RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married
RESIDENCE: Franklin, Massachusetts
I am a blogger on my personal websites, Jodi Darter and Mommy Dish, and a parenting writer/contributor for several publications, including HuffPost, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. I am also the author of a novel children’s book, When You Lived in My Belly.
Tell us about your path to parenthood. Growing up, I envisioned the conventional route to motherhood–love, marriage, and a baby carriage–but that wasn’t the path I was supposed to take. The proverbial stork dropped a sweet 8-year-old girl on my doorstep first.
If you asked me in my twenties if I would marry a widower with a child at age 32, I would have emphatically said, “No” (or “Hell, no!” because I had an attitude). But that’s exactly what happened. While my relationship with my ex-husband did not last, my love for his daughter did. We bonded over milkshakes, movies, and mom-and-me moments she missed losing her mother at age 4, and I was smitten. I still am.
Still, I longed to experience the magical moment of discovering my pregnancy, nourishing a living being growing inside of my belly, and feeling the pure joy of holding my baby for the first time. At age 37, after suffering a devastating miscarriage, I was blessed with my beautiful son.
Fast forward five years later, and my beloved husband and bonus son entered my life. CliffsNotes version: I am the biological mom of one and bonus mom of two, and they range in age from 9-years-old to 22-years-old.
How does motherhood influence your work? I have always been motivated to succeed in the workplace, ever since my dad took me to the mall at age 14 for what I thought was a shopping trip. Instead, he informed me that I had to get a job that day, and I did—at a flower store. I took great pride in nurturing my creative side; in my newfound ability to financially support my penchant for ‘80s staples–Silver City Pink lipstick, Aqua Net, and stirrup pants; and in interacting with customers. I was hooked.
Prior to motherhood, I worked on films in Boston, for Inside Edition in New York City, and in Burlington, Vermont, as a television anchor/reporter, among other positions. I was all over the place, working endlessly and tirelessly to get ahead. When I decided it was finally time to get pregnant, I shifted my career accordingly, focusing on public relations to accommodate more of a home life.
I saved enough money to take a couple of years off after my son was born, and used that time to establish my blog, Mommy Dish, and start writing for various publications. I also did freelance communications work to carve out a scenario where I would be able to be a breadwinner mostly from home, as opposed to my earlier years of living in newsrooms or offices. With some ingenuity, persistence, a thick skin, and some luck, I have attained that goal. I still work long hours, but I am home after school and have the flexibility to be at sporting events, which is everything to me.
The idea of motherhood, and fulfilling my calling of becoming a mom, completely changed the course of my career. I consider job opportunities with my kids in the forefront of my mind, and weigh how my decisions will impact their lives before taking a leap. They truly do come first.
What advice would you offer multi-tasking, overwhelmed “later” moms? Do you remember all of the gentle reminders you have heard about breathing? I used to roll my eyes when someone said, “Don’t forget to breathe!”—I mean it’s freaking involuntary, I would mutter to myself—but, now, I get it. Breathe. Regardless of the chaotic pace of my life, I can always find one moment to take a deep breath in and center myself. Sometimes that moment can be transformative, giving me renewed purpose and focus, instantly removing all of the conflicting clutter stressing me out.
Sometimes you have to take life minute-by-minute instead of day-by-day. Breathe.
Also, don’t worry about something until there’s really something to worry about. This is a lesson my mom taught me by example, living with end-stage ovarian cancer for nearly 12 years. She would see me worrying and analyzing and drumming up worst case scenarios in my head and promptly remind me to stop wasting my time. “Why are you worrying about something that may not even wind up being something to worry about?” I still hear her voice in my mind when I get into that mode.
Now, I just need to take my own advice. Easier said than done.
Do you think it’s tough to balance parenting, a personal life and professional pursuits? It’s tougher than squeezing into skinny jeans during the holidays!
I am hyper scheduled, and, despite my best efforts, I never fall into bed at night with a clear head. I am a mad re-capper, always sifting through the laundry list of to-dos in my mind (and tripping out of bed to put clothes in the dryer before they develop that mysterious old laundry stench and need to be washed again). I often feel like I am failing someone in some way—as a parent, as a friend, or as a contract employee—or all three!
At 46, I have realized that I simply cannot be everything to everyone, and that I have to be a priority, too. It has taken me a long time to acknowledge these facts.
To better manage conflicting obligations, I try to be more forgiving of myself, accepting of my flaws, and forthcoming with my limitations. I will be honest with friends and tell them if a proposed get together looks iffy, so they can choose to make other plans. I will ask my kids for a few minutes of downtime if I need to finish something I am writing. I will take on projects that keep me engaged and motivated, ones that nourish that inner fire that started burning during my early days at the flower shop. And I prioritize as best I can.
What do you do to practice self-care and de-stress? I wish I could say I run for miles, but I do not (unless a kid is chasing me; then I am pretty quick). I walk my dog, escape to the beach, shoot hoops with my son, read a good book, or go on an ‘80s music/movie binge with my husband over his homemade fondue. Yeah, fondue is more my speed.
Most of all, I write. Writing is my therapy, my love, and my confidant all in one. Give me my laptop, a bold cup of hot coffee, and time to devote to my craft, and a smile will form on my face (hopefully, without leaving a wrinkle).
What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? Motherhood is such a gift, no matter your age or how you become one (bonus or biological or, in my case, both). When I have a trying day, and the kids make me want to pull my hair out strand by strand, I repeat this mantra with the frequency of a top 40 station overplaying the song-of-the-moment. Motherhood is a gift.
One of my favorite sayings about motherhood is that the days are long but the years are short. This thinking is spot on. Older women tend to be more sensitive and appreciative of time, at least from my vantage point. Chances are, something terrible has happened by age 35; a death or divorce or illness or career mishap has shaken you up and shifted your thinking. These life lessons inform parenting perspectives and decisions; you earn this type of wisdom only with maturity.
Sure, there are many enlightened young people who have been tested (my son and stepdaughter are two of them, losing their dad at age 8 and 21, respectively), but, for the most part, your twenties are more carefree. I know if I had my kids in my twenties they would have been raised differently than they are now. I was not the same person, as I have grown, evolved, and learned a lot since then.
For me, the drawback of having a child later in life is the desire to be around physically well into his adulthood. I will be 55 when my son graduates high school, and my mom died at 64. Sometimes this scares me a bit, but I don’t dwell on it.
I am sure my knees would creek a little less playing with him if I gave birth earlier in life, but I don’t have any regrets waiting.
What do you most want to teach your children? I want to deliver compassionate people to the world, ones who always choose kindness and have empathy for others. Kindness counts, always, according to my worldview. Hearing a story about how my child included a student who would otherwise not be invited to play impresses me more than good grades, being on a winning sports team, or helping around the house.
I want my children to choose kindness in a harsh, unforgiving, impersonal world. And I want them to stay true to who they are, to use their beautiful hearts as a guide, despite outside influences.
What are your thoughts around “blended families?” Blending families is an unrealistic expectation, in my opinion. The definition of blend is to “mix a substance with another substance so they combine together”. Why should individuals combine? It makes no sense to me.
For our family, a perfectly imperfect parfait seems like a reasonable expectation. That way, each person can hold onto his/her unique layer without sacrificing key ingredients of who they are to blend. The sum of our individual layers make one hell of a parfait …when we get together which, honestly, depends on the day.
We are trying to mesh two fiercely independent, spirited, self-assured boys together, aged 9 and 11, and I am firm believer that you have to meet kids where they are (or were, in this instance). Both were the crowned princes pre-engagement, with a parent devoted to fulfilling every need, every whim, (almost) every wish. Both were, in fact, the center of the universe (in case you didn’t get the memo). Both were beyond loved and adored … and still are, of course.
No one is shy or reserved in our house. No one backs down. We are all versions of the same personality: Loud, louder, loudest. And that makes me believe blending is an unattainable goal. The perfectly imperfect parfait is our thing, especially with a strong, feisty 22-year-old mixed in there, too.
There’s no blending; there’s layering…and the perfectly imperfect parfait is a representation of all of the wonderful people who make our family whole.
What inspired you to write When You Lived in My Belly? It was my beloved mom’s dream to publish a children’s book. Serendipitously, a few months after she died, my inquisitive son interrupted his regular “Why?” barrage to inquire about our innate bond.
“Mom, What was it like when I lived in your belly?” he asked.
And I started writing.
My best friend since kindergarten illustrated the book in my mom’s memory, too. If you want an example of a labor of love, When You Lived in My Belly is it.
When You Lived in My Belly gives children a glimpse into a past they can’t remember, and takes moms back to a time they will never forget. Each page is broken up by month, and told from the perspective of both baby and mom. The book is a keepsake that fosters meaningful conversations between mothers and children, with a page for moms to pen a note to their child about their individual pregnancy journey. It is dedicated to my mom and my son, the only two people who know what my heart sounds like from the inside.
What words of wisdom might you share with someone contemplating motherhood over age 35? First, applaud yourself for staying true to who you are!
You bucked your biological clock, societal trends, and, most likely, pressure from your parents to stay true to who you are. If you’re feeling that the time is finally right to welcome a child into your world, do it. Trust your gut, as it has gotten you this far.
Don’t get wrapped up in the scary statistics about being a mom over 35. You will go to some doctor appointments and feel like you are a science experiment with all of the extra poking and prodding and testing. It is nerve-wracking, but trust yourself that you are where you should be at the right time in your life.
This thinking will help you when you become a mom, too. Read a lot and ask questions, but, in the end, it’s all about you and your baby. If you trust your instincts, you will know what your baby needs to thrive. Always remember that.
This article/press release originally appeared on Motherhood Later… Than Sooner (MLTS).