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From Mother to Daughter to Many More

Photo: Shutterstock

I was recently reflecting on how remarkable my mom really is (it was Mother’s Day, after all). Life was difficult for my mom, and I see that now in a way I couldn’t when I was younger. Discriminatory policies that placed restrictions on reproductive control and discouraged women from working left many women of her generation dependent on their husbands for financial stability. But not my mom. The policy work that I do now is my way of paying it forward, so that I might help pave the way for others as she did for me.

My mom was determined to move out of the south Louisiana trailer in which she grew up. Access to education and reproductive health care allowed her do that. My mom worked her way through business school and used her gift with mathematics to climb the corporate ladder in an attempt to achieve the “American Dream” her parents had instilled in her.

But success, and a middle class job that didn’t have flexible hours or work from home options, did not come without sacrifice. As a child, I saw her struggle to find enough hours in the day to put on a power suit, master the hour-plus commute to work, deliver a commanding performance in the board room, come home to cook healthy meals for the family, and still manage to read us Little Golden Books before tucking us in at night and heading back to work just hours later. She somehow managed, but years with little sleep resulted in a lifelong battle with insomnia and related health challenges.

Because the United States is one of four countries without mandatory paid leave, and my mother could not stay home for more than a few weeks after the birth of each of her three children, she (reluctantly) relied on my dad to step into the role of lead parent. The only male teacher at our neighborhood elementary school, my dad defied traditional gender roles at home and at work. I know my mom wished she could have been around more, but my dad, for his part, learned to tie the perfect ponytail and always drove me to soccer practice.

I have continued the work my mom started by fighting for equal access to education, mentoring young girls about the importance of sexual education, and advocating to protect vulnerable people at work. The policy work that I do now is imminently and immensely personal. Identifying and supporting leaders, like my mom, who have a bold vision for the future is the best way to make real progress. Policy and politics has a profound impact on all of our lives. It is up to each of us to decide how to use our talents to make life a little better for the next generation, and to ultimately make our mothers proud.


Leila Pedersen is the Associate Director New America California, where she runs a fellowship for social entrepreneurs using storytelling and communication as tools to humanize technology and modernize government.