Katya Libin and Amri Kibbler know all about the struggles working moms face during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Like countless working parents across the country, they've been forced to juggle their never-ending parenting responsibilities in tandem with their careers. They know the hardship of facilitating at-home e-learning while logging onto a Zoom meeting; of leading an important conference call with potential clients as you cook lunch for a very hungry, very impatient child.
They also know, firsthand, the importance of community. Libin was a 26-year-old working mother when she founded HeyMama, an online community for entrepreneurial moms dedicated to fostering community and providing opportunities, support, and resources for working mothers across the country. Since the brand's launch in 2014, the HeyMama community has expanded to 11 cities and boasts members from across the globe.
And even though HeyMama, like countless other brands and organizations, has had to pivot to virtual meetups and find new ways to foster a sense of community and camaraderie during this unparalleled time, the core mission of HeyMama — to support and celebrate working moms by bringing them together to share their wealth of experiences and knowledge, insight and guidance — has helped Libin, Kibbler, and working moms across the country feel less alone as the public health crisis rages on.
"HeyMama has helped me feel supported as we've been growing the business and running into different entrepreneurial challenges," Libin tells Woman's Day. "I always turn to the community for help and I'm blown away by how much comes back. Especially during this time, when we can't connect in real life, I've felt hungry for that connection. It's essential for me to give back to women, and help support their goals."
"Strength doesn't mean having all the answers."
In the era of COVID-19, helping working moms feel supported as they pursue their personal and professional goals means knowing the unique challenges they face. Recently, in conjunction with InHerSight, a company ratings platform for women, HeyMana surveyed more than 1,000 moms to get a better understanding of the barriers they're enduring during the global pandemic. The findings were dire.
Of those surveyed, 40% said they are doing more work now that they’re working-from-home in lockdown. Twenty-five percent of survey participants said they needed more help with child care from their partners, and 18% said they needed more help with household work and errands. A devastating 78% of women said they were not surprised by the distribution of unpaid work in their homes, and 72% said that they do not believe the pandemic will change how unpaid work is distributed in their homes in the future.
Libin and Kibbler weren't surprised by the findings — both know firsthand what is expected of moms, and are all-too aware of the gendered disparities found in parenting. Instead, they viewed the information as another opportunity to find ways to remind mothers of their innate strength, to celebrate that strength, and to meet moms where they are so they can also find ways to take care of themselves.
"Strength doesn't mean having all the answers," Libin says. "It means being able to ask for help without fear of it making you look like you don't have it all together. No one has it all together."
"I think that's a big part of the power of community," Kibbler tells Woman's Day, adding that "we open ourselves up and show that while we have achieved so much, we're still struggling. I think that that can be more powerful than just seeing the stories of success."
"That's what I love about mothers," Libin adds. "We take our ability to have empathy and nurture, and translate that into a high level of emotional IQ to help others and grow our communities."
Finding ways to be "Strong Like a Mama."
One way Libin and Kibbler are fostering community and finding a way to let working moms know they're strong and that their strength should be celebrated, especially now, is via their fifth annual Strong Like a Mama event. The three-day virtual event, in partnership with Lincoln, features wellness sessions, virtual workouts, influencer roundtable panels, and a keynote speech by six-time Olympic gold medalist and mom Allyson Felix, who will be discussing the high maternal mortality rate among Black mothers. The event is for HeyMama and non-HeyMama members alike, and will encourage all participants to dedicate some time in the middle of *all this* to focus on, and celebrate, themselves. (You can purchase tickets here.)
"We are going to have stories of strength from moms in our community, exceptional speakers, a keynote that will make you rethink your limits, self healing and of course incredible workouts," Libin explains. "Like all HeyMama events, it will be anchored in connection with other moms and members."
"'Strong Like a Mama' means finding the power deep inside yourself to not give up and to push through and do things, because you know that you're a role model, a leader, a caregiver, and a friend," Kibbler adds. "You have done so much by creating life and bringing that life into this world. As mothers, we make difficult decisions to champion causes, because we care about the impact that those choices are going to make for other women and for other kids. That's a big reason why we so admire Allyson Felix, our keynote speaker, for really standing up and speaking out for mothers that are not receiving adequate maternal security and care."
In addition to providing three days of virtual opportunities to celebrate and harness moms' strength, HeyMama is using the event to raise money for Saving Mothers, an organization of doctors and professionals dedicated to lowering the maternal mortality rate in the United States and around the world.
"We believe that, as a whole, mothers can come together to impact meaningful change," Libin says. "Our responsibility as community leaders is to bring the issues that are affecting our society to the surface, and the issue of Black maternal mortality is heartbreaking."
Currently, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation, and a Black woman is three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than a white woman. In New York City, a Black woman is 12 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth than a white woman.
"As a New Yorker, knowing that Black women who live in this area — in this wealthy country — are dying at such a higher rate than white women is unacceptable," Kibbler says. "I believe that it's really important to share as much information as possible with our community about this growing crisis, which has been going on for a long time. This is a complicated problem stemming from systemic racism issues, and something that we will continue to discuss throughout the year. This is an ongoing educational conversation."
"I used to say that my strength comes from my daughter, or my family, but I've realized that it really comes from within me."
Like parents across the globe, the COVID-19 crisis has taken a toll on Libin and Kibbler. Continuing to build the HeyMama community as co-founders while caring for their families has been grueling, though both are quick to point out that they're privileged and well aware that there are moms across the country — especially those living in Black and brown communities that are being disproportionately impacted by coronavirus — who are fairing far worse.
Still, Libin and Kibbler know how important it is for moms to foster wellness in both their bodies and their mind as they continue to endure a pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down. And while they remain steadfast in their dedication to that mission, they know it all starts, in no small part, with themselves.
"My strength comes from my personal relationship with God/The Universe, and being able to tap into that to find the answers and guidance on how to live my best life," Libin says. "I used to say that my strength comes from my daughter, or my family, but I've realized that it really comes from within me. As mothers we are the center of the world for our families, and it is our strength that sets the tone for the house. My personal strength is just that, personal. Meant for me to marinate and process, and then channel back out in the world to leave it better than I found it."
"I draw my strength from a lot of different things," Kibbler says. "Personally, I have a consistent morning routine where I center myself and ask for guidance from a greater power. I draw a lot of strength from the incredible love and support I received from my close family — the hugs and kisses that my children shower me with are incredible motivators for me in points of weakness."
There have been many "points of weakness" for Libin, Kibbler, and undoubtably an untold number of working moms as they've shouldered the numerous burdens placed upon them as a result of sheltering-in-place, teaching their children from home, working from home, and, for many, navigating financial uncertainty as a result of COVID-19. But in those moments, they are reminded — and urge others to remember as well — the importance of stopping to take stock in one's strength, and to find ways to "refill the well" so they can begin every day anew.
"It's good for us to remember how amazing we are, especially when self-doubt, insecurity, feelings of guilt, and overwhelm creep in." Libin says. "We are our strongest when we believe in ourselves and each other."
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