Surrendering into That Kind of Mom

I want to be that mom. That mom that is always ready to have her kids’ gaggle of friends over on a whim or moment’s notice. That mom who has her kids and their friends come to her for support or guidance.

As my kids get older, i am starting to see just why i want to be that mom. It’s because i’m a therapist and am well versed in hard vulnerable conversations. The ones that need to happen and rarely don’t. It’s also because i so needed that in my own childhood. My mom couldn’t be that for me. She tried – she got the snacks ready, she hosted the sweetest birthday parties in my younger years. And yet, i couldn’t turn to her for the big stuff as i got older.

For one reason, it’s because she was faced with her own big stuff. I know this because she turned to ME for support and guidance, for solace and to grieve.

When my youngest kid’s friend recently had a period scare, i was that mom – that mom who was not only at the right place at the right time, but also that mom who they could come to in their embarrassing need for help.

And it was a few months later that i was told i made it to the Cool Mom Club. Did you know that was a thing? It’s not really. I made it up but i know that we all claim to not care about it. That we would rather be the kind or funny mom. I don’t want to be the (insert sport here) mom, or the chauffeur mom.

I do like the sound of the cool mom though.

It means i am someone who is safe to turn to for embarrassing stories, hushed secrets, for questions that are hard to ask but important to, and to feel less alone in this thing called life.

Recently, my cool mom status was put to a further test when i let my kids go on amusement park rides on New Year’s Eve. The test really came when i agreed to go ON a ride. You know the one, it’s where we go sideways and backwards really fast and lose all sense of gravity. My first mistake was thinking i was not only cool enough but young enough. My second mistake was picking the seat for pure colour (it was PURPLE) and not logistics like it spins more.

In the end, I did get off the ride when it was over. I also needed to take care of myself by sitting on the curb for quite a few moments to gather my bearings. It also meant that my family was able to care for me while i took one for the team. My daughter also was grateful to share the experience of this ride that took me by surprise in more ways than one.

“Always appear what you are, and you will not pass through existence without enjoying its genuine blessings, love and respect.” Mary Wollstonecraft

Now that my kids are not so little anymore, their pains and feelings are getting bigger. They are in fact very similar to ‘real life’ stuff like managing conflict with friends and peers, healing their own heartbreak, and figuring out who they are. Me eldest child is starting high school in the Fall, and is really thinking about who they are. My youngest kiddo is dealing with friend drama and is heartbroken with a recent full-blown conflict with people she thought were her best friends.

When i hold them in their pain at age 2 – and it’s about sharing their favourite toy – i can be there to hold them in the much bigger life lessons. I can’t stop the pain from happening but i can be there to hold them so they are less alone in the pain that has to metabolize and heal.

This is what i truly wanted and did not get as a child. I had a bully and mean girl drama in grade 6 that was very isolating and alone. I was alone in my suffering and i do not want that to be the experience for my own kids. My mom didn’t really know my friends as i got older, and my peer orientation became so separate from my life at home. I also have to track my own reactions so that i don’t transfer my scars unto my kiddos. What is mine is not theirs. Thank goddess for good books like THIS ONE that keep me on the right path.

I may not sing in key, but i also know a lot of the best and most current pop songs, even if they are sourced by Tiktok. By the way, while my status as a cool mom is valid, i am not that mom that will allow my 10-year old to be on Tiktok or have a phone. I’m still very much a cool AND feminist eyes-wide-open mom.

This recent experience also helped me anchor my word for the year, which is SURRENDER. I don’t see surrender as giving in but rather soften into trying something.
Surrender is not giving up. It is much more active than that. It is not passive, but rather permission giving. Surrender is sovereign. It is not giving my agency or power to someone else. Permission from within to myself.

It also means i do not have to do it alone. Surrender is a very intentional acceptance of softening, which allows for the gift of vulnerability of asking for help. It means reaching out at the same time as turning inward. So, it’s time for me to read the beautiful wisdom of Sil Reynolds’ book Mothering and Daughtering. She co-wrote it with her own daughter when she was a teen. I’m ready now to accept my new phase of motherhood is to teenagers – this is new terrain indeed. Just when i thought i knew what i was doing with school-age children, they are now blossoming into adolescence.

So, as all rites of passage remind me – this is the ebb and flow of life. It is the birth/death/rebirth cycle. Speaking of witch (ha ha!), this year, I plan to surrender to my witchy side, to the divine feminine in me, to the goddess. This is a part of me I have been keeping hidden and quiet. I’m ready to surrender to this calling. Surrender is spiritual and divine, it is acts of ritual and an all-in attitude of acceptance.

I’m also planning to offer something new in my work. So surrender is needed to take this next step, to stop resisting this dream. Stay tuned! Hint: I’m putting the final touches on a course for parenting after experiencing trauma!

Surrender is also needed to help guide me away from stuckness. It is about making peace with the messy parts of life. I hope it gives me space and new ways that are aligned with the me I have evolved into. Not the old me.

Each year, I find words that act as guideposts or lights for my main word. Besides the theme for each month, these words play a role in helping me make a decision. Some are seasonal and some are more regular visitors.

Let’s see how I will surrender myself into this.

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.

My Body is My Home

This past year and a half, our physical health and wellbeing have been at the forefront of our minds. While our bodies host our health, they have not been our focus for care. So many of us have either gained weight, found comfy pants or had to come to terms with a new way of moving their bodies. And yet it’s our bodies that have helped us get through this challenging time.

We have adapted, or day i say pivoted. We found new ways to accept our softness and be less critical of ourselves. And yet i wonder if it’s just for the short-term.

I have become aware of how my self-talk mirrors my relationship to my body. After years of wearing make-up daily, this past year has been a make-up free zone. My kids don’t see me getting ready to go to work anymore, because i’m not really going anywhere. I always associated make-up with leaving the house to be in the public realm. It’s a bit of my armour, or mask if you will allow this word. I don’t miss it at all even though it was a way of making me feel like I was doing something outside the home. Now it frees me up to do other things, mainly sleeping in later.

For me, this has been a reckoning, a reclamation of my worthiness as a woman without falling prey to the story of needing adjustments to become better. I needed this shift away from listening to cultural rhetoric about what makes a ‘good woman.’

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I can remember certain stories in pop culture that reinforced the idea that thinness is ideal. That as women, we needed to aspire to this unrealistic expectation, even when it was to our own detriment. I distinctly remember an ad that told us “you can’t pinch an inch.” To be honest, i remember the phrase and image but for the life of me I don’t even remember what the ad was for. But that saying definitely stayed. So, clearly the message mattered more than the product it was advertising.

Now as a therapist who supports women with their transitions – into motherhood, middle age, or after a traumatic relationship – i guide them to connect with their body. It may not be a main goal, but it comes up time and again. Healing and repairing our relationship with our body is a main part of stepping into these new roles and phases of our life. It is our body that joins us on this ride called life. We are used to ignoring it, not having vocabulary or awareness for it. This way of holding our body with resonance is a reclamation.

I would also argue that since we have been giving birth to babies since the beginning of time, maybe this act of resilience is really just embracing what our power is, and celebrating it as we should.

Any of us who has had newborns in our life knows that our body changes postpartum in drastic ways, and isn’t ours alone. Our baby needs us, and that includes our body, so their need usually becomes the priority in order to survive. We hold them for hours to help them sleep, our nipples become raw, we feel like we can’t pee for fear of waking a sleeping babe in our arms. That leads us to feeling touched out and disembodied.

I love the word matrescence, the transition we experience when we become mothers/parents. Similar to adolescence, it’s a messy and hormonal shift and a lot of newness comes with it. So instead of mourning the bodies we have lost, it may be more productive and empowering to love what we have, and what our new bodies are capable of.

As feminism is all about choice, being comfortable and confident in our skin is one way of protesting for sure.

It’s a way of reclaiming our bodies and reminding others that our bodies are powerful – to get pregnant and birth a HUMAN from. I have been loving my Instagram feed that shows many versions of postpartum bodies being celebrated as it gives us a chance to build on our Feminine power. And yet for some many recent generations, the postpartum body has been ignored or hidden, or made to feel ugly. It’s interesting that we are noticed and touched when pregnant, but when a birther has a baby in arms, the focus and attention is all on the baby. It’s like the new mom has become invisible again, back into the shadows.

We aren’t meant to bounce back! In fact, losing the baby weight so quickly puts pressure on us, keeps our bodies sexualized, centres male privilege and consumerism (“buy these products to bounce back to your pre-baby body, and fit your jeans again!”). And it can perpetuate the norm around maiden bodies versus being a goddess or matriarch. Also, this pressure has an incredible impact on postpartum mood, relationship with partners, and self-esteem.

I also think that it’s helpful to remember that my body is my own, and it is up to me to define it, no one else. I can feel like a goddess one day, and more like a maternal healer another. I can be both/and – not stay stuck in one identity only. Feminine power and pride of growing a baby inside us should allow us the right to celebrate our body postpartum – instead of being taught to pathologize it or feel shame when we need Pelvis PT or have stretch marks. I love hearing about other countries’ ways of supporting people who have birthed by making access to physiotherapy easier for instance. As a therapist, my work around birth trauma and body image is to help my clients focus on the scar not the wound, as it is also more healing and empowering. This too is an act of reclamation.

Jessie Harrold wrote the Project Body Love: My quest to love my body and the surprising truth i found instead. In it, she shares her personal journey in reclaiming her body after having children and generally as a woman. She shares her tiny experiments of getting to learn more about herself by centring her body. For instance, asking herself what is her purpose for her body. More than taking it for granted, what it does for her, and how she can nurture it in return. This is a very intentional way of coming back to Self, and holding your body at the centre of it.

This practice of establishing a healthy relationship with our bodies is a process, one that is both necessary and sacred. If this is something you are struggling with, now that you are not alone. Here are some tips that may help:

1) Somatic Practise: This is my body
Sit comfortably and either play some soothing music or light a candle for extra comfort. With one hand, touch a part of your body and say “this is my body. This is my neck. This is my heart.” Or try “I am home here. My body is my home.” Repeat after doing it for a few rounds and see how you may feel after. This practice of

2) Reward it: Self-love for parts
It can be hard to start feeling good or positive about a part of our body that gives us grief, or we struggle with. Instead, start with a part you may be neutral or even a bit proud of already. Give it love – get a new lotion and do a self-massage of your hands, or maybe get a pedicure for your feet and all the work they do for you. Treat yourself to a new scarf for those shoulders that hold so much for you!

3) Gratitude Practice: Love letter
Have you ever thanked your body for what it does for you? It might feel triggering to do so for it in its fullness. Instead, write a letter of appreciation to the part of you that helped you through a difficult day, or hard moment. Maybe you want to draw out the moment as a way to honour your Inner Child.

Coming Back Full Circle

Now that my children have grown up a bit, they are needing my body less and less. There is still time for cuddles, hand holding, and washing hair. And yet, their bodies are growing in front of my eyes. My son is now basically the same height as me and my daughter’s shoe size is the same as mine.

My daughter has been figuring out who she is this year. And while i’m bearing witness to it, i am also an active member on the sidelines. She recently got herself a pair of ripped jeans. I had to consciously check my reactions. A part of me was worried about the attention she would get, another part was concerned why she wanted the jeans. I don’t own any ripped jeans, so this reminded me that i am not her only model now. It makes me recall this report that the American Psychological Association put forth about the sexualization of girls.

It takes a commitment to model a healthier body awareness and appreciation. My nine-year-old is definitely starting to notice her body in relation to others and also how it’s changing. Both kids are on the cusp of puberty and I’m pretty excited, if not a bit worried, about the change that is yet to happen.

In her book Mothers, Daughters and Body Image, Hillary McBride shares ways to help our children have a better body image. She shares 5 key steps: 1) Co-View – Be present with media and 2) Get in between them and the media messages 3) Teach them media literacy 4) Notice how you compliment 5) Reflect on your own comments about your body. Make sure your partner also is aware. I appreciate these tips and would also suggest i do them for myself too. It helps to get a sense of what we say to ourselves about ourselves when in the presence of social media and pop culture. There is procedural learning from our own childhood and teen years that has shaped this.

“You were never meant to play small just to make other people comfortable, and it is possible to be loved and fully you at the same time” ~ Hillary McBride

Women in the Mirror

I think there is a movement in the public arena that celebrates all bodies as beautiful because they are real. I love the saying “perfectly imperfect in every way” as it allows space for authenticity and realistic expectations. That ideal we are reaching for, doesn’t even exist – and we now know that Instagram, Facebook, and commercials use massive filters to hide ‘flaws.’ So, we can do better than looking at what is prescribed as the perfect body (skinny, tall, white, able-bodied).

Social media images like these are normalizing and work to make other women feel less alone, less ashamed of their own “imperfect” postpartum bodies. It’s not a coincidence that these campaigns come at a time when there is more work being done to address vulnerability and courage, as well as self-compassion. Brene Brown speaks volumes about the healing power of being vulnerable as it allows space to grapple with our insecurities and push them aside. Kristin Neff speaks about self-compassion, and one of my favourite principles of her work is common humanity, which is noticing we are not alone in our struggle or feelings. So when we see others in magazines or on TV that have similar bodies and scars, we can feel validated and that is so healing. It’s hard to hear the inner critic in us when we also feel ourselves in others’ bodies.

I also think it is very important to see ourselves in the media as it can lessen the impact of postpartum mood disorders, low self-worth, or the impact it has on our relationships. We are not the only ones watching – our partners are, our families, are too. This mindset shift allows us to come to a place of acceptance, body positivity and self-love. This acceptance can be the shift we need to go out to the park in the summer, to go swimming with our children in the local pool, to be present in our lives as well as our children’s instead of internalizing the negative thoughts about our bodies.

One other wonderful resource is Sonya Renee Taylor’s book My Body is not an Apology. It unpacks the intersection of colonization, white supremacy and male privilege as it relates to our body image as a society. She has since come out with a workbook, Your Body is not an Apology and this is such a great gift for reclaiming a loving relationship with our body. There is something really invigorating about being able to see yourself in others (bodies, photos, campaigns) and it speaks to how important Intersectional Feminism is in regards to representation, and where media and consumer industry has been behind the times for so long.

Our body reminds us that this stage of new parenthood is hard work. That’s why i need to take care of me (and my body) in order to keep going. As i get to the other side of parenting, my children need me differently. My body is not as used, touched and pulled in different directions as much. And yet it is exhausted, and worn to the bone in other ways. That’s why we need to keep an active practice of care for our body.

Trauma survivors have a complicated relationship with their bodies. After experiencing violation and betrayal, their bodies carry the weight of the memory. Coming to a new place of awareness, acceptance or even awe is a reparative process. This includes anyone who either experienced abuse before becoming parents, as well as people who experienced birth trauma. When we are told over and over again that birth is a natural process, when things go wrong or our bodies don’t work as they ‘should,’ a lot of that gets internalized. When we have scars (internal or visible), we feel less than our peers who birthed differently, whether a home birth, vaginally, or without a need of surgery. An unfortunate competition and hierarchy puts us into clubs right from the time we birth our babies. We internalize this comparison and it keeps us stuck in a shame spiral. We deserve better than this.

I think that a new paradigm is possible: moving away from the view that holds negative views of women and being judged by our appearance, to one that is a positive depiction of our worth and strength. I also really love the focus on our transformation after having children/giving birth to children. Instead of focusing on the ugly, why can’t we celebrate this shift. This is an active self-love movement that is growing. It’s both an act of courage and a Fuck You to show yourself to the world, flaws and all. In a world that still lives with white privilege and ableism, isn’t it an act of courage and resistance to show off our real selves?

We can be both maternal and more. We are not just mothers, even when we are. The sacrifice isn’t in our bodies or the scars we got from giving birth, but rather how others keep us from accepting our new bodies. The sacrifice comes later when we are told to hide, or feel like we can’t enjoy our life in our new bodies. The sacrifice is when we are not supported to be more than mothers, and to live more meaningful, full lives. We end up sacrificing ourselves in order to take care of babies because we were left alone in caring for them. This reclamation can be a chance to build back a community of support.

Kiss your own fingertips
and hug your own curves.
You are made of waves and honey
And spicy peppers when it is necessary.
You are a goddess,
I hope you haven’t forgotten.
~ Emory Allen

The Serpent and the Butterfly: Shedding the Skin that No Longer Serves

When i was contemplating my decision to have children many moons ago, i had to ask myself some hard questions. What kind of mother did i want to be? Did i want to be a mother? Who would be part of my village as a support to me? What work did i have to do first in order to show up as a mother? Did i feel aligned with the label of Mother, and how would parenting change me?

In order to help me grapple with these questions, i looked at my models of motherhood. I reflected on these relationships to help me get a sense of this role. My own mother was very invested in her identity as a mother. She made sacrifices as a woman, a newcomer to Canada, in order to be as present and active as a mom. She took my sister and i to every dance, music and swim class. She sat in the lobbies and waited for us. She showed up and was always around. Of course, she had a life outside of us but i didn’t really see it, nor ask her. It was assumed that she was solely, or at least mainly, mom.

I looked at other mothers – my friends’ moms, my dance teacher, TV characters – all mainly showed that mothers martyred themselves for their children even when they balanced this role with other parts of their life.

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” ~ragneesh

In the end, i knew that i wanted to include children in my own life, and yet i also knew that remaining a therapist was important to me too. I further knew that keeping parts of me active was imperative in my transition into motherhood, and coming out of the other side of it. While i appreciated the sacrifices mothers made at the time, i knew we deserved better ourselves.

And yet all the good books on becoming mothers and having children were more about how to feed and clothe babies, instead of helping us with this major rite of passage we experience. Patriarchy still enforces, and not so subtly at times, that women’s role is to raise children: That it’s an inherent knowing versus a learning-as-we go imperfect model. We are told to bounce back to who we were before, or at least our bodies are supposed to.
We are not meant to bounce back. We are not the same as before. We are not yo-yos or slinky toys. We may be better or not but we are clearly changed. We all die these little deaths in our lifetime, because we are supposed to.

When it came to this massive shedding of skin and reckoning, mothers are still coming out of the goo of chrysalids on their own. While we are creating a new skin, the idea of being more than a mom is still kept in the shadows.

Now, 12 years into parenthood, i have a better sense of the mother i want to be. I also know that we cannot make this transformation alone. Luckily, there are more books, resources, and communities that speak about this openly and directly.

The death of former me is now my chance to rebirth a new version of myself. This is the snakeskin transition. And yet, we are not given time or permission to grieve the old version of us. We are supposed to jump all in and celebrate motherhood wholeheartedly. We arn’t supposed to regret it, and if you do…good luck.

We need to grieve for the person who we were or hoped to become, and also take from her what we want to continue holding. This is alchemy in human-form. Alchemists work to completely change (or devour) what was in order to become something new and stronger. It is meant to be a cyclical process.

I participated in a powerful workshop over the summer, where Kimberly Ann Johnson had Deborah Quibell as a guest. She is a Depth Psychologist who focuses on Matrilineal Reconstruction through the lens of Jungian Archetype work. I know that’s a mouthful and yet it really shows a light on this identity shift.

The pervasive and traditional paradigm of what makes a mother is based on these roles: nurturer, protector, empowerer and initiator. Phillip Moffitt speaks further about these functions in this amazing article by Bethany Webster. And yet, i also think that the Mother Archetype is deeper than that – she is the creator of life, of manifesting into being what was not there. This could be a child, but also creating art, a new job, or a garden. So much emphasis is put on the work of nurturer, protector, and empowerer that it seems to be disregarded that we also initiate, or create.

What we also create is a new version of ourself – our former version is now dead and we have been reborn as in this new archetype, identity, or role. So it’s important to ask yourself “where am I now? What is my transition now? WHO am i now?”

Jung spoke a lot about archetypes and the different processes of transformation. The process helps us contain and right us in our story. As a Cycle, it holds me with some parameters for safety. And yet, people going through this major metamorphosis of parenthood are not reminded of this shift overtly. This sea change has fallen to the shadows.

So, it’s important to revisit these archetypes, as a way of normalizing this magical identity crisis. This is where Empowerment comes – i cannot empower anyone else, that work comes from within and is embodied.

Some of us are not mothers by birth nor have children to care for. And yet, the Mother archetype is more than raising children directly. The concept of “Mother” archetype is when you are in the “full bloom phase of your life, where you step into maturity and claim your inner power. It is about losing the charge of the child (or “maiden”), answering your soul’s inner calls, tending to your own inner wounds from a place of maturity—so that you can answer the convictions and calls of the world that is in such desperate need of mature feminine, Mother energy.” If you want to learn more about this, check out Sarah Durham Wilson of Motherspirit – her work is transformative.

The Mother archetype is for anyone, including those of us who is not a physical mother —it’s one thing to be a mother and another thing to be in the Mother phase of life.

Marion Woodman was a Jungian analyst who focused on this body of research. “The woman who is a virgin, one in herself, does what she does not for power or out of the desire to please, but because what she does is true.” This article dives deep into her work, as she believed the archetypal rite of passage was maiden-mother-virgin-crone I kind of love that she tried to reclaim the word ‘virgin’ to better reflect someone who is

There’s a beautiful word called matrescence that speaks to this messy transition and change in role and identity. Only after becoming a mother of two did i see i wasn’t prepared for the grief and loss of my life beforehand. When I realized this rite of passage needs to be messy and then integrated, it allowed me more self-compassion, acceptance and autonomy with this new role. Not all of us who are maternal are mothers and not all of us identify as mothers, and yet it’s such an age-old expectation. So having time to grieve is a empowering way of holding on to our full range of feelings. Having space to share these thoughts is itself a wonderful way of finding community when we feel so invisible.

All change takes time to integrate. The transition into motherhood takes up to 2 years. It’s a messy process, not unlike a butterfly coming from the goo of a chrysalis. Jessie Harrold speaks about this a lot and i love that she also refers to this messy transition as goo. In this article, she shares more about this change of rites of the heart.

“What the caterpillar sees is the end the rest of the world has not met as the butterfly”. ~Lao Tzu

Rites of Passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation (integration), as van Gennep describes: “I propose to call the rites of separation from a previous world, preliminal rites, those executed during the transitional stage liminal (or threshold) rites, and the ceremonies of incorporation into the new world postliminal rites.”

Here is a summary of the three stages of transformation:
1) Nigredo – Separation or Death
Here, we are reminded that we need the dark soil to give us nutrients. The shadow is not a bad or dark place, but a necessary reflection of richness in the dark. It is a passage, and opening. So, similar to the chrysalid, we need to take this time to retreat inward and reflect on our journey thus far, be in the moment, and breathe

If we think of a garden, it needs the dark soil to give nutrients and the shadow to let it grow. There is Richness in the dark. That is why we now hear the phrase “dark night of the soul’ as a passage: When we recognize this as a necessity to move through, it’s easier to do so.

If you are in this Phase, take some time to 1) Meditate on softness, breathe fully 2) retreat inward or in nature, 3) be still and settle in. Drop down, just like the model of a garden dropping its roots in the underworld 4) find images that are peaceful in the darkness 5) light candles to honour the shadows

This process creates a fight within us. When we break apart, that’s when we see the light. So we need the darkness to help us and guide us where to go

2) Albedo – Liminal (neutral) Space Between
This is a time that brings some clarity. We start to wash away impurities or inconsistencies. This is a marked change in attitude and deeper meaning to the process of change. So, it’s important to not rush and declare suffering is over. There is still some fragility and vulnerability in this new version of you – again, i see a young seedling that is trying to survive an early Spring storm.

The people in your life may expect more of you than you can give. They might try to put their thoughts on you. So instead, honour the quiet moment for its simple, innocent beauty. Embody a felt sense of joy and relief to come out of darkness. Ask who has come, and what does it need? Get close to suffering and sift it to find the gold.

It is still early to explain this to others as you are still tender here. What is the conversation you want now? You haven’t truly integrated yet – this is the liminal space that is messy and tender. You may still be bracing in case you may suffer again. As Deboarah put it, “it is Daybreak but not sunrise quite yet”

A ritual here could be to light a candle and then say out loud what you want to bring out of the shadows. Bringing the Shadow into the light with curiosity, self-love or compassion. The more we can embody our feelings, we are able to bring into the forefront our shadow. Movement and dance are key. Breathwork and posture helps too.

3) Rubedo – Integration and New Beginnning
This is the time of reckoning, of integration into a fully initiated and incorporated Self. It is when we are bursting in our new bloom and bounty. There is a warmth and light of consciousness, and yet there may be still a slight inner conflict as a part still wants the old, the new is still raw. This is when the butterfly sines in the light, or a new flower blossoms in all her glory.

We need to embody this new place in order to integrate it into our other parts. Some Parts have died. Others are new and don’t feel integrated or seamless yet.

So, ask yourself questions: Who am I now? What came out of this change? What do I need to bring to the world? How to bring out the story into that world. This is where the warmth and glow starts to happen – the gift of my transformation.

Don’t ignore this new self who worked so hard to appear and be heard.

One activity I love to do as a way to honour this phase and completion is to make an artifact or anchor. First, do a mindfulness exercise to see where you can locate that sensation in your body now. If it had a colour what would it be, a shape, a smell or temperature? Create the item in clay, paint it, collage, or write a poem about it.

Why am i going into detail about this? For one, it’s because a big part of my work is supporting people with their transition into parenthood as well as the metamorphosis that happens as they incorporate all their Parts back together. For another reason, i see so many of us still stuck in the role of mother, and they haven’t yet crossed the threshold into a fully initiated being. So many of us get stuck in Stage 2 – the liminal space of the role of mother superseding all else. We deserve better. Patriarchy wants us to stay in this place. It needs us to still identify more as a mother or in the Mother Nurturer realm. Patriarchy is afraid of our power and wisdom, that comes with a deeper connection to feminine energy. Patriarchy needs us to be stuck in our role as mothers, and doesn’t value us as more than that.

I have been grateful to witness this Collective emergence, both from the pandemic and reclaiming sacred feminine power/energy. There has been a re-wilding of our feminine energies, our sexual root energies that connect excitement and pleasure mixed with nurturance and creativity of mother. This excites me as i know I’m not alone in this calling to be more than a mom, to be a fully initiated woman.

For too long, the Divine Feminine and Mother archetypes have been hidden by their shadow parts. They have been deemed as less than, as secondary. This has led women to internalize shame about their worthiness and sovereignty. There has been a reckoning in becoming comfortable with the unknown, be wild and be with people who are okay with this.

As Sarah of Motherspirit reminds us “until a woman descends into herself..her own worth, purpose and voice, She will be seeking these treasures outside of herself for a lifetime, and no one will be served.She will remain a child begging for permission to trust herself, to feel her feelings, to take the healthy risks to bloom.”

Recognizing those archetypes in us helps us know ourselves more fully and that can lead us to being more intimate with ourselves and authentic. Having stories like these help us see the larger story of humanity and not just our own personal experience. It allows space to play with this new capacity of being a person who creates life (or art, or gardens) as well as the one who gives it vitality and energy to thrive. This is that fine balance shedding skin that no longer fits and coming out as a more full version of you.