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Mum guilt – love, loss and living in the moment

One of the things that tips petrol onto Mum guilt, turning it from a glowing ember into a ferocious fireball is the belief that we ‘should’ enjoy every moment. Here is my battle:

On the one hand I’m trying to live in the moment with my boys, fuelled by the very truthful platitudes of:

‘Make the most of each day’

‘You never know what’s around the corner’

‘One day, when they’ve flown the nest, your heart will yearn for these days’

‘You’re so lucky to have them. So many can’t’

But on the other hand, I’m stretched by the reality that amongst the heart-warmingly lovely, the beautifully mundane, and the ‘can this moment last forever’ it’s tough being a mum. The days can be long, meeting your needs becomes so second place that it can be hard to articulate what they are. There’s teething and whining, and snot for miles. There’s fighting and warring and sleepless nights. There are dark afternoons and tears and rage and loneliness.

These two things co-exist together in messy heap of mum guilt. We feel something negative, or moan about tiredness, and then there’s an internal stab of ‘well, you’re lucky to have kids that can make you tired. Because it means you have kids’. This is immediately followed by a familiar wave of silencing guilt. Nobody is telling me this, apart from my own mind. How can we balance the truth that having children is a wonderful honour, a miracle and ultimately a joy, with the day-to-day trials, the ups and downs and exhaustion? It’s hard to always live in the moment when the moments aren’t always breezy. It’s hard to exist in this tension of ‘it’s good, but man it’s hard’ when it’s so loaded with guilt.

I remember the tragedy of my sister’s cancer diagnosis at the age my boys are now. We lost her. I bet my mum would kill to watch us scrabble and fight for toys, I bet she’d sell a kidney to hear Emily whining at her legs for dinner. This adds clout to the shadow of guilt I’ve felt during the days of being irritated and exhausted by kids in tricky moods. How dare I wish for bedtime, when I have the living and loving kids that many have yearned for or lost? How dare I bemoan my kid-sapped energy when my own sister’s voice has long become a distant echo that I struggle to put tone to.

Even in the days we knew Emily had cancer, it wasn’t possible to swim around in a sickly sweet cloud of #soblessed. That’s not real life. We were living in an in-between time, the waiting room of her loss. It was painful a lot of the time, but not all of the time. Amongst the tears and the heart wrenching knowledge, there was joy and laughter, there were childish words and rough play, and there were tantrums and naughty steps.

I did have stabs of clarity, I did have moments where I looked at her and I just felt the weight of the future, the ripples of grief that touch you even before the loss happens. I remember our last family holiday to Centre Parcs, a family friend had generously paid for us to go. I remember waking early, excited to go and swim with my siblings in the kid-heaven pool. I went to her room and saw her sleeping peacefully, her face puffed by steroids, polka dots of historic cannula marks on her outstretched six-year-old arms. I gazed at her, I was a ten year old who knew that life was going to change in the most unimaginable way, and I thought I would NEVER fight with her again. I would never say a cruel or impatient word. I promised myself, and her sleeping form that I would spend the rest of her short life only loving her, being kind, and letting her monopolise my treasured Polly Pocket collection.

And then she woke. And we played. And we swam and we fought and I’m pretty sure she pinched me. Because that was real life, and that was living in the moment. Because that’s what kids do. They don’t suffer this existential weight of guilt that we’ve picked up along the way, like a downhill snowball building momentum, layered with ‘shoulds and ‘coulds’.

There will always be someone better or worse off than you. There will always be a heart aching tragedy to hear or read about. Oh man, and don’t they hurt even more when you’ve got your own children? You can’t help but slot yourself into the story, imagining what it might feel like when you hear of missing children and heartbreak. There will always be a reason to cast a shadow of pettiness over your feelings of irritation and your rants over the disappearing naptimes. If we negate and squash our human feelings with a constant stream of ‘yeah but’s then we will never process them, we will never reach out for help, we will never allow ourselves to be affected, impacted, changed and shaped by our circumstances. You are not a robot.

You see, even in living in the moment, you’ve got the invisible pull of the future and the weight of the past. Living in the moment isn’t about devouring it, swallowing it down, tattooing every word and smile into your memory. No, living in the moment is about being authentic to your experience, letting yourself feel even if that feeling is ugly or resentful. Even if that feeling is to wish that very moment away.

Living in the moment it’s about trusting that ultimately, you know you are grateful, you know you love and you know that those feelings will always be an undercurrent to whatever is going on. Living in the moment was about fighting with a sister I knew I was going to loose, because I trusted that I loved her, and she trusted that I loved her too. And in that moment, we were mad, and that was real, but it was fleeting as it mostly is.

Practice gratitude when you can. With practicing gratitude you’ll strengthen a trust that you have cultivated that undercurrent of ‘I am grateful’, like a stream that flows no matter what the surround is, or how bad the day is. You can trust that you don’t have to reprimand yourself every time you shout or glance at the clock wishing it would tick a little faster to bedtime. Something can be good, and hard, wanted and tough. A blessing and a trial.

My memories of being with my sister, Emily, are unsullied by the sense of pressure to enjoy and absorb it all that I seem to struggle with now. They were the rich spectrum of emotion that comes with relationship, the loving, the fighting, the impatience, the hugs, the highs and the lows. I think we could learn lots about living authentically from our kids. They feel what they feel in an authenticity that I seem to lack. They don’t seem to fear the fleeting feelings because they know that the foundation on which they can feel them is strong and unchanging. I love them. I can be mad and tired and frustrated, but I love them and that river rages stronger than any flitting sense of anything else, that in time ebbs like the waves receding from the shoreline.

That’s living in the moment.

Seasons Come and Go

The turning of autumn leaves, the burnt oranges and reds, always remind me of how nothing is permanent. No feeling is permanent. No depression, no mountain top high, no plodding along…nothing is permanent. It’s as if our life has seasons beyond the turning of the earth. I’ve had winters that have lasted days, months and years. Winters that have felt never-ending and hopeless. Dark clouds hanging, the air stagnant, thick and suffocating. I’ve had summers that have lasted minutes, hours, weeks. Where my heart has felt light and I’ve felt a swelling gratitude. Where I’ve felt carefree and excited.

So, are you in an Autumn? Where things are feeling stripped away and you just want to turn in and feel safe. Perhaps you’re in a Spring, a time of growth and change.

So if you’re in the midst of a winter, take stock. It will pass. It will. It simply can’t not. For nobody can stop the ticking of time that moves the seasons regardless off how still we stand. Or maybe, for you, the storm has passed, and it’s about standing and being grateful that you’re through it, and richer in experience and empathy than you ever could be had you not weathered that storm.

The Truth of being Human

One of the most difficult thing about being alive, can be the acceptance of our humanness.Humanness, by it’s very nature, is imperfect.

We all have a dark side, a tricky bit, a part we don’t like people to see. The ugly parts, the grumpy moods, the judgemental, critical, shouty bit. The messy, the angry, the downright irritable. The bad choices, the pain inflicted on others knowingly or unknowingly. The humanness.

Perfectionism believes that if we are good enough, work hard enough, say all the right things, then perhaps we can bury the messy side. Perhaps if we are perfect, nobody will know the hidden parts, the human parts.

Perfectionism constantly moves the goalpost because we’re relentlessly fleeing a part of us that will always be a part of us.

That’s bloody exhausting (oh how I know). We see of other people what we want to see. See my face? You think you know what you think about me, about everyone else. You think you’re the only messy one. Oh friend. If only you knew how true it were that you are not alone (Part of the reason I’m so candid with the information I share is because I know the projections that happen within these small squares, and I want to inspire others to be open too. We’re all together in our messiness)

Maybe it’s time we learnt to accept the messy side as as much of us as the presentable bit. It’s a little more openness about the rougher edges that enables us to empathise, sympathise and meet with others on a deeper level. It’s the honesty and sharing of human experience that enriches relationship.

Acceptance is the ‘Really? Me too!’ I’m not saying we don’t need to challenge ourselves to grow and change (for that is always a good thing when done gently!), I’m challenging that we slowly need to learn to accept (and one day maybe even love) themessy, raw-edged part of us instead of stifling our humanness with perfectionism and shame.

So, you perfectionists out there (my hand is up), we’re all a mess. A messy mess. A mix of ugly, beautiful mess. For that, my fellow perfectionists, is being human xx

Eat For You

The way we eat is often a direct insight into our relationship with ourselves. Woah…that’s heavy Anna! Yup, yup it is.

Tonight I had a healthy dinner planned. A sweet potato and chickpea scenario. However, I had an argument in my mind (or on stories) because I just wanted to grab the emergency pizza out of the freezer and inhale the damn lot (Husband: HANDS OFF). Anyhow, it got me thinking about how self-care comes hand in hand with eating well. Spending the time planning, making and eating good, wholesome food is a statement of care for yourself. It’s saying ‘hey, I’m worth the effort. I value my body’. I’ve totally lost that recently. During the week, my ‘three meals a day’ become caffeine, snacks and toddler leftovers. Basically anything that keeps that hunger pang at bay, shuts it up as if it’s an inconvenience and not a basic bodily need. I’m not trying to loose weight, I simply can’t be bothered. Enough need comes my way from small people, so therefore I refuse to listen to the needs of my own. I make and serve dinner in the evening, but thats when my husband is coming home. I feel challenged. Why do I deem him ‘worth’ the effort to plan, chop and stir, but when it’s just me, it’s grabbed mouthfuls and sugary sustenance.

I know that it’s not this black and white. It’s complex! Food is as complex as we are! I’m saying that it’s worth thinking about a little more. I’ve not been loving myself in the way that I’ve been making food choices recently. Have you?

Eating is a form of loving, its an indulgence, it’s a way to celebrate happiness, and a way to devour down difficult emotion. It can be enjoyed, shared, created. It can be denied, abused. It can be a constant source of anxiety.

For one person, eating a pizza can be a treat. For another, a self destructive binge. For another, a painful battle. Oh do I know all of these angles.

Let’s take some time each day to mindfully prepare and eat something. To tell ourselves that we are worth the time, creativity, effort and enjoyment of sitting down to nourish and fill our bodies.

PS – we’re eating the healthy dinner. Chips due Friday (always)

Lean On

Needing help is a weakness. Asking for it is shameful. That’s our cultural lesson. Self sufficiency is king. If we can’t fix ourselves, we’ve failed. If we ‘need’ from another, we’ve lost something of ourselves.This is my constant battle. My raging self-sufficiency is both a blessing and a curse. It can make one driven and resourceful, but the pressure on yourself is layered so thick that it can be hard for others to see you struggle, knowing that any offer of support will be rebuffed with a sharp defensive ‘I’m okay thanks’. It’s as if an offer of help is a statement of failure, or evokes a fear that someone has seen a chink in the armour.

And then I look at my kids. So quick to ask for help, and accepting it without hesitation. The simple, childlike acknowledgement that we aren’t made to thrive or survive alone. My three year old doesn’t falter behind layers of shame and fear of failure. What broke? Why did it become so complicated? Why did we become so individualistic? It’s not just sad, it’s not just missing the point of relationship itself…it’s destructive.

We are NOT MADE to do life alone. Vulnerability does NOT equal failure. Fighting against these truths leads to burnout and a loneliness in feelings because nobody else has been involved in your processes.

I challenge clients (and myself) to start to say yes to the offer of help and support that comes their way, whether it be help with a buggy in a tight doorway, some luggage up some stairs, or childcare. No matter how big or how small, how much you feel you do or don’t need it, exercise grateful acceptance. In many countries, people are part of close-knit, enmeshed communities where energies and resources are shared, and the line between friends and families are blurred. Help and support are seen as forms of love to be given and accepted, and not statements of failure and shame.

You’re worth someone’s energy, someone’s time. You’re worth help and support. That is what community, friendship, relationship and love is about.

Say Yes to Kindness

On Wednesday we did our usual rush to football. My aim is aways to grab a coffee to sip whilst fielding Charlie as Oscar plays football. Time slips away at home and I always cast an eye into Costa to survey the queue. If it’s too busy, we dash on. If there’s no queue, it’s latte time.On Wednesday time was pushed. As my turn came, I glanced at the time…we were running too late.. and said not to worry and turned the buggy to leave.

The guy behind me, without drawing a breath said ‘I’ll pay for your coffee’. He thought it was money that was my issue, rather than time.

I thanked him profusely as I scrabbled my way out.

I felt emotional! That selfless, kind gesture stayed with me all day.

I’m historically horrendous at accepting kindness. Fabulous at giving it but, oh gosh, shufflingly, squirmingly awkward at receiving it. If it had been the lack of money, would I have accepted or would I have rushed out rosy cheeked and embarrassed?

What stops us accepting kindness? A sense that we are only worth giving, and not receiving? A fear that to accept kindness is some sort of defeat that we aren’t able to fulfil our own needs? A feeling that we will somehow be forever indebted to that person?

What if we made a decision to accept kindness when it came to us, and give it when we felt moved to do so? Maybe it would become a second nature? Maybe it would challenge and change our sense of self-worth and value (and my roaring sense of self-sufficiency). Maybe it would remind us that we aren’t alone, nor are we made to do this crazy old thing called ‘life’ from our own resources. Maybe it would be worth a try, to say ‘thank you’ instead of awkwardly murmur ‘no thanks’ next time kindness comes your way.

Give Yourself Permission 

🚫🚫NO!!!🚫🚫 This term is batted around so generously. Yes, of course, recognise moments for their worth and enjoy them if you can. But, life can be shit. Days can be long. Tears can be plentiful and salty. Curve balls, words, moods, drama, trauma, tantrums, bad news, tantrums…happen.

You can feel like you’ve been depleted of the energy to even put one foot infront of another (if that’s you, focus on the movement not the moment…you’re doing it darling)…and then we get told to ‘enjoy each moment’. Way to pile on the guilt. There is SO much value in the practice of mindfulness and gratitude, but it can heap feelings of guilt onto the soul when the laughter and smiles don’t come so freely.

I want to say – be kind to yourself. If your day is tough, work is draining, family are hurting, your kids are driving you into the ground, and your focus is on making it through, PLEASE don’t beat yourself up for not ‘enjoying’ it. You’ll have days and moments where your heart practically bursts with enjoyment in life, love for your kids, content in the mundane, and you Cheshire-cat-grin your way through, but it’s OKAY to not always feel like that.

It’s OKAY not to savour every moment like it’s your last. So, whether you’re enjoying or surviving, that’s okay for now. You’re human. You’re not a platitude.

Question the 'Should'

I bet you slip the word ‘should’ into your vocabulary all the time. ‘I really should…’ or ‘I shouldn’t..’
Every time we do this, we are are trying to keep ourselves in check, telling ourselves we ‘should’ feel guilty if we don’t do what we feel we ‘should’ do. It’s an opportunity to conform to norms that are decided by ourselves, other people or society. It’s not always a bad thing, but it’s something that I always question with clients.

“I shouldn’t be upset about this”. Well, why not?? Who’s telling you that you ‘shouldn’t or who are you using as a comparison in order to invalidate your feelings and needs into something to be dismissed?

When we use the word ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ we are often reinforcing the negative or the fact that we are doing something out of duty or in denial of our feelings. I’m not saying you ‘shouldn’t do all the things you feel that you ‘should’ do. I’m saying that language has a huge affect, and it’s sometimes worth thinking about where we have got the beliefs that we ‘should’ do certain things or feel certain ways. It’s about reclaiming back some power, some choice and some responsibility.

Maybe change it for ‘could’?

Some food for thought! xxx

Don’t Be Fooled

It’s in our nature to present the best bits of our homes, faces; relationships, lives, children. I mean, why wouldn’t we! We KNOW that they are the best bits, we know that there are messy piles out of shot, that the momentary smile has been the only one in the day amidst the grumpy whining, or that the gorgeous meal at the fancy restaurant on holiday we shot, didn’t actuallllly taste that fab.So WHY then do we choose to buy into other’s representation of the better parts of their lives, their best angles, their tidy corners? No, we make a vast and dangerous assumption this is their normality throughout, and we end up self-critical and dis-enchanted.

Even the great parts of our lives fall under this shadow, thus we lose gratitude and enjoyment.

We know the truth of our own circumstances. We know our lives aren’t full of happy faces and ever-clean worktops. So, let’s continue to share the nice photos, but also write and share the rawer side of the truth too. But, lets choose to stop believing the total crap that the snapshots we see of other people’s lives, are the full picture.

Here’s my kitchen right now after a happy whirlwind of friends, kids and @blom_cards packing!

Move

Some days, we breeze through until we fall into bed tired and content. Some days feel like trudging through sticky treacle, every step requiring strength and muscle, and we fall into bed surprised that we made it through.Some people have more treacle days than others, for some, they are few and far between. Some treacle days are caused by circumstances – work stress, family dramas. Some treacle days are caused by black, hovering clouds inside tired minds.

Move.

Just keep moving.

Some days you’ll leap energetically. Some days it’s one step in front of the other. Some days, it’s tiny little baby steps inching and shuffling through the moments. But the important thing is that you move.

HOW?

1 – Identify what is keeping you stuck where you are. Is it fear of failure?

For some, to move is to be at work on time, to stay awake through meetings. For others, to move is just to make the difficult step of getting out of bed and getting dressed. Perhaps it’s perfectionism or depression. Try and identify what’s holding you where you are.

2 – Start small.

It’s not about ‘winning at life’, it’s about showing up. Be kind to yourself. What little, achievable thing can you do to ‘move’ forward today? Maybe it’s a little shake up of the usual routine, or perhaps it’s about making a call you’ve been avoiding, or jumping into the shower instead of living in your pj’s until the afternoon. Maybe you need to see a friend for encouragement or wisdom.

Whatever you do…just take one step (no matter how small) today that moves you forwards.

What helps you when you’re feeling stuck? xx

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