We are extraordinarily proud to be publishing this exclusive interview with a woman who has been an inspiration to all of us at CultureBaby for a long time.
Chrysula Winegar is a wonder woman who would never describe herself as such. Since leaving the corporate world, Chrysula has forged a path all her own and has done it in such a way that encourages other women to join her on her merry way.
An activist in the best sense of the word, a social media guru, blogger and communications consultant, she is deeply committed to awakening and harnessing the power of the world's mothers. She has put her efforts to work for various charitable causes including Shot@Life, Million Moms Challenge, Every Mother Counts....you name it...if it includes mothers working for social good, then chances are Chrysula had some hand in it.
The very best thing about Chrysula however, is how modest she is about her myriad achievements and how generous she continues to be with her very limited time. We are so honored she agreed to speak with us about her international upbringing, her non-profit work, and how she maintains her life-work balance. Hearing her answers to our questions were revelatory for us and I hope they will be for you to. Read on and be wowed!
Where were you raised?
I was born and largely raised in Australia. I grew up in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra. We also emigrated to New Zealand for 4.5 years and I spent a year in South Africa after high school. I lived in London in my late 20s and met my husband there (though we didn't figure out we were in love until we lived in separate countries!). One long and fantastic story later, I married him, and I've been in the US for almost 14 years.
Where do you live now and with who?
I live in Connecticut in a lovely town on Long Island sound, with my husband and our four children. We spent nine years in Manhattan, but the fourth child sent us scurrying to the suburbs. I adore New York and get in as often as I can. I thrive on it's energy and creativity, but I do rather enjoy pulling up into my driveway at the end of the day. Our kids are ages 11 through 4, two girls and two boys. They drive us nuts. And we give thanks for them every day.
When did you first become passionate about the power of mothers?
I experienced some workplace discomfort around breastfeeding and battled corporate leadership for privacy to pump and dealt with snide remarks like "she's going off to milk the cow again". These were NOT the attitudes of the broader company, an organization I adore, but there are always difficult individuals. I was really proud of my efforts and paved the way for other nursing moms.
But it hit me more deeply after my third child. I had been a stay-at-home-mom for about two years at that point and had an epiphany that I needed to re-find my voice. So I started blogging and fell in love with social media. I found these incredible women everywhere I looked who on the surface weren't "doing much" in the traditional ways we define influence and success, but underneath, were changing communities, fighting for better education, special needs, workplace flexibility, and advocating for social justice in the few hours between work and sleep that they could squeeze in. I was blown away at the revolutionary way women were impacting public discourse through their online lives.
Can you offer any advice for a new or expectant mom who is afraid of loosing herself and her interests to motherhood?
Oh gosh, this is so personal. To some degree we must lose ourselves to be mothers, especially in the beginning. It's a very physical, all-consuming thing. But over time, it morphs into a more emotional thing. I had two years out of the workforce completely and then dipped my toe back in part-time and gradually increased that to full-time. I confess I gave up on corporate America in order to do it my way and now I run my own boutique digital communications agency. I work more than I ever have in my life, but I can stop to greet kids after school. It makes a huge difference.
But, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, the workplace is only one iteration of protecting yourself and your passions. There are so many other ways -- starting with the simplicity of a solid stack of reading on your nightstand. You simply must carve out time for physical care and your own spiritual and intellectual nourishment, or you'll be no good to anyone. And it will be the greatest gift you can give your children in the long term.
You seem to really be living and working your passion. Any advice for mothers who are looking to love what they do and do what they love? We'd particularly like your thoughts on how moms who move frequently for their husband's job can find fulfillment. How can two ambitious spouses support one-another in this case?
Well, I live in the New York area because of my husband's business. I've been blessed to create a business that leverages our location. I might dream about living somewhere else but when I am away too long, I get anxious. There is something seductive about living in the center of where so much happens.
There is so much you can do from anywhere with a computer and decent internet connection. Universities are posting free online curriculum, you can write, you can use social media to strategically curate what it is you want to know more about. You can find issues and causes you are passionate about.
It is hard for one family to support two ambitious spouses. Whilst I have made sacrifices for my husband's career, he has made time sacrifices for mine. We have had seasons when he traveled 65% of the year. Now he doesn't travel as much and I'm on the road 2-3 times a month. We co-parent equally. He is on all the school email lists. Anyone who emails about anything to do with the kids always copies both of us. He knows the schedule, the homework routine, the insurance details as well as I do. I can't do what I do without him.
And as enlightened as he is, it was really hard to get to this point for both of us. I had a harder time than I imagined letting go of things that I felt mothers are meant to do. We still hit rough spots practically every day. We constantly talk, plan, and change it all up again. We even have a weekly planning meeting with an agenda and there is never stasis.
Also, just acknowledge every now and then that parenting is hard. I get exhausted and grumpy and I shout at my kids and I over-react. We are human and we are not going to get it right every time. So be forgiving of your children and your partner, but also be forgiving of yourself. It's why we have so many years to raise them :).
Is raising good global citizens important to you? Can you tell us about some ways you expose your kids to your birth culture, diverse cultures, etc? Any fun stories about discovering cultural events in New York, going abroad or seeing Australia reflected in your American brood's eyes?
I've lived in other countries for more years than I lived in Australia and sometimes I think, "I shouldn't feel so Australian anymore" but I do; more so as I get older. One of the easiest ways to connect them with my country is food! I spend way too much money on Aussie treats. Also calls and skype with family are such a blessing. And books, t-shirts that they proudly wear all help. I have lots of Australian children's books that bring me great joy to share with my kids. However I don't think I'll ever get them interested in cricket.
I am very committed to multi-culturalism -- it's the Australian way. In my 5th grade, I remember there were 18 different nationalities represented out of 30 kids. I grew up with other languages being spoken around me all the time. My father is actually half Greek, half English, and my children love knowing that they are a mix!
Preserving both our family cultures matter. We live close by to where my husband's paternal line settled in 1710, and one of my sons is named for the eldest son of America's first Winegar family. I joke that on their Dad's side they are American royalty (they have two Mayflower ancestors) and on their Mum's side they are Australian royalty (descending from convicts sent to jail in Australia from the UK).
I involve my children in conversations about other countries almost every day. Syria has featured largely at our dinner table recently and my eleven year old asks questions and I am regularly blown away by what she absorbs. We talk about global health and development, women's rights, girls education and empowerment, vaccines and other children's health issues at age appropriate levels. They donated their birthdays this year to the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life global vaccines campaign. Their friends made donations instead of gifts and they raised over $1,000! It was such a marvelous experience for them and for us as parents.
If you could import one international tradition (from Australia, the UK, anywhere) into the US, what would it be and how would you share it with your kids?
I miss the European and Australian mindset around holidays, or vacation as it is here. People take real time off! Like 2-3 weeks in one go! And it's time that they are not connected to the office. It is a sacrosanct thing and allows true family bonding, relaxation and renewal. Americans (and I now include myself) don't know how to switch off. We don't ever feel like we can truly be relaxed; it backfires in health, wellness and quality of life.
On a more personal level, I miss it being 100 degrees and sitting outside under a canopy for a shrimp, prawn and crab feast on Christmas Day. That and a game of cricket with my brothers against my cousins whilst the old folks take post Christmas lunch naps.
You can hear more from Chrysula at her blog, When You Wake Up a Mother