How Maria Shriver's Women's Conference Made Me A Better Mom

Business trips always come with a dose of guilt – especially when leaving behind an insanely scrumptious two-and-half year old. Since my daughter Isadora’s birth, I have tempered back on what used to be frequent travels to the West Coast. This week’s visit to California’s amazing 7th Annual (and last Maria Shriver-hosted) Women’s Conference was worth any guilt it may have caused. I am returning home a better mom; this I am sure of.

How does this happen in 24-hours? By being placed in a stadium full of like-minded, smart, successful women who have all gathered to learn and celebrate the wisest among us. At the top of this inspirational tower is Mrs. California herself. In a deeply personal opening speech Tuesday morning, Maria Shriver shared with us her own self doubts about being first lady of the state. She spoke candidly of the insecurities she felt while trying to live up to the expectations set by her family’s name and legacy, her reluctant role in politics, and her own desire to be an outstanding mom and wife. But what she opened up most passionately about was the deep loss she still feels since her mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver died last year at the age of 88. Talking of her mother’s intense encouragement and pride, the conference hostess made it clear that Eunice’s love is the number one thing that propels her, even today as a 54-year old woman. “No one will ever know me, no one will ever love me as much as her.” I lost my own mom last year, and those words pierced me in my gut. Though my mother was a vastly different woman than Eunice Shriver, this unbending love of their daughters is something they shared in common.

Later in the day, I heard Shriver’s own daughter, Katherine Schwarzenegger speak about pivotal advice and guidance her mom had given her while she was a tween. One anecdote I loved was Katherine remembering the time her mom refused to allow her to go an “after party” like all the other kids. She now realizes that the unpopular decision protected and helped make her the woman she is today. Looking at this poised, sophisticated, eloquent young woman on stage, I could imagine her parents’ swelling pride. You could practically feel it radiating from Arnold’s massive shoulders in his seat a few rows down from my mine.

Again and again, throughout the day, speakers made reference to their mothers and the strong influence they had on them. Nike CEO Phil Knight said he always remembered his mother telling him “it’s the company you keep that matters.” WNBA star Lisa Leslie believed she was beautiful as a six-foot-tall 13-year old “because my mom told me so.” On Tuesday night, Oprah ended the conference by giving Maria Shriver “a great big mommy hug.” In the audience, I saw many mother-daughter-teams; how wonderful to share such an empowering event! Though my little one is far too young to have joined me, I am bringing her back a gift (in addition to the beanie unicorn I picked up at LAX): a promise that I will help her live the best life possible. I realize that will mean allowing her to make mistakes, take roads that are different from my own, and occasionally feel as though she hates me when I say “no after party.”

I have been blessed with the opportunity to raise a strong-willed, confident girl who will never doubt her mother’s love. After hearing from CEOs, supreme court justices, first ladies, poets, actresses, and even Oprah, I know now more than ever that it’s the best job in the world.

To learn more about what happened at the 2010 Women’s Conference, visit their site, womensconference.org.

Angela Matusik is the Chief Content Executive at iVillage.

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