Strong Women

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” 

I lived with my grandparents for the first year of my life. 50 years ago, that wasn't an uncommon event, and based on the experiences of my friends, these types of family situations still exist.

My Mom grew up on a farm and at 20 years of age, became pregnant. Despite the lack of support from the father, pressure from her family and the hospital staff, she made the decision to keep me. My grandparents wanted my Mom to let them raise me so that she could continue with her life without the extra responsibility of a baby.  My Mom was determined to go to secretarial school in Edmonton to create a good life for the two of us, so she agreed to a compromise. For one year, I was raised primarily by my Grandmother. 

Young Cheryll Watson

Over the years, my Mom and I  talked about how hard that first year was for her. She knew I was taken care of but she hated being away from me until she could find a ride or take the bus from Edmonton to Nojack and back again each weekend. She worried that she wouldn’t be successful in finding a job that would provide enough money for her to pay for childcare. She wasn’t even sure where we would live once she finished school.

We ended up in a small apartment downtown where I spent my daytime with a neighbour who had a few of her own kids with her. Thinking back on it now, we don’t talk enough about how much help it takes to raise children and move through life. It’s a silent comradery. An understanding. They say it takes a village but I guarantee you that village is mostly women - looking you in the eye, giving you a silent nod, and taking your child under their arm because they’ve been there before. I did have two Step-Dad’s (who have both since passed) that played incredibly important roles in my life, but my Mom was my constant.  

Cheryll Watson as a child

I can relate even more now with how my Mom felt, when, as a mother, I accepted a role at Intuit and after a while, travel became a major part of my day to day. At first, the travel was short trips to Calgary or Toronto, then the UK. However, my span of responsibilities grew to include India, Australia and Singapore. Sometimes those trips had me away for two weeks at a time. 

I remember one particular trip when my daughter Tatum was staying with her Dad and he suddenly got so sick that he ended up in the hospital. I got the call when I was in Delhi. While I managed to get on the first flight out, the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.    

A number of years ago, I was asked to speak at a Women’s network event about what it was like to be both a woman executive and a Mom. When I sat down to begin writing, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and regret for all of the days, weeks, and cumulative months I had been away from Tatum and later on, my step-kids. I lamented that I had made the wrong career decisions. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get up in front of hundreds of women and not leave them disheartened or discouraged.  

So, I phoned my Mom. She listened to me, then she started to talk about her own Mom - my Grandmother and the jobs she had on the farm. In addition to raising nine kids and later on, me, she also got up every morning and milked the cows, took care of the pigs and chickens. The tasks my grandmother performed were monumental: she cleared fields that later on became our family’s tree farm, she managed the finances, she fed everyone three meals a day. My Mom talked about how much she admired her Mom and how she had been an inspiration to her. And while my Grandmother didn’t think my Mom should have kept me, she told my Mom later on how proud she was of her for working hard to build her career, all while raising my brother and I. My Mom then told me she felt the same pride about what I had accomplished.  

When I hung up the phone, I had a whole new outlook.  Later that week and standing in front of a crowd of women who were also managing a career and family, I spoke honestly about my reflections with pride. Pride in the example I was setting for my own daughters, other young women coming up beside me, and my gratitude for the strong women that raised me. 

It truly takes a village of strong, understanding and giving women. Some have kids, some don’t. But I know there’s a community amongst us that will always do what it takes to support one another. Moms, those trying to be, those wishing to be, those choosing not to be, those who can’t, I’m thinking about you today and how much more compassionate our world is because of you.  

 

Yours in partnership,

Cheryll Signature