Motherhood has its ups and downs. These four women — stay-at-home mom, career mom, entrepreneurial mom and adoptive/foster care mom — represent and share the realities of being mom.
Kids: Lily, 4, Cato, 2, and Wells, 1
Home: West Akron
Gelman decided to become a stay-at-home mom after having her first child. Now with three kids younger than age 4, she has solidified her identity as a stay-at-home mom with grace, humor and candidness.
The challenges of being a stay-at-home mom…
“By far the biggest challenge of being a stay-at-home mom for me has been feeling isolated and the monotony,” she says. “My husband works long hours and there are many hours to fill before he comes home. We usually get out of the house in the morning for an activity for about two hours, and there are some days where my only adult interaction for the day is within those two hours. I crave social interactions and never feel like I get enough of it when I am home all day.
“Staying at home is also very monotonous,” Gelman adds. “I have three kids under age 4, so I spend a lot of time doing the basics of survival: diapers, feedings and laundry. Sometimes I want to curse if someone else asks me for a snack and I swear my boys have 50 stinky diapers a day. These tasks get very mundane when you are doing them on repeat with no one other than your 4-year-old to talk with while you do it.
“The best part about staying home is the flexibility you gain. I have a lot of freedom in how I arrange my days and plan my days around the needs of my kids or my energy level. I can decide if we stay in our pajamas all morning or pack our day with activities,” she says.
“As a stay-at-home mom, I have the opportunity to take advantage of everything the community offers. I have researched all the wonderful programs offered, like at the local library and art museum. Community programs focused on kids are a great way to meet other moms and provide opportunities to enrich my kids in the culture of the community.
“Finally, midday impromptu dance parties and couch snuggles never get old,” she adds.
On transitioning to life as a mother…
“Motherhood is different from what I imagined,” Gelman says. “Everyone tells you that being a mom is the greatest thing in the world and the most rewarding thing that you will ever do. I agree with this statement, mostly; all the good stuff of motherhood is how I imagined. It is fulfilling watching your kids learn to walk and your heart bursts when you hear their first words. However, for me motherhood has been so entrenching that I have lost a sense of myself. Being a mom can take up a lot of your mental space and can take you far from your former self. I really have to make an effort to make sure I do something that is NOT kid-related every once in a while.
“My lifestyle is vastly different than what it was before having kids,” she says. “Things that were once a huge priority to me are no longer on my radar. For example, my husband and I were sleeping by 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve this year. Before kids, I would be disappointed to learn this.
“Before having kids, I had the illusion I would never get annoyed with my kid. How could anyone be upset with their precious little baby? Then reality hits and I quickly learned how life with kids can feel frustrating.
“I find joy in watching my children be independent, play together and get messy,” Gelman says. “Last summer was especially fun; my two older children started to learn to play together outside really well. They would make mud pies and garden stew while I would sit on the porch snuggling my then-four-month-old baby. I loved watching them practice problem-solving together and how they looked out for each other. For example, my daughter would come running to get me if her brother fell. One of my parenting goals is to instill the desire to always share and take care of each other. It is a wonderful and rewarding feeling to see it in action.
“As a mother, I am loose with rules but strict on character building behavior,” she adds. “You can find my kiddos eating ice cream before dinner or being barefoot while wearing crazy outfits, but I draw a hard line on behaviors. I believe life should be fun and magical for kiddos most of the time, but I also expect them to be kind, to share and respond quickly when spoken to by an adult. Our parenting philosophy is to raise children that all people enjoy being around. I am keen on cultivating good behavior to ensure a babysitter will want return to watch my kids again.”
What I wish I had known before becoming a stay-at-home mother…
“If I could go back in time, I would tell myself not to be so hard on myself. I tend to be very critical of myself and my ‘mom skills,’” Gelman explains. “I can get emotional when my children throw a tantrum as a reflection of myself. It’s a waste of time. Perspective is important. Being a mom takes a lot of mental fortitude to survive; I try not to waste energy on the uncontrollable factors (like a toddler tantrum) but focus on all I accomplish.
“As a stay-at-home mom, I start each day with a grateful heart,” she adds. “Being a stay-at-home is tough in so many intangible ways, but the early years with your children are irreplaceable. For as many moments as I am aggravated by being at home, I am rewarded with seeing growth each day.
“Lastly, I rely on my friendships a lot,” Gelman says. “I have made amazing friends who have lifted and supported me through some of my toughest moments of motherhood. They have been my lifeline when I needed last-minute help babysitting, and more importantly, sanity-saving. Having a good talk, laugh or cry during a playdate can turn my day around.”
Owner of Aurora Research Associates
Kids: Finn, 4, and Oliver, 2
Home: Silver Lake
Zimmerman is an entrepreneur and mom of two. She has a special appreciation for the benefits of being her own boss and simultaneously has learned to let go of some traditional expectations that were not serving her life.
On starting her own business…
“I started my business, Aurora Research Associates, in 2011,” Zimmerman says. “It is a historic preservation and environmental consulting business. I am an architectural historian and I specialize in anything to do with old buildings.
“A lot of my work is helping with environmental studies for government projects to assess their potential effects on historic properties,” she adds. “I did this kind of work for a state agency when I met my husband, who is a biologist and does similar environmental consulting. I always dreamed about being self-employed because I wanted the freedom to manage my time and career, especially knowing I would want a family.
“Great rewards come with greater risk, so when we got married and I moved to Ohio, we decided that I should go for it. My husband has been very supportive and it helps a lot that he knows the industry.”
The challenges of being a mom with her own business…
“The challenges of being an entrepreneurial mother are plentiful,” Zimmerman says. “I am a one-person company and I have a home office. I tried to multi-task for a while, like do housework or laundry during the day here and there. I finally gave myself permission to ignore housework and focus only on my projects without guilt. I would like the house to be clean when my family comes home in the evening, but it’s just not possible — and it’s OK. The other challenge is being completely responsible for my business as a one-woman show. I do not have coworkers to rely upon, so if I have a sick kid or some other setback, there is no one else to fall back on and I have to find a way to be a mom and still meet my work deadlines.
“There are many personal challenges I experience as an entrepreneurial mom like imposter syndrome, self-doubt, being overwhelmed, etc. However, I’m really happy that I started my own business,” she says. “I have learned so much and I have been able to keep steady work flowing in. It would be incredibly difficult for me to return to a traditional office environment where someone is tracking my comings and goings. One of the greatest rewards of being an entrepreneurial mom is having the flexibility to be there for my kids without asking for anyone’s permission.”
Lessons learned as an entrepreneurial mom…
“If I were to do it all over again, I wish I learned about accounting/bookkeeping in school,” she says. “I would also set up a dedicated office space from the start and let go of trying to multi-task, working on my business and being a housekeeper on the same day. I used to feel guilty when my husband did housework, but I have since let it go.”
“I knew motherhood would be challenging, but it has been harder than I ever expected,” she says. “Motherhood really lays bare your soul, for better or worse. Your strengths as a person shine brighter but your faults are amplified, too.
“I think the endless repetition is what gets to me… the same arguments about picking up toys, eating your dinner, not hitting your brother, the fact the house is a mess an hour after cleaning it, and the never-ending laundry can feel monotonous,” Zimmerman adds. “On the other hand, my boys amaze me every day with the smart and sweet things they say, their imaginations and the way they live life out loud. My husband and I look at each other often and just say ‘Can you believe we brought these two little dudes into existence?’
“The great joy of motherhood is seeing my boys grow and become the people they’re going to be. They make me laugh in a way I have not experienced since I was a kid. The funny and wise things they say just make me stop and think ‘Where in the world did you come up with that?’ I have fun rediscovering ‘kid things’ with them and enjoying simple things from my own childhood, like sled riding and playing with Legos.
“In fact, I find that most of motherhood is trying to find balance — balancing your needs with the kids’, the spousal relationship with the parent-child relationships, consistency with compromise… I don’t always get it right, but I try,” she says.
Kids: Aliana, 7, Viktor, 4, Molly, 2, and 21-month-old foster daughter
Horvath knew she would build her family in a nontraditional way, and she has always felt called to give love to kids in foster care. Being an adoptive/foster parent has taught her a lot about love and how a child can never have too many adults who care or too much love.
On being an adoptive/foster mom…
“I always knew I wanted to be a parent, and from a young age I kind of sensed I wouldn’t have children in the ‘traditional’ way,” Horvath says. “There are so many kids who need a loving home and blah, blah, blah, and every other cliché. Upon learning about foster care, I decided to go down the path of foster care despite knowing reunification with birth parents or placement with biological family is always the goal. Even if only given the chance to parent a foster child for a little while, I still felt called to foster parent.
“When I first began my journey fostering, the challenges were typical of any foster parent,” she adds. “I was nervous about dealing with birth parents, overwhelmed by the revolving door of caseworkers, and of course always wondering if a child I’d fall in love with would leave my home. Those are still things I think about, but since I’ve been fostering for over 8 years, I feel like I have experience to help me through those thoughts.”
On the rewards of fostering and adoption…
Horvath says. “Fostering and adopting has helped me build my family. And I’ve gained so much more than just the children I’ve adopted. Those children’s bio parents and extended bio families have become our extended family, as well. One of my first placements, a little boy, reunified with his dad. We kept in touch and that little boy still calls my mom grandma. It warms my heart and that father taught me that it’s OK if someone else loves your child; it’s not something to be jealous of. He was never jealous of the love I had for his son and by doing that, he taught me there was no reason for me to be jealous of my children’s biological parents’ love for them; or my children’s love for their first families.”
“I thought I would automatically ‘know’ more as a mother, but I’m learning every day,” Horvath says. “I used to think that verbally telling/teaching my children life lessons and how to act/behave was going to be my biggest job; but I know now that the biggest job is showing my kids every day how to act, by modeling the behaviors I want them to have. And that’s so hard. It’s like being ‘on’ all the time because your kids are always watching and learning from you.”
Working mom, Progressive Insurance
Kids: Sydney, 10, and Sam, 8
Avon balances professional life and mom life. She is dedicated to having a strong presence in her children’s lives and exhibits this by being a room mom, soccer mom, etc., and advancing her professional career at the same time. Avon says she realizes she needs to be the best version of herself to truly give her daughters the best female role model.
On being a working mom…
“As a working mother, there are many challenges. Any time I feel like I’m succeeding as a mom, I realize I’m failing at work (and vice versa),” Avon says. “It’s a constant challenge to be my very best in both arenas because I have limited time and energy.”
She adds the most rewarding “working mom” feeling she experiences is when she achieves the ever-elusive balance between work and home.
“I would love other working moms to know that kids are incredibly resilient,” she says. “It’s OK for our kids to see our everyday successes and failures because they will remember how you, as their role model, respond in both scenarios. In our heavy-on-social-media-society, it’s so easy to strive for an ‘Instagram worthy’ day every single day. The truth is that raising kids is hard work and life is full of disappointments, and at the same time being a working mother is the most fulfilling role I could ever hope to have for myself.”
On the challenges of motherhood…
“After having my kids, I thought my greatest challenges would be keeping them healthy, finding the best schools, and ensuring they are always active and learning,” Avon says. “In reality, motherhood often feels like an exquisite combination of survival and strategic planning. The challenges are unique to each week, day and child.
“To manage this challenge, I try to do one special thing for my girls each day,” she adds. “This also helps me manage my mom guilt for being away at work as often as I am. It gives me peace of mind to do something special with them, like baking cupcakes when my younger daughter asks. My older daughter loves to play games as a family, show me the latest school work she’s proud of, or take a family walk.”
On being a mom…
“My greatest joy as a mother has been watching the girls grow into independent thinkers and incorporate the core values we’ve tried to instill in them into their daily activities and interactions,” Avon says. “Our core values are treating others with respect, giving others the benefit of the doubt, being a genuine friend, removing prejudice, and using the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. We have always talked about showing gratitude, (to) appreciate what you have and be grateful.”