Happy March and Happy Women's History Month, Moms! This month we're introducing you to a very special member of our community, Kristen Wlodek! Kristin is an active Working Moms of Milwaukee volunteer and a key planner with all of our Working Moms Day efforts! Meet Kristen and her family, and hear a bit more about her career and tips for other working moms in our exclusive interview below.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Kristen Wlodek and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). I currently work as a School Based Mental Health Counselor for Lakeshore Community Health Care. I have one daughter, Lucy, who is 3 and a 16-year-old grumpy cat named Gus.
Tell us a little bit more about you and your family (immediate and/or extended).
I am the youngest of five brothers and sisters being the only one born in the US, making me first generation American. My family was born in Poland and immigrated here during the communist era. My Polish heritage has always been an important part of my life, especially with holiday traditions. I was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and after college, moved to Portland, Oregon for graduate school which is where I met my partner. We lived out there for 6 years while finishing up graduate school and starting our careers before moving back to the Midwest and have lived in Milwaukee ever since. We love traveling, the outdoors, and exploring and would love to move out West again sometime in the future, our retirement goal.
What is the best part about being connected with Working Moms of Milwaukee?
I really love being a part of a community of authentic support. The first few weeks of becoming a new mom, I was overwhelmed by the amount of judgment and mom shaming out there. I felt like I was doing everything wrong and felt further isolated during a time that was already exceptionally isolating. I found a lot of safety within this group as a new mom and continue to find that safety and support today. It has been helpful to get support from other working moms, learn tips, and share this experience and journey of being a working mom. Prior to becoming a working mom, I had no idea how challenging it would be to juggle motherhood and full time employment. That was such a reality check for me! And I was amazed and inspired by this community of moms doing it and making it work every day. It is comforting to know that we are all in this together.
What inspired you to become a mental health professional?
My friends in high school used to call me "Mama K" because I was always taking care of everyone and always prepared. I seriously had a Mary Poppins bag filled with almost anything you would need. I loved helping people, hearing and learning about people's experiences and hardships, and just being there to listen. Growing up in a family who experienced and faced many challenges, I felt I could really empathize with others and provide hope at a time people needed it the most. Initially, I had wanted to become a psychiatrist but wasn't sold on the idea of medical school so I decided to get my Master's degree in Counseling Psychology instead. I have worked in a number of treatment settings over the past 10 years and love what I do. I really enjoy helping people understand and find meaning in their experiences, reduce their concerns including symptom management, find compassion and safety in their lives, and build healthier relationships and support systems. I have been truly privileged to work with people on their healing journey.
Explain/describe one of your proudest mom moments recently.
I have been so proud of my daughter's curiosity and love of science. She has been obsessed with the human body, pretend doctor and dentist play, and more recently, has been obsessed with learning about the solar system. We read a book about the planets last week and since then has told everyone we come across fun facts about Mars and Mercury. It is really cool to see her share her interests and curiosity with others. I wish I was that cool when I was three. 🙂
What's the most challenging aspect of your life right now?
COVID fatigue and self-care. As a mental health professional, my job became even more essential during the pandemic. Working with mostly teens, I initially saw a lot of strength and resilience, quickly adjusting to the situation and making the best of it. However, one year later, I am seeing an increase in mental health symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation which makes my job all the more important but also mentally and emotional draining at times. I have a lot of hope with more and more people getting the vaccine and with schools making plans to reopen but it has been hard to see the impact of this pandemic on our communities, especially on kids. Balancing that with self-care and parenting has been a struggle recently. Working out and meal planning has felt like such a chore lately, with some days, not doing it altogether and finding self-care activities in the winter has also been a challenge.
As one of the core community volunteers for Working Moms of Milwaukee, tell us, what has your experience been like?
I really love volunteering for this group! I initially helped with creating and hosting some of our member events which was so fun bringing working moms and their families together. Being new to the Milwaukee area, this was a great way for me to meet and make friends with other moms. The last two years, a lot more of my volunteer time has been focused on creating and promoting Working Moms Day, something I am very passionate about. Since we are all working moms, we work together as a team to make our ideas happen. We come together to discuss our ideas, volunteer for tasks/projects based on our strengths and interests, and come together to make great things happen! We are all very understanding and realistic too with at least one or two of our kids being involved in our meetings because that is the life of a working mom and we make it work. I think the last meeting started with talking about bath time, potty training, and our kids' obsession with the word butt! There is never a dull moment!
What's your advice for moms and maintaining their mental health?
Make time for yourself. I know this is the classic answer to this question and something we all know, yet working moms do not prioritize self-care. Working moms are known for making more sacrifices in the workplace and in their homes compared to working dad which often leads to no time for them at the end of the day. If we want to be the best version of ourselves, we have to invest in ourselves. This is not only important in making sure we have the energy to do our jobs well and take care of our families, it also teaches our kids the importance of self-care and investing in ourselves. This is by far one of the most important lessons we can be teaching our kids. To invest in their health, their goals, and their self-identity. And by self-care, I mean more than just getting a mani/pedi or massage every few weeks. I mean investing in getting more sleep, exercising, reading for pleasure, prayer and meditation, and fueling your body with healthy food. I think this is most challenging and most important for single working moms because your kid/s rely entirely on you. Think about your day and the changes you can make to have more time for you. For me personally, I have learned to creatine a routine for my family and stick to it, put my phone aside instead of being sucked into the black hole of the internet and social media and working out or going to bed at a reasonable time.
Do you have a favorite place to go in Milwaukee? If so where and why? (Restaurant, park, bar, etc.)
Pre-and post-COVID, breweries and beer gardens have always been my go to, especially South Shore and Lakefront Brewing. I have always found breweries and beer gardens to be very family friendly and accommodating and they actually have diaper changing stations in the rest rooms, even for dad's too! I couldn't believe the number of restaurants with no changing stations, which resulted in changing diapers in the stroller, the car, or on the sink! Not exactly the experience I want when I go out which already takes so much more energy than staying home.
Do you have any words of advice for other moms, especially new moms?
My advice is don't strive to be a perfect mom, strive to be a good mom! Take one day at a time and enjoy the small moments and victories. The internet can be your best and worst friend the first few years so set boundaries. If you are seeking advice or tips, browse a few trusted websites instead of ALL the websites. There is too much information out there and everyone around you will have a different opinion so trust your gut and stick with your values. Trust me, I have spent countless hours searching even the simplest things, like the best car seat or bottles only to be more lost and overwhelmed. During those early months, get as much sleep as you can and find compassion for yourself. Parenting is the hardest thing you will ever do, so cut yourself some slack and accept that you will never get to everything on your to-do list and that is ok. As your kids get older, listen to them and validate their feelings. Show your kids that you are human, that even grownups make mistakes, fail, and have emotional meltdowns. Apologize, communicate, and demonstrate the importance of self-care. After all, if all your kids see is perfection, they will not know how to handle failure and life's most challenging moments.
What are your plans for Working Moms Day, March 12th?
Aside from working, I hope to recognize the working moms in my life by sending out cards and messages, perhaps even recognizing the working moms I work closely with, with flowers or coffee. I also look forward to participating in some of the events occurring that day, especially the Zoom panel.