Sometimes when you’re a blogger, you receive email about your blog. Often, these emails are random and shady, and I’ll be honest, I tend to automatically side-eye everything that shows up in my inbox. But sometimes, I receive a legit email from someone who sincerely feels a connection to what I’m
trying to do doing here and wants to contribute in a way that is incredibly beneficial for me, as well as you, the reader.
The email I received from Kelley Kitley after I published my interview with Abby Brennan of Brennan Spa was the second kind of email. Kelley is not only a mom to four adorable kiddos, she’s also a therapist specializing in the treatment of postpartum depression, anxiety disorders, and couples. And (AND!), she is passionate about helping women navigate the transition to motherhood.
Funny you should say that…
After a few emails back and forth, Kelley and I had a fantastic conversation about the possibility of collaborating. Her passion for helping moms and her holistic approach to mental health and wellness completely resonated with me and the mission of Mommy Sanest. And profiling her for the Work | Life | Mom series seemed like a no-brainer because she is in the process of launching her own private practice, KELLEY KITLEY SERENDIPITOUS PSYCHOTHERAPY. I hope you find her honest and thoughtful responses as helpful and inspiring as I did — I found myself wanting to virtual high-five her as I edited this interview!
Lou: Can you tell us about your family?
Kelley: My husband and I met 15 years ago at my parent’s business. I was bartending while I was an undergrad at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and Ryan was in graduate school at DePaul. He was one of my customers. We have four children with vastly different personalities. We are blessed to have two healthy boys and two healthy girls ranging in ages from 3-9.
Can you talk a little bit about your career as a therapist?
I knew I wanted to be a psychotherapist at a young age after having gone through some of my own personal struggles and receiving amazing help throughout my journey. I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work, and I am a licensed clinician with experience working in child welfare, hospitals, residential treatment centers, schools, and community mental health. I am a cognitive behavioral therapist who specializes in the treatment of depression and anxiety (with a special niche in postpartum), addictions (including substance abuse, eating disorders, and sex/infidelity), parenting and self development, and couples counseling. I have worked in group private practices for the past eight years, but owning my own practice has always been a goal of mine. I am excited for the transition to independence.
Can you talk about why you decided to pursue opening your own practice? What has the process of opening a business while juggling multiple other priorities, including continuing to see patients at your current job, been like?
Balance is something that is important to me. I strive for it daily, but can get tripped up when I have so many plates spinning in the air.
Before I started KELLEY KITLEY SERENDIPITOUS PSYCHOTHERAPY, LLC, we had a “family meeting” about what my commitment would look like. I told the kids I would be working more, which would mean less time at home. They asked questions and were supportive.
The entire household has stepped up to the plate. The older kids go grocery shopping with us and help put away their clothes. They take care of each other. I spend extra time at night snuggling, talking, reading, and tucking them in. Family time is important on the weekends.
My mantra is, “One day at a time.” Sometimes it’s one hour or one minute at a time. If I anticipated all of the energy, time, and dedication that the past year would have entailed, I’m not sure I would have signed up. But when I broke it down, it was manageable.
If another mom were to ask you for advice about opening a business similar to yours, what would you tell her?
You absolutely can do it! Create a vision board and identify what you want your business to look like. Put it some place where you can see it daily to inspire you to reach your goal. You also have to network and self-promote. For the past year, I have been out in the community giving talks on mental health and self-care. I have set up several meetings a week with other professionals to collaborate. I would rather use wall phones and tape recorders, but I bit the bullet and joined Facebook and LinkedIn. I serendipitously found an amazing office space. Once I opened myself up to the process, and let go of the fear of failure, my stars kept aligning.
And remember, we are all connected and can help each other out in the most incredible ways. I am forever grateful for the powerful women in my life who led the way.
When you become a mom, did you take time off work? Did you take a “normal,” 12-week maternity leave? How did you decide that going back to work was right for you and your family?
I am a fee-for-service provider, which means I was paid when I saw clients, so my maternity leave was never “paid time off,” which created some financial anxiety. We were always able to make it work short-term; however, not going back to work for an extended amount of time was not an option. But, I’ve had four c-sections, so I never took less than six weeks. When you add nursing and sleep deprivation, I’m not sure how I managed to form sentences returning to work eight to 10 weeks postpartum with my mommy brain. In my professional opinion, it would be ideal for every woman to be on paid leave for a year, but I know that is not most people’s reality.
Can you describe your “typical” work day?
I work four days a week and have clinical hours from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I am a morning person and always found the work hours between 3-5 p.m. to be grueling, so I have been fortunate to create this schedule. My office is located in downtown Chicago at 737 N. Michigan Ave., so I accommodate a lot of professionals before they start their work day. I teach a graduate course in social work so one day a week I head over to UIC after seeing clients.
How do you and your partner manage childcare and the “business” of running a household?
Ryan is so supportive. We are lucky in that we work different hours, but it often times feels like solo parenting as we high five each other at the doorway when I am coming home from work and he is leaving.
We work very hard to keep the lines of communication about our needs open, so we can ask for help in a non-accusatory way. I think we own the household responsibilities that fall on our “shift.” For example, I do school pick up, homework, dinner, pack lunches, laundry, and bedtime. He does mornings, school drop off, all of the maintenance around the house, with the cars, and the bills. We alternate grocery shopping every other week.
We are respectful of keeping the house in somewhat of an order for the pass off — the garbage is taken out, the dishwasher is loaded. We try to leave things better than we found them. As two working parents, we attempt to manage a 50/50 split to help avoid burnout. We also have our sitter, who is a graduate student, with us 20-30 hours a week when there is overlap in our schedules. We also use her once a week to go on a date and reconnect.
How do you fit in self-care, seeing friends, and staying connected to yourself outside of your professional identity and identity as a mother?
I start my day by lighting a candle, writing down what I am grateful for, and what I need to work on. This activity sets the foundation for my day. I find peace when I am alone in my car, and during my commute, I blast music and sing at the top of my lungs. There is a Starbucks across the street from my office that has become my social escape. I meet a friend or family member there either before work, on a break, or after work several times a week. I try to put my phone in a drawer when I get home from work until after I put the kids to bed so that I can be present with them. I’ve given up exercise on the days that I work because it is an added stress to try and fit it in. I go to spinning classes or yoga 3-4 times a week on my days off. A walk around the block or taking the stairs gives me a pep in my step.
On the weekends, Ryan has a few hours in the morning to do something for himself on Saturdays, and I do the same on Sundays. I am a firm believer in putting the oxygen mask on me first (as they say in flight on an airplane), so I can then take care of my babies to the best of my ability.
In general, does the balancing act you’ve describe work for you? If you could change one thing about how you balance work with other areas of your life, what would be?
I immensely and genuinely LOVE the life choices I have made and how I choose to spend my time, but there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish all that I have set out to do. The past six months have been chaotic for my family as I open my practice, write a book, and teach. I could use a couple of more hours in the day. I have to shout at myself to take a deep breathe and slow down. I often give myself time-outs. My kids will also remind me when I need a time-out.
You speak at workshops for Bump Club and Beyond in Chicago about the transition to motherhood. Can you provide a few tips about how to make the transition to motherhood smoother?
Accept help: As women, we try to do it all. Practice getting comfortable with saying YES if someone offers to come over and watch the baby so you can take a nap or go to the grocery store alone. In the first few weeks, a trip to Target might feel like a vacation.
Accept imperfections and limitations: I used to internally beat myself up if I couldn’t get everything done on my to-do list. The more children I had, the easier it was for me to say NO because I am not naturally wired this way. My external barriers gave me clarity of what I could accomplish.
Perfectionistic/overachievers are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety symptoms postpartum. Having a child/children is absolutely life changing. Try to enjoy the transition, you will find your groove.
Connect with your partner: In the hierarchy of priorities post-baby, many of the men I have worked with report that they feel they are at the bottom of the list for their wives. Nurture that relationship with emotional and physical intimacy. It is a strength that can help you be a team player and get the support you need.
A big thank you to Kelley Kitley for giving us a glimpse into her busy life as a therapist, small business owner, mom to four, wife, and, you know, person. If you are looking for mental health services in the Chicago area, please check out KELLEY KITLEY SERENDIPITOUS PSYCHOTHERAPY, LLC. And this likely won’t be the last you’ll see of Kelley on Mommy Sanest. You can look forward to her popping up on the blog from time to time, lending her expert opinion and advice to some upcoming posts.
Want more working mom inspiration? Check out interviews with Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of Flexjobs and Abby Brennan, owner of Brennan Massage and Spa.