Nan Flanagan | Another Mother Her Way
I met Nan Flanagan in advertising and she was as easy to respect as she was to chit chat with. When we worked together, Nan was an Account Director on the CVS business, facilitating the integrations with Extreme Home Makeover, and she always came back with good stories but never better than the time when she met her husband on set. Nan and Rick relocated to Connecticut where she ran marketing for an elite school before having their son, Jack. I always loved Nan's candor but especially so now, in talking about her initial anxiety in motherhood followed quickly by the devastating diagnosis of her husband's brain cancer. Below, she speaks about the "survival mode" that allowed her to manage caring for her husband while simultaneously working and raising Jack. Rick passed away when Jack turned four, and Nan writes beautifully about how her role as a mother was the only thing that offered her clarity. Nan shifted from marketing to building a business in real estate to afford her the energy and presence she wants for this time in her life.
On a personal note, I want to thank Nan for putting pen to paper on this experience and showing the depth of courage that is necessary and the growth that is possible in the reality of motherhood and family.
Q HOW DID YOU CHANGE AFTER BECOMING A MOTHER?
Some one once described motherhood as watching your heart walk around outside of your body. That is exactly how I feel. Motherhood is the most unbelievable miracle and also the most terrifying experience. When you love something with every ounce of your being and your heart is completely unprotected, it's clear that you don't have any control. When Jack was first born, I truly struggled with this, feeling overwhelmed all the time. In fairly short order, I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. While I was getting my footing back under me, my husband was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Grade 4, the deadliest of brain cancers. Our son was only 18 months old. My husband died when Jack was four. For me, the roles of mother, caregiver, and widow crashed together in a short period. I'll never know how one changed me vs. another. What I can say with 100% certainty is that it brought into sharp focus what is important to me as a mom, and it's not whether my kid plays sports or is a straight A student, or gets into an Ivy League school. My greatest hope is that he has some semblance of a happy, normal life in the wake of his dad's death. I will never understand why he's had to experience so much hurt and loss at such a young age, and because of that, I am fiercely protective of my child.
Q WHAT CHOICES DID YOU MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE MOTHERHOOD? WOULD YOU MAKE THEM AGAIN?
When Rick was sick, motherhood went from figuring out who I was as a mom and a wife while falling more and more in love with my little baby, to grappling with an intense fear and concern about grave and, frankly, unfair issues like, how long do Rick and Jack have together, will Jack remember his dad, will Jack witness an acute medical emergency that he won't understand and will traumatize his little mind? And ultimately, what will Jack's life would look like without a dad? Survival mode took over. It was the only way for me to be a caregiver, be a loving and (sometimes) fun mom, and also work full time. I wouldn't call it a choice, but rather instinctual. I couldn't muster the strength to brush my teeth regularly.....I certainly wouldn't call that a choice.
In the months following Rick's death, the only clarity I had was around Jack. Beyond any whisper of doubt, I knew I needed to be present for him - in the moment - as much as I could. Questions about what kind of career allows that sort of flexibility banged around in my head. Was there even anything like that, where I could wholly dictate my schedule and have a solid income trajectory as a single parent? I was petrified. And yet I knew with every fiber of my body that I couldn't continue with my marketing career. Real estate had always intrigued me, but the thought of leaping into a career where income isn't guaranteed had historically stopped me in my tracks. After Rick died, while watching my four-year-old wrestle to understand what had happened, it didn't scare me anymore. Not one bit. I jumped head first into the new and, largely unknown, world of real estate. I've had early successes in my business and honestly, I feel proud. When I think about making a dramatic career move like this, and at the time I made it, pride fills my heart and soul. That feels good, and that's a nice feeling to have again. It gives me more strength to be a better mom for Jack.
Q DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A MOTHER IN 3 WORDS. WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?
Fierce. Loving. Worried.
I would like to be the kind of mom who, when Jack is older, he reflects that he has the best mom. That he can say I encouraged him, I played with him (and I mean rolling around in the grass playing), I was silly with him, that I loved him unconditionally, that I was strict (I admit, this one is a work in progress), and that I taught him important values. I want to be a role model for my child.
Q HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF MOTHERHOOD?
The short answer is, I don't. I need to change that, but that is so much easier than done when grappling with widowhood, being a loving and in-the-moment single mom, and building a successful business. But I am brushing my teeth all the time now, so there's that.
Q EVERY MOTHER NEEDS HELP TO FIND BALANCE. WHAT DOES YOUR VILLAGE LOOK LIKE?
Without hesitation, my family. My family is everything to me.
Q WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IMPROVING ABOUT YOURSELF AS A WOMAN & A MOTHER?
A lot. Taking care of myself. Exercising more patience. Asking for help when I need it.