I’m going to tell you the truth, again. We mums are only winging-it most of the time, and it’s an absolute bloody rollercoaster. There are however some very simple ways to bring in a bit more joy and help minimise the relentless grind of daily family life.
Yesterday morning, I awoke to the sound of two children coughing – and not in a ‘one hand clapping’ philosophical kind of way, just literally. One, Miss 5, was coming down the stairs from her room and calling for me, the other, Mister 1, lying beside me in the bed we share. I breastfeed several times overnight, so I haven’t actually slept through the night for more than a year. It’s by choice, but still, tired is the understatement of the century.
So, the kids cough and my eyes flicker open. Then, IT’S ON. From the moment I wake to the moment I close my eyes, everything is up for grabs – my time, my attention and most of all my actual body. I get tugged, pushed, spat-up on, watched when I go to the toilet, and emotionally cajoled all day long. Am I selling it well? Sure, there are huge payoffs for all of this hard work, but truthfully it ain’t no walk in the park.
The first mission of the day is to get Miss 5 to school. She doesn’t feel great after broken sleep from coughing through the night. She is sad. So I sit with her whilst changing the baby and I cuddle her and I tell her it’s going to be ok as if I know it will be. She doesn’t want to go to school, so I offer her breakfast. She doesn’t want breakfast. One hour later, I was still trying to get her to school even though the bell had in fact gone long ago. At that point, I decided perhaps she needed a day at home. She was sick after all, right?
Now, let’s head back to the real world of grown-up people for a second. I too have an actual non-mum life in some parallel reality. I have aspirations, I have goals. Following the empowering birth of my third child, I have an authentic and burning drive to offer my gifts to the world in a meaningful and lucrative way. So in the small amount of time I have to devote to that mission (literally between 30 seconds and 3 hours a week) I make plans and build empires, though mostly in my mind.
Coming into the new year I have felt that my inner voice, as well as my physical state both, could do with some tweaking. These two things if really working at their optimum might go some way towards levelling out the roller coaster that is my life as a mum. So I’ve decided to spend some time on personal development and physical exercise.
I say ‘decided’ because to actually get to the point where I am doing physical exercise beyond the one weekly Baby and Me Pilates class and walking the kids around town is a whole other story. And the mindset part.. well, there’s a potential can of worms.
Here’s a window into my mindset most days. I’m an optimist so I tend towards the positive most of the time, but even for me once subjected to the pressures of daily mum-life, thoughts can turn cloudy and even stormy alarmingly quickly. I could feel really good about myself and then because of tiredness and isolation, I could enter a room and suddenly feel inferior or unworthy. It is entirely unpredictable. And as such, it feels like I don’t get a say in it, even though I know that mindsets can be cultivated and trained.
Being a child of the 70s and 80s I have been an advocate of personal development for most of my life. I have the tools in the mental toolbox, so to speak, to have a healthy head on my shoulders. Louise Hay, Michael Bernard Beckwith, Tarot cards, the I CHING, and favoured astrologers have been great sources of wisdom and comfort over the years. And yet none of those tell you what to do when you don’t have time to consult them. I need quick and simple solutions, ones that don’t require concentration for more than five minutes (because my postnatally depleted body and sleep-addled brain can’t cope with that). So what can I do to feel at peace inside and out while I bring up my family?
The first obstacle to optimal mental health as a mum is being at the mercy of everything and everyone else. Your time is not your own. How do you maintain some semblance of peace of mind in this context?
Like with the morning described above I was literally running up and down stairs, making food, changing nappies, cleaning up dishes, answering phone calls and hastily throwing clothes on my own body. Despite my best efforts, I still didn’t even make it out the door. So how, in all that chaos, do I prioritise myself and get my head straight?
We always have our breath. No matter what, we have a secret magic wand within our bodies, we can always take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. The power of this small and transformational action must never be underestimated. We are NEVER too busy to breathe with awareness. Yoga says so.
The second obstacle to optimal mental health as a mum is our inner dialogue, largely influenced by the unrealistic and made-up world of parents as they are portrayed in media and popular culture.
So many of us honestly believe that our children’s noses should be snot-free, clothes perfectly clean and fashionable, and our homes immaculate – even if only on a subconscious level. We are bombarded with images of the ‘perfect home’ and we push ourselves to achieve it, even if it makes us unhappy and dissatisfied. It’s an epidemic of perfection, and it’s so unhealthy. I think I’m immune and then I catch myself doing it. That creeping feeling that if things were just a little bit more ‘just so’ then I’d feel happy, I’d have fewer feelings of inferiority and be more confident. It’s bullshit.
Solution: create your own story of perfection.
Put away the magazines, turn off the television, and write your own story of perfect family life. Decide what your values are, get clear on what you’re grateful for and love most about your life, then maximise the time and energy spent on those things. Do it on the kitchen chalkboard, take a picture and print it, frame it. Draw it in crayon and pin it to the pinboard. Make an online scrapbook on Pinterest. Doesn’t matter how you do it, but magic happens when you change your goggles and put different lenses in front of your eyes and look again. Generally, we so desperately need to let ourselves off the hook and get real about what gives us joy and brings more love into our days.
So here’s to you parents out there juggling your life between your pinky fingers, whilst you hold eight other things in the rest of your hands. I hope this gives you leave to look out the window whilst you breathe some air into your day and your minds. I salute you and your imperfections, I wish you love and joy and all things real in your pursuit of the family you wish to create. May you shine the same love and light on yourself as you shower upon your children.