Lots of women write love letters to their babies, each year. That’s an awesome thing to do, and I have done this in private journals at home that I’ll give to my daughter, some day. But then there’s the letter that I would have wanted to write…myself.
If I were talking to the “me” that I was before my daughter was born, what would I say? I think it would be something like this:
I’d share that I had a positive c-section birth experience, and that even with immunizations, not co-sleeping, two nights of cry it out to sleep train, and day care, my daughter is fine. In fact, she’s more than fine. My kid is healthy and happy, smart, securely attached, smiling and laughing and curious about the world and everyone else in it.
I’d share that the first six weeks were both the most joyous as well as the most awful of my life. The joy was all her; the awful was all sleep deprivation. I would tell the new soon-to-be moms that while nothing can prepare you for sleep deprivation, the important thing is really that you have someone else in your life who has done this before, who can tell you that it’s going to get better, that you’re doing okay, and that you’re going to be fine. That’s how you survive sleep deprivation.
I’d say: enjoy holding your baby close to your chest and listening to that soft breathing.
I’d tell you that you will survive the “witching hours” even though it might feel like you won’t. Maybe, I’d tell you about the night when Anika cried for literally an hour straight without stopping, and nothing would make her happy, and with no capacity for anything else, I rocked her and intoned, “Ommmmm” over and over. When she was finally asleep, I took a shower and bawled my eyes out.
I’d tell you that baby pro-biotics, and a chiropractor who specializes in working with babies, rock. The kiddos sleep better, eat better, poop better. Oh, and–I’d also tell you that you will start talking a LOT about poop.
Just at the point when someone might ask themselves–WHY do people have children?–I’d tell you that I am more hopelessly in love than I’ve ever felt in my life. When my daughter started smiling–OHMYGOD! Baby smiling! The joy is beyond anything and everything. The first laugh–are you kidding me? I started crying with delight. Actually, sometimes when she really gets going with the laughter, I still become an emotional goober.
I’d tell you that those inflatable exercise balls normally used for doing ab crunches are awesome at bouncing/rocking the baby to sleep.
I’d also tell you–and this one is really important–that as much as you want to say to people, “SHUT THE FUCK UP WITH TELLING ME ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-CARE OMG,” that self-care is really fucking important. You need naps, showers, food, and sleep in the first few months, and then you need to get out of the house and wander around a bookstore for an hour while someone else handles child care, and eventually you’re going to need aimless hours to do whatever you did before you had a baby. Not every day, but at certain points, yes, you need these things.
You are not a failure for needing them.
I’d tell you that it’s okay if you put your kid in day care. I’d tell you that I still struggle with day care guilt, even though it’s crystal clear to me that she’s incredibly happy there. The first time I ever dropped her off, I bawled my eyes out in the parking lot. You are not a pathetic, overly-sensitive sap if you do the same.
I’d tell you that the book Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman is what helped me to stop flipping the Crazy Parenting Switch. Turns out, there are entire other countries and cultures who parent differently than mothers are often pressured to parent in this country, and their kids are turning out well, too–c-sections, formula, cry it out, day care, and all.
I might also share that I’m a life coach and have heard some pretty intimate stories of human suffering from my clients, but not one person has ever, in a decade of coaching, come to me for a session to process through her feelings about having been in day care, not co-slept, her sleep training, receiving immunizations or having had formula. Not once.
So maybe, just maybe, our kids are going to be okay, even if we don’t do everything according to the dictates of the Perfect Parenting Police.
I’d tell you to avoid judgmental mothers like they are The Plague. On a societal and energetic level, I kind of think that they are. They are suffering, but that kind of energy is parasitic and when you are a mom, you need all of your energy for raising a tiny human.
I’d tell you that as soon as you’re able, start doing power walks with baby in a jogger stroller. Sweat = your antidote to stress and the best way to normalize those post-partum hormones. Sweat, sweat, sweat, as early and often as you can. I’d also say, “Kate, get back to it with the maca powder and chaste berry supplements!” They did my body good pre-baby, and do a world of good post-baby, too.
I’d tell you that the moment babies start rolling over, shit starts to change really fast. That’s when babies can start really reaching for things and you’ll look around your house and go, “Oh, so there’s like, a lot of stuff that could seriously injure a baby around here.”
I’d tell you that trying to be productive during cold and flu season is a bust now that you have a kid who routinely touches germy things and then sucks on her own fingers. I’d tell you that things move much, much more slowly after baby. I’d tell you that the sooner you release attachment around that, the saner your world will be.
I’d tell you to take the date night, as early after baby arrives as you can. Wear lipstick and heels. Oh, and I’d tell you that this will probably feel totally weird, and you and your partner will probably just talk about the baby the entire time. Do it anyway.
I’d tell you that your heart is now no longer totally in your body; it’s running around outside of you, pulling everything out of the bag you just packed and crying out in delight because OMG, KEYS! I FOUND KEYS! AREN’T KEYS THE BEST! I’d tell you that sometimes when your kid does this kind of stuff, you’ll start crying at the sight of her, thinking, “YES, I totally get it. Keys are the fucking best! I loveyouloveyouloveyouloveyouloveyou!”
I’d share that in my experience, when people tell you over and over that your kid is really cute, it is sometimes difficult not to gasp and exclaim, “I know! You’re SO right! Isn’t she the cutest baby that ever existed in the entire history of babies?”
The only reason I can make such an intolerable admission to the world at large is in my knowing that secretly, all parents feel this way about their kids.
Finally, I’d share that it’s all…normal. Whatever experience you’re having, I’m pretty sure that it’s the right one. I trust that you’re just doing your best. You do your best, you lead with the intention of love, and then you surrender totally to spit-up and cuddles and firsts and diapers that smell fouler than foul…always, always just doing your best and trusting that your love is enough.
(Because you know? It totally is.)
So there it is. That’s the letter I would have written from this vantage point, to the woman I was then. It helps to write it now, to let that side of me that was excited and afraid in equal measure know that it all turns out okay. Hard, exciting, tough, joyful, all of the extremes and everything in between, but it still all turns out, okay.
1. Break up routines. Take a different route to drop the kids off, order a different drink at the coffee shop, buy one book from a different section of the bookstore.
2. Build sabbaticals into your life. A day, an hour, a week, whatever your life will accommodate. And if you’re a mom (like me), then call bullshit on your “logical justifications” (we are deliberately avoiding more judgmental words like “excuses”) for why you “can’t.” Sure, you can. It’ll make you feel better about you, and make you an even more amazing mom.
3. Dance to a song, daily. Like, even if you need to do it in the bathroom at your shitty job.
4. Deliberately express compliments to every single cashier or service person you meet. In fact, after receiving great customer service, play my favorite game: “May I Please Speak With the Manager?” The manager will inevitably come over expecting a complaint, and then when you gush about how AWESOME of a job they’re doing, it will make her day (and yours).
5. Do something aimless, something that isn’t time-bound. I’m convinced that 70% of the stress in our lives is due to deadlines or trying to be “on time.”
6. Buy five blank cards and in them, write a generic love-filled note, something like, “I’m sending you this card at random, to let you know that you are amazing.” Then walk through your neighborhood, select a few houses, and mail the cards to those addresses within the next week. You’re creating serious cosmic, karmic goodness for those people.
7. Meditate. But don’t meditate like it’s a death sentence. See it as a holy-moly opportunity to not have to figure another thing in life out. You’re just sitting, breathing, relaxing.
8. Eat vegetables with at least two meals. But don’t do it like it’s a death sentence. See it as a hot-tamale-Batman opportunity to nourish your body at a cellular level. Easy to do: egg scramble with vegetables for breakfast, a salad with dinner. Boom. Vegetables, done.
9. Bring someone a cup of coffee, just because.
10. Throw out all of your old underwear. There is something to the theory that better underwear equals a better life.
11. Donate money, even if it’s just $5, to a worthy cause. If you’re feeling stumped on who, I vote CharityWater.org , every time.
12. Take on the goal of becoming positively addicted to exercise (as in, it’s a “positive addiction,” something that you’ll actually start to crave if you do it enough). I used to hate going to the gym. Now I love getting sweaty mashing it out on the bike or seeing if I can lift just a few pounds more this month than I did, last month.
13. Tell someone who routinely disappoints you all of the things they’re doing right. Intentionally remark and comment on anything positive. Actively look for it. It’s a game-changing relationship move, especially for the people who typically annoy the shit out of you.
14. Visualize what makes you happy. I’m not suggesting the “Law of Attraction.” I’m suggesting that the more time you spend thinking and picturing happiness, the happier you actually feel.
15. Understand that any voice that tells you that happiness isn’t possible is a voice of fear. You’re fearing your power, or perhaps stepping into a new way of being (maybe existing in a state of consistent happiness is totally foreign and thus, scary). The voices of fear are wounds, and need healing.
Want to take a next step to be the happiest person you know ? You need the Shift Plan–when you clarify your vision for your life, and use happiness to point you where you want to go, you get unstoppable.
What would I say to you, over cappuccinos and biscotti, if you told me that you have trouble with creating a new habit and then consistently following through?
Yeah, me too.
Consistency is tough for 99.9% of the people on the planet. It involves knowing what habit you want to change, knowing how to change it, and then changing it, which are three steps that can feel almost super-human.
When I first started working with my coach a decade ago, he told me from session #1 about the value of daily practices–and I resisted it. Daily practices? Ugh. I’d been inspired before to begin new daily routines, and I’d started and stopped, or just never started. Sometimes I’d leave a session with my coach all lit up and ready to go on those daily practices…starting tomorrow, of course. You know how that always goes.
Consistency: Such a draaaaag, man.
I didn’t get consistent mostly because consistency felt like such a drag. Instead of seeing these daily practices as something that would help me, they felt like “another thing” that I had to figure out how to fit into my day. My thinking: I didn’t have the time. They probably wouldn’t do much of anything, anyway. I’d tried this before and failed, so nothing would be different, this time.
And then, after two years of working with my coach and never doing the damned daily practices, I “got” it. I finally understood that if I continued to go to sessions with him and not actually follow through on what he was saying might help me, then I was wasting money, wasting my own time, and furthermore–it was a new year, same old issues.
Choosing not to do daily work to change negative habits into positive habits, I was actively conspiring in my own suffering, in my own life not getting better.
Consistency: But how?
I wanted to get consistent with these practices. “Trying to remember” wasn’t cutting it. So in the back of my Moleskine notebook I created a checklist. I checked it every single day. The daily practices he was asking me to undertake involved things like gratitude, daily joy, an integrity check-in with myself, acknowledging myself, and more (all practices that I’ve integrated into the Courageous Living Program), and he was suggesting spending just a minute or two on each of them. Total time to complete: 30 minutes, sometimes less.
I kept up with this practice of ticking off practices in the back of my Moleskine for the better part of a year. After a year, I no longer needed to visit the checklist to keep myself accountable. It was part of my life, now, to turn to gratitude, or to ask myself how I might step into more integrity, or to deliberately find laughter in my day.
Sometimes I’d joke with my coach: Shit, man–so this stuff really works, and it was available to me, the whole time?
Yes, it was.
As of writing this, my kiddo is just shy of a year old. First year as a parent? Tough stuff. But I’ve been doing pretty well, in fact.
I’d thought that each month would seem easier as I returned more and more to being “myself” and adjusted to my “new normal.” Yet each month I noticed myself a liiiiittle more inclined to…grouse, complain, get pessimistic, get grouchy, feel inexplicable sadness. Just a little-tiddly-bit more and more.
All of those years of working tools and being consistent had been like hocking money away into a savings account, an “emotional savings account,” and I’d been drawing from this “emotional savings account,” without consistently working my tools so that I could replenish it.
So out I come with the checklists, again (though not without yet another bout of that same resistance: I don’t have the time; what’s this really going to do, anyway? and on and on).
But only three days back into the process, life felt fresher, lighter, happier. It has only felt better, since.
Consistency, thou art a virtue
Sometimes people think of personal growth as a perfectionistic end-point: you do the work, you never again have the…fear, the triggers, take it personally, doubt yourself.
That’s never been my experience.
My experience is that we need to water our personal selves much like we water plants. You might think you’ll get the a-ha moment where you’re forever changed, but in my experience, it’s like AA: It works when you work it!
So checklists, vision boards, accountability partners, whatever–however you want to do it, make it consistent.
It’s not about whether or not you have time (if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to make the time). It’s not about whether or not you know what to do (if you get honest with yourself, you really do know what you want and how to get there). It’s not about whether or not consistency works (because if you get real, you KNOW that consistency works).
It’s about a choice to step into consistently practicing the things that make your life feel better.
Consistency isn’t a shackle; it’s a pathway to feeling goooood.
I’ve been #RockingMyTools (that’s the hashtag I’ve been using) and feeling a shit-ton more joy. I’m humming as I walk, rolling with it when a challenge arises, and saying “no” to the things that I don’t want to do, without fear.
This is what consistency creates. It nurtures. It creates a container for something to grow.
It’s only fear that would push the illusion of waiting for it to be perfect, waiting for the big A-ha!
If you want life to feel better now, choose to start a set of tools that make it feel better–now. If you want to start consistently feeling happy , then you’ve got to do the things that consistently bring about happiness.
It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.