Feelings of guilt and exhaustion from constant juggling characterize the lives of mothers everywhere who are trying to balance child-rearing with a career. Callous remarks and open disapproval only twist the knife deeper, but a supportive community can help working mothers keep it together and even thrive at both pursuits.
That’s why 28-year-old Cori Widen founded ImaKadima (“Mother Forward”) in Jerusalem.
“I was walking home around 4:30 one afternoon, and a well-intentioned neighbor asked where I was coming from. I said ‘Work,’ and she said, ‘Wow, that’s awful.’ I felt it was not awful but awesome that I managed to work it out that I have many hours to be with my family,” relates Widen, CEO and co-founder of RoadShows, an early-stage start-up connecting creators with retailers in the US.
“People feel that their career is a big part of their fulfillment and want to succeed both at home and at work. Our goal is to provide support and equip women with the tools to do that,” she says.
The initiative began on Facebook.
“I have a chronic habit of starting Facebook groups when I need to know something,” says Widen, who made aliya from New York eight years ago and worked in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and in several nonprofit organizations.
When her son was born nearly three years ago, she realized that the nine- to-five world wasn’t going to fit her lifestyle anymore. So many discussions flew back and forth on the social-media site – from parenting advice to resumé - writing advice – that Widen decided the time was ripe for some of the 450 members across Israel to connect offline.
“It became apparent very quickly that there is a large group of people not being spoken to,” she says. “There is tremendous potential to help each other out, not just professionally but also with the issues faced at home.”
One of the first to get involved was Naava Shafner, now ImaKadima’s Jerusalem events coordinator. The 28-year-old mother of a toddler and a baby, she does fund-raising and resource development for the Knesset Social Guard, which promotes accountability and transparency in the Knesset.
“I posted something on one of my mom groups on Facebook when I was super frustrated that women would say stuff like, ‘If you were a really good mom, you would stay home with your kids,’ and Cori invited me to this group for career-minded moms who understand that there are good mothers who are also career women,” says Shafner. “I really wanted to help as much as I could.”
Shafner and Widen found a comfortable venue, the PICO (People-Ideas-Community-Opportunities) co- working space and gallery in Talpiot. The first event was a parenting workshop led by psychologist Liba Lurie on stress-management and time-management skills.
The second event was supposed to be held on July 10 and drew 70 RSVPs, but it was canceled at the last minute because of the threat of missiles from Gaza.
That meeting – called for 8 on a Thursday night, after most little ones are asleep – was rescheduled for September 18. It featured a panel discussion with VIP mothers such as Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria of the Yerushalmim party, whose priority is women’s and children’s issues; Miriam Lottner, COO of Gangly Sisters, a start-up geared toward empowering young girls; Eliana Teitlebaum, a teacher at the Haredi College and PhD student in philosophy; and Sarah Tuttle Singer, new media director at The Times of Israel and contributing editor at Kveller.
Widen was pleased to note that the panelists and the participants ran the gamut from haredi to secular, married and single. All were English speakers, though she hopes in the future to offer some Hebrew- language or bilingual programming.
Business coach Leah Aharoni of Love Your Biz opened the meeting with suggestions on how to network to one’s greatest advantage at meetings like this one.
The panel’s general theme was balancing a fulfilling professional life with a fulfilling personal life, “with an emphasis on ‘fulfilling’ because even though a lot of women work, that doesn’t mean they’re fulfilled,” comments Widen. “We heard a lot of tips and how panelists feel about their lives, a lot of funny stories about times when it just didn’t work, and also some sad stories.”
For example, Lottner related that one day at the pool with her children, while she was talking on the phone, her daughter took Lottner’s face in her hands and said, “Ima, I’m here.”
Now Lottner works until 4 p.m. and takes a family break until 8 p.m. – no phone, no computer – before going back to work for a few hours.
Singer encouraged the women to frame their parenting skills and experience as assets to employers.
She pointed out that motherhood teaches flexibility, patience, the ability to get along with different personalities, conflict resolution, setting priorities and time management.
As a divorced mother of two, Singer confided that at first she felt very lonely, but then she found a way to blend her personal and professional life through her writing and used her career to create a support system for herself.
Azaria came to the meeting straight from city hall, where she had succeeded in securing a guarantee for a new daycare center to be built in Beit Hakerem.
She told the women that every issue she champions regarding childcare is a struggle and that not everyone on the council is sensitive to those issues. For example, she has long been searching for an acceptable solution for improving nutrition in after-school programs.
“It was comforting to hear that things are happening,” says Widen. “People asked her [Azaria] a lot of questions about working-parent nightmares because of the school calendar.”
That is another problem Azaria is trying to fix.
Teitlebaum, who has five children and recently remarried after a divorce, admitted that studying for her doctorate at this point in her life seems impractical.
“She said she felt like an outsider at school, but she is getting through every day one day at a time and doesn’t look back,” says Widen. “She doesn’t spend time doubting herself, despite her struggles.”
The importance of tending to one’s marriage – how to prioritize time for a spouse, no less than kids and work – was a hot topic.
“That’s a bit of a minefield of a subject,” says Widen, who says that her own husband, a journalist, is very supportive. “We are in a partnership and are there to support each other’s goals while raising a family together.”
“I think that there are men who are supportive of what we are trying to achieve, and we need to recognize that and enable them,” commented ImaKadima member Ilana Rosenblum Guttman the next day on the group’s Facebook page. “Supportive husbands, male bosses, male co-workers are all vital.
We set an example, after all, for our sons, too!” The Facebook page was full of comments after the event, confirming Widen and Shafner’s feeling that they had tapped into a well of unmet needs.
“There are a lot of professional organizations for women in Israel, and we’re trying not to duplicate any of them,” says Widen. “We see ourselves as holistic, addressing both personal and professional issues. There’s a huge group of people who can really help each other.”