Losing Myself In Motherhood
“I keep hearing it said you cannot pour from an empty cup. I know it is a well-meaning mantra to encourage people to take the time to look after themselves, so they can in turn continue to take care of others. I would have to say however that it is not entirely true. As a mom of eight, I was pouring from an empty cup every day.
The neglect of my own health and wellbeing did not happen overnight. Slowly, amidst the pregnancies, babies, homeschooling, and just the demands of daily life, taking time for myself did not take the priority it once did. Not to say I was not loving my babies and waking up every day feeling blessed I had the fortune to be their mother, because I was and I did. But I was also tired, sore, and feeling like something had been lost.
We had just taken a family vacation to Disney, and I would watch from the sidelines while my kids ran excitedly from one attraction to the next. My knees were sore, my back hurt, I was out of breath the entire week. This was not the mother I wanted to be for them.
I realized the great lengths I had been going to to not look at myself, even for a moment, in the mirror. I was unhappy. Attempts to seek counsel from well meaning folk usually resulted in responses not as helpful as intended. ‘Well you did have eight kids’ and ‘You are in your 40’s now, this is how it is,’ made me seriously wonder if I was crazy and unrealistic to desire anything more than what I had. It is an interesting experience, that space of time between when you first recognize that you need to make a change and when you first figure out how to accomplish that goal.
The Start Of My Weight Loss Journey
At first, I was easily swayed by expensive weight loss gimmicks. They were perfect in the sense I did not have to take any time away from my family to use the products. But what they were was completely ineffective and incredibly expensive. The pills and shakes only made my wallet weigh less; my weight, however, was at an all-time high.
My next attempt was to download a couch to 5k program, and I began to follow the program early in the morning before the kids were awake. Unfortunately, this had been my quiet time with my husband so he wasn’t always happy to see me tiptoeing out in the morning. This was the loneliest time in my journey. I was reluctant to share what was going on with me, because I had tried and failed so many times before. Leaving him in the dark, in retrospect, was probably not the best move.
But the time out of the house every morning was so good for my spirit and mental clarity. It gave me time to think for the first time in many years about what I wanted, what my personal goals were. It also gave me an opportunity to listen to podcasts and hear what other women were doing to find some balance in their lives.
It did not take long before the reality of my weight bearing down on my weak joints would arrive. Locked out knees I could put no weight on put an end to my running, and I was feeling very defeated. I tried transformation programs that included one-hour-a-day workouts and specialty meal plans. As many moms can attest, we barely have the time to drink our coffee while it is still hot, so I wasn’t sure where this magic hour for a workout every day was supposed to come from and making a completely separate meal for me at the busiest time of the day? Just a recipe for another failure.
An extreme calorie deficit plan only worked until the evening, when my hunger would take over and the binging would be followed by a lot of self-loathing and feelings of weakness. Further attempts would come and go. Some worked for a bit, but I would move on because they weren’t working fast enough or they were too expensive to justify. Some did not work at all and only fed my feelings of failure and hopelessness.
All these stops and starts sat heavily on me. Maybe I was too old or had had too many pregnancies to ever feel strong and fit again. Maybe this was vanity driving all of this, and I should just forget about all of it.
Funnily, when the lightbulb went off for me, I was budgeting for the next month and recalled a program we had done a number of years earlier to tackle our debt. It was called a snowball approach where you start small, attack one small debt and get it gone. Then move on to the next smallest one. This approach was successful because it gave its users tangible wins early on and, with them, the encouragement to go bigger. Then, rinse and repeat until the ultimate goal of debt elimination had been realized. It made perfect sense, and so I began to break down my own personal goals into smaller behaviors. Learning to celebrate the small wins built up the momentum. It also helped change the internal dialogue from one of failure and recrimination to positivity and self love.
I realized I did not have to be perfect on day 1, and the results would take time as they had with the debt program. I also worked on articulating my ‘why.’ Why was I doing this? Was it just vanity? I started walking again to work it all out in the quiet of the early morning.
I put together my why and it was this. I wanted to be the best version of myself, for myself and for my family. I wanted to be an active mother, and hopefully grandmother one day, and yes, I wanted to feel good about how I looked. I also recognized that there was nothing wrong with the ‘for myself’ part. I did not have to feel guilty about wanting to feel strong, attractive, and confident. That process took more than a few walks, but as I began to work through those feelings of guilt, I was able to move on from them and slowly the self-sabotage of my efforts began to subside.
Establishing New Habits
One day, the weather was a little chilly so I wasn’t going to go on my walk. I came downstairs and one of my boys was sitting on the couch. He looked up at me and asked why I was not leaving. Up until that point, I had not considered the kids even knew I was going on walks, much less expecting me to. I was always very careful in the house with things like the language that was used and the shows we would watch, because we were aware we had a lot of little people watching us and learning from our example. It had not occurred to me the same was being done in a positive way when I left every morning.
Another development during my morning outings was they became less about weight loss and more about overall health, especially my mental health. I would listen to podcasts about everything from parenting, to relationships, to healthy food, and personal growth and yes, a good amount of 70’s and 80’s rock mixed in. I found after my walks, I would return already having accomplished something that day, feeling relaxed and ready to focus on the needs of my family.
My husband, I should mention, had realized I was on a mission now and had become very supportive. He arranged for me to start meeting with a trainer to learn how to work with my weak knees and weaker pelvic floor. It was not always easy to leave the house and drive into town for a workout. It certainly took a lot longer than my morning walk, but I was so grateful to see how the older ones in the house stepped up to manage things and make it easier for me to leave. I know that knowing the littles were being cared for in my absence, and everything was not going to completely fall apart, is what gave me the strength for the first time in over 20 years to get in the car and drive away to do something completely just for me.
Of course, as a large homeschooling family, ongoing personal training was not something we could do long term. But I was able to continue long enough to recognize strength training was something I loved doing, so I learned the basics so I could continue on my own at home. I do not think I had a special interest outside of family and home since I gave up horseback riding when I had become pregnant with my first child, almost 25 years earlier, so I was thrilled to find a passion again.
It was also during that time I had noticed that the weight was coming off. It was slow. No 60-day fix for me, More like 60 months! But the changes were, like the original debt reduction plan, small and sustainable.
As my journey continued, I began to hear from other moms who were struggling as well. They would speak to me in whispers about feeling fat, sore, unattractive, and tired. They would talk to me of hopelessness and that same guilt about not being happy when they had so much to be grateful for. They were doing all the things I had tried like giving up carbs, severely restricting calories, and signing up for high intensity bootcamps, and being met with the same failures.
My advice to these and other busy moms, especially those who are feeling they are too old or too far gone to ever achieve their goals, is define your goals and break them down into small and sustainable behaviors. Do not start day 1 resolving to drink 3 liters of water, when yesterday you did not drink any, or vow to get up first thing in the morning and run 5 km.
Maybe day 1 looks more like drinking more water than you did yesterday, slowly building up to a healthy water intake. Then maybe set a goal to increase your daily steps by a certain amount each week. These little habits do not take a lot of time, so they are not jarring to the flow of your day and are easier to maintain during busier periods of family life. I know it is not sexy or ‘insta-worthy,’ but it works. The basics usually do; they just have a terrible marketing department.
Depending on your level of support, you can start looking for a form of activity that you enjoy. Maybe it is walking, or boxing, or strength training, but the journey to better health does not have to be one painful sacrifice after another. If high intensity boot camps do not work for you, stop signing up for them. If you crave a good sandwich at lunch time, stop trying to give up carbs. Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Progress over perfection.
As for me, 6 years into this journey, I have lost the fat and built the muscle. I do not know what I weigh anymore because it does not really matter to me right now. I found the confidence I had been lacking, and it was not in the smaller dress size where I thought it would be, but in the better quality of life that being healthier has afforded me.
These past few years have become less about being skinny and more about continuing to learn about and challenge myself, achieve goals and set new ones, rediscovering who I am and becoming the best version of myself. Learning to take the time to take care of myself did not mean I cared for those around me less. To the contrary, I am better able to care for them when I feel healthy and strong.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Maureen Brintnell from Ontario, Canada. Follow her on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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