Mothergood Feature: Kelli Seeley, Photograher

1. Tell us about your background and a little bit about who you are?

Hi, my name is Kelli. I’ve been married to my husband for 13 years and together we have 4

children and 1 on the way. I grew up in a small town on the central coast of California, but I now

call northern California home. Simple days playing sports and spending time with family and

friends defined my childhood years. It was around age 12 when I began planning photo shoots

using both my sister’s and my dolls as subjects (I still have the photos!). Since then, a camera

has never been far from my reach and as I’ll share later, has been and continues to be a means

of healing in my life.

I met my husband at a party in San Diego, where we found ourselves in a late night

conversation talking about philosophy, and from that conversation on, I knew there was

something special about him. I was 18 at that time and the college I attended was 8 hours away

from his college in San Diego. But, for 4 years, we made our long distance relationship work and

after my college graduation and his later law school graduation, we got married. I was 24.

We celebrated our 1 year marriage anniversary with a 10 day old baby, our first daughter. And

here we are, all these years later, expecting our 5th child together.

Before I answer the rest of the questions, I’d like to share a little bit more in depth about the first

few years as I entered into motherhood, as those years played such a significant role in the

mother I am today. It is also because of those early years, that I have my photography business

today.

My early years as a mother saw a lot of loneliness, anxiety and depression. What I believed

motherhood was going to be, in reality, was quite different. Motherhood has a way of stripping

you down and forcing you to face hidden things about your identity – your insecurities and the

areas of your life you are most vulnerable. It was only a few short months after giving birth to my

first child when I realize that I was suffering from panic attacks, and that the isolation from being

at home all day had reached an unhealthy point.

Having worked in the field of mental health before giving birth, I never associated asking for help

as a burden or saw it as a stigma. However, one of the hardest things for me at the time, was

knowing that I would need to let my husband know I wasn’t ok. We were newly married, and

from the outside, everything seemed fine. I am a fairly cheerful and outgoing person but on the

inside, I had hit a low point and needed help carrying this cross. I never envisioned suffering in

this way as being part of my motherhood – I thought it would come natural to me. Would he

think the woman he just married was a failure at being a mom? I wondered how his view of me

would change. When I did work up the courage to share with him, I was met with nothing but

kindness, mercy, and support (my eyes are filling with tears as I write this and recall this time

early in our marriage). That moment was one of many that helped set the foundation for being

able to openly communicate with each other.

I was able to find a therapist that I loved, who shared my faith, and began doing the hard work

needed to address the issues related to my mental health. One of the things that helped me

most during this time, was that I had the opportunity to explore photography in the way I had

always dreamed of. At the moments when I was struggling most with unwanted thoughts and

emotions, I was able to channel that energy into this passion I had to create with my camera

and to expand my education through taking classes. It led to an opportunity to work and be

mentored by an established wedding photographer, and I slowly built up a portfolio of my own

work filled with families and weddings. I’ve been in business for 10 years now, and it truly is my

dream job.

Mental health as it relates to motherhood especially will always be a subject I am passionate

about and in my own life, it is something I continually work on managing. Healing didn’t happen

overnight, but it did come slowly, in time.

2. What do you find most fulfilling about motherhood? The most challenging?

I find fulfillment in knowing that raising our family is my vocation and a sacred calling that I am

doing my best to say “yes” to everyday. I also love watching my children grow up together and

forming the cutest and funniest relationships especially as they work through conflict and still

love each other at the end of the day. My favorite ways to be with my kids are through our

adventures together, usually filled with chaos and highs and lows but knowing that through it all,

they are hopefully learning how to love and sacrifice and give thanks for the gift of one another.

The challenges are always changing, but one of the consistent challenges throughout 12 years

of motherhood, is learning when to listen and when to *not* listen to that “inner voice/critic” that

wants to tell me I’m not doing enough for my kids or that wants to point out all the ways I am

failing them. It requires a lot of hard work and discipline to raise kids and manage a household

and finding the balance between being gentle on myself as a mother and when to push myself

harder because I am slacking, can be hard. One of my favorite sayings is “begin again” – this

little mantra has helped me these past few years strike this balance. For example, maybe it’s

2pm, and I’ve been ignoring my chores and/or letting the kids watch too much tv, instead of

beating myself up, I try and remind myself “begin again” – meaning it’s never too late to start

over and that I can start over many times in the same day. What’s done is in the past and I can

begin again no matter what time it is and what matters most is that I keep trying.

3. How have you incorporated motherhood into your identity without losing your own

individuality?

When it comes to retaining my identity in motherhood, this is one of the gifts and fruits that has

come from the early work I did in therapy, and later working with a spiritual director. Going

through the healing work of therapy helped me to understand better who I was, the gifts I have

been given as a woman, and to know myself in a way that would ultimately help me to serve

others. You may have heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” I learned about this

idea early on after having kids and the importance of finding the things that will fill my proverbial

cup. My goal is to do the best I can to serve my family, and when I take the time to do a few of

these “cup fillers,” I am better able to serve. For me that looks like an occasional meet up with a

few of my best friends for a girls night; at other times it looks like going out to a coffee shop by

myself to read and write. I also try to exercise a few times a week, and when I wake up in the

morning and get dressed and ready for the day, it helps me to feel confident and better able to

handle the stress of the day. I do believe it’s important for each woman to discern what these

things are that help them retain their identity and fill their cup, because it will be different for

everyone.

4. What does motherhood look like for your right now? What do you love about where you are?

What would you change?

My kids ages range from 3 to 12 so it makes for very interesting days and conversations. In one

moment I will be talking to my 12-year-old about pre-teen topics like friendships and growing up,

to the next moment which will require me to break up a wrestling match between my boys, to

then watching my 3-year-old wrapped up in a game of make believe with her dolls. Next Spring,

our dynamics will shift as we anticipate the arrival of our newest little addition, a baby girl due in

April.

But on a more practical level, my three older kids go to a school they love, in an amazing faith

filled community during the day, and during that time I hang out with my youngest. I cherish this

one-on-one time with her, and work on things related to my photography business and chores

around the house. We also try to meet up with friends at the park about once a week, or I’ll go

on a walk with a friend.

One of the nice things about having older kids now is that doing the household chores is more

like a team effort. Eating dinner together is one of the values we hold dearest, and now we have

help with the entire process. The kids help set the table, my oldest is pretty proficient in the

kitchen, and then afterwards, the kids each have their cleanup chores. It’s taken a lot of hard

work to build this rhythm into our daily schedule, but it has gotten easier as they’ve gotten older

and it’s a time we all look forward to.

One of the things I wish I could change is that I wish we had family nearby. My husband’s and

my family live pretty far, so seeing family on a regular basis isn’t part of our daily lives.

5. What advice would you give women who are considering/desiring motherhood?

It’s a beautiful gift to bring a soul into the world, full of the best kind of hard work you will ever

do. It’s ok to be nervous or afraid because it’s true what they say, when you have a child, it’s like

your heart goes walking on the outside of your body. But it is always worth it – they will teach

you how to love and how to grow in love in ways never imagined.

On a more practical level, I’d also like women to know that one of the best parts of motherhood

are the other mothers. I truly believe we aren’t supposed to be on this road of motherhood

alone. When I had my first baby, I didn’t have any friends with children and social media wasn’t

very popular. Making friends with other mothers didn’t happen overnight either, but it did happen

after investing time getting to know one another. I am eternally grateful for my friendships, our

ongoing daily text messages/gifs, and their presence in my life when things have been hard.

Social media is wonderful, but nothing beats gathering together with other women and mothers

to connect and support and share a good laugh.

When I look back at the past 12 years, the times when motherhood was the hardest was when I

didn’t have those close friends to talk to, confide in and pray for one another. I so badly wish this

for every mother, whether you have 1 or 2 close friends, or a big network of close friends, don’t

go along this road alone and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when you need it. We

are all a work in progress and when we are vulnerable with one another, that is when we are

strongest.

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