“How have we made it work? We just make it work, however messy and chaotic that may be,” Meena Harris says about parenting her two daughters and tackling her full-time workload during the pandemic. “The silver lining of it is that I'm just getting to spend a lot more time with them.”
Harris is a mother, a lawyer, a former tech executive, and the entrepreneur behind the popular company Phenomenal, best known for making clothing with a progressive message. She is also a children’s book author and her most recent release, Ambitious Girl, came out earlier this year and was an instant New York Times bestseller. “We read every night before bed and often we’ll read in the morning sometimes,” the 36-year-old mother of 4-year-old Amara and 3-year-old Leela shares of how books fit into their day-to-day. “It’s sort of like quiet time.”
Harris says that those quiet moments reading with her girls are part of what inspired her to write children’s books in the first place. “It was a really personal experience of becoming a new parent and simply not seeing a family that looks like ours represented on the pages of the books that we are reading our children.” When she sat down to write her books, she made sure the main characters looked like her daughters — “little Black girls with curly hair as the main characters,” she says. The importance of diversity and representation in kids’s content is paramount to Harris: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Harris also made sure those little girl characters were ambitious. “Female ambition is often viewed negatively, it’s something that we’re taught to hide or diminish or downplay,” she says. “Ambitious Girl was really about the power of language and understanding that ambition is a really good thing, it means purpose and determination and having a vision and being innovative and having a dream or a big idea and daring to go for it.”
Female ambition is often viewed negatively, it’s something that we’re taught to hide or diminish or downplay.
After months of pandemic life, plus parenting, plus her relentless work schedule, Harris is, like all of us, tired; but also learning from the experience. “Would I love to check out? Yeah. Would I love to just take a nap or lay down, close my eyes, have a moment of peace or like literally use the bathroom in peace and not have children at my feet? Like yes, I would love that,” she says. “I think all of us need a break. But I think this moment has helped me at the very least to be a little more self-aware of just where I am, how I’m feeling, how my mental health is.”
Mostly, she feels luck. “I have support. My partner is a full-time dad right now, even with our kids being so young and having a lot of flexibility there’s no way that I could have continued working as I have been without that support,” she admits.
Harris has also learned the benefits of taking a step back. “I’ve learned that when I’m over-scheduled and over-booked and just going, going, going non-stop it really inhibits my creativity and some of my breakthrough moments and some of my best ideas and creative ideas come from periods where there’s peace and space,” she says. “As a working mom or working parent, you’re over-scheduled, everything has to work down to the last minute, every minute, every second,” Harris notes. “I’m very much a type-A person who’s over-scheduled and has to be in control and the fact is there’s so much about this that is not in our control and I think that’s been my biggest development and adjustment. Just becoming more comfortable with that and being kinder to myself.”
The idea of going back to normal is one I reject because we know that normal was not working for so many people.
With an eye toward the future Harris is ready for change. “The idea of going back to normal is one I reject because we know that normal was not working for so many people. Normal was not working for working families,” she says. “We need healthcare for all, we need a minimum wage that is a living wage, we need childcare, we need so much.” But that doesn’t mean she’s not optimistic. “I feel hopeful. I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine and it is getting distributed hopefully quickly.”
The long and short of it is Meena Harris is managing. “I’m just taking it day by day,” she says. “We’re just trying to survive, and just get through it.”
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