When it comes to being a mother, Emilie Cook must be doing something right.
Though she pushes the credit onto everyone but herself, Cook has raised three daughters — Ally, 16, Catie, 18 and Sara, 20 — alongside her husband, Larry, while owning and operating her own yoga studio, Find Your Center.
The trick, she said, is a little bit of luck and a whole lot of forgiveness, learning when to let go and never forgetting to reserve time for family.
“I always wanted to have kids,” Emilie said. “That was always a part of my plan. And it was always a part of my plan to stay home with the kids until they were in school, which is a lot easier to say than it is to do and certainly requires sacrifice all over the place.”
Emilie and Larry lived in Atlanta until 2004 when they moved to Gainesville. All of her children were born by that time and they lived in a friends’ basement for a few weeks until they moved into a house of their own. It’s the same house they live in today, and Emilie said it’s always been a little too small.
Even if the house felt small, Emilie liked having her family close by, within earshot and never too far away if they needed help.
“We have a lot of baby videos of my mom trying to hold Catie and I'm playing charades like, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at me,’” Sara said. “And she doesn't seem annoyed. She's just kind of chilling with a newborn and a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old.”
As everyone grew older, they quickly learned that Emilie had her motherly methods and ways to keep the family close. She knew how she wanted to raise her family — even if the kids didn’t like it at times.
“The rule that we all hate of Emilie's is no phones at the table,” Larry said. “No books at the table. We will talk to each other.”
It’s called “technology-free time.”
“We're not allowed to have our phones at dinner and when we're eating and everything,” Ally said. “And she takes them at night so we go to sleep early, which makes me really mad, but I kind of understand it begrudgingly.”
They grew to accept the rule and be OK with it because they saw the reason behind it all. Even as teenagers if they disliked it, the kids eventually saw what their mother was doing.
“We kind of lash out a little bit because her caring sometimes feels like she doesn't trust us,” Sara said. “But it's really that she just wants the best for us all the time and literally will do whatever she has to do to make sure we get the best for us. Even if that means making us unhappy for a minute.”
And when those lash-outs come, when the kids are unhappy, Emilie has learned her preferred ways to respond. When there are arguments in the family, she never holds onto things. She said “life is just too short.”
“One of the things that I admire about her the most is she does not hold a grudge,” Larry said. “She might argue with you, but five minutes later, everything is forgiven and she's ready to move on.”
Ally, Catie and Sara haven’t always listened to their mother. Sometimes, she has to let her children make mistakes so they’ll learn from them. That’s where Emilie said one of the most difficult parts of being a mother comes in.
“It's really hard to say, ‘OK, this might be a really tough lesson. She might fail at this if I don't nag her about this deadline. She might fail and that's OK. It's not going to kill her,’” Emilie said. “But that's hard.”
But it’s also part of growing and it’s an important lesson she said all moms have to learn when raising children.
They're all turning out to be really fine human beings, so we've clearly done a lot right. Or maybe we didn’t do very many things wrong.Emilie Cook
An even harder lesson is leveling expectations, but it’s one Emilie feels she’s handled.
“I don't expect perfect,” Emilie said. “Perfect is stupid. It's not an attainable goal and it's not something you should strive to be. I do emphasize working hard, though.”
And that mindset as a mother has paid off.
Sara is a sophomore at the University of North Georgia, Catie is a senior at Gainesville High School headed to the University of Georgia in the fall and Ally is a sophomore making her way through Gainesville High, too.
“They're all turning out to be really fine human beings, so we've clearly done a lot right,” Emilie said. “Or maybe we didn’t do very many things wrong.”
Or maybe they’ve been taking notes from their mother as she’s taken Find Your Center from a small operation in 2010 to a thrumming yoga studio with multiple classes each day.
The balance of hard work and family has been difficult, and Emilie has had help along the way from friends and family, but owning her own place gave her something to do while the kids were in school and the ability to make her own schedule so she never missed an important moment.
“She’s always there for us,” Catie said. “My mom balances everything she takes on with work and in the community and yet she is always there to see my theater performances or fix us lunch.”
Through raising three daughters, Emilie has learned it’s important for her to handle each one differently. They each need something different because they each have individual personalities.
“Me and Catie are like super different,” Ally said. “We're polar opposites. So I think she does a really great job at focusing on what we need.”
Catie feels the same way. She said her mom is pretty good at reading people in every situation.
“I think that she has mastered how to give us each the side of her that we need,” Catie said. “She has a different way of dealing with my problems than my sisters’ because we’re all different.”
Emilie has learned their personalities because of all the intentional time they’ve spent together over the years. When they were young, they didn’t have cable. All they had were a few local channels on a TV they rarely turned on.
“There was this big chair I could sit in with all three of them,” Emilie said. “Just sitting there, watching PBS or reading a book, maybe falling asleep, that was really great.”
And then there’s the snow. Emilie said she loves snow and looks forward to it every year. She gets pretty disappointed when there’s not a snow day because that means one day of sure-fire family time is missed.
Snow in Hall County can be a big problem sometimes. It interrupts routines, closes roads, shuts school — it can isolate people.
But for the Cooks, a snow day is one more day with no distractions.
“A lot of kids would go to their friends’ house or have friends over but we never did,” Emilie said. “It was always just us. So we would go walking in the snow or we would sled in the snow. Schedules are crazy and work is crazy … and it all just gets to be a lot. But when school gets closed and hopefully you lose power, there's just not a lot you can do but be with each other.”