For a while now I have been craving more honesty in my photography. I want to capture an authenticity that can only be achieved by documenting people in their homes. I want to share the story of the people I’m photographing, and create a platform for their voice. And I want to open up the conversation about motherhood. Too much is glossed over in pretty photographs, and there is so much more that doesn’t always come through in a still image. I think motherhood is absolutely beautiful and meaningful, and I can’t wait to join the club. And I also know it can simultaneously be the most demanding, heart-wrenching, and rewarding job on the planet.
I am calling this the Modern Motherhood Series, and I am so grateful to the women who have opened up their homes and shared their children and their stories with me. I could not have done it without you!
Alex is mom to Cole (almost 2) and Ronan (4).
Can you talk a little about your childhood. What are some of the things you did for fun?
We grew up in Lake of the Pines, and we had a lot of freedom. I think even at five years old I would walk around the neighborhood by myself. Then when we got a little older we would ride our bikes anywhere we wanted. My parents were not helicopter parents or worriers. They trusted us to make good decisions. We weren’t wild or naughty kids, so they really didn’t have any reason not to trust that we’d be okay. We were pretty contained and we knew where we could go. We spent a lot of time swimming in the lake and riding our bikes around. My parents got a boat when we were a little bit older and so we spent a lot of time out on the boat. We were brown babies, in the summers we spent every single day at the lake and I thought I was a dark-skinned person most of my life. And then high school started and everyone got summer jobs and I wasn’t brown anymore [laughs].
What did you think about your mom when you were little?
I don’t know if kids really think about their moms, your mom was just your mom. I never once thought I didn’t have a great mom or that I wasn’t loved. I was never discontent with my parents. I always had the “cool mom” I guess, she was laid back, she dressed more stylish than a lot of moms, she was fit, she got her belly button pierced when she was 40, I went with her to get her bellybutton pierced [laughs]. As I got older I kind of viewed that a little differently, it was a little funny, I guess. But that’s just how she is and it has been a good thing. I was the one with the mom who was in a bikini all the time. I think her confidence rolled over onto me and my sister, I’m not sure about my brother, I think it affects boys a little differently. We were always very confident in our bodies, we were okay being in bathing suits all the time and it didn’t matter who was around us, that’s just what you wore to go swimming. I think I got off easy in terms of body-consciousness because I’ve always been thin, and if you fit into the standard, that makes it easier to not be self-conscious.
Tell me about your path to motherhood. Did you always know you wanted to have kids?
I always expected to have kids. I wasn’t one of those little girls that was really into playing babies, I didn’t have names picked out way ahead of time. I wasn’t someone who dreamed of being a mom, but I always knew that’s what I would do. Even when picking my major in college, I thought that even if I don’t have a career in it, knowing about nutrition and how our bodies work will be really beneficial for my kids. (Alex earned a B.S. in Clinical Nutrition from U.C. Davis.)
How did you know you were ready for kids?
Honestly, I just thought, this is a good age. My parents had kids young and they had three kids out of the house by the time they were 50. And they’re living it up. They go on vacation all the time. My husband’s parents had kids young, and his mom had a surprise baby in her thirties, and [she told me that] it’s a heck of a lot easier being pregnant in your twenties than your thirties. I figure that we’re not going to do a whole lot of traveling now, with my husband working, but if you raise your kids while you’re young then you’ll still have plenty of energy to do things later. I feel like there’s this big push to live before you get married and live before have kids, but you can still have a fun life, whether it’s with your kids and you bring them with you or you wait until they're adults and you don’t have to bring them [laughs]. It’s healthy to have kids when you’re young, biologically it makes more sense. Also, we were settled. We signed papers on this house a few weeks after we found out I was pregnant. My doctor joked, “oh, that’s why you got pregnant, you just bought a house, that’s how it works” [laughs]. But there really wasn’t any big transformation, like “okay, we’re ready.”
What are some of your favorite things about being a mom?
Hmm….They’re just so dang cute! I like holding them, I like watching them change, I think it’s really cool seeing them come out and trying to figure out where they got their little features. Aside from that, I think it’s really cool to see how it changes you. It has been good for me to learn by necessity to put the needs of others before myself more often. You have to be a lot less selfish, even when you never thought you were selfish before, but you never had to deny yourself sleep or eating a hot meal, things that every mom goes through. It’s not that hard for a little while, but when it’s two years straight…Cole just started sleeping through the night, and most of those nights Ronan would wake up too. Not sleeping for two years…I think a lot of days I was technically drunk, I was functioning at the level of a drunk person. I work at my parent’s office once a week, just doing paperwork or helping with stuff that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower, and I would be trying to put things in numerical order and I would be like “mom, why can’t I find it?” and she would say, “Alex, it’s right here.” Just silly things like that and I would think, “oh my goodness, I’m driving, I drove here!” [laughs]
What is one part of motherhood you struggle with?
I think the hardest part is discipline. Trent and I were just talking about it a few days ago, and we never feel like we have it figured out, because what works changes, and also we’re never really sure if something actually worked or if they just moved on and stopped doing whatever weird, naughty behavior they were doing. We’ll have a few weeks where a certain behavior is not pleasant, and we’ll get frustrated and try different things. I don’t know if it really matters what you do. When they're this young they just kind of move on to something new. With Ronan, there will be a few weeks when he has a naughty streak and then there will be a few weeks when he's super sweet and helpful. Now that I’ve recognized that, it makes the naughty streaks a little easier to bear because we know it’s probably not going to last long. We try to talk to him and figure out what’s going on…I’ve been using that more and more now that he’s old enough to have a conversation with, to try and figure out “why are you doing what you’re doing?” Right now it’s most effective to take away a privilege or have them miss out on something they want to do.
What has surprised you about motherhood?
It’s pretty crazy how much you can adore someone and just want to sniff their faces all day long [laughs]. But it can also be really isolating, you’re never alone but you can still get really lonely. This year I finally got plugged in with some other moms and we try to meet once a week and it makes a huge difference. Hearing “oh, you’re not sleeping either” or “your kid pooped on your couch” [laughs] makes you feel like “okay, I’m not the only one, I’m not losing my mind, this is normal” [laughs]. But also, [kids] are hilarious. The things they say, the things they pick up from you, or the totally random things they come up with are hilarious. There are also boring parts too, sometimes you don’t want to play legos or cars. A lot of times they don’t actually want me to play, they say, “come play with me,” but then when you start [playing] they say “no, you’re doing it wrong.” They just want you to be near them, and that’s ok, you just have to know what the terms are [laughs].
How does your own childhood impact the way you parent your children?
I had a great childhood and I hope I can give my kids something similar. I think the biggest thing I had that I want for my kids is to absolutely KNOW that they are loved and appreciated. That was not something I was conscious of as a kid…I was mostly unaware that there was an alternative to my world in that aspect…but as an adult I'm realizing how the sum of all the little daily interactions with my parents made me feel valued and how sad it is that not everyone gets that—whether the love and appreciation isn't there or it just gets lost in translation.
Another way my childhood influences my parenting is my desire to foster independence by giving them opportunities to explore with minimal age appropriate supervision. (I never knew how fun it would be to spy on my small children!) I was probably better supervised as a small child than I remember, but I want my kids to be able to enjoy the same freedom I did without fear.
How has your relationship with your mom changed since becoming a mother?
It’s fun for me watch her with them, she really enjoys them and she likes to get down and play blocks with them and build things and read them books. When I ask her questions about when we were kids she’s pretty vague, so I don’t know if that’s how she was with us, I imagine she probably was, so even though I don’t remember, it’s kind of nice to see.
How does technology impact motherhood?
It’s definitely a double edged sword, things like Instagram and Facebook, where you only see the edited versions of people’s lives, and it can be discouraging to people who already aren’t feeling super confident or happy with how things are going. I think a lot of people forget that it’s the edited life. You see these families on Instagram, in their perfectly curated homes, and their children are all in their perfectly styled outfits, and they’re clean, or they’re just dirty enough so that it’s adorable [laughs], and that can be discouraging to some people. I don’t struggle with it so much, but I do have to remember [that it’s edited.] The aesthetics of life aren’t that important to me, I’m more about function, so it doesn’t impact me as much. Then there are “Pinterest moms,” and people get caught up trying to create the perfect birthday party for their kids.
It’s a lot of pressure, that people put on themselves.
Yeah. Another negative side of technology is, I have this phone. I can check out for a few minutes and read things on the internet and my kids know that I'm not paying attention to them. It sucks to have them say, “mom, put it down, you’re done.” That’s not good to hear from your kids. But also it’s nice to be able to read things that aren’t kid books, and have it in your pocket, or keep in touch with other adults when you’re alone with kids all week.
I try to not have [my phone] on my body all the time, or I leave it in the other room when I’m spending time with my kids. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m working at it. Did you see the ad campaign where they had a picture of a parent sitting at the table next to their kid and the parent was on their phone, and there was a giant phone between the parent and child like a wall?
What are your hopes for your children?
I want them to be able to be confident and capable adults. The main way we can help them do that is by making sure they feel secure and loved always. I know so many people who struggle with anxiety, I’m lucky that I don’t, and I don’t want that for them. There are varying levels but it’s incredibly debilitating and I want them to feel confident and be able to go about their lives feeling comfortable in the their bodies and comfortable with their abilities and not feel like they have to worry about what everyone else thinks. Do you think that’s what people worry about, they worry about how they are seen?
I think so. It’s a lack of confidence and not feeling sure in your choices, and I think our parents instill that in us to a certain degree.
I’m thankful that our parents did give us freedom, they gave us credit for being capable from a young age, even when we were teenagers we had all the freedom, to where we could have gotten in a lot of trouble, but none of us really did. I was never a partier, I’m kind of a “don’t like to break the rules” kind of personality [laughs], not the most severe case I’ve ever seen, it’s just not in my personality. I just don’t enjoy [breaking the rules]. Even in junior high when we would go toilet papering, that was not fun for me. It’s like “we’re going to get caught by security.” That gave me anxiety, so I don’t break the rules and I feel good.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? In 20 years?
Let’s see…Ronan will be 14, so I’ll probably be doing a lot of the same things. I’d like to work more eventually, but we’ll see what happens, maybe go back to school. I don’t know. I’ve stopped worrying about it. There are a lot of things that happen in ten or twenty years, and there’s no point in trying to plan that far. You can have an idea, but setting expectations is not always good. You can have goals if there’s something you really want to achieve, I think that’s healthy, but I’ve seen [people] have an image of what their family should look like or the things they’re going to do and the expectations aren’t always realistic and they set themselves up for disappointment. I don’t think I would get [caught up in that] too much but it’s definitely something that I’ve become conscious of not wanting to do. Also, accepting who your children are even if they’re not exactly who you envisioned them to be.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I feel like motherhood has come pretty easily to me, and part of that is personality and being easygoing, and also I have a really awesome husband. I saw that you posted on your anniversary that it’s never been hard being married to your husband, and it’s the same for us. I don’t think we’ve ever really argued, it’s just not how we work. We don’t see all situations the same way, but it’s not something to get angry about. Even when we were dating, it was easy. I was away at school and he was here still, and even long distance, although it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t really a strain on our relationship. Neither of us is jealous or has the personality to be out flirting with other people anyways, so we have no reason to worry about what they’re doing when we’re not with them. It comes back to being secure and self-confident, which really impacts all of your relationships.
Thank you Alex!