Meet Later Mom: Jillian Lauren
I’m a writer, storyteller, mom, rock-wife, and Los Angeleno, by way of Jersey. I’m the author of the memoir EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED, as well as the New York Times bestselling memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and the novel Pretty. I write a lot of essays and articles, some of which have been in The New York Times, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Magazine, Elle and Salon, among others. I speak and tell live stories, often with The Moth. I’m married to the musician Scott Shriner, and together we adopted our son Tariku from Ethiopia in 2009. I blog at www.jillianlauren.com.
What was your road to parenthood like? I had a pretty wild pre-baby life, including drug addiction and my infamous years in the harem of the prince of Brunei (see my first memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem). On paper, I might not be considered the best candidate for motherhood. My husband Scott and I had a long and circuitous road to parenting, including the whole painful infertility thing. We eventually found the right path for us and adopted our son from Ethiopia.
In our early years of parenting, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be very, very good, in order to make up for my scandalous past. This was supposed to be my redemption story. What I found instead is that being a good mother wasn’t so much about transcending my past but rather about drawing from my entire range of experiences and learning to embrace the imperfections.
You wear many creative hats. Is there one project in your career thus far that you are most proud of, and why? That’s like making a mother choose between her children! That said, this memoir is so precious to me, because it’s about my family. It’s a love letter to my child and it’s the work closest to my heart.
What was your motivation to write EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED? When we were in the late stages of the adoption process, I started a blog, mostly as a way to connect with friends and family and let them know what was going on in our lives. I never thought it would become such a lifeline for me. Writing about my parenting journey has been an essential component of the experience, and has allowed me to connect with other mothers all over the world who are facing similar struggles. The blog (jillianlauren.com) inspired the book.
What do you hope others will take away from reading it? I’ve never felt equal to the task of parenting. I still don’t really. But then I think – parenting is a gift, not a reward for good behavior. Part of that gift is the opportunity to mother yourself. I hope people will take away a sense of understanding and compassion, not only for other mothers but for themselves as well.
You have shared that your son has special needs. How do you advocate for him? My son has PTSD and Sensory Integration Issues. Some people look at me skeptically when I discuss the impact of early childhood trauma and PTSD. It’s hard to bear witness to the suffering of our fellow humans, especially children, and not know how to address it. But ignoring it doesn’t make the problem go away. Early childhood trauma has a very real effect on neurochemical responses. As a trauma survivor, my kid responds to every perceived danger as a threat to his very existence, and he fights it accordingly. It takes patient, consistent, fearless love to help these kids feel safe in the world, and as a result to begin to rewire their brains.
The first step to advocating for him was correctly identifying the root of the challenges. The next step was finding the right team of therapeutic professionals to support the whole family. Equally as important as all of this was me finding the language with which to communicate about it, and to find a community of like-minded parents for support.
How does being a mom influence your work? What does your child think of all that you do? Being a mom has been transformative in all that I do, including my writing. It’s changed it in practical ways (how many hours I realistically have to work!), but also in emotional and spiritual ways. My son is so proud of me. He came to a reading of mine recently, and I read the part of the book about when I first met him. It was all I could do to keep from sobbing. He ran up to me afterward, threw his arms around my neck and told me, “You make me proud.” It was up there with the best moments of my life.
Do you think it’s tough for women to balance parenting, a personal life and creative pursuits? And, if so, how do you achieve balance? Tough? It’s impossible! I have no tips for achieving balance. I don’t think there is such a thing. Something is always suffering. All adult choices have consequences. I really hope that I give other women a sense of permission. That they can see their own transgressions and struggles, whether or not they’re as dramatic as mine, in a more humorous light. We live in a culture of relentless self-improvement, steeped in the rhetoric of “happiness” and “balance.” If we don’t achieve these things, we’re failing somehow. I’m much more interested in meaning than happiness. And I’m more interested in trying to suck the marrow out of every moment that I have with my family than I am in achieving some kind of mythical balance. “Balance” is just another one of those words that can leave you feeling like you’re constantly doing something wrong.
What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? I don’t think I have anything new to offer here… the biggest challenge is, girl, I’m tired! The positive is that I’m emotionally more intelligent than I’ve ever been, and I’m more patient. Also- as I get older, everything does seem more precious to me, so I’m able to savor the experience more than I would have in my more restless and chaotic years.
What do you most want to teach your child? What have you learned from him thus far? The proper use of apostrophes! Just kidding. That’s a tough question. There are so many values I want to instill in him. I think that at the top of the list are probably kindness, compassion and courage. Also – the value of practice. Of showing up every day and practicing something, whatever it may be, even when it’s not fun. I want to instill in him the ability to stick through the hard and boring stuff. I’ve learned from him just how little I really know. I’ve learned to be way more accepting of my imperfections, because boy have they ever become more apparent to me.
They say it takes a village to parent. Where do you turn for support as a mom? The importance of community is one of the things that keeps me writing. Through my story, I hope to extend a hand to others who may have questions, like we did. What would I do without the people I’ve met through the special needs community? This community has taught me how to be an advocate and a warrior. They’ve shown me that I’m strong. They’ve showed me that worth is not about conventional achievement, but about connection and relationships. It’s just those important relationships that moms can find in organizations like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner.
What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a parent, particularly if they’re 35 or older? I say follow your heart! The world is so different now than when we grew up. There’s a much greater support system for mothers over 35. I feel like my own mother was a grown up when she was 25. It took me until last year to feel even vaguely like a grown up, and even now I often don’t. This is typical of my generation and it’s a phenomenon that has challenged all of the old “rules.” We’re creating a whole new playbook right now, for the potentiality of women’s lives. It’s an exciting time to be a parent, to be a woman with a career, to be a woman period.