Living With Kids: Mary Boyden

By Gabrielle.

All you really need to know about Mary is that there is a doodle wall in her daughters’ bedroom, a room also known as a kid’s version of Heaven. In fact, the entire house is an explosion of color and happy self-expression and a whole lot of whimsy. And that’s in addition to her daughter named Whimsy!

I am so pleased to show you this one-of-a-kind, out of the ordinary, shared with two friends, no wall left un-art-bombed home. It really is a feast for your senses, and will leave you craving a date with a paint brush and your littlest pal.

Welcome, Mary! I’m so glad you’re here!

Hi, everyone! I’m Mary and this is my home. My husband, our two daughters — Whimsy, who is two, and Glory, who is three months old – and our two childhood best friends, Austin and Michelle, all live in this home together.

We live in Portland, Oregon. When my husband and I got married in Texas, I asked him to take me somewhere cold and rainy, so we adventured to Portland!

I love it here. The rain really calms me and I don’t think I will ever tire of it. I wish it snowed more, but other than that, it’s really perfect. Portland reminds me a lot of NYC in some ways like how the buildings are so old and historic and downtown is really alive. It’s not as busy as NYC, obviously, but it is inspiring and energetic in a similar way.

Since we are two hours from the mountains and two hours from the ocean, I feel like I have the best of everything.

Portland’s food scene is incredible, and it’s also extremely family friendly. I love all the playcafes, where it’s half coffee shop for the parents and half indoor playground for the kids. As a working mom, it’s really nice to have a place outside the house where the kids can play and I can work. Roseway Cafe in NE is my favorite!

We have quite a crazy story about this house. When our two best friends moved to Portland, we invited them to stay with us in our teeny apartment in downtown until they found their own places. Well, after a few weeks of us all living together, we figured out: we really loved living together! So we started looking for a place to all live together.

The first night we started looking for rentals online, we made a list of our dream house. When we saw our house in the listings, it hit every one of our wishes. Brick wall feature? Check. Wood floors? Check. Lofted studio with natural light for working? Check! Check! Four bedrooms, so we all have our own space? Yep.

BONUS! It had a dishwasher and washer and dryer, which is kind of rare in Portland, I guess, so that was a hard combo to find. We still had six months or so on our current lease, but we didn’t care. We all split the cost to leave that lease and get into the new house. Houses like this one are too perfect and don’t come by often – especially for the killer low price we got.

We put our applications in before we even stepped foot inside. I’m still shocked we got it. It’s awesome. It’s taken about a year to make our house a home, but I feel like we are there now and I’m happy about it.

If you’re wondering how we make house-sharing work, we’ve learned how to respect each other’s privacy. We have an unspoken rule that if the bedroom door is closed, it means we want some privacy. Austin shares groceries and we eat dinners together with him, Michelle is usually out about town and eats on her own.

I am an introvert in a house full of extroverts! I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to ask to be alone in the living room, or in the studio, or even to ask that someone stays home at night while the kids sleep so I can go have some me time. But for the most part, everyone is so busy that we only really see each other for one to three hours a day, if that. It’s a lot of quantity time versus quality, and since we are all so close, it’s important we still make time to get out of the house and just be friends — not just roommates. It’s a unique juggle but we are really loving it.

I am the Founder & Editor of Momma Bear Magazine, but I was previously a wedding photographer and designer. When Momma Bear got funded by Kickstarter this summer to go to print, I quit my other pursuits and went full-hearted into MB.

My job now ranges from shooting and writing colorful inspiring stories, digital and print design to the hard stuff like accounting and marketing.

My typical work day goes a little like this:

I spend the day with my daughters. When they go to sleep, I start working on Momma Bear from about 9:00 pm until 2:00 am. In the morning, my daughters and I grocery shop, clean up the house, and play. They take really long naps and sometimes I work, but mostly I nap, too.

Then, my husband gets home and we have dinner and hang out for a bit, and when they go to sleep I work again!

My husband also gives me a full work day once a week, where from the moment I wake up until I hit the pillow for the night, I can do whatever I need to. This is HUGE and allows me to relax and just really have a good time with the girls the rest of the week.

Our typical reader is perhaps a young or new mom, probably very creative and perhaps even an introvert, looking to find practical solutions to her deeper problems — like conquering mom guilt and achieving her dreams — and getting inspiration to keep her perspective bright and happy. She probably has big dreams outside of motherhood she’s not quite sure how to balance while being the awesome mom she wants to be. She wants to see proof that her ideal lifestyle of happiness in motherhood IS possible, and we deliver that for her.

We assure her that her dreams aren’t delusional, and we encourage her to believe our core message of grace over perfection, and community over competition. We are a safe place to get away from mom-wars and focus on the good in life.

I meet so many lovely friends through Instagram. It’s a great way to get to know people! I find that when you kind of know someone through Instagram first, when you finally meet in real life, you already know that you could be great friends! You can skip past that awkward phase of ‘Are we compatible?’ because you can learn so much about someone through what they choose to post.

One of my favorite examples of this is Lauren Hartmann. I found her on Instagram and requested that I use one of her blog posts in the first issue of Momma Bear. The next thing you know, we are meeting up for a play date with the kids, and then she’s bringing me a yummy meal after Glory was born! Thanks, Internet!

The biggest struggle I have in terms of staying relevant is that I’m usually just not interested in following trends. But for business, it’s necessary.

I get really fed up with everyone wearing the same clothes, doing the same poses, and posting such similar photos all the time. These days it seems everyone is muted/natural tones, smiling while not looking at the camera just because that’s what everyone else is doing, and wearing the exact same outfit of ankle boots, skinny jeans, big rimmed hat, etc.

I try really hard to be graceful and not just roll my eyes, but I crave authenticity. But to a certain extent, if you want to have a large following in order to create a large social change, you have to play the trendy game. You have to show that you are aware and interested in whats relevant to ensure the reader that you ‘get them’ and have things in common, ya know?

We are all just looking for visual symbols that signal that what we are in a safe place where we will be welcomed for who we really are, and part of that is what we like visually. So in that way, I get that it’s important to stay relevant. But I do have a filter of authenticity. Am I doing this because I really want to, or because I feel like I SHOULD? Is this original, inspired, or a straight up copy? It’s exhausting, but worth it.

The best living with kids design idea that has totally changed my life is FREE CRAIGSLIST! I get so many things for our home off Free Craigslist, which is great because so much of our income is going to paying for diapers and starting businesses.

My super pretty curvy vintage couch, our hot pink couch, the rug in Whimsy’s room, and so much more was absolutely free. You’d be surprised what people will give away.

I have a tab open on my laptop at all times, and I check the free section every single day. Don’t worry! I don’t get stuff every day — Ha! — but I keep my eyes peeled and it pays off because the good stuff goes fast.

If the kids destroy it, or I want to try a new DIY on it? That’s fine! It was free anyway. Also great for when you just neeeeed to declutter your house from all the stuff your kids grow out of, like toys and clothes. Just set your stuff on the curb and post it to Free Craigslist.

My favorite part about living with my own girls? Oh, goodness. Whimsy and Glory are magical. I feel the full spectrum of emotions with them. My favorite are the times they snuggle me, intentionally.

Last night Whimsy, who is not naturally snuggly, came to our bed late in the night and just got into my arms, buried her face into my arm, and asked me to sing to her. HUH?! It was magic. She also loves glitter, painting, and baking…she really is very, very whimsical. I love that about her.

What breaks my heart? When other kids don’t play with her. She’s so social, but still at that age where kids just don’t always understand how to play. Whimsy is around adults a lot and is used to people interacting with her. I hate seeing her get sad when other kids just won’t play.

My youngest, Glory, is such a babe. She has a sweet little coo, such a soft voice, and the greatest chubby baby legs. She’s only three months old, so I’m still getting to know her, but obviously — she’s still so special to me.

I hope my girls remember how I shared my passions with them. I hope they remember that we got to stay home and play all day. No school, no obligations, just bonding time where we could do whatever we felt.

I hope they remember that I hated cleaning but did it anyway and taught them to help me.

I hope they remember the sounds of this house — like what it sounds like when dad comes home…the spin of his bike wheels coming inside, the clunk of his shoes coming off, the happy voice that greets them.

I hope they remember their first doodle wall, where I let them both let loose and paint like crazy on their bedroom wall.

I hope they remember crawling into Aunt Michelle’s bed in the morning to watch cartoons, or having Uncle Austin watch them for the evening so mom and dad could go on a date. So many good things to remember about this home.

I wish someone had told me how wonderful motherhood is. I wish they would have described in more detail WHY your kids are worth it. I would have loved to heard about how it’s worth it to work really hard to have both your career and your children, how it’s possible and a good thing to try.

I wish someone would have assured me that though it’s tough, your marriage can get better and stronger, not just worse, when you have kids.

I wish someone would have been an advocate for the lifestyle I was about to live.

But I suppose, that is why I have created Momma Bear. To be that voice, the one I felt I didn’t have. Motherhood is hard but it’s also so joyous in ways only a positive perspective can show you.

I am becoming my truest self, my husband and I are growing at an accelerated rate to love each other more, I work harder at my career now than I ever have, and a fog has lifted from my heart that enables me to see the world more clearly, which allows me to live my best life and be my best self – not out of fear, but out of a new love I’d never known before being a mom.

All of this happened because of my girls, because of the calling they’ve brought me into.

Motherhood has not made my life worse, it’s made it better.


This entire thought — “I am becoming my truest self, my husband and I are growing at an accelerated rate to love each other more, I work harder at my career now than I ever have, and a fog has lifted from my heart that enables me to see the world more clearly, which allows me to live my best life and be my best self — not out of fear, but out of a new love I’d never known before being a mom.” — just makes me so thrilled for you. It’s impossible to peek in on how you’re living with your kids and not fully comprehend that you are doing it with bright eyes and an overflowing heart. Well done, Mary!

Anyone else out there have a doodle wall? Or friends sharing their home? Or artwork plastering every seeable inch of their home? Or something else entirely unique and crazy-interesting? I want to hear from you and share your lovely ways of living! Please say yes.

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

9 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Mary Boyden”

  1. I love these posts. I’m living a “mom” life that is way more conventional than Mary’s-but it is so cool to see how someone else is navigating it. There are definitely lots of different paths and I appreciate being able to view them through Designmom!

  2. As a somewhat new mom trying to find a balance in our small apartment home on how live with kids I love reading thsee posts, but this one in particular I could very much relate to. We live in Lake Oswego. I’m a SAHM, for now, but I’ve always had a creative background and am looking for a way to fit it back into my life. I’ve never heard of Mamma Bear Magazine. I can’t wait to check it out.

    One funny part about your post is about getting to know people through social media. My husband knows Lauren Hartmann first from her blog and then when she went shopping at his work, Trader Joe’s. Now we’re Facebook friends! I have yet to meet her myself, but I love reading her posts and quite a few of them have hit close to home for me.

    I love your colorful home and seeing how you make working from home with kids happen. Thanks for sharing.

  3. LOve this! My favourite one so far. I might said that before, but I can’t help it. How do you find these inspiring women?

  4. I LOVE your home, Mary!!! It’s cool, it’s lived in, it’s real. The colors are amazing. So much fun. I don’t usually leave comments, but I just had to let you know :)

  5. Danielle Lindberg

    What a fun idea…to live with great friends. Sounds like a blast to me! I also loved spotting young living essential oils in the pictures!

  6. I laughed out loud at the ankle boots and floppy hat thing! Isn’t one of the big advantages of being an adult is having the self-knowledge and confidence to be your authentic self instead of just like your peers? I understand why 9th graders look so much a like sometimes but 39 year olds? I don’t get it.

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