Don’t tell my husband or my dad, but I’ll admit it. I’m a perfectionist and I’m stubborn as hell. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child, but I’ve always wanted to prove myself… especially when I became a mom. I felt this enormous pressure to act like I had everything under control, but in reality I felt isolated, I questioned my decisions, and I didn’t know if things would ever get better. Looking back, I realize I was lucky to have amazing friends and family who would have been happy to do more to support me through those first few months. And in hindsight, many of them probably wanted to do more and would have been happy to help if I had only asked. My guest today, Samantha Bracy, shares her own journey from trying to “do it all” with her first, to learning to “lean on her people” with her third. And wow, I wish I had heard all of this five years ago…
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Samantha was one of the first of her friends to get pregnant. She was ready, prepared, and excited. Then came her first daughter, her first maternity leave, and her first experience feeling isolated at home. Was it supposed to feel this hard? With her husband working long hours, she realized that she needed people in her life who understood what she was going through, and that she could lean on. Between her first child and her third, her approach to motherhood totally changed. She found a community, learned to lean on those people who are there for her, and say “yes” when friends do offer to help – and what a difference it has made. These days Samantha is the Director of Special Education at Match Community Day School, and an informal mentor to new moms in her school and beyond. Every mom out there would be lucky to have a mom friend like Samantha in their lives.
How was your first maternity leave?
To be honest, maternity leave was really hard for me. I was pretty young when I had Autumn and I didn’t have friends who were in the stage of life as me. My family also wasn’t as hands-on and involved as they are now. I was very eager to go back to work because that was where I felt successful and where I felt like I had some normalcy and some control over my life.
When you say it was hard, what parts of leave were hard for you?
I had very little help. I just felt like I never had a break between not sleeping and physically exhausted. My husband was working a lot at that time so not only did I feel the isolation of maternity leave, but on top of that I was actually physically alone a lot with the baby. I am someone who needs to feel connected to my friends and my family and I very much value my relationships. I felt like I didn’t have people who understood what I was going through and that felt very lonely for me. I just didn’t know- Am I supposed to feel this way? Is this normal? Am I struggling more than a typical person might struggle? I think in hindsight, I probably had postpartum depression that never was treated or really even talked about. I don’t remember any adults in my life- not family or friends or the kids’ pediatrician telling me- this might be a little bit bigger than what you can handle and it’s not your fault. So I think that just added another layer of challenge for me. It became my normal and I just trudged through it every day.
What was your source of strength at that time that helped you “trudge” through the day-to-day?
I think there are two main things. I think one – I had a friend who lived not far from me in the city. We had taught together years before and lost touch, but we reconnected when we were pregnant at the same time. I would have days where if I could just get up, get the kids dressed and make it to Lauren’s house, I’d be okay. It helped so much to have another adult there to talk to. As long as I had company to get through the morning, then I’d tell myself ‘Okay, half the day is done. We can go home and do lunch and naps and I felt like I can make it through the rest of the day by myself.’ That was my main source of support.
Then when I had my second daughter, Laila, Instagram was starting to be a thing. I actually found a lot of community in a few mommy bloggers who were on Instagram and who were really real. It was great and I was struggling. I wanted to be reading and listening to other people who were acknowledging that it was hard and that it was beautiful – but it was also hard. So I found a lot of support in that online community.
Did you flip that switch and become a mentor at some point, now that you have three kids?
So I am a semi-closeted writer. I wouldn’t call myself a writer but I I love to write. I write all the time. One thing I actually do for my kids is I have a folder for each of them in my Google Drive and I write to them all the time and my plan is that when they’re older I will give them a book of all their writing. I was never really good at printing pictures and making baby books, but I can give them my writing and so that has been a way that I’ve been able to connect.
Also I think just by nature of friends I’ve made in adulthood, I’m just further along in my mom journey because I had kids younger so I definitely do not know more than my friends, though they would probably say that. But I think they look to me as a role model in a lot of ways- if Samantha can do this and have a job and have three kids then I can do it too. And so I have some text threads with Mom friends in my circle and we just share advice and complaints and cute pictures. I’m a humble person. I’m not going to say I’m the leader of my friend group, but I bet if you asked them they would say they draw a lot of inspiration from the way that I parent.
How would you describe your parenting style?
I try to let my kids make mistakes and take risks within safe limits to be able to learn from those things. If I am always warning them and hovering over them and telling them- be careful -that’s dangerous -Don’t do that. Which don’t get me wrong, I do all the time, but my inner voice is checking me- Is that really a big deal? Is it really dangerous or do I just not want them to do it or does it just annoys me as an adult? I try to reflect often on the boundaries I set for them and the guidance that I give them to make sure that they do have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
I read Glennon Doyle’s read it latest book Untamed recently, which I would recommend if you haven’t read it, but she talks about how people often want to shield their kids from all the bad things in the world, but then when you ask somebody what type of traits and characteristics do you want your kid to have people say resilient, strong, brave. You only become those things by going through hard things and coming out on the other side. That’s a mindset that guides my parenting. All I can do is love them and set the best example I can for them and have courage and faith that they will learn along the way and make good choices. And you know what? Sometimes they won’t make those choices and I have to be someone that they know they can come to even if they screw up. I want them to know that they can make mistakes and I’ll still love them.
What topics spring to mind for you in terms of bringing real life to your children?
We a mixed-race family. My husband is Black and so my children are both Black and White. Two of them are white presenting and one of them is not and so we have a lot of unique circumstances in that way that we have to navigate home for our family and for our kids. When a lot of the recent events were all over the news and the Black Lives Matter movement is having this giant moment in history, one thing I thought was- are my kids too young to know that George Floyd was murdered on the street? Then I had a moment where I thought- children of color don’t get the luxury of waiting to be a certain age to learn about these things. And so that is my privilege that I’m even thinking, Do I have to navigate this now? Should I navigate this now?
So I was really honest with them about everything that was going on in the world. I tried to share with them in a way that wasn’t overly explicit, but also not sugarcoating the truth. And so we’ve done a lot of work and we continue to do a lot of work to get to just unpack their identities. My husband and I are doing that work alongside them. We’ve had a lot of conversations within my friend groups and my mom friend groups about just sharing resources for how to navigate raising anti-racist children.
What is your advice to your pre mom self?
I think when I first had kids I didn’t ask for help at all. And I have so many friends who just don’t ask for help, even their spouse and that’s a really quick way to drown. We are one of the only cultures and countries that raises kids in such an isolated way. In so many other places it is a communal community responsibility to raise children. I really believe in the power of leaning on community, but it took me a long time of struggling on my own to get there. And so I think just having the confidence and knowing that your people love you. They want to help you but they can’t read your mind. And so you have to say I need a break. I need to go for a run. I haven’t eaten lunch today. Can you give me a few minutes to do that? And I think that makes a huge difference in my day-to-day to be able to verbalize those things to the people around me.
Co-founder & COO
Bridget is mom to two little boys, Hudson and Brooks, and a champion of working moms everywhere. NeighborSchools itself was borne out of Bridget’s challenge to find high-quality yet affordable child care, and the realization that so many parents struggle with these same issues every day.