This week I’m talking with one of my favorite people — author, thought leader, and mother of five, Meagan Francis. You may have read one of Meagan’s insightful essays in Parenting magazine, which is where I first noticed her, or seen her on the Today Show offering a sane alternative to tiger mothering.
When she came out with a new book this spring, I knew it would be written with her signature blend of calm, clarity, and encouragement, and it is. In Beyond Baby: A Week-By-Week Guide To Creating a Life You Love When Your Kids Aren’t So Little, Meagan guides women who are emerging from the intense, inward-turning phase of mothering small children, and helps them to look up and out toward a new and exciting life and role in the world.
Here is part of our conversation about getting “beyond baby” and more:
Amy Suardi: I like how you acknowledge the mixed emotions that we can feel when we get beyond the baby years. It’s a bittersweet time, both freeing yet scary, sad yet exciting. I have certainly been through it several times as my children have grown, and even in other periods of my life, like when I graduated from high school.
How did you know it was time for you to write this book?
Meagan Francis: Great question! I think I knew it was time to write the book when I felt like I had made peace with those bittersweet feelings and felt more optimism and focus toward my future than lingering sadness about moving on from the past.
It took me a couple of years to fully make that transition, but once I did, I could clearly look back and see some of the decisions I’d made and the thinking process I’d used to help me work through it, and I knew I would be able to share it with readers and help them make the same transition.
Amy Suardi: This is very comforting to hear. I think many of us might think that we should be able to spring into a new role after our child’s preschool graduation. It’s nice to know that it’s OK if it takes years to feel ready to tackle a new way of interacting with the world.
The good thing is that there really are lots of fun things to look forward to — from delving into adult projects and buying new clothes to having conversations without having to simultaneously entertain a toddler. What were some of the most fun parts of being “beyond baby” for you?
Meagan Francis: One of the things I’m loving the most is having the time and energy to really devote to my house! It might sound weird since I’ve been technically an at-home mom (though, in reality, a working-at-home mom) for all these years, but I have really been in “survival” mode when it comes to my household.
Now I’m finding that I have more time and space to cook, decorate, and even delve into some creative projects like embroidery — stuff that was really tough to do when I had toddlers crawling all over me every time I sat down!
Outside of the home, my husband and I are traveling together more than we ever have, and manage to sneak away for quickie dates several times a week — we have teenagers, so it’s pretty easy for us to grab an hour or two here and there. We’re having a blast.
And this year I started performing in community theatre again — something I hadn’t done in well over a decade — and even signed up for voice lessons. All these options seem to be opening up in front of me, and it’s been really fun to explore.
Amy Suardi: I’ve always admired your ability to step back and see life in a new light, turning a guilt-inducing situation into one where you feel settled and optimistic.
You have a knack for figuring things out and putting a name on them — like the endlessness of organizing when you are parenting young children, and how it is a process not a goal. Or how you give us permission to opt out of things moms are supposed to enjoy doing, like getting the wiggles out with the kids at the library story hour.
How do your insights come to you?
Meagan Francis: Thanks — it is so good to hear when something I’ve written is helpful!
By nature, I am a thinker — it’s just what I do. I’ve always been this way! I can remember spending hours as a child just lying on my bed or staring out the school-room window, daydreaming. I often find myself mulling over the simplest, smallest experience again and again, trying to find the insight or the “big idea” behind it.
Also, human nature fascinates me and I’ve always been drawn to helping others. So connections, solutions, and ideas just kind of come to me naturally. The downside, of course, is that it can be difficult for me to be really in the moment because I am so often lost in thought. Yoga helps get me out of my head.
Amy Suardi: In the last section of your book, you share one of these insights, saying that ambivalence about moving beyond the baby stage isn’t always about wondering whether you want another baby. Sometimes it’s more about trying to feel comfortable with your new stage of life, and worrying that if you really close that door, you’ll have to find another way of contributing to the world.
Can you share a few ways that you encourage women to step outside their cozy nests, and as you say, step toward goals they’ve had on the “back burner so long they may have dried up”?
Meagan Francis: The first thing I think you have to do is give yourself permission to feel the way you feel. So often I hear women trying to of talk themselves out of the ambivalence by presenting all the logical reasons they shouldn’t (or sometimes, should) have another baby.
Logic is wonderful and thinking with your head is crucial when you’re making a big life decision, but it’s also important to acknowledge that our hearts and heads may not always be in the same place. Moving past the “mama of little ones” stage is a huge identity shift, and mourning that life and that self is totally normal and natural, even if you don’t even really want another child.
The second thing is to take a step. A little baby step — any little baby step — and be open to the opportunities that arise from it.
For example, maybe you take a painting class. Through that class you meet new people you otherwise wouldn’t have met. Maybe you see a flier for another class that excites you. Maybe you develop some great new friendships with other students or your instructor. Maybe you find out about an opportunity to volunteer at a museum or enter your work in a competition. Maybe it even leads to a part-time job or a new career.
When we are open to whatever a new experience brings us, that one, little baby step can snowball in all kinds of exciting ways. And it can unfold slowly over time, as your life continues to change and your kids grow.
That’s why writing Beyond Baby excited me so much — I really believe that just focusing on yourself a little at a time and being open to whatever happens is the first step in building a rich life for yourself that will become the foundation of who you are as you move out of the baby phase, into the parenting-big-kids phase, and eventually, into the empty-nest phase.
And I’m hearing from all kinds of women who are receiving so much satisfaction and excitement out of getting in touch with themselves again.
Amy Suardi: Thank you for sharing all of this with us, Meagan. I know there is much more to dig into in your new book.
I’ve read the book, and having been in and out of the “beyond baby” phase myself, and I wish I had had this kind of encouragement when my baby was taking his first steps and I was feeling a little unsure of what my next steps would be.
Thank you, Meagan, for being a mentor, cheerleader, and sage guide to women and moms in all stages of their journey.
Beyond Baby: A Week-By-Week Guide To Creating a Life You Love When Your Kids Aren’t So Little is available as a PDF download or in Kindle version from Amazon. Every purchase comes with a free printable workbook for readers to journal in as they move through the challenges. More information on the book and links to purchase are at www.beyondbaby.net.