Heather MacFadyen: Don’t Mom Alone
About the Guest
Stuck feeling defeated as a mom? Don’t go it alone! Author Heather MacFadyen shows how you can be foster key relationships with God, others, & your kids to be the mom you want to be.
Heather MacFadyen: Don’t Mom Alone
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Heather: In motherhood—it was very humbling I found very quickly—I think we hadn’t even left the hospital with my oldest, and I was in tears.
Dave: What is it that’s so hard? I mean—[Laughter]
Ann: —said the man.
Heather: Can we please pull that? Can you please pull that quote and start the episode with that?—because that is the best statement; you’re amazing.
Dave: Exactly! Because I’m thinking there are guys, like me, listening, going, “Seriously, you two are like, ‘It’s the hardest thing in the world,’” Like, “Really? Is it that hard?”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: After 36 years of being a mom, I want to know the Ann Wilson secret/the mom secret—
Dave: —to be able to give moms. I was going to say, “You can’t say, ‘Jesus.’” Don’t give me this canned “Jesus” answer. [Laughter]
Ann: Well, that’s true; but—
Dave: I mean, you raised three sons; now we have grandkids. You’ve done it. If there is like one secret—
Ann: I think the thing that surprised me the most is how much I needed other women/other moms in my life to encourage me.
Dave: You’re saying that because of who’s sitting in our studio today. [Laughter]
Heather: That was a leading question.
Ann: No, no; it’s true, because I don’t think I had any idea how lonely I would be, as a mom—because we moved to Detroit; I was pregnant; I had a baby; I didn’t have a church; I didn’t have a community—and I was dying; I was miserable. It’s—
Dave: And I was blamed for all of that, by the way. [Laughter]
Ann: I’m sorry; I probably did blame you. But I needed some women.
I think you’re right; the reason we’re talking about that is because we have Heather MacFadyen with us, who’s written a book called Don’t Mom Alone. Heather, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Heather: Oh, y’all are so fun. Thanks for having me.
Ann: It’s been getting a little wild in the studio. Heather brings out this crazy side of me. [Laughter]
Dave: Well, you’re a mother of four boys.
Heather: That’s true.
Dave: Ann’s a mom of three boys. We’ve got two boy moms in the studio, and you’ve got to have a certain quality to be boy moms.
Ann: What is that? [Laughter]
Dave: I don’t know. [Laughter]
Heather: Maybe it pulls something out of you in reaction to all of the boy—
Ann: That could be.
Heather: —being in the environment.
Ann: But Heather, share with us and our listeners, what do you do?—and even your podcast.
Heather: I began writing online before Facebook® was a thing, and then—
Dave: Now, wait, wait; how long ago was that?
Heather: It’s a long time ago—2008. How do you say that anymore?—2008; two thousand eight.
Dave: You were like blogging or just writing articles about being a mom.
Heather: Blogging; this is what people would do.
Ann: Yes; that was big.
Heather: My in-laws and my parents—neither one lived in our city—so I was like you, isolated from community and from family. How you updated them was you wrote online and shared, “We went to the zoo today.” I did that; and then, it kind of became a ministry, where I was sharing what God was teaching me. That transitioned into a podcast in 2013—eight years ago/almost eight and a half.
Dave: Just a few people listen.
Heather: Yes, now people are listening all over the world. It’s called Don’t Mom Alone.
Ann: Mom’s should all listen to this. I just sent it to a bunch of young moms that I’m doing a small group with, because it’s encouraging.
Heather: I hope so.
Dave: I would say, dads could/I listened to it.
Heather: Oh, look at you!
Dave: I mean, I was like—I read your book—but I wanted to hear a little bit, so I clicked on a couple [of episodes]. We know Dr. Juli Slattery; you had her on recently. I was like, “Man, men could learn a lot from this podcast.”
Heather: —from women in general. [Laugher] I have a few dads hanging in.
Ann: Do you?
Heather: Yes, we need to get some merch for them: “Don’t Dad Alone.”
Dave: If I asked you, “Is there a mom secret?”—I know you, obviously, are going to talk a little bit about what Ann said that you can’t mother alone—but is there something that comes to your mind that’s like: “Okay, this would be mine; this would be the secret I think moms need to know or understand”?
Ann: “Jesus.” [Laughter]
Heather: Well, the first third [of the book] is about—
Ann: It is; yes.
Heather: —really honing my relationship with God. I think I was stripped of all the tools that had worked up to that point—I’m a good performer in school; did some synchronized swimming—we haven’t talked about that; you know; right?
Dave: Wait, wait, wait! You’re one of those?—the arm comes up together?
Heather: Yes, I did that—athletics, if you want to call it that; I think it’s athletic—
Ann: It is! That’s hard.
Heather: —but just any area of my life: “You work hard enough, you put in the time, and you get an A+ or a gold medal.”
In motherhood—it was very humbling I found very quickly—I think we hadn’t even left the hospital with my oldest, and I was in tears of just not knowing what to do. I had my master’s degree in speech language pathology, specializing in zero-to-three child development and infant feeding. My child struggled with keeping his food in his mouth; he had reflux so bad. I’m thinking, “I’m supposedly the expert; I have a master’s degree in this.”
I was the one who had a Babysitters’ Club, as a 13-year-old, back when the books were popular.
Heather: Had my own handbook on how to babysit. I loved kids/always wanted kids; was going to—
Dave: Wait, wait; did you write your own handbook?
Heather: Oh, yes. I’m just saying I was all-in on the Babysitters’ Club.
Then, I couldn’t do it. I’ve hit my wall, day one at the hospital, and had to really lean into my faith.
Ann: Heather, that happened to me. I went out to dinner with my parents, with a three-month-old. My dad looked at me—he lived in another state—he looked at me/he said, “What’s happened?”—[Laughter]—which already made me cry. He goes, “What has happened to you?” I probably had food in my hair; I don’t even know what was going on.
I said, “Dad,”—and I had been in sports my whole life—I said, “I could run a marathon, and it would be so much easier than this.” He’s like, “What are you talking about?! You have a three-month-old. You have one child.” [Laughter]
Heather: —like, “How hard could this be?”
Ann: Exactly; but I think what that does to us, as women, is it makes us fall on our face before God—there’s something beautiful about that—and say, “I can’t.”
Dave: What is it that’s so hard? I mean—[Laughter]—I mean, I know—
Ann: —said the man.
Heather: Can we please pull that? Can you please pull that quote and start the episode with that?—because that is the best statement; you are amazing.
Dave: I’m thinking there are guys, like me, listening, going, “Seriously, you two are like, ‘It’s the hardest thing in the world.’” We’re like, “Really? Is it that hard?”
Ann: That’s because you were faking being asleep at night.
Dave: I did fake being asleep when the kids ran in. [Laughter]
Heather: I do think there’s a pressure that we put on ourselves and, I think, that our society puts on us. But we draw connection lines—if there’s a school shooting/if there’s a child, goes and becomes a prodigal—everyone starts questioning their parenting as if it’s an A + B = C situation.
While we know, as parents, we are responsible—and we have this ability to steward that well, and be intentional, and all of that—it’s a wild card; these are humans with sin natures. God has an ultimate storyline, where He may use that prodigal moment for His greater purpose and plan. But when you have that crying baby, and you’re thinking, “I don’t know how to make them stop crying,” it is a weak point.
There have been many times when I’ve wanted to be assigned a different ministry: a ministry to moms is not sexy; it’s not interesting; it’s not cool.
Ann: I think it is!
Heather: It’s cool when you have needed it or you see the need. But I think, in the greater realm, it’s not a high and lifted up platform or interest to a lot of people. They may even say, “It’s not that hard; why would you need support?!”
But I think what I’ve found is: if my goal is to reach the world with the gospel, which it is—I believe we’ve all been given the same calling to go and make disciples—and our assignments are different. My assignment is: “In this season, a mom is so ready and willing to receive help outside of herself—a higher power, a strength, a purpose, and a plan beyond what she can see—and that eternal perspective helps her.” That’s where I’m supposed to be, and I feel like it’s such a need.
Dave: Listening to you two talk about being a mom—just last week, our youngest son was here with two grandkids—so we had a three-year-old and a one-year-old. We’re driving in the minivan—there you go; that just describes—it was a rented minivan. Guess who’s driving?—I’m driving. The dad/my son is in the passenger seat; so Ann, and the two kids, and their mom are all in the back.
Ann: —our daughter-in-law.
Dave: The one-year-old is screaming for an hour; blessed little girl. [Laughter] I was watching her—listening and looking in the mirror—and noticing that Cody and I are almost oblivious.
Heather: The filter was on.
Dave: It’s like there’s a wall—you know, it’s like there’s a wall that’s behind us, and we can hear it; but we’re not a part of it—you moms are in it.
Ann: That’s why it’s so hard!
Heather: Yes, it’s a visceral response. I do think it’s a God-given thing that, when they’re screaming in the middle of the night, I want to help/I want to make the screaming stop in a different way than you want to make the screaming stop. [Laughter] I want a child who’s content and happy; there’s something in me that wants that. But I can’t describe it to a man. I even think, when we were pregnant with our first, my husband didn’t even grasp fatherhood until a baby showed up on the scene; and he grasped it a little bit.
For sure, those early months of trying to work through—on paper, it seems like my husband and I grew up in the same home: our parents, thankfully, were both married over 50 years; we each had four kids in our home; our dads had professional careers; Christian families, so not a lot of conflict from that—but when it came to: “How are we going to raise this child?” the conflict starts coming up.
You don’t want to mom alone if you have a spouse—and you invite your husband into that—but man, “Do we let them cry it out or not?” was one of the big hot buttons—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Heather: —the mom visceral response is: “I’m not going to let my baby cry; it’s my baby! I want to go in there!”
Dave: And the right response is: “Let them cry it out.” [Laughter]
Heather: “The formula says, ‘Yes.’” I think that all those teeny decisions—it can start to wear on your marriage—so I do have a chapter in here on “Staying connected” and a team mentality when it comes to parenting.
Dave: Is the aloneness feeling, as a mom, is that a dominant—obviously, you have a whole ministry called Don’t Mom Alone; so I’m guessing what you’re going to answer—but describe that, because I don’t think we always understand that aloneness feeling.
Heather: I think, for me, it was beyond just the loneliness that maybe people can relate to having gone through the pandemic, if you don’t have kids—beyond just: “I can’t see people,”—so your kids are maybe forcing you to be away from people. It’s more: “I have pulled away pieces of myself from being known,”—whether it’s: “I’m no longer working outside the home,” or even “When I’m around other moms, I’m not really sharing what is hard right now; because I don’t want you to think I’m a bad mom.”
Ann: That’s really true.
Heather: What I found was my pride—and my wanting to look like: “I’ve got it all together; I’m not making mistakes,”—is that I wouldn’t share when things were hard. I might host the play date:
- but I may not say that I was up the night before; as this person’s espousing on the horrors of using a pacifier, my child’s sucking on a pacifier—[Laughter]—it’s the only thing that’s keeping me sane—it’s: “Oh, I better go hide that before she sees that we rely on pacifiers.”
- “This one’s saying you should only breastfeed, and I have formula in my pantry. Better not bring that out while she’s here.”
You start hiding—because we all are doing this for the first time, wanting so desperately to get it right—but missing the opportunity for connection, because of these isolating ideas.
Ann: Now, it’s worse; because now we’re, not only comparing to our friends around us, we have all of social media that we’re comparing ourselves.
Heather: —highlight reels.
Ann: Exactly. I can remember being at my first outing, going to a Bible study, taking my baby. I think I had an infant, a two-month-old, and a two-year-old. Some moms were talking afterwards and talking about: “Oh, it’s so fun.”
I remember saying, “You guys, you know what happened to me this morning?” I said, “This is awful.” I said, “I had some orange juice in my hand that was mine; it was glass. My two-year-old kept trying to pull it out of my hand. I said, ‘No honey, it could break’; and I was very calm. He kept pulling and pulling. I thought, ‘Well, alright; I’ll just let it go.’ I let the cup go out of my hand, and he splashed the orange juice all over his face. He just broke into this tantrum and crying, and he was fine.”
The moms looked at me and here was the response: [Gasping sound] I needed them to laugh, like, “Girl, I have done that!”
Heather: You needed identification; yes.
Ann: I did; and I remember thinking, “Oh, I guess no one’s done anything like that.” I went home—cried—because it just reinforced: “You’re failing,” and “You are a bad mom.”
I think we can be surrounded by people—as you said, Heather—but we can retreat in shame and guilt, and that can be hard. You had that happen at the park. I was laughing at the beginning of your book—[Laughter]—I mean, like, “Oh, this has happened to her too!”
Heather: Yes, it was before I was in any mom community. Our church’s MOPS was at—it’s called the Arboretum—it’s just a pretty park. I saw all of them, and I’m trying to do the two-kid hustle—trying to feed the newborn, who’s screaming; and then the toddler really needs to go home and take his nap—well, I haven’t gotten the cute picture yet of them by the pumpkins; so I’m trying to make it last a little bit longer.
One of the mentors comes over; she sees me struggling—this is another lie that keeps us isolated: is that “I don’t need help”; right?—“I can do this all on my own. I should be able to do this all on my own; moms, for centuries, have.” She offers help, but I reject it; I’m like, “No, I’m fine.” Then she’s so wisely offers a specific help, and she says/she had a British accent [using British accent], “Does the toddler have a snack?”
I was like, “A snack! Genius! Food always helps!” I pointed to the bag. She gets out the little snack cup, and she goes to offer it to him. He really rudely just grumps away from her and says, “No!” I’m horrified; because you can’t act that way, especially not to a British woman—
Ann: —and she’s a mentor of the group.
Heather: —and she’s a mentor of the church!
I look at her and I go, “I am so sorry.” I start listing off all the excuses, like, “He’s teething,” “He needs a nap,” “It’s hot outside.” [Laughter]
Ann: It’s what we do!
Heather: She looks right at me, dead in the eyes; she says [using British accent], “Why, as mothers, do we feel like we need to apologize for our children? If he wants to be a jerk, let him be a jerk!”
I was like, “I’m going to start crying again. I’m not letting him be a jerk; I’m failing!” [Laughter] But so much of the not connecting with other moms is our kid’s behavior ties to our performance. If we are high-achieving/high-performers—and kids are kids and we see that as a B+ on our report card—we don’t want to be out with other people; we don’t want them to do what they do.
Ann: They see us failing all the time.
Heather: Yes, they’re just/which are funny stories now—and they leave poop in random places—but it’s not at the time: it’s quite embarrassing and horrifying. Yes, it does; it separates you from people.
Dave: What do you do? I’m listening to two moms, saying, “When I’m around moms, I feel judged/I feel like I’m trying to measure up; but I need to be around moms”; so how do you balance that tension and where do you go?
Heather: My hope is to invite women into being safe community for each other/to recognize that we are important but not essential. There is not a formula: you may have found a great thing that works for your child, but that may not work for this mom—and to just be curious about her process—love her where she is, recognize you came from different homes, and support one another.
I have a great story that models that—I just heard from a friend—they were at a play date.
Dave: I just wonder: “Does this have a British accent?”—
Heather: No. [Laughter]
Dave: —because you’re really good at that!
Heather: I’ll try to figure that out; I’ll try to leave it in.
Ann: Have another accent
Heather: Have another accent—Australian—[using Aussie accent] “Shrimp on the barbie.” [Laughter]
She’s there at this play date. She’s doing the multi-kid shuffle. She’s realizing that her child just spilled goldfish all over the floor, and one of her other kids is leaning over to go eat it off the floor. She’s like/she’s trying to keep the conversation going with this mom—and horrified, trying to keep her kid from eating the goldfish off the floor—“What are they going to think?—that I let my kids eat goldfish [off the floor]?”
The mom she’s talking to, without skipping a beat in the conversation, reaches down, grabs some off the floor and starts eating them herself. [Laughter] And she said, “Oh, I’ve found my people! The bar has been lowered; we’re just living life together.”
Ann: I think that’s the key, too—I realized at that time/I thought, “I need a place where I can share all of my junk, and be heard and be accepted; because I’m going to fail/I’m going to make tragic mistakes. But I need somebody else, who will also share their fear, their pain, their failures,”—I think it takes a while to find that and to not give up. How can women find their friends?
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Heather MacFadyen on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Heather’s response in just a second. But first, if you want more people to experience great conversations like the one you’re hearing today, you’re going to want to listen to this: all month long, any gift you give to FamilyLife will be matched, dollar for dollar.
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Alright, now back to Dave and Ann with Heather MacFadyen.
Ann: How can women find their friends?
Heather: Actually, I think it starts with prayer. I’m not a “just pray”/”last prayer”; first pray. I do believe—and when you pray and bring that to God—He opens your eyes to see in a way that the Holy Spirit in you, that is hopefully in them, sees Itself. You know, it’s one Spirit and connects you; you’ll be amazed. I’ve prayed with women for friends, and God reveals the next right person.
To also let the pressure off, it doesn’t have to be this most amazing best friend connection. But to find one person:
- whether you say: “Hey, let’s bring the kids to the park.”
- If you can, without kids, go get coffee; and try sharing something a little vulnerable/try saying something that’s a little risky, and see how they respond. If they respond in kind of dismissive way and don’t want to engage in that, then the message, loud and clear: “This is not my person.” That’s okay—it’s not a rejection; it’s just direction—move on.
- If they do respond, and share something vulnerable for themselves, then keep going/keep taking that risk. I say: “If you prove to be a safe person, you’re not talking about other people when you’re together. That gives them the clue that: ‘We’re talking about us here; we’re sharing our things—and not beating up on our spouses or only talking about the kids—we’re just talking: “What’s God doing in your own heart?” “What’s going on in you?” “What are you passionate about right now?” “What are you loving right now?” instead of gossiping about others or, I don’t know, complaining.
Ann: I think that that’s really important. I love that you are starting out with prayer. God knows us; He knows what we need. He’s wanting to fulfill our desires in terms of having a friendship, so start with prayer. Pray that God would bump you into somebody; and maybe, it’s several people that bring different things. I think that’s big.
But can I just tell our listeners?—“Don’t do it alone,” “Don’t do it alone. The hardest place to be is by yourself. God created us to do life together in community. There’s something about being with another woman, it makes us feel whole. We have God; we have the Holy Spirit, and we can have a husband; but we also need a friend.” I would say, “Pray and seek and pursue those friendships.” I like that: “Share something a little bit vulnerable and see where it goes.”
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson talking with Heather MacFadyen on FamilyLife Today. You can get a copy of Heather’s book, Don’t Mom Alone, at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today, you can share today’s podcast from wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, it would really help if you would rate and review us.
There’s a belief parents often wrestle with that we are fully responsible for our kids, and we can carry the burden of that as moms and dads. Well, Heather MacFadyen is going to talk with Dave and Ann Wilson, again, tomorrow about those beliefs and help us see that some of them just aren’t true. We hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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