“I just snapped at my kids because I was hungry.”
When I shared this Facebook status, I was met with overwhelming support. People more than understood; they rallied in support of my hangry regret knowing all too well how food (or lack thereof) affects your mood.
But what they didn’t know was that I had begun yet another diet — a diet that I hoped would make me look good enough to feel better. Heaven knew I hadn’t felt good for a while.
Simple trips up the 14 dreaded stairs of my second-story home winded me. I felt bloated, slow, and the kind of tired you only get from sitting stationary at a computer by day and lounging stationary on a couch by night as you binge-watch five seasons of Big Love. Then there was my mood. I was crabby, frustrated, and anxious because feeling gross inside has an ugly way of making you act gross on the outside, too.
And my parenting suffered. I’d become a short-tempered, buzzkilling bystander of a mom who stood on the sidelines and barked orders. I’d watch my husband play outside with the kids from the comfort of our air-conditioned home and secretly yearn for the motivation to step outside, simultaneously shunning my family’s every attempt to include me.
But why? Why was I choosing to sit out the potentially magical moments of my kids’ childhoods? Why was I denying myself beautiful memories just ripe for the making? I silently asked myself these questions again and again, each time louder than the last until my mouth opened and, “Because I don’t deserve it.” spilled out. What?
Had all my self-loathing rendered my heart undeserving? HAD IT? How incredibly sad.
It was at that moment I realized this “diet” of mine was about so much more than looking better in my clothes. It was about feeling worthy of more. I’d been trying and failing all this time because I was going about the process all wrong. Looking good wasn’t going to make me feel good (at least not for long), but practicing self-kindness through fitness and nutrition could. Forgiving my unhealthy sins could. Proving to myself that I was invested in my life with and for my kids could.
What I didn’t know then was just how much my journey of self-care would change me as a mother. Here’s how …
1. I’m more present.
It’s entirely possible to serve as a fixture in your kids’ lives without ever really being present — ask me how I know. Sure, I prepared meals and checked homework, gave goodnight kisses and dried tears, but I rarely paused to experience the joy of unscheduled nothingness with my kids — the kind that gives way to imagination and endless possibility. The nothingness that becomes the everything-ness that fills your soul because you stopped to let it in. I found that I can experience this brand of righteous everything as part of my daily commitment to move my body. I don’t go to a gym, I get on a bike with my kids or take a hike with my family. It’s not science, it’s not Strava’d, it’s just me being present and active with the people who mean the most to me.
2. I’m more patient.
To my surprise, nutrition, exercise, and the amazing flood of positive experiences that come from just getting out there and living my life has helped me learn to channel the negative energy that spawned such monster mother behavior. I’m now more patient, open, and constructive in times of parenting stress, all because I feel better. WHO KNEW?
3. I’m leading by example.
My kids are getting to know a new and better version of Mom. They’re interested in my physical and mental evolution, asking questions and cheering me along my path of self-kindness. The journey hasn’t been easy and it’s far from over (in fact, it may never be), but if I’ve inspired them in some itty bitty way to take better care of themselves or believe that the power of change comes from within, it would have been more than worth it.
4. My kids are trying new things.
As believers in the palatable convenience of processed foods, improving our collective diets hasn’t been easy. Of course, there’s still the occasional fast food jaunt and box of Fruity Pebbles in our pantry, but we’re consuming less of these oh-so-tasty treats in our everyday. Gwyneth jokes aside, I’m proud of my kids for embracing our household’s healthier nutritional staples.