What This Mom Learned From Cheryl Strayed's 'Wild'

As the New Year approaches, this is a time to reflect on our lives and be resolute about changing things that are not working for us. While there is much that is out of our control, there are many adjustments we can make to feel healthier and happier.
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My husband and I both felt very inspired and motivated by seeing the film Wild.

The film, starring (an amazing) Reese Witherspoon and based on a true story by Cheryl Strayed, is about a woman's coming to terms with a great loss in her life and trying to find herself in the process. She embarks on a hike up the Pacific Coast from the border of Mexico through Oregon. Without a cell phone or company of any sort -- it's her, the elements, and her experiences.
"Man, I would love to do something like that... except I'd stay in a Motel 6 at night to sleep on a mattress and have a hot shower," my husband said after the film. His words echoed my very thoughts -- except I might upgrade to a Comfort or Holiday Inn.

Cheryl Strayed overcame heroin addiction, a failed marriage, random sex with strangers and the loss of her mother by squarely facing the problems in her life and walking alone in nature. Getting out of your comfort zone and away from your environment can accelerate personal growth. (That's why parents love sleep-away camp!) It can also be incredibly healing, as we learn from this woman's experiences.

As the New Year approaches, this is a time to reflect on our lives and be resolute about changing things that are not working for us. While there is much that is out of our control, there are many adjustments we can make to feel healthier and happier.

As a mother, I find myself frequently caught in a rut of the sameness and the predictability of a life that is both soothing and numbing. Comforting because, I, like most people, find change a bit scary; and there is something easy about the familiar. But it can also be incredibly dull, boring and anesthetizing.

So, like Cheryl Strayed, I think we all -- especially us dedicated moms -- can benefit immensely from shaking it up a bit. Most of us can't afford the time to take an 1,100 mile hike, but there are things we can do to challenge ourselves and hit "refresh."

1. Travel:

Over the summer, my eldest daughter, almost 16, and I traveled to Tanzania together to work at a truly transformative place called the Rift Valley Children's Village. We lived in a house with little to no running water and 11 young girls and helped make them breakfast, get ready for school, read to them at bedtime, danced and did yoga with them. While "our girls" were off at the local school during the day, we played with and taught English to the younger children. Our days were busy, exhausting and incredibly rewarding. The other volunteers came from all over the world and we learned as much from them as did the children. It was three weeks that I shall cherish forever, and my wise, New York City sophisticated daughter added another dimension to herself and I saw her mature before my very own eyes. We can't all travel to distant lands -- nor do we need to -- to experience nature and see the world through different eyes, but we can certainly take a hike in a state or national park.

2. Go back to school:

Learning new things -- whether it's cooking or computer graphics -- keeps you active and thinking. Surely, there's something that was of interest to you before motherhood took over your life. Online classes are not the same as attending an actual school or studio and getting to meet other people, but it still counts. And yes, you will probably be a bit older than the other students, but we can learn many things from the younger generation besides how to work our damn smart phones. For the past several years, I attended classes in Drama Therapy at the New School and got my certificate. The classes were extraordinary and one of my fellow students and one of my professors are now two of my closest friends. Currently, I am in school to become a Drug and Alcohol Counselor and have met terrific people, all of whom are interested in a career based on helping others. The classes are two nights a week and I get out of the house, learn new things and can say, "Dinner is waiting for you in the fridge, kids!"

3. Spend time alone (Without the kids. With the husband?):

Either with the hubby or without, it's really important to get away from the children and come back refreshed and primed to play the all-important role of "Mommy." If you choose to go away alone you will rediscover yourself -- that wonderfully complex person who got lost in the process of raising a family. We mothers are wired to think about the children first and ourselves last, and frequently either wind up resenting it or losing it totally with a breakdown. Reconnect with yourself and find out who you are today. What are your passions, dreams and goals?
Going away with your mate, even for just a night, is crucial to keeping a relationship alive -- no dishes, no whining, no homework battles -- just you as a woman with your man. Find a sitter or a relative to watch the kids and reclaim those roles of woman, wife, girlfriend and lover.

4. Find a venue to give of yourself:

By giving love, we don't deplete ourselves of it -- we find more. And that is what helping others can give us: the gratitude and energy we need to face those challenging moments as a parent. Volunteering or mentoring gives us a valid reason to get out of the house and perhaps the opportunity to help people we might have otherwise shied away from. I was fortunate to intern as a drama therapist at a hospital in New York with one of my professors and help her out with adolescents and adults with mental health problems. Working with inpatients in the psychiatric ward was quite daunting at first, but I came to see the person behind the illness, and I realized that before that experience I probably would have tried to avoid them rather than see their humanity and open my heart to them. By helping those in need, we can find a renewed gratitude for what we have and that can directly positively affect our levels of happiness.

These are some things to think about and hopefully get to do in 2015.

Get out into the world -- your partner and children will love you all the more for it and will reap the benefits from you being wiser and a tiny bit less domesticated.