How The President Of The NRDC Juggles Work & Family

Being a working mom is hard, and it can often feel like "a day late and a dollar short" is the best case scenario: missed deadlines, forgotten dry cleaning, and never, ever seeing friends. But we don't have to reinvent the wheel to figure out a better way through. Just look around at all the super successful moms kicking ass on a daily basis.
This Is How I Do It is a new day-in-the-life series featuring some of these impressive women, who juggle big careers and families with grace and humor. Their stories won't literally do your laundry and pack your kids' lunches while you answer email, but they offer an honest peek at how someone else gets her life together every day.
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Photo: Courtesy of Zoe Fisher.
Rhea Suh is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and mother to a seven-year-old daughter, Yeumi.
My day-to-day:
6:45 a.m. Both Yeumi and I love to sleep, but I get up first and it’s always a battle to get her out of bed. It takes me three tries, at least. My anxiety and the volume of my voice increase with each try. I can only imagine what it is going to be like when she’s a teenager! We have breakfast together, brush our teeth, and we scramble out the door.
8:30 a.m. I walk my daughter to school. We use this time to play games, and it’s always fun. We’ll play a license plate game, or we’ll do a thing where we identify the types of trees on our walk — is it a cherry tree, or a magnolia tree? Today, it’s birds — is that a chickadee or another type of bird? Like most kids, she is super interested in nature and even in Brooklyn there is a lot of it!
8:50 a.m. After dropping Yeumi off at school, I head to the F train and ponder the same questions many Brooklynites ask each morning, “Will it ever come? If it does, will I be able to squeeze on?” I also use this time to scroll through the latest news on my phone. There always seems to be another Trump-generated crisis (or five), and far too many of them are related to my work: protecting people from pollution.
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9:30 a.m. My incomparable assistant Lizzy has coffee — black, not too much — for me when I get in. I sit down at my desk to review my briefing book to review my schedule for the day. Inevitably, it’s always filled with back-to-back meetings. Every day is a challenge to keep up and not fall behind. And email, oh my! I can only hope to make progress in my “Mount Everest” inbox…
10 a.m. I sit down with NRDC’s litigation director to talk through the latest updates on our legal fights against the Trump administration. Currently we have 58 lawsuits against the Trump administration, and counting. We also discuss some potential upcoming cases and the legal theories behind them.
11 a.m. I get on a call with our “offense” team to discuss our latest work at the local, state and international level. Some of the greatest environmental gains happening right now are either abroad or at the community- or state-level in the U.S. In the era of Trump, it’s really important to keep fostering and building upon these opportunities outside of D.C.
12:30 p.m. I usually work during lunch — read emails, review documents, do whatever I need to do to catch up. But today, I also squeeze in a quick blowout at a salon across the street. I’m not a particularly glamorous person, so this is not a regular thing. I just haven’t washed my hair in three days and this is out of desperation! I eat a few sushi hand rolls when I get back to my desk.
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2:00 p.m. NRDC has a new battle plan to push back against this administration and build toward a more sustainable future. I present this to key partners, in order to garner greater coordination and support.
3:30 p.m. Briefing from our Partnerships team on NRDC’s upcoming eBay for Charity Earth Month sweepstakes. Turns out, I’m going to be a part of the sweepstakes — we’ll be taking the winner to learn how to fly-fish and to enjoy sights in beautiful Montana. I’ve been fly-fishing since childhood and love any chance I get to share the thrill of that first catch-and-release with someone else. It’s critical for us to have the support of brands like eBay, who are raising awareness for the importance of clear air, clean water and a more sustainable future.
5 p.m. Depending on the day, I pick my daughter up from an after-school program — either arts and crafts, dance, and today — it’s Tae Kwon Do. I give her a snack, then she does her homework, then we do an activity. Tonight it’s a puzzle.
6 p.m. I cook dinner. I cook dinner most nights because I find it relaxing. Yeumi is in an ‘I only eat white food phase,’ so I’ll make a rice or pasta dish. Tonight, it’s a big mac-n-cheese from a New York Times Cooking recipe that I freeze into little portions so she can have it whenever. For myself, I love to make Korean comfort food, like kimchi chigae or tteokbokki, which is not that hard to make. I also like to bake when there’s time — cupcakes are my new thing (still perfecting the frosting!).
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7:00 p.m. Dinner time! Another opportunity to spend some quality time with Yeumi. We usually talk about the day, tell jokes. If there isn’t white food on the table, there is also some major negotiation about finishing her plate. Tonight, we’re in the clear.
8:00 p.m. Post-dinner cleanup, bath, and sleepy time for Yeumi!
9:00 p.m. Text my mom and send her the latest Yeumi photo. I’m grateful that my mom texts. My parents and I are really close. They’re in their 80s, but they’re still in great shape and are so sharp. I make sure to be in touch as often as I can.
9:30 p.m. Back to work. Open the laptop and work through some documents and emails. Emails. And emails…
11:30 p.m. Bed
My current passion project: All our projects at NRDC are important and under threat, but the one project I think about a lot is the state of water in the U.S., and how the systems need dire repair, and investment, and infrastructure. We all know about Flint, Michigan, and how the government completely failed and poisoned a community of 100,000 people with lead, but Flint is unfortunately not the only example of this. All across the country, communities are struggling with maintaining their water systems. I’m concerned about this issue as a mother, too, because we all want clean water for our children. With every issue, but especially this one, it’s become really clear to me that we cannot take something so fundamental as clean water or clean air for granted — we have to stand up and fight for these things, because they are not a given.
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The best part of my day: Walking Yeumi to school. I cherish every moment I can get with her because my days are so jam-packed and I’m traveling often. That’s why I try to pick her up from her after-school programs as much as I can.
The one thing I wish I didn’t have to do: Travel so much. I wish I could take my daughter with me everywhere.
The one thing I always worry about: In addition to the fact that my daughter is eating only white food, I really do worry about the state of our country. There is so much happening all the time — much of it harmful and damaging — and it’s hard to wrap my head around.
The secret to being a successful working mom is: There is no secret. You can do what you can do, every single day, and I think most moms do the best we can. Love your kids, but also love yourself. That should be the definition of our success and excellence.
The one thing I would tell other working moms: Get rid of false expectations that people have of you, and you have for yourself. I think we all still think it’s supposed to all magically come together: we’re supposed to be successful in our careers, while simultaneously making a 3-D decorated cake for our children’s birthdays, while working out and feeling attractive and being fashionable? We may not be able to do it all, and that is just fine.
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Becoming a mother changed this thing about me: I have a whole new lens through which I view my work. I fight for the environment so that Yeumi and children just like her can grow up in a sustainable and just world for everyone. She is the inspiration for me to work hard every day as a leader in this space.
Who helps raise your kids? Tell us about your village: I have a really tight group of friends and fellow mothers in my neighborhood. We watch each other’s kids and pick them up from school for each other. I feel lucky to be a part of this community.
When I have a free night: Like so many other working folks, I end up binge watching whole series when I find myself with free time. I just watched Stranger Things and The Crown, and am waiting for the next season of Handmaid’s Tale. (Dark, but so relevant.) I’m also a huge Star Wars fan, so I’m super excited to share that NRDC was chosen by eBay for Charity during Earth Month and I have my eye on tickets to the L.A. premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is up for auction!
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