Photo credit: Christopher Constantino

The founding CEO of TendLab and the co-leader of the Fam Tech Founders Collaborative, Amy Henderson has made a name for herself working with companies like Salesforce, Accenture, Cloudflare, Airbnb, and Lululemon to optimize the workplace for parents. A regular speaker and author advocating on behalf of the power of parenthood at work, Amy has been featured in and written for The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company, Slate, InStyle, and more. This April, she’s publishing her first book, Tending: Parenthood & the Future of Work, a quest to understand modern parenthood through intimate conversations with hundreds of parents, scientists, employee activists, business leaders, and other innovators. We spoke with Amy about her latest project, how she finds center, and what she’s learned from her most important mentor.

What’s one practice, goal, or purpose that helps get you out of bed each day?

I drink lemon water (one or two squeezed lemons in water with a dropper full of stevia) every morning first thing. It really helps with digestion, joy, and focus!

When and where do you feel the most centered?

When I’m exercising in nature—running, hiking, biking, swimming, or just chasing after my kids.

What’s made a difference in how you feel lately?

I’ve just accomplished a goal I’ve had since I was a little girl—to write and publish a book on a subject that is critical for our time.

In my soon-to-be-published book, Tending: Parenthood & the Future of Work, I use my own vulnerable and raw journey through motherhood, coupled with extensive research, to explain why it's harder to be a working parent in the U.S. than in any other developed country in the world, and why there’s an epidemic of shame among working parents. And yet, despite these significant challenges, parenthood, possibly more than anything else, neurologically primes us to develop skills that are critical for success in the modern workplace.

I have three kids (ages 5, 7, and 9) who have been Zoom schooling since March of last year. It’s been really intense. If my work wasn’t focused on building a better future for working parents, I don’t know if I could’ve made it through this year. I needed to have something I was deeply passionate about, and a purpose I could focus on, to help me make it through this gauntlet of time.

What’s one thing you try to remember each day?

Twenty years ago, I came home from the Peace Corps with PTSD. Later, I would discover the research out of Omidyar’s Hope Lab about trauma survivors. These researchers traveled the world exploring why some people were able to recover from trauma and go on to lead happy, fruitful lives, while others were unable to move on.

They found that people who are resilient in the wake of trauma have three things in common:

  • They know they are not alone—they feel seen and heard by at least one other person.
  • They have a sense of agency—they know they have some control over their own lives.
  • They have a sense of purpose—they know they have a role to play in creating a better future, not just for themselves, but for others, too.

I think about this often, especially now during COVID. I know many working moms (and dads, too) are struggling. It helps me to know that I’m not alone, and that it’s critical to reach out to my friends and loved ones to see my own story reflected in their eyes.

I also think about the importance of claiming agency over my own life. What can I do to care for myself, and take deep responsibility for myself? Sometimes it’s simple, like taking a long bath after the kids have (finally!) gone to bed. But sometimes, claiming agency over my own life means having hard conversations with the people I care about. For instance, during Covid I’ve had to pull back from some of my friendships that were depleting me.

I’ve learned, through painful experience, the importance of recognizing where I can be of service, and where I can’t. When I pour all of my energy into a situation where my help isn’t wanted, it wears me out. But if my efforts can have a positive, meaningful impact, then it nourishes me. My work with TendLab building the movement to change the game for working parents, is deeply fulfilling. And the individual’s I’ve worked with to build this movement have taught me a lot about resilience and grit.

If you could name one book, show, or podcast that’s speaking to where you’re at, what would it be?

I’ve just finished reading an early copy of Think Like a Breadwinner: A Wealth-Building Manifesto for Women Who Want to Earn More (and Worry Less) by Jennifer Barrett. I devoured it faster than I've read almost any other book. Barrett's passion for empowering women to understand money hooked me, and kept me reading until late into the night. Barrett's story, the journeys of other women, and the thoughtfully explained research helped me to recognize my unconscious assumptions and biases around money. And her suggested strategies and tips for proactively moving forward have already positively impacted my finances. I can't recommend this book enough! It's a must read for all of us!

Do you have a mentor or a mentee and what has that relationship meant to you?

One of my mentors is Dot Fisher-Smith, a 94-year old buddhist, activist, great-grandmother. I call her during my highest moments and my lowest moments because I’ve found both success and devastation to be disorienting.

Dot’s taught me quite a bit about staying in the moment, listening to my body, and slowing down. She has not sought fame, but she’s been featured in magazines, movies, and many other forms of media because of her powerful activism. She said to me once,

You never know when your time to be on the world’s stage will come, but when it does you need to have a solid foundation within you and beneath you.