A couple of Saturdays ago I spent the day at MomCom Austin 2015, a conference that aspires to bring the community together to discuss the social, political, economic and cultural matters of motherhood. The deeper I get into this motherhood gig, the more I find these types of discussions fascinating.
It was a full day, and I learned a lot. Here are 7 things in particular that have been on my mind since the MomCom Austin conference.
1. Half of children in the United States will be raised by a single mother at some point. For black children, this number rises to 70%. It is, without a doubt, a huge social justice issue.
Many know Rabia Chaudry as the immigration lawyer who brought Adnan Syed’s case to the attention of Sarah Koenig. The rest is podcasting history. But Chaudry is also a kick-ass speaker concerned with social justice issues– and a former single mother herself, after leaving her abusive first husband.
Chaudry spoke passionately about the obstacles facing single mothers- the lack of support, the high cost of childcare, the inability to move forward in life when money is in short supply. The things that most mothers struggle with, only magnified times a thousand.
From the age of 6 to 8, I was a child raised by a single mother. In so many ways, we were very fortunate. There was no regular child support check, but my grandparents were able to pay the rent on a comfortable, safe apartment. My aunt and uncle lived nearby and often helped out with childcare. We had food stamps. But I know that raising two children alone, even for the briefest amount of time, could not have been easy for my mom.
2. Many college savings plans can be set up with as little as $15 month.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t super interested in hearing about college savings plans. For one thing, I’m still paying off my student loans from college. It’s hard to think ahead to E being college-age, but as Betty Lochner pointed out, a 9-year-old is halfway to college. Given how quickly the last two years have passed, I feel like I’ll have a 9-year-old before I know it, and that’s pretty crazy. No one knows better than me how student loans can hold you back. I don’t want E to be saddled with the debt that I ended up with (although I’m not sure I would have made different choices; they all got me here), and while he does have a savings account for cash gifts from family, it might be time to start thinking bigger. As Betty noted, the cost of college tuition has risen 8.6% over the last decade– much faster than inflation.
3. The pay gap is very real, and women make a median of $154 less than men.
Obviously the fact that men outearn women isn’t exactly news to me, but hearing an exact number like that is pretty crazy. Cara Ardis and Courtney Duncan gave a great presentation about the importance of addressing the money messages we grew up with, and how we can reframe the messages we are sending to our kids. I loved hearing that other women had similar experiences to me growing up, and knowing that I’m not the only one who struggles to not buy something for my kid because money isn’t an issue (that’s still not a good reason for buying something).
4. My son is a member of the Homeland generation, which will be characterized by their focus on being at home, a close relationship with their parents, and a lack of interest in being out in the world.
Anne Boysen is an Austin-based futurist and her talk on Millenial Moms and Mothering in the 21st Century was fascinating. It was really interesting to find out that E’s generation already has a name and defining characteristics (focus on being at home, not as interested in being out in the world). I definitely recommend checking out Anne’s blog, especially her generations timeline.
5. Perimenopause can be terrifying.
It seems odd to give menopause much thought when I’m still in the thick of my child-bearing years. Laura Cisneros equated her entrance into perimenopause with a bipolar episode that had devastating effects on her life. She stressed the importance of having your hormone levels checked early and often; the hormone cascade that keeps you fertile is also what keep you stable, and knowing that your hormone levels are changing can make a huge difference in how you approach perimenopause. She advocated for arming yourself with info and being aggressive with your healthcare providers.
The good news is that regular exercise, specifically with weights, throughout life can help lessen the effects of perimenopause when you get to that stage.
6. You are constructing your own motherhood.
A panel of moms spoke about how there is more than one way to be a good mom, and this quote stuck with me. In the age of Pinterest-perfect everything and our practically voyeuristic knowledge of what goes on in other families homes thanks to social media, it can be really, really tough to remember that motherhood can take many different shapes. My motherhood can and should look different from that of my neighbors, regardless of the fact that we are in a similar season of life.
7. There will always be someone who questions the choices you make. Tune them out.
Wendy Davis was the closing keynote. Politics aside, she’s a great speaker and is clearly a motivated and determined woman (though I guess you kind of have to be to attempt an 11-hour filibuster). She stressed the importance of female friendship and support, and the need to not judge other moms (which ties in nicely to the idea of constructing your own motherhood).
MomCom Austin was a day filled with intelligent, passionate moms and possibly the best food I’ve ever had at a conference (thanks, Westin!). The next MomCom Austin is set for February 18, 2017, and I highly recommend putting it on your calendar now.