Authentic Relationships. True Connection. It’s the missing link for most people these days, especially new parents. We have never been more in touch with technology, yet paradoxically, on the whole we have never been more disconnected from one another emotionally.
It was not in my life plans to start a non-profit; I was going to be the youngest female forensic psychologist in Canada by the time I was thirty years old. In all honesty, I had plans to be wealthy, to have the in-ground pool and backyard I’ve always dreamed of, to travel with my husband and hold off on kids until I’d reached my career goals. More than anything, I had plans to make my dad proud. The future Dr. Kimmitt was well on her way to make it happen. Then I was faced with a bitter truth: Life is short.
To be specific, life is too short. My dad died suddenly of a heart attack the day after I married my best friend in 2009. At just fifty-three years old, he was gone.
Just like that.
He had spent his entire life trying to make his parents proud, becoming a lawyer with his own firm, co-raising four daughters . . . and yet with all his material accomplishments, he still died of a broken heart. I didn’t want to make that same mistake.
Two weeks before I was supposed to move to Vancouver and start our new life and my graduate program, the house we bought with my dad fell through and I had to take a long hard look at what I really wanted out of life. Surprisingly, I realized I wanted a baby. I wanted a family of my own. I didn’t want to die with a wall full of degrees and accolades and no children with whom I could share the fruits of this labor. I decided to take a few months off and go for my master’s degree that January. I figured I could wait on the doctorate for another few years so we could build our family.
Three months later, at twenty-three years old, I was pregnant with my first baby, had just bought a house in Kelowna and was starting my master’s the following week.
What the hell did I just do?
As a new mama, I felt incredibly isolated, seeking connection and a sense of belonging. I was treading turbulent waters to keep my head above the raging rivers of postpartum depression and anxiety, all while trying to navigate “baby talk” with potential new mama friends at the library. I was putting on a great face most days but felt desperate and defeated before even getting out of bed daily.
I thought becoming a mama would give me instant access to this village of mama bears looking after each other. I was sorely disappointed. The closest I got to this village was the support from two other mamas in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit when my first baby arrived almost seven weeks early. Once I left the NICU and entered the general mama world, I truly felt that I would never belong.
As a society, we had clearly lost that sense of connection and somehow moved into a space of competition. More accurately, into a space of ripping into each other online for personal decisions on how our children were being fed, individual choices on sleep training, and even what kind of diapers are preferred. At the doe-eyed age of twenty-three, it was like a bad dream walking into a land mine of potential motherhood faux pas with no manual or maps to guide me through. It was a terrifying new place in which I certainly didn’t feel like I could, or wanted, to compete against.
I loved my new little human more than life, but I didn’t love my welcoming into motherhood. I just couldn’t handle the blatant mama shaming, haggling for items being sold online, and barely guided classism dominating group forums and baby-and-me meetups. There just had to be an alternative.
The mama culture hadn’t improved at all when I had my second baby three years later, and I found myself increasingly alone and isolated. For the first time in my life, I spent a great deal of time on social media looking for connection, trying to find other mamas to normalize my experience.
I had some ideas but no idea where to start. So naturally, I went for a visit with my person—my nana. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I promised both her and myself that this wasn’t going to be how my mama-hood journey was going to look. After making me soup and listening intently for over an hour, she stared into my eyes and asked point-blank with her sassy French accent, “Well, Shannon, it sounds like you have a bit of a problem on your hands. What are you going to do about it?”
Considering she had helped to build the Motherless Babies home in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1972 from a shell into a fully functioning organization, I felt like she knew a thing or two about building community among mamas. In fact, her model was to rally her network—the wealthy—to fund the building of the home for the abandoned babies. She was a Robin Hood in her own right, with a story to tell and a streak of stubborn resilience unmatched by Gandhi himself.
Well played, Nana. Well played.
I knew that I wanted, or rather needed, to raise the bar on how we treat each other as mothers, as caregivers doing our best. The why was clear, but the how, not so much. Then it came to me one day as I was scrolling through Facebook. As I held and fed my newborn son and watched my three-year-old play, I came across a mama being shamed for asking for help on a shop and swap page.
She was alone: a nineteen-year-old single mama with an infant and she had already been to the food bank. She was feeling isolated, scared, and hungry. I could feel my body heat up with visceral rage, personally experiencing the indignity felt by this sweet young mama. I was shaken to my core seeing how these people, these strangers, were talking to a desperate mama just trying to do what we all encourage: to ask for help. It struck me then that the biggest misconception people have about individuals living in poverty is that they somehow need to be taught some sort of lesson before coming out of their situation. They need compassion, understanding, and support, not judgment, stigma, or blame.
I couldn’t help but notice this intense fury creep into every corner of my soul as I watched her defend her call for help online. I felt a mama bear come alive in me that I didn’t realize was clawing to get out. With each nasty comment I saw thrown her way, I felt increasingly passionate to make sure she wasn’t facing this journey on her own anymore. I did what I felt any empathetic human would do and collected a few monetary donations from friends, matched them personally, and set out with my babies in tow to fill her fridge and pantry.
She cried, I cried. I’d honestly never been so fulfilled.
Helping this new mama with a few simple acts of kindness sparked something inside me. It quelled the rage and inspired a desire to fight this rampant brutality with the ultimate offense: love. I felt inspired as a mama for the first time in a really long time. I think I was happier than she was that day.
From that moment on I was determined to figure out how to shift out of the current system of this mom-eat-mom world into rebuilding the village our system so desperately needed.
What if we broke down the barriers of social class and invited mamas of every socioeconomic background to join an online community where everything was free or traded? All baby items, kids’ clothing, gear, and household items that were being sold online were now free. You just had to be kind to your fellow mama to receive what you needed.
Traditional currency presents multiple barriers to struggling families. Kindness as a lifestyle, however, removes those barriers. Beyond that, for those who aren’t struggling financially, the mama community would be a safe space where they could connect to alleviate their emotional poverty and isolation, meet friends, and find that elusive sense of belonging.
Technology and social media have been identified as contributing factors to increased mental illness and bullying, but that simply doesn’t have to be the case. It is merely a reflection of the currently accepted culture of having to be better than in order to be good enough. Clearly that’s not exclusive to mamas, but we’re biting off one piece at a time here.
After five years, we have drastically changed the mama mentality in Kelowna. As a result, we’ve expanded to fifty-four other chapters across Canada with our mission to make mamahood great again.
Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.
The idea at the core was for mamas to see that we are all just trying to keep our children safe, fed, and happy. In turn, I hoped that the competition would be replaced with empathy and compassion. Building longer tables rather than higher fences, so to speak. As far as I can tell, it takes the same amount of wood and effort. The outcome, however, is drastically different.
In an ideal world, mamas would connect based on common interest in raising their children. Putting everything else aside, they could now donate and share items no longer needed while improving the quality of life for others, all while saving the landfill from tons of unnecessary waste.
Day by day as Mamas for Mamas continued to grow, compassion started to drown out competition. Empathy began to arrive before judgment. We were looking at our neighbor not to compete but to ensure they had enough. Kindness was becoming more than a currency between mamas; it had become our lifestyle.
We had stumbled onto something big here.
I had no idea how desperate our collective mama community had been for authentic connection. The desire for mamas to meet each other where they were was growing exponentially, and efforts to give one another a hand up whenever possible was taking over the desire to cut one another down.
It’s not surprising given the basis of Adlerian psychology (the theory under which I did my graduate work) suggests that a sense of belonging is the strongest predictor of mental health. It was, however, exhilarating to see this zeitgeist take off like wildfire through a barren desert.
A movement was born.
It was thrilling to see and to feel that we were changing the system. It was beyond terrifying knowing we had developed such momentum. We were now running to keep up.
During Mamas for Mamas’ infancy in 2015, I was finally finishing my formal education and settling into the life of a sexual assault trauma counselor at Elizabeth Fry Society and had two boys under the age of four. My husband had just moved back from working up north, and I couldn’t imagine how our lives could get any busier or more exciting. I absolutely loved it. I was in my groove as a mama, for the most part.
After eight years of being a full-time student, five years being a full-time mama, and most of my life being a part-time employee, I was excited to finally move into the realm of a full paycheck and some stability for my growing family. My passion for helping heal survivors of sexual assault drove me to take as many hours as I could at the clinic where I was working, and it filled my cup ten times over. I quickly realized my limits, though, as this little non-profit growing off the side of my desk was no longer so little. I was going to have to make a choice.
I left my full-time paying job as a trauma counselor in October 2017. As scary as it was knowing that meant I wouldn’t be bringing home a paycheck and would possibly be putting my family’s future on the line, I knew that we had something special here. On a wing and a prayer, my husband and I withdrew the funds from our registered savings that came from my dad’s inheritance and went all in. I knew that if I wasn’t willing to make that leap, Mamas for Mamas would stay a small local charity, and she deserved more than that. The women who had spent the last three years volunteering forty hours a week alongside me to build it into a powerful movement deserved more than that. The boss mamas who built us deserved more than that.
The truth is, once I experienced the sense of mama community, I couldn’t and wouldn’t live without it. Not just for my sake, but for the sake of every other mama sitting there wondering how they’re going to get by. It just wasn’t an option I was willing to entertain.
Five years later I sit here reflecting on the journey that brought me to my work with Mamas for Mamas. I reflect on shifting from a place of comfort with a job I loved and for which I was paid well to learning to get really comfortable with my own discomfort.
Like really comfortable with it.
I ’ve learned to live in the zone of proximal development as a rule not an exception. Personally and professionally speaking, I am pushed out of my comfort zone every single day.
As I contemplated what it would mean to me to be coauthor in a book about being a boss mama, it dawned on me that I was facing impostor syndrome. I don’t belong in a book about being a boss mama, I can barely find clean underwear on a good day! I scrape lipstick from the bottom of the tube with my broken eyeliner and use black marker to fix my pumps!
I thought to myself. Then, recognizing ego had crept in, I quickly put that nonsense away where it belongs.
I realized that this really isn’t about me. It’s about something I created, sure, but I’ll never be more sure about anything than the fact that I did not and would not have created this mama movement alone.
Mamas for Mamas had attracted the most incredible motley crew of misfit mamas. I very rarely felt like a boss with this crew, and that was a good thing. I definitely felt like part of a boss team, but I never wanted or needed to assert myself as THE boss. It felt to me that the title somehow suggested my contributions were bigger than those of my fellow mamas, and that just didn’t feel right. In fact, I often felt like a massive failure as a mom and a professional and looked to those mamas around me for affirmation and encouragement to keep trying. They gave me the hand up I needed as we did for thousands of mamas across British Columbia, and soon thereafter, across Canada.
That’s when it hit me—that is exactly why I, and everyone I work with, are the definitions of boss mamas. Each and every mama who has been and is currently on this journey to solve financial and emotional poverty through kindness is an original mama pioneer. The original gangster boss mama. They’ve experienced a raised bar on how to treat each other in their daily lives, and many have found their calling along the way while spreading this message.
This is how I define a boss mama.
A boss mama sees each failure as an opportunity to learn and not as a lost chance. She manages the back end of her passion as a business but solves problems like a mama: with empathy, compassion, and long-term solutions in mind. She seizes the chance to make amends when she is wrong and works to be the best she can be. She doesn’t give time to ego. She finds ways to be better for her team, for her babies, and for her mamahood sisters as a whole. She knows that it isn’t just about her anymore. The difference between a mama and a boss mama is hearing “no” and turning it into new opportunities.
To be honest, my unintended journey to becoming a boss mama almost broke me . . . many times. Yet as a true testament to the culture we created at Mamas, every time I was close to breaking, or in the middle of a full-out breakdown, one of my close mama confidants would inspire, encourage, and re-energize me and the movement to leave no mama behind. In moments of heartache and stress, in times of hopelessness, collectively we would rise up. We would ascend from the ashes stronger and more determined than ever.
Determined as a mother, if you will.
Being a boss mama means not questioning your value as a woman, a partner, a mother, or a boss. It means putting on your big-girl panties and dealing with whatever that day may bring with grace. It means allowing a midday meltdown in the bathroom, wiping your face, and proceeding to own the afternoon meeting. It means being okay with not being okay all the time.
The most important thing I’ve learned on this journey is that vulnerability is essential to growth, and authentic relationships are the core of everything worthwhile. When in doubt, be kind. Humility and kindness don’t make you the weakest link, but they do make you the most credible one. We are perfectly imperfect; we only fail when we aren’t willing to change and adapt.
I found my hardest lesson was to ask for help. I learned to find comfort in interdependence with our fellow mamas—for the mamas we help as well as the mamas on our team. Every time I felt grossly over my head and scared about the unknown, a certain skilled mama would come into our lives who filled the gap. Lawyers, accountants, badass Black Irish warriors, farmers, mental health professionals, you name it. The power of the universal strings that connect us as mothers shall not be underestimated. This is very clear.
Some ask how we kept going when things were really hard. There is no magic recipe. We worked our asses off, I manifested every day what I believed we had earned, and we went to networking events when we were tired and sore and when I just wanted to be home with my babies. We persevered no matter how hard the headwinds blew at work and at home and let me tell you . . . they were blowing pretty hard for all of us.
After years of failed applications to become an official national charity, we finally received our registered status on January 27, 2017. As the Universe would have it, new mama and TV host Jillian Harris was moving to Kelowna right around the same time and looking for a non-profit with which to partner. Our paths crossed and we began a conversation around how she could be involved, and boy, did she ever get involved. Talk about universal mama energy. Much like me a few years before, she had no idea what she was in for; it turned out to be a perfect fit.
With three hundred dollars in our bank account, I signed a lease for just under $4,000 a month on a wing and a prayer starting June 2017. I was willing to cover the cost personally until I knew the charity was on her own two feet with support from my dad’s inheritance (though any business manager would vehemently advise against this!). The Universe provided and the $15,000 grant we had applied for came through. We were ready to begin operations.
As soon as we were confirmed in the space, I called Jillian. I was beyond excited, and I was crossing my fingers she would help pick out a paint color. “What’s your renovation budget?” she asked, and proudly I exclaimed, “Oh, we have at least $300 for paint and we have donated flooring so we should be set!” Later that week she and team Jilly walked into our office complete with green floor tiles and purple walls. With repressed excitement I wouldn’t know about for months, she suggested we leave it with her.
She quickly put a plan in place to host a brunch to raise funds for this renovation. Little did she know that most of the work and supplies would be donated, so the majority of the $75,000 raised was able to come to Mamas for Mamas as a donation. She knew we were all still 100 percent volunteers, and after four years, it was taking a toll on the team. She told me to start payroll and build sustainably. It was like a dream come true.
We had made it happen as a village, and I was hooked like never before. Getting this hand up from Jillian did for us what we do for mamas in need. It allowed us to see our potential and to go after it unapologetically with the funds needed to get started.
Getting to this point was not for the faint of heart. It took grit and learning to be polite yet powerful . . . and to take the offer of help when it’s offered.
Boss mamas—don’t doubt your ability to stand your ground with kindness; too often our kindness is mistaken for weakness.
Kindness is, in fact, your superpower. Don’t ever forget, you’ve got this, Boss Mama.