better for it, and so will we.

Amor: Un valor fundamental (Love: A fundamental value)

Hace unos días participé en nuestro retiro, un tiempo y espacio donde como organización conversamos sobre nuestros valores fundamentals y cómo éstos marcan nuestro trabajo y decisiones. Un momento inspirador y por supuesto no podría esperar menos cuando el amor fue nombrado como uno de nuestros valores más importantes.

Cuando uno habla de amor, suele sonar abstracto, o romántico, pero la realidad es que en WSCADV es definitivamente un verbo no un sustantivo y lo digo con toda firmeza pues en cada acción que se lleva a cabo, en cada projecto, en cada palabra, en cada reunión entre nosotros o con nuestros programas miembros, amor es el valor fundamental y el común denominador en nuestras acciones.

Para muchos la sola palabra amor no dice mucho, pero déjame te platico como es que personalmente he visto esta palabra en acción: cuando uno de nuestros compañeros esta pasando por un momento difícil y todos los demás ofrecen su ayuda y la organización cambia las políticas internas como el poder ceder tus días de enfermedad para alguien que lo necesite más que tú, eso es amor. O cuando se toma el tiempo necesario para re-estructurar la organización tomando en cuenta la opinión de cada uno y proporcionando el espacio necesario y seguro para procesar cualquier mal entendido, eso es amor. O aún cuando mal entendidos y diferentes puntos de vista surgen, el perdón y la entrega salen triunfantes, eso es amor. O cuando tu directora necesita ese extra apoyo para avanzar como organización donde todos cedemos y nos comprometemos para el crecimiento de nuestra organización, eso es amor.

Por que amor, no es solo una palabra, es compasión, es energía, es entrega, es estar presente, es eso que te centra y te impulsa a ser mejor, es apoyo, es entusiasmo, es inspiración, es amistad, es simple y llanamente querer lo mejor para los demás y uno mismo. Aquí en WSCADV cada uno de nosotros pone el corazón en cada acción con la finalidad de algún día erradicar la violencia para vivir en plenitud nuestra AMADA COMUNIDAD, y eso, eso es AMOR.


Some days ago I participated in our retreat, a time and space where we, as an organization, could talk about our fundamental values and how those affect our work and decisions. It was an inspirational moment and of course I wasn’t surprised when love was named as one of our fundamental values.

When one speaks of love, it often sounds abstract, or romantic, but the reality is that at WSCADV love is definitely a verb, not a noun. I say this because in every action that takes place, in every project, in every word that we use, with each other as a team, at each meeting with our member programs, love is the fundamental value and the common denominator in our actions.

For many, the word love does not say much, but let me tell you how I have personally seen this word in action: when one of our colleagues was going through a difficult time and everyone else offered support, and the organization changed internal policies so we could give our sick days to someone who needs it more, that’s love. Or when you take the time to restructure the organization taking into account the opinion of every employee while providing a safe space to process any misunderstandings or concerns, that’s love. Or when misunderstandings and different points of view arise, forgiveness and compassion emerge triumphant, that’s love. Or when your director needs that extra support to move the organization forward and each one of us gives something up and commits to keep growing, that’s love.

Because love is not just a word, it’s compassion, it’s energy, it’s to be present, it’s what centers you and makes you better, it’s support, it’s enthusiasm, it’s inspiration, it’s friendship, it’s simply to want the best for others and yourself. Here at WSCADV each one of us puts our whole heart into every action in order to eradicate violence someday and to live fully in our BELOVED COMMUNITY. And that my friends, that is LOVE.

The bare minimum

Since Labor Day, I’ve been reading a lot about our country’s minimum wage. This is probably not a newsflash (but just so we’re clear), it’s at $7.25, and is not a livable wage. Even here in Washington State, where our minimum wage is the highest in the country at $9.19, it falls short for many working families. The Self Sufficiency Standard calculates what it actually takes to make ends meet in each county. It takes into consideration things like household members’ ages, and cost of housing, food, and childcare. For example, a single mother with 2 kids in Seattle needs to make $26.94 an hour to meet the needs of her family. That same mom in Pend Oreille county needs an hourly wage of $16.33. Even for two working parents, the minimum wage doesn’t work. In Seattle, two working parents with two kids would each need to make $14.58 an hour. In Pend Oreille, more than $10 an hour each.

Back in 1963, one of the things protesters who marched on Washington demanded was a $2.00 minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $15.26 today. Recently we have again seen workers rise up against inadequate wages. Fast food employees are asking for a $15 minimum wage. President Obama has mentioned raising it to $9 and some members of Congress have proposed over $10. I’m not one to regularly read the Bloomberg report, but I came across this article from a self-described Capitalist who fully supports a significant minimum wage hike. He argues that “the fundamental law of capitalism is that if workers have no money, businesses have no customers. That’s why the extreme, and widening, wealth gap in our economy presents not just a moral challenge, but an economic one, too.”

Some argue against this, claiming these are “entry level” jobs that are starting points, not places to stay long-term and support a family. But when we look at who is earning minimum wage, we see that the vast majority are adults and most of those adults are women. minimum-wage-chart

We have to ask ourselves, what do we value? If you (and your partner) work, should you be able to afford the basics for your family? If you’re in an abusive relationship, should you be able to earn enough so that money doesn’t factor in to whether you stay or go? A higher minimum wage could mean freedom, safety, and security for those experiencing abuse. And I’m all for that.

Leaning in

I cried at work yesterday. I found myself overwhelmed, feeling like a failure. Turns out I’m not the only one who had this kind of day. I came across a post about Sheryl Sandberg—who says it’s OK to cry at work—and her new book Lean In. I haven’t lean-in-coverread the book, but am so fascinated by the media blitz that I’ve been clicking from one article to the next. Some are hailing “Lean In Circles” as feminism, revitalized. It’s Girl Power, grown up.

But others say that she is blaming women for not being better at climbing the ladder. Sandberg responds that she is simply identifying behaviors that typically hold women back so that we can recognize and change not only the behaviors but the reasons why they exist. OK, that doesn’t sound so bad…

Maureen Dowd criticizes her for not knowing the difference between a social movement and a social marketing campaign. She claims Sandberg’s elitist approach is not going to reach those women workers who are in low wage jobs. CNN ran an article on how Sandberg’s framework completely disregards the working experiences of single mothers, who “couldn’t lean out if they wanted.” OK, also a lot of truth there.

There is little agreement on how to take Lean In. But I’m not sure the top is the only place we should set our gaze. I’d like to see a system that supports and honors women in all levels of employment by offering adequate paid family and sick leave. I’d like to see employers create good policies and protocol for supporting employees who are experiencing domestic violence. If “Lean In Circles” can contribute to that kind of change, that would be a success.

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