Please stop being so hard on yourself.

They eat chicken McNuggets sometimes and that doesn't make me a bad mom.

You know what’s funny? I was just sitting here thinking about how cool I am because I can honestly say that my percentage of time spent comparing myself to other people has dropped dramatically in the last year. I used to spend a lot of time thinking I was a bad mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, volunteer, niece and so on because other women seemed to be so much better at all of it than me. Now, I don’t do that as much. Like, hardly ever. But I still feel like I’m falling short in a lot of ways. So here is what is funny: I now compare myself to an IMAGINARY Anna.

IMAGINARY Anna is a lot like me, but not so rough around the edges. All of her laundry is caught up and she makes nutritious, delicious dinners for her family every night, even on the weekends. AND, all three of her kids eat every last bite of these meals WITHOUT COMPLAINING. In fact, they tell her she is an excellent cook and make her promise to write down all her recipes so that someday they can replicate her delectable meals for their own children. She is fashion forward and she doesn’t have bad hair days. She wears high heels a lot and they don’t hurt her feet. AT ALL. She can do a yoga head stand. She never yells at her children or loses her patience. Ever. She weighs… well, let’s not talk about how much she weighs because it’s been so long since I weighed as much as she does. I can’t relate to her on that level, but I do envy her and the ease with which she buys clothing (especially bras). She ALWAYS adores her husband and jumps up to kiss and hug him and thank him every night when he walks through the door, even when it is WAY later than she expected him. She doesn’t even blink an eye when he leaves his dirty socks in random places, like the kitchen counter. She doesn’t nag. She is a saint, really. Everybody loves her. She has lots of friends. She is the President of her Book Club and she volunteers every day in each of her three angelic children’s classrooms. In her spare time, she knits blankets for cold people. She has coffee every afternoon with her mother, who is a widow like my mom, and never once gets distracted as her mother shares what is on her mind. She never says things like, “Mom, I can’t even follow you – you are ALL over the place right now!” She follows everything. She does it all. I know she is completely unreal, but I STILL compare myself to her. I think I might have been better off comparing myself to other women because occasionally I actually saw the human side of THEM and didn’t feel like such a loser.

What I’m trying to say here is, women are SO HARD on themselves!

Maybe men are too. Okay, I know they are. Sometimes. But I am not a man and most of my friends are not men so I am not as concerned about them and their well-being right this minute. I don’t hear how guilty men feel when they have to make a choice between showing up for one of their children at one event or another of their children at another event because both their children want them to show up at the very same time, but they can only be in one place at once. Did you follow that? I may have a future in writing story problems. I don’t hear how worried they are when their children are sick or sad or being treated poorly by someone at school. I don’t hear how conflicted they feel when a dear friend needs them desperately and their family needs them too. I don’t hear how sad it makes them to leave their children every morning and pick them up late at night. How they wished they could be there for every single big and little milestone their children reach. But they can’t because they have to work. And, I have never ever heard a man say he feels bad for doing something special for himself rather than spending quality time with his family.

To be clear, I am not saying, nor implying, that men don’t have the very same heartfelt concerns as women. I just don’t hear about it because, like I said, most of my close friends are other women and other moms and they are the people I hear from most often. Women are the people I most worry about.

I am putting out a desperate plea here to any woman (or man for that matter) who is reading this. PLEASE, pretty please with a cherry on the top, let yourself off the hook.

See, here’s the not so funny thing. If any one of my friends, or even a complete stranger, came to me and said, “Anna, I feel so bad for going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s last night to get dinner for my kids…”

I would NEVER say, “Wow, you’re a shitty mom. You’re so lazy. You totally should have cooked for your children!”

I would probably say, “Please. Your kids are fine. You’re fine. Let it go.” But do I ever say that to myself? Not so much. Imaginary Anna always cooks for her children. As long as I compare myself to her, I will keep feeling like a crappy, lazy mother. That is not funny. That is really sad.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again. As long as we compare ourselves to others or continue to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, we will never measure up, and we will always feel bad about ourselves.

I am getting better at quieting the voice in my head – my inner critic – when she tells me that So and So is a way better mother than I am. Some of us are still working on that. Some of us aren’t even aware that she has no place in our heads. She is unwelcome. Kick her OUT. You work on that and I’ll work on kicking out my new inner critic who tells me all the crap that she tells me.

I know we all have moments where we feel guilty or ashamed or incapable of doing what we think we’re supposed to be doing. That is natural and normal because we are humans and humans have feelings. We need our feelings to help us move through life. Our feelings are like little street signs, letting us know what lies ahead or which way to turn. We have every right to feel guilty. But let’s not wallow in it. Let’s not live there. Let’s not let ourselves stay feeling guilty.

Let’s just notice our guilt, like a little sign saying Guilt Lies Ahead and move on, in a different direction, knowing that we are doing the very best that we can.

Then, let’s let ourselves off the hook because we are in fact doing our BEST. And guess what? Our best changes every day. Today my best is not as fantastic as it was yesterday. You know what Inner Critic, that’s OKAY. I’m OKAY. My kids are OKAY. I’m letting it go…!

I worry about each of the beautiful women I hear say, “I feel so bad about…” I worry that they will stay feeling bad and not see their very own radiance – the radiance that I see when their eyes light up when they see their kids after school each day. The radiance I see when I know they are doing the very best that they can in every possible way. I admire the way women try so hard. We do hard work. I trust it is worth it. I also trust that with as hard as it is, we don’t need to make it any harder. We can let ourselves off the hook. xoxo

A Different Kind of Love Letter

Dear Dad,
You’re still a jerk for dying. Every once in a while I can be okay with it, but for the most part, the way I feel about you for dying hasn’t changed.

As the second anniversary of your death approaches, I am thinking a lot about what has changed since March 11, 2010.

At your funeral and afterward, a lot of people said to me, it will get easier with an emphasis on the IT. I don’t think IT really gets easier, Dad. I think I just get better at IT. I live and love and laugh a lot and I cry a lot too. I sometimes question my sanity. When that happens, I wonder if maybe I really should be all better now. There is no “all better” in the world of lost loved ones though, Dad. I know that you know that. And, I know that you know, better than anyone, that the pain – the sadness, the anger, the desperation – we feel when we lose someone we love needs to be expressed because if it’s not expressed, bad things can happen. Unexpressed grief festers inside us like an infection. It might manifest itself in another way, like as an illness. So, I don’t need to explain to you why two years after your death, I’m still writing about it and thinking about it…and crying about it.

I still miss you so much, Dad. I miss you the most when I am putting Sophia to bed and we are laying side by side with our faces so close that our noses are almost touching. She stares at me intently and whispers the sweetest things like, “your eyes are like JEWELS!” As if she is so surprised, but also as if she is telling me a secret about the meaning of life, something that only she knows because she is still so fresh in her human body. I wish you were here to tell me what you think of all the things she says and the ways she twirls around the room, dancing and singing, and the ways she taunts her brothers. I loved hearing your James stories. Then, I loved hearing your Alexander stories. I long to hear your Sophia stories.

When Sophia and I meet new people or stop to talk to strangers in the store, it isn’t too long before someone says, “I love her little voice.” Nobody knows as well as Sophia just how lovable she is. She tilts her head and smiles. One day, Alexander was FURIOUS at her. She talks a lot, Dad. Her little voice never stops. She wouldn’t stop talking and Alexander screamed, “I HATE HER LITTLE VOICE!” It was hilarious. I laughed out loud. Really, what else could I have done in that situation?

I parent differently now than I did before you died, Dad. I used to get really stressed out, almost panicky, in situations like that. I wanted to be the perfect mother. I wanted to respond with the most meaningful, profound, and powerful words. I wanted to say the right thing, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Oh Dad, that just isn’t real. You know? My kids need to see me lose it. They need to see me make mistakes and say I’m sorry afterward. They need to see me cry, Dad. Nothing is real anymore. Between TV and movies and video games, kids just don’t see what’s real. I want to be real for them. They need me to be real for them. When they’re upset, they don’t need me to spout off something I read in a book, they just need me to listen. At the end of the day, if they can go to sleep knowing that they are loved and that they are heard and seen, I think they will be okay. Sometimes I screw it all up, but mostly I think we’re all going to be okay.

I think that is true for most people, Dad. They just need to be heard. So I’ve stopped trying to come up with the perfect response altogether. I’ve stopped beating myself up for falling short of perfection…because I do fall short of perfection. Way short. I listen a lot and think less about how to respond when the person I’m listening to is finished talking. When people ask me what I would do – I try to answer from the heart. But, honestly Dad, we all know that nobody really knows how they will respond to something until they are actually faced with that situation. Oh, the time I wasted IMAGINING how I would respond to a hypothetical situation! I try not to do that anymore. It’s a waste of time.

I also try not to obsess so much. I used to obsess over every little detail of every little thing that I did. Do you remember that? I was so busy obsessing that I was missing what was most important – just BEING. Kids don’t care if their birthday parties have a theme, Dad. For the love of God! But themes are fun. So that’s different. I don’t pretend that implementing every aspect of the perfectly themed birthday party is for them, an essential part of the perfect childhood. I’m honest now, Dad. They may pick the theme, but all the other coordinating and matching and gathering and putting together – that’s for me. They really just want cake and presents.

I guess you could say I’m following my intuition more now. I’m listening to myself more. The funny thing about that, Dad, is years ago – before kids and marriage and a job and all that, I LISTENED to my intuition! Somehow I lost touch with that ability. Or, I lost faith in that ability. I began to look outside myself for answers to questions. I read books. Lots and lots of books. Before I made any significant decision, I checked to see what Dr. Sears would do. I turned to my friends and anyone really, to see what they were doing. Then, I judged myself against all those inputs – the books, the people, the kids’ teachers and our pediatrician… I never measured up, Dad, because that wasn’t me. That wasn’t real. And the other funny thing about that is I’m actually really smart. I have some pretty great answers. But, I still love books.

I still think a lot about God too, Dad. That hasn’t changed. It is an obsession. I really wished I had some solid ground to stand on after you died. I desperately wanted to be able to say with confidence, “THIS is what I believe…” I have some ideas, but I’m still open to possibilities, Dad. I stopped thinking that maybe some people were wrong and some were right about God though. Maybe we’re all right, Dad. Maybe we all just need to figure out what works for us and do that. Maybe we can change our minds as we go. Twice this week already I’ve read stories about how God wants us to treat others as we would treat ourselves AND, here’s the important part, that implies that we actually treat ourselves well. Right? I never got that part. I just assumed I was treating myself well and that is how I would treat others. In actuality, I wasn’t treating myself well. At all. So, I’m trying to treat myself well because I want to be able to treat other people well. Skipping meals and not making time for exercise? Um, no. Not anymore. But Dad, I’m always the first to go when things get rough. I take full responsibility for that. I’m not whining about it. I’m just saying that I’ve still got work to do.

I’m writing all of this as if you have no idea what’s going on down here on Earth. When really, in my heart, I know that you already know all of it. I know you are there in the night with Sophia and me, and maybe it is you whispering in her ear, telling me my eyes are like jewels (although, even you wouldn’t be quite so dramatic about it). I know you still follow James and Alexander and maybe you’ve got some buddies up there who listen to your funny stories now. I know you are here with me, leaving pennies and feathers and messing with the frames on my walls. I know you are guiding me to listen to my intuition…again. I know you are helping me to see what is real and what isn’t and what matters and what doesn’t. This is what you did on Earth. You were flawed, like all of us, but you were real and the way you lived your life was an invitation for all of us to be real too. You believed that the power was inside us, in the people, NOT in politicians or priests or other people like politicians and priests – people we turn to when we feel powerless. As I continue to miss you and live on without you here, I think I also feel closer to you. Closer to what you were and what you stood for. For living and laughing and loving and singing and playing and thinking with all your heart – not so much with your mind. You got it. You knew that nothing but love mattered. You sang about that. You knew that all the power we ever needed was right there inside us. You had it all figured out.

It’s hard to be real, Dad. To be honest and true. To let it all hang out. To be vulnerable. It’s all so very hard. But you did it with such grace and with such a great sense of humor too. So, I’m not giving up. I’m open and listening. I will keep at it as a tribute to you. In my mind’s eye, I can see you smiling now. I see the signs that you give me, and I will continue to follow them right back home – to myself, to my own heart, where you live, always, inside me and all around me.

I love you Dad!
xoxo love, Anna