I stood in front of the mirror in my room this morning and grabbed my stomach and sighed. Lillie’s little voice came from my bathroom “What are you doing mommy?” she asked me. This is not good. She just saw me grab my stomach. “Nothing. Just getting dressed,” I tell my young impressionable 7 year old. The same daughter who tells me every day how beautiful she thinks I am. The same daughter who is learning what to think about herself based on how I talk to myself. “She is watching you closely,” I tell myself. I look back in the mirror and scold myself for criticizing my appearance. I make myself look back at my stomach and smile. The stomach that held all three of my babies. The stomach that still has some muscle lines. The stomach that I worked on yesterday doing a bunch of exercises. I changed that critical voice in my head. Why are we so mean to ourselves? I am so much nicer to everyone else. This isn’t ok with me. I need to be my biggest cheerleader. I need to teach my children to speak nicely to themselves. Our children learn how to talk to themselves from us.
I have created a daily life that can be hectic. Every parent is living it. I have a dry erase board that my family can look at daily to see pretty much everything that is going on. Ella is rushing me out the door because she needs to be at theater by 4:30. “Why did you stop home?” Ella scolds me as I try to remember where I put my phone. It feels like I am always looking for my phone. Thankfully my children are used to calling me so that I can find it. I find my phone, grab my coat and put Tanner’s leash on so that he can come with me to drop Ella off. Ella is giving me the stink eye as she becomes more and more nervous that she is going to be late. She has an audition today, so she is feeling more intense about being on time. I criticize myself about how bad I am at getting out of the house. “Why does it take you so long?” I criticize myself as I go back into the house to grab my keys. I sit in the driver seat and realize how heavy I am breathing. I pull out of the driveway and reassure Ella that we will be on time.
I mentally start going through the chain of thoughts that I just had getting out the door. I am noticing patterns daily of the negative voice in my head. I absolutely can be the best cheerleader to everyone in my life and I know that I can generalize this skill to myself. “I feel like I’m always rushing. I feel like I am always running somewhere. Why do my kids always have somewhere to be?” I take a deep breath and realize how negative I am being right now. It’s time to work on changing my voice all day long. “You are such a good mom. How great is it that you are driving Ella to do something she loves to do? You give your children such wonderful opportunities. You do a fabulous job getting your children everywhere on time.” I did it. I changed my voice. I made myself start over and give myself praise. Every time I say something negative to myself, I am going to say “Stop! Change your voice!” I can do this. You can do this with me.
I got home from dropping off Ella at theater and started to cook dinner. Lillie told me she was going to clean the playroom. Max and Ella are a lot like Seth and have a much more laid back attitude about how the house looks. Lillie is more like me. She likes to clean and organize, and she likes her playroom and her bedroom to look nice. She will walk into the mudroom with me and tell me that she is going to clean it. The shoes all over the place bother Lillie as much as it bothers me. She will sit down on the floor and spend a long time organizing all the shoes. I don’t ask her to do stuff like that. She just has my gene of liking things organized. As I finish cooking dinner Lillie asks me to come and look at the playroom and how hard she worked. I walk into the playroom and start to take deep breaths. My expectations were way too high. There is clutter everywhere and my breathing increases.
I can feel the anxiety set in. Messes make me anxious. I am going to give myself a ton of credit right now and tell you all that I have come a long way. When Seth and I didn’t have children our apartment and then our first house was always as perfect as I could make it. I was super uptight about it and I told Seth he needed to keep things clean. Seth is super laid back about cleaning and tended to humor me.
As the years went on and Seth and I influenced each other, I noticed that he tended to clean more. I noticed that he cared more about how the house looked. He started to move towards me. I also noticed that I started to move towards him. I used to not be able to go to bed until I had the kitchen totally cleaned up. Those days are long gone. It is noon on Tuesday and I just finished cleaning the kitchen from last night. I have definitely loosened up.
As I looked around the playroom and then into Lillie’s eyes, I noticed she was starting to cry. She saw the disappointment on my face and yelled, “I cleaned so much. I tried so hard!” My sweet girl. “Lillie, honey, you did a great job. I know you work so hard cleaning. I just need to get rid of some of this clutter. There is too much stuff in here.” Seth watches this whole exchange between Lillie and I. His solution is that he starts picking up crates and taking them to the basement.
In our fifteen years together, Seth has learned that whenever I am upset that cleaning is his best action. He starts bringing crates down to the basement and he tells Lillie that he is excited to finish cleaning the playroom with her. Seth looks at me and says “Take a break and go take a drive and get Ella. I promise Lillie and I will work on the playroom.” I get back into the car and start to think about how much of my worth I have put into how my house looks. When the house is a mess, I don’t feel good about myself. When the house is all cleaned and organize, I feel wonderful. Why is that? Why am I so critical of how the house looks? As I stood in my house before I left, I looked around and felt as if I wasn’t good enough. “I am not enough. I can’t get my house clean enough. Why is it so hard to keep my house clean?” I sat in my car and said “Stop, change your voice. Change it. Tell yourself positive things right now. I have a nice house. Seth and Lillie are doing a good job cleaning. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Your worth is not about how clean your house is.” I succeeded for the third time in one day. I changed the critical voice in my head. If I can do it today, I can do it every day.
Everything takes practice. When I was younger and wanted to be able to do a roundoff back handspring I practiced a lot to be able to do it. When I studied for my Bat Mitzvah, I practiced every day to be able to recite my prayers. When I wanted to become a social worker, I spent a long time studying to get my master’s degree. We can do almost anything if we practice. If our brain is wired to criticize us every day, we have to rewire it. Picture a tape recorder in your head. Every time you say something negative to yourself press stop and say “Stop and change your voice.” Let’s do this together. Together let’s spend the next week really focusing on reprogramming ourselves. I know we can do it. We can do anything we set our mind to. I am not going to let myself be so critical anymore. I hope you will join me in the “Stop and change your voice” challenge. Here we go!