Join us as we learn more about Dr. Molly Harbor Hutto. As an Annapolis mom, and a business owner, Molly sheds some light on what pivoting through parenthood with grace and humility looks like. We’ve taken away handfuls of beautiful nuggets of advice and we can’t wait to learn more from Molly on how to leave room for growth and self-discovery in the throes of motherhood.
You’re a mama, of course! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?
I am! I have one zany six year old boy who I was a solo mother to before I met my partner who was also a solo parent to his now ten year old daughter. They are both going on 14.
What’s one thing you wish you had known when you first became a mother?
I became a mother under some very uncertain circumstances, as I had just left an abusive relationship prior to giving birth to my son. I drove over the course of four days to Maryland from Colorado to come home to my parents. The morning I tried to leave, I was served with what I’d later learn were fake court papers from my son’s father, stating I wasn’t allowed to leave the state of Colorado and that he was suing me for sole custody of our unborn son. It was traumatic, to say the least. Once I made it home to Maryland, he actually followed through with actually suing me. There was a lot of turmoil in my life at that time and even though I’d always imagined I’d be a parent someday, I never in a million years thought it would unfold in the way that it did. I felt a sense of crisis unlike anything I’d ever felt before, and with it, came a lot of despair. I’d worked so hard my whole life with academic endeavors in order to set my life up for stability, but everything was crashing down all around me. Regardless, a legal team witnessed what was happening to me and took on my case pro bono, which was a great relief, because having just graduated from a four year masters program, I did not have the financial means to retain an attorney at that time. They fought hard for me and the legal system protected me. My son was born and as he’s developed, it’s become evident that he has some special needs. He has ADHD and anxiety, but it’s not exactly a textbook case, so it is difficult to explain to people. He requires around the clock vigilance and a boatload of mental and emotional energy. His tantrums are sometimes scary and intense is an understatement. I remind myself now, and I wish I had known before he was born that everything was going to be okay. I wish I’d known that while parenting and especially solo parenting is extremely hard and all-consuming, that I have always had all the tools I need to continue to grow with my kid, and that if I just keep an open mind and seek out support when it’s needed, that I am capable of being a very good parent to my little one. It really does take a village, but you have to put in the work to find that village and water the seeds so it grows.
Do you have some favorite places in the Annapolis area?
It took me a long time to warm up to being back in Annapolis, because I left Boulder, CO where I was in love with and wouldn’t have left if not for needing to; I am a mountain girl at heart. But I’ve been back in the Annapolis area for seven years now, and I’ve re-found the magic in the bay. My parents live on the water and there’s something deeply satisfying about laying on their pier as a storm rolls in; you can hear the rumble of the clouds off in the distance and then the wind picks up slowly and it’s all-encompassing and the rain that you see falling off in the distance starts to fall down all around you. The shades of gray and blue of the Chesapeake Bay during a storm are magnificent, and though rain typically symbolizes darkness and despair, for me it encompasses the build up and release of all our intensity. I live with a lot of intensity most of the time, and storms remind me of the power that lies in letting it all go.
What’s your favorite activity with the whole family?
Since COVID we’ve taken to lighting a fire in the fire pit in the back yard and making S’mores or just eating dinner around the fire in the hammock. We just painted pumpkins out there, too, one night before S’mores. The kids love to set up a tent in the backyard and there is something very gratifying about watching them have those simple experiences that are big fun when you’re little. My son is a mountain kid at heart just like I am, and from a shockingly young age, he demonstrated great endurance on hikes; there was one time when he was only three years old when we went on what I thought would be a nature walk, but he practically ran the whole way and I was shocked to realize we hiked almost five miles that day. Now at six years old, I’m confident he could keep up on longer treks which I hope to take him on next year.
What are some resources that you’ve used to help guide the way you show up in motherhood?
I have to laugh saying this, but honestly, I rely on Facebook mom groups a ton. There are probably over a dozen that I’m a part of. I’ve made dear friendships in these groups and also I’ve received referrals for medical professionals and different types of supports I’ve needed for my kids along the way. I’m really busy between parenting and running a business, but if I have a question, it’s so easy to post it in a group to gauge others’ experiences and advice. I lean on other mothers for solace when I’m overwhelmed, for simple questions, for recipe ideas, and to get a good laugh when I need to lift my mood. I know overuse of social media is often criticized, but in all honesty, in particular when I didn’t have a partner to lean on or bounce parenting ideas and concerns off of, Facebook communities really helped me! Now with COVID being a concern, it’s easy to feel very isolated and I really miss my friends, but it’s comforting to get snippets of their days via social media. I’m grateful for this outlet at a time like now.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would love to go find my younger self, grip her by the shoulders and look her dead in the eyes and tell her, “Hey. You’re doing great and you’re going to be fine. You’re smarter than you realize. It’s okay to be a size 10 (or any other size your body ends up being). It may take you a while to find love, so don’t worry about it; just have fun and never settle for somebody who doesn’t tug at your heart strings. You are somebody who needs purpose in your career, so figure that out and don’t second guess getting the education necessary to achieve it. Save money for vacations. Remove toxic people from your life. Don’t let anybody talk you out of having at least one cat because cats are awesome.”
How has this year of virtual learning changed your family routine? How are you adjusting?
Oh boy. This year has been full of so many challenges, hasn’t it? I’ve been really intrigued to observe how it presents different challenges for every single family. For us, we were very lucky that my partner and I both own our own businesses, so ultimately, we can work together to work out scheduling so that the kids can learn from home. I don’t work on Fridays and used to use the day for myself and still sent my son to preschool, so it’s mostly been challenging that I don’t have any days off any longer.
I am either at work or with the kids pretty much around the clock, and that has been challenging, because who doesn’t need an occasional break to decompress? While there are less opportunities for breaks than there used to be, I’m grateful my parents are close by and usually happy and available to take my kiddo for a little bit. I was surprised by how well my son is doing in virtual school, and in some ways I prefer this for him because we are in the throes of trying to pin down a diagnosis and treatment for him, and I’m afraid he would really struggle if he were in-person for school already, but I do feel sad that he isn’t spending time with other children. We’re getting through it and will likely choose to remain virtual for the whole year, but once schools reopen, I know we’ll be very thankful to have more opportunities to decompress and play with other kids.
I keep saying there’s no way to do COVID right. We just have to do it. We have to be extra vigilant of our mental health needs; sometimes that means a long walk in the woods and sometimes it means curling up on the sofa and watching TV most of the day. I’m confident we will get through this. I do believe COVID will change us forever in some ways psychologically, and I haven’t determined yet in what ways that will be good or bad. My partner and I moved in together rather hastily due to COVID, because it would be impossible to see each other as solo parents through a pandemic, and working together through this has had many advantages. We’d never have moved in together so quickly under other circumstances, so we’re having a bit of a crash course about how to be a family. It’s been beautiful, challenging and eye opening. Having a partner to lean on not only through a pandemic, but at all is staggeringly different from solo parenting. Despite the challenges of more or less rushing our relationship, I can now confidently say that solo parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and having a partner to navigate the trials of virtual learning through a pandemic with has been a blessing.
Name one thing you hope your child(ren) looks back and remember about their childhood and you as their mama?
Oh man. It’s so easy to say what I hope they DON’T remember! I appreciate the opportunity to think about what I’m doing right. I hope my kids always remember that they were deeply loved and provided for. While our life isn’t extravagant, I worked really hard to keep a job and put myself through my doctorate while I was a solo parent. There were a couple years where after my son went to bed, I’d log online and be up until after midnight working on classwork almost every night. I was tired and sometimes overwhelmed, but I knew that finishing the program would mean greater opportunities for us.
I think right now, being that I work a lot and am pretty tired other times, my kids might feel as though I’m not as energetic as they’d like, but I really believe my partner and I are both teaching them the value of hard work, and they are watching as we build better lives for all of us. I’d like to believe that since they get to see this unfold while they are old enough to really grasp it, that they will internalize the prospect that success is earned and requires dedicating yourself and that we are capable of doing hard things. I also hope that they remember that their parents have a lot of love and respect for one another.
Since we were both raising our children individually before we met, we were both concerned our kids would grow up without a model of what a healthy relationship looks like. Since neither of them got to see that before we met one another, we are really diligent to make sure they see what love in partnership looks like. We aren’t shy about being affectionate in front of our kids. We talk about issues as they arise so they don’t fester. If we have an argument, we take space to reflect and we apologize. We provide to the family dynamic equally in different ways, so neither of us are taking on a disproportionate amount. We really help each other, and this allows for us to show up for our kids in ways that were very challenging as solo parents before. I hope our kids look back and remember the love that was in our home both for them and between their parents.
Who/what would you say has influenced your approach to motherhood the most?
My own mother, of course! My mom retired recently and was really a powerhouse in her career as an advocate for people with disabilities. She worked tirelessly for really my entire lifetime, to ensure that all people have access to the same rights. She wrote legislation which required late hours when I was younger. She was appointed under the Ehrlich administration when he was governor and oversaw many people. She always told me growing up that I could do anything I wanted as long as I could support myself. She instilled in me the importance of never having to rely on a partner for my financial needs. It didn’t sink in for me until I was older how valuable of a lesson this was. When I was pregnant and left Colorado, I moved back home and lived with my mom and step dad for a couple years. I had just recently graduated from my masters program and as such, I didn’t have the finances to support myself and a baby. I can’t tell you what a blessing it was to find a job as an acupuncturist in Annapolis soon after I moved home. I worked there for five years as a single parent and was able to save enough money to buy a new car and put a downpayment on my first house. The job supported us until I was able to branch out and start my own clinic, Annapolis Family Acupuncture. As time passes, my financial freedom expands, and I feel unimaginably lucky to be in that position.
There were so many aspects about growing up in a home where my mother worked that I didn’t appreciate or even resented when I was younger. My mom was tired and her heart and soul were poured into her work. Of course, her heart and soul were also poured into her children, but she made it clear to us through her work and also through her benevolence in general, that we were not the center of the Universe. Other people mattered, too. We volunteered in soup kitchens and my family regularly gave to others, which I am thankful I observed growing up. Living should be for the purpose of helping everybody. While my kids are really at the center of my world, I hope that they too grow up with the understanding that contributing something valuable to their community will have a resonant impact that makes the world a better place. It’s not all about us; being a human is all about being an active participant in something greater than us that requires our cooperation and our provision of the greatest parts of ourselves. I hope my kids grow up understanding that it’s important to discover their greatest talents and aptitudes and to use them in a way that improves the world.
Greatest gift about being a mom?
There are so many gifts about being a mom. There are the cliche pieces, such as seeing the world through the eyes of a child; that really is a very cool piece of parenthood that I could never have appreciated before being a parent. A couple of nights ago when talking to my son about his tantrums, I asked him what it feels like, and he told me that his head is a fish tank that is filled with happy fish and angry fish and that sometimes the angry fish kill the happy fish! Wowza. We talked about how it’s okay to have both happy fish and angry fish, but sometimes we need to keep the angry fish in their own part of the fish tank, sort of like when he had betta fish that couldn’t be together. We’ve been working together to tame his fish.
But for me, I think the greatest part about being a parent has been the overarching lessons parenting another human brings you. If you are reading this and are not yet a parent, believe me when I tell you that your kids are not solely or even mostly who you shape them to be. Of course you play a vital role in shaping their character, but there will be both wonderful and challenging parts of your kids you never could have dreamt up or prepared for. My son has some significant mental health struggles that manifest as huge emotions that are difficult to regulate. Parenting him is challenging beyond what I perceive the normal challenges of parenthood to be, and those who have witnessed it validate this perception. He is teaching me to let go of my own inherent desire for control. Parenting him has forced me to face my own anxiety, so that I can model for him what courage in the face of disregulation looks like. He is teaching me to find a balance between my personal need for space and his intrinsic need for the regular reassurance of physical hugs and kisses and snuggles. He has also taught me to laugh more, because this kid says some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.
Least favorite mom job? (i.e. packing lunches, dishes, bath time, etc.)
I’m going to be real about this. There aren’t many “mom jobs” that I actually love. As they get older, we try to get our kids to do as much independently as possible, and my least favorite mom job might actually be having to tell my kids what to do, and then having to address their whining about doing it. My son told me the other day I was being mean because I got frustrated that he wasn’t listening, and I had to explain to him that my partner and I do so much all the time to keep up with the house and when we ask them for help and they don’t do it, it makes it harder on us.
I have a history of eating disorders, and sometimes feeding myself is difficult, not because I’m not eating, but because I struggle to choose what is okay to eat. There are times I grapple over feeding him normal kid food and trying to make everything healthy. Particularly with his special needs, he legitimately needs a modified diet too. He does eat every meal and plenty of snacks, of course, but the mental energy I pour into food in our house is sometimes exhausting.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
People who don’t know me well might be surprised to learn I used to live in Chile and was a very fluent Spanish speaker, and then I taught high school Spanish for four years before I went to Chinese Medicine school. I am still proficient in Spanish, but I’m sad to report I hardly ever use it any longer and when I do it doesn’t come out as fluidly as it used to. I am convinced I’d get it all back quickly if I ever lived abroad again, which I hope to do someday. The time I spent in Chile as a young adult was a pivotal time in my life that delivered me to the front door of my real adult self. I became more confident there, as I needed to let down my walls of insecurity in order to actually learn Spanish. I was extremely social when I lived in Chile and loved talking to locals; while I had American friends, the longer I lived there, I relied less on English speakers and leaned into the development of my Spanish and the local culture. I miss it dearly and will forever be indebted to the Chilean people who made me feel loved and welcomed there.
What’s something you love that’s just for you?
I love to sing and play guitar but I am also extremely shy about singing or playing in front of others, so I almost never do this unless I am alone. When I was younger I used to record some of my songs on my phone and post them on social media, but I haven’t done that in a very long time. Sometimes when I’m alone in my car, I sing at the top of my lungs and really get into it, but it seems like whenever anybody else is around my voice cracks and I feel too shy most of the time. My current favorite song to sing is Always Remember Us This Way from the A Star Is Born soundtrack.
Best advice for mom guilt?
Regarding mom guilt, I usually read advice that tells us things along the lines that our kids love us no matter what, that they are resilient, and that we’re probably doing way better than we think, anyways. I think most moms are really hard on themselves so there is a lot of value in these sorts of advice, and of course, we should not run away with the guilt because it won’t get us anywhere valuable.
However, anytime I feel guilt over anything related to my parenting, I pause and ask myself, “Am I feeling guilty because I’ve actually crossed a line and need to improve my behavior or actions, or am I feeling guilty because of some other personal part of myself that needs a hug and a reminder that I’m doing great?” Usually it’s the latter, and often times it’s a combination of the two. I’m big on accountability and I feel strongly that we can always improve, even in the tiniest of ways. Sometimes I achieve this with self-care. For example, if I’ve snapped at my kids and I’m feeling bad about it, maybe I need a nap. Maybe I need to schedule a night away to recharge or refuel. Sometimes mom guilt is a little bell reminding us that parenting isn’t the sole component of who we are. There have been a few instances where I’ve been really disappointed in how I’ve handled challenging moments, and I try to take some time usually before I go to bed to meditate and pray. I make note of how I’d prefer to handle similar situations in the future. I make a plan for how to debrief the next day with my kids, which usually involves a hug and a long talk, sometimes an apology and a discussion about feelings. It’s important to lean into guilt a little bit and ask it what it wants to show us, and I find that most of the time it is showing me a path for growth.
Best mom hack that makes your life easier?
Haha! I am probably not the best person to ask this question to. I find parenting to be very hard. In fact, if there is some book of mom hacks out there, I’m probably a good candidate to read it, but from one weary soul to the many others I know are out there: just close your eyes and let go. You have no control over any of this and at the same time, you have more control than you think. Go take a nap. You can’t? Okay, then eat some ice cream for breakfast and have more coffee. You’re doing great. Also, I love this onion chopper I got off Amazon. It can dice an onion or other vegetables in half the time and it’s honestly super rad. Does this count as a mom hack?
Beyond being a mother, you’re also a business owner! Tell us about Annapolis Family Acupuncture.
I am a business owner! Circa 2005 I was teaching high school in Howard County and also managing a yoga studio on the weekends. I loved every minute of being at the studio and realized I had more interest in the alternative health world than I did in teaching Spanish. I first used acupuncture myself to treat chronic depression and I was blown away by how potent it was. I enrolled in acupuncture school and never really looked back. I didn’t realize when I first decided to go to acupuncture school that it was a four year full time degree, but I felt a deep calling to this medicine and can honestly say being an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist are my soulmates of a career.
I didn’t intend to specialize, but I have a reputation for working with people who are in very difficult situations, be it crisis, terminal illness or trauma. I have worked with patients during their hospice care now on several occasions and feel it is a blessing to offer comfort to patients who are transitioning as well as to their families. I also work a great deal with children, as I’ve completed extra coursework in Chinese Medical Pediatrics.
My vision for Annapolis Family Acupuncture is one that involves the community extensively. I have a steadfast belief that all humans are doing the best that they can in any moment, even when they seem mean or angry. Chronic physical and emotional pain will wear a soul down, and it is my greatest joy to watch my patients transform under my care.
I love this work from the depth of the bones in my body and in my spirit. I use a combination of evidence based research (there are thousands of years validating the efficacy of acupuncture and herbalism and in modern times there are a multitude of scientific studies that do the same) and also intuition that comes from personal experience in my treatments. Sometimes I am shocked that my practice is so busy. I definitely struggle with imposter syndrome, but my patients keep coming back and new patients consistently reach out for treatment, so I try to exhale and have faith that I’m doing something right. I hope to expand AFA in the next twelve months to a new space and bring on other acupuncturists in order to have more availability for new patients. I love this work, and I know I’m on the right path. We just completed one year in business and going strong, even through a pandemic, so I cannot wait to see what the coming years will bring.
How does being a mom yourself impact your business or the way you show up professionally?
Mostly, being a mom has helped me relate to the majority of my patients who are also parents or children, because it has given me an understanding of the challenges inherent with family life. Being a mom has both hardened me and softened me in a variety of ways, and this shows up a lot in the conversations I have with my patients as I guide them through their struggles. My style of treatment is not cut and dry they way one might expect with sports medicine. I do treat sports injuries, but the majority of my patients come and in addition to receiving needles and body work, they talk about their lives. Sometimes they cry and we hold space for their deep emotions. Sometimes we have difficult conversations, like about the realities of dying and what needs to be done before it’s too late. Sometimes we talk about their needs they are too scared to stand up for and we come up with a game plan for setting boundaries. Just like parenting, every patient and every day is different; our needs shift from moment to moment and it’s my job to ebb and flow with all of it so I can show up appropriately from day to day. In any given day, I usually treat 15 patients, so that is 15 times I need to switch gears for each person. Parenting is pretty similar, isn’t it?
Do you think establishing an identity outside of motherhood has impacted the way you parent?
Being a medical provider and owning practice have greatly impacted how I parent. Despite it being work, in many ways, going to work each week is a bit of respite for me since it’s been my dream for so long; it feels a lot like having a canvas I get to paint, like a creative outlet. It has allowed me to come home after a long day of work and show up more fully for my family, because I’m able to take some deep breaths between the challenging moments of parenting and my own internal angst.
I’m also very lucky that my job exposes me to a variety of delightful people who come to me to process their struggles. My work has taught me that every single person on Earth has struggles, things they are ashamed of, things they feel embarrassed about, and things they don’t know how to handle. In many ways, over the years, my work has taught me to lighten up on myself, because I’ve learned that I’m so very human and my struggles are not much different than anybody else’s. So when I’m feeling overwhelmed in my parenting or simply over being human, I’m reminded of the fact that most of us share this internal process that we experience individually usually simply because of the stigma we face over sharing our struggles. The bottom line though, I can promise you, is that it’s hard being human. It’s hard for just about everybody for a variety of reasons, but we have each other, and when we trust one another and show up for each other, it makes it easier and more bearable.
What advice would you give a woman wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
I’d tell her it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had and that it requires a lot of personal growth, but that if you have an open heart, you can leap into it and improve your life through this medicine in amazing ways. When I think about the process I’ve gone through to become good at my job, I recall a lot of humbling experiences, a few breakdowns, a lot of meditation and introspection, but also, there’s literally a point or a collection of points for everything. Chinese Medicine is the only branch of medicine I’ve ever come across that doesn’t seem to have any boundaries or limits. There is a very short list of ailments my patients have come to me with over the past decade for which I’ve said, “Oh yeah, there’s nothing I can do about that.” Of course, there have been patients for which I wasn’t able to do a whole lot for after trying, but in my experience, most patients benefit greatly over time, if not immediately (and a whole lot benefit immediately).
How can our readers connect with you online?
If you search Annapolis Family Acupuncture on Facebook, you can find me there. I also have a website which is www.annapolisfamilyacupuncture.com. I’ve also been published several times in Acupuncture Today as well as in The Elephant Journal.