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What It’s Like to Parent From Behind Bars

I met Lisa at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility on an unseasonably warm, sunny November day. The first thing I noticed about the cement building was the vibe. The guard who checked me in seemed genuinely happy to be there.


Stacy, the prison librarian and my host for the morning, led me through a maze of locked hallways to meet Lisa, stopping intermittently to chat with colleagues and wave at inmates. Stacy later told me the facility prides itself on creating genuine opportunities for vocational training and rehabilitation.

I’m ashamed to admit that when Stacy left and shut the door behind her, I took a deep breath and tried to stop thinking about the possibility that Lisa was hiding a sharp object in her baggy prison uniform. I’d seen a few prison movies, after all.

Given the way Hollywood portrays sex, love, childbirth, and practically everything else, I should not have been surprised when Lisa bore little resemblance to the inmates in the movies.

Here’s what she had to say:

On ending up in prison

My mom passed away from lung cancer, and that was what brought me to a very dark place in my life. I was 16 at the time and had just given birth to my son, Michael. After that, I moved to Denver for a guy, who I had two kids with. It turned out to be a very bad, abusive relationship.

I came home from work early one day and found him cheating on me. I scooped up the kids, left the house, and stayed with friends. All the bank accounts were in his name. I had to literally start from scratch. After about four months couch surfing and hotel hopping, knowing that the kids could be home with Johnny, I was like, “I can’t do this to the kids anymore. I have to make a choice.”

I sent the kids back to stay with their father and stole a vehicle so I could sleep in it, which was a really hard decision. But when you’re homeless and dragging your kids around on the streets, you have to make that decision. A shelter wasn’t an option because I was employed at the time, and most shelters won’t take you if you’re employed. I was charged with aggravated motor vehicle theft.

Once I got to prison, Johnny (not being Michael’s dad) decided he didn’t want to be responsible for Michael. There was no family to take him, so I got charged with child abuse and neglect due to incarceration. I had no control over the situation, but that’s what DHS charged me with. They ended up sending him to a group home, which is typically a punishment.

On motherhood

I have a journal I plan to give each child that I write in every single day so that they’ll know they were in my heart every single day. I write how I feel, what I’m doing, what I wish I was doing with them at that moment. Maybe I had a dream about them. It’s always something positive.

I got approval from the courts to see my kids, but I haven’t seen them once. I thought the case manager or someone from the group home would bring Michael, but they won’t. I’ve heard a thousand excuses. And Johnny hasn’t answered a single call from me.

It’s really hard to parent from prison. You can say everything on the phone, but how do you enforce anything? My son Michael got in trouble. He threw a plastic stopwatch at a vehicle. It’s not appropriate and needs to be addressed, but it’s typical 13-year-old behavior.

In the group home, they came and they arrested him. They charged him with destruction of property, and he’s going to court for it. I didn’t find out about this until three weeks later. No case manager notified me. They don’t tell you anything.

I get a 15-minute phone call twice a week. That’s the maximum amount of time I’m allowed to be on the phone with my son. Pretty much on the phone, it’s just, “I love you,” or “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I get to hear your voice today,” or “How was your day?” That kind of stuff.

But he’ll share absolutely everything with me. We have a really amazing relationship. That’s one thing that makes the case managers really want to return custody to me.

On counseling

I’m all about counseling. A lot of people are like, “Ugh, I don’t want to go to counseling.” But there’s a counselor for everybody. I’m not saying every single counselor is right for every single person. You have to take the time to go through the process.

When my mom died, I smothered my son so badly because I was so worried about losing anyone else close to me. I really had a hard time letting him out of my sight. Slowly, after going through parenting programs and going to counseling, I realized he needs some room to breathe. I also realized I had a lot of grief I needed to address.

On addiction

After I left my kids with Johnny, I dove into methamphetamines. I never used heroin or any opiates, and I’m very thankful for that. But I struggled with meth really hard. I wasn’t an IV user. I smoked. And I turned to alcoholism. Then I beat the alcoholism but only by increasing my meth use.

I would not be high around my children. So when I came to visit my kids, I’d have to spend a week completely sobering up, and as soon as that visit with my kids was over, I’d get back to using again as quick as I could because that pain of not being able to take care of my kids…I just wanted to make that pain go away. It was really hard.

Now I know, I can go to AA or NA, and there’s no harm in saying, “Hi, I’m Lisa, I have these issues. It’s very nice to meet you. Let’s talk about our issues together.”

On the next leg of her journey

I just found out I’m getting out on parole five days before Christmas. I will have been here one-and-a-half years of my three-year sentence.

Initially, I didn’t know where I’d go when I got out because I’d lost touch with my family. After my mom died, one of my brothers committed suicide, and I just ran away.

But I got in touch with one of my brothers, and he said, “This is crazy, but Dad’s staying by himself because his wife just passed away, and he needs someone there to take care of him. I think that would be a great place for you to parole to.”

So he gets me Dad’s phone number, and I get a hold of dad, and he’s like, “Of course you can parole up here. You can still cook, right?” and we cracked up.

I could see myself volunteering in the correctional system. In five years, hopefully, I’ll be getting a masters degree and living in the country, off the grid. I’d like to see my son in college at that point.

On staying positive

You can either choose to change or you can choose to stay the same. But the choice is yours. My belief is perception equals projection. What you perceive around you is what you’re going to project outside of you. If you think, “This is a horrible place and I hate it,” that is what you’re going to project. But I don’t see it that way.

My mom taught me that everybody around you is impacted by everything you do. If you sit in the middle of a field cross-legged and you think about happy things and put love out into the world, that is going to impact the next person around you. That is going to impact the next tree around you. That is going to impact absolutely everything around you.

If I smile at a stranger, it’s going to brighten up their day. They’re more likely to pass that smile on to the next person. If I walk around with a scowl on my face and slam the door, that’s more likely to have a negative impact on the next person, and they’re gonna pass that on as well.

* * *

It’s not every day you get to enter a prison and leave an hour later with an inmate’s story imprinted on your heart. I’m grateful to Lisa for the candor with which she shared her journey and to Denver Women’s Correctional Facility for granting me an interview with her.

This interview was edited for clarity and length. Names have been changed due to privacy concerns.

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She's an A-list actress who wrote a book about healthy habits and spent so much time in workout clothes that it became a business, but these days, Kate Hudson is also a new mom who is two months postpartum and trying to develop new healthy habits while simultaneously caring for a newborn going back to work.

It is a lot to balance, but Hudson now going to be getting a lot of help from Weight Watchers after announcing she's the new brand's latest ambassador. Hudson and the brand are both going through a bit of a transformation at the moment. Hudson is trying to lose 25 pounds for a film role, and Weight Watchers is rebranding as WW, with less of a focus on weight loss and more on healthy habits that can lead to weight loss but have other benefits too.

Hudson's big reveal about the new gig came in the form of a FaceTime call with Oprah, who has, of course, repped the brand for years.

"Health and wellness is my number one and I always say that what works for me doesn't work for everyone," Hudson captioned a recording of the FaceTime call.

"I believe that we need to celebrate diversity in how each individual wants to celebrate their bodies. We aren't all going to enjoy the same work outs, outdoor activities, foods etc. I've become an Ambassador for the WW family because it is the perfect community for people to live healthy their own way and I love sharing this knowledge with you all! This is not a community for people who just want to lose weight, although leading a healthy lifestyle lends itself to such, this is a community about supporting each other through a life long journey of wellness."

The message WW and Hudson are promoting (that health and self-care, not weight loss, should be the number one goal) is an important one, and one we're happy to see celebrities and companies embracing.

The era of headlines about celebrities "bouncing back" after pregnancy is behind us, and it's refreshing to see Hudson admitting that a mother's body doesn't change overnight after she gives birth.

For Hudson, whose career depends on her looking good on movie screens and in leggings, the goal of losing 25 pounds makes sense. It's literally her job. For the rest of us, weight loss may not be the goal, but sometimes it is a nice side effect of taking care of ourselves.

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Last spring, my husband started a new job that includes a hefty dose of travel, and adjusting to a schedule with a lot of solo parenting stretches has taken its toll on me. In my scramble to make sure I'm not overlooking anything and am being all the things to all the people all the time—it's easy to let my own needs fall by the wayside. And when that happens, I end up burned out and grumpy and that's not good for anyone.

The truth is, when I don't take care of myself, I can't take care of anyone else.

To avoid burning the candles at both ends, I came up with 10 resolutions for this year that are me-focused so they can serve as reminders to include myself on the list of people I'm caring for.

My goal is to make sure my tank is full so I'm ready for whatever life (and motherhood) may throw at me.

1. I am going to make time for myself.

And I'm not going to apologize for it.

As moms, it's all too easy to "should" all over ourselves. I should be able to keep going. I should be more intentional during playtime. I should plan more activities. I shouldn't pay a babysitter just to go sit at Starbucks. The problem with all that should-ing is that it leaves us feeling like...well, crap.

This year, I'm giving myself permission to claim my time. I know that I need a few hours away every week to stay sane, and I'm not going to feel bad about that.

2. I am going to be intentional with my time.

There's one small thing I can do every morning that makes the difference between starting off on the right foot or the wrong one—getting up before my kids do.

One of my friends calls this waking up TO your day, rather than being woken up BY your day. I will set my alarm for at least 15 minutes before my kids' typical wake up time.

That gives me time to brew a pot of coffee and do a quick devotional or maybe just watch the sun rise. Waking up to peace and quiet rather than cries of "Mom, Mama, Mommy, Maaaa-mmaaaaa!" will help ease me into my day.

3. I am going to take care of my body.

I'm kicking this year off by running a 15K and I've also committed to my first triathlon in June. I'm not an athlete (not in the slightest)—I will be slow and the training won't be easy—but breaking a sweat and getting my heart rate up a few times a week are critical to my state of mind.

In the famous words of Elle Woods, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. And happy people don't kill their husbands."

4. I am going to accept help.

I'm not very good at asking for help when I need it. I have a very "I can do it myself" mentality (my 3-year-old daughter shares this trait), but it often leaves me feeling burned out and overwhelmed.

In the name of taking better care of myself, when someone extends a dinner invitation on night three of solo parenting, I'm going to say yes.

5. I am going to take care of my mind.

I'm going to read one book a month. I love to read but, truth be told, haven't done much of it since I became a mom—and I miss it. It doesn't have to be highbrow literature, just a good story I can lose myself in for a few hours.

6. I am going to be kind to myself.

Scrolling through Instagram can make it real easy to feel like I'm not thin enough, fashionable enough or sufficiently well-lit in my photographs. Pinterest can lead to dissatisfaction with my small house and disorganized closets. Facebook can leave me longing for more vacations or a more successful career.

Social media is great for maintaining connections, but not so great for encouraging satisfaction and contentment. In 2018, I'm going to be kinder to myself and more appreciative of what I have by spending less time on social media.

7. I am going to prioritize friendships.

In this season of raising young children, it's been all too easy to neglect my friendships. "They'll understand," I reason. "They're busy, too." And they do, and they are, but it's so rejuvenating to take the time to reconnect.

So every week, I'm going to reach out to a friend—whether by text, email, or over a cup of coffee. Just a quick check-in, to see how things are and let them know I'm thinking of them.

8. I am going to spend more time being present.

I work part-time from home. It's great because there's no real set schedule and I can get my work done whenever it works for me. Of course, these are also the precise things that make it difficult. If I'm not careful, I spend a lot of time on my laptop or phone when I'm with my kids, because I think I can check just one more thing off the to-do list real quick.

This year, I'm going to do a better job of drawing lines around my time with the kids—the first hour after school and the hour before bedtime will belong solely to them, as will mealtimes. Work can wait.

9. I am going to make space for my passions.

I love to write. It's how I make sense of my emotions and how I capture memories. But it doesn't pay the bills, fold the laundry, keep the house clean or take care of the kids, which means it often ends up at the bottom of my priority list.

I know I can't move it to the top of the list, but I can carve out time every week just for writing. And I will.

10. I am going to give and accept grace.

Some days, my 3-year-old is going to wake up in a bad mood. My 7-year-old is going to spill his milk all over the kitchen floor (again). I'm going to skip my workout.

Typically, these are things that would make me roll my eyes and my temper flare. But what if I met mistakes with grace instead? "That's okay; let's wipe it up together." "No problem; I'll just set my alarm early and workout tomorrow instead."

In my opinion, an unexpected dose of grace never fails to make an impact.


New Year, I'm ready for you.

This story was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs. Check out their book, The Magic of Motherhood, for more heartwarming essays about motherhood, love, and the good kind of heartache.


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There is a lot of encouragement from postpartum and mental health experts for new moms to ask for help. As a new mom, you should be focused on resting, bonding and adjusting to your new role. Amen, right?

But what happens as you come out of those first 40 days? What about the moms who are a couple years into this whole motherhood thing who feel like they are drowning in the sheer volume of work that has to get done? Because let's be honest, it all can feel like work after a while.

The constant routine of getting everyone out the door in the morning, accomplishing your job and then some at the office, coming home to prepare dinner, clean up from dinner, play with the kids, get them ready for bed, take care of the laundry, pick-up and as you have time or energy, tackling a few other projects around the house that you've been meaning to do for far too long.

You are a high achieving woman. You always have been. You can certainly handle it.

Sure, you might have a meltdown every now and then as you crack from the pressure of all of it, but on the whole, you know what needs to be done and you just do it. You vent to your girlfriends and emphatically like those silly memes that a little too accurately describe the sad state of affairs in your life as a mom, but you don't usually ask for help. You can do it.

But have you ever stopped to think about what it would feel like to have one of those chores eliminated from your responsibility list?

Would you feel relieved, grateful, happy, a little lighter and less stressed? What does that even look like?

You've probably dreamed of having a full-time housekeeper, a nanny who takes care of much more than the kids, or a chef who prepares your weekly meals each Sunday so all you have to do is heat and enjoy. Heck—you'd take all three if you could! But I don't know anyone with that arrangement, and I'm guessing you probably don't either.

So what could you do now to eliminate one or two chores from your list? How can you get creative and get more help at home?

Because with even one or two fewer chores on your list, that's time that you could do something fun—whether that's for you or for the kids. That's five or so minutes of relaxation that could make you feel like a totally different person at the end of the day.

This week, try one of these five ideas for getting more help around the house and challenge yourself to get at least five minutes back in your day... for you.

1. The obvious answer: Outsource

Outsourcing is the obvious idea here, but ask any mom who has outsourced one item from her life and she'll more than likely tell you it's worth every penny. If it's in the budget, or if you can re-work your budget to accommodate hiring out, here are some ideas:

  • Find someone to clean for you, even if they come just once a month for a deep clean so all you have to do is maintenance work.
  • Hire a virtual assistant (I've used this one) to help with making appointments, getting pricing, or placing orders.
  • Outsourcing your weekly cooking to a meal-delivery service is another easy one. Not quite a personal chef, but if it takes even a couple of meals off your plate (no pun intended), that is a huge relief.
  • Yard work is another big one that can take time depending on how much you have to maintain. What high-schooler in your neighborhood is looking to make extra money by mowing your lawn?

2. Hire a mother's helper

Maybe you don't have the resources to outsource all of your chores. Instead, you can get help entertaining the kids while YOU take care of the chores. You will no doubt get them done much faster than if you had to constantly fulfill requests for snacks and water and "play with me." Mother's helpers do still exist and really are a win-win for you and for the kid who wants experience with childcare before going out on their own for full-blown babysitting.

3. Get creative with your village

Maybe hiring anyone, even a mother's helper, is not in the picture for you. That's the case for many working moms with the cost of childcare being what it is. But surely you know other working moms, other mom friends, who feel the same as you—like they never have enough time or energy to do all the housework.

  • Can you do a childcare swap on the weekend, again to buy you dedicated, interruption-free time to clean and take care of things while she watches your kids, and then you do the same for her?
  • Can you get together and batch cook some dinners or put together freezer meals for the upcoming weeks making it more fun over a glass of wine and some conversation?
  • How can you leverage your community to get more help and in turn help them?

4. Have a clear and even division of labor

I realize not everyone may have the luxury of having a co-parent or partner to share in the workload, or that some may have a partner whose schedule absolutely does not lend itself to helping out around the house. But, if your co-parent is working a similar job to yours or with similar hours, you should absolutely be able to split the household responsibilities.

Make sure you are doing that and not falling victim to the old "I'll just do it myself" mentality because you think you do it better. Having a chore done is better than having it done your way.

If you've not had this conversation before, it's not as scary as it sounds. Trust me. You just need to be open to compromise and make sure that you're each assigned the chores that are easiest for you to do. And then you have to trust each other to get them done. That last part is key.

5. Get your kids involved

Are you a mama who thinks that chores have to wait until the kids are either asleep or otherwise entertained? Have you ever tried involving them in the chores, even if it takes a little longer than when you just do it yourself?

Teaching your kids how to take care of things and that you're all a part of a team is GREAT learning development. Try starting young, by wearing the baby around in a carrier while you vacuum or load the dishwasher or sort laundry. Then, as they are old enough, have them start putting their clothes into the wash, wipe down their chair after meals, or put clothes, groceries, etc. away.

Kids are capable of so much, and doing chores together is much more fun. If they see you having fun with it, rather than complaining about it, they'll be even more eager to get in on that!

Bonus: Doing the chores while they're awake means less that you have to do after they go to bed, which could mean a few minutes to yourself (gasp, I know!).

If you're continually frustrated about how much you have to do around the house, and how little time you have, it's time to get creative and do something different than what you're doing.

Life is too short to be miserable working around the house. It takes a team to maintain daily life and you should start building yours.

Originally posted on The Mother Nurture.

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To my baby,

When I was pregnant with you, and you were growing inside me… your heart was in me. And my heart was the thumping soundtrack to your developing life.

But when you came out into this world, it seems like my heart came out right alongside you.

It seemed like when I looked into your eyes that I saw myself, I saw your father; I saw the greatest love of our lives.

It wasn't just on the day you were born that I noticed this feeling of extreme, overpowering love. I see it and feel it every day. I see it when you look at me with tired eyes, knowing the only place you want to rest is in mama's arms. I feel it when we're walking together and your hand reaches up to grab onto me; your tiny, chubby fingers entwined with mine.

I see it when I know you're doing something to make me proud as you say, "Mom, look at this! Look at me, Mom! Mom isn't this cool?!" And I feel it when you tell me you love me more than the stars and planets combined.

I see it and I feel it all the time, in so many ways... because you have my entire heart.

You have my heart when I leave for work and we're apart for a chunk of the day. When I'm trusting someone else to keep you safe. Some days go by so quickly, while with others, you're on my mind all day—during meetings, writing emails, giving assignments—and I'm wondering if you're happy right now, if you're eating enough today, if you're missing me like I'm missing you.

You have my heart when I walk back to my car after dropping you at preschool. When your teachers are looking out for you and they're the ones teaching you things instead of me. When you're learning to navigate friendships and big feelings, without me. When you're working on becoming independent from me, as I work to become comfortable with a little independence from you, too.

You have my heart as you become more you every single day. As you figure out what you do and don't like, what you are good at and what's not really your thing. You are trying to define yourself, and I am trying to give you the space you need to do so.

You'll have my heart forever; it's not just on loan for these years when you need me so much. It will be yours for the rest of our lives. Even when you "get old and move into a new house" as you say, our hearts will be connected.

You'll take my heart with you when you go off to college. When you're choosing the classes you want to study and the people you want to date. You'll feel my heart even if you're miles away. I hope you feel it most when you're missing home or when you need to step up to do the right thing.

You'll take my heart with you on adventures. On road trips with friends or soul-searching journeys abroad. When you're looking for answers or hoping for direction. I hope its beat guides you long after having left my womb; when you're lost or alone or needing to feel my presence even if we are not physically together.

You'll take my heart with you when you move to a big city or across the country or maybe just around the block. When you're creating a home and building a family of your own. I hope my heart is felt inside those walls and inside the lives of the people you choose to fill them with.

I've given you my heart as a duty of motherhood. But also because it was so natural for me to do so. As much as my heart beats to sustain my life, it beats for you, too. To show you my love; to prove my commitment; so that you know I will always be here.

So can you promise me something, my baby?

You have my heart. So I ask you to be gentle with it.

You are my heart. So I ask you to take care of it.

E. E. Cummings once wrote,

"I carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear."

Know that because you've given me the honor of motherhood, this relationship has tied our hearts together for eternity. I will always be with you, and you will always be with me—no matter how old we are or how much distance may be between us.

No matter what life throws at us or how hard life can feel—we can both find comfort in knowing that our hearts will always be one. You are the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside, and I am the only one who knows what its like to carry yours.

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