Staying Home

If you read my post a few weeks ago called Which Way to Lean you know I am fully undecided on the topic of stay at home mom vs. work outside of the house mom vs. not being a mom at all vs. everything in between. So, it was interesting for me to talk with someone who is firmly in one camp.

I expect many people will read the following conversation and think, “Well of course she’s going to stay home with her baby. In her situation, she’d be crazy not to.” And others will think, “It’s nice she has the freedom to choose, but I would be so BORED not working.”  There are so many differing opinions on this issue, which is why it’s so interesting to talk about!

So, let me introduce you to Erika. She lives outside San Fransisco, CA with her husband, Tres, and has worked in Retail Marketing for the last six years or so. Erika is due with her first baby in December(!!) and has decided to be a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM). Here’s Erika’s story:

 

Caitlin: So, right when you find out you were expecting, you also found out that the freelance position you’ve been working for the last several months is being terminated. But, you were planning on being a SAHM anyway. So, tell me about that.

Erika: I don’t know if I was going to be a full time SAHM, but I was never going to go back to work fulltime. I was talking about going back, when the freelance position was still there, and doing monthly projects, instead of weekly project like I’m doing now. So, I’d have more control over my timeline and it would let me stay connected to the workforce.

So, for me, this is not the worst thing. My plan now is just to stay home and enjoy my child and to sleep when I can and not worry about trying to balance all that. I want to build my family when I’m young and have energy and figure out the career thing later if I want to. I don’t have to have a master plan right now.

Caitlin: So, how do people react when you say you want to be a SAHM?

Erika: Very mixed around here. It’s the land of Lean In and Marissa Meyer and Sheryl Sandberg. A lot of moms have their own unique businesses around here. It’s not necessarily the stigma of corporate America and power suits. You don’t need to be in heels and carry a briefcase, but most moms, unless their husbands are ultra successful, really do work and they have careers and they’re very proud of having careers.

I don’t want to say that people look down on me, but they definitely say, “WHY?” They’re like, “Ohhh, that’s interesting.”

Caitlin: Are reactions different from men to women?

Erika: Yeah, men love it. Men think it’s great. From women, sometimes I feel judged, like, “Why are you doing this?”

Caitlin: I would imagine the question you get a lot is, “Won’t you get bored?”

Erika: Yeah, you know, they say only boring people get bored. Even with the free time I have now, I’ve gotten more interests and hobbies. And when I was commuting all the time, I was exhausted. And I didn’t want to do anything because I was so tired. I don’t feel bored at all, I feel relaxed.

Caitlin: Is this something you always wanted to do?

Erika: No! When I was young, I wanted to be CEO of like, whatever, or like, Anna Wintour. But, I think living in New York and seeing all these power hungry women who had nannies raising their kids, and they didn’t really connect with their families, it made me appreciate the ability to stay home.

Caitlin: So, obviously, money plays a huge part in this and the fact that staying home is even an option for you is a great privilege.

Erika: We’re very fortunate. My husband makes a great living by most standards. When I was working full time, I was still a drop in the hat compared to my husband. So, when I decided to go freelance and then to have kids and stop working, it was more of like, okay, maybe we take a vacation or two less, rather than, how are we going to pay our bills? So that was fortunate that that didn’t really play into my decision.

Also, for me, daycare and commuting would take up about two thirds of my salary, so what are you getting versus what are you giving up? There wasn’t a huge perceived value for me.

Caitlin: So, your mom is a really accomplished career woman. What does she think about your decision to be a SAHM?

Erika: She thinks it’s great! My mom worked my whole life. She has two Masters degrees, a PhD, super smart lady. But, she says if she could do it over, she might have stayed home. She’s an educator and she says you can’t argue against the benefits of a SAHM.

I think my dad is probably more judgemental. He worries about the burden on my husband. He wants to make sure he’s okay with it.

Caitlin: And he is, right?

Erika: Yeah, he doesn’t care. He likes the benefits of me staying home, but if I wanted to work, he’d be fine with that.

Erika and Tres

Erika and Tres

But, he definitely enjoys coming home to a dinner made every night and the laundry being done and the house in good order. He can call me at the last minute and say, oh a client is coming over, and it’s no big deal. His life is a lot easier, because when I worked, everything was split 50/50.

Caitlin: Did you ever wish as a kid that your mom stayed home?

Erika: I think I did a lot. My parents were always late for everything. They did their best and I was always taken care of, but they had another set of priorities. I always wanted my mom to be a room parent, that was a big thing for me.

Caitlin: What do you most look forward to as a SAHM?

Erika: I don’t know, I’m mostly scared by it. (laughs)

I don’t know, I guess I look forward to being home with my kid and being their for the milestones, and let them do things with kids their age, and having a community.

Caitlin: Are you going to join some moms groups?

Erika: Yeah, there’s a big mother’s club in the area that I plan to do, and I want to do swim classes and stuff like that. I have these grandiose dreams of being a mom on a schedule and having my kid be well adjusted, but who knows. It’s at least nice to know I’ll have the time to do it!

Erika is in a unique position and lucky to be able to make a choice on this issue. This Time Magazine story has some interesting statistics on who stays at home with their kids, and who doesn’t.

What do you think? Do you want to stay at home with your kids when you have them? If you have kids, what choice did you make? What advice would you give other women and men who are thinking about having children in the future?

Living Arrangements

The following story is what happens when people stop being polite…. and start getting real.

Just kidding, it’s the story of when four good people who are really good friends decide to live together for awhile.

When my best friend Kristin told me she and her husband Matt were moving in with their good friends Ted and Melinda, I admit, I was skeptical. So, naturally, when I started this blog I knew I wanted to talk to Kristin about her living situation.

It’s a fascinating arrangement and one that is clearly working well for everyone involved. Check it out!

Caitlin: So, tell me about your living situation.

Kristin: Right now, my husband and I live with our two best friends and their 2 ½ year old. We have lived there for 3 ½ years now. We moved in to their house when Matt was changing jobs.

Kristin and her husband, Matt

Kristin and her husband, Matt

We had moved to Huntingdon, PA after college. After a couple of years, we realized that we had left behind a fairly exceptional group of friends and a church we loved in that move.  Friends like these are very hard to come by, so we decided to move back to Shippensburg, and it felt like home.

Melinda was my roommate in college and she and her husband, Ted, had stayed really great friends with us. They had just built a house and it had plenty of room to accommodate all of us.

Matt was thinking about starting a business so we knew it would be impossible for us to purchase a home, but it might even be hard to rent somewhere. So Melinda and Ted offered to let us live with them.

Melinda and Ted

Melinda and Ted

Caitlin: And so when they made that offer, did you have to think about it for a while, or did it immediately feel like the right thing to do?

Kristin: It’s really funny because reflecting back on it, Melinda and I have said we were both really hesitant at first. I mean, they were really open to doing it and they were the ones who made the offer, but we were all thinking it would be short term and we were all a little afraid it was going to cause tension in our relationships. But, it ended up being awesome.

Caitlin: So you’ve been there now for 3 ½ years. What’s been the most surprising aspect of your arrangement?

Kristin: I think how easy it is. To be honest, there have never been any actual fights. There have been times of tension just because people are people, but it’s just been really easy. We’ve been really honest with each other and I think really gracious in times where there might be a point of tension and we’ve really worked through it. I don’t know that this would work with just anyone for us. It happens to be a really perfect combining of personalities.

Caitlin: When you moved in you were both newly wedded couples. I do remember you telling me that when Melinda was pregnant you thought maybe you would move out when the baby was born. But, then it seemed as though you didn’t want to and they didn’t want you to.

Kristin: Yeah, in my mind, it was like, of course we’ll move out when the baby comes. But, to be honest, the business was still at a point where we weren’t sure if it would be a smart decision to do so everyone was like, okay, let’s just see how this goes. And if it’s hard for everyone then, you know, Matt and I will figure something out.

Kristin and Caleb

Kristin and Caleb

But, I can’t even remember what it was like without Caleb. It’s like he was always there. It continued to be easy. Actually now one of the reasons it will be hardest for us to go is that he won’t always be around.

Caitlin: So, how do you do it? How much time do you all spend together? Do you do meals together? How do you split the bills? Are there rules?

Kristin: We spend a lot of time together, probably most of our time together. Melinda and I do the meal planning on Sundays and then we take turns grocery shopping for the week. So, we do cook and clean up our meals together every night. We do determine who is going to cook which meals, but it usually ends up kind of falling together. Whoever gets home first should figure it out and then you know, whoever cooked doesn’t usually clean up.  And you should see the meals we have.  When you’re only cooking one or two meals a week, you can really make something nice.  We have all become amateur foodies.

We do split all of the bills so we keep our receipts and at the end of the month we split up groceries and utilities in half.

Also, living with your college roommate means that you still get to share clothes and jewelry!  It’s the best.  We have no idea what belongs to who anymore; it will be extremely difficult to separate our wardrobes when the time comes.

Caitlin: Do you pay rent?

We don’t pay rent!  Our friends are awesome.  In their minds, they would be paying their mortgage anyway, so it has enabled us to save for a house.

Caitlin: Do you have your own living space? Do you get time alone with your husband much?

Kristin: We do. We do a weekly date night. It’s funny because at first we thought it would be really important to do that, and we still do, but on our date nights we usually end up renting a movie and we invite Ted and Melinda to join us anyway.

We each have our our bedrooms and full bathrooms so that’s really nice. There’s a family room and a living room and they each have a tv and a DVD player and so if couples want to do their own thing, they can. And up until Caleb was older, we did do everything together. But, Matt and I watch some shows that are just inappropriate for a child, so that was the point in which we separated because Caleb was awake and he couldn’t watch it.

But, we do watch tv and movies together and we make all of our weekend plans together. We really don’t get tired of each other.

Ted and Melinda went on vacation with their family a few weeks ago so we were alone in the house. We realized that we do kind of forget to keep up with each other on a regular basis. Like, I’ll get home sometimes and Matt will still be at work and I’ll catch up with the first person I see when I get home. It could be Ted, it could be Melinda. And then I never really tell Matt about my day, so sometimes we laugh if Matt hears about my news from someone else.

Caitlin: It’s interesting because you’re like a family, really. What’s that dynamic like?

Kristin: We really are like a family.  We affectionately call our house the RamWald’s, a combination of our two last names, Ramsay and DeWald.

The RamWalds, dressed up for Halloween

The RamWalds, dressed up for Halloween

Sharing life together is great. It’s the reason that Shippensburg is home for us, because they are there for us when we need them.  In four years you see the ups and downs in life.  We’ve celebrated and mourned together.

And it’s been fun because when our lives are crazy and we’re too busy to cook and clean and eat, they just pick up the slack. And whenever their lives are crazy busy, Matt and I have been able to pick up the slack for them.

Melinda jokes that for the first two months of Caleb’s life she didn’t cook a meal or do a dish.

People always think that this must be really inconvenient, and that we’d really like to get away from this living situation.  We’ve even had people offer their homes to us when they go away as if it would be a favor to us.  The reality is we’ve all really benefited from living together and we really enjoy it.  We are taking a one-week vacation soon to a beautiful beach house in the Outer Banks.  The best part of the vacation is that we’re going with 7 of our best friends, including Ted and Melinda.

the whoel group

Caitlin: So tell me about holidays. I know you guys have a really cool tradition for Christmas.

Kristin: Yeah, this is a Melinda tradition that we took on and will continue to celebrate together even after we move out. Melinda calls it First Christmas. Since we all have family that’s not in the area and we travel to see them on Christmas, we don’t get to wake up on Christmas in our own house and celebrate together.

So, the Saturday before Christmas, we pretend it’s Christmas. We have Christmas eve dinner together the night before and we invite everyone over. And then the next morning we wake up and we pretend it’s Christmas all day. We make a crock pot meal or a tray of lasagna and Melinda will make monkey bread. We sleep in, eat breakfast and open presents together. We celebrate all day.

Caitlin: What’s your best advice for making a living situation like yours work?

Kristin: Step 1. Pick forgiving friends.  We really never have fought, but anyone in a close relationship will stir up things on occasion.  I think it helps that we are gracious to each other, we give each other the benefit of the doubt, we’re honest when we need to be.  And it doesn’t hurt that we were really close friends to begin with.

Ted and Melinda are super Type A. I’m a little Type A and Matt is not at all Type A. So they are really clean. As soon as dinner is over, they do every dish, wipe down the counters, everything. And for me and Matt, that’s not our natural inclination. But, because it’s important to Ted and Melinda, we try to do that now.

It’s just really good to recognize who the other people are, what’s important to them and if you do have an issue, just be open and honest about how you feel. And I think that’s why we haven’t gotten in any fights. It helps that they’re probably nicer than we are.

Caitlin: So you are looking at moving out in the next few months. What is that thought process like?

Kristin: It’s really just because we want to start a family and we couldn’t all fit in the house. Melinda and Ted keep talking about how they could turn the basement into a suite for us and we could live down there with the baby, which is really generous, but I do want my own house. So, it’s happy and sad all at once.

I’m not one of those people who needs alone time. I like being around people 24/7. So it’s really nice for me that when Matt is working late, I can hang out with Ted and Melinda. So, it’ll be hard.

We do plan to live in a community with our group of friends later in life. We plan to all buy land separately, together. So we can have a pool, a huge garden, that kind of stuff. We call it the cul de sac. Matt calls it the Cult-de-sac because he thinks that’s funny.

Our culture continues to move towards more individualistic living.  People don’t know their neighbors or borrow sugar or share lives together as much, and something is really lost in that.  It’s also much more efficient to buy one lawn mower for five families than to have everyone spend hundreds of dollars on their own lawn mower.  Plus, most importantly, we really love our friends and value community.

I think Kristin is right when she says that this arrangement wouldn’t work with just anyone. Just as you need to pick your spouse carefully, I think you’d also really need to be careful of who you decide to live with. I’m so happy to see how well it has worked out for the RamWalds. It will be interesting to talk to Kristin again in a few months when she is living in her own place with her husband. Perhaps we’ll need to do a follow up.

Unlike Kristin, I am a person who needs her own space and time alone, despite having grown up with five siblings. I’m not sure I could make an arrangement like theirs work for myself and my husband. What do you think? Could you live with friends? Family? I know a lot of couples end up living with their parents or adult children. How do you make that situation work for everyone?

Curveballs

Two and a half years ago, life threw A is for Adelaide blogger, Chelley Martinka, a curveball that completely changed the course of her life. I wanted to talk to Chelley about the way she not only handles, but embraces the unexpected in her life. I’ll keep it short here so Chelley can tell her own story, because she does it beautifully…

 

Caitlin: Can you begin by telling me what you were doing about two and a half years ago?

Chelley: This time 2 1/2 years ago I was just having my first child, Adelaide Eileen (Addie). I was concerned about “something”, chalk it up to mother’s intuition, but never really spoke up until her 2 month appointment- which was at 9 weeks. From that moment on, life has been a whirlwind.

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Addie was hospitalized for dehydration at 9 1/2 weeks, and during her stay at the hospital, they made the diagnosis of Achondroplasia, the most common (1 in 40,000 births) form of dwarfism.

Caitlin: So, for those of us who haven’t had children yet, I think a lot of us fear the unknown. What will it be like? How will my life change? I imagine having a child with special needs is THAT, times ten. How did that diagnosis change your plans?

Chelley: Ultimately, it gave me a calling- and that’s not even me trying to find some silver lining- the opportunity to write presented itself (in blogger form) and I ran with it. As far as the other plans…

I had a goal of rejoining my employer from temp to full time 6 months after Addie was born, but due to her weekly aqua therapies, specialists ranging from Boston to Providence to Wilmington (DE), it financially didn’t make sense for me to continue working. I always imagined myself this rockstar career mom in heels and Chanel’s, but that wasn’t my path. Many days I end up working with a napping toddler under my arm, and praying that another viewing of “Nemo” will keep her busy during conference calls… I consider myself a rockstar mom, still. It takes a lot to be a parent, regardless of your situation.

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Just being a parent changes life, but all the things you see in movies and commercials become something you still consider fantasies- even though your friends swear by those moments. Milestones are different, appointments are different, and your relationship with your partner becomes about survival of the family. Special needs are known for ripping marriages apart, and Dave and I work very hard to keep our love (and communication) fresh.

We also thought that Addie may be an only child because traveling for specialists and some of the stressors that come along with special needs can be overwhelming. But there are so many what-ifs, and Addie is such an amazing kid, that we decided to expand our family again. Everyone is so excited, so while I’m glad we put extra thought into it, I’m thrilled that we made the right decision that we could and would embrace everything life has for us, and do it with gusto!

Caitlin: Yeah, I think that’s great. You’re expecting in September!

Chelley: Yes. Camille Thea is due September 24th!

Caitlin: As you begin to imagine your life as a mother of two, how are you approaching this differently than when you were expecting Addie? What is the wisdom that comes from having a child with special needs? A life different from what you expected?

Chelley: I think I am researching more, but from a perspective of wanting to understand rather than a place of fear. My Google really runs the gamut from searches for typical milestone charts, to children who are diagnosed with different learning disorders, autism, Down Syndrome. I do light reading each week- just to know. At this point, with experience of being a mom of one under my belt, I’m more lax about being pregnant- but with a rare diagnosis, I know that all the prep work we do as parents can mean nothing to the child we have.

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I also do advocacy work, so I like to keep up to date on everything I can happening in the special needs world- it’s important to me, more so because I have a child who lives in that world.

And there’s my goal of not living our lives as perpetual victims of special needs. It’s just an aspect of Addie and our family. I try to focus less on Addie’s needs and more on her adapting from the go- which, for now, is her using stools and climbing safely. We don’t have a child-proof house because Addie can’t reach the things we don’t want, but as I watch her, I am learning where a child of average height will be and seeing that we need to move a few pictures and candles.

With parenthood comes wisdom- my best piece of it, is do your thing. No matter who your child is, you are the parent, and if it’s right for your family, then it’s the right thing to do.

Caitlin: Although it was unexpected, Addie’s diagnosis turned you into a stay-at-home mom.

Chelley: Being able to be with Addie and go to every appointment is the best perk. I know everything that is said by every specialist AND I get to see all the milestones! It’s not an “easy” job, but it’s fun to be home with her.

Caitlin: There’s some quote that you hear all the time, something about how God only gives you what you can handle. I think that’s silly and that the truth is, we find the strength we need to find. You mentioned that a lot of people ask you how you find the strength to handle the tough stuff that comes along with having a child with special needs. So, how do you?

Chelley: For this situation, it’s far simpler than one could imagine.

I look at her.

Rhode Island Cake Smash Photography, RI Cake smash Photography,

There are other things I’ve faced, like the death of my brother in infancy, the loss of my 18 year old cousin, father and uncle in quick succession, a major car accident, and recession in one of the poorest states in the country. But, Life’s curveballs are defined by what we think will happen because we only know about the “ideal”, but what happens to us, is also what shapes us. Life is just life, and ideals are just ideas on what would be super cool if…

For me, it’s way cooler to just live it and hope to the heavens I’m doing ok.

I think the best thing we can all do for ourselves, as people, is stop having “such” expectations, as I call them. Things that will be “such a way” because that’s how we think they will be from a book, or movie, or even a friend. Experiences are unique to the individual- I know my husband has a completely different experience with Addie’s diagnosis because I do a majority of the day-to-day. Expectations are healthy, but the disappointment we feel because something “has” to be a certain way to make it “right” is a pressure we put on ourselves.

Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.

I love that so much. “Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.” Now, everyone say it with me, “Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.” Whether it’s a surprise diagnosis, a change in relationship status, or an unexpected career turn, life doesn’t always go the way we plan. But, like Chelley said, those are the things that shape us into the people we’re becoming. And that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Which way to Lean?

Sometimes I feel like the only thing I’m really sure about in my life is my husband and my family. Everything else is a big question mark. The things I say today about career, children, and big life decisions might be completely different from how I feel tomorrow.

Simply put, I don’t have any answers. Only questions.

So, when I came across this article, “Why Women Should Embrace Good Enough,” I couldn’t wait to share it with my friend, Hartley to see what she thought. (You should go read it right now, too.)

I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to think about having children. Hartley is set to be married at the end of the month. So, we’re both at times of transition and wondering how everything fits together in our lives. What ensued was a winding, 50 minute conversation about all sorts of things that I tried to condense here in a way that makes some sense.

Note: Hartley has read Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I have not, it’s on my list. (Although I have read enough about it that I believe I have the general gist.)

Hartley, preparing for the next chapter

Hartley, preparing for the next chapter

Caitlin: So, generally speaking, what’s your reaction to the article?

Hartley: A resounding yes. Finally. Someone is saying what we’re all thinking. I think Lean In had a lot of sex appeal for women. Sandberg is extremely successful and, as a woman, an oddity in her field. But, I was mildly uncomfortable with Lean In, and I didn’t know why until I read this article. The question really is, what are you leaning away from when you’re leaning in?

Caitlin: Didn’t you used to think you could have it all?

Hartley: Yeah, I feel like we were told that.

Caitlin: I don’t even know what having it all really means.

Hartley: At the end of the day, I just want to go home and hang out with the people I love. And I’m not sure that’s included in “having it all”.

Right before he passed away, our elderly next door neighbor he told us that he wished he had slowed down and been with his family more. I feel like that’s a common regret and I don’t want to have that regret.

I don’t have kids and I’m not necessarily planning on having kids in the next year, but I do want lots of kids and I want to be there for them, and I want to have a lifestyle that allows me to do that. My mom was there for us, and I feel like I’m still only realizing just how important that was to me.

Additionally, I’m getting married at the end of this month (!!) and formally becoming someone’s partner in life has made me realize that, well, I really just want to spend time with him, always. Ha, duh, right?

Caitlin: Well, that’s pretty good reason to get married.

Hartley: (laughs) Yes, it really is.

Family has always been super important to me, too — I’m close to both of my siblings and my parents, and I really value spending time with them. I live close to my mom, and she has just been an absolute life saver when it comes to this whole “planning a wedding” thing.

And so I guess I’m realizing that I’m really lucky to have such good relationships with my family, and but even so, placing value on that, rather than, say, climbing a corporate ladder, has been a weird transition for me, mentally.

Caitlin: You know, I’ve had jobs that are very meaningful to me, but at the end of the day, my relationships have always been more fulfilling.

This line in Walsh’s piece struck me as important:

“Success, particularly the kind Sandberg calls for, requires ever more time at the office, ever more travel. It requires always being available, always a click away. Sandberg is almost giddy when she describes getting up at 5 a.m. to answer e-mails before her children wake up and getting back on her computer once they are asleep.”

Hartley: It’s interesting how bragging about how hard you work has become part of a person’s status. Like, the person who is sending work emails at 3am should get a prize or something. You can get sucked into that culture, and it’s a consuming, competitive thing. And I just think how fucked up that is.

I know, in another life, I could be that person. I could have TOTALLY been that person! But, I’m not, and that’s because my career has taken me in a different direction. No one does that in my field — working in the public sector, and I don’t mean this negatively, it’s just the way it is, it is a less intensive field.  I’m so glad that my life has lead me in this different way. I’m not up all night working on emails and projects, no one is. It’s just not expected — or rewarded.

Caitlin: Yeah, I’ve had jobs that call me in in the middle of the night, or jobs where I have to stay an extra five hours with no warning, and when it’s a job you love, you don’t really mind. But, generally speaking, I like to pride myself on how much I can get done during regular, working hours.

Hartley: (Laughs) Exactly.

Caitlin: Another point I loved in Walsh’s piece is this: “I have to wonder if Sandberg does not realize that she is going to die someday. There is so little life and pleasure in her book outside of work.”

I do often feel like the framework is, see how much you can work and achieve in your life, instead of see how much you can enjoy your life.

More and more as my career changes, I do find myself thinking about finding the balance that will make me the most happy. I don’t think I know what that is yet, but I think the older I get the more I’m realizing that I can learn as I go and I don’t need to know what the next move always is. I can go along for the ride and see what happens. It is something I have to constantly remind myself because I can feel the panic set in thinking, “Where is my life going?” I have to remind myself that I don’t need to know the answer to that question.

Hartley: Oh, definitely. Thank god we don’t have to answer that question right now! But, I do want to bring this up, a big underlying issue here is income. You know, if you’re broke, you don’t have a lot of choices.

Caitlin: You know, I was just thinking about this. I was thinking about ALL MY PROBLEMS and I thought, a lot of people wouldn’t even have time to think about these so called problems.

Hartley: Yeah, it’s never like, I need to quit working my two minimum wage jobs so I can spend more time with my children.

Caitlin: Right, so we’re talking about people who are lucky enough to have more options.

Hartley: Right.

Caitlin: You know, I do want to say, too, a lot of people are totally fulfilled by their work. And that’s great. There’s not one single answer to having a happy, fulfilling life. But I guess I just don’t think we should all believe that we need to climb and climb and climb to the point that we don’t know where we are or why.

I think it’s safe to say, we do not have the answers, only more questions. At time of press. (laughs)

Hartley: And I’d be lying if I said I weren’t just a bit jealous of those people, who, like you say, are really fulfilled by their work. So yeah, this is definitely to be continued.

Finding peace after loss

My friend Johanna lost her dad very suddenly when she was 26 years old. Through tears (for both of us), she talked about what she’s learned through six years of missing her dad and shared advice for others dealing with loss.

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Caitlin: It’s been six years since your dad passed away. Has dealing with that loss gotten any easier for you as time has gone by?

Johanna: Yes. I mean, it definitely has. When I think back to how hard it was in the first week, couple months, even the first couple of year, it was so unbelievably hard. But within six years, it’s definitely gotten easier.

This is something I’ll never get over. There are times when I suddenly get upset still and you know, holidays are still hard because I do miss him terribly, but I don’t feel that raw, raw pain that I felt six, five, four years ago. It’s steadily gotten much better.

Your mom said something to me that at the time, it was heard to hear, but now makes so much sense.

Caitlin: She lost her dad really young.

Johanna: Yeah she told me, “You’re now part of a club that no one wants to be a member of,” which is so true. And you know, I’ve had quite a few friends lose a parent and I feel like I’ve been there for them and have been able to understand on a much deeper level and I think thats been helpful for them to have someone who gets it.

Your mom also said to me that you now have to find your new normal. At the time I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to have to find my new normal, I wanted my old normal. I wanted my dad in my life. But, it is true because you do kind of get used to a new way of doing things and living your life without that person. It takes a while, but you do find it.

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Caitlin: You touched on this a bit before, but I do wonder if people realize that when you lose someone, even when a lot of time has gone by, there are still times when the pain feel just as raw and sharp as it did when it happened.

Johanna: Yeah, you know, I’m not bursting into tears all the time and having those kind of episodes that I had before so it is kind of something that people tend to forget. Maybe its something they just don’t want to bring up, because it is such a tough subject to talk about.

Everyone is always looking for the right thing to say to make you feel better, but its not about making you feel better, it’s just about being there.

Caitlin: I think when our friends go through something difficult, we all want to be there for them as much as we can, but it’s often hard to know what to do or say. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but what do you think is the best way to be there for a friend who is going through something like what you went through.

Johanna: I think it’s just being there. Everyone is going to handle it differently and need their own thing. I wanted people to be around me at all times. I didn’t want to be alone. There is nothing anyone could have said that was going to make it better or change it, but I think just allowing me to talk about it made me feel better.

But it depends on the person. Other people don’t want talk about it at all. They just want to be left alone and that’s how they have to deal with it. And I think it’s just a matter of realizing the type of person (your friend is) and what they actually need. For some people, less is more.

Caitlin: What advice would you give someone who is going through a loss that’s been really difficult?

Johanna: I don’t try to say it’s going to be okay, because it’s not. You will be eventually (be okay), but it’s still going to hurt quite a bit.

Just hang in there, because it will get better. And with time it does actually feel a lot better and the pain just does ease up a little bit and it doesn’t hurt as much.

I just remember sitting there thinking that I felt like my world has stopped and everything around me is still spinning and how is this possible? But, you kind of fall back into that groove and you get back spinning too, and you find that new normal. You can find peace and move on with your life.

Thank you so much to Johanna for talking about such a tough subject with such grace and wisdom. What advice would you give a friend who is dealing with the loss of a loved one? Or, if you’ve experience a loss like Johanna, what did your friends and family do for you that helped?