Besides being a counsellor, I have nearly 3 decades experience teaching early childhood education in international schools around the world.
I’m also a wife to my husband Patrick for nearly 30 years now, and a mother to Daniel who is 25 years old and working in London, and Ella who is also working in London and is 23 years old.
25 years ago, when I first brought Daniel home from the hospital in Geneva, Switzerland, I would’ve never dreamed I’d be sitting in Singapore with all of you, being asked to share my wisdom on motherhood with other mothers. At that time, I would’ve told you that I was the least qualified person for the job- not only for a talk like this, but for the role of being a mom.
I was the epitome of the stressed mom, constantly on the edge of a meltdown. I carted both of my kids off to daycare each morning and was the first one there to drop them off in a building where the lights weren’t even all on yet, and the first teachers to arrive had yet to take off their coats.
I’d pass my sleeping children onto the first available teacher who had empty arms and I’d scoot out the door, always in a rush to get to work. This daily occurrence began over a decade long practice of beating myself up regularly about not being a good enough mom. And then of course, overwhelming guilt followed my destructive thoughts.
Over the years of raising Daniel and Ella, I made being a mother the biggest and most important part of my identity. As if I were ticking experiences off a list that were needed to make a happy childhood, I aimed to provide all the best experiences for my kids- jumping in puddles and looking for rainbows, bedtime stories, home-cooked meals, and arts and crafts. The trouble was that I never did any of this with presence.
I was always stressed, overwhelmed and angry at myself for feeling stressed and overwhelmed. One night when I was putting my 7 year-old little girl to bed, she asked, “Mommy, why don’t you ever smile?” And so I added to my list of self-criticisms that I wasn’t smiley or upbeat enough.
That memory sticks out to me as being one of my saddest parenting moments, but it also stopped me in my tracks and made me realise a few important lessons that I’d like to share with you.
- As parents we need to recharge our batteries so that we have enough energy available to give to others.
- Give yourself permission to meet your own needs, recognising that this will not only enhance your quality of life, but it will also enhance your ability to be there for those that rely on you. For instance, you might listen to relaxing music, take a yoga class, hang out with a friend for an evening, or get a massage.
Of course, often our time is limited, and we aren’t able to take care of ourselves as much as we’d like. One limitation of self-care strategies is that they’re “off the job,” and can’t be done while you’re actually caregiving.
Thus, it’s important to also engage in “on the job” self-care. When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed when you’re with your child, you might try giving yourself soothing words of support. For example, try saying to yourself,
“This is hard right now, and it’s only natural I’m feeling so stressed”.
Or you might try using a self-compassion break. This will allow you to keep your heart open, and help you care for and nurture yourself at the same time you’re caring for and nurturing others.
Let’s take a moment if you are willing, to practice a Self-Compassion Break
I invite you to close your eyes if you’re comfortable with that, or lower your gaze.
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
Now, say to yourself:
This is a moment of suffering
Other options include:
- This hurts.
- This is stress.
Acknowledge to yourself that suffering is a part of life and a part of our common humanity.
- Other people feel this way.
- I’m not alone.
- We all struggle in our lives.
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt another soothing touch that feels right for you. Some options are:
- One hand on your cheek
- Cradling your face in your hands
- Gently stroking your arms
- Crossing your arms and giving a gentle squeeze
- Gently rubbing your chest, or using circular movements
- Hand on your abdomen
- One hand on your abdomen and one over heart
- Cupping one hand in the other in your lap
Say to yourself:
May I be kind to myself
You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
- May I give myself the compassion that I need
- May I learn to accept myself as I am
- May I forgive myself
- May I be strong.
- May I be patient
This practice can be used any time of day or night, and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.
One easy way to care for and comfort yourself when you’re feeling badly is to give yourself supportive or soothing touch. Touch activates the care system and the parasympathetic nervous system to help us calm down and feel safe.
It may feel awkward or embarrassing at first, but your body doesn’t know that. It just responds to the physical gesture of warmth and care, just as a baby responds to being cuddled in its mother’s arms.
Our skin is an incredibly sensitive organ. Research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin, provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions, and calms cardiovascular stress. So why not try it?
- I invite you to practice with me now, a soothing and supportive touch exercise.
- You may wish to Gently place your hand over your heart, feeling the gentle pressure and warmth of your hand. If you wish, place both hands on your chest, noticing the difference between one and two hands.
Some people feel uneasy putting a hand over the heart. Again, feel free to explore where on your body a gentle touch is actually soothing, and perhaps use one of the touches you identified in the self-compassion break exercise.
- Feel the touch of your hand on your chest or whatever body part it’s resting upon.
- Take 5-10 deep, slow breaths. Feel the natural rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and as you breathe out.
- Linger with the feeling for as long as you like.
Hopefully you’ll start to develop the habit of physically comforting yourself when needed, taking full advantage of this surprisingly simple and straightforward way to be kind to ourselves.
My story as a mom didn’t end on that sad note when my daughter pointed out that I never smiled. I continue to be a mom to 2 wonderful adult children who tell me regularly how much they love me and thank me and my husband for the wonderful upbringing we provided for them. You, too, will experience celebrations and joy throughout your time as a parent.
I continue to experience struggles, but I also find comfort when I remember that I’m never alone, and my struggles are a part of the human condition.
By Karen Hurworth, Counsellor working with children, adolescents and adults, Reviewed in December 2023
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