Like so many moms, my guest today, Erica Djossa, a registered psychotherapist specializing in maternal mental health, entered motherhood assuming her “maternal instinct” would guide her through any challenges she faced. Yet, like so many mothers she'd counseled, she too, found herself struggling with identity loss, the mental load of motherhood, and the pressure to be perfect. Eventually, she had a breakdown that turned out to be a breakthrough – a moment where she realized that she was suffering from postpartum depression.
When she sought help, she was dismissed by doctors who assured her that she just needed more rest. Frustrated, Erica pushed to be taken seriously, and finally got the care she needed. Through that experience, Erica realized that moms deserved more.
Realizing how difficult it is to find mental health services, the now mother of 3 founded Happy as a Mother, which has evolved into Momwell, to provide mom-centered virtual therapy services and mental health literacy for moms at every stage of their motherhood journey. She has also taken to social media to make a difference. Her graphics have been shared by celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Ashley Graham, Nia Long, Hilaria Baldwin, Christy Turlington and Adrienne Bosh. Erica is passionate about maternal mental healthcare and putting moms back on the priority list.
In this episode we dive deep into:
- Erica's own experience of postpartum and how this was a catalyst for the work she does to support mother's mental health
- How traditional gender roles can keep mothers – and couples – from thriving as we parent
- Understanding mom rage and resentment
- The importance of learning that as mothers, we can release Perfectionism and share the mother load
- Healing and preventing trauma and the power of honoring our children's resilience
- The potential risks of intensive parenting and Perfect Mother Syndrome on our mental health and couple's relationship
- How to identify your personal parenting and self-care values rather than internalizing those from our culture, community, friends, or family.
Thank you so much for taking the time to tune into this podcast! Enjoy the interview by listening above or wherever you listen to podcasts, and the transcript below to read along. I hope this conversation brings you more self-compassion and grace as we all mother in a culture that places so much pressure on motherhood.
Please share the love by sending this to someone in your life who could benefit from the kinds of things we talk about in this space. Make sure to follow me on Instagram @dr.avivaromm to join the conversation.
The Interview: Dr. Aviva & Erica Djossa
Aviva: Welcome. Welcome. I am really delighted to have this time with you today.
Erica: Thank you so much for having me here and trusting me to join you in your community. I'm excited.
Aviva: Absolutely. So, I want to just jump right in and spend some time today with you exploring big things like women's feelings of being a bad mom and mom guilt and resentment, and even mom rage because wow, I mean so many women have all of the feels and as a midwife and as a women's doc of course. I hear it all the time.
And I'm a mom of four and certainly know what it was like when the littles were growing up, and you never stop being a mom no matter how big Your kids get. Mine are well grown, but still those feelings can be really real and pervasive and sometimes even debilitating. And we can end up feeling shame and chronic anxiety and overwhelm and then we don't talk about it because we get afraid to be judged as a bad mom. We go silent and we feel alone.
Can we start with your story?
Erica: Sure. It's a relatable story I think that a lot of people can find themselves in. I had had three boys in the span of three and a half years. I was a practicing psychotherapist at that time, working in children and family practice, and I was on maternity leave, which we’re fortunate to have here in the Toronto area and feeling like I was just drowning in motherhood. There were many different things like talking about the rage, talking about anxiety, feeling of failure, the pressure to do everything right and perfect.
We talk about this perfect mummy myth a lot in my community, just feeling so badly. I wanted to parent differently and ultimately I sought treatment and learned about maternal mental health as a whole niche and specialty, which wasn't even discussed in school. I was 10 years in private practice, didn't know how high risk we are during this time, and I niched down in this area and took to social media to help people understand and be aware and sort of see the iceberg that is ahead that we know one in five women will likely hit if not encounter in some lesser form and no one's talking about it and nobody's preparing us for it.
So, from there kind of grew Happy as a Mother, which evolved into a Momwell, our whole digital mental health platform. But I really come from a place of having lived that experience, which I think so many of us can relate to feeling totally just blindsided by the reality of our role.
Aviva: Absolutely, it's big, but I think a lot of people think, oh, well that's not going to happen to me. Or maybe they've heard of it and they're afraid of it, but it's a little bit like preparing someone for the sensations of labor. You can have tools and skills, but until you're in it, it's hard to know how much of a big wave it can feel like that's crashing over you. And I was really fortunate in that I had been studying midwifery for a long time before I had my kids. I had seen other women go through it. I was pretty well supported, so I didn't go through postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.
Even with healthy postpartum, it was overwhelming at times, just the sleep deprivation, the anxiety over whether I was doing it right, the anxiety over. I wasn't a helicopter mom, but I was so concerned to breastfeed forever and family bed and so much attachment parenting that I think I in some ways turned myself inside out and I think almost over parented at times in that drive for perfectionism. And what's really interesting too is I want too, because I was in a community of midwives and home birthers and breastfeeding mamas that was positively reinforced, almost like as if you're an overworker and you work on Wall Street, that's positively reinforced. I was seen as a role model and nobody was like, are you overdoing it or are you okay? You know what I mean?
How did it show up for you? What were some of the things that were happening really in your mind and in your emotions as you were not knowing something wasn't quite right but weren't feeling quite right?
Erica: What you're discussing I think really hits at the crux of what is called intensive mothering or what we call in my community the perfect mother myth. And Dr. Sophie Brock, a sociologist talks about this a lot where many of us grew up in an era where it's ‘be time to be home when the streetlights turn on’ kind of parenting. And that is not to be harsh or judgmental or critical of our parents. We always parent out of our own capacity and our own understanding and all of that. But it's to say that the internet came online, all of this different research became readily accessible to us. There are so many things that shifted in our culture. 76% of women work outside of the home as well as carrying the majority of the labor in the home. So, there's so many things that have happened that have swung the pendulum in such a dramatic opposite direction.
Erica: I think this is what you're describing where we so badly want to parent from a way that we do no harm, and I do this sort of in air quotes. We don't want to traumatize our children, we don't want to parent in the way our parents parented, and so we go the extreme opposite route. And in intensive mothering, there are some really key patterns of behavior. We get stuck in this self-martyrdom, putting our children's needs before our own centering and anchoring our whole life around our children and their schedule and even our financial decisions like putting out so much for their sports and their activities and everything we possibly can give to them to help them get ahead and give them a head start.
That's not to say that that is in any way inherently negative, but when we do all of these things so intensely at a cost of ourselves, at a cost of our marriages, at a cost of our own mental health, then it is no longer functional or adaptive or healthy for us. And so I would argue that if we look towards values-based parenting or look towards what is internally important to us versus what all this pressure feels like coming from externally, from society, from the social groups in which we roll that have their own criteria and set of values, then we can find a little bit more freedom and flexibility in how we want to show up as mothers.
And attachment parenting has really fed into this intensive mothering, they kind of go hand in hand because it's all about being in proximity often and being very close, and if you're feeling trapped and smothered by motherhood, still trying to feed and co-sleeping. It sort of has reinforce the underpinnings of this intensive mothering as well. And we know that there are many ways to form healthy attachments and bonds with our child in many different ways, in many different types of parenting. And the goal is to bring the pendulum back to a middle, balanced ground where we can have a little bit of independence, retain parts of ourselves while also of course doing the best we can in our role.
Aviva: And it’s complicated in many ways too. For me, I found that as I was really paying attention to how I was feeling and the things that I was inspired to do, which included for me being a midwife, ultimately going back to school to become a physician, writing books. There were people within that attachment parenting intensive parenting community that then judged that, right, oh, well you're kind of not giving your kids your all. And I think I found my way and I've always been about listening to what was really working for me and my family, but at the same time, it wasn't like there weren't sort of these voices to sort through. To me, it really speaks to the complicated dualities that mothers experience of like, you can't really win in any environment unless you're fully aligned with people who are just supportive of you and what you need to do. I've had moms come up to me at conferences crying because they had been part of a mom support group when they were pregnant, and they chose to have an epidural in labor, or they needed to have a c-section and now they weren't cool enough for school. There's so much mom judgment around all the different choices we make.
So as a mom, how do you find your path? How do you go within and say, okay, there are these theories, there are these theories, there are these theories. What's actually working for me and how do I integrate what's best of those theories, but what works for me and my family and your own mental well-being?
Erica: I'm actually writing about this right now in my book about releasing the motherload and all of the pressures that we carry, and it's really about learning to build our own self-efficacy, look internally at what our values are and what is important to us. And this is a really tricky thing to do because we have been so sort of socialized to look externally, to look for validation, to look for approval to sort of anchor ourselves and our performance in comparison to the person who is outside of us.
And so, one of the things that you're describing when you're wanting to go on and build your career or build your platform to even suggest that there can be fulfillment outside of your role in motherhood, again pushes back against that very intensive mothering myth. To want something outside of motherhood puts you in this space of like, oh my gosh, what do you mean mothering should be enough?
And sometimes it's okay to want things outside of that role. We are not just a one role, one identity person. To look inside ourselves and our identity and our values and those different values exercises that you can do to help you discover them if you've never sort of talked about this before or thought it, but one, uncovering your individual values and then two, uncovering your values in parenthood, and I'll give you an example of this. So, as a person, I value independently growth and learning and being challenged and adventure and change, and these are all sort of my individual values in parenting. I also value an ability to be flexible, to not be pinned down by a schedule. I don't like to over schedule the family. We like to be able to have some spontaneity in our time and events that we do.
Also, with that, I like to choose slowness not overscheduling us. We just want to be cozy, and we want to be at home. I also don't hold much value in domestic. Not that I don't value domestic labor. I greatly value domestic labor, but I don't value that as a part of my identity. So, I don't feel a need to cook home cooked meals or really define my role by some of these outputs that can come from it. Whereas I have my maid of honor from my wedding who loves nothing more than to make a homemade pie, lives for it, because she sincerely loves it and enjoys it. Part of her values is this very close-knit home family, sort of more along those traditional value lines that works for her. That's not creating distress for her, it's not creating problems or internally she's not feeling as though she's missing out on part of herself because she lives for it.
Whereas me, that feels like the most smothering role because my values are different. And when we aren't living out the things that are important to us, ultimately we feel dissatisfaction because we are not getting to embody those values or those goals or those interests. So, we can all have different values even if we're in a same parenting style or approach. And just because it's important to someone doesn't mean that it has to be important to me and I don't have to pick up that value if they're trying to assert it onto me, that's them just trying to hand me a value that is theirs and not mine. And I can say, no thanks. I don't need to pick that up.
Aviva: I love looking at values like that, and I think that so many people don't realize that we have these things that we feel we're supposed to do or should do, be home when the kids get home from school or make every homemade lunch, whatever the things are, or have the high paid career outside the home and still comehHome and do the dinner. But we don't necessarily realize that these are all externally driven values that we do get to actually pick and choose from. And I think that when we look at this idea of these values which are very traditional, we're also sort of as a culture inherently casting judgment on the 70 something percent of women that do also actually have to work outside of the home and be mothers, right? We're kind of saying they're somehow abandoning this important role, which one is not a role everybody values or wants, and two isn't a choice most people have.
Erica: Oh, the topic of choice comes up a lot. Some would like to choose to be at home but can't afford it because they have to be a two-income household. Others would like to choose to work but also feel like they can't have the support, or they don't have access to childcare, or all of these things like choice is a big pain point for a lot of parents. But what is happening is when we live according to these invisible norms that we are socialized into — gender norms, role norms, what it means to be a mother in our society, these should’s that you're talking about — is we've filed all of these away in this filing drawer in our mind from the time we could put a schema together what a mother was in our brain and all of the conflicting messages and all the junk mail and all the real mail and all the bills and all the things are all crammed in there together.
And never once did we actually take an inventory of the drawer to say, wait a minute, what values or beliefs of these are mine? Which ones need to be shredded and tossed out? Because everything just got filed away as we were growing and learning and observing, and we don't take a conscious inventory. That's what my book helps us walk through and do and a lot of the work we do in our communities because wait a minute, where do these should’s come from? Why am I absolutely destroying myself trying to live up to them? And this cannot be what motherhood is this rat race day in and day where I feel like I'm never good enough, I'm never performing well enough, I'm never reaching the status in my mind or that level of perfection or rightness or whatever that I think I need to be. And it doesn't have to be that, but it is that when we are not taking an inventory and we're just subconsciously trying to measure up and to achieve these unrealistic ideals.
Aviva: Absolutely. One of the things that stuck out to me when you were just speaking also is as we're filing away what we see as the role of a mother, we're also filing away what we see as the role of the partner or co-parent, if there is one. And that can really, in my experience, shape what women expect and expect that they can ask for and receive. So, we're filing away these dual ideas. One of the things I know that you talk about in your Instagram feed, I believe you have a course on this is resentment. Let's talk about resentment and motherhood. I want to also just shine a light on how many women actually experience it. It's significant and where it comes from and what we can do with it and about it.
Erica: Anger in itself, and I would put resentment in an anger bucket is so sort of taboo to experience and talk about in motherhood because we're supposed to be nurturing and kind and gentle and patient and all of these ideals that we feel pressured to be, especially with our children, we talk about not wanting to yell and wanting to break cycles, but our partners, we feel a little less grace sometimes, rightfully so in some cases, but anger can be a real shame inducer. Now, when it comes to resentment, it's kind of rigged from the get-go because as you're saying, if I'm socialized into this over-functioning role, I'm socialized to be the default carrier of the household labor and the default carrier of the childcare and the home and all of that. And my partner is socialized to work and to provide and to do all of these things while already we're on unfair, unequal ground and we haven't even stepped foot into our roles yet.
If we aren't doing some of this work and if we aren't evaluating some of those assumptions that we have or all the things that are filed away in the drawer of what they've observed these roles to be growing up or what we've observed, then we're unconsciously stepping into this partnership already disproportionate. The assumption in the back of our minds is that mom will carry this role while also we as women are carrying conflicting messages of women can be and do it all outside of the home. And it was in a course I did of Dr. Sophie Brock where she's like, we are freed and liberated as women, but then we enter into motherhood and we're constrained and we're told, oh no, but you can't. You have to be at that field trip, or you need to be here. You need to be there. So, we are even in ourselves conflicted on what[ we can do or should be able to carry. We were told we can do all the things outside of the home, but nothing in the home has adapted for us to create the space for ourselves to do things outside of the home. We're constantly feeling like we're failing as working mothers in our job and in our workplace, and then we're also failing in the home because we can never keep up and we can never do enough.
Aviva: Well, you can't give a hundred percent everywhere. It's just actually not possible. I've interviewed Elise Loehnen about her book On Our Best Behavior, and she was sharing how even though she's the primary income provider in her home, she was in New York, she lives in California, she was in New York doing something for her book tour and one of her kids had parent teacher meetings. She actually flew home from New York to be at the parent-teacher meeting, even though her partner was perfectly capable and willing to do it. Something in her there was some story in her, which is, if you're a good mom, you'll be there at this important event.
Erica: It’s like we are set up for resentment and unfair partnership from even before we step foot in these roles. And then it's like a death of a thousand paper cuts to our relationships when our partners don't step up and take on the responsibility, but also, we have a hard time relinquishing it because our identity is wrapped up in it. So we do this dance and it's a really complex, hard to break out of cycle, but until we can really truly break out of defining ourselves as good moms by being the one that's on the field trip or being the one that's at parent teacher conference and really finding a new measuring stick to define ourselves, by then we won't step out of some of these roles. I won't step to the side and let my partner take it on because I think I'm the one that has to do it.
A good mom does these things. And so, it's actually, it's interesting because in doing all of this work, I've really challenged my own gender norms and the norms that dictate the tasks in our house. If you were to do an inventory, you would be surprised how many tasks are divided out by gender assumptions. And I've had to really work with my partner. He's the main contact on every specialist and every school appointment, every teacher, every main point of contact. And don’t they still call me first? And so even when we are challenging these beliefs and should’s and norms, even when our partners are on board with us and we're in a team really trying to redistribute this labor in our home and sort of challenge this for ourselves, those around us subtly police us back into these roles because society expects this of mothers.
Aviva: Or guilts us. I can recall starting medical school and my husband actually was in the home role. We still had two at home who were tweens and teens and people kind of casting aspersions on both of us as if somehow I had pussy whipped him into being the stay-at-home dad. And I was taking some kind of inappropriate role of wearing the pants in the family by going to medical school saying things like, oh, I know you wouldn't be able to do that if he weren't that at home. And there were so many assumptions in that. Even though I didn't buy it, I still had to unpack it. It still hurt when it was set. And he did too, right? Because there were assumptions about him choosing to be at home as if somehow that wasn't socially appropriate and sanctioned either.
Erica: Oh, right. Oh, how would a man or a father who usually holds the power in a home dynamic decide to stay at home and do the care work that is not valued and not put on a pedestal or position of authority or power? And had a conversation with Dr. Dan Singly on my podcast about this where he's like, traditionally, when men step down from working to staying at home with children, it feels like they're giving up power and authority. I'm like, well, how does it feel to be in that role every single day of life and not be acknowledged or valued for it? Maybe if we had more cis white men taking time off and being at home, we would pay for care worker. We would do these things, right? The roles are so entrenched in us and the policing back into them isn't necessarily like, you should do this and come across really judgmental, but it's like, oh, who's taking care of the kids while you're at lecture? That mom guilt in itself, it is meant to put us back in place, almost…
Aviva: It’s shaming,
Erica: Right! I have an example of this actually. I was meant to speak at a virtual summit or event and there was a panel of us. It was about 1500 people were going to be there. It was live. I'd made this commitment. I'm in the green room 10, 15 minutes out from the event my son's school calls. We think that he's broken his arm. He's had a fall off the climber at school. And I'm like, okay, my husband is home. He's flexible, he doesn't have commitments this afternoon and I have this event and it is live and I cannot reschedule it. I'm going to send him with my husband. My husband's going to come and pick him up. And everything in me was crawling so badly was like, oh my gosh, what's the school going to think? What's my son going to think? Is he going to think I don't love him?
I am abandoning him. His daddy's going to take him. He has a capable and loving parent who was more than willing to be there to nurture, to soothe, to take him for the X-ray to get him a treat after for doing such a good job at the X-ray. Nothing about that had to be me. And yet every societal message I'd ever been handed crashed in that moment to say, this is your job. You better drop everything and go do it. And I had to tolerate and breathe through that discomfort and let my partner step into that role, and he did a great job. So, I think that when we are aware of the invisible norms that we're talking about, we can't begin to challenge them until put them out there and make them visible because they are these invisible sort of abstract things that play in the background.
Aviva: Erica, what are some of the other invisible norms that you find yourself helping moms through?
Erica: So I see this a lot. Moms feeling like they're totally traumatizing their child by sending them to daycare, being apart from them being out of proximity with them, and there's just no research to back that up. That is being 100% with our child all the time is not what builds a safe and secure bond with them. It's just not. Wwe know that children actually flourish when they have multiple secure attachment figures in their life. That's a really big one.
I think this idea that we have to be perfect in that there is no room for mistakes. If we raise our voice at our child, we are traumatizing them or every moment is so high stakes and that it can rupture our attachment with our child at any moment when our attachments with our children are not fragile like that, they're actually more like an elastic band where we put tension on them. Oh, I'm pissed that you didn't do that thing that you were supposed to do. And it flexes, but then it can snap back, and it can ebb and flow and we learn how to repair and how to model these conversations. So, no one moment defines our attachment with our child.
That women are more biologically equipped to care for children than men that is BS. There's a lot of different research and conversation on that out there. It's just frankly more expected of us. We develop the skills and the muscles, and the expertise and all the things more than our partners do. If they were socialized into that role, they'd be extremely capable of nurturing caregivers, but they also are coming up against their own sheds, like unhealthy masculinity that boxes them back out of that nurturing place. There's so many, and our partners also experience their own. And when we're talking resentment to sort of bring it back around, resentment becomes a real tip for tat keeping score game of what is fair and unfair in the home. But I really see it as we are both subject to these different norms and pressures that we feel we need to live up to. And it's neither one of our faults. It's like our responsibility as a team though, to figure it out and to talk it through.
Aviva: How do you and your partner negotiate some of these issues? Do you have a regular date night? Do you have a regular meeting between the two of you to discuss and come to agreements on things or decide how you do things?
Erica: Well, I think most people originally early postpartum with the kids, it was by these norms and by these assumptions and by gender. I look back at that time just thinking, oh my gosh, I literally took everything on myself all the night wakings, all the things I thought it meant to be a good mom. And now I like to ask, why am I the one or why are you the one first? We're not just going to assign things by gender. An intentional conversation needs to be had here or a conversation I hear a lot. It's like, well, you're better at it than I am. I hear this a lot with other couples. Am I better at it because it's been expected of me for the past two or three decades, and therefore I have more practice at it? Can you learn? Can you become good at it? And I think when we started to evaluate it, what we actually do now is a much more fluid approach where we divide things out more by the season of life that we're in.
So, I just came out of finalizing my manuscript, getting it into the publisher. It was a wild time of life for me as I'm sure you can relate and understand. The scale was sort of tilted more in his direction with the amount that he was carrying. And then as we sort of recalibrate and adjuster with things that I picked back up and take on to create space for him so that he can carry other things and prioritize other things. And Eve Rodsky has a great tool for this, like the book Fair Play, but also the Fair Play cards that allow you to sort of see and have a tangible exchange with your partner to see who's really carrying what. But it's not until we challenge these assumptions of why we should be carrying them, that we really see couples make the lasting changes they need to make to create true equality in the home.
Aviva: I love it. It's so culturally disruptive. This approach is really rethinking the norms. One of the things that I have been really concerned about, and because I'm a midwife and a physician who has a women's health social media platform, I see a lot of different feeds coming through as I'm going to post my post for the day, and I think I naturally get targeted, if you will, for things to look at around parenting motherhood. And certainly, in the past few years, the focus on trauma has really exploded. You have something on your Instagram feed that I'm looking at as we talk. It's a post that says the pressure moms feel to parent in a way that does no harm, causes them to over research, over inform themselves, and erodes their trust in their own intuition. So, there's that. And then there's this really, I think, pervasive parenting model to not cause trauma.
So, there's so many scripted ways of talking to children, so much focus on certain tones of voice and ways we communicate, which is lovely and wonderful, but the reality is, at least in my experience as a New Yorker, I guess it is, parents are going to lose it. Sometimes they're going to yell, sometimes couples are going to have a fight. And I'm really super concerned about this. On the one hand, important attention to trauma and preventing and healing trauma and resolving intergenerational trauma and this overfocus on it. Sometimes I want to say to some of these parenting gurus, please talk to me when your kids are in their twenties. Because honestly, no matter how you parent, they might find something that you did that they're going to say you traumatized them about. So, what is your thought on this really intense focus on trauma and what are your concerns about it, if any?
Erica: Yeah, I know exactly what you're referring to and I fall subject to this. I'll scroll after a hard day and think like, oh, I just lost my cool, or was so frustrated at bedtime when my child came out for the hundredth sip of water or whatever. And then these gentle, respectful, nurturing parenting accounts are like, you shouldn't praise your child. And that's, I don't know, rewards and whatever.
I'm like, praise? That's the furthest thing from what is happening. I did everything I could to regulate myself in that moment. There's a real feeling of falling short. There's a real feeling of never doing a good enough job that people internalize and experience. There's no real space for the messiness. For example, I have ADHD one of my children for sure has confirmed ADHD if not more of the boys. And it is just not that simple around here. When we were younger and could have a full-fledged tantrum and meltdown for a 90-minute span, it was everything just to breathe and remain calm, let alone retain scripts and approach and do all of these things. It can leave out different experiences. I think that there's almost a level of privilege to it, like we're missing out on survival components. We can only worry about how we're praising our kids effectively when there's food on the table. So, it leaves out a lot of context and ultimately comes back to that myth we talked about where our attachments with our children are just not that fragile. They're just not.
Aviva: Well, that's one of the things I feel concerned about is that if we're so worried about traumatizing our children all the time, what are we teaching them about the safety of the world and their own inherent resilience?
Erica: Exactly. Yeah.
Aviva: What are we teaching them about a parent who just completely loses their shit over something and that happens, but here's what we do about it. And there's that fear that, oh my gosh, now my child has abandonment trauma forever. And it's like, no, they're okay.
Erica Yeah. And I think it's like we're talking about a spectrum and a continuum here. We're talking about raising our voice and yelling and being like, go to your room. That real guttural like go to the polar extreme end, which is abuse and neglect, and there is a whole spectrum and shades of gray in between here. What we're not doing is condoning abuse, but also what we're saying is all parents lose their cool, all parents get angry. We are human, it makes sense. Our children are also going to get angry. They're going to lose their cool.
We have to also work with them and teach them how to model and manage their big feelings as part of our role is to teach them how to do these things. We cannot avoid negative emotions, and trauma is subjective. What one might experience is traumatic versus another might be different. But I would say when we're talking some of the traumas that many of us have lived through, we might be talking broken families. We might be talking abuse, we might be talking alcoholism, addictions and absent parent or things like that,
Aviva: And big things that we're really truly afraid to recreate,
Erica: Recreate. But when we raise our voice at our child at bedtime because they've climbed out of bed for the whatever time versus the maybe chronic yelling that we experienced in our home, those are two different things. And there almost comes a point when we are parenting out of our own trauma. And I actually had this conversation with my husband and with somebody who was on the podcast a little while back. If we are trying so hard to prevent something, our own trauma is not healed yet because we are parenting out of a place that our trauma still has such a hold on us that we can't tolerate some emotion. And when we are acting out and our decisions are made still out of our pace of trauma, we haven't processed it, and we haven't dealt with it yet.
I come from a home where there's a fair amount of yelling. I'm pretty sensitive to raised voices in the home. And so, I might get really anxious if my partner takes a stern tone, which he's like six foot four, and just like a barely guy. It's not even a raised voice, it's just a stern tone. I will feel a little like, oh, I don't like that. And he's just like, I literally have a different tone of voice than you. There's Only so much I Can do in that situation. And it caused me to pause and reevaluate and say, hey, wait a minute. That's right. I'm going to such an extreme to try and protect my children, that it's actually more about me and my story and my unresolved stuff than it is about them sometimes. There is a balance to be found here. I think we are human and we deserve some grace, and we can have conversations with our kids to repair if we had a grumpy growly grumbly day. But also, we do want to gain the skills to not always be dysregulated, to not lean into addictions or zoning out or avoidance if we are struggling. So, there's a balance to be found, I think.
Aviva: One of the things that you mentioned earlier was sometimes scrolling through social media. And one of the things that I'm seeing too is that there's some really great social media feeds that are very much real parenting. And then there are very many feeds that are these idealized prairie moms or the homestead moms. And what are your thoughts for how mothers can use social media to stay connected, stay supported, not feel alone and not have social media reinforce a sense of inadequacy?
And just to give you an example, one of my patients who had just had her fourth baby called for an appointment, she burst into tears, and she said, I was just on this Instagram feed and this mother's kids, they're all wearing white shirts and these perfect little uniforms and outfits and everything looks perfect and their home is white. And she's like, I can't even get my kids' hair brushed, my own teeth brushed. And I was like, that's curated. Maybe she lives like that all the time, but maybe not. Probably not. I don't personally know any families, and I've worked with families for 40 years that live like that. So, what are your thoughts on how to Protect ourselves and still stay connected through feeds that might give us information like yours, which is wonderful and very real and not overly beautified?
Erica: I think it's twofold. Learning to mindfully scroll, and then also having some media literacy because you're right, I come from social media and when I learned how content is curated, literally created and structured and positioned and staged to be content in its own art form almost than it is meant to represent reality. There is an internalization of these expectations that this should be my life. And when we're postpartum and we're in diapers and we're bleeding and our section scar is healing and our boobs are leaking and we open and see perfect motherhood, it feels so debilitating sometimes.
Aviva: And we're doing air quotes Y'all for perfect motherhood here.
Erica: Yeah. Oh yeah. It's just like the comparison sinks in. We feel like we're not doing a good enough job. How come we're struggling so much, and they can have it together and there's so many things, they're probably in a different stage of motherhood. That content is curated. What is going on? Is this person a full-time creator? Is this literally their job? And media literacy teaches us to sort of unpack the messages like what's behind the real piece of content. What's the message here? What am I being sold? What is happening? Instead of just taking it on and sort of assuming it as a reflection of us.
So, I think that there's some skills that we can develop there. And two, mindfully scrolling. Now, I do a pretty good job to curate my feeds. I do a pretty good job to follow people who I admire, I learn from and whatever, but there can also be days where I'm in a really crummy mood and I open and I'm like, oh, they did that thing and I sucked today at whatever. And if you open social media and you feel a negative spiral happening. You need to close that thing and revisit it at a different time.
Aviva: Or unfollow, right?
Erica: Yeah, mute, unfollow, yeah, you can curate your feet, but what is touchy one day might not be touchy another day. If somebody is currently triggering, yes, mute them if they're a friend and you don't want to ruffle feathers by unfollowing. Also, just there is a level of accountability and boundary setting with ourselves that if we are scrolling and it is making us feel crummy, we have to give ourself the gift of kindness to close out that app and go do something else with our time. I love a good housewife’s binge or a below deck, Bravo, whatever you got to do to take your mind off of it, but do yourself a favor and don't just self-torture when you know you're in that state of mind. And that's hard, but also such a gift to ourselves to do that when we know we're feeling particularly vulnerable that day, which there are days when we will, whether we're postpartum or we're PMS’ing or we've had a hard day or whatever it is we're feeling. It's a gift to us, self-care in a way to set that boundary and close out of that app.
Aviva: Erica, you have three boys and you said they're eight, six, and five. What are you learning in your life right now that's most important, interesting, exciting, blowing your hair back about any of the things, mothering yourself as a woman relationship, what is it?
Erica: I’m learning that I'm in a new stage of motherhood, and so the big feelings, the big meltdowns and displays of rolling on the ground are almost over. I still have one who kind of lingers sometimes, but feelings still exist, and they come out in different forms. I have a lot of really more emotional and sort of socially complex conversations with the boys now. I feel a pressure or a sincere desire also to steward that properly. I want to be the person that they feel like they can talk to, although they won't always because I'm mom and I understand that. So just wanting to steward that trust well with them that I've earned with them, and then things that I'm learning beyond that. I am founding and CEO in a company, so there's a business learning curve that I'm on every day as we prepare to potentially fundraise in a few months.
And so, I'm in a startup environment and it is different every day and I'm learning a lot, and I don't think I would have the space to do that. In fact, I know I wouldn't if I hadn't challenged the norms in the should’s that I was boxed in by, I wouldn't have the room to build and develop and think outside of my role or nor even the time if I was still defaulted into the role the way that I had been before. So, I reflect on that often. It could have been a massive, missed opportunity or I wouldn't have gotten to live out this dream or this company that I'm building had I stayed trapped and confined by that default role that I was in. So yeah, those are some reflections from the season that I'm currently in.
Aviva: Thank you for those. I have one question for you before we wrap, And it's actually a big one because I think this is so top of mind for so many moms. You talk about this on your Instagram feed, mom confession, the world feels like such a scary place that I just want to keep my child at home to protect them.
Are you supporting and encouraging moms to manage their own fears about this in this time and to help their children through the things their children might be hearing at school or in the media?
Erica: Yeah, we actually just had a big conversation with this on the podcast. I was receiving endless DMs particularly about back-to-school violence and fear and the climate crisis because half of Canada was on fire this summer. It was a big, big deal and there is a lot to fear and there is a lot to worry about. I also think that there is also a level of accessibility to information that previous generations did not have. Some of our parents and grandparents lived through full on world wars and lived through lots of catastrophes and I'm sure had a lot of anxiety and challenges as a result, but we are the most anxious generation millennials and Gen Z. And why is that? I think that this endless stream of news, it does play a big part. There's something to be said for getting out of a digital environment, getting into our body, getting back into our physical life a little bit, setting some boundaries with our news and media intake.
And that's not to say to unplug and put ourselves in any kind of echo chamber or not be informed like we need to be informed, but we also need to have boundaries with ourselves and how much we are feeding those fears and those worries because each little news story or each thing that comes in sort of plants a seed of fear and depending on how anxiously wired we are or our baseline for anxiety, we might ruminate and water that thing. Before you know it, we are checking all of these gardens of fears and worries before we'll step out the door and go and do an activity with our kid. We're weighing it against the risk of the fears that we have and then we're not really living either.
There are some skills to learn to manage anxiety, but I also think that limiting our scrolling and our media consumption, being informed, but not constantly watering those seeds and getting into our body and with our kids and in our physical environments really helps to shift us out of that space sometimes. And that's not to invalidate the absolutely scary things that are going on, but being paralyzed and fear isn't changing the outcome either. We can take that fear, maybe turn it into righteous anger and do some advocacy work or create some change, but just hermiting in our house or really pulling back from living isn't helping us, isn't helping our kids, isn't helping the greater problem either.
Aviva: And this perception that the world is a more stranger danger place than it actually was, then is not an accurate perception. The risks of our kids having horrible things happen to them by strangers is not necessarily increased, at least in the US and I would imagine that's true for Canada as well. You have a much lower crime rate than we do even, but these fears that we put on our kids to be kind of observed all the time or in earshot all the time may be something to think about as we're kind of looking at the world as a really scary place, which are the things that we really do want to be aware of and which are the things are internalized exaggerated fears,
Erica: Anxiety takes certain fears and catastrophizes them. We have these what if thoughts and then we see a news story and just because it happened to one person, what happens is our anxiety says that will happen to me then when I go to the park with my kid.
So that less than 0.111, whatever percentage of that happening to me in my community becomes that it will happen. So just because it happened doesn't mean it's going to happen to you. And there are ways through cognitive behavioral therapy and other skills that we build to get to realistic thinking so that we don't feel so doomsday or these things will happen. As you said, when we step outside of the house,
Aviva: Erica, you have a book coming out. Congratulations. Tell us the name of it.
Erica: It's Releasing the Mother Load: How to Carry Less and Enjoy Motherhood More.
Aviva: Brilliant. Tell us about the book and when's it coming out so we can keep an eye out and have you back on the show too.
Erica: Yeah, it's going to release early next year, so 2024 – before Mother's Day. It's really about this internal work. It's really about taking that filing system of all those things that got crammed in there that we never even knew we needed to unpack and sort through and doing that intentional work so that we can live and breathe motherhood in our own way with our own values and not prescribed by those external societal ideals.
Aviva: I'm excited to read it and to share it with this community. Before we go, I have a question I love to ask my guests. I'm going to tailor this one for you just a little bit. If you could tell your younger postpartum self anything, what would you tell her?
Erica: I think about this a lot actually. It's that sleep is not a one-person job. It is a family affair in the home and that feeding is flexible and there are many ways to do it. And then it doesn't have to be all or nothing or one particular way. You can combo feed, you can introduce bottles, you can do all kinds of things, especially to prioritize sleep and to help take care of your mental health. And I think that when we get stuck in that perfectionism, wanting to do things right, when we get stuck in the exclusively breastfeeding and breast is best, we can go to lengths that really put our mental health in fragile territory. And there is no failure in being flexible in being adaptive in the postpartum period.
Aviva: It's so important. I feel that we've talked about this concept of attachment, parenting intensive parenting, and one of the things I think a lot of people forget is that historically has been done in the context of closely knit communities. It's never been just the mom doing it or just the mom and her partner doing it in this sort of nuclear isolated way, and it becomes so much to bear for the individual and for the relationship. So, thank you for reminding everyone to tap into what you're feeling, what you need and not feel guilty owning that and prioritizing that because it really is, ultimately everything we know is it's better for the family in the long run. It's better for the children in the long run.
Erica: Oh my goodness. When we are, well, our family is well, hands down, all the research back that up. And so our needs are important and taking care of our needs is also taking care of our family. Sometimes we have a hard time taking care of our needs for ourselves and hopefully we'll get to that place where just doing it for ourselves is enough, but also doing it for our kids and our families. Extremely important. Our wellness is such a key cornerstone to the family.
Aviva: Erica, thank you for joining me today and for all that you are doing for mamas and children and families, and I look forward to talking with you again when your book comes out.
Erica: Thank you so much for having me, and I look forward to connecting more in the future. Thank you.
Aviva: Thank you everyone for joining us, and we'll see you next week.