When you have five kids under the age of 12 and a new business that requires your undivided attention, it’s easy to lose yourself. I can feel it creeping up on me sometimes, in between soccer practice and the sixth client of the day. Amid the seemingly endless list of people who want and need things from me, forgetting myself could become an unfortunate byproduct of a chaotic life. But getting here hasn’t been easy, so I’m not going to give in to the temptation. Not now, when everything I’ve worked for is right in front of me.
I grew up with loving parents and a younger brother, and even though my mom was a maternity nurse, and I loved and admired her profession, it wasn’t until college that I decided to become a nurse myself. I took a job at a camp for kids with special needs during the summer after my freshman year at LaSalle University, and I realized then that I wanted a career that had something to do with taking care of children. I found that the nursing profession and caring for little ones came very naturally to me, so I wanted to be a pediatric nurse practitioner.
I met and fell in love with Christopher Birkenstamm during a nursing externship when I was 21, and by 23 we were planning a wedding, and I found out I was pregnant.
I was excited—I knew I wanted to have kids, and I wanted to have my children before I turned 30. I loved being pregnant, and we had five kids within 6 years. It just kind of happened, but I never had that complete feeling of being done until after I had my youngest son, Matthew. Minutes after having my fourth child, my Ella, I took one look at her and said, I could do that again. Matthew was delivered within 2 months of my 30th birthday. And I said, This is it. These are our children. The Fab Five.
I was a mom of five kids during the week, doing all the millions of things that were required to care for them, and on the weekends, I worked in the emergency room as a nurse. Working in the ER helped me so much in my everyday life, and it still does—understanding the body, understanding people, being compassionate. I have this mentality that it’s go-time all the time, and I’m sure that comes from being an ER nurse. When you work in the ER, you are fully present, giving everything you have to the patients, family members, doctors, and other nurses, and that changes you as a person—it makes you better.
But as my kids got older and more self-sufficient, I wanted a change, and I became interested in aesthetics and wellness, and I got trained and certified in those areas. My husband and I decided we wanted to start a business, and those dreams and discussions that started around our kitchen island eventually evolved into the planning and conception of Glo Derma—a medical spa we opened last October in Yardley, Pa.
People ask me all the time how we manage five kids and a full-time business, but it’s all about motivation, organized chaos, and improvisation. How do I do it? I just do it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Fast and furious is the underlying tone of my life—moving full-steam ahead and then figuring out where the balance is.
I love my kids—I was born to be a mom. But I love my job, too. People come in, and whatever they’re going through, I get to be with them, and they can be open and honest and real. There are some heavy things people share with me, and I love being able to empower them and help them find a little peace of mind. Sometimes people come in here and just take a half-hour to themselves to regroup. And I love that. It’s about self-improvement and doing things that make you happy.
So, can we have it all? You’re darn right we can. Here’s how we make it happen:
Get rid of the haters
I spent a significant portion of my life wanting to be loved by everyone, but I’ve learned being loved by the right people is much more important. It’s tempting to take the path of least resistance, and sometimes that means keeping in your life people who are out to hurt you or who don’t have your best interests at heart. At this point in my life, I only want to surround myself with positive, uplifting people who want the best for me and my family.
If there are people in your life who aren’t supportive, it’s best if you can find ways to move on from them. I’ve found that as soon as you do that, things get better. If you want to be efficient, happy, and moving at full speed, do your best to remove the toxic things and people from your life. Even if it means a difficult conversation or an awkward meeting in the grocery store, anything that’s going to preoccupy you or take away time mentally, emotionally, or physically has got to go.
There are going to be bumps; Keep on rolling
Everyone has had times in their lives when they’ve fallen. A broken heart. An illness. A failed business decision. Stumbling is human—it’s how we get up that defines us. Maybe it’s because I saw people suffer the most painful losses when I worked in the ER, but I’ve learned you can’t let your fear of failure hold you back. Sometimes we find our greatest strength from a position of weakness.
People ask me all the time how I manage five kids, a marriage, and a business, and still look put together. The answer is, I work my butt off. My days are packed with people and things that require my time and attention, and I go through highs and lows like everybody. It’s taken time, but I’ve learned to cope with the difficult stuff and also how to toughen up (which sometimes requires a good, ugly cry in the bathroom). My family and my business—even my clients—need me to be on top of my game, so I am.
Prioritize your life
When my kids were little, I pared down my work schedule to the weekends. Being a nurse in the ER requires so much mental and physical energy, and I wanted to have enough to give my kids my best. I loved being a nurse, and it was difficult to go from being a full-time mom of five to then giving my all to the patients, doctors, and other nurses in the ER, but at the time, that’s what worked.
Now that my kids are older, they are still number one, but we’ve shifted things around to meet the next priority on the list—getting a business off the ground and making it the best it can be. I’m working 12-hour days, which means my husband, Chris, and other members of my family are taking on more to make sure the kids are eating well, getting to their activities, doing their homework, and having all their needs met. It’s a push and pull—a constant juggling act. But it’s doable, and it’s worth it.
Build a great team
My husband is my biggest fan and my staunchest supporter. Without him, I would not be able to run a business. Likewise, my parents have been making healthy dinners for my kids, doing the laundry—whatever needs to be done. I can do what I do at work because I know they’re taking care of the kids at home. I can take on the world when I’m at work because I know they are getting where they need to be and people are there for them. Everything is going like a well-oiled machine, and that takes a rock-solid team.
Make time for yourself
I go for runs with a friend most mornings, including when it’s 20 degrees and still dark outside. Do I want to get up every morning at 5 a.m. in the freezing cold? Not really. But I do it because I know I’ll feel better the rest of the day as a result of having had that time for myself. If something is important to you, you have to make it happen. Whether you’re working 2 hours a day or 22 hours, you have to carve out some time for yourself to exercise or read or do yoga—whatever you need. I am a better mom, a better wife, and a better boss when I take that time for myself. My mental state is so much stronger.
Embrace your imperfections
Women can be so hard on themselves, and I’m no exception. Whether it’s wanting to be thinner, taller, or richer, none of us are immune to wanting to be somewhat different than what we are. But I’m learning that perfection should not be the goal. Rather, we should be aiming to be comfortable and at ease in our skin—in our lives.
But we all falter. There are times when we all fall into those self-critical traps. When that happens to me, I try my best not to say negative things about myself in front of my kids. They’re little sponges. If I’m in a funk, if I’m not feeling the skinniest or the prettiest, I try to just pick my head up and move forward. Sometimes you’re not feeling great on a particular day, and you have to fake it till you make it.
You never know what struggles someone is going through. I try to be as nonjudgmental as possible. Sometimes I just scratch my head because I wonder why people can’t be nicer to each other. We all have so much on our plate. And I know it’s so easy to fall into the judgmental—I am not immune to it. But let’s be each other’s biggest supporters instead of the biggest detractors. We deserve better.
Make it count
Every dinner I miss or recital I’m late for pinches at my heart. It’s not easy—I don’t want to miss anything. So, I invest myself in things I’m passionate about, and that includes my business. I’m building my business in a place that gives my community an oasis from their own crazy lives. And that makes the sacrifices worth it.
Keep it real
There was a time when I didn’t want people to see my weaknesses. But I had a friend who said, “It’s OK to have a bad day.” It dawned on me that it’s not about being a Debbie Downer. When you let people see your imperfections, that’s when they can relate to you best. Perfection shouldn’t be the goal. It’s easy to fall into the trap in which you have the perception that other people have this amazing life, but no matter how it looks from the outside, we all have moments when we question ourselves. We wonder, Can I do this? Am I good enough? Even the best of us.
Let the laundry pile up
If you don’t believe me on anything else, trust this: Don’t obsess over the laundry and the chores. Read a book, have some wine, or go for that run. The laundry will be there when you get back.