Have you ever been given the option of opting out of Mother’s Day? A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Scilly Flowers www.scillyflowers.co.uk saying: We’ll soon be sending emails about flowers for Mother’s Day. Understandably some people find this a difficult time of year. If you would prefer not to receive these emails please just opt out by clicking here. Don’t worry, you won’t miss out on any other news or offers we just won’t contact you about Mother’s Day.

I applaud this company’s considerate and sensitive gesture towards anyone who finds Mothering Sunday a difficult day for whatever reason – bereavement, adoption, stillbirth, dementia and yes of course, for mothers who live apart from their children.

Given the chance to opt out of Mother’s Day has got me thinking about how mothers apart might choose to opt out or opt in to a range options. It’s rare for businesses hoping to profit on mother’s day to give us this choice, but this need not stop us from thinking about how we might do this ourselves by setting boundaries and managing the day on our own terms.

Here are some opt out and opt in suggestions that you might like to consider:

  • Opt in to being around others who acknowledge your status as a mother, who know you are a good mum, who care about what you feel and have your best interests at heart
  • Unless you have the resilience and desire, opt out of doing anything lavish to acknowledge your own mother or anyone else on Mother’s Day. A simple gesture might be all you can muster if your heart is aching
  • Opt in to what you feel will be most manageable for you on the day. There is no right way, only the way that feels ok for you, whether this be ignoring the occasion, staying at home, having a complete change of scene or cracking on with a project that will leave you with a sense of achievement at the end of the day
  • Opt out of taking care of anybody else’s feelings if your mood is low. Make taking care of your own needs your priority if the day is difficult for you. If someone around you refuses or isn’t capable of cutting you some slack – make sure you do this for yourself
  • Opt in to the belief that everything changes. I understand that this can feel almost impossible to believe when you are suffering, but time passes and our circumstances and perspective can change. To bolster our courage and inner strength, it can be useful preface our worst fears with the phrase, “If I allowed myself…”. For example, “If I allowed myself, I could believe that I will always feel this way, however, the reality is that neither I nor anybody else knows what tomorrow will bring.”

Whatever you choose to opt out of or into, I wish you peace of mind this Sunday.

Warm wishes

Sarah

 

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“That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.”  Simone de Beauvoir

In her book ‘Forgiveness & Other Acts of Love: finding true value in your life’, Stephanie Dowrick writes openly and compassionately about the six great humane virtues that can transform how we view our selves and relate to other people. They are the qualities of courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity, tolerance and forgiveness. When we live apart from our child, paying attention to these values can support, guide and sustain us at difficult times, like Christmas.

I first read Dowrick’s book in the hope of gaining a greater insight into forgiveness, a difficult practice for many mothers apart from their children as they struggle with the pain of grief and loss. However, once I had the book in my hands, I realised that the virtue of forgiveness was the last chapter and that on reading – courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity and tolerance were important building blocks to the challenging task of working towards forgiveness of others as well as ourselves.

Perhaps the virtue that could sustain us over the Christmas period is that of generosity. Generosity, says Dowrick, expresses and increases love and that every missed opportunity to be generous erodes our experience of love, connectedness and spirit.

Generosity is looking beyond ourselves and understanding that we are all part of the human race. However, we know only too well that life can be unfair and other people can be withholding and malicious. Being repeatedly kind hearted to others who neglect us or treat us badly could at best, be ungenerous to ourselves and at worst, allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of by others. Some women in particular can be overly generous through conditioning or wishful thinking that the favour one day will be returned, from someone who is unable or unwilling to be generous. So we need to be at least as generous with ourselves as we are with others.

When we extend generosity to others, we are in the moment, paying attention to what would be a kind hearted gesture towards them. Whether it is a big act of kindness or a common courtesy, we are momentarily freed from the grind of our dissatisfaction, the hatred we can feel towards others because we are feeling unlovely inside ourselves. Softening our hearts and extending kindness liberates us from resentment, anger, the narrow lens of our own perspective. Generosity allows us to connect to others and feel less alone, we feel a part of the community, a member of the human race. A generous act can lighten a heavy heart.

How can we be generous? It requires that we stop and think, examine our intension, make a choice. It requires will. We hurry down the road and when we choose to allow someone space to come in front of us, we have momentarily stopped and reached out beyond the bubble of ourselves. When we make time for rest when we are tired, we have momentarily stopped the drive to keep going because we think we should. Both of these acts of generosity create a space for a moment of inner peace.

In what ways could we be generous to ourselves and others over the Christmas period and during the year ahead?

Spend time with others and feel connected. Take time alone and replenish yourself.

Make allowances for other people’s stress reactions.

Hurting yourself with punishing thoughts is unnecessary. Until you have evidence otherwise, choose to believe the least hurtful reason for someone letting you down.

Listen to someone without interrupting them, finishing their sentence or moving on to talk about yourself

Let yourself off the hook. You know which hook!

Smile at someone. Smile back at someone who smiles at you.

If you are grieving, allow yourself time for this process.

Be tolerant of others who are not grieving. If you can’t feel happy for them, that’s ok. Do what you need to do to take care of your own feelings.

Do what you need to do to get through the Christmas and New Year period. Do you need to keep to your usual everyday routine? Do you need to make a new Christmas and New Year tradition? Do you need to be happy around your children when you see them but give yourself permission to do and be how you really feel when you are apart? Give yourself at least one treat this Christmas, what do you need – a gift, a walk, to book a holiday, a duvet day, good food, a box set….? Whatever it is, you’re worth it.

Wishing you a peaceful New Year.

 

 

“Patience is to wait for the ice to melt instead of breaking it” Munia Khan

Just days before Mothering Sunday, snow is falling lightly outside my window. It is certainly unseasonal, but the fall of snowflakes, gentle and unhurried, makes me think about the advantages of holding how we mother and how we see ourselves as mothers more lightly.

For mothers apart from children, lighter touch mothering usually comes to us when we are done with trying so hard it’s almost broken us. When pleading, begging, yearning and bargaining hasn’t given us the relationship with our children that we long for. Before this stage, the idea of letting go of the holding space seems abhorrent and impossible. From a place of deep pain and fear, we tend to either hold on tightly trying to influence others to make the relationship work or, we give up and walk away, perhaps in anger or feeling that we haven’t succeeded as mothers.

Lighter touch mothering when we have contact with our children

When we have contact with our children, noticing when we feel desperate for a particular response can set us free, particularly on days considered significant, like Mother’s Day. We set ourselves up for disappointment when we have expectation or even the hope that our children will give us recognition or a treat in a way that we would consider special. Lighter touch mothering means not being attached to a particular way or frequency of contact. We love our children, but we don’t try to persuade or encourage them to give us what we want when we want it. We also gently remove ourselves from mindset of being defined by our children and their lives. When we stop watching from and waiting in the wings, we find we are free to express ourselves on our own stage instead of living life as a bit part.

Lighter touch mothering when we don’t have contact

If we are able to find a lighter touch approach to mothering when our children are not in contact with us, Mother’s Day can feel less painful or like a personal slight. Consider the circumstances of your estrangement and if you know you have done all you can to make your intension for contact and a loving relationship clear, then it could be wiser to ease off awhile. Frequent contact when there is a lack of understanding, hurt and anger can result in entrenched views and prolonged deadlock. After a break, unless your child has told you not to contact them, a lighter touch can provide a little time and space for both of you to reflect. How light a touch will vary, perhaps just on significant days like birthdays or religious or cultural events. Lighter touch mothering allows us to love our child, remain open to rebuilding the relationship when both of you are ready. It also allows us to live our lives. It brings freedom and relief.

Five suggestions for holding Mother’s Day more lightly

  • Don’t go to the ram’s house for milk. It’s not worth hoping to get support or understanding from people unable or unwilling to give it to you. Choose your company wisely on Mother’s Day.
  • Give yourself at least one loving, compassionate act of self care on Sunday. Ask yourself what you need. Whether it is time to relax or a shopping treat, give it to yourself knowing you deserve it.
  • Show an act of kindness towards someone else. This could be another mother, your neighbour or a simply a caring word to a stranger. Giving to others enhances their lives and ours.
  • Get outdoors for a while. Spring is out there somewhere. A walk can ground us and lift our mood.
  • The morning is wiser than the evening. Remember this Russian proverb if the day is difficult. Don’t react rashly in the evening. Hunker down, it will all be over by Monday morning.

Take very good care of yourself.

There is no magic wand or right way to help us through the tough times. But without could haves, shoulds or musts, each of us can tune into what we need on days that are harder than others. As Mother’s Day approaches, I offer all mothers apart, whether or not you have contact with your child, three ideas to support you to take care of yourself.

Looking

In her book, ‘On Looking’, Alexandra Horowitz sets out to see the spectacle of the ordinary. I usually suggest getting out in nature for lifting low mood, but the concept of looking is wider than this. Looking is about reawakening the power and beauty of observation. The idea is that wherever you are, you observe your surroundings – the buildings you walk past, the cracks in the pavement, the flowers or weeds that grow according to their own cycles. There is no goal, we simply observe. Looking is a frame of mind. A real bonus to this, is that when we pay attention to our environment we disrupt repetitive thoughts, negative narratives and painful memories – a good strategy for taking care of a heavy heart on Mother’s Day. Looking at your surroundings takes you out of your head. It helps us to see more of how life is unfolding around us instead of being preoccupied. We notice the world instead of missing both the everyday wonder of things and the children we love.

Cherishing

We need to cherish ourselves. No matter what someone else might have said about you or however hurt you feel by the behaviour of others, you are worthy of self acceptance and self care. It is possible to accept ourselves for who we are and allow ourselves to be as human as the next person with faults, strengths, weaknesses and virtues. We are the best thing we have got going for us, we are the greatest thing that will ever happen in our lives! How wonderful that we can decide how to live no matter what other people think, even if our worth is ignored and even if we are rejected. As Eleanor Roosefelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Nurture yourself on Mother’s Day and on every other day – you don’t deserve a second class life. You have the right to make yourself happy.

Comforting

Take comfort from knowing that you are not the only one living apart from her child on Mothering Sunday. If it helps to be with those in a similar position, reach out to other mothers apart by joining the charity, MATCH. As a MATCH member you will be able to phone the new helpline and speak to other mothers apart. If it feels too much to share your circumstances, you might gain comfort from reading Rosie Jackson’s new memoir, ‘The Glass Mother’, her compassionate personal story of living apart from her son and ultimate reconciliation. Do whatever it takes to get through or better still, enjoy Mother’s Day. For some, this will mean hunkering down, having a duvet day and avoiding the hype on social media. Others will allow themselves be comforted and cherished by someone who loves and cares about them. For others still, being involved in a completely different activity, one that doesn’t involve flowers, chocolates and Sunday lunch will be just what they need. Djembe playing, canicross, aerial hoop exercise, fly fishing….do whatever it is that makes you feel good. You are allowed to have fun and enjoy yourself!

However you spend your day, remember it will only last for twenty four hours. The sun will set and a new day, presenting new opportunities will dawn.

Take very good care of yourself.

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”  Albert Einstein

For many people, 2016 has been a wearing and emotional year. War, migration, financial hardship, uncertain political outcomes that were too close to call, have created division. The ending of the year is an opportunity for everyone to pause, reflect and avoid conflict in the interests of peace.

As mothers apart from children, we have our own challenges as we grapple with hurt, anger, provocation and strive for goodwill and peace of mind. As Albert Einstein suggests, we can’t force others to keep peace. But we can choose the path of peace ourselves. You might ask, why bother when others seem committed to conflict? Bother because you are worth it – your physical health, emotional wellbeing and your right to happiness are more than enough reasons. Stories on The Forgiveness Project website describe the power of choosing to forgive in order let go of resentment and find inner peace. In choosing this path, you also model dignified and compassionate behaviour for your children, whether or not you have contact with at the moment. How can we achieve peace? Einstein says it can only be achieved by understanding and I do believe that it’s true. Peace is easier to achieve through understanding, than through gritted teeth.

What does understanding and the pursuit of peace mean for us when we live apart from our children at Christmastime?

Avoid magical thinking. If you are estranged and without contact, don’t get taken in by warm, glowing images of family gatherings in adverts and nostalgic Christmas songs. These sensory stimulations can fuel magical thinking that estrangement can just melt away and all can be made better just because it is Christmas. The cause and impact of rifts need to be understood and reconciliation requires both parties to be willing and able. If your children are young, perhaps they are not emotionally or mentally developed enough and maybe your ex partner is not supportive of this. If your children are young or fully grown adults, perhaps their life stage or circumstances mean they are just not ready yet. Whatever your circumstances, both parties being ready means that you don’t plead, beg, insist or demand, that it is not just you doing all the work.

Keep it simple. If you have contact with your children remember that no amount of hype, spending or activities will make up for the past. Expensive gifts won’t buy you the love of your child. Providing nonstop entertainment won’t make you (or your new partner) more easily ‘forgiven’ or accepted. Rebuilding and maintaining relationships after family breakup takes time and understanding. One special day of the year won’t cut it when what you’re dealing with is the incremental work of a lifetime. There is no magic to be made or found on Christmas day, so relax. Breath. Be fully present in the moment with your child. You are enough.

Shake it off. Whatever your circumstances, allow yourself the right to happiness. Build in time for peace and reflection. Turn off the TV and device and be still awhile. Get outdoors, there’s nothing like a walk to lift your mood. Chat to others in the supermarket queue. And when it all gets too much for you, let it go. As Taylor Swift sings in Shake it off – ‘the players gonna play, the haters gonna hate, heartbreakers gonna break, the fakers gonna fake. I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

I shake it off, I shake it off’

That’s my mantra this Christmas!

A peaceful 2016 to you.

“Let go. No matter what it is, let it go. The bigger it is, the higher the reward of letting go and the worse the fall if you don’t. It’s pretty black and white. You either let go or you don’t. There really isn’t anything in between.”                      ‘The Untethered Soul: the journey beyond yourself ‘ by Michael Singer

I’m right with bestselling author, Michael Singer when it comes to letting go. When I discuss letting go with my clients, it’s not unusual for them to cry, “That’s impossible, I hurt too much” or “I love my child too much” or “Why should I let him/them get away with it” or quite simply, “I just don’t think letting go is possible”.

I needn’t tell you how hard the lead up to Mother’s Day is when you live apart from your child. It edges its way into our lives – from gift shops to bakeries, we are reminded not to forgot it. You can’t stop others promoting Mothering Sunday and you can’t control whether or how your child will validate you on the day. What you do have power over though, is how you respond.

Why let go?

So what is Michael Singer getting at when he says, “The bigger it is, the higher the reward of letting go and the worse the fall if you don’t”? What does he mean by reward? To my mind, living apart from a child is up there with the big losses. The pain of reduced contact, estrangement and rejection can feel overwhelming. Rejection on Mother’s Day can feel unbearably painful, if we allow our feelings to create thoughts about it. We do this in many ways like reliving the unfairness of it in our heads, or telling ourselves we are bad mothers and don’t deserve it, or imagining what our children feel by projecting our feelings on to them, to name a few. We hold on tightly to our perceptions, increasing our distress and creating Singer’s ‘the worse the fall’ scenario. To hold on to the pain stops us from living in peace and happiness – these states of mind are the ‘reward of letting go’. The good news is that you are capable of giving yourself this reward.

How do you let go?

Watch your feelings. You can’t stop your feelings, they will come and go and you do need them! Regard them like clouds moving across the sky, sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes dark and heavy. Observe them. Watch how easy it is, if you allow it, for your feelings to inform your thoughts to create a story, sometimes a very detailed narrative, which keeps you reliving, picking at yourself, doing anything but letting go. There is another way. Breathe. Feel your feelings, let them move through you. In my book, A Mother Apart, I write about allowing your heart to be broken rather than ignoring, fighting or feeding the pain. Don’t resist and get hooked into the story. Feel your feelings and know they will pass. Feelings are what we experience as human beings – but we are not our feelings.

When do you let go?

When you notice strong negative feelings, for example, the type you would associate with not being acknowledged on Mother’s Day. Tune into your body. Is your heart beating hard, do you have pain or knot in your stomach, do you feel you want to run away, fight or collapse internally? These are ways that our bodies experience stress and emotional pain. This is your cue to let go. When you start to feel urgent, like you have to take action right now, let go. Generally, the more you feel you can’t let go, the more you will benefit if you do.

As a mother apart from a child, if ever there was a day when it was important for you to let go, it is on Mother’s Day. Holding on to suffering does not turn back the clock or change anyone else’s behaviour towards you, that is their business. As Michael Singer writes, “It’s pretty black and white. You either let go or you don’t. There really isn’t anything in between.” Practice letting go this Mother’s Day and every day.  You don’t deserve to suffer.

Warmly,

Sarah Hart

 

“Christmas is not a date. It is a state of mind.”  – Mary Ellen Chase

I like this quote. If you look up state of mind in various dictionaries you’ll find that is broadly defined as your mood, your thoughts and feelings at the present time. Or ‘a temporary psychological state’ according to the Free Dictionary online.

If Christmas looms as a painful reminder of separation, rejection and loss, we can take hope from this quote. Firstly, because our state of mind is ephemeral – our thoughts and feelings come and go, just as Christmas will come and go. We can think and feel, understanding that this mood and this moment in time will pass. But also because we can remind ourselves that we have a choice when it comes to living with the challenging times. We can hunker down and wait it out when our energy is low – sometimes this is the best we can do at that moment. We could also decide that we will take some healthy, restorative action to try to lift our mood. Reading a good book, having a walk, massage or a long overdue declutter. As midwinter approaches for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, making sure we have time outside in the daylight is important to help boost our mood and guard against Seasonal Affective Disorder www.sad.org.uk . Consider buying a SAD light if you notice a dip in mood at this time of year.

Whether you are estranged, not with your children on Christmas day this year or are experiencing strong or painful feelings about being apart as the end of the year approaches, here are my don’t and do suggestions for the festive period.

 Don’t make any important decisions during this intense time. Christmas can feel a bit like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering weight and intensity as the 25 December approaches. If we see Christmas as a state of mind instead of the myth of fairytale happy families, we can avoid knee jerk decisions based on what life ‘should’ be like at this time of year according supermarket, toy manufacturer, perfume, chocolate or electronic device advertisers. Put important decisions on ice until calm returns next year.

Don’t react from a place of strong emotions. As much as we can feel a sense of urgency to reply or express ourselves – stop, breathe, think. Don’t let a longing for how Christmas used to or should be, or an ex-partner’s provocation or insensitivity push you into saying or doing something you will later regret. Very few occasions are benefitted from a reaction that hasn’t been thought through. This is particularly true when it comes to expressing anger or responding to anger in others. For your sake, for the sake of your relationships with your children, wait until the heat of the moment passes.

Do remember, it’s not about getting it right – it’s about doing what feels right at the time. Many mothers apart tell me about the pressure they feel to get things right, as if one action will hold the magic key to maintaining or regaining their relationships with their children. The stress they put on themselves to fix things is enormous and often overwhelming. Having to get it right is an unrealistic expectation. Do what feels right and true at the time and then let go. We can’t know bigger picture, we can’t foresee the future and our child’s life is their journey, not ours. The way to feel at peace is to be honest with ourselves when it comes to our intensions, to be clear about our motives. And when we are not sure, see ‘Don’t react from a place of strong emotions’ above.

Do keep going. In the challenging times, when you are blindsided by happy family stories, tinsel decked trees and children’s toys, take the day one hour at time and just keep going. Bolster yourself with the Persian wise men quote, “this too, shall pass”. Or Winston Churchill’s “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. Or Rudyard Kipling’s IF “ If you can meet with triumph and disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same”.

Do live your life. Whether you have money to spend or not, there is one gift you can give yourself this Christmas and for the rest of your days – permission to live your life to the full. Permission to make yourself happy, search for what gives you meaning, enjoy pleasures big and small. Even if life is not how you would want it right now, live your life. We can’t change or control anyone other than ourselves, we barely exist when we try. Live your life for yourself, and for those who love you and want you to be happy.

I wish you ease and comfort this Christmas. A peaceful 2016 to you.

Take good care of yourself.

Warmly,

Sarah Hart

 

‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any’.  Alice Walker

I love this quote from Alice Walker who understands the pain of being a mother apart – the last time I heard she was still estranged from her daughter.

What does it mean to have power in any given situation? Perhaps we feel this when we agree a parenting plan with our ex, or reach an acceptable financial settlement or achieve the status of resident parent. These often hard won examples quite rightly help us to feel empowered, validated and vindicated. But how do we feel when things don’t work out the way we would like them, when life doesn’t feel fair or right? How easy it can be to feel disempowered, unequal and less than.

Different ways of feeling powerless

There are two different ways to feel powerless. The first is caused by someone or something external such as, our ex having residency of our children, our child decides he or she wants to live with their father, we are obliged to pay maintenance to our ex even though contact with our children is being obstructed.

The second way we can feel lacking in power lives internally within ourselves. Some of us have an accumulated sense of helplessness from abuse or neglect during childhood. Others build up a sense of helplessness in the more recent past – having endured an abusive marriage is an example, the way we have felt undermined, bullied, undefended. Sometimes years later, we can still feel vulnerable, judged, criticised or guilt ridden. Even though we no longer have anyone in our lives putting us down we find that we are very good at convincing ourselves that we are powerless.

In my work with mothers apart from children I often see both external and internal powerlessness. Women who have lost so much – children, homes livelihoods – self belief, self worth and the ability to self care.

How can we empower ourselves?

Be wise about control

Stop railing against the things you can’t control. You can’t re-write a Cafcass report, or force the legal process. You can’t make a rejecting older or adult child value being with you or insist someone else changes their opinion of you. But you can change yourself – your point of view, your attitude, your actions, how you treat yourself – and feel a lot better for letting go of trying to control people or things. And sometimes when we change, others change too.

Take responsibility for your thoughts.

It’s your choice to adopt criticism from others as your perception of who you are. Allowing judgements and criticism from others to rule your thoughts will impact negatively on your behaviour. Don’t give others this power over you. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words – “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission”.

 

Watch your language!

Watch negative self talk. I hear mothers apart from children say the most cruel and undermining things about themselves – “I was/am so stupid, gullible, weak willed, it’s all my fault, I can’t forgive myself” – the list is long and the self punishment powerful. Pay attention to any self-defeating thoughts you have. Talk to yourself like you would to your best friend, not to someone you don’t like. You deserve to be spoken to with compassion and loving kindness, give that to yourself.

Review your point of view

Observe your mindset if you slip into thinking ‘I will never get over this, things will never change, it’s not fair, not natural, not right, not possible’. Stop! Really? Can you be sure? Bring yourself back to the present when your view on the world becomes dark, small and limited. Who is to say this thing that feels insurmountable isn’t the very thing that needs to happen. We do not possess insight into future, neither can we control it.

Choose potency

What a wonderful word! The Oxford dictionary defines potency as ‘The power of something to affect the mind or body’. Close your eyes and breathe in a sense of potency into your belly. Bolster yourself with these thoughts: Some things take a while, maybe months, maybe years. I will bide my time. I will shape up a good life for myself. I will be happy. To help you along your way you might enjoy the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou . Go on, read it out loud for all of us!

Warmly,

Sarah Hart

Although we know it happens every year, seeing Mother’s Day cards and gifts for sale in the shops can kick start what is called a frequency illusion, also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. This phenomenon happens when you notice something and then start seeing it everywhere. When we have strong feelings about something, the frequency illusion is bound to be heightened. For example, mothers living apart from their children might notice the date on which Mother’s Day falls, which can then lead to observing local florists and restaurants advertising the event with painful regularity.

Frequency illusion is a passive experience, in other words, our brain seeks out information that resonates with us, making us believe that there is an actual increase in the frequency of these occurrences. This being so, perhaps a more conscious, rational approach to Mothers Day will be helpful.

Are other people doing something?

So who is doing what on Mother’s Day? I’ve just searched the internet with the following ‘Mothers Day 2015’ and found there are over 35,100,000 results. If we’re not consciously aware of our own wellbeing, we could be blindsided by a bad case of FOMO at this time of year. In case you’ve not heard of FOMO before, new technology, particularly social media has coined this phrase. ‘FOMO’ stands for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. If you let them, happy family photos and messages on social media could leave you feeling hurt – you don’t even have to physically walk past Mother’s Day cards, flowers, chocolates, pink bubbly in the supermarket to feel excluded or envious. We can’t control whether or not our children will acknowledge us on Mother’s Day but we can take care of ourselves. Could the day be an opportunity for you to relax, create, take some exercise, book a trip, find a class, read a book? Whatever it is, do what feels right for you, never mind what others are doing or what they think.

Are you doing something?

Whether you’ve planned something pleasurable or spend the day doing something you’ve been meaning to crack on with, just do it – no matter how you feel. Instead of taking your lead from blue feelings and then giving up, practice watching your emotions come and go without trying to change them or push them away. This is what Buddhists call non-attachment. It doesn’t mean being like a stone. Watching rather than buying into our feelings becomes possible when we understanding them as passing and temporary. Upset comes upon us and it leaves and it can help if we don’t judge ourselves. In other words, we don’t regard our feelings or ourselves as either negative or positive. Try allowing feelings to rise, soften and fall away, rather than feeding and fuelling the drama of what we tell ourselves about our circumstances. So, even if you’re feeling unmotivated or resistance towards Mothering Sunday, allow the feeling and at the same time, start doing whatever it is you have decided to do on the day. Even though it’s not the aim, you might surprise yourself and find that you have a good time.

What thing are you not going to do?

Hot on the heels of doing something just for you on Mother’s Day, how about reconsidering what you currently do routinely? Maybe there are things in your life that you no longer have the time or energy for, such as a club or a class and you just don’t want to let others down by moving on. Perhaps it’s a belief or a behaviour that has had its day and you fear you’d risk losing part of your identity if you gave up on it. This might be the expectation of meaningful contact with your child at this point in time. It might also be the notion of taking off the hair shirt that we can inadvertently pull on when we live apart from children – ‘I should have done more or less, earlier or later, held my tongue or have spoken my mind or fill in the blank……’ –  leg traps all! If this resonates with you, there is no need to do this to yourself. It serves no one, least of all you. Make it top of your ‘no longer going to do’ list.

Whether you have contact or not with your children, whether they appreciate your love at this time or not, do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself this Mother’s Day. Do the thing you think you cannot do, especially if this thing is treating yourself with gentleness and compassion.

Despite the knowledge that from a religious perspective Christmas is the time of good cheer and celebration, this time of year can highlight the flaws in our lives. A lack of money when people are buying presents, illness or depression when others are partying or being alone in what feels like a world full of happy families. How can we best support ourselves over the festive weeks?

I hope the following scenarios help to shine a guiding light on finding peace of mind.

All that glitters

A mother apart had made good progress after feeling that her world had ended when her teenage son decided to live with his father. She was beginning to shine once again, discovering fulfilment as an independent woman as well as making time to be with her son, although he did not always want this. A few weeks before Christmas he asked her to go late night shopping with him. Swept up in a seasonal fantasy – an image of the two of them enjoying gingerbread cappuccinos and watching carol singers in the square – she cancelled what she had planned for the evening. Instead of her daydream, the reality was one hour with moody lad who demanded to be taken home once she had bought him the latest computer game. She drove home feeling cheated and manipulated.

It is wise to reality check the gold shimmering before us. Is it ‘realism solid’ or ‘fantasy plate’? The teenage years are a time of self focus, when thinking about a parent’s needs is unlikely. Remembering that this disappointing shopping trip is just as likely to happen when parents aren’t separated, can normalise and remove the sting. By ignoring the glitter – the longing for what we don’t have at this moment – and offering quality time that does not compromise us moving forward with our lives, we are best placed to enjoy a mutually rewarding relationship with our children if and when they are ready.

March to your own drum

A mother who was estranged from her two daughters, regularly sent them cheques inside of Christmas cards. Each year she waited with baited breath. If the cheques were banked quickly, she wondered whether it was a sign of change, perhaps a growing acceptance…or did the girls simply want the money? Every passing day without seeing a bank withdrawal filled her with anxiety and pain. Had they thrown the cheques away to demonstrate their rejection of her? As the years passed she sent larger sums of money which she couldn’t afford, hoping to see a quick deposit, perhaps even a note of thanks or phone call. She felt controlled even though sending cheques was routine created by herself.

When we become aware of the ways in which we give away our power, we are able to begin new, healthy rhythms to our lives. We take responsibility for our decisions, unswayed by guilt. For example, “I chose to send this amount and no more to show I care. Whether or not they choose to receive my gift is their choice”. We strive to find a good balance between taking care of own needs and offering to meet the needs of our estranged children, if and when they are open to accept this. We march with confidence to our own drum.

A time of giving or giving up?

A mother apart struggled to hold on to her seasonal traditions after her divorce. Quite understandably, she longed for her usual family Christmas, familiar decorations, food, music and games. One year her ex partner insisted the children spend the day with him. Another year her children told her they wanted to be with their dad. As Christmas was so important to her, she suffered weeks of anxiety while it was decided with whom the children will be. On years when they were with their father, she felt a lingering rejection and resentment.

The concept of giving takes on new meaning when routines of the past fall away. When we decide to let go of the past, we allow for new traditions to take shape, new possibilities that could be just as good or better. Giving up our desire to have things be a certain way can be done with a little goodwill on our part. If this feels impossible, then decide to let go for your own health and wellbeing. Emotional giving need not be giving up, if we make it our choice. To choose is to empower ourselves.

Lonely this Christmas

Lonely or alone? A mother who is regularly apart from her children laughed when she told me how her lively, loud, extended family pre-separation Christmases used to be. She thought she’d never adjust but now she loves being on her own, viewing Christmas as a day for being incredibly self-indulgent in an unselfish way. She feels she doesn’t have to make anyone else happy. With only herself to consider, she eats what and when she wants, reads for hours, goes for a walk. One year, she focused on de-cluttering and getting organised for the year ahead. She said Christmas alone is always a day well spent.

There’s not much I can add to this fabulous example of excellent self-care and making yourself happy! The 25th December is not a non-negotiable being together day. If you are going to be alone when you don’t want to be, make sure you choose how to spend your day. Even consciously choosing to do very little is healthier than feeling that very little happens for you.

Where ever you are, whatever you will be doing, I wish you comfort and peace this Christmas.

Warmly,

Sarah Hart

Counsellor, Dip IRC, MA, MBACP (Accred), UKRCP

Sarah’s new self-help book: A Mother Apart

Support for women

Sarah specialises in counselling and training women. She helps non-resident mothers find inner peace by dealing with guilt, distress and other difficult feelings which can be experienced when living apart from their child. Her self-help book, 'A Mother Apart', published by Crown House, is available now. She also supports business women grow in confidence whilst growing their businesses. To find out more, please visit Sarah Hart's website

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