Who Dares Discuss Paid Parental Leave in the USA?

A perspective on the surprisingly controversial topic of paid parental leave in the US, from a mother who has experienced it from multiple angles.

Writer, coach, and postpartum specialist Allison Chawla offers her perspective on the surprisingly controversial topic of paid parental leave in the US, having experienced it from multiple angles.

In a recent article on the Huffington Post, I asked why mothers in the US are expected to raise the future of our nation without any financial compensation.

After all, infant brain development depends in part on receiving love and having their needs met in the first few months of life. Multiple studies show that a child’s self-esteem, ability to trust, and ability to have healthy relationships as adults are all developed in the first year of life as they’re nurtured by their mother or caretakers.

You can’t put a price on something as essential as that.

In writing that piece, I wanted to highlight a practice that’s already working with great success for other countries. I knew that this would be a controversial topic; I expected both negative and positive feedback.

Unfortunately, many comments seemed to be knee-jerk reactions instead of pondered thoughts. They were higher in number, and far beyond anything I imagined:

“Entitled, much?”

“Get real!”

“What a joke. Everyone with their hand out for money from the tax payer. I suppose if heaven forbid their child passes away, they would want unemployment because they now do not have any job to do.”

“I’d like to point out that the Nazis paid mothers to stay home and have children. Are you saying you want a government like that?”

“In the U.S. you would see some women pumping out babies like guppies.”

“Sorry, you lost me at ‘all mothers matter.'”

Newborn baby sleeping on the chest of his mother

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]ome background: two days a week I work for an agency that trains and places women in various blue-collar jobs. These women have been displaced in society and are unable to find employment themselves.

They’ve missed the opportunity for education, they have lost spouses, have fallen behind with any skills that would allow them to acquire employment, experienced domestic violence, and fallen into poverty, often despite their partners working. The tragic list goes on and on.

Initially, I couldn’t understand how so many of these people had gotten themselves into such a difficult positions. But within a very short period, I understood that many people, no matter how hard they work, don’t get the same opportunities as others.

They don’t get the best of choices. Others get no choice at all. And despite what many of us think or believe, having a choice is a great luxury.

Not everyone has a partner that’s employed. Not everyone has a partner. People leave. Relationships end. People die. Not everyone gets a 401k or a severance package for the work they do.

The United States Welfare System, in its current state, has been failing for many years. It continues to fail. The same goes for a successful paid maternity or paternity leave program – because the United States hasn’t had one.

Just 5% of US companies offer fully paid maternity leave. There is no set leave for parents after childbirth in the US. Some people get three months while others only get eight weeks, and in certain circumstances, some parents do not get any at all.

[stag_icon icon=”external-link” url=”” size=”14px” new_window=”no”]  Read “The Great Divide in Workplace Benefits” in the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller.

The majority of the population that gets a minimal amount of leave is the same population that struggles to survive on one income or are single parents.

The U.S. is only one of three countries in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave.

The other two countries are Papua New Guinea and Suriname.

There are many other countries like Canada, Sweden, Holland and Britain that have paid maternity/paternity leave and measurable, positive socio-economic and social outcomes as a result.

Countries that offer paid leave for parents have higher rates of people completing college educations, lower rates of unemployed, lower rates of crime, lower rates of divorce and higher rates of parents returning to work after childbirth.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s essay “A Toxic Work World” in the New York Times meticulously details how the lack of societal support for raising kids or caring for elders in the US forces huge numbers of talented, driven men and women to abandon careers to take care of family.


States are taking the lead on paid leave.

Washington passed a paid family leave law in 2008, (although its enactment has been delayed to 2015 because of budget constraints).

In 2014, new parents in Rhode Island became eligible for paid maternity leave. This was only the third state, after California and New Jersey, where this right was granted. New York and Massachusetts have bills pending in their state houses.

At the national level, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn, but the United States is still one of the only developed nations that does not provide paid parental leave.

Women, who have traditionally been the ones to take family leave, now hold more seats in Congress than ever before. But if the nearly 10-year debate over unpaid leave (finally passed in 1993) is any indication of the way things are going, it is safe to say that we are behind to say the least.

Many citizens are completely unaware of these facts and I believe would think very differently if they had the information.

I don’t blame them, though. Paid parental leave isn’t an issue talked about on TV, or consistently on the radio or in many print publications.

Where it is being discussed it’s also being argued (complete with name calling, based on my experience of talking about it.) I can only hope that so many who are fearless in speaking up for themselves will begin to speak up for others.

It’s time to open our eyes and minds to circumstances that may not affect us directly, but affect our nation as a whole.

Thank you all.

Night Shift, Summer Shift

September. Back to routine and structure; back to reasonable bedtimes for kids and adults. Light years away from the nostalgia of a summer that’s passed.

September. Back to routine and structure; back to reasonable bedtimes for kids and adults alike; back to resuming my role as the night cop: “Twenty-minute warning…. 10-minute warning… Five-minute warning… BEDTIME!” Then bracing myself for a litany of put-offs.

“One more snack… one more book… one more LEGO castle to build… one more sip of water… one more tinkle… one more snuggle… one more kiss. One more minute! Just one more!”

I give up my goal of washing the dinner dishes and sit on the kids’ polka-dotted rug, equal distance between their beds so neither complain of the other getting more of me. Maybe in five minutes I can slip out. Maybe I’ll watch something on Netflix or start the book that’s been on my nightstand for months. Maybe my husband and I will… maybe not. I’m asleep.

The struggle to shift back to a normal bedtime is real, thanks to those long days of July and August spent outside, the kids running wild, indulging in too many hot dogs, and too many s’mores, the adults enjoying too many summer ales. The evenings we’d forget about bedtime books and teeth to brush and sublimely let the rules dissolve into dusty pink sunsets. The nights spent in our meadow making fires, parading along our firefly path, playing night ball, doing long-exposure camera tricks with flashlights, camping with friends.

Photo by Dylan Griffin
Photo by Dylan Griffin

Then, under the black wide-open, the kids like caterpillars sit in sleeping bags on our laps, gazing at the light of dying stars until God knows what hour of the night. Silhouettes of bats darting overhead while ghost stories are clumsily told, punctuated by the howls of a coyote in the distance (or was it just the neighbor’s dog?).

The mornings, waking up in tents with the sun, unzipping the door to dewy grass or sometimes to the fall of rain and everyone’s a little tired, a little stiff, and a little worse for wear. Cranky kids with campfire-scented hair and bug-sprayed skin scratch constellations of mosquito bites on their limbs (because that all-natural stuff never really works), and beg for a 6 a.m. marshmallow. Then, slowly, making our way back to the house to pee because the woods are so yesterday and it’s easier to make coffee in a kitchen.

September. I awake drooling, my face in the rug, a polka-dotted imprint pressed into my cheek. The eldest is asleep but the youngest is lying in his bed, eyes wide toward the window. How long will this take? I still have dishes to do, and my own teeth to brush. I sit up from the bedroom floor with a kink in my back. My son points out the window.

“Look at the moon, mommy.”

Light years away from the nostalgia of a summer that’s passed, he’s mesmerized by tonight. I lean in, kiss his forehead and watch his eyes close. Finally. But I stay. I stay, watching him sleep because the damn dishes can wait. I want just one more minute of this, this moment… Just one more.

Photo by Dylan Griffin
Photo by Dylan Griffin
Photography by Dylan Griffin.

Everything’s Fine, Sweetheart

“I love you so much,” I called to my son presently, over and over, and pulled back onto the road before me, visible now under a shallow sea.

The beginning of summer in Michigan usually looks like a messy combination of rain, subsequent humidity, flooding, and more rain. My son and I spend most of our days strolling on the hot pavement one moment, only to find ourselves racing to the car through heavy torrents moments later. It’s this back-and-forth game that makes Michigan beautifully temperamental. My state is not for the faint of heart.

Last week we were on our way home from visiting my mother when a few raindrops landed gently on the windshield.

Then a few more.

And more still.

Within minutes the individual soft specks were lost in what appeared to be one large sheet of gray, on a gray land, under a graying sky. My son, who had been squealing happily in his car seat behind me, started to fuss as the sky grew dark. Aside from the off-beats of highway tunnels, he does not do well with darkness.

“It’s okay, honey,” I called back to him. “We will be home soon.”

We would be home soon.

And as daytime quickly came to a close, there would be a lot to do when we got there. I found myself going through that list in my head – you know, the running list that all new moms keep of the things they need to do to prepare for bedtime. In our case, our list included feeding him, bathing him (if time and energy levels allowed), changing him, getting him dressed, entertaining him a bit (but not too much), snuggling him, holding him as he fell asleep, rocking him when he stirred – lather, rinse, and repeat. I ran over this list a few times, tweaking it and adding to it, as the stoplights grew blurry before me.

Suddenly the combination of darkness and a pure mass of water obstructed my vision in a way that demanded my full attention. I squinted to find the white lines on either side of me, but they seemed to float away. I slowed down enormously while the red Dodge Stratus in front of me maintained its confident speed. It inched away from me like a lifeboat that hadn’t heard my call. “A Dodge Stratus was her only hope,” I read the headline for the next day’s news aloud to myself as I putted along.

My son started to cry in the back seat as if he sensed my tension immediately. He reminded me that I wasn’t lost at sea alone after all and that my fellow swimmer saw me as his lifeboat.

“Holy cow,” I snapped myself out of it. “Everything’s fine, sweetheart,” I called back to him, nearly yelling over his cries. “Just a little farther!”

I felt myself officially losing control of the situation and began to panic.

So as soon as I saw an opportunity, I turned off of the main road and onto a quieter neighborhood street, where I would hopefully at least be able to navigate without anyone else putting pressure on me. But the once soothing rain became more raucous still, and my son’s cry mimicked its strength.

I knew I had to pull over to calm us both down. I parked on the street side and reached back into my son’s car seat. My shaking hand grabbed his and I sang to him softly. I couldn’t help but feel down on myself for not being able to get us home safely without tears.

My mind brought me back suddenly to my childhood when I used to sit in the backseat while my mother drove through those same Michigan showers of the past. I remembered the initial scare of those downpours, and how I would alternate between staring wide-eyed through my window and peeking over her shoulder and out the windshield onto the streets ahead. More than the rain on the glass, I remembered seeing my mother’s face in the rearview mirror above it. She stared forward with intensity and focus, but without even the slightest sign of fear in her entire being. I could almost see her firm, composed figure in my mind at that moment.

Dangerous blurry driving car in the rainy weather

As soon as I saw that strength in my mother, my childhood self stopped being afraid as well.

I realized that there was, in fact, nothing to fear, and quickly forgot all about it. I would smile to myself, relax into the leather seat (this was back before car seats were required), and welcome the rain as it fell hard on the roof. Nine times out of ten I would even lean my head up against the plastic siding on the door, stare at the darkness ahead of me, listen to that now soothing sound of rain, and fall asleep.

My adult self-realized then that, while my mom appeared so collected back then, she almost certainly felt at least a hint of fear on those stormy drives. More than likely, she couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of her, the streetlights were blurring all around her, and she was checking her brakes like a mad woman. She was lost at sea without a lifeboat. I knew then that in that car on that day many years ago, there was a good chance that my mother was terrified out of her mind.

But somehow, her calm in the midst of the storm transformed the storm itself from something terrifying to something manageable, and then, magically, to something altogether soothing.

“I love you so much,” I called to my son presently, over and over, and pulled back onto the road before me, visible now under a shallow sea. His cry died down.

See, so many parts of parenting are downright terrifying.

Weather conditions aside, the job begins and ends with things we’ve never done before, from actually giving birth, to letting go of our son or daughter as they take on life for themselves, and every blurry and shaky-handed step along the way. The whole thing is crazy and beautiful, yes, but it’s also the scariest thing any of us will ever do in our entire lives.

But afraid as we may be, we are the ones in charge. That is, after all, why they hand the baby to us when they come out. So we suck it up, we focus hard, and we put on a calm face. We take care of these fragile little creatures, and we love them so ceaselessly and entirely that even everyday occurrences make us feel lost at sea to maintain strength. And being the ones they trust most in the entire world, we have the unique opportunity to transform their fear into safety. Much of the time, we then lose our fear along the way.

Eventually, we even let them drive their own cars because we are all nuts. And that’s just the way it is.

I turned onto our street through thinning puddles along white lines. The streetlights lit up the road before me and my eyes relaxed in their clarity.

“I love you so much,” I continued in a whisper.

His soft sounds were few and far between.

I leaped out of the car and onto dry land. I ran around to grab an umbrella from the trunk. I opened it up, opened the back door, and reached quickly into the back seat. I lifted my son up and out of his car seat base – out of the shadow and into my arms. I grabbed the blanket from the seat next to him and unfolded it delicately.

As I started to lay the blanket over his little toes, I saw that they weren’t kicking frantically as they had been just moments before. I pulled the blanket up over his tiny body and then noticed his beautiful face under the streetlight. He was nestled there with his dry head up against the side of the car seat. And he was fast asleep.

When You Think Your Kids Aren’t Listening, Read This

This week I had a daily gift. For the first time in nine months, I had a few hours to myself each day.

You might think this is a small gift, but I don’t. I’m a parent of young kids, a full-time teacher, and a student. Personal, free-time moments are rare.

While my daughters were in camp, I had a beautiful canvas of time before me. I painted it how I saw fit. During one of these moments I stopped into a coffee shop. I pulled my book out, settled in with my coffee and bagel, and noticed a woman next to me. She had a white splash of hair atop her head and a beaming, smiling face as her friend came over to the table. They embraced and it was clear these were two old friends.

They settled into easy catch-up conversation as I eavesdropped near them. That’s what all writers do, isn’t it? I was just doing research!

First, one woman talked about how she had just seen the movie “Inside Out” with her son. But the loveliest part? Her son is 30 years old. When he was little, he spoke of his emotions as characters. It was endearing and honest. His mom remembered and they decided to honor that shared memory by seeing this movie together.

That’s when it hit me: all of this will matter. Forever. Even when they are adults. Our stories are intertwined forever. A ribbon extending.

The other thing that hit me (again): female friendships are beautiful. These two had obviously been through parenting together. And they were still talking about parenting, relationships with their kids, and how to be better. They were still on the journey, and every bit of it matters.

Then one of them started talking about how even when it feels like your kids aren’t listening, they are. They hear you even when you think they don’t – even when you feel like a broken record. The woman right behind me, with a long mane of gray hair, and a warm, cottony voice, said that in all these years she didn’t think her messages were getting through to her kids. She felt like maybe they hadn’t heard her.

Then her kids became parents. She heard her message delivered to her grandchildren. The words fell from their mouths like diamonds. There they were. Clear as day.

They HAD heard. They had listened.

It had mattered.

To all of you struggling out there and repeating messages, over and over and OVER, emphasizing what is right and true and what you believe in your heart of hearts, it matters. These ladies know it does. They stand in front of us in the trajectory of motherhood. They’re looking back and seeing their words and work were important – ARE important – and making a difference. Yours will, too.

Here’s what I’m hoping comes around again, tomorrow, in a decade, someday. I will say these words often and try to live them every day (some are borrowed from my friends and favorite writers – thank you):

  • Kindness matters.
  • Love wins.
  • Every person everywhere is EQUAL.
  • We belong to each other.
  • Use your voice. Speak your truth.
  • Have courage. Be brave.
  • Relentlessly show up for each other.
  • Hope is sometimes all we have.

Thank you to these women who reminded me that it will all be okay; that a shared journey is better; that they will hear us in their own time.

Sometimes all we need is to catch a glimpse of what’s ahead of us – to see women who’ve paved the way and to feel that we will still be valued, important, vibrant, and heard. It was a comfort and a relief.


Motherhood: Another Country

I can’t think of any photos of just me since my son was born. I can’t think of any at all. I take pictures of Robin and I together, a duo framed. We look straight into the sun. We show our hands to the open shutter. And in all of them, I’m cut—one eye surrendered to a field, another limb abandoned by an ocean.

I used to travel for work. I used to get in a car on the weekend and drive, away from the woods, to the airport in New York. On the way, trees stopped as the city started, and I spoke to no one, save a flight attendant, for about a day. Before I left the airport, I bought a disposable camera, unwrapping it from its metallic shell. I tucked it in my bag. I sat on a plane, I slept on a plane, and I arrived, awake in another country, at an hour I never remembered.

One time in Paris I missed my flight. I stayed at an airport hotel and used vouchers to eat at the bad café downstairs. There were others like me, and we conspired to share a cab through the city at night. Re-routed, lost, we snapped photos of the strangers we were—backlit against the Eiffel Tower, a glassy Louvre, some crêpe shop. In one, I stand like an empty window in front of a church, steeples as friends.

Before night brought us back, we stood on the crest of Sacré-Cœur, separating by instinct. Gold glinted around us. As I watched the city consume the day, I remembered no one knew my name. Back home, no one knew I missed the plane. And for a night, for minutes, I stood on some city hill—unreachable traveler, country of light.

I brought things back: postcards and magnets from museums, books and tea from shops. I bought shoes in Berlin, a coat in Moscow. There’s a gemmed crucifix from a street vendor in Rome. And photos, so many photos: another church, some bridge, a patterned piazza broken at my knee, some other woman’s foreign-speaking kid. There’s a hotel door, a volcano, a sign in French that read, “Don’t be afraid.” And one of me. One of me. One of me. One of me seeing things—just shocked light on disposable film.

When I came back, the customs agent and I did a dance.

“What did you do?” he’d ask.

And I’d try to explain.

I saw a tomb. I grew an inch. I missed my plane.

“I work for an artist,” I said.

And he’d blink.

I moved a painting. I got a call. I lost my pen.

“What does she do?”

I’d explain.

We’d go on, circling each other until both of us tired, and I left. Behind me, a suitcase trailed full of some cheap wine, colored magnets and film.

I can’t think of any photos of just me since my son was born. I can’t think of any at all. I take pictures of Robin and I together, a duo framed. We look straight into the sun. We show our hands to the open shutter. And in all of them, I’m cut—one eye surrendered to a field, another limb abandoned by an ocean.

On the weekends, I wake up and go to the kitchen. Robin is the sun in another room. I wash last night’s mess as morning enters through a scrim. I put each dish in a slat on the drying rack, and I count the openings left. One of me. One of me. One of me. One of me listening, imagining things.

When Robin gets up, I put him in front of the bay window, and we look out onto our suburban lawn. He watches the birds as I watch him—little animated painting. His grey eye shifts. His hair falls on a skull I remember touching through skin. And he blinks, despite himself. He breathes, despite himself. The light finds him. Light finds his bottom lip. And I’m the watcher, the museum-goer admiring the depicted’s skin.

Every day, we meet my husband on the path after work.

Every day, he asks, “What did you do?”

And I look at him across the long country of our day. I look at him as I try to explain.

I washed his hands. I closed my eyes. I took him with me.

“I washed the dishes,” I say.

“What else?”

I pointed to a bird. I said a name. I carried another.

“I don’t know.” I don’t know how to explain.

Back home, the lilac blooms in our yard for two weeks. Two weeks of lilac bushes, I think. Two weeks. And another kid kicks me. Our soon-to-be-kid kicks me, and I consider how to explain—how a child makes sound in your body and it stays.

We go on, living a night. I stand on a hill in the kitchen washing dishes. Let me explain. I am standing on a hill. It’s evening. Robin is the sun in another room. There is a smell that lingers on the lawn for two weeks. Two weeks, I think. And in the glass, I get my picture back—just shocked light on transparent film. For a night, for minutes, I stand on a hill washing dishes—unreachable mother, country of kid.

A huge part of parenting is being excited about life’s possibilities

We’re sharing a post from Brigitta Burguess every day this week, as a series about her perspective as a younger, new new mom. Read them all here.

It’s recently come to my attention that I entered into the parenting conversation without really explaining how I got here in the first place.  Well, “how I got here” isn’t exactly what I mean, since most of you know how one becomes a parent.

But I haven’t really spoken of who I am, or my perspective on the new parenting experience. Perhaps readers of my “new parenting” columns are saying things like “Who is this chick? And why should I give anything flying or belonging to a rat what she thinks about parenting?”  

Though I might not be able to answer the latter, I can at least shed some light on the former. Here goes:

I’m a 23-year-old teacher and writer from the great Mitten-shaped state where it can be both snowing and sunny simultaneously.  I’ve written for years, and am a blogger, poet, and music journalist.  My writing is therefore inspired by music, books, Nature, and – oh yeah – this new thing I’m doing all the time called being a mom. 

I spent my college years claiming I wouldn’t be a teacher because I really didn’t like kids.  But then when I graduated with a dual degree in English and Math (both of which are somewhat useless unless you are going to be a teacher) and somehow ended up getting a job offer to teach music a few days later, I gave in to my destiny. And since then, every time I tried to leave and do something different, I’ve just ended up right back with kids, adding reading and math to my teaching repertoire. I still think tons of them are brats, but God keeps leading me to spend time with them, so here I am. 

Anyway, then my awesome Renaissance man husband and I decided to have one of our own, and he came out perfect in every way so I had to admit that kids were pretty great after all (or maybe just mine is, which is fine by me).  He has only been around for a few months now, but he has already made a greater impression on my life than any college professor ever has.  Beyond encouraging strength and patience in my everyday life, my son has taught me what I consider to be the greatest lesson I have ever learned: to cry when I am sad and smile when I am happy.

I love teaching, don’t get me wrong, but I’m the kind of person who has a billion interests and could pretty much do anything as a job.  I definitely don’t think of teaching as my career, and I don’t really believe myself to be career-driven in most senses of the word. Furthermore, I don’t believe being career-driven is necessary to being a good parent.  Stability is a key aspect of parenting, yes, but I think a huge part of the job is being excited about life’s possibilities.  The moral of my story is that I am not settled or settling because I feel you can be just as good of a parent even if you haven’t quite figured life out yet for yourself. 

For me, that looks like constantly sharing my interests with my son and encouraging him to experience the joys of the world as he too encourages for me. I have learned that my job will change, and my passions will change, but my career will always be mothering.

3 women share how their creative work evolved with motherhood

We profiled three mothers who are making amazing art for the #100DayProject about how parenthood has changed their relationship to creativity.

One of the great challenges of parenthood is finding the time (and sometimes even focus) to maintain a creative practice. That’s partly why we love the #100DayProject, which we wrote about in April.

It’s “a celebration of process that encourages everyone to participate in 100 days of making.” For 100 days, people do something creative, sharing their work daily on Instagram as they go. We think this is a perfect, approachable framework for busy parents to either jumpstart their creative expression or experiment with a new creative outlet.

Now that the #100DayProject has passed the 50-day mark, we wanted to profile three creative mothers who’ve stuck with the project.

But instead of simply asking about their projects (which will be over soon), we wanted to learn how parenthood has changed their relationship to their creativity.

We asked them two questions:

  1. How did your relationship to your creative work evolve when you became a parent? 
  2. (Bonus question) How has it further evolved as your children have grown older?


Christina’s 100 Day Project: #100daysof___circles

via Christina_write

How did your relationship to your creative work evolve  when you became a parent? 

Being an artist and being a parent require the same creative energy. The same vital spark that ignites my creative work, is what my boys crave from me. In that way, they are at odds with each other.

Since having children, the time has become more precious. Not only because each hour uninterrupted, is pure gold, but also because they mark time’s passing.  As they’ve gotten older, my life feels like it’s accelerated.Years become minutes.

On the wall, we mark their height in inches. Their growth is inevitable and fast. Yesterday they were small. Yesterday they were babies. Today I can’t remember them as anything other than what they are: lanky limbed and loud.

They have less immediate physical demands, but more emotional demands. They don’t nap any more; they dress themselves, can play for hours unsupervised. At the same time, they want my attention differently. It’s not just about me looking, watching, witnessing them in their world (though it is this, always this). It’s about really listening.  Even though they require less energy in one way, they require more in another, and so in the end, there’s still the conflict: time with them, or time to create. It’s not easy to find the overlap.

via Christina_write

I take time when I can. During the week, it’s a handful of minutes maybe. On the weekend, it’s time that could time with them. Yet I trust that what they’ll remember isn’t what I missed, but what I inspired in them. An avid love for the creative process. An appreciation for the solace, one’s on company. A deep, raw wonder at the beauty of this world.

More about Christina:


Erika’s #100DayProject: #100daysoflittleraincloud

“Showing up to sketch daily using my daughter’s quotes.”

Little Rain Cloud

How did your relationship to your creative work evolve  when you became a parent? 

When my daughter was born, my whole being focused like a laser on her. Everything was concrete and grounded in basic human needs. Time to nurse. Time to change a diaper. Time to sing her to sleep. I forgot a bit of my creative self-other than figuring out how to change a diaper in an airplane or function at work on zero sleep.

When she became a toddler, all that changed. Kids have unlimited creativity, and I found myself playing pirates on the playground, building forts and spreading paint all over canvasses with my bare hands. I returned to writing, acting, taking photographs and making art again.

Now she is seven. We’re both growing in our creative practice, and I want to be a role model for her and show her that creativity is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. Just showing up matters, and the #100DayProject is a great exercise to demonstrate this.

Little Rain Cloud

I also find myself taking more risks with the creative process as a parent than I did when I was alone. Maybe it’s because time passes so much faster now, and there’s a sense of urgency to create. Each stage of childhood is wondrous, but impermanent, reminding me that life is fleeting. So find me wanting to constantly capture snapshots of it through writing, photographs and sketches.

Sometimes I want to kick myself for wasting so much time in my twenties, but what matters is that I keep going and don’t stop creating from here on out.

More about Erika:


Marissa’s #100DayProject: #100daysofmhvignettes

“I’m committing and excited about this 100 Day Project. I will paint one very loose watercolor daily of an interior, a home vignette, a cool house, or a small object. I’ll aim to use my watercolors, but I can also use Paper by @fiftythree! I can’t wait to see what everyone makes.”


How did your relationship to your creative work evolve  when you became a parent? 


Before I had my son, I was repeatedly told that I would never have a moment to myself ever again. While I understood that my life would be irrevocably changed (for the better in my opinion), I resented being told this. Can’t we celebrate changes in our lives, but not guilt those who still want to keep something of themselves? As a child, one of my favorite things about my mom was that she had her own interests, and encouraged me to pursue my own as well. I want to pass this along to my son.

The great thing about impending motherhood was it gave me a deadline for the “someday” I’d relegated some dreams too. A friend and I officially launched an interior design consulting business, and I started taking my art seriously. The way timing works, suddenly I had a newborn baby, room designs to wrap up, and illustrations to complete for a deadline. Thankfully, my mom was in town helping, and I had the support from my husband and mom to rest, enjoy my new baby,  but also complete these amazing opportunities. I learned how to work quickly and efficiently, and to trust my instincts. I no longer procrastinated out of fear. If Henry was sleeping, I was not going to waste a moment cleaning up my work area when I needed to be painting. And in the early and overwhelming days of motherhood, it felt good to do something that still felt like me. I didn’t realize how much I needed a little bit of that in my life until then.

Being a mother makes me braver and more confident in life and with my art. I don’t care as much about what others think of me, and think that there is room at the table for artists of all types, myself included!


How has your creative process evolved further as your children have grown older?

Time for art with a day-job and a small child has definitely evolved. After the frenetic work was done for my deadlines when he was born, I made sure to be gentle with myself and just enjoy my son. I put my watercolors away one day and didn’t feel like painting for about 9 months. That was okay. I don’t regret it one bit, since I had learned to trust my instinct, and was enjoying the simple and beautiful daily moments with my son. Also, I was learning how to be a mama and maybe myself again too.

Then one day, the paint called to me. The time off from painting resulted in such a surge in inspiration, that I have barely skipped a day in the past 7 months. I also think some of this has to do with Instagram, and the wonderful community there. Through social media, I found the most supportive creative people, who inspire me to dream bigger and implement ideas like a recent interview series I’ve started focusing on Artist Mothers.

The biggest challenge with a small child is free time. I view time way more critically now. Time is harder to come by unless I make other sacrifices in my life. Lately I’ve found that if I wake up earlier while my son is sleeping, I can paint before work and not miss out on time with him. I am the worst morning person ever, so it shows how much you may be able to sacrifice to do what you love!  Also, I’ve learned to be very realistic with my time, and know I can only take on so much side work at a time. I live by the quote, “You can do anything, but not everything.”

Some days I let my son watch more TV than I’d like to so I can finish some work. I try to balance it out by making the time I spend with him count. I put the phone down, I listen to him, and I crawl on the floor and play with him and his monster trucks. I don’t know how things will change as he gets older, but I do know that he doesn’t have another mother to compare me to. I hope he will remember that I always hugged him with my entire being, that we laughed a lot, that I try to include him when I can, and that he knows that I do this so that I can be the best mother possible to him by filling my cup a bit too.

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8 real moms dish on their ultimate Mother’s Day

Not surprisingly, we know a lot of (awesome) moms. We asked a few of them what they consider the ultimate Mother’s Day. You might think, given the opportunity to fantasize about anything under the sun, that the answers would be something only The Duchess of Cambridge could realistically expect. The truth is, most moms want something quite simple.

Not surprisingly, those of us at Parent Co know a lot of (awesome) moms. For reasons that were not entirely unselfish, we asked a handful of them what they would consider the ultimate Mother’s Day. You might think, given the opportunity to fantasize about anything under the sun, that the answers would be something only The Duchess of Cambridge could realistically expect. The truth is, most moms want something quite simple.

(Hear that, lovers of moms? SIMPLE. You can do this.)

Sarah, mom of 2 ages 9 and 13

Ok- dream? My kids are old enough that we have fun together, and we all work a lot, and any moment when we step outside of the pace and requirements of our day we just enjoy each other’s company- feeling lucky. So, my mother’s day wish would be us all in the east village for one weekend, eating cannoli at Venieros and borscht at Veselka and long hours in the aisles of The Strand- happy.

A close second is a day in the garden with them and then walk to dinner at Leunigs and creemees at Burlington Bay. I don’t ever wish for time apart. I just wish for time to be with them deeper. One little jewel of a day.

Elizabeth, mom of 1, age 2
I would like a Kitchen Aid mixer in the most basic color possible. Just kidding…. I would like to sit in the sun and read my book uninterrupted and a gift card to Mirror Mirror or J Crew.

Nicci, mom of 2, ages 5 and 7

I want a morning of exploring in the woods with my guys, followed by coffees and downtown meandering as a family. Then, I want to go off by myself to an awesome yoga class while my boys work like a rock-star team to plan and make dinner—something healthy and delicious—served on a table that’s set strategically with our brightest plates, coordinating (not necessarily matching) napkins and inexpensive flowers (too bad our peonies won’t have bloomed yet).

I want drawings made especially for me and board games with sweetened mint tea. I want to do the bedtime reading and back-scratching and tucking in—but delegate the subsequent bedtime wrangling to my husband. So basically, nothing much (ha!)— just a picture-perfect day.

Laura, mom of 2, ages 5 and 2

-To actually sleep in (not have the boys running in and out from 6am on and hear them yelling downstairs)
-To have the boys make breakfast AND clean it up
-To do something fun together AND then be granted a few hours of guilt-free time to myself (to hike Philo, get a pedicure, go to a movie, anything)
-And though I don’t need anything, I’ve always loved the idea of having something that my kids picked out (with a wee bit of guidance from their dad); I’d love to wear something that they picked out for me, whether it’s earrings, a hat, you name it (again, within Dad guidelines)

Every year when M-Day rolls around I have the same conversation with many mom friends… that there’s a delicate balance of what makes a perfect mother’s day. You want to spend time with the sweet people who made you a mom, you don’t want to clean up after them for once, and you’d love to have a nanosecond of time to yourself. And then come back to them. But not be the default for the day.

Sarah, mom of two, ages 4 and 7

I want to wake up refreshed from a full night’s sleep (8 hours). The sun is peeking through the curtains and I have a kid tucked under each arm, but my back doesn’t hurt. My husband is frying bacon in the kitchen. We lay around for a while (1 hour) and then have breakfast on the sun-warmed porch with really good coffee (1 hour). Then we go for a walk on the waterfront and the kids are lovely and don’t fight and the sun is warm and glorious (2 hours).

Then we come home and my husband takes the kids somewhere for a really long time. I spent two hours drawing on the porch in the sun. Then I go for a long, leisurely run along the lake for and nothing hurts, not even my lungs or my illacal spinae migratis, and the music is really, really good (1 hour). Then I take a long hot shower (30 mins). Then I lie down with a really good book and fall asleep because hey, I just ran for an hour (2 hours). Then just when I start to miss the kids, they come home and climb all over me and make me laugh. But then they leave again. (30 minutes).

Then I konmari my entire house, top to bottom and say goodbye to clutter forever (4 hours). Then I take another shower, because dust and grime (30 mins). Then my husband takes me to Misery Loves Company for dinner (3 hours) etc (1 hour) and we fall asleep (2 hours). Then somehow the kids come home and they’ve already been fed so we have movie night (Harry Potter, 2 hours). And then they brush their own damn teeth and we all tumble into bed (30 mins) and sleep a deep dreamless sleep. Except my husband, who has gone shopping and made both dinners and lunches for the week while doing all the laundry (3 hours). And somehow, magically, there is still time to get 8 hours of sleep before starting the week.

Erika, mom of 1, age 7

If we are talking pie-in-the-sky, then I’d want to spend the day in NYC by myself looking at art all day and stuffing my face.

Or stay for a night at an inn on the beach where I can read and write all day and take long walks on the beach by myself.

But if we are talking realistic and simple, then breakfast in bed and a day to myself to read, write or explore sounds perfect too.

All I want from my kid is a handmade card and snuggles.

Kali, mom of 2 ages 3 months and 4

Number 1: Acknowledgement and appreciation. It’s nice to feel as if the day-to-day things you do for your kid(s) aren’t going unnoticed. Having the whole family involved would be my ideal treat-whether it’s a day together, a special meal, or something homemade. (And since both my kids are under 4, they need all the help they can get from dad.)

Any of those things would provide a great memory to look back on, which is something I know I’ll do in the not-too-distant future while muttering, “where did the time go?”

Sara, mom of 2, ages 3 and 9

I’ll forever be enraged by the Mother’s Day a few years when the sky was gray, and snow flurries flew like little flecks of spite. First of all, it’s May. Knock it off. Second, of all days, SERIOUSLY? In stark contrast, last year was glorious. The sun was shining, my husband and I spent the afternoon getting the yard and flower beds ready for summer.

My kids pattered about, entertaining themselves outside, and whether I’ve blocked it out or it really didn’t happen, I refereed no disputes. I remember lounging in the shade, watching the sky with each of them tucked under my arms and thinking, “Nailed it!”

So, basically that again. With morning baked goods, handmade cards that took longer to make than finding the markers, and something special to plant in the garden. (And a dessert that looks expensive.)

The battle in this music video is actually a beautiful lullaby

“Nothing I had done before did anything to prepare me for you.”


Motherhood is the juxtaposition of many things. Badassery and softness. Energy and exhaustion. Who we are, versus who we thought we were.

On Swale’s 2014 album, The Next Instead, keyboardist and singer, Amanda Gustafson delivers a startlingly honest and beautiful song about her experience as a new mother. More than appropriately titled, Beaten Down, it was written as a sort of lullaby to her first child. Like many of the songs she writes, it began with the melody and the first line. (“I thought I was beaten down, then you beat me down.” SING IT, SISTER.)

“It’s like a ghost shows up, and then I have to figure out why it’s there.”

Thankfully, she did.

It seems impossible that our journeys as parents are so unique yet so universal at the same time. But there’s not a single lyric that doesn’t have to push its way past the lump in my throat as I sing along (What would I give for that voice?) It resonates, from beginning to end.

“The feeling of being beaten down is coming face to face with the reality of what I’m going to mother like. And that’s a hard realization. Because you will be mad at an infant.”

 The video, shot at the Northern New England Golden Gloves of Vermont,spanned less than three weeks from concept to shooting . And while Shem Roose shot footage of several different fights of both men and women, it became clear during the editing there was only one match they wanted to use. Hannah Rodrigue vs. Anna Gagnon. (The fact that their uniforms matched the band’s clothing and instruments was a complete coincidence.)

“This feels very particularly a woman’s fight. The pressure that we put on ourselves to be kind and loving and sweet mothers- that’s our expectation of ourselves and the battle is to be that all the time.” 

Hear more Swale and follow them on Facebook.

On Valentine’s Day, for My Daughter

Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone. I know it’s a commercial holiday. I know it’s overwrought with last-minute stuffed animals, chocolate boxes, and grocery store flowers.

Still, I unapologetically love it.

I love that there’s a day in our calendar dedicated to love, that forces people to reflect upon those they love. It’s an annual reminder of all that is – and all that is not.

Fate has handed me reasons to dislike Valentine’s Day. A cheating college boy broke up with me one Valentine’s Day. I spent another living alone in a motel with my 22-month-old after her father left and we lost our home. I’m a high school teacher who witnesses ridiculous teen professions of love, overpriced gifts, and hopeless loneliness come February 14.

Still I can’t hate this holiday.

When my daughter was three-years-old, I came across a beautiful poem by Sarah Kay called “If I Should Have a Daughter.” I promised myself that one day I would share this poem with my own daughter.

Kay spells out the bitterness and sweetness that life can offer and how that translates from a mother to a daughter. (Watch the embedded video below.)

Like Kay, no matter what tragedy or challenge comes my way, I choose to savor the sweetness of life. I wish the same for my daughter.

I want her to know that life can be hard, unfair, and unforgivable. It will smash you to pieces at times – but I also want her to remember that life is also made of sugar and sweet.

I don’t want her to forget to taste the sweet.

This morning my daughter was full of love and hugs and Valentine’s Day declarations. She made a Valentine’s Day shrine in Minecraft.

Today is a day to bask in the sweet.