What Do We Assume About Each Other?


What the heck is going on in this country? If you walk down my street, you’d catch a couple hints. On one end we have a new neighbor, Carlos, who purchased his stately home from a former NBA player. A matched set of warning signs sits in his front yard (see below). When he first moved in, they were a disturbing novelty on our quiet, friendly street. After the insurrection two weeks ago, someone stole his huge TRUMP 2020 flag. A police cruiser now parks next to his home, ostensibly to protect him from the flag/election stealing Democrats. This morning, January 27, 2021, a replacement banner went up that reads PRO-LIFE, PRO-GUNS, PRO-GOD, PRO-TRUMP.

I’m confused. Guns and life? Seems like you only get one of those. Also, isn’t Trump now golfing full-time? But the burning question for me is, if Carlos was running for office, does he think our former President would wave a PRO-CARLOS flag in his front yard? I’d ask him but I haven’t seen him in months.

On the opposite end of the street, we have squatters. The property of an old house had been cleared for renovation and sat empty—until now.

My neighbor, Ted*, advised of the illegal tenants the morning after I arrived home late from a trip. In the pitch black of night, I threw open the doors to air out the place, with no concern for my safety. My neighborhood has been described as “a tony suburb of Miami.” I have always felt secure here. Those terms would not characterize all the places I’ve lived, but that’s another story. Ted said the trespassers were sophisticated, known by the builder to have a history of house hopping. They had allegedly claimed to be renters, having falsified a lease, transferred utilities to their name and even serviced the pool. It was a surprise they ended up on our block but not terribly shocking given the steady reports of creative thievery around Miami.

On my morning walk, I passed the squatter home to note the address so I could make some inquiries of my own. I am not assuming a Breaking Bad situation, but I felt the need to poke around. A couple of late model cars and a pickup truck in good shape sat out front. Not that a shiny car proves anything. Having nice stuff is an old trope used against the poor to prove they’ve misspent resources or that they’re not actually poor at all. We cringe at the word, like me having the urge to use another turn of phrase to avoid it altogether. As a society, we prefer to look away rather than do anything to solve the problem.

We’ve had some theft reported on the block, but no one so bold as these new neighbors. When the car next door went missing last year, the owners were rattled but insurance took care of it. This is different. Ted said there were likely several families staying together. He had heard kids playing in the pool. I assume that if they had options for greater stability in which to raise children, they would avoid living arrangements that ran afoul of the law.

The U.S. unemployment rate is somewhere around 20% right now which is inching perilously close to Great Depression levels when the number exceeded 25%. The wave of unemployment has lead to a tsunami of homelessness. There is a moratorium on evictions right now for Covid but these folks were never legal tenants. Who knows what the real situation is, I couldn’t find much. A Summons was clipped to the fence so it’s now a matter for the courts to decide. Most of the neighbors on my end of the street have been proactive about the squatters. Their presence has caused quite a stir. No one on our peaceful block seems at all distressed by the gun-stockpiling, insurrection-sympathizing rich guy who is protected by a dedicated police presence. But by displaying that flag, he denounces the results of a national election and continues to support someone who incited violence at the nation’s capitol, against police officers, lawmakers and even the former Vice President. Domestic terrorism is against the law but there are no specific criminal penalties for it. The insurrectionists are facing simple trespassing charges and the like. Reform is urgently needed.

On opposite ends of our street, stand two examples of how government policy shapes the way we perceive one another, for better or worse. When the Senate held no hearings to prove the election was valid and 147 members of Congress voted to overturn the results, it left an information gap that got filled by propaganda on social media and cable news. Millions of Americans consumed the lies and felt cheated, including at least one of my neighbors. To quell another uprising, we need truth, disseminated on the double.

As for the squatters, I’m not naive about their possible motivations. I know there are plenty of folks who see an opportunity to grift and go for it. Florida’s record-breaking levels of medicare/medicaid fraud are a prime example. But there again, we have a healthcare system that invites fraudsters with it’s gaping holes in oversight and callous denials of care. Unlike other developed nations, struggling Americans have received no consistent financial support over ten months of the pandemic. Florida’s distribution of unemployment benefits has been an abomination. Lines outside food banks all around the country stretch for miles. Many cannot meet their basic needs. It should come as no real surprise that people end up stealing a house in broad daylight.

But what about the rest of us in between these two extremes? I suppose we have to check our assumptions. Whether we want to admit it or not, the absence or presence of wealth counts for a lot. The rich are treated better than everyone when half the time it’s just luck and privilege that explain who has what. Sometimes merit is the reason, but it is by no means the rule.

The other unfair assumption is that our justice system metes out actual justice to all. Over the last several months, the entire nation, regardless of our personal dealings with law enforcement, has seen that police are flawed human beings who carry their own biases. At times, they appear more focused on enforcing the race/class divide than protecting public safety. The laws as they are written and enforced provide a false sense of morality. The guy in the fancy house with all the guns and open display of support for government overthrow is fine because he has broken no laws. The squatters are criminals. This is how the legal system has shaped our perception of each other. But there is so much we don’t know about one another. We have to find a place within us to deal with each other on a human level. Right now, while we are so polarized, we can start by exercising some self-control when we walk by the neighborhood arsenal and maintain compassionate boundaries when passing the squatters.

We in the middle of the block can only assume we all want pretty much the same things: to live a peaceful, healthy life and to provide well for our families. Our country has gone through enough. Now that we have leaders who model empathy and compassion, we can normalize that again. Surely it will help give us the sense that it’s all going to be okay.



WRITING PROMPT: Who do you talk politics and social issues with? Does it make you uncomfortable? Why or why not?

*My neighbor asked me to give him the name “Colombo” but it changed the tone of the piece, so I had to opt for an unfunny name. 🙁

Copyright © *2021* *Elizabeth Heise, LLC*, All rights reserved. Our mailing address is:


How To Get Out Of A Funk

The inspiring events of this week have, for many of us, renewed our hope and shifted the focus off our own troubles. There are positive signs that this new administration is determined to work for us all. Calls for unity have been tempered by demands for accountability. As many have said, only with meaningful acknowledgment of harm done, is unity possible.

A microcosm of that concept has been a long time in coming with my own family of origin. The result of my appeal for accountability has resulted in my mother choosing to end our relationship. I hate to bring down the mood from such a positive few days, so stop reading if you want to linger in the afterglow!

For weeks, I’ve been battling a deep sadness over my mom, trying hard not to let it take over. Brene Brown describes how family members typically become estranged around lifecycle events and we are certainly typical in that regard. A sibling and I disagreed about our mother’s care after a car accident a couple of months ago. Brown says that heightened emotions around such events lead to harsh words that cause some family members to cut ties. I was on the receiving end of a blast of vitriol from a sibling after she heard mom’s complaints about me and others. I called my mom to ask that she speak to each of us directly so as not to drive a wedge between her children. Mom denied having said anything, asserting I’d always unfairly blamed her. Then she signed off permanently, have a good life.

Mom & Me 1970, San Francisco

Our relationship hasn’t been especially close since she left our family in 1982 when my folks divorced, so not having her in my life anymore isn’t quite what you might think. The hardest part about this is losing the possibility that it will ever be any different between us. Subconsciously, I had held out the hope that one day we would have the kind of mother-daughter bond I have longed for in my friends’ relationships with their moms. That my mother would one day prioritize my hurt feelings over the need to justify her own behavior.

But I’m not here to fight a one way battle with my mother. What’s done is done. I’m here to figure out how to be okay despite not having a mom anymore, or even the fantasy of one, and to feel good about myself in spite of that. My inner work is to reject the idea that I deserved it, that I caused her inability to love me unconditionally because I am inherently unlovable. Just the thought of that brings me to tears. She views me as someone who fits a narrative she made up in her head, it has nothing to do with who I am. I’m not entirely sure who she thinks I am, I can only pick up bits and pieces by what she has said. That I had it easy because of how I looked as a kid, because I did well in school and figured out how to have a happy life with no real problems. In reality, the challenges I faced when she left me to fend for myself were so consequential that I wrote a book about it. She hasn’t asked to read it. She has felt free to judge me but she doesn’t know me. And now she doesn’t know her grandchildren. She’s the one missing out on both accounts she writes, trying hard to trust the truth of it. Every time I have tried to tell her who I am, a cold wind blows on her end of the phone. She is not listening and never will.

So. How do I move on from such a heavy blow and get back to myself? After a couple months of trying to fill that motherless pit inside me with holiday treats, I decided to get back into my physical body instead of numbing it, to reclaim myself from the heartache that had seeped in and tried to take up permanent residence. It is the one way I can be present to my life and the beautiful people who choose to be in it.

1. I MOVED. I physically worked the pain out in as many ways as I could until I felt it breaking up and making its way out. I ran until I gasped for air, I rode hard on my bike until tears flowed down my face. I danced naked in a -225 degree nitrogen chamber at cryotherapy to Bastille’s Pompeii. I twisted my body in yoga to wring out the toxins and opened my heart with the faith that despite what my mother says, that I belong here, that I am loved, that I am enough just as I am.

2.  A BREAK. I gave myself a pass on handling this perfectly. I don’t need to do everything right anymore so my mom thinks I’m a superstar and will finally love me how I always wanted. That thinking got me nowhere. I have fallen backwards into the bleakness of all this and have had to begin again. I accept that this is difficult for me. The mother bond is a hard one to do without. Part of the work is extracting myself from her idea of me. That I am so fundamentally flawed that she can’t bare to have me in her life, not even the thinnest thread of connection, which is all it has ever been. I am not the person she rejected. My true self bears no resemblance to what my mother thinks of me. If I had a chalkboard, I would write that 100 times. I am okay—no. I am better without her.

3. NATURE. Honestly, this seems to be the answer to every hard question I have. Don’t know how to handle something? Put your bare feet on the earth, look up at the sky and get quiet. This one was easy because we left town last week for the mountains. Instead of bare feet, I put on skis and looked up at the breathtaking vastness. My problems are so small when they are measured against the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Nature renews my spirit every time.

4. LOVE. I feel resistance around sending her love but I do it anyway. In the mornings, when I have cleaned my energy, I envision pink light traveling from my heart to hers. Not all the time, but when she pops into my head and announces herself, I do it. A dear therapist friend reminded me to take care of the little girl inside, who didn’t get enough of her mother’s love, by avoiding confrontations of the sort I had with my mom that only caused re-injury. She also suggested I imagine what the little girl inside my mother must have felt to cause her to shut off from people the way she has. Accessing empathy for my mom may be the key to letting go of my pain. I had her in my everyday life so briefly, I don’t really know much other than that as the eldest of seven, her parents were extremely critical of her, punishing her severely for minor infractions. She left home to boarding school at thirteen. Later in life she had a very close relationship with her own mother before she died a few years back. Maybe there is hope for us, but I am realistic about that.

Also, I can relate to my mother’s inability to treat her kids with love because of her own deficits. In my worst parenting moments, the feeling of being unloved and taken for granted has brought out my inner Mommie Dearest. My kids could tell you their own stories of being unloaded on for minor infractions too. I have to be accountable and acknowledge the pain I caused them as well—it’s excruciating but necessary to preserve and improve our relationships.

It hurts to be without a mother to call with important questions or great news but as I have known for the vast majority of my life, all I have ever needed has existed inside of me the whole time. I will never abandon myself and that I can be sure of.

This process may take a while, but the pain is less now. I will get better the more I move, love and get out in nature. When I am kind to myself, I am left with the clarity and lightness that it’s all going to be ok.



WRITING PROMPT: How do to get yourself out of a funk? Does it always work? Why or why not?

Copyright © *2021* *Elizabeth Heise, LLC*, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.



Staying True To You

When I was a young lawyer, one of the most difficult parts of the job was watching my mouth. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that children of hippies like myself have no real grasp of hierarchies. I grew up without a curfew, my siblings called their teachers by their first names, we all sort of did whatever. Add a divorce on top of that and I pretty much raised myself. Saying what popped into my head became a way of life.

As a young associate in a large firm with more politics than the Iowa caucus, my big mouth became a liability. I was too familiar with my boss and too outspoken during department meetings. You know the ones where the important folks occupy one end of the mahogany table and the punks camp out in Siberia on the other end? I didn’t get the memo on my proscribed role until one exasperated partner harrumphed that associates were invited mainly to listen. So maybe button it, Elizabeth.

I really did want to fit in. Despite holding two jobs through law school, I had a sizable student loan debt. For my own financial wellbeing, I had to make it work. I held my tongue as best I could, but my “candor” caused me constant worry that they’d want to get rid of that smartass in litigation.

So I worked hard and grew accustomed to keeping a lid on my opinions. My reticence was rewarded with an assignment to mentor one of the second year law students who’d come to Miami for the summer to showcase their talents to the hiring committee. If they made the right impression, they’d be offered a job after graduation. As I recalled, the law school crowd had a high concentration of shameless suck-ups so I prayed I wouldn’t be saddled with one of those.

When the summer associates arrived, one of them stood out like a sparkling jewel against the rest of the quiet, deferential clerks. A killer smile and razor sharp wit, Nathan Hale Williams noticed everything. He picked up on the stuffy vibe immediately. Nathan was outspoken like me, but he didn’t heap shame on himself for his directness like I did. He wasn’t worried about anyone forming a negative impression of him for asking questions— he felt free to ask away. He wanted to know if the firm was right for him, not the other way around. The way Nathan handled himself was unlike any intern before or after. That short-term gig was typically one of supplication. Every candidate who came through year after year just wanted a job offer and that second year summer was the best chance to get one. Except for Nathan. He had to know how the firm would nurture his vision for himself as a professional. The answers he received were unsatisfactory and he made no secret of his disappointment.

At the end of the summer, in an unprecedented move, young Nathan withdrew himself from consideration for employment with the firm. He mentioned it to me beforehand, ever so briefly. Nathan had already made up his mind that this was not where he would begin his legal career. In private conversations, we had agreed that the practice of law wasn’t what either of us had fantasized. I didn’t love it but my student loan debt made my paycheck the only real factor in my decision-making. I just assumed most law students, who weren’t trust funders, thought the same way. Not Nathan. He had no scarcity issues about money. I couldn’t believe it.

After Nathan pre-quit his first job as a lawyer, my first instinct was to throw myself in front of him and say NO! He was only kidding. And then drag him into the nearest empty office and talk some sense into the guy. Part of me thought the hiring committee would blame me for not sufficiently propagandizing the firm which I was guilty of without a doubt.

But I didn’t try to stop Nathan. He was absolutely right about the firm not having any real plan to nurture his career, specifically. I didn’t want to be the first person to tell him not to be true to himself. It was pretty clear that he had lived a life free from artifice and I wasn’t about to suggest he start faking it. So, as his mentor, I slow clapped that brilliant young man right out the door and the rest is history.

For this reason and all that came after that summer, Nathan will be my guest on my Instagram LIVE monthly series, Tell Me All About it, this Saturday at 1:00 pm PST, 4:00 EST. Nathan is one of those rare souls who, from EARLY, knew himself, believed in his mission, and set out to do the meaningful, community-enriching work he has been called to do. He stays true to himself above all, allowing nothing to stand in his way and I want to dig into how this came to be. Nathan has always trusted his own creative expression to speak truth into the world.

Aside from his professional successes, Nathan is the same extraordinary soul I met in the summer of 1999. Even though we live on opposite coasts, we have kept in touch throughout the years. When I hear how Nathan feels about his creative work, it gives me more clarity into my own. I warm my hands by his fire every single day. The love he has for his work and enthusiasm for life is infectious. (Seriously, go follow him on Instagram right now @nathanhalewilliams).

These days, Nathan is President and CEO of iN-Hale Entertainment LLC. He is a critically acclaimed filmmaker, television producer, author, and, of course, entertainment attorney. He has written four books: Inspiration: Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World; Ladies Who Lunch & Love; What You Don’t Know IS Hurting You: 4 Keys to a Phenomenal Career; and The Girl’s Best Friend: A Collection of Essays on Love, Life & Sharing Your Light–this one is about his experiences with his girlfriends and it’s my favorite. He is also a contributing author to For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough, which won the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award for Non-Fiction Book of the Year.

Nathan’s list of accomplishments is actually much longer than this, but what will be readily apparent when you tune in to our conversation this Saturday, is how present he is to his friends. He doesn’t take anyone for granted. One of his BFFs observed about Nathan that he has so much faith in humanity. Reading those words in one of his books made me cry. No matter the struggles he has faced, he believes in the goodness of people. He has managed to get to this point in his multi-hyphenated career without cynicism. AND HE LIVES IN LOS ANGELES. And New York before that! Now you know why he needs to be studied, amiright? He credits his mother, affectionately referred to as “Momma J” with showing him the kind of wide-open love that provides a foundation of faith that it’s all going to be okay.

I can’t wait to talk to Nathan and I hope you’ll join us, this Saturday at 1:00 PM PST, 4:00 PM EST.



WRITING PROMPT: Do you have a friend who restores your faith in humanity? What do you credit with their positive outlook?

Copyright © *2021* *Elizabeth Heise, LLC*, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.


Relationship Reset 2021

On Sunday night before the end of winter break, I helped my youngest look for his lost computer. He’d just received it as a gift. Odd thing was, I couldn’t find the old one either. For the rest of our final holiday night, I tossed the house like the FBI—no luck getting the family to join me. By 10:30 pm, we’d blown our new year’s resolution for lights out at 10:00 pm. When the hunt brought me to the bedrooms, not a trace of the restful vacation remained. How are things constantly going missing around here? Am I going insane? I reported the bad news to Mark as he entered the room.

“How’s he going to manage hybrid learning with no computer?” I asked.

“I know where the old one is,” he said and pulled it from his sock drawer. “Oh yeah, I have the new one too.” He handed over the unprogrammed laptop he’d kept buried for the last week in a forgotten effort to control screen time.

I threw a verbal jab, straight from the shoulder.

“Thanks for wasting my entire evening,” I said.

“I was busy doing something for you, so you’re welcome, ingrate.”

During our confinement, this tone is not uncommon. The way it typically ends is with an apology of Mark’s that contains a number of “I’m sorry you…” statements, suggesting my oversensitivity is the problem. I get very judgy with the language, even though my own apologies aren’t much better. We’ve been forced to turn to the experts: Brene Brown’s podcast on the art of apologyé-brown/id1494350511?i=1000473726266 (it’s a two parter) and Glennon Doyle’s instructional video on listening . Covid Times togetherness tests our communication skills daily. The results are mixed but the marriage has held, as of this writing.

My son and I set up the computer and the kids finally went to bed.

That night, Mark and I began the first step in our New Year’s mulligan. He had recently suggested some relationship improvement strategies that got lost in holiday prep and exhaustion. Our three kids are night owls. The later it gets, the less time we have for each other. In the last few months, I have felt like our time together is siphoned off of what I require just for me. Because the pandemic has erased boundaries and melted time, getting our own needs met has been more like triage. The mental shift that would be benefit me greatly is that the time investment IS for me. I realize intellectually, that the more connected I am in my relationship, the more supported and loved I feel. That’s hard to remember when I face a day full of interruptions and just want to scream.

So, for those of you playing along, this is what’s going down for our 2021 reset.

  1. Set daily intentions with each other. Today mine was: “I will take a deep breath when I feel frustrated.” I typically get up before Mark to go write my morning pages so if we can catch each other, we seal our intention with a good hug (Mark’s idea). If not, a text still counts. This is the first one we forget about, so it’s also a calendar reminder.
  • We each take 100% responsibility. Before Covid Times, we had a strong connection, some of which was attributed to a few changes I had suggested a while back. One evening while reflecting on it, Mark said, “I love what you’ve done with our relationship.” Instead of feeling proud and happy, I was like TF? I carry all the emotional labor for our family and now I’m responsible for US too?!  So I stopped reminding him to do all the things. Being vulnerable and connected is also a risk so when I see a door out, sometimes I use it. This time around, we have both vowed to take ALL the responsibility and, when we are feeling off, ask ourselves the question, “what AM I giving?”

  • Appreciate ourselves first, every day. One of our main gripes with each other is feeling taken for granted. Most of this stems from our own deficits that have nothing to do with the other person. It goes back to being raised with more indifference than unconditional love for the cute and awesome kids we both were. So we need to heal that part of ourselves by celebrating the bejesus out of our own accomplishments. I high-five myself often. I put a list of my 2020 accomplishments on Instagram particularly because it was SO UNLIKE me. I felt so self-conscious doing it in the midst of such an awful year for so many but I needed to let this little light o’ mine SHINE SHINE SHINE.
  • End the day in gratitude. We have a white board and marker next to the bed that, once we’ve settled in for the night, we take turns listing 3 things we are grateful for about the other person that day. Over the last few months, the white board has sat untouched. But it’s back and more dry erasey than ever. We do it not just for the warm fuzzies but also for science—this exercise trains the brain to look for the good in each other instead of the flaws. I know it works because I thank the trees every morning for oxygen. After doing that for so long, I could sit and admire a beautiful tree the whole damn day. If I can appreciate a freaking tree, I can appreciate my darling husband.

  • Five positive messages to one negative. I heard of a study about how happy couples maintain this ratio. We are new to this practice, which makes it kind of hilarious. If anyone has anything mean to say to the other person, it has to come at the end of five compliments. Here’s an example from Sunday: “I didn’t like that you splattered soup on my purse and dumped Christmas tree water on my flip flops, but don’t you look handsome today? And thank you for cleaning the barbecue and booking our tickets. I also appreciate how you did the grocery shopping and then came home and made dinner.” Putting the other mess in context worked. Turns out, he’s actually a hero. Word to the wise though: it’s best to get the five in before you need to say the thing.
  • State of the Relationship Talk. This one went from Friday to Sunday to no day, but it’s back. The amazing thing about a 25 year old relationship is that we can reinvent it anytime. With the promise of a new day, we can wake up and decide we are going to be the best partners ever. There is clearly no magic formula, but the net effect of all this is simple. Two overwhelmed people take some time to focus on each other, mostly the good in each other, on a regular basis.

We are much better together when we do this stuff consistently. When all else fails, humor is our safety net. If you sprinkle a little bit of funny into the not so funny at all, you get the feeling that it’s all going to be ok.



Writing Prompt: What keeps your relationship healthy? And/or what keeps your relationship with yourself healthy?


HAPPY NEW YEAR! (Now what?)

Despite the challenges, we made it! 2020 is finally behind us.

But with a year of so much change, New Year’s resolutions seem a bit extra, don’t they? I’m still on the fence about holiday cards, even at this late date. On my current timetable, I’ll make resolutions sometime around February. 

Traditionally, I like to get my failures out of the way early, so I set resolutions each year and break them by the crack of noon on January 1. They usually target my diet, staying organized and getting better sleep. In my defense, that’s not unusual—those well-worn neural pathways fight hard against change. I promise myself it will be different and a few hours later I am foraging for carbs and going down a time-wasting rabbit hole, as usual.  

Luckily, I know people who have figured out how to motivate themselves without the disheartening detours. My good buddy Katie* sent me her resource for answering the question, How do I get people—including myself—to do what I want? I hadn’t taken a quiz since around 1987 when I leafed through my last issue of Cosmo, but I was willing to keep an open mind because Katie vouched for it. Plus, Gretchen Rubin’s credentials intrigued me. She’s a Yale trained lawyer who clerked for a Supreme Court Justice and then decided to leave the law to focus on personal growth. Her best-selling book, The Happiness Project, explores the magical formula to a joyful and fulfilled life. She’s not a mental health professional which has drawn some criticism. It’s likely she’s not aware of her critics because she insulates herself from “negativity bias,” according to a snarky Washington Post article. Doing what she wants and ignoring the haters? I’ll have what she’s having.  

Side note: self-help books annoy me. Usually the person insisting I need to read fill-in-the-blank book is in no position to dispense advice of any kind. The one exception is when the recommender is someone who does life well. Katie-check. Gretchen-check. 


Gretchen’s personal inventory determines how we respond to expectations. Commitments to others are the “outer expectations.” The “inner expectations” are the promises we make to ourselves. How we meet these two types of expectations determines our “tendency.” Apparently, I have a shit attitude when it comes to keeping commitments when only I stand to benefit. The example Gretchen uses is the dreaded New Year’s resolution. 

Here’s how each tendency responds to expectations:

Upholder: “I do what others expect of me—and what I expect from myself.” (This is Katie.)

Questioner: “I do what I think is best, according to my judgment. If it doesn’t make sense, I won’t do it.”

Obliger: “I do what I have to do. I don’t want to let others down, but I may let myself down.” (Me.)

Rebel: “I do what I want, in my own way. If you try to make me do something—even if I try to make myself do something—I’m less likely to do it.”

Once you are aware of how you respond to expectations, you have a formula for self-motivation. As for dealing with people of other tendencies, this is how to motivate each of them:

•Upholders want to know what should be done.

•Questioners want justifications.

•Obligers need somebody to answer to.

•Rebels want freedom to do it their own way.

I forced the family to take the quiz. We have 2 Rebels and 3 Obligers. We Obligers are motivated by external accountability. Outside demands and deadlines get us moving–we go to great lengths to meet our responsibilities. Our need to do things for others is so deeply ingrained that we need external accountability even for stuff we want to do!  

Obligers make great colleagues and leaders…until we DON’T because of something called “Obliger-rebellion.” We have trouble setting limits and saying no, so all of a sudden we snap and quit cold turkey. Obligers don’t do a slow fade. (I’ve totally done this.)

According to Gretchen, to have a prayer of changing habits permanently, I have to be accountable to someone else. Thinking back, I’ve experienced this a lot throughout my life. When I first met my husband and we began traveling together, he’d go unpack his suitcase right away, placing everything neatly in the drawers, stowing toiletries, everything. My habit was to live out of a suitcase. I didn’t want him to think I was uncivilized, so I put my stuff away, same as him. Over the years, it’s become a habit and now when I go anywhere, with or without him, I unpack first. 

So, the only way I am going to stop snacking at night or keep to my schedule is to get a pair of eyes on me. I had find a buddy Obliger. My friend Erica immediately sprung to mind. She would sooner give you the shirt off her back and parade naked through the streets than say no to someone who asked for her help. She would be amazing at this.

Erica was into it. Sticking to her exercise routine and making progress on a professional development course had been tricky. Her quiz came back as suspected: Obliger.

“How are we going to make sure we tell each other the truth about what we did?” She asked.

We are both such hard core Obligers that if it turned out we sucked at this, she was concerned we’d just lie to avoid letting the other person down.

“You’re right. We’re liars. Let’s send evidence.” 

So now I text Erica a picture of any snacks past 8:00 pm, a screenshot of my bedtime and, as soon as the holiday free-for-all is over, I’ll send a shot of my daily paper calendar with tasks checked off. The above photo suggests I ate the whole bag. The chocolates were stolen from Mark’s stocking but I only had ONE, I swear. I wanted more but then I thought Erica might feel sorry for me for having no self control and I couldn’t do that to her. (Finally, my codependence has been put to work!) 

The reason this technique appeals to me is threefold. One, I had always believed I let myself down due to low self-esteem which made me feel worse. Gretchen believes the behavior is better explained by my need for accountability. Now I don’t have to feel bad about myself in addition to the shame for snacking and procrastinating.  

Two, pairing up with Erica comes with the side benefit of keeping in closer touch with her, which I love. “People are much more likely to make changes when new behaviors are associated with positive emotions.”

Third: it’s a fact that progress equals happiness. The small changes I am making are already helping me feel like I am actively improving my life. A small shift can have a tremendous emotional impact.

How will my resolutions turn out? Only time will tell but this year, I have a decent chance. When we spend time figuring ourselves out, we are left with the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Good luck to us all!!



PS. What is your tendency? What do you need to do to motivate yourself?

*Katie earned a Mr. T quantity of medals after the 2018 Disney Dopey Challenge: a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full 26.2 in four days. No bigee.


You. Look. MAH-VELOUS.


Happy Holidays everyone!

We’re on year 19 of this crew’s festive holiday lunch and for the first time ever, the subject of physical ailments came up.* Melissa begged us not to indulge in this taboo topic that would announce we had arrived over the hill with a thud. We are all hovering around the age of 50. Teresa, the baby of the bunch, is not far behind. We all know the well-worn trope that only old people talk about what hurts when they get together. Not us though. We are still young and hot. (I mean…right?)

Only I did want to talk about what’s going on for us physically…at this age. I had received an arthritis diagnosis I disagreed with and had an ortho appointment for a sprained hip. (Okay, fine. I do sound ancient.) But I have always been healthy and active and isn’t it a tad early for the wheels to fall off the bus? I wanted to know if anyone else had this stuff going on and what they were doing about it.

In my opinion, treating the topic as taboo bows to the ageist nonsense that everyone over 25 should feel decrepit and awful about ourselves. To limit our conversations accordingly would be to ignore one of the great things about being the other side of fifty—not giving a crap what anyone thinks (mostly). That said, I know there are limits to sharing this stuff. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of a list of someone’s aches and pains so exhaustive I wanted to scoop my eyes out. Complaining for sport is a whole other thing. But avoiding certain topics only makes us feel more alone and dare I say…old. And we aren’t. In some ways, we are just getting started.

A growing body of research suggests that people over fifty can experience an exciting burst of intellectual and emotional growth. Great news for those of us who have noticed that our memory for minutiae has slipped. New studies show that our capacity for perseverance and determination (grit) rises through middle age and peaks in our seventies. I know some folks in their 70’s who are vibrant as hell—I’m sure you do too. The psychologist who discovered “flow” is still publishing at 86!

The one thing that separates people who continue to grow from those who stagnate is choice: seeking work we find compelling, maintaining physical fitness, and keeping accountable. Bottom line, it’s up to us. We can continue to expand our consciousness until the last day of our lives if we so desire.

As for our physical ability as we age, that’s a good deal up to us too. My friend and running partner Melanie was the first to introduce me to the concept that once you hit your fifties, there’s no more messing around.

Each week, we meet for semi-relaxed long runs which keep us trained up for a half-marathon. We decided to jump start our speed by signing up for some short races. For our first 5K, Melanie had just turned 50 but I was still 49. Unlike our Saturday pace, we gave it all we had. Melanie, who works out with a killer trainer, beat me pretty bad. Inexplicably, I placed and got a medal in my age group while Melanie did not. Why? Because the women in the 50 and over were BEASTS. You should have seen them. My age group looked like me, frayed running gear, messy pony tail, just out there to have fun. The 50+ women were jacked, fitness-fashion fabulous and ran like pros. I was intimidated. And excited for the future.

So, we popped some corks and discussed osteoporosis and arthritis. We concluded that some general practitioners can be alarmists but the specialists who actually know what they are talking about treat and medicate conservatively. I got a recommendation for collagen peptides for joint pain. As we spoke, I recalled that for me, mysterious ailments are often solved by acupuncture, so I texted my guy for an appointment. He told me it’s not arthritis but overuse. My writer’s left hand has taken a beating over Covid. After one acupuncture treatment, the throbbing stopped. Seems like he’ll probably fix it.

After confessing to my friends that I was worried the ortho might tell me I couldn’t run anymore, I felt a little better. That news would be tough to take—I process a lot on my runs. But with all the sports injuries I have had, I’ve been guided by one thing: pain. If it hurts, I back off. I mean, I do now. There was a time that I ran through illness and injury but I have wised up over my half century. Even though the MRI said I had small tears around my hips, it doesn’t hurt, so I have continued to run. The ortho said it all looks completely normal for an active person my age. He said I should run if I want to run. And if it hurts, come on back.

Frankly, I just feel lucky to be out there running, doing yoga, dancing, and roller skating. This age has brought so much beauty into my life. The only thing I am sure of is that being grateful for my healthy body, dear friends and family, and having all I need makes me happy. There will be change no matter what, but it’s all going to be okay.



Writing Prompt: Are there taboo subjects you don’t like to talk about? What would happen if you did?

*This year we had our lunch at night, outside, socially distanced and the photo came out blurry. This is 2019.

Copyright © *2020* *Elizabeth Heise, LLC.*, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.


How Do We Get Our Lives Back in Balance?

My life is out of balance. Given what’s going on in the world, this is a lucky gripe to have–but the pandemic only exacerbated it’s lopsidedness. My go-to cautionary tale for this involves a certain criminal lawyer who lost it after working fifteen years straight without a vacation. At the time, he represented a city commissioner who’d been thrown in jail on corruption charges. Before being spotted mid-smooch with his client’s beautiful wife, the lawyer had enjoyed an impeccable reputation and storied career. You had to feel for the guy who really was a good person and a great lawyer. He hadn’t allowed himself to cut loose in over a decade and it finally caught up with him. (Not that I’m looking for a scandalous make-out partner or anything.)

What causes us to ignore all other needs in favor of the one that feeds our self-worth? It’s that feeling of never being enough. Workaholics and snowplow parents know what I’m talking about. Why do so many of us feel this way? A therapist like mine would tell you that early experiences within our families left us feeling like no matter what we did, we just didn’t measure up. Times we felt anxious or afraid and the child’s not yet rational mind concluded there was something wrong with us. Now as adults, we try to fill that bottomless pit with external achievements. It works for a little while but then we are back on the hamster wheel.

Assuming the problem lies with ourselves also spares us from exploring hard feelings about the ones who were supposed to mirror our emotional state. There may be a false narrative that everyone in the family is expected to buy into (it was totally fine, right?) which only adds layers of harm. As adults, however, we don’t have to contribute to our own suffering. Without judging our feelings about people who may have hurt us as right or wrong, we can simply acknowledge that we have them.

But the only way to feel whole is to face those buried emotions and process them–to finally take care of that injured kid inside. I tried this a few times in therapy by reflecting on a time when I first experienced the feeling that there was something wrong with me. From the outside, the incident looked innocuous enough that we joked about it. Of course, kids don’t experience things in the same was as adults. One day, I came home from elementary school, pissed at pretty much everyone. As I paced in front of mom’s bedroom window, I rattled off all the people who’d done me wrong that day. My teacher, the kids up the street, the friend who walked me home from school. Not a single sympathetic character in the bunch, according to me.

Mom watched my rant, a bemused expression on her face. At first, I thought she had enjoyed the show—I’d worked myself into a full froth, calling people names and mocking their annoying voices. When I finished, she said something like, “people are really lucky when you are in their corner. But, boy, if anyone ever crosses you, woe betides.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant but the message came through: it’s not okay to have negative emotions about people. I felt like a bad person for being upset and it stuck. It never occurred to me that maybe it was her—maybe she was the one with the problem empathizing with me.

When we learn to deny our feelings, they get stuffed down deep. Emotions are physical sensations. When we feel emotional pain, the same part of the brain lights up as when we feel physical pain. If we take the time to locate the feelings in our bodies, we can begin to identify our needs and take care of ourselves. Movement and breath can help break up the emotional energy and work it out. A dear friend who has been an athlete her whole life believes she processed her pain through movement and became both physically and mentally fit as a result.

Another way we can help heal from these feelings is self-validation. It’s never too late to do this for ourselves. It may sound silly, but I am a big believer in the self-high five. Covid Times even has me branching out into the self-hug when I meet with friends and miss a hug hello. We have also done the New York Times hug which is a little risky but still safer.

An attorney friend does the power pose whenever she needs a confidence boost. It works—boosts your testosterone and lowers your cortisol. Why not try it just for kicks: Whatever gives you confidence, you can build it all by yourself. You don’t need to wait around for someone to tell you that you are worth a new tea cup, can be your friend.

And as for figuring out a balance, that takes some honesty about what we really want and what we are willing to do to get it. We can start by taking a personal inventory; we can’t go anywhere if we don’t know where we are. The Wheel of Life has been used in self-development for centuries. Buddha taught his students lessons of enlightenment using the wheel. If you google it, you will find all sorts of iterations. By no means is this the sine qua non to solve all our problems, but it can be used to identify where we’d like to focus our growth. Maybe we’ve been neglectful of our physical or emotional health or given too much of ourselves to our families. Whatever the imbalance, this wheel can be used to pinpoint it and from there we can change it.

As for me, I devote time to my spiritual and personal growth, my family and work. Everything else has received crumbs and I feel it. What to do? I want to have more fun, I want to pursue my mission by completing the tasks I’ve already mapped out but haven’t followed through on. I need balance. I know the way to achieve that is proper time management— just freaking stick my schedule. I fall off the pickle wagon when I spend way more time writing and not enough on the planning and organizing part of the gig, i.e. the boring part that doesn’t feed my self-worth.

My problem isn’t skill, it’s motivation. I need to focus on my why–the clear and compelling reason that drives me. I already know what to do, I just have to get off my rear and do it. My preferred motivational tool is speed work at the end of my morning run, visualizing my favorite author introducing me and my book—up close, in vivid color, fully animated. The video clip in my head goes like this: it’s a chilly day in New York but we are cozy inside a little bookstore in the Village called Three Lives & Company. The room is packed and crackling with excitement. My family is seated in the front row and I am smiling ear to ear. Mary Karr is up front, holding a copy of Scrappy with a red cover and bold white writing. After her impossibly generous remarks, everyone rushes to grab their copy. The crowd breaks into a flash mob dancing to Don’t Stop Believin.’ A spirited conga line winds through the stacks. How fun is that going to be?!

So. To recap. We are enough. We can find balance if we manage our time in ways that better serve us. We can and will self-motivate. We will get exactly what we are willing to work hard for and it’s all going to be okay.



Writing Prompt: What is your why? What helps you get inspired and motivated to achieve your goals?

P.S. If writing isn’t your thing but you have thoughts about this piece, I’d love to hear from you. Just respond directly to this email. Thank you for reading!


Where Do We Go For All The Answers?

While in grad school in my early twenties, I applied for a job at Kirkland Air Force Base. The security clearance required a list of every place I’d ever lived: twenty-six different homes and apartments including 3 months in a borrowed tent on the beach in Costa Rica. During the interview, the officer asked why I’d moved so much. I killed a guy was on the tip of my tongue. His straight line of a mouth and stiff uniform suggested he might not find that funny. I didn’t want to end up in some Private Benjamin-style misunderstanding, so for once, I kept my mouth shut. I was rewarded with a job, an annoying pager and a big orange badge.

But the question stayed with me. Why’d you move so much? The number of different homes was higher than the number of years I’d been alive. After all this time, I’ve realized that it was not what I was running from, but rather, what I was running to. With every move, I had the hope that the next place would feel like home.

Until I got married, “home” meant the little white stucco ranch house with peeling red trim at 1833 Quiet Lane in Albuquerque. It’s the only address I remember besides my current one in Miami. After my folks’ divorce, there was nowhere to go back to and that remains true today. Even at this late stage of their lives, both my parents are still on the move, alone, maybe searching for similar reasons. I’ve finally found where I belong and I think I know why.

In all the moves, I had been looking for people to belong to and a place that felt like I was supposed to be there. Where I would be loved no matter what. Somewhere I could go for support if anything went wrong. A replacement family, of sorts. Nowhere I went after leaving my childhood home ever quite felt like that.

I had a hint of what it might take to feel connected to other people in that way back in high school. I ran away from home with the one friend who knew what was happening in my life. It’s probably why she is still a dear friend today–I trusted her. At the time, sharing the truth was an act of desperation. But I knew Lauren was a safe person because she had shared her true self with me too.

After that, I launched myself out into the world in a mad search, not realizing that what I was looking for was nothing external. It only had to do with me. I had been tailoring myself to fit others, hiding who I really was for fear of being judged for my unstable family. In every new place, I’d feel stifled and have to leave—over and over again. Each time I’d think they don’t get me, or I just don’t like it here. I’d leave because I didn’t trust anyone enough to be open with them nor did I accept myself. I was play acting at relationships. I didn’t expect the real me to be accepted so I didn’t make a genuine effort. Only now do I realize that there is no way to connect with another human being unless you show up as your authentic self. No one can love you for you if you don’t tell them who you are.

Over these last few months as I wrote my book, it slowly dawned on me. The times when I had shared my true self, I was able to establish real connections. Looking back, those three months on the beach in Costa Rica with a campsite full of artists felt like home. I was myself with those guys. They looked after me and accepted me—an American girl inexplicably camping alone on the beach for months on end. They didn’t question it, just invited me to come hang out around their campfire as they strung necklaces and sang Spanish folk songs.

On that beach, something happened inside me too. I found the way home to myself. During the year I spent out of the country, the roles I played for other people had been stripped away. I wasn’t anyone’s daugther, sister, girlfriend or student. Home became where I allowed myself just to be. I had spent so long worrying about what everyone thought of me and trying to fix what was wrong that I had completely disconnected from myself. I had had such a hard time making decisions because I didn’t know how to look inside for the answers. I finally began to do that. I have had lots more practice over the years and I am much better at it now.

For all you pleasers out there, the series I am starting is for us. I will be talking to people who are in touch with their deeper truth, who value their own voice and follow their intuition.

The new series is called Tell Me All About it. We’ll have an Instagram Live conversation once a month on Fridays with inspiring people who are doing meaningful, connection-building, community-enriching work. These folks have a lot to teach the world about discovering our personal mission and trusting ourselves to make choices that align with our purpose. Their decisions come from the heart, they choose faith over fear and keep their vibrations high. I can’t wait.

Our first guest is Shayne Cohen of Anahata Eco Yoga Retreats. I have never cried tears of joy in my eighteen years of practicing yoga until I attended Shayne’s retreat a few months ago. I now drive almost twenty miles to attend her classes. During the final relaxation, she reminds us, “this is who you truly are. If you lose yourself somewhere today, come back to this place.” After the class is long over, her words return to me.

Shayne arrived at her career in wellness after a long and successful run as an owner of the luxury fashion boutique, “Oxygene.” She followed her thirty year yoga practice into a new way to serve her community. Her love of beauty has expanded to include the inner self, teaching yoga and creating experiences that build awareness through movement, connection with nature and higher consciousness using sound and mantra. The events she creates with her talented co-Founder Adriana Vergara are true expressions of love and beauty. I have been to a number of yoga retreats and this experience is something else entirely. They are magical.

So. Please join us TODAY, Friday December 11 at 11:00 a.m. EST to hear all about Shayne’s journey and where she is headed, including a retreat in the Dominican Republic on March 3 which you can read all about on and @anahataecoyogaretreats on Instagram. If you follow me beforehand on Instagram @elizabethheise1, the LIVE notice will pop up at the top at 11:00 a.m. If you can’t make it, the conversation will be recorded and saved on my page and on Events at

And as for revealing your true self, if I can do it, you can too. It’s all going to be okay.



Writing Prompt: What’s holding you back from sharing your true self with others? If you don’t hide yourself, what is it about your character that saved you?

P.S. If writing prompts are not your thing but you still have thoughts you’d like to share, I invite you to hit reply. I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © *2020* *Elizabeth Heise, Inc., All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.


‘Tis The Season For Family Dysfunction

Fa la la la la, la la la UGH.

A therapist friend told me recently, “family dysfunction is the gift that keeps on giving.” In the past, my family of origin has given generously. We were the failed magic trick when the tablecloth gets pulled out from under the dishes. As a kid, I naturally blamed myself to preserve the relationships with my parents. I never thought, ‘they are going through some stuff.’ Instead I tried to fix what was wrong with me so everything could be ok again. Was I too demanding, too conservative, too needy, too headstrong? Whatever my problem was, I intended to solve the puzzle of my parents’ disapproval and inattention. The not-quite-rightness turned me into a chameleon for other people. What do I need to say to win your approval was my silent question during every conversation. It took a long time to undo that conditioning. I’m not totally rid of the people-pleasing. There are triggers. When I am criticized, I take it hard. That soul-crushing need to be someone better flares up and I have to set boundaries to take care of myself.

Now that we are all grown, the drama has died down—it’s no longer mandatory. Just recently, however, it returned with a vengeance, the pain from childhood flooding back to tell me I am not good enough. Three thousand miles isn’t far enough to escape the torment I have tried so hard to leave behind. There are measures I take for self-preservation. By now I can tell the difference between my issues and someone else’s, so I don’t feel the need to mutate. I know I am worthy of love just as I am. When the fire hose of judgment and whatever the DSM 5 calls this particular ire came for me this week, it was a pop quiz to see how far I’ve come. I was really bummed but not devastated. The following reminders helped. If you have joy killers in your life, I hope these will help you too.


For some, it’s easier to dump unexamined, painful emotions onto others than to take responsibility for resolving them. The bile spewing person has a negative story they tell themselves, the narrative of which casts you as the cackling, mustachioed villain. Say it with me, not my problem. But holy cheese and crackers this is a tough one to get. It’s tough to resist the urge to make it about me and how hurt and angry I am. Their stuff is their stuff. Decades of expensive therapy has only made this about one millimeter easier. It sucks to be unloaded on, but sometimes it happens. Knowing this intellectually doesn’t necessarily translate to letting it go, however. The only thing that worked was yoga and taking a deep breath every time it popped back into my head. Breath and movement are the antidotes to suffering. It’s almost gone now.


As awesome as it feels to vent your spleen, it’s just not worth it. I was unable to hold back on a text chain that caught me by surprise. Now that I’ve had fair warning, I am trying to follow my own good advice for what’s next. I didn’t realize what was happening until I was knee deep in the La Brea Tar Pit of family dysfunction. People who want to tell themselves negative stories about you will do so with or without your help, so there’s no point in engaging. As my daughter advised the other night while we decorated the tree, me with a sad face on because I was busy making other people’s stuff my stuff, “don’t hand over the power to anyone.” Thanks Jane, you are a smart kid.


After the hang ups and the don’t talk to me anymore’s of the night before, I decided to go look for beauty. My favorite view of the canal is gorgeous at sunrise so instead of working out, I walked a few streets over and took it in. There is so much good out there if we make it our business to find it. No matter what is going on, you can always look for the good. I’ll take a blue sky over a tar pit anytime.


When we are kids, we don’t have a choice of who we surround ourselves with but as adults, troublesome characters can often be edited out. We don’t have to keep people around who masquerade as our friends. And we can take breaks from family too. The friends who support us can become like family. For those of you with the good fortune to grow up with loving families, you are doubly blessed to have them as well. For me, I’ve chosen to invest my time and energy in people I don’t have to “make myself small” for, in the words of the great Lindy West. I’ve had my fill of accommodating folks who, to put it bluntly, wouldn’t pee on me if I was on fire. I no longer have space for anyone who’s intent on bringing me down. High vibrations or take a hike.


Take care of yourself. If the wrath of others has seeped in despite your best efforts, stop for some flowers or a treat with the promise of more beautiful things to come. Send the message that you have a life worth living and you are loved and accepted just as you are. Treating yourself well teaches others how to treat you. By setting strong boundaries, we tell the world that we are not a dumping ground for other people’s garbage.


Don’t be afraid to let people in. In the past I’ve been no fan of showing weakness. Before I started sharing my stories, most people knew little about me. On the morning after the family brawl, I was feeling so low. Then I received another message critical of my creative work. There was no undercurrent of love and respect which is the only criticism worth receiving. I wanted to cry. At the exact second I was about to launch into a mean text fight, my kind, sweet friend Lisa called and saved me. She listened intently to the awful story and responded with compassion. In the old days, the call would have gone to voice mail while I stewed and plotted. Glennon Doyle talks about the AA model of sharing in which the other person is simply there, holding space for our pain, not offering empty platitudes, advice or comparisons with someone else’s struggle. THAT IS NOT LISTENING. She says being seen and heard is almost the same as being healed. Good friends know how to do this. Bad friends don’t. Goodbye, bad friends.


This pain is not permanent and doesn’t pervade our whole lives. An issue with one or two people does not take over unless we let it. We don’t need to turn someone else’s problem into are own suffering. So, dear reader, we cannot avoid pain, but suffering is optional. We experience pain in a moment, but our own thoughts about that moment can heap on the suffering if we let it. Whatever meaning we assign to the momentary pain is our choice. I say choose you. Choose beauty. Choose joy. It’s all going to be ok.

Love, Elizabeth

P.S. Writing Prompt: What family/friend drama are you navigating through? How can you take care of yourself?


Welcome to the 2020 Sexual Revolution*

A total disruption in our usual routine has presented us with a golden opportunity. Assuming we are not in crisis, we’ve had the chance to re-evaluate the ways in which we show up in the world and ask ourselves: do our choices truly serve us?

Central to this question is how we balance work and home life now that they often occupy the same physical space and share the same hours. For those of us with kids at home, it’s been a unique challenge and for the first time, the effects are being studied. Data on the disparate impact of coronavirus on women, especially women of color is clear. While men are more likely to die of Covid, women are four times more likely to drop out of the labor force. Research has shown that primary caregiver status matters more than any other factor. The “second shift” is still a thing. Mothers are spending twenty more hours a week on housework and childcare right now than fathers. All our inequities have been magnified. Gender and race related biases mean that Black women are dealing with all of these challenges plus the emotional toll of the pandemic on the Black community. It. Is. All. So. Much.

To fix it, there are calls for policy makers to act so that systems change and corporations develop flexibility to allow women more time for child care and domestic work. Hmm. The unpaid work of caregivers has fallen more heavily on women due to both social norms and practicalities. Who makes less? Who is more flexible? In heterosexual relationships, the answer is typically the woman. Single parents are facing impossible choices right now. In our home, we have a writer and a lawyer. You can use your imagination to figure out who’s work has been prioritized.

With three kids suddenly home, the early days of distance learning brought me back to how I left the practice of law in the first place. Seventeen years ago, without any discussion, Mark and I assumed my schedule would be the one to absorb the disruption of starting a family. As a woman in this culture I can already hear the criticism for even framing the issue that way. So why start a family if you are so concerned about your precious schedule? That’s not the problem. It was that we’d both been conditioned to think that the male, who was also the higher wage earner, should not be expected to make room in his professional life for children and any time suck inherent therein.

As a mother-to-be, I felt the full weight of responsibility, quite literally, and crammed for the final exam. I gathered intel on “work/life balance” and read whatever I could find. At the time I didn’t notice that the messaging came from women and was directed only to women. My husband, as excited as he was, didn’t feel the need to study any of it. When I wasn’t preparing for trial, I researched attachment parenting, co-sleeping, health and nutrition and began handmaking 125 trifold birth announcements with die cut hearts and tiny white bows. My need to be the perfect mother is a whole other insane subject. I would get an A+ as a mother or die trying.

For as much as I had read, the actual impact of a new baby on my demanding career still seemed pretty fuzzy. I didn’t understand how I would take 100% responsibility for my job and 100% responsibility for our child when there were only twenty-four hours in a day. I had a deposition coming up in Germany that I had looked forward to for a while. Shortly before the trip, my midwife recommended I stop flying so I gave away the billable hours and the international travel to another lawyer. My colleague was more than happy to leave work, his three kids and stay-at-home wife for a depo that I had already fully prepped.

As the due date loomed, I picked the brains of other professional women. A lawyer mom in the real estate department at my firm had brought in a playpen after maternity leave so she could continue nursing instead of leaving her baby in daycare to pump milk in the bathroom at work. When I knocked on her office door to inquire, she happily confirmed that the playpen had worked great. By the time her baby nursed less and wanted to play, she was ready for childcare. She gestured to a photo on the credenza of two smiling girls in matching flowered dresses, both now in grade school. Their mom returned to doing closings full time like the old days.

Back upstairs to litigation I went, my enormous belly arriving at the office manager’s door first. I asked about the arrangement. She paused.

“Oh..that’s only for partners.”

Playpens are only for partners? Breastfeeding is only for partners? What did that mean?

All of a sudden, I felt like I had overstepped a boundary by asking for support as a new mother. My face flushed and I backed out of her office feeling for the doorknob behind me. I felt deep shame for being dismissed so casually about something so important. I had no fight in me for this and just needed to be taken care of by HUMAN RESOURCES. Wasn’t that what they were here for? It made me want to cry.

I took a couple of deep breaths in the empty hallway and collected myself. Back down the stairs to real estate I went.

“Hey, sorry to bug you again. I’m told the playpen deal is just for partners?”

A look of panic crossed her face which she quickly masked with keen interest in her computer screen.

“That’s too bad,” she said, avoiding eye contact, and reaching for a file. I stood there stunned. No advice, no “I’ll talk to the partners for you.” I supposed I shouldn’t be surprised. She was one of the few women partners at the firm and I didn’t work in her department. She would not waste precious political capital on a random litigator like me.

I went home and spoke to Mark. He suggested I interview full time help. With two lawyer salaries, we could easily outsource another parent for our daughter. Because I had been left with a replacement parent who had done a spectacularly poor job, the thought of it freaked me out, but I scheduled an interview anyway. I had worked like a dog to become an attorney, making plans for my child shouldn’t be this hard. Mark did not come to the interview and I didn’t ask him to. The unspoken deal seemed to be that I would co-parent with the nanny. A privileged position to be sure, but not at all what I wanted.

When I answered the door for Stephanie, she seemed perfect. A tidy appearance, easy smile and lots of experience. She said all the right things.

“As a newborn, she won’t be awake much. What will you do with her all day?” I asked.

“I would basically just be her mom.”

Interview over.

I was the mom. There was no way I could leave my new baby with this person.

Because of my own parents’ issues around who earned the money, I told Mark that I would stay home with our child only if he continued to treat me as an equal partner. We were lucky to have enough for a comfortable life on one income. And I am a notorious penny pincher so Mark wasn’t worried that quitting my job would lead to retail therapy.

Pulling out of the paid work force however, has negatively impacted gender equality in our family. When women like me leave, the gendered impacts continue because we take on all the responsibility at home. Gone was any expectation for Mark to attend conferences to get to know teachers, meet the kids’ friends, coaches, doctors, fellow parents, etc. Well-meaning and committed a Dad as he was, he showed up at the end of the day, ready to be served dinner. Don’t get me wrong, he has always done plenty around the house, coached football, attended their games and performances and has been an awesome parent by any measure. We switched off breakfast prep and I shopped for and planned every meal. I knew the kids’ every respiration to the point where if I had to leave for even a day, I left a ten page treatise because he had no idea what anyone did, where they went or what time they needed to be picked up. I carried 100% of the emotional labor of our family. He paid for everything and advanced in his legal career undeterred. This was the deal we had made.

As time went on, the optics of this bothered me and I resented making all the decisions about our kids on my own; medical, educational, sports, social, you name it. Mark trusted my decisions because I did my homework, but I needed a partner for this. When I heard attitudes in my own children that my time was theirs for the taking and daddy’s was precious and billable, it concerned me. My daughter complained about being the only one to stick around to clean up after dinner when the boys ran off. After all I had sacrificed, I felt like an irresponsible parent. They had never seen me kick anyone’s ass in court and it was their loss. But we were so entrenched. What to do?

Enter the pandemic. All patterns everywhere were broken on March 13, 2020. We were lucky enough to be home and healthy and now we had the opportunity to reevaluate. I dropped commitments left and right. Leadership roles that no longer served me and maybe never had. I set the goal to hunker down and finish writing the book I had shoe-horned in to the mountain of other kid and community obligations.

Then my weekly writing schedule morphed into an unending distance learning groundhog day where I attempted to set up a routine in hopes that it would become self-directed. Things did not look good for finishing my manuscript.

All signs pointed to renegotiation of our division of labor at home. Mark and I both had work we felt passionate about. Only one person’s work kept the lights on, however. And Mark had just opened a new law firm a month before the pandemic hit, i.e. start up crunch time. Holy hell.

But the idea that my work could be sacrificed because we don’t count on it to eat is the circular reasoning that keeps women from ever having the chance to be the top earners. Our time is not the priority so we take on all unpaid domestic labor and have less and less time for our own work.

Lucky gal that I am, Mark agrees that my work is also important.** Of course we’ve had some loud disagreements about who’s turn it is to be interrupted for the umpteenth time. Trying to bill hours while chasing a kid down the hall to get him to log on is not ideal. We came up with a routine so we could both have uninterrupted days. And Mark brilliantly observed that we now live a twenty-four hour day so business hours can be any of those twenty-four. We made a dinner schedule that divided the week thusly: I made dinner twice, he made dinner twice, we ordered out twice and prepared dinner together on Sunday. Just recently we divvied up grocery shopping so each of us only does it twice a month. Once in-person school became an option for one of the three kids, Mark made breakfast and I did the driving. (We didn’t even negotiate that one, we just did it–how about that?) Lunch prep for the older kids ended and my short order restaurant closed for business until the dinner hour.

To understand the need for this shift, Mark has done some reading of his own, starting with bell hooks’ The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. He has become aware of the ways in which the patriarchy*** has harmed men as well, conditioning them to shoulder burdens alone, ignoring their own emotional needs. He understands the need to become an instrument for our collective liberation. We grew and changed and it was good.

But the best part about our renegotiation is the impression on our daughter. One day as she watched me grumble while cleaning up yet another mess after Cocoa pooped in the house, she said she didn’t want to get married or have children because getting stuck doing the grunt work sucked. I don’t blame her. Observing the changes in her dad, her recent birthday card to him said it all, I am so proud of the growth you have accomplished recently. You’re setting a great example for the boys that it’s never too late to change your ways and assist in taking care of the kids.

Even though Jane never got to see me argue a big motion in court or win an epic trial, this is satisfying in its own way too.

Out in the world, the debate about how to solve the disparate impact of a crisis on women in the workplace rages on. Demands have been made on policy makers and corporations to solve the problem. To my mind, we don’t have the political will for that yet. Policies won’t change until men demand flexible work because they are willing to adjust their hours when family circumstances change. No one willingly gives up a position of privilege. It takes a revolution. What are we waiting for?

Remember, the young ones are watching. It’s time to foster gender equality in our homes so it can become the norm in our culture. Time to renegotiate. I promise, it’s going to be okay.

Love, Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: How are you fostering gender equality in your home?

*This title isn’t quite right but Mark thought of it. Because he so generously allowed me to put him on blast for this piece, I threw him a bone.

**It’s absurd that I should have to get buy-in that my work is important, but this is where we are.

***This is actually shorthand for the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Mark goes around saying it all the time now. It’s pretty sexy.

Copyright © *2020, Elizabeth Heise, LLC., All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.