Kara Forney, BOY MOMS: Collective Tales of Mothers and Sons)

Kara Forney, BOY MOMS: Collective Tales of Mothers and Sons)

Author Kara Forney joins guest host Julianna Goldman to discuss her heartwarming and honest 46-essay anthology Boy Moms: Collective Tales of Mothers and Sons, which she describes as chicken soup for the boy mom soul. Kara discusses the deliberate decision to find talented and diverse writers that were not already household names and the themes that permeated many of their essays (such as mom guilt, social media facades, and raising sensitive boys). She also talks about The Bump, the company she founded and sold to The Knot, and shares her best advice for ambitious, entrepreneurial moms.


Julianna Goldman: Kara Forney, author of Boy Moms: Collective Tales of Mothers and Sons, thank you for joining us.

Kara Forney: Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to chat with you.

Julianna: Tell us about Boy Moms. What is it? Why did you write this book?

Kara: Boy Moms is an anthology of essays written by moms of boys talking about their very raw, honest experiences of raising sons, how that may or may not have matched with what they thought it was going to be like. What are some of the things that made sense to them and then didn’t make sense to them? How did they work through that themselves? What did they learn about themselves as well as their son? Someone called it this, which I love because I remember those books, but someone called it Chicken Soup for the Boy Mom Soul.

Julianna: It was.

Kara: I was like, yes, that’s actually what it is. It’s this anthology of great essays written by wonderful moms. There’s forty-six of them. We had such great response to the call for essays that we had to really work very hard to decide which ones were going to be in. We got this great representative of a very diverse look at what it’s really like to raise boys. It’s not this one-size-fits-all. It’s most often not what everyone told you it was going to be like. It’s so much more and a lot of times, very different. I’m really excited about it. It was this very simple idea that I had. The essay writers really elevated it to something really, really special. I’m so pleased with it.

Julianna: It is Chicken Soup for the Boy Mom Soul. It’s like a warm cup of tea to just sit. I feel like you finish it, and you exhale and have a smile on your face. As a boy mom myself, reading through it, you just feel really connected to a larger community out there.

Kara: I love hearing that because I think all writers — I’m not necessarily a writer. I feel like I project managed this. I wrote an essay, but I’m not — I think that’s what everyone wants from their books, is to really just have their audience feel seen and have it resonate with them and have them feel connected. That’s what I wanted. A lot of my inspiration for this was just my own experiences, obviously, raising boys, but then my experiences being involved in the lives of my friends and my peers raising boys. A lot of times, if your experience did not match those preconceived ideas you had or that society has around what it means to raise boys, it could be very isolating. You could feel like you’re doing something wrong. I’m not part of this larger group because my child doesn’t do X, Y, and Z. My child is very different. That’s what I wanted to really combat. I wanted to change that narrative around it so that all moms of boys feel seen and heard and part of that larger community that we are. Hopefully, that’s what it does.

Julianna: I want to come back to one essay in particular, because that just made me think of it, where it talks about trying to figure out what your son’s talent is and this pressure to figure out what that talent is and the mother coming to terms or realizing that her son’s talent is not what other mothers might find in their sons.

Kara: I love that essay. I think that speaks to all of us as mothers. We feel this pressure to find our child’s thing. What is their thing? We got to get them in that thing. We’ve got to get them on that path. They’ve got to start excelling in that thing, instead of just sitting back and naturally watching things evolve and take place. That’s one of the big things I learned as well. If we’re trying to make our son have a thing, it’s usually our thing. It’s usually what we think their thing should be. I’m very guilty of that. I did that so much. It’s only when I began to step back and let their thing evolve that it really started taking root in them and made them flourish. I love that. That one was by Wendi Sobelman. She’s fantastic.

Julianna: I love that, also, the authors are not necessarily household names. How did you find everyone?

Kara: I’m so thrilled you pointed that out because that was very deliberate. That was very deliberate. When I was talking to my editor about this, Elizabeth Lyon, we went through, what would this look like? Even before we said it would be an anthology, what does this look like? Then when we looked at an anthology, who do we reach out to? We quickly came to the decision not to have it be well-known names because we wanted it to be very raw and real and like from your neighbor or your best friend or someone that you could really relate to on all levels. That was very deliberate. What I also love about it is that — we went everywhere. I went everywhere to find these essay writers. I went to mom groups. I went to writer groups. I went to mom writer groups. I went to my friends. I went to peers and colleagues. What I also love is that not only are they not household names, it’s a very diverse group of women.

Julianna: And cultures too. I love that.

Kara: Yes, and cultures. Some are writers. Some are coaches. Some are stay-at-home moms. Some are career women in very different fields. I wanted everyone to at least find one essay that they could see themselves in. I’m hopeful that that’s what we were able to accomplish. The essay writers who aren’t writers for a career, having their essays out there along with these women who are wonderful writers in their own right, and that’s their career, I think is really fun.

Julianna: It’s also a very refreshing contrast to the more curated world of social media and mom influencers. There was one line in particular that I really, really related to. It sounds so basic. Someone writes, “How am I supposed to teach my son emotional regulation when my own emotions run wild?” I think about that a lot. I have a six-year-old son right now. I’m, lately, very cognizant of the behavior that I am modeling for him as well, especially in terms of emotional regulation.

Kara: I think we can all relate to that. That’s such a universal thing. Going back to what you were saying about social media, that was one of the big things, too, that really was the kicker for me to do this. I started hearing all these things about — even talking to my friends, we’d talk about being moms of boys. I’d hear, yes, I have boys, but I’m not a #BoyMom. What do you mean by that? Yes, you are a boy mom. No, I’m not one of those #BoyMoms.

Julianna: What is the #BoyMom?

Kara: I started researching. I knew, of course, on social media. There’s a lot of discussion on Reddit. There’s several articles on how this #BoyMom culture is very aggressive. It’s very exclusive, not inclusive. It makes women feel like if you don’t have a boy that fits into this mold, then you’re not part of that #BoyMom culture. I said, this is ridiculous. We should not be isolating ourselves. We should be coming together. We’re all moms of boys. That really pushed me to put this out there as a voice around boy moms and the #BoyMoms that’s different and changes that narrative.

Julianna: Tell me if I’m wrong, if I missed this part, but you don’t explicitly talk — many of the essays deal with neurodivergence, so whether it’s autism, children on the spectrum, ADHD. I feel like you don’t say this in a forward or anything, but it’s sort woven in throughout. Can you address that?

Kara: Absolutely. The essays that are in the book are representative of all the essays that we received. What struck me was how many came in around a neurodivergent topic. Like you said, whether it was ADHD all the way to full autism spectrum, that was very prevalent, which is reflective of society today. It is reflective of what’s going on with our boys and that this is something that is affecting moms and their experiences as moms of boys in a very real way. It also is a big factor in what impacts your experience as a boy mom that will directly be the antithesis of what, maybe, you expected and keeps you from having that typical boy mom experience. I love it because I think it’s very representative of what moms are experiencing today and how prevalent a lot of this neurodivergence is in our boys.

Julianna: Again, back to social media because it’s not what you see women talking about on social media. This isn’t what they want to highlight in terms of their experience as a parent. What was great, I thought, was that there were so many examples of this throughout the book. There was one essay in particular that I completely related to. It was Will’s. The little boy’s name was Will. I wanted to reach out to the mother and be like, there are so many similarities. I would love to know different ways that you dealt with certain things. There was one essay in particular in talking about the sensitivity, having a sensitive child. Again, this comes back to this topic. One of the authors, she has a son with ADHD. She writes that, “Boys are deeply sensitive and deeply caring but often taught not to show it. I’m deeply grateful that Will has stayed –” Oh, this is the one. “I’m deeply grateful that Will has stayed connected to his sensitivity, and I envision a world where this becomes the norm rather than the exception.” I loved that.

Kara: That’s beautiful. It’s so beautiful. I do think that that is what causes a lot of anxiety in our kids today, in our boys specifically, is this tension around being deeply sensitive but feeling like they can’t share that or show that. I think that’s part of the conversation that needs to happen. We need to be very aware of that. When I first had boys, I literally said to myself, phew, I dodged a bullet. Meaning that I said that because I was your typical crazy, sassy teenager talking back, very emotional, the whole thing. I thought God’s going to give me a girl just to get back at me. I went in with this, oh, no, great, I got boys. They’re not going to be emotional. I’m not going to have to deal with that. I was a hundred percent wrong. I had a very sensitive firstborn. In hindsight, I look back and I think, what did that preconceived notion — how did that affect the way I parented him younger before I had some enlightenment around, boys can be very deeply sensitive? We need to get underneath that shell that gets put on them and allow them to have those feelings and show them that it’s okay and let them express them in the same ways that we let our daughters express their emotion.

Julianna: This is a pretty, I feel like, novel parenting concept, at least in this generation. I feel like there’s more attention being paid to this now. You think about these sensitive boys fifty years ago and how that kind of parenting has shaped them and what that has done and the macro cycle of what, ultimately, it has created in society.

Kara: We can see it. I always like to say it’s too late when they’re running for president or they’re being chosen for the supreme court. It’s too late to start instilling those things in them. We need to do it as boys so that when they become men, they are doing the things that keep them very in touch with themselves. Then they can execute their lives in such a way that is healthy and respectful and generous and humble and loving. Those are words that are not necessarily valued previously. I think you’re right. I think there’s much more attention now, which I’m thrilled about. There’s Dave Thomas. He has a book called Raising Emotionally Strong Boys. There’s more attention to it, for sure, than there was, but it still shocks me that there continue to be these tropes and ideas and preconceived things around boys. It’s still very prominent. Women, moms still feel very pressured to have this picture-perfect storybook. I have a rough-and-tumble boy who plays sports all weekend and this, that, and the other. Anyone who’s not fitting into that still could feel very, very alone.

Julianna: Sensitivity and masculinity, it can coexist.

Kara: Absolutely. It absolutely does coexist. We’ve just been smushing it down.

Julianna: We took my son and my daughter to The Nutcracker last week. My daughter was a handful. Let’s put it mildly. My son, he loved it. He said, “I want to take dance lessons so I can be in The Nutcracker someday.” I’m going to look for a dance class for him. Also, I want him to be in a dance class that has other boys in it because there’s also a boy energy that comes along with my son where a typical ballet class probably wouldn’t be the right fit for him and would turn him off from the experience. There are these considerations that I think are unique to boys in this kind of situation.

Kara: Yes. What the book shows, too, is that you can have part of that stereotypical boy experience, but not all. Both my boys were incredibly rough and tumble, very “typical” in that , but very atypical in other areas. It’s not this black and white. It’s very interwoven. What I wanted to say, too, about — you were talking about how boys, they are very sensitive, even though they may not show it. It’s our job to get underneath that. Even though they don’t seem like they are bothered or they really truly care about something, underneath it, they absolutely do. That’s been proven. We have to, as moms and parents, dig down and help them find that and stay in touch with it.

Julianna: There’s another essay I just want to point out as people read this book that is laugh-out-loud funny. It begins, “Admittedly, mall shopping has never been my thing, but mall shopping with two small boys, that’s a special kind of hell.” This is a Chicken Soup for the Soul essay. I loved it. There’s a really funny anecdote at the end. Why was this an essay that you included?

Kara: Again, we wanted to get all different types of stories. We wanted humor as well as the very raw, real, more emotional kind of pieces. This was one of them that stood out to us that we thought, again, a lot of women can relate to this. A lot of moms can relate to this. It doesn’t necessarily matter what type of boy you have. There’s a lot of truth in just trying to wrangle two small children in the mall and trying to go, especially with ones that have a lot of energy.

Julianna: And needing to go into the bathroom with your sons too.

Kara: Right, and the things that they say in the bathroom because of what they observe in the bathroom. I have bathroom stories as well. It was great. That was great. We loved it.

Julianna: What did you learn about being a boy mom while writing this, while working on it?

Kara: What really struck me is just how many moms wanted to share their story and were thrilled to be able to write about maybe their nontraditional or not-typical experience raising their son and what they learned from them. I think I went into this thinking, wow, this is going to be like pulling teeth trying to get people to — who wants to write an essay? That’s like a school assignment. It was unbelievable, the response we got, and since we’ve published, the response of, are you doing another one? I want to share. I have a great story. I have this. I have that. That has been really wonderful to see and just confirmed that notion that we want to tell our story. We want to be heard. We want to be seen. We want to be acknowledged for it. Our story is relevant and real for us. I think that was the biggest thing that surprised me.

Julianna: Are you writing another one?

Kara: We’re trying to figure out what that would look like and in what format that would look like. I feel like we have to. The amount of women that have responded to this, I feel like we have to. We’re also looking at working on something around daughters. It’s very different from this because I don’t have daughters, so I’m not coming from a mom of daughters, but coming from being a daughter and the family dynamic of daughters and sons and brothers and sisters and the family thing. A lot of really fun things. I do think we have to do a Boy Moms Two in some fashion because there’s just too many wonderful stories out there that people want to share.

Julianna: I can’t wait. I want to turn to you. In addition to being an author, you are also a cofounder. You are an entrepreneur. You’re the founder of thebump.com. Tell us about how you came into that space.

Kara: Literally, I was pregnant, and I was working all the hours and doing all the things and very, very busy and did not have a lot of time. That was with my first son. Had no time to really do a lot of research or anything. Unbelievably, at the time, there was not a lot out there where you could just go and, oh, I can look up where in my city I can get — where are the maternity stores? Where are the baby stores? What should I be looking for? How should I be preparing? There was not a lot out there at the time. That’s how it started. I went on my maternity leave from my company, and I just never went back because I started writing the business plan for something like that. Serendipitously, I looked at The Knot because theknot.com helped me plan my wedding. I was like, why isn’t there The Knot for pregnant women? Why is this not out there? I had that business model. Then after building it for five years, The Knot actually acquired it, which worked out great. Then I went to work for The Knot for three years running The Bump before I exited and just started working with founders and consulting with them, women founders, and helping them. Like a lot of good ideas, it was born out of necessity. There was something missing in the market. I said, we’ve got to do something about it. I figured I might as well do it.

Julianna: As a big fan of The Bump and someone who relied on it during my two pregnancies, I have a question I’ve always wondered. How did you come up with the different size comparisons where there’s the fruit or the animal? I loved tracking that.

Kara: Isn’t that amazing? When you start a company, it’s amazing what things resonate with people versus what you thought might resonate with people. That was not something that we put a ton of thought into.

Julianna: Really?

Kara: We brainstormed it and had a great time with it, and that’s kind of about it. Now everyone measures where they are in their pregnancy with those items. It’s really, really fun to see that and watch that and how that came about. I’d love to say it was this amazing stroke of genius, but we just thought about things that made sense for the size and things that we resonated and we thought were fun.

Julianna: Is there a head researcher on this that will find the most obscure animal that’s the size of a grapefruit?

Kara: No, it was not anything that thought out. That’s what I love about starting companies and being an entrepreneur and founding. A lot of those things that you don’t expect to really hit someone and to take off are the things that do. The things that you put a lot of time and thought and money, quite frankly, into oftentimes don’t. There’s a lot of serendipity and just the universe deciding what works and what doesn’t work, which I think is part of the fun.

Julianna: One final question. As an entrepreneur, as an ambitious woman who’s also a mother, a mother of sons, can you talk about what advice you would give to women who are trying to chart their career path? They share those ambitions, but they’re also struggling with the needs of their children, especially if they have a neurodivergent child. You talk about the mental load, so much energy that needs to go, obviously, to figuring out what your child needs and how to balance that.

Kara: It’s very, very hard. I don’t know if I have a great pat answer for that because it’s incredibly challenging when you’re going through it. There is no right answer. When I was done with The Knot and exited, I purposely chose not to start another company, not to become a founder again, or a cofounder. There was opportunities for that. In my mind, I had put my kids through the wringer for a while. I knew that I needed to take a step back and make that more of a priority, and so I did a very purposeful career choice to do consulting work, which allowed me the flexibility to be there for what my kids needed. They were in grade school. I was able to be at their things and take them to their things. My short answer is you need to absolutely follow, at given time, what the needs of your family and your world are and try to pattern your career around that and around what is, at the time, your biggest priority. There were other times when my kids did not need as much attention, and so I was able to do a lot more or do things a little bit differently with my career. I look at it as a very fluid thing. It’s not the straight shot which I thought it was when I was twenty-two and graduated and working for IBM and thought I would run IBM one day. That absolutely did not happen because of my competing priorities, and that’s okay. You have to build the career that works for you. What I love today is that there’s so many ways to do that with remote work. You can live anywhere. You can be anywhere. You can work all hours. I don’t mean work all the hours. I mean work the hours that work for you wherever you are. My mantra has always been, life-work integration, not work-life balance.

Julianna: I love that.

Kara: Work-life balance doesn’t work for me. I think it puts more pressure on us because at any given time when it’s out of balance, we feel like we’re not doing it right, and it’s always out of balance. It’s always out of balance. To me, it’s integration. How do you fit your work into life? Where does your family fit into that? It’s always integrated. The other thing for me is I’ve always said, excellence, not perfection. I’m a recovering perfectionist. I had to learn, especially being a founder, that you have to just put stuff out there. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be excellent. What excellence means is that you are doing the best possible job you can with the knowledge, with the resources, and with the capacity you have at that given time. If you’re doing that, you’re putting out excellent work. You’re doing an excellent job. You’re not doing a perfect job because that’s impossible. Switching that terminology, with me, that really helped me. I applied that to my work life and to my family life.

Julianna: I was just going to say, as a parent too, you can be excellent, but you’re never going to be perfect.

Kara: No. If we’re trying for perfection, perfection is the enemy of creativity. If you’re trying to be perfect, there’s no room for creativity. There’s no room to try and work things differently. There’s no room to find different answers. Yes, I apply that to everything. I try to apply that to my parenting, my marriage, my career, all of it.

Julianna: I also love that. Perfection is the enemy of creativity. That’s one of my key takeaways from this conversation. Thank you.

Kara: Good. Absolutely. You’re welcome.

Julianna: Kara Forney, thank you for the time.

Kara: Thank you so much. Great talking to you.

Julianna: You too.

Kara Forney, BOY MOMS: Collective Tales of Mothers and Sons)

BOY MOMS: Collective Tales of Mothers and Sons by Kara Forney

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