Occupation: School Counselor, Writer, Content Creator
What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
A singer. You couldn’t catch me without a hairbrush standing in as a microphone when I was a kid. I loved to sing. There was only one little problem – I’m tone deaf. Luckily, my parents broke the news to me pretty early on. I still sing all the time. As a matter of fact, the other day I was singing to my grandson and my husband said, “Honey, you sound a little like Edith Bunker when you sing.” That about sums it up!
What are some different jobs you’ve had in your life?
I worked in childcare while I was in college, mostly because I was also a young mom, and it was a great way to access high-quality childcare for my daughter while I was in college. I’d drop her off before I went to class. After my classes were over, around mid-day, I’d work for a few hours, and then we’d go home together. I made very little money, but it was definitely worth it. After my second daughter was born, I started my own childcare business which allowed me to stay at home with my girls and run a business. I really enjoyed working with children, and I’ve always been very resourceful when it came to taking care of my own. My second act was at a large orthodontic practice. I started as a receptionist but moved on to an ortho assistant and eventually became the Office Manager. I even worked late evenings through the last part of graduate school. My life evolved so much during that time, and I gained so many forever friendships. I’m still very close to many of the ladies I worked with. My third act has been as a counselor. This has been my most fulfilling so far (outside of being a mom). I’ve worked as an in-home counselor for children and adolescents and as a school counselor. Up until this summer I was a school counseling director at a great high school, but sadly, we’re moving, so I’m ready to say “what’s next?!”
What do you work toward in your spare time?
Trying new things. I’m a lifelong learner, so I’m always looking to learn and improve. I’ve taken golf lessons, learned to kayak, and joined a boxing gym and that was all just last year. I’m always looking to evolve, and I’m not afraid to start at ground zero. Pottery classes and a photography course are next on my list.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m definitely a morning person; my brain literally shuts down by 8PM, and I’m crawling in bed around 9:30. I’ve always been a bit of a grandma. If I have a nighttime event, pregaming for me means a nap.
What are you most proud of?
My daughters! They’re amazing women, and I’ve been proud of who they are their whole lives. We are all very close! We tease, uplift, and remind each other of what matters. They’re strong, kind, and feminist but definitely more black and white in their thinking when it comes to morality. I’m a little more forgiving and a little more gray. I’m not sure if that comes from being a counselor or having made more life mistakes. And even though they’re hipper and cooler, I’m the Cardi B fan! Mom win? They’d beg to differ.
What are you known for?
Being a helper. If you need someone to confide in, talk you off a ledge, brainstorm with, or even help you find the right dress or shoe, I’m your girl. It’s no surprise that I’m in a helping profession. I believe it’s my calling. I’ve written my book and built my online presence with the same goal in mind.
What inspires you?
Gritty people! I’m inspired by people who have lived through something that might have broken them, but they rose from the ashes like a Phoenix! I’m also inspired by people who let loose on the dance floor. Not to be confused with just those who can dance well. Nope, I love watching anyone who’s free enough to just let go! I’m so not that person, I have a safe little two-step that I do, but I love watching others throw caution to the wind and live in the moment!
Tell me something about you that most people don’t know.
I’m not sure there are many surprises left. I wrote a book about my single mom journey, and because of the blog and social media, I’ve become quite the online sharer. My husband is also a pretty popular guy in our community, so friends and friends I haven’t yet met tend to know a lot about our lives as well. I guess what I would say is that, even though I might over share online, I rarely talk about myself in real life. I’m not secretive, but I find other people so much more fascinating! I’m definitely more comfortable on the listening end.
Why did you apply to be an O Mag Insider?
Like most people reading this, I grew up watching Oprah. Her presence on national tv validated me in a way that I’m not sure we have time to really express here. I know a lot of women were and still are inspired by Oprah but to little brown-skinned girls in the 80s, it was everything! I’ve also been a magazine connoisseur since I was a preteen, so I couldn’t wait for the first issue of O Mag when it finally hit the stands. I’ve been reading it ever since, but what really made me submit my application is simply my desire to inspire. I’ve always wanted to fill the gap for what I thought I needed when I was younger. It’s why I started my Empowering Young Women groups, why I wrote about my own single mom journey, and why I try to embrace the aging gracefully issue for women. When I’ve looked around and didn’t see women who looked like me or had walked my walk represented (throughout the different stages of my life) I’ve tried to say, “Okay, let me be that person for someone else.” So when O Mag sent out the call for people who wanted to try new things and have their voice heard, I jumped at the chance. I’ve always wanted to inspire as many people as possible even if it’s in the smallest way. The best part is that I am now part of a community that constantly inspires me too!
How do you live your best life?
By remaining in gratitude! Online I talk about gratitude a lot, and I do believe it’s everything. I practice what I preach and start everyday with gratitude journaling. I hope I never get to the point in life where I feel entitled or think anyone owes me anything. I don’t walk around with huge expectations about things I can’t control. I’m grateful for everything that comes into my life. Big and small, good or even not so good. I know it’s all part of my journey. I also spend a lot of time with family and have very strong friendships – most that span over several decades. I know I’m very fortunate at this stage of my life, but I still remember the struggle of my journey, and I’m so proud of that part of my life too that it keeps me grounded.
What are you reading now?
Seat of The Soul by Gary Zukav and I just started the novel Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li.
What’s a day in the life of Tonya Parker like?
Well, right now it’s summertime, and we are in the midst of a big move so everyday’s an adventure. What I can say is that every day I set intentions, meditate, make a gratitude list and try to incorporate a workout into my morning routine. After that, anything goes. If it’s a really good day, I get cuddle time with my grandsons.
Check out Tonya’s website:
Follow her on Instagram:
This is part of an ongoing series, introducing you to the dynamic individuals who make up O, The Oprah Magazine’s Brand Ambassadors known as the O Mag Insiders. For more information on the program or to apply, click HERE.