I am Not My Mother, My Daughter is Not Me

“Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate” Carl Jung

I like a good podcast to keep me company. I don’t always like to listen to them when i walk home after work: I like to immerse myself in the walk and the quiet. And yet, i was pulled to have company on a few walks recently. So, podcasts were a great solution. And guess what, they gave me both company and pause.

For instance, on Glennon Doyle’s recent podcast episode on her wonderful program We Can Do Hard Things, she had Dr. Becky on a two-part episode. They talked about parenting in modern times and the struggle to be present parents. And yea! They talked about IFS.

There were some nuggets in there for sure. As an attachment-based trauma therapist, a lot of what she shared was not new to me. And yet the timing in my own life is pretty serendipitous.

Here are some quotes i got straight from the source:
– “It’s the child job to have feelings and it’s my job to guide them to be able to have a way to process through them”
– “I need to embody my authority and boundary AND honour my child feelings”
– “We can’t learn to regulate feelings you don’t allow yourself to have”
– “We react most to who and what provokes our earliest attachments”

So this felt really relevant to me. I definitely have witnessed and experienced for myself that we look to shutdown in others what was shutdown in us: It is just too much for us to bear. It’s partly because we are triggered by our children in areas that not finished in our story. What doesn’t get healed and integrated in ourself can manifest into anxiety. And as Dr. Becky reminds us “anxiety is a symptom of what you want to do right or new but it old wiring and need to update the circuits.”

Um…yup yup yup.

In my recent therapy session, my own therapist reminded me to track what is my story and what is about my daughter directly. This was not a new idea to me: I’ve been noticing that this ending and beginning interplay between us has been quite present over the years. I have learned to say to myself “what is mine and what is not mine.” It’s a way of helping me discern where my own story ends and my daughter’s may begin, especially if there is overlap.

Lately, there has been a lot of overlap.

Some of it goes further back and i am also noticing what my mom’s story was.

It’s important to have this distinction because it helps to know what is within my control and worth tending to. It also gives me some agency to know what is worth my energy or when i might be transferring my own needs and experience onto my daughter.

For instance, i shared last month how my daughter is again facing a year at school where she is separated from her friends. I know this is a common experience, and yet it angers me that it still continues to be so. I wish that more consideration went into what we know now about children’s self-esteem and attachment theory.

I know what it’s like to be alone, separated from friends and not having a felt sense of belonging. Having a community is essential to help us grow into more actualized adults. It also can help buffer us from further pain related to relationships. When we have a good foundation, it gives us a healthier perspective on relationships and life in general.

Let’s not forget we are social creatures, wired for connection.

My mom did not have a big community when i was growing up. She had a few friends and spoke to our neighbours. My parents came to Canada during a mass immigration, but before the diaspora due to the war in what was Yugoslavia. She didn’t belong to a community, even though she supported family to come after her. I saw her try – with exercise classes, Spanish lessons, and talking to other dance moms. She was shy and quiet, mainly due to feeling insecure about her strong accent and a deep distrust of sharing herself with others. So that meant that i didn’t really see her socialize and have friends. It was rare for her go out in the evenings with a friend. More rare, or in fact never happened, was a weekend event outside the home.

Now, as an adult, i am catching myself comparing myself to my mom. I see one of the hardest struggles she endured was loneliness and a deep aloneness in her experience. She turned to me to be her confidant and emotional support. Even at 15 years old, i knew my place was to hold other people’s needs. It’s no surprise that i chose to be a psychotherapist, holding space for other’s feelings and narratives.

In my personal life, I make an intentional point to make plans with friends. This is important modeling for my kids. I want them to see not just that i value community but that having a felt sense of belonging establishes a healthy self regard for ourselves. It is also tied to feeling joy and pleasure in our life. I am grateful for a dinner out with friends or being able to start hosting them again in my home.

And yet, these past few months have been more lonely and alone than i ever would have expected. And that comes on the heels of a pandemic, rather than at its peak most isolating period.

So, when my daughter learned that she was not in the same class as her friends, i couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes. We are the same size so i actually worry i put her in my shoes.

My trauma is not my daughter’s trauma
My mom’s needs are not mine

Relational and attachment wounds start in childhood, mainly due to an insecure attachment to a primary caregiver. They can also arise later in life, due to an unhealthy relationship with an intimate partner or toxic friendship. They are a type of trauma. Being separated from friends in school can be a “small t” trauma itself. We feel so alone in the classroom, it feels like noone has our back and it is us against the world.

Here is the distinction though: not all events lead to trauma. What may be impacted by one person as trauma, another person who experiences the same thing may not be traumatized. In The Body Keeps the Score, countless stories remind us of this truth. It is not just that they are more resilient, but rather they were not alone in their experience and had a space to unpack their feelings. Peter Levine shares that one reason that trauma gets stored in the body is because we are alone in experiencing it and no one was there to help hold the story for us.

In the book What Happened to You, the authors shared their concept of the Three E’s of Trauma: Event Experience Effect. All three need to be reviewed to get a sense if the person is experiencing trauma as a response to an event.

This knowledge of trauma healing work gives a better backdrop to a family’s trauma cycle: the generational experience and patterns that may lead to intergenerational trauma.

Did you know that the egg that made you was first embedded in your grandmother? So her life experience can carry into your own cells. This includes legacy burdens.

“Only with heightened coping skills will we be able to rise above our shell shock and be who we want to be. All of us have the capacity to do this, and when we do, we will increase our own happiness and be of greater service to those around us.” Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia
Break the Cycle
I’ve been thinking a lot about epigenetics and the impact of intergenerational trauma. I have been tracking what ages of my children have been harder for me, not just as their mom but also as it brings up triggers of my own experience. At times, it shows me the scars of my unresolved traumas are being cut open again.

There are some things are definitely mine: The pandemic, my own birth trauma, i left home at 16 and i am the only mother in my extended family who also works outside the home (to name a few examples). And there are other things that are in my mom’s backpack baggage: Driving is hard, dating as a wife and romance was not visible, she left home country at 20 and had no family support.

How do these very different experiences impact us? One way we are impacted by intergenerational trauma and attachment wounds is our self-esteem. We witness our mothers and how they care for and see themselves. That modelling gets passed down to us and we internalize how we think we need to think about ourselves.

Self-esteem is the internal understanding of our self-regard. It gets mixed in with confidence, but that is an externally based reflection, due to a focus on attributes, success and sought-after items. Take for example, my parents got me a car in high school. It helped me get to dance class and yet it was a hot commodity with my friends. My confidence was boosted by the popularity i received by owning my own car.

Our self-esteem is a lifelong journey. At times, it is tumultuous. Many of us were raised in an era where our self-esteem and worth were not at the forefront of parenting or child-related systems (i.e. school). Now we know better.

Girls’ self-esteem peaks at age 8. In an era of social media and technology, i can’t help but wonder if the age is even younger now. According to Richard Schwartz, who created Internal Family Systems, we are born with all our Parts. What changes their role is how our life is shaped between the ages of 0-11 years old.

My kids are 13 and 10. No pressure, mama.

I have not always caught what triggers me until after the fact. Case in point: my daughter’s room. I thought i’d be that mom that didn’t care about how messy a kid’s bedroom got. For a while, i would just brush off the impact. At other times, i would go in and clean it up. Now, i barely go in there – and let’s be clear, it’s almost impossible to step foot on the actual floor. But i have to be mindful of what i say here – i am not a fan public shaming. Rather, my point is noticing with surprise, the impact my daughter’s room has on me. I have learned it’s a trauma response for me that is still unhealed, that makes it hard for me to accept the state of her room. I was never allowed to have a messy room. I internalized that in order for me to feel safe and calm, i needed a tidy space with everything where it belongs. For the sake of my nervous system, this helped me feel safe when i felt like i walked on eggshells at home.

Does that make me a permissive mom? Maybe. It also makes me a conscious, respectful and regulated mom who accepts what i cannot change.

Gretchen Smeltzer wrote in her book, Journey Through Trauma “the feeling of safety is an outcome, not an input, and trauma work. You create a safe environment in mind body spirit emotions and relationships and then you practice taking safety in.”

We become our patterns especially when we are not aware of them. That is what gets repeated.

I had an out of body experience recently, looking at my life from the outside in. Going through my mom’s things had real hon me how similar I have become to her. I have been so dreading becoming my mother for years. Her unhappiness, her endless craft works in progress, her lack of community. And lately I feel like I became her subconsciously, without realizing it. I noted that I don’t have to repeat what had been broken.

Coming out of the woods and back on our path is like healing from trauma. It is a hero’s journey – what we do with our life after healing trauma. Judith Herman’s theory of the 3 stages of trauma therapy really unpacks this process well. They mirror the journey of the hero, finally getting to integration.

Trauma is not just what happens to us, it’s what was taken from us because the trauma got in the way of our development. It’s also not having the support and resources we need to heal.

Trauma is a nervous system wound, and it is also a heart wound. “The ways it shapes and takes and changes us could be nothing less than heartbreak.” Syanna Wand. So it is also grief work – grief of what could have been, and was taken from us and can never be.

Trauma resolution is moving from a trauma vortex that’s designed to protect us from further harm to a more embodied place of pleasure and living life with full expression

Healing takes time and new wounds can happen, as new traumas can be had. What shifts is the dual awareness of what we need now, and what no longer is stored in us as a trauma vortex, but a more healed one.

So this is where I sit now – being able to notice where my story ends and my kids’ begin. It’s a way of stopping the intergenerational trauma from continuing on.

No pressure, mama.

I Have a Team in Me – just in time for a new school year

My kids are on the brink of starting a new school year. This has always been a bittersweet time for me – the mix of excitement of the year ahead mixed with the anticipatory worry that comes with what they will face that is still unknown.

Some of it stems from visceral memories of my own childhood, that was mixed with some of my best years and some of my hardest. As a therapist now, who specializes in trauma and attachment wounds, this wisdom is hard to overlook now that i am a parent.

Our core memories still show up in the present – sometimes in the form of wounds or if we are lucky, as wisdom to guide us. They show up in our internal parts and the goal they have to inform or protect us. I have been able to heal the more exiled parts and give my strong inner guides a more healthy and wanted role. And yet, it’s times like a new school year that still bring up the old defaults of my Parts. My various parts show up to help me out when faced with new experiences, and can be a bit polarized.

For instance, the Good Mom in me wants to shelter my kids from disappointment and sadness. The wounded adult in me is still grappling with her own scars from school. The fully formed self is appreciating this interplay that at times feels paradoxical.

These parts of me have come to guide me in a more deeper way than ever before – i can witness in my children what they need as well as know what my strengths and limits are.

Take for example, the special kind of hell of finding out that your kid isn’t in the same class as her best friends. Again.

The Good Mom Part of me knows that my kid is resilient, social and thrives in community. The Wounded Child Part of me knows my own mom never showed up for me when i needed her advocacy or voice at school. The Young Teen Part is so scared that this happening, as it was close to this age that i also experienced some of my hardest years at school. The Trauma Therapist Part knows that being separated from peers is a small t trauma that can build over time. The Attachment Theory Geek Part in me is worried about how this will impact her at school and life, when she has to keep working at fitting in and adapting, instead of feeling safe and belonging in a community that considers her needs. The Grieving Daughter Part knows my mom tried her best, and faced a lot of her own Wounded Parts. The Skeptical Part is not trusting of a system that totes the company line and is focused on the best for the greater good, rather than individual mental health – all very masculine energy based focus.

These are just some of the parts that show up in my head as i try to grapple what is best for my child. Coming to centre allows each voice to be heard and considered, in a way that values their input. This is not easy work and yet it is transformative.

When i am faced with a decision that seems hard and i feel pulled in different directions, that is a cue to me that i have polarized Parts that are trying to guide me, albeit in different directions. I am starting to listen to them, track them like animal tracks in the snow. Then i use a more centred Self to guide me back to a voice of reason instead of being pulled into catastrophizing.

This is how i start to embody RESILIENCE – feeling like i have capacity to handle things because i am resourced. This comes from starting to really listen to my self and all my parts.

I love the word ‘resilience,’ even though it has become a buzz word these days. I love that it shows we can come back after experiencing adversity, that we have strength in us all along. Resilience is not independence or self-sufficiency, but rather a felt sense of confidence of our own capacity. It is a reflection of having an embodied knowing we have the resources we need to handle something. It also is a reflection of knowing we belong to a community that will be there for us.

Independence can be more of a trauma response or attachment wound from not being able to trust others when we need to be held or soften. We feel like we can only trust ourselves.

I love how both my kids share about their days, their life, their worries with me. That they know i will listen (even when it’s sometimes not fully because i’m not perfect and can only take some much Roblox or anime info load). This is not something that i had as a child when i was their age. I was alone in my misery and worries, as well as my interests and wins.

This is huge reparative work, both for my inner wounded parts as well as our generational cycle. No matter what the outcome may bring, i want my kids to know i have their back and their pain is no smaller than mine just because they are young. Their worries are not trivial, they are age-appropriate.

What truly makes us feel a sense of resilience, capacity and confidence is knowing that we belong because others will hold us when we soften. When i consider what is best for my kids’ mental health and well-being, this is what i come back to. When adults show that their students’ wellbeing is paramount, that means knowing what students are friends and feel both confident and safe together. That shows students that teachers can be trusted to have their best interests in mind, and are a safe harbour.

After these last 2 years, we should all know that community is what helps us get through hard times. Isolation and being separated by our loved ones can be detrimental to our health. We are social creatures, not unlike elephants and wolves. We need connection to be safe.

“The difference between fitting in and belonging is that fitting in, by its very definition, is to parcel off our wholeness in exchange for acceptance.”
Excerpt from “Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home” by Toko-pa Turner
In the work of attachment theory, the focus is on adult-child attachment. While i don’t disagree with this, because schools do not typically follow the pedagogy of one teacher for a student’s lifetime (unless you are in a Waldorf setting), it is peers that build that felt sense of belonging. For better or worse, it is peers that shape us and guide us, who we compare ourselves to and find our way with. As my daughter has entered puberty, this is a huge focus of her self-identity and sense of worth right now. She needs to be with her peers so she can embody this confidence of what is felt inside and reflected in her peers.

We also now know that it is the ages of 9-12 that are pivotal for personal growth and self-worth, especially for children who are female identified. This transition of puberty is messy and a major rite of passage. I shared more about it in my previous journal article HERE.

But i digressed…

I guess a part of me really wanted to focus on the science of Attachment Theory!

Coming back to my Parts and how they can guide me, one thing that is key to note is that we don’t’ want to get rid of our parts but rather update them to the most current edition, the best version of me. Not all of my Parts are wounded, some have always been helpful. It’s the Protective ones that get blended and take over when i am deeply triggered, upset or dysregulated.

As i continue my journey into Motherhood, i am updating my Parts to know that a new one is present – my Inner Mother. She is the one that is nurturing the me of now, and all my Parts, in ways i needed all along. She is my most self-like Part so i am still working on ways to hold space for her.

One way i have done that in these last two years is recognize that Motherhood is a type of a Hero’s Journey. Similar to Inanna, the mother archetype in Jung’s body of work experiences this journey as we descend to the underworld. This is the process of Matrescense – when we come out whole and individualized, yet with a felt sense of belonging in a larger community.

In the classic guide, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes speaks about the transition from being a Child Mother (a new parent) to being more of a self-identified Goddess Mother or Strong Mother. It is a shift that comes from experience and integrating the knowledge that comes from it:

“Rather than disengaging from The Mother, We are seeking a wild and wise mother. We are not, cannot be, separate from her. Our relationship to the soulful Mother is meant to turn and turn, and to change and change and it is a paradox. This mother is a school we are born into, a school we are students in, school we are teachers at, all at the same time, and for the rest of our lives.”
We are the sum of our Parts.

Here are a few things i have done to recognize and welcome my Parts:

1) Map out your Parts – get a sense where they live in your body and when they come up to help you, warranted or not.
2) Find the role models you admire most – both real or fictional. See if you can create a composite of them to bring together the best version of your Parts roles.
3) Self-Mothering – find a way to nurture the Part with love and compassion.
4) Find your Wise and Wild Woman inside – that voice of reason who can hold space for the polarized and scared Parts.

If you are interested in finding our what Parts make you whole, Richard Schwartz’ new book No Bad Parts offers a great map to help you start. I also really like to ask myself if i am feeling something deeply now, where does it live in my body and what does it need right now? I don’t bypass or override it. I listen to the soft voice inside. I give her space to be seen.

Parenting is hard because your child is reflecting back a part of you that hasn’t yet healed in yourself.

It doesn’t have to be.

Two Sides of the Same Coin: The Journey to Embracing Myself as a Sexual Mother

These past couple of years, i’ve been diving deeper in the parts of me that make me whole. It’s been a very intentional journey of getting to know what is important to me, and what has been missing. As i have found a way to integrate the mother role into the rest of me, i have now put all the other pieces back together. This is how matrescence is a journey of re-entry. The metamorphosis of who i have become is based on what i have been already, and than a new version of me arises.

I’m a big fan of the Wheel of Life resource. It is typically used by life coaches to help people make goals for their life, and to see where it is imbalanced. A few years ago, i did this exercise for myself. I use it further as a feminist therapy tool to see where the burn-out may be happening, and if there are parts of our life that we are living for external reasons or expectations.

I also like this way of looking at 6 parts of our Self – Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, Intellectual, and Environmental. It was through this process that i started to see that my Sexual Self was not listed as its own (and well deserving) category. Is it physical, emotional, social or dare i say, spiritual?

I realized it’s important to add a couple of parts of self to this configuration. For me that includes my sexual self, my inner child, and my inner goddess. It also includes my healer, wise woman and warrior. While these may be more archetypes that make me whole, i value them as the parts of me that are steeped in my values, dreams and full essence.

It can’t be an oversight that these various self-help tools and resources don’t intentionally include a category for Sexuality. It’s typically assumed in the relationship category. So what happens if there is no other person to be intimate with? Really, i think we can look back over the centuries and see how our sexuality was always pushed to the shadows. This is especially true for women and mothers even more so. Back in the days of yore, religion and white colonialism ruled over all other parts. Since i’m not a historian, i’m going to skip ahead to how this impacts us now – our spiritual selves are still what is pure and right, and our sexual self is dirty and unholy.

This is where the dichotomy of mother/whore comes in – virginal maiden and mother are seen as wholesome, safe and acceptable. Whore and crone are pushed to the shadows. One is too sexual and the other is seen as unworthy. Yet we need them all in order to live a full life.

Gender roles and sexuality was put into binary lines. Anything that was deemed women’s work was soft, gentle, nurturing, and in the home. A major part of women’s role was to bear children and raise them. It was then that sexual acts were deemed valuable only for reproductive rights, and not for pleasure or connection between the partners.

Research is now showing us now that our brain’s nervous system is designed to include a social engagement system for attachment, connection and safety. While we have made so many gains to reclaim sexuality for pleasure and joy, as well as for connection, there is still so much more collective healing we need to go through. First, i think it helps to look at the benefits of feminine sexuality and energy.

The benefits of reclaiming our sexual self? What’s that, you wonder? For me it’s access to pleasure, attunement to self, and seeing it is a superpower for energy and a life force in and of itself. And yet, reclaiming sexuality takes time, steps and a commitment to do the messy work of unpacking age-old embedded stories. It also takes resilience to do something defiant and subversive.

Most of us have been taught about sex in school, and a very basic overview by our parents, if we were lucky. One way to heal and integrate this part of our Self is to heal our family of origin’s repressed view of sexuality. As women, we are socialized to be modest. So instead, let’s reckon with our desires, body image, internalized shame; this is built from a false idea that our sensuality belongs in our shadow.

Part One: Reclaiming My Sexual Self
Before we can integrate our sexuality into our motherhood, we need to reclaim it in our womanness. Here are some ways i have found this reckoning, and this reclamation of my divine sexuality. It is our birthright after all. As you choose to journey to rediscover yours, think of what your sexual story is. What is the word that honours it? Be mindful that you will need to push past the discomfort to get to a better end. The history of your sexual self is important to acknowledge, as is the future of your reclaimed pleasure.

1) Know your Body and Nervous System
We have been taught only part of the story regarding female arousal, desire, and our reproductive system. It was only when i was trying to get pregnant for the first time that i truly learned more about my anatomy and how it all works. When we know our Nervous System response, we then don’t replay the stuck circuit.

Fo instance, it takes 30 minutes to get blood to engorge the vulva. We are not fully aroused during foreplay, and we can arouse over the course of a day, just by thinking or fantasizing. This helps us get to arousal so it’s important to know what turns you on. And yet most heteronormative monogamist couples centre the man’s orgasm as evidence of successful sex.

Foreplay isn’t just the step-by-step guide that happens moments before sex. It is also the acts of attention and care in the day. It really is the emotional and mental offerings that give us self-permission to relax in pleasure. Women today more than ever are taught to only do self-care acts after getting all the to-do items done. We literally can’t relax if the kitchen is a mess, or the bedroom is not conducive as a boudoir. And if you are a parent, well… Anyone who has been a mother to young children knows the feeling of being touched out. Even if the rational part of the brain can see that partner touch is different than a child’s need, it is hard to disentangle the exhaustion on our body.

For those of us that experienced sexual assault, whatever that looked like, it can be hard to feel safe when aroused. So it’s crucial to find ways to reclaim that felt sense of safety. Learn how the nervous system kicks in with a fight/flight/fawn/freeze response. Learn where the trauma is stored in your body. Find ways to tend to the emotional, physical spiritual parts of you. One way to do so is to remind your brain that you survived: “That was then, this is now”. And this healing takes time.

Self-pleasure is a wonderful way to reconnect with your body, to learn how to attune what you like. Learn more about vagina mapping, sensate focus exercise and mindfulness to get some hands-on awareness. This will help get to a deeper sense of safety. Breath work is also a major component of access pleasure and presence in the sexual realm. Practice vulva breathing by placing your hand on your vulva and simply breathing mindfully. Have a yoni steam – controversial i know, and yet it can be just what you vag has always wanted. Give it the same care and attention you give your face, teeth or hair. Oxytocin, or the love hormone, can work wonders to help access pleasure and desire.

2) Consent Consent Consent!
Learn more about the dance between consent and approval. Betty Martin has a great resource called the Wheel of Consent. In her new book, she dives deep in explaining how to practice giving and receiving pleasure, and sees how consent ins pivotal in both receiving pleasure and giving it.

Planning a date night ahead of time, even when you don’t leave your home, also helps with informed consent. The date is agreed upon, and it can be helpful to explicitly put sex on the table (literally or not, wink!). It is also a chance to track how you feel about the upcoming date, and to plan accordingly.

There are 6 Pillars to Sexual Health and consent is the #1 pillar, for good reason. That’s why it’s so important for couples (whoever and how many they are) to explicitly discuss their needs, desires, worries, and fears. We also need to bear witness to past experiences of sexual behaviour, especially of one partner has a history of sexual violence. As we know that 1 in 4 women (cis, trans or non-binary folx) experience sexual assault in their lifetime, it is crucial to learn how to be a trauma-informed partner.

3) Core Erotic Theme
Once we have a felt sense of knowing what our body feels when safe, we have more capacity to tend to the desire that lives there. Female desire has been stigmatized in such a way that it is hard at times to honour the eroticism that hides even further in the shadows. So, it’s time to bring your sexy self out of the shadows. Spend some time thinking back to old fantasies. Maybe you have favourite not-to-be-talked-about scenes from books or movies. Maybe there is an old scene that you have always wanted to create. Spend some time with a journal and pen, putting these themes to paper. What might be the core fantasy theme. What is sexy to you? Is it that you want to dress sexy? Maybe it’s that you want to be kissed all over, and have your toes sucked. Or having sex in a shower turns you on. Once you have your core theme, then see how you can ask yourself to start putting it into practice. If you’re not partnered, don’t worry – you can still get your sexy on! If you want to know more about finding your core fantasy, adrienne maree brown speaks about it in her book Pleasure Activism or this article here.

Maybe for you, nature is sexy. Nature’s elemental life force definitely is sexy and invigorating. How can you bring more nature into your theme? How about setting up your space for fresh greenery, candles, or a photo of your favourite place.

If finding a core theme is tricky, how about doing an experiment to find what your sexy is? Can you let down your guard a bit? Try being vulnerable – there is courage there! And, definitely try to turn off the inner judgment, move into it, and move through feelings to get them out.

Activate your senses by taking some time this week to put on sexy:
*Sight: Clothes, makeup, visualization, show to watch
*Sound: music, listen to a story, read erotica
*Smells: Lotion, candles, incense
*Touch: texture, skin, massage, water
*Taste: what spices, foods, or treats stimulate your desire

“The way to maintain one’s connection to the wild is to ask yourself what it is that you want. This is the sorting of the seed from the dirt.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes

4) Daily Pleasure Acts
It is hard to know what brings us pleasure with lovers when this feels foreign in our own body or daily life. Pleasure shouldn’t just be about sexual or erotic practices, but daily ways to feel joy in our body. For me, dance, the sense of smell, and being creative with paints and clay are ways i access pleasure. Maybe you can channel Georgia O’Keefe, and paint some erotic flower scenes. Just take a look, a real look, at the painting in this article!

Have a pleasure practice – be it meditation, stroking your body, lotion, masturbation, yin yoga practise, connecting with senses, flower bouquets, anchor smells, being present, candle in the bath. What can you do to make the thing you are doing 5% more enjoyable? Ann Nguyen created this concept of making an event or activity 5 % more pleasurable. This helps to build capacity to enjoy the day more. This increases pleasure IN the bedroom as well.

I also love the idea of working on ways to surrender. I don’t mean to give up, or to be passive, but rather to build up the pleasure muscle: we need to do it mindfully and with exquisite risk. Think of the words of pleasure, alive, vibrant, abundance or ecstasy. These words may be challenging for you. How about Primal – do you need to go to this deeper place, can you dive in? Or how about dipping your toes in that? Our depth of eroticism is tied to self-expression, as well as that energy and full essence i alluded to earlier.

Part Two: The Sexual Part of You and the Mother You are Can Co-exist

Okay, so with those first few tips you now have a good foundation to re-connect with your sexual self. To take it that step further and feel sensual after becoming a mom, we need to claim space for your Self. This is more than just getting regulated and rest. It is deeper because it means intentionally visiting the other parts of ourselves – remember that Wheel of Life resource?

So, how do we do this? It can start by seeing yourself in your body. You may have brought your child into the world (by birth or not), and you existed before them. One simple way to acknowledge this is the voice practice of claiming your body in a moment. For instance, you may want to stand or sit in front of a mirror – and yes mirror work is a vessel for this work. Look at your self (your eyes, mouth, neck, or anywhere that feels safe enough. Then, place a hand there and say “This is my body.” “This is me.” “This is my cheek, these are my lips.” Hold the pose. Breathe into it. Take a moment to notice it.

We can access pleasure with grounding exercises like this. This can be triggering for some of us, so track your breath. Take time away from your kids. Masturbate. Feel the water on your body when you next take a bath. Eat juicy watermelon mindfully. Walk barefoot on some grass.

5) Who’s Your Role Model?
What is your sexual legacy? How you tend to yourself, and take care of yourself builds on this legacy. Who were your actual role models and how did they receive pleasure? This gets stored in our body and psyche. Is there a character from a story that you loved? Is there a person you know (IRL or not) that you can channel. What do you want to continue on you family line, or not?

One other way i have reclaimed my sexual self is to get to know the role models who have paved the way for me. This has helped me feel less shame and has been a beautiful way to get to my authenticity. One of my role models and mentors is Kimberly Ann Johnson. It was through her various courses on reclaiming our sensuality that i found my wild side. Her new book Call of the Wild: How we Heal Trauma, Awaken our Own Power and Use it for Good has been such a gift. My long hair and big boobs have been a source of objectification by other for years. I was sexualized at a very young age. I started a path to get to know the various goddess figures this past year. It was when i saw one that looked like my body that i realized i could reclaim this feminine energy and power. More recently, i have found that my Inner Goddess feels so empowered and confident when on top, in bed. I love feeling my hair flow around us, and feel so in control. I have my own fantasy attached to this, but that’s my story to tell (wink).

Maybe you need to rewrite the story of the Siren or seductress, the Goddess/priestess, whore, vixen or slut. Just think of the term ‘Cougar’ and what it even means. For women, it’s a pejorative word of a woman who enjoys sex with younger men. But maybe it’s because men her age and older don’t turn her on, or they are not seeking her out. When i think of our animal counterparts, i love the idea of a cougar or jaguar seeking out what she wants and tending to her body’s needs. That is powerful shit.

Putting the Pieces Together
Now that you have sat with some of the reflections, tended to some of the body exercises, it’s time to put the pieces together. Similar to a Venn diagram – where is there overlap?

Since it is said that feminine energy is to teach, that means we can guide our children in all aspects of life. Babies and kids share our body territory so it can be hard to feel agency autonomy over own body. The journey into motherhood had been a sexual act for most of us. And yet, the afterbirth experience almost erases the sexual act. In the early postpartum period, we intentionally heal the body to get into wholeness again. We are taught to bounce back – but to what end? To be sexy again, pure? Or to produce more children? I like to think my postpartum journey has been more about moving forward – a process of Self reclamation and putting the new pieces together. It has been about finding ways to be sexual and mother intentionally. It’s like a bouquet of roses mixed with peonies and ranunculus. All separately are beautiful, but a more blended bouquet is even more stunning.

Our society doesn’t value nurturing or pleasure in the same way as being financially successful or productive. So one way i have created an intentional split from this is to not keep my sexuality in the shadows. I dance in front of my kids, i kiss my partner, and we remind our kids that date night is as important and family game night.

My daughter has noticed that the dates her parents use to have, where a babysitter came in, and mom got dressed up, have obviously been put on hold. While we have gotten creative to still be partners in the midst of a global pandemic, that too has been impacted. As my children are getting older, we have updated our conversations about sexuality. We normalize sex and discuss it if they hear about it (from us, from shows, from songs – it finds a way in pretty easily, doesn’t it?). We talk to our kids about relationships, love, pleasure, and dating. I also have updated the books and resources my kids are reading, to complement this information. And more books for adults on this are coming out, be it slowly. While my pre-teen cringes at the kissing scenes in real life and on TV, we still want to model this as natural and right.

There is discrepancy between partners’ desire and arousal after having children. Foreplay can become more emotional and practical. The primary parent is touched out and exhausted by the end of the day. Modern parenting is definitely playing a role in our lack of intimacy. Just read this article to get a better sense of this. The non-primary caregiving partner wants to be intimate to feel connected, and the primary parent wants time alone to feel rested. These are not incompatible needs, and yet they can feel like it.

We need to soften our edges, so that the parts are not so separate. We need to blend them to take the strengths and gifts from both – it is not either/or. We are creators so need to respected and supported, but we aren’t tended to now as mothers are still devalued. Postpartum mood challenges add a further barrier to desire and sexual intimacy. This research article shares more.

Sexuality is not just about an act but rather being part of the parts that make us whole. That includes tending to your feelings, physical body and spiritual rituals. It also includes consent and the felt sense of pleasure. This then connects our body to strength and embodiment.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” ~ Anais Nin

Stepping Out of the Fire: A Year of Living in a Pandemic

This has been the longest year. The official anniversary of the global pandemic was this week. Where i live, while we heard of Covid19 before March, my own life changed when my kids started March Break last year and then never went back to school until September. During this year, we have experienced so much – it’s been a full catastrophe of living indeed.

Early on, i experienced a whirlwind of feelings, stories, and fears. I had to learn fast how to pivot so i could still do All The Things – parent my children who i never wanted to home school, work from home when i never wanted to do online therapy, be home all the time when access to nature and friends is a big part of my self-preservation and coping. Like many, my body went into fight/flight/freeze reaction.

I was one of the lucky ones – i never got sick nor did any of my family. I was able to continue working, and i am safe at home. There were a few weeks where i was not sure how to pivot and work from home and online. I love being in connection with people i support: As a somatic-based trauma therapist, i rely on being in a shared space to look for cues in people’s body language as well as a way to co-regulate. And yet, people started to meet me in my Zoom Room. More people came too: This past year was my busiest ever. More people needed support to take care of their mental health, nervous systems and trauma stories because of the added experience of the pandemic in their life now.

A big part of my practice is supporting people with tools for emotion regulation and nervous system psychoeducation. And yet, i struggled with sleep, loneliness, despair and overwhelm myself. As a therapist, i am not immune (tricky word these days) to feeling all the feels.

I am privileged in several ways as a working parent. I am white and able-bodied. I have my own business that was able to shift to online relatively easily. And yet, i did not plan to work from home exclusively. I continue to pay rent to a cute office i can call my own a day per week. In fact, after months of not leaving my house at all, I started going to it this summer as a way to get that luxury of luxuries – undivided focus on one thing – in this case, work.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being a parent. I chose to be one. More so, i wanted to be a working parent as work fulfills me and sustains me as a parent. I am a better parent BECAUSE i work. And yet there are days when i hate parenting, and the work of it. The pandemic both intensified the work as there was no break, nor community support. My body’s flight response to feeling overwhelmed was being challenged as there was NO place to GO. I felt like that caged animal in the zoo.

After a summer of no plans – no camps, no trips – we chose to have our own children go back to school in-person. It was better for all 4 of us; our mental health needed this time apart and we felt safe in this decision. It was a glorious rhythm of 3 months. I worked from home exclusively and my children were able to come home after school. We were happy to be reunited each day.

“My children cause me the most exquisite suffering of which i have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence; the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness sometimes i seem to myself, in. My feelings toward these tiny guiltless beings, a monster of selfishness and intolerance.” in Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich

After this past year, of basically no school, summer ‘break,’ in-person school, and then virtual school for 2 months, i have an idea what is best for mental health and resilience: Routine and Time Apart. What’s best for my kids is to go to school in-person. What’s best for my Worker Bee Part is for my kids to go to school. What’s best for the community is for my kids to stay home so we can all be safe. What’s best for my relationship with my partner is that he goes to work. What’s best for feminism and the workforce is for kids to go school. What’s best for my family is where i am still not sure.

I do not have a history of anxiety and yet as a therapist, i recognize the signs of anxiety and overwhelm in my body. It is just too much to bear. I have a fight/flight response that kicks in when i feel threatened or pushed to my breaking point. Being at home with my beloved family all these months has surely pushed me to no end.

I also see how my Inner Child is being activated in all sorts of ways. She shows up when my children are in conflict. She shows up when my children are defiant to me. She shows up when I’m lonely. Sometimes, she wants to to scream. Other times, she wants to flee. There are times she needs to confront the beast. And there are equal times she wants to dance – hello 80’s music mix that makes me want to dance and break free.

We need a break from each other.

But what is the answer?

One way i get breaks is to escape into a good book. I have been reading in abundance during the pandemic. While i have not been able to give myself time to do other passion projects, i have been able to push my reflective mind and critical thinking radar. One book that i read really resonated with me: Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers by Sady Doyle. The title (while awesome) is a bit misleading. It is more about how women and mothers are portrayed in film. And yet, the writer breaks down the societal assumptions and expectations of women as a way to prove how these stereotypes still persist today.

For instance, Sady researched historically accurate narratives of women alongside their fictionalized versions. She shows how women have always been kept at home and their power was something men feared. That’s why, in part, women were accused of witchcraft when they were healers or midwives. Women then (and today) were best seen in the homes working to contribute to the home as men worked in the public realm. All you need to look for evidence of this is to go to history books and see how men worked in the fields and women worked in the kitchen. The division of labour has a marked history tied to traditional gender roles. When women were called in the factories during war-time, they thrived and felt a new-found independence and pride. That too was taken from them.

Just read this powerful excerpt to get a sense of the book: “there’s a fire on the horizon. You can see it burning out in the edges of the world. The wind is hot and taste of ashes.… This is the fire that haunted the dreams [of women before us] and filled them with monsters. This is the light of the Furies too long forgotten coming to keep the end of the bargain. This is the fire at the end of the world and it will consume everything you know. But we are the fire. We are the apocalypse, the risen Furies, the Scarlet woman riding her red Dragon over the horizon because we know that the woman in the dragon are always one and the same. Dead blondes and bad mothers, harlots and abominations witches at the gate of light and darkness: we are the end of the world that was, and the first sign of the world to come in the age after patriarchy, and monsters rule the earth. Our blood holds magic and her stories do too. The violence we survived can be our guide to what needs to change. The fire that burned the witches can be the fire that lights our way. Our power is waiting for us out in forbidden places beyond the world of men. Step forward and claim it into the boundless and female dark.”

We are stepping forward into the fire…tenderly.

Enter the Mom-Cession:
In our current situation, it is mainly women in heteronormative-coupled families who have made sacrifices to their career, income, and life separate from childcare. Here’s a staggering number for you: 850,000 women left job force in Septin order to take care of kids. New statistics in January show even more angering numbers.

After the stats showed us the drastic number of women stepping back from the public realm, and back into the home, many of us were angry. Angry again for being put in the corner, for doing what was right, expected of us, and yet this martying and sacrifice is not sustainable. It is what keeps us in the fire.

We are not meant to do a 40-hour work week, it’s outdated as it was created when someone was home to do meals, clean, childcare. That someone was women who did not work outside the house because men felt that a woman’s place was in the home. That belief was also outdated as its history was based on hunter-gatherer lives centuries ago. Men went out to hunt, women worked in the home. It is also based on racist misuse of power and white supremacy, where the labour of Black slaves was prevalent.

Cynthia Eller shares this reminder in Gentlemen and Amazons: “The gender stereotypes upon which matriarchal myth rests persistently work to flatten out differences among women, to exaggerate differences between women and men, to hand women an identity that is symbolic, timeless and archetypal instead of giving them the freedom to craft identities that suit their individual temperaments, skills, preferences, and moral and political commitments”

I’ve read various views on the benefits of a matriarchal society. Some say we don’t want that either, as it just swings the pendulum to the other side: read Pedagogy of the Oppressed if you need more context. But maybe we do want more feminine energy? Matriarchal societies are more egalitarian and gender-equal communities where there is a seeking of peace and nurturing of the young,the old, and the marginalized. They are founded on the principles of gender balance and giving to the economy. “The markers of patriarchy or dominance, individualism, oppression, champion of individual success, rigid social roles, and aggressive tribal allegiances. Matriarchies don’t simply replace the major players of the system with women, they just change the game” writes Sam George Allen in her book Witches: What Women Do Together.

So, why the long post here and history reminder?

This is the time to reflect on your priorities. We carry many roles, titles and status labels. Some we choose, others are chosen for us. And with each are the values, dreams and priorities that hold the role in reverence. I saw a recent quote by Stephen King, who reminded editors that his wife is more than a wife – “wife is a relationship or status – it is not an identity.’

In my status as a mother, for example, i value raising my children as intersectional feminists, as embodied hope for our future to be better than it is. So we talk about things, i encourage them to come to me, i hold space for their feelings. All their feelings are valid, even the ones that are hard for me. As a partner (okay, ‘wife’), i value this relationship because it is the most secure attachment i have ever had and all of me is welcome to the table. As a working mom, the role may dictate some of my available time, and yet i am privileged in my self-employment to take time off each day to pick up the kids from school, go for walks at lunch with them, and have slower summers.

And now that so many of us are home to work, we are reminded that the housework still needs to be done. Children need to be tended to. To-do lists and chores cannot be ignored. And yet, it is not up to women to do it. Sure, i like to bake cookies and go back-to-school shopping with my kids, but that is not because it is my job, but rather because i love this quality time, where i show i care about my kids, and I’m fostering their attachment to me. It is about what i prioritize or value, not the role itself that i do this for.

Doing domestic chores is not a MOTHER task (read this great article for another woman’s voice on the matter), nor a WOMAN task but rather an ADULT task. Baking sourdough bread or mending ripped jeans is an adult thing. The term ‘adulting’ is quite infuriating to me as it belittles the rite of passage into adulthood. A mature adult is anyone between 26-end of life. Any adult needs to know these life skills. It’s called LIFE after all, and not woman skills. The patriarchal nuclear family just doesn’t work anymore, if ever. (Don’t get me started on the term ‘lady’ where only certain women of status could even be called that). It only worked to oppress women by seeing their worth tied to relying on them for free labour at home.

After most of us worked mainly from home this past year, it’s time to see what is sustainable and how to pivot (a top 5 word of 2020 in my opinion) to having a more equitable division of labour at home. So many cishet new parents i support struggled as the new mother continued to carry the motherload while the male partner worked from home. Now both were home, which highlighted just how inequitable and gendered the division is. So many mothers continue to martyr themselves when they claim their partner partner can’t be tired for work. Instead of reminding colleagues and supervisors at work just how unfair it is to expect the mother to carry the load, families continue in this outdated way of life.

My family made a decision later in the year than I’d like to admit, but we did it honestly and organically. We started cleaning as a family. The kids are involved in the household tasks, and they see both of their parents sharing the labour. While i do more of the mental load and my partner does all of the grocery shopping, we are modelling a practice that is aligned with our values. To me, what is included in the definition of partner is the shared responsibility of household work and respect for each other. Good partners both do the housework.

So, what is your priority in your role as an adult, mother, parent, partner, wife? What is it that makes you the happiest version of you? How do you embody this role? And, now that we have completed one year around the Sun with the pandemic, what has been working for you, and not something you want to continue. The change is now.

I have started a new hobby: Collecting articles about how this pandemic is going to impact us in the long-term. As a trauma therapist, it is important for me to know. As a woman and mother, it is important to look into the future. As a feminsit who wants us to learn and unlearn from our mistakes, we can’t have this repeat. There has been a plethora of articles that share the impact of the pandemic on mothers. Mothers generally and working moms specifically. And yes, the wording is intentional – mothers more than fathers are being greatly impacted by this. We are experiencing a double impact of how we have had to adjust to life during a pandemic. I have been keeping a list of all the articles that come my way, via social media. I have quite the curated list. I’m not even looking for them, they find me based on my algorithms. Ironically, I’m considered the ideal audience – my own partner who does his share of house work and active parenting work has yet to see an article unless i am the one forwarding it to him. Why is that?

I’ll give you a hint…patriarchy is not dead yet.

An Eternal Flame – How to Say Hello to Mom Burn-Out

I’m a mom. I’m a feminist. I’m a therapist for women. I am a feminist mom wholeheartedly. And yet i am faced with that beautiful vulnerability of being flawed like anyone else: I am burning out.
My little flame is wavering a bit.

It is not lost on me that i am a therapist who supports new parents, especially mothers, with the transition into parenthood. And i can’t help but feel the grasp of imposter syndrome that I too am immersed in the impact of Impossible Parenting. I do all the things i suggest to others. That’s not the point – in fact, it’s much bigger than me and what i can do for myself. As i grapple with parenting my children in real life, and in public, i feel a self-imposed burn of pressure to be Mary Poppins perfect – what kind of model am i to others if i too am struggling to keep my kids’ (and my) shit together at the Grocery store? Ugh – the pressure can be too much, and then i seek out my self-compassionate voice and breathe a bit better. I love the lists of ways to heal from mom burn-out, but those are band-aid solutions and not touching on the root of the problem.

I chose to be a parent, i wanted kids and i love the idea of the matrescence rite of passage. And yet, part of me wonders if this is all it is?

I love my life. I really do. This isn’t a passive aggressive way to try to get a message to my partner. (though this open letter to dads is great!). I also recognize my vast privilege as a white cis gendered woman who is able-bodied and partnered to a cis man who i love and have a healthy relationship with, where both of us have permanent work.

And yet…

I’m so tired. And irritable. And cranky. For a while, I thought it was work overload then I wondering if I’m not practicing what i preach with work/life balance. So i read some books, slowed down some evenings, met up with friends here and there, did less work after-work hours. And still…i was crabby.

I love the work of Esther Perel that reminds us how we put on our good work pants for work, only to take them off when we get home. Then proceed to show our own family our more authentic and messy side. Like I should still be wearing my nice pants all day, or at least notice how i present my good side only at work.

At first, i thought ‘oh oh’ I’m not being so kind to my family and felt self-critical of my own internalized want to have it all at the same time. I was sad with myself for putting work first, and being tired by the end of the day, when my kids needed me. And then i realized, “huh, what is playing a role in me feeling this way.’ Surely it’s not just my own doing.

I think I’m more right about that side of the coin.

A few weeks ago, i had to point out to my beloved dependents that people come to see me on purpose to help them when they are sad or stuck with a hard feeling and decision. And yet, my kids will yell over me to keep arguing with each other. For a while, i would be ashamed that I could not be able to help them de-escalate or regulate their feelings – that’s what i do ALL DAY long at work after all. I realized then and there that maybe i am better at helping others who want to be supported, and that my kids need me in a different way.

Sure, i know they need me to model self-soothing behaviour and emotion regulation. Sure I have the tools – i even make a real toolbox for them.

I’ve begun to resent weekends. Sure, i practice what i preach – i take time for myself in the evening and don’t always do the dishes, unpack lunch bags, put stuff away. Sometimes i watch a show by myself or write articles like this one… And feel guilty about it. The idea of a mini mom vacation sounds decadent and yet i know it’s just a band-aid solution.

I do live from a family-centred place and attachment theory is my jam. I get hugs and love from my family, even a thank-you and I’m sorry sometimes. I don’t want to be worshipped per say, but to be more appreciated and noticed would be great. What i need is less work and chores and tasks and requests and and and..

I love all the articles on social media that remind us of the mental load of mother’s work (and yes it’s quite gendered still, and also still seen under the umbrella of women’s work). I’m glad we are acknowledging this burden and current iteration of sexist division of labour. Motherhood is still tasked by the same glass ceiling that we feminists fought for some many years ago. I wish i could turn off the brain thinking part of the mental load of mothering. Yes, it’s a verb now too.

For instance, here’s a run-down of some things that i carry in a given week:

* I once woke up in middle of night to pack a swimsuit for my kid’s class – i went to bed knowing i forgot something!
* I keep the health cards even though I now hate the sight of blood (and I learned that after my son fell off a tree into a river on a vacation and needed stitches – that i wanted to get him but my partner’s didn’t think were necessary)
* On that note, i wake up through the night whenever my kids move, or cough, or cry out
* i am a sous-chef that knows my son only likes raw veggies and tomato soup and my daughter hates the idea of sandwiches
* I have to get the rascals out of bed while he makes lunches – yes I’m grateful he makes lunches because it’s a yucky job, but what’s easier?
* I know exactly how to pour their juice in the morning so that one is not jealous that the other got more to juice (not to drink it mind you, but you know “fairness”)
* I coordinate playdates for the weekends that I work or it’s not my turn to take a day off for a PA Day
* I know what their favourite socks are and where to find them
* I know when they have homework, or class trips, or birthday parties and send in the forms and RSVPs
* I book childcare for the 4-times-a-year date nights
* I know when the birthdays are of their friends!
* I feel guilty when i am at work on a Saturday or can’t make it to them if the school calls mid-day
* I know when the tooth fairy is going to visit and save the coin for that night
* I have forgotten twice and felt so shitty

There is no such thing about a maternal instinct. You read that right – there is NOT one but rather we are taught and learn how to be moms. Who reading this has babysat at a young age, or was taught how to mend socks and buttons, or what is best for a sore tummy since you were a child yourself? Yes i do know that men of my generation may have learned this too, but are they doing all the other things too? Do they stay up thinking about all this too? When we list what we do and thing about, especially during that 3rd shift of labour in a day, do our partners say “i took out the trash, or changed the litter box.” Yes thank you sweet lover, but do you also wake up worrying about your kid’s strained friendships or start planning their birthday party 2 months ahead of time?

Just look at all the books dedicated to this – they all are geared to mommy blog readers, or mommy mojo sex fullfillment, or mama rage. And guess who reads these books and articles? Yup, moms and women. So, while I’m a glass half-full gal at the best of times, I’m not so sure this will change.

Don’t get me wrong, i read all those books and enjoy most of them. This photo is just some of the books i am reading right now, in fact. My partner has yet to finish one parenting book – but he chose a good one so I’m glad he has that under his belt. And i do love my self-identified label of mom. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies. And yes, i identify as a mother, not a parent. Go figure. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies.

And again, i will remind you that i love my partner dearly, our relationship is absolutely solid, and he is a very hands-on, active, and available dad to my our children. This is about him nor needing to change our roles, gendered or not. It is bigger than just us. I am so grateful for all my partner does. The homemade bookcases and winter tires and …

And yet…

(( written by a tired and grumpy Middle Aged perimenopausal woman ))