Cate Stern | Another Mother Her Way
When I first heard of Cate Stern, it was because she was caught on camera (here) unknowingly standing in a power pose wearing a tee shirt that said "Moms for President" in a gathering of women. I was later drawn in by her humble, thoughtful and simultaneously, confident, voice about her path - starting in Washington DC at a large law firm, relocating to New York within that role, including returning to work after having her first daughter and deciding after her second that she wanted this time to be focused on her girls. Her decision to leave ten plus years in law was not simple but it ultimately has allowed her not only the space for motherhood but also to explore creative aspects of herself shelved in her previous life. Now she's raising Eloise and Isabelle and making time to write, working on her second novel and contributing articles (including this, this and this). Below, Cate compares her experience in mothering while she was working in law to now working within the home and on herself.
HOW DID YOU CHANGE AFTER BECOMING A MOTHER?
When my first daughter was born, I was in my second year at a law firm and my life had mainly been about work with a minor in fun with my husband and friends. Eloise arrived four weeks early, and I still remember the look the nurse gave me when she walked in to see me in the bed with my laptop propped on my stomach, frantically sending out e-mails to transition projects and memos to other associates. This was not going according to plan, I thought. Ultimately, I had to have a C-section, and Eloise stayed in the NICU for a few weeks where I couldn't breast feed her the way I had expected. This sort of set the tone for my first months as a new mother; things were often out of my control despite my best efforts, and I had to learn to adapt to the double-dip feelings of sad and happy, overwhelmed and content, restless and fulfilled. I think through these experiences I've become more empathetic and less judgmental of others and myself. Not only do I find this a nicer way to be, I also believe it opens me up to new experiences, ideas, and people.
WHAT CHOICES DID YOU MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE MOTHERHOOD? WOULD YOU MAKE THEM AGAIN?
We hired a full-time nanny when I was working and I would definitely do that again. We don't have parents nearby and our nanny provided a wonderful support system. She took great care of our girls and also kept things neat and clean, which freed up more time for me to spend with the kids when I got home each night. Sometimes women think they must do it all—as in all the work, all the time, and if they don't, they are somehow a lesser mother. I am thankful we were able to create an environment where I could go to work and then come home to focus on the kids without feeling pressured to have the kitchen spotless or the laundry folded.
By the time I went back to work after our younger daughter Isabelle was born, I felt like things were changing quickly while I was away each day. The blur of growth spurts, milestones, and adorable moments between the girls made me dizzy, and when Isabelle was seventeen months old I left my firm to spend more time with them. I had never planned to stay home with my children and part of me bucked at what I was feeling after that second parental leave. It may be that I could have found a different way to accommodate motherhood and continue working, but for now I'm glad I listened to the voice that was telling me I wanted more time with my kids.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A MOTHER IN THREE WORDS. WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?
Supportive, Warm, Persistent.
I would love to be a more present mother, which is something I’m working on. I am physically with the girls a lot, but I find myself distracted at times either by my phone or the list of things left to do for the day running through my mind. I think it's much more pleasurable for all of us when I'm engaged without toggling between activities. Of course, there are times when I just have to get something done or I want to take a break, but on balance I'm working to operate more in the moment.
HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF MOTHERHOOD?
I make space and time for the creative projects that keep me energized and engaged. I had been writing a novel in the mornings and sometimes at lunch for a few years, and when I left my job I wanted to make sure that I had the same if not more access to writing time. Sometimes this means waking up extra early, prioritizing writing time over tv (and wine), or lining up a babysitter. When I started prioritizing creative time, I was amazed to see how new inspirations came to me—for poems, personal essays and even the shirts for TheSelfEvidents.
EVERY MOTHER NEEDS HELP TO FIND BALANCE. WHAT DOES YOUR VILLAGE LOOK LIKE?
My husband does a lot with the kids on the weekends, which thankfully puts parent and me swim class within his jurisdiction. I have an amazing network of mom friends in Jersey City--women who are honest about the challenges of motherhood, work, and relationships. We end up getting a formal dinner about once a month and then have ad hoc coffee and breakfast dates during the week. I also meet up with two of my former colleagues on a monthly basis, which I love because it keeps me connected to my professional side. And also, I laugh a lot at those dinners.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IMPROVING YOURSELF AS A WOMAN AND A MOTHER?
Organization. When I was first home with the girls, I thought days would create themselves and that I'd be more spontaneous. I have to laugh about this now as I realize how much planning it takes to make sure everyone gets where they need to be and eats something other than take out at least a few times during the week. I'm working to use some of the same tactics I did when I was practicing law, like meal planning and scheduling. I'm learning that for our family a little structure and preparation makes things run more smoothly more often which makes things feel less chaotic.
A slightly more challenging goal of mine is to bow out of the race for external validation. It's been a bit of a struggle to look inward and assess what I want rather than run off of what I think society wants for me. Welcoming any tips!