This is an unsolicited review of my experience as a participant in the Abundant Mama Project (AMP). It is, therefore, part review and part recollection of my own personal journey, reasons for participating, experiences, etc. Also, it is written from the perspective of being a queer mama in an online subculture where I could find no other queer mamas (that’s not to say there weren’t any or haven’t been in past classes or will be in futures classes).
I first stumbled upon Shawn Fink’s Abundant Mama site early on in mamahood when I was feeling overwhelmed, scattered, disorganized, and desperate for answers on how to curb the waves of craziness I was feeling inside. I downloaded her free eBook, Ten Habits of Highly Effective Mamas, and read her blog. I think what really spoke most loudly to me when I first discovered AMP was that Fink wrote about being “effective” and “productive,” yet peaceful. Just what I had been looking for. As someone striving for perfection, as someone who gobbles down productivity books, apps, hacks, and blogs like candy, I was tired of the “just don’t worry about cleaning the house and working hard; just focus on your baby – the time flies by” rhetoric that seemed to fill so much of the parenting/mommy advice I was reading. Shawn seemed more focused on achieving balance — being productive AND peaceful. This I could get on board with.
Shawn’s eBook, blog posts, and podcast, while not earth shattering in their insights, act as good, gentle reminders of how to be present and mindful while engaged in the difficult task of being a mom. There is still quite a bit of the “dishes can wait” talk, but through it all I can really sense Shawn (just like me) struggling to achieve balance, knowing things actually have to get done in order for household to run effectively. That is the other thing about AMP, Shawn is and comes across as a real person. She’s not a super-styled instagram marketing scheme. She is a mom. She gets stressed. She trips over words sometimes in her live interactions with AMP members. She is relatable.
I first got interested in participating in the AMP through an Instagram “Rise and Shine Mama Photo Challenge” that Shawn created. Every morning in the month of November (2015) she would give a prompt via Instagram for moms to respond to. Shawn is a big believer in rising early (though she acknowledges that this doesn’t work for all mamas, and that it is more about starting the day in a good space regardless of how early the hour actually is). I really enjoyed the IG challenge. It served me in many way: For one, at that point, as a newbie mom, mornings came very early — fast and furious –following on the heels of many hours of middle of the night wakings. This made mornings feel hard, daunting. The Instagram challenge gave me something to look forward to in those early morning hours (granted mine were sometimes even earlier than Fink’s, and I would anxiously refresh my IG feed, waiting for my prompt). It also helped me to feel less alone. I could click on #30mamamornings or #riseandshinemama and see that other moms were awake too, out there struggling, pausing, reflecting, working hard, and so on. The idea behind rising early is to actually get some alone/quiet time before attending to the family, but when you’re little one rises at 4:30am, after nursing all night long, getting up any earlier is not a possibility.
Which leads to me my process of finally taking the AMP live course. Because rising earlier than my son was not a possibility but something I dreamed of and yearned for, I repeatedly told myself that once I was done nursing and my son was sleeping through the night, I would try out the AMP. Once I found out, however, in April, that Shawn was offering only one more live course for 2016, I felt like I should jump in. Since embarking on the AMP was also, for me, tied deeply to my need to get back to writing, I knew that there is no “good time” to start and that one should never wait until she feels “ready,” because that day most likely won’t come. In fact, the timing felt pretty darn awful. The course took place during the last four weeks of my semester. Levi still wasn’t weaned and wasn’t sleeping through the night. I felt certain I couldn’t commit as perfectly as I would like but decided to commit as much as a could at that time.
That being said, on the whole I personally could have put more into the AMP. Commitment is something Shawn addresses right away: you’re paying for this course; get your money’s worth, ladies! Show up. Be there. Commit. It’s a commitment to yourself, to your self worth. I took these instructions (encouragements, more accurately) pretty seriously and tried my best (especially the first three weeks…).
What does showing up for the AMP mean exactly? The course is held within a site called ruzuku, which I was actually pretty impressed with. As an educator who specializes in working with digital tools and has a lot of experience with course management software, I found ruzuku (free!) easy to use, easy to navigate, pleasant to look at, and most importantly it contained most everything needed to participate in the course (the only thing that lives outside of ruzuku are the live Q&A webinars, but even those are linked to within the site). Each day there is a lesson that shows up in your e-mail inbox, but all of the lessons are also mapped out in ruzuku, which shows you what you have completed (and what you haven’t in blue).
The lesson’s are frequently a journaling prompt. Shawn suggests keeping two journals for the course: one is a gratitude journal and one is a journal for writing/responding to the prompts. Shawn prides herself in providing challenging and thought provoking prompts and she is gentle in reminding us to be open to our own resistance when some prompts feel difficult. Along with the prompts is guidance — both written and audio — from Shawn. The course is very well organized. I loved being able to check off “completed” when I was done with a lesson and having ruzuku keep track of it for me. As a total type-A, I loved seeing my progress in this very clear visual way. And as a mama wanting to get back to her writing, as well as wanting to carve out some healthy space for herself, journal prompts were really all I needed to get something out of the course.
Alongside the lessons is perhaps the more important part of the course: the discussion. There are discussion boards for each of the lesson topics/prompts. Here you can post what you wrote (or a general sense of what you wrote) and both receive and give feedback from/to other mamas working through the course. This community is the thing I needed/was seeking, and yet, it is a part of the course that never quite clicked for me. For starters, I am fairly certain I was the only queer mama there (out of 140 of us that statistically doesn’t seem quite possible, so there is, of course, a chance that paths just never crossed). This doesn’t make or break a mama connection for me. I have plenty of mama friends who are straight and a good number who are lesbians. In fact, at this point in my life, I would have to say the more connective tissue with others is created by motherhood rather than orientation. However, in this realm, I did feel a bit like an outsider. Most of the mamas (who I encountered) seemed to assume everyone had a husband. And while I know tons of accepting (and even queer themselves) Christians, I tend to feel uncertain and uncomfortable if I don’t know where they stand. For whatever reason the online mama world is filled with Christians and this course was no exception (and I’d really like to know why this is, but that’s a post for a different day…). I’m not saying this in a judging way. I don’t have a problem with any form of religion. I do sometimes have a problem with the ways in which people choose to follow their religion; however, even with that I would never dismiss anyone based on this. Just to be clear: AMP never references religion. It just isn’t coming from the place. If your religion is part of your mom life (and for many it clearly is), then certainly bring it along, but AMP itself doesn’t advocate this stance in any way. (Disclaimer: I really feel like much of what I’ve said here will be taken the wrong way, but I’m trying to relay my experience, my feelings, and what I encountered in an honest way, and this was a big part of it).
(Side note: Shawn is currently offering a new course that she has developed called ReKindle to help mamas revive their marriages. From what I can see, while it doesn’t say same sex couples should not be involved, it appears to be very directly geared toward hetero couples, so I won’t be participating in that).
The other representatives from motherhood that I felt were few and far between in my experience with the AMP community (they were there, certainly, but not in “abundance”) were new/first time moms. While hearing about the struggles of moms with more than one kid, older kids, etc. were helpful (and, honestly, kind of frightening!), the struggles are very different than how to get your kid not to nap on you for every nap (though I did get kind words of support and advice from those who survived this, and that is always helpful) and how to find time for yourself when your child is still nursing. So while I went to AMP looking for a tribe and didn’t quite find one (again, this could be more about me than about the project and the other participants), I did enjoy my experience overall. (And as a side note, I did find other interesting moms on Instagram during that initial #riseandshinemama photo challenge. I still follow a handful of them, and one is another writing mama with whom I exchange pleasantries and encouragement here and there).
I never did answer the final prompt for the course: “What did this course teach you? What are you doing differently now than you were before this course? How are you changed?” And while I might not be able to remember the specifics of how I felt changed within the time period directly following the course, I do know that I am in desperate need of a “tune up.” I haven’t been writing in my gratitude journal at night, which was a huge help. I told myself over this past weekend that I would recommit to doing that but it didn’t happen. I sink too easily into the suck of social media and junk TV these days and know I need to fix that too. I am short tempered and snappy because I haven’t been able to prioritize working out, which is the thing that helps me be nice. So ultimately, was the course helpful? Well, if I feel the need/desire to take it again, then yes, it must have been. On the other hand, I think if I had felt more comfortable in the community and found more like-minded mamas, then I would have continued those connections (perhaps by joining the Peace Circle) in ways that kept me committed and accountable. That was the thing I loved about the Instagram photo challenge — even if it was perception only, I felt like showing up and posting my picture mattered and was alway responded to by other abundant mamas. And this feeling gets me thinking: Perhaps the AMP community for the live course was just too big for me. I felt like I “knew” (in that virtual kind of way) most of the participants involved in the IG challenge. I felt invested in their efforts toward being a peaceful and productive mama in a way that I just couldn’t with the live course because there were 144 women to keep track of — so many posts to read. I could never follow one person’s particular struggle(s), which is the thing that helps me feel connected.
All in all, I do recommend the AMP if you are feeling harried, alone, and like you’re not living up to your fully mommy potential. If you love writing and self-reflection, this is a great space for you. If you are straight, I see no reason why you wouldn’t feel like one of the tribe. I you’re queer, well, these spaces absent of our voices need them as well!