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Over the past five years, a certain realization formed and congealed, rising to the surface of my consciousness: I like myself.
I like myself.
This is a pretty staggering turn of events, considering I never liked myself growing up. I felt awkward in my body, awkward in my life. I felt as if I were standing on the outside, looking at everyone from a foreign vantage point, wondering where exactly I fit in. I slipped into different identities as if I were trying on different outfits. But now, finally, at almost 29 years old, I know who I am. And what's more, I like who I am.
When I'm thinking clearest, when my heart is most open, I see tremendous potential to be the loving, boundary-enforcing, kind and compassionate mother who could raise an equally loving, boundary-enforcing, kind and compassionate human.
Except for the times when I don't feel like myself, of course. Days when I'm stressed, when my codependent tendencies get triggered, when I let people trample over my boundaries, when I feel depleted and resentful and inwardly focused. In those moments, I'm not my best self. And I don't want my boy growing up to remember that version of me. I've worked too damn hard and learned too many hard-earned lessons to allow that version of myself to be the example, the norm.
But it's not easy to break trans-generational patterns and dysfunctions, analyze my intentions and breathe deeply when it's way easier to unload my anger on the nearest standing relative.
So what exactly is making me a not-as-great version of myself? With a little self-awareness, it's easy to see the triggers in motion:
1. I'm low on cash
When our most basic needs aren't met, we operate in survival mode. Fight or flight. Us vs. Them.
If you've ever struggled with money—whether it's living paycheck to paycheck, losing a job or tallying your groceries as you shop because you only have a certain amount in the bank—you know how consuming that kind of stress is. For me, it's insurmountable. I look at these low-income neighborhoods with generations of poverty, I see the chaos and destruction and violence, and I think of course. When our most basic needs aren't met, we operate in survival mode. Fight or flight. Us vs. Them. And that's not the kind of environment I want to raise my sensitive boy.
And so now that he's in school, my main goal is financial independence, not only for the peace of mind, but for the peace in the house.
Perhaps we don't need studies to tell us these things; we know how foggy and snappy we can be when we're tired.
And so I've abandoned my night-owl writing sessions that left me drained and groggy the entire next day. I'm committed to getting at least 7 hours a night, and I set my alarm for at least an hour before my son typically gets up. That way he'll wake to a bright-eyed mom rather than a grouchy, grumpy, about-to-snap-where's-my-coffee mom.
3. I'm depleted
Knowing that being my healthiest self is the very best thing I can do for my child.
Women, specifically mothers, are often held to a cultural ideal of selflessness. If we're not helping everyone around us before we help ourselves, then we're not Good and Nice. If you were raised like me, you might find yourself treading into "people pleasing" territory—signing up for too many activities, saying "yes" when we ought to say "no," stretching ourselves thin for our families and friends.
But when I'm depleted, I have nothing left to give. I feel empty.
Enough of that nonsense. In order to give my best, I need to be full—full of life, of happiness, of positivity. And so I make time for me, knowing that being my healthiest self is the very best thing I can do for my child.
4. I'm distracted
If I'm sucked into Facebook, writing a blog post or mindlessly scrolling through the happy faces of Instagram, I find myself to be snappier and more irritable—and I'm not alone in that. Study after study shows that our digital distractions negatively affect our moods as well as our children's. They feel angry, sad, frustrated, unimportant.
It's the look on my son's face when he looks back to say, "Mom did you see that?!" and my eyes are absorbed in my iPhone screen.
It's the exasperated sigh when he hears another, "Hold on, one minute!" as I finish typing something in a private Facebook group.
Our children crave connection, simply by the nature of being human beings, and so our disconnection and distraction doesn't make us the kinds of parents our children want or deserve.
5. I'm hungry
Gone are the days of ignoring my own biological needs in the name of being "busy" or "selfless." If I don't nourish my body, no one else is getting the nourishment they deserve. And after getting my vitamin levels checked, I found myself severely low on Vitamin D3—a vitamin whose deficiency is known to cause a slew of health-related issues, including depression.
Feed yourselves, mamas. It's a non-negotiable reality of owning a human body.
6. I haven't exercised
If I don't get my time to exercise, everyone loses.
After having my son, it took a full six years to get into a consistent fitness groove, and it's made all the difference. Now when I skip a day of exercise, I feel the effects—not just on my body, but my mood. I find myself with all of these activated emotions that need to be purged through sweating or holding yoga poses or lifting heavy weights. If I don't get my time to exercise, everyone loses.
7. I'm angry
As a wife to a recovering addict and as a life-long codependent, I have years of backlogged anger. And when I feel triggered—through resentment, through my own negative thinking, through subconscious habits—it's easy to overreact to whatever mild annoyance is happening at the minute.
So I've made a commitment to practice mindfulness techniques, respond to the situation instead of reacting and work out my frustrations at the gym, at Al-Anon meetings and through therapy.
I've made a commitment to let go of the sticky emotions that turn me into a smaller version of my true self.
8. I'm scared
When I'm trapped in a fear-based way of thinking, overcome with worries and what-ifs, I lose my open-armed compassion. And so my early-morning meditation practice helps me to connect with something bigger than myself. When I do that, all of my singularly focused issues seem so ... small.
My son now knows that if he wakes up early and sees me meditating in front of the living room window, he can come sit quietly by my side, even hold my hand, and allow me those few minutes of quiet. He knows that I'll be a better, calmer, more loving mom because of it.