Dear Idealist: Life Can Be Messy and Good At The Same Time

To the idealist mother | Every idealist has a mental picture of what life is supposed to look like. Learn how to balance your hopes and real life without burn out or frustration. Click the picture for more.


Dear Idealist,

You see the world as a beautiful would-be, a dream to be fulfilled, an expectation to be lived up to. Sometimes, that's really great. You're a dreamer, a planner, a visionary, someone who hopes for the best and always pushes to achieve it. Without you, our world would quickly become stagnant, lost in the cares of today, or else drowned in negativity. We need you to keep asking what would happen if.

But...

Sometimes reality doesn't live up to the sight you beheld through your rose-colored glasses. Sometimes life turns unexpectedly in another direction. Sometimes the actual dream is too far out of reach, or even *gasp* not meant to be. What then? How do you keep up your idealistic optimism when you can't reach the goal? It's hard to be satisfied when the dream is unfinished.
I know. Because I'm also an idealist.
My idealism is a big part of why I deal with depression. I have this picture in my head of what life or marriage or motherhood is supposed to look like. I work and strive to make that picture a reality, but it rarely ends up looking just the way I wanted it to. Or it looks just like the picture for 4.7 seconds until the baby needs a nap and dinner needs cooking again even though I haven't done the dishes from last night yet. From one idealist to another, I have three things to say.


1. Life is a film, not a photo.
The problem with focusing on that picture in your head is that life never stands still like that. Just like a real, actual photoshoot, you might come away with a couple of perfect shots, but they don't capture the chaos that is smiling like a scary clown for an hour while waiting for the three kids to all look at the camera at the same exact moment, while your ragged photographer waves a diaper over her head to catch the babies attention because it's literally the only thing you had in the diaper bag. Like that photo session, life includes some really great moments, but it's 99% messy and loud and unpredictable.

Enjoy those perfect moments when they happen. But don't sit around waiting for them. Enjoy the craziness in between; the cheerios on the floor, husband and wife moments interrupted by a small cry from the next room, the bathroom sink that needs plunging because the kids tried to clean up the rice sensory bin on their own. Those are the real-life moments. No one strives to live up to these images because they're not exactly pretty. But that's life. Messy, inglorious, and beautiful.
2. There is no rewind on the film of life.
You don't get a second chance at this moment right now. There is no redo. This moment will be a memory before you know it. What kind of memory will you make it? I spent the first four years of motherhood in desperation; lonely, depressed, upset, and too-often frustrated. I wasted a lot of time, and a lot of it was stolen from me. Yet, despite all the hard times, I have some real gem-like memories from that season. I am who I am today because of that portion of the movie.

You won't get it right every time. You probably won't get it right most of the time. But you'll hit the goal sometimes. And in life, sometimes is pretty darn often. Enjoy it. You can't control everything, but you might miss it if you keep trying.
3. Know where you got the picture.
Who handed you the photo you've been trying to live up to? That's a difficult question to answer, but it's an incredibly important one. Even though life is a film, it is okay to have a standard you wish to achieve. Just make sure it's a standard you understand and truly value. If the images of perfect motherhood portrayed on social media are outlining your perfect image, toss it out the window on your way to Crazytown! You don't need that kind of unreachable pressure on your shoulders!

Know your 'why.' Why is it important to you that your family eats dinner at the table every night or that your kids get straight A's or that you stay-at-home or that you work full-time? Why does it matter that you head up the PTA or lead a bible study or bake the brownies for next week's sale from scratch with organic flour? I'm not saying any of those things are or are not worthwhile. It doesn't matter what the picture is. What matters is why it matters to you. Is it truly valuable to your family? Will this make you or your spouse or your children happier, better people? If the answer is yes, keep aiming for it. If it's not, well... toss it where you toss those dirty diapers.
Loosen up the reigns, just a bit.
Motherhood, marriage, and life, in general, are difficult enough pursuits apart from the added pressure of idealism. If you want to be content and enjoy the life you have right now, loosen up your expectations. That doesn't mean you have to let them go. Just let them become more flexible so you can enjoy all the awesome stuff before and after the perfect shot.

Sincerely,

Another Idealistic Mom

What did you think? Does this line up with your experience as an idealist and as a mom? What would you add for other idealists? Let us know in the comments.

 
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How To Get The Most Out Of This Mother’s Day

If Mother's Day has ever left you feeling disappointed, stressed out, or guilty, than this is for you! Mother's Day can be relaxing and filled with happy feelings. Learn more by clicking the photo.


Hey Mama!

It's been a while since you've heard from me. We just wrapped up an awesome month filled with amazing and helpful advice from other moms around the world. If you missed out on any posts, I've got them all stockpiled here so you can refer back to them anytime you need to.

I have to admit, I really missed being the one doing the writing! It was a great series, but it feels good to be talking to you again :)
How To Get The Most Out Of This Mother's Day
I have a story to share with you today, one I'm actually kind of embarrassed by, but I'm betting some of you can totally relate. Last year, I ruined Mother's Day. I know! It's Mother's Day, how could I, the mom, have ruined it? I'll get to that later, but for now, just know that I did... and I felt terrible afterward.



Mother's Day is a national holiday designed to help us remember and appreciate our mothers. But once you become a mom, it's a balancing act of appreciating your own mother, mother-in-law, grandmothers, etc. and being appreciated by your kids and, if he's a good one, your husband or significant other. Last year, I swayed way over to the me-me-me side of things. I bought my mom and grammy a hanging basket or something and then sat around waiting for my husband and two young daughters to make my day. And let me tell you, I spent the whole day feeling let down and guilty. I was disappointed because my priorities were all kinds of out of line.

Granted, I was in a much different mental health space a year ago than I am today. I was desperate to be seen, to be known and to know who I was meant to be. My health issues were at the root of my entitlement, but I wish I knew then what I know now. Mother's Day isn't the only day of the year to be appreciated. You are valuable and important, Mama, and your family wouldn't function without you on any other day of the year. So here are simple tips to get the most out of your day in May.


Cut Your Hubby Some Slack:
Your husband is working just as hard as you are, just in pretty different ways. He is not a mind reader, nor does he have the ability to change who he is for one day. Accept him as the man you fell in love with and try to appreciate the work he does put in. Don't give him a hard time for his last minute attempts or nag him to get you just the right thing. Here's my challenge to you: Don't even tell him what you want unless he asks.

Last year, I told my hubby exactly what I wanted for Mother's Day. As a result, he spent all of the Saturday before traipsing from one store to the next with our kids in tow looking for my very specific request. When I got that thing I asked for, it wasn't special. It just felt like he ran an errand for me. I was left feeling disappointed, and the worst part of it was he's naturally a really incredible gift-giver. He probably would have come up with something way better if only I had given him the chance. This holiday isn't about getting that new purse or a mani-pedi from your man. It's about being with your family and letting your kids love on you.
Lower Your Expectations:
If you pre-plan your whole Mother's Day in your mind before it happens, I promise you will be disappointed no matter what they do or don't do. Try to dismiss those expectations so that you can enjoy the day for what it is. So your kids made you breakfast in bed and it's soupy and burnt at the same time? They made you breakfast! How cute is that!? Let those moments become precious treasured memories rather than disappointments.
Hug Your Babies
The other thing I did last year to ruin Mother's Day was ask... are you ready for this, cause it was really stupid... for time alone. I did! I asked for time alone on Mother's Day. My kids were confused and, I didn't realize it until later, felt like they'd done something wrong to make me not want to hang out with them on the day they'd been told was their day to love on me. Don't make my mistake. Ask for time alone on a random Thursday. On Mother's Day, stay in bed a little longer and cuddle with those precious beauties. Let them brush your hair and massage your hands. Croon with delight over their drawings and hand-made gifts.

They'll only be this little right now. One day, they'll have babies of their own and your gifts may be limited to a call or mail order flowers. Hug them close today, while they're all yours. Cherish those memories while they're still moments to be lived.


Give Your Mom the Mother's Day You've Been Hoping For
If you've pre-planned your whole Mother's Day, take those plans and make them happen - for YOUR mom! Just because her kids are grown and moved out of the house doesn't mean she doesn't have these same wishes and desires for her Mother's Day. And just because you're grown and have your own kids doesn't mean you don't still owe your mom a debt of gratitude. I appreciated my mom a thousand times more after having kids of my own!! So this year, I'm doing for her what I wish my kids and hubby would do for me.
Make A List of All The Good Things The Last Year Has Held
If, despite all this advice, you find yourself still feeling deflated come Mother's day, ask your family for a few minutes in time out (for you, not them) and retreat to a quiet bedroom. Make a list of all the things that happened in the last year which you're grateful for. Spend just 10 minutes practicing gratitude and I guarantee you'll come out of that room refreshed and back in the right mindset for the rest of the day.
But Most of All...
Take a second to thank each of your kids and your hubby for trying. Whether they got you a full day at the spa or a new toaster, say thank you. Smile like you mean it. If your family is anything at all like mine, they show you how much they love and appreciate and need you on more days than just this one. Let's not make our families feel guilty for trying, even if they failed.

Have you ever ruined Mother's Day? I'd love to hear about it in the comments, if for nothing else than to make myself feel a little better! ;)

Blessings,
Jessi
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The Importance Of The New Mom’s Social Life

The Importance of The New Mom's Social Life | It's so easy to feel like you're all alone when the baby won't stop crying, the dishes and laundry are piled high, and you're friends are too nice (or too scared) to drop in on you. You are not alone! And you need to get back out there and make time for your friends again. Find out how by clicking this link.



Motherhood Comes With Plenty of Worries
Motherhood can be daunting. But I also believe it depends on our perception, how we perceive our life to be after motherhood. When I look back on the early days of my own motherhood journey, I feel I could have done things differently. I was very paranoid after I gave birth to my daughter. Often, I would run back to the room after getting a drink of water, even if she was sleeping. I was unable to leave her alone for a second and was always worried about her well being.

Big Life Changes Lead Me To Step Out More
When my daughter was 4-years-old, we moved to a new city. It was a big change for us as a family. My daughter began attending preschool. I am a shy person initially so it was very difficult for me to strike up a conversation with other moms at her school. I had to step out of my comfort zone in order to kindle relationships and find support from other moms. While attending functions at the school, I found like-minded moms, and then we had so much to discuss that it became easy to adjust to a new city.
So today, I want to help other moms do the same. I will share a few tips on how to keep your social life active long after the baby comes.

Strong Friendships Ease the Transition Into Motherhood
The best way to enjoy motherhood and the change is to have an active social life. Friends enrich our lives and provide a listening ear, a helping hand at every stage. So, why not after motherhood? It is the time when you need your friends the most as motherhood is the most unique change in our lives. Strong friendships can provide us a life jacket when we are drowning in the responsibilities that being a new mom brings.
There seems to be is a stigma surrounding parenthood that says your life changes and you can’t enjoy friendships the way you did before. It means there is no socializing, no night life. I bought into that stigma and suffered. In the initial months, I didn’t interact a lot with my friends until one day, I decided I needed to get back to my old life. It wasn’t that easy, but I had wonderful friends around who made it possible.



Now, most of my friends were parents also, so they understood my situation. However, many of you may have single friends or friends without kids. It may take more effort to connect with those friends.



New Friendships Make Parenthood Even Better
It is not easy to find like-minded moms and become friends. This often requires patience and acceptance of the fact that you could be rejected. For a shy person like me, making new friends requires effort and usually doesn’t happen on its own. It might be uncomfortable sometimes but it is absolutely necessary that we shun all our inhibitions while looking for people with whom to share our parenting stories and enjoy being with. You might not necessarily click with every mother you meet but you need to keep putting yourself out there.
When we moved to the new city, I started going out for playdates with the moms I met and their kids, so my daughter also made new friends and adjusted to the new surroundings. I also signed up for Yoga classes, and I made amazing friends there too. Yoga helped me have a healthy body and mind. More than that, it gave me a chance to interact with so many people.

It’s Not Selfish To Make Time For Your Friendships
Many moms feel it’s selfish to choose to have leisure and fun time away from the kids. In the initial months, I too struggled to keep that guilt away. But, with time, I realized that I was a better mom after spending some fun time with my friends. Also, by fostering friendships, we are teaching our children to value personal relationships and develop social skills.
If you are a working mom, it becomes even more difficult to find that leisure time. You may feel bugged with the guilt of leaving your child and going to work. It is certainly not easy to make time for friends with the competing demands of a job, home and kids. But it is worth it to take some time off for yourself and indulge in some late nights out with friends on a weekend at least once a month. You might also build friendships with other moms from your workplace.

How To Make Time For Friendships With Your Kids In Tow
As my new mom friends and I got to know each other, we arranged meetings for nights out at each ther’s homes so the kids could sleep even if it got late. We tried not to always speak about our children when we met, consciously making an effort to talk about other things we cared for as well. It helped us relax a lot; taking our minds off parenting and getting back to our old lives, the women we were before we became mothers. And, since I had moved to a new city and all these were new friends, we had so much to find out about each other.





Find Your Mom Tribe
The most surprising change that motherhood brought for me was when I started blogging. I started writing on various parenting platforms and made so many virtual friends. I had interesting conversations with my virtual friends and met a few mothers personally later on. That inspired me to start my own blog and here I am, sitting in India, writing for a US based website. Here we are, 8 mommy bloggers who are part of this amazing Healthier Mom Life Series. What else can I say? It’s just a happy feeling to interact with so many parents from around the world.
The only thing I have left to say to all the new moms out there is this: don’t feel guilty to have a leisure time. The laundry can wait too. Build new friendships and rekindle the old ones. Have fun.
Happy Parenting!
 



About The Author
Aesha Shah is a blogger by passion and a teacher by qualification. She’s an avid reader whose passions are writing and traveling. She is a mother to an 8-year-old daughter and her world revolves around her family.She started to blog on various parenting platforms to share her experiences as a mother and gain some from other parents and later went to set up her blog on parenting,  www.aboutparentandkid.com, this year. Follow her on Facebook.



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Weekend Getaway: Why You Need One ASAP and How to Make It Happen


A weekend getaway can be a great way to reset
I've been in a pretty good mental space over the last couple of months but when the opportunity to go on a weekend getaway with my mom came up, I jumped at it.

We flew to Arizona to help my grandma celebrate her 75th birthday. It was really great to spend the weekend with them, but I had to leave my kids and husband behind. Three days without my kids. Three days of contact only through a pixelated screen. Seriously, thank goodness for technology! I was delightfully surprised to find that I didn't miss my kids nearly as much as I expected to.


The mom life is hard work
Taking care of your children, while fulfilling and important, is really hard work! You're on call around the clock and your needs usually fall somewhere behind everyone else's. Self-doubt, mom guilt, loneliness, and depression are just a few of the things you may begin to feel when you aren't making time for you.
Taking time off can sometimes be harder than not
I often take time away from the house for writing or meeting up with a friend, but when I first started doing that, it wasn't easy. I would spend hours debating whether I should call a friend or spend the time alone, whether I should go sit at a coffee shop or go for a walk or try to get a pedicure. I'd build up so many expectations that I would often return from my alone time feeling like I had wasted it or, else, find myself wandering around the grocery store rationalizing it as me-time.

When you give yourself a whole weekend away, you can get over those tendencies to use your alone time on errands without kids (lame!) and start using that time to rejuvenate your spirit, remember what you love to do, and do it!


How To Plan The Perfect Weekend Getaway:
Step 1: Stop planning for it to be perfect
Let it be what it is. Keep your expectations low, but plan to have a good time. Give yourself the freedom to nap (I almost always crash when I have a couple hours of downtime) or to eat what you want when you want or to do nothing at all. Leaving margin in your travel plans allows you to relax and go with the flow, which is exactly what you need, Mama!
Step 2: Be true to where you're at
If you can't spend a ton of money on a big getaway, find a way to do it on the cheap so you don't waste time feeling guilty about it (or worse, pay for it plus interest afterwards!) If you need time away from people, plan a solo or partner trip with someone who fills you up, like your spouse or best friend. There are times to plan around other people and there are times you may need to be totally selfish in order to really relax. Learn to distinguish between the two and be okay with putting yourself first for once.
Step 3: Put the to-do list away!
Plan and prepare for your trip and then put that expectation-inducing-list away for good. Let the weekend roll by. Let yourself relax, agenda-less, for at least a whole day. This time is about decompressing, letting go of responsibilities, and taking care of you and only you, Mama. Just chill.

[caption id="attachment_312" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Don't mind the blurriness #selfiefail[/caption]
Take care of you
Wherever you end up going and whatever you end up doing, make sure it's something that makes you happy and fulfilled and doesn't cause you a ton of stress. Some stress is normal when you're traveling, but don't let yourself get caught up in the little things. Only you know what makes you most relaxed so, while I can share some ideas, only you can decide what's best for you.


What's your ideal getaway weekend?
Need Rest?
Try relaxing at the beach, soaking in the sun. Head to a snowy mountain cabin with a book and lots of firewood. Drive into the city and spend the whole day chilling in a coffee shop or browsing a museum.
Need Purpose?
Join a short-term missions group; see another place and give a little of yourself. Volunteer at an event or ministry where you feel needed and valuable. Visit an elderly family member and spend the weekend doing what they do.
Need A Change of Scenery?
Go camping or hiking. Visit a state or national park (and take loads of pictures to share!). Visit a nature preserve.
Need People?
Visit family far away. Head into a big city, like LA, New York, or Vegas, and get lost in the hustle and bustle of humanity. Take along your best friends and/or your spouse.
Self-care is others-care in disguise
Whatever you do, do it knowing that a little break will make you a better mom. A happy mom can give so much more of herself to her kids and hubby because she has so much more of herself available. Your self-care is directly linked to your ability to care for others, so don't neglect you, Mama!

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The Surprising Effects of Screen-Free Kids on Mommy’s Mental Health

The Surprising Effects of Screen-Free Kids on Mommy's Mental Health | Learn how taking away their tablets and shows helped me be a happier, more fulfilled Mama.

Kids and Media
We all know it's better to talk to our kids than to plunk them down in front of a television. We all know that reading aloud to our kids is better than having a read-aloud book or robot voiced ebook read to them. But when we're tired and lonely or battling depression or anxiety, it's really hard to fight the urge to occupy them.

I'll be honest about my battle here: At our worst, my toddlers spent as many as 7 hours a day in front of a screen, be it television or interactive media in the form of a tablet or phone. While trudging along through two infants, 16 months apart, and battling postpartum depression, the sanity provided by the iPad probably saved my life. It certainly helped me get by. But it also left me feeling guilty... Really guilty. It took me three years to figure out how to battle my depression successfully. That was three years of tablet babysitters. Three years worth of interactive media from which to break free.


Setting Boundaries
When I finally got treatment and found myself in a healthy place, my husband and I decided to purchase the Amazon Kindle for our kids because it has a built-in timer and excellent parental controls. Rather than sending my girls upstairs with their tablets and calling them down at some arbitrary time hours later, I could set a 2-hour daily timer so that they, and I, wouldn't lose track of time. It helped me stay accountable. And it worked for the season I needed it to work.

Then my oldest daughter started having nightmares. I did everything I could think of to help her with her nightmares, but nothing seemed to work. Shows as educational and innocuous as Octonauts were giving her wake-up-screaming nightmares every single night. My husband and I were desperate for change.

The answer we landed on made me more nervous than I thought it would.


We decided to take away their tablets.
Just for one week. One week of screen-free play time. One week to purge their little brains of the media they had been consuming constantly since they could barely even talk. It was a one-week hail mary to clear my little girl's brain of all her scary thoughts.
And you know what? It totally worked!
By the very next night, my little gal slept through the night without a single scary dream. And the next night, and the next, and the one after that. But it didn't stop there. We saw even more benefits in the form of their behavior and sociability and creativity. And it wasn't nearly as life-changing for me as I expected it to be.

The Benefits of Screen-Free Kids


They became more socially adept:
They play together better. There is way less fighting and way more cooperative play. My girls are close enough in age that they've always played together pretty nicely, so I was honestly surprised to find that, in the absence of screens, they formed an even closer bond.

Longer attention spans:
Together or separate, they play with one toy longer, stick to one storyline longer, and rarely ask me for a new thing to do. They're more independent and it actually worked out that I'm able to get more housework and more writing done while they play on their own.

Increased creativity:
This may actually just be due to the developmental stage they're at, but they make up and act out new (non-movie) storylines every day. Artwork and writing have become primary activities which they can happily spend hours doing. Rather than tracing a letter on a screen, they are writing words with actual paper and pencil.



Nightmares banished:
It has been a month since we've ditched the tablets and my eldest has only experienced one night with a scary dream. Compared to the 2-3 nightly wake-ups before, this has been amazing!

Decrease in the "Gimmies":
They don't see any commercials or mainstream cartoons, so they don't even know about the latest and greatest, let alone ask for them. When we walk past a store's toy section, they like to look and admire the pretty dolls and animals, but they don't have the influence of the media telling them they need all those new things. It's pretty darn fantastic.

Decrease in Mom Guilt:
I used to spend hours agonizing over the feeling that I was failing my kids. Or else, I'd feel so guilty I would have to force myself to stop feeling in order to cope. I totally understand the whispers of depression that say you don't have a choice, you can't survive without it, or even that it's better than what you, Mama, can offer. But it's not true! You can do this and you can survive the transition!


For more help, get in touch with a therapist or call a helpline 1-800-273-TALK. 

The Costs:


Decrease in built-in "Me Time":
Without those two hours of silence, I've had to get more creative with my days. When I need time to myself now, I ask my husband to take care of bedtime so I can meet a friend for coffee or do one of these self-care activities. I also set out special activities for times when I need to get work done. Quiet time boxes can be super helpful for little ones, as well as monthly craft boxes like Koala Crate.

Messier House:
My kids are living and playing more, which means they leave more of a mess in their wake. For me, it's a small price to pay for all those benefits and I remind myself of that every time I trip over a toy. And if the mess becomes a deal breaker, you can institute a toy storage system like we did to help control the chaos.

We won't go back
Sometimes things as simple as arranging a quiet time box for the afternoons can be enough to shift your whole perspective. I know I always feel ten times better waking up to a clean kitchen than a dirty one. It's the same with screen free kids. When I see them playing together or building a fort with every pillow and blanket in the whole house, there's this deep-seated mom happiness that shines through all the other gunk I might be feeling.

And, because there's always someone, let me say: I'm not at all what you'd call tech-phobic. I'm a blogger married to a web developer, after all. Our livelihood depends on the internet and constant connection with the world. Because of that, I understand that my kids will need to know how to use things like tablets and computers. I have no intention of keeping them away forever but, for now, I'm happy to limit screen usage to the occasional car trip or family movie night. I have awesome kids and giving them the gift of a screen-free childhood is worth the extra effort required on my part.

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi


Other parents on the subject of Screen-Free Kids:
"This was the wildest thing: They played together so much better...It seemed like they were more friendly, more sociable with each other. It's not a scientific study, but they came alive, if you will, for those months."

"And their approach to relaxation was so different from mine. When we finished exams, I would plunk down in front of the TV and just zone out—whereas they would make art, read, go for a run, call friends…. it just didn’t occur to them to relax in front of the television."
How much do you depend on tablets or television? Would you ever consider a screen-free week with your kids? Let us know in the comments.
 
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$10 off your first-month subscription



 
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How I Learned to Embrace My Body

Learning to embrace my body was a major step in finding mental and emotional well-being. It's not easy, but you can do it!


I just finished watching Taryn Brumfitt's incredible body image documentary, Embrace. Have you seen it yet? Wow! (warning: there are a few instances of language and some nudity--it is about body image, after all...) I just had to sit down immediately to get my thoughts on paper (or the screen, in this case).
I Take My Body Shape For Granted
First, I should begin all of this by saying that I've never had major body issue struggles and I absolutely take that for granted. Seriously, the things so many of you Mamas deal with make my insecurities seem ridiculous. In the same vein, our insecurities are crippling for exactly that reason: We compare ourselves to each other, letting guilt and shame dominate our emotions about our bodies.

The thing that struck me the most after watching Embrace was the fact that I never considered writing about body image here on BohemiMama. That's how often I think about it. But as I listened to other women's stories and heard these beautiful girls and young women talk about their bodies using words like 'disgusting' and 'ugly' and 'horrible,' I couldn't NOT talk about it! Especially since mental health is such a large part of what I'm so passionate about. How you view yourself is a major factor in your mental health.

So I'm going to talk about it today. I'm sharing my personal story and a few photos. I haven't been through a dramatic before and after apart from pregnancy. I recognize that my story is not woeful and I have not walked through the fire of body shame, but the story is mine. I'm certainly not looking for sympathy. Quite the opposite, in fact. I hope my story encourages you to find a way to accept and embrace your body. So please be kind with any comments and shoot me an email if you really have to get something off your chest. Thanks in advance. Also, this is a long one, so get comfy.
Body Image As A Young Woman
I'm the daughter of a teen mom.  My mom has always been young and fit and beautiful. I grew up being constantly told how much I looked like her so, naturally, I perceived myself as young, fit, and beautiful. (Side note: This should tell us a TON about how our daughters are learning about their own self-image from us, their Mamas! Kindness to yourself is kindness to your beloved girl.) As a teenager, I was 5'8", 140 lbs, lean, and pimple free. I wasn't popular by any stretch, but I had a solid group of friends who accepted the real me, so I was able to maintain a relatively high self-esteem. I had my insecurities, of course. I've been in glasses since I was a year and a half old and contacts, despite my two attempts at switching over to them, just don't work for me. In addition, I had curly, frizzy hair, small boobs, and a high forehead.
Gaining the Freshman Fifteen
After high school, I gained the obligatory 15 lbs due to whatever mysterious curse befalls woman upon moving out of their parents' homes. I also developed mild adult acne by the time I was 20, leading to a series of different acne treatments, none of which worked particularly well. Diversifying my diet to more than Totino's Pizzas and Costco muffins helped me to drop those mysterious extra pounds. By the time I got married at 23, I was basically the same size and shape I had been in high school. I had my first baby at 25 and my second at 26 and I now know that I will never be the same. Ever.

[caption id="attachment_224" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Shortly after getting married, early 2010[/caption]
Pregnancy Changes Your Body Forever
A baby changes you. Two babies change you forever. I can't imagine what three babies must do. My hips are wider, my thighs are flabbier, my stomach has twice as much skin as it needs and it's scarred and stripped beyond recognition. Pregnancy wasn't easy for me. I always imagined being one of those women who adores being pregnant and walks around with a grin on her face all day long. Instead, I was too exhausted to enjoy it. I gained 60 pounds, the same weight as an eight-year-0ld kid. Miraculously, I somehow dropped all the weight in the 6 months between pregnancies (yay, breastfeeding and no, we didn't plan to have them that close) and then gained all 60 pounds back with my second.

[caption id="attachment_223" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Pregnancy One in 2012 (left) and Pregnancy Two in 2013 (right)[/caption]

The second time around, I felt just as wiped out, but I had a baby to care for. I had to take much better care of my own health, even denying the strongest of cravings: cream-filled donuts. I know! After my second, I had moderate post-partum depression and I didn't lose the weight as quickly or as completely as I did the first time. My maternity clothes were far too big and my old clothes were still too tight. One year later and 15 lbs over my old weight, I realized that this might just be the new me.
The New, Flabby Mom Body
I would stand in front of the mirror pinching my stomach skin, daydreaming about how I used to look, wishing I had appreciated my old figure more. As my babies weaned and my breasts emptied, my over large nipples sagged toward the floor and I missed my small, but perky, youthful boobs. Knotted varicose veins run from my groin to my ankle on one side, though I am considering corrective measures for those. Ouch! Not to mention, the remnants of back pain from all the extra weight I had carried in the front.

I did everything right and still couldn't lose the weight. We ate a whole food diet; no white flours, no refined sugars, lots of fruits and vegetables. I ran around all day chasing my babies, working in the garden and cleaning a constantly messy house. I joined a gym. I started cycling, even completing an 85-mile ride over the Coastal mountains of Oregon. Despite my best efforts, those extra pounds clung on. In addition to my body image issues, the depression I had been dealing with since my early 20's was the worst it had ever been (probably contributing to my body image issues...).

[caption id="attachment_226" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Late 2016. This is a rare photo of me without a child or other person strategically placed in front of me. My wardrobe is now a medium instead of a small. But one letter on my label doesn't define me.[/caption]

 
Coming to Terms With My New Body
My depression climaxed just last summer and I finally started seeing a therapist. (Best decision ever! Seriously, Mama, money very well spent!) But even now that I'm mentally healthy again, my body still wears the scars of pregnancy. But I'm not unhappy about it.

In fact, I've grown to love my body. I really have. There are moments when I'd like to have firmer breasts or less jiggly thighs and I probably won't be going out in a bikini (not that I would have before anyway). But those aren't things I think when I look in the mirror. When I see my stretch marks, I remember the feel of my babies rolling inside me, the smell of their newborn hair, and the velvety baby skin that's unlike any other texture in the world. When I see the fine lines around my eyes, I think of all the times I've laughed with my mom, my husband, my girls, my grandmother, all the joy I've been privileged to feel. When I see the thick blue veins crisscrossing the tops of my feet, I remember all the places, the countries, the sights those feet have carried me to.
Accept the Body You Have
And so, I stopped trying to change my body. I still exercise and I still cycle and I still chase my babies around the house. But I don't do it to lose the weight. My priorities don't lie in what my abs look like or if my stomach skin will ever shrink back to normal. I do it because it makes me feel good and it keeps me healthy. I realized that unless I was willing to work out almost obsessively, I wasn't going to be able to significantly change my body. And, honestly, there are many other things I'd rather do with my time. To those of you who love working out that much, I think it's awesome. Keep up the good work! That's just not me. I'm a writer. Instead of changing my body, I just went shopping. I bought clothes for this body because it's the one I have. And it's worth it.


Embrace Your Body - It Helps You Do the Important Work
The most important thing I have to say today is this:

You, Mama, you are beautiful, but more than that, you are important. You are valuable. You are irreplaceable. You, Mama, are doing the best work on earth. You are needed. You are intelligent. You have gifts and goals and dreams that are unlike anyone else's, on the whole planet. You are unique. You are bold. You are courageous and capable of more than you know. Your body is the thing in which you dwell and which enables you to do the important things.

To quote Taryn, Mama, "Don't waste a single day of your life being at war with your body. Just embrace it."

Thanks for sharing your journey as I share mine.

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi

How can we help each other to embrace the bodies we have and learn to love them for what we can do with them?

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