One of the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the smiles covered by masks. While I whole heartedly support masks and understand how crucial they are to mitigating the spread of the virus, I feel like it’s a shame to deprive the world of vibrant, beautiful smiles like Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson’s. Fortunately, her warmth and kindness come through in her voice, which I discovered during a recent interview with her. While I sensed she is a compassionate and thoughtful woman, I also got the impression she is quite focused and efficient, certainly crucial characteristics for someone in her position.
Although she is a public figure as Utah’s Lieutenant Governor, Deidre Henderson is someone ordinary people, like myself, can relate to. I chuckled and nodded my head in agreement when I saw that she describes herself as “an obsessive expiration date checker” on her Twitter bio. Like many of us, she is also a mother and wife. I found her sage insights regarding parenting to be very inspiring and am excited to share them with you here.
At the beginning of this year, Henderson assumed the role of Lieutenant Governor of Utah. She took the place of Spencer Cox, who is now the governor. It is worth noting that she is only the second female lieutenant governor in Utah history. She will serve the state of Utah in this role until early 2025.
Prior to that, she was a member of the Utah Senate representing the Seventh District since January of 2013. As one of two Republican women in the Senate, she saw herself as a “fierce advocate for families and small businesses during my eight years in the Utah State Senate.” She chaired and vice chaired on several committees during her time in the Senate including Senate Rules, Revenue and Taxation, Education, and Ethics and also served on the Business, Labor, Economic Development Appropriations, and Higher Education Appropriations committees.
Henderson is known for her advocacy for women and families, government transparency, and conservative politics. She has been honored as Legislator of the Year by the Fraternal Order of Police and Taxpayer Advocate of the Year by the Utah Taxpayers Association. At the end of her time in the Senate, she received the highest score in the Senate and was named one of the Libertas Institute’s Defenders of Liberty.
As someone who devoted most of my 20’s to pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for children, I love learning about women like Lieutenant Governor Henderson. Why? Because she also had children early in life and later went on to find notable success in her field. Our conversation began by establishing this common ground. She told me, “I had my fifth baby when I was 28.” Similarly, I had my last child (I only have three) when I was 27.
Henderson’s family began when she married her husband Gabe following her freshman year at Brigham Young University. She had been studying political science but took a break to spend the next several years caring for her young family and supporting Gabe through physical therapy school. I don’t know much about Gabe, but her social media posts present him as a kind, caring husband who sends her flowers and has supported her through health challenges. The Hendersons have now been married 27 years and continue to enjoy their relationships with their five grown children.
As we spoke about Lieutenant Governor Henderson’s beautiful family, she told me that they all love the performing arts. Whenever they have the opportunity, the family spends their resources on theater and plays. Over the years they have supported each other’s engagements in various plays and choirs. In fact, her youngest daughter recently played Fantine in her high school’s production of Les Miserables. As a proud parent, Henderson posted videos of her talented daughter rehearsing in the family kitchen, not realizing she was being recorded. I was very impressed with her talent and mentioned it during our interview, to which the Lieutenant Governor responded, “I was in trouble when she found out I posted that video on Facebook!”
The Henderson family also loves traveling. They’ve always made it a point to visit significant sights, such as capitol buildings and presidential libraries, on family trips around the country. As an example, I noticed that Henderson took her family to the Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia last year and posted a picture with her daughters sporting their Founding Mothers t-shirts. Although she jokingly referred to herself as “kind of nerdy” for doing this, I find it impressive and hope to do the same for my children. As she explained, this practice gives children “some culture, understanding of history, and an appreciation of the events which have happened in our country.”
The Lieutenant Governor recently made national headlines when she became her own intern. I feel like this statement needs an explanation for those not familiar with her journey. To clarify, ever since stopping her collegiate studies to have children she’s wanted to finish her degree. Within the last few years she picked it up again and is nearly finished with an undergraduate history degree at Brigham Young University. In order to graduate, she needed an internship and got one through her work with the governor.
The way I understand it, being the Lieutenant Governor is her internship. In addition to those responsibilities, she also writes weekly assessments and completes any assigned projects. In fact, her most recent project addressed the challenges of vaccine distribution. When a team member joked that interns open the mail, she added that to her list of duties.
I’m impressed with her determination to complete her degree, despite her busy schedule as the Lieutenant Governor and mother to five children. While there may be moments it feels uncomfortable to be older than her classmates, I’m sure it’s also satisfying to pursue a higher education. She is undoubtedly a wonderful role model whose example encourages other moms to go back to school regardless of the time demands.
The manner in which she’s talked about her educational pursuits sheds light on her character. On Facebook she wrote, “I am not the best intern I’ve ever had, but my internship supervisor is the bomb.” (Her colleague Governor Spencer Cox will sign off on her internship as her supervisor.) Then on Twitter she joked that the situation of being her own intern reminded her of Willie Nelson’s song, “I’m My Own Grandpa.” She clearly has a great sense of humor!
Powering Through Health Challenges
The state of Utah marveled at the incumbent Lieutenant Governor’s strength as she powered through COVID related health challenges at the end of 2020. In August she tested positive for COVID-19 and suffered from ongoing respiratory issues for three months after. To this day she still experiences occasional shortness of breath. On Instagram she joked that she attended her first day of fall semester with a face mask, nasal cannula, oxygen tank, and pulse oximeter. She said, “Can’t get much more 2020 than that!”
Leading up to the elections she suffered from some serious back issues as she was recovering from COVID. On Election Day she made yet another trip to the emergency room for what turned out to be a painful spinal cord leak. But she didn’t let her health slow her down; following a victory she gave a speech and offered interviews. By the end of the year she’d had several hospital stays, several trips to the ER, and several back surgeries. It sounds like her children really stepped up around the holidays to help decorate the house and delegate cooking assignments.
Why I Find Her Inspiring
Before I even spoke with the Lieutenant Governor, I knew I would be impressed with her since those close to her sang her praises. Her special assistant who coordinated the details of our interview told me, “She is quite amazing and an inspiration to all women.” Governor Cox had referred to her as “a tremendous leader … and unafraid of doing what is right for the people she serves.” And shortly before I got the opportunity to speak with her, I saw a tweet by Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, which said, “So, I may have a little crush on our new Lt. Governor @DeidreHenderson. She is incredibly cool and kind.”
What struck me the most about Henderson is that although she is best known for her political role, she clearly prioritizes her role as a mother. I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me since I understand myself how transforming and meaning motherhood can be. Dorothy Day, an American social activist and journalist who founded the Catholic Worker Movement in the 1930s, once said, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure, I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.” (Just a note: this in David Brooks’ phenomenal book The Road to Character, which is a must read) I suspect that many of the well-known mothers I interview for Mommy High Five, including the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, can relate to this sentiment.
One of the first things this remarkable woman said to me was “being a mother is the most important job I have and my most important title.” What she said next stood out to me the most following our chat: “Being a mother is what I sometimes agonize over and feel the most guilty about.” I found this interesting considering all of the other important matters of government which must circulate through her head. The Lieutenant Governor then addressed guilt, which she recognized many other women probably feel. “It can feel like I’m not doing a good job at either thing. But I have really tried to stop doing that,” she said. She’s found it necessary to push aside guilt in order to be in the moment with her children. Likewise, when she’s at work she tries to be really present and focused. However, she always takes call from her kids when they come.
Advice for Moms
During our conversation, the Lieutenant Governor passionately shared very helpful pieces of wisdom she’s learned from raising her children. I cherished these tips and found them very helpful, as I’m sure you will.
First, she told me, she realized early on in her parenting career that children’s behavior “has less to do with me as a mother than their individual personalities.” See, her first two daughters were born very close together, only 15 months apart, but had vastly different personalities. When her first child was mild-mannered and easy to care for, Henderson says she “kind of took the credit for that and thought, ‘I’m a really good mother because this child of mine is so well-behaved.’” However, her next child “was a little bit more spirited shall we say.” While she was funny and cute, she got into a trouble in various ways. It was then that Henderson was humbled and realized that if she took credit for the good things her kids do she also “needed to take credit for the not-so good things they do.” Ultimately she saw that she couldn’t take their actions personally, especially when they were acting up in public or being disobedient. Doing so “would affect how [she] responded, and never in a good way.” Since talking to Henderson, I’ve tried to keep this in mind as my children push the limits of my patience.
The second insight she offered related to the urge to control our children. Since Henderson has adult children, she offered a valuable perspective. She told me that “being the parent of an adult is almost harder than being the parent of a young child. You can’t control their surroundings or their circumstances.” This makes sense to me as a mother of young kids; I manage about every aspect of their lives but know I won’t forever. Henderson said she tries to “recognize that my kids are going to make mistakes and those mistakes are theirs to make.” She said these words like she’d said them before which gave me the impression that they gave her strength when mothering with her children. She went on to say, “They have every right to make mistakes. I made my own mistakes and I don’t have the right to try to make sure that my kids don’t make any as well.” This understanding made it easier for her to accept them and express love. She concluded with the sage statement, “It’s my job to love them and support them no matter what.” Words to live by for sure!
Can’t Do Without Items
As our regular readers know, we are always curious to hear about what products our inspiring moms recommend. We appreciate their suggestions about various items ranging from cosmetics to appliances and books to technology. When I asked Lieutenant Governor Henderson the big, open-ended question I always do, she had a quick answer ready.
She started by acknowledging that her recommendation was “a little bit weird and obscure.” Apparently the one thing that she can’t live without is her Bigelow Night Balm. Every night she applies it before bed so it’s become a part of her nightly routine. She told me, “I have multiple tubes of it at a time so I make sure I always have some on hand. I’ve been using it for years and it’s my favorite thing.” Anytime someone endorses a product as their favorite, I figure it’s worth checking out.
To Learn More
You can learn more about this inspiring mom several places online. On her website you can contact her office, find helpful resources, and follow links leading to more information about important topics facing Utahns today.
On social media she frequently shares information about the governor’s efforts to serve the people of Utah and keeps her followers up-to-date. Perhaps because of her battle with COVID-19, she’s become a major advocate for responsible mask wearing on this platform. She also reports on her visits to health departments and says it’s her favorite part of the new job so far. You’ll see Lieutenant Governor Henderson’s wit, passion, and humor really come through on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.