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Mothers living apart from their children know a lot about heartache. To a greater or lesser degree depending on our circumstances, we know how it feels to be grieving or regretting, or angry, guilty, lonely, broken and tired to the bone of painful, repetitive thoughts.

For sure, many of us have a lot to heartbroken about. But it’s helpful to remember that life can be heartbreaking for everyone. We can find balance and take inspiration from others who haven’t, as far as we know, experienced how it feels to live apart from a child.

Sitting in the morning sunshine with a cup of coffee, I was expecting to pick up a few gardening tips from Alys Fowler as I read her weekly column in The Guardian Weekend. Titled,‘Heart and soil’, 29 June 2013, I was drawn into a very personal and poignant description of Alys’s own heartache and most hearteningly, her method for living with it. Sharing that her husband has cystic fibrosis, a long-term illness for which he is frequently in hospital, she described how time in her garden restores something in her. Alys says, “If you are feeling blue, have hit a wall you’re unable to climb, or it all just feels unfair, can I suggest you go pull some weeds?” She points out that there is evidence that a bacteria in the soil called Mycobacterium vaccae boosts the immune system and our serotonin levels. “Gardening is about the now, but is also a statement about the future. The best of gardening is never instant; it comes in the form of a packet of seed and has jeopardy, hazard and heartbreak built in, but wonderful rewards, too”, says Alys.

I think Alys’s description of gardening is an inspiring metaphor for our lives. Life isn’t instant, it’s an ever changing process. Like a packet of seeds, there is risk, danger and heartbreak. And yes, there are wonderful rewards too. Despite rejection, misunderstandings, alienation and antagonism, if we look for it and allow ourselves, we will also experience joy, serendipity, pleasure and contentment.

How can we as mothers apart from our children receive lightness of heart?

Accept that life is a mixture of up and down. Can we hold an intention of turning towards all of our experiences with compassion, without forcing anything, especially when we are hurting or feel ugly about things or other people. We can lighten our load and our hearts by treating ourselves with kindness and non judgement. Not as something to strive for or achieve but as something to offer ourselves, to allow the possibility of that being there in the mix, even when we are broken hearted.

Cherish yourself. If you’ve been giving yourself a hard time lately, stop. There is no need. If we’ve done things we would rather not have, that’s alright, we were doing the best we could at the time. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with us. We are ok. It’s wonderful to be who we are. Our feelings are appropriate. We are right where we’re supposed to be.

We don’t have to be controlled by what other people say, we don’t have to try to control them. We don’t have to be manipulated, guilted, coerced or forced into anything. We can learn to say, ‘I love you, but I love me too. This is what I need to take care of me.’

Set down the burden. Sometimes for the sake of your wellbeing and that of others, it is best to let go. Maybe just for a while to regain your strength, sometimes as time passes you might come to know it will be for a longer while, maybe even forever. When it comes to family relationships there are no guarantees, no ‘this is how things should be’. There are only people, sometimes cruel or misguided and often just doing all they know how to do right now. If holding on is causing you pain, give yourself a break. You don’t have to suffer for love.

If you have a heavy heart, why don’t you try a little gardening therapy? You don’t need a garden, even getting your hands into the soil as you sew a pot for your windowsill will do. I’ll let Alys guide us – she says, “When you’ve got enough soil on your skin to lift your heart a little, sow some seeds. If you are feeling truly broken, sow something for around the corner: a late sowing of basil, dill or nasturtium to eat in a month or two; flat leaved parsley to take you into autumn; honesty, foxgloves, viper’s bugloss and stocks so that wonderful crescendo happens again next year”.

I’m off to get some soil under my fingernails.

Until next time,
Sarah

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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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