From parenting

Ok women, stop it.

There’s a woman sitting near you in a restaurant, on a train, in a school meeting, at your kids’ sport, on a nearby desk at work, or walking past you in the street, feeling lousy about herself. A really ‘I don’t want to be here. I feel so uncomfortable. I am so fat.’ kind of lousy.

Truthfully, there’s probably more than one woman feeling like that.

In fact, there’s a strong possibility you are that woman.

Having almost 38 years of ‘femaleness’ under my belt, having had female friends all of my life; and working in the health and wellbeing industry specifically with females, I’m starting to see a big, fat, bold, scary pattern.

We hate on ourselves.

All. The. Time.

If we’re not doing it publicly (“Oh my god, you should see what I ate on the weekend.”), we’re doing it privately (“F**k it! I’m not going, nothing looks good on me. I’m such a fat cow.”) If we don’t beat ourselves up about it enough, we beat our loved ones up about it (“Honey how does this look?”…. “What do you mean byOK’? Do you even want to be married to me?!?!”).

This downtrodden attitude towards ourselves is dictating our conversations. When was the last time you had dinner with the girls and no-one brought up what diet they were on, what new weight loss technique they were trying, how heavy they were feeling, how many kilograms they’d gained or how much weight so-and-so had lost?

Minute-to-minute (sadly, I’m not even exaggerating) it is affecting our moods, our social lives, our relationships, our careers and our professional or personal aspirations.

I’ve met women who are tiptoeing on the verge of agoraphobia as a result of how they look in the mirror; dozens tell me they can’t come to an exercise class until they have lost some weight; and friends that tell me that they rarely enjoy social occasions because they never feel comfortable with how they look.

Gah. It’s got to stop.

Women. Stop it!

But I know these women. I’ve been this woman. And I know it isn’t as easy as just saying, “Oh ok, I rock, let’s go disco dancing!”

I don’t know where this venom entered our blood stream. We consistently blame advertising and all of their lighting and airbrush trickery. We blame our mothers for switching to low fat milk and flora margarine in 80s. We blame clothing manufacturers for inconsistent sizing and the designers who insist on using waif like models to sell them.

But while we are turning down another social occasion, having another low-self-esteem fuelled argument with our nearest and dearest and-or internally abusing ourselves again with a grimaced face in the mirror; another airbrushed ad is being produced, another diet-related food product is being pumped off the production line, another size 14 clothing tag is being sewn onto a size 10 jacket and another model is being employed for next year’s biggest fashion show.

The industries that could shoulder some of the blame for our self-hate are not going to stop doing what they do in time for you to go to go to the ball, apply for that job, buy that dress, check out that dance class or have that raunchy lights-on-completely-starkers night with your hubster.

It’s up to us to stop listening. Stop listening to those voices that tell us we’re too fat to go out, that our partner couldn’t possibly love us, that the spin class is only for skinny people or that we can’t change our career path until we’ve lost 10kgs.

It’s up to us to stop the weight-related conversations with friends and start talking about something other than body size and body parts.

It’s up to us to stop thinking that achieving a certain body shape or size is the sole purpose of our existence on earth.

Seriously, this obsessive negative body image epidemic needs an antidote – and it lies within us.

Obviously, I don’t discourage an enthusiastic attitude toward better health, but I suspect that the incessant focus on our appearance is in fact, plaguing our bodies way more than the desperate 3p.m chocolate bar.

By all means, continue to work on your fitness; continue to explore better nutrition, but synergise it with a loving and appreciative acceptance of your body, and all bodies.

My top five tips for breaking the hate-on-ourselves pattern are:

1)      Reduce self-criticism: Challenge yourself to 2 days a week (more if you can) where you don’t criticise your any aspect of your reflection.

2)      See internal characteristics in others: Practice describing (either to yourself or in friendly discussions with your peers) other women using only non-physical characteristics. “You know Kate, the one that is really friendly? She’s friends with Lucy, who is always willing to help out at soccer…”

3)      Change the conversation: When you meet up with your girlfriends, have a zero-tolerance approach to body-related conversations.  If someone raises how heavy they are feeling, how their clothes aren’t fitting anymore or how skinny they were at their damn wedding 15 years ago, don’t fuel the discussion by adding in your two cents about their weight, or yours. Next.

4)      Ignore clothing sizes: Image if you cut off the tags on every piece of clothing in your wardrobe. Eventually, you wouldn’t remember what was a size 10 and what was a size 16. You’d just wear whatever was comfortable on that day. Adopt the same attitude when you shop. Don’t worry about the size you need, just grab the one that will be the most comfortable.

5)      Letting go is different to letting yourself go. I saw this quote at some stage on the socials and wish I could credit it appropriately. It perfectly represents the synergy of body acceptance with health awareness. Being more accepting of your body does not mean that you should throw out the runners and schedule in a nightly date with the pizza delivery driver.  Likewise, continuing to work on your diet and fitness does not have to be all in the name of external body changes. Gosh darn it, it can be just for the benefit of feeling good and, hold-the-damn-phone, a long and healthy life.

Regardless of where the responsibility lies for this venomous culture of self-hate, if we start to change the way we think about ourselves, talk about ourselves and what we notice in others, that woman in the restaurant, whether it’s you or not, might order a dessert and not feel self-conscious about it; the woman on the train might apply for that promotion and the fellow mother at the school meeting might feel confident enough to introduce herself and come to the next social night out.

Pausing life for just for 20 mins. Then I’m good to go.

The crew and I were in countdown mode all weekend. This little family of four has been one man down for 2 weeks and we couldn’t wait to welcome hub-dad back into the country.

There have been times over this last fortnight when dinners have been a gourmet collection of weetbix, raisin toast and rice crackers. There have been times over this last fortnight when socks have had to be pulled out of the dirty washing pile and squished bits of cupcake have had to be picked off them before being worn to school. There have been times over this past fortnight when a wee-puddle, left by the side of the toilet bowl from a half asleep son has had to wait 7 hours before being mopped up. There have been times over the last fortnight when we have screamed [me], sworn [me] and cried [also me].

Solo-parenting, is parenting, amplified.

I am not unique in the going-solo sense. Mothers are doing this ALL. THE. TIME. At any given moment I could list half a dozen women that I know, who are juggling the demands of a young family while their husbands are away for work. And that doesn’t even count the single mothers, who just roll with these punches day in and day out (and probably, rightfully so, rolled their eyes and tuned out of my pity post by the second paragraph).

The biggest challenge of parenting, and more so solo-parenting, is the seemingly impossible art of living in the present. This allusive skill teaches us to appreciate what is in front of us, let go of the past and allow the future to fall into place. That’s all well and good and daisy-chains, until my son needs to get to soccer practice and my daughter needs to be at basketball, at opposite ends of the town, at the same time. Living in the present is all beer and skittles until the dog needs a walk, the kids need dinner, the washing needs to be pulled in and I have three hours’ worth of work to get through before the inevitable tiredness of the day threatens to sink its teeth into all of our emotional states.

The thing is, living in the present is a beautiful notion and an undisputable benefit to wellbeing, until life happens. It seems almost inconceivable to stop and smell the roses when you can’t stop watching the clock, checking the diary and trying desperately to somehow get ahead of the conveyor belt of the family schedule.

But if there is anything that I have learnt about myself over the last 14 days, it’s that regardless of how hard it seems, I need to find the pause button for this conveyor belt; I need to schedule in regular maintenance – whether I’m solo parenting or not.

There’s a Zen proverb that says “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” If I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the impending to-do list after my husband’s departure, I would have written these words on a post-it-note in every room of the house.

At some stage in every fast-paced block of 24 hours, I need to find at least twenty minutes of nothingness; of calm, present, non-judemental thoughts only. Because there have been times in the last fortnight that I have felt the harsh brunt of living in every moment except the current one. I felt anxious. I felt stressed. I felt irritable. I felt erratic. I felt don’t-even-look-at-me emotional. I felt angry. I felt guilty. I felt completely overwhelmed, exhausted and broken. All signs, I imagine, of present-living deficit.

With hub-dad almost touching down back on Aussie soil (ed note, I just got a text. HE HAS LANDED! WOOT!), I am looking back over these last two weeks and questioning how I behaved as a parent, how I managed my emotions and dealt with the stress and I am wondering “why was that so damn hard?” It comes back to my complete lack of presence; my inability to clear my mind of who needs to be where and what needs to be done, for just 20 minutes of each day.

Having never been great at meditation, I’m pleased to read recent insights about the practice being less sitting on a cushion repeating “om” and more just slowing down and basking your senses in your current surroundings. Meditation can be done walking or running or even, for the win, while watching a live show. Anything that allows you to shut your diary, switch off your phone, close off your mind to the things that “need” to be done and just “be” present, is going to pay back with interest – emotionally, mentally and physically.

So solo-mums, single-mums, mums with loads of support, mums with no-support, mums in general, parents in general, it is hard, so damn hard to stop thinking about what everyone is doing, where everyone needs to be, what everyone needs to eat, who needs to have what packed and what needs to be done next. But from someone who’s tiptoed on the knifes edge of spending too much time in the next moment, find the time to stop; to look, to listen, to breath. Forget the to-dos, forget the not dones and just switch off. 20 minutes in 24 hours.

Then mop up the wee.