Ali Brooks does amazing work! She leads an empowerment group for girls with Maureen Cassidy right here in Madison. She is also an amazing artist and social worker who works with women who have experienced trauma. Find her website here: Medicine for the Heart and find the link to her girls’ empowerment group here.
“I was livid at myself for having allowed myself for that many years to rely on somebody else to make my moral choices”
Maybe before you became a mom, you were a fucking lion at work and hammered out 12 hour workdays, ate leftover Indian for dinner and got weekly massages. Maybe you spent most of your monthly budget on lingerie and had Outlander-style fantasy sex with your partner every day.
Then after holding a sweet heavenly baby in your arms for the first time, your world underwent a seismic shift. You stopped caring about the things that were happening at work. Instead you hid behind your desk skyping your baby and knitting booties. You abandoned beautiful lingerie for whatever bra worked best for pumping. You got sad being away from home and couldn’t eat Indian food anymore because it gave you heartburn. And every time you had sex, you peed a little because your pelvic floor was a like a stretched out old rubber band someone left in the sun.
Amidst all this change in your life, it may occur to you that your priorities have changed too. You may be looking around and saying: “Well, who the fuck am I now?”
Goddess, yes, things are changing. Your life is changing. Your body is changing. Your priorities are changing. YOU are changing. It is tempting to hold so tightly to the way you used to be that you cannot see the gift of who you are becoming.
Who you are becoming is someone with different priorities. You have to be. There’s a person now or more than one person who requires you for bonding and play and learning and care and sustenance. We are important.
To move deeper into the majesty of ourselves, we need to let go of who we thought we were just a little bit and little bit more. Because motherhood changes us in every way and it is 100% ok to let motherhood change you. To allow your desires and preferences and needs to slowly or suddenly shape your life into a new thing.
Maybe you taper down to 8 hour days at work or maybe you use your savings to stay home for the first year. Maybe you start cooking casseroles for God’s sake and trade your massages for baby and mom yoga. Maybe you wear organic cotton over-the-head bras with thick nipple pads and spackle your nipples with balm while your lacy bras gather dust in the back of their drawers. Girl, it’s fine.
Accepting the ways your priorities change is so healthy and good and nourishing. Letting the love that bonds you to your child sweep over your life and transform it is a natural and necessary thing. It is not just transformative to your life but to the world. Because the world needs women who let the elemental forces of motherhood sweep through them, sweep through their relationships and priorities.
These elementals forces help shape the future into one where motherhood is important and profound and sacred. Just like that sweet baby is important and profound and sacred and just like you are important and profound and sacred.
You have the right to change your priorities and to trust that whatever you dive into in this precious moment in your life, the essence of you and your goddess beautiful self will remain perfectly, exquisitely you.
This is an oldie but a goodie and gets a lot of mileage in the mom world. In Paul Coelho’s words, “When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” Basically, know yourself. Prioritize what’s important to you. Then live that.
Suuuuuper easy. Hahahahahaha.
If you can indulge me for a bit, I’d like to walk with you down a little bit of a deeper interpretation of this. I brought water and trail mix: the kind with almonds and dark chocolate, not that bullshit peanuts and off-brand M&M’s kind.
We all get the surface meaning of this basic right. Say no to things that will wear you down, stress you out, or just aren’t important to you. Like, if you have a busy week, say no to making brownies for the bake sale. If your kid has the flu, say no to carpooling soccer for your neighbor. If you don’t want to drive across town after a long day, say no to book club tonight. Logistically, don’t fill your schedule up with things that will overload you. BUT, what if the importance of saying no goes deeper than that?
Understanding when and how to say no at a deeper level starts with understanding how to listen to ourselves so we know what’s important to us and what’s not. What is your yes/no spectrum? How do you say yes to life, to new experiences, to nourishment, to bold ways of being you AND say no to hurtful people, careless treatment, and stretching beyond your healthy limits?
This kind of discernment starts with practicing a deep and passionate love for who you are so that there is room for yes to come forward. Actively practice loving yourself. Identify things that make you feel good without question. As in: I lose 10 pounds of stress when I dance to Sean Mendes. I love walking in the arboretum. Putting mascara on makes me feel like a powerful influencer. My painting is my happy place.
Make some room for these big yes feelings. Remember yourself.
Equally important: make room for uncomfortable feelings you may not initially welcome. Things like: I can’t stand hearing my baby cry right now. I’m so angry my dad is passive-aggressive about my parenting style. I wish my partner would leave me alone right now. My eating is out of control and I’m scared.
These uncomfortable feelings need to be seen and heard too. Feelings are temporary, you are not. Getting to know your uncomfortable feelings and allowing them to be seen will help you know your real self, and love your whole self.
So far: discover what you feel and what you like. Discover what you’d rather not be feeling and things you dislike. I am making this sound so easy, but for those of us who molded ourselves based on who we thought we should be, it takes some serious dedication and practice. Thank God for yoga and friends.
Discovering your personal yes/no spectrum continues with making room for ‘no’ to come forward without pushing it to the side. You have preferences. It’s ok to hear what they are. Begin listening for your inner talk of:
I can’t say no to that or….
my partner will get mad
my friends won’t understand
my kids won’t like it
my colleagues will laugh at me
I might lose something
I might feel something I don’t want to feel
I might miss out
it could be a mistake
I won’t be pleasing others
I might hurt someone’s feelings
Hearing that inner talk and recognizing it as fear and old programming will make room for really, truly who you are to come forward. You might have a really strong “FUCK NO – I’M NOT DOING THAT” come forward. Or you may notice a gentle “I’d prefer not to, but I’m really ok with it.” What you choose to do with your preferences is then totally in your power.
This book: Getting Real is a stunning map of how to identify YOU amidst the chatter of your mind and feelings, and how to bring that you to the surface in a real way. It is so massively helpful in navigating self, life, thoughts, wanting things to be different, wanting people to be better, wanting yourself to be perfect, wanting anger to go away, needing to feel more connected. Just everything.
When you begin to know yourself and stop living your life based on expectations of who you should be or what you should do, saying no becomes a fun experiment.
What does no feel like in my body and mind? Tight shoulders? Stomach pains? Does a strong no feel different then a weak one? What does ‘yes’ feel like? Am I smiling? Excited? Relaxed? Do I feel sexy? Friendly?
Saying no is about you honoring you. The real you, the one in your big juicy heart. And won’t your kids be amazed to see this practice of self-discovery in action? They are so lucky to have a mom like you.
You love your kids. You are devoted, you work hard, you want them to have what you missed as a kid. You want them to have more, to know how loved and important they are.
Those things are true on days when you feel happy, loving it all. And it’s also true on days or weeks or months where you feel unfulfilled, lonely, stressed or boxed in.
Other feelings you might have about parenting but are afraid to admit it to yourself:
This is some deep shit. Those aren’t fuzzy feelings. One of the greatest dangers we face as parents is denying how we feel about parenting. If we only allow ourselves one feeling: “I love being a parent,” we suppress much of our daily experience. Squashing feelings down creates anxiety, depression, and physical imbalance.
Let’s just assume and know that the love is always there underneath whatever we are feeling day to day. If you are frustrated because your child just did something dangerous or reckless and you want to shout and swear at them but know that you can’t, where does that fear and frustration go? Your body holds onto it for you and is ready at any moment for you to acknowledge that it’s there, and find a way to release it through exercise, art, movement, breath, journaling, or whatever works for you to see yourself and acknowledge your experience. Just as we teach our kids, we need to recognize all the feelings, even the unfuzzy ones.
When I interviewed my mom about her birthing and postpartum experience, she shared that she went through a low postpartum period where she remembers rocking her baby back and forth saying to herself, “I love being a mom, I love being a mom,” scared by the words because she couldn’t quite feel them and she wanted to convince herself of their truth.
She knew there was love there somewhere, but what she was feeling in that moment was scared and sad.
Whatever feelings we go through about parenting, the love is always underneath. But if we don’t allow ourselves to feel the frustrations, anger, sadness, disbelief, fear, and helplessness that often come with raising kids, those feelings will keep asking to be seen until they are seen, so they can be released.
There are things I love about being a mom and things that are hard. Really hard. I sometimes feel resentful or sick to death of getting up early or burnt out on caregiving. Honoring myself through these feelings can help me access the joy and love underneath. It doesn’t have to be either/or. I love my kids and I feel tired. I love my kids and I feel sick of the tantrums. I love my kids and I feel angry they won’t eat the dinner I cooked.
Parenting is a long road, a forever road. To be well on the journey, we can be who we are and we can feel how we feel.