Not too long ago an image circulated on social media that took the parenting community by storm. Maria Kang, clad in a sports bra and surrounded by her three young children, proudly bore her fit and toned body for all to see. The caption on the photo read: What’s Your Excuse?
I don’t need to tell you that the photo incited some strong opinions.
Her post accrued over a million shares and comments over time, and most of all, some intense criticism. Of the thousands of comments, ones like this were the most prolific: “My kids are my first priority. If what you say is true you are a very busy working mom with no nanny. Where are your kids while you’re spending all your free time working on you?…Put some clothes on and spend some time with your children.”
Whoa. So many things are being communicated there.
Comments like this imply that ‘good moms’ only wear one hat, and that is the hat of motherhood. Setting and accomplishing goals are things that ‘good moms’ don’t do, unless they are child-centered, of course. Prioritizing your health, well-being, or appearance is not something a ‘good mom’ would do.
When I thought about Maria Kang’s picture, I wondered about all the time she must have spent away from her children. The hours a day slogging away at the gym just to obtain that enviable figure. I used to think this way, but now it makes no sense to me at all, quite frankly.
If we dare to lean closer to one side of any issue, there will be someone in the stands challenging our motives.
The mom who goes back to work and puts her children in daycare isn’t as committed of a mom as she should be, but the mom who is scared to hire a babysitter is too consumed with her children.
The mom who is still wearing her maternity jeans one year postpartum should put in some effort, but the mom who sweats it out at the gym during the week should tone it down.
I realize now that the bulk of judgment and negativity we harbor comes from insecurity. We judge others because we are judging ourselves. When I first saw Maria Kang’s smiling face come across my computer screen (and in turn found myself inwardly shooting her down), I know I was communicating more about myself than I was about her. The message of her post, a simple challenge, felt more like an assault because of what was going on in my own mind and heart. I was trying to reassure myself that I was fine with where I was physically, and content with how little time I was devoting to self-care. I wasn’t. So I tore down the woman who appeared to have accomplished what I couldn’t find motivation to do (or had yet to).
I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but for me, it was easier to find fault in someone else’s journey than to examine why I wasn’t moving forward in mine.
The reasons we struggle to take action in our lives are many and nuanced, but a year ago I decided I was done feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. I was ready to put an end to the exhaustion, the extra weight I was carrying around, and the lack of energy. I made my well-being a priority, because I firmly believed that a healthy, happy mother equals a healthy, happy family. And I was right. Taking care of ourselves does not have to be in direct opposition to taking care of our families.
I’ve been in the room where women have been sized up, becoming the target of comments like, “she would look better with some weight on her,” or, “I would never want to look like that.” In a time where body-positivity is trending, let’s not forget to celebrate all bodies and all accomplishments. Whether caring for your whole person means letting go of unhealthy expectations or actively pursuing new goals, make it a priority– and do it without tearing down the woman next to you.
When we speak from a place of contentment and peace with ourselves, our words and thoughts are automatically more loving and encouraging. That is who we should strive to be. After all, little eyes are watching. Who do we want them to be?
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.