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By day, Dr. Leesha Ellis-Cox serves as medical director of J.B.S. Western Mental Health Clinic in Birmingham. But when her day is done there, her work is far from over. After hours, this board-certified psychiatrist puts her knowledge of mental health and child development to use in other ways: She is on a mission to help mothers ditch the mommy guilt. 

Leesha is the mother of 4-year-old Khloe, 8-year-old Evan, and 11-year-old Bailey. In 2018, she published her book Ditch the Mommy Guilt: A Blueprint for the Modern Mommy. She also blogs regularly at DrLeesha.com, makes media appearances, and speaks at events across the country, all to promote her message that happy, healthy moms raise happy, healthy children. 

We’re excited to introduce this week’s FACE of Birmingham Dr. Leesha Ellis-Cox. 

Dr. Leesha Ellis-Cox serves as medical director of J.B.S. Western Mental Health Clinic. She’s also our newest FACE of Birmingham.

What inspired you to write your book Ditch the Mommy Guilt?

I think society puts a lot of pressure on moms, and we as moms put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We think that everything needs to be perfect and our children need to be perfect, and anything less than that is bad, and we have a lot of shame and guilt around that. So I wanted to change the narrative and really open up honest, frank discussions about the good, bad, and ugly of parenting. This is more than just a book; it’s really kind of a movement.

What are you doing to grow this movement?

I had my first conference, Motherhood: The Remix, in March of this year. There was laughter and camaraderie that was built, and it was educational and informative as well. We talked about mommy burnout and self-care, but with a broader perspective. It’s not just spas and date night. It’s prioritizing yourself, not overextending yourself, and saying “no” and meaning it. I’m planning to make this an annual event.

“Stop striving for perfect. It doesn’t exist. It’s never going to be attainable and you could really hurt yourself trying,” says Leesha.

What can readers expect from your blog?

I want it to be a place where people can read about mental health, parenting, and faith. Mental health issues can affect our ability to parent, and parenting can affect our mental health. Particularly for African Americans, but also the larger Christian community, there’s this idea that faith and mental health don’t go together, that it’s either God or your therapist, which obviously isn’t true. I want to really cover those three things in a way that is informative but fun and honest.

You have a different take on the idea of mothers being superheroes. Tell us more about that.

There’s the whole superwoman syndrome that people talk about, but I think we need to reclaim that idea. Actually, moms are superheroes! If you think about what a superhero is, all of them have flawed backgrounds. They have problems that they’ve faced. They have challenges. There was some tragedy that they’ve faced. They have weaknesses. Superman has kryptonite. He had to have a team. He didn’t do it by himself. So, yeah, we are superheroes. We get a team. We wear our costume. It’s usually yoga pants and a messy bun, but it’s still a costume. Yes, we have baggage that we may still be trying to work through, but we get stuff done. And, no, it’s not always easy, but it was never designed to be.

“There’s this idea that faith and mental health don’t go together,” says Leesha, “that it’s either God or your therapist, which obviously isn’t true.”

You’re working on an online course for mothers. What topics will this cover?

I’m helping moms to remember that you were somebody before your children came, and I hope you will still desire to be somebody when they leave your house … and I hope they do leave. I’m also covering self-care because I think it’s so critical. We feel so guilty about taking care of ourselves, but we can’t pour from an empty cup, so we need to take active steps to fill ourselves up.

I cover mental health issues because sometimes that starts with stress and being overwhelmed, but then it can move into depression and anxiety; being able to recognize that and knowing how to get help for that is important. I’m talking about mental health issues that our kids face and how to recognize it.

I cover practicing gratitude and the benefits of exercise, the benefits of your tribe, faith, spirituality — all of those things that really help us be the best that we can be and then be able to parent healthily.

What advice would you give to women who are struggling with mommy guilt?

I think the first thing that’s important to say is you are not alone. Other moms are dealing with this. It’s hard. If anybody said it wasn’t, they lied. Surround yourself with people who will be honest with you, but share that honesty with love, and give solutions. You need girlfriends who really love you and want to be there for you and might keep your kids sometimes. And you keep theirs sometimes. You share recipes. You need someone who’s really a robust support.

The other thing that I like to say is, “No perfect parents! No perfect kids!” Stop striving for perfect. It doesn’t exist. It’s never going to be attainable, and you could really hurt yourself trying.

“Moms are superheroes! We wear our costume. It’s usually yoga pants and a messy bun but it’s still a costume.” —Dr. Leesha Ellis-Cox

Shifting gears, what do you like to do for fun?

I’m trying to make working out my hobby. I joined Godspeed; it’s a CrossFit gym, but they play hip-hop gospel. I’m getting older and things don’t look like they used to. My husband joined so we get to work out together and that’s fun. I’m trying to learn to love it. I really enjoy reading when I can. Right now I’m reading a parenting discipline book, and I’m also reading White Fragility. I love watching my son play baseball — he’s really good. And my girls dance.

Do you have any favorite local restaurants?

I love Chuck’s because I really like seafood. I love brunch, so I like Another Broken Egg. And Satterfield’s is yummy. I went there with my girlfriends for two of our birthdays, and they put “Happy Birthday” on the top of the menu. How sweet!

What other places in Birmingham do you like to visit?

There’s lots of goodness at the Summit. It’s a nice place to go. I do love the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to keep us grounded and because of my interest in social justice issues. It’s very thoughtful and humbling.

Ready to ditch the mommy guilt? Leesha can help!

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

One of the things my dad said to me very early on when I was little was, “Don’t be intimidated.” He would whisper it in my ear almost every day. Don’t let fear, doubt, people, obstacles, hiccups, or derailments stop you. Whatever it is that you desire, don’t let anything get in the way. I think it still resonates because obviously as we get older, the challenges and obstacles that we face change but we’re always going to face hurdles in life. It’s just a constant reminder that I’m capable, that I’ve got what it takes.

Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?

Camille Rose natural hair products, lip gloss, and avocados

Thank you, Leesha. And thank you to Eric & Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the beautiful photos.

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