Roll up, roll up mummy-problem agony aunt is on hand, to mop your fevered brow…
Crazy! Bonkers! Busy-ness!!! I type these three words very frequently in emails, texts and facebook messages. (I’m funnier on twitter, honest.) If someone inquires as to my good health, my response usually contains one of them, followed by an exclamation mark that belies my frustration. These words came to mind yesterday, as one of my mummy friends (I recently described her as my biggest fan) texted me, and asked me to blog, by way of helping her, on a topic that is preoccupying her greatly at the moment. Her dilemma? How Busy with a capital B she feels, all the time, and her worries about the impact this may have on her four-year-old child. Being very flattered to be asked, I stopped to have a quick, ironic chortle to myself at the notion of anyone considering me as someone with wisdom to share. Giggle over, I then proceeded to scribble ideas as I 1) cooked the kid’s tea, 2)started dinner for me and him, 3)listening to an astonishing amount of detail from my daughter as she described her day at pre-school. Blimey, that kid packs a lot in.
Like all women with young children, this particular mummy’s consistent juggling is the key to her family’s successful functioning. Without downgrading the graft our menfolk put their back into on our behalf – and hers is no exception – if she ‘stops’, then it all goes Pete Tong. In her text she worried that needing to ask her child to ‘hang on five minutes while I just do X (or Y or Z)’ on a regular basis was doing him a disservice somehow. My first thought? We ALL say that, EVERY day. But I suspect we all feel a little uncomfortable about it; I know I do. But does the fact that we’re all in the same boat mean we shouldn’t go looking for new paddles?
With that in mind, I’m going to do something in this post that I have never considered doing on the blog before. I’m going to give advice. My disclaimer should be made clear from the outset. I’m just a 41-year-old mum, no more, no less. My take on the Universe is just that; my take. I own what I say below, in the sense that I can justify why I have written it, but don’t feel any strong urge to persuade others to adopt my perspective. But, in the interests of helping my friend see her predicament from a few fresh angles, I offer this eclectic list of what can only be described as, well, ‘stuff’.
Some ideas to think about….
- You ARE doing a good enough job. Not so many generations ago mums felt they were doing a good job if they fed, watered, and clothed their child, and gave them sufficient pots and pans to bash away on while they did the serious work of running the home. They didn’t worry about child development, attachment theory, phonics, tooth decay, omega 3 deficiency or whether the kids have spent too long in their car seats. Our kids are, in relative terms, luxuriating in a warm bath of concern and attentiveness. While it would never do to be complacent, let’s not beat ourselves up too much, eh? If the laundry needs putting away, then it needs putting away – they’ll be OK while you do it. (1)
- Playing is doing. Modern mums also feel a sense of twitchy guilt when they do stop and play. So goal-focused are we as a society, that simply surrendering to the meander of child-led activity can leave us scratching around for any sense of achievement. We have somehow ended up believing that playing isn’t ‘doing’. When we see mummy-lion roughing and tumbling with her cubs on the telly we know that its play for a serious reason, that life-lessons are being learnt. Yet we don’t find it easy to justify the same indulgence for ourselves and our kids. (2)
- Feminism hasn’t done us any favours…yet. As I folded laundry today, the pithy statement, ‘Feminism strived for what was possible for women without considering the reality of what is do-able’. I wrote it down, quick, before I forgot it. (See yesterday’s ‘Rhetorical Questions I ask myself’ for more on the failing of my short-term memory.) I’m going to put this moment of incisive wit down to the fact that I am currently reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. What I am actually trying to say here is that as a generation of women we are, more fully than those previously, the recipients of the benefits of the feminist movement, via our educational, political and cultural experiences, and to a slightly lesser extent, our career potential. All of this has given us an expectation of how life ‘ought’ to be. But we are also, as a result of our ‘inheritance’, expected to achieve so much (perfect relationship, perfect children, perfect career, perfect physical form, perfect social life, ya-da-da-da-da). It’s too much. It’s not possible. And then the media wades in with a zillion images of boy-thin celeb mums and their coiffed kids delighting in the sunshine at Sea World. We don’t cross-examine the glossies and red-tops for pumping this stuff out at us every day; we just absorb it, and find ourselves failing by comparison. But it’s not real, is it? Don’t deny yourself a flick through Hello at the Doctors surgery; do stop yourself at the point of wishing you could change places. It’s an illusion. If you think you are hooked on chasing all of this, cut yourself loose. Now! (And read Caitlin’s book; it’ll make you laugh, very loudly, and laughter is good for tension release.)
Some things to try…
- Embrace who you are. The insightful psychologist Oliver James helpfully, and non-judgementally, categorises mothers into one of three groups: Organisers, Huggers, Fleximums. Your label indicates your approach to running you household and your kids lives. They are pretty good labels because you get an immediate sense of what he’s on about. His argument is simple. Whatever kind of mum you are, go with it, and don’t burden yourself with unproductive guilt. If you’re an Organiser and you’re not really into babies, fine, find a good carer who can do that bit for you, and don’t let others make you feel guilty for ‘not being very maternal’. If you’re a Hugger, accept the ebb and flow of happy chaos that will surround you, and put off tidying up until the youngest reaches 5. If you’re a Fleximum (and the majority of us are) tolerate the Juggle as best you can, and find spaces in the nooks and crannies between tasks to remember who you are. (3)
- Set realistic goals for change. If you’ve explored Oliver’s concept and still come up feeling that there are Things Requiring Change, let’s stay this side of realistic and achievable as we approach them. Here’s an example of what I mean. I have a fervent hope of publishing a book on parenthood at some point this decade (and an even greater wish to be interviewed on Woman’s Hour about it). But, I know, that while I have a four-year-old and a one- year-old, and I am their primary carer, there is not much chance of me finding oodles of time to get on with said ambition. That doesn’t mean I can’t work towards it though. The book is sufficiently mapped out in my head that I can do five minutes research here, clip out an article from the sunday papers there. It might be another two years before I get anywhere near sitting and writing. But in the mean time, I get to feel some progress. I’d encourage you to adopt a similar approach. Recognise the reality of your busy circumstances, but don’t hide behind that as a reason not to modify your behaviour or introduce new challenges. Just keep them SMART, in the anacronym-istic sense; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. If you want to carve out more quality time for you and the kids, a day a week may be unachievable but 15 minutes a day? Well that would be a SMART goal. Neuro-linguistic Programming, an offshoot of psychology that examines the behaviours of the successful rather than those with poor mental health, takes these ideas further, inspiring you to have a rich vision of where you are trying to get to, and to live a life where you are keeping ‘the end (goal) in mind’. (4)
- Be good to yourself while you change. Switching off the inner-critic is not an easy task. The father of modern psychotherapy, Carl Rogers, talked of providing clients with an environment of Unconditional Positive Regard, arguing that no-one can bring about change in their lives if they feel judged, under-valued or misunderstood. My psychotherapy training teacher used to put it slightly differently, encouraging us to work on freeing our clients from judging themselves as they brought about transition in their lives. It is a principle we can equally adapt and apply to our situations. If you have a constant internal monologue of ‘who do you think you are trying to do this/that/the other!’, you will not succeed. Tune this voice out; switch her off. Easier said than done I grant you. Recognising that you are possessed of an inner-critic is the first step. You can then tell her to pop in for half-an-hour per day only, in the manner of “You can come and make me worry and doubt at 4pm this afternoon, but right now, I’m busy being fabulous, and the bestest mum there is”. Odd sounding it may be, but I have tried this (the ‘worry hour’, I call it) and it can help.
- Take all the help you can get along the way. If you’re choosing to make a change, however modest, get Team You right on side. There are behaviours, strategies we can all adopt that will support us in our endeavours. Julia Cameron talks of releasing our creativity and being a catalyst for change by keeping a daily journal in her book, The Artist’s Way. (5) Edward De Bono invites you to wear (metaphoric) different coloured hats to view your problem from all angles. (6) Daniel Goleman has examined the potential Meditation has to breathe fresh perspective into our lives. (7) Every Life Coach on the planet would suggest regular exercise as a path to personal growth on all levels. Suzanne Jeffers believes in the use of mantras to keep you focused throughout the day. (8) And during a particularly tough moment in my life, I had a ‘survival buddy’, a good friend who would text me regular messages of support as I summoned up all my bravery to get through a hard time. She was hugely generous and made a big difference. And beyond all this, I have personally found a lot of help in the blogging community; for an example of the real inspiration available to mums in the digital age, take a look at http://www.storyofmum.com/ and in particular, Pippa’s awesome Gold Star Mama EBook.
Without being unbearably sexist, family life for most does revolve around a fully functioning mummy. Each and everyone one of us is the pivot, the fulcrum, the magnetic pole around which all this activity spins. While we spend our days putting all others first, at some other, more profound, level, we have to put ourselves first. You can’t be the ever-reliable one if you don’t take a minute for yourself to recharge, as the saying goes. Feeling guilt, as an emotion, about what you are doing / what you have to do / what you don’t get time for, is only useful up to a point. If it inspires you to make an actual change to your circumstances or mental change to your attitude, then OK, we’ll let that guilt slide on in under the door. But beyond that, all it does is leave you stuck in a horrid, muddy rut, with slippery sides that do not aid rescue. What you resist, persists (man). Don’t fight it, do something with it. Change what you are doing, or change the way you perceive what you are doing. And come back and tell me all about it in the comments section, please.
Oh, and I loved that I multi-tasked while I brainstormed an article on the challenges mums face in their multi-tasking lives. It tells you everything you need to know about modern, motherly mayhem.
(1) Have a read of this, it’s brilliant http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-morrison/motherhood_b_2271349.html?utm_hp_ref=parents&ir=Parents
(2) Naomi Stadlen ‘What Mothers Do’ 2005
(3)Oliver James ‘How Not To F**k Them Up’ 2010
(4) Try googling / Amazon searching NLP and SMART goals for more information.
(5)Julia Cameron ‘The Artist’s Way’ 1994
(6) Edward De Bono ‘How To Have A Beautiful Mind’ 2004
(7)Daniele Goleman ‘Destructive Emotions’ 2003
(8)Suzanne Jeffers ‘Embracing Uncertainty’ 2003
This is not a sponsored post. I just wanted to share with y’all the stuff that gives me insight and inspiration. Pass it Forward.