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At midnight last night I took part in an Australian national radio phone, ABC National Radio, Life Matters (A Mother Apart) on the topic of my book, A Mother Apart and the challenges facing mothers  living apart from their children.  I was rather apprehensive as I was really tired and doing a one hour talk back at midnight with a woolly head isn’t my idea of being on the ball!  Despite not being as coherent as I would have liked (don’t you just love the part of us that likes to point out what we didn’t do so well :o) – I was pleasantly surprised by the presenter, Richard Aedy’s sensitive approach and some really insightful and accepting attitudes from callers talking about their experience.  I spoke about the stigma and stereotype of ‘abandoning’ and ‘unfit mother’ as well as the feelings of guilt and shame that so many mothers apart feel.  We had a couple of dads who were accepting of their ex’s decision to choose to be a non custodial parent.  We also had a few very brave mothers apart who told their stories, including one mum who felt it was in her son’s best interests to live with his father in another country, as this is what he wanted half way through his childhood.  I was really impressed with her open door, open heart attitude.  I was such a good environment to talk about the importance of co-parenting without competing, putting our differences to one side and working at communicating well, for the sake of our children.

 

Part of my weariness is because I’ve been working my socks off to get my work life in order and my home sorted before my daughter arrives from South Africa tomorrow.  I can’t wait to see her, my little 3 year old granddaughter and my son-in-law.  They will be staying with us for three weeks.  I know that I am truly blessed to have the relationship I have with my daughter, despite her having grown up with her father, thousands of miles away.  What’s worked for me has been to stay in touch, to let her know I love her and miss her throughout the years.  We’ve had some difficult moments to be sure!  But amazingly, it’s been those times that have made me stronger.  As hard as they were, I was, over time, able to convert my pain and despair into an energy boost for the mother inside me, renewing my determination to hold on, keep loving no matter what.         

 

So it’s goodbye for a little while.  I’ll be back after my family holiday.  If you are a mother apart, please remember to take outrageously good care of yourself.  You’re no good to anyone else unless you do.  Yes, and I’ll remember to take a dose of my own medicine too!

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Our twelve Blue tits are doing well and I think all will survive despite two being quite a bit smaller than their siblings.  In the past we’ve noticed that they fledge over two days and I think the two or three little ones get fattened up for an extra day before leaving the nest.  They are SO cute!  Their eyes have now opened, and most of their feathers are in place.  They preen themselves and are beginning to stretch their wings.  They make such a racket I’ve had to turn the sound down on my TV link.  Mr and Mrs BT work from 6am to gone 9pm bringing in those caterpillars.  They are such wonderful parents – a perfect example of co-parenting!

The other day I heard a saying that I hadn’t heard in a while, “The best revenge is a life well lived”.  It’s got me thinking.  It’s strong and determined.  Its message of “I’m never going to let anyone treat me badly again – ever!”, is really clear.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  For lots of us who have had experience of having been crushed, belittled, humiliated or abused – a feisty mantra like this is a good one to live by.

 

There’s something about it though, that just doesn’t sit quite right with me.  It’s the word ‘revenge’.  Revenge is about the settling of scores, getting even, retribution.  I understand the sentiment well.  If you’re hurting and angry – making the other person see, can feel like justice is being done.  What bothers me is that revenge is too ‘other person’ focused.  Thinking about getting even is a waste of emotional energy that we could best use on ourselves in a more positive way. 

 

How about cutting out the first bit to create an affirmation “Mine is a life well lived”  It’s not as punchy, I grant you, but it is focused on oneself – which after all, is the only person we can change, control or influence. 

 

What does living well mean for you?  How can we nourish ourselves today?  What brings you fulfilment and happiness?  

The Blue tit babies hatched a week ago today and they have grown so much!  It’s hard to say exactly, but it looks like they are about a quarter of the size of their parents now.  Two days ago they developed a dark stripe down their backs, yesterday they had gown mohicans and today, much of their bodies are covered in a fine layer of dark feathers.  As soon as the parents can be heard outside, the babies cheep and gape.  Food is plentiful and Mr and Mrs BT are doing a fantastic job, working tirelessly poking caterpillars into the gaping mouths of their brood. 

 

The green caterpillars have hatched on the Oaks.  They abseil down from the trees and if you stand quietly in the woods, you can hear what sounds like soft rain but which is actually caterpillar poo falling to the ground!  This is rather a messy time of year for a walk, but very full of life and growth!

 

It’s impossible to count the babies.  They push and struggle against each other in the nest, jostling for pole feeding position.  Mrs BT still dives down the side of the nest cup to turn them although it’s getting harder for her to do this.  She burrows down so deeply that only a couple of centimetres of her tail feathers can be seen!  It must be tough for the babies underneath as the brothers and sisters on top must be quite heavy.  Last night Mrs BT slept beside them instead of on top of them.

 

I wonder whether all the babies have survived and how long it will be until they fledge!

 

 

 

This Sunday, 11 May, is Mother’s Day in 62 countries around the world.  Millions of moms will be given cards, treated to breakfast in bed or taken out for lunch.  They will be hugged, kissed, thanked and told how special they are.

 

But for mothers whose children live elsewhere, Mother’s Day is usually the most painful day of the year. 

 

More women than most people realise live apart from their children.  Even today, when amicable separations occur, mothers who don’t live with their children are regarded as at best an oddity – and at worst, unnatural and selfish.  Whatever the reason for separation, living apart from a child can be devastatingly painful. 

 

Mothers apart experience a double whammy. They face the judgement of the outside world, usually the actual responses from the people they come into contact with and what they read and hear in some of the media, and they are also judged by their ‘inner’ world – the negative things they tell themselves.  Negative inner judgement erodes self-esteem and destroys confidence. In particular, mothers apart from their children face the challenge of:

  • The loss of everyday motherhood
  • Stress, if they are battling with an ex-partner and trying to help children torn between two worlds.
  • Guilt, tormenting themselves by taking on too much responsibility.
  • Shame if they’ve lost custody – some mothers apart keep their status as a mother a secret to avoid probing questions and possible criticism. 
  • Social stigma – it’s still more socially acceptable for men to live apart from their children.

A message for you if you’re a non-custodial mother…

 

Although it might feel like it, know that you’re not alone and it is possible to live a full and happy life and be a loving mother, living apart from your child.  Don’t allow guilt to get in the way of your relationship with your child, a new partner or indeed having another child.  Let go of trying to be a superwoman.   Maintain as much contact with your child as possible, perhaps through a third party.  If you have contact, listen well to your children and be as honest as possible – this is the way to build trust and increase your chances of a good relationship in the long term. 

 

Find the support you need.  Create an understanding support team around you – your friends, family and, should you need one, a counsellor who understands the loss experienced by women separated from their children (see www.amotherapart.com).  Read and do the exercises in my book, ‘A Mother Apart:  How to let go of guilt and find happiness living apart from your child’.

 

Mother’s Day tips for non-custodial moms…

 

Being such a money making occasion, Mother’s Day is difficult to avoid – but you can make things easier by preparing yourself emotionally. 

 

Please make a commitment to take outrageously good care of yourself on Mother’s Day.  In particular,

 

·         Remember, you are and always will be your child’s mother 365 days a year, no matter what has happen in the past, or what might happen in the future. 

·         Remind yourself that giving birth to a child is a huge achievement.  Sit quietly for a while and honour your status as a mother. 

·         Buy yourself some flowers.  Plan a special treat or, better still, ask your partner or a friend to take you out for a springtime walk, a health spa day, a delicious meal or whatever you love doing best!

·         Keep your heart and your door open, you never know what’s around the corner.

Mrs Blue Tit has been incubating the eggs properly for the past thirteen days now and I think they’ve finally got the hang of things.  I was quite worried last week as it was obvious that Mrs BT was unhappy with Mr BT’s slow progress in bringing food to her in the nest.  She was positively scolding in her behaviour.  Gone are the days of an elegant kiss to accept his courtship bug offerings.  As soon as she started to incubate, she snatched food from him, quacking and twittering loudly.  She muttered to herself in the nest, and shouted to him to get a move on!  Sometimes she would disappear for ages and the poor chap would look confused and call and eat the bug himself in the end!  Then I noticed that she started to imitate the gaping behaviour of chicks, beak opening wide and crying for food.  I think she’s doing this to give him some practice and to inject a sense of urgency into him.  It seems to have worked as he’s bringing her caterpillars very regularly now and she seems more content to stay on the nest and she’s stopped yelling at him.  Perhaps she takes the signal to incubate from the high volume of caterpillars being brought to her – the leaves are green on the trees now, which means all sorts of caterpillars are being born.  Still no sign of the Blue tits staple green Oak caterpillars though.  They must get their timing just right as it’s such a small window – only a couple of weeks.  

 

I think Mrs BT is a bit hot in the nest box at the moment, as she peers out every now and again and takes very short stretch and preen breaks on the bush right outside the nest.  She’s only away for a short time though and she’s turning the eggs very often.  Perhaps hatching time is very near. Can they really cope with 14 babies? 

 

It’s beautiful here in the woods today.  Summer is on the way!

Nearly a year since their daughter disappeared, I heard Gerry and Kate McCann giving an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.  Their dignified attitude and calm response to questions by the media has always struck me as amazing.  They are clear about defining their campaign to find Madeleine as an awareness campaign, not a media campaign, saying that they are “real people, with real feelings, not characters in a book or soap opera”.

 

Believing that Madeleine was abducted as she slept, I can only wonder at how the McCann’s deal with what must be inevitable “If onlys..”  Even though a man was seen carrying a little girl wearing pyjamas like Madeleine’s, Kate was asked, “Couldn’t Madeleine have walked out of the apartment?”  I sensed its impact and wondered about the aim of that question?  Is it really suggesting just another possible answer to Madeline’s disappearance?  I would imagine the internal response of most mothers who, God forbid, would ever find themselves in this situation, would be the initial thud and squeeze of implied judgement, followed later by feelings of guilt and self-blame.  Mothers who are separated or live apart from their children know this well.  Unless these feelings are reality checked and nipped in the bud, they debilitate us.  They are also destructive to everyone else in our lives.  Who is served by our needless guilt and self-blame?  Are you holding on to any unnecessary negative feelings today?  What can you do to release yourself?

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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