Dear Addie: My closest childhood friend has two kids, and they seem to fully run her life. Over the past three years, since adding the youngest to her family, her diet, fitness and overall health have drastically declined. Once healthy, she now suffers from chronic fatigue, migraines and every seasonal malady that’s “going around” — illnesses her body used to fight off just fine. I’m concerned for her physical and emotional health; I know she’s exhausted, but she’s not taking steps to preserve her well-being or her sanity. I understand that priorities change when your family grows, but I’m concerned that her self-sacrifice is starting to cross the line into needless martyrdom. I’d like to empower her to restore some balance to her life so she can set a healthy example for her children— after all, won’t they emulate her health and dietary example? How can I communicate my concerns to her without sounding like a childless woman who “just doesn’t understand” because she doesn’t have kids of her own (yet)? —Childless but not Clueless
Dear Childless: This is a very, very touchy topic that you’re broaching. That’s not to say that it’s an impossible one to address, but it’s risky at best. It’s a sign of a true friendship that you’re concerned for your friend’s health and wellness; clearly you care about her. The touchy part comes in, though, with the very fact you point out—silly as it may seem—that you don’t have children yet. You’ve heard the phrase “Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes”? Truer words were never spoken than when referring to a mom in the trenches.
If I had to guess, I bet your friend is already aware of (and likely self-conscious about) how she’s let herself go. Why it’s happened may be very clear to you and those around her. How to stop it or turn it around, though, is something that only she can address. Similar to someone who struggles with their weight or an addiction, she will likely have to have that rock bottom, coming-to-Jesus moment where she makes the conscious decision to get herself together and take back control of her health.
I will say, as someone who had three kids younger than age 5 at one time, parenting is no easy gig. It’s exhausting and thankless and harder than anything I’ve ever done, but yet, I have absolutely no regrets. When my kids were that young, I rarely made it to the gym—a place I spent nearly every day prior to having children. I didn’t nourish myself with whole foods or a balanced diet, often just grazing off the highchair tray before moving on to bath time or bed time or any other time-consuming activity children require. It wasn’t until my children got older and more independent that I was able to return to the gym more regularly, eat a more balanced diet and reclaim my own health. Some moms can pull the healthy, fit mom thing off; I was not one of them, and it sounds like your friend isn’t either. And that’s okay!
So what’s a friend to do? I’m a big fan of “honesty is the best policy,” but I’m also a huge proponent for “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” That said, rather than telling her she’s let herself go, why not invite her to go workout, bring her a healthy meal or offer to watch the kids so she can go do something for herself? Maybe getting a taste of what she’s missing will inspire her to try and do more for her health and wellness. But most importantly, just continue to support her and love her. Moms are a very judgy group; it always feels nice to have a friend pulling for you!
Dear Addie is a wife and mom of three who has done her fair share of diaper changing, morning snuggling, boo-boo kissing, cold nursing, lullaby singing, baby rocking, field trip chaperoning and sideline cheering. She believes that there is no degree required to be a parenting “expert.” You just have to roll up your sleeves, dig in, ask the questions, get the answers, and give it your best shot. Oh, and have a whole lot of love and patience on-hand!