This post is part of “Bully No More,” an editorial series hosted by the Fort Worth Moms Blog.
Before becoming a first-time mom, I was an endurance runner. Now, I can barely manage a three mile jog, huffing as I push the stroller with one hand and dab spit-up from my daughter’s front with the other. These legs that used to propel me for miles now jiggle with cellulite. I try to give myself grace. But the truth is I am my own worst bully when it comes to body image and a perceived sense of accomplishment. That’s right. I’ve met the bully, and she is me.
As mothers in a society obsessed with anti-bullying, we focus on outward sources and forget that sometimes the bullying we face comes from within. A subconscious part of us — that which reels from a loss of former control over our schedules, our households, and even our bodies — responds to the chaotic, not-so-treasurable moments with self-criticism. Little nagging thoughts of failure persist until a crushing doubt and lack of confidence define the areas of our lives where the inner bully has lost control. For you, that might be a house that never seems clean, a packed calendar that leaves no time for rest, or parenting skills that seem to lack something those other mothers have mastered.
For me, it’s a failure to return to my old health and fitness routine as quickly as I’d hoped to after giving birth. My inner bully seizes every skipped daily jog, each bite of an indulgent brownie, and any tightening waistband. You shouldn’t do that, she whispers. The other, better you — the you before baby — wouldn’t do that. Lazy. Stress-eater. Bad. Consumed with guilt, I buy into her lies. I’ll never achieve my old disciplines, so I won’t even try today.
The aggressive cycle must stop.
As with any form of bullying, we can begin by changing our reaction to the behavior. The first time I responded to my inner bully’s taunts of “lazy” with a pinch of grace (and allowed myself to rest, knowing I could always run the next day), I took away some of her power. A brownie is not bad. It is a choice. I, not the bully (or the brownie), am empowered.
I am oh-so-slowly learning to be comfortable in my post-partum body and to stop bullying myself for failing to look how I once did. Of course, I want to be healthy and active. But I also want to recognize the physical feat of having grown and birthed a tiny human — as well as the mental and emotional feats of caring for her day in and day out since then. My inner bully wants to beat me up when I fail to meet my strict, self-imposed expectations. I choose to minimize her power by switching those expectations with more affirming goals, and I invite you to do the same.
Just Say “No” to Pre-baby Body Pressure
Whoever coined the term “pre-baby” as the standard (for body, weight, jeans, etc.) owes mothers everywhere an apology. As though having a baby was a mistake we can’t wait to undo. The truth is that pregnancy, birth, and caring for an infant involve serious physical changes with lasting impressions on our bodies. (I imagine adoptive mamas can chime in with similar changes in exercise routines, sleep patterns, hormones, and eating habits!)
Physically, we are not the women we were before having children. And that’s AWESOME! Would you wish to return to your pre-baby life, now that you’ve seen and held and kissed your sweet little one? Neither would I. Throw out those old jeans, reset the scale, and replace any full-length mirror in your house with one that starts at shoulder height (at least temporarily).
Embrace Healthy Living in the Body You’ve Got Now
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. And whether you gave birth or adopted, you have stretched to accommodate the relentless and exhausting needs of your child. You deserve a realistic commitment to eat well and exercise. Incorporate both into your routine as much as possible — but make them things you enjoy and will stick with!
- Stock your pantry and fridge with healthy snacks that taste good enough to seem like treats. (My favorites are bananas, natural peanut butter, stovetop popcorn, and dates.)
- Invest in a regular sitter (or swap childcare with another mommy friend) while you sneak out to the gym or go for a solo run.
- Sign up for a mommy-and-me yoga class or, when summer finally cools, put baby in a stroller and hit the Trinity Trails!
Stop Wasting Energy on Wishing You Had More Energy
Gone are the days, for me at least, when I could throw off the covers before dawn and hit the gym or trail for an hour before most people start their days. I’m a lot more tired these mornings, and with good reason! On a typical day, I have already been “at work” a total 90 minutes or so — nursing, soothing, changing multiple diapers, cleaning spit-up and runny boogers — by the time my husband rises.
A mom’s job starts well before dawn. Sure, a proper balance of diet and exercise can boost energy levels. But give yourself grace while this round-the-clock gig is sapping your strength.
Find Your New Normal
Make changes to your routine to compensate for decreased energy. You can best take care of your family by taking care of yourself first — and that includes getting some rest!
- You may find that you require a daily nap when you didn’t before.
- Opt for a half hour of brisk walking over a formerly intense cardio session.
- Gravitate toward slow-cooker meals instead of laboring in the kitchen at the end of the day.
Ditch that To-Do List
I used to assign too much value and self-worth to daily productivity (output at work, mileage on the trail, and efficiency at home). This set a destructive precedent when I quit my paying job to stay home with my daughter. If you’re like me, you might be prone to feeling “worthless” when your child’s needs trump your own schedule and keep you from crossing off your mental to-do list. Don’t fall for it!
Set Manageable Goals for Yourself
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Similarly, you can only tackle this momyhood journey one day at a time.
- Resolve to squeeze in some additional exercise two days out of the week.
- On the days you exert yourself, commit to a quick snooze (or at least lie down) while baby naps.
- Tackle an extra load of laundry mid-week rather than leaving it all for the weekend (a huge undertaking).
Take pride in small accomplishments. And on days when nothing is going right and you feel like all you’ve managed to do is keep your little one alive? CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve achieved your primary goal and the most important one of all. Now, tell yourself you’re awesome, treat yourself to a healthy snack, and go to bed early.
What’s one affirming goal you want to set today?