Mothers Symposium returns with theme of 'resilience'

Event organizers hope to provide community, connection to local mothers

Since 1998, a group of local mothers has organized a symposium to talk about the experience of motherhood through the lens of topics like balance, self-compassion, happiness and calm ("Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood" was the title of the 1999 event).

This year on Saturday, March 7, the 12th Mothers Symposium will focus on resilience and the power of purpose.

Sharon Murphy, one of this year's panelists and one of the original symposium co-founders, sees resilience not as a departure from past event themes but rather an extension.

"All of those themes that we've had in the past, as I look at it, are about how to re-focus our purpose," she said.

The mothers symposium, now a biennial event, is a day dedicated to that, Murphy said, as well as to cultivating community, connections and a sense that mothers are "all in the trenches together."

Attendees will also learn about resilience from a diverse set of panelists and a keynote speaker, whose backgrounds range from pediatric pain management to women's leadership and technology.

Murphy, who is now retired, worked in experimental oncology and then as a research microbiologist before giving birth to her two daughters. As a mother, she served as PTA president and taught parent education at PreSchool Family, a Palo Alto organization that provides resources and education to families with young children.

She also developed and managed the Jewish Community Center-Xerox Parent Resource Center for three years, and, most recently, the City of Palo Alto's Family Resources program for 11 years.

Murphy will be joined by panelists Julie Good, a clinical associate professor of pediatric pain management and pediatric palliative care at Stanford University, and Sherri Lassila, a career and life coach with a focus on women's leadership. Lassila currently co-leads the Women In Management Groups Program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is also the founder of the business school's Professional Reboot Program, a two-day workshop for women looking to return to work after any sort of career break.

Keynote speaker Pat Christen is the CEO of HopeLab, a Redwood City technology company whose founding product is Re-Mission, a video game aimed at helping young cancer patients relieve stress and improve well-being. Players operate a robot that travels through the bodies of fictional cancer patients, destroying cancer cells, battling bacterial infections and managing side effects associated with cancer and cancer treatment, according to the company's website.

Prior to HopeLab, Christen served as president and executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Murphy recently sat down with the Weekly to talk about resilience, the experience of mothering in Silicon Valley and the importance of parent-education programs. This interview has been edited for length.

Q: How and why was this year's theme of resilience chosen?

A: Most of us, I think, learn to be mothers. A few people that I've known and observed kind of come by it naturally if they've had a family with a lot of kids and really good relationships with their moms and all of that. That's because they've already learned a lot. So it's not something that we do without learning. We just have to learn it. And it's wonderful; it's transforming; it's many, many things that are wonderful. It's also difficult and stressful.

So most of the themes of the Mothers Symposium, I would say, are about those things that we need to keep a grip on and that we need to have supported as mothers doing this in-the-trenches work that doesn't get much (recognition).

(This is) a day to support each other and ... to develop this common sense of what we're about, which is purpose, to provide us with the resilience that you need when you're in the trenches and it's difficult and you lose sight of what the real importance is.

Q: When you say resilience, what does that mean for mothers?

A: For mothers, I think it means the ability to keep the larger purpose in mind the deeper purpose, maybe and to bounce back from the difficulties that are presented every second. There's nobody who's helping you manage your time and who's saying, "OK, now you get to set aside time to do this, and no, this deadline doesn't have to be paid attention to." We're all torn from stem to stern. There you are with a child that you know needs you, no questions asked.

I think we need moments like (this), once every two years now (the Mothers Symposium used to be once a year). I think we need big things outside ourselves that help us. We need things inside ourselves that we can only do ourselves and that we pay attention to. In an ideal world, we would all be strong and do it. This is a day to help us narrow our focus, come back to what's important, to be mindful of the things that we really want. That's somewhat unique for everyone, and there's no dictation as to what you should do or you shouldn't do. Take the time to discover it, to nurture it and cultivate it.

Resilience, though, might imply in the business world or elsewhere, some new measure of perfection. Don't give us that. We don't need that. I hope in the concept of resilience is an unspoken acceptance of: "Things don't go right all the time, and that's OK." In fact, it may be better. It's out of crises that we sometimes discover what's really important.

But one of the tough things about Silicon Valley is that there is so much success here. The individuals who started so many things we grew them. It makes everybody think that they should do that too. I hope (resilience) doesn't mean being successful in spite of the odds. I hope it's deeper, something very internal, more like mindfulness. I hope that's more what it's like because we don't need another goad to be perfect and the best.

Q: Were these things you thought about when you were a young mother?

A: As a young mother, I went to a parent-education program, PreSchool Family, which is still here. I think those (programs) there are many in the community I think they're very important, because it's hard to do alone. For me, it was a lifesaver. It became my family. It was a community of people in the same boat. And we also had some parent education along with it, so we learned things, which I needed. I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility. (I was) afraid to make mistakes.

Q: Do you think that mothering today and in Palo Alto and the Bay Area requires more resilience, more understanding of these kind of things you're talking about?

A: I think the Bay Area has probably a faster-paced existence because of the tech world and the number of people here now. It's gotten pretty intense. It feels crowded. It feels like there's less space for exploration.

I think that everyone and mothers need to learn the beauty of saying, "no," of being limited. Saying "no" means that you're not going to have that experience and you're not going to know about that. We teach our kids very little; we model. And to model that, to say, "No, I won't have time for that because I want to do this well. ... I will do a good job but my best I'm reserving for something else."


What: Mothers Symposium: 'Resilience in Motherhood: Pathways to Purpose'

When: Saturday, March 7, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.; program begins at 9:30 a.m.)

Where: Stanford University School of Education, Cubberley Auditorium, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford

Cost: $25, go to

Info: or

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3 people like this
Posted by Amy Renalds
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2015 at 10:16 am

As one of the original committee members of this symposium - proudly representing the Palo Alto Weekly, I have seen this event morph/blossom into what it is today. This group is particularly sensitive and aware of the current issues facing mothers and families; with an ability to provide contemporary education through amazing speakers. I have always felt that the Palo Alto Community was lucky to have dedicated volunteers to support a path that is different for all, but truly one of the most rewarding.

Continued support to this great committee of organizations, that once again bring a day of value and soul serenity to our community.

8 people like this
Posted by 21st century much?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 3, 2015 at 10:20 am

I wonder if it is time to update this as being a "parent's" symposium. Leaving out fathers reinforces the notion that parenting is women's work exclusively or primarily. It tends to reinforce the unhelpful stereotypes. A lot has changed in the last 20 years, but not enough. Having "mommy and me," "mom's day out," "mommy yoga" and other activities that reinforce and create this notion is unhealthy. Time for an update.

Fathers should do half the parenting. They should be equal partners. Women are more than mothers.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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