8 Brilliant Businesses Created by Moms Who Feel Your Pain

Sometimes inconvenience is the mother of invention.

Women have always struggled with the mythical monster called work-life balance. It has taken center stage in many important discussions, strategies, policies, conferences, and political campaigns around the world.

In many ways, starting a conversation around it has been the best advancement on the issue, because today, several iconic companies design and promote family-friendly policies for parents around the world. Many of these companies insist on equal parental responsibility policies, but we all know the primary beneficiaries are women.

Yet, here is a startling statistic: 43 percent of all women leave the workforce after having children and struggle to get back. The good news is that women are not taking it lying down. Women have taken up the mantle of entrepreneurship, with 36 percent of all businesses owned by women. Today, women are masters at rocking the cradle and the business world with equal deftness.

Still, it’s no secret that women face systematic personal, social, and financial challenges while starting a business.

Here are eight phenomenal women who stumbled into the world of entrepreneurship and business out of frustration. These wonderful businesses started when women went looking for a product/solution/service that they needed but could not find. These women are so badass that they decided to develop those products themselves, helping scores of other people in the process.

My interviews with them offer a peek into their entrepreneurial journey, while taking their families along.

Bittylab

Bittylab started when founder was a stay-at-home mom with a colicky child who would cry for hours on end. Her first few months of motherhood turned unpleasant with a screaming baby, a body recovering from a C-section, and frustration about not finding a solution anywhere.

Her research led her to find out that the air her baby ingested while feeding from a bottle can cause severe pain, gas, and colic, amplifying conditions such as acid reflux and overfeed for the baby. All she needed was a bottle that won’t allow gas to pass through the nipple, but she couldnt find one.

Most baby bottles feature air-vents to allow air inside the bottle while baby feeds to compensate for negative vacuum buildup. She decided to try a few initial prototypes based on syringes, replacing the needle with a nipple.

She succeeded, and Bare air-free was born. Bare is a feeding system that allows the user, through an air-plug seal (piston), to expel all the air out of the bottle before feeding the baby. The air-plug feature makes it possible to dispense air-free milk in any position.

Polished

Polished founder Selena Famularo turned every new mom’s nightmare into a wonderful opportunity. After she was blessed with twins, her life spun around them and she had to get almost everything done with the help of service apps like Amazon Fresh for groceries, Neighborly for tasks around the house, Wag to walk the dog, and many more.

When the twins were six months old, she realized that she hadn’t had a haircut or a manicure in all those months. When she looked for an app offering those services, she couldn’t find any. Bingo!

Her company, Polished, is a service company that connects busy people with beauty professionals for on-site beauty services. Customers can open the app, choose their service, their location (home, hotel, office, etc.), and hire someone to come do what they need!

Her unique challenge was to keep up the quality of the service providers; applicants only have a 25 percent chance of being a part of Polished.

The Medical Mommas

As a physician assistant by trade, Tiffany Bailey came to observe a trend where people end up with loads of medications for every ailment. Having grown up in a home where “old fashioned remedies” were more trusted, Tiffany found the medication trend disturbing.

At around the same time, Tiffany and her friend, Holly Jenkins, were looking for affordable and effective products that could help both their families with severe eczema. They failed because every lotion was packed with chemicals and fragrances that made it worse. Moreover, they found essential oils products so expensive that they could not afford them for everyday use.

Tiffany posted an article on her blog to put some feelers out and gauge the market. She asked why these sorts of products were not available, and one person replied, “because it’s not possible to have things that are affordable and quality.” The Medical Mommas was born. Since that day, they have made it their top goal to make their products both high quality and affordable.

Once they entered the wholesale market, their products started getting noticed, and several retailers contacted them with requests. The products are made with oil combinations designed to help with specific everyday issues most people can relate to. Their rollerball products are particularly popular because they’re easy to carry and spill-proof.

Miracle Salve, a product they use to help with Eczema, is their top-selling product today.

BubbleBum

Bubblebum Founder Grainne Kelly was looking for a solution to solve her recurring problem when BubbleBum shaped up. As a mother of two, Grainne was frequently traveling between her native Ireland and England to visit a sick relative and always had to transport cumbersome fixed booster seats back and forth on the plane due to the lack of car booster seats available from car rental companies. She came up with the idea for an inflatable booster seat, which became the BubbleBum.

Grainne’s primary goal was to offer travelers a safe way to transport their kids. Weighing less than one pound, BubbleBum can deflate in minutes, making it simple to throw in a backpack or large purse. BubbleBum includes belt-positioning clips in place of armrests, so it’s possible to fit three boosters across the back seat of a vehicle, making it the perfect travel companion for road trips, everyday use, vacations, cab rides, fly-ins, and more. Kids also love the stylish black and pink chevron designs.

BubbleBum is a hot favorite among child safety products. It won GOLD in the 2014 National Parenting Publications Awards and is proud to join the exclusive winners circle selected by the PTPA (Parent Tested Parent Approved) Media Awards. BubbleBum was also announced the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety) “Best Bet” in their booster seat evaluation report, where they’ve branded BubbleBum as one of the best for safety!

Whole Wide World Toys

After living overseas for nine years in Germany, Poland, Egypt, and India, Laura Barta and her family moved back to the U.S. As a family, they loved living overseas and being immersed in fascinating cultures as they could see the many different ways people live.

Laura wanted their kids to continue to explore world cultures even after they moved back to the States. As a product development engineer, Laura conducted consumer research, including countless in-home interviews. She became fascinated by the vast array of cultures across countries and within a country.

In her search for toys that celebrate the wonder of world exploration, she discovered only language and geography toys. So Laura began to develop toys that gave kids a chance to explore new cultures from home by immersing them in fun, cultural details that would spark their curiosity to learn more.

World Village Playsets capture the wonder of exploring new cultures through fabric play mats, wooden puzzles, travel journal books, and story cards with story prompts. They encourage kids to tell their own stories, incorporating what they see. When ready, kids can read the corresponding storybooks to learn more about all the little details. These award-winning, unique play sets bring the world home to play.

Kleynimals

Kirsten Chapman’s idea for Kleynimals came from her second child, who was putting everything in his mouth, especially her keys. She looked high and low for a safe, clean alternative, but could only find ‘non-toxic’ plastic products. Stainless steel keys seemed the obvious choice to her, and was surprised to learn they didn’t already exist! And so, Kleynimals were born.

The success and relevance of a product such as Kleynimals put her on the Martha Stewart show. Parents were relieved to learn that they could satisfy their child’s desire to play with metal keys without the hazards of lead contamination, sharp edges, or the daily grime that come with keys in the bottom of their diaper bags. Not to mention, each Kleynimal is tested to ASTM/CPSIA standards for babies six months and up by a third party laboratory.

Thinkerella

Cherie Melancon Franz threw a spa party for her 11-year-old daughter. She watched as they got their hair, makeup, and nails done, and a thought crossed her mind: “These are bright young ladies, and surely, I should be teaching them that there are more important things than being pretty.”

She decided to get them lab coats instead of bathrobes and safety goggles instead of spa masks. Her husband handed her their $2700 tax return to start her business. The name for her venture came to her in a dream, and the next morning, she filed to trademark the name.

Currently, Thinkerella runs birthday parties for Thinkerellas and Thinkerfellas, Girl Scout and Boy Scout sessions, and general workshops on weekends. They travel for in-school field trips, team up with local businesses for outreach and educational sessions, and have developed an after school program for the Greater New Orleans area, with expansion to other areas on the horizon.

Thinkerella employs teachers as independent contractors and have paid out well over $50,000 in supplemental income to teachers over the past three years.

Primal Life Organics

As a nurse anesthetist, Trina Felber was always conscious about her health. Despite living a very healthy lifestyle, Trina miscarried her first child. After this devastating incident, Trina started paying attention to her surroundings and environment for anything that might be causing her health to go astray.

One day, during the course of her second pregnancy, as she was slathering on her “organic” moisturizer, she stopped to look at the ingredients. To her horror, she recognized several of them as harsh chemicals that could wreak havoc on the skin. As a medical professional, she knew that toxins put on her skin could be directly absorbed into the body and affect the baby.

That incident triggered her journey into the world of safe, natural skin food – primarily for herself and her baby. Her acne disappeared at an extraordinary pace. She passed her first couple of products around and received great feedback.

When her daughter arrived, Trina started making safe baby products. Primal Life Organics now has a range of safe, natural, paleo products for women, babies, children, and especially pregnant women.

Trina’s products have seen an extraordinary response. And Trina’s daughter, at the age of six, has started her own line of safe oil-based products, especially for pets.

When Friends Phase You Out: That Ageless Conflict

When we see in our daughters the exclusionary and passive aggressive behaviors we recognize from our own friend experiences, it’s easy to worry.

I’ve been phased out by two mummy friends recently. I won’t lie, it feels shitty. 

Both “phasings” have been carried out in a passive aggressive way. The first friend – let’s codename her Coral – just stopped replying to messages, committing to play dates, being free for drinks, telling me about life events, and so on and so on. To everyone else, she’s the same old socially available Coral, but to me and a couple of other buddies, nada.

The second – let’s codename her Rose – sent the first flutterings of uncertainty up my sails by neglecting to invite my daughter Mouse to a party that she’s hosted, and we’ve attended, for the last three years. Again, with no former grumblings that our friendship had fallen shy of the runway.

Rose’s nail in the proverbial coffin came with that most feared of all PassAgg behavior: the Facebook Unfriending. In my standard over-analytical manner, I mentally retraced my digital footprint. Two weeks ago, I liked one of her statuses, so we must have still been “friends” then for me to have seen it. So at some point in the last fortnight, Rose called up my page and decided that no, she didn’t need me in her friends list. She didn’t like me enough to keep that little string of communication open, and she didn’t want my daughter to go to her daughter’s party.

Each of those little realizations felt like a bit of a kick in my stomach. Instantly, I felt transported back to the playground. I wondered what I’d done wrong, why I wasn’t good enough all of a sudden, and whether some of my other mutual friends might see what Rose and Coral have seen in me, and follow suit.

Rose and Coral are in the same NCT pack, within a wider First Time Mum brigade (established back when we were First Time Mums and clung to each other like limpets in uncertain seas). So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the phasing out might have been discussed at NCT Headquarters, a.k.a. the local health club.

First came the sting of shock. Then came the mild bubble of anger and resentment at the betrayal. Then came the internal slagging off, the “well, I have loads of amazing pals, I don’t need them anyway.” Then, finally, the little deflated balloon of sadness that farts out its last scrap of air and says, in a tiny voice, “but they were my friends.”

This is different than the natural drifting apart that many friendships go through, when interests and lifestyles and locations change, and the friendship isn’t quite strong enough to navigate and mold around those new differences. I’ve got a few of those under my belt, and I’m ashamed that I’ve let them get away. But with those, at least both parties are usually aware that their path has become overgrown and indistinct. With Rose and Coral, I really thought that we were muddling through quite well.

Running concurrently to this, Mouse’s preschool has reported a few instances of her friendship group regularly disbanding, or worse, excluding one member with exclamations such as, “You’re not my best friend anymore. We don’t want you to play with us.”

Although not the ringleader, she’s certainly one of the main culprits, and we hear all about the remnants of the fallouts as we’re getting ready for bed. “I couldn’t do dress-up today with X, because she’s not my friend. Y pushed W because they’re not best friends anymore. I didn’t want to sit next to Y for snack time because I don’t like her today. She’s not best friends with anyone.”

As a mum, this breaks my heart. I watch Mouse at home and with other children, and she’s BRILLIANT. I’d love her to be my very best friend. She’s funny, she’s kind, she’s attentive. She’s imaginative, she’s playful, she’s gentle. She’s protective, she’s silly, she’s got an infectious belly laugh.

She’s also rather stubborn, quite bossy, and a complete snitch. Oh, she’ll rat you out in a heartbeat. It’s these three traits that make me worry for her, that I hope in time she’ll learn to tone down just a touch to align with what’s deemed socially acceptable, keeping her nicely below the parapet. I want her to develop a sense of social conscience, basically.

I see her innocence and her vulnerability, but is this starting to give way to something I wish wasn’t there? Is she already displaying the tiny, icy daggers of cruelty and exclusionary power that girls just seem to have? I don’t want that for her. I don’t want her to be mean. I don’t want her to be a pushover, either.

I just want her to be her, as I know her.

I don’t want her to feel that knot in her stomach when she realizes that she’s not been invited to the party that her friends are going to. I don’t want her to comprehend the very notion of not being invited, of not being in favor with someone. Of not, full stop.

Equally, I don’t want her to be the reason that another person feels sad. I don’t want her to be the reason they might cry to their parents at bedtime and not want to go to school the next day in case they have no one to sit with at lunchtime, or play with at break time.

I suppose, really, I need to stop internalizing her anticipated feelings and behaviors, jumbling them up with my own. Just because I’m a sensitive old soul doesn’t mean that Mouse will be, too. Just because she’s feisty doesn’t mean she’ll be a bully, either.

Isn’t that what life is all about – having a few hard knocks and tests of character, but enough happy feels to outweigh them? Isn’t it about realizing that some friendships are lifelong, and others come and go as life stages peak and ebb? Shouldn’t we accept these stages as a fact of society, rather than using them as a reason to self-deprecate? Maybe. I hope so.

Girls, though. Damn girls.

7 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice on How to Take Unsolicited Parenting Advice

Nothing makes you a target for unsolicited advice quite like being a pregnant. You don’t have to stand around and take it. Here are some alternatives.

I’m pretty sure advice is often just a projection of the advice giver’s greatest fears and anxieties. When that stranger on the street tells you to put a hat on your baby’s head in late June, she’s probably doing it because when her own baby once got sick, her pediatrician blamed it on the absence of a suitable head covering.

Don’t make my mistakes, she begs you, without ever actually saying those words. This woman is so thoughtful and also must be avoided at all costs. If you’re like me and take advice about as well as six-year-olds take naps, may I offer you my own unsolicited two cents on how to handle being told what to do with your kid?

No?

Wait! I don’t want you to find yourself so flooded by the demands of a bunch of well-meaning jerks that you lose the ability to differentiate your own thoughts from theirs and slowly implode into a small pile of frightened dust!    

Still not interested?

OK, well, here it is anyway! *cups hands around mouth and shouts* DON’T MAKE MY MISTAKES!

Go deaf

Explain that one of your lingering postpartum side effects is temporary hearing loss. Move along.

Distract

Interrupt the advice giver mid-sentence with a gleeful, “Oh, I meant to ask you for that pasta salad recipe!”

If the advice-giver is a random person on the street, adjust slightly and say, “I’m sorry, but I really need a good pasta salad recipe. Do you have one?” If they don’t, remind them that that salted water isn’t going to boil itself.

If they do, well, two birds, one stone, and zero fucks given!

Be sarcastic

Thomas Jefferson said, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.” And unsolicited parenting advice is often a sea of unintelligible propositions.

When your cousin suggests you call the pediatrician to ask why, upon being denied a chocolate doughnut, your son grits his teeth, makes rage fists, and weeps, it is completely acceptable for you to say, dry as toast, “I’m also going to call his lawyer and mine.” 

Deflect with questions

Ask the advice-giver for detailed instructions on the potty training they are so wholeheartedly championing. Do not let them stop speaking, not for a second!

This will give you time to allow the fury emanating from your every pore to dissipate into the atmosphere like a silent fart. It will also give the advice-giver time to relieve himself of the anxiety and insecurity compelling him to tell you what you must do.

When it’s all said and done, you’ll both feel better (and his kid, who he was paying no attention to, will most definitely have peed his pants). 

Do not fight the tears

Show the advice-giver how you feel. This isn’t manipulation; this is the beginning of a conversation. You don’t need to apologize, you can just say, “Wow, that hit a nerve.”

If the advice-giver is warm-hearted, as most truly are, she’ll apologize and you can proceed as you wish. Maybe you’ll keep talking, maybe you won’t. But if you’re with your kids, you will have inadvertently shown them that even grown-ups feel their feelings. And live to tell the tale! 

Be honest

Say, “Thanks, that’s really kind of you, but I’m not in the mood for advice right now.”

Do not expect this kind of maturity to win you friends, but do expect to give yourself bravery chills. Kindness and candor take guts, but so does parenting in these strange times. 

Take…the advice

I mean, don’t take it RIGHT THEN! Goodness, how embarrassing.

Take it later, when your ego isn’t a blown glass ornament swinging on a tree during a tornado, and ALSO WHEN no one is around to see you realize how excellent a suggestion it actually was.

Then, swallow your pride, call the advice-giver, and thank her. You will MAKE. HER. DAY.

Paternity Leave is Essential to Building Healthy Families

While the clamor for paid maternity leave is reaching the ears of business leaders and policy makers, the cry for paternity leave remains a weak whimper.

My son was ten days old when my husband left me.

It wasn’t his choice to abandon his wife, newborn son, and young toddler at home alone, but the circumstances necessitated it. Granted, I knew he would be returning in 8-9 hours, but as I rocked my premature son to sleep and tried to convince my 17-month-old not to jump off the couch, I felt completely alone. His short week of paternity leave was over, stretched only slightly by the weekends that bookended it.

My body still ached from the birth, my eyes were bleary from a lack of sleep, and my muscles had yet to recover from the eight months of added demands that had been placed on them. The baby, born a month early, refused to nurse or even drink from a syringe, and my milk supply had rapidly begun to falter.

I was sentenced to the couch where I nursed, pumped, comforted, stood briefly to stretch my legs or to find a bite of something to eat, and then returned to put on another episode of Daniel Tiger. The cycle repeated almost hourly.

By noon I had caved. I called my mother-in-law to see if she could come stay with me for the rest of the week.

I was grateful that my husband was able to take any time off at all, and paid nonetheless. Many families aren’t so lucky. About 75 percent of fathers take a week of paternity leave or less after their child is born or adopted, and 16 percent don’t take any time off. Even if they do get time off, the vast majority of paternity leaves are unpaid – 87 percent, compared to 79 percent of maternity leaves.

While the clamor for paid maternity leave is increasingly reaching the ears of business leaders and policy makers, the cry for paternity leave remains a weak whimper. Entire families benefit, however, when a father is able stay at home and care for the new addition. When my husband returned to work, I was primarily focused on how much I wanted him at home to help me out, but it is dads and kids who unsurprisingly reap the most benefits.

And the benefits are plentiful. The children of dads who take longer paternity leaves and spend more time with them have fewer behavioral and mental health problems than kids of dads who did not. Men who take even just two weeks of leave are more active caregivers when the baby is nine months old – feeding, changing diapers, and getting the baby back to sleep in the middle of the night.

Numerous studies from around the world show even more benefits paternity leave gives to families – higher rates of breastfeeding, better performance in schools, lower rates of divorce, increased participation in household tasks by fathers, and it all seems to come down to fathers taking a more active role in family life.

But one of the biggest benefits paternity leave offers is how it helps women work. When fathers can stay at home longer to take care a new baby, mothers are better able to return to work outside of the home. Studies in Canada and Sweden – two countries that offer months of parental leave to mothers and/or fathers – found that mothers were more likely to work full-time, boosting a family’s earnings.

Despite the enormous benefits of paid paternity leave to families, policymakers continue to give it the short shrift. President-Elect Donald Trump’s proposal on family leave offers six weeks of paid leave to biological mothers, failing to extend the benefit to fathers or adoptive mothers. Currently, federal law offers 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to some employees – those working at companies with 50 or more employees and who have been at their jobs for at least a year, regardless of gender, through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Even though my husband was not eligible for FMLA after the birth of either of our children, we definitely would not have been able to afford to go months without his paycheck.

Statistics and research-proven benefits aside, I saw how difficult it was for my husband to balance work and family. One scale was loaded with demands to help at home, the other with the need to bring home a paycheck and the workplace pressure to return as soon as possible. It never tipped in his favor. Not only was he caught in a perpetual juggling act, but he also missed out on those precious early moments he desperately wanted to be around for.

Although I did survive the newborn haze with the help of my mother-in-law and my mother, I was certainly worse for the wear. After our first son was born, my husband went back to work two weeks later, just at the point when postpartum depression typically manifests itself.  It would be another month before either of us realized that my constant crying and fatigue was something I needed help with. Now I wonder if he had been able to be around more during those first few weeks, if I would have suffered by myself for so long.

During my husband’s first week back at work, I came to the conclusion that if you are still bleeding from a major medical event, you should not be the person solely in charge of a newborn. While my husband may not have had to recover from birth like I did, I needed his help, and he needed to bond with our children.

Paternity leave matters for the entire family.

Can I Please Just Enjoy This Dad Double Standard?

No, I don’t like being called the babysitter, but I’m not going to complain about being hailed a hero for simply going to the grocery store with a baby.

Whenever I run errands with our baby, Emma, and tell my wife about our encounters with strangers, she always says the same thing, “You were just a dad out on the town, weren’t you?” It’s not a question. It’s actually the verbal equivalent of an eye roll. 

My wife thinks there’s a disturbing double standard when it comes to how strangers treat a dad in public with his child/children versus how they treat a mom and her brood. Everything about this theory pisses me off, in part because deep down I know it’s true. But accepting this double standard forces me to second-guess something that’s so pure for me.

See, I love taking my daughter out in public. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to hanging around a celebrity. Strangers constantly stare, point, and approach without warning. “Look at those big, beautiful blue eyes,” people will say to Emma and, I assume, Katy Perry, too.

The craziest example of was in Washington, D.C. when a group of 10-15 middle-aged Asian tourists surrounded Emma and me and started taking pictures. My initial reaction – to hold up my daughter a la The Lion King – was met with laughter and more furious photo-taking. But when I turned the tables and started snapping pictures of the group, the paparazzi moment came to an abrupt end. I never found why we were photographed. Maybe the group mistook Emma for Prince George (she didn’t have a bow on) and me for the dutiful Manny. Regardless of the reason, I loved the experience.

I get so much joy from these outings with my daughter. I swell up with pride when I’m parading Emma around the supermarket or the liquor store (less competition from other cute babies) and people stop to tell me my daughter is “adorable” or “precious” or “trying to climb out of the cart.” I love watching Emma take in the world from her shopping cart, beaming her gummy, Jack-O-lantern smile and waving as if she were the centerpiece of a very important parade.

But I’m a first-time dad, so I do struggle. And one thing I’ve never felt is judgment or ridicule when those struggles take place in public. From what I hear, that’s not normally the case with new moms.

When Emma starts shrieking, I never feel the collective glare of the entire place forcing me to second guess my decision to bring the damned kid out. Instead, a kind-hearted stranger almost always rushes over in an attempt to make my wailing daughter smile. When Emma starts fussing, I don’t hesitate to pour some formula into a Dr. Brown’s (unpaid endorsement) because I’ve never had to worry about strangers judging me for whipping out a bottle instead of whipping out a boob. 

That’s the luxury of being a dad, of being a dude really. I’ll almost always get credit just for showing up. As unfair as it is, women are always held to a much higher standard than men, whether they’re raising children or running for President of the United States.

While I bask in Emma’s public encounters with strangers, my wife worries about every tiny move she’s made or is about to make, as if a routine trip to the store were a chess match against Bobby Fischer. Parenting judgement will happen, it’s just a question of when.

Trust me, I should be judged – harshly – for some my parenting choices.

Just last week, I rolled into the grocery story with Emma in a terribly mismatched outfit, no socks on her feet, food residue and snot forming a hard crust on her dirty, unwashed face and grubby little hands.

On this fine day, I was sporting mad scientist hair, unemployment-caliber five-o’clock shadow, a stained, moth-eaten Pearl Jam tour shirt (Yield-era), and a dirty, ill-fitting pair of sweats. The wardrobe was tied together expertly by a pair of weathered bedroom slippers I’ve owned since 1999. I looked more like Emma’s kidnapper than her loving father.

Why do I remember what I was wearing so well? Because during this particular trip, I started feeling a bit self-conscious about my choices – for myself and for Emma.

Despite our appearances, we still managed to make some friends that day. While one woman raved about Emma’s big, blue eyes, I worried she’d notice I hadn’t showered in a few days. What would my wife be doing during an interaction like this? Probably worrying about whether this stranger noticed she was giving Emma generic-brand puffs.

Meanwhile, under my watch, my daughter was happily sucking on the car keys that I’d just pulled out of the ignition of my 2005 Camry. Of course, this stranger didn’t bat an eye over it. Why would she? I’m just a dad out on the town.

The Secret to Empty Nest Success

Inevitably, you’ll be loving your kids from afar, and there’s no use in dwelling on the empty nest. Instead, focus on loving your spouse, close up.

When our oldest daughter went to college, I cried. Not exactly out of character for a man who barely made it through the movie “Father of the Bride”. So it was not surprising that when we dropped off our youngest daughter for her gap year experience after high school, I sobbed desperately and relentlessly.

The day of reckoning had arrived. My wife and I were now face-to-face with no child to entertain or to entertain us and no child to bother or to bother us. How were we going to fare absent our grown daughters, who make every breath we take worthwhile and simultaneously suck the freaking life out of us? 

So to prepare for my empty nest, I did what any neurotic, overprotective parent would do: I wasted a significant amount of billable time preparing for how much I would miss them. I practiced what it might feel like to walk into our home sans a big greeting from my girls (okay, to be honest, usually only the dogs greeted me).

I pictured dinner at our kitchen table with just my wife. I imagined our couch without a moody teen sprawled out under a blanket with snacks and cell phone, watching what appeared to be the same episode of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”. Sometimes, the idea of my daughters leaving didn’t seem so bad. But inevitably, the reality terrified me.

No one was more shocked than me to discover that empty nesting would be a resounding, unmitigated success. Apparently, how much you love and miss your children is irrelevant to empty nest success or failure. That’s right. Irrelevant. Let’s be clear. My wife and I love our daughters as much as any parent. Unconditional is unconditional, right? But that’s not a factor in our formula for empty nest success.

Our formula is an unfair multiplication equation comprised of two seemingly simple factors: (Happiness of our Marriage) X (Happiness of our Children). It’s unfair because, unlike real multiplication, if either – or both – of those factors is negative, the experience will be a downer. 

On the “Happiness of our Marriage” half of the equation, I adore my wife. She is fun, funny, smart, beautiful, grounded, and tolerates me. Yes, I traded up, and yes, she’s rolling her eyes right now because she gets me. We have fun together when we do anything and, more importantly, when we do nothing. This means that when we’re home alone, it’s good. Better than good.

The other half of the equation is equally as important. That our daughters’ happiness is a requisite to our own should not have come as a surprise to me. We live our lives with the primary goal of raising happy children, and empty nesting doesn’t change that.

Put another way, although it is probably unhealthy, I’m only as happy as my least happy child. My wife and I can be having the time of our lives doing whatever we want to do (after all, we are free!). But when we get that crying phone call from one of our girls because she was inexplicably jilted by a boy or did not do well on a test (maybe I wish they cried over tests, so I’ll stick with the boy), my mood is soured and the happiness of the empty nest plummets.

Then, of course, the jilted daughter moves on with her life, and I continue to sulk, but isn’t that the joy of parenting?

Recently, a newly minted empty-nester confessed that while his kids are thrilled and settled at school, he misses them desperately and cannot get past it. I empathized with him, but gently suggested that he work on his marriage.

So, to all you pre-empty-nesters out there, whether it be of preschoolers or pubescent teens, don’t dwell on the inevitable departure of your children. Instead, focus on loving your spouse and doing what’s necessary to support your children from afar so you all can lead happy lives.

If you succeed on both counts, your nest will never be “empty.” It will just be a little less crowded. 

Why I Cringe When People Tell Me I’m “Lucky” to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

Lounge chair testers on the French Riviera are lucky. Stay-at-home mom’s, well, maybe there’s another word besides “lucky.”

The conversation usually goes like this:

Person I Just Met: “So what is it that you do?”

Me: “Right now, I’m staying at home with the kids.”

Person I Just Met: “Oh, you’re so lucky that you can do that! Good for you!”

Whenever I hear this response, a small part of me cringes. It’s not that I disagree with them – yes, in many ways, I am very lucky. And it’s also not that I don’t appreciate my happy and healthy family. Instead, I think it does all moms a disservice – those staying at home and those working outside the home.

Here are three reasons that I don’t think we should call stay-at-home moms lucky.

Parenting is (hard) work

If someone came up to me and offered me a career as a professional beachside lounge chair tester on the French Riviera, then yes, I would consider myself pretty lucky. But parenting is not like that. It is long, hard work, the gritty reality of which I think is often ignored by the person telling me how lucky I am.

We don’t tell people they’re lucky to be doctors or lawyers because we recognize those professions take a great deal of effort. Telling moms they’re lucky to stay at home glosses over the amount of work they put in to raising children.

Stay-at-home moms today are not Betty Drapers of the 1960s – sitting at the dining table in perfect hair and makeup, finishing off a glass of wine while the nanny watches the children. (Even though, I will admit, some days I wish that was the case).

I worked outside of our home when my oldest was a baby, and I’m ashamed to admit that I often caught myself thinking, I do everything a stay-at-home mom does, plus I work! I ended up quitting my job after my second was born, and I assumed that I would suddenly have loads of free time, as well as a cleaner house.

Boy, was I wrong. Suddenly, it was just me for 10- or 12-hour stretches, dealing with every tantrum, changing every dirty diaper, and cleaning up every single mess. I might have had an extra eight hours a day to clean, but my children had an extra eight hours to ransack the place, as well. Whether you have a job outside of the home or are a full-time caregiver – parenting is definitely work.

When someone tells me how lucky I am, I know that they mean I’m fortunate to never miss a first step or a toddler’s sticky kiss on the cheek. But those moments are often buried under the day-in-and-day-out labor of child raising. Caring for children is difficult and vitally important, not a vacation – even if there are days where it is wonderful.

It’s not always a choice

After the second kid came along, I did the math a million different ways. I subtracted the cost of two kids in care from my earnings, and then from our two incomes together. I looked up different daycare providers and got on waiting lists for more affordable places. But no matter how many times I ran the numbers, I came up short.

With tuition eating up the vast majority of my salary, staying at my job just didn’t make sense. Compounding the problem was having one son with multiple severe food allergies, and a new baby who was born premature. I decided it was time to quit. While I was confident it was the right decision for our family, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it.

Similar scenarios play out every day across the country as families are often faced with difficult decisions when met with the cost of childcare. The cost of having two children in daycare eats up nearly 60% of the average salary for a woman in the United States. Childcare costs are skyrocketing. In many states it’s more expensive than college tuition, and this hike in expenses is coinciding with a rise in the number of women who are staying home. Being forced out of the labor force isn’t what any of us would call lucky.

Calling stay-at-home moms lucky reinforces gender norms

Not once has anyone ever told my husband that he’s lucky to have a stay-at-home wife (no one but me, that is). But from my point of view, he is. He gets free childcare, comes home to a home-cooked dinner every (okay, most) nights, and always has someone available to take the children to their doctor’s appointments or do chores during the day so we have our nights and weekends for family time. He’s benefitting from this arrangement as much as anyone else in the house, but I’m the one who’s frequently told how lucky I am.

Maybe I get called lucky because I’m the recipient of all those aforementioned kisses. It might also be thanks to a lingering notion that the man is the head of the household, and the wife is an unequal player – the recipient of his largesse. 

But that dynamic does not describe our relationship. In all aspects of our life, from the financial decisions we make to raising our children, we’re equal even though our daily job descriptions might differ.

Furthermore, not all women want to stay at home. For these women, pursuing a profession is not a matter of being unlucky, but of doing what they feel is best for them and their family. Parents of both sexes are now spending more time with their children than ever, even with a greater number of women working outside the home than in the 1960s.

Research shows, however, that the sheer amount of time parents spend with children matters much less than the quality of time. Basically, there is no need to feel guilty about not spending every waking minute with your children if you would prefer to have a career as well, and it might even be better than being miserable at home.

We should all be so “lucky”

Just as there are parents who want to work, but can’t afford daycare, there are parents who want to stay at home, but need their income to support their family. I do feel very fortunate that my husband’s income is sufficient enough that we didn’t have to cut back too much after I quit my job, but earning a living wage that supports a family should be considered standard rather than a rarity.

Figuring out a work/childcare configuration that suites your family is one of the most difficult parenting tasks there is. With different needs, we’re all going to strike that balance in a variety of ways, and none is better than the other. Ideally, all parents should have the freedom to pursue a path that best suits their family’s requirements, and being able to do that should be considered the status quo, not luck.

Sometimes You Make Me Want to Run Away

This motherhood gig, well, it’s fine for the most part. But the truth is, some days it becomes too much and I wonder if I’m cut out for it at all.

So, baby, let’s get real here for a second. Let’s be honest for a moment, because there are some things that you don’t know.

You probably think that you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me and that you made me the happiest mommy on earth. Judging by the amount of kisses, snuggles, and the number of times I say, “I want to eat you because you’re way too cute,” I can’t really blame you for thinking that. It’s mostly true.

But there’s another side to it.

You do indeed give me my happiest moments and I’m having a lot of fun every day thanks to the crazy stuff you do. You also give me some of my most miserable moments where it all seems to be too much. Moments when I don’t know how to handle it; when I’m so tired from months of sleep deprivation that I don’t know how to survive my day at work or how to keep it together.

And you know what, I used to always keep it together. I was a strong person who could handle everything. Now I seem to be this emotional trainwreck who doesn’t know anything anymore. Sometimes I just don’t recognize myself.

You give me a lot of tears of joy (before I knew you “tears of joy” did not really exist in my vocabulary), but you also cause me tears of desperation. Desperation because I don’t know why you’re crying this time; desperation because you’re not sleeping, and since you’re not sleeping, I’m not sleeping and I don’t know what to do anymore so the only thing I can do is cry with you.

Desperation because my body still looks like I gave birth yesterday and I just don’t have the energy to do something about it. Desperation because I don’t know how this motherhood gig works and I always knew how everything worked! Or at least, I pretended that I did and I always got away with it. But this mom job is so difficult that I can’t even pretend I know what I’m doing.

You give me my best days when the only thing I want is to quit my job so I can be at home with you all the time. You also give me my worst days when I just want to flee to the office and tell my boss that I don’t want to work part-time after all. Full-time please, very full-time.

I want to flee because you’re throwing tantrums and I don’t know what to do with you. Flee because you don’t want to do anything except cling to me and I just need a minute for myself. Flee because the house is a mess and I feel bad seeing how dirty your hands and knees get from crawling around. Flee because I don’t know how on earth we’re going to fill those hours until bedtime. Flee because then I could at least pretend I have it all under control.

So yes, dear baby, you have turned my life upside down – mostly for good and sometimes for bad. But the advantage you have is that with a big grin, a wet kiss, or a nice snuggle, I forget about the bad moments and the desperation quite quickly. So please just keep giving me a lot of those.

How One Year in a Muslim Country Helped Me Quit Drinking and Become a Better Parent

Sometimes it takes moving to the other side of the world to realize we’re not at home within ourselves.

14 months ago I quit drinking while residing in Abu Dhabi with my family.

Not only was I tired of the cycle of being hungover every morning and craving booze every night, my alcohol use seemed magnified in close proximity to a non-drinking Muslim population. Today, I credit a region of the world that confounds most Americans with bringing me clarity and ending my 11-year run as “Mommy Drunkest.”

How did I come to live in the desert and arrive at the decision to go dry? The answer is a perfect storm of identity and landscape. We moved to Abu Dhabi for my husband’s work and a family adventure, despite all that we’d heard about conflicts in the region at large. I stopped drinking because it was starting to kill me. The Middle East helped me reach the conclusion that I was my own worst enemy.

Part of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is actually a peace-loving and quiet oasis on the Persian Gulf, although a number of hostile nations and situations are located nearby. Airspace is closed over the surrounding countries of Syria and Yemen as battles rage below. Iraq and the frontlines of ISIL are a mere 605 nautical miles away. Ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya add to the region’s complications. Living in Abu Dhabi is akin to being a minnow in a fishbowl next to a tank of piranhas. You’re safe unless the glass breaks.

I began to rely on multiple glasses of wine to silence my fears about being in the Middle East. Truth is, I’d been relying on alcohol to assuage the worries I faced everywhere. Getting drunk seemed to mitigate a lot of things, including my family history of Alzheimer’s disease and my angst about raising my son in an increasingly dangerous world. Being in Abu Dhabi gave me added reason to up the booze ante despite challenges in obtaining my version of “mother’s little helper.”

U.A.E law prohibits the consumption, purchase, or possession of alcohol by Muslims. Expats from Western countries can imbibe in hotel bars or private clubs, and buy booze at a handful of liquor stores. Local society is divided along a number of lines, including the drinkers and the drink-nots. Falling firmly (and deeply) into the former category, I frequently found myself in the dubious position of instructing a Muslim cabbie to take me to a liquor store.

A concerned driver from Islamabad, Pakistan, once asked me if I drank every day. He sipped from an imaginary bottle to be sure I understood. Annoyed, I told him no. But I was drinking every day, with a vengeance. 

Inside the dark confines of Spinney’s — windows and doors blackened with plastic bags and duct tape — I’d load up on my favorite demons: chardonnay and Smirnoff. Buying liquor in Abu Dhabi typically requires a license verifying non-Muslim status, but at 5-feet-10-inches, blonde, and blue-eyed, it was so blatantly obvious that I was an American Christian the proprietor never asked for my license, which I never bothered to obtain anyway. The only thing that stood out more than my giant appearance was my huge purchases.

I’d emerge from Spinney’s with clanking black bags chock full of forbidden spirits. I’d try to muffle the telltale sound with my purse or jacket but because Abu Dhabi was hotter than hell, I’d walk quickly — and therefore noisily — back to the air-conditioned cab where my son was waiting for me. Yes, I repeatedly left my son in the company of a stranger while I bought booze to go.   

At precisely 5 p.m. every evening — an hour before the city’s sunset call to prayer — I’d pour vodka over ice and sit down to scare myself even further by watching the evening news. Meanwhile, my husband Allan worked late as the artistic director of the New York Film Academy campus and my son David played video games to unwind from a long day in fifth grade at the American International School.

By 8 p.m., I’d consumed a second cocktail and an entire bottle of wine. By 9 p.m. I was passed out in bed, claiming exhaustion from the heat and stress. I woke up feeling like I’d been run over by a war tank and swearing that I’d never drink again, but praying for happy hour to come quick.

My “come to Jesus” moment in the Middle East arrived on March 28, 2014, when my anti-depressant prescription ran out. Yes, I was taking Celexa and drinking chardonnay in tandem, a toxic cocktail considered by doctors to be a big no-n0. 

When I showed up to a hospital clinic to see about getting a refill, the nurse measured my blood pressure and body weight. Both were significantly elevated. The attending physician, who could only provide a 30-day supply of my meds in accordance with local healthcare regulations, wanted to run a battery of tests. What was the source of my soaring weight and BP?

Of course, I already knew the answer.

Then and there, I vowed to change the trajectory of my life. I had become a raging alcoholic in the Middle East. I was determined to un-become one in the same region. When I told my son about my decision to give up alcohol for good, his response cut me to the core.

“That’s good,” he said flatly. “You liked wine more than me.”

Woman and sun standing together in Abu Dhabi

When David was born in 2004, I thought he was the most terrifying thing on Earth. Overwhelmed by the responsibility of keeping him safe, I discovered that a little wine in the evening helped push back the fear. The older he got, the more wine I needed to shield against the increasing threats facing us both. But my need to drink was making my son less safe and me less of a mother. It was moving to the Middle East — a hotbed of conflict — that led me to this conclusion. 

I went cold turkey in Abu Dhabi. For weeks, I endured cold sweats in the soaring temperatures. I lost control of my bowels in the back of a cab. I cried all night and slept all day. But I found strength and inspiration in the Emirate people, who enjoy existence without cocktails. I became a more engaged, present mother who likes nothing more than spending time with her son.

I’ve been sober for 15 months, perhaps one of the greatest and most difficult periods of my life. Recent family trips to Italy and France — landscapes filled with the grapes of my wrath — didn’t threaten my newfound, hard-won identity. 

These days, the words “courage, faith, and hope” seem to come out of my mouth as frequently as coffee seems to go in. Wherever I travel now, I still finds myself saying “shukron” (Arabic for thank you) for the privilege of being alive in the world.

Nancy’s brand new memoir, DRYLAND: One Woman’s Swim to Sobriety is currently climbing the memoir rankings on Amazon. Travel, murder, intrigue, and a life story that’s so fascinating it’s almost impossible to believe it’s true. 

10 Thoughtful Ways Parents Can Choose Empathy over Explosion

Ten commonly used phrases translated into language that will help develop your child’s capacity for empathy.

Wikipedia says “an explosive material is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure.”

Is this ringing anyone else’s bells? A great amount of energy… reactive… sudden explosion…  pressure? It describes my five-year-old at around dinner time. And also myself, on the bad days.

I don’t want to be a volatile substance. I tend to keep dangerous stuff away from my kids.

I don’t want to expose my kids to stuff that would harm them, be it physically or psychologically. So over the last couple of years I have called on my own personal SWAT team to help me move from explosive parenting to empathetic parenting. This team involves supportive friends, a bunch of parenting authors, and a couple of online forums that inspire me to be the creative and respectful parent I want to be.

Empathy is the single most important trait for kids to develop. It’s the trait that will enable them to be kind teens and adults, the thing that can potentially change our world from the unjust and violent one we have to a fair and peaceful one.

When we can dig deep and treat our children with empathy it directly grows their empathy cells. (It sounds a bit like science fiction, but it is Actual Science!) There is only one thing that creates mean kids and adults and that is treating them unkindly – the empathy center in their brain literally, physically, fails to grow.

I have found several phrases to be really helpful during this steep, and ongoing, learning curve and I want to share them with you.

I believe using these consistently will move you from a place of reactive, potentially psychologically harmful communication to a place of calm and kind communication. And where our words lead, our minds will follow!

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Explosive:

If you don’t stop fighting you will go to your room!

Empathetic:

You’re finding it hard to share that. Do you have any ideas about how you can all play without getting angry or frustrated?

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Explosive:

Will you just stop crying!

Empathetic:

I can see you are upset. It feels as if you are feeling sad about something. Do you want to tell me about it?

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Explosive:

STOP THAT RACKET!

Empathetic:

I can hear that you want to make a lot of noise right now. I’m finding it hard to talk/my ears are actually hurting. Please take your outside voice outside.

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Explosive:

You’re always spilling your drinks!

Empathetic:

Oops, another spill. Let’s clean it up together. We can all be a little bit clumsy sometimes. I find it easier to not spill things if I sit down at the table for food and drinks.

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Explosive:

You wet your pants again?!

Empathetic:

Oops, another wet pair of pants. I don’t have very many spares with me so please do try and listen to your body and let me help you get to the bathroom on time.

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Explosive:

You had better switch your attitude!

Empathetic:

It sounds as if you’re feeling frustrated about something. I’m here to listen. (Later you can explain that you are human and you have feelings and it hurts when someone is speaking disrespectfully to you.)

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Explosive:

You have got to eat every scrap! I spent several hours cooking it!

Empathetic:

You don’t fancy curry for tea? Please eat the rice or the bits you do like, otherwise you’ll be hungry later. And afterwards let’s plan the next week’s worth of meals together to make sure they are things you like to eat.

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Explosive:

Hello? Can you even say PLEASE? You take everything I do for granted!

Empathetic:

I really do want to help and support you. When you ask me in a kind voice and say things like, “please” and “thank you,” it helps me feel appreciated and it makes it easier for me to help you. 

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Explosive:

YOU KIDS ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY!

Empathetic:

I’m feeling really upset and frustrated. My stomach is clenched and my brain is fizzing. I’m going to take a few minutes in the garden to try and calm down.

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Explosive:

ARRRGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Empathetic:

*dials best friend’s number* Hi, friend! I am being driven up the wall. Can I rant and spill tears on your shoulder for a minute?

This last one is one of the most important. You need to find your own SWAT team. Parenting can be a triggering, stressful time in our lives and we don’t want to take that out on our children, but we also mustn’t bottle it up. We need friends with whom we can talk things through, who can simply listen and validate our feelings and support us with our attempts to be calmer, empathetic parents.


Our words are so powerful. For further inspiration on communicating empathetically with our children have a look at 26 Phrases to Use Instead of Stop and The One Word That Will Turn You Into A Positive Parenting Whizz.