A new era has begun: the other day, for the first time, my youngest daughter was angry and crying, and did not want me to pick her up. Nope. She wanted to lie on the floor and make a lot of noise, and when I said to her ‘You seem really cross. Can I give you a cuddle?’ She waved her arms in a way that suggested I had asked her something horrible. We’ve all been there. One of those moments when we, or our children, feel like throwing ourselves on the floor and having a good old scream. It isn’t a nice place, but sometimes it seems impossibly difficult, even for an adult, to do anything else. What can be done about it?! For parents, the question is often, how to help a child process their negative emotions, and encourage good mental health. What is important to consider is that we each already have the capacity to find peace. That’s why it’s called ‘inner peace’. The question should really be, how can I help my child and myself to access this peace, especially when we feel anything but peaceful. Tammy Furey’s Ebook explores this topic in the context of parenting a bilingual/ multilingual child, or a child who has just been relocated, and is experiencing difficulty in communication. Really, the ‘calming down’ imagery she describes is equally beneficial for grown ups who are feeling at their wits end for whatever reason, or who are parenting a child who is struggling with their big, huge, uncomfortable, feelings. Tammy suggests ways of explaining our bad moods and what to do when we find ourselves in one. She has come up with some great images to grab kid’s imaginations. The lesson here is a valuable life skill, which can help children to calm themselves, and assist you in supporting them. She has generously offered her book for free to anyone who would like to read it, with no sign ups or commitments. Get your free copy here, right now.
Being a parent is an absorbing and transformative experience. The desire to do our best by our families and provide our kids with a wonderful upbringing is a great motivator.
Reading publications, such as the Huffington Post parents section, it is clear that many mothers and fathers have the urge to become, not just better parents, but better people.
The only problem with the resolution to transform is that it can sometimes drive us to feel that, left as we are, we are failing, or cannot support each other, or should not have confidence that all is well, even when we’re not, we can, and it is.
It seems to me that an internal sense of peace is the best place to grow from, rather than self- evaluation.
I read a load of books and talked to some great people, most especially my husband and kids. I began to see that the way we think is crucial to our experience as parents and our ability to be more conscious, more present, and, of course, more peaceful.
So, I sat down and made a list of the ways of thinking which led to the greatest improvements in my daily life, and that have helped me to parent in a more grounded and loving way:
1. Let go of the past.
The past is but a memory, and it is easy to forget that at times. Many parents use the past as a way to beat themselves up. The hours ticking by on the clock do not always eliminate feelings of shame because you overreacted when your son threw milk all over the sofa AGAIN, or because you yelled when no one was listening to you saying that it was time for bed.
The past can also be a reason to be angry with your spouse. They did not see that it was their turn to do the washing up tonight, even though you did it the last three nights. They slept all night long, while you got up with a miserable teething baby.
Whether you feel bad about yourself or others, it is not practical to harbour those misgivings. It is a way of tormenting yourself, when instead you can choose to move on. You can admit responsibility for a mistake and make reparations where needed. You can be more communicative with others to get on the same page. You can help them help you out. With each new moment, there is a fresh start.
2. Let go of the future.
If the past is a memory, the future is a fantasy. However real the fantasy may appear, it is pure invention. Life rarely conforms to fantasy, for better or for worse. We need the concept of the future so we can make plans. Too much thinking about the future leads to anxiety or stress because the more you dwell on what will be, the more you want to control it, and the more you fear that you cannot. Well, that’s correct. It is not really in your control, so it is best to realise that and allow for flexibility.
So, if your son did not say ‘Thank you’ when you gave him a present, or your daughter just doesn’t seem to get this potty training thing, it doesn’t mean that he will grow up to be ungrateful or she will still wet the bed at 15. These normal parenting fears happen because we cannot yet see how our kids will learn politeness or bladder control, and we wonder what to do about it.
There are no guarantees, but applying pressure from a place of fear is more likely to result in a fight than learning experience. Better to set a good example, and support their natural urge to get along with others or rock those big girl panties and let them work it out. Let them surprise you. They will.
3. Embrace the present.
The present is all that is left when you let go of the past and future. This is all we ever really have and all we ever will have. Every moment we experience is a present moment. The good news is that, with the past and future out of the way, we are freer to really observe what is in motion around us, to connect with others, and to feel the stillness within that leads to a sense of peace. When we are not busy counting up faults or inventing calamities, the world around us appears that more beautiful.
When there is a challenging situation, focussing on the present helps you to deal with it, because you can be methodical and get down to practicalities. It is much less tempting to multitask when you are not already doing six things in your mind. So, when your toddler has done a poo on the floor, the baby is crying for a feed, or your tween is threatening to leave home forever, you can take a deep breath and do your best to sort it out, one task at a time.
4. Break the pleasure pain cycle.
You know how you promise yourself a glass of wine when the kids are in bed, and then you find yourself rushing through Green Eggs and Ham to get to it (He doesn’t like them, oh wait, he does. OK. Night night. Where’s the cork screw?).
Well, not that enjoying a nice tipple is a bad thing in itself, but when you focus on that reward, that desire, that pleasurable thing your future self will have, that can make putting the kids to bed into ‘the trial I have to go through before I get wine’. You can also end up drinking just because it is Wine O’clock. It has nothing to do with savouring something marvellous, and everything to do with habit. Bedtime will feel like a chore, rather than a shared moment with your children. They may well also pick up on that ‘I want wine and a nice sit down’ energy and respond by trying to postpone bedtime.
When you are acting out a pleasure-pain cycle, you feel it, and you know it. It is astounding how many things you can do it with: Work is the pain to get that lovely money; You spend the money, you have to look at your bank account; you want nice endorphins, you have to get moving first; Lycra is the penalty for enthusiastic exercise.
None of these things is inherently bad or good, unless you make it so with your thinking (Lycra may be the exception). Whichever thing is the pleasure and whichever the pain, the good things in life are always diminished by this cycle, and the bad are augmented.
When you really embrace the present moment, the pleasure-pain trap falls away, because you are not fighting to be something else or somewhere else. It is easier to make peace with whatever you are doing. Everything is more enjoyable for it.
5. Take the ego with a pinch of salt.
The ego is a voice in your head that tells us if we are OK or not. It chatters away, informing us how we are doing.
For instance, it will tell you that when you cared for your sick infant, even though you were ill too, you proved yourself all kinds of marvellous at parenting. As a result, you will be sainted and angels will sing in your wake.
Alternatively, it might say that when your kid was ill, and you were ill, and you still had to get up in the night and nurse them all day, that this parent job is NOT fair. One day you would just fall down and DIE and then everyone would realise how put upon you were, how unappreciated.
You are so much more than your ego can ever imagine. You are an amazing invention of nature. After all, it is a peanut sized lump in the left brain hemisphere. What does it really know? It is difficult to brush off its ramblings all the time, but when the ego gets quieter, we can get in touch with the rest of the brain, which tells us that we are just fabulous and so is everyone else, which is a great place to parent from.
6. Be nice.
It is a very simple truth that when we are nice to other people, they are more inclined to be nice back.
So, when your kid is struggling with the world, which amounts to them fighting you every step of the way to not get dressed, or eat their breakfast, or participate in a fulfilled family day you planned, give them a break. Know that their assault is not a true attack on you, or what you want them to do. They are acting from the state of mind they are in, and need to get themselves out of their funk. They might need to be left alone awhile, or want you close, or need to eat, or sleep, or whatever. Where possible try to help them attend to their needs, and do not judge them.
The same goes for dealing with grown up family members: Say, your other half is stomping around because you drank the last of the coffee. Know that their overreaction is evidence that they are having one of those mornings, not a personal slight. There is no need to act defensive because when they calm down, and they will, they will be ready to see how wonderful you are after all, and you can forget the whole affair.
This is not to say that if the level of spite coming from the other person is truly violent or insupportable, you should put up with it. Rather that we should realise their behaviour is not truly about us, and therefore react out of a reasonable position, rather than fighting back in our own defence.
7. Be open.
We each inhabit our own version of reality, because everything we observe about the world is filtered through our thoughts. No two people see the world in exactly the same way. We each have our own set of social expectations which affect the way we see other people’s behaviour. Sometimes the meaning we give to those behaviours align with what other people think and sometimes not.
When you see that your daughter just wiped her nose on the curtains. When your son is angry with you for moving the toys he had carefully strewn across the stairs. When your Aunt Linda tells you that you should really stop breastfeeding and did you realise how spoiled your baby will become. These are all indications that the other person is living in a different reality. As far as they are concerned,soft furnishings are a great alternative to tissues, cluttering stairs is not dangerous, and babies are greedy little rascals who need to be Taken In Hand.
How you handle a misalignment of reality depends on how important finding agreement is.
When children don’t realise that spreading dirt and germs has consequences, or that playing on the stairs can lead to tumbles, then it is in their interests to help them add these considerations to their own reality. This is best done at leisure, as if you are introducing them to a curiosity. Though, let’s face it, sometimes you might find yourself putting the point more forcefully, this is less likely to actually sink in. Where possible, it helps to say ‘How interesting! Can I suggest you use a tissue because we can throw that away when it’s dirty, but it would be hard work to take down the curtains and wash them.’
When someone is opinionated about the way you are running your reality and you know you cannot agree, then you can often just ignore them. There is no need to be angry or offended because, as far as they are concerned, they are helping. If someone is offering large amounts of unsolicited advice you can always thank them for their interest, then explain that you are not saying they are wrong, just that their way is not your way. If you really need to reach an agreement, it might be necessary to sit down and try and get on the same page as each other.
It is always worth considering that sometimes other people may have something figured out that is really cool and worth taking on board. By allowing for misalignments of reality, you can be open to that incredible new idea that so and so had about snot disposal. No. Actually. Tissues are great.
If you look back over my listicle, you will see that the seven ways of thinking boil down to two simple ideas:
Stay in the present moment as much as possible,
Avoid passing judgement on yourself and others.
It really is not complicated, and it almost always involves doing less rather than more.
Parents often give themselves a raw deal because they want to create a wonderful environment for their offspring, but get bogged down in the details. In their effort to grow, they sometimes do not realise just how amazing they are already. If this is true for you, please let me remind you that you are awesome, just as you are. All you need to do is stop thinking otherwise.
How can you start thinking peaceful right at this moment? (Because that is all there is)
I used to say being enlightened seemed like too much work to me. I imagined all the urges you would have to conquer. You would need to study, and meditate, and pray, and do hours and hours of yoga, I thought. It seemed much easier to give in to the urge to eat too much, drink too much, talk too much, spend too much, even if it meant sometimes having a panic about it all. Not to mention, wouldn’t you get bored, just sitting around all day long thinking benign thoughts. I would have to work really hard to tolerate the stillness, the vast silence of enlightenment. I assumed that I was just not spiritual and that was that for the Infinite and I.
I never considered whether it was hard work being unenlightened.
Now, I think that it must be, because you are always acting on urges or assessing your actions. Either you are working to satisfy your ego by attaining goals, or you are trying to recover your resources in some relatively healthy or unhealthy way. Your mind naturally turns to the next step, the outcome, the anticipation of pleasure or success. When plans work out, it is great, but there is always a next thing to think about, so relief is short-lived. When life does not seem to be going well, frustration, anxiety, or despair wraps us in dark cloud. It is like living on a battlefield, mobilising your troops this way and that, day in day out. The rush of winning, or the respite of truce can feel wonderful, but the other side is always there to take you down.
I began to realise that people don’t become zen by winning their battles, but by leaving the battlefield altogether. It is not an act of seizing ultimate control, but one of relinquishing the need for it. I also understand that you can be spiritual by appreciating the moment you are living right now, and putting your faith in people around you. No studying, chanting, yoga, or meditation is necessary. All you have to do is settle down, maintain an open mind, and establish a rapport with the world.
Obsessing over the urge to change, or escape from, your current situation is hard work indeed, and without enlightenment this is what people are doomed to do. Whether you are trying to control yourself or your circumstances, it is a fight that you are creating. This is fabulous news, because you can also walk away from it. I use the pronoun ‘you’ here, not to differentiate between me and you, but in the rhetorical sense to indicate that this applies to myself and others ALL the time.
Sometimes, I can feel when I am fighting my present moment, and stop doing it. At least, I can reliably spot the signs of unnecessary struggle after the fact. I can look at my smarting emotions and realise that I just charged into a battle and came out the worse, but it is all invented anyway, so I can get over it and move on. I am learning.
Like the other day, our youngest daughter woke up crying and I went to comfort her. She carried on wailing and I continued to try and ‘get her down to sleep’. I tried stroking her head, rocking her, offering her a dummy, a boob. Nothing was working and she was disturbing the other kids, which was not going to help.
‘She’ll go off in a minute’ I kept thinking, but she didn’t.
I kept trying to get her off to sleep in her room because I thought ‘what if I set a new precedent and she decides she wants to get up every night?’. Leaving the room was inconsistent with our routine and might disrupt her sleep even further. I had been warned that, now she had entered toddlerhood, it was the time to ‘lay down the law’ and to be firm about rules. I was scared that she had grown into a new phase where the comfort measures she was accustomed to had started to fail and I couldn’t think of anything new to do other than let her lie there and cry.
Our son woke up and also started crying. I tearfully told our daughter that I didn’t know what to do. She kept crying and I lay there unhappily next to her. I gave up on the idea of ‘getting her off to sleep’ and I picked her up. We headed for the living room. She immediately stopped crying and was soon asleep. I sat there by the fire, holding my sleeping baby. Recovering myself a bit. I took her back to bed in her room and she didn’t wake up.
In the morning, I could see the situation for what it was. When our daughter woke up and cried, I tried everything that usually worked to get her to sleep and it didn’t. I was resolute that she should go back to sleep in her room, and was worried about the dire, far-reaching consequences of this not happening. She was unable to sleep in those conditions, so in that particular moment we were at impasse. All I could do was lie there feeling awful and listen to my child crying. It was only when I gave up and we left the room that she could do what she needed, and wanted to do, which was exactly what I wanted her to do too. When I abandoned the conditions about how that should happen, the effect was immediate in both of us.
Doh! It’s always so damn obvious after the fact: “Get out of the way mum! I can’t work like this!”
It is easily done. Parents often get stuck in ideas about how things should be, when actually they just need to look at how things are. Parents are often advised to take control over their children: ‘They won’t like it, but it’s for their own good’. There is a difference though, in helping them to establish good habits, and in trying to force them to conform to an ideal. It is important to have faith that children can guide themselves too. To consider that they sometimes know what they need better than we do. With faith, there can be rapport and partnership.
I can’t say that I see the more enlightened path every time it presents itself. However, I can see how much less there really is to do and to worry about than it would sometimes appear. Looking at the web, you can see that normal everyday things like ‘baby sleep’ have become, not just issues, but industries. There are so many sites devoted to discussions, queries, forums, techniques, so much advice. It’s easy to believe that all this struggle must be really important, vital even, to your wellbeing and your kids’. Especially when you feel tired and depleted, it is easy to buy into the apparent ‘big dealness’ of hitting milestones, and getting your offspring to conform to particular expectations.
Children are working on growing up all the time, so what we have to do is support them. There is not nearly so much worry about kids developing the ‘pincer grip’ between thumb and forefinger, which they become able to do in the second half of the first year. This is a huge milestone in terms of being a human baby, but it is barely noticed because little collective attention is given to it. No one talks about teaching babies how to do it. My goodness, they actually do this on their own when left their own devices!
So, in my humble experience, I have to wonder whether working to ‘teach’ babies how to sleep, is worth the effort. Do you expend more energy getting some sleep any way you can, and not worrying about it too much, but waking up more often, or by putting a regime in place and sticking to it no matter what, through tears and determination? I imagine the answer is different for different individuals, with different babies, in different places. That’s cool with me. I am not here to judge.
For anyone who feels that they are struggling, there is a real alternative to the battlefield. That is acceptance and presence. To stop caring so much about how many hours of sleep, how many wakings, how much time spent in your own bed. To not let the word ‘milestone’ get attached to a number or a date. To just go with the moment, and see what happens. Do a reality check now and again to see if your kid is actually more capable of doing it themselves than you are giving them credit for.
In assuming that kids should set the pace of their upbringing, my workload feels much lighter. All I have to do is listen to them and be prepared to step off the battlefield. When you stop trying to teach and just help them learn, everything feels easier. I hope they feel that too. I love witnessing their pride when they master something, and you never know when something will just fall into place.
There is no need to focus on established routines or future consequences, only to stay with the moment and examine the possibilities that open up. When you stop thinking about the past and future, and focus on NOW, the battle disappears, because the problem cannot survive without some kind of time reference.
Life in general feels much less hard work when you also get off the battlefield with yourself. If you stop struggling with what you want to become or achieve, and the fear that you won’t, this allows the best in you to rise. That is a good old fashioned, everyday spiritual experience. Perhaps there is hope for me and inner peace after all.
What battle can you stop fighting today?
A while ago a photo of a crying child popped up on my Newsfeed, the caption was ‘Don’t wish they were different, wish that you were better.’ While I like the sentiment that you should accept your kids ‘warts and all’, the second part rankled with me. The idea that parents get exasperated with their kids at times means they are not good enough is simply not true. We are all human, and sometimes we get on each other’s nerves. Grown ups may as well live on another planet to children, given the differences in the way they see the world. Having stupid mix ups over, what boils down to, variant points of view, is inevitable from time to time. Beating yourself up about it just adds to the tiredness and anxiety that put you in that frame of mind.
So, if your mood sometimes gets in the way of peaceful parenting, then that is just because you are human. The answer is not to be better. It is to recognise when you are in a bad frame of mind and ease up on yourself and your kids. Wherever possible, and it usually is, pull back from an argument and leave it a while rather than locking into an ego battle. Be kind to yourself and your mood will naturally elevate.
The gift of self acceptance has a positive ripple effect in every area of life, including parenting.
A very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you xxxxxx
Tell yourself that you are enough. Because at this time of year it is easy to entertain doubts. Is ________ enough?
The Christmas List
Did you stock up on enough food, enough drink?
Did you buy enough presents?
Did you spend enough money?
Is there enough time?
Will everyone feel loved enough?
Am I doing enough?
Am I providing enough?
The New Year List
Did I do enough last year?
Did I earn enough last year?
Am I rich enough?
Am I thin enough?
Am I grateful enough?
Am I patient enough?
Am I working enough?
Am I present enough?
Let me answer those questions.
It is enough.
You are enough.
So is everyone else.
Step away from the calculator. Stop adding up all the good and bad that you did this year, this week, today. Stop making notes to do X, Y, and Z.
If you truly accept…
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I didn’t sleep well last night. I got this idea for a bit of art work I wanted to try, I got stomach cramps, our youngest kept waking up, it was cold.
I could have got up in the middle of the night to try out the art project, would actually have quite enjoyed it. However, I was stopped by the thoughts of ‘that will screw you up for tomorrow because you’ll be tired’. Well, guess what! Thinking about it is not conducive to sleep either.
I couldn’t do much about the stomach cramps, except find a comfy position. I kept thinking. This is because I had a double whisky before bed, which no doubt makes me a near alcoholic and bad mother. I actually ate a lot of dried fruit left over from making the Xmas cake last week, so this may have had a bit to do with it. That was not such an alarming thought though, so I was not very concerned with it. Better to decide I am In Moral Decline, given the many arresting possibilities for drama.
Waking baby kept crawling out of her sleeping bag and from under her duvet, getting cold, and fussing. She is probably teething too. You can safely blame teething for a lot. I was really bleary and did not change her into warmer clothes or a better sleeping bag. I didn’t want to run the risk of waking her up more than she already was, and really I had got to the ‘oh please just go to sleep or let me lie here quiet next to you and not move’ stage of night waking. So, I just tucked her in again. And again. And again.
In the early hours of the morning, I was drifting off again and she decided she wanted to breastfeed. A lot. So, on we went through to morning. The older children both woke from their dreams too.
It was chilly. I could have made a hot water bottle, or put on some warm blankets. Again, I was at the ‘oh please just let me lie here until life improves’ stage.
I kept thinking. I will be sooo tired tomorrow. I need some sleeeeeeeeeep. Ooh, but that’s a fab idea for a picture. My stomach is sore. Detox time, you reprobate. Here, I go. Mmm. Slleeeeeepppp. Nope. Waking baby. Aaargh. How will i ever night wean her? I will be ssooo tired. Forever. Tired.
I woke up in a not very brilliant state of mind and late. The kids were cold and dragging feet over getting ready. There was some dangerous swinging about with a toy broom, which husband dealt with in a very fair and zen manner. The broom was put in the car to be taken to school for show and tell type activity. I was exhausted and trying to work out my day. What to do, where to go, who to see, but I couldn’t get my head around it. Rather than looking forward to all the possibilities of a child-free day, I was seeing a million things to do and not enough time to do them. Instead, I told husband he was in a bad mood. He wasn’t. Then, said I wanted to sit in a heap and cry. I didn’t. I got ready to take the kids to school.
We all piled in the car and I removed the broom from our eldest’s hands because it was being swung again. This resulted in a torrent of protest, to which I was not really listening, because I was saying that you can’t drive while having a broom swung about. Then, I realised that the car window was stuck half way down, which had happened the day before, but I had forgot about. So, the morning plan became going to the mechanic, which eliminated a whole load of thinking about other stuff, and I started to calm down. I listened to eldest daughter’s argument that she wasn’t swinging the broom, but using it as an imaginary bell to ding ding. I didn’t give her it back as I was concerned about being distracted by said broom while driving, but she was mollified by being heard. We continued in better spirits.
As I walked back to the car after dropping the kids off, I realised that thinking about doing stuff is really unhelpful: You can only do one or two things at a time, and you can only do one well. Thinking creates noise, not productivity. Either the time is ripe for an idea or it is not. It is the moment to get down to something or it is not. It is not good thinking about exciting new projects, or adopting healthier attitudes, or bad thinking about self-criticism, or over-dramatising broom related injury. It is all thinking. None of it is helpful unless the mind and the moment are in the same place.
Committing to what you are doing in the immediate, and only having that on your mind frees up a lot of energy. Things seem clear. It is easy to see, now that my mood is improved, that being in the moment would have helped me to wrap me and baby girl up warmer, to make us comfy, to drift off to sleep. That was what that moment required, and the only thing I could do without actually getting up or travelling in time. I was too tired to realise that because of all the other thinking I was doing, and was fighting a self-defeating battle.
It is easy to imagine that thinking about ideas helps you to complete projects, or thinking about improvements helps you to live a healthier life, or thinking about strategy helps you to raise your kids. It doesn’t. In fact, it often gets in the way of these things. It prompts us to make bad choices in order to ‘cope’ with our thinking. Like I did this morning, you get stuck in a grumpy place with too much noise, too much to do, and no time. You cannot seize the day, cannot go with the flow. The calm alternative is to focus on what, if anything, should be done in the present moment, and to take life one step at a time.
Looking at my life as it is right now, I know I never planned this.
I didn’t sit down after graduation and say ‘OK, I’m going to teach English in a bunch of countries, meet a husband, buy a house in Portugal, and then have three children, one after another.’ I did sit down and decide I would relocate back to the UK, that I would study for a PhD, that I would be a researcher. Then, I looked at these goals and they didn’t match with my instinctive decisions. I had two sets of ideas guiding me in life, some conjured up on a spontaneous basis, and others that I considered at length.
Whenever, I look back I realise that I haven’t carried out any of my long term plans. In fact, I am a terrible planner. Sometimes, I have a word with myself about this. It goes ‘if there is anything you don’t like about your current circumstances then it is entirely your own fault for jumping into everything headfirst. It is your own fault for not following the plan. The solution to every problem you ever had is to make better plans.’
Wait a minute though.
I am so glad that I made those instinctive choices. That I decided to study English Language in Glasgow instead of Theatre at Leeds. That I moved to Korea and not Japan. That I taught English. That I married my husband. That we lived in Poland and Portugal. That we had our kids. I would not unmake those decisions for anything. I have no regrets about them.
Well, sometimes I think that perhaps I should have studied sciences, gone into a sensible medical type profession, and made a lot more money. On the other hand, I chose to do other things because that is who I was when I made those choices. A person who didn’t have any fears about long term financial security, mortgages, and providing for a family. Back then, I had faith in my ability to sort it all out as I went along. Haha. Youth.
So, a couple of years ago, I finished my MSc, got pregnant, had another baby, then got ready to plunge into a PhD. I was writing off too potential supervisors when something stopped me.
My instincts told me this is not the plan for this moment. Maybe I will come back to it one day. Deep down, for whatever reason, It is no longer what everything I have learned on my masters/ in everyday life seems to be for. I got into this track knowing that I wanted to expand my skills away from teaching. I still do know that. I still want that. Now, I want to take everything I have done and use it to head in another direction.
My littlest is fast becoming a little girl, and we are on the verge of a new phase in our family life. This will be the first time I chase a toddler around without a big pregnant belly/ marsupial baby. Unless there is a real change of heart, or a bit of a contraceptive slip up, then this is it. We are good to go on the next stage of familyhood.
So, I find myself thinking ‘I need a plan. The best plan ever. A really stonking, get-your-shit-together plan.’
Amazing. Sometimes it is as if I have learned NOTHING.
Before I start plotting my future in detail, I am going to try a different approach. Let’s face it. My track record suggests it is wasted energy anyway. I am going to believe, as Leo Babauta says, that The Best Goal is No Goal.
Instead of focussing on what I want down the road, I will consider what I know now. What I know I can work on now. The line where what I want and what I can do meet. I am talking about that deep down knowing which acts as a compass, underneath all those plans.
I want to support women in what I am calling, for want of a better expression, ‘the childbearing journey’.
I want to help women have good pregnancy and birth experiences.
I want to help women have good motherhood experiences.
I want to interact with people.
I want to write.
I want to explore new ideas.
I want to learn.
So, beyond doing the things that I do in supporting my family, that is what I am going to try to do. That is the No Plan Plan.
In view of this, I have created a super new blog to write about that circuitous path from conception, to pregnancy, to birth, into the early stages of motherhood. More than anything, I want to help women trust themselves to navigate this road in their own way.
So, I declare Mamajestic is officially online. My first post is about finding a place of peace and quiet.
When I quit smoking, I became hyper aware of all things cigarette related. I could pick up the faint aura of toxicity that marked out a smoker at a hundred paces. I went from vehement negation of tobacco to lighting up an illicit fag to accompany a glass of wine. The smell, the taste, the feel of smoke lit up my radar like an invading fleet.
It’s a bit like that when you are a recovering perfectionist. You notice it’s absence, you swear that you’re done with it, you have a few relapses. You see it everywhere. You want others to join you. It may not be very winning, but it is well intended.
Something which concerns me is the way that motherhood is often portrayed in blogs as the ultimate in self sacrifice chic. Children, we are told require your everything and then some, and a bit extra besides. Nothing compares to the highs and lows of the motherhood rollercoaster. We hear of mothers fighting the good fight, striving for perfection….and there it is. That unattainable goal. That’s the sucker that I’m on about.
I suggest we let go of these idealised images of what mothers should be. I say we, I know not everyone ascribes to them. Brilliant, if that was you giving a derisive snort in my general direction! There are other ways to live and well done for not falling into this trap.
I see evidence everywhere though, that many people do have this understanding of motherhood. I draw your attention to last week’s offering in the Huffington Post by Natasha Craig: Ten Things Your Mom Never Told You.
Well, this is what I have to say in reply:
My goodness, it is clear that being a mother means the world to you and you love your kid to bits. I read your post, and your determination to do your very best for your little one shines out. As you say, your days are full of joy and love, and an awful lot of hard work. As I read your words, generously penned to honour mothers everywhere, I began to wonder if it needs to be quite such a struggle. With the greatest respect, as a fellow mum, there are 11 things I would like to say to you (with a little help now and then from the inimitable REM):
1. Everybody Cries (part 1)
So you cried when your kid was born, when she smiled for the first time, perhaps when you accidentally trimmed her finger instead of a nail. I am a crier too. I cried at all those things, and also at a toothpaste advert, at the end of a really good yoga class, and because it was Christmas. Tears are not always, or even often, such a big deal. They are just an expression of a feeling at a particular moment. Some people don’t cry so often and that’s fine too. Everyone does it now and again, some more, some less, but if you tend to show feeling in this way, best just be aware of that and not attach too much meaning to it.
2. There’s Always More Pie
So, when you selflessly pass the last bit of pie to your little one and enjoy watching them eat it, always remember that you should give yourself a pie pass next time you feel like dessert, but tell yourself not to indulge. There are probably some cookies in the cupboard, not to mention the emergency chocolate you hide in with the ‘baking’ stuff in the pantry. Make a mental note to investigate these possibilities after the baby is in bed.
3. Everybody Hurts
It’s ok to tell your kid that it hurts when they bite you hit you in the face, as babies and toddlers are wont to do. Tell them without malice or indignation. Tell them without anger. Do tell them though. Not because it will immediately stop them from doing it, but because they should begin to understand that they can hurt people and it is best not to.
4. Embrace The World
I know it is hard not to feel anxious when the world rushes in to greet your dear sweet baby with its sticky fingers and precarious attitude to safety. Your wee darling will enjoy the opportunity to get mucky and commune with her public. Most places you go, most people are nice and reasonably hygienic to boot. Don’t cringe when people reach out to your child, embrace it with the sentiment in which it was intended and try not to worry too much. You will be sending the message that people are good, which will encourage her confidence and curiosity in the outside world and its inhabitants.
5. Go Easy On Yourself
You admit you are not perfect, and you are absolutely right, you are only human. Spend time checking that you do deep-down unequivocally know this and all it entails. This means that you really are doing the best you can at any given time. You can forgive yourself for not always having got things right. The rightness and wrongness of your actions are retrospective diagnoses, and are subject to change as your perspective alters over time. Do not be your own worst critic. Do not waste precious time and energy beating yourself up. There is no such thing as a perfect mother, and nor should they be, because what child can follow that act. Showing your humanity is a wonderful gift to give a child. It can help them to forgive themselves when they make mistakes, which they will.
6. Everybody Sleeps (eventually)
Eventually all babies will go to sleep. Begging, pleading, and worrying about it will not make it happen. In fact, it may prevent your baby from settling. Accept with quiet confidence that they will eventually drop off. Breathe. Get as much shut eye as you can. That feeling of love when their little eyes close and you gaze down on them is also a sense of release from the tension of trying to put an uncooperative baby to bed. I know how difficult it can be to just go with it when they are restive, not resting, but you can make it easier on yourself by relaxing and waiting it out. Perhaps while rocking her, or whatever works. It will happen.
7. Save Your Back
Invest in a good quality supportive sling to help you along with all that carrying. It’s much easier on your body and leaves you with free hands. Plus they come in really pretty colours. When possible, stop and sit down for a minute while you hold onto your tiny passenger. If all else fails, you can pop them down for a moment while you pee or make a sandwich. She won’t love it, but she’ll live. It’s OK to not get what you want the second you want it sometimes. Which brings me nicely onto the next point…
8. Everybody Cries (part two)
I know it can feel like the end of the world when your child is upset. It really isn’t an end of the world situation though. I am not saying leave kids to cry or go against your instincts to comfort your little one. I am saying that we all get hungry, tired, and annoyed at our inability to make a person or our environment do what we want it to. We all get sick from time to time. When our head is chock full of outrage we find a way to express it. Babies usually do this by crying. It is natural, and they will get over it. Give them what they need and want, or when this proves unfeasible, give a cuddle and a compassionate ear: it’s all most of us need at times like these. Don’t take it too seriously because this sends the message that crying always means that something is horribly wrong. Most of the time our frowns will turn upside down on their own, once we calm down a bit, and we’ll see things are not so bad after all. This too is human nature. Teach children that we are like ships which sail through storms and sunshine alike, but we are designed to right ourselves rather than capsize. With this understanding, they become better prepared to ride out the yuck when it happens.
9. Look After Yourself
Your child is important. She is as important as the next person, and that means you. Yes, there are so many needs to meet and you have a responsibility to your children to take care of them. However, you also need time to rest, time to yourself, time to eat. Fortunately, you can do many of these things alongside your small charge or charges. Where you find your needs are always at the bottom of your list, see what you can do to redress the balance. Just by spending less time beating yourself up and worrying will free up the requisite headspace to figure this out. You owe it to yourself, but also you can set an example of what self respect and self care look like, which your child will benefit from seeing.
10. Stay In Touch With What Matters Most
It doesn’t have to be this hard. You don’t have to think in terms of trying and failing, succeeding and plummeting. The only verbs you need to use on a regular basis are doing, eating, sleeping, breathing. It is the stuff of ordinary life. You are the only one keeping score and finding yourself wanting, at least as often as not. You can still feel all that joy and satisfaction in a quiet way, not by remonstrating yourself for your shortcomings and celebrating your triumphs, but by simply noticing the love you have for your child, and that they share for you in return. Love is the bottom line.
11. One Last Thing….
Congratulations on becoming a mum! I wish you and your beautiful family well. Give yourself and your baby a big hug from me. Believe me when I say, it is all ok.
Lots of love,
What do you think? Did I miss anything? What does the word ‘mother’ mean to you?