This has been one of the longest and hardest blogs I’ve ever written…partly because of the timing (baby Daniel arrived on the scene just two weeks ago) and partly because as I started writing this it took a completely different turn and I discovered I was sharing much more then I intended. So I kept re-writing it and in that process shared even more. So finally after the fourth re-write I said ‘screw it’ and just went all honest and real and open. Nothing held back here…..
I have long been a Kate Spade fan. I adored her witty and colorful style. Beyond the colors and patterns and simple nature of her fashion I was drawn to her as a woman. She was gutsy, starting her own company in 1993 because she saw an opportunity in the marketplace. It didn’t take long for her simple handbag styles to take off in the fashion world. Which then meant awards, recognition and eventually financial success.
Her style expanded into all areas: clothing, housewares, furniture, lighting, shoes, baby, accessories, stationary, fragrances…you name it the Kate Spade line had something. She did what any successful designer should do and sold part of her company so she could build an even bigger empire.
At 42 she had a baby. Little Bea. She sold the last stakes of her empire after Bea was born. In the past 13 years Kate has started another company and dabbled in design, yes. But nothing as big as what the original Kate Spade line has grown to.
Three weeks ago I was on my way back to work after a doctors appointment and was standing in a line at a restaurant waiting for my take out salad. My phone dinged and it was a text from a dear friend who admired Kate like I did. She told me Kate had taken her own life. By the time I walked into our office 10 minutes later, I was in tears. Our staff thought I was a just full of pregnancy hormones. I couldn’t tell them everything running through my head. In the days and weeks that followed Kate’s death her friends and family were quoted saying how she was so full of life, they had no idea she was depressed, they were as shocked as the rest of the world….Whatever the reason or reasons that led her to take her own life, it must have been all consuming. Bigger then her love for her daughter (at least in that decisive moment). It was in desperation. And I totally understand that desperation…..
Six and a half years ago I became a mom for the first time. I had a growing wedding planning business in Charlotte. The year Hannah was born I designed and planned 18 weddings and was starting to build a solid group of vendors, happy client reviews and a talented staff of assistants. I thought I could do it all: be a mom and a wedding planner. Then Dr. Hubs started to wonder about opening a private practice. He never asked me to stop wedding planning, he never even suggested it. But he did notice I had a hard time balancing the needs of my clients with the needs of our daughter. She was still an infant and I was struggling to do it all. When Hannah was 5 months old I made a decision to not accept weddings for the following year A few months later I approached one of my assistants and suggested she take the reigns of the company…she was a newlywed and loved all things wedding. I knew I needed to stop, take a step back and focus on our family needs. But I didn’t want to just let the brand and company I worked so hard for just disappear. So on Dec 31 2012 I signed over the paperwork and walked away. Hannah turned one just two weeks later.
I loved the down time to just be a mom. The lower stress, the time to think. In that time I helped Dr. Hubs envision his private practice and start planning for the opening. We found a small office space, renovated it, decorated it and opened in the fall of 2013 when Hannah was about 18 months old. He started with a small staff of two people and I just fell behind the scenes paying bills and doing costco runs when needed.
In our first year of business together I got pregnant with our second baby Julia and I took on more responsibility with the business. By our second year of business we expanded to another office, added more staff and I added more to my responsibilities as well: managing more daily things, financing, marketing and much more. Needless to say life got alot more stressful, we had a 4 year old and a 1 year old. That’s when I started drinking, daily….I’d stay up late working sipping Sauv Blanc and the next day not be the best mom. I worked mostly from home because of the kids and it wasn’t unusual to pour myself a glass of wine at 3pm…sometimes earlier if I had a sitter there because I knew the kids were okay with her. I’d hide the empty wine bottles under a sink in our basement.
Our kids were young and I was trying to be the best mom to them. But I had this nagging thing called a business to help run. Dr. Hubs was busy on his end of things and I was busy on my end. I hated how much I had to work to keep the business machine going, but we weren’t at a point yet of finding or hiring someone to take the many roles I was covering. The majority of my stress was self-induced, Dr. Hubs never pushed me to work so much. I put the pressure on myself. I was literally 24/7 when it came to business…my mom job felt like a 9-5 in comparison.
Wine was the thing I turned to when I felt stressed, the only thing that made things right. Wine kept me company late at night as I’d research trends, crunch finances, write marketing plans and handle the countless emails I hadn’t gotten to during the day. I’d get off a difficult phone call or get some exciting news and pour myself a glass of wine. Wine was my helper and friend. But after a while it was a need to just get through the day. I got to the point where I couldn’t think of a day that I didn’t drink a whole bottle of wine myself. This went on for almost 2 years….
I gained weight because of drinking. I was up 15 pounds over my ideal weight and it showed. I don’t know if Dr. Hubs really knew what was going on…he never really said anything but I knew I was on a slippery path of alcoholism. I wanted to tell him how miserable I was and how miserable I felt and how desperately I wanted to stop drinking. But I didn’t want him to think any of it was his fault, and I didn’t want him to judge me. I was his wife and partner in business but I felt like I was constantly failing at both roles…plus the role of mom.
I kept up a happy but stressed ‘mom of everything’ persona. The glass of wine in my hand was just another accessory….everyone celebrated with me right? There was Sunday Funday, Tipsy Tuesday, Wine Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday….every time I looked at Social media I figured it was okay to have a drink since there was a hashtag for it. Even my kids soon made it ‘normal’ for me to have a glass of wine….if I was cranky at them they would ask me if I needed wine. I don’t know that anyone suspected I was struggling with an addiction. I don’t know that anyone around me knew I was desperately trying to survive each day. If they did, no one said anything, not even Dr. Hubs.
In early 2017 I finally had the nerve to stop drinking. I hit a number on the scale that scared me, my clothes didn’t fit and I hated how I looked and felt. I started to look old and tired and haggard. So I started to exercise again, eat healthy and cut the booze. My body and mind felt better but IT WAS HARD. Trust me I still had days when that sauvignon blanc seemed to want to pour itself for me. But I was determined to be stronger then the addiction to wine. My motto changed from ‘barely surviving each day’ to ‘this is our future and our kids future, I’m not going to F it up’. The choices I made daily had an impact on the bigger picture. Our business and kids had no future if they were being led by a miserable and desperate alcoholic. So I woke up from the white wine haze. I made a conscious decision to stop drinking daily. No more hidden bottles. No more lies or hiding. Now if I enjoy a glass of wine it’s never alone. Actually I don’t let myself touch the bottle…Dr. Hubs pours me a glass and I savor it…rather then drink it down and pour another and another.
Now I don’t know Kate personally. Maybe she was one of those Park Ave moms who still had the full time nanny so she could come and go as she pleased. Maybe she went totally granola and was hands on all the time from dawn to dusk making Bea’s lunch for school look Pinterest-worthy. Maybe she was a hybrid or something completely original and just Kate. I’m guessing she struggled, because all mothers do. I’m also guessing part of the reason she sold the company was because it got too big. There was too much pressure. It was just too hard to live up to the Kate Spade brand. It’s hard enough to be a woman and a mother…but add the pressure of business and it could make any of us crack. I know I was near cracking myself several times in the past 6.5 years…hell, it will probably happen a few more times. But I know my warning signs. I know when to send out the SOS signal.
What I don’t get is why we continue to use the terms we do for women who are mothers and also professionals. I hear the words ‘supermom’ all the time and it makes me cringe inside. Mostly because whoever just said it doesn’t really know how much I struggle to keep my head above water. For years I worked too much was in a constant state of burn out and developed an addiction to alcohol. In the 18 months since kicking the addiction our business has grown, our family has grown and our lives have actually gotten more complicated in many ways… but to ease the stress we’ve hired more staff and I’ve delegated all the things that were bogging me down. The roles and responsibilities I now have in our business are ones I enjoy and more importantly ones that are somewhat flexible so I can be MOM first. The last thing I want them to think is that a mom must always be stressed out and sipping white wine to survive until bedtime.
It’s time to change how we talk about mothers in business. It’s time to stop using terms and phrases that add to the stress and pressure. There’s the pressure to provide a unique childhood for our kids. There is the stress of making our goals in business and providing the service our clients demand. And it’s hard enough already to maintain looking fit/youthful/pretty. The pressure is real….but maybe it’s harder because of the messages we have on repeat?
I pray that my own girls are stronger then me. Because I can’t imagine life getting any easier for them when they grow into women, mothers and perhaps someday into professions of their own.