A Rolla mother who treasures her two children deeply, Joan Nesbitt, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement for Missouri University of Science and Technology, has been presented with the honorable award of Missouri Mother of the Year by American Mothers, Inc.
“Mothers come in a million flavors and sometimes they are fathers, or grandmothers, or aunts, or teachers or neighbors,” expressed Nesbitt. “The diversity of motherhood is one of its most beautiful features, and we can ‘do motherhood’ many different ways and do it well.”
In the same essence, American Mothers vision was founded by Anna Reeves Jarvis “as she sought to heal the damage done to families caught in the conflict of the Civil War,” and her goal to represent a mother’s love, strength and courage created the national holiday—Mother’s Day, to provide this incentive to the nation, as can be seen with American Mothers being the sponsor of the holiday.
The Missouri Mother of the Year, Nesbitt, answered questions on how she feels about holding the title:
Q. How do you feel about being named Missouri Mother of the Year
—Well, of course I’m delighted and thoroughly surprised. I’m not a seeker of the spotlight so there’s a tendency to deflect, to play it down, but I realized quickly that I want to honor my daughter’s sentiment (she is the one who nominated me), so I am fully embracing the opportunity to enjoy the recognition and to reflect on what motherhood has meant to me and means to humanity.
Q. Where were you born and how long have you lived in Rolla?
—I was born in Claremore, Okla., home of Will Rogers, and I have lived in Rolla for seven years.
Q. What would you say your favorite part of being a mother is?
— This is a hard question. I could give you a list of 25 favorite things, but one? Mothering is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt ‘good’ at it. I second-guess myself constantly. I lie awake at night. I worry excessively (ask my husband). But there is profound joy to be found in motherhood in the simplest of acts. I can be filled with indescribable joy and gratitude by merely gazing at my daughter’s hands or my son’s curls. I once wrote ‘there is joy and beauty to be mined from the roughest clods of a mother’s life,’ and I think that might be my favorite part of motherhood.
Q. What are the values that you would like to share with our readers to help them become better mothers?
— I am acutely aware that I am in no position to help anyone become a ‘better’ mother, and I am figuring this out as I go! In fact, I am somewhat bemused by the irony of a woman like me being chosen. For the first several of my parenting years, I had the benefit of a loving and tireless nanny (my mother). For the last several years, I had the luxury of a patient and devoted stay-at-home dad (my husband). To the outsider, one might say I outsourced much of my mothering to those more available and skilled. I say this in a lighthearted way, but I mean it most sincerely. One of the best ways to be a better mother is to partner with an engaged and loving father. Seriously, my husband of 27 years deserves this recognition as much as I do.
Q. How many children do you have?
— I have two children. My daughter, Kate, is 25 and lives in Tulsa. She is a wellness assistant and tennis coach. She works with both youth (coaching) and elderly, in her work as a wellness assistant at a retirement community, and she is fabulously skilled and patient with both groups. My son, Parker, is 22 and he lives in Rolla. He is a heavy equipment operator and works in construction. He is a hard worker but also the ‘mirth-maker’ in our family. I love nothing more than making him laugh.
Q. How do they influence you in your everyday life?
— I grew up in a working class family and there wasn’t any thought given to self-actualization. People were just trying to get by. But, having kids made me think more deeply than ever about what kind of person I wanted to be; what I stood for. So having kids has motivated me to be a better person — in deed and in word. Honestly, I think sometimes parents ‘work’ too hard on their kids and, by that I mean, focus too much attention and energy on their children’s accomplishments and activities. You shouldn’t get so lost in your kids that you forget about yourself and your partner; if you have one. I have worried as much about what my kids learn from the example of my everyday life as I have worried about their development. It’s not easy to be a productive, responsible, compassionate adult, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your kids.
Q. What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work as Missouri Mother of the Year?
— I would be gratified if I could bring attention to the need to better support mothers — by extension, families. My mother grew up in a time when you lost your job if you were a woman and became pregnant. 30 years later, I didn’t fear losing my job, but it’s fair to say — I was not supported in the workplace as a new mother. Things like lactation rooms were not yet in vogue, and the Family and Medical Leave Act hadn’t been established. For that matter, the workplace wasn’t terribly supportive when my mother fell ill and died in a matter of eight weeks and I was her primary caregiver. A mother’s business is the world’s business but we don’t behave most times as if we believe that to be true.
Q.What do you think about women in the workforce?
— One of the things I am most passionate about is creating workplaces that allow for ‘sustainable’ careers. We have to play the long game and treat people like we want to be treated. Fortunately, my work gives me the opportunity to lead, in this and other ways. I try to do so with compassion, integrity, kindness and a sense of humor. So many people are afraid at work every day; of their bosses, their futures, the precariousness of their pay and benefits. If I can reduce fear, improve a person’s sense of fulfillment and well-being, and help them achieve their professional aspirations, then I will have done something worth doing.
Q. What do you think are the current issues that are impacting mothers and children?
— This plays out in so many ways and should inform our public policy, but many times doesn’t. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by so much need and so much hardship. So I focus on what I can do and do best: improve the working lives of mothers.
Q. What would you say motivates you in your daily life?
— I am naturally a goal-oriented and determined individual. Give me a challenge and I’ll go after it! But at the core of that drive to accomplish is probably a steadfast belief that one person can make a difference and that even “micro” deeds can improve the world.
Q. What will your duties include as Missouri Mother of the Year?
— Well, I’m not really sure. I think I will learn more at the National Convention in April. I am excited to learn more about and contribute to the work of American Mothers, Inc. The organization has a long and proud history and if anyone can help the world, it’s surely mothers.
Q. What was your upbringing like?
— As I mentioned, my family was working class. My parents divorced when I was very young and I didn’t see my father often. So I was raised by a single mother and my two grandmothers. My mother only had a high school education and she raised four children without the help of their fathers. It sounds clichéd, but my mother was a saint in so many ways. She was hard-working, courageous, endlessly generous and caring, very progressive — especially for her time and passionate about social justice, and well-read and spoken despite her lack of higher education. More than anything, my mother taught me to work hard and stand up for myself. I always figured if anything was going to come to me, I had to earn it myself. She made me confident and self-reliable whether she intended to or not.
Q. How did your mother influence you?
— In the last two decades of her working life, my mother was a property manager at government-subsidized housing complexes. There were many times when her personal safety was endangered because of crime, or domestic violence situations among the residents, but she would go toe-to-toe with angry and dangerous men, and she would take charge of difficult and volatile situations She protected the vulnerable in her apartment communities. She was absolutely fearless. She died in 2010 and I miss her every day.