“You’re going to think I’m a terrible mother….” is one of the most frequently heard phrases in my consulting room. I always think “yup you are a terrible mother, a terribly wonderful mother that the thought and instinct to do the best you can for your child is always there and that you are looking for ways to manage your frustration and anger”.
The guilt that women feel for snapping or shouting at their child is a cruel thing, perhaps there are some of you out there who have never yelled at their child, wished they would just shut up, or wanted to lock yourself in a room with noise cancelling headphones on. If you’re a mum like that I salute you, because you’re better than me.
The truth of the matter is, things are harder for new mothers than they ever have been. Two generations ago, or even a generation ago, we lived much closer to our families. We had trusted support networks that gave us a well needed break and the opportunity to find the space to care for our own wellbeing. It is hard to be mindful of ourselves and our actions as a parent, when we are so busy with interruptions and the spaces between time seem to get smaller. Thich Nhat Hanh a Buddhist monk who has done a lot of work on mindfulness in Western culture, said that children create one of the most beautiful but the most challenging lessons in mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks of your time with the children as a meditation and an opportunity to become more self aware. This great blog by Myla and Jon gives wonderful guidance on how to tune into yourself.
These types of approaches are still on the fringes of our culture however and the overwhelming sense is that women are quite far removed from the opportunity offered through parenthood to become more self-aware, to adjust, to enjoy and to learn. We don’t have the networks we need to support us in that journey and often our sense of self as a parent is obscured by thoughts and feelings of what is expected of us as a mother.
Historically, as women moved more and more into higher education, several things happened, we migrated away from our families to university, we became independent, we got jobs, and we stayed away.Then we got married and had children but we held onto that independence, onto our jobs and onto our children, our right to have it all. The right to be equal to men was something our mothers and their mothers before them had worked hard for, the suffragettes, the 60’s feminist movement sacrificed much to bring equality in the home and in the workplace and there is an inherent responsibility to honour that fight.
I grew up on Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft, Germaine Greer and many more but now as a mother and career women I’ve come to realize that I can’t do both and give them 100%, it’s a cruel fallacy. Apparently Nicola Horlicks, Karren Brady and other women are proof that you can have it all, but Karren was back at work 6 weeks after the birth of her son. 6 weeks! It was the right choice for her and that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be sold as having it all, it’s being a full time businesswoman and part time mother.
My instinct is to be at home with my children, making sure that the home is running smoothly (If I’d said that to my 19 year old self, I’d have had a good talking to) but there is also my job which I love, but which I squeeze in around my children, rather than my children squeezing in around my job. That’s my choice and that’s fine too, but I’m a full-time mother and a part-time businesswoman.
When you first become a mother, balancing all these demands is tiring, it’s exhausting, often mums can become brittle and then snap.Most of us are awfully British, even when help is offered we say “no no no, don’t worry I’m fine”, when it may be abundantly clear that you are not.
So when people come and see me saying they’re a terrible mum or that they can’t cope, I remind them of how important their network is, how important that ‘holding’ has been to women throughout time, from the ancient Greeks up to the present day. When you are challenged, be mindful of the feelings and thoughts that arise in you, observe them, understand where they are coming from. Sometimes the fear you have of your child hurting itself while exploring the world around it, may have been learned by you as a child by your mother, awareness of that emotion gives you the chance to know yourself more deeply than before and to let go of obstructive thoughts.
Don’t be afraid of emotions however strong or upsetting they may be, find space to explore those feelings and above all remember that as your child learns its way in the world, you are still learning to. Be kind to yourself.
Here are some quick ideas to create space to breath, focus and tap into your inner strength.
- Say yes to offers of help. If you are away from friends or family consider a postnatal doula or a night nanny. If you haven’t heard of a night nanny have a look at this site by Elizabeth Stokes who is based in Nottingham.http://www.eastmidlandsnightnanny.co.uk/
- Put your baby in a sling and go for a walk, perhaps turn it into awalking meditation.
- Use a talking meditation with your baby: Describe, the sunset, or a tree in the park, or a beautiful view in as vivid detail as you possibly can to your baby.
- If you ever feel at breaking point or feel you are going to snap, put your baby in safe place and go into the garden. Getting in touch with nature can be very calming, and you can use a simple walking mediation in a circle, breathing in and breathing out until you are aware of that emotion subsiding.
- Make yourself a cup of tea (even better get someone else to make it for you) tea has magical properties!
…..Think that you can manage on your own all the time, it’s ok to ask for help and if you do ask you will probably get it!