How I Pulled Myself Out of Toxic Mom Culture + Action Steps so You Can Too! (Part 3 of 3)
Updated: Sep 12
We've reached the last post of this series, and I'm going to make it an actionable one for you!
I'm sharing the 3 steps I took to break out and 5 action actions YOU can take to do the same (based on what I learned!)
Posts for this 3-part series:
How I Pulled Myself Out of Toxic Mom Culture (THIS ONE!)
Want to listen instead?
How I Broke Out of the Toxic Mom Cycle
Abandoning a mindset, identity, "cult" if you will, is incredibly challenging. It takes a ton of self-awareness and reflection, and quite frankly, courage.
For better, or for worse, these are skills I have. They are the reason I was able to reflect on postpartum, and then go on to write and publish the Postpartum Grace Guide.
You see, I hate feeling manipulated or controlled by someone else. One positive of the pandemic, is I had more time of my hands to reflect and think. Unfortunately, there was a lot of manipulation happening through the media, which in turn caused me to pause and think about other areas I was allowing others to cloud my own thoughts and judgement.
I felt duped in the motherhood space... and the crazy part is, it is so subconscious and ingrained that mothers don't even realize HOW we are doing and saying it to other mothers. We are all products and contributors, and we have no idea we are until we are able to take a step back and have a third party or bird's eye view of what's going on.
STEP ONE: EXPOSURE + AWAKENING
The idea this was happening planted when I began discovering mothers and accounts who were NOT perpetuating the ideals of toxic mom cultures (possibly before I really had the awareness).
At first, it felt like I was rolling my eyes at these moms or shaking my head saying, "But you don't even know..." yet I slowly started waking up to this idea that motherhood didn't mean I had to be a hot mess, it didn't mean I didn't have to cook beautiful, perfect meals every night, turn into a martyr or resent my husband.
Slowly, these accounts gave me a different vision, a hope for something more for myself and motherhood as a whole. I began to see a sharp contract between motherhood accounts (or even mothers I know in my personal life) who post content that contributed to "toxic mom culture" and those who were simply enjoying and sharing motherhood. It began feeling like a breath of fresh air seeing this content.
Being exposed to a DIFFERENT story of motherhood was really what I consider to be the start of my awakening.
STEP TWO: GAIN KNOWLEDGE
Now this step is likely going to be different than what you reading this will do, but it's what I tend to do next when I discover something new I'm curious about: I gain knowledge. I seek the education.
In May 2021, I enrolled in a "Motherhood Studies Practitioner" course taught by Dr. Sophie Brock. This course was transformative for me. It provided language and context for what I was feeling and seeing around me. I understood how moms got to this toxic place based on the history. (Check me out in the directory!)
This course helped me realize that this was a created system, NOT the truth about motherhood, and I could CHOOSE differently.
STEP THREE: TAKE OWNERSHIP
And that's what I did... slowly over time, I chose differently. Change takes time, practice, intention. It is hard, but it is SO possible and SO worth it.
Below are some of the action steps I took and ones I encourage you to make if you are serious about pulling yourself out of toxic mom cultures.
What YOU Can Do: Action Steps
1. Quiet the Noise
This step is crucially important, you HAVE to remove the inputs for a while.
This may mean deleting social media/news/articles for a month (the minimum I would suggest - I actually have a free guide and podcast episode about "phone peace"), it may mean not seeing some mom friends for a while (not staying after to chat in pick-up line or running errands during practice) or rearranging phone dates.
You have to literally get off the grid so there is space for you to breathe and allow those toxic circuits to stop. At first it will be hard, you may feel shame/guilt/blame/FOMO. Expect it. It's part of the process... but over the course of your break, you'll notice a shift.
Other resources for this topic:
10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price
2. Redefine Your Identity
During your break, it's time to redefine your identity. Who AM I? Are you really a hot mess? or are you falling into that narrative because you are adjusting to the schedule of having so many kids and getting out the door?
Identity matters so, so, so much. I realized the value of identity when I read the book "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. When you are trying to change a habit, it's important to first have the identity of a person who would do said habit. For example: if you want to go for a walk after your lunch, you have to identify as a healthy person, because a healthy person would have the habit of going for walk after lunch.
In order to make choices towards who you want to be, you have to identify yourself as such. If you identify as being a hot mess mom, how much harder is it going to be proactive and pack/set the bags out the night before instead of procrastinating and running around at the last minute. The hot mess mom would wait, so it would be against her identity and how she sees herself to do it early.
Here's another example: A mom who identifies as being in service to others. This mom is going to struggle with taking necessary time for herself, because she will always see other's needs as more important than her own. She will always choose to be the martyr because that's how she identifies.
SO perhaps instead of asking the question WHO AM I? maybe we need to ask the question WHO DO I WANT TO BE?
Think of a mom you look up to and admire. Let's describe her.
What is unique about her? What is she doing well? Who is she MOST days?
I would want you to describe a fictitious mom, but honestly, then we fall into the trap of a perfect mom, the "ideal" mom, and a perfect mom does not exist. Every mom has flaws and pitfalls and bad days. We need to not only accept, but expect this.
Use this list to redefine your own identity. Circle what you already have from that list and just choose one descriptor to work on next.
ONE STEP at a time is forward moment.
ONE CHOICE at a time will keep you from being stuck.
If you need to, write it on a post-it or make a fun picture (bonus points if you do it during "art time" with your kid(s)!) and hang it somewhere close.
Do you want an example? Here's what I'm currently working on: a strong sense of identity outside of mom.
3. Answer: "What do I love?"
It's hard to enjoy your life if you are doing activities you don't love, right?! I realized this when I had a toddler and we were trying to find what lit her up. She agreed to sign up for what *I* thought she would like, but over time, she would drag her feet to get ready, slow-poke her way to the car. I noticed her attitude would go down the closer we got to the activity - SHE WAS 4, there was NO REASON to hate going to somewhere at that age... but wait, is there ever an age you should continue going to something you hate?! (Ok, a job I get - but is that the only available job?! I digress...)
SO let's chat about it: What do you love? What did you love as a kid?
My husband and I were chatting the other day and he said he cannot believe people do not have hobbies (my man LOVES his hobbies). He is amazed how people can't name a single thing they are passionate about when asked... he can name at least 3-4 things he wakes up excited to do every day.
When I was newly postpartum and that tiny, colicky child took up all my time, I was really feeling deprived and alone... until I started doing a simple makeup routine every morning. It sounds a bit far fetched to give so much credit to a 5 minute makeup routine, but it is what helped me start to feel more like myself (and feel good when I walked past mirrors in the day).
Doing makeup has always been something I enjoyed... from the time my mom and I did makeovers together to the days of forcing my younger sister to let me stab her with mascara wands (all that practice paid off though, sorry Paige!)
It's the thing I still go back to when I'm having a rough season... I go back to making sure I do my 5 minute makeup every morning. It's the catalyst that reminds me that I DO matter, my needs matter and if I make this choice, what is another choice I could make to take care of myself.
I also love reading, being a student, doing art (draw or watercolor), playing instruments, going for long walks, hiking, working out, listening to calming music, seeing friends. If I'm not doing these things, I'm not living a life I love... and really, what fun is that?!
Additionally, I want to add here that I'm not speaking about this "trendy narcissism" concept that if you put yourself first, you'll be happy. I've heard the phrase "those obsessed with self are always up and down" and looking around my life, I'd say this is pretty spot on. What I am saying is that you have to make sure you include things you love in your life... share them WITH your kids, don't just complain you never have time for them. Build them in, make them part of your routine and life.
Find Your Unicorn Space by Eve Rodsky
4. Choose the Voices
I added this a little further down the list, this is a slightly ordered list I'm realizing because once you quiet the noise and discover yourself again, you have to choose who you want back in your life... and I mean this in SO many ways.
Have you ever heard the belief derived from the law of averages said by motivational speaker Jim Rohn, "you become like the 5 people you spend the most time with"? I do believe I've seen this play out (although I spend majority of my time with a 5 year old so what's that say for the mommas like me at home with young kiddos all the time!), but what about becoming like the 5 "voices" you hear the most?
I would also consider media sources in this average: podcast hosts, news outlets, written articles, written books, etc. These may be the voices you hear on a more daily basis (again, especially speaking to SAHM moms).
I use THIS concept to my advantage. After my media and social hiatus, I make a conscious effort to only add in positive, uplifting, encouraging voices surrounding motherhood.
I deleted any/all accounts that did not speak about motherhood the way my newly identifying self would and I sought out accounts that did. I distanced myself from friends who were negative and self-obsessed, who were still absorbed in toxic mom culture. Not because I don't love them, but because I needed to protect myself, my family, and my life.
An interesting observation here: it's so easy to slip and fall into that groupthink mindset when you are all together! AND to know what people want you to say. Sometimes I can find myself in a group of women complaining about motherhood and get sucked in unless I actually say the boundary out-loud, "Wait, I am making an effort not to focus and expect on the hardships anymore. There are hard seasons and moments, but I don't need to keep bringing them up." or draw a boundary around the intensive mothering narrative, "I'm not longer doing the extravagant holidays. We will simply enjoy our time together, not need for all the fuss."
Be very intentional here. This is a key step for moving away from the toxic cultures.
5. Decide How You Feel
Embodying this idea has transformed my existence: ONLY you get to decide how YOU feel. No one else on this planet gets to make sure you feel a certain way unless you allow it.
At first, I felt gaslit when I heard this advice, but slowly did realize that I was allowing others behaviors and emotions dictate how I went through my days. I handed over so much control to others.
I am definitely an empath (and I'm also a reflector if you are versed in human design). I cannot help but notice and feel how others around me are feeling, but taking ON that emotion is something separate. It was a skill to learn how to separate acknowledging how someone else was feeling and taking on that feeling myself.
I had to completely believe and behave in a way that embodied not being responsible for people's emotions and reactions AND only being responsible for my own emotions and reactions. This took a lot of practice, especially around my toddler.
While I hope this is a switch you can just flip, it wasn't for me. It took a lot of practice and reminding myself what was my responsibility.
Here is a strategy I learned from Dr. Becky Kennedy from Good Inside (my favorite parenting expert!): the division of responsibilities. She suggests imagining a tennis court with a glass wall in-between the two sides. You can divide responsibilities and feelings on the proper side of the court to visually represent what is yours and what is theirs. You do not take on the responsibilities and feelings that are theirs. (Dr. Becky has a podcast and a book!)
A theme I'm feeling throughout a lot of these pieces of advice is setting boundaries, which I absolutely know is such a difficult skill for many of us. AND ALSO, it's probably the best thing I have learned by becoming a mother.
I had to mean what I say in order for my child to trust me, and I was not responsible for the reaction to the boundary I set... that falls on HER side of the court. Boundary: my side. Reaction: her side.
And this will be true about getting out of this toxic cycle. You are setting the boundary that this is not longer serving me and I will not be part of it. That is your side of the court. Others will try to pull your back in, guilt trip you into their toxic behaviors, or you may feel pressure to "do what everyone else is doing." It will happen, it still happens to me, and I have to firmly remind myself of what it felt like to be IN that place - I wasn't happy, I needed out. It may be hard in the moment to stay strong, but it. is. worth it.
Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab
Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I recommend this book here, because I think she has so many wonderful suggestions for motherhood that are strong and boundary driven. It took me 20 minutes to read, but I refer back to it often.
Good luck mama!
3 Key Takeaways:
This is your awakening. By following and reading/listening to this series, allow yourself to step into a third party view and take inventory of all happening around you. Quiet the noise so you can more clearly hear yourself and your heart again (not what others what you to say or think).
You are in charge. You get to choose who and what is in your life. You get to choose how you feel every day. (And if you didn't today, that's ok. You get another chance tomorrow).
Be strong and set your boundaries. Acknowledge that you no longer want to live in the place you were and are ready to do the work to live another way.
If you are interested in hearing more about this topic (and other important topics related to motherhood), check out the "Motherhood Grace Guide: Journal of Inspiration + Encouragement for Moms"
The entire guide was written after I had my awakening.