Step into any stationery store at this time of year and behold what seems to be nothing but images of flowers, hearts, and smiling children, with words like “love,” “the best,” and “thanks” — display racks filled with Mother’s Day cards, each bursting with gratitude for the days, months, and years that some special woman has poured into her kids.
But is motherhood really all giggles and hugs?
Ellie Gillespie, Lexington mother of two and owner of the recently launched support program Mom Smarter, Not Harder would say no.
Gillespie is an independent social worker and Nurture by Naps certified group leader (also working on her certification as a perinatal mental health provider) who started her business a few months ago based on her own experience as a new mother.
Despite her professional experience as a therapist, a supportive husband and an ample support network, as a new mom, Gillespie often felt at sea. As she acknowledged herself recently, she was ready for the baby but not for what the baby would do to her and her life. “I felt prepared because I did an absurd amount of research and did nothing but absorb information.”
The reality was something else. “My daughter was born the 4th of July in 2019, and my vision was, I’m going to spend my maternity leave outside by a pool. All babies do is eat and sleep, right? So I’m going to feed her, I’m going to put her down, she’s going to sleep, and I’m going to have, you know, the tan of my life.” She laughs at the thought before admitting, “shockingly enough, my daughter didn’t agree with that plan.”
As Mother’s Day approaches, the Lexington Observer caught up with the young mother and entrepreneur to learn more about her own story and how to literally “mom smarter, not harder,” so that the experience of motherhood can carry more of the joy often conveyed In all those cards. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
One of the things “Mom Smarter” offers is a mom’s survival guide. It sounds so dire. Why do mother’s need such a thing?
Moms need a “survival guide” because in this country, even in the area surrounding Boston where we have access to some of the best hospitals in the country (and thus the world), there is almost no support provided to new moms by our health insurance or our hospitals after we have our babies. During pregnancy, women are seen every 1-4 weeks and even more frequently if they go over their ‘due date’. But as soon as that baby comes out, our medical system says “Ok, bye! See you at your six-week appointment!” This is not remotely sufficient. A person’s entire life changes when they become a parent — physically, emotionally, psychologically, and in terms of identity. Survival guides are essential to build a sense of community, camaraderie, and support.
Do you think motherhood has spiraled out of control in terms of expectations? Shouldn’t things be better now that men are carrying at least part of the load?
Yes, it has. Even though men are carrying more of the load, more women are working. But the change in gender roles in the house has not caught up with the addition of women to the workforce. The mental load of parenting still falls mostly to the woman. It’s the subtle but essential things that create a burden: when does the baby need their next pediatrician appointment? Have we signed up for daycare yet? Oh shoot, that was our last roll of toilet paper, better add it to the list. Furthermore, society tells us that if a woman is a SAHM [stay at home mother], she’s sacrificing herself (thus, losing herself) for her kids and is taking the “easy” way out, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. But if a woman is working, she’s cold for not wanting to be with her children. It’s important to note that “working mom” is a regular part of our vernacular but no one EVER says or asks about “working dads”.
What kind of support do you offer that moms couldn’t find in online mom’s groups.
All of my support groups run for a full six weeks, which leads to better group cohesion and thus more intimacy and trust amongst group members. I also offer a specifically designed curriculum to encourage exchange of feelings and ideas as well as flexibility for others to bring in their own struggles.
Your goal is to: “expand access to education” and yet you say that information overload is part of the problem. How do you square that?
My goal is to expand access to quality parenting education and support. There is no shortage of opinions masquerading as “education” from parent influencers and popular psychology. Mothers today have every bit of information they could possibly want at their finger tips. Sounds good, right? Theoretically mothers should never have to wonder when their baby should sleep through the night or when they should start solids. There are a plethora of opinions out there. In my groups, as a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified group leader, I help mothers to connect back with their own innate maternal intuition and once that is strengthened, they can choose to include other opinions and filter them through their own beliefs and education to see if it aligns with their parental values.
Connecting moms with their intuition is really about helping them trust themselves, isn’t it?
In some ways yes, but in others that is too reductionistic. Maternal intuition is more complex than that. It has to do with a person’s innate tendencies toward themself as a mother, the ways in which they embrace (or don’t) the new role of “mom” into their identity, all of which is influenced by the way a person was mothered.
Was it easier for our own mothers?
In many ways yes, because there’s much more pressure to present as “perfect” to the outside world: having kids who develop at the right rates, attend the best preschools, live in the best towns for the best public schools, and devising massively full schedules to keep them at the top, whatever the activity. Moms needing to balance all that.
Did you feel the need for a survival guide? Does your husband help out?
I took a survival guide through Nurture by NAPS in Boston after both of my children and it was my saving grace. This is why I want to provide this kind of care to others: to provide others with what I was given. And yes, my husband cares for our children and helps out immensely.
What would dad’s survival guide have in it?
It would have groups covering the following topics: relationship changes (friendships, marriage, family), identity shifts, setting boundaries (friends, family), how to be a working dad, and how to clearly express and receive expectations.
Do you have daughters? What will you tell or show them that can help position them for motherhood?
I have two wonderfully spirited daughters (ages 3 and 2). If they want to have children someday, I hope they will have learned from my example of both being present as mom to them but also having my own life outside of my relationship to them in terms of my marriage to their dad, my career, and my friends.
How will you celebrate Mother’s Day with your own family?
A yoga class by myself Sunday morning, then I am going out to brunch with my mom [who lives in Arlington] while my husband takes the girls, which will be lovely for us. I feel really fortunate that my parents are so close. They watch the girls two or three times a week, which is extremely special. Finally, we will have afternoon tea with my daughters, husband, and parents.
For new mothers who are not new to motherhood (having their second, third, etc. child), Gillespie will be offering a new six-week support group starting Tuesday July 11 at 1 p.m. There’s a 20% discount for anyone who mentions “lex observer” when they sign up!
Learn more online at Mom Smarter Not Harder or reach out to Gillespie directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website also has a list of free resources for any new mom and a link to subscribe to Gillespie’s newsletter.