I love having some outside inspiration for writing. It makes me get outside my comfort zone and write about something that I might not have thought about. I also love link-ups because I meet so many great people!
When I was younger, I lacked self esteem. I remember a nervous girl, wanting so badly to fit in and be one of the “cool kids” but feeling like I’d never be good enough. In high school, I floated between different groups, hoping to find my niche. I was in the advanced placement classes, but felt inadequate because I wasn’t the smartest. I played varsity volleyball, but felt ineffective because I wasn’t one of the stars. I had plenty of boyfriends, but felt ugly because certain boys weren’t interested in me. Drinking alcohol helped me break out of my shell, because when you’re buzzed and blacked out, you don’t care what other people are thinking. Alcohol really was liquid courage for me, but it ended up being my worst enemy (2 sexual assaults while blacked out before graduating high school is not a proud achievement). I didn’t know who I was, so I tried on many identities in my search for the “right one.” None of them fit and I ended up with what felt like a split personality: the smart, hardworking, good girl who turned into the loud, smoking, crazy party girl when the alcohol hit her lips.
I made so many bad decisions when I was younger because I was afraid. Afraid of ridicule, afraid of being disliked, afraid of being alone. This is one thing that terrifies me as a mother: that my child might grow up to make decisions based on fear. My parents did the best they could for me; I don’t blame them for my problems. I know that there are marked differences between my childhood and my son’s childhood so far, but still I worry that I won’t do the “right things” to help nurture a strong sense of self in him. I want him to know who he is and not be afraid to make decisions that honor that – even if those decisions don’t go with the popular opinion.
There are so many things I wish I could tell that girl. If I could sit down with my younger self, I’d tell her:
Don’t straighten your hair. Your curls are gorgeous if you just leave them alone. YOU are beautiful without changing what you look like.
Don’t sleep with that guy. He doesn’t love you and you will not love yourself for doing it. You will not find your self worth in the arms of random men. Respect your body and don’t be afraid to say no. If he does leave you because you said no, he didn’t deserve you in the first place.
Don’t strive for perfection. It’s not possible. Be happy with where you are and what you have accomplished. You don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Being strong doesn’t mean suffering silently. Tell someone how much it hurts before it’s too late.
Don’t stop writing. It saved your life once and will keep wounds from festering. Writing is your voice in this world; don’t let your pain silence you.
The overwhelming support for my previous post on alcoholism inspired me to write more about my recovery journey. I am in the middle of working the Steps and let me tell you – it is hard work. The payoff is so worth it, though. In case any of you are not familiar with the 12 Steps, here they are (along with my progress):
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. Done
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Done
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Done
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Done – NOT FUN
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Done
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Done
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Done
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
While the organizer in me gleefully puts done next to the steps I’ve completed, the realistic part of me knows that all of these steps are completed on a daily basis. Complacency is my enemy – may I never get so comfortable in my abstinence that I forget I have a problem.
All the steps are important, and doing them in order is even more important. First of all, if you can’t identify there is a problem, you can’t be helped. Next, you have to believe that you are worthy of forgiveness by your Higher Power (HP). That step was hard for me – I couldn’t imagine forgiving myself, so why should anyone else (including an HP)? I had to let go of that control and realize that it was out of my hands. Once I did that, things started getting better. Then you turn your life over to your HP before moving on to the down & dirty work of Step 4.
Step 4 is the moral inventory, where you list all your resentments, what part you are responsible for and how you can do better. You do not want to tackle your moral inventory without having your Higher Power on your side – trust me on that. It can easily turn into a self-bashing, I-hate-myself mess. Then you discuss your wrongs with your HP and sponsor (Step 5). For me, this was very healing as I could finally talk about this stuff with someone who related because she had been there. No judgment, no shaming – just acceptance. Beautiful. I used my moral inventory to compile my list of character defects for Step 6, and after discussing them with my sponsor I asked my HP to remove my shortcomings. That is Step 7 and where I’ve been living for a few weeks now.
I’ve chosen to highlight my Step 6 because it seems like motherhood both mutes and amplifies my character defects. I didn’t know what intense emotions felt like until I became a mother, and then I REALLY didn’t know what intense emotions felt like until I became a mother free of compulsive thinking! Compulsive thinking allows one to act without thinking – it numbs you and prevents you from feeling the full effects of your actions. When I started working the Steps, I remember feeling so overwhelmed by everyday emotions because I was feeling them like a “normal person” for the first time. The feelings are still intense, but it’s no longer overwhelming because I’ve grown accustomed to it. It’s a beautiful thing.
This is my Step 6, as shared with my HP and my sponsor. The character defect is in bold and the “payoff” of that character defect is underneath it. The “payoff” is what I’m giving up by asking my HP to entirely remove it. I have also added how each character defect shows up in my mothering.
Step 6: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
Victim Don’t have to take responsibility for my actions This one didn’t show up in mothering per se (even I couldn’t blame the baby for something I did) but did show up in my co-parenting. I could very easily get angry at Bryce for something that I also contributed to (baby not getting a nap because we were out) but conveniently forget my part in it. I would also get resentful that he didn’t help out more, even though I hadn’t asked for help and I made it seem like I wanted to do it all. The control freak in me wanted to control all aspects of parenting, but the victim side in me wanted to blame him for allowing me to do it all. WTF, self? Now I’m more honest in what I need from him as a co-parent and if I start to feel resentful about something, I first search to see if I can share some of the blame.
Reactive Respond to situation without thinking; don’t worry about who I hurt This is a biggie and one I work on many, many times a day. Colt is a very spirited and independent child who has inherited much of his mother’s stubbornness. When he does something that I’d prefer he didn’t do, it’s so easy for me to fly off the handle and freak out. Prior to working the steps, I was more likely to yell and be unreasonably angry. This would, of course, scare him – which then would make me feel guilty. Nowadays, I try to take a deep breath first, and then respond rather than react to the situation. I keep my voice level and explain why I’m upset, rather than yell. I know that he is not yet capable of modulating his emotions, so as the adult it’s up to me to keep mine in check when possible. And when I do lose my cool, I make sure to apologize and explain that, while Colt shouldn’t have thrown the car at the wall, Mommy shouldn’t have yelled like that. Note: I am perfectly ok with yelling and scaring him if he’s doing something dangerous like running towards a parking lot. No apologies if I scare him then.
Insecure Build walls, keep people away, push loved ones away before they see I’m not good enough Insecurity is the hallmark of a mother, and I’m no different. For much of Colt’s life, I’ve doubted myself as a mother. A few decisions didn’t cause me any insecurity (breastfeeding). Others had me going back and forth on whether I was a decent mother or a terrible mother (diapering, sleep, baby wearing, foods, working…it goes on). I almost cut myself off from the Internet because every time I read something that was different than what I was doing, I felt like I was doing it wrong and felt like a failure. As I’ve gotten more experience in this mothering thing, I’m growing in confidence as well.
Workaholic I’m a good person because I work so hard I’m so eternally thankful that I realized this was a character defect so early in Colt’s life. I could have missed out on so much. Important: do not confuse ambition with workaholic. Me as a workaholic would put more energy into my job and coworkers than my family. I was willing to go the extra mile for my patients, but not my family. I would tell my son to wait while I answered one more breastfeeding question in the online group I helped moderate. I would go in on weekends, without asking how that made my husband feel. Work was another drug for me – something I could lose myself in and use as a buffer against the pain of reality. Now I see that being a sober mother is the most important job I could have.
Envy (insecure) The right thing/attribute will make me happy/make me a good person Envy goes hand in hand with insecurity. It’s SO EASY to see other moms and be envious of how they seem to have it “all together.” But, I know from experience that I looked like one of those moms from the outside, when inside I was a hot mess who was barely keeping it together. It’s also easy to be envious of things – if only I could afford that big fancy stroller/toy/vacation, my child/family would be happy too. NOT TRUE.
Perfectionism (insecure) Being the best is what’s most important. If you don’t do it perfectly, it’s not worth doing. Trying to be perfect makes me a better person Another facet of insecurity. There is no such thing as a perfect mother and it would be an exercise in futility to try to be one. I had to learn that one really quickly or go insane. But, I still managed to beat myself up for not being perfect at this motherhood thing. Today, I’m much gentler with me.
Procrastination I can avoid doing things that are uncomfortable or that I don’t want to do This one hasn’t shown up as much as the others. It’s hard to avoid changing a poo diaper when the toddler is crop-dusting the living room. Babies have a way of making their needs known, and they usually need them NOW. They’re pretty persuasive about being on their timeline, not yours.
Gossip (insecure) Put others down to make myself feel better, prove my superiority Yet another piece of insecurity and huge in the mother world. This comes both as gossiping about a specific person and gossiping about (judging) a whole group of mothers. I see this so much in my breastfeeding work. Infant feeding choice is one of the most emotionally charged topics out there. But, having strong emotions about a subject is no excuse for putting down another mother for making the opposite decision. We moms are our own worst enemy, when we should be champions for each other.
That was my Step 6…for this round. I’ll be revisiting this Step for the rest of my life – in fact, Step 10 is reworking Step 6 whenever needed. I’m not perfect, but I am perfect in my imperfection and willing to work toward the perfect ideals that the Steps state. I think that’s also a way to describe my outlook on mothering: I’m not perfect at it, and I’m ok with that, but I’ll always work toward that perfect ideal because I love my baby.
In an effort to cut my teeth as a blogger, so to speak, I’m challenging myself to join different link-ups. This one is simple: write for 5 minutes on a topic – no editing, no thinking, just writing. Then share it and check out what others have written! 5 Minute Friday does this every week. So, here goes nothing…
This week’s topic: Friend.
Why is it so hard to put words to this topic? Why does my heart ache and feel heavy when I try to think about what friend means to me? What do you do when you are so confident that someone will be in your life forever, and then they start slipping away? What do you do when you realize that you are the one slipping away? What do you do when it feels like the only glue holding you together are the memories of bygone fun? What if you’re trying to figure out how much of that past fun was good, and how much of it was part of the unhealthy you’re trying to get rid of? What do you do when you aren’t sure what friend means? What do you do when you’re so unsure, you’re stuck in one place? Why don’t you fight the sadness?
I breastfed my son until he was about 27 months. Or 2 years and 3 months, or 2.25 years, depending on your preference for discussing toddler age (I generally think that after age 2, it should be in years but between 2 and 2.5 there is a bit of a gray area). But I digress.
When I first started breastfeeding, my goal was 2 years (go big or go home, right?). 2 years is the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization, so I figured that was a good goal to adopt. Pretty ambitious for a first-time mom who had no idea what the hell she was doing. When the nurse said, “All right, let’s feed this baby!” about 30 minutes after he was born, my first thought was “Really? Already?” Nice work, self. He latched then, and after some ups and downs in the first few weeks, we settled into our breastfeeding groove.
One of my few pictures of nursing
As time went on, I decided I wanted to go to at least 2 years and however long he wanted after that. However, as his second birthday drew nearer, I questioned whether I wanted to let him wean himself (also known as child-led weaning). That child loved to nurse. We had one nursing strike our entire relationship, and that only lasted about half a day. When he started signing, patting my chest was his nursing sign. Later he started saying “Neesh!” Then it became “Nursh!” As he grew verbally, he’d say “I wanna nursh” or “I wanna nursh other side” when he wanted to switch. He knew what he wanted, and it was to nurse.
Meanwhile, I was starting to figure out what I wanted, and it was becoming clear that it was to NOT nurse. I struggled with my decision, but shortly after his second birthday I decided it was time to stop. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and it kind of felt like a chore. I was terrified that I was going to begin to resent nursing him. I did not want to end our relationship on a bad note, so I decided it was time.
So many emotions in play: Relief, that it was almost over; Sadness, because a big part of mothering (for me) was about to end; Fear, would I be able to comfort him without nursing and was I making a mistake; Worry, how was he going to take it and would I be scarring him for life; Guilt, how could I be so selfish in taking his beloved nursh from him.
Fast forward to weaning day [I’ll share the details of the physical part of weaning in another post; this is all about the emotional aspects]. I was so scared what would happen at bedtime when he asked to nurse and I said no. I expected a 4-alarm tantrum, hysterics, hell opening up and demons dragging me down (translate: I thought it would bad). I had my husband on stand-by, ready to tag in if the boy got too upset with me. he asked a few times, I gently said no, he got a little fussy, settled down after a few minutes and we cuddled until he fell asleep. Without nursing. What. The. Hell. While I was glad it went so easily, a small part of me was sad he seemed to give it up so easily.
Every night at bedtime, it was the same until a few weeks later, when he stopped asking. Only one time during that period did my resolve seriously falter. He was having an epic meltdown, and while sobbing in my arms begged to nurse. My heart broke, but my resolve did not. That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a mother. I felt selfish and cruel for denying him something he loved so dearly at a time he thought he really needed it. I’m glad now that I stayed strong; being inconsistent with nursing would’ve only made things harder on him. But man did I feel like an asshole at the time.
My emotions were all over the place shortly after weaning (let’s hear it for fluctuating hormones!). I’d known to expect increased feelings of depression and sadness because of the hormones. I was already taking medication for depression and seeing a therapist for other reasons, so I leaned on those resources to help with the additional stress of weaning and weaning hormones. I reached out to friends who had already gone through the weaning process and sought support from my breastfeeding support group. The best support came from my husband. He never pushed me one way or the other and always leant an ear when I needed to purge my feelings. He also constantly reassured me that I was a good mom whether I decided to wean or keep going.
One thing I did to help temper my feelings of sadness was to have my own little weaning ceremony. I read through some ideas at The Leaky Boob and settled on two that worked for me: create a weaning bracelet (jewelry-making is a hobby) and write a letter to my boy, reminiscing about our nursing relationship. I shared the letter to my nursling on this blog in order to memorialize our experience and give it a permanent home. Sometimes I read through it when I feel nostalgic; I enjoy the memories and feel doubly glad that I stopped before those memories turned sour.
I’m satisfied with how it ended. Sometimes I do feel a tad guilty for being the one who ended it (so much talk about the importance of child-led weaning in the lactation works), I have to remind myself of what I always told my mamas: There are two people in a nursing relationship, and your feelings are just as valid as the child’s.
I just reread my page on why I started this blog. I think I finally realized that I was lying to myself when I wrote it.
Yes, I do love uplifting and supporting other mamas. It hurts to see judgments being flung about. It hurts worse when I catch myself judging (not my finer moments). I thought I needed to create a place for moms to celebrate each other. I was so excited in the beginning, full of ideas and visions for the future. I bought the domain name, solicited guest posts, wrote a few myself, and then…nothing.
I could blame my absence on our move from England back to the United States. It was stressful, but not worthy of a 3 month absence from something I was passionate about. I started to wonder why I wasn’t blogging, but even this introspection didn’t spur me to write. In the past few days, I think I’ve figured it out:
I was focusing on other mamas, when I should have been focusing on myself.
Overall, I believe I’m a good mama. Some days its easier to believe that, while others I have to work really hard to convince myself that it’s true. My self esteem is on shaky ground, and it’s hard to feel like a good mama when you’re not 100% convinced you’re a good person.
I’ve spent most of my life searching for self worth in every place but myself: accomplishments, jobs, education, service to others. It’s netted me a pretty good résumé, but not the happiest of home lives. I’m working to reorganize the priorities in my life, and one of them is rebuilding myself and my family instead of building up others.
So, my new goal with this blog is to chronicle my growth as a mother. Maybe it will help someone along the way, but right now that’s just a bonus. Selfish? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.
“It is easier to do one’s duty to others than to one’s self. If you do your duty to others, you are considered reliable. If you do your duty to yourself, you are considered selfish.” — Thomas Szasz