Interview with Glaucia Martin-Porath
Fifteen years ago, when my daughter was born, I’d just moved to a new town, I didn’t know anybody and I was at home with my baby. I’d never felt so completely alone. I’d made the choice to stay at home to raise my child, but I kept thinking there’s got to be a better way—this isn’t the answer either. I longed for a place where women could come together, do the work that was fulfilling to them and help each other raise their babies. A year ago, I met Glaucia, who had the same vision. And she’s going about it in such a smart way. She’s gathering together a community of women who all feel the same need. It won’t be long before they reach critical mass and the vision becomes a reality. Here’s another kind of prosperity: the power of coming together...
How did I get started with Women’s Plaza? Actually, it was lack of prosperity that got me into this. A lack of connection with others, self-care, quality time with my children, a lack of balance between work and life. I suffered. We had a house, we were doing okay, financially. It’s never been a material thing for me. I lacked a community to be with, to talk to, to feel that it was worth it, to be able to work and be close to my children.
Work and Family
Why did I have to choose? I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home Mom. Maybe if I had other Moms around me… It was isolating and crazy-making. I went back to work, but I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I wanted to be a mother and develop myself. Why did I have to choose? Every mother I talked to felt the same way. Women with extended families felt it less. But there was still a sense of something lacking.
The U.S. is one of the richest countries in the world, yet there are so many mental health issues here. This system does not focus on the right priorities. It’s not about stuff. It’s about love, connection, caring for each other, being together. I still struggle with the materialism in this country. Stuff is more important here than love and connection. Stuff and power.
A Place that Supports Women
The idea of Women’s Plaza came to me out of all this suffering. In Spanish, the word plaza means “town square”, the place where people gather. I want to rescue this concept. In the plaza, you have the butcher shop, the bakery, the produce store. It’s a place where people gather and meet each other, share news and stories. They know about each other’s lives. “Is your headache gone?” “Did Joe find his dog?” “Did your child get into that school?” These are the everyday details that make up life. It’s a place where you have everything you need – your groceries, the drycleaner, your work, your neighbors. Here in the U.S., everything is so far apart and so we are physically and emotionally separated from each other. I wanted a place where I could work, have great childcare, breastfeed my baby, and take care of myself physically and mentally.
If you put yourself in the shoes of people and ask what their priorities are, you’ll find some surprising things. What if you could read a story to your child in the afternoon? It only takes five minutes, but you both feel better. What if you could nurture yourself and nurture others? We need to put on top what is most important.
So I decided to create a place where we could be in community, be with women, be connected. A place where I could have a meal prepared for me. Where there’s affordable childcare. Where I can continue to progress in my career. A place where we can normalize daily life and problems and accomplishments. When we are near other people, we realize we are not alone. We humans aren’t designed to be alone. In my work as an early childhood mental health therapist, I essentially worked alone. I drove from school to school and talked to the teachers and the parents, but most of the work I did alone. This society puts so much emphasis on the individual – you’re a “self-made man.” It is important for us to develop as individuals, but we can’t develop alone. We develop in relationship. This is what matters.
A Widespread Need
Once I identified what I wanted, I started asking questions. I interviewed people to find out what their needs were. I posted a survey and got over 100 responses. The survey is still open, so please feel free to add your voice to the conversation: Women’s Plaza Survey. Women started telling me what they needed. I had my own idea and then asked the community, “What do you want?” Everything I offered was embraced: having our children nearby, eating healthy, being able to take care of ourselves. I asked them what were their needs, priorities and top three problems. There was plenty of agreement on the problems:
Time — Having everything located under one roof would save time, stress, dealing with traffic and anxiety.
Affordable quality childcare — In most cases you get one or the other: affordable childcare or quality childcare. The good childcare centers are expensive and have long waiting lists.
Flexibility — Childcare is expensive and most workplaces are inflexible. It’s rare to have adequate parental leave or the ability to work remotely. You can still do quality work and not be in the office. What if your child has a presentation at school? You won’t have these moments again. You’ve lost it all. And for what? What’s the point?
What Works for Families
Most companies don’t provide opportunities for parents to live their lives with their families. Women fear that if they go on maternity leave, they might not get their job back. Mothers have started their own businesses (Mompreneurs) in order to have the flexibility they need in their schedule. The Millennials already have a different relationship to work: “If you won’t be flexible, I won’t work for you. I’ll go start my own business.” By 2020, 40% of the workforce will be contractors. Progressive companies are embracing the idea of allowing people to live a more balanced lifestyle. And it’s a good thing—people are getting sick from the stress.
Why do we sabotage families? They are our future. This is the next generation we are raising. Most companies are still stuck in a fear-based mentality of control. And yet, when people are happy and satisfied, they’ll do wonders. I recently attended Family Forward’s awards ceremony honoring progressive companies with family-friendly policies. These companies offer incredible flexibility to their workers, such as unlimited vacation and the ability to tend a child with medical needs. And the workers will do anything for their company. It’s beautiful! People are happy and fulfilled. The companies totally prosper. They all said, “Just look at our growth!”
In the U.S., there’s a high level of support for people—social services, safety nets, etc. In Brazil, people are pushed to the limit in terms of survival. Either you do or you die. There is no crutch. The system in Brazil, where I come from, does push people over the edge. But here, we become the walking dead. We buy more stuff because we are empty inside. But it never ends. Because stuff will never fill you inside. It only makes you more empty—an endless pit.
Building the Vision
In March, we held an event to gather together all the organizations in Portland that serve women. It was amazing! So many women together, all craving that space — to work on themselves, on their businesses, and have a happy life working on their goals.
Right now we are pre-creating the community that will become Women’s Plaza. The most important thing is to face our fears, create our own priorities and keep loyal to the intention of why we are doing this, every minute of every day. We are accustomed to the lonely hero’s journey. But it’s important to reach out as much as you can and talk. Sometimes I want to give up. Do I just get a job with paycheck? Or do I offer what I believe? I’m not doing this for me. When I get myself out of the way, then things work.
I met with a lawyer one day who was pregnant. Six months later, I saw her again. Her baby had been born with cancer. Her eyes locked with mine and she said, “When will Women’s Plaza open?” She still needs to work and she needs to be with her child. And then there are the single mothers who also want to be close to their babies. When I connect with these women, it lights a fire underneath me and I get moving on this.
Most Valuable Lesson
When you have a calling and you know you have to do this, the universe will provide. You don’t need to worry. Just trust. We have no control over things. We can influence them, but we can’t control them. Keep doing what you know you have to do. Follow your heart and things will unfold for you. Just trust.
Greatest Hope for the World
My greatest hope is that we learn how to love each other and be together with our differences. Have fun. If we have fun together and connect, we’ll have compassion for our problems and mistakes—both our own and others’. Focus on the right things: priorities that matter. If we all could approach life through love, we’ll have a better world.