If you’re like me, you’re already holding the match with which to burn 2016 to the ground on 12/31. Like…if we can agree on anything, I think we can agree that 2016 is probably not the best year in our recall. I am sooooo ready to kiss this year goodbye. As I look at my friends both close to home and on social media, I realize that there are a good many of us hurting and in need of looking ahead to something better. Say it with me, friends: 2017 will be amazing. It will be SO much better. I’ll be saying this mantra over and over again as we ring in the new year (or anticipate ringing in the new year, because I’m a toddler mom and I am probably going to be asleep when 2017 rolls around). And in the spirit of closing chapters and starting new ones, I’ve put together the list of things I’m excited about for 2017.
I can remember two significant years/phases in my short adult life that were both incredibly terrible and also extraordinarily pivotal in my growth as a person. The first was the year of my separation and divorce, and the second involved getting turned down for what I thought was going to be a guaranteed (and desperately needed) promotion at work. In both of those instances I sunk pretty low into depression and did what I always do- I hustled for my worthiness. Like, I worked myself nearly to death taking on as many responsibilities as possible to prove that I am a worthy individual capable of doing amazing things. I needed to see what I could do firsthand to remind myself that I wasn’t lost, that my existence wasn’t a waste. I had to prove that those experiences, those failures, did not make me a failure as a person. And it was exhausting. Those years took so much from me- but they gave to me as well. I found myself in the midst of my despair. I changed what I stood for and how I stood for it, and I let go of the things that kept me pinned down into places of self-doubt and disappointment. It was amazing.
Flash forward to 2016 and I find myself in the same place. This summer, after finally admitting several harsh truths to myself and my family, including the fact that I’d been suffering from postpartum depression that never went away (and in fact got much, much worse), I started seeing a therapist. I was desperate- I missed the gratification of my job. Don’t get me wrong- everyone always tells me “why don’t you just go back to work?” And that’s totally not the issue- I love staying home and I know it’s the right thing for me and for my family. The issue here, again, is worthiness. In my job, I saw it. I solved people’s problems. I had clear, tangible productivity that could prove not only to other people, but to myself that I was a great asset to our organization and that my efforts meant something. That’s what our culture does- it says “if we can see and measure what you’re doing with results, and those results look good to us, you are good.” It’s addictive. We need people to see what we’re doing and call it good. God knows I need it. I spent the better part of the last decade (maybe my entire life) working for approval that says “well done, girl. You are good.” And as amazing as it is to be a person who accomplishes lots of things and conquers many obstacles, it’s not a healthy way to determine our self-worth. That’s when my therapist coined the phrase “hustle for your worthiness.” And that’s the action I am determined to leave behind in 2016.
A few years ago, my BFF Margaret did what I’d say is the most inspiring thing I’ve seen in terms of self-care. As we sat and chatted in a group about our plans for the coming weeks, she spoke up and said “this is going to be my year.” And she totally meant it. She left behind a challenging relationship and a less-than-perfect work scenario and she pursued the life she wanted. I remember her saying “I’m not okay with just letting my life happen to me.” I watched her become herself. She did the things she wanted to do- because she wanted to do them. And it was awesome. I tried to do something like this earlier this year (remember my bucket list?), but what I got was more of the same- I treated every item on this list as something I had to do, because I wrote it down and somehow if I didn’t do it I was opting not to follow through on my commitments. And speaking of commitments, I made entirely too many of those, usually out of a feeling of obligation, or a desire to fit in to groups that I hoped would become closer friends, when in reality, we just weren’t meant to be friends in the first place. (Note to self…the whole “squad” thing is not a mandate in the world of grownup friendships.) I took responsibility for other people’s feelings, trying to make sure in every scenario as many people as possible were as happy as possible. And when they weren’t, I took it as some sort of failure or shortcoming on my part, as if somehow disappointment ought never to happen to anyone so long as I’m around.
This is our mom-culture. It tells us that we have to do it right, and it has to be right all the time. And when it isn’t right, it’s because we missed something, we forgot something, or we aren’t working hard enough. We should be pretty and fit and make it to barre class. We should have wine nights with our equally fit and pretty groups of friends, and those wine nights should be filled with jokes about all our shortcomings as moms (which really aren’t shortcomings because we’re all making it to a million practices and getting a million science projects turned in while working on our favorite causes and pursuing successful careers or side businesses).We should have a list of books we’re reading and diets we’re following, and we should have the perfect balance of cute activewear ensembles and Stitch-Fix sponsored wardrobes with topknots on Tuesdays and blowouts on Fridays. You guys…this is nuts. I spent the better part of the year trying to figure out where the hell do I fit in with all of this??? What can I possibly do to establish myself as a worthy, high-achieving woman in a world of moms who seem to have all this sh*t together???
The answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because I don’t need to establish myself at all, and neither do you. I am worthy, and so are you. As I swapped early morning texts with my BFF Nicki I saw us doing this exact thing- justifying why it makes sense for us to stay at home and how much we do to contribute to providing for our families, as if we have to answer for “not working.” And hearing this amazing woman, who is a meme queen and a kickass extended-breastfeeding toddler mom who is a killer cook and one of the best dancers you’ve ever seen, justify what she does to add value to her family dynamic struck a nerve with me. She is worthy, and she doesn’t have to justify it. We are amazing human beings who are making the world better by being moms and friends and spouses and employees and bosses. We aren’t perfect. But we are good. And we don’t have to explain our worthiness to anyone. I’m a damn good mom, who has tons of energy and loves to accomplish things but often loses interest and decides not to finish some things. I like to put my makeup on in the morning, and it doesn’t mean I’m any more worthy than the mom who has never worn it a day in her life. I hate fitness classes and haven’t darkened a gym in almost 2 years, and it doesn’t make me any less worthy than the mom who works out six days a week. I like to watch TV while I fold laundry, but I am always 3 years behind what anyone else is watching, and I am no less worthy than all my funny, pop-culture-literate friends.
Last year, as I set the tone for 2016, I chose the word established as my theme. I hoped I’d be putting down roots and settling into routines, and when none of that happened (and in fact, we’re on month #5 of living out of suitcases before our big cross-country move) I decided I’d failed to meet expectations. This year, I’m ditching the expectations. I’m going to embrace what happens. Because some things will happen that are beyond my control, and I can live with what happens without feeling destroyed by it. I don’t have to control my entire life to participate in it, and I don’t have to let what happens control how I feel about myself. My word for the coming year is worthy. My aim is to spend 2017 in self-care, practicing it myself and modeling it for my children. And because this is a mom-blog, I’ll also give you the list of the things I’m claiming for myself as part of this year of worthiness, with the challenge to think of what you’ll do for yourself as 2017 rolls around.
- People love me and want to help me. And it doesn’t make me any less worthy to let them.
- I don’t have to explain my productivity or what I’m working on to anyone. Because I don’t have to be making anything or working on anything- people value me for more than what I can accomplish.
- I’m not responsible for how other people feel. I’m responsible for how I treat them. And they are responsible for how they respond.
- No one else is responsible for how I feel. If I don’t like how something is going, I can make a change. If I’m unhappy, I can voice being unhappy, and I can ask for or demand something different. But I can’t expect them to take charge of my happiness- that’s for me.
- I deserve downtime. It’s okay to take a few plays off. I deserve time to myself to unwind and pursue my own interests, whatever they are, regardless of what anyone may or may not think about them.
- I deserve friend-time. Without feeling guilty about leaving the kids or the hubs.
- Not all friendships look the same. I can have nachos and champagne with Victoria, midnight nursing texts with Nicki, and hot chocolate in the park with Margaret while my kids wreak havoc on the playground. I don’t have to make it to supper club or wine night or hot yoga with a squad…but if someday I do, that’s okay too.
- Sometimes things will just go badly. And it isn’t a statement about me or my value as a human being. If I need to change something, I can change it. And if I need to just wait for it to pass, I can wait.
- Being a mom is enough. I tried a lot of other gigs this year. Grad school in this stage of life was a bad idea. I looooved my small doula business, but it won’t be moving across the country with me. If I discover that I want to start it up again, I might, and if I don’t, I won’t. And I don’t owe anyone an explanation for it.
- I am in charge of my amazing life. Because I am a seriously amazing wife and mom. And whatever bad, great, heartbreaking, crazy, wonderful, confusing, frustrating, inspiring, or surprising things happen, I’m the only one who gets to live it, and I am living it for me.
And if that list sounds selfish, it is. Self-care is about self-preservation. Surviving the mundaneness of everyday life in whatever its stages are. Because we are worth saving. Life isn’t about avoiding sorrow or mourning the presence of pain. It’s about experiencing those things and going on living anyway. Life is for the living, and I am not waiting for anything or anyone to help make mine more livable. If I take anything away from 2016, it’s this:
Dear world in 2017, whatever you have for me, I’ll take it. I’m not afraid. I’m ready. Let’s do this.