Ani Anderson, who lives in New York City, still remembers what it was like growing up and seeing all her family look down on her mom. When she was a teenager, she vowed she wouldn't ever be in such a position, and that decision changed her life. Even though she did everything she thought would give her a guarantee of being happy, she wasn't satisfied.
And what's more, she soon found out that the things she'd been chasing all along had nothing to do with her at all. They were about other people's expectations and her family dynamics.
She set out to discover who she truly was and embrace her flaws in an attempt to be the mother her kids deserved. The main mistake she regrets as a parent is not valuing her own personality and creating a life that meant something to her on a deeper level.
What are the details?
Ani's aunt had a lot to do with the way her view on life was shaped and how she went about finding love and happiness.
"My aunt didn't have a high opinion of my mom, but this wasn't new to me. I'd heard my family's opinions of her before. My aunt was the most put-together person I'd ever known. She didn't seem emotional; she had been married for a long time and had an actual house with stuff in it. My aunt seemed like the ideal role model for a normal life," Ani shared with Your Tango about the way things stood in her family and how she slowly moved away from observing her mom as an example to learning from her aunt's lifestyle.
She still remembers how her mom didn't try to avoid the negative attitude from her family but kept on being herself no matter what. She didn't appreciate her strength at the time, but looking back, Ani wished she had looked closer and understood her.
"Looking back, I feel for my mother, knowing she must've felt the weight of judgment from her sisters all her life. But for me, the child of the shunned sister, I only heard the judgments, and I decided that being like her wouldn't be a successful move for me. That's how I began my teenage quest to become 'normal.'"
Ani decided to leave behind her career as an actress, and she became a regular college student.
"I just wanted to be a college girl, so I put on an extra 20 pounds and cut all of my hair off. I fit in pretty well, except I couldn't go back home on winter break and had no idea how to start having a social life. I figured out what I needed to fit in with the other girls my age. Perhaps my training as an actress or my years of learning how to be a good girl for my parents helped me to adapt so quickly. In no time, I was just like I wanted to be."
As it turned out, that image she created of herself had nothing to do with her true personality, so things started to fall apart after a while.
"Years later, the life I had worked so hard to create suddenly went all wrong. I was the mother of two kids, an upstanding community business owner, and the wife of one of the happiest guys. Then I fell in love; he wasn't my husband. Never would I have thought to consider getting divorced, so the shock of these circumstances took over my body and mind."
She spent many days crying and feeling ashamed, not understanding how she had undermined the life she'd always dreamed of.
"Shame and humiliation kept me hiding; no one could fix it, not even when my ex-husband gently offered, 'You need to learn to have fun,' as his way of helping me cope and get back on my feet."
And then, one day, she read a book. A practical exercise also asked her to list what being a woman meant for her. Then she compared what she had put down to the suggestions given after the assignment.
"I realized I had been on a two-decades-quest to find a normal life. And normal was far from what I wanted to be. I needed to be me: natural, authentic. But I didn't know what that was. This sent me on my next quest: I was now determined to find out who I was in my natural, authentic state."
Five years have passed since that moment, and today, Ani is more confident about what she wants and knows that love has made a big difference in her life.
"I was so afraid of being like my mother, and that affected my parenting skills. The one mistake mothers make when they try to raise their kids well is not being proud of who they are and not accepting themselves. Our job as parents is not to avoid our kids struggling, but to stand firm in our knowledge of who we are so that our kids will feel that strength and be more equipped to brave the rainstorms life will inevitably bring," Ani explained.
From now on, her quest is not about fitting in with anyone's ideas of a happy life but actually experiencing the things that make her smile without apologies or explanations.
"Normal doesn't get anyone anything more than everyday problems. I wasn't proud of who I was; I just tried to fit in. Instead of seeking normal, start trying to be natural. Live to be you," is her advice to other moms who doubt their abilities or go through difficult times.