Stephani Roberts, creator of The Audacious Life podcast
Stephani Roberts is a Solo Mom to her two daughters, eight-year-old Sienna and three-year-old Mia. After leaving an unhappy marriage and a career as a Web accessibility specialist, Roberts is now building a business around her podcast, The Audacious Life, for women who are stuck in abusive and controlling relationships.
Q: Stephani, tell me about your kids!
A: Sienna is eight. She’s into soccer this year, just started playing and embraced it. Her season ended, so she’s playing indoor soccer now. She’s also an amazing artist and into drawing, writing, building in Minecraft, swimming, and acting. She loves to do accents and is fascinated by geography and other cultures.
Mia is three. She’s active and spirited—all personality. She loves preschool, jumping and running, Play-Doh, coloring with me and Sienna. And she can boogie and sing! She loves to perform and is a natural mimic.
Q: When did you become a Solo Mom?
A: February 28, 2014. I had been in a high-conflict relationship and unhappy for years. Things went from bad to worse, and I decided I wanted my girls to have a better example for a mom. Staying in an unhappy situation and walking on eggshells . . . I knew I could do better for all of us.
Q: What was it like to leave a relationship when your children were so young?
A: It was tough. I was scared about the financial piece and logistics. My parents are deceased, and I don’t have family nearby to help. But I had faith that my skills and my resolve to find a happier, more peaceful life would take me there. I had to decide that what I would be getting was far better than what I was giving up. That wasn’t too tough for me. I was prepared to scale back and find simple happiness.
Q: What has your career path entailed? What types of professional work have you done, and what do you do now?
A: I started out in retail sales, moved into marketing during college, and worked for a few start-ups. Found I had an affinity for technology, completed my degree in film and new media at Emerson [College], and started working for a local PBS channel creating educational websites. From there I moved into academia, helping create websites that work for people with disabilities of all kinds. I was a Web accessibility specialist for 12 years at MIT.
I’m a creative person and was hungry for something with more variety and meaning. So I pursued an MEd in instructional design and educational technology. But I didn’t use it at MIT, and after my separation, the enormous commute was too much. Now I’m focused on building a business around my podcast for women who are stuck in abusive and controlling relationships. I’ve been mentoring women (and men), and helping them find coping strategies and ways to strengthen themselves, gain clarity, and find a way to peace and freedom—whatever that means for them. Each situation is different. It’s been incredibly rewarding.
Q: What are some ways you have been able to practice self-care since becoming a Solo Mom?
A: The first 11 months were tough. I was a frazzled, anxious mess most of the time. Court battles are scary, and they tend to bring out the worst in everyone. It was a dark time for me. I cried a lot, but thankfully I had joined a gym the winter before I left my relationship. It had been 20 years since I belonged to a gym! But it gave me a place to go to get away, a way to focus on me for the first time in a decade. And yoga—the yoga mat was my salvation. It kept me centered and breathing through anxious moments.
Q: What do you find to be your biggest challenge right now as a Solo Mom?
A: My biggest challenge is time. Now I’m truly solo as a mom. I have three days of preschool 9:00 a.m.–3:30 p.m. for my younger daughter. My older daughter is in school, but she doesn’t go to an after-school program anymore, and our district has a lot of half-days—a minimum of two each month, and they land on one of my workdays. In October, every Thursday was a half-day. So school schedules are the bane of my existence. But I’m committed to being there for her now because I can, and she truly needs it. She’s thriving in a way she wasn’t last year, and it’s mostly due to a regular schedule and being able to feel “safe” and at home now.
I work from home, and I’m launching my business, so I struggle with when I absolutely need a sitter or not. At the moment, I’m trying not to use sitters and to be with my kids more, making up for a hell of a last year.
Q: Speaking of time, are there any creative resources, apps, calendars, or other tools that you use to keep yourself organized?
A: I just started using Acuity and Calendly. They both integrate with my Google and iCal, but I can post a link to a client, my ex, a friend, and they can click on a block of time to set up a call, an interview, meeting, whatever. It saves a ton of time . . . no e-mailing back and forth. A paper calendar book is my guide, and I have a sticky month calendar on my bedroom wall, as well as in the girls’ room.
Q: What has been the most important community resource that you’ve leaned on as a Solo Mom?
A: Oh boy! This summer, I tapped into several for the first time. I was on a medical leave and was financially strained. I used two food pantries that got me through the summer, and my local town helped with an electric bill when my power was going to be turned off. I wish I had explored some community resources earlier. I took on a huge burden and never knew I could tap into these things to curb my budget spending. My heat in the winter (I live in the Northeast) went above my monthly rent!
Q: Do you feel pulled between your work and your kids? How do you carve out time just for your kids?
A: What I’ve decided is that when I’m home with them during the week, it’s their time. I’ll quickly check e-mail or a text, but I put my phone on airplane mode when we’re eating. Or like tonight, they wanted to cuddle before dinner. I put [my phone] on airplane mode, and we snuggled into our loveseat with blankets and watched Peppa Pig. It was 20 minutes of “their time,” and we all loved it. They understand that I then have to cook dinner or may turn my phone back on, but they know they are 100% my focus during their time. This has worked wonders for my guilt and for their happiness. I’ve found that it does me no good to be of a split mind. They pick up on my distraction, and I feel like crap.
I have a schedule for my Mia days. I take her to my gym, and I work out while she plays ($4 for 90 to 120 minutes). I can shower and do e-mail or make calls. Then we have lunch, and I sometimes take her to an indoor playground I found that has WiFi. With a Groupon, it’s $5, and we can stay the whole day. It’s one place where we can both enjoy ourselves. She can run and hug me and play groceries, and I can still take a call, write an e-mail, or edit my podcast.
Q: What are you the most proud of as a Solo Mom?
A: I’m proud of myself for taking a huge risk, leaving my solid job to pour love and attention into my kids in order to help us all heal from what we’ve been through. Things got very bad—suffice it to say that I finally felt like I had to do something drastic or our lives wouldn’t be better. My older daughter was in crisis.
I decided not to lean on anyone else to get me through this. I’m caring for my kids, I’m paying the extra money for insurance, special therapy, and so on. And I’m launching a career come hell or high water, even if it means going to bed at 1:00 a.m.! This is my chance to make a difference, and I’m going for it. I’m finally at a point where I don’t care what other people think. It feels right, and we’re thriving—that’s all that matters to me. It’s gold.
Curious how other Solo Moms make it work? Sister Chat is the perfect place to ask other Solo Moms the tough questions in a confidential setting.
Debbie Weingarten is a freelance writer in Tucson, Arizona, and a Solo Mom to two little boys—ages three and one. Her work has appeared in Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments, The Manifest-Station, Paste magazine, Rainbow Rumpus, Edible Baja Arizona, and others. Her fiction has placed in the Glimmer Train Press Very Short Fiction contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
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