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Family Law Wake Up Call: Interview with Annica Torneryd, Author of “The Last Single Mother”

Annica C Torneryd

Julie: Hi, I’m Arizona Lawyer Julie LaBenz. Welcome to the Family Law Wake Up Call.  We are back for part 2 of the interview with the author of “The Last Single Mother.” Annica, you are with us live from Luxemburg. I’m so excited to have you here and I’ll be honest with you, I’m having a little bit of trouble pronouncing your last name. Can you help me with that?

Annica: Okay, so no one outside of Sweden has ever succeeded in pronouncing it the way it’s supposed to be.  It’s actually the name of a small village where my grandfather came from.  So he took the name and it is pronounced in Swedish as Torneryd. Torn is thorn like the thing on a rose and eryd is like a little hill. So I guess a little hill where the thorn grows.  That’s the village where he came from.

Julie: All right, so we’ll just stick with Annica. But, uh, that’s a beautiful last name. I wish I had some sort of explanation for where mine came from like that.

Annica: No yours is cool.

Julie: But we are back for my interview with you and we ended part one with kind of getting into the surface of the breakdown you experienced.  And that was not just a minor “oh hey, I need to sleep a little more tomorrow or I’m a little under the weather.” You had no choice; you were in bed until your body allowed you to basically get back into the normal schedule of things.  And that had to be extremely difficult for somebody who you have chronicled in the first part of the interview who was trying to fit so much into every single moment of every single day.  So the added stress of knowing that you can’t do those things and you have to just lay there must have been transformative because at some point you had to let go.  So…Annica, tell us about what that was like when you had to acknowledge that you had to slow down….

Annica: I would have never acknowledged that.  Personally, would have never agreed to slow down. For three years I lived with burnout.  My doctor said I needed to pay attention or it could end badly. But I felt I didn’t have a choice. I had 3 children. I had to support my family. I decided I had to keep going.

But the day came when I had my first ever-panic attack. I am so ashamed to say this, but I thought it was something that happened to weak or silly women.  I was wrong, and found that a panic attack is brutal.  There is nothing you can do, no matter how strong your mindset is or your will is, your body shuts down.  I hyperventilated until I passed out.  

From that day forward, about the only thing I did, even though it was very dangerous- is that I took my children to school.  Then I went home.  Sometimes I never made it to my bed, because that required getting up the stairs.  I got in the door and slept on the tile.  Some days I made it to the sofa.  It was extreme.  I didn’t shower.  I was constantly in my pajamas, yoga pants and a cap because I didn’t want to show my greasy hair.  For weeks and weeks I was like this.  

I realized at some point that I needed to change some of the ingredients in my situation.  I had to change or it would be a forever situation.  But what can I change?  I have 3 children; I cannot sell them on eBay, even though there were moments where it sounded like a great idea- sell them off with full clothes and everything.  My job, no I can’t change that because I have a good job.  And it’s my security and then I read a book called “Choosing Yourself.”  When I read it, I asked myself- what if I could pick any job I wanted? What would I love to do for the rest of my life? That’s easy- I would love to work with people. Helping people overcome obstacles, be their best, do their best. Being your best is my natural state of being. Not saying I’m always succeeding, but I love that challenge. Okay, so what if again I could do that and make money. I was like. Oh! My life would be nice because the stress added, the stress of being a single mother, 3 babies instead of one, being in a foreign country, not having any financial support, going through a custody battle, having to go to court.  You don’t understand, it’s not your language.  It’s not your first; second, it’s your third or fourth language.  There was so much stress going on so when I first saw this vision of me changing jobs that the first thought I felt that there is a possibility that things can be better.  That’s when the real change towards my health and state of mind started.

Julie: And how long were you basically in bed for the majority of the day? How long did that process last until you really hit recovery?

Annica: The sleep thing, where it was impossible for me to be awake- that lasted a little over 6 weeks. I did nothing…nothing…nothing. And so I remember the day when I woke up and knew that instant that I wasn’t going to fall asleep right away. Can I read something? So I started reading. I started studying chronic fatigue/adrenaline fatigue. All the things I wanted to know and that I wanted to learn how I can support my body and my system to recover. So that I googled, I read a page, then I slept some more. That’s how the recovery started by studying and what I learned I put parts of it into my book. You know, the understanding cortisol, serotonin-what you needed for physical needs.

Julie: And I definitely encourage anyone who out there who is identifying with some of these symptoms, some of these ways of coping and burning the candle on both ends and I encourage them to read your book to get the real in-depth instructions and tips, but you know Annica, what would you say to any single moms or single dads out there who just had their first panic attack or maybe feel one coming. What would you to them at this stage, because you just noted how you ignored the signs and said, nope, that’s a weakness, I’m gonna keep going. Or maybe said that doesn’t mean anything, I’m fine. What would you say to somebody in that same situation?

Annica: Well, I’m thinking should I say this or not because I’m not sure I would have listened to the advice. But, honestly, yeah. So I’m going to say this-by resisting and trying to be strong and pushing away the pain and fear and the stress, the loneliness and keep on going you think you have to be a good girl/good mom/ good citizen. By doing that it’s actually self rejecting yourself not being nice to your self at all. And its not going to help. Not going to help you be a good mother. It’s not going to help you get to strong health. Its not going to help you overcome stress or a broken heart or whatever it is. So I would say. Accept that it is hard. Just accept that okay, this is really not nice. This is so tough. Then confide in a friend. Talk to someone that you trust.  Someone that you won’t feel like your whining to. Because if you are like me, you want to do it on your own. I can do it on my own. If you have a really good friend then it’s not whining, it’s sharing what you’re going through.  Sometimes you can share great things, but this moment you can share what’s not so great. The simple fact that you have done that, maybe you can let go of it a little bit. Every time you open up and maybe open up to the idea of getting help, asking a friend or neighbor with the things you need. If they are going shopping-would you mind getting me some milk? And that stress is gone and then they know, oh yeah, maybe I can help her next time I’m going to get some food-do you need anything? Yes, please get me some apples. Because when you are always in the mode of “I’m going to do everything on my own. Not going to disturb anyone else with my sh*t or my drama. You just add stress, “I’m an expert in this..” So I would say-accept that its hard and open up to letting yourself get some help and let people that you trust, invite them to help you- if they can and want to.

Julie: Now, Annica, have you been successful at avoiding a second breakdown?

Annica: Yes. I have promised for myself and for my children to never get to that place again. By saying that I’ve made that promise I’m going to do everything that I know I need to do which includes being nicer to myself. Not putting so much pressure on myself. Getting help from people who can help me, even investing in certain things that I don’t know how to do, but maybe someone else does. Getting to bed earlier like basic needs and not always saying- I’m just going to do this as well and then you get to bed 40 minutes later every evening. Instead of just saying- no, I’m going to take care of myself. So I try to apply that really hard and yes, I intend to be successful.

Julie: Have you been able to incorporate some of these strategies into your approach to parenting in a way that helped you?

Annica: Yes and trust you me, I could not have made that change, had it not been for my burnout. I’m grateful for it. It’s nice always trying to be perfect. It’s tiring and I mean- what are you getting out of it? Nothing really.

Julie: In your book you talk quite a bit about the social pressures to be a perfect parent, and I think this is an issue for many women in my life who are parents of generally children under 10 and they just really feel this pressure to make sure their kids have the best possible childhood they can have and everything be perfect. How have you been able to release some of that need to be a perfect parent? I imagine that’s been a key to avoiding another burnout.

Annica: I mean now, if you would come into my house, now this might be a little too extreme, you would wonder- “Annica, did you have a hurricane go through your house?” No I didn’t, but we do par cur. My boys, we mess up taking par cur –

Julie: and what is that? Par cur? What is that?

Annica: jump and do rolls-I film.

Annica: the interviews I did for my book, there was one mother who made a huge impact on me. Her children were now 20/21 and she said- I have so much regret that I always tried so hard to be a perfect mother I had all these rules like you have to do the laundry-you have to cook the food and we have to do this and that. She said I have so much regret that I didn’t just stop and say-lets go out and watch the cow or lets bake a cake and just sit and eat the cake and talk. I mean I remember when she said it I tried to hide that I was crying and even saying it now it’s very emotional because I felt-thank you- because she said it, it became okay for me to do that. So I think I for a while I exaggerated the baking the cake thing, Tuesday, Wednesday, lets do it on Thursday. Definitely becoming more present and not so perfect. Less perfect and more present, more present is so fantastic. I mean it’s so hard if you’re a perfectionist/competitive/control freak woman/mother, that is one big challenge, but if you just try it once that’s extreme thunder going through you. It’s wonderful. And it’s the best thing for me as a person and as a mother to go from a state of extreme stressfulness, being irritated, being in a bad mood, snapping at my children because I had to that and then sitting and enjoying the cows. This is so much nicer sitting here enjoying cake and watching the cow. It was so easy to just accept and just do it. I started by changing from not going into the laundry room every night. I decided to go in there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For the rest of the time I’m just going to throw the dirty stuff in there and close the door. It freed up a lot of time that constant I have to do this, I have to do that.

Julie: Now Annica, When you were seeking custody of your children, you had to go through the legal process in Luxemburg and I think the listeners to this interview will have gathered that you are a really accomplished woman, very capable, really smart, but you found the legal system to be very challenging. I mean not only as a new process, there’s the laws, the procedure, the court can be intimidating, but there is also all these emotions you are dealing with and I think your children were still what? One and younger? So your body is still going through a lot of hormonal changes after having three children in a year. Could you go into what that was like and what you may have done differently?

Annica: I get goose bumps. I would have done everything differently. I was scared. I was heartbroken.  I was. For anyone whose been betrayed. Not just a little betrayal. The extreme betrayal. Its sort of like you cease to exist for a while before you start living again. So I was…Yes I had 3 babies in one year and was breastfeeding 2 at one time. And also with the added ingredient that I live in a foreign country. Many people live far from you know, there is no family support. Legal stuff. I’ve never studied legal stuff so it’s a whole other language. Even if it were in my mother tongue it would still be- what does this mean-I hear the words, but I what does it mean in real life. Is it good for me, or is it bad for me? I had no idea and for me if I could go back to that. . What would I have done differently? Okay can I just add that I came from, I grew up in a family where we didn’t have much money and that money mindset stayed with me (now I am over that), but at that point I was stuck in the “No I don’t want to pay for that, why would I pay more when I am already losing money. So I would look for- who is the best lawyer, who has statistically defended Mothers and Fathers and won for them? That’s what I would have done. I would have contacted that person and said, hey, can you please help me with my case-this is my situation and this is what I want. That’s what I would have done. So I didn’t do that. I just trusted that a lawyer and the court, what happens there, you go in there, you say your name and what’s happened to you and justice will be done. That was one of the brutal lessons I have ever learned and that is not what happened. It’s who best defends their case that wins. And my lawyer did not know anything about defending. Maybe if I had been Luxembourgish maybe she would have done differently, I don’t know. I had 3 babies; I was the sole provider because the father did not have a job. There were all the ingredients that I mean…I don’t want to talk about those details for the sake of my children, but there was violence. Everything was there so at that point, he was not a good parent.

So if it had been in my country I would have had sole custody and the house would have been mine because it was thanks to my job being institutions that I got the bank loan. So I sort of went in really having thinking I guess this is going to be fine so it was naïve of me not to think that you know get protection, get help, get legal, get someone who can really defend you and pay for that and then have peace in you’re your life. Because I added after the break up, not just being alone and having to deal with motherhood and all that, also the stress of losing the case so I got shared custody, which means I can basically not do, anything-I could not leave this country. I could not go home to my country, could not be there with them because he said so. He would not sign any papers for anything-any major decision has be decided by both parents, The law, afterwards, I read the paper that says if there is any conflict between the parents there shouldn’t be co parenting because its not fruitful for the children, So had I known, had I been more present and not had so much suffering in my heart I would have thought to get a lawyer who could can fix this for you. But I didn’t so I just paid a really big price for learning the lesson of how important it is to get a good partner.

Julie: And now you continue to co-parent under these court orders that came out. And I don’t know if you’ve tried to change them, but that’s a whole other hurdle that a lot of people face and why getting your papers right from the start can be really important. For you, if you wanted to return to your home country instead of staying in Luxemburg and take the kids with you, then I imagine that would be an expensive court battle and I think you may have concluded that “you know what, I’m stuck here, this is how its going to stay” and I think you’ve kind of just accepted that as your situation. And your kids are young so you are looking at maintaining this situation and staying in Luxemburg for a while, unless something changes.

Julie: And Annica I think you and I share the overlapping message in regards to the struggles you’ve faced in the courts, wishing you had gotten a better lawyer, this is what we are seeing is that certain decisions you’ve made in your life led up to this point where you have problems and in particular, a legal problem that you needed a professional to help you with to get resolved. But you got to this point because you made certain decisions. And I focus on this a lot with my practice and with my clients, is that you can make decisions or avoid certain decisions that can save you time, money and stress in the long run.  

In your book, you say to all women out there especially young girls to make better choices and to not be so influenced by friends, popular culture, and the media.  You really focus on how society sexualizes women, especially young women, and that we are being more objectified than portrayed as powerful and confident individuals.  

What’s so fascinating about you Annica is that you are that strong woman. You’re a kick boxing champion and have held a high-level position in the European Parliament.  I mean, you’re such an inspiration and so accomplished, yet sometimes, when it comes to love, reason just goes out the window.  But your messages are to “look, still make the right choices. If you’re going to get mixed up with the wrong guy, protect yourself. Someone has to, don’t have a child with them, use protection. Or don’t sleep with them. It’s some of those things that you’re saying to step back, don’t fall for the pressure of society and I love that message. And I imagine your getting a lot of positive feedback from it.

Annica: At this point today I mean I’m not going to say 100% thanks to my book I’m at peace with my situation. Because when I wrote the book I had three things that I wanted to achieve- 1) I wanted to heal because I was totally broken. 2) I wanted to understand why I had made the choices I had made if that’s also done. And 3) I wanted to be happy and live in my feelings that I have a family and enjoy it, be the best mother/parent that I can.

I can see that now in spite of whatever has happened thanks to the book. Yes I am stuck here but I choose to look at it as I live here now and I provide for my children the opportunity to grow up and become tri-lingual without having to try and they get to have a functioning relationship with their father. So you know, maybe things happen for a reason and it has been a brutally, brutally hard to go through those years and I’m sad that that I didn’t know, that someone didn’t say to me- Annica go get a great lawyer. I was just too tired, too worn out broken to even think about that. For me it was more of you know, getting food for the children and yes, yeah.

I don’t remember whom I was speaking to but we agreed that you can be so smart and educated and wise, strong and powerful and perfect and then you fall in love and decide you have made like there is no other way. You become stupid. Love is wonderful and all that but I think that letting of and being “woo” is not perhaps a good thing. If you want to care about your future it is then going to be your life. Enjoy love and failing in love is fine, but also staying conscious of this is my life this sis my situation. This is my value. Is this compatible with what I want and me? Yes, then wow, no, then back off.

Julie: Now Annica, for anyone listening, maybe single mothers or fathers out there that would like to speak with you, do you hake any sort of coaching session or any way for people to connect with and maybe gain some insight and assistance with the struggles of being a single parent or maybe making the transition out of a 9-5 job into being an entrepreneur is that something you can help someone with?

Annica:  Yes and for anyone who wants to connect and wants to talk about working together or have questions. The best ways to get in contact with me is through my website-www.acttoexceed.com or email me at annica@acttoecxceed.com.

Julie: And if somebody gets in touch with you what can they expect to, how will they interact with you? Will it be through a Skype call? What sort of services do you offer?

Annica: I coach female entrepreneurs. I love to work with mothers because mothers are the best and we do one on one Skype coaching. I usually do 3 sessions a month for 3-6 months.

Julie: Now what about…you’ve also helped people create a book, “Your Brand in a Book.”  So for anybody out there is inspired by the way you shared your story and I know in this interview you talked about encouraging people to share their stories, it’s not only therapeutic, but it can help others. If someone was to listen to this interview and say “you know what, I want to share my story. What exactly in “Your Brand in a Book,” and how does that work?

Annica: Because when I published my first book I very much enjoyed writing but when I self-published I realized that I love that process and I studied a lot of programs on how to self publish. I had the wonderful opportunity to have a personal conversation with Ru Tracy, who is the CEO of one of the biggest self-help book companies in the world. Then I felt. This is a nice thing. I want to help people get their message out.  Be it a brand or business or personal story that I can inspire and help others so, yes, so I founded Your Brand in a Book where I can help speakers, coaches and entrepreneurs, people who have a really great story they want to get out so they can turn that into a beautiful inspiring story to help others.

Julie:  And its not any issue for you to work with people here in the US…is that right?

Annica: Yes, most of my current clients are from the US.

Julie: Alright, so I encourage you guys to get in touch with Annica, she’s a really amazing coach, mother and entrepreneur. So Annica, I want to thank you so much for being here and not only because it was the most fun interview, but because your daughter hurt herself today and you had to take her to the emergency room, it’s been a little bit stressful, but you still found time for me and for the audience and I really appreciate and honor you for that.

Annica: I’d like to add that when I had my first conversation with you and I realized how awesome you are at what you do I was first jealous because I wish I had known what you know, that’s when I understood that if I had someone like you come into my life at that time I would have I would not have give those 30 thousand under the table to get my house in my name. I would have had most likely full custody of my children they would have had my maiden name so much stress and worry and irritation. Would have been a victory and I’m not talking about a victory that would crush your opponent, I’m talking about a victory to have peace in your soul. Still to this day you have given me advice that has helped in upcoming legal processes so you’re awesome.

Julie: Well sure, and I don’t know if I would call it advice, we just talked about some problem solving strategies and things like that. You know there are many ways to approach a problem and that is what I really enjoy with my clients. Because, often they come into my office and they have these situations and just because they are not used to looking at other options and knowing what options are available. So it’s really fun to sit down and put together a strategy and explain a new way that they didn’t think they could be successful with.

Thank you so much for those kind words and anybody who would like to set up a strategy session with me can go to julielabenz.com and thank you so much for tuning into this video podcast issue of the Family Law Wake Up Call. Thank you so much Annica and please check out her book, The Last Single Mother. Thanks Annica.

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