Committee for Children Blog

Embracing the Unpredictable

This March, Committee for Children is celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day with a series of reflections from our Executive Leadership Team on their career journeys, the women who’ve shaped them along the way, and how they’re working to break biases. This post is from VP of Education, Research & Impact Tia Kim.

While growing up, I knew I wanted to be a psychologist. I’ve always loved research, analysis, and organization, and from the age of 14 I made that my plan. While reflecting on the important women in my life that I want to celebrate, there were two women who were incredibly influential to both my personal and professional trajectory, and who helped me reach the right destination.

The first is my mother, who was incredibly nurturing. She was always there, putting her family first day and night, as she does to this day. She was a stay-at-home mom, and truly selfless when it came to her duties as a mother. Each day after school, my mother would welcome me home with a full multicourse Korean spread, complete with homemade side dishes.

Being brought up in that supportive, loving environment helped shape me into the confident and compassionate person I am today, but it also taught me a lot about what it means to be a mother. I learned that it doesn’t just mean putting your kids and family first; it can sometimes mean not incorporating your own thoughts and feelings into the conversations. My mother’s steady presence meant everything to me as a child, but reflecting back as an adult, I recognize that some aspects of her identity were never able to shine. I believe that helped motivate me to pursue a PhD in developmental psychology.

The second woman who strongly influenced me was my graduate advisor. As a woman of color, I didn’t realize at the time what a monumental difference it could make to have another woman of color as a mentor, especially within the field of psychology. I earned a doctorate in developmental psychology from University of California, Riverside, in 2006, and spent three years completing post-doctoral training. I was a young woman just starting her career, but because I thrive on excellent organization and great planning, I also wanted a solid plan for when to start a family.

I asked my advisor when the right time was to become a mother. She told me, “When is it ever the right time? It will always impact your career, but you figure it out and just go with it.” I stubbornly insisted it was absolutely possible to plan for kids without jeopardizing your career, you just need the perfect plan—but sometimes what’s best is unpredictable. I recognize how much my son has inspired parts of my career, and each day I see the critical role a strong family foundation and parent-child relationships play in a child’s development and well-being.

After having my son, I learned how to balance motherhood and my career as an assistant professor of human development and family studies. Psychology had been a male-dominated field when I was a student, but as a professor I noticed a shift, and it was gratifying to see an increase in female psychology majors. In fact, women made up about 50 percent of the psychology faculty where I taught, but all the leadership positions from dean to department chair were held by men. Promotions were grounded in meritocracy, and earning tenure relied on self-promotion and accumulating accomplishments and accolades—an immense task, particularly for a woman and person of color.

A diversity of voices in leadership is vital for any organization. I knew I needed to find a place that prioritized diversity—a place that valued my work, so I could make the most impact. That’s when I found Committee for Children. Now I have a career I’m passionate about, where each day I’m able to see my research in action and lead an incredible team that improves the lives of millions of children worldwide—but I also get to experience all of the wonderfully unplanned moments that come with motherhood. I’ve learned that even the best-laid plans aren’t always the right ones, and that sometimes you don’t need a plan to reach the right destination.