Category Archives: Motherhood

04Feb/13

Do You React like a Child?

I have realised that a lot of the discord in our house is made worse by my own reactions to it.

I can give up my food, lose my sleep, give my children my gloves and socks on a cold winter’s walk, let them choose games, films, where to sit, what to eat………all in a mature adult way. That’s what mums do.  We put our children first, trying to ease their discomfort, not minding if we don’t get to choose the cake first, or sit in the front of the car. Sometimes I do mind, but I can sacrifice these kind of things with equanimity.

What I can’t cope with are their expressions of negative emotion: the arguing, complaining, the anger and frustration. It makes me feel so uncomfortable and out of control that I react to them as a child would. Immediately.  Without pausing and thinking. Without empathising with them. Only thinking of myself, my emotions, and how I can get control of  the situation, and smooth things over again.

John Gottman, in his wonderful book, ‘Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child’ explains that how we react to our children’s emotions reflects how we respond to our own.  Sadly, I have had to admit that this is true in my case.  In some areas I am not emotionally intelligent in the slightest.  I hate being angry or upset and have spent my entire life resisting it, trying to eradicate it, believing myself and my life to be seriously flawed in those instances.  I realise now, that as a perfectionist, I needed to control it. Anger and sadness have no place in a perfect life, so they were obviously Very Bad Indeed.

Now, while I am trying to raise a happy family rather than a perfect one, I understand the value of negative emotions and the choices we have in responding to them.  I know of many better ways of acting and talking to myself and my children in these situations to validate the feelings, accept the situation, set limits on behaviour and come up with solutions if need be.  Unfortunately my emotional side is not with the programme yet.  It seems to be many years behind, and I worry whether it will ever catch up.  Knowing something intellectually and rationally is one thing.  Knowing it emotionally in the heat of the moment is another thing altogether.

What further confounds the problem is that I wear my heart on my sleeve. It is easy to tell what I’m feeling, without me having to spell it out.  I’ve always thought of it as a sign of being honest and just a part of being me.  Now it seems a lot like a lack of self control – call it stiff upper lip if you like.  When the emotional going gets tough I just can’t keep it together.  It all comes out – like a five year old – directed at the people closest to me.   It’s like I am stamping my feet and shouting ‘its’ not fair!’  Knowing intellectually what I need to change doesn’t help me react in the moment, and even makes it feel worse because I am aware that I could be behaving differently, but can’t. It can be very frustrating, especially when I behave in a way that I’m telling my children not to.

But another important thing I’ve learnt in the past 2 years is that in order to change this and improve my emotional reactions, I need first to accept that it’s ok not to be perfect at the moment. This means being mindful and kind to myself when it happens.   I also know that to change a habit I need to focus on the new habit and have a plan of action.

So, I have compiled a list of  ‘alternative parenting responses’ for myself and my husband to use in the heat of the moment when we  start to get frustrated about the kids being upset or misbehaving.  We have practiced noticing what triggers our annoyance, and then started using the new responses. It will take some hard work before it feels natural or becomes a habit, but we’ve seen some small green shoots of success already which spurs us on.

It seems I may be able to grow up after all.

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.

17Dec/12

The Best Parenting Tool Ever?

I imagine many of you, like me, are continuously searching for the holy grail of parenting, that one fail-safe technique that will solve the majority of your parenting troubles in one hit.  Even though rationally I realise this is unlikely, even impossible, a not-so-small part of me still hopes to stumble across a priceless gem of insight in a book, article or blog that will create such a massive ‘a-ha’ moment that it instantly changes my life.

Alas, this has never happened.  But I’ve had many near misses.  And the main reason that they are near-misses, rather than hitting the jackpot, is that they all involve me changing my behaviour, rather than focussing on my children changing theirs.  I know, how annoying is that?!  When you’ve got 40 years of habit and experience of thinking the way you think, and 10 years or so hard practice of mainstream (generally inefficient and counter-productive) parenting tools in the bag, you don’t really feel like changing the script, do you?  We’ve all invested so much in doing it the way we do it for so long that we don’t much feel like jumping ship now.  Not to mention the fact that it’s a very hard, long and frustrating journey changing our own ingrained behavioural habits.  And besides people might think we’ve gone soft on our kids. God forbid.

But the trouble is these near misses are the real deal, the treasure that we have been searching for. It is simply because we find it so hard to change our own behaviour that we discover our treasure is locked behind very thick iron bars.  Tantalisingly we can see the prize but can’t get to it. The only way to unlock it is to go on the long and arduous hero’s journey of personal change.

I’m sorry folks, but that’s the way it is.

The best parenting tool is changing how we think and act in order to change the way your children think and act.  This is a long term, investment-heavy journey which takes a lot of focus, practice and commitment.  But the prize is there; can’t you see it, glimmering in the twilight, waiting for us?

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.

30Aug/12

How Was it for You?

The Jolly-Bynes at The Olympic Park

How have your summer holidays been?

Some mums love the holidays, enjoying the freedom and lack of school runs, ferrying children to clubs, packed lunches and ironing school uniform.  Others dread the seemingly endless hours that need to be planned, organised,  and ‘got through’ without much of a break or time to recharge.  I seem to vacillate between the two, loving it one morning, frustrated the next.

The two things I struggle with most over the school summer holidays are the constant mess and the repetitive, needless arguments.

The never-ending mess that my children make, and the noise and anger they express when they are arguing really affect me.  However much I try not let it get to me it seems to tip me towards feelings of overwhelm and stress.  Basically, they make me feel like I’m out of control.

You would have thought that after 10 years of parenthood I would have got used to these feelings – after all children seem to be designed to make you feel out of control.  But I suppose I have to accept myself as I am, without judgement and keep trying compassionately to work out ways to improve.

Over the last year what I’ve learnt from my new mindfulness practice has helped me to react more calmly and carefully, and cope with noisy and messy situations better. I am also trying to ‘get comfortable with the discomfort’, which means acknowledging what is going on, and focussing on the feeling rather than trying to change it. This is as difficult for a beginner as it sounds, so I’m not having a huge amount of success!

Overall though, my school holiday’s have gone well. We didn’t kill each other and actually had some fun. The Olympics were amazing, and we were lucky enough to take the kids so see 3 events – although they did get fed up with me saying:  “But it’s the Olympics. In London! Never again in your lifetime!”

As always the summer flew by and I can’t believe they are back to school next week.

It would be great if you could comment below on what you love and hate about the school holidays and what strategies you use to get the most out of them.

Thank You.

05Jul/12

Why Happiness is a Necessity for Mums

As a happiness coach, I’m passionate about the many benefits of being happy.

More and more research is showing that being happy leads to people being more creative, more resilient and more successful. Happy people perform better, have better social lives, longer marriages and are healthier too.

So why do so many people – especially mums – think that their personal happiness is not important?

I think this is because firstly our society doesn’t put a high value on happiness – prefering to measure success in terms of career, money, celebrity and power. Secondly, mums are used to sacrificing a lot for their children – sleep, time, social lives, careers, flexibility….the list goes on – so sacrificing their own happiness becomes accepted as just what mums do.  We tend to think of  actively seeking happiness as being an indulgence.

But things are slowly changing.  A new area of psychology- Positive Psychology  – is now looking at what makes people happy rather than how to stop people feeling ill & depressed.  What researchers have found over the last 20 years has been amazing. Not only is happiness evolutionarily necessary (it helped our ancesters invent new tools, be creative and develop more physical and mental resilience) but the key things that contribute to happiness are the simple, everyday things that are accessible to all of us.  You’ll be glad to know that money, celebrity and power are nowhere on the list.

Being a happy mum helps us to nurture happier children who have a better start in life, and develop a mindset and set of skills that help them throughout their lives.  So being a happy mum is not an indulgence, it is a necessity if you want your children to have a happy and successful life.   That’s all a mum really wants for her children isn’t it?

03Jun/11

Savour the memories

A couple of weeks ago I came across the Mother’s Day Card that my 9 year old son gave me in March.  It had been in a pile of other cards and drawing that the children had done, so I rescued it and placed it on the window sill.  Every night I look at it when I go to bed and it makes me smile.  As my son would say, ‘It makes my heart feel good.’

Research has shown that people who savour the good things in their lives feel happier than those who don’t.  And the good news is, we can savour a single experience in three different ways.  Firstly we look forward to it, then we experience it (make sure you are present in the moment if you want to savour your experience as it happens) and thirdly, we have our memories to look back on.

What are you going to savour today?

And for the mums and dads out there: check this website out for a novel way to savour your golden memories. Don’t they look gorgeous?  http://www.keepsakecritters.co.uk

27May/11

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.

Homeward bound.

Sitting on a train last weekend, I had a lovely moment.  I’d just spent a weekend in Manchester with my cousin Ana, and I was looking forward to a peaceful journey home to see my husband and children.  As I watched the beautiful English countryside whizz by I slowly felt my heart fill with joy. Ana and I had spent most of the weekend chatting, eating and doing a bit of shopping. We’re close but don’t see each other much, so having nearly 48 hours to catch up was a luxury. It was nice for me to get out of the family routine for the weekend too. I went to bed late, could be relaxed about timings, had no children demanding things of me, didn’t have to tidy up (Ana wouldn’t let me) and slept in till 10 both mornings. We savoured patisserie cakes, Brazilian tapas, cocktails, and a proper English fry up. As a mum, it felt so good to step out of my everyday role, and remember what its like to just be me.
 
As I travelled home, my thoughts returned to my children and I looked forward to hugging them, hearing how their weekend had gone, and settling back into family life again. I felt lovingly grateful and appreciative of my husband who eagerly took on the job of looking after the kids all weekend. I expect that he should be able to and happy to do that, but before I went I thought grateful thoughts about him doing it. Now I feel my gratitude in my heart. It all reinforces the old cliche….absence makes the heart grow fonder.
 
I also think it’s about stimulating the brain by experiencing novelty, getting out of the regular routine, and recharging my sense of self. This is especially important for parents I think. Personally I came back feeling renewed, re-energised, reconnected with my cousin and my family, and an all round happier person.      
21Apr/11

Saving a Bad Day

When you are feeling low, unmotivated, tired or fed-up how good does your life feel?  And how does your day go?

Well,  mine used to go terribly. My bad days were Pete Tong, pear-shaped, disasters.  But recently I’ve been learning how to save the day.  Here’s what to do, but remember –  if it really is a bad day, following these tips might not be easy. I’m still learning.

  1. Notice how you are feeling.  Try not to think: ‘I’m annoyed and fed up, the whole world is a stupid place.’  Instead just think: ‘Today I’m feeling grumpy and angry, and that’s ok‘.  It might help to try and work out what the real problem is, but sometimes we are just grumpy and tired. It could be something simple like you’ve not got enough sleep, or you’ve had an argument with someone. Or it could be something more complex like being scared of a new project, getting out of your comfort zone, or worrying about getting everything done. Whatever it is, it’s easier to accept it, and deal with it if you know what it’s all about.  But sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what the issue is, and that’s ok too.
  2. Be kind to yourself.  This involves accepting how you are feeling.  Don’t say: ‘I can’t be tired again, I’ve got too much to do today. Just pull yourself together and stop being so useless,’ because chances are you’ll go through the day not achieving much and hating yourself for it. Not a nice way to spend a day.  Be more realistic and accepting of your limitations: ‘OK, you were woken up a few times last night, so you are bound to be tired. Don’t beat yourself up about it, it’s ok.’
  3. Lower your expectations.   When you are low on morale, energy, inspiration, faith, passion or drive you will not get as much done to such a high standard as you are used to doing.  It’s a fact, don’t fight it. So instead of filling up your To Do list with loads of things that ‘Must Get Done Today’, filter out the jobs that can wait for tomorrow.  It might not feel good lowering your standards, but it will help you survive your bad day in a better frame of mind.  Personally I hate having to do this, but I’m getting to know the alternative is worse.
  4. Take time to recharge.  When our phone is low on battery power, we recharge it.  We are less good at recharging ourselves.   And I used to be particularly bad at it, even on my low days.  I would struggle on, feeling bad, using what little energy I had left to beat myself up and walk around in circles not achieving much.  Now, I accept the situation and do something different.  If my mind is not working, but my body is, I might do housework or ironing while watching TV. If I’ve had a bad night’s sleep I might lie down and rest for half an hour. If I am feeling completely useless, I might get the duvet and watch Pride and Prejudice, or I might go out and meet a friend, or go shopping for things I’ve needed for a while.  And although I still find it hard to give myself an hour or morning or ‘OMG a whole day’ off, it’s usually worthwhile and better than battling on.  Because later in the day, or the next day I have more energy and motivation.  (Note: if every day becomes a duvet day, that’s a different problem!). I know I am lucky working from home and not everyone can choose not to turn up to work, and obviously I can’t do this all the time. When I have workshops or coaching clients, or when I have to pick the kids up from school and cook their tea, I can’t just cancel.  But I can still be kind to myself in between the crucial jobs by doing things that recharge me or take the least energy.
  5. Support yourself. When I can’t take time off, I try to support myself to do the things I have to when I’m feeling angry or resentful, or tired and fed-up. The main thing is to be gentle and not battle against yourself. Also telling myself   ‘it will pass’  helps me a lot.
  6. Congratulate yourself.  Ok, lets be honest, we Brits are not great at patting ourselves on the back, but I’m learning to. Not in an over the top way, but in a gentle, ‘well done, you did your best, you’re only human’ kind of way. On a bad day I praise myself for not telling myself I’m rubbish or useless, and for doing all the great things I do do every day, not least, looking after my children.
21Mar/11

Life is a Gift.

My proud husband with no. 3.

My first nephew, Dylan, was born yesterday morning and I was able to watch a short video of the precious bundle less than 12 hours after his birth, courtesy of Facebook.  And seeing his mother gently stroke his check conveyed so much more than a simple photo would. I could almost feel him and smell him myself, so strongly was I reminded of my own three newborns.  They are truly such miracles of nature, and a reminder in the busyness of daily life to treasure more of the wonders that we live through – but don’t always notice -everyday.