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by Valerie Moselle

 

I am in the process of becoming exposed to the public in a whole new way, and to my peers (which somehow seems worse) through this book I wrote and the marketing that must go with it. And, I just spent a painful week experiencing what only can be described as the most intense and real, even if misplaced, SHAME.

 

Then I read this article, Self Care is Not Enough to Fix How Much Moms Are Burnt Out and felt compelled to provide my own commentary because this smart mom is calling for the change that can only come when WE mothers/women insist upon it.  I agree. No one is going to change the paradigm for us. Rather, the whole set-up is just plain wrong. And so is the way this wonderful piece of writing came to me. I hope you find it useful. 

 

I know some people see me as having manifested some markers of success…I have a beautiful family, I own a house in a beautiful place, I teach regular well-attended classes, I own and manage a successful center that offers tremendous value to my community, I developed a training program, and I was approached by a publisher to write a book that they had an interest in producing and I wrote it. But, my internal reality is quite different.

 

Inspired dually by the urge to add layered resource to my book, to my center, and in the service of career-building (Yes. That was part of the motivation too which I almost didn’t acknowledge here because…well…read on!) I recently stepped into some new territory, and voluntarily produced some video content. I got to review these videos last week and WHAM! Debilitating shame.

 

I hate what I said.  I hate how I said it. I hate the way my voice sounds. I hate the way I bobble my head. I hate the way I blink. I hate the way my body looks. Intense self-loathing came down on me like a hammer.  The understory is this: How dare you? You are not good enough. You are not smart enough. You have nothing important to say. You have nothing original to say. You are not beautiful enough. You are not doing what you should be doing. You’re too old (this one is new…Hi there!) No one wants this from you. Who do you think you are?

 

Woah. Just Woah.

 

Why do we do this to ourselves? Where does this come from?

 

Spalding is right. No number of bubble baths, no number of girls’ nights out, no number of bodywork session or yoga classes are going to change the fatigue that comes from failing in the ideal that has been set-up for us. The ideal we are called to fill as women, as partners, as professionals, and as mothers. Calgon, take me away.

 

My therapist reminded me that self-judgment and our struggle for perfection is a pursuit of the ego. And that when we (I can only speak to my experience as a white working class-come middle class girl, woman, mother) think we have to be perfect (and if not perfect, at least great, and if not great than at least adorable in our imperfection) at everything we do, then ours is an exercise of trying to prove a deep belief we harbor that we are actually better than others.  (That’s not what you expected me to say, is it?)

 

This kind of self-loathing is, at its core, an exercise in self-importance.

 

She went on to suggest that very few people who excel at something in a grand way have a pure motivation.  The perfectionism and drive that causes someone to rise into the public eye, or to the top of a given field, is very often fed by a deep need to prove self-worth to, for example, members of one’s family, friends, colleagues, strangers, and/or perhaps most ironically, to oneself.  

 

It’s a little hard to grasp (I’m working on it), but perfectionism is not as simple as feeling insecure and therefore hesitating to act until our ‘product’ is…well…perfect. My need for perfection may be a gesture towards resolving the way in which I feel small, insignificant, or worse, inadequate, but believe underneath it all that I am big, exciting, relevant, and incredible (if I only I could create the thing that will allow everyone to finally see who I really am!) It leads us to wonder whether any acts of greatness are pure or unsullied expressions of creativity, joy, or altruism, or whether they are always the result, however well intentioned, of the ego going to war with itself.

 

In her article Spalding explains that we (wom-mothers) are burnt out not only by the drain and strain of wom-motherhood, but by the tension between the ideal that’s held up to us, and the reality of the situation we find ourselves in.  She rightly postulates that self-care, though important, is just a temporary Band-aid, and goes on to reference Brene Brown’s message about vulnerability. Spalding closes by encouraging us to stand up for ourselves by becoming vulnerable and exposing our reality by asking for help, saying no, and unapologetically stating our needs. In this way we start exposing the truth about who we really are, and what modern wom-motherhood is really like. Living silently with our shame is not the answer.  So, Diane Spalding. YES. Just YES.

 

BUT!

 

Spalding’s wonderful article is hosted by Motherly, a self proclaimed “modern lifestyle brand defining motherhood” that is “always looking for new ways to make mothers’ lives better.” Thank you Motherly.  I feel your intention here.

 

Why then is Spalding’s article interrupted by a beautiful and hilarious, though unrelated, lifestyle video feature shot by a man-father appreciating how much he misses his wife, who we can infer is away temporarily. As Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” plays nostalgically in the background, Dad pans over photos of Mom with their beautiful, perfect blonde children at the beach, then continues through his tidy middle class home, to show us the family’s immaculate garage (who’s garage looks like that?), absent one car.  Tears.

 

As the music plays he cuts to a long checklist of ‘to-do’s’, double spaced like a poem and neatly printed out for reference.  Look what she left for him (Supermom)! Dad points to each item on the list, demonstrating he’s on top of it because, obviously she might be worried (or maybe she’s a control freak. Or maybe she doesn’t trust him. Or maybe he’s not that smart?) Anyway, he’s grateful for the list. He’s on it.

 

This video celebrates laments, “What a lot of work motherhood is. How do you do it? We love and miss you so much.”

 

The ending is really the best though. Dad pans the camera over the immaculate, organized, clean and uncluttered nursery and changing station.  He reveals the Diaper Genie, where…oops…he’s forgotten to empty it, and it’s full to the brim with dirty diapers. He holds his nose to signal that… ‘it’s so stinky when your goooone. Sigh…we can’t live without you, honey.’ Perfection.

 

Spalding’s article is then immediately followed by a Nordstrom Ad featuring 5 beautiful children of mixed ages with slightly mussed up hair wearing matching pajamas in what appears to be a beautiful home on a Sunday morning. Everyone is peaceful and seems to like one another. Not a screen in sight. Ahhh…family. What a blessing. The headline reads, “What Summer Dreams Are Made Of.”

 

I’m going to suggest we take Spalding’s message a step further.  WE NEED TO IDENTIFY THE SOURCES OF OUR OPPRESSION and CONSCIOUSLY and ACTIVELY call them out and move against them.  

 

My deep shame, and a new mother’s overwhelm, have the same root. We (women) hold ourselves up to an unrealistic ideal that has been dished up to us through visual media since visual media came into existence.  Intellectually we know that what we see portrayed out there is not real, but the message has been so prevalent and relentless that subconsciously, or sometimes consciously but secretly, we still hold ourselves to it.

 

Internalized oppression occurs when an oppressed group adopts the methods of the oppressors and applies them to members of their group. My shame comes from where my presentation(s) miss the bar set for me by a false public narrative designed to sell me goods and services that I have bought into hook, line, and sinker. Subconsciously, I believe in those standards, and strive for them, even as more and more public figures emerge to demonstrate diversity. Intellectually I can celebrate our diversity with fervor, but internally, I’m still struggling with how I feel about myself.  

 

As an overwhelmed mother looks at these images of happy, well-dressed children and grateful, emotionally present partners enjoying a Sunday morning together, the layers of complexity that describe her own life seem drastically at odds. Fewer are the messages that have anything to do with her reality.  When they do appear, as in Spalding’s article, all too often they come to us embedded within of the status quo.

 

I must join Spalding in the call, though.  I call us all to come out. Post your beautiful family on vacation. Do! But post your puffy face in the morning after staying up too late watching Netflix. Post that your feet stink after you wear your favorite sexy shoes in that photo from your girls’ night out.   Post those beautiful pictures of your fresh garden vegetables and your morning bowl of granola, but also share with us that when your kid spilled glue on the floor for the 5th time and didn’t clean it up you yelled at them. Post that your partner and you fought and that you found your way to the other side of it, but still feel a little bit pissed off and are wondering if your marriage will survive.  And to the Instagram yogis, I call on you to post your yoga practice tip for the day, but leave the dirty laundry on the floor in the background of your practice space…and not in a cute way!

 

I’ll join you. I’m coming out.

 

There is a term in Japanese, wabi-sabi. It’s describes an aesthetic that celebrates transience and imperfection.  Wabi-sabi looks for the beauty in asymmetry and natural variation, and celebrates process over product.  Let’s do it. Wabi-sabi, baby. For the mental health of all women everywhere.