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"Bring 'main character' energy to your life."
I'd gotten too comfortable in the shadows.
Welcome to Parent of Adults, a newsletter for parents who wonder what’s beyond the empty nest. Subscribe! Let’s keep each other company as we stumble toward whatever’s next. 🤷🏽♀️
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I just got home from the Mom 2.0 Summit, an annual conference for online parenting writers and content creators. Now in its 15th year, this conference has been a major part of my online life.
(If you’re only familiar with my recent work, here’s some backstory.)
My online life started in earnest in 2005, when my kids were six and two, with my blog, Parent Hacks. I started it as a way to share parents’ clever life hacks — a few I stumbled upon myself, but most were submitted by readers. This was before social media and camera phones, when even posting a photo online took effort (Flickr had only launched the year before).
Between the hacks and the generous, intelligent, often heartfelt conversation in the comments, Parent Hacks grew into a thriving community. This transformed my writing, which up till then had focused on tech books. My career grew to include travel, speaking, press coverage, and even some awards. In 2016, I wrote a book with Workman Publishing based on the blog called Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids.
With the blogging heyday behind us, I and most of my “OG blogger” peers have moved on to other jobs and platforms. But several of my closest friends are women I met during those early years through my blog, thanks to conferences like BlogHer and Mom 2.0.
Even with all that history, as this year’s Mom 2.0 approached, insecurity and doubt gnawed at me. I hadn’t attended a big event since before COVID + my Dad’s death — the twin catastrophes that caused me to step away from my online life. I’ve since renegotiated my relationship with the Internet. In many ways, I’ve started over. Was this conference still my place and my crowd? Did I still have a crowd? I’d agreed to lead a session about Substack. Did I have enough of value to offer influencers who work in an entirely different online ecosystem? Most of whom are parents of babies and young kids?
On travel day, logistics distracted me from the worry. I arrived at the conference in Scottsdale, AZ, got freshened up, and headed into my talk.
I called the session “Back to the Future” because, for me, Substack’s culture of unfiltered enthusiasm and collaborative good will recalls how blogging felt in the mid-2000’s. I wanted to give my audience a sense of what online community was like before social media; how finding each other felt like magic rather than an algorithmic revenue calculation. I argued that life-enhancing human connection is still possible online (more possible than ever, in fact) and now is the cultural moment to reach for it.
Aside from some tech hiccups, the talk went well. The audience filled the room with savvy questions and kind energy. Just being among so many smart, motivated creators felt like plugging myself into a wall socket. Something inside sputtered to life.
I was suddenly aware of how much smaller my world had become since 2020.
Pandemic isolation, my Dad’s death, and my online withdrawal all had something to do with it. But so did my kids’ moving out. My life has been reshaped by the confluence of these events. I’m still finding my way through unfamiliar terrain, and it can be scary.
I realized how accustomed I’d become to living within cramped mental quarters. I’d grown too comfortable in the shadows. I’d scaled down my life so I could heal, but it had become a way to hide.
I needed this push back into the light.
Mom 2.0 features powerful keynotes with TED-level impact. One of this year’s speakers was author and podcaster Jen Hatmaker. Her talk was raucous, tender, spellbinding. One minute, we were laughing about her son’s cake decorating disasters and the next, we were joined in silent communion.
Jen’s words dropped like stones into a clear pond.
Toward the end of her talk she encouraged us to be brave with our own stories, and to “bring ‘main character energy’ to your life.”
Main character energy. The idea lodged itself somewhere deep.
This quote recently appeared in my Instagram feed. It’s from the new book Real Life by the great meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg:
We don’t just receive the story of our lives, we discover a new sense of agency in the writing or rewriting of it—a telling that reflects both the universality of that story and its own unique distinctiveness.
We’re the main characters in the stories of our lives, and we can rewrite those stories whenever we want.
I needed these reminders and pass them along in case you need to hear it, too.
I dedicate this issue to Heather B. Hamilton (Armstrong), aka Dooce, who died this week. Heather was a singularly gifted writer who pioneered an industry and showed us what blogging could be. It’s not too much to say that Heather’s work made mine possible. I honor her and send my deepest sympathy to her children, partner, family, and all those touched by her.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available right now. Call or text 988 to speak to a caring professional at the Lifeline today. You can also chat with someone at 988lifeline.org. The Lifeline is available 24/7, 365 days a year.