Beth Messersmith's family is her top priority. And she thinks families should be a top priority for lawmakers, too. While she stays home in Durham with her two young children, Beth works as state campaign director for MomsRising.org, an organization that advocates for family-friendly policies including economic security, work/life balance and product safety. It's hard sometimes for busy moms to stay connected with current events and the politics that shape our state and nation, but it's possible, she said – and it's important.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself, and about your family.
A. I’m a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom of a son (7) and a daughter (4) who feels really fortunate to have the opportunity to mix my two greatest passions – my family and activism.
My husband, Jamey, and I met in college, and one of the things that connected us was how close we both are to our families. We have incredible, loving parents who we also count among our best friends. So we knew that when we had a family our kids would be the center of our lives, too.
I loved the work I did as the co-executive director of a local nonprofit, but I knew when I had children I wanted to be able to spend those early years at home with them. I recognize that’s not a choice everyone has, and I count myself as tremendously lucky that I’ve been able to spend the last seven years experiencing childhood again with my kids. Getting to play with them and see life anew through their eyes is an amazing gift.
My kids are my sunshine. They both love to dance in the living room, chase until they fall over, and laugh until they can’t catch their breath. My son loves sports and has been playing anything that involves a ball since he could sit up. It’s been a big adjustment for me since I come from a very non-athletic family, but there’s nothing that will make you love baseball like seeing your proud 4-year-old take the field for the first time. I’ve become a team mom and pitched more practice balls than I ever imagined possible. He’s driven and competitive, but also kind and always looking out for the underdog. My daughter adores her big brother and does everything she can to keep up with him. Whether it’s playing superheroes or doing the spring training camp he created for her, she is his biggest buddy. She’s feisty and fiercely protective of the people she loves. At the same time, she’s a girly girl in ways I was totally unprepared for. For someone whose standard outfit is jeans and a T-shirt, it’s been quite an experience to have a daughter who loves clothes, shoes, and sparkly nail polish. But it’s fun, too, and she knows that if she does grow up and become a stylist (her words) that I get the first makeover.
I had been volunteering for MomsRising for several years when I got the opportunity to become North Carolina’s first part-time staff. I can’t imagine a better situation for me. MomsRising not only believes in work/family balance, but they put it into practice. All our staff nationwide work from home and have flexible work schedules that allow us to be good parents and good employees. You’ll often find me online working at 5 a.m. so I can get my work done and still be able to play tag on the playground withmy kids after school. I’m grateful to get to do a job I love and believe in and still be able to be there for my family. I wish more workplaces got why this matters.
Q. What is MomsRising, and how did you get started with that organization?
A. MomsRising is a national online and on-the-ground organization of more than a million people working to build a nation where children, parents, and businesses thrive and to end discrimination against mothers. MomsRising listens to members and focuses advocacy where we can most quickly improve family economic security.
North Carolina is the first state chapter, made up of more than 28,000 North Carolinians from all 100 counties. We are moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who are coming together to make sure North Carolina’s children and families are heard in the decisions that impact our lives in very personal ways every day.
In my pre-motherhood days, I was a community organizer, so activism on issues that matter to me has been a part of my life for a long time. But it became personal in an all new way when I became a mother. My oldest child was born 2 ½ months prematurely, and I had a lot of time sitting by his NICU bed to think about the programs and policies that make a difference in the kind of start kids get in life – things like infant mortality prevention programs, access to health care, and the right to paid family leave to care for a newborn or sick child. I knew that once he got stronger I wanted to find an organization where I could work on these issues, and that’s when I ran into MomsRising.
Q. What kinds of issues are you working on now with MomsRising?
A. These are tough times for too many N.C. families. Far too many moms and dads are out of work, struggling to support their families, and too many of the public investments that our state and children need to grow and thrive have faced steep budget cuts in recent years. We focus our efforts on increasing family-economic security and supporting policies that give children the best possible start in life.
This year we’re going BIG to remind lawmakers that the decisions that they make in Raleigh have a very personal impact on the lives of families in their communities and that some of these programs – things like early learning, infant mortality, K-12 education – are places where we don’t get a do-over if we fail to invest in our kids now.
In addition, we’re working on issues that we know are important to our members – things like protecting the earned income tax credit for working families, policies that will keep our children safe from toxic chemicals in everyday products, and taking a hard and fresh look at work/family balance and the policies we need to meet the needs of today’s working families.
Q. Sometimes it's hard to stay in touch with the world when you're up all night with a newborn or ferrying three kids to soccer practice. What suggestions do you have for moms who want to be politically informed and involved?
A. Find an organization (or several) that follows issues that matter to you and that you trust. Whether you care about child and family issues, the environment, voting rights, or whatever, there are organizations that follow these issues both in D.C. and Raleigh that send out regular updates along with opportunities for action that can fit in a mom’s busy schedule. MomsRising.org is one of those, and we’d love to have you join us. But the important thing is that you don’t have to have the time to follow every single piece of legislation yourself in order to stay engaged. You just need to know organizations you trust that do. (If you'd like to sign up for state and national news updates from MomsRising.org, visit the website and enter your ZIP code.)
Q. What's your favorite thing to do with the whole family in the Triangle?
A. My kids would rather be outside than anything, so we spend every opportunity we get playing in the yard with the neighborhood kids, playing kids vs. grown-ups tag outside the school, visiting local parks (North Cary Park is a favorite), or playing whatever sport is in season. We’re about to start our fourth baseball season with Parkwood Sports Association, and my son is so excited he can hardly stand it. Pick-up wiffle ball games in the backyard are an all-time favorite for our family. On rainy days, we like places like Pump It Up, Defy Gravity, or all the fun kids’ activities at Northgate Mall, where we can work off some energy.
Q. What's your favorite thing around here to do when you get a few hours to yourself?
A. Sleep! I wish it was more exciting, but there just never seems to be enough hours to catch up on sleep. And all of life is just so much better when you’re not tired. Beyond that, I try to catch up on the relationships that tend to fall by the wayside in the rush of everyday life. Date night with my husband, lunch with friends, phone calls with family and long-distance friends from my pre-motherhood days. Or just enjoying the silence. Sometimes that’s the very best of all.
Q. What's the best parenting trick you've picked up?
A. That sometimes when the kids want your attention the very best thing to do is try to stop, even when you’re super busy, and give it to them. There are very few times when things haven’t been better and happier for all of us when I took that time to play, chase, and giggle before turning back to what I was trying to accomplish. I’m more productive, and we’re all happier. And I know I won’t regret taking the time to be with them.
Q. What's the best advice someone has given you about being a mom?
A. I took a Positive Parenting class offered by Welcome Baby in Durham a few years back and as part of the course you completed a personality assessment for yourself and each of your children. I found that some of the places where we clashed were the places where we were most alike. My kids and I are both high-energy, have strong opinions, and stand our ground when we think we are in the right – traits I like in myself but that can make parenting challenging at times. It was an important reminder not to squash those traits in my kids simply because it would make parenting easier, but embrace them for who they are and figure out ways to parent that take those into account.
Q. What's your least favorite part and most favorite part of mommyhood?
A. The least favorite is definitely the lack of bathroom privacy! After all these years, you’d think I would get used to the fact that the minute the bathroom door shuts everyone seems to need me urgently, but somehow it still drives me a bit nuts.
There are so many favorites, but the very best has to be the snuggles. Now that they are getting older I don’t ever take for granted when they want to climb up in my lap. It’s like my little piece of heaven, and I want to hold on to these special times for as long as I can.
Each month, TriangleMom2Mom talks to a real, live local mom about life as a parent and beyond. If you know a mom with a story to tell (or if you're that mom), please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.