As part of Women’s History Month, the County of Union is taking the time to celebrate the contributions of working mothers in every sector of our society.
Like all women, working mothers are a resilient group, accustomed to juggling work, family, and other responsibilities (and hobbies, time permitting) with ease. Did you know that working mothers spend an average of 14 hours a day, every day of the week, caring for their families and pursuing careers? They make up a substantial – and growing – part of the U.S. workforce and make enormous contributions to economic growth.
Take our Vice-Chairwoman, Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded, for example; she’s a full-time Commissioner and a full-time mother with five children! We sat down to chat with the Commissioner about her life, and how she makes it all work. Check out the video below.
The transcript of this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What did you do before becoming a mom and a Commissioner?
After I graduated college, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I did love being in a university setting, so I wound up looking for a job on campus, and I was hired in the Division of Student Life [at St John’s University], and I started as an assistant to the Dean. So I was answering phones and meeting students while they came in and out of the dean’s office. And little by little, I worked my way up and I spent over ten years there and became the Associate Dean for Student Life.
Having that career was an amazing experience because I was able to work with students on a daily basis. I was also able to work with parents, although oftentimes they knew I did not have a family yet – I was quite young – so I think they weren’t always sure that I knew what I was talking about when I would talk about different aspects of college and moving away from home and all of that. But I loved doing it.
It was a great experience, but it was a lot of work. It was evenings and weekends and travel, and I wound up having twin boys who were premature. They were born two months premature, and along with some minimal health issues that they had at birth, I knew it was going to be impossible to do what I was doing in higher education and take care of the kids. So I wound up resigning from my job after they were born. And I stayed home.
I loved being home. I loved everything about being a mom and immersing myself in their world. But I loved my community as well. And I didn’t want to ever give up getting involved in different things. So I started volunteering in different committees in Westfield, where I live. I volunteered in a newcomers’ group, and once my kids started preschool, I was the PTO mom. And then that sort of was my way to pivot into public service.
I was asked if I would want to run for town council in my town, so I did that. I was also nine months pregnant with my fourth child at that time, but I didn’t let it stop me, although there were definitely some people that thought I was absolutely crazy.
I had three boys at home and I was expecting another one, but I loved it. I loved meeting neighbors. I loved getting involved in the community. I didn’t win that particular election, but again, it didn’t stop me, and I stayed active and then wound up running for County Freeholder, which is now County Commissioner.
Do you think you’d ever go back to academia?
Yes. Yes, I absolutely loved it. I definitely think I would need to be in a different role at this point in my life. I think at the time, what I was doing with a ton of programming outside the classroom was so much fun as a young professional. I think now I would need something that was a little bit more structured and just to be able to balance, you know, my own family at home and a career. But I loved the academic setting. I also have five children…so if there is a tuition remission opportunity, I would definitely not hesitate to take advantage of that! But yes, I love academia and I would love to be back there someday.
How do you define work/life balance, and do you think you do it well?
I’m not sure if there is a balance. I think I’m the kind of person that’s just an all in on all fronts. So somehow we do make it work. I’m super lucky to have my parents, my in-laws, wonderful babysitters that are local, that all help out a lot, because obviously there’s a challenge in trying to coordinate. How are you going to be in one place and another place and take care of another child at home all at the same time? It’s impossible.
But I try to be really conscientious of a calendar now, which I wasn’t always. I used to keep everything in my head. Now I do try to make sure that I have a calendar in front of me at the beginning of every week. I’ve actually also had my kids doing it too. So we have one large calendar at home so they can see as well, because you do have to try to figure out, for example, how is one child getting to one place? How am I getting to this meeting? How is my husband getting to his work events that he has to be at? So it’s just a lot of coordinating, and putting it out in front of you at the beginning of the week has been my best course of action so far.
What’s your advice for mothers who don’t have that kind of support system?
Yeah, that is really tough. Again, like I said, I am super fortunate. I have my wonderful parents,
my wonderful in-laws, siblings that are all local, that I know a lot of people don’t have that. So I do think it is important to identify a babysitter or, you know, a nanny or whatever you may be able to find that works for you as well as as a daycare that you can count on and be comfortable with sending your child to. We have always done just sort of a balance of all of it.
And it’s not easy, you know, it’s not easy to leave your child to not be there for every single thing that they do. But I also think it’s important to have other people that support your children, too. So even if it’s a good friend that can show up at the parade, if you can’t get there on time, and make sure that your kids know somebody is watching them and taking pictures of them, I think it’s just important to make your circle as big as you possibly can.
What do your kids think about County Commissioners?
They love it. This is my favorite part of being a County Commissioner. If you asked my kids, you know, what does your dad do? They would not know. They would say, “I don’t know. He goes to work. I don’t know.” If you ask them, what does your mom do? They would say “County Commissioner! She was a freeholder, now it’s called County Commissioner! She gets to do really cool things.” They answer it like right away. They know what we do here. They love what we do here. And that’s why I love this, because they are able to be part of so much that we offer here at the County. So I love getting them involved and and I know they love being involved too.
Do you think they want to run one day?
Maybe. I think a few of the boys may want to. I know one of my sons would constantly say to me, like, “I think I’m going to run for mayor. I think I might run for governor.” And so, yeah, I could see I could see a few of them getting involved in politics for sure.
What’s been the most rewarding and most stressful part of being a Commissioner?
The most rewarding experience for me has just been feedback from residents that are just impressed with the services that we have here that they may not have been aware of. I always go back to this, but I think it was the most eye-opening – and probably the most stressful, but also most eye-opening – was during COVID when no one had any idea what to do. And it didn’t matter where you came from in the County, you were in the same position as everyone else. And I think that was really eye-opening to people. They leaned on the County in many ways, I don’t think they even realized that they could, or wanted to, or needed to. But when we had the testing site and the food drives and the vaccinations, I can’t tell you how many people called me or emailed me or saw me and said, “I can’t believe this is what you do.” Like, “I can’t believe that the County was able to give me the golden ticket of getting the vaccine or, you know, help my family out when we did not have the means to buy groceries.”
And so that I think, was the most meaningful thing. And that has carried over into other things because, again, I think it exposed people to what we can offer here in Union County… and now people have relied on that in many different ways.
Do you think that’s most people’s relationship with County government? Like, it’s sort of in the background until you see a sign for it or you really need a service?
For sure. COVID was that chance for many people that just didn’t even know…so it’s more than just, you know, having these beautiful parks. I think there’s so many services that people were not aware of and are not always aware of that now they were exposed to.
I think also as a mom that I tried to push my kids into a lot of the programming that we have, and I also try to put that on my social media and get it out there. I think so many people have taken advantage of things that, again, maybe they would not have known of, like some of our Trailside programs or summer camps that they may not have realized we’re offering here.
Tell us a funny thing that happened recently involving your kids.
Oh, God, they’re funny every day. I would say… we really want to get a dog. And our two-year-old daughter has been obsessed with the dogs since day what? Since the time she was born. We had a dog at the time who passed away. But she loved Rosie and she loves dogs. And my friends have dogs.
We showed her a picture because we’re hoping to get a dog and “ah, no, no, no, no puppy, no puppy.” And I think she’s now like, ‘“oh, I don’t want somebody to take my spot at home,” like, “this is my… I’m the boss here. I don’t want a dog.” So that was this morning that I just thought was hilarious. Like now she’s all of a sudden anti-dog when we were getting a dog for her. So yeah, that’s probably one thing, but it’s a constant that my four boys keep us on our toes. They’re really funny. They keep it exciting.
What’s your best piece of advice for all the working mothers out there?
My best piece of advice for working moms is to just enjoy wherever you’re at, whether it’s
sitting in the office, getting that break from being at home, to coming home to total chaos. I know it’s really hard for me, especially when I walk in the door and there’s, you know, shoes and book bags and coats all over the floor. Nothing is hung up anywhere. It’s overwhelming. But you know that these times go super fast. I try to remind myself of that all the time. It’s everything. They grow up in the blink of an eye. I’ve seen it. My twins are now 10. I still think of them as being 10 minutes old. I can’t believe that they’re actually 10 years old. So it does go so fast and it does seem so overwhelming at times. And sometimes we feel like we can’t do it, but we can. Somehow we get through it and wake up and do the same thing all over again the next day. So just…try to enjoy every minute of every place that you’re at.