I bet you’re either following Nicki Maher — @nickiunplugged or @nickimarieinc, depending on your preferred platform — or you regularly see her vids popping up in your feed, liked by mom friends who do follow her. She’s a hilarious staple around our parts of Instagram and TikTok, with her Massachusetts accent and love of Dunkin’ Donuts. She’s a hoot about the absolutely chaotic shit so many of us are wearing to the school dropoff line. Plus she’s got a good eye for the hysterically absurd.

But she’s also in the thick of it with two kids, 7 and 9, and she’s willing to get real about the realities of divorce and working motherhood and friendship and just how hard parenting can be sometimes.

I recently got a chance to chat with her over Zoom, and talked about the serious stuff — but also about the sports mom life, and she gave me some pretty good tips for how to do Disney, as well.

Scary Mommy: Tell me about how you got started on TikTok and Instagram. How did you begin this journey?

Nicki Marie: In 2019, I was going through my separation with my husband and I was trying to be super-duper optimistic about 2020. I was like, “Okay, all right, new beginnings.” All of a sudden, it was the pandemic and I was like, “Holy shit, I’ve got two little kids who aren’t in school and I need to figure out what’s next in my career.” I was consulting for a few brands as an interim executive-level person, and I lost those businesses when COVID hit.

I went from the Lean In Sheryl Sandberg days to all the way out. Lost my marriage, lost my job, all the career titles. And then I ended up going on TikTok because I was like, “It’s funny, all my clients this past year have been asking about TikTok for their businesses,” And I’m like, “I really can’t consult you on it. I don’t know a lot about it.” And I kept hearing Gary Vee say, “TikTok, TikTok, you got to get on there.”

I thought no one in my real life would see me. I just started sharing little snippets of real-time motherhood during the pandemic and I really do believe it was the right timing. It took off and all of a sudden people in my real life were like, “Oh my God, I see you on TikTok. Holy crap, you’re blowing up.”

Scary Mommy: Which stage of parenting are you in at this point? Early elementary school, right?

Nicki Marie: Early elementary school. When I started on TikTok, my daughter was going into kindergarten that year. Now their teachers know I’m online. That’s a weird feeling. I used to laugh about, “Can we please not do any more theme days?” And now I’m like, “Oh, I have to be careful because I don’t want to insult anybody.” That’s what it’s like to be content creating when your kids are in school with people around you in the community that might judge your kids based on what you say. It’s a hard place to be in a lot of ways.

I thought no one in my real life would see me.

Scary Mommy: I also feel like daycare is a different dynamic; the vibe is different with school.

Nicki Marie: Absolutely. So I try to be honest about this not being easy, because a lot of motherhood from before 2020 online looked easy. It was the perfect porch and the perfect family. Those were the people I was following and I still love a lot of them. I don’t shame anybody for their online presence, but I think there’s something to be said about more of the honesty that’s in place today. Of course, tasteful honesty.

Scary Mommy: What do you think is driving that?

Nicki Marie: I think it’s the terms that we love throwing around, which are, “real, honest, authenticity, vulnerable.” The amount of times I tried to maybe think about putting those things in my bio and I’m like, but if I put those in my bio, does that mean I’m really those things or am I trying to create a brand around those things?

I just think showing up unapologetically as yourself can only happen if you’ve done a lot of work on yourself, if you really know who you are. Because if I didn’t know how painful my divorce was and that I had to do a lot of work through it, I would never be able to show up for other moms and talk about it. So my thought on showing up and talking about it is to help other people that don’t yet know where they are in it. But also not to vent and not to look for reassurance from strangers.

Scary Mommy: I was really struck by the post you did about, as part of your process with your divorce, going back to your childhood photos of yourself and thinking about, “How do I create that feeling of home for my children?” Let’s say a friend calls you and they’re like, “So I’ve decided it’s done. I’m over. It’s over. I’m out.” What are you going to tell her?

Nicki Marie: Find someone to talk to that’s not your immediate family or friends. They’re not going to really listen and their intent is to really be there for you, but you really have to be on your own self-healing, self-love journey and whether that means a therapist or a coach or somebody who’s equipped to really hold you accountable for what your goals are for yourself.

I would say my main thing — erase all the things I just said — is what makes your inner child happy? When you look back at your young self, what were the things that excited you the most? Because chances are they’re still the same, and find those things.

I took my kids to the beach yesterday. That was for them, but it was very much first and foremost for me. It calmed my soul. I said to my son, “Do you feel how peaceful this is? Listen to the ocean. Look at the sky.” We’re off our electronics. We’re not meant to be consuming so much information, so be still, be in silence and really think deeply about what makes you happy, all the way back to your childhood. A lot of times the answer’s there.

Scary Mommy: I feel like the best way to start anything is actually laying your cards on the table. “This is what it is. We’re not going to go anywhere until we’ve figured out where we’re starting from.”

Nicki Marie: Totally. It’s one thing a week that you want to tackle, it’s not all this stuff at once. I’m working with a coach now, and we will nail one thing a week as the theme of the week and it’s working because it’s taken out all the other noise.

Scary Mommy: It’s amazing how much you can get your life in gear if you commit to being like, “One thing at a time, we are not going to fix it all simultaneously.”

Nicki Marie: It’s the same as in sports. I was a college athlete on a championship-winning field hockey team. And I think back to how I should this say “was coached?” coached. I was like, “I used to focus on one thing a week with them. It worked. Why would I do that any differently?”

Scary Mommy: Are you doing the sports mom thing? What’s your relationship with it?

Nicki Marie: I love that question. My kids’ dad was a Division One baseball athlete too, and what they’re doing right now might not be what they’re doing in a few years. What they’re really good at now, or the other kids around them are really good at, does not determine the entire future. So we’re big on, try as many things as you want to try.

I’m a huge believer in the variety of sports, not just being like, “My kid, because I played field hockey, is going to go all in and travel year round for field hockey.” She’s doing gymnastics. I have no clue about that sport and there’s something so lovely about not knowing. And if she says she wants to be really good at it, I’m going to remind her of the work it takes to do it and to do well and that’s it. And we’ll see where this goes.

My son has informed me with his little glasses and his enthusiasm for gaming that, “Mom, I just want this year off from sports. I don’t want to do baseball. I don’t want you to tell me I should try flag football.” I want him to be active and healthy, but I’m not going to force him onto the field. If he’s dead set that he doesn’t want to do it, maybe I try to finagle him into something else eventually.

They’re their own humans. Push them out of their comfort zone, but don’t make them despise a sport or despise you for that matter.

Scary Mommy: It’s funny, my child actually is athletic and I am not.

Nicki Marie: That’s me with gymnastics. I think there’s something so amazing where a kid can teach you. My daughter will be like, “You want to see my whatever?” And I’m like, “What does that mean? Tell me what that means. I’m going to YouTube how the scores work.” And she feels like, “Oh, I’m actually ahead of my know-it-all mom in something.” And I give her that. I’m like, “Go girl. I’ll make the merch and I’ll sit on the sidelines in my ‘in my gymnastics era’ mom sweatshirt. And you could tell me what’s going on.”

Scary Mommy: What do you think 2024 looks like for you?

Nicki Marie: A really great feeling in this is I get to just keep having fun. There’s no exact formula, there’s no “post this many times a day.” I’ve figured out what works for me, which is show up when I have something to say, post something when I feel like it’s something I would want to hear or I would want to see. It made me laugh on my screen, then maybe somebody else will laugh.

When you look back at your young self, what were the things that excited you the most? Because chances are they’re still the same, and find those things.

But there’s two things I’m intrigued by. One is launching a podcast and what that could potentially do. Because when you launch a podcast that becomes yours. The app can’t just cancel tomorrow and all the shit’s gone, if your podcast is really your audience. So if I bring 200 people with me that want to hear me yap on longer topics, then that excites me.

Recently I’ve been like, “Do I want to do YouTube?” And I think I do. I think there’s space for everybody, and we all have our talent that we could show in this digital world to help people connect and feel less alone.

Scary Mommy: Who are your favorite people to follow? What does your feed look like?

Nicki Marie: Everything for me that I follow is just lighthearted. I love some parenting experts, but at the same time, I start getting in my head like, “Am I doing this right? Should I have tried this instead of that?” But I know the mom I am. Maybe that tip doesn’t fit my kids or who I am.

I love Zachariah Porter. I love CelinaSpookyBoo. All the women that you’ve featured [recently] are women that I am now friends with — Nicole Story Dent and Caitlin Murray and Soliana Sapp those are the women that I reach out to in my DMs. So you’re covering this group of women that rely on each other behind the scenes. I just love the people who don’t take themselves too seriously and are out putting lighthearted stuff out.

Scary Mommy: I’m curious about Disney. You’ve been and you posted about it; I’m going to Disney for the first time with my family next month. What do I need to know?

Nicki Marie: Oh gosh. You got to follow Molly McAwesome. She’s my favorite Disney person; she will give you a lot of the answers.

We are leisurely morning people. One of my favorite parts of Disney is I let my kids sleep in and I go with my coffee on the app and I plan our stuff out while they’re still sleeping. We don’t go on our first ride till 10:00, 10:30 AM, and we go till close. And they’re tired and they sleep in. There’s some people that want to do the whole day and whole night and start at 7:00 AM. No freaking way.

I bring the double Bob stroller. My son’s 7, my daughter’s 9. They are way too big for the double stroller. I bring it and I say, get your asses in. We’re going in from Space Mountain to Mine Train and we got 10 minutes to get there.

And the double stroller also acts as a carrier. So our popcorn buckets hook on to the mom hook, our backpacks go underneath, and I just carry my phone and the wristbands and stuff. Anything cash related is on my body and everything else — it’s like storage.

Scary Mommy: How do you blow off steam at the end of the day?

Nicki Marie: Oh God, this is going to sound cheesy. And I’m also like, “Oh, my God, this is really cute.” My superpower is really constantly trying to figure out ways to be more present with my kids. That’s my sweet indulgence.

So when my kids go to bed, I go to bed. When the TV’s off for my kids, I go to bed and that’s when I just think about life. That’s my time to think about life, what I want, what I could have done better today, what was really great, what I was grateful for. It sounds cheesy. It’s not like a practice that I write down. I’m very much a dreamer. So when my kids aren’t here, if they’re with their dad for a day, that’s different. I’m trying to find a walk to go on, a show to put on, a treat to get myself. But when my kids are here day-to-day, that’s more like put your phone away. Do all your fun shit during the day and all your content and then put the phone away while you’re with your kids at night. I don’t mean to sound like that mom that has it figured out, because I definitely don’t.

Scary Mommy: It’s a nice reminder.

Nicki Marie: It went so well yesterday that I was like, “I should have homeschooled my kids.” And then if I did the same trip again tomorrow, it would be the complete opposite.

You plan things that are good for your soul and you bring your kids along. That’s what I’m trying to do more of, because the first nine years of my daughter’s life, I have lived entirely for her.

It’s time for her to see me as whole me, not just as the mother of her that’s servant to her. Now is about that nine-year mark where I’m like, she knows how much I love her and how much I’ve done for her. Now she’s going to see and honor that her mom’s a whole ass human. Whole ass human being outside of her and it’s scary. And it feels like the kite that you’re letting go a little more, but she needs to see that. Or else the teenage years, I’ll be on a leash by then. She’ll be owning me. She’ll be cracking the whip if I don’t let her see, “Wow, mom is a really rad person outside of just being mom.” That’s my goal.

Scary Mommy: It is funny that part of them growing up and becoming more independent is — their independence is also your independence.

Nicki Marie: I had a friend over with her kids yesterday and my daughter was asking me a million questions at once. I said, “I’m talking to my friend who’s been one of my best friends since sixth grade. Look, we’re looking at old scrapbooks. Well, this was us, this was in seventh grade.” That’s the way I talk to her. I go, “So we’re having a conversation. We’re going to finish it. I love you so much. I’ve had a lot of you today; now I want my friend.”

It’s little reminders like that I think are important. She’s like, “Oh, mom wants to finish her adult conversation.” My motivating factor for that is the day that she gets in a car with her license some day and wants to be with her friends 24/7, I better have some happiness because otherwise I’m going to be the martyr who’s like, “I need a dog now because I’m a victim of my kids leaving the house and I’m so sad.” I want to be happy.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photographs by Sasha Israel

Contributing Style Director: Jan-Michael Quammie

Photo Director: Alex Pollack

Editor in Chief: Kate Auletta

SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid

SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert

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