Are you living your own unique life or merely the opposite of someone else’s?


“You know what this is about?” she said.

“I have no idea,” I replied.

“This is about individuation,” she said.

What? I had no idea what Barbara Stanny, one of my dear friends and mentors, was talking about.

We were on a coaching call, and I was talking to her about the struggle I was having with distributing my attention and time between working and being a mom. (Turns out creating the freedom to make your own money and your own schedule doesn’t solve this one as I naively thought before having a baby.)

I’d shared that we were putting Penelope in daycare, and I was excited but also feeling guilty.

It was no longer working having a nanny with P at our house while Mike and I were trying to work. We were distracted, irritated, and totally unproductive.

I was navigating the relief I was feeling about this decision and feeling bad that I was feeling relieved.

“What do you mean ‘this is about individuation’?” I asked.

She went on to explain that I was designing my work, childcare, and mothering life from the truth of who I am, instead of in opposition to what I experienced as a child with my mom.

Here’s the great thing about people who’ve know you for a while like Stanny has known me: you don’t have to explain everything.

She knew that I suffered terrible separation anxiety as a child (well beyond the age that it’s normal) and would throw myself at my mother’s feet, begging her not to leave.

I’d had this desire for as long as I could remember to create financial freedom so I would be able to spend as much time with my kids as I wanted. And I’d created that reality.

But what I realized talking to Stanny was that I was putting pressure on myself to spend all but 10 hours a week when I had childcare (during which I was still often taking breaks to nurse her) with Penelope.

And the truth was that I wanted to work more than that.

I was unconsciously living out my life so as not to be my mother, instead of living out my life to be me.

My mom worked and travelled a lot when I was growing up, and it was painful for me. So when I became a mother, I let the pendulum swing all the way in the other direction and thought I should be with Penelope every moment of every day.

I was doing a 1 or a 10, all-or-nothing, approach to motherhood. I felt my mom had worked too much, so I was trying to heal that by working just a tiny bit. And when I was honest with myself, it didn’t feel good.

When I gave myself permission to design my journey as a working mother based on what actually works for me, instead of based on what it would look like to do it differently than my mother, there was tremendous relief. And I didn’t feel so guilty anymore. (The guilt isn’t totally gone. As my mom says, “Mother guilt is in the water.” But it’s less than before and that’s really something.)

So, I ask you, my dear: are you living your own unique life or merely the opposite of someone else’s? {Tweet it.} are-you-living-your-own-unique-life-or-merely-the-opposite-of-someone-elses-tweet

I found that I was spending so much time and energy trying to do motherhood differently than my mother (in the work area, at least, as she really rocked in other areas) that I forgot to ask myself what felt good to me.

Working only 10 hours a week from home (with Penelope and a nanny there, too) decidedly didn’t work for me. I felt anxious and stressed out nearly all the time.

Three and a half days a week of daycare so that I can work, exercise, and shower without worrying about what P is doing really works for me.

It’s not the way my mom did it. And it’s not the complete opposite of how she did it either.

It’s my own version of being a working mom. And that’s the best version for me.



Is there an area of your life where you’re trying so hard to be different than someone else that you’ve forgotten to tune in to the truth of what would work best for you? What comes up for you around parenting and working and the dance between the two? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


  • Giving myself permission to live my OWN life is and has been s challenge. As a new Mom I struggled with similar challenges to those you write about: when my daughter was very small I didn’t give myself permission to take ALL the time I needed for my own self-care.
    I’m finding a similar situation in my marriage where I am trying so hard not to be like either of my parents, always comparing how he/she acted and how that made the other parent or me feel, rather than listening to my own inner voice.
    Thank you, Kate, for bringing this out of the shadows.

    • Kate Northrup

      I think it’s so true – when we begin to live consciously that can lead to being hyper aware of whether or not we’re turning into our parents – to the detriment of living our truths! Take that time you need for you, mama. Your babe will be better for it too!

  • Once again your words connect with me!
    I will be sharing this with my daughters TODAY! :)

  • Balancing family life and work has been a challenge for me. I appreciate your solution. I am working toward building my own business, but still am in the place where I have to work the 40 hr a week job too. After this crazy week, I am really looking forward to being able to do the latter and having a schedule that allows me to go to all of my daughter’s games…

  • Shirlene

    Hi Kate! Thank you for being honest about your parenting journey, I feel a deeper appreciation for you and your truthful vulnerabilities. My son is 8 years old, and I too share the dances with relief and guilt. Each time he goes to his Dad’s house, I feel excited about how much I will accomplish, and simultaneously wonder if I was present enough, engaged enough, tuned in enough, when I am with him. Also, the timing of your blog is yet another divine gift of guidance, as I am still being triggered by my parents lack of value for me being a conscious and loving parent. They still ask me what is it that I do all day? Drives me crazy that they still live in a camp of thinkers who believe that parenting and motherhood is easy, unnecessary, meant to be handled by nannys/babysitters/public schools. I too am in opposition of how they parented, and I too am like you, finding my style and flavor of being a present/conscious/loving Mama…AND being tuned in to my own needs of nourishment. Thank you Kate, please keep offering your guidance and wisdom.

  • Noëlle Lemos

    Great Kate!
    And it applies to lots of things. Like my mom used to complain a lot about her husband, life and so on, even to my young friends from school. I was so ashamed.
    So I never, never complained and kept things tight into myself. No good either. Only now do I start to let things out, slowly (I am not used to it…).
    Your message reminds me there might be other things like that….
    Thanks for the remainder and keep well Kate,

  • Boy do I relate to this one! When my son was born so much got kicked up for me. I had a massive spiritual awakening. I realized my whole life was weaved around my mom. Either trying not be life my mom or trying to heal her.

    I mean I spent 17 years studying and in a career that was not what I even wanted. I was so enmeshed I had no idea I didn’t want to be a pharmacist.

    I had to discover my whole identity. Spiritual awakening, New mom, career change all at the same time!

    I quit my job and put my son in daycare at 17 months while I just figured out who I am at My truth. Who does that? Certainly not a woman who comes from a hard-working immigrant family.

    It’s five years later I am now a story teller and a writer. I live on the otherside of the country. My next truth is that I want to Live in shared community and have other adults co-parent my son.

    I know that I have sacred work to birth in this world. I think a lot of moms feel
    this call and go into mission depression feeling that there is not enough chi to do both.

    We have to find alternate ways so that woman can indeed have it all.

    The All that they really want and it starts with each One of us honoring our individual truth and supporting one another to own their truth.

    So I commend you for owning yours as I write this in the bathroom while my son keeps asking me when will I come out to play with him ?

    • Kate Northrup

      You’re definitely onto something here Sweta! Thank you for taking the time to voice yourself here. There are other ways and its up to us to create them!

  • Carolyn

    While I am not a mother, you message resonates for me. My mother kept our house very tidy (with the help of all of her children). I tend to keep mine rather cluttered, sometimes to the point that I take way too much time looking for things that I need. I have joked that I am still rebelling by not making my bed. I know I feel much better when my house is in order. I think I will tidy up my office and make my bed. I am sure it will feel much better to me.

  • Amy

    This blog really struck a chord. I’ve recently realized how much time (years!) and energy I have spent trying to not be the less-than-perfect qualities of my parents. It’s not only steered me away from gratitude for the wonderful qualities and memories of them, but also left me exhausted and frustrated. Just as you mentioned, I was also trying too hard to NOT be something. And that never felt good, truthful, or authentic. It felt restricted, things were black or white, unnecessarily rigid. Thankfully, I am now in course-correct mode, redirecting myself towards what works for me and feels good.

    Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us we can always course correct and allow our version of freedom to evolve through different seasons.

  • This blog really resonated. I’m working on smoothing out the moment of separating with my 8-year-old in the morning. He’s had separation anxiety on and off for years, especially in a new school year. I know he’ll be happy at school after I leave, and we can be so much more present with each other with some healthy separation. But the moment of leaving is really tough for him (and me!). Do you have any tips based on your childhood experience?

    • Kate Northrup

      Remain calm and remind him he’s safe. My mom never went into drama about it and that really helped.

    • Abby, One thing that might help your son w/separation is to prepare him for the day. Go to the school (or doctor’s office or wherever) with him BEFORE you guys need to be there: a week ahead? or a couple of days? Show him where to go, etc. It might also be helpful to have a friend with him or make sure he meets up w/his friend on that day. No pressure, just a little field trip to familiarize him w/surroundings.

      Then also remind him that there will be some nice surprises during the day that he/you didn’t plan on and that’s okay too. And, let him know exactly when you’re picking him up or seeing him at home from the bus (as you drop him off). Hope it helps!

  • nan

    I quit my part time job to give me time to get my health back and start my own business and fix my life….the financial side is tough but if I have my health I can do more for me and do what I want to do and have a successful business which will allow me freedom! I took a leap of faith and its working!!

  • Gi

    It’s so funny you say this. I just got a job as a video journalist (when I used to be in print). Our other anchor is a massive diva – more concerned with appearances than the story, rude to superiors and interns, etc. I found that in order to distance myself from her, I was taking less time and care with how I looked (to prove a point) and purposely being nice even when I had the right to push back. Both of these things were totally to my detriment, but I didn’t realize I was acting out until now. Thank you!

  • Thembi

    I really wonder what most people really want or better said what is most important to them,when daycare starts to be the answer to solve inconvenience(and there is a lot of that raising kids)also for people that beforehand so proudly pronounced that they believe there is another way…
    I can’t figure it out,but something doesn’t feel right(in the sense of true)
    I confess struggling myself with the issue of raising kids and all the restrictions, decisions and more and more questions it brings above,but in my case when I really stay true with myself I only am more and more with my kids and everything else suits or don’t…

    • Kate Northrup

      Every woman’s journey is different. My work is a soul calling and I don’t feel complete without it. I’m a much better mother because I’m expressing myself in my work. That may not be the case for everyone, but it is for me.

  • Janice

    Yes, mother guilt is in our water. And so is work guilt for mothers, if we think about it honestly. When we become parents, it’s obvious that our role as financial providers heightens. But we have become accustomed to requiring it all, all at the same time. In Quebec, where I live, we have a socialized daycare system which was originally intended for women who needed it, in order to go out to work and support their family. It began at $5/day and I believe it is up to $7 now. Everyone is eligible for it; there is NO discrimination of who uses it. I won’t even extrapolate on what kind of service a child receives for a $5 payment/day warehoused in these popular facilities, nor on who the real backbone is of society required to supplement the rest of the $46 it takes to cover this service. We put so much emphasis on “women returning to work”. Financially it is very beneficial for the government to have more tax contributors, (working mothers) and consequently they’ve got the incentives down pat to persuade them to return back to work.
    Let’s think beyond the guilt…. it’s 2016. We are capable of realizing when we are needed, where we are needed and by whom. Is returning to work a need or a want? Is it necessary now or is there a more appropriate time? We are very capable women, capable of dealing with the guilt and confidently doing the right thing for our families!

    • Kate Northrup

      For me returning to do work that is my soul calling is necessary for my well being as a woman. I understand this isn’t the right choice for every woman, but Penelope’s health improved when she started daycare and she was a lot less cranky. To me that says it’s a good choice for her too.

      • I’m so happy your wrote this. I too wanted to stay home full time with my son for the first 5 yrs to be the opposite of my mother.
        Howeever, I was depressed. I wanted to work and felt there was something wrong with me because if I don’t want to be with my son 24/7 did I have any right choosing to be a parent? I still feel guilt because while he’s in daycare 3 days a week, I could use at least another day. Plus, I’m starting to want another child (3 yrs later) and plan to start childcare wayyyy sooner. I can totally see I’m reacting to my own up bringing and trying to heal my own wounds of my past.
        I feel the judgement from other moms when I speak my truth. It doesn’t change what I do, but I feel the preceived judgement to be heavy.
        Maybe it’s my own judgment of myself for wanting to do things differently than I thought I would.
        Keep in sharing, this is immensely healing.

  • So wise…¡Congratulations!

  • Maria

    You spoke to me! I’ve been trying so hard myself not to parent or be a spouse like my mom. I ended up starting a business, and it’s going well, but I’m still struggling to balance as the kids demand more time (homework and activities), and elderly parents require care too. I’m one person. And I get pulled in so many directions. And people get upset when I say no — I was always a yes girl because I didn’t want to upset anyone. I say no now because my time os limited, and it’s precious. I get so little for myself. Ah the guilt!

  • Kate…I admire your courage. You are free of old beliefs and the guilt that comes with childhood. I know your children will benefit from your effort

    Kathryn Bonney Oct.6,2016 2:35

  • Kate…I admire your courage. Old beliefs gone are gone and your living a
    life and I am sure enjoying every minute. I wish you all the happiness in the world Kate!! Sincerely, Kathryn Bonney

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