Sara Blanchard helps communities build connections through conscious conversations, which she does as a podcaster, facilitator, TEDx speaker, writer, and consultant. Having worked at Goldman Sachs and having helped to teach positive psychology at Harvard, Sara speaks the language of traditional accomplishment. But for over 10 years, Sara has also pursued the science and techniques of well-being as a life coach, mother, and author of Flex Mom. In addition to emceeing events like the World Happiness Summit and facilitating meaningful panel discussions about race, Sara co-founded and co-hosts the award-winning social justice podcast Dear White Women, which eases listeners into uncomfortable conversations about race, racism, and how to be more anti-racist.
In this episode:
- The three types of labour of moms: physical, emotional, and calendaring/logistical – the latter two being more invisible and exhausting.
- We are all human. To see the humanity in ourselves and others we need to remember that there are so many different perspectives, experiences, and narratives in our world.
- Owning our own stories, who we are, what we need, and feeling a sense of self-worth can be supported by taking time to reflect on ourselves.
Connect with Sara:
- Website: https://www.sarablanchard.com
- Dear White Women Podcast: https://www.dearwhitewomen.com
- Book: Flex Mom: The Secrets of Happy Stay-At-Home Moms
- Tedx Talk: How To Be Happier: Ask Better Questions
- Project: Voices From Next Door
- This project is a conversation that highlights the voices of our black neighbors who live in predominantly white areas to really bring humanity back to different narratives of life. It allows more people to easily access the real life stories about the ways that race plays a part in everyday life in America.
- Book mentioned by Sara:
- The Artists’ Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
On this episode of The Part-Time Jungle Podcast, I had a great conversation with Sara about the three types of labour of moms; physical, emotional, and calendaring/logistical. We also talked about how in order to see the humanity in ourselves and others we need to remember that there are so many different perspectives, experiences, and narratives in our world. As well, Sara discussed the importance of owning our own stories, who we are, and what we need as well as the importance of feeling a sense of self-worth.
If you prefer to listen, check out Episode 24 of The Part-Time Jungle Podcast.
I first learned about Sara when I found her book “Flex Mom” at a local library and completely resonated with this third model of motherhood, somewhere between being a stay-at-home mom and a working mom. In her book, Sara describes the Flex Mom as “a mom who is the primary caregiver for their children but who is also deliberately creating a path that fuels their passions – leaving them fulfilled and confident”. In getting to know Sara, I learned that her husband is actually Canadian – from Winnipeg, Manitoba!
THE WORK/LIFE JUGGLE
When it comes to Sara’s work/life juggle, the key for her is being the primary caregiver. She is the mom of two children, one in upper elementary school and one in middle school. With school-age parenting, Sara realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t just about being there on the timeline of when the kids are awake and before and after school. If one of her kids gets sick, she’s the one who picks them up from school. Sara is the one who needs to be around for all the afterschool driving around. It is also about the energy that she saves for her kids.
THE THREE TYPES OF LABOUR OF MOMS
Sara participated in a webinar where a woman shared a breakdown of the three types of labour that moms do which are physical labour, emotional labour, and calendaring/logistical labour. Physical labour is the most visible and the one that we all talk about. Emotional labour and calendaring/logistical labour tend to be invisible but the most draining and exhausting for moms.
- PHYSICAL LABOUR – Examples: Laundry, cooking, cleaning, driving
- EMOTIONAL LABOUR – Examples: Calming down a child frustrated with math homework, supporting a child who is upset about something that happened with a friend
- CALENDARING/LOGISTICAL LABOUR – Examples: Organizing play dates, scheduling doctor’s appointments, ensuring kids have shoes that fit
DIVISION OF LABOUR
Sara says that her husband is incredible in terms of offering support and participating around the house and splitting the physical labor. To his credit, Sara’s husband realized that he couldn’t just look at a 50/50 split on the physical visible labor. Especially through COVID and Sara showing her husband all the emotional and logistical things that she was managing behind the scenes, he started taking on more of these with less resentment.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
When Sarah is in her office she is often working on her passion projects but now she makes a point of communicating when she is actually doing home stuff. It can be so easy for everybody looking in to be thinking that mommy is on the computer just doing her thing. In reality, she is often working on all the calendaring and logistical tasks for her family. Even just pointing it out, has helped everybody appreciate all that she is actually doing when she is ‘working’ at her computer.
CROSSING THINGS OFF THE LIST
Sara’s new best friends are the sticky post-it notes that have the lines on them! She loves technology and creating lists on her phone but there’s just something about having that satisfaction of crossing something off of her list! For Sara, just writing it down and having it in front of her helps her with the overwhelm of so much input, so many worries, and so many moving parts. She can’t keep track of it all and doesn’t want to let stuff fall through the cracks. Sara also doesn’t want to hold it all in her brain because then it feels heavier.
THE MOM BRAIN
When Sara’s kids were younger, she told her sister-in-law, who has older children, that she couldn’t wait to get her brain back and her memory back. Her sister-in-law told her that her memory would never come back. It’s just called post-it notes! Sara has basically run with that ever since because it does help her. We each need to find our own way that works for us and our families.
WE ARE ALL A WORK IN PROGRESS
Sara says that there can be this sense that eventually you’re going to have things all figured out. However, the kids change, they enter a new stage of life, and a worldwide pandemic sets in! We have to be willing to be adaptable.
OUR HUMANITY AS MOTHERS
There’s this huge pressure that we put on ourselves to be so many things for other people, to be so independent, and to put on this face of strength and capacity. We feel like we need to show others that ‘I can do this’! What we forget when we do this, is that we all need other people. We are never actually doing any of this alone. There’s someone who takes the trash from our homes and people who pave the roads. If we have an emergency, there are people who will answer the call and show up for us. There are so many people and systems in place that actually help us all the time. We don’t actually realize this unless we take a step back and appreciate that they make our lives possible.
WE ARE ALL INTERCONNECTED
Sara says that when we forget about our humanity, we forget that we’re all interconnected. We put so much more weight on ourselves to do it all. Then, especially as moms, we can sink into this sense of isolation. It can be easy to compare ourselves to the beautiful pictures that we see on Instagram. The things that we do might not look Pinterest worthy. We compare ourselves to these images and these aspirations that are of some ideal human being without remembering that that’s not necessarily what we should be aiming for.
WE ARE ALL HUMAN
We are all humans and we have a need for connection. We are allowed to rest and we deserve to be loved and to love. All of these things are very human and we can reduce the tension in our lives if we are a little more gracious with ourselves.
A GOOD PEOPLE LIST
Sara has created a “good people” list. It’s human nature and our natural tendency, when we are feeling yucky and are overwhelmed, to hole up and sort of shrink within ourselves and to go into sort of a survival mode. It’s really easy to not ask for help. This list is a visual and tangible representation of the people that she wants to keep in touch with. It also includes the people that Sara knows who are really solid human beings that make her feel good about herself. These are people who, even on a bad day, Sara can call if she is needing help or just needing to vent.
BEING INTENTIONAL WITH STAYING CONNECTED
Sara also has a once a month rotation of people who she wants to keep in touch with, keep current with, and talk to more often. Of course, there are those friendships where you are just soulmates. You can go six months to a year without chatting with them ever and then, you pick up right where you left off. It is good to have a reminder of who those people are that make you feel good and who can help you feel less alone. This also makes it less likely that we will tumble down that rabbit hole when inevitably our children do something that gets in the way of some goal that we are trying to accomplish.
CONVERSATIONS WITH OUR CHILDREN ON HUMANITY & RACE
One of Sara’s dearest and closest best friends for decades is married to a black man in the United States. As they were both raising their children, they realized that her friend’s children presented differently than Sara’s white presenting children. Along with that, there were issues and fears that came along. This led to a discussion about morphing conversations of humanity into race and what that could look like with their children.
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES & NARRATIVES
For Sara, a lot of it has been teaching her kids that we’re not all coming at life from one perspective. When her children talk to her about other students and situations at school, Sara and her kids come up with a few different examples of possible scenarios of what might be happening in that child’s family, for example. This gives her children the opportunity to consider different perspectives and narratives and to think about how they might support their fellow students at school.
OUR CHILDREN’S SELF-WORTH
Sara has used this same strategy of using different narratives, to help her children to apply it to their own stories that they tell themselves about their own self-worth. For example, if one of her kids got a bad grade, what is the story they tell themselves? Does this mean intrinsically that they are stupid? Were they actually just really hungry? Does it mean that they weren’t paying attention or they were goofing off? There are so many explanations. that they don’t have to internalize a message that therefore this means this and they’re going to be really hard on themselves.
SO MANY DIFFERENT HUMAN EXPERIENCES IN OUR WORLD
When it comes to teaching children about all of these conversations about humanity, it’s training them to understand that there are so many different human experiences in this world. These are based on how you look, where you live, your skin, color, your gender, your age, and your money. As a society, we need to work together if we really want to help spread the love as opposed to having a division.
NOT BEING UNDERSTOOD
Sara shared a story about when a lady completely judged her because Sara decided not to justify her choice to stay at home with her children. She had just started this path and hadn’t figured out what else she wanted to do yet. The lady asked her what she did and Sara told the woman that she was currently a stay-at-home mom. This woman gave her a look and literally turned away, like Sara was worth nothing. She was not interested in any of Sara’s backstory, her life experiences, or her thoughts.
SEEING THE HUMANITY IN OTHERS
In this moment, Sara’s rage picked up because she wasn’t understood and she wasn’t seen. From that point onward,in both Sara’s parenting and personal journeys, it was so important for her to not do that to somebody else. It was important for Sara to not make someone else feel worthless. For Sara, it’s really important for her to see the humanity in somebody else because she has been on the other side of it. In that moment, it was based on her choices to raise her children.
OUR OWN SELF-WORTH
At the end of the day, owning our own stories, who we are, and feeling a sense of self-worth, can be supported by taking time to reflect on ourselves. When Sara was judged for being a stay-at- home mom, she felt so crushed. However, if she fast forwarded a few years and that same situation happened, Sara then would have been really confident in her choice. She would have been okay with all that I was going on and would have felt like she was in a happy place. Sara wouldn’t have felt as crushed because she would have known that it was the lady’s problem and not hers.
WE ARE ALWAYS A WORK IN PROGRESS
Sara says that we can never really master where we are at. We’re always a work in progress. There is something to be said about constantly learning about yourself. It’s good to make sure that you’re taking a little bit of time to remember what your choices are made for and what they are providing for you. This allows you to feel good about the choices that you are making.
IT’S EASY TO COMPARE
Sara says that personally she feels like she constantly could be doing more. She looks at some of her friends who can operate on five hours of sleep, who are getting so much done working at night, or who wake up at four in the morning and can get a workout in. Sara can sit there and think that she is never going to be successful. It is so easy to get caught up in the whole compare and despair idea.
KNOWING WHAT YOU NEED
Ultimately, though, Sara knows what she needs. Her body is wired for sleep and she absolutely has to make time to exercise. Sara can’t forego these things or else her brain and body will break down. There are so many things that Sara knows that she needs. She has to be confident that this is enough. Sara reminds herself that it is worth spending the time and energy to take care of herself. This allows her to show up for the most important people in her life. It also allows her to continue to do the work that she knows will make a difference to other people in the longer term. Sara really focuses on this at a foundational level by asking herself questions such as:
- Who am I?
- What do I bring to the table?
- What are my values?
- What are my strengths?
- What are my needs? How do I make sure that all of these are met?
REFLECTING ON OUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACE & RACISM
Sara talks about the importance of being reflective of our thoughts about race, racism, and our conversations about these. We can ask ourselves what we have thought about these conversations and what our biases are. It is important that we are willing to look inwards and not judge ourselves too harshly at first. If we are really being honest, all of us will probably look inside and remember a moment where we were triggered by race and we should not berate ourselves for that. We have to know where we’re starting from to be able to move forward.
THE ARTIST’S WAY – BY JULIA CAMERON
Sara uses a strategy based on the book “The Artist’s Way – A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron to help her with her reflective practice. There are times where we get stuck up against blocks and in order to create the habit of allowing our brains to create things and to be creative, we need to get in the practice of creating things. In the book, Julia Cameron recommends the idea of “morning pages”. This involves waking up first thing in the morning and grabbing a notebook that you have dedicated for this purpose. Without fail every morning, you are supposed to hand write three pages even if you don’t know what you’re going to write.
ADAPTING THE PRACTICE OF “MORNING PAGES”
Sara loves the idea of “morning pages” but practically, there was no way that she was going to wake up and have time to write three handwritten pages before her children were trying to get her attention! Sara has a notebook and follows the standard of three handwritten pages. However, she follows this practice when she senses her triggers. She writes when she is feeling really unsettled, when her brain is spinning with all the things she needs to do, or if she is feeling anxious. It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning. Sara will write her three pages at the first moment when she has 15 – 20 minutes to herself. She makes that a priority.
GETTING IT ALL OUT
Sara mentioned a study that showed that there are three main ways to process information: thinking, talking, or writing. For Sara, writing feels like the safest most sustainable option. It feels like her own personal private therapy session for 20 minutes. Sara sits there and hand-writes those pages. It unlocks her subconscious and it gets all of those things that she’s not even sure she’s worrying about out onto the paper. Then, she can look at what she has written and add something to her to-do list, realize that she already completed something, or note an idea for a social media post. This practice helps Sara to get organized by tapping into her body’s signals.
BEING AN INTROVERT
Sara wishes that she would have learned how much of an introvert she was earlier on. She took the Myers-Briggs test about five years into motherhood and realized that she was an ambivert. This meant that she was right on the cusp of being an introvert/extrovert.
THE PRESSURE TO BE AN EXTROVERT
It was explained to Sara that society tends to pressure women to be extroverted. If you think about all the descriptors that go with being a quiet, reserved woman, it can come across as being quite cold. As the family leader of the social circle, Sara found that she had to be more extroverted. At the end of the day, though, her true nature prefers to recharge by herself.
NEEDING ALONE TIME
Early on, Sara didn’t realize how much she needed that alone time. She felt like she could power through motherhood. When our kids are little, it can be all consuming and it can be hard to get time for yourself. Had Sara recognized this about herself earlier on she wouldn’t have felt guilty about doing kid swaps with her neighbours, hiring a babysitter once a week, or just taking some time to sit or to go hiking. Sara feels that she would have been a different mom to her kids when they were little had she understood what her needs were as a human being and as a person a little bit earlier on in her journey.
CREATING SPACE & TIME TO RECHARGE DURING COVID
Sara and her family have created a routine around the kids’ online schooling. Currently, her kids start school later in the day compared to going to school in person. This allows Sara and her husband time to get up, sit on the front porch, and have a cup of coffee and conversation for 45 minutes together before the children wake up. Sara’s workout time is also part of her routine as well as her personal sanity time. She puts on her headphones and exercises.
Sara’s kids are at an age where they are more self-sufficient which helps. Over the summer, she also loosened the reins a bit with tech time for her kids by letting them have an hour each day. She doesn’t love technology or want her kids to become these kids who are on tech for seven hours a day. However, Sara remembers having fun playing video games as a kid so she allowed herself to be flexible.
OUR OWN COMFORT ZONE
Sara reminds us that we have to just be able to see what our comfort zone is with our kids’ and technology. We should do what’s right for us. As long as our kids aren’t harming themselves or other people, the rest of it is all up to us and what boundaries we can sustainably hold. If we are conscious about our decisions, we can think things through before allowing ourselves and our children to commit to something that’s going to be a habit for the longer term. We can always start slowly.
TEACHING OUR KIDS TO SELF-REGULATE
Sara talks about how we can teach our kids how to self-regulate. You give them a structure and they need to work within that to figure out a solution. That’s actually teaching them something that they can apply to life later on. For example, they might have to operate within a system and figure out how to get a project done or determine how to enjoy something in moderation.
A DIFFERENT MODEL OF “BALANCE”
Sara talks about how traditionally we’ve seen balance as a seesaw model. It’s this straight line. If we’ve got our home life under control, then our work life goes down. When our work life is great, then our home life is going down. Sara wonders how it would look instead if it was a line that we drew around our priorities and we would put into practice holding that boundary firm. When we are filling our buckets with the things that are important to us, it’s easier to say no to the other things that aren’t on that priority list. This will allow us to get those things, that are really critical to us, done well.
Thanks so much to Sara for this amazing conversation and thank YOU for tuning in!