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Ambitious Women: Meet Betty Zou

"Staying at home is not some kind of giving up"

Published on: May 08, 2018

Betty Zou
Betty Zou (right) and her family. Photo credit: Stacy Lowenberg Ebstyne

What does having ambition mean when you’re a woman? When you’re a mom?

In May 2018, ParentMap is taking an up-close look at how five women think about ambition. Every week, we’ll publish a short Q&A with an ambitious woman. Who’s that exactly? She’s a mom with big dreams — for her family and for herself. 

Second up, Betty Zou. (Read the first installment.)

Zou is a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) who lives on Phinney Ridge. She’s the mother of two girls, ages 6 and 3. She also has a cartoon series on Instagram.

In this Q&A, we ask Zou about how she finds time for creative work as well as the stigma around being a SAHM.

What does "ambition" mean to you?

I never had ambitions of making lot of money, running a company or becoming famous. However, I’m a goal and action-oriented person in that I aim for something, work towards it and generally achieve it. 

I used to make big changes in my life, like travel overseas, move to different countries and get myself into a graduate program and finish with honors. As a parent, though, it seems having ambition of any sort is difficult. 

Kids have a mind of their own and having them around really means slowing things down. Something as minor as cooking a well-balanced meal doesn’t happen the way you want it to; that’s a big challenge as a stay-at-home parent. Deep breaths, slow it down, adjust expectations...

What's a habit you have that helps make it all go?

I have a few mornings a week to really get stuff done now that my oldest is in kindergarten and my youngest is in pre-school. I try to keep a schedule, so our house and meals are in order and I have time for myself. 

Me-time is different now. When the kids were babies, a chance to take a bath or get a pedicure was life-saving. Now I need intellectual stimulation, goals, to produce something beyond household tasks. I exercise, work on my art and help at my friend’s art gallery. These things allow me to be present with my family in the afternoon and evenings. 

My comics are a way for me to process the chaos of family life in a humorous way. But I often think about the next step; part of me wants some praise, recognition or money. But mostly it’s about adding my artistic voice and helping people. Maybe one of my cartoons will help one person out there who needs to see themselves reflected through my artwork. 

Why do you do the work that you do?

Both my husband and I grew up with busy parents who worked long hours to make ends meet. Growing up I had a best friend whose mom was always there for us, took us places and did stuff with us. I wanted to have that kind of relationship with my daughters. 

It’s also happenstance: My husband makes enough money that it makes sense for me to stay home. When I couldn’t find meaningful part-time work, I decided to stay home with my first one. When I had my second, I worked part-time, but very quickly I realized that wasn’t going to work for me. I sometimes looked at job sites and realized that I was looking at jobs just because I could do that job. Just because I’ve done something before and can do that job doesn’t mean that I should. It’s not how I want to grow.

Staying at home with kids is not some kind of giving up. It’s a stage in a very long life of many adventures. And in the bigger picture, it’s not that long of a stage. An exercise in a book called “The Renaissance Soul” really helped show me that we can pick up new skills, have different jobs and explore our passions in the span of a few years. 

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be and why?

That’s hard because my younger self doesn’t listen to advice. There is something I tell my daughters though: People don’t grow up to just become one thing. 

I think my generation — and as Americans — we were brought up to believe that we have one passion and to then work towards that one career choice. I would tell them to not to worry. What you decide to do in the next five years might not be the same in the next 10 or 20 years. 

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