Motherhood is… making yourself available

August 2023

To whom?

To yourself, to your children, to the universe!

To yourself. 

I have heard all my life that you can’t love others until you love yourself. That phrase never truly resonated with me. I never really felt it in the fibres of my body, in my heart. 

I understood it in my head, intellectually, but it never translated into true deep understanding… until years into motherhood.

When you’re young, you have reserves. You are strong, energetic and subconsciously believe you will live forever. At SOME point in your life this attitude and way of life starts taking its toll.

The cracks often start showing when you become a mother. You have created life. You have given birth. The whole existence of this human creature depends upon you. Initially it’s mainly physical (nappy changes, feeding, dressing etc.), then increasingly emotional and social. All the way through mentally demanding.

For many years caring for my children looked like this: like pieces on a chess board I was either pushing their chess pieces in front of me (their needs, demands, interests) or I was pushing mine. They took preference over my needs for some minutes, hours, days at a time until I could cope no more, so I carved out some time for myself…often followed by guilt!

Then I started to understand.

You can’t truly be present for your loved ones until you are truly present for yourself. This is a concept that can only be truly understood when the time is right in your life. By doing. By living it. By seeking this understanding. On every level of your being. 

To your children

I have once heard Gabor Mate talk about how most parents love their children. It’s not the question of how much you love them, how much you sacrifice for them, how much money or even time you spend on them. It’s how that love lands with them. Do they truly receive it? Is it accessible for them?

Where does all that energy disappear to, if it isn’t absorbed by them? How many times have we felt we are pouring love and care into our kids and yet: they misbehave, they seem to be ‘off’, they are dysregulated, unhappy and seem utterly or partially disconnected from us? As if there is a missing piece… a missing link. We’re giving and they still seem to be craving.

Does this happen to you? What answers have you found, if any? Is the responsibility weighing you down to the degree where it interferes with the enjoyment of your children and parenting experience? It certainly used to happen to me, and still does occasionally.

To the universe

Not everyone considers themselves as spiritual. We, as humans, all need to belong though. It IS precisely what constitutes a human. We are social beings. Dan Siegel coined the term: ‘mwe’ (a combination of me + we), after decades of studying neuroscience and co-regulation in humans. We ‘tune into’ each other during all our interactions. All of us do: with strangers, with co-workers, with the assistants on the shop floor, with our friends and especially our families.

Being ‘spiritual’ doesn’t necessarily mean believing in a god or following a religion. All of us have spirituality in us and we only truly feel at peace and equilibrium if we feel ‘plugged in’, connected to nature and the universe in some way. 

Where do you get your ‘medicine’ from? How do you replenish your resources? Where do you go to recharge your batteries? How often are you running on zero?

What does it mean being present?

According to social and neuro science, a secure attachment bond between parent and child can be achieved by being present about 33% of the time. (reference) That sounds a lot more manageable than the 100% a lot of us are aiming for, doesn’t it? 

What does ‘being present’ look like? 

Have you ever felt ‘in the flow’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology) )?

Can you think of moments when you forgot about the passing of the time and simply ‘were’? 

Do you sometimes find yourself wanting to stop time from passing and the moment you’re in, to last forever? When babies are born, they are 100% in the moment, 100% of the time. As they grow, that is less so but they still preserve the ability to be present, a lot more so than adults. 

We have bills on our minds. Our bosses are breathing down our necks. Maybe we have critical family members. Perhaps noisy and unhelpful neighbours. Older children and the school run. Our careers that we may or may not have put on hold. Tricky relationships with our partners. Shadows of the past… SO MUCH! 

So finding ways to remain in the moment, to find joy in the moment, to be able to switch off for bits of time, to really and truly allow ourselves to stop ‘adulting’ sometimes, can pay dividends when it comes to our mental health and our parenting. 

What does it NOT mean?

As mentioned above, being present does NOT mean being present ALL of the time for EVERYONE. We do not need perfection. We are humans. We are fallible. We have our jobs, shopping lists, holidays to book, debts to pay, errands to run. 

Please don’t let this be another line on your to do list: ‘BE PRESENT’. Please don’t let this add to the already mounting pressures of life on you. Please don’t let it be another excuse to tell yourself you’re not good enough. 

Our kids want to and need to see our fallibility. They do well with that 33%. We can ‘rupture and repair’. (Philippa Perry: The Book you wish your parents had read)

Instead, let it be an inspiration to enjoy unstructured and low key moments with yourself, with friends or your kids where messy is fine! 

Instead, let it be PERMISSION to be imperfect (are you familiar with Winnicott’s ‘good enough parent’ concept?).

Instead, let yourself be told that YOU ARE WORTH as much as anyone else and you do deserve that new top, that cake, that day retreat, that book, that cafe outing with a friend. You are working SO hard, you deserve to enjoy at least moments of it! 

And watch those moments turn into minutes. Those minutes turn into half hours…

Why bother?

We only have this one life. So often we hear: ‘they grow up so quickly’. Another meaningless phrase. Until it becomes meaningful. My own family’s example, alongside many others, holds up a warning sign: try to lay the groundwork now to avoid future burnout, to try and build a relationship that nourishes you, and children you want to be around when they become adults. 

How to be around our children to really SEE them. To really see THEM. 

Did you ever get seen as a child? If so, how did it feel and would you like to give that same experience to your child?

If you didn’t… I’m sorry. You are going to have a tough journey ahead of you, but please read on…

How?

You reasonably ask. There are many resources out there.

For some of my friends who are also parents, I have seen examples of taking that time to create flow for themselves, so they can gift it back to their children in a multitude of ways. Whatever floats your boat. Is it going for an early morning jog or swim? A walk and coffee with a friend? Heading out with a camera and taking nature photos? Locking yourself into the kitchen and baking a yummy cake? Joining a women’s circle? A daytime (!) bath and chocolates? Grabbing the kids, popping on the music and doing a great jig to a song or two? Yoga? Meditation? A late night show on TV?

And… work on yourself. As those little niggling voices will keep coming otherwise…

When? Is it too late for me?

It’s never too late! It’s also never too early. 

Hand in Hand parenting and La Leche League are just 2 examples of wonderful organisations where you can join by the time you’re pregnant and learn SO much about connection, parenting and yourself. You will find that community, that ‘mwe’ that grounds you, helps you feel safe and less alone. 

Seek your ‘tribe’. Seek your ‘village’. Don’t settle for less than at least moments of that deep feeling of connection and flow. Remember, the moments will grow. 

Listen with your heart. Listen with your gut. You will be led by them.

What if I can’t?

Is the perspective of slowing down and looking at yourself all a bit too daunting? Is it more than a bit scary to explore your internal universe?

You don’t have to go it alone.

If it all feels too overwhelming and impossible, you may need more in depth specialist help. Depending on the stage of life you’re at, your circumstances and the area you live in, the help you may be able to receive will vary. 

Is it counselling or therapy? There are many postnatal services available, try searching your area for free and paid help. Good starting points are:

PANDAS, MIND, APN, Help for mums, Maternal Mental Health Alliance and Tommys.

If you are breastfeeding, reach out to the National Breastfeeding Helpline, La Leche League, Breastfeeding Network or ABN (Association of Breastfeeding Mothers).

Is it a loving friend?

A listening partner via Hand in Hand Parenting or Red School?

The end? Not really… 

Tell me your story!

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