Stay-at-Home Mother, San Francisco

When you google stay-at-home, the auto fills include: mom, mother, jobs. Dad fills in at a distant 4th. The bombardment of articles titles you get include: What Research Says About Being a Stay-at-Home Mom, Nine Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom - Grown and Flown, The New Stay-at-Home Mom | Parenting, Opinion | I Didn't Become a Stay-at-Home Mother for My Kids. I Did It ... etc. etc. Needless to say, much guilt and incertitude remain when it comes to this topic. It evidently manifests more in women, according to the googling trends.

One thing is clear, when families decide to leave one parent at home, to burp, mash, walk, teach, clean and educate, (on repeat), not nearly enough credit is given to the women (until man auto-fills to 2nd or 1st place we will refer to women) who leave their careers to be there for the moments and give up sanity for uncertainty.

Julia is an incredible mother of two young girls, a proud concocter of new challenges for herself and her family, is honest about the need to dream up new goals and is unafraid to admit that she is trying to figure it all out while evolving and keeping up with the round-the-clock relentlessness of San Francisco Bay Area pressure grinder. No wonder she kitesurfs! THAT is a WOW Woman!

1. Name.

Julia Tan.

2. Where is your hometown?

San Francisco, California, USA.

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

I am a stay-at-home mother to two girls ages 7 and 9.

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?

I grew up in a small town in Vermont. My parents were conservative but always provided a stable, loving home. I thought that I would grow up, go to college, get married and have children. That just seemed like what you did in my mind.

As I moved into my teen years and realized there was not much of a future in my small town, I dreamed of moving to the “big city”. I went to college outside of Boston (coming from Vermont even the suburbs can feel like a big enough change) but despite my father’s best efforts to remind me that finding a husband was almost as important as my studies, I did not find a husband. Instead I began working, traveling and enjoying all the things that I couldn’t find in my small town.

I eventually moved to San Francisco and began to really focus on my career. At the same time, I was approaching my mid-30s and my biological clock started ticking. I had ended a long-term relationship and began to re-evaluate my life. I had experienced all the things that I was afraid I would miss out on if I had followed my parents’ path for me but now, I began to wonder if I had missed out on finding a life partner and having children.

My company restructured and I decided to take some time off to evaluate where I wanted my life to go. I wasn’t sure that I would ever find that life partner, but I also knew I needed to be the one who was responsible for my happiness.

To make a long story short, shortly after taking this break to evaluate my life decisions, I started dating the man who became my husband. Soon after we were married, we started our family and we now have two beautiful daughters.

I chose to stay home with our daughters for many reasons but most importantly, because that is what works best for our family. As they get older and they do not need me to be physically present as much, I am conscious of the example that I set for them. I try to model the life that I want them to have such as continually learning new things, trying things outside my comfort zone and caring for those around us. I’m very aware that my children are half-way through their time at home with me and that I need to make that shift myself and not be the person who has poured so much into their children that she has completely lost herself.

5. What did you study in school?

Elementary Education

6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?

Life takes so many different twists and turns. At 20, I thought I would become a teacher in a small suburb outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Instead, I ended up in software and the tech world of San Francisco. I’ve had a much more exciting and varied life than I ever thought I would. My life has humbled me in so many ways but yet given me more confidence to try new things.

7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?

I constantly tell my children that it is not what happens to you in life but what you choose to do with the circumstances that you’ve been given. We may not get to choose as much as we would like in life, but we have every opportunity to choose how we react. Sometimes, a change of scenery can help you change your perspective, sometimes it’s holding on to something that brings you joy and other times you have to stubbornly cling to the idea that things will change eventually.

For me, one of my most difficult times in life was when my oldest daughter was a newborn. I went from having a career, my own money, a full social life and a solid identity to barely being able to leave the house, not showering, and feeling like I had completely lost myself with the birth of this new person. Over time, you begin to settle in and establish a new normal, but motherhood is constantly shifting. As children grow and learn, their needs change and you as a parent have to change with that.

8. Advice for other women?

We all doubt ourselves, it’s so normal and we all do it. What we do with that doubt is more important. Do we let it define us and keep us from learning something new or do we give ourselves permission to fail and just enjoy the journey? Sometimes, we think we want one thing but somewhere along the way we discover what our true passion is. It’s OK to let the original goal fade to pursue something new.

9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?

I think being “all that we can be” comes with choices. Most of us do not have unlimited resources whether it is money, time or emotional well-being. Each of us has to determine where we will have the biggest impact and focus our energies on those areas. We need to work together towards broad common goals to push our cause forward.

This looks different for everyone especially given our life situation. For me, at the moment, I’m focused on raising two small women to advocate for themselves, to give them confidence to do hard things and to help them know that they deserve a place at the table (whichever table they choose). I feel like that is where I can have the biggest impact.

10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?

I’ve recently taken up photography and kitesurfing. In both cases, I feel tallest when I have been struggling to learn something and then I have a breakthrough. It’s such a metaphor for life and I love showing my daughters that things don’t come easily just because I’m an adult.

11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?

Kitesurfing is physically demanding and quite risky if you aren’t able to keep calm when things go wrong. It takes a lot of perseverance, swallowing water and learning that you cannot control everything. When you do finally get up on the board and ride, it’s like flying!

Photography is technical and also has a steep learning curve with a lot of frustration, but now I can see consistent progress. I guess the things that I’m most proud of are the things that I’ve had to put the most effort into and endured the most frustration.

12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?

I’m still trying to figure that out. For the moment, I’m conscious of making time to pursue my own hobbies and interests now that my children are older. I am very aware of putting some building blocks into place that will feed me as they approach their teen years.

13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

I think having more confidence to put myself out there is a life-long struggle.

14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?

No, I think everything you experience makes you into who you are so I’m thankful for all of those learning experiences. I just wish I had learned to trust myself earlier.

15. What inspires you?

Hearing people’s stories especially those who have come out of huge adversity and had the strength to turn it into something positive.

16. What are you hopeful about?

I’m hopeful that women will be able to find a better balance between work and family. I hope that when my girls grown up that there are more ways for them to balance work they love with the people they love.

17. What are some ingredients to a good life?

Build strong relationships, stay active and never stop learning.

18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

Don’t worry so much about what other people think and go after the things that bring you joy in life. Learn how to invest and take charge of your life instead of waiting for someone else to define your happiness.

19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

I’m currently reading The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil. It’s a beautiful story of the pain and brokenness that comes from being a refugee. The fascinating part is reading her perspective of well-meaning people who try to help but end up inflicting more emotional damage. Definitely food for thought!

I don’t have a lot of time to read but I do read a lot with my girls. I’ve been re-reading some of the classics with them such as the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love that these books constantly remind children that they are stronger, more resilient and capable of far more than we give them credit for.

20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?

Leslie Mills is a fellow mom and dear friend. While her daughter was still very young, she pursued her dream of being a professional photographer. She went to night classes, bought a camera and started taking pictures of everyone we knew. Today, she has built a great business that suits her lifestyle and that she can have control over.

Lisa Sugar is another amazing woman who took her love of pop culture and built it into the PopSugar empire. She is steadfastly committed to being positive, down to earth and encouraging. She is also the only woman I know who will wear a sequined cocktail dress and pair it with Stan Smiths. I love watching her relate with celebrities as well as to her children. She is exactly the same person in each case.

Wanda Holland-Greene, is passionate about girls education and inspiring the young women in her life to be their authentic selves and to always strive for excellence and change. In her position as head of school at The Hamlin School, she motivates those around her to take action against the injustices surrounding us and encourages young women to own their voices.

21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?