Becoming a mom isn’t life-changing, it’s world-changing. Our team at Beyond Yoga is made up of many strong, incredible mothers, which makes our newest collab (launching this week!) with Alliance of Moms extra near and dear to our hearts. This amazing organization develops educational programs to support and empower teen moms in foster care — and for every purchase of the Beyond Yoga x Alliance of Moms exclusive collection, we will donate $5 to their work with these young parents.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Alliance of Moms co-founders Jules Leyser and Yasmine Delawari Johnson to learn more about their inspiration for starting the organization, the impactful work they are doing and what all of us can do to help the cause.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE STARTING ALLIANCE OF MOMS?
JL: All of the Alliance of Moms Co-Founders had babies between late August and early November 2012. We launched AOM in November 2014 so we had all been new moms prior to starting AOM. Personally, before having my son, I had lived a few lives through a number of careers. I worked in advertising, became an actress and writer and finally a poker instructor!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THIS AMAZING ORGANIZATION?
JL: Yasmine, Emily and I are old friends and were pregnant at exactly the same time. Yasmine sits on the board of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the non-profit we are part of, and was asked if she and her friends could do something to support pregnant and parenting teens in foster care. So we held a fundraiser at Yasmine’s home while pregnant and then others from our baby group joined in the endeavor the following year. After that, with the addition of Danika and Kelly, 5 of us decided we wanted to go deeper in serving and supporting this vulnerable population.
We were new moms and understood the struggle of parenting, even with the plethora of resources we were lucky to have. Trying to imagine having a baby and raising a child alone, without the foundation of family, a supportive community or much in the way of resources compelled us to step up and include these young moms in our own mom community.
WE JUST LEARNED THAT 40% OF WOMEN IN FOSTER CARE WILL BECOME PREGNANT BY THE AGE OF 17 AND THEIR CHILDREN ARE 66% MORE LIKELY TO BECOME TEEN PARENTS! WOW. HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME AWARE OF THIS STATISTIC?
JL: There are many studies conducted around the country that we have read to inform ourselves about young parents who themselves are in foster care and these statistics come from those studies. Yes, these statistics are shocking. They inspired our mission which is to break the intergenerational cycle at work.
The other shocking statistic we discovered that inspired us to focus our educational workshops on early brain development is that by the age of 3, kids born to lower income families have heard 30 million fewer words than kids born to parents who have received higher education. The gap in society starts early and we wanted to do something practical to prevent this chasm forming so early in life.
FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHY DO YOU THINK THIS INTERGENERATIONAL CYCLE CONTINUES?
JL: I think this cycle continues to turn because when girls and young women in foster care have experienced a childhood that is often without positive parental role models and the foundation of family, as teenagers they start to want to create the family they didn’t have. They also want to experience the unconditional love that flows when you become a parent. The sad part of this beautiful desire is that they are so young and have so often experienced neglect and trauma in their short lives that they are not in the strongest position to raise a child. They are still maturing themselves and therefore over a third of their babies are removed and detained into foster care within the first few years of life. Without the intervention of healthy, supportive adults in their lives and the necessary resources every mom needs and deserves, it is an enormous challenge to become the kind parents they set out to be. Essentially the kind of parents they didn’t have themselves.
WHAT DOES ALLIANCE OF MOMS DO TO HELP END THIS CYCLE?
JL: Through educational workshops, Alliance of Moms offers our young moms in foster care very practical parenting tools and tips that help to stimulate their child’s early brain development. Workshops like how talking, reading and singing to your baby helps to develop their brain. We believe that this is the crucial first step in helping to break the cycle. Our young moms don’t need to spend any time or money on the parenting skills our expert partners share with them. They have everything they need to be a great mom within themselves and this kind of education promotes their own self worth as a young adult as well as as a parent. The brain development work is also essential for their babies and young children because over 80% of the brain is developed by the age of 3. So if the babies can build a great brain foundation and healthy start in life then they have a much greater chance of avoiding the cycle of teen pregnancy themselves.
In addition to our parenting workshops, we offer a supportive community who recognize and see these young women who often feel invisible or judged by society for what they are – the creators of the future generation. They should be valued and honored as all mothers deserve to be.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND TO BE MOST BENEFICIAL WHEN WORKING WITH WOMEN IN FOSTER CARE?
JL: My own mother was raised in foster care in the UK and went on to have my brother and I in her teens so I understand how challenging a difficult start in life can be. The most beneficial thing to remember when supporting this population is to keep an open mind and remove all judgment. Our young moms have often built tall protective walls to protect themselves from constantly disappointing adults and situations. This can come across as them being tough or unwelcoming but in fact is often a tool for self protection. So when working with young women in foster care, you have to be patient and understand it can take a little while to earn their trust.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING OR EYE-OPENING THING YOU’VE LEARNED DURING YOUR WORK WITH ALLIANCE OF MOMS?
YDJ: There are two surprises that come to mind. When we started Alliance of Moms, we could never have known the response we would get from the women who would become our member volunteers and donors. It came fast and the wave has continued. We realized that Alliance of Moms was tapping into something deeply rooted into women’s hearts when they become mothers. Suddenly you cannot look at another child and see other. You see your own babies in every child and recognize the extraordinary good fortune your kids have been born into. You also know that every mom out there wants the best for their kids and that as women we must work together to try to balance the many inequities that exist.
We were also surprised in the most wonderful way by the tremendous response of our young moms in foster care to our programs. Many veterans in the foster care world cautioned our idealistic expectations. They explained that often times kids in foster care will “no show” as a preemptive way to avoid being disappointed again – as so often people in their lives have “no-showed” on them. We would plan a program for 30 young moms and have to cut off RSVPs at 70. Then we would plan for 70 and cutoff and 90… and so on. It was very clear that our young mothers were eagerly showing up, even when facing their own fears of possibly being let down. They were showing up for their own kids in ways they had not experienced themselves.
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART ABOUT YOUR WORK?
YDJ: It is easy to see the vast differences between our young moms in foster care and our member moms’ lives. Externally, their worlds are very different. There is no deying that reality. But, we have seen time and time again the connection that is made mom-to-mom over the things that bond us all as women and mothers. All mothers know what it feels like to have a child who is not sleeping well (or seemingly at all!) or is a “bad” eater. We all know what it feels like to try our best and worry we are still somehow failing our kids. The responsibility to shepard a little human into the world is extraordinary.
Our member moms lives can look perfect from the outside, but we have watched members tear up and share about how isolated they felt before Alliance of Moms. Spending time with our young moms in foster care and seeing how damn hard they’re working to give their kids a better life puts so much in perspective. Suddenly, unreasonable and unhelpful messaging about perfection can be seen for what it is. And what actually matters, valuing ourselves and trusting that doing our best and being present for our kids beats the hell out of some idea of perfection.
WE ARE SO EXCITED ABOUT THE BEYOND YOGA X ALLIANCE OF MOMS COLLAB! AS A BODY POSITIVE BRAND, OUR MISSION IS TO HELP BOOST WOMEN’S SELF-ESTEEM. DO YOU FIND SELF-ESTEEM TO BE AN ISSUE WITH THE WOMEN YOU WORK WITH?
YDJ: We are excited too and love all that Beyond Yoga says to women about boosting ourselves up. As for the young women we work with, when your family is not present in your life as a child or teen, of course your self esteem is impacted. We often remind our Alliance of Moms supporters that kids in foster care are wards of the county. Well, who is the county? It’s us. As a society, are we stepping up to be there for these children in every way? Are we letting kids be kids and not carry the worry of whether they will have a bed to sleep in? It’s tough to have a strong sense of self when family and society fails you.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS YOU’VE FOUND HELPFUL IN BUILDING UP THEIR SELF-ESTEEM?
YDJ: Honestly, just seeing our young moms for who they are… strong, capable, loving young women with dreams for their babies and themselves. We have always designed our programs to offer what we would want for ourselves. We seek the experts we sought for our own kids. If we sit down to a dinner table at our Raising Foodies program, it is set as we would if our friends were coming over for a dinner party. If we are giving our young mothers product, it is what we want for our babies. The content of our programs is provided by the best in their respective fields whether that is Dr. Dayna Long from Oakland Children’s Hospital who leads a workshop for our Raising Baby program or Chef Jessica Koslow of Sqirl who has taught our moms about how to cook affordable and nutritious meals for their kids.
FOR READERS AT HOME WHO ARE INTERESTED IN GETTING INVOLVED WITH ALLIANCE OF MOMS, WHAT ARE SOME WAYS THEY CAN HELP THE CAUSE?
YDJ: You can join our mom movement. Whether you live in LA or not, you can “show up” for our young mothers in foster care and their children by joining Alliance of Moms. Your support will ensure that we can continue our programs and mission to break the intergenerational cycle of babies born to teens in foster care. Click here to become a member of Alliance of Moms.