Dispenser of Wit and Wisdom
Throwback Photo Connoisseur
When my three daughters began to fly the coop, I started remembering what it was like to be in their shoes. I thought about what it was like to pick a major, find my first job, get married, and have a baby.
None of those experiences unfolded like I thought they would, and all required major-league adjustments. Plus adulthood was littered with all kinds of tricky situations and dilemmas that I wasn’t sure how to handle at first—like bosses, and in-laws, and where the baby was going to be while I was at work.
It would have been nice if somebody had spoken to me honestly about everything I was going to encounter instead of pretending like it would all be smooth sailing ahead.
To help my daughters be better prepared, I wrote a book for them that I called Things Your Mother Should Have Told You, an unfiltered account of what becoming a grown-up life looked like in real life.
I know that my daughters aren’t the only ones trying to figure out how to build a life, and I hope to someday share my book with the rest of the world.
In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram doing my very best imitation of This Is Us, posting throwback photos and remembering all of the little moments that make up a life. The truth is there’s a lot of meaning in everyday life if we take the time to notice it, and these posts and the essays I write are my way of acknowledging the tremendous significance of all of the things that happen during ordinary time.
When I’m not busy writing, my guilty pleasures include reading People magazine and the obituaries, which helps to satisfy my above-average curiosity about other people’s life stories. I live in an old farmhouse just outside of Philadelphia with my husband of 32 years, a yellow Lab, three cats, and grown children who are occasionally in residence.
Though I was voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school, in college I became a wayward accounting major who had a really hard time figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up. After some great and no-so-great internships, I recalculated and rerouted myself towards the field of marketing. The road was bumpy at first—I hated my first job—but eventually I found my way to a career in international marketing.
When I married my Mr. Wonderful after four and a half years of dating, I was surprised that learning how to play the Newlywed Game successfully required some effort. Eventually we got so good at being a double-income no-kids duo that I pushed back my deadline for when to start a family twice.
Another reason I delayed childbearing was because frankly I had no idea where the hell I was going to put the baby. I wasn’t clueless about basic child care—I knew the baby would sleep in a crib and spend her waking hours in age-appropriate child-safe seating. But having found my way to a cool job that I really loved and couldn’t imagine giving up, I struggled with answering the question of where the baby would spend her days if I continued working.
Once I figured that out and decided I was ready to have a baby, I then made the mistake of expecting God to work like Amazon Prime. After a brief delay, our request was fulfilled, and like most new parents, we were awestruck. Most astounding was how one small human who only weighed as much as a large Christmas ham was able to bring two people used to being in control of everything to their knees. In the beginning, I was so overwhelmed that I pondered whether it was possible to return early from maternity leave.
We eventually got the hang of things, and I figured out how to be a real-life Elastigirl—one of those superheroes commonly known as a working mom. But by the time baby number two was on the way, I was tired of feeling like someone trying to stuff the proverbial ten pounds into a five-pound bag. So I decided to cash in my chips and stay home with the kids for a while.
Like so many other things about being a grown-up, being a stay-at-home parent wasn’t like I thought it was going to be. I had imagined that I’d be living the life of Samantha Stephens, the glamorous wife and mother in the 1960s sitcom Bewitched. Instead, I found myself identifying more with the dark humor of the 1980s sitcom Roseanne.
The solution that ended up saving the day was continuing to work part-time. Preserving part of the old life that I knew and loved helped to stabilize things while I learned the ropes of hands-on, in-the-trenches motherhood. Though I always held on to a paying gig, raising those three daughters under a regime that I dubbed Camp Fend For Yourself evolved into the best job I ever had.
Now I’ve reached the Maytag-repairman stage of parenting when I only need to be on call for those rare instances when my super-reliable children break down. Though I thought figuring out how to combine motherhood and a career was hard, I am learning that the trickiest feat of all is coping with my planned, yet still somewhat unwelcome, obsolescence.
My new mission is sharing everything I think young people should know about assembling their grown-up lives. By speaking honestly about the ordinary struggles of adulthood, offering common-sense wisdom, and throwing in a few laughs, I hope to help reduce anxiety about becoming a grown-up.
I love mining my photo albums (where we deposited our photos before you could just store them on your phone) for throwback photos that I can turn into “Rewind Storytime” on Instagram. Every week I pick a different theme.
I also post about my Book of the Month selection, Notable Quotables, and my favorite Lazy Chef recipes in hopes of providing food for thought (and easy ways for you to put some actual food on the table).
Things Your Mother Should Have Told You
Wit and Wisdom about Building a Life
Things Your Mother Should Have Told You includes all the behind-the-scenes stuff that most people wouldn’t put on their highlight reels. You can expect:
Uncensored tales about dealing with troublesome situations like picking the wrong major, hating my first job, and having to fire a bridesmaid
Candid discussions of subjects most moms keep mum about—like assessing whether he’s “The Guy” and figuring out whether you’re ready to have a baby
Episodes of real life not matching expectations, like the rainy wedding day and the screaming newborn who acted nothing like the baby featured in my daydreams
Frank talk about newlywed life, dislikable bosses, mothers-in-law, and how staying home with the kids resembled Roseanne instead of Bewitched
Answers to how-the-hell-is-this-going-to-work questions like: How do you find your way to a dream job when you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up? And is it really possible to juggle a career and motherhood like conventional wisdom has been telling you all these years?
If you’re looking for platitudes or preachy advice, this isn’t the book for you. But if you want practical wisdom along with a side helping of humor, Things Your Mother Should Have Told You might hit the spot. And best of all, it has a happy ending--you’ll see that even though putting your adult life together is hard, it all usually works out okay.
Me with the original audience for my book, along with the guy who made that audience possible
When my oldest daughter started college and the other two were in high school, I started being haunted by a recurring dream in which I had to unpack and sort through a giant suitcase overflowing with their stuff and mine, all jumbled together.
As I pondered why this suitcase kept showing up in my dreams, I eventually realized that seeing my daughters hit different milestones was triggering memories of what it was like to be their age—with all of the struggles and dilemmas of becoming a grown-up ahead of them.
Most of the time when we discussed their futures, I talked about limitless opportunities and focused on the upside. I avoided talking about the struggles ahead because I didn’t want them to be discouraged. Or maybe I hoped that they’d somehow magically avoid all the pitfalls.
Then I read about a golden rule than marathon runners follow—if a runner asks you about the terrain on the trail ahead, you should let her know about tough hills and how far she still has to go. In other words, instead of resorting to happy talk and telling her it won’t be that hard, you should be honest.
So I decided to stop papering over the struggles and be more open about the challenges and dilemmas that come along with being a grown-up.
Once I unpacked my experiences of becoming a young adult and wrote down the non-airbrushed version of my life story, I stopped dreaming about the suitcase. I'm happy to share what I unpacked.
Even Grown-Ups Like Stories
My sweet spot is telling tales about the ordinary challenges of assembling your grown-up life--like how you figure out what you want to be when you grow up or how to adjust to being somebody's mother.
More recently, as my nest has started to empty, I've been pondering how to best parent nearly-grown children.
Maybe your own mother never talked to you about any of these dilemmas, but I'm happy to share what I've discovered.
Topics Suitable for College Students
Finding Your Dream Job When You Don't Know What You Want to Be When You Grow Up: Choosing the major, let alone the career, that's right for you may be harder than you expected. How to discover the clues pointing you to the career path you are most likely to love.
The First Job 411: Spoiler alert for recent and soon-to-be grads: The working world may not be as welcoming as you hoped. This what-to-expect rundown will gently prepare you to face reality. What expectations might be unrealistic? What do you do if you hate your first job? How exactly do you find your way to your dream job from your starter job?
Things Your Mother Should Have Told You About Having It All: Many young women are haunted by a mystery: How exactly do you go about assembling a life that has it all—a career, love and marriage, and eventually children—especially when these #goals don’t always play nicely together? Discover strategies for crafting the life of your dreams.
Topics Suitable for Parents at the Grown-and-Flown Stage of Parenting
Welcome to the Parents Facing Redundancy Club: Feeling like the Maytag repairman these days because your nearly-grown children don't need you as much anymore? Some ideas for navigating the trickiest stage of parenting--when you have to figure out when and how to let go.
The Ultimate Lovely Parting Gift for Your Soon-to-Be Graduate: Looking to improve your young adult child's prospects for future success and happiness? Discover why planned obsolescence is the greatest gift you can give.
Things Your Nearly-Grown Children Wish You Would Tell Them: Real life doesn’t resemble the highlight reels featured on social media. How sharing the behind-the-scenes stories of your young adult life can help prepare your teens and 20-somethings to face the realities of becoming a grown-up.
QUARTER LIFE SUPPORT CENTER
5 Things I Wish Somebody Told Me about What to Expect When I Became a Grown-up
Navigating young adulthood isn’t as easy as everyone pretends that it is. Nobody explains how you actually go about building a life. I'm happy to share some insights that might save you some trouble or at least make you feel a little better prepared for the inevitable ruts on the road of life.
Pssst...want some easy recipes that will have you in and out of the kitchen in no time?
It's a drag to be responsible for landing dinner on the table every night. When it comes to cooking, my goal is to land the best possible meal on the table with the minimum amount of effort. I'm happy to share a pdf of The Lazy Chef Mini Cookbook. Every one of these tasty, people-pleasing recipes has been rated on a 5-point scale that indicates how much of a pain in the ass it is to make.
Are you the parent
of a teen or 20-something?
Welcome to the trickiest stage of parenting. Get my pdf--Tips for Letting Go of Your Nearly Grown Child,
Plus: A Suggestion for the Ultimate Lovely Parting Gift.
Joanne's Essays as featured on GrownAndFlown.com
Writers love to hear from readers—it helps make all of those hours at the keyboard worthwhile. I welcome your feedback. Or if you have an adulting dilemma, maybe I can help. You can reach me at:
Tell Me: What do you wish your mother would have told you?
So many aspects of adulthood can make you wonder—how the hell is this supposed to work? Are you facing an adulting dilemma that you wish somebody would address? Tell me the things you wonder about or wish somebody would explain.
Drop me a line at Joanne_McHugh@msn.com.
Even if the topic doesn’t make it into
Things Your Mother Should Have Told You, take heart. A sequel is always a possibility if I don’t know what to get my daughters for Christmas.