“Being a SAHM Wasn’t for Me; Working Was, Shockingly”

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This month, we’ve invited moms who inspire us to share their stories with Momtastic for our Super Mom Series. Carrie Southworth is a mom of two daughters and co-founder of Twigtale, a company that produces expert-scripted books to help children with life-changing issues such as moving and becoming big siblings. She grew up thinking she was meant to be a stay-at-home mom, and then she discovered that working outside of the home actually made her a better parent.

Growing up, I thought I was destined to be a stay-at-home mom. I could feel it in my bones. On the back of the PSATs, when they asked me what I wanted to be when I became an adult, I scrawled “a mom” with my number two pencil. I was a nurturer! I loved crafts!  I loved to cook! In high school my friends would often refer to me as the camp counselor; I was the organizer, the planner, the one who always packed snacks for road trips.  I was going to NAIL this stay-at-home mom thing.

And then I had my first child, and I realized I was wrong. About all of it.

Motherhood wasn’t anything like what I expected it to be. And somewhere in those first few months of sleepless nights and colicky cries I realized deep down that if I was going to be a happy, sane mother I was going to have to work outside the home to keep me balanced.  I needed a job to make me a better mom. I needed a job to keep me from resenting my husband, my children, and my life. It was a hard lesson to learn. One I hadn’t expected, and one I had a lot of guilt about, because this is not how I imagined it would be.

And you know what else I was wrong about? My mommy instincts. I had always assumed that all I would have to do was rely on my mommy instincts to solve every problem, to answer any question my three-year-old would throw at me, to navigate the mid-grocery store temper tantrum and the elevator scream-fest. Yeah… I was very, very wrong about that.  Sure — I kind of knew what to do, but many times I found myself grasping at straws looking for answers I couldn’t begin to find inside.  

Eventually I looked for help and found experts like Allison LaTona, MFT, a group facilitator at Babygroup — a group that provides guidance to parents of young children in Santa Monica. I loved that Allison was a child development expert who could help fill in the gaps where my mommy instincts were lacking. She gave me insight into the power of language we use with our children. She helped teach me about good enough parenting – how the best parents are mindful parents who try their best, but understand that they will never be perfect.  

Around the same time I met Allison, my childhood friend and fellow parent, Nishad Chande, came to me with the idea for Twigtale. Nishad had an idea for a business that would give parents access to the expert language and parenting tools experts like Allison advocated.  Many child development experts tout the benefits of creating a book for a young child, and by allowing parents to do it online and use personal photos Twigtale was an innovative idea. Nishad and I co-opted Allison to write our first Twigtale titles and the business was off and running. Later I would come to see this as a life-saving moment. The start of Twigtale provided me a career outside of the home as well as a way to help parents of young children.

Ultimately, I have two deliciously adorable, quirky, hysterical, and healthy daughters. I have a supportive, intelligent, and handsome husband who makes me belly laugh and grills a mean steak. And I am finding a path between being a mom and having a career that at times feels right  — but only because I have learned to allow myself to have the doubts, surprises, chaos and anxiety that come with both.  I’ve learned that I will never know it all, that I will never do it perfectly, and that what I have is enough.  

And knowing I have enough is a powerful, humbling realization.

My advice: Let go of trying to be the mother you were supposed to be. Forget the random, dusty pile of files sitting in your bedroom corner or the fact your children have eaten fish sticks for dinner four times this week. Feel confident saying “I don’t know, let me think about how to answer that” when your child asks about death. Ask for help from your friends, from family, professionals. Find your balance and know inside that you are enough, that what you are doing is enough.