Diagnosed with endometriosis at 22, Michelle Harriss knew she would find a way to be a mother. During the seven years that her and her husband braved infertility and eventually adopt her son, Michelle found a job in commercial real estate and discovered a gift for decorating. She settled in San Diego with her husband and adopted a one-year-old boy from South Korea.
The home she now shares with her husband and son is welcoming, bright, and white. It’s the perfect mix of airy and cozy. Read on as Michelle shares her experience with infertility, adoption, and how she manages to have a clutter-free home with an eight-year-old son.
Name: Michelle Harriss
Current Title/Company: Regional Manager of Sales & Operations
Square Footage: 2000
Rent or Own: Own
City/State: San Diego, CA
Children: Maddyx, 8 years old
You started your career as a makeup artist and attended school to be an esthetician but fell into a career in commercial real estate. How did you discover this opportunity and why did you decide to pursue it?
I earned my esthetician license and started thinking about where I really wanted to go with this career. As a makeup artist, I struggled because the beauty industry felt a bit empty. I saw my options as continuing as a makeup artist, working in a spa as an esthetician and eventually someday opening my own spa, or working in a doctor’s office. I was most interested in working in a doctor’s office but honestly, none of them felt quite right for me. I loved the idea of making my own schedule and someday being my own boss.
As I continued to struggle with where I wanted to go with my career, I ran into an old friend who worked for a commercial real estate company and she said she had the perfect job for me. It wasn’t anything I had done before but I thought, what do I have to lose! I’ll do this while I figure out what I want to do with my career and I can still freelance as a makeup artist on the side. So I interviewed for a leasing agent position in Laguna Hills and got the job! And just as I planned, I worked as a leasing agent all week and did makeup for weddings and special events on the weekends.
I did that for three years and then decided to move back to San Diego to be closer to my boyfriend and now husband, Kasey. I applied for an entry-level position with CBRE, a large commercial real estate firm, and got the job! That is where I began my career as a commercial real estate manager. Once I started down that path, I never looked back! I was good at what I did and I climbed the corporate ladder fast. I felt a sense of power and success and really loved having a career!
What advice do you have for other women thinking of switching their career paths?
I’d say it’s scary but worth it. You feel vulnerable and unsure, but life is short and if you are being called to do something different, I truly believe you should follow the path! I am forty now and have a very successful and “safe” career and I find myself once again considering changing careers! Nothing is ever set in stone. Life is abundant and we are creators.
When did you discover your passion for interior decorating/styling?
I have always loved decorating! Even as a little girl, I always wanted my room to be pretty and I was particular about things having their place. I realized it was a true passion when Kasey and I purchased and renovated our first home. I became interested in paint colors, lighting and more of the details. Decorating spaces became a creative outlet for me. I chose renovating and decorating our house as my hobby of choice.
You share your lifestyle and home decor photos with over 90K followers on Instagram — tell us about building this community online. Has your openness online influenced you and your family or the way you live?
This community never ceases to amaze me. It is filled with some of the most creative, inspiring, caring and supportive people that I’ve never even had the pleasure of meeting! Sounds crazy but it’s so true.
Through the process of growing my Instagram following, I’ve gone from a super private, introverted individual who just shared photos of my home remodel to someone who now shares and connects with complete strangers and has become virtual friends with so many people on a much, much deeper level!
I share everything from home decor to fashion, deep spiritual thoughts, my journey of eating plant-based foods, health battles and being an adoptive momma. It’s not always easy putting yourself out there. The more you put yourself out there, the more you open yourself up to judgment. It can be very hurtful and hard at times, but looking back, I can honestly say it has helped me grow tremendously. In the past two years, I’ve become more confident and more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been and I know I have this journey to partially thank for that!
What lessons design-wise did you learn from your home renovations? What advice would you give others about renovating?
I’m still learning! I learn something new on every project that I take with me to my next. I’m learning what is worth investing in and when I feel ok shopping for the budget option. I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned for myself is to stick with a clean and classic design that will stand the test of time. I stay away from trends when it comes to spending the big money, like on kitchens and flooring. I keep trends limited to accessories and items that can be easily swapped out.
Where do you get your home decor inspiration? And where do you like to shop for home decor?
Oh gosh, I get my inspiration from Instagram and Pinterest, of course! It’s addictive to scroll through all of the amazing spaces that are available these days! I honestly blame Instagram and Pinterest for my design ADD!
My style is constantly changing and evolving so the places I shop change too. Right now, I love finding unique vintage pieces at RJ Imports in southern California. Of course, Ikea, HomeGoods, and World Market are always my go-to for cool and affordable pieces. I’m always looking to Restoration Hardware for inspiration. Honestly, I’m an online shopper so I have a list of about twenty-five places I troll on the regular basis.
Were there any rooms in your house that presented unique challenges? How did you overcome them?
Oh, YES! I feel like I am always working on a major budget, which is a challenge! It would be so much easier to have a large budget and endless money when designing homes and decorating spaces but that’s just not a reality for me, and most others, so I have to spend more time then I’d like to admit sourcing affordable options and lookalikes. My father always said, ever since I was a little girl, that I have champagne taste on a beer budget.
The exterior of my home is my current challenge. The house is an odd shape, lacks character and has a tile roof which limits my options on style. I have been working on it for what feels like forever and I’ve honestly said at least five times it would be easier to just sell and buy a new home than to figure out how to overcome my issues with how the exterior looks!
Walk us through the adoption journey with your son, Maddyx. When did you decide to look into adoption and how long did the process take?
About a year after getting married, Kasey and I decided we may want to “start” trying to conceive. I say may, because we weren’t really ready to be parents, but we were at least thinking about it. It was that moment in time when we were still mortified by the idea but, if it happened in a year or so, we could have managed! I knew I had endometriosis and I also knew getting pregnant could take us a while and may not be easy. Unfortunately, that proved to be very accurate. We tried for almost five years with not one pregnancy. Not one. Those years of trying and failing month after month was so hard. Friends and family members had gotten pregnant and some multiple times. It was gut-wrenching.
You wonder, why me? Why are we being punished? We would be such good parents! We have a good marriage, the job and the house. It just didn’t make sense. I never allowed myself to give up the dream though. I knew I wouldn’t be deprived the experience of motherhood if I really wanted it. I knew that in my gut.
During those five years, we talked about our plan. We decided we wanted to have one biological and one adopted child. That would be our family. Or so we thought. When we didn’t get pregnant, we knew it was time to take the next step. It was either IVF for a biological baby or adopt first. This was an easy choice for my husband. He wanted us to pursue adoption. Both avenues were very expensive and only one was a guarantee. We couldn’t afford both so we decided after lots of thought, adoption would be first. At this point, all I wanted was to be a mom! I wanted it more than anything and I knew if we adopted, I would have that.
After we chose our agency, the process took about two years. We were matched with our baby when he was 5 months old and brought him home when he was 13 months. We chose to fly to Korea and meet his foster mom and bring Maddyx home ourselves (rather than using a rep from the agency to bring him home to us).
I often tell my friend and fellow moms that flying 16+ hours internationally with a baby you just met is my version of childbirth. That plane ride was hell. He was a child that supposedly (according to his foster mom) didn’t cry and he cried for five hours straight. I had every thought imaginable. I’d imagine the same thoughts women have as their going through childbirth. Yep, all of them. But we survived. We made it. And we came home with a 13-month-old baby that we had no idea what to do with! Just like every parent. And we figured it out. Just like every parent does. It’s all so different and so much the same. Adopting a child was one of the best and hardest things we’ve ever done!
Why did you choose South Korea to adopt?
We chose international adoption and South Korea because my husband’s biological parents adopted two children from South Korea. His adopted sister, Tawnie, was my best friend and she is how I met my husband. She passed away from a violent crime at age 25 and we chose South Korea as a way for our family to keep both her memory and the beauty of her adoption story alive. It just made sense.
South Korea is a great option if you’re considering international adoption as they have exceptional health care, a wonderful foster program for children waiting to be placed with their forever families, and one of the longest standing relationships with the United States when it comes to international adoption. Considering the circumstances, we felt that our future child would be very well taken care of while waiting to come home.
How did you prepare your home for the arrival of Maddyx?
I prepared our home just like any expectant mom, except we were bringing home a one-year-old vs. a newborn. I jumped right into baby-proofing our home and didn’t have to deal with any swings or bassinets. I leaned on friends for advice on what their kids need at that age. My favorite part, just like most mommas, was designing his nursery! Creating that special space was my outlet while we waited to bring him home.
In what ways do you immerse and celebrate your own cultural experiences with Maddyx’s Korean background?
We mainly immerse through our diversity. We are open and expose Maddyx to his Korean and American heritage along with different cultures has always been a priority for us. We love to experience culture through food (Korean food is a favorite!) and he began taking TaeKwonDo at a very young age, which he loves and it’s a big part of his life to this day. Another Korean tradition that we’ve incorporated into our home is Children’s Day, which is a national holiday celebrated in South Korea on May 5th. Every year, we do something fun and special for Maddyx on that day. We usually let him plan a fun family activity and he chooses the meals that day. It’s a fun way to spend quality time together as a family and he absolutely loves his special day.
Do you have open conversations with Maddyx about his adoption?
Yes, we’ve openly discussed his adoption from a very young age. When he was a baby, we started by reading adoption baby books to him, just so he was familiar with the word. We have a photo memory book of him with his foster mom in South Korea that we use to talk about his journey while we look at pictures together.
As an adoptive parent to a Child of Color, how are you explaining racial discrimination to Maddyx while also instilling positive values in him?
To be honest, even at 8.5 years old, Maddyx still doesn’t recognize race or our physical differences! It’s so beautiful and innocent and I wish we could all stay childlike in this way forever. While I don’t want to take this innocence from him, I also want to make sure we are open and always talking about these subjects. I try and ask him questions like “how do you and mommy look different” and see what his answers are. Usually, his answer is that I have blonde hair and his hair is dark.
What’s your philosophy on decorating for kids? How does your home reflect that?
Keep it simple! Less is more! I like to design spaces that are calming, airy, reflect nature and a sense of play. I read a great book, Simplicity Parenting, and it really resonated with me. Children, like adults, need space to create, to be, to play. When they have too much stuff, it is overwhelming for them and their senses! They tend to jump from one thing to another versus really getting into deep play.
With your home full of neutral colors, what advice do you have for other moms who are decorating their own home?
Choose what makes you happy but be practical. Don’t invest in that super expensive, white linen Restoration Hardware sofa when you’ve got toddlers running around! Instead, choose the super affordable, but also cute, Ikea slipcovered sofa that you can throw in the wash when it gets dirty. If you like white walls, paint your walls white! Teach your kiddos to not put their hands on the wall. We have a couple of house rules to not only keeping our home looking nice but also teach Maddyx a general respect for our home and others.
Do you have a system for tidying up your home to control the spread of kid stuff?
My biggest system has been to not over purchase. We have never had a ton of toys. That has been the absolute best way to control the toy takeover!
Since a young age, Maddyx has been responsible for cleaning up his own messes as he goes. He knows that he needs to clean up his room each night before going to bed. We have bins and baskets that he can store all of his toys in and when his toys no longer fit inside the bins, we know it’s time to donate!
That usually happens once or twice per year and Maddyx and will go through his toys and decide what he’s no longer using and what he can donate.
How has your view of motherhood changed since becoming a mom?
I’ll tell you one thing, I have a lot more grace and compassion for my parents now that I am one myself. Nobody can prepare you for how hard it is. They can tell you it’s hard but they don’t always tell you how hard. I think it’s impossible to really know until you’ve experienced it yourself. There’s something to be said for that, isn’t there? 🙂
I always had this vision of parenthood. It was fairytale-like. I thought about holidays and family vacations and fun weekends as a family. They all looked so perfect but in reality, it is completely different! There’s lots of complaining, whining and tantrums. I had a moment when I said to myself, I’m either going to stop going into public or we’re going to get through the tantrums in public because our child is going through a phase. When it comes to being a parent, there’s no wrong or right, just what works best for you and your sanity. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the most fulfilling experience you will ever have. There are those fairytale moments that remind you of why you’d do it a thousand times over.
What’s the most rewarding and challenging part of being a parent? Do you have any advice for parents who are considering adoption as a path to parenthood?
I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding than experiencing the love of being a parent. It comes down to being that simple. Love. That’s what gets you through the challenging moments. I think the most challenging part for me was feeling extra pressure to bond, connect and to build what you think most birth mothers have from birth. Not knowing if your child will form a healthy bond with you and if they don’t, how will that affect them as they grow up. Being a parent is the hardest job you’ll ever have, but as an adoptive mom, I think I put extra pressure on myself because my son went through so much loss at such a young age.
How do you make time for your own self-care? What do you do to take care of yourself?
Life is busy. I have one non-negotiable when it comes to self-care. I wake up about an hour before Maddyx gets up and I use that time to drink coffee, meditate and journal. It’s quiet time for me. Time to connect, get centered and set my intentions for the day. When my schedule allows, I take time for yoga classes, running, walks and working out. Sometimes it’s just a 30-minute walk after dinner all by myself. I put my earbuds in and listen to a podcast and it’s just enough!
About four years ago, I went on my first yoga retreat to Costa Rica and it was one of the best decisions I made for myself and my family. Yes, it was hard to leave my child and husband for eight days but, thankfully, my husband was so supportive. I felt like a changed woman when I returned. It was empowering and enlightening and so good for my soul. I’m actually leaving for another yoga retreat to Bali soon. It’s a women’s retreat and will be my time to recharge and reset.
When it comes to being a mom: what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?
That’s a tough question. I have a lot of insecurities when it comes to parenting. You never know if what you’re doing is right and I make mistakes every single day that make me feel insecure! You yell when you said you’d never yell, your make something else a priority over time with your child when you know that time with your child is the single most important thing in your life. I just hope I am doing a good enough job raising a kind, loving, and well-rounded human being who can love himself, respect others and be successful out into the world.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
I don’t think I can narrow it down to one particular memory. I’ve got eight years under my belt and it’s almost like I’ve got a mini-movie real rolling through my head. It’s filled with so many moments that create the memories for me… The small moments. The ones you normally take for granted and you forget to even notice until that time you don’t. The time you find yourself completely present and you just sit and stare and see nothing but pure joy in the face of this sweet, innocent little child of yours. Or when you watch them sleep. It feels like you’re watching an Angel. It’s truly indescribable until you experience it for yourself. It almost brings me to tears thinking about it. So yes, watching my sweet boy sleep since the time he was a baby is probably one my favorite motherhood memory. I will cherish it in my heart forever.
Michelle Janeen is The Everymom…
Favorite family tradition?
We have so many, I don’t know if I can pick just one! Everything from the very simple tradition of sitting down every night to eat dinner together, to our annual trips to the pumpkin patch and Christmas tree farm. I love holiday traditions the most. There’s something so nostalgic about the holidays for me. Last year, we traveled to Sedona, AZ, and the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving with our dear friends and their kids. It was a new tradition and we had the best time. We are so excited to have special traditions with our friends and their kids for many years to come.
Easy go-to family meal to prepare?
Last year, we began eating a plant-based diet. One of my favorite go-to weeknight meals is roasted veggies (broccoli or cauliflower, sweet potatoes, onions & chickpeas is our favorite mix) on top of rice or a grain and add lots of avocado! And yes, Maddyx eats it and loves it!
Your dream vacation?
That’s a hard question. I have so many places on my bucket list that it’s almost impossible to pick one as my dream vacation! I’m headed to Bali next month, which is definitely in my top five. Other dream spots are Greece and Ireland.
Last home item you splurged on?
This isn’t going to be very exciting but french doors and a casement window! We’ve been working on the exterior of our home for what feels like forever and I’m so excited to (hopefully) finish it soon!
Guilty pleasure? Reality TV & nachos! I’m a sucker for both.