As this academic year comes to an end and I think back on its many triumphs and tough days, I want to take a moment to appreciate what brought us to HBS. My husband, Austin, is an RC student, and we moved to campus last summer with our daughter Adeline, who will be two in August. The decision to attend Harvard Business School as a family was an easy one for us. Having dated since we were 16, we’ve experienced much of life’s offerings together and have always known attending business school was a goal. We grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and went on to separate universities. I went to the University of Wisconsin and Austin attended Northwestern University. From there, our long-distance relationship continued as he consulted for McKinsey in Chicago, and I attended graduate school at Marquette University for Speech-Language Pathology.

Fast-forward to June 2017 when we were married and moved to NYC for Austin’s new role with a private equity firm. As we started to consider going back to school and leaving the comforts of our new life in the city, we knew finding a community and program committed to making our time as a family as meaningful as Austin’s time in the classroom, was a big priority. Everything about HBS felt right from the moment we stepped foot on campus. While we are thrilled with our decision to embrace this opportunity, there have surely been hard days.

This past January, I lost my grandfather to COVID. It was a complete shock and all happened within days. He was 80 years young, healthy, and the most colorful and spirited man you’d ever meet. He was immensely proud of his grandchildren, and especially proud to welcome his first great-grand daughter, our Adeline, to the family in August 2019. Struggling with closure and heartbroken by how quickly this lively, energetic man was taken, I found comfort in my last memories and visits with him.

One of the last times I saw my grandfather was during a visit to Cambridge, Wisconsin (yes, there is a Cambridge, WI!) last summer, before we moved to Boston. I was holding Adeline and he climbed into his big pickup truck to leave our family gathering. He started to back out and then stopped. He rolled down his window, called me over to the truck, lifted up his sunglasses and said, “Eme, you are a wonderful mother.” The sincerity in his eyes and the softness in his voice was a side of him I’d never seen. His words were so intentional and his delivery so deliberate, it was as if he wanted the message to last a lifetime. It was the greatest compliment I’ve ever received, and now is something I hear playing through my head daily.

Why did this mean so much? Why do I hold on to this? Part of it is because I think we always want to remember the best parts of the people we love that are no longer with us. But part of me also thinks it’s because it’s something we don’t say enough. My blunt, “call-it-like-it-is” papa reminded me that I AM a wonderful mother.

As this message has stuck with me and as time has started to heal my heartache, I keep coming back to what he said and was thinking. What did he see in me that makes me a “wonderful” mother? I’ve been reflecting on this and using it to give myself grace on the days I don’t feel so wonderful. I think that especially living on the HBS campus, surrounded by brilliant, driven, interesting, worldly people, it’s easy to feel like “just a mom.” Yet, at the same time, I know it’s important to remember our unique perspectives and valuable skill sets add to the greater HBS experience in a huge way. Being a mom is my greatest accomplishment in life.

There is not just one “thing” that makes us moms wonderful. It’s the everyday things we often do without thought. The extraordinary things we do on ordinary days that register with our children and register with others. I want to share this list of all the ways I can answer this question and encourage all moms to do the same.

  • I love. I fill the house with love every single day. My husband and I make sure Adeline sees and hears and feels how much we love her, and each other. We hug, we kiss, we hold hands with her and with each other. We want her to grow up with love as a solid foundation and know that it’s always unconditional.
  • I lead. I lead by example. Even as a toddler, she’s learning to be a leader. To be inclusive. To invite everyone to the playground. To say sorry quickly if we make a mistake or if we hurt someone. To speak up and use our words when something doesn’t feel right or we’re feeling sad. To understand and appreciate friends’ differences. My actions are powerful and I am teaching her, hers are too.
  • I speak. Being a Speech-Language Pathologist, this one brings me joy. I talk to Adeline all day. I narrate our day. I ask questions. I answer questions. I describe things I see and she sees. Language is a lens we can experience the world through and it shapes who we are.
  • I validate. Toddler emotions can run high. But letting Adeline know I see how she feels and that I understand she’s frustrated, or really excited is an important habit we have started early.
  • I plan. Schedules and routines are so helpful when it comes to transitions. Being able to predict what’s next makes it easier to adjust. I try to keep certain parts of our day as similar as possible so Adeline feels successful. I am teaching her to be organized.
  • I value family. This is one thing I love most about Austin, his unwavering devotion to family. It’s always our family first. We take time for family dinners, family walks, and family books. We also cherish our time with our parents and love watching them be grandparents, and our brothers be uncles. Living away from all of our family in WI, we make visits a priority and we want her to value family as much as we do.
  • I have roots. Austin and I started dating when we juniors in high school and grew up together in every sense of the way. Our Midwestern roots are deep and intertwined. We want Adeline to feel these, regardless of where we are. I’m teaching her to say “hi” to people at the grocery store. To smile as we pass people on the sidewalk. To open the door for anyone behind her. To ask someone how their day is going and to mean it. These things are part of me and I want them to be part of her.
  • I play. We “play” all day and I remind myself to be present. To pretend to have a tea-party. To make a pizza shop for all her stuffed animals. I’m making an environment where she can build her imagination and become a creative thinker.
  • I pause. There seems to be a forever growing “to-do” list, but just as important as it is to be productive, I’ve learned it’s as important to take a pause. Sit on the floor and read a book when she brings you one while you’re answering emails. Take a break and let her feed you her cheese crackers that were already in her mouth. When I do this, it brings an immediate smile to both of us.
  • I appreciate good people. I’m drawn to other moms that show their warmth and compassion. Here at HBS, every single mom I meet is truly wonderful. There’s so much we can learn from each other and also so much we can praise each other for. We celebrate the little accomplishments together like our toddlers not falling asleep on the drive home from a museum and then taking a three-hour nap. And we support each other through the tough days when our partners are busy and we just need a friend to listen about the meltdown we experienced at the grocery store. This HBS community is something I’m so grateful for. These wonderful moms have given my daughter wonderful friends.

As I look at this list, there isn’t one remarkable thing that jumps out. It’s a list I know all of you can relate to and add to. These are things we do every day by default. What it comes down to is being intentional with our words and actions, and remembering there’s a little mind always watching and observing what we’re doing. If I can do this, I have no doubt we will raise a wonderful daughter.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, take a minute to tell all the moms in your life how wonderful they are. Tell them often. Tell yourself often.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers at HBS!