“Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.” – Fred Rogers
My husband Brad and I were married almost nine years before we even thought about having kids.
We loved our life in our small town in Tennessee, where we both held full-time jobs in marketing at a university. We also worked in youth ministry, started a nonprofit, made lots of videos just for fun, created a summer camp, traveled as much as possible and threw a ton of themed parties. I even had a side photography business, and Brad spent a lot of time speaking at events all over the country. We were so happy and fulfilled, we weren’t quite sure how having a baby would ever fit into our busy lifestyle.
When we decided to maybe “start trying” for kids and found ourselves pregnant that same month, we immediately began clearing our calendars in anticipation.
Our son Miles was born in December. We spent weeks all cozied up in our house–not exactly sleeping, but falling in love with him and trying to figure out this new family dynamic. When my husband went back to work, I enjoyed the time with my son, but it reaffirmed that I also wanted to work—I missed my job, I missed talking to other adults every day, and I think I needed the affirmations my job awarded me.
What started out as a small family project with my younger brother was suddenly an insanely popular web series with millions of views. We had no idea how completely it would change our trajectory as a family.
When Miles was only 7 weeks old, my husband was invited to fly to New York City to appear on the Today Show. Since we had committed to stay together as a family as much as possible, we decided Miles and I would come along — and we continued to do that throughout that year.
We were able to go to some amazing places and do some incredible things. But while I had once been a partner on projects with Brad, and recognized individually for my talents and skills, I quickly realized that in this new world I was inhabiting, things were different.
I was suddenly only seen as a wife and mother.
I spent lots of time backstage, in the green room at events and, in many cases, just off the red carpet. I was often solo with Miles and developed really bad FOMO for the things happening just steps away from me. We had been married for nine and half years when Miles was born –- nine and a half years that I spent growing as a photographer and designer, completing a master’s degree, winning awards in my field, having my work published internationally, and suddenly… I was just the mom of a cute baby. Just a wife tagging along on her husband’s business trips.
And even though I was still working full time between our trips, my job seemed to lose its significance in light of the other things we were doing.
One Monday, we were at the White House and met THE PRESIDENT and the next day I was back at my desk, trying to design a 3-panel brochure about financial aid. It was strange. And a bit isolating.
Previously, I had found my worth in what I did. I was defined by the photos I took, the things I designed, and what I was contributing to the community and world around me. Suddenly, my value seemed to only be measured by my relationship to my husband and my son, and I felt like I was losing myself.
Filming for the TV show required us to temporarily relocate to another city for a few months, so I took a leave of absence from my job so that Miles and I could be on set. Although we were together, we barely saw Brad, which stirred up even more jealousy in me. I constantly struggled with feelings of resentment, and even started to feel that my son was the one holding me back from being able to do more.
When I think back on that time and how I felt and acted, I’m embarrassed.
The extra pressure I put on my husband, and the resentment I felt toward my son had nothing to do with them, and everything to do with my hurt ego. My life had changed so much, and I was so unsure of how to navigate it. So many people had told me everything changes when you have kids, but no one could have prepared me for how much my life had changed personally.
Not long after we wrapped on the show, I quit my full-time job and was elated to take on the role of art director for our forthcoming book. Finally, I felt I had it together. I was freed up to travel and work on more projects with my husband, spend time with our now 18-month old at home, and use my talents to create something meaningful that would prove I was more than “just a mom.”
As ashamed as I am to admit it, my immediate reaction was sadness. This wasn’t my plan. I had been so excited to finally focus on the book, but instead found myself battling exhaustion and horrible “morning” sickness that lasted all day long (and continued throughout my ENTIRE pregnancy).
Later, as I neared the end of my pregnancy, my hormones were out of control. I was frustrated that I had to be the one to do all of this. I had to bear the physical toll of carrying our children inside me, sacrificing my life and my work and even my body while my husband didn’t have to do any of it. I felt like my life and career had been on pause since my son was born, and even more so during my pregnancy with my daughter.
I endured seven flights, some alone and some with my toddler so I wouldn’t miss anything. I flew home at 36 weeks, sad that I couldn’t go to the remaining cities in the tour, and continued to sulk for the final weeks of my pregnancy.
I look back at that time and barely recognize myself.
Yet somehow, when my daughter Matilda was born, my perspective completely changed. (I think maybe my hormones finally balanced back out.) She was just so full of joy from the moment she arrived, I couldn’t help but be happy. I felt this huge, overwhelming sense of peace.
Our son was now 2: no longer a helpless, tiny baby, but a kid that could do some things on his own. And he seemed so much older next to his sister. It made me realize, maybe it’s okay to just focus on the kids for awhile and just be a wife and mother. This isn’t forever. They’re only little for so long, and I’ll have time to do other things soon enough. I felt content for the first time in a long time.
I was such a driven, ambitious person before my son’s birth. I feel like one of the biggest changes I had to face in becoming a mom was losing the person I was before and discovering who I am now.
I realize now I needed to quit worrying about what I thought others thought of me. Quit caring about how others define success. My definition of success may be completely different from someone else’s, and that’s okay. I also had to be reminded that my husband is on my team. We are each other’s greatest cheerleaders and fans. Letting him pursue his dreams isn’t a threat to me and shouldn’t make me feel less than.
In January of this year, my husband and I launched our own creative studio, Montague Workshop. We get to work together every day and make things we’re passionate about.
It’s so weird, but I no longer feel jealous of trips I don’t get to go on, or opportunities I don’t get to be a part of because I know he supports me fully, as do our kids. And there will be times that I am the one pursuing my dreams and achieving them, and he will be the one cheering me on.
Kristi Montague is a designer, maker and jack-of-all-trades who owns and operates Montague Workshop, a creative studio, with her husband Brad. From Kid President to books and birds and more, their studio aims to joyfully rebel against the world that is to create the world that could be. She’s also a mama two toddlers and lives in a 117-year-old house in rural Tennessee. You can follow her on Instagram, and see the latest projects from Montague Workshop on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
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