I followed my own advice and was labelled a bad mom
I took my own advice and it got me labelled a bad mom. Am I sorry I did it? Hell no! Let me explain.
About a year ago I launched one of my online programs known as the Yo-No Diet. It was, for me, the solution to the bullshit we moms put ourselves through when it comes to healing our bodies, caring for our bodies, and feeling like we freakin’ deserve it.
The brief backstory is this: I’m a mom. I have two wildly smart and energetic young girls. I also used to have health issues with severe asthma and allergies. I healed from those health issues through studying nutrition and got locked into perfecting that shit. I did not, under any circumstances, want to have a relapse or see it happen to my kiddos.
So I became OBSESSED with healthy eating. I went a little cuckoo over trying to figure out the perfect way of eating. Obsession evolved into fear of food. I would go a whole day without eating more than a smoothie because I was so locked into that fear of what was okay to eat anymore. I travelled from one fad diet to the next, looking for the final solution.
Crazily enough, I did that while also figuring out how to be a mom. Like a nasty virus, perfection chasing in one area feeds perfection chasing in another. Like the perfect diet, I wanted to do motherhood flawlessly. So I obsessively read, judged myself, and tried to master all the milestones the way I was told I should.
My marriage was also suffering. To be honest, my marriage had been suffering from the start. Let’s just say I ignored those alarm bells that blared off the moment I agreed to secretly get married in my kitchen while holding my toddler in my arms. The reasons are vague now, having mostly to do with my mom not being there to appease my future husband’s dislike of her. Why I didn’t just say “well, let’s not get married in the kitchen,” I’m not so sure that matters anymore.
What it did was set the stage for the most unromantic marriage ever. I had this other fear that, like my dieting craze, I wasn’t going to measure up as perfect enough for him. (It was a fear that was validated more than I’d like to admit)
The thing about perfection though is it really has nothing to do with higher achievement. It’s not what gets you to that bliss factor in life. It definitely does nothing for your overall joy and has nothing to do with your life’s purpose.
Perfection is fear in disguise. It’s fear of not being enough. It’s fear of being judged. It’s fear of the unknown. It’s fear of losing control. Next time you catch yourself thinking or saying “perfect,” I challenge you to replace it with “fearful.”
I was on a hunt for a fear-based diet, not a perfect one. I was focused on a staying in fear of judgement around my post-mom body, not perfecting it. I was fearful that my marriage was actually a lot more terrible than I wanted to admit. It had nothing to do with being perfect.
And as I started to figure out my own crises more and more, I started to expand my world to hear the stories of others. I started an Eating Psychology Coaching practice where my first year of clients were almost all moms.
While our stories as mothers and women were different, our experience and desires were so similar.
Done with endless dieting, body bashing, trying to make the whole perfect mom/wife thing happen, what I heard over and over was the desire to feel free, even if for a moment.
~Moms wanted to feel free to just eat something pleasurable during a quiet moment when there were no fires to put out or screaming voices commanding more of “MOM!!”
~They wanted to feel free to sit in a long bath, read more than one chapter of a fiction book, to be the one who slept in while someone else put together breakfast that morning.
~They wanted to feel free to see a messy house, a pile of laundry, an empty pantry, an incomplete meal plan for the week and know they weren’t alone in those responsibilities.
~They wanted to feel free to say no, to set boundaries, to set expectations, to pursue their own passions and dreams. (Without guilt for doing so)
Freedom is the word that rang through my head all of 2016.
Behind the scenes, I was navigating it all myself. I was learning that my body, even as a wife, deserved boundaries. I was figuring out what consent looked like, even in a marriage. I was saying no to overwhelm, double standards, and wild expectations to get everything perfectly right.
I started to do the one thing that scared me the most: ask for more help.
I had a number of breakdowns, episodes of panicking and shaking, and I started to go to bed fearful each night. I couldn’t make sense of it all, but what I understood is “I don’t feel safe here in this place in my life, in this home, in this marriage. I don’t 100 percent know why. But, I am going to break if I don’t do something about it. That would be the worse thing ever for my children.”
And that’s when my relationship with motherhood took a big left turn. What was the point I started to wonder? What was the point in all of this if I’m missing out on the best part of all: being a present, healthy, sane mom to have experiences with my kids.
I didn’t want motherhood to be complaining about a messy house, standing in the kitchen all day, stressing about food prep and groceries, figuring out crazy contradictory schedules, focusing every waking moment on what is needed to be done, bought, sent, cooked, in order to run a household of kids.
What’s the effing point? Seriously?
Just as I had decided that I did not want to look back on my life and say “wow, I left a really great legacy of obsessively dieting my whole life,” I did not want to look back and think “I gave up life to be a perfect mom.”
It’s bullshit. Just as my blogger friend for One Mother to Another, Melissa Mowery, recently pointed out regarding mom jokes “they have no long-term impact and they don’t challenge us to grow.”
Yes, the memes are hilarious and appropriate at times. But, is this seriously what it means to be mom? We have to hate our post-mom bodies, lament about the good ol’ days, and spend the rest of our days feeling overwhelmed by all the expectations placed on us for reproducing?
And yes, I said mom. Dads, I have a lot of love for you and I know there are different situations where this is dad’s world. But, this statement resonated with me from comedian Ali Wong, “It takes so little to be considered a great dad, and it also takes so little to be considered a shitty mom.”
So, I created this course for moms and looked at all those tips on meal prepping and blah blah and said “fuck this.” I am not going to pile on a shitload of things to add to the list of what we women and moms have to do to get this thing “right.”
I don’t want to deliver another “do this my way and be a whole new you” crap advice we’ve already heard.
I don’t want to be a whole new me, I want to fucking be ME. I want the same for all women.
Because that’s the real issue. It’s not that we suck and need a novel, more refined version of ourselves.
It’s that we lost touch with US, ourselves, who we are, our truth, and that sucks the life out of, well, what makes life great.
And I sincerely know that motherhood enriches and makes life really damn great. So, why is it being allowed to be this thing that we are expected to suck us dry? Mom life does NOT have to suck.
So, here is where I went with this. I started telling my students to stop. Stop overloading yourself with expectations. Stop writing gigantic to-do lists. Stop taking on the whole world of responsibilities to take care of everyone.
When it comes to meal time, you deserve to sit through a full meal with your family without having to jump up to ten demands being made by others at the table. You can set a boundary that says “when mom’s sitting, she’s going to finish her meal before she gets up again.”
I started asking “What am I doing for my kids that they are fully capable of doing for themselves.” Then, that is what I started to practice. Not some hack to be able to do more. I’m over that shit. I said, what can I unload? If my daughter can fill her own water cup, why am I jumping out of my chair, letting my food get cold, and feeling annoyance settle into my body to do it for her. Would I rather be an annoyed or relaxed and well-fed mom?
And I took it from there. We lived out in the country at that time. Going to the grocery store with the two kids was not always an easy feat, especially in the winter. My husband worked right next to a dang grocery store. I started asking him to pick things up more. I started asking if he’d cook breakfast more. And it was happening. It really really was!
It was a ripple effect from there. I started to ask for a few hours to myself on a Saturday. I had been in charge of all activities, story time, gymnastics, coaching soccer, play groups, ballet, all of it. The more scheduled we got on top of all the other expectations, I started to sense that same fear of “am I doing this right? Is this enough? Am I mom enough yet?”
That fear is my red flag. It’s my signal from life that I’m way off track. Because I committed to not being a burned out, pissed off, resentful mom (deep down, you know?)
So, I started to ask for my time to feed my passion for coaching and teaching. I would take an hour here and there and then eventually developed a schedule. My mom helped, we hired an amazing woman to help, my oldest started going to preschool, and my husband would agree to be with the kids for a few hours on a Saturday if I had a client or was writing a course.
I started to do more life things. I went to a conference that was for my own personal development, I took on contract jobs I loved, I wrote and read a ton more than I had in years, I was eating and loving food, I had a badass meal prep plan figured out, I was getting help, I was not feeling solo in the mom thing anymore, and I felt balance.
Everyday when I felt that sense of lightness and levity when I engaged with my kids, when I was EXCITED to read them books, when we played pretend and I was eager to play and talk with them, I knew this is the mom experience we all deserved.
I felt so damn deserving for the first time in a long time.
Then this happened. Be prepared, because it’s pretty awful.
It all blew up in my face the moment I, in my momentum of declaring boundaries and consent for what happened to my body, and claiming my joy, asked my husband for a divorce.
As I mentioned, the marriage was not exactly going to end up a Hollywood love story hit. We had troubles from the start. I entered into the relationship with a pretty low self-esteem and took on and absorbed every criticism, every poor remark about me, every judgement about my family, all of it.
When I had our children, my body changed and my desires changed. I started to shut down under the panic of everything else and the intensity of not feeling fully loved or wanted by this person I married. Was all of it true, those fears? I don’t think so. I think he suffered too and his suffering closed his heart, which only dug a knife further into the pain.
But it was hard, the shut down body. I shuddered when touched, it never felt like consent anymore. And I didn’t fully understand what it meant to demand full consent, what that means. So the knife dug deeper and deeper, the fights were worse and worse, and I rode the wave of levity and freedom that had come from exorcising myself from old wounds with food and motherhood and saw that this was our final ending. I asked for our ending.
It felt horrible and right at the same time. But it was not received well at all.
And in all the horrible legal matters that ensued, it was this that challenged everything I had come to declare about being deserving as a mom: The statements, made in the defense against me in order to win more custody of the children, was based solely on disgracing me as a mom.
What was the claim? In sum, it was that I was not mom enough, wrapped up in legal language. I read sentences about how I had not cooked breakfast some mornings, and he had to do it himself. I was forced to recall all the times I had asked him to pick up the groceries instead as a sin on my part. I felt the stab of implications where statements were made about me choosing to spend time with my visiting childhood friend during my Birthday party rather than spend that time holding and watching the kids.
I had stepped out of the full duties of being mom that year according to those mom expectations. For four years I had cooked most meals, even spent all of Christmas Eve by myself while everyone else went ice skating to make my husband his special pierogi meal. I meal planned, prepped, shopped, organized activities, breastfed the children, purchased activities, did activities, sent cards to family, cried myself to sleep after my newborn baby woke up for the 8th time in one night 7 nights in a row, cried and winced as my newborn baby latched improperly on my cracked nipples, lost friendships, stayed home on the weekends with the kids while he burned off his steam on a bike ride, and I really don’t need to go on. It doesn’t feel good to go on. I was there. I know what happened…
It feels awful, and heavy, and gross to claim who did what. And that feeling, that heaviness and fear and perfect mom shit, that is what I was being told, what so many moms are being told, that it’s what we actually deserve. But it’s not!
In the last year because I had asked for more time to myself, I was no longer a deserving mom.
In the last year because I requested not to make every single meal every single day, I was no longer a deserving mom.
And as I shake and write this I know this, that shit, that ugliness, the baseless quotes, the shame any mom has felt, the fear moms have felt, that it’s complete and utter bullshit.
It started to eat at me. Doubt began to creep in? Did I fuck this up? Should I have done all of those things? Should I have just waited 18 years to begin my life?
I started to catch myself over-stretching just to prove myself worthy again. I had to prove I was a damn good mom by doing all the things that made it hard for me to be a sane, happy, present mom. I was starting to re-buy into the belief that I had to be a burned out, crashed out mom to make the cut.
So, when he started to ask me to watch the kids while he resumed his old schedule at work when it was his day with the kids, I could never ever say no. I would take them for the full day even while I worked just to prove I was a damn good mom. I stopped asking for things. I secretly asked my mom for help, but we kept it our secret. What if he found out and I was exposed as a shitty mom again?
But, again, it’s complete and utter bullshit.
I demanded boundaries and felt punished. But I did not deserve to be punished. No one does for that.
I demanded consent and was called a liar. But I did not lie and I deserve better. Everyone does when it comes to consenting to their bodies.
I demanded balance, asked for help, and looked for how to bring the joy back into motherhood, and yes, was punished. But I did not, you do not, no one is deserving of punishment for that.
And so I am finding a wonderful return back to myself after that awful period. He and I, as two people who co-parent are finding out what that means to us, however unconventional, how to heal, how to put love for these kids above all of that heavy gross proving oneself crap. I am forgiving myself and others. I am stronger, louder, more assertive, a little bossier even. Our Empowered Women communities are thriving. And I know without a doubt, I am and you are deserving of joy at all points in life. And if you are a mom, your kids really need you to have that joy. They really do.
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