Julia Roberts, author of “Motherhood to Otherhood” has designed a nine-month program called ‘unpregnancy’ for women who want to give birth to something new and special within themselves. During her own ‘unpregnancy’ Julia lost weight, wrote a book, redeco
Julia Roberts, author of "From Motherhood to Otherhood"
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Commitment: This book started with your desire for a fourth child, but then instead of giving birth to another child, you chose to start down the path of “Unpregnancy” or nine months to a birth a new you. What is Unpregnancy and why and how did you develop this nine-month program to improve your life and reach your goals?
Julia Roberts: I was literally walking in the park one day trying to decide whether to have the fourth child I wanted. I had always wanted four children, so giving up on this life expectation was hard. But I also wanted to get back to my real life so to speak.
I wanted to get back to working hard and thinking clearly and getting enough sleep. I had dreams for my own life that had been on hold a long time already. (My kids were 9, 6 and 3 at the time.) As I say in the book, if I was going to give up a real hoped-for child, I needed something BIG to replace that. What struck me as odd, was even as I began to accept the decision not to have the baby, I wished at least I could be pregnant.
Now this made NO sense at first. Who wants pregnancy without the promise of a child? What occurred to me was the pregnancy offers a quiet gift - the gift of focus, commitment and certainty about your mission.
That's how I came to think of goal achievement in connection with pregnancy – I wanted the mental benefits of pregnancy without the waddle, and with Unpregnancy I could have exactly that.
Commitment: Tell us about your experience with the Unpregnancy program. What goals did you set? What did you discover about yourself as you underwent this nine-month life change?
Julia: I was immediately gifted with clarity. Just like pregnancy, Unpregnancy was a divining rod in my life. I picked my goals and everything else became less important. There was a natural commitment – there was no turning back. I felt buoyed by positivity, a kind internal voice, a happy smile on my face. I felt like the world was on my side. Since I wanted to revamp my whole life, I started from the inside out, and chose three sets of goals.
SELF: I wanted to lose weight because I was still carrying baby weight. I wanted to feel like my old self. To lose weight while Unpregnant is an amazing paradigm shift. All of a sudden, I was eating for health, not depriving myself. I was eating for two – for my current self, and my future self. Both selves were in the equation. I needed to honor the current needs I had, as well as the desire to make headway in my diet. I had a great internal voice “Hey Baby, you’re going to love this chocolate cake.” I never bashed myself for eating against some diet rules. This was Unpregnancy – all the rules were my own. Only I was accountable. I could get help, but I had to do it.
LOVE: I then found myself really ready to share my optimism and enthusiasm at home. So I took on a family goal – I got my father-in-law to work with each of our kids to remodel a bedroom to their liking. They got time with grandpa and their own sacred places. My husband and I went on a marriage retreat and reconnected and later in the year took a romantic cruise together.
WORK: Lastly, I was so strengthened by my successes – I’d lost 50 pounds and my family was really happy and strong – that I decided to commit to a new community goal. I was a working mom – I’d worked at home as a full-time marketing consultant for almost ten years, and I knew that grind well. I decided to gain some distance from that career by focusing on a different kind of goal. I stepped up to a big community commitment – I began working to get community pool built in our town. I knew all my marketing skills – strategizing, writing proposals, presenting, and persuading – would be instrumental in our success. Because of my Unpregnancy mindset, I didn’t just “help” I committed. I took ownership of the project with another woman and we got that pool funded, populated and BUILT! Our town has a pool now, with over 400 families as members!
Commitment: Your book is titled, Motherhood to Otherhood. What is Otherhood?
Julia: Well if pregnancy leads to motherhood, Unpregnancy leads to Otherhood. It’s what you want in your life outside of mothering.
Commitment: In describing an Unpregnancy seminar, you wrote, “Still, we were all there because we wanted to be more than just somebody’s mom. How greedy would that seem? The thing that surprised me was the relief and joy in the room. We had admitted to wanting something for ourselves . . . We had come out of isolation . . . We each stayed submerged in others’ needs, not seeing to our own, not acknowledging how far we had sublimated our feelings, not wishing for ourselves, not thinking it was possible to escape.” Can you elaborate a little bit on this?
Do you think many mothers think of themselves as greedy because they want to keep something for themselves? Do you think a lot of women feel isolated and bury their own needs because they are busy caring for others?
Julia: Before that moment, I thought I was the only one who wanted “more,” it made me feel a little sheepish or selfish. None of us realized how universal this sense was – this desire to get back to our own ambitions on the one hand and not feeling it was possible on the other hand. The Mom Trap!
Commitment: You also wrote about the seminar that many women were “shy and awkward” about revealing their dreams. Why do you think many people are hesitant to speak out loud about their dreams? Do you think at a certain age, women feel it is silly or useless to start discussing their dreams?
Julia: No I don’t. It’s only too late if you don’t start now. I think a lot of women shift their dreams to their child’s accomplishments – hence Stage Moms. I think everyone everywhere has a hard time admitting a dream, because it commits you to trying. And it opens you up for judgment as to whether or not you’re good enough. Not just others’ judgments but our own! We can be harsh critics of ourselves.
Commitment: You write about the “sense of self” many women have lost when becoming mothers. What is this “sense of self” that is lost and how can it brought back?
Julia: They say when you have a baby, you allow someone else to walk around in the world with your heart inside them. Mothers feel utterly connected to their children, especially when they’re young. And Mothering is full-tilt! Every scintilla of creativity, energy and strategy you have goes into being the best mother you’re able. That is what dampens a separate sense of “self”.
Add in that whatever dreams you had pre-motherhood are likely to seem irrelevant to your life now. How you pursue those dreams will be definitely altered, and likely what you really want to pursue will also be dramatically different. When you “come up for air” you’re going to have to reinvent.
Commitment: At the beginning of the book, you wrote:
“My children have rich and wonderful lives: they take art lessons, join debate teams, try out for school musicals and play sports. But somewhere along the way, I realized that I was making their lives my whole life, and my life is too short for that.”
Did you feel hesitant or selfish at first for making this decision to pay attention to your own needs? Isn’t a good mother supposed to make her children her whole life or the children will suffer? Is it possible for a mother who cherishes her children to keep her children as first priority and still find the time/money/energy to pursue her own goals? Is it just a dream reserved for a few women with lots of resources or can all women regardless of their life situation keep something for themselves and forge ahead toward their own dreams?
Julia: What is the meaning of Soccer Mom or Hockey Mom? Is that a mom who plays either of those sports? No! Those are moms who drive all over three counties to take their kids to their various games and practices, and live on a field or ice rink.
To me it is more than possible to be a good mom and pursue your own goals – it is imperative! The more your life is full-fledged and important to you, the more your kids have an enviable role model. The more you are busy “pursuing your dreams” (vs. just work you resent) the more your kids see that as possible, important, valuable in their own adult lives. Moms are teaching more than good nutrition and manners – they’re showing their girls and boys how to design and live a satisfying life.
Commitment: You write that many mothers need to reconcile motherhood with ambition. Can you elaborate a bit on this?
Julia: This is one of my favorite hidden jewels. A treasure that Motherhood to Otherhood brought to light for me. What is Maternal Instinct and how does it square with ambition?
It was Charles Darwin… the scientist who identified the Theory of Evolution… who named and defined Maternal Instinct.
We all know what that is… or do we? We think of it as the overwhelming instinct to care for and protect our young, even at the expense of our own health or well being. It is an instinct, observable among mothers even in the wild – among spiders, apes, chimpanzees etc. Darwin also identified “ambition” as part of Maternal Instinct. That aspect is little known, because Darwin lived in Victorian times and people preferred to think of women and mothers as angels and simpletons – people who needed to be cherished and protected, not much more than children themselves. (Women didn’t even have the right to own property, enter into contracts or vote.)
Victorians repressed the ambition aspect of Maternal Instinct and glorified the self sacrifice. It is little wonder that we feel shamed and judged for pursuing ambitions, and rewarded and petted for self-sacrifice as mothers.
Commitment: The Unpregnancy plan is split up into three trimesters, the first being self, the second love, the third work. Can you explain these three trimesters and what type of goals are appropriate for each trimester?
Julia: The three trimesters – SELF, LOVE, and WORK – mirror a real pregnancy. It takes the experience from a private, personal change to a future you announce to friends and loved ones, to a known (obvious) change and anticipated outcome. You’re becoming a mother-to-be from the inside out. I see Unpregnancy and your journey to Otherhood just that way. Put yourself first. That’s an enormous shift for mothers.
Then circle back to your loved ones with newfound joy, and changed expectations. Then take your big new self out into the world. When you just rush into taking a job without consideration of yourself and your children, it’s you who’s going to pay. I think this is why so many mothers feel overwhelmed, overworked and unhappy.
In the SELF trimester you tackle goals pertaining to your health, creativity, spirituality
In the LOVE trimester you continue on first trimester goals but begin to share your experience with friends and family
In the WORK trimester you begin to implement your life’s work – whether at home or at a job or in the community. You take your new self out.
Commitment: I loved when you wrote, “This is a book about how to be a good mother to yourself, how to raise yourself to be the best person you can be by using all your experiences as a mother.” How can a mother who is and is super busy raising her children and perhaps is also very exhausted be a good mother to herself?
Julia: My biggest message out of this book is “Mother Yourself for a Change.” If the mother in your example – super busy, exhausted – had one more child, wouldn’t she find time and love for that child? She needs to allow herself, her inner self, to be her one more child. Mothers need to baby themselves, be empathetic, speak kindly to themselves in their own heads, encourage their own progress, feel proud of their ideas and accomplishments.
Commitment: Tell us about your morning journal and how can this help with meeting one’s goals.
Julia: We’re a very goal-oriented society. None of us likes to admit we prefer to be lazy. Moms in particular like to be good role models of busy-ness. Under the social pressure to be busy and achieving moms, we are often working hard on things that don’t really matter to us. We do it because we think we have to, or because we said we would or because we don’t want to let someone down, or we think “who else will do it?”
A morning journal is the one place you can be honest, complainy, happy, gloating – all the unsocial feelings we might repress in polite company. It lets our inner baby whine. So you can see – on the page – how much it costs you to say yes all the time, and how much you gain by being in better touch with what you really want. If you think you “should” do something, then probably you shouldn’t. Probably that is a dread task for you, and might be a joy for someone else.
Volunteering for things you enjoy makes your gift of time that much enjoyable (for you and the recipients). Your morning journal is where you can identify what matters to you, what needs to change, and what is rich and wonderful in your life.
With an appreciative nod to Julia Cameron author of The Artists’ Way, whose work introduced me to Morning Pages, I wholeheartedly embrace and recommend writing in a journal every morning.
Commitment: During your two ‘Unpregnancies’ you accomplished a lot – lost weight, redecorated your children’s bedrooms, attended a marriage seminar, took a romantic cruise with your husband, help get a community pool built and kept a journal. In your second Unpregnancy, you took your kids on a cross country RV trip and wrote a book with your kids entitled “RV There Yet?” How did you accomplish so much? What was the most difficult and challenging aspect of achieving these goals? What enabled you to actually reach your goals, when so many of us set goals that end up falling by the wayside?
Julia: That’s the beauty of Unpregnancy. It is the sense of commitment and no turning back that comes to us from our own life experiences: pregnancy. If you can grow and give birth to a person in nine months, and your toddler, your boss and your mother-in-law could all support this effort, why can’t you lose weight? Or write a book? You have the model in your life for expectation and supportiveness. No one can tell me it’s harder to lose weight than it is to have a baby. Once you consider your goals your “Baby” they demand and deserve a similar amount of attention and support.
Commitment: One of your goals for the SELF portion of the program was to lose weight, something many women struggle with. You write that “whatever your size, you need to find a way to love your body.” What helped you lose weight and feel healthier and more energized? What advice do you have for other women who also want to lose weight and feel healthier?
Julia: As I say in my book: Diets don’t work; dieters work. Diets need to sell, so they make promises for quick results, incorporate tricks, and inspire hope. In the end it’s still you who has to do it. It’s body changing and life-changing. So it needs to be entered into with the same sorts of feelings you entered pregnancy.
· You thought: “My body is amazing – I am amazing – this is a great time in my life”
· This is going to take 9 months, so moderation is key
· You were eating for two – what you shouldn’t eat is nowhere near as important was what you should eat. You eat for health, energy, and fuel for the baby. Also no one scolded you for the occasional indulgence
· You were future-oriented and self-indulgent in the present
· You were committed. Nothing else was more important
· You were accountable to yourself – and only yourself
· You were forgiving and had a kind internal voice – your baby voice
· You loved your baby – that’s why I say you have to find the love for your body
· You changed your thoughts first, your body changes came along after
Commitment: There is a Lesson in your book entitled, “Lesson #1: You’ll Never Be Alone Again”: “Realize too that you are not alone, even within yourself. You are always every age you have ever been. You’re the girl who played house and played ball, the college girl who wrote an impressive term paper, the 20-year-old who chose a career path, the mother who advocated for her children, managed a household and planned a child’s education.” Explain that to us – how are we always every age we have ever been and how can understanding this help us in our lives.
Julia: Sometimes we become separated from our essential selves – who we are, who we will always be. Our social obligations overwhelm our deeply held dreams. It helps to validate a goal or dream if you can reach back to your childhood delights. It can help lead you back to what gives you joy to remember a college project, and it can help embolden you to try something “crazy” when you acknowledge your accomplishments from the time before you were “somebody’s mom.”
Commitment: Some women have a hard time setting goals because they cannot find their passions or life missions. For those having trouble discovering their mission, you recommend “forget your age, your job, your shortcomings.” How will doing this help a woman uncover her hidden passions?
Julia: It’s a matter of getting in touch with your essential self, and stripping away your social expectations. Your age, your job and your perceived shortcomings aren’t essential, they’re labels. First and foremost you have to see your dream for just that… pure and passionate. At least see it and give yourself a minute of wishing for it. It won’t be long before the glare of judgment rushes back. Admit your dream to yourself for a moment and relish a vision of you as a painter… a writer… a dancer… a restaurant owner… a lawyer… even a life coach. It’s only too late if you don’t start now.
Commitment: You advise women to “inspect your expectations.” What does this mean?
Julia: Most moods – anger, frustration, resentment – come from broken expectations. Lesson #5 “You don’t know what to expect” is another of pregnancy’s gifts. Pregnancy puts all your expectations in play – you suspend all your expectations and renegotiate them. It’s very powerful. If you can “see” your unspoken expectations and their effect on your moods, you’ll be like a fish becoming aware of water. It’s rare and liberating. You can renegotiate your most frustrating interactions with the people around you, and feel happier, freer of broken expectations and disappointments.
Commitment: I found this paragraph on page 173 very inspiring: “It is perfectly natural to want big things, to desire a big life and big adventures. It is part of your mission to define which ambitions will bring you happiness, but if you have a long-held ambition that you’ve considered beyond your grasp it is unnatural to deny yourself the right to go for it. It is as unnatural as tamping down the overwhelming desire to push when nature calls on the delivery table. Maybe your ambition is too lofty for your current life circumstances, but it’s only too late if you don’t start now.” Can you elaborate on this? I think many of us have goals we feel are beyond our reach and beyond our life circumstances. Do you think it is possible to jump the hurdles that feel impossible to get over to reach our dreams?
Julia: No one can say what you can or can’t achieve in a life, and how tall or wide your obstacles might be. But if you have a strong urge – PUSH. Ultimately it won’t matter how far you get, the journey will be thrilling. Just beginning the adventure will be fun. How can it be too late to have fun doing what you love? And because it is what you love you’ll get farther than you ever dreamed. It will be easy and effortless because you love it.
We’ve already discussed that it is natural to feel ambition. Ursula K. Leguin says it well, “It is once we stop giving birth to others that we begin to birth ourselves.”
Commitment: You offer Motherhood to Otherhood seminars with mothers who want to change things in their lives. What gave you the courage to start speaking to others about what started as a personal program for you? Were you ever afraid of the reaction you would receive – and why are so many of us afraid to let the world know about our dreams?
Julia: I was very nervous in the beginning. Admitting an ambition is hard because then you may fail, publicly. Since then, I’ve trained with Martha Beck as a life coach, so I’ve come a long way on my journey. Now I host seminars frequently with mothers from all over the US by telephone – and the mothers connect, help one other, and see real change in their lives over the course of the teleseminar of 9 weeks/9 lessons to a new you. It is my honor and thrill to continue to be involved in their adventures, and to be a help in their essential endeavors.
Commitment: I liked when you wrote, “Be the star of your own life.” What does that mean to you? What prevents a woman from being the star of her own life?
Julia: Moms are naturally, willingly sidekicks. They love their kids, their husbands. That’s fine for some “scenes” but when it’s the whole movie playing… we have to take up space, show up in photographs, have needs, and our own plotlines and rewards. We all need to star in our own lives.
Commitment: What advice do you have for mothers who are facing an empty nest and have spent twenty-plus years devoting themselves entirely to their children and putting their own needs aside?
Julia: To these moms pregnancy seems like a long time ago, so they don’t really have easy access to the lessons of pregnancy that Motherhood to Otherhood offers. And they may feel bereft by the “loss” of their kids. This is a very exciting time for them, once they are able to reframe their experience and expectations. These Mothers need Otherhood and the courage to pursue it more than some.
Commitment: What advice do you have for new mothers who are expending tons of energy taking care of babies and young children?
Julia: It’s not for me to say when a mother is ready for Otherhood. Some wait until they have an empty or emptying nest. I had one mother show up pregnant. She said it was baby number four and she was ready to plan. To very busy, overwhelmed mothers I say start small.
1. Find time each week for a Joy Date – one hour alone, just following your nose. Let your Joy Date help you refind your own joy.
2. Find enough peace to write in a Morning Journal. When I first started mine, I had little kids. The only way I could get some quiet was to get them to keep their own journals. Their journals were a big part of the RV There Yet? book. It is written using all of our journal entries from the trip. It’s a story written in five voices, from five dissenting points of view. As I’ve said, the morning journal is a daily way to see your inner baby, to identify what you really want and need to be happy.
Commitment: What would you say to women who may feel that concentrating too heavily on their own goals is selfish and takes times/energy/money away from the needs of their children? Can a mother who truly wants to put her children first still find time for her own dreams?
Julia: I rely on Maternal Instinct. Its very definition – our natural instinctual urges – includes the self sacrificing and nurturing of which we’re all aware, and the ambitions that naturally bubble up into our lives. To be good mothers is to embrace and model all that makes us good people.
Commitment: What are your best ten tips for women who want to start living their dreams, reaching their goals and saving something in their lives for themselves?
1. Get in touch and stay in touch with your dreams and desires – using the Morning Journal and Joy Dates.
2. Put yourself first once in a while, star in your own life.
3. We Mothers have a web of people who can help us and love us… we are the luckiest people on earth.
4. Practice positivity – gratitude, joy, wonder and awe – gifts we can share with our kids of any age.
5. Get rid of the “shoulds” in your life – Don’t should all over yourself! Move toward more tasks that make you think: “I can’t wait!”
6. If you don’t fulfill your dreams, and make your vision happen, who else will?
7. Your mission is always there whether you work toward it or work to repress it. They are equally difficult work, so which is more worthwhile?
8. What’s age? A number. Even if you’re not young, at least you’re not young. Now you’re focused.
9. Sometimes you have to push.
I only give nine tips. Nine is a magic number for mothers. Nine months can change a life, bring you a new wonderful life… you.
About the Author: Julia Roberts has balanced a marketing career and being a mom for twenty years. Her workshops based on the “Motherhood to Otherhood” program have touched and motivated moms from all walks of life. Her own journey from Motherhood to Otherhood helped her launch a second career in writing, speaking and life strategy coaching for moms. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and three children. Visit her at http://www.motherhoodtootherhood.com