How I Parent explores the ins and outs of modern day parenting with moms and dads from all over the country, who are raising their own unique families and sharing their best advice and most heartfelt lessons with PEOPLE. Want to be a part of it? Email what makes your family so special to howiparent@peoplemag.com.

By Diane J. Cho
March 01, 2019 12:28 PM
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Name: Kelly Lee
Location: Cliffside Park, New Jersey
Occupation: Digital Writing Teacher at Janis Dismus Middle School
Family situation: Married with a son, who is 6.5 months old. Currently, my mother from Florida flies up once a month to take care of him for three weeks at a time. Then my mother and father-in-law take over on the off weeks.
Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: Do all things with great purpose and love.

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What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
It all started with meeting my husband in college. We kind of experienced a whirlwind of getting engaged after dating for six months. We also had a pretty tumultuous engagement process because he was 23 and I was 24. We weren’t at all established in life but we were in love and convinced that we had found the right person in each other. We knew we didn’t want to wait but we really had to prove to our parents that we were ready to take the next step.

Once we got married, I knew I didn’t want to have kids right away. We’re also both only children. I have half-siblings but they’re much older so I was used to growing up by myself and having the perks of having older siblings. But it’s funny how life works, because after three months of being married, we found out we were pregnant. It was a complete surprise. At the time, I was going through a career change and other things were happening, but even if we didn’t plan for it, we knew there was a purpose behind the timing.

However, my pregnancy was the worst. I had nine months of morning sickness, nine months of being on anti-nausea medicine, and I gained 60 lbs. Basically, it was not the pregnancy you see on Instagram and magazines where you’re just carrying a bump. I was carrying everywhere. After I gave birth to my son, I swore I would never do it again. Wilder came two weeks early and then we became a family of three.

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
I’m very thankful because my parents both did a great job supporting me throughout my childhood and giving me opportunities and the freedom to be who I am. Even though it was difficult for them to accept everything at first, they supported me the entire way. I’m thankful that they raised me to be responsible and resilient so I feel like I can handle whatever comes my way.

Kelly Lee

Being so loved as a child has helped me become a stronger parent. I don’t feel as anxious, even though most days I feel like I don’t know anything. I definitely want to instill that same support, unconditional love, and positivity in my son Wilder. There were so many things changing around the time I was pregnant, including my job and my health. I was also worried about postpartum depression but with my parents’ support, I was able to get through it.

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
There are so many. The first thing that comes to mind is sharing my life with my son. I love coming home and spending time together. I love watching him as he explores the world. He just started eating solids, so watching Wilder open his mouth to experience new flavors and foods is so precious. As we get older, we forget about the newness of things and discovering little joys. Wilder inspires that sense of wonder in me. Even during difficult times, those moments, like him watching his first snowfall, make me so happy. It’s amazing.

What’s the hardest part?
Since we’re still young — I’m 26 and my husband is 25 — and we have a lot to figure out, we’ve been in survival mode as a family. It’s a little chaotic and we don’t always know what we’re doing, but we’ve been learning and getting through it.

Also, in other parts of the country, it’s normal to get married and have children in your early to mid-20s but where we live, it’s more normal to do that later in life. People ask me all the time what it’s like to be so young with a family and I tell them it’s all about commitment. Being 100 percent committed is the most important part of taking that leap.

For our age and generation, the idea of full on commitment is hard because everything is go, go, go. It’s a rush to get your career going and then you end up putting your personal life on the back burner. But if you want a family, in the midst of all that noise, you have to understand what it means to be committed to your marriage and your family. It’ll be tough at first, watching your friends go on vacation and move up in their careers but if you’re really committed, you can build the type of marriage you want. As for having a child, you will experience a level of happiness you’ve never felt before and it’ll all be worth it.

How do you find time for yourself and your relationship?
At Wilder’s age, it’s hard to find time for ourselves because we don’t really trust a lot of people to watch him yet. In our minds, he’s too fragile so unless my mom or my husband’s mom is watching him, we don’t really go out. Most of our quality time is spent being with each other. We’ll make dinner or watch a show together. Even if it’s 30 minutes and we’re not necessarily talking to each other, just having that time when we can do something together in a quiet space without the baby is sometimes what we need.

Kelly Lee

As for personal time, my husband and I decided that after our son was born, we would each have an hour a day of uninterrupted time to ourselves. Usually when my husband comes back from work, I’ll get the first shift and he’ll have to watch the baby. I get to do whatever I want, whether it’s work, shower, or write for my blog. Then, we’ll switch off. It doesn’t always work within that formula but it’s really helpful, especially when you have a newborn because you end up just wasting so much time if you don’t set time apart.

What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
For young moms, if you haven’t started to chase your dream or something that you are passionate about, you need to do it right away. As a mom, I look at all the things I need to do for my baby and I think about all the time I don’t have and I get so tempted to let my own dreams go. As a young parent, you feel like you have to make a lot of sacrifices to make it work but it’s so important to keep on nurturing your passion and investing time in yourself.

Another thing in terms of pregnancy: definitely work out. It helps improve your whole experience. When I look back at photos of when I was pregnant, I don’t even recognize myself. I would say, try to exercise and be as healthy as possible. But if it gets too hard, I totally understand. When I had morning sickness, it made it difficult to choose healthy food because nothing made me feel good. I ate a lot of greasy food and meat because those were the only things that made me feel better. So, I totally understand if you can’t all the time. Whatever you need to do to get through all three trimesters is what you’ve got to do.

Kelly Lee

How do you embrace the most unpredictable moments of parenthood?
I try to stay calm and laugh. It’ll be 3 a.m. and there will be a huge blowout diaper leaking onto our bed … In that moment, I’ll want to get mad or cry but laughing helps take off the edge. One time I was out with Wilder and he had blood in his stool. I was alone and in a public bathroom when I discovered it. I so badly wanted to panic but I decided to be calm about it. We ended up going to see a doctor and everything was fine. A lot of parenting is not knowing what to expect and it always seems so much worse than it is. But having a good attitude will help you not drive yourself crazy.

What would you want your kid to say about you as a parent?
I would want him to say that my mom truly knows the deepest parts of me and has supported me throughout the different seasons of my life. I would also want him to say that I’m a fun parent. To be known is such a gift and the relationship between a parent and child is one of those unique relationships, in which you can see that kind of growth throughout someone’s life. I want him to know that he is unique and that I know him inside out.