May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, so I've relaunched my "Momma Interviews" series--This time with an extra special set of moms. These mommas also work to support other moms and their families during the transition into new parenthood and beyond. I'm calling it the "Expert Edition", but I think you'll find that while these women definitely are experts in their work, parenthood has a way of making a beginner out of everybody. Even experts get surprised by the unexpected and learn new bits of wisdom while in the trenches!
This series is all about their experiences with motherhood, in the hopes that it provides you with some validation and new tips to try. Because for all the many different ways there are to be a mom (and there are definitely MANY ways to do it right), it's so amazing how much we moms all really have in common.
For our last Expert Momma Interview of the month, I'm speaking with Alicia Taverner, LMFT. Alicia is a mom of two (with a third on the way!), has experience with both foster parenting and adoption, and is also a therapist who supports women in their relationship struggles, such as infidelity, divorce and break-up. I love her honesty in struggling to ask for help and her message about remembering the purpose of what we're doing is so powerful.
Scroll down to watch the interview, read the transcript, or learn more about Alicia.
Watch the Video:
Catherine: Hi, I'm Catherine O'Brien at happywithbaby.com and I'm so excited to be here today for another Momma Interview Expert Edition with Alicia Taverner, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Rancho Cucamonga, and she specializes in working with couples and moms who are stressed out. So, thank you for being here today.
Alicia: Thanks for having me. It's always fun to chat with you, Catherine.
Catherine: Aw, thank you. So, why don't you tell us a little bit about what makes up your family dynamics?
Alicia: I have me and my husband and we'll be married for eight years this year, which is exciting.
Catherine: Oh, congrats. Yeah.
Alicia: And then we have a daughter who just turned 18, who we adopted through foster care and then we have a son who's two and a half and I have a baby on the way, so I'm 33 weeks pregnant right now. I'm due with it in June.
Catherine: Yeah? How are you feeling?
Alicia: Okay. Tired. Ready.
Catherine: Yeah, I was definitely not one of those glowing pregnant woman. So, I'm always like ... have so much empathy when I see the baby bumps.
Catherine: So, tell me how you balance being mom, working, and your relationship roles?
Alicia: I think it's definitely always a struggle, to be perfectly honest ... in trying to balance everything and trying to give everything the attention that it needs. But I think ... right now, we're kind of in the midst of preparing for baby. So, that also means readjusting. Like what our lifestyle is looking like and just constantly checking in. My husband is awesome. He's an amazing support. He does a lot of ... he works from home, so he does a lot of the hands-on stuff with our little one. My older daughter is in school and she pretty much has her own life. She's still in high school, so she works and goes to school and so she kind of just does her own thing. I mean, it's not like she needs supervision. She helps out around the house too.
And so just kind of making sure that I am communicating, I think, is the most important part. I can find myself getting into like these spirals where I'm just feeling so overwhelmed with everything and then have to constantly remind myself, like, "Okay, but you have two other grown people in the house that can be helpful." And we have extended family and it's really just about asking for what I need and not get into the place where I'm like, "Okay, I can do all of this stuff. I'm okay. I'm doing it all," and then I'll just be in tears after a really long day. Especially being pregnant. I mean, like the hormonal stuff is just ... comes out my eyes. So, I'm like, "I'm just so tired," and my husband is like, "Well, why didn't you ask me to do that today? Or why didn't you ... ?" I'm just like, "I don't know." It goes back and forth, but constantly being willing and open to asking for what I need. I think that's kind of like one of the biggest lessons I learned after having my son.
Catherine: Yeah. It's hard to ask for help, especially if you're used to being able to do things and doing it on your own. I find that. Like I'm always, "Like ask for help. Ask for help." And then I find myself that same rut where I'm like, "Yeah, why am I not asking?" I kind of want people just to know what I need and not have to ask.
Catherine: But it doesn't work that way and then I'm disappointed.
Alicia: Yeah. Definitely. I mean, my husband and our communication has to be a top priority. So, doing date nights. We have every other weekend where we'll take a night out and take my son to a babysitter ... with grandma. And they're happy. I mean, they would probably do it every week, but in our heads it's kind of like, "Oh, we don't want to burden other people," or whatever. But they're happy ... it's like a win-win situation. They're happy to spend time with him. They wish they could spend more time with him, but having that time together is so super important to us because it's like where we catch up, where we kind of make our big decisions about what we're gonna do. And so, like I said, we're kind of restructuring, rearranging, how we're gonna do things with two kids who are under three and what that's gonna look like.
So, me working a little bit less because I'm in private practice and I also have a contract position where I do psychological evaluations for nursing facilities and mental hospitals. I probably work like 30 hours a week, but I squish it into three really long days so that I can have more time off. But now it just seems like I'm really recovering from those really long days on my days off, just because I'm so tired. So, we're trying to restructure that and make some changes so that we can do that.
Catherine: Yeah. And I feel like it's a constant ... I mean, that's one of the most important parts of having those regular check-ins is because it ... I feel like it changes so much because their needs at that age change dramatically over a couple of years. It's like keep checking in.
Alicia: Yeah, yeah. I mean, a newborn differently requires different ... I mean, now he's two and a half, so he's actually in preschool a couple days a week. But then they don't have it during summer so we're trying to ...
Catherine: Oh, okay. Figure that out.
Alicia: ... enlist like family. So, we can have a little bit of a break and, like I said, he works from home. If he's on home, he's also on daddy duty, which is kind of hard.
Alicia: I don't know. I've been [inaudible 00:06:25] on a call an hear him pounding at the door.
Alicia: All that fun stuff.
Catherine: So most moms I speak to say there are moments when they are ready to throw in the towel, can you describe a moment that you've felt this way, if you have, and what got you through it?
Alicia: Just last week. And it's kind of like what we're talking about, it was a Thursday, which is the last day of my work week and just feeling super tired and overwhelmed, but I kind of brought it on myself because I wasn't asking for help, or wasn't, you know ... Like you were saying, sometimes we can anticipate "Well duh I need this", or "You should know that this needs to be picked up, or these chores need to be done", but not communicating, you know, I just came home and was so ... My body is just tired from pregnancy and working a really long day and just telling my husband ... first just crying a little bit and he's just like "It's okay, it's okay." Then he's like "Well why didn't you tell me" or "Why didn't you ask me, all you needed to do was ask" and I'm like okay.
So then it's just about making that kind of course correction and talking about these little things that need to get done, this is what you can do, you can take this off my plate, or that. And I think that's really ... Me keeping in mind that I have to continually do that, because I do go up and down with ... One moment I'm asking everybody for help "Okay can you do this", and then the next moment I'm asking nobody for help, so that's been, like I said one of the biggest lessons in motherhood I think that I've learned. After my son ... Leaning on other people, we can't do it alone.
Catherine: No, absolutely not. So is there any ... So my next question is, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed, overstretched, or less than? Is there ... Besides asking for help, are there other things that you do?
Alicia: Self care type stuff. It's kind of hard now to not be super physical, but exercise or making sure I get out with friends, because I can tend to isolate or just be stuck in the "Well I have so much to do", and regardless of how much to do I have the next day ... I had coffee with one of my best friends and we laugh about motherhood and all the silly situations that we get ourselves into and that is always ... Kind of feeds your soul. It was really helpful just having ... Hearing from other women, other moms, that are going through the same things, and being able to laugh about it, and also just have that community is really important.
Catherine: Yeah. What about ... I've had parents tell me that one of the hardest things about being a parent is the comparisons or judgements from other parents. Have you experienced that, and if so how did you cope with that?
Alicia: I tend to have a pretty tight circle, I've been in mom groups and things like that where I kind of feel myself getting into it where you know where "Oh, we're going to have book club at so and so's house and it's just like a giant mansion" and I'm just like "Wow". Or these birthday parties that are just over the top, kind of just keeping with ... I think, being very picky about who I surround myself with, like my new people. And I told a story ... I presented about being a mom-preneur a few months ago and I told a story about how on my sons first birthday I did all the Pinterest stuff and it was so overwhelming and exhausting, and he's one, and he really didn't even know what was happening. And so I got into this trap of doing, doing, doing and then at the very end we were just sitting with family and friends and my son was being loved on and it was like man, I totally missed the whole point. This was the point was this little bit of time, but I spent so much time doing all of these other things, from the invitations to all the perfect decorations, and all of that stuff that we can get caught up into. So I think that was another big lesson for me, was I just want to be present and remember the purpose over having something that's perfect.
Catherine: Right. What about ... What do you feel is your greatest personal struggle with the experience of motherhood?
Alicia: Asking for help.
Catherine: I could've answered that for you.
Alicia: Yeah, because I'm independent. It's funny because my husband and I were having a conversation about this the other day and going through college and graduate school and licensure, to do all of these things, and we get graded. We pass our exams and we do all these things and there's all these markers that say "Yes you're doing an amazing job", but there's none of that in motherhood. You can have a really warm fuzzy moment with your little one, and then the next minute they're kicking you in the face because they want chocolate. But nobody gives you that pat on the back ... It was just Mother's Day so we get our one day where we get nice gifts and things like that, but there's no measurement or no grades or things that keep us reminded that we're doing a great job. I think that's hard too.
Catherine: Yeah, especially when ... I mean, I think if we tend to be more like that type A and we do everything when we're supposed to do it and how we're supposed to do it, and the motherhood is so not like that. Because, like you said, from one moment to the next it's totally different and ... How they're feeling, or whatever, or expressing themselves is different. So if we measured ourselves on their ... Each moment, yeah it could be a very big disappointment.
Catherine: Failed. So what ... Is there something that surprised you about being a mom? Maybe something you didn't realize kids did, or something that you would really enjoy, or something that could bring you so much joy?
Alicia: Yeah, I didn't really think that I would love the newborn phase with my son, but I did. And even looking back, I'm like "Oh man I should've kissed him a little bit more" because now he's in the phase we're like "No, no kisses". Or take advantage of their inability to move, to be mobile. I mean I think the first time is always the most challenging and then you kind of figure it out, and the second time doesn't seem as overwhelming.
Catherine: I think it's like sometimes too, I'll talk to moms and it's like if ... Especially when you're feeding your baby and they're so ... It feels like all they do is they eat, they sleep and then they eat again and it's like a constant feeding them. And as overwhelming as that can be, when you feel like "I am never not sitting here in the chair" or whatever you're doing. And it's like, no, this time does end, it does. Things get easier. And then it's like looking back, those were the good old days where I just had to sit there and feed the baby. Little did I know, looking back now "Oh that was easy".
Catherine: They didn't talk back and they didn't need anything other than to be fed and changed-
Alicia: They didn't try to run out the front door.
Catherine: Cuddled. Yeah. Climbing on things.
Alicia: Yeah gets through all of your baby safety stuff, like "Oh I figured it out, I figured out how to undo that latch", like oh great.
Catherine: But in the moment when you're like, it does, it feels like oh my gosh this is all consuming and it's never going to be ... I will never be able to do anything again, is what I think it feels like. And I think that's the benefit of the second time around because you know it does end, it changes. The hard stuff gets easier and then there's other hard stuff and then that gets easier.
Alicia: It just changes, the hard stuff just changes.
Catherine: Yeah, exactly. What about ... What's your relationship, or how has your relationship with your partner or husband changed since having a kid? Or how has it stayed the same?
Alicia: So we had a lot of time, I think it was a good amount, five years before having kids. And so ... My daughter came to us I think we had been married for like three or four years before. So we had some time where it was just us and could travel and do whatever you want to do. And that was really nice, it was definitely a shift especially having a small child. So my daughter was 13 when she came, so she wasn't super needy in terms of she can go the bathroom, she can eat by herself, she goes to school, she can ride the bus, all of that things that come with development, sleeping independent. So we started backwards. I think that was a little bit easier in terms of your time commitment, but the emotional stuff that cam along with having a child who comes from the foster care system was definitely something that we anticipated, but nevertheless it's time consuming and emotionally consuming.
So our relationship definitely shifted even more when we had a small little human because it is just constant around the clock caring for them. But I think the best part is just seeing him as a dad and really loving that role that he plays. It's funny because you kind of have a picture of what you're partner will be like when you have kids, but he's kind of the opposite of what I anticipated. He's super laid back, we're both pretty laid back, but he's more, if you want to be stereotypical more like the mom in terms of like "Ohmygosh he's going to get hurt", or like he's riding a scooter in the house on the carpet and he's like "He needs to wear a helmet" and I'm like "Oh he's fine". I am way more lackadaisical about that kind of stuff than I anticipated I would be, and he's way more overprotective. Like really worried about him getting hurt and germs and stuff and I'm like "Oh that's how they'll learn" and "He'll be fine".
And I think allowing him to be who he is as a parent has definitely been a lesson for me. Or just something that I'm really mindful of, if that makes him feel good, putting a helmet on him while he's riding a scooter in the house, then okay and trying not to change that about him. But also just seeing him in that dad role and the loving tenderness that is ... He's super affectionate. And so I just love seeing that.
Alicia: It's heartwarming and I think he'd probably say the same about watching me be a mom is totally different than just your role as husband and wife. Kid bring things out of you that you don't anticipate.
Catherine: Yeah, absolutely. How about your relationship with friends, family or support system changed, or has that stayed the same?
Alicia: I've kind of kept my friends for a really long time, but as they start having kids it kind of all ... We're in the same realm of child raising. So definitely less time to go out and have a good time because you're tired. Going out with girl friends is definitely way fewer instances of that happening, but I think cherishing the time that we do get to spend, making it a priority. Before we didn't really have to make it a huge priority, it just kind of happened like "Oh yeah, what are you doing, it's Friday night?" Or "It's the weekend" or "We're going to take a trip" and stuff like that, but now it just comes with a whole lot of planning, but I think it's just as important. Having less time to do those things has definitely been a shift.
Catherine: What's the greatest lesson you've learned as a mom? Or one of them?
Alicia: I think it goes back to when I was saying about the birthday party. What's really important is being present and remembering the purpose over perfection. That's kind of like the mantra, purpose over perfection, and really wanting to be present with my kids when I can be. It's never going to be 100% good at everything, but just remembering what the priority is.
Catherine: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you as a mom?
Alicia: Yeah it's that one. It's like ... yeah presence over perfection.
Catherine: Yeah, I love it.
Alicia: Just short and sweet, like a little mantra, you can just remember it.
Catherine: Right, when everything gets overwhelming it's like ... Presence.
Catherine: Do you have a favorite song that inspires you as a mom?
Alicia: I sing You Are My Sunshine all the time. I don't know if it's something that I consider inspirational, but I've sang it to my son since he was a newborn. It's always his after bath song and now he's to the point where he's like "Sing the song mommy, sing the song, sing the song." He looks forward to it.
Catherine: Yeah, that's cool. How about a can't live without it gadget or product that has made being a mom easier or better for you?
Alicia: Baby gates. Definitely can't live without the gate, you know. Working from home and trying to get stuff done, definitely can't be without those.
Catherine: Right. So final question is, do you have one piece of advise that you'd like to give other moms?
Alicia: I think it would be that it's all just a learning experience. We're all in this, nobody has the manual. I mean there's tons of parenting books and things that we can read, but we're never going to be perfect. Even if you are that type A person where you're looking for the grades, it's never going to happen so it's just choosing to be kind to yourself and give yourself grace-
Catherine: I love that.
Alicia: Understand that it's always about ... It's always a learning experience.
Catherine: Yeah, be kind to yourself. I know because we can totally beat ourselves up, like we're not doing it quite right. We're not Pinterest perfect or Instagram worthy. But it's okay, there's no perfection. Thank you so much for sharing, I love all the things that you had to say and I love that about asking for help too because I think that's ... I mean I could probably use that advise today, like it's okay to ask for help. I think it's always a good reminder, so thank you so much for being here and love that you could join us.
Alicia: Yes, thanks so much for having me. It's always fun, like I said to chat with you Catherine.
Catherine: Thank you. Bye.
About Alicia Taverner, LMFT:
Alicia Taverner is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a Bachelor's Degree in Speech Communications from the University of La Verne, and a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University.
Alicia specializes in helping women find the calm within the storm of some of the most difficult relationship struggles such as infidelity, divorce, and break-up. Alicia is also a trained Discernment Counselor, and helps couples explore options for continuing their relationship despite some very heavy challenges. She resides in the Inland Empire with her husband and two children. Her personal passions include biking, snowboarding, yoga, and spending time with family and friends.
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