St. George, Utah, August 2010
Saren Eyre Loosli, co-founder of the Power of Moms website, talks about how her educational background and her personal challenges as a mother of five young children led her to create a website that seeks to empower moms by creating networks of support and meaningful mothering resources. She also talks candidly about her own struggle to balance mothering with a desire to make an impact in the world, and how, ultimately those two goals are intertwined.
Would you describe the path that led you to help found the Power of Moms website?
I always had in my mind that I’d finish my undergraduate degree and then get married pretty soon after that. But that didn’t work for me. I didn’t find the right person until I was twenty-eight. So that gave me time to pursue a career, to get a master’s degree in education, to live in a lot of different places, to go on a mission (to Bulgaria). I believe the Lord designed it that way for me; with my personality, I would have felt quite trapped if I’d jumped straight into having kids right out of college. I think the Lord knew that, so he said, okay, do all these things! And then when you do have your kids, you’ll be able to focus on them.
My big dream coming out of college was to travel the world and to help third world countries by setting up educational programs in those countries. But then I started to realize that that was not going to work well with having a family—which was my other big dream—and trying to put my dream to make a real difference in the world and have a wonderful family together in my mind has been a really hard thing.
The question for me has been, “How do I balance these righteous desires to be a great mom with these righteous desires to help the rest of the world?” Power of Moms has been my answer, but it’s not something that came overnight. It took twelve years basically trying different things, doing this training here, working in this school there, and then finally coming to this
Right after finishing my master’s in Education at Harvard, I started up a company with a friend and we ran after-school programs in the Boston public schools, mostly in some very needy schools. It was a great program, but we couldn’t make it work financially. So we closed that company and I worked for the National Institute on Out of School Time (NIOST), part of the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College. They do training all over the country for people who are trying to do high quality after school programs. I set up regional training conferences all over the country for them in partnership with the Corporation for National Service.
Around this time I met my husband, who was going to school at MIT. We lived in Boston for a year while he finished his degree. We ended up accepting a job for him in San Jose, California. When we moved, NIOST asked me to keep doing the job remotely.
I worked from home while I was pregnant with my first child. When my son was a little baby, he just sat in his swing while I made all my conference calls. I even took him with me to a couple of conferences when he was an infant and kept my fingers crossed and said my prayers that he wouldn’t scream at the wrong moment. It was a little stressful, but it worked out fine. It was a great job: they respected my work and I was able to be involved with a lot of interesting things.
But this transition to motherhood was trickier than I’d thought it would be. I had this colicky baby who was either in his swing or was screaming at the top of his lungs and didn’t really want to snuggle or be held. At the same time, I’d just come from Boston where I had all these fabulous friends from college and couples in our ward that we’d really connected with. I didn’t feel I clicked with anyone in San Jose. Because of my job, I was so involved with people who were still in Boston and I didn’t really fit in with the local moms that had little kids. I didn’t have coworkers per se and I couldn’t hang out with the other moms and their babies because I was working—I was working when they were off to the park. So it took me a while to kind of ease into the whole thing.
I got into my groove more once I had my second son. I tried to just totally focus on my two kids for a few months, but when a new project popped up to evaluate after school programs in the San Jose area, it felt right to jump into that.
I think it’s interesting that people talk about being stay at home moms or working moms; I’ve always been at home with my kids, but I’ve always been doing some big project on the side – heading off to a school to evaluate a program with a baby on my back. In some ways it feels like going back to the pioneer model: all moms were working moms, you’re out there taking care of the chickens and you’re out there picking the crops while you tend your kids. There’s no such thing as a non-working mom. Every mom works, a lot. It’s just a matter of whether the work she does has to do with hobbies or paid employment, whether she’s going out of her home to do it or staying in her home.
For the most part, being involved in part-time projects worked well for me, but it’s always a huge challenge when your heart’s tugging you this way and that at the same time. Every time I was offered a new project, I asked myself, should I do this? Or is this now the time that I should focus totally on my kids? my kids? When I was pregnant with my third child, the decision was made for me: Almost right at the time when we found out we were expecting, I was asked to be the Relief Society president.
I was completely blindsided. Not only was I pregnant and already had a baby and toddler, but I needed to keep my job because I’d committed to the project, we needed the money since my husband’s job had slowed down and he was only getting paid part of his salary. I said to the bishop, “Do you know we’re expecting our third child and I work?” He said, “I didn’t know you were expecting and I didn’t know your whole situation, but the Lord knew.” The bishop went on to explain that he’d gone to the temple twice because he kept fighting the Lord on this calling, thinking that I couldn’t possibly be the right person. This was a ward that had over 400 women in it, and I would say fifty percent of them had pretty serious needs. It was really one of those moments when you think: can this be the right thing? I just remember thinking, how can we do this? The bishop encouraged me to pray for my own answer. The answer was yes.
While still finishing up my school-evaluation work, I stepped into this huge project of being Relief Society president. I took the kids with me (my oldest was three at the time and my baby was another colicky one) and we went to the bishop’s storehouse and we went to convalescent homes and we took care of the things that needed to happen. There were days when I thought, I can’t do this. How can I deal with all these needs when some days I couldn’t physically take the kids with me to the hospital, and my husband was in Singapore or France half the time on business.
But that calling made me get out of the house and be involved in other things and made me meet with other people. I needed to do that for me at that time of my life. I also got to use all my training experience: we really trained visiting teachers like I had trained my after-school teachers and held people accountable. Also, people really stepped up to help me, because they could see me with my three little kids and they knew that I couldn’t do everything. It was truly a faith building experience and a wonderful chance to be thoroughly involved right in my own community, as opposed to trying to help people all over the world and all over the country that I wasn’t personally invested in. This experience taught me a lot about lifting where you stand.
After two years of being in that calling, we decided to go ahead and have our fourth and final child. So we got pregnant, and we found out we were having twins. I was going to have five children in five years. At that point, I did go to the bishop and say, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” I was released, and I was then in a position to need help very much from others. I ended up needing an emergency c-section with the second twin, our oldest turned five one week before the twins were born and we didn’t have any family around (my parents travel around the world for work). So the ward stepped right in and it was a wonderful thing to see first-hand how a ward family can really work. As Relief Society president, I had been on the giving end, then I had a chance to be on the receiving end. People would show up during the times that I was the most desperate and say, “Hey, why don’t you just go to the grocery store by yourself for half an hour and I’ll be here with the kids.” Or people would bring us all their extra diapers and formula. Or they’d bring play groups to me, because it was such a hard thing to even get in the car with five kids in car seats. This experience really gave me a chance to see what the gospel’s all about.
Shortly after this, we felt guided to move to St. George, Utah (we simply could not fit in our house in San Jose anymore and my husband needed a career change) and this is where the Power of Moms really got started. Soon after we moved here, a friend of mine and and I worked together to schedule a weekend retreat where moms like us could get together and have serious training conferences for their chosen profession of motherhood, just like workers in any other profession have. We put the first retreat together five years ago. People flew in from all over the country when they heard about this concept, it just resonated with people. Women left saying, “My life is changed, I’m a different mom and a different person than I would be.” The concept was so powerful we decided to drive forward with that and put together a website and an actual instruction manual so people could put together similar types of retreats for the mothers that they knew in their own circles.
My friend and I got to a point in our lives where we just couldn’t work on the retreat concept anymore, so it got put on the backburner for a while. Then, a couple years later, my mom met April Perry who’d started a similar website to help moms called the Power of Moms and suggested I should get to know her a bit. Something kept nagging me at the back of my mind: “You need to talk to April.” So we emailed back and forth a little bit. We decided that we should combine our efforts, and the Power of Moms went from a little website that April was working on to a much bigger project that also incorporated my motherhood retreats. We launched last Mother’s Day 2009.
Since then, thousands of moms have gathered to our website. That’s been really fulfilling. There have been times when I’ve asked myself, why am I doing this? – especially when it’s 1am and the back end of the website is giving me fits. But we felt so guided. Every time I’d hear a Conference talk or read the scriptures, I’d open to something that said to me, “Do this. The moms out there need you to be doing this, to be a catalyst to bring them together.” The whole point of the website is to bring moms together so they can all share what they know and we can have conversation around this career of motherhood.
I really searched, together with April, to find resources that help mothers really take care of the person inside the mom and become their own best sort of mom. We found tons of websites that are about fashion, the best baby products, potty training, or how to deal with kids’ behavior issues that come up, and there are tons of chat rooms that seem to focus on husband bashing or complaining about how hard it is to be a mom. But it seems that so many moms want to progress and grow through motherhood – not just get through it, complain about it, or look good while doing it. We couldn’t find much that seemed truly uplifting and truly empowering to moms. So we’ve spent thousands of hours building the Power of Moms.
The Power of Moms website states that the aim is to help moms be really and truly happy as mothers. How do you see the site helping moms tap into their potential as mothers?
Motherhood is not just about getting the kids from point A to point B. Motherhood is about developing who we are as women and as individuals. A lot of the happiness we feel in life comes when we’re progressing; the gospel teaches us this, but it’s true in any walk of life, whether you’re religious or not. And when we feel like we’re in a rut and we’re not progressing, when we’re sad or feeling useless, then we get down about everything in our lives. The whole point of the Power of Moms is to help moms feel the joy of progressing.
It’s not just our kids we’re trying to help progress, it’s ourselves. And that matters. It matters enough that we need to make time for it in our lives, whether it be getting involved in an online community or figuring out in your own personal way, what do I want to improve? Who do I want to be? What aspects of my personality should I be developing? What talents should I be developing? What can I do with my kids? How can I do those in conjunction with what I’m doing as a mom?
One of our big focuses is taking care of the person that’s inside the mom, where a lot of the other websites are trying to take care of the person outside the mom: let’s see how she looks, let’s see what products she has, let’s see how she acts toward her kids. We thought, let’s start on the inside with how we feel about ourselves, with how we feel about our job as a mom and then let’s build from there. I want mothers to say, “I’m not just barely treading water, but I’m making motherhood into the joy and the progression that it should be.”
For me personally, I’ve come to realize that by being the best mother I can be, the best wife I can be, that will help me become the person that’s going to make me happy. By working on Power of Moms, I feel I have a team of mothers working on my goals with me. I’m asking them for their answers. I feel the sense of empowerment from not only learning something for yourself, but being able to share it with others at the same time.
My biggest hope for the Power of Moms, for myself and other moms is the chance to progress and to connect. Being a mom can be very lonely. I’ve been very lonely and I still am sometimes, but to be able to connect with others, without even leaving your home—that’s why mom blogs do so well, I think.
How can moms take the skills and education they’ve accumulated and apply it to motherhood?
I think that’s the big issue that so many of us who stay home with our kids struggle with. We’re trying to be the best moms we can be, but we need an outlet, we need a chance to share what we’re learning and learn more. No one in any profession is going to do a great job unless they share what they’ve learned with someone else and learn from others.
Motherhood is taking all these wonderful things the gospel teaches us about love and our role as nurturers and the role of eternal progression in our own lives and then putting it into daily practice. We hear all these great talks, but the how tos . . . the daily practice is often the mystery. We’re not going to have our General Authorities stand up there and say, “This is the schedule you should follow” or “This is what you should do with your kids each day.” It’s up to us to figure that out.
In my own life, I try to take my strengths and interests and use them in mothering. As an educator, I know all the different types of curricula out there, so when one thing isn’t working well for my child at school, I understand that there are other approaches we could try. I think my kids have a real love for learning and a lot of that comes from the background I have in education. I love art, and I’d love to be more serious about it, but that’s not going to happen in this phase of life. But I can do it a little bit; I pull out those art supplies and do art with my kids. I love reading, and I can’t read as much as I’d like because my kids need me a lot and I have other projects going on, but I can read books with my kids. I really make a point of searching out the best chapter books for their age groups, Newbery award winners and that kind of thing, and we really love to read together. I love traveling and I want to go all over the world, that was a big part of my growing up experience and I’d love to do it with my kids. Right now we’re kind of stuck with places we can drive to, because seven air plane tickets? It’s not going happen. But we still travel all the time. We drove down to Mexico because we wanted our kids to see what it’s like down there. And we drive to California, we go to different places all the time and try to expose them to all that we can, because I need that and I think it’s so good for my kids. And I think it’s something they will develop a need for, the need for different kinds of people and different sites and sounds, different opportunities in life, different ideas.
How have your experiences as a mother changed your views on the ways we can make an impact in the world?
My husband and I went to Bolivia and Africa when I was pregnant with my oldest because I have this passion for going other places in the world and helping people that are really needy – we crammed those trips in before having kids. But after I became a mother I learned that the difference I’ve been able to make when I was Relief Society president, the difference I’m able to make in my own home and in my kids’ school right now, that means more to me. I still have big ideas, but my idea of what is big and what really matters have fundamentally changed. I think I can make a big difference by the things I do with my own kids, these five little people that I can send out there to be great catalysts for good things in the world. That can be a big ripple effect right there. Every mom can do this.
It’s not that I think, oh, I’ve arrived. Every day, it’s hard; I have to decide, Should I finish that project on Power of Moms that I really need to do or should I go and help the kids with homework right now? I feel this tug all the time. Of course, if push comes to shove, I know that Power of Moms will go on the shelf and my kids will get the attention, but it’s not that black and white. It’s not like, choose one or the other, it’s like, I need to choose less of this so I can choose more of the other. That is the perennial issue that I struggle with. I know that I’m doing the right things, but I don’t know how much of which things to do when. This question of finding the right balance is also something we’re trying to help moms with through the Power of Moms.
I think that what I’m trying to do is what every mom is trying to do: better herself, take care of her family, plus do a little beyond. We want to take care of ourselves, we want to take care of our families, and then we want to take it a little step beyond that and feel like we’re leaving a little print in other people’s lives, that we’re being a “light to the world” in our own way.
At A Glance
Saren Eyre Loosli
Location: St. George, Utah
Marital status: Married
Children: Five, ages 5-10
Occupation: Mother; Wife; Co-Director of The Power of Moms; Director of The Joy School Company
Schools Attended: Wellesley College (B.A. 1992), Harvard University (M.Ed. 1997)
Languages Spoken at Home: English (and some Spanish – the kids go to a dual immersion school)
Favorite Hymn: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
Current Church Calling: Teaching the Valiant 10 class in Primary
On the Web: powerofmoms.com, joyschoolco.com, personal blog: Five Kids in Five Years