PA Mother of the Year Heather Starr Fiedler offers great advice on raising kids

Photo: Mike, Heather, Matthew and Ben Fiedler visited Cooper’s Rock State Forest in West Virginia during one of the family’s weekly pandemic outings.

Heather Starr Fiedler always wanted to be a mom but never dreamed of receiving a state-wide mom honor.

“I always wanted a family with two kids, like mine,” says Fiedler, who was named Pennsylvania’s 2021 Mother of the Year by “I was always a babysitter and worked at a daycare for a while. I love kids. I love their joy and their wonder. They’re not jaded. The excitement they show when they learn something new or see something new is infectious.”

Fiedler lives in Indiana Township with her husband Mike and sons Matthew, 15, and Ben, 14. At Point Park University, she is chair of the department of community engagement, a professor of multimedia and director of Wood Street Communications. She also oversees the campus food pantry and student garden club.

She co-founded Play it Forward Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes gently-used toys for thousands of children each year — even managing to do so during the pandemic. As a young mother just learning her way, she founded the former informational website, which she later sold to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Fiedler was nominated by a former student, Sara Summer Olyphant. Eligibility requirements include being a mother of one or more kids, who embodies the ability to strengthen family relationships and exemplifies a mother’s inner strength to deal with good times and bad. She should also participate in community programs that enrich the lives of families.  (Know someone worthy of Mother of the Year status? Nominations open on Mother’s Day and run through Sept. 15.)

It’s a busy life but even while juggling all of her responsibilities, Fiedler is grateful for the time she can spend with her boys, hiking and biking or watching TV while ensconced at home. Here she shares some of her thoughts on motherhood:

Mike and Heather Fiedler celebrate their 19th anniversary in June of 2020.

1. What is your guiding principle for being a good mother?

We learn as we go and hope we’re doing a good job. I’ve never read a parenting book or done background research about how to do it perfectly — I just lead with love and hope it’s good enough. I think sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves. We try to give our kids these perfect lives, but I don’t think that’s what builds character. Love them and hope that they grow up to be good people as well.

2. What problems have you encountered as a mom that you didn’t expect?

I was constantly surprised at how I had to shift, whether it was that we finally found a way to get them to sleep and then it didn’t work anymore, or something else. My husband traveled a lot when they were little, and I had two kids under age 2. And then we dealt with some mental health issues, anxiety and depression in one of my sons. That took some time to navigate and to learn about resources. I’m on the board now of Allegheny Family Network. It’s been a wonderful organization to support. But it’s hard. I think that any parent who goes through physical or mental health challenges with a child, it’s heartbreaking. You want to fix them and make it all right, and sometimes nobody has the answer.

3. What are some of the joys of being a mom? This is going to sound cheesy, but I really enjoy my children, as people. They’re growing up to be such great people. They’re great company. We’ve had such great opportunities. We get to be outside, hike and bike a lot, [experiencing] the normal milestones of growing up. They’re not into sports so we don’t have that time commitment, so we do have time to take bike rides and explore parks. Spending time together has been the greatest joy for me, especially this past year.

Mike, Heather, Matthew and Ben Fiedler at Randyland on the North Side.

4. What words of advice would you offer new or potential parents? Give yourself grace. We try so hard to be so perfect. Social media is both a blessing and a curse. We are normally only showing our best side and it sets unreal expectations to be the kind of parent we need to be to give our children good lives. .

Just guess on things and do the best you can — it’s OK. There’s so much pressure and competition. So, I would recommend that we be kind to ourselves and not necessarily try to be perfect.

5. How do you balance me-time, time with your husband, your kids and your job?

Everybody struggles with that work-life balance. I struggle as well. Because we’re so mobile these days, I’m multitasking a lot. I’m answering emails from my students while I’m watching a show with my kids. I believe in the idea that we have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of other people. So I will go out and go running, or get massages or spend time with my husband, and I never apologize because I think that’s important in order to be a good parent.

There are a lot of people who won’t leave their kids to go on date night, but I think that’s so important to keep us connected with our spouse and then be a better parent.

We don’t have to be martyrs. There’s a parenting book by Glennon Doyle, “Untamed,” that says, “Be a model, not a martyr.” It’s along the lines of “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” I think that’s true in life as well.

6. Is there a celebration connected with your honor as Pennsylvania Mother of the Year?

We’re supposed to go to Washington, D.C., in May, where they’ll have a ceremony, and we’ll meet with congressmen and do more on the national level. Last year it was canceled, so I’m hoping the pandemic will have eased enough to go. I’m really enjoying getting to know the mothers from the other states who were selected. I started a Facebook group for us to meet each other and talk to each other. Some of the things they’re doing are just amazing. Some have things they’ve had to overcome, some are foster parents, some are running programs in their cities. That’s the thing I’m most excited about, having this new network of people.