Creating a Mom Manifesto

There’s a lot out there on how to create a mom mission statement which I find so very important. Here’s a great post from the Stay At Home Mom Survival Guide on creating a mom mission statement. It’s a great way to reflect on your purpose and goals as a mother.

But what I’m also proposing is also having a “Mom Manifesto.” Unlike a mission statement let’s say a manifesto is a little more about what you will and won’t stand for as a mother and person. It’s a summary of the the shit you won’t take, the stuff you’re willing to put a lot on the line for, and most importantly the things you won’t let compromise you’re worth or the most important parts of your relationship with your children and family.

reating a Mom Manifesto

This means taking a deep dive into exploring who you truly are and how societal expectations of motherhood impact your ability to adhere to your authentic self. Basically if you’re like me and you allow a sanctimonious Facebook post make you think you’re an awful mother because your kids have some plastic Fisher Price toys this manifesto can help you get a grip. It’s something to read on those days the inner critic is ruling all your thoughts. It might sound angry, it might sound defensive but that’s okay. It’s simply something that is meant to ground you back into your authentic self, what you care about and what you know deep in your heart is best for your child, partner, and self.

So here are some prompts and sentence completions

As a person I am rotted in __________________. I connect with my children through _____________. I do not need ________________________ to feel validated as a worthy person.

As a mother I am rooted in ______________. I connect with my children through _______________. I do not need __________________ to feel validated as as worthy mother.

I will choose to ignore the voice of my inner critic who often tells me _________________________. I will remember that this is not true or important because __________________.

The most important thing I am modeling for my children is ____________. In order to do that I reject ___________________.

At the end of the day I can remind myself that _____________ is trivial and not important to the overall health and wellbeing of myself or my family.

I choose to radically love and honor myself by ________________________.

I choose to radically love and honor my children by ___________________.

I create joy in my live through ________________. I create joy in the life of my partner and children through ______________.

Pretend someone calls you to your face a bad person/mother. What would you say? How would you defend yourself? What evidence might you give?

What are your top 3 values that you want to raise your children with? How do you model these values?

When your children are grown what do you want them to say about you as mother? How will that be manifested in your daily actions now?

There are no rules here. No recommended word count. The most important thing is that your manifesto feels GOOD to say it. It feels TRUE to you. It’ll change over time. And some days negative thoughts and the expectations of others may really get to you. But let this be a good place to land.

We will be creating our own manifestos at our in person support group this Wednesday. I can’t wait to share some examples next week!

Letting Go of the Mother We Think We Should Be

A while ago I watched a video of Karen Kleinman speaking at Byrn Mawr Hospital shared on the Postpartum Stress Center Facebook page. Karen Kleinman is a a therapist and well known expert on postpartum depression and author of several wonderful books that I will link at the end of this post. Part of the reason I’ll never forget the video is because it was from 1989 and Karen was rocking a polka dotted headband and very large purple button earrings. But most importantly she said something probably not many people had acknowledged before. She said, and I’m summarizing here,  “What we need to understand is that having a baby is a tremendous loss; loss of independence, loss of self.”

Letting Go of the Mother We Think We Should Be

This spoke to me for two reasons. One being that I really related to it. One of the most difficult things I’ve experienced is a loss of who I was after I became a mother. After being an achievement addict, a dedicated social worker, and a social butterfly I seemed to lose all of that when I had my children. When I didn’t have time to dedicate to my work, decided to stay at home, and couldn’t engage with my friends as much as I used to I felt lost. Secondly, I feel this is a concept that our culture doesn’t want to recognize. Many people say, “Being a parent is the best thing that will ever happen to you.” There is obviously truth to that in the love we all have for our children. But just because something is wonderful doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. Changing our notion of accepting parenthood as a both a gain and a loss, as both an exciting time and a stressful time, as both a time to celebrate and a time to grieve empowers parents to navigate the journey with recognition of their emotions and grace with understanding it all as a process.

Something else that I’ve recently learned that is also a loss we experience is the loss of the expectations we had about parenthood to begin with. We also have to grieve that sometimes we don’t turn out to be the mother we wanted to be.

We all have these visions of the mother we’d like to be when we’re pregnant. And although I refer often to mothers in this post I think this same notion can apply to fathers using the societal expectations we place on dads also. We may envision ourselves joyfully playing with our children on a swingset, preparing fresh homemade meals for them to enjoy, making arts and crafts projects, providing comfort to our child when they skin their knee. I, for one, didn’t envision myself crying in a bathroom with hair that hadn’t been washed for three days as I binge ate Thin Mints.

But children teach us a lot of lessons and they are amazing at getting us to know ourselves a little better. Children are truly a gift when it comes to giving us a mirror to look at ourselves. It’s as if they say, “You thought you knew yourself? You thought you had life figured out? You thought you had total control? Oh boy, you thought wrong.” You don’t need an Eat Pray Love type of adventure to get to know yourself better. Just pop out a child or two, get in some sleepless nights, be pushed to the brink of your sanity every couple days and you’ll start to get to know yourself really well.  Maybe even better than you’d like to .

So when our reality doesn’t fit our expectations we struggle. We try to fit ourselves into the mold of what we wanted but no matter how hard we try we might not fit. So instead of taking a new shape we frustrate ourselves to no end trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole. But we often embrace as parents the notion that it is our jobs to raise our children to be the best version of themselves, not of anyone else. Why can’t we apply this concept to ourselves as parents?

Rejecting societal pressures or the pressures we place on ourselves to take on traits that we don’t have doesn’t mean there is something wrong with those traits. We can accept that those traits just aren’t who we are. For instance, I’m beginning to understand that I will never be the type of mother that is a good homemaker. I envisioned myself as a Pinterest mom with a well kept house, wonderful homemade meals every night, and having the walls of my home lined with my children’s monthly photos and handprints. But that didn’t work out for me. And I’m starting to learn that if I really wanted to be that way I would make it happen somehow. But I don’t. So I’ve come to understand that why being a great homemaker is an awesome trait I felt the pressure to be that way because of society and not because it was something that I truly wanted to be. So when I get down on the ways I’m not the mother I thought I’d be I start to think of the mother I truly am. I’m a mom who gets her kids outdoors, who lets her kids run wild, who is out of the house a lot meeting other moms for playdates and doesn’t have a lot of “routine”, who is not present 24/7 because I’m working on my own work projects, and who is trying everyday to give more grace to my children to make mistakes as well as myself.  Take it all with the good and the bad and I realize I’m the mother I’m meant to be. And I hope you can realize that too.

 

Self-Reflection Exercise-

Reflect on your own projections of what you thought you’d be like as a mother. Answer some of these questions or  complete these sentences to dig deeper.

What did you envision yourself being like as a mom?

As a mother I always thought I’d be more _____________________.

Where did your hopes for yourself as a mother come from? (i.e. your own childhood, watching others, society,etc).

What surprised you after motherhood in terms of the mother you’ve become so far?

What can you try harder to accept about yourself as a mother? What could be the potential benefits of those traits?

What can you start to let go of in terms of your expectations of motherhood? What has your children taught you about yourself?

 

 

Books by Karen Kleinman

This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression

Dropping the Baby and other Scary Thoughts:Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood

What Am I Thinking?: Having a Baby after Postpartum Depression

Introducing Resilient Mamas

I’m so excited to share with you a re-launch of my blog and the beginning of a community!

As I’ve progressed on my journey both personally and professionally in the area of maternal mental health I envisioned creating a community where there is one understanding- that mothers can support each other without judgment, celebrate differences, hold space for one’s another’s stories, and empower one another to heal and grow. This lead to me creating the Resilient Mamas space. It’s a blog with inspriation and challenges, a Facebook community, and an in person group that meets twice monthly- once as a support group on the 3rd Wednesday from 6:30-8:30 at Circle of Life at once as a social gathering at Playgrounds Cafe in Lakewood and on the 2nd Tuesday from 10am-12pm at Playgrounds Cafe in Lakewood.

I look forward to seeing what this community grows into and am hopeful that mothers can be empowered through connection with one another to not only be vulnerable and open but to thrive inside and outside of motherhood with confidence and strength.

So welcome to Resilient Mamas! I’m so glad you’re here. I encourage you to visit the What is a Resilient Mama? page to find out more about the identity I wish to foster in each mother in this community.

Also if you’d like to be part of our Facebook group that will involve support and weekly challenges for growth you can join here.

Self-Care Mondays #14: Re-Think Expectations`

The new year brings with it a lot of promise. We start to see the world as full of possibilities. We think of all the changes we want to make and goals we want to accomplish. But with this all fresh new hope comes something that can weigh us down- expectations.

 

Self-Care Mondays' _14_ Rethinking Expectations

Expectations are things we think SHOULD happen. This is different than hope. Hope is something we think may happen but with the knowledge that it may not. We are emotionally prepared to be disappointed but still in a positive mindset. Expectations can sometimes come with an entitled sense of thinking. I expect this to happen therefore it should happen and if it doesn’t I’m going to have a big problem with it. Danny Boyle said it best, “It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.”

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have any expectations. We should expect to be respected by others. We should expect that we will meet our daily responsibilities. The problem becomes when our expectations of ourselves or others become attached to our sense of self and ability to accept those we consider as important in our lives.

Expectations in relationships is another blog post within itself so I’m going to focus on the expectations we have of ourselves mostly because this time of year is when we seem to have the highest expectations of ourselves. We list many resolutions and we place high expectations on what we will accomplish in the new year, and all of these expectations especially those we tie greatly to our self-worth can be a breeding ground for disappointment in ourselves and feelings of low self-worth.

So when you’re sitting down to write your resolutions ( and yes, please please write them), sit back and re-think your expectations.  When we write things down we can  not only get all of our thoughts down and out of the abyss of our minds but we can also concretize them, examine them from a different point of view, and choose to cross out those  that are too lofty or not the best fit for our lives right now. For example I wrote down as one of my resolutions to hike a trail of significant length this year. After looking at it on paper next to my other resolutions I realized it wasn’t the best fit for me this year. It may be entirely possible that I can achieve this goal this year. I sat back and was truly honest with myself. Having two young children and having some professional goals I want to set aside some time for when I can secure childcare I realized it’s not the time for this goal for me. I altered the goal to hiking on my own once per month setting not particular length as a goal. So when looking back on 2018 I can feel good about the time I took to hike, something I love to do, but not feel disappointed that I didn’t conquer the Appalachian Trail.

After you write down your resolutions ask yourself the following four questions to re-think your expectations.

  • Is the motive for this resolution primarily to fulfill a need for self-worth? Will I somehow feel more worthy as a person if I fulfill it? In this case cross it out. What’s more important is shifting your mindset to believing in your worth right now, accomplishments or no accomplishments, being the mother you want to be or falling short of that constantly. A better resolution in this case is to work on feelings around self-worth in this area by rejecting self-judgmental thoughts and reducing shame with self-compassion.
  • Is the motive for this resolution primarily to  fulfill what I believe others expect of me? Wanting to be a “better” partner or “better” parent not only is an unclear goal it’s also pretty undefinable. What constitutes better? Improving how we contribute to our relationships is a wonderful intention but we have to make sure we are tackling it with a tremendous amount of self-awareness. Choosing to become a “better” mother by adopting traits that don’t feel authentic to ourselves but rather something someone wants us to be with only set us up for either disappointment in ourselves when we can’t make ourselves be different or feelings of inauthenticity that will lead to discomfort and potential resentment in our relationships. Wanting to be more present with our children because that’s something we value is a great mindset. But forcing ourselves to be Pinterest perfect mommy because we think it’ll make the family happy or make us well-liked is only going to end up more like a pinterest fail.
  • Can I cope adequately if I don’t even come close to meeting this resolution? How will it impact my sense of self-worth if I don’t achieve it? If you’re like me and have set the resolution to lose a certain amount of pounds each year and feel utterly disappointed when you don’t meet that goal this question is for you. I consistently have never met this resolution and it has immediately led me to thoughts of “I’m never going to lose weight,” “I’m so lazy,” or “I never follow through on things.” Because this became my yearly habit that sent me into a cycle of self-loathing and poor body image I’ve given up on new years resolutions that deal with weight altogether. This year my resolution is to start making healthier decisions more often than unhealthy decisions. I’m not going to focus on a strict eating or exercise plan but rather start asking myself at the end of each day- did I make more healthy decisions today? If not that’s okay, I try again tomorrow. The important thing is I’m thinking of it each day and agreeing to consider my physical health more often. This is the way I’m hoping to move towards better physical health while keeping this goal at a distance from my self-worth. Alter your resolution in a way that won’t set that self-defeating cycle in motion for you.
  • Is this resolution realistic, achievable, and able to be altered and adapted frequently without becoming disappointed and easily frustrated? It’s no secret that society puts a lot of pressure on us to achieve a lot rather quickly. We’re always looking for the quickest way to achieve something and even when we do achieve it we’re barely don’t popping the bottle of champagne before setting our sights higher. Think of how quickly people asked you when you were going to have another child after having your first. Sometimes I wonder how more simplistic our lives would be if you society gave up the need for instance gratification and “never enough” thinking. So this is where sometimes our resolutions can become too concrete. If you can’t alter your resolution to become more achievable its time to re-think your expectations. For example, “I won’t yell at my kids anymore” is not only unrealistic for some parents that struggle with this but also pretty unachievable if its become a habit. Making it more realistic such as “I’ll become more aware of how I’m communicating with my children by keeping a daily diary” is not only achievable but more realistic as a first step to decreasing yelling. Also if you set yourself for never yelling at your kids how will you feel if you yell at them one day? “I failed. I’m an awful mother. My kids deserve better than me.” We begin to resent ourselves with this thinking, we feel irritable, then our kids are demanding or not listening, and we yell because we’re irritable and feeling defeated. It becomes a vicious cycle. We have to use real honesty with ourselves about what we are capable of accomplishing and be willing to alter our goals as we go along so that we can feel capable of accomplishing them.

 

The reason re-thinking expectations is a form of self-care is because it gives us the ability to give ourselves room to breathe when it comes to our goals. Whether it’s a unexpected injury, struggles with mental health, or just realizing we set our sights a little too high we need to give ourselves the grace and space to change our expectations of ourselves and our lives. When we alter our expectations first we’re able to prevent the cycle of shame and negative thinking that accompanies failure. We’re able to recognize that although we may not have achieved what we initially intended we are worthy of re-evaluating based on what we can handle, what there is space for in our lives, and all the while realizing that none of it has anything to do with our worth as a person.

 

Self-Care Mondays #13: Go Ahead and Vent

We know with research that venting frustrations can sometimes backfire and only amp up resentments and bitterness. And although at times this is true there is also a lot of benefits to venting if done in the right way and for the right reasons. Venting frustrations can be a self-care ritual when done carefully and framed correctly.

Self-Care Mondays #13- Go Ahead and Vent

Venting is a release of our frustrations usually through conversation with another person. Usually releases of our frustrations can be a really positive thing as we all know keeping things bottle up can really lead to unhealthy choices, negative thinking cycles, and blowing up later.

 

So when you’re in need of a venting go ahead but think a few things first before you open the floodgates:

  1. Only vent to those that have earned the right to hear it. Putting our our feelings and insecurities can open ourselves for risks from people that don’t have our best interest at heart. It is important you only vent to those you fully trust and have earned your trust through past experiences like keeping confidence, showing nonjudgment and respect, or engaging in reciprocal vulnerability by sharing their own feelings with you.
  2. Search for validation from validating people. I know when I seek validation in my frustrations my husband isn’t the best candidate. This isn’t to say he is insensitive. Rather his approach to conversations about issues always revolves around finding the solution. Minimal processing and getting right to how to fix things is his MO. This is probably why he is such a great manager but sometimes it creates a feeling within me that my feelings about a situation are trivial and that doesn’t help me process what I’m experiencing or learn something about myself or a relationship with the process. Sometimes there isn’t something to be fixed and needing to process and let the feelings be for a little while before figuring a fix can be beneficial. So when I search for validation I find my close friends that have validated me before and seek their support.
  3. Seek to learn something about yourself or someone else. Venting for the sake of venting may make us feel better for a little bit but it most likely won’t have a long impact on those simmering emotions. When we vent for a purpose to come away feeling that we are understanding our perspective of a situation better by processing it with someone or by asking for a confidante to offer feedback we are learning from the situation rather than just dumping our feelings out. Always ask yourself after venting, “What have I learned? How will this knowledge impact me in the future?”
  4. If you don’t feel lighter after venting then its time to step back. If you don’t feel lighter or less emotional after venting then you could have yourself in a spiral of overanalyzing or insecurity about your feelings and/or past or future actions for the given situation. Venting can case a deep spiral where we become so wrapped up in our feelings about a situation things become fuzzy and we can’t find our way out. It’s best during these times to distract ourselves with something else, take a step back, and return to thinking about the situation or talking it through when our emotions are less intense.
  5. Be open to new perspectives. The great thing about venting sometimes is a unbiased third party can help you think of your situation and reactions from a different angle. If we don’t feel secure in our own feelings we can often become defensive and unwilling to see new perspectives when people offer them. So if a friend tries to get you to look at things from a different angle be prepared not to take it personally or misinterpret their response as invalidating your feelings.
  6. Be prepared for acceptance. Sometimes there are no answers to our vented frustrations. Sometimes bad things happen and there isn’t anything anyone can say to help you fix things. I’m resentful my daughter was born with heart defects and I can vent about that til the cows come home but it won’t change her heart. So remember that at the end  of our venting sometimes needs to come with realizing that things are the way they are and that after venting we have to start opening ourselves up to the acceptance of our situations. It’s a long process and not one to be rushed but holding on to those frustrations won’t serve us well either.

So go ahead, find someone you trust and let it fly, but be mindful, tread carefully and find purpose and wisdom in your thoughts and feelings. Happy venting 🙂

Wide Open

“Looks great. It’s wide open.”
Those were the words the cardiologist used to describe my 2 month old daugter’s aorta after open heart surgery. It was said with a beautiful relief. Something was as it should be. And we could breathe again.

It also described exactly how I have felt throughout parenthood and even more so in these last few months. I felt as if I was in out in the wide open with a foreboding sense of how vulnerable I am to attack. It became apparent to me since I heard the words “narrow aorta” at my 20 week ultrasound that what matters to me most in this world, my children, are with me in this wide open. They are vulnerable to illness, accidents, and harm. I can try to shelter them but nothing can fully protect them -not all the information, not all the right decisions, and in the end things may harm them and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

 

During the time my daughter was being assessed and prepared for surgery many people told me how strong I was acting. But I didnt feel strong. I put up some thick walls, I shifted myself into survival gear and I tried my best to navigate each day without falling apart. But I wasn’t feeling, I wasn’t experiencing, I shut down and closed up. I felt the need to protect myself. It wasn’t until I stepped out of that wheelchair and carefully placed my baby girl into the arms of the anesthesiologist that I realized there are no walls that can contain the strength of my love for my children. The doctor asked me to say goodbye and give her a kiss and she looked up at me with her wide eyes. Then the walls came crashing down and I turned towards the wall in the lobby as we waited for the elevators and sobbed. It was when I broke these walls down that I felt more capable of really being there for my daughter. I still cried when they put her feeding tube in after many attempts to get her to eat. I cried as I crawled into her hospital bed next to her when she was in pain that first night. I cried but I felt strong. I felt that I was truly with her and for the first time during the whole experience I didn’t want to run and hide.

Parenting is jumping into the deep end of the vulnerability pool. It puts you in the crossfire of insecurity, fear, judgment, and the ability to lose something you love even more than yourself. It’s gambling with everything you have but also knowing that if you lost it there would be no regrets. This wide open feeling, as scary and breathtaking as it can be, also comes with a feeling of being free, being whole, and truly understanding love. Even when it comes with a numbing fear or immense pain when something bad does happen it is all worth it ten times over. Each smile, laugh, milestone, hug and kiss is worth more in its weight than this fear.

But with this vulnerability comes a freedom only if we embrace it. We are free to love more deeply instead of distancing ourselves for protection. We are free to live more fully if we try to see the beauty in the hard times. At the end of the day this wide open love is there and can heal the deepest of our wounds with our connection to these beautiful creatures that are an extension of ourselves, biologically or not. We can learn to embrace all moments even the ones where we are in the waiting room waiting for the call from the surgical nurse, the ones when our patience is tested by their tantrums, the ones where they’ve come clean about a big mistake, and especially the ones where they are scared and need to know we are there. This wide open love allows us to say what every child deserves to hear, “this is hard, I’m scared too, but I’m not going anywhere.”

So here I am in the wide open trying not to put a shelter around me despite how vulnerable I feel, trying to open myself fully to the intensity of this love for these tiny humans, trying to lean into fear with courage because it only signifies he depths of my love. Parental love is like a wide open aorta, allowing the fullness of the human experience to course through us, to make us breathe, function, and thrive.
I love my children. And this love is scary, and beautiful and risky and fulfilling. And it’s just as it should be, wide open.

Self Care Mondays #12: Slow Down

We hear often the importance of slowing down and reducing the busyness of our daily lives. But how does one actually do that? Especially when our daily busy tasks seem so necessary. So when you don’t think you can move anything off your plate then a way to reduce the stress of the busyness and increase your self-care is to simply do these tasks   s l o w e r. 

Self-Care Mondays #12- Slow Down

Sounds crazy right? I thought so too. I’ve lived my life with the belief that doing things as fast as humanly possible frees up my time, time for self-care nonetheless. But as I’ve approached motherhood with this belief I have found that doing things hurriedly has not only robbed me of my enjoyment of the moment but has been a missed opportunity for self-care. Self-care while I am caring for my children. Relationships and interactions in and of themselves are self-care! They enhance our feelings of worthiness and belonging and fill our need for connection. So approaching our daily interactions and tasks in which we care for others with a slower pace helps enrich these experiences.

This epiphany, for me, came from learning more about the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) philosophy of parenting. Magda Gerber, the founder of RIE, stressed the importance of sitting back, slowing down, and simply observing our children. And now I have found that applying that philosophy to both my children and myself has given me a nourishment of my mind and spirit.

An example of this was when I was changing my daughters diaper the other day.  I told her as I was changing exactly what I was doing to prepare her and I slowly and deliberately thought about my tasks. It enhanced my connection with her as I caught her wide eyes and smiling face and looked at her. We started intensely at each other and I soaked in this connection. It filled my soul in that moment having that bond with my daughter.

My son was having a melt down about leaving the house and instead of putting his shoes on for him as he wailed and complained I simply looked at him. I held his eyes in mine and he reached for a hug. We held each other and I let go of getting to where we were going on time. In that moment we were deeply connected and I was calm.

I am finding that I am also trying to model it to my own children. My daughter was laying in her lounger and was wide awake. Usually I would see this and see a need for her to be stimulated, to be “doing something” with her time for her own development. But instead I sat back and watched her. She was opening and closing her hand. The sunlight was shining on it. And she was rubbing it against the mesh lining of the inside of her lounger. She was enjoying the moment herself, learning about the movement of her hand, the touch of the lining, the feeling of having the sunlight shine down upon you. So I put the toy down that I had picked up to put in her hands. I sat and marveled at her and in a way I was watching her grow before my eyes and allowing her to do it in the way she wanted and at her own pace.

I’ve started to deliberately move through the house at a slower pace. When I have a free moment and my mind is buzzing with what I should be accomplishing I focus on one task and do it slowly.

A part of me will always having racing thoughts and a quick moving mind. A part of who I am is a person who is active and wants to do so many things in this world and I embrace that. But doing these things at a slower pace lets me enjoy them more fully and appreciate the accomplishment rather than breezing by to the next course of action. And breathing in that moment when I am caring for someone, finishing something, or even washing a dish is a way I am saying to myself, “You are here in this moment, you are worthy to slow down and enjoy it, breath it in before it passes by.”

So in Magda’s own words let your mantra this week be, “Go slowly and with great patience.”

-Go slowly, and with great patience.-Magda Gerber