I’m Done Putting Myself Last — And You Should Be Too

This past weekend was Thanksgiving weekend and I spent about 12 miserable hours of it feeling depressed and irritable. It wasn’t for the usual reasons that holidays bring people down. Thanksgiving itself was fine. I got along well enough with my extended family. My kids weren’t too cranky or annoying. I wasn’t stuck in endless holiday traffic and I didn’t have to cook or clean up. I didn’t have PMS either.

It took me one moody evening and one morning where I did nothing but snap at my husband and children to figure out what the problem was. It was that I had done literally nothing for me all weekend.

In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, I’d worked my ass off so that my job-related stuff would be squared away and I could do nothing but relax and hang out with my family. After the Thanksgiving festivities were over, I made a list of all the things everyone wanted to do, and I coordinated our days so everything would get done.

I planned a family outing to shop for our Christmas tree and some new holiday decor. I made a plan for going to the movies—finding a theater that was showing each of the movies my kids wanted to see so that we could split up and everyone would get what they wanted. I zoomed through my online holiday shopping like a boss on Black Friday morning, checking each of my kids’ requested items off their detailed lists. I even made a plan to squeeze in a date night with my husband.

But I hadn’t penciled in any “me” time.

Like most moms, this is totally on brand for me. My default setting is to put everyone’s needs before my own, and just hope that my own needs will get met somehow, someday … by osmosis, maybe.

I should know by now that this always, always fails. It’s not like the opportunity to do something just for me will fall out of the freaking sky. Nope, like everyone else, my life is B-U-S-Y. Between work, kids, keeping the house in decent order, and all the emotional and invisible labor of managing a household, the only way anything happens around here is if I make a damn plan.

It’s just that planning is so much easier to do when it involves anyone’s needs but my own. I’m not sure why this is. Is it because I’m a woman and I’ve been conditioned to live that way? Is it because of the caregiving role I always played in my own family growing up? Is it something in the water?

I don’t know, but it’s the way it’s been for so long that it feels nearly impossible to change. It’s so hard to say, “Hey, I worked my tushie off for this four-day weekend, and I’m gonna take an afternoon to myself to do whatever the fuck I want.”

It’s hard as hell to do that, which is both ridiculous and incredibly sad at the same time.

This past weekend, however, after living with that heavy feeling of depression and prickly anger for half a day, I had a little revelation. It’s going to sound corny AF, but here goes: I MATTER. I matter. And that is a complete, goddamn sentence.

Getting a few hours to myself—even during the most hectic times in our family’s life—matters just as much as everyone else getting what they want.

It’s not just because of that old adage about how you can’t pour from an empty cup–that you can’t give to others unless you give to yourself. That’s true too. But even that presupposes that the only reason a mom like me should do anything for herself is so that she can be a well-rounded, even-tempered mother and wife.

That is misguided. I should be able to do something simply for me and me alone, and not just because my happiness will rub off on others. Why on earth isn’t my happiness and joy enough on its own? It sure as fuck should be.

I’m done putting myself on the back burner. I’m done delaying my own plans and passions.

So, after my pitiful night and cranky morning, I told my husband to take the kids out for the afternoon so I could spend some time doing what I love best: curling up in bed with a book and spending time writing poetry (which I love) — and that’s exactly what I did. I read and wrote and drank peppermint tea to my heart’s content. Without guilt. It felt so damn good.

My goodness, I’m going to do that more often. I’m done putting myself on the back burner. I’m done delaying my own plans and passions. I’m done putting everyone’s wants and needs before my own. It isn’t helpful to anyone, and it ignores my own need for personal fulfillment, my own hunger for joy.

For me, a natural introvert, putting myself first means spending a quiet afternoon at home alone with my poems. For you, it might mean finally signing up for that dance class. It might mean booking that girls’ trip. It might mean spending a day in the city alone browsing bookstores. It might mean restarting that sewing or scrapbooking project you shelved a few years ago.

Whatever it is, do it. Now. Don’t put it off any longer. And don’t overanalyze it, trying to figure out the meaning behind it, or how it could somehow benefit others around you. Do it for the sole reason that it makes you feel good and brings you joy.

Why deny yourself something so basic—so human—as pleasure and joy? You deserve it.

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Why Your Mom Friends Might Be The Most Important Friends You’ll Ever Have

You’ll never forget the friends you make in kindergarten. Middle school? You need those girls, and you need them hard. In high school, you discover it’s fun to hang out with people who share your interests and hopes and dreams.

By college, you start to become who you’re meant to be, and you realize what real friends really look like. As a young professional, your best mates are often your office mates.

But girl, when you become a mother…

My mother was diagnosed with cancer shortly after my first child was born. So I spent my days with my brand new best friend and my original best friend, nursing her back to health while coming up with silly ways to make both of them laugh. I was a single mom – I felt cast aside, I didn’t fit anywhere. But it didn’t matter much because I knew where I needed to be.

Courtesy of Ashley Kahn Salley

After I got married and that baby turned four and his grandmother turned a corner and a little sister was born, we moved to a new neighborhood where he would start kindergarten and make his own first friends.

It never occurred to me, in crossing that bridge, that the parents of his friends would become my friends. Suddenly, as we enrolled in summer camps and after-school activities, our friend group grew.

I started something called Happy Hour Play Dates. (You’re welcome.) This was basically because I don’t like to be out past 9 p.m. and I really like being home. It’s also a lot easier to stay in with 17 kids.

For a season, we hosted five families on a rotating basis – to share laughs and food and mommy drinks while the kids, ranging in age from fresh-out-the-womb to five, ran around us in a sugar-induced, sticky-fingered blur.

As time went by, we made more friends in rom-com, meet-cute ways – like the morning on the street corner at the Santa parade – and the Happy Hour Play Dates got bigger.

Courtesy of Ashley Kahn Salley

I love the way new people come into our lives in the weirdest ways, like when a lovely human whose husband I didn’t kiss in high school showed up in my inbox like an early Christmas present, then told me she was going away for year. (Not to prison, but to travel the world. We’re gonna be pen pals.)

We’ve all had more babies, and lost some. We’ve gotten new jobs. We’ve gone back to school. We’ve moved into new houses. We’re doing life together.

These are the friends who bring lasagna when you’re pregnant and your husband has to hold you upside down in a headstand at four in the morning because you can’t pee and you come home from the E.R. with a catheter just in time for your older son’s birthday weekend. They’re the friends who secretly drop things in your mailbox or at your front door, whether it’s wine or diapers or a personalized ornament with everybody’s name on it every Christmas. The ones who host New Year’s at the last minute because you just had a miscarriage and they know it’s your favorite holiday.

Courtesy of Ashley Kahn Salley

These are the friends who come over if you tell them something’s wrong, and know that you need them even when you don’t. The ones who take your kid to jiujitsu because your husband’s away and you can’t do it all by yourself. The ones who cry with you on the carpet when you feel like the world is falling apart, and pull you up off the floor with pizza and good advice. The friends who sit with you on the roof like schoolgirls – one foot out the window, but all the way in your life – and tell you their secrets as the sun goes down.

These friends are stars, twinkling in the night sky and shining like the golden sun even when they’re as exhausted as you are. You can tell them anything, because they’re walking this journey right beside you, and they’ve been there, too.

So hold on to your mom friends, because, as far as I can tell, we’re gonna be moms long after our kids stop climbing into our beds all hours of the night and can finally use the toilet on their own.

And it’s nice to feel needed … but it’s even nicer to be there for a friend who needs you.

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Ajshay James Was Accused Of Medical Child Abuse, And Has Been Separated From Her Daughter For 2 Years

For most parents, watching their child suffer a serious or life-threatening illness is one of their worst nightmares. We go to great lengths to protect our babies every day, and the idea of sickness swooping in and taking away that safety is one of the things that sometimes keeps us up at night.

Loving parents want their children to be as safe and healthy as they possibly can. It’s universal, isn’t it?

In rare instances, a parent lacks that common instinct. Something goes awry inside their mind and tells them that having a child who needs significant, ongoing medical care is desirable or ideal. Whatever drives them, the outcome is the same: they lie and exaggerate their children’s conditions, subjecting their children to treatment they never needed. Their kids’ suffering is immeasurable and causes significant trauma.

Doctors used to call it Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. Now, they call it factitious disorder imposed on another or medical child abuse.

There is no doubt these cases exist. One of the most famous examples is Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who is currently in prison, along with her boyfriend, for murdering her mother, DeeDee Blanchard, after a lifetime of fabricated illnesses and unnecessary treatments.

It is almost always mothers that stand accused.  Allegations of medical child abuse rarely befall a father. The people evaluating these children might say it’s because factitious disorder imposed on another has been observed more often in mothers than fathers. I’m sure that research plays a role. But it also reeks of sexism. Moms carry the burden of care, then carry the blame by default when something seems amiss.

Take the case of Ajshay James. Her daughter Harper was born very premature. She spent the first four months of her life in the NICU, fighting to survive. Harper went home at five months old, only to return soon after to have life-saving surgery on her airways. She left the hospital with orders for supportive care, including oxygen, round-the-clock nursing care and therapy.

SDI Productions/Getty

Over time, Ajshay James raised more concerns about her daughter’s health. Doctors prescribed anti-seizure medications and diagnosed Harper with a form of diabetes. They prescribed medication to regulate her urine output.

When Harper was not quite two years old, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, forcing Ajshay James and Harper out of their home and to a satellite campus of Texas Children’s Hospital.

This is where the accusations of medical child abuse began for Ajshay James. Doctors began to suspect within 24 hours of her admittance that Harper might not need many of the medications and interventions she was still using.

They suggested weaning Harper from her oxygen tank. James was initially hesitant, but reluctantly agreed. A sleep study showed Harper was clear to breathe room air. Oxygen tanks would no longer be necessary. Medical records show that Ajshay James responded, “‘We prayed for this … Very happy to hear the good news.’”

Her response wasn’t enough to stop the doctors and social workers who were building a medical child abuse case behind her back.

Harper was discharged from the hospital after about a week, but just two days later, CPS showed up at the home where Harper and her mom were staying. Using a mix of scare tactics and untruths, they convinced James to bring Harper back to the hospital.

Once there, the real nightmare began. A social worker took Harper from her mother, citing claims of medical child abuse. Over the course of the following week, James felt pressured to sign document after document, agreeing to a separation.

James and her daughter have been separated for close to two years, only seeing one another during supervised twice-monthly visits. Harper is in state custody, but lives with her paternal grandparents.

Doctors successfully weaned Harper from all but one of her medical interventions once she was removed from her mother’s care.

That’s all we need to know, right? Cut and dry. Ajshay James must be just like Dee Dee Blanchard, exploiting her child and creating fake medical scenarios to satisfy her own deep need for attention.

But it’s not that simple.

The fact that Harper was still receiving treatments she no longer needed isn’t enough to prove that she never needed them to begin with. Her health may have improved over time. Maybe her medically untrained mother didn’t know how to question the course of treatment. It could be that Harper was misdiagnosed by a medical doctor long before the hurricane.

Maybe Ajshay James is a NICU mom suffering with PTSD from watching her newborn baby fight for her life. Perhaps she didn’t purposefully exaggerate Harper’s conditions. It could be that she was so afraid of losing her daughter, that every tiny twitch and cough felt catastrophic to her.

There’s no doubt Harper was receiving treatments she didn’t need, but that alone cannot be enough to call her mother a child abuser. Doctors still had to agree to these treatments. She did not create this plan for Harper alone.

Why didn’t anyone at Texas Children’s sit Ajshay James down and discuss changing Harper’s treatment plan? Why wasn’t she given the chance to agree to wean her off all her medications and interventions? She wasn’t refusing their care or their medical advice.

It’s because the hospital had already branded her an abuser. According to Dr. Jeanine Graf, the chief medical officer at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, “in cases of medical abuse or fabricated illness, it is really contraindicated to bring this up to the perpetrator.”

In the months after the state took Harper away, Ajshay James passed a psychological evaluation. CPS “found no evidence to support the state’s concern that James might have a personality disorder that would have led her to fabricate her daughter’s symptoms.”

It’s been two years, but this battle is far from over for Ajshay James. She might never be unified with her child, even though, according to NBC News, James has never charged been with a crime associated with this incident. “And after more than a year, Child Protective Services agreed to walk away, permitting James to maintain her parental rights and allowing her to negotiate a custody arrangement with [her child’s father.]”

It is critically important that hospitals and social workers do their best to protect children, even from their own parents if necessary. There is no doubt that children need the care and support of these important individuals. Medical child abuse is real. No child deserves to suffer at the hands of a parent in this way.

But there are cases like this too, where families are torn apart, children separated from their loving parents.  James has no criminal case against her, and she has been cleared by mental health professionals, but she’s still separated from her daughter. She’s been left to sort out custody and reunification arrangements on her own.  Permanently taking a child from her mother in these circumstances is cruel and unwarranted. It will, without a doubt, impact them mentally and emotionally in the years to come.

While we will always support steps to keep our kids safer from medical child abuse, we need to be careful not to sweep up innocent parents into the riptide. That might just be what happened here.

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Someone Else’s Experience Isn’t A Judgment Or Commentary On Yours

Has it always been like this? Is this a result of the rise of social media—this petty ugliness between moms? Or were our mothers and grandmothers just as catty and competitive and willing to cut one another down for being different, but it just wasn’t blasted on IG and FB?

Well, regardless of when or how it all started, this is how it is now, isn’t it? Celebrities go through it. And regular moms like us go through it. You can’t celebrate pumping a full bottle of milk without someone accusing you of shaming women who don’t breastfeed. You can’t talk about how hard sleep training is, even though you believe it’s what you and your baby need, without someone blasting for you being cruel and neglectful. You can’t talk about your son breaking something in your house and making a joke about being a “boy mom” (even though maybe you only have boys), without being accused of sexism because “girls break stuff too!”

Listen, we know.

 

We know our fellow moms on this motherhood journey struggle to breastfeed or choose not to breastfeed. We know sleep training isn’t for everyone. And we know that lots of girls wrestle and rough-house and destroy the house.

We. Know.

Sometimes we are just telling our own stories. That doesn’t mean we are negating your experience. In fact, we encourage you to tell your story too — there’s a place for all of us at this motherhood table. Breastfeeding moms, formula-feeding moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms, “girl” moms, “boy” moms, moms of both, moms of children who are transgender or nonbinary. We all deserve a place to tell our stories, whether to vent or just find solidarity in this sisterhood.

We aren’t trying to take away from your story by telling our own.

I’ve been a stay-at-home turned work-from-home mom for over 10 years. I’ve told stories of having a gifted child and a feral child who destroys everything in his path. I’ve talked about fighting stay-at-home mom depression, of struggling to breastfeed and eventually having success in breastfeeding, and the emotional end of that era for me. I’ve talked about being a mom to boys and a mom to a girl and what that has looked like for me. I’ve written about the SAHM life and the WAHM life and marriage and family and baby days and toddler days and everything in between. I’ve admitted that I struggled to potty-train all of my kids for a variety of reasons and that it damn near broke me. And I’ve opened up about what it’s like to have a child with life-threatening allergies and watch him go out in a world that isn’t peanut-free.

Most of the time, I read responses like, “I feel ya!” or “Been there!” or “Thank you for telling this story. It makes me feel less alone.”

Sometimes someone will say that they’ve had a different experience: “I potty-trained using the 3-day method and it worked!” on a post where I lamented that I’ve been wiping butts for a decade and see no end in sight.

And having someone comment that their experience was different is completely fine, and in fact, one of the greatest things about social media —the ability for moms to have a discourse about how our stories are all unique to our own families and circumstances.

But the problem arises when one mom tells a story that differs from another, and someone feels insulted. Like, because you choose to breastfeed at the zoo, you’re somehow spewing negativity and judgment at the formula-feeding mom at home, when really maybe you’re just feeding your baby while your toddler looks at elephants.

Why do we do this to each other?

Which one of us wrote the book on motherhood? I know I sure didn’t. I screw this shit up all the damn time. My kids eat way too much junk food, and I’m too busy and too tired to fight them. Their rooms are a mess, one of them called the other a dumbass the other day, and I’m 99% sure we are waaaaaay overdue on well-visits to the pediatrician. (But hey! They got their flu shots! See? I’m not a total disaster.)

My point is, my story does not negate yours. If I talk about how my 6-year-old breaks shit (including his own face and body) jumping off furniture and throwing balls through windows, I might make a joke about being a “boy mom.” That doesn’t mean girls don’t do the exact same thing. My daughter happens to be more docile. She spends her days happily crafting and couldn’t care less if she ever throws a ball again.

I’m not saying “all boys” or “only boys” at all. I am simply talking about my own kid and what it’s been like for me to raise a feral raccoon.

I also often talk about the struggles of stay-at-home parenting. This one makes my head explode, because, without fail, the comment thread becomes a brawl over who has it harder—stay-at-home or working moms. At no point have I ever (or will I ever) say working moms have it easy. I know they are up before the sun, running every second of the day, and operate on a level of exhaustion and caffeine intake I probably can’t imagine.

My story is simply my story. I know that other moms like me struggle when stuck home all day with babies and toddlers trying to crawl back into their uterus. I know because I lived it for a very long time. So when I talk about the isolation, or how hard it is to go entire 8-10 hour days without talking to or seeing another adult, or the depression that can set it in when you don’t have time to shower, or wonder why you should even bother when a child is just going to spit up in your hair in 10 minutes, I am not trying to discount the life of another mom who leaves the house every day for work.

It’s not a competition.

My story doesn’t undo anyone else’s. And it isn’t a criticism or even a commentary on anyone else’s.

And the thing that sucks the most is when a post meant to provide comfort and solace to another struggling mom ends up causing a comment thread clogged with negativity and cut-throat nastiness among parents who really should just lift each other up or mind their own business.

So how about we don’t do this anymore? How about this instead? If you see a post about homeschooling or dealing with toddler tantrums or where to buy the best organic produce, and you happen to not homeschool, or not have a toddler, or not have any interest in organic produce, maybe just recognize that this particular post isn’t tailored for you? That it likely has value to other moms who are living different lives and making different choices?

And, on the other side, if you’re like me, and you really don’t do the organic thing a whole lot, and your kid is a hot mess at Target chucking a shoe across the aisle, also remember that not every mom is in our boat either. Organic mom isn’t necessarily insulting our choices if she posts about homemade baby food. That’s just her life and her choice. And a mom whose kid is totally well-behaved isn’t always saying we suck. She might just have a different kid, and that’s all.

Social media doesn’t have to be a toxic dumpster fire. But it’s up to us to make that change. If someone blatantly calls you out and says you’re a shitty parent if you don’t use cloth diapers, then yeah, I get it if you go off. But more often than not, parents are just trying to tell their own stories, forge a friendship, or at least feel less alone in this sea of uncertainty we’re all swimming in.

So here’s my truth: I breastfed. If you didn’t, come sit with me. I go to church. If you don’t, come sit with me. I rarely wear makeup and I live in leggings and sweatshirts. If you spend an hour getting ready every day and wear real pants that button, come sit with me. My house is a trash-heap. If yours is clean and your shoes don’t stick to the floor, come sit with me.

Because even though we are different, I think we could be friends. (But seriously, my kid really might break your house, so just come here. It’s safer.)

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I’m Finally Putting Myself First And IDGAF What Anyone Else Says

I don’t think I could have ever anticipated how hard it would be to “play pleasant” as a wife and mother. You know, the way we pretend that everything is okay, when in reality, it isn’t.

Motherhood is constant work. Since taking on the new role of wife and mother five years ago, I’ve learned that the hard way. Sure, there are a handful of folks who watched their parents and have a firm understanding of the labor imbalance that exists in most families. I wasn’t one of them.

Making the transition from a carefree college student to an under-supported wife and mother caused a part of me to die on the inside. I lost myself a bit.

In the years following that loss of self, I learned to prioritize pleasantness over happiness. I don’t complain as much as I used to and I’m more likely to “go with the flow” around the house. My loved ones have likely seen these changes as positive. But deep down, I know I’m just one member of the latest generation of women to be indoctrinated into the culture of sacrifice.

And then one day a few weeks ago, I made the decision that I was done. I am done playing pleasant. I am done pretending. I am done suppressing my life’s joys for my family.

From here forward, I’m going to learn to put myself first — and I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it.

It’s hard to say the exact moment that I realized I wasn’t as concerned with my own wants and needs as I should be. This is probably because the change occurred gradually instead of all at once.

Naturally, I don’t expect my life with two children and a partner to look exactly the same as it did ten or even six years ago. Still, I believe we should evolve and adjust to new life responsibilities, not transform into a new person. My old self wasn’t perfect. But it was authentic and understood the importance of prioritizing one’s own needs.

I intend to create a hybrid between these two versions of self — my pre-mom self and my mothering self — who knows how to love and nurture myself without neglecting others.

None of this is easy for me. It’s a huge challenge when everyone in your life has either been overly sacrificial or completely neglectful. There are very few personal or celebrity examples whose lives are similar enough to mine for me to copy their method of self-prioritization. However, I know in the long run, my entire family will benefit from my decision to invest in myself.

With that in mind, I’m starting my “me first” plan by focusing on my health, social life, and me time in three key ways:

1. Eating more.

I spend so much time running after the children that I often forget to eat. Today was a great example. By the time I had a chance to have my first meal it was after 1 p.m. Not only is that unhealthy, it makes it hard for me to produce the milk I need as a nursing mother. Of course, this has negative consequences for my infant.

It also means that my brain is foggy and my temper is short, which leaves me mentally unavailable in work and home tasks. My physical and spiritual selves require food to thrive.  And when I wake up early and make sure I eat, my day goes so much smoother.

2. Dancing more.

Before rolling your eyes on this one, let me tell you something. I’m rarely as happy as I am when I’m dancing. The music literally transports me to another place. More often than not, I’m supported by people who love me with a similar spiritual relationship to the beat.

I love dancing, but it’s so much deeper than moving to the beat. My commitment to dancing is reflective of my decision to put myself in more situations where I feel joy. Being surrounded by folks with similar interests who support me in my quest for joy is transformative for me.

More dancing means I’ll have more girls’ nights outs, travel, and celebration. It includes a commitment to the things that bring me joy. On the dance floor surrounded by a circle of friends in unity and mutual enjoyment is the best model for myself. I look forward to seeing how it spills into other areas of my life.

3. Going solo more.

You probably get the theme by now.

On one hand, taking myself out to a restaurant or to the movies is about having access to silence. I mean, who couldn’t benefit from more time away from kid tantrums? It’s an opportunity to spend my hard-earned dollars on myself instead of wasting $5-10 on a kid’s meal my son is just gonna smash into his car seat.

But the benefits extend far past saving money and being able to hear myself think for the first time in forever. Taking myself out gives me the chance to recharge my creative energy and reevaluate myself without pressures from the rest of my family around me. It’s a chance for assessment and self-reflection, which is necessary to know whether your actions align with your dreams. I’m determined not to let motherhood be the end of my goals. A key part of that is not losing track of where I am.

There are people who believe mothers should live for their children. I’m here to say that I have no interest in that sort of life. I know these small changes can lead to a big outcome. If I’m lucky, I might even inspire a few of the other women in my friend group to put themselves first.

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Moms Are Some Of The Loneliest People I Know

The hardest stage to keep close friendships is literally the one we all need it most. Mom friendships are important, while raising children for so many reasons. There are studies on the positive effects of these friendships on mental health. Friendships like these, help us find more joy during one of the most challenging seasons of life.

Over the years, I’ve found moms can be some of the loneliest people. Yet they are constantly surrounded by people…little people.

I am a mom to three boys, and have been for 14 years. Motherhood has been the biggest joy of my life while still having it’s share of challenges.

Many moms feel like they are spread so thin during this stage of life, it is hard to sustain deeper friendships. This is the time we are balancing many hats, and usually feel like some are dropping. We are harder on ourselves than ever before, because there is always so much left undone. There is always things to feel guilty about. For these reasons, we often don’t invest in friendships. We just try to balance those hats as perfectly as we can.

This is exhausting!

Many women, in this stage, forego friendships. Even though, we desperately need someone to vent and talk to. Someone who knows exactly what they are going through.

Someone to say:

“Me too.”

“Praying for you.”

“You’re doing a great job.”

“I see you.”

We need to have individuality, not tied into our home and work lives. This is what friendship brings.

A time to just be yourself with other like-minded individuals. People who won’t judge you. They find ways to laugh with you about the things you want to cry about.

We desperately need women to walk hand-and-hand with us through this stage of life. We need them to find the joy in this stage. We need to be able to bear our hearts to someone not connected with a “hat” we are wearing.

This is the key to joy in mothering….having a squad or just one person who can walk with you.

If you are reading this and feel sad that you don’t currently have this. Do not beat yourself up. Most people don’t have this. The ones that do are very intentional about it.

I am spread super thin with running a business, church, the boys’ school work, extracurricular activities, trying to be a great wife, cleaning, cooking, and so much more. I know I am not alone.

I also realize my need for close mom friendships in this time of life. I schedule time to intentionally connect with my close girlfriends. Whether it is with our families, going out to dinner just us, or taking a walk together. I schedule it into my calendar just like everything else.

Take that step, mama … reach out to that friend, get together and share your heart about life. Share the good and the bad. You will go back to your family even more refreshed, more joyful, and feeling more balanced than you ever could trying to hold all of those “hats” equally!

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Despite A Few Struggles, I Love Being A Young Mom

Becoming pregnant at 21 was not part of the timeline I had planned out for myself: go to college, establish a successful career, get married, then have kids. This timeline is a pretty basic structure that most people in the United States are expected to follow. However, in reality, people’s lives follow all sorts of different paths that deviate from the chronological norm that has been laid out for us. For me, having a baby came shortly after the first item on my timeline: college.

I found out I was pregnant on the day I flew home to New York City after visiting a friend in West Virginia. My period had always been somewhat erratic, so I wasn’t too surprised when it didn’t come like clockwork that month. Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to know. I dashed over to the drugstore after dropping my luggage off at home. The morning sun streamed in through the bathroom window, and I was so impatient that I took the test without turning on the light. The plus sign showed up immediately, and I thought it must be some sort of visual trick. I turned on the light, and the plus sign remained. My friends and family reacted with shock, as I expected.

Jhon David/Unsplash

In some parts of the U.S., and it many parts of the world, becoming pregnant at 21 is a totally unremarkable occurrence. In New York, though, I was a statistical outlier, with the average age of a first-time mom being 31, according to the New York Times. All parents share many common experiences, regardless of age: we wipe up poop so much that it ceases to be gross, we lose sleep, our hearts melt when our child smiles at us for the first time. But young motherhood comes with its own unique set of benefits and challenges. Below are some of the best parts about being a young mom that I’ve experienced so far.

1. Getting to Grow Together

I am often asked if I miss having the carefree attitude of my childless friends or if I feel like I won’t get to form my own identity. Of course, I’m not carefree! I care so much about this little human. Instead of feeling like I’m missing out, I feel like I’m getting to experience the joy of being a mom that much sooner. I still have a lot to learn about myself and my aspirations, but for me, I am perfectly content with the fact that staying out late at bars won’t be how I “find myself.” I am so happy I get to learn about the world alongside my son.

Instead of feeling like I’m missing out, I feel like I’m getting to experience the joy of being a mom that much sooner.

2. Having More Energy

Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest hurdles people talk about when it comes to having a new baby. And while being young certainly doesn’t make you immune to that, based on what I’ve heard from other moms, it does give you a little boost. I found that even when my son was waking me up every two hours or less during his first few months, I was still surprisingly functional during the day (although I was still exhausted, of course).

3. Giving Him My Full Attention

I want to preface this with the fact that moms of any age can give their kids their whole heart! However, I have seen moms with successful careers being pulled in all different directions, pressured to work overtime, juggle their jobs and care for their brand new baby all while still recovering from childbirth. Even for moms who don’t work outside the home, it can be a very difficult identity shift because they already have an established lifestyle without kids that they’re accustomed to.

Asheesh/Reshot

I don’t feel pressure to combine the old me with the new me because entering adulthood and parenthood at almost the same time means my life is still highly flexible and adaptable.

While the good outweighs the bad a million times over, being a young mom also presents its own unique set of challenges, which I’ve listed out below.

1. Being Broke! 

The flip side of the third benefit above is that my family is still finding our footing financially. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful, and less job experience means lower pay.

2. Meeting Other Moms

Meeting other moms has required a very conscious effort on my part. I don’t just happen to have other friends having babies, and before I got pregnant knew almost no one with a young child. After many months of actively seeking out mom friends, I have been able to find a really good network, but it wasn’t easy. A lot of the mommy-meetups and classes I attended in my son’s early weeks were full of parents I couldn’t relate to. One woman asked how old I was and when I told her, she replied, “Wow, you’re a baby with a baby!” Unsurprisingly, some of them were pretty judgmental.

Kyle Nieber/Unsplash

3. Feeling Isolated in my Postpartum Body

After my son’s birth, I felt really alone in my experience postpartum. My body was so foreign to me that it took months before I truly recognized myself in the mirror. Extra skin, engorged breasts, and a crotch that hurt to sit down on weren’t exactly struggles that my friends could relate to. Not all older moms have friends with kids, but the chances are higher that you have more people who can commiserate with you on the foreign state that is one’s postpartum body.

One thing I know for sure about motherhood is that nothing can prepare you for it: not your age, not babysitting experience, not even having younger siblings (I have two who are half my age).

Ultimately, I wouldn’t change the timing for the world. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my son giggle during peek-a-boo or watching his face light up when I read him a story at bedtime. My absolute favorite part about being a young mom is that I don’t have to wait for that feeling.

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What My Mother Always Knew About Me

Last night I was at a nearby park with my three children, when my parents stopped by to drop off a forgotten item and spend some time with the grandkids. As my dad watched me tending to one of my savages, he looked at my mom with a chuckle and jokingly said, “It’s just amazing, who would have ever thought Kristen would be a role model someday?” My mom’s face immediately fell as she looked at my dad, then instantly made eye contact with me and replied, “I always knew.”

Two important things to take into account while reading this story:

Number 1. My dad’s words were never meant as an insult or to purposefully hurt me (which they did not). He was merely back-handedly complimenting me by throwing a little shade — which is our typical form of communication as we are constant ball-busters with one another.

And Number 2. He was kinda right. I was a selfish asshole all through my teens and into my early twenties. I can guarantee if you asked anyone I went to school with they would not have pictured me as a stay-at-home-mom to 3 children by the time I was 28 (clearly depicted by me being voted “Class Partier” in our senior year).

Courtesy of Kristen Heelon

But my mom — well, my mom always knew the fabric that my soul was truly woven with. She believed in me steadfast and tenfold. And even all these years after finally starting to come into my own, she needed to make sure that I knew what she had known all along. She never wanted me to question or doubt, to wonder or second guess.

In early adolescence, my mom was always very intuitive of my feelings and needs. Growing up in the ’90s, I was the student in elementary school who had a permanent cot in the nurse’s office; always complaining of a stomach or headache — this was before the times of children being diagnosed and treated for anxiety. And without fail every single time my mom received that phone call from Mrs. Beverly (our school nurse — turned family friend) she would rush to the school to bring me home — no questions asked.

Courtesy of Kristen Heelon

She took the time to settle my nerves with a cozy blanket, chicken noodle soup, ginger ale with the bubbles stirred out — and my favorite Disney movie no matter what she had previously had going on. And still, to this day the memories of curling up on the couch listening to “The Circle of Life” with her soft feet pattering in the background have always been when I felt the most at home. Through elementary and into junior and high school, her support for me never faltered, even while my attitude worsened and my decision making skills plummeted to all time lows.

She stuck by me through every move I made. She patiently taught me how to drive a stick shift, held countless cold compresses to my head during my endless migraine episodes, held me tight after the death of my childhood friend, and wiped my tears as I stumbled through the uncertainty of teenage pregnancy.

Courtesy of Kristen Heelon

And now more than ever, as I navigate motherhood and finding my true self at this stage of life, her wisdom and knowledge are the small tokens I frequently seek after. Her advice resonates deep and is never taken for granted. Even when we disagree, I take her opinion more seriously than any other and mull it over, finding different sides to topics that I had previously never seen before, and more often than not I end up in agreement with what she has said, because I know that she is always looking out for my best interests above all else.

There’s something different about the love that comes from a mother, which doesn’t take away from a father’s love — they are just completely different entities. A mother’s love is a million little pieces of hope and memories, of desires and prayers, of wishes and dreams for her child. Whether that child be 3 or 30, those little pieces never go away. They just build upon each other — they form, they grow, and they tighten an already unbreakable bond until sometimes, all the mother can see in her child is herself.

My mom taught me my whole entire life how to be the mother I am today. By watching her selflessness and receiving all of her love every single day of my life, she molded me into the mother I have become, and yesterday at 30 years old she taught me another important lesson. She taught me to always make sure your children know that you believe in them –and that you always have. When they are failing school, sneaking out to parties, experimenting with drugs, or getting pregnant at 19, never stop believing in their potential — so someday that child can proudly say, “My mom always knew.”

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I Don’t Have FOMO — I Have JOMO, And This Is Why

I’d say I like going out as much as the next gal, but I’d be lying. The truth is, the older I get, the more I dislike social functions.

I think a lot of it has to do with all the hassles that go along with getting ready to go out, like transportation, organizing child care, and putting on real pants. Needless to say, as an introvert with the ability to pass for an extrovert (ambivert), I tend to confuse my social circle. Yes, I want to see the world, have interesting conversations, and even attend the occasional concert, but that doesn’t mean I’m always comfortable doing so.

The first hour of an event energizes and excites me, maybe a little longer if dancing is involved. But after that, I’d much rather be home. I feel drained and long for my bed.

While many of my peers are battling FOMO (fear of missing out)and experience anxiety about the next party coming and going without an invite, I’m like meh. If anything, I have JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) and celebrate the fact that lacking a personal Facebook page makes it easy for others to forget to invite me to stuff.

Along with JOMO, here are a few other things I’ve learned about myself as I embrace life as an ambivert.

Groups can have benefits.

I don’t like groups of five or more. But all groups aren’t created equal. I recently discovered that I can use them to my advantage. For instance, I enjoy staying in and having intimate groups of 2-3 at my house. It’s small enough that I don’t feel overwhelmed, but large enough to keep the conversation flowing. Of course, the real benefit to small groups is almost all of the pressure to talk is lifted. I can be as silent or as involved as I like. *Insert evil laughter*    

I’m not really missing anything.

The world is full of events and people. I hate that we act like every event is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s okay if you don’t attend the waterpark with Kourtney and the crew. It’s summertime! You can bet your bottom dollar there will be at least ten more events in the next few weeks.

I’ve taken this knowledge and used it to ignore comments like, “You never go anywhere!” Nah, I go a ton of places, I just don’t need to go everywhere. Have you ever gone somewhere with someone who didn’t really want to go? All the nagging, foot-dragging, and complaining? That’s me. And no amount of peer pressure will make it not suck for all involved.

Good friends understand.

I occasionally suffer from social anxiety. It isn’t consistent and certain situations are more likely to provoke those feelings than others. My friends know this about me and they understand. I pride myself on hanging out with a band of misfits and we all have our own stuff going on. They understand that it’s nothing for me to give a speaking presentation in the day but then I’ve used all my social energy for the week.

Don’t let peer pressure cause to head into social situations that will make you uncomfortable. The people who care for you will get it.

I’ve noticed that being more selective about how I spend my time has made the occasions I do spend with others more sacred. My friends and I seldom connect without leaving with a feeling of being mutually inspired, and I value that. Having meaningful interactions is about quality, not quantity.

There’s nothing wrong with skipping social events and preferring small intimate groups. It’s okay if you have JOMO. In fact, your life might be better for it.

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I’m In The Sweet Spot Of Parenting, And I Don’t Want It To End

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a writing colleague and we got to talking about our children. I mentioned something about my kids cleaning their own bathroom, and that I loved how independent they’ve gotten even though in a lot of ways they still feel little to me. “Ah, yeah,” she said knowingly. “You’re in the sweet spot.”

The sweet spot, she told me, is the enchanted period of a child’s growing up when they are past needing you to wipe their asses and tie their shoes and pack their lunches, but haven’t yet become so independent that they’ve decided they don’t need you at all. Sandwiched between diaper bags and poopy blowouts and unfathomable exhaustion on one side and attitude and sneaking around and pulling away on the other, the sweet spot is the golden age of parenthood.

My sister gave birth to her third child a couple of years ago after an extended gap. There are nine years between her second and third kid. That little boy is the most precious angel to ever grace the surface of the earth, but he’s still a baby, and babies are a shit ton of work. My sister had to regress her lifestyle back to scheduling her days around naps, always having extra diapers and a snack everywhere she goes, and planning vacation sleeping arrangements around a baby who goes to bed four hours earlier than the rest of the family. And someone always has to wake up early, because babies wake up freaking early.

I have friends on the other side of the sweet spot too, friends whose kids are firmly entrenched in their teenage years. My blood pressure rises when they relay their stories of explicit social media exchanges, drugs and alcohol and sneaking around, anxiety over grades and getting into college. I still have total control over what my kids see on the Internet, whether their homework gets done, who they talk too, where they go and for how long and what time they come home… How am I going to relinquish this control?

Seriously, I’m asking. How do you do it?? I think the teen years might actually kill me.

My kids are right in the beautiful, comparatively calm middle of these two extremes. They are capable of impressive levels of critical thinking, and yet still assume I know way more than they do. Just today my son and I had a conversation about terminal velocity. He had no idea he went over my head with his talk of how atmosphere and gravity limits the maximum speed of a falling object. He still thinks I know everything, and far be it for me to correct him just yet.

My 8-year-old daughter is independent, preparing her own breakfast, cleaning her own room, riding her bike by herself to the neighbor’s house down the street. But she still needs me to do a few small things, like brush her hair in the morning before school or read that special picture book just because. When she cries, I am still the first person she runs to. I love that she still needs me like this. She is still my baby, but minus the work of an actual baby.

It’s the same with my 12-year-old. He’s gotten to where he can cook with a fair amount of confidence (and without catching the house on fire), and when he does chores, it’s a genuine help. He cleans the bathroom as thoroughly as I do and even mows the lawn. And yet he still often climbs into my lap for a snuggle. He still likes me to lie beside him at bedtime while he reads his book. He’s not a baby anymore, but he still likes hanging out with me.

Here in the sweet spot, we get to stay out late but can still keep tabs on our kids. I no longer dread the nuclear meltdown that will happen at 8:01 because my baby is not in bed at exactly the appointed time. This past New Year’s Eve we stayed at a friends’ party until 3:00 a.m. My daughter crashed on the couch with a few other kids around 1:00, and my son stayed up partying with the other big kids until 3:00.

And yet my kids aren’t old enough to go out by themselves and get into trouble. I cannot imagine the fear and frustration of waiting up for a kid who is breaking curfew. What if they’re not responding to texts? What if they’re hurt? Or worse? How do parents get through this stage??

I’m going to cherish every moment of this sweet spot. The teenage years are fast approaching, and based on the stories my friends tell, I’ve got a serious roller coaster ride ahead of me. For now though, I’ll put on my blinders and enjoy what time I have left with these sweet babies who, thank goodness, aren’t actual babies.

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