Transcript: Self Care For Moms – finding self-fulfillment without surrendering your identity

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Self Care For Moms – Finding Self-Fulfillment Without Surrendering Your Identity and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

You were someone before pregnancy – but where did that person go? Motherhood is a gift of unimaginable love and happiness but in between playdates and naptime, you can’t help but miss certain things from your old life and answering to your real name instead of “mom”.

In this episode I am speaking with Zelmira Crespi a mother of 5 and co-author of Happy Mom, Happy Kid. Between them Zelmira and her friend Maria Montt who has a background in child psychology, have 9 children and decided to write a book answering their question, what really happens to moms when they go into motherhood.

Helen Thompson: Welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat, it’s a pleasure to have you here and talk to you about your book that you’ve co-written with Maria, ‘Happy Mom, Happy Kid’.

Zelmira Crespi: Thank you so much, we’re so excited to be on this podcast.

Helen Thompson: I had a quick glance at your book and there’s a lot of really intriguing information in there for moms. I noticed that in chapter one, you talk about, the Rubik’s cube of motherhood. So, can you, first of all, tell me a bit more about you and your passion, how you wrote the book, and then we can talk about the Rubex cube of motherhood to start with.

Zelmira Crespi: Sure, well, my name is Zelmira Crespi. I’m originally from Uruguay. I’ve been living in Miami for over 10 years and became very good friends with Maria, my co-writer, over 10 years ago and we both have several children. I have five under eight, and she has four under 11 and we were just having this ongoing conversation during our entire mothering years, cause we’ve known each other and we’ve seen our friends go into motherhood and we’ve seen ourselves navigate motherhood.

And since I’m a writer and she’s a child psychologist and a bit of an entrepreneur, she and I got together and we said, you know what? Let’s just answer our own questions, let’s produce a book. We thought it would be fun to actually write a book about it. I as a wannabe writer wanted to write a book anyways and on the topic of motherhood was one of my top choices to write, since it had had such a big impact in my life. And then Maria was also pretty curious about things that we just kept on talking about. And our main question always was what really happens to moms when they go into motherhood. And so, we did notice obviously ourselves, a lot of changes, and obviously there is a typical change.

Your life has changed because you’re taking care of other kids and you’re kind of all over the place physically and maybe mentally, but why does that happen? What is actually going on? Is this part of the process? Is it not? So we just had a bunch of questions and we just basically decided to do investigative journalism basically.

And we just started out with a couple of questions and then started to research on the subject. And the, the research came up pretty interesting. We did have a couple of aha moments which were great because at the end of the day, when you sit down and write a book unless you’re knocking on some major publishing house and you really want to dedicate your life to be the most successful writer, that’s one way to do it.

But this was actually a book project out of absolute sheer passion and love and interest for the people around us and for ourselves of what really happens during this whole entire mom process. And we kept on bringing up the fact that it doesn’t affect your identity. Why does that happen?

Because a lot of moms feel frustrated when they feel that they’re just not being able to connect with themselves. And obviously, you’re barely capable of showering some days, or maybe washing your hair. It’s pretty normal. It’s expected that you don’t really feel like it.

But sometimes that feeling doesn’t really get better or sometimes it just continues in a very soft tone during the rest of your life. If you don’t really pay attention to it, it could be unnecessarily harmful to the maximum capacity of enjoying your life. So chapter six is our happy women’s study basically we did our own study and we got out all the research of positive psychology and what everybody talks about, or the major categories in everybody’s life that should always be taken care of. And we asked a bunch of moms. We did over 600 women and then we did a hundred women more closely followed during a month. We did one big survey and study for the over 600 women. And then we narrowed it down to a hundred to follow them during an entire month, four weeks. And we gave them a checklist and we told them, just put a small check next to each category that you feel that you’ve been able to take care of this category this week and the categories are your spouse and your children and your family, obviously your social life, your work, your workout, your work or your passion. You don’t really have to make money, but something that really gets you out of the house and out of the mom world for a second.

And then there’s the whole part of like mindfulness area, that spirituality area we call it and so it’s just the basic pillars of what somebody that has a satisfied life needs. We took that from a lot of research, like regular people, what do humans need? And we put it up against moms, just in women and moms.

For me the biggest discovery from that study was, like I tell my husband, I’m not that hard to please, with a nice little flower or you look nice comment, I’m pretty okay for the rest of the day.

Yeah. I’m not that complicated. Women are not as complicated as we think or people think and the, biggest discovery of the study was that just by clicking each area once during the week that increased the level of satisfaction for these women, for these moms.

So we thought that’s funny because if you work out once a week, 20 minutes and you feel like you can check the box and you’re already satisfied and your satisfaction levels are a-okay. Well, you could do it twice a week and it would be much better. But just with once a week of taking care of what you eat, of really paying attention to hanging out with your kids and really trying to be there and connected in a while and bond with them, there’s no amount of minutes that measures your satisfaction, but if you’re able to check the box, that makes you feel so much better about yourself.

And the study was around that and there’s a whole entire explanation of why that this is how we work, and this is what we need. That’s all in the book. And we walked into words like matrescence that we had never heard of. We never knew that matrescence existed. There’s a doctor called Alexandra Sacks. She’s a reproductive psychiatrist and she really tries to promote the knowledge that matrescence exists, which is the word denominated during the 1970s, that explains the impact, the hard, direct impact that women have when they get pregnant.

And there’s a direct impact in the hormones and the brain and in the body and that’s exactly what happens to a teenager. And that’s why matrescence in adolescents sound the same because anthropologists said, this is exactly what happens to teenagers, but it happens to mothers when they go through pregnancy.

And this is one of the big aha, one of the biggest discoveries. And then there’s an entire explanation of why this works. It’s a natural process and a hundred percent of moms go through this. I was pretty relieved when that happened cause I thought I was the only one having matrescence.

Yes and and we started picking up the stuff and you mentioned the Rubik’s cube in our book. The reason that we talk about the Rubik cube example was because what we wanted to let our readers understand, is that we had them completely covered in the sensation that once they would try to go work out, something else would shift. And once they would try to start doing something about their passion, something would move out of place and it’s very hard to keep up. The baby that’s just standing in the stroller for a little while now wants to sit up. I have my five months, almost six months old and I got a beautiful little chair for him, from one of my baby showers.

And I love it, but he hates it because he wants to be sitting up all the time because he’s the fifth and he’s very active and he doesn’t want to be laid back anywhere. So, you think you have this covered and that you don’t need anybody and then obviously that’s no, we have to change.

Helen Thompson: And each child is an individual too. I think that’s an important thing too and you’d know that because you’ve got five kids. Every child is an individual and motherhood is not the same with every child.

Zelmira Crespi: Yeah, well, that’s one of the reasons why we actually wrote the book because we might not be doctors, we might not be scientists, but we are experts by experience. And we do have a lot of kids and we’ve gone through a lot of pregnancies, to hands down say. No matter how many kids, no matter what you’re doing, no matter how well, you’re advanced in your passion, career, workout, whatever, every time motherhood hits pregnancy style, it’ll blow you out of the water. And it’s gonna move everything. And like I was saying, the fun thing about matrescence and adolescence is that you don’t really expect a teenager to not be a little bit off.

Why don’t mothers get some more slack for going through pregnancy. I mean, everybody just expects them to bounce back. They should be smiling, they should be super grateful, super happy, super energetic. Obviously not the first month, but afterwards, why are you complaining, you have this baby and everything’s fine.

What we want with this book is for moms to understand and feel the utmost permission to feel whatever they want to feel, whatever what’s going on. A lot of mothers think that they’re suffering from postpartum depression and it’s not that, it’s just that things are really different or they’re changing. Even I, I just went through through my fifth pregnancy and I have horrible pregnancies. I vomit for five months nonstop and obviously I come out, pretty shaken up and it takes me a while to get back to my old self and understand, okay, so what did I want to do? What was I doing before I started puking nonstop for two, three months?

So, and I did have my days when everything was off and I actually picked up my own book and read over the checklist area parts. And I was like, okay, I’m going to check on all of this to see how I’m doing with all of these things. Cause I feel all over the place.

So in that sense, it’s not a how to book, it’s not a quick fix book. What we do say is that we were going to give you as much information as we can. The best description of our book. I think it was Zibby Owens and she said, it’s kind of sitting down with very smart friends that know a lot about a certain topic for coffee.

That’s what we wanted out of the book. We want it to be super easy, super fast, a new mom to be able to pick it up, read it live and just go for where she’s needing a little bit more information or help. And we do believe that once you really understand everything that we try to explain in the book, you’re going to be much more relaxed and moving forward and not so much getting back to your old self, but more like, look, let’s check out all these areas, let’s see where you’re at at the moment. And you’re just going to be in a better headspace after doing this checklist and understanding that all of these areas are important and that you should try to look them up and do a little bit of each, no stress involved. We wanted to keep it as simple as possible because we know that moms already have enough stuff on their plate. But you will be a little bit more conscious about what you need and we talk a lot about that. The importance of really prioritizing yourself and that’s why the title of the book is Happy Mom, Happy Kid, because there’s so many parenting books out there that tell you how you can be the best parent. And you should do more of this and more of that for your kid and your kid needs this and he needs to hear this and you need to say that, and this book is more about you.

You need to be okay, you have your needs, you need to understand what you need when you need it and it’s not selfish. It’s actually the safest and most sanest thing that you can do for your kids to offer them heavy duty mom that can be okay and make her choices and prioritize herself. And you’re giving them a really good example of how to take care of themselves in the future as well.

Helen Thompson: You’re also building up their confidence as well as your own, because if you’re building up your confidence, you’re supporting your kid and in chapter four you talk about moms shaming I noticed, and that’s what you’ve just been talking about, not to be ashamed of being a mom and just accept it and supporting yourself to get through it.

Zelmira Crespi: Yes and mom shaming right now is very, very hot because, well, social media is knocking on everybody’s door of what you should be doing, what you’re not doing. There’s a lot of pretty pictures on Instagram and on Facebook of beautiful, clean kitchens and beautiful moms with their clean hair and it’s a little bit overwhelming. And then we are so overly informed about all of the things that we could be doing to make our kids better people, better professionals, better yoga instructors, whatever’s your piece of pie, it’s overwhelming and you’re constantly feeling that you’re not doing anything and you can’t really see that you’re doing so much. But if you keep on comparing yourself because our first worst enemy is our own self. You keep on comparing yourself with people online it’s really stressful.

Then obviously you do have the mom shaming outside of, sometimes moms hating on moms, or maybe people making comments on your mothering or whatever unwanted advice. That sound like they’re trying to help, but at the end of the day, they’re trying to modify what you’re doing your way and overpowering that motherly instinct that we all naturally have.

So yeah, you have to be pretty set in your own shoes and know who you are, what you need, what’s your worth. And that’s not an easy task, but and we do offer maybe a first step or two into that and then we also have a lot of information on how you can continue your journey onward, to get where you want to be, because that’s basically what we want. We don’t want moms to feel that because they’re moms, they kind of have to pay the price. That’s what we’re kind of looking for. You have permission to be whatever you want to be, feel, whatever you want to feel and if you want to change, go for it and these are our recommendations. It’s not even like you have to do this.

Helen Thompson: And it’s about finding your purpose as well, finding your purpose in work and leisure and finding out as you said, who you truly are and where you’re going and self care is really important as well. And your mental wellness is a priority too.

Zelmira Crespi: Yes. We talk about mental wellness because sometimes a lot of people say that self care for women is a nice massage and nails done and a pedicure. And no, it’s not about that at all. It’s more about really listening to your body, listening to your emotions, checking in on yourself, seeing how you feel about certain things or maybe sometimes you might find that you feel certain emotions that you don’t want to be feeling towards your actual kids or maybe towards your husband, and it’s just like, go, go ask for help, talk to somebody professional about it and you don’t have to live with questions in your head that you feel uncomfortable with. Just go and get them answered, find some help.

There are a lot of people today that can help you out. We are over informed, but we also have a lot more tools than past generations. So literally all problems can almost be solved right now, especially if they’re emotional, if you get the right amount of help.

But yeah, it’s more about just getting back to you. We talk about that and getting back to being number one in your life because you are the leader, you are the home. I mean, without you, it’s just a roof and a couple of walls.

The kids do need you to be okay and it’s important for you to be physically okay and then mentally okay and spiritually okay. Yeah, you have a lot of areas that we have to not shove in a drawer and not see them for 10, 15 years. We do have enough stories, novels, movies or even relatives that have shown us that putting your own life and your own needs in the back burner just for your kids is not a good enough excuse eventually.

You can stay at home. I mean, I’m a stay at home, mom. I have no problem with that. And I just wrote the book last year. Up to then I was a stay at home mom, but I always knew that I wanted something else. And it didn’t mean that I wanted a nine to five job. I still want to be with my kids.

I want to be there, I want to take care of them, I want to raise them, I want to be the one that feeds them and bathes them, even though I do have a babysitter that helps me, but I want to be the one that does everything. I just need somebody else just in case somebody is putting their finger into the light socket or something.

It’s always good to have a couple of eyes around me. But it’s just knowing that you’re doing so much for so many people, why can’t you do it for yourself as well? And maybe you should start with that first and then once you feel better about what you’re doing to yourself, your feeling and your energy just starts to change.

And then obviously, I mean, the, the kids throwing the macaroni on the floor, it’s not gonna affect you the same way if you have a peaceful mind. I don’t want to be unrealistic. I’m not like Zen all the time.

It’s 9:00 PM in Miami and in my kid’s room, it was eight and they started making tents, with their little blankets. And I was like, okay, you have five minutes and five minutes were over. And there was like, okay, that’s done. The day is done, done, done, done. And they’re like, okay, mom, I’m done.

I’m done. You’re all done, go to sleep, that’s it. So the day has ended. I mean, we’re always gonna have those messy moments.

Helen Thompson: But that’s part of life, isn’t it? That’s part of childhood. It’s part of motherhood. It’s part of, like you mentioned throwing macaroni on the floor. Isn’t that part of the fun of being a mother? You can’t be expected to be tidy and prim and proper all the time as you said, because that’s not what motherhood is. You don’t always have a clean, tidy house. It would be great if you could have a clean, tidy house all the time, but that’s not being practical. You’ve got five kids, so you’re very experienced with all that stuff but a first time mom probably worries that the house isn’t tidy, she has guests coming round and the kids just throwing, macaroni all over the carpet.

Zelmira Crespi: If you’re not so tired, maybe it’s because you haven’t been taking care of your sleep cycle. If you’re a little bit less tired or you’re a little bit more well rested or maybe you’ve gotten distracted with a project that you started one hour a week, two hours a week. I mean, it doesn’t have to be a huge project or your next big business to be a millionaire. I mean, it could be literally something that just makes you use your noggin for a little while outside of your house. I swear to God, the macaroni falls on the floor and you just take care of it in a different emotional setting. You can still be the scary mom that screamed or that says that shouldn’t happen. But inside you, the impact of the events is a hundred percent more chill if you’re on top of your own game.

Helen Thompson: Absolutely, I come from a childcare background, so I’ve had that experience with about 20 kids all at once, throwing stuff around. So I can imagine what it would be like for a mom whose got just one or two, you know, it’s a bit harder, but you know, when you’ve got 20 kids doing it all at once, it can be a bit daunting.

Zelmira Crespi: I know that not a lot of people have five kids like I do. It’s not so popular these days. But for the mom that does have just one or just two I always tell them because they’re like, oh, I can’t believe it, you have five and I’m complaining and I just have two. It doesn’t matter the number of kids that you have. It’s more about how you want to navigate motherhood, the choice that you make, of what type of mother you want to be and then you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Like we tell little kids when we’re handing out colors.

You have to be able to understand that you can get very, very stressed out with one or two kids, much more than with four or five because you can’t compare them in that exact same moment and just see the child in front of you and say, oh, I mean, but he’s a kid. I was a much more stressed out mom when I just had two than when I had four and now that I have five I flow completely because I finally understood like kids are kids and sometimes you kind of lose your measuring stick. And you’re like, okay, he’s a year older, so I can talk to him a little bit more and he understands me and you start talking to your three-year-old, like he’s a 20 year old.

And then of course, by the time the second one, the third one, turn to three you’re like, I can’t believe I was asking the other guy to serve dinner basically. I was asking so much of him and I was getting so stressed out and that’s the problem with having a few kids. So I do recommend moms with few kids to get together a lot with other moms, with kids and make good social contacts, just for mere observation.

You learn so much from just looking at other moms and the kids altogether and how the kids actually move. So they have such a natural way of socializing and working things out, that it takes a little bit more pressure off of you as a mom. It’s not that you’re not doing things perfect. Macaroni will fall on your floor many a time, and it’s not the end of the world. And just go with the flow in certain things, obviously pick up the macaroni because it’s going to stink later, but it doesn’t have to be your mistake. It’s not a mistake, it’s part of life as you said.

Helen Thompson: Yeah and I think it’s supporting each other, because if you’ve got a supportive network of moms who are supporting you, it sort of works as a community and unfortunately, in this day and age, I think we’ve lost that community. We’ve lost that sort of community spirit with people because everybody is doing their own thing and we’re not mixing as a community as a support for each other.

I don’t know what it was like for you in Uruguay growing up but I grew up in Scotland and we did have that sense of community. Everybody was there, even if they weren’t family, they were just friends around. If anybody needed anything, they were there.

We’ve lost that in this day and age because everybody is expected to be that supermom or to be that super dad or to be that super kid. And if they’re not they sort of think, oh God, you’re not a supermom. You know, what are you doing?

Zelmira Crespi: Absolutely, I think there’s a problem that today everybody’s living a very individualistic life. The offer of so many products that will make you the best mom, the safest mom, the cleanness mom. It gives you such a hand, this awesome new product and you don’t really need anything else. But I’ve had my fair share of baby products and cribs and car seats and strollers and toys and whatever. And at the end of the day, kids go well with kids. What they need to enjoy themselves, another kid. So find yourself another kid and let them have a play date. That’s all they need.

They learn so much from that and they also learn and what we talk about with my husband, we live away from our family, obviously and something that we miss and that we want we try to replicate here with our friends is that we don’t want to be the only ones telling our kids what is right and wrong.

So if he goes and one of my boys smacks somebody else because they’re in that fighting karate mode right now. I will tell them, we don’t hit, you don’t hit, you shouldn’t hit but then when you do have a community, if I’m not right next to my kid and he hits, I do know that my friend who is closer tells them the same exact thing that I would say.

So, that’s basically what I feel that we lost as as we parted from our big families from being with our cousins and our uncles. I remember my grandma would tell me, take care of your table manners, pick up your plate or whatever. And it wasn’t just my parents telling me the obvious, basic rules of life. And, and it was my uncles and my older cousins and then I would tell my younger cousins the same and everybody was on the same page on very basic things I’m not talking about bigger issues, like politics or religion.

And today I’m sure that there are a lot of awesome parents that live alone and they have their own little life, or maybe they don’t have much social life. But I do believe that it’s something really positive for a kid to hear from various adults. Look, you shouldn’t hit and this isn’t just a rule in my house. This is like a universal law, we’re not supposed to hit. And then he should hear it at the school, he should hear it at home, he should hear it at your friend’s house. You should hear the same rule repetitively. That would be awesome.

But in order to do that, mom has to take care of their social life and that is another pressure. And I’m not going to lie. It’s pressure because as moms, you not only have to work and you have take care of the kids and whatever, you also have to put together their social agenda. And then it can be kind of stressful.

 I have a seven-year-old who’s constantly telling me, when can I have a friend over and when can I go to my friend’s house and all the time. And he’s still kind of young to be walking around alone in Miami. If he were a little bit older, maybe I could tell him, okay, knock on his door and ask him if he’s there.

But if not, I’m sending chats constantly to my mom friends, well, do you want to have a play date? Can he come over? Can he go? And when you’re a first time mom enjoy the fact that you can just go to the park and go for a stroll and find other moms that just kind of doing your own thing and just get together and just meet up for coffee with the strollers side by side or your little kids playing close by and on some grass, because the social life does get a little bit hectic but we need it. Moms need other moms and then eventually your kids are going to need you to have other moms in your pocket for them to play with.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, definitely. You’ve given me so many wonderful tips about your book and what you do, but is there any final tip that you could give to a first-time mom, who’s going through all the stuff that we’ve talked about and is fretting, what, what do I do next?

Zelmira Crespi: Ah, I have so many things that I could say but I would just say trust yourself because there’s something inside that just naturally pops up. It doesn’t have to naturally pop up during pregnancy. It doesn’t even have to naturally pop up, like after the baby’s born, but eventually, give it a few weeks, give it maybe a month or two and you’re going to start seeing that you do have this natural instinct to keep that baby alive, well and loved. And It’s really hard to do, but you really have to be able to shut out the amount of people that have a lot of opinions. Just be very clear on the fact that if you need help, you will ask for it.

If you want, have a question, you will go ask whoever you want to ask. It could be maybe a professional or it could be a friend. But just don’t let yourself be caught up in conversations or people around you that make you feel that you’re not maybe doing things right. And then please know that you are probably doing a lot of things, right.

And if not, just call your pediatrician, that’s what they’re there for. There’s no mystery. It’s much more simpler than it looks. But it’s much harder to trust yourself because we’re so demanded to be so perfect and so obviously happy and chirpy and gleeful.

And it doesn’t have to feel that way. It’s not going to feel that way for all moms. All moms go through matrescence, a hundred percent go through matrescence. Sometimes some navigate it quicker than others, but we all go through it. It’s a huge moment. You, literally just got a person out of your body. I mean, this compares in no way with any physical situation that your husband might have had. I’m sorry, but in this one we completely won the game and there’s nothing that compares to what went on. No matter how beautiful and magical and amazing the moment can be, it will bring with it a lot of other emotions that maybe you wouldn’t have picked at the supermarket aisle, but they’re there. So just talk about them, let them out. And you’re not a bad mom because of it. That does not have anything to do with anything. It’s just, that’s just the way it is.

Sometimes to see the light, you have to see the darkness sometimes to feel the light you have to feel the darkness. Some things it’s just very ying and yang, and this is one of them. I mean, you’re not going to be a beautiful, rested, fresh face, flower, smiling all the time. Especially the first three months.

I mean, my baby is going to turn six months. I’m kind of getting back, kind of think I see myself in the mirror again, I’m still kind of there and I’m about to do my final step out of the postpartum but yeah, it doesn’t matter, the first baby and the fifth baby and it still moves everything around.

Helen Thompson: So how can somebody find your book if they’re inspired by what you’ve said, I’m very inspired by it.

Zelmira Crespi: We’re selling on Amazon right now and it’s Happy Mom, Happy Kid by Zelmira Crespi, and Maria Luisa Montt, or you could go to our website, and we’re also on Instagram, which is at Happy Mom Book.

Helen Thompson: Thank you, I’ve been really inspired by that. As you said at the very beginning, there are so many books out there that say you have to be the perfect mom or the guilty mum or whatever. But I think from what I understand of your book it’s so much more than that, cause you’ve done a lot of research.

And so thank you for being there to support other mums. It’s been a great pleasure to talk with you and find out more information about what you and Maria have done. So thank you for being on the podcast. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you.

Zelmira Crespi: Me too. Thank you so much for having us.