The Momma Interviews is a new blog series by Catherine O'Brien, LMFT highlighting the thoughts, experiences and wisdom of a unique real-world mom each week, to normalize and validate the struggles and triumphs that are a part of the universally human experience of motherhood for women everywhere.
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Kicking off our inaugural post in this series, we have Niki, a 35 year old momma of one in Minneapolis, MN. Check out our interview below....
How do you balance the mom, work, and relationship roles?
It’s really tough! I was a stay-at-home mom for the first two years of my daughter’s life (she's nearly three now), so I put everything on hold for a while to be solely with her. So, all other aspects of my life suffered, but it was temporary and I don’t regret it because our daughter has thrived from it. In the last six months, I started my own business and am lucky in that my business has grown so much that we had to put our kiddo in daycare—something I admittedly had a lot of anxiety about, but it turned out to be the best thing. Our daughter was ready for the socialization, LOVES her friends and teachers, and is learning so much, so that was a huge relief for me. The relationship bit is probably the hardest because we don’t have much of a network of friends, family or sitters that we can utilize for date nights and my partner is crazy busy with his work too. So, we try to squeeze in Netflix couch dates when we can and he’s really good about not bringing his work home with him, so when he’s home, he’s there 100%. We text throughout the day and keep a shared calendar online, which helps. We carpool together in the morning and use that time to check in on plans for the day or talk about the news. And no matter what work and scheduling insanity we have going on for the week, family dinner time is sacred at our house.
Most moms I speak to say there are moments when they are ready to throw in the towel. Can you describe a time you felt this way? What got you through it?
I’ve come to decide that most moms have a phase in parenting where they just feel completely ill-equipped. For me, that phase was babyhood. I loved my baby, but I just wasn’t one of those moms that could strap their kid to their chest and then go about their day doing whatever they wanted to do. It was really hard for me having someone who needed not only my presence, but needed my attention and my body 24/7. She had severe separation anxiety and also got carsick and screamed anytime she was put in a car, so I basically felt like I was on house arrest all the time. I can distinctly remember times when I wanted to impulsively run away and not tell anyone where I was. I never did, of course, but my partner is good at sensing when I need solo time. I wish I had better tactics to offer, but I didn’t have a go-to thing that saved me. Sometimes it was cleaning the house with my jams turned up (if my partner took our daughter out for the day). Sometimes it was leaving the house for an aimless drive, which usually landed me at a Target or a coffee shop. Sometimes it was a long bath. Sometimes it was going to bed early. Often I’d have a text message venting session with a dear friend of mine that doesn’t live nearby anymore (neither one of us are phone people, but we have excellent text banter!) I had lost touch with myself at that point though, so the usual things that I would have done pre-baby—like going for a run or starting a new painting--seemed daunting to pick back up again. But more than anything, I would crave solitude in whatever form it took. Once my daughter started to become a bit more independent, life got exponentially less stressful for me. I still crave alone time every now and then, but it’s more just because of silly passing annoyances, not because I feel like I can’t deal.
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed, overstretched, or less than?
When overwhelmed, I bury myself in work, which can be good or bad depending. I get shit done, but often end up sleep deprived and with a daughter that is craving one-on-one time. When overstretched, I cancel whatever plans I can wriggle out of. That’s one thing I never have a problem with—saying no. When I’m feeling less than…..that’s a harder one. I don’t shake that off very well. Usually, my partner is good at picking me up in those moments. I don’t usually ask him for it. He just knows what to say when it really counts somehow.
I've had parents tell me that one of the hardest things about being a parent is the comparisons and judgements from other parents. How do you personally cope with that?
I really, really struggled with this when I was a stay-at-home mom, especially when we were living in LA (we moved there when our daughter was 4 months old). For some reason, I felt it was really hard to connect with other moms there and a lot of restaurants and public spaces don’t seem kid-friendly at all. Although, it’s possible all that “side-eye” was in my head because I was so not confident in my parenting at that time. My longtime friends who had kids before I did have been my saving grace, keeping me in check and helping me to brush it off. Now, we’re in Minneapolis, which is uber kid-friendly, but competitive in another way—now it’s more like Mom Olympics, who’s doing it gentler or more intelligently, but perhaps because I’ve survived the babyhood phase, I don’t care so much what others think. It also helps that I have other things going on in my life besides motherhood now too. I still feel self-conscious every now and then, especially when around other mom friends who are more radical than I am, but I remind myself that even if I express or perform something they don’t agree with, they don’t have to approve because I don’t always agree with their methods either and they don’t require my approval. And either way, we both have good, happy kids, so we all win.
What do you feel is your greatest personal struggle with the experience of motherhood?
Maintaining or re-establishing the other facets of myself outside of my role as mother. I now have my own business, which is huge for me, but there are still other parts I need to recover: The artist me, the half-marathon running me, the social circle me. It’s a work in progress.
What is something that has surprised you about being a mom (i.e. something you didn't realize you'd enjoy, something you didn't know babies/kids did, something you didn't know could bring so much joy)?
1. That I might actually be good at it. We never planned to have kids, and I, personally, was not at all interested in it. I think I was terrified of the possibility, actually, because I knew that there’s no way that any parent can not screw up at some point and I didn’t want to have that kind of power over another person’s life.
2. That it would blow my heart wide open. People often say that they never knew they could love another person so intensely, but I can’t say that I really experienced it in that exact way. If I love anything, I love it intensely, so I already suspected what my heart was capable of. What I didn’t know is that motherhood would expand my worldview and cause me to love humanity so much more intensely; to feel everything more deeply.
How has your relationship with your partner changed? How has it stayed the same?
It’s changed in that we have to actively work at keeping our connection fine-tuned. It’s so easy to fall out of touch with each other because we’re so busy. In addition, we are constantly redefining what our relationship looks like because when we first met, we were in very different places in life—and not just because we weren’t yet parents! He had just gotten out of the Navy and was suddenly free to be wild and a little crazy. I was at my most independent at that time, doing what I wanted whenever I wanted. So, we had a very fun, playful courtship. Then, around the time I got pregnant, he also began his college career and now is working on his PhD, so there’s been a whole evolution of not only learning how to cohabitate and rely on each other, but also a more serious, more conscious way of living. Intellectual discourse replaced our spontaneity and sense of play. So, adding parenting on top of that made our relationship almost unrecognizable if you compare it to our beginning. I’ve told friends before that I really feel like I’ve had multiple, distinct, different relationships with the same man—you could almost divide them up by the year! But, the continuity is in the things that don’t change, even if they change shape. Our desire for each other has stayed the same. Our passion for life has stayed the same. Our devotion to making this work has stayed the same. And our daughter brings that sense of spontaneity and play back into our relationship.
How has your relationship with your friends, family or support system changed? How has it stayed the same?
I’d say there’s been a great divide amongst my relationships with my friends. For the friends who already have kids of their own, my friendship with them has strengthened. They understand what I go through as a mom and can relate when I need to vent. Or, if I show up really late to something or have to flake altogether, before I can even finish my explanation, they always say “Its ok, I totally get it.”
For the friends that don’t have kids, I’d say many of those friendships are in various stages of mending. There was a very real disconnect that happened when I got pregnant and it’s one that’s hard to bounce back from—either because they just don’t relate or don’t care to adjust to my new lifestyle and routine, or because I don’t have the ability or wherewithal to meet them where they’re at. I didn’t lose any friends over it, but several friendships are just different now and I don’t know if I’ll get that closeness back.
With my family, I think I’ve changed more than they have—I used to be terrible about keeping in touch with my mom, for example. Not on purpose. I’d just get busy. But now, I call her all the time. You never stop needing your mother, that’s for sure!
What is the great lesson you've learned as a mom?
Patience. And surrender.
What is your favorite quote that inspires you as a mom?
When I was pregnant, I couldn’t get this quote out of my head: “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” ― Elizabeth Stone
What is your favorite song that inspires you as a mom?
I’m probably supposed pick something like “Forever Young” for this question, but honestly, the music that inspires me as a parent is the stuff my mom and I used to dance to when I was really, really small. Like Prince’s Purple Rain album. Early Madonna. And, ‘80s-era David Bowie. Those are my favorite memories of my mom—dancing to the record player while folding clean towels—that’s the kind of mom I want to be.
What is the one piece of advice you'd like to give to other moms?
“If it isn’t a problem for YOU, then it isn’t a problem.” -- I heard that in a podcast for moms a few months after my daughter was born when I was ragged, unshowered, breastfeeding on-demand and forgetting to feed myself. I was near my wit’s end while rocking my daughter to sleep and my saving grace at the time were social media and podcasts. I heard that line and it so resonated with my entire being that I wanted to leap out of the rocking chair and shout “OH, JESUS, THANK YOU!” (And if she hadn’t been such a light sleeper at the time, I would have, but you know. Mother’s instinct prevented me, I guess.) After that, I lightened up on the textbook attachment parenting thing and gave myself permission to just do whatever it took to make it through the day. It also gave me assurance when family members wanted to criticize me for co-sleeping or whatever else. My partner was totally on board with my methods, but he also didn’t criticize if I didn’t do it perfectly--and that’s all that mattered to me.
How many children do you have?
Just the one daughter. She’ll be our one and only. Wouldn’t mind getting a dog though.
Share your relationship status.
Unmarried, but partnered, shacked-up, and utterly entwined with my daughter’s father. (Ha, there just isn’t a good label in the English language for us!) So, essentially, married...or something like it.