Life is messy. Life as a parent is even messier. And I'm not just talking about the literal mess of diapers, grass-stained clothes, and finger-painted walls. The time, effort, and unknowns of raising a child brings about an abundance of commotion and confusion. There are basically two ways to handle this: you can ignore your instinct and try to live up to the picture-perfect idyll you see on social media. Or, you can take after Tess Holliday, who is leaning into the chaos of parenting and rising through the wreckage.
Holliday has had two vastly different parenting experiences. The first occurred in 2007 when a then 20-year-old Holliday gave birth to her first child, Rylee. At the time, Holliday was working at Walmart in her home state of Mississippi and didn't have support — financial or other wise — from Rylee's father. "I had no clue what I was doing," Holliday said in a January 2016 interview with People. "I didn't have any help." But she powered through, moving back home to live with her mother and taking on life as a single mom.
Cut to January 2016 when Holliday announced she was pregnant with her second child. Although the news was just as unexpected, there was a noticeable difference — she was in a supportive, loving relationship with her now fiancé Nick Holliday.
"One thing I struggled with the first time was that I was a single mom," Holliday tells Romper in an interview. "Now I have a partner, and we’re doing this together." Of course, having a partner doesn't mean everything is smooth sailing. But the extra support the second time around did make things easier for Holliday, who gave birth to her second son Bowie Juniper in June 2016. About six months after Bowie was born, Holliday posted on Instagram about the differences in her parenting experience.
But not all the differences have been positive. When Holliday first became a mom, social media was just making its way into the world. At the time, Facebook was the only outlet Holliday could use to express herself. Now, however, Holliday has Twitter and Instagram to share her voice. And, unfortunately, so do millions of others who use the outlets to shame people.
"The world of mommy bloggers, and moms online in general, is so blood in and blood out," Holliday says. "You expect them to be supportive, but they are way less understanding than I thought they would be."
She also didn't expect what they put out there to be so perfect. Holliday waxes on about the parenting posts that inundate her feed; photos of children eating homemade lunches, sucking on organic lollipops, playing quietly in a field of flowers. It's the stuff of stock photos — not of reality.
We have bad days — people with babies sometimes have more bad days than good days.
In attempt to combat this negativity and pressure to be perfect, Holliday has begun using her social media platforms as a place for honest parenting moments. Most notably, Holliday shared a selfie of herself crying after being up all night with her son. Though the post drew some negativity (as Holliday recalls, the comments ranged from, "you really just want attention," to "her husband does nothing that’s why she’s crying."), it ultimately opened up a conversation about the reality of motherhood.
"We’re people," Holliday says of mothers. "We have bad days — people with babies sometimes have more bad days than good days."
"It made me feel less alone and gave me a sense of community," Holliday says, recalling the general response to the photo. "I felt like others could relate, and it helps feeling like you’re not the only person going through it. Not like I need the internet to remind me that I’m not the first person dealing with it."
But Holliday has found the one thing more important than support form strangers, or even from her loved ones, is support from herself, a task that comes in various forms. Sometimes, it means devoting what little free time she has to expanding her clothing line, mblm by tess holliday. Occasionally, it means calling upon a friend to fix her hair so she can "feel good," something Holliday knows is a privilege many aren't afforded. More often than not, however, it just means cutting herself some damn slack.
It felt like everything that kind of made me feel like me was stripped away a bit.
Because Holliday has made a name for herself in the fashion and beauty industry, she felt some initial pressure to return to her pre-baby size. Not necessarily from those around her, but from herself.
"I definitely felt like I had to relearn who I was, and relearn my body and how clothes fit on me," Holliday says. "It felt like everything that kind of made me feel like me was stripped away a bit." But after reconnecting with the Tess she knew, she realized putting pressure on herself to return to her pre-baby appearances was absurd.
"I think trying to lose weight and do all of that after is absolutely ridiculous," she says. "[Your children are] only little for so long and even though it’s hard, I think it’s way more important to cherish those moments than it is worrying about how you look or what size you are."
This lesson of self-acceptance, one that Holliday admits she's still learning, isn't limited to appearance. Ultimately, for Holliday, being a millennial mom means accepting your life for what it is and dealing with the literal and figurative sh*t as it comes.
"You realize this is just the new normal; your life being chaotic and it taking forever for you to go somewhere," she says. "You have to kind of lean into the chaos a bit."
So plant your feet firmly on the Lego-covered ground, take a deep breath, and welcome the challenges of parenting with open arms. After all, it seems to be working out for Holliday just fine.