As a teenager, I respected my aunt, my mother’s oldest sister, and cherished the time I spent chatting with her about life. I remember one time when I was 15, sitting in the backseat of her Toyota, talking about my mother.
My aunt didn’t have the highest opinion of my mom…but this wasn’t news to me. I had heard my family’s opinions of her before. At that time my aunt was the most put-together person I knew.
She didn’t seem to get emotional, she had been married for a long time, and she had an actual house with actual stuff. My aunt seemed like the perfect role model for a normal life.
Because for me, a working teenage actress in New York City who went to auditions and dance classes more than school, a teen who moved almost once a year since the age of 10, and a daughter living with divorced parents…normal, I thought, was what I wanted to be more than anything else.
Looking back, I feel compassion for my mother who was the self-proclaimed black sheep of the family, knowing she must have felt the hefty weight of judgment from her well-put-together sisters all her life.
But for me, the child of the black sheep, I not only heard the white sheep’s judgments, but also the black sheep’s woes of not being accepted. I decided being a black sheep would definitely NOT be a successful move for me. And so began my teenage quest to become “normal”.
I was a beautiful teenager with peachy skin and long glamorous hair. It wasn’t long after leaving my extraordinary life as a professional actress to become a normal college girl that I put on an extra 20 pounds, grew pimples on my face, and cut all of my hair off.
I fit in pretty well…except for the fact I was scared sh*tless of men, had a home life that was so screwed up I couldn’t even go back there on winter break, and had NO idea how to have a social life. Oh, and occasionally I traveled to NYC to do an episode of “One Life To Live”.
I quickly figured out what I needed to do to fit in with the other girls my age. Perhaps it was my training as an actress or perhaps it was my years of learning how to be a “good girl” for my parents that helped me to adapt so quickly.
In no time, I was “normal,” just like I wanted to be.
Years later, the “normal” life I had worked so hard to create went all wrong. I was the mother of two young children, an upstanding community business owner, and wife of one of the town’s happiest guys (known by some as “the mayor”).
Then, one day, this “normal” woman, me, did a very not normal thing. I fell in love with a man who wasn’t my husband.
Now, this is a much longer story and one that begs me to tell you so I can feel vindicated and heroic in the end. But, for now, that’s all you need to know.
Never in a million years would I have thought to even consider getting divorced for any reason, so the shock of these circumstances took over my body and mind.
This situation controlled me on such a profound level that I literally felt like I was under some kind of spell. I lived under this spell until I was lying in another man’s bed, in his house, with his kid and mine, and looking back on my life wondering, “What the hell just happened to me?”
Anxiety hit hard, but depression hit harder as I swam in a sea of teary days that lasted way too long.
Shame and humiliation kept me hiding and no one could fix it, not even my ex-husband who gently offered, “You need to go out and learn to have fun,” as his way of helping me cope and get me back on my feet.
One day, at a particularly low point, I was working through a book called Wild Feminine at the recommendation of an intuitive friend of mine who told me flat out that all this was happening to me so that I could learn to receive and accept my true feminine nature.
At the time she told me this, I was pretty sure she was full of shit.
There were exercises in the book, and one of them asked me to write down “what it meant to be a woman.” I wrote 3 pages of information that included general ideas about taking care of one’s family, responsibility, and the burden I had felt as a wife and mother.
Going back to the book after completing the exercise I read what the author had written, “Perhaps you wrote down that women have breasts and a vagina.”
I was appalled. I looked down at my list again. My definition of what it meant to be a woman hadn’t included any of those things. How had such a smart person missed such obvious points? How did I get here? And how the hell can I find my way out?
That day I realized I had been on a 17-year quest to find a normal life. And normal was far, FAR from what I actually wanted to be. I wanted to be ME: natural, authentic me.
But I didn’t know what that was. This launched my next quest: I was now determined to find out who I was in my natural, authentic state.
Almost 5 years later, I have a much better idea of who I am. And I couldn’t have predicted it for any amount of money.
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I am a black sheep. But I was too afraid to be one and embrace it back in that Toyota with my aunt, for fear of being like my mother.
No matter how much my mom and my aunt were trying to do the right things as they raised me, neither of them could have possibly made my process any easier if they had known my path, or even told me.
And that’s the point. The number one mistake mothers make when trying to raise their children is not accepting themselves or being proud of who they are as people.
We try so hard as mothers to have all our shit together so that our children don’t have to go through challenging times. But if we could just be ourselves, and be fucking proud of who we are, our children would feel that deep in their bones and wouldn’t struggle nearly as much.
It’s not our job to take away the struggle. Kids, like little seedlings, need to find their own way to push through life’s soil and emerge into the sun.
Our job as parents is not to prevent the struggle, but to stand firm in our own truth, our knowledge of who we naturally are, so that our children will feel our strength and be that much more equipped to brave the rainstorms that life will inevitably bring.
Normal doesn’t get anyone anything more than normal problems. Instead of seeking normal, start striving to be natural. Start living to be YOU.
Ani Anderson is a master coach, speaker, business mentor, and author.