Thursday, June 14, 2018

How to Be A Confident Writer (and Why It's Important)

Over the past weeks, I've received more opinions about my book than I probably ever have. Reaching Home is out on submission again, and the process is more intimidating than I remember.
Meanwhile, I've been spending most of my evenings reviewing submissions myself. I've sent and received rejection letters, and I've communicated with so many authors about their stories and dreams for their books.

I'm a big believer in having confidence in my work, but I've noticed recently how rare this is for authors. Did you know confidence actually helps you sell your story to an agent or publisher? It does!

Not only is it beneficial to you in the traditional publishing world, but confidence is just as important for your own writing health, too. It helps you become more productive with the story you're creating, and it helps you make the right decisions for your plot and characters.

But how can you gain confidence in your project? Here are some of my strategies...

Work Hard Enough to Be Confident.

Give your project the time, love, and attention that it needs, and don't submit your book to prying eyes until it's ready. Get yourself used to editing, and edit multiple drafts on your own. Spend time and energy learning exactly what you want from your plot and characters, and write accordingly. It's no secret that books take years to write, so give yourself grace and let it take time. Work hard and work smart. Write and edit something you'll be proud of.

Filter Opinions.

Once you are ready to show your project around, pick only a few select people to read and review. Too many opinions will overwhelm you and cause you to focus on parts of your story that probably don't matter yet. Everyone is different, so each reader will want something different from your book. That's a beautiful thing, but it isn't beneficial for the beginning stages of a manuscript. You need to create an environment of focus for your project where you can take the time to understand what you wrote and why. Focusing in on your theme and understanding your novel will help you gain confidence and will be better for your project in the long run.

Filter Suggestions.

I like comparing things to scripture, and one of the verses I often think of is Ephesians 4:14: "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine..." Similarly, I don't want to be "tossed" by every wind of writing suggestions, either. It's important to choose carefully which suggestions to fabricate into your story, and which to leave out. Don't just take someone's suggestion for granted, think each one through carefully before you apply it to your manuscript.

Recognize that just because someone might be a professional or a friend doesn't mean they know what's right for your book. I've had prestigious writers and agents give me very bad advice for my story. I've had others give me great advice. Always be humble and an eager learner, but remember that some people aren't going to understand your story like you do. And that's okay. Be confident enough in your book to know what's good for it... and what might not be.

Have a Best Friend who Understand You and Your Book.

I'm blessed with a lot of creative best friends. But even if your best friend isn't creative, they know you better than anyone else. Keep them updated with your book's progress, and run all your new ideas by them. A lot of times when I do this, I realize my best friends know me even better than I know myself. They recognize whether new ideas are "me" or not, and they'll tell me straight whether or not they can see me writing them. They bring me back to my center, too, always reminding me why I write, and what my goals are. The end is what matters, so have best friends who help you remember your end goals. Having someone close to you reaffirming new ideas and suggestions will make you more confident, and make you a better writer.

Don't Take Rejection Too Hard.

Seriously, don't. An agent or publisher probably isn't rejecting for the reason you think. It's pretty likely your book just isn't what they're looking for right now, or your story doesn't fit with the ones the publisher likes to put out. Sometimes rejections are even good things because they show you that your book wasn't meant for that house. It's really okay. It's much better to find a great publishing house who loves your book and understands stories like yours.

Don't Be Cocky.

Lastly, don't be cocky. I know I'm talking a lot about confidence, and filtering opinions, but don't take it to the next level and be cocky about your story. Confidence and cockiness are two separate things. Always be thinking, but always be open to new ideas. There's forever more to learn in the writing field, and there will always be people who can teach you. Listen to them.

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What are some ways you gain 
confidence as a writer?


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Blog Tour: Taylor's List of Books that Won't Make You Squirm

I introduced you guys to Taylor in a guest post last Christmas. She's an incredible YA author, a wonderful friend, And... she just released her first book, Porch Swing Girl


I love my rural town of Roseburg, Oregon. Surrounded by rolling hills and acres of uninhabited forests, it’s a wonderful, whimsical place to live. But, between the city’s recently-shut-down-library and small, stuffy used bookstore, there aren’t a lot of places for me to quench my literary thirst. 

That’s why I am nothing short of thrilled when I get to visit a Barnes & Noble. Yes—a real bookstore. With new books.


A while ago, I had the opportunity to go to one of these magical bookstores while on a trip to the city. What did I find?


Books with gorgeous covers, scintillating blurbs, all written by authors with an impressive collection of accolades. One look at the YA section nearly sent me into a frenzied happy dance—the kind where my eyes turn into little hearts and I start dancing from bookshelf to bookshelf like the kooky book nerd that I am.

Then I stopped.

Picked up one of the books.

Gave it a closer look—a harder look.

What I saw made me want to cover my eyes and wash out my brain. (And cry. Always cry.)

These books—these wonderful works of YA fiction, dressed so smartly with hardback covers and glossy book sleeves—were filled with garbage. Sure, the prose was great, the plot was intriguing—but the dialogue? It left my eyes feeling dirty. And the supposedly sweet romantic trysts were slightly more…graphic.

I walked out of that store fuming—and without a single book to add to my TBR.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar.

Maybe you’ve cracked open a much-anticipated new book, only to groan in dismay after the first few pages. Maybe you’ve gotten discouraged when you run out of clean, uplifting YA books and must resort to (gasp!) re-reading. Maybe…

Maybe you’re sick of it.

And that’s why I’m here today. I want to encourage you—show you that there are still pure and lovely books out there for you. They might be harder to find than other, less appropriate, books, but they are out there. And it is my greatest pleasure to introduce you to some of my favorites.


Without further ado…

I present to you…


Taylor’s List of Books-That-Won’t-Make-You-Squirm-Or-Wash-Your-Brain-Out-With-Soap 

The Katie Parker novels—these light, sweet, and touching books are written from a Christian worldview, yet they don’t hesitate to tackle tough issues. But even when characters are struggling, the author keeps things rolling with wacky side characters (like Katie’s nutty foster-grandma) and quirky descriptive prose.

This Quiet Sky—aah, this book makes my heart sing, ache, soar, and weep—and all in under two hundred pages!! It consistently ranks as one of my all-time favorite books and, even though it’s short, the story is well-rounded and beautifully heartbreaking. Words cannot express how terribly wonderful this book is, so I have to trust that you will buy it and see for yourself.

First Date (and the other two books in the trilogy)—if you dream of going behind-the-scenes of a reality TV show (or maybe competing on one yourself) then these books are for you! They’re filled with suspense, gossip, and glamour, but they’re also—you guessed it!—squeaky clean. The characters all feel like close friends and the plot is filled with all the excitement of a real TV show. Bonus? No commercials!

The Tethered World Trilogy—just a heads-up: I am NOT a fantasy buff…but the mysterious Tethered World drew me in like no other magical realm has ever done before. The premise was so intriguing, the plot so well-crafted, that I couldn’t help but fall in love with this trilogy. So take it from me (an anti-fantasy girl) that this series is not one to miss!

The Mother-Daughter Book Club Series—these books are so cute, sweet, innocent, and…dare I say perfect?!?! I highly recommend that they move to the top of EVERYONE’S TBR list. Immediately. Even though the series starts when the characters are in middle school, the books follow their lives all through high school, until the summer before college. With a cast of lovable characters and multiple points of view, these books will appeal to anyone (and EVERYONE!!) 

Porch Swing Girl—okay, yes, this is my book, but it (hopefully) checks off all of the boxes. It’s clean, inspirational, and (hopefully) enjoyable. It released just a few weeks ago, and, since it’s my official “book baby,” I had to mention it. Can’t all parents brag on their kids? 

So? Were any of your favorite books on this list? Did I miss any other amazing (clean!) books? Let me know!!

Homeschooled since kindergarten, Taylor Bennett is the seventeen-year-old author of Porch Swing Girl, which will be released by Mountain Brook Ink on May 1st. When she’s not reading or writing, Taylor can be found playing her violin or taking walks in the beautiful Oregon countryside. She loves to connect with readers via her author website, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (her favorite!), Pinterest, and Goodreads.

[Stephanie here!] Speaking of clean YA reads, Taylor just released her own! 

What if friendship cost you everything?

Stranded in Hawaii after the death of her mother, sixteen-year-old Olive Galloway is desperate to escape. She has to get back to Boston before her dad loses all common sense and sells the family house. But plane tickets cost money—something Olive gravely lacks.

With the help of Brander, the fussy youth group worship leader, and Jazz, a mysterious girl with a passion for all things Hawaiian, Olive lands a summer job at the Shave Ice Shack and launches a scheme to buy a plane ticket home before the end of the summer.

But when Jazz reveals a painful secret, Olive’s plans are challenged. Jazz needs money. A lot of it. Olive and Brander are determined to help their friend but, when their fundraising efforts are thwarted, Olive is caught in the middle. To help Jazz means giving up her ticket home. And time is running out.

Thanks for visiting the blog, Taylor! Congrats on your book release!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Giveaway + The Rebellion Blog Tour

I have a special guest on the blog today. Welcome, Livy Jarmusch, author of The Coronation and now--The Rebellion! 

We haven't known each other long, but already I can tell Livy is a strong spirit and a gem. Her new book is lovely and I'm thrilled to get to share it with you today! Also, I get to share something else extra special too... A GIVEAWAY! :)  

Something is brewing. Like the far off rumble of a train in the distance, a rebellion is stirring. A cry for change arises in the midst of a traditional monarchy, where King Addison has inherited the throne. Who are the underground troublemakers? What is stirring their defiant banner and demand for change? Find out in The Rebellion! (The Tales of Tarsurella #2) Vanessa Bennett lands her dream job working at the Palace in Tarsurella. She struggles to balance everything on her plate: life in a new country, stressful deadlines, crabby co-workers, college classes at the local University, and blossoming feelings of romantic adoration toward her boss–King Addison. Keeping up with her To-Do list, while trying to earn respect in Addison’s male-dominated administration, presents its challenges. Nevertheless, she can’t help but fight a reoccurring thought and the excitement rising with it: is Addison interested in her? Addison is adjusting to his new role as King. Rumors of a rebellious uprising among the youth in Tarsurella intensifies, as acts of violence and protest break out across the city. Addison is determined to uncover the hidden instigator who fearlessly blogs democracy-driven ideals with a secretive pen name. Will Addison discover and expose the fiery rebellion leader? Or will his efforts fail to stop the rebellious thoughts spreading like wildfire, causing a heartbreaking rift in his divided nation?

Livy Jarmusch is a twenty-something author, singer, and songwriter. She enjoys crafting YA fiction that is pure, lovely, inspirational, and of course, entertaining! When she's not writing, you can usually find her playing guitar, blogging, drinking peppermint tea, connecting with new friends, planning her next trip to Disney, or pinning images of Europe and Golden Retriever Puppies.

Giveaway! :) Click here to win an autographed copy of the first book in the Tarsurella series! 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Why Independence is Essential for Young Women

People often comment about how independent I am, which is funny because my personality is probably the farthest thing from “independent,” ever. I’m prone to fear, I’m not the toughest person physically, I don’t like talking on the phone to people I don’t know, and I’m not even good at math.

I moved out of my parent’s house when I was nineteen, but not because I wanted to. It was because my health required a drastic change of environment. As difficult as the move was, it gave me push I needed to become more self-sufficient and to take on more adventures. I’m still probably the farthest person from independent, but I am a stubborn spirit, and strengthening that stubborn spirit through independence has been one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

Here’s some of the ways my opportunity for independence has shaped me, and why I've grown to believe self-sufficiency is essential for young women.

1) Being Independent Helps Stabilize Crazy Growing Periods

Your late teens and early twenties will be one of the biggest growing periods of your life. You’ll change more now than you ever have before. So much change may create the perfect environment for emotional crisis, but not accepting that change can be dangerous, too. By picking up some physical independence, you’ll be able to stabilize that crisis stage, while still hanging onto the healthy adjustment that it is.
You’ll begin forming your own opinions, searching out the truth, and determining where you’ll take the rest of your life. You’ll better be able to determine that with some extra independence, too. While horizons are expanding so much in your mind, let them expand just as much in your physical world. Take on some new basic tasks to keep up with your head.

2) Independence Shapes you into an Individual Person

Older women are right when they tell you that time to mature alone is essential. Learning to pay your own bills, do your own taxes, manage a budget, manage your time, build and use credit, and handle insurance companies are seriously so imperative. Not only will they teach you about life, but they’ll also teach you about who you are. There’s nothing better than a money crisis to teach you about your own resilience. Relying always on parents or a husband to do these things for you isn’t healthy, and it isn’t what’s best for you long-term. You’ll need many of these skills in the future, whether or not you want to accept it. So, give yourself the chance to embrace them.

3) Independence Gives you the Best Opportunities to Build into Others

My roommate and I have talked about this a few times. We both get called in so often to babysit for friends and family, and we have the freedom to drive a couple of states, or fly to another country to spend time with friends. I often am able to show up when a friend is in need, or when a parent needs a little extra independence of their own, and it's been such a joy to be able to do that.

4) It Might Keep you from Marrying the Wrong Person
There are good and bad marriages inside and outside of the independence spectrum, so obviously don’t live by this. However, I can imagine that simple knowledge about the world, and a little confidence in your own decisions could keep you from marrying someone who wants to blindly control you. If you know how to handle finances, you’ll know whether or not your husband is smart with his resources. If you’re confident in your own decisions, you probably won’t date or marry someone who wants to control them for you.

5) You’ll be Braver
When faced with a difficult challenge, you’ll know how to take it on. Independence puts you in so many scary situations, it makes you braver to face other tougher ones in the future. It makes you strong and resilient in the face of adversity, and it teaches you in advance how to navigate through life’s challenges. It probably feels tough, but it probably won’t be tough forever.

6) Maybe You’ll Be More Thankful

They say independence makes you thankful for all the time your parents provided for you, and it’s true. But independence will make you thankful for other things, too, like the extra bits of time you get to spend with family and friends, and the small moments you get to have to yourself. You’ll probably have less money, so independence will make you thankful for small things you can afford, or maybe the hand-me-down clothes your roommate passes on to you. Being independent will make you thankful for the moments when you feel confident enough to travel across the country on your own. It’ll make you thankful for the free days when you can wander the world without accountability. It’ll make you a better person.

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What are some things self-sufficiency has taught you? What reasons would you have for encouraging friends to embrace independence?


Monday, April 9, 2018

Productivity Tips For When You're Fighting Chronic Illness

I love reading articles, and one of my favorite topics to read about is productivity. I enjoy learning about how I can do my job better and faster—and how I can maximize my time as an author. These days, authors are required to be jacks of all trades. We’re masters of our books, but we’re also masters of marketing, social media, blogging, editing, and freelancing. It’s almost impossible to get our workload done if we’re not working smart.

As encouraging as productivity articles are for me, though, they can also be very difficult for me to process through. They’re difficult because I have lived a good portion of my life with a chronic illness, and many of the tips and tricks offered by productivity guru’s just don’t leave room for the challenges daily sickness brings.

That’s why I’ve decided to create my own list of practical tips chronic patients can use to increase their energy and productivity.

1) Wear Comfy and Well-Fitted Clothing

Living with chronic illness means you likely have to conserve energy wherever possible, and clothes have a bigger impact on your energy levels than you’d think. I used to wear a lot of skirts, but as I began to get sicker, I found myself gravitating away from them. Later I realized it was because wearing skirts, especially shorter ones, meant devoting more attention to modesty. You have to cross your legs, or slide into a chair a certain way. Every time you take a step in a longer skirt, you kick through fabric. I just didn’t have the energy to devote to that.
I also noticed I would gravitate away from clothes that were baggy, or pants that were loose around the waist. Adjusting the waistband, or collar, or sleeve of your garment multiple times per day uses up a lot of energy! Being intentional about the outfits you choose is a really practical way to conserve energy and have more leftover for work tasks, and the things you love.

2) Avoid Frustration by Switching Between Physical and Mental Tasks

As much as I wish I could go grocery shopping, cook dinners for the week, and clean the whole house in a day, that’s just not a feasible reality for me. Physical tasks drain me fast, and I get frustrated quickly on the days when they pile up. I’ve learned to take advantage of the moments I’m energized to go to the grocery store, but not be discouraged if it’s difficult to pull myself up when I get home. It’s helped me to also have a list of sit-down tasks I can do while I wait for my body to recharge. 

Instead of grouping physical tasks for the morning and writing tasks for the afternoon, I plan out an hour for cooking or cleaning, and then a two hour “recovery” period for writing or marketing tasks. Not only does this keep me productive throughout the day, but it also alleviates the frustration. Even in the tired stages, I'm still accomplishing things! It keeps me accountable with my breaks, too, and it gives me something fruitful to do instead of watching a TV show or browsing social media until I feel better. 

3) Eat Bread at 3 PM 

Sickness has taught me to listen to my body and to understand what it needs. I used to come home from work absolutely wiped, and I blamed it on, well… chronic illness. But that’s not actually the entire issue. I’ve discovered that my afternoon tiredness can be easily remedied with a simple snack break and some solid carbs. When I moved to New York to get better, one of the things I promised myself was that I’d focus on eating enough food to sustain my body before I worried about diet. That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and it helped SO MUCH with my recovery. 

Make sure you’re eating enough throughout the day to sustain your energy. Seriously, just have some bread and butter. You’ll feel better, and you’ll get more done.

4) Try Homeopathy for Symptom Relief

If you have a chronic illness, then you understand what it’s like to endure tests and medications for years before ever experiencing any relief from your symptoms. You probably know what it’s like to live in a world where almost nothing can help you feel better when you’re having a bad day. This can be extremely defeating and have difficult effects on your productivity.

Since homeopathy is so complicated and intricate, I don’t suggest you use it to heal the actual chronic illness. However, it’s a fantastic option for symptom relief. There are homeopathic remedies for everything. There are remedies to boost energy, mood, and relieve headaches and muscle pain, and they're much safer than popping ibuprofen. 

If you learn your homeopathy, you can use it to find relief from difficult symptoms throughout the day, while pursuing other testing and long-term treatment from your doctor. Simple knowledge about remedies will minimize your symptoms, giving you more room to focus on work tasks.

5) Understand Your Limitations

I don’t know an author who isn’t a workaholic. The most difficult thing about chronic illness for me is having to accept my limitations, and understand that I’m not going to always be able to do everything. Having chronic illness has made me more intentional about my life, and about the tasks and jobs I choose. It makes me examine everything more thoroughly.

I don’t think of myself as a sick person usually, and that can be a positive thing, but it can also be damaging. The key to living with sickness is learning the balance between not letting it defeat you, but also recognizing where you need to give yourself grace. As much as you want to be a normal person, you aren’t. And that’s okay.

Giving yourself the grace that your sickness deserves will help cut down on stress. You’ll be more excited about all you’ve accomplished, instead of kicking yourself because you can’t do more. You’ll be less overwhelmed and your performance will increase. Accepting your limitations is more healthy for your body, too. 

Let's discuss! Have you discovered any productivity hacks that help you through chronic illness? 

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Stories to Help You Navigate a Difficult Family Life

We all need a little love from stories sometimes, right?

I believe that stories have a power over the human heart that almost nothing else can rival. I believe they speak to us in a language that regular words and advice doesn't understand. Stories have always been one of the places I turn to when I'm troubled. Here are three I'd like to share with you that have recently helped me navigate some difficult situations.

1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
Wow. This book took my breath away. The Glass Castle is a memoir about the troubled childhood endured by Jeannette Walls and her three siblings. Despite poverty, constant moving, and running from authorities, Jeannette manages to tell her family's story from the most balanced perspective. She shows the ways that her parent's neglect negatively affected her family, but she's also completely honest about the good side of her mom and dad. She embraces their dreams, their loyalty, and their courageous hearts. She helps you to understand her parent's demons and their strengths. The Glass Castle gave me the courage to also accept the good and bad sides of troubled relationships.

2. Gilmore Girls
One of the things I love about Gilmore Girls is that it overcomes judgement. In Christian circles, shows like this often have a bad reputation. And, I get it. Lorelai and Rory probably shouldn't be your role models for romantic relationships. But I loved Gilmore Girls because it taught me so much about family. The story is centered around difficult relationships between mom and daughter. Things get messy, people get mean, worlds crash, and the Gilmore family has a grim time staying afloat. Although they sometimes go months without speaking to each other, Lorelai and Emily always end up working things out. I love Gilmore Girls because it shows the rawness of difficult families and the hope that family sticks together in the end.

3. The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
This book came to me at just the right time. I stopped reading for a season during my Lyme Disease treatment, because my brain was messed up and full pages of words were challenging. The Castle Behind Thorns was the first book I finished reading after Lyme. It's a cute magical story about two friends trying to escape an enchanted castle. Both of them are struggling with relationships in some way, and they begin to realize that their bitterness is what's keeping them from leaving the castle. This story taught me a lot about myself and the things I need to let go. It gave me the grace and encouragement I needed to rise above old feelings and find forgiveness.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Dreaming Beyond Motherhood

Growing up, I was taught that there is no higher calling on a Christian girl's life than to be a godly wife and mother. My own mom homeschooled me and my sisters all the way through high school. We read books like "Beautiful Girlhood," learned culinary and babysitting skills, and were secured a home with our parents until we transferred to the protection of our husband's.

It didn't work out like that. Not for me or for any of my sisters, actually.

The other day, I was thinking about how funny it is that sometimes I still feel uncomfortable.  That despite traveling across states by myself, buying a brand-new car on my own, and becoming fairly successful in my career, I still sometimes feel like I'm doing something "wrong" by having my own life. I still feel uncomfortable because I wasn't brought up on the idea that girls can follow God by being independent, too.

A crazy thing happened this summer. Out of nowhere, God gave me this huge green light and told me to move back to a different city in my home state. It's crazy because moving back wasn't supposed to be medically possible for me -- ever.  But God asked me to go and to pursue two things: writing and ministry.

From the moment I said "okay," everything I prayed for was taken care of. From towels to sheets to jobs and a roommate. I prayed for money, for a new car, for safety and God covered everything. Each time I started to question my new "independent" decision, He would drop something in my lap that unquestionably said, "You did the right thing. I called you here. Go and serve."

And there's nothing in my entire life I'm more convinced of than how I'm supposed to be exactly here exactly right now. 

My dream isn't the dream I expected it to be.

I was supposed to be a great cook, but I eat way more frozen dinners than I should.
I was supposed to be a great mom, but I'm actually a pretty good working girl.
I was supposed to be married, but instead I'm independent, chasing some writing dreams, and working for a ministry that I really believe in.

As I got older and started reading less "Beautiful Girlhood" books, my relationship with God started to change-- to grow and mature. I learned to discern a lot of spiritually uncomfortable situations, and I've come to look to the Bible for my answers, and not to other people. My independence in body has come from an independence in spirit, learned by God Himself leading me to do crazy things. I recognize that God has gifted me with the Holy Spirit to discern and decide for myself. I also recognize that He has given me the confidence and the resources to be independent.

 I started seriously considering working in ministry a couple of years ago. It was a time in the midst of so many different voices, God made one thing very clear. He told me that instead of motherhood, the highest calling on a girl's life is the great commission. When I started chasing writing, it was because I decided that as a Christian, saving souls is the most important thing to me.

Does that mean it's wrong to be a mom? No, I'm not saying that. Being a mom is a great honor. I'll probably be a mom one day.

But what I am saying, is that I believe in letting our girls dream beyond motherhood. I believe in challenging the idea that motherhood is the "end that meets all" for Christian girls. I believe in recognizing that motherhood and marriage can be a tool, but they aren't the goal.

So instead of spending our entire lives training our girl's hearts for a tool, why don't we train them for the end goal? Why are we only preparing girls for marriage when we should be preparing them for the ends of the earth? Why aren't we teaching them to be independent, to be bold, and excited about sharing the gospel? Even God's nature is independent. Becoming a Christian requires an independent decision. Something you choose based on the Holy Spirit prompting your heart. Culinary skills are important, but so are other skills that can be used to share the gospel.

I honestly think the idea that we can "only be mothers" is a lie that the devil uses to keep us from being productive in the Kingdom of God. My dream is that one day our girls will be able to grow up prepared to embrace every crazy, independent, life threatening, and life fulfilling thing that God calls them to. Not only motherhood.