Category Archives: Acceptance

16Jan/13

A Day in the Life of an Emotional Mum

reward chart

Zach still responds to reward charts…thankfully!

I’m feeling low. Tired and battle weary. And it is only 9.30am. Zach was up at 4.45 this morning and refused to go back to bed. I didn’t have the strength to fight him so since Chris was getting up anyway (I know – it’s crazy) I said he could sleep on Chris’ side IF he didn’t fidget. If he fidgets he goes back to his own bed. It’s been a long time since he has come into our bed during the night and so I was expecting some wriggling and chatting ending with me battling to take him to bed. I felt that I was just postponing the inevitable.

Surprisingly however, he stayed as still as a person can do. I think he moved twice until he got up at 7.19. He always tells me the exact time he wakes up. If I was taking the positive from the situation I could focus on how his self control has improved. When he got up the second thing he said to me when he came downstairs was ‘Mum, I tried my best and stayed very still.’ I praised him enthusiatically and said I was really impressed. This is progress, but I know it is only one side of his personality at the moment.

At breakfast – when he was showing signs of resuming his fight against the world – I told him that it was time for things to change. I said that he knows now that we love him, and that we still love him when he is naughty, or when we are telling him off, or when he hates us. He knows we love him whatever. [We’ve been telling him this for 6 weeks or so now so a lot of it has gone in. See previous post for more on this.] Now it’s time to stop fighting us. He has to do as he is told. I’ve done a chart for him to get ticks whenever he does as he’s told, when he accepts me saying ‘no’, and whenever he realises he’ s fighting us or pushing us away and stops doing it. It’s a big ask but the prize is going swimming with Daddy and/or using Dad’s telescope – if we can find it in the garage. I also told him that I would be making another chart for black marks. Whenever he doesn’t do as he’s told, or fights us, he will get a black mark. These will add up to him losing privileges like his ipod, TV, going to bed, pudding, treats doing activities with Chris at the weekend. I will decide what these are when I am calm (hopefully!!).  Part of me knows this will work for a while and then he will slip back into not caring, and hating us all. But the more optimistic part of me knows that I have to keep going. I have to keep the faith, even though it’s so hard to fight every day with someone you love.  I try not to fight but I have to provide the boundaries and he keeps choosing to fight them. This week I feel emotionally exhausted. I have no idea whether I am doing the right thing.

In the car on the way to school Jas chose the gratitude topic, and she said ‘Think of 4 things we love about Zach.’ Very intuitive of her, I thought. Even Harvey joined in the spirit of the exercise despite being very annoyed with Zach and his behaviour at the moment. I was very proud of both of them.

Harvey:  OK, let me see…mmmm…I love Zach because he’s really great to play with.

Zach: [a big smile on his face.]  I was hoping you would say that!

I think it helped. As I said goodbye to Zach at school I told him he had earned 2 ticks that morning for getting dressed when I asked him and for getting into the car nicely. He seemed proud so I said: ‘ Does your heart feel better when you are not fighting us?’ He said yes.

Now, back home, I am noticing that I need to be kind to myself today.  I need to build up my energy and resilience so I can cope with round 2 at pick up time.   It makes me sad that I find it all so emotional, and that it knocks me off-centre so much.  I’m sure that a lot of families experience similar problems everyday, and just get on with it without so much angst and emotional upheaval.  But I have to accept that this is who I am. This is how my brain has learnt to deal with emotions.  The positive is that I am gradually learning to be less emotionally involved and more calm in the difficult moments. So today I’m not going to beat myself up for allowing it all to wear me down.   I’m going to keep going, take things slowly and be kind to myself.

I feel low, tired and battle weary, but that’s ok. If I’m kind to myself, that’s ok.

10Dec/12

Love Me When I Least Deserve It

Recently I have been talking with my kids about the need to show each other more love, not less, when one of us is tired, or grumpy or ‘misbehaving’.  I know this is counter-intuitive because our main instinct is to punish or cold-shoulder someone who is being rude or mean.  But, as we say in our family, when someone is behaving badly, there is a large chance that this is because ‘their heart is feeling bad’.

When our ‘hearts are feeling good’ – i.e. we are happy with ourselves, proud of our actions, feeling loved and a have a powerful sense of belonging and purpose – we find it easy to be kind, loving, happy and competent.  So therefore, even though we might not think that someone ‘deserves’ to be loved when they are acting badly, this is really when they need our love the most.  They need their heart to be repaired, or recharged, or just soothed, so they can recover their equilibrium and be themselves again.

While this all makes perfect sense to me, it is something that I find really difficult to practice.  I am, I have realised, somewhat grudgingly, someone who finds it hard to hide their emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve, as they say, especially within the safe confines of my family. Therefore, my family knows exactly what mood I am in, at any particular time of the day, and often the reason behind it.  This is better than hiding everything, but I would prefer to reach the middle ground of being able to control some of my negative emotions when it would help those around me if I did.

This personality trait of mine makes it quite difficult for me to control my irritation, anger, frustration and resentment at other family members’ rudeness, anger and tantrums. (I know this is a double standard, but I’m working on it!)  Nearly 11 years of parenting has shown me that shaming, punishment and anger in response to a child’s ‘misbehaviour’ is ineffective not just in the long-term but the short-term too.  It just doesn’t work, not to mention the harm that it can cause. So I have to use this experience and evidence to remind myself to go the other way.  Sometimes (when my heart is feeling good) I can offer real love at those moments when my children need it, even though they often don’t accept it.  At other times (when I’m low on energy and resilience, AKA ‘my heart is feeling bad’) I have to force myself to offer words of forgiveness and love through gritted teeth.  I have been known to cuddle an angry child who is trying to calm down while simultaneously making angry faces that they can’t see just because I can’t control my own anger. I know! It’s really immature of me, but at least I’m going in the right direction.

So when I was Christmas shopping last week in Horsham and saw this (above), I had to buy it as an early present for my family.  It is now up in our kitchen to remind us all that this is what we are aiming for. We won’t ever be able to do this all the time, but by having it as one of the guiding principles of our family life, I am hoping we will learn to tolerate and help each other when we need it the most.

19Nov/12

Daring Greatly or Stretching Too Far

On the Chrissy B Show discussing Perfectionism

Two weeks ago I was invited to talk about perfectionism on the Chrissy B Show on Sky TV.  At first I was flattered, then I was excited, then I started to get scared.  I said yes, because it’s a topic close to my heart, made plans, then seriously wished I hadn’t.

As my inner gremlins set about me I began to feel worse and worse. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t concentrate on the children. I was in meltdown. Completely overwhelmed by stressful emotions, it certainly was a weird few days. I thought I knew what was happening: I was just scared about doing something new, about being vulnerable and ‘out there’ with the potential to look foolish or rubbish in front of other people.  I endlessly rationalised: it will be ok, and if it isn’t that’s ok too. I’ll learn from it and I’ll still be loved by those who are important to me. I told myself that it would be fun to see a working TV studio, great to meet new people and a change from my normal life. I knew all this so why did I still feel so bad?  I ‘should’ be able to deal with this.

At other times I tried to convince myself to cancel, but my pride wouldn’t let me and I knew that in the long run it was a positive thing to do. But I found it difficult to justify much of the time. I’m all for pushing my boundaries, but to feel sick with nerves for a week felt like too much of a price to pay. Too much for my children to pay as well, since it was their mother who was away with the fairies one minute and snapping at them the next.

Gradually it became clear to me that the reason I was so scared and worried was because the situation was something I was not in control of, and because of that, I couldn’t guarantee that it would run smoothly.  These – I suddenly realised – are my two big perfectionist ideals. I was also ‘shoulding’ myself too much:  ‘I should be able to deal with this.’  I ‘shouldn’t let this affect my family.’  Being aware of why I was feeling so bad, made me feel a lot better.  Understanding yourself really does go a long way to improving the situation.

Last Monday I got the train to London and appeared on the show.  And, actually, it was fun, and I really enjoyed myself. The presenter, producer and other guests were lovely, friendly and interesting people.   I wasn’t half as nervous on the day, perhaps because I was living it rather than thinking and planning for it in advance.

So what’s the lesson here? Mainly that feeling bad is not all bad, because if we allow them to, negative emotions can teach us so much. It also strengthened my belief that my family is the most important thing to me.  Being successful professionally is very important to me, but will never take priority over looking after my young family.

On the way home, I was proud of myself for getting out there and giving it a go.  It didn’t go horribly wrong.  And at the end of the day, I’m still the same person, still worth the same as every other human being on the planet. I had just been lucky enough to add another new experience to that journey called life.

If you are interested in watching the programme here it is.

25Sep/12

Other People Can’t Make You Happy…..and Vice Versa

I am reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home, in which she embarks on her second happiness project focussing on creating a happier home.

She talks about how important her family is to her happiness, but that it’s also important not to rely on other people for your own happiness.  She says:

My family’s happiness matters so much to me; realistically, if they weren’t happy, it was very hard for me to be happy – but the truth was, I couldn’t make them happy, no matter how fervently I desired to, and they couldn’t make me happy, either.  We all have to find happiness for ourselves.”

Family life is very emotional.  Dramas of one kind or another seem to happen very regularly in our house.  As an emotional, expressive, heart on my sleeve kind of person these ups and downs of family life really affect my equilibrium and therefore my happiness. As a perfectionist, I have struggled to let go the desperate need I seem to have for every single moment of my family’s life to run smoothly.  I often rest my entire happiness on how other people are feeling, and how they behave.  Our family is very good at ‘catching’ emotions from each other like a nasty disease.

But it needn’t be that way. Recently, mainly as a result of my mindfulness study and meditation practice, I’ve come to realise that emotions are transcient (yes, I know that may be obvious to most of you, but it wasn’t to me) and that if I felt angry this moment, it didn’t mean that I would still feel angry in 5 minutes. Also, I’ve learnt that uncomfortable emotions are not necessarily bad and don’t constitute some kind of failure on my part.  Feeling bad, I’ve come to accept, does not mean that my whole life is wrong.

Being aware of this has enabled me to ride the family’s daily dramas much better.  When my children are upset, angry or frustrated, I can see it as a normal part of life rather than a huge problem that I need to fix, right now, perfectly, otherwise they will be doomed to misery for the rest of their lives.

Taking responsibility for our own emotional equilibrium and happiness is something that we are not taught how to do in school (if we were, the world would be a much calmer, happier place). Some of us might have been lucky enough to have parents who were able to model and teach this, but most of us need to learn as we go along, developing our own personal techniques over our lifetime.

13Sep/12

At Forty: I am who I am.

So it finally happened: I was 40 last week.

I have spent the last 18 months or so counting down to this moment, treating it as some kind of deadline to get my life in order.

I trusted that when I was 40, I would finally be fit, organised, well dressed, calm, and at peace with myself. Because, let’s face it, 40 is quite old, and with age comes wisdom and maturity, surely.

Obviously, it didn’t quite happen like that. I didn’t change overnight into this perfect version of myself just because I was approaching 40. On my birthday I didn’t suddenly develop amazing self-control and determination to avoid wine, exercise more, or to stop shouting at my kids when I was irritated.

What happened was that I realised that I am me. I know it sounds obvious, but I think I have always believed that the me that exercised 3 times a week, had 8 hours sleep a night, was permanently serene and calm and was in control of her household was the real me, and I just had to find a way to let her out.  In reality, she is just an ideal that I beat myself up with by constantly comparing myself to her.  I’m never going to be her. If I’m honest, for the most part I’m not going to change a huge amount over the next 10 years.  I’ll probably always drink a little bit more than my doctor would be happy with, my tummy is always going to be a little bit bigger than I would like. I am probably always going to have too many ideas and not enough time.  I’ll probably always put my family life-balance before my personal business ambitions and I’ll probably always have a To Do list as long as the road I live on.  But because I’m a very ‘everything in moderation’ kind of person my flaws and bad habits are not too extreme (I hope) so I can live with them.  They make me me.

So being 40 has made me finally realise that it is ok to be me – as I am.  I know myself enough to accept that I’m not always going to feel like this, I will have moments, days, even weeks where I will sink into a hole of wishing I was ‘Perfect Me’, but I also know that I’ll come out of that hole with a renewed sense of acceptance and understanding that life is all about being vulnerable, accepting our flaws and carrying on regardless.

18Apr/11

If you want to be happy, stop trying to be perfect

Ten reasons why being a perfectionist is harmful to your happiness.

  1. Perfection doesn’t exist, so you are chasing an impossible ideal.
  2. You are always disappointed with yourself because you can’t reach your impossible, idealistic goals.
  3. You fail to appreciate the good in your life already, because you are constantly striving for perfection or the next better thing.
  4. You suffer from black and white thinking. “Well, if I can’t do it perfectly, then I might as well give up.”
  5. You are constantly unhappy with yourself because you judge yourself  so harshly. You wouldn’t judge your enemies as harshly as you judge yourself. 
  6. Contrary to many perfectionist’s belief, being harsh with yourself does not make you work harder and achieve more. Instead it stifles your creativity, your productivity and your everyday happiness.
  7. Striving to be perfect is essentially the need to please other people, or make them think you are ‘good enough’.
  8. Time becomes a huge pressure.  If everything is to be perfect,  not only does each hour have to be used wisely and productively, it also has to run perfectly smoothly itself.
  9. You can never let go and ‘just be’, because there is always something to be done to make you or your life more perfect.
  10. If you are striving to be perfect, it means you don’t think you are good enough as you are. In other words, you are  rejecting yourself, which can only lead to pain instead of the perfect happiness you so crave.
11Apr/11

It doesn’t always have to feel good.

I’m not feeling very happy.  My day has not been a bad one, but it hasn’t been great either.  I worked hard on what I said I’d do but put far too much energy into making the ‘right’ decisions, and as a result I’m feeling restless and unsatisfied with my day.  I think the problem is that I can’t sit back, take a deep breathe and feel proud of today’s achievements.

A few months ago, I could easily have dived deep into a pool of self-indulgent despair, shouting at my children and being grumpy with my husband when he got home. But I’m proud to say that I haven’t done that today, because I’m trying to remember what I’ve learnt about perfectionists, namely that we expect every moment to be perfect and think that whenever we don’t feel wonderfully happy, then something is wrong with us, or the world. 

So while I’m not feeling great, I’m pleased that I’m not feeling awful, I’m trying to take on board the fact that I’ve had a good day, but that some things didn’t go well and that’s ok.  Bad days happen and that doesn’t mean that my life is way off track.

04Apr/11

Happiness = Acceptance

 

Carrying on from my Tibetan Monk  post, I want to say a bit more about acceptance because it is such an important element of overcoming perfectionism.

As I’ve said previously, the thing about perfectionism is that it makes you want to be something or someone else.  It makes you feel like you are not ‘good enough’ as you are.  You are constantly striving to become a ‘better person’ because only then will you be worthy of love and respect. 

But the only way to find real happiness is to start with who you are now, and accept yourself with all your imperfections.  Obviously that is easier said than done – and it’s even difficult to say, especially out loud.  I definitely struggle sometimes with accepting the concept myself. ‘But I don’t want to be like this so why should I accept it?’ (Because it causes you so much pain and unhappiness, Thea, that’s why!) I often use the subtitle of Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection as a reminder, because she phrases it in a way that makes sense to me, even when I’m in perfectionist mode. 

“Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.”

It reminds me when I put pressure on myself to do and achieve too much, and when I beat myself up for not achieving it, that I am trying to be the perfect person I think I’m supposed to be, rather than the wonderful, but imperfect, person that I already am. (I even find that difficult to write that last bit down in black and white, which shows that I’ve still got a way to go before I believe it completely.)

Think about what is really happening when you don’t accept yourself and don’t believe you are enough. You are rejecting yourself. And if you reject yourself (by rejecting your successes, your failures and your negative emotions) then essentially you are rejecting reality.  And you know what we call people who reject reality….

01Apr/11

Who wants to be a Tibetan Monk?

The idea of responding appropriately to my emotions has always haunted me. Why can’t I control my temper? Why do I get so frustrated and irritated with my children – who I love and cherish with all my heart? 

I heard a story the other day about a monk who was an experienced meditator and who – while having his head covered in electrodes to measure his brainwaves – did not flinch when a bomb went off.  How amazing, I thought. How fantastic that he can control himself and his emotions like this. Why can’t I master the art of not automatically reacting to everything?

But then I thought…. Do meditating monks have children? 

If I had spent 20 years meditating on a mountainside my automatic emotional reactions would probably be different too.   But do I want that?  To be frank, No. I’d rather be an imperfect mother than a perfect monk.

The thing about perfectionism is that it makes you want to be something or someone else.  It makes you feel like you are not good enough already as you are.  So we try to be something else in order to be perfect and only then will we be worthy of love and respect. 

But the real answer lies in accepting ourselves now. With our faults and our bad moods and our crazy idiosyncracies.  This is who we are and the only way we will ever be happy is to accept it.

So I am learning to accept that it’s ok to lose my temper sometimes, and that it’s only natural that I get frustrated with my children. It does not mean that I am a bad mum or that I don’t love them. And it’s also ok to want to improve and control my temper more. It’s just that I need to do it in a realistic way, not by beating myself up because I don’t have the serenity of a Tibetan monk.