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In all the excitement at Wimbledon these past couple of weeks (thanks to Andy Murray for giving it his all), I’ve been reminded of how easy it is to get locked into playing emotional ball games.  Perhaps you’re familiar with backwards and forwards, to-ing and fro-ing behaviour with someone else that usually involves a provocation, an insult or a sarcastic jibe.  For example, your knee jerk response – which you later regret – to:

  • An unnecessarily rude text from your ex partner following a misunderstanding about when you were supposed to take your child to his house.
  • Your child calling her stepmother, “Mum/Mom”.
  • A work colleague exclaiming “How could she!” on hearing that a woman in finance left her family home to be with another man.
  • Your father’s sarcastic comment about the long grass and weeds in your garden

and so on.

How to lose the game but win the match

If you’re aware of finding yourself playing emotional ball with someone, why not try the following 5 steps to lose the game but win the match:

  1. Imagine you’re in Centre Court.  Face your challenger head on.  Pause and breathe.  Observe their stance – what does it tell you?  Is there a deliberate intent to cause hurt or maliciousness?  Are they hitting out through ignorance, lack of experience or because they’re too young to know better (your child perhaps).
  2. Watch the provoking behaviour or comment – coming towards you.  Use your mind to slow it down and roll words up into a manageable tennis ball size.
  3. Stand still and relaxed in your half of the court.
  4. See the ball fly past your left or right side.
  5. Turn and leave the court in a dignified manner.  Without a word, calmly walk away.  Be prepared for a possible barrage of balls as sometimes opponents don’t like it when you stop playing the game.  Remember, even saying, “I’m not going to play ball”, is playing ball.

 What to do if you’ve already returned the ball:

  1. It’s never too late to stop playing even the longest running emotional ball game.  If you stop, your challenger will eventually give up when you’re no longer willing to play.
  2. Sit quietly and close your eyes.
  3. In your mind, press the Hawk-Eye button for an action replay.
  4. Then follow steps 3 to 5 above.

Remember that practice makes perfect so do keep at it throughout the year.  Finally, there isn’t any prize money for the winner – there’s something much more valuable and long lasting than £850 000:  the priceless emotional, physical and spiritual reward of calm, dignity and peace of mind.

 

Until next time, take care.

Warmly,

Sarah

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Who I am is what I have to give.  Quite simply, I must remember that’s enough.

                                                                        Anne Wilson Schaef

Reading about loss and grief of bereaved parents recently, I came across the research of Miles and Demi* who categorised five types of guilt that bereaved parents may experience. I was struck by how these five types mirror the feelings of mothers apart.  

The first is cultural guilt.  Society expects parents to be guardians of their children and take care of them.  Not to be in a position to do so affronts this social expectation. Causal guilt is the second type – a parent feels responsible for the death of their child through real or perceived negligence.  Moral guilt is when a parent feels that their loss was due to a moral wrongdoing in their present or earlier life, like a terminated pregnancy.  Survival guilt occurs when a parent agonises, “Why did my child die and I am still alive?” Finally, there’s recovery guilt.  As a parent begins to move through their grief and get on with their lives they feel like that they are dishonouring their child and that society judges them.

Some mothers apart have experienced the isolating agony of actual bereavement, some the living bereavement of separation whilst others still, know the despair of both.  Understanding that feelings of guilt connected to loss are multi-layered and broad reaching can help us find positive ways of facing up to and moving on from unhealthy beliefs and assumptions about guilt. 

As a counsellor who works with mothers apart from their children, I hear a lot about guilt.  Many women persecute themselves believing they are at fault. “If only I hadn’t done such and such…” or “I feel to blame because I said or didn’t say this or that”.  We feel we have let our children down.  That who we are and the degree to which we can mother from afar isn’t enough.

Here are some tips to help you challenge and assess any guilt you may feel:

  • Understand the function of guilt.  Guilt lets us know then our conscious is operating.  It acts as our internal barometer and it can guide us to face up to reality, find solutions to problems, make amends, to right a wrong.
  • Take courage and face your sense of guilt head on.  Talk your feelings through with someone you trust to assess your level of responsibility.  Reality check your guilt.  In my experience, mothers apart from children blame themselves, forgetting that it takes two to make or break a relationship – whether that be an ex partner or an adult child. If you are a victim of PAS make sure you accept deep down, that it is not your fault.
  • Be aware of self punishing behaviour.  To decide to end a marriage is a life choice, not an unforgivable sin.  We make some choices and others are made for us.  Sometimes we think we made a choice when the reality is that there were very few options open to us at the time – we didn’t have the information, insight, strength or resources.  If you left an abusive relationship, thank goodness you got out, you survived.
  • When appropriate, make amends but be mindful.  Amends shouldn’t be made when prompted by fear, because of what others think or to try to manipulate.  Check the appropriateness of making amends and what you say, particularly to children.  Get a balanced view from a trusted person first.
  • Take courage and examine your guilt.  Is it masking other feelings such as anger or making you avoid other emotions, like grief and loss.  Please get professional help if you need it.  Feel free to call or e-mail me to discuss how I could help and support you through telephone counselling.  Failure to resolve guilty feelings can lead to depression, feeling stuck and relationship problems.

If I had a magic wand to take away the guilt of mothers apart from children I would wave it straight away.  As I don’t, please tell yourself the following on a regular basis:  “I cannot make up for something I think I haven’t done or have done wrong by making myself feel guilty.”

Take good care of yourself.

*Miles, M. S., & Demi, A comparison of guilt in bereaved parents whose children died by suicide, accident or chronic disease, Omega (1991)

Knowing that Christmas and the no man’s land between the 24th December and New Year can be a difficult time for mothers living apart from their children, I’d like to share a few thoughts and coping strategies with you.

Listen to what you really need
Whatever is happening around you, whether it’s busy, too quiet, whether you’re feeling stressed or lonely – try taking some time to be still for a while. Sit and breathe steadily, close your eyes and relax your body. Be aware of any feelings of loss, hurt, anger or other mixed feelings. Ask the part of yourself who takes care of you – your inner wise woman – this question:

“What is the best Christmas present I can give myself?”

Try not to analyse or think to hard about it – listen for an instinctive response.
Perhaps you need to keep busy and involve yourself in helping other people.
Maybe you need time to be out nature, taking in the fresh air – alone or with others.
It could be that the best gift is to pamper yourself in a warm, fragrant bath by candlelight and with soothing music. Or maybe curl up on the sofa with a good book and a box of chocolates.
What you need in the morning might not be what you need at night. There is no wrong or right. Try to release yourself from shoulds and oughts. Trust yourself to know what you need.

If you’re not in contact with your child
If you don’t have contact with your child right now, why not try a symbolic act of remembering her or him and more importantly, to acknowledge the fact that you are the mother of your child? You could light a candle, release some sky lanterns or a helium balloon. Creating and adding to a memory box – a card or memento – can feel painful but try to assure yourself that your tears and painful feelings will pass. The release and sense of being ‘real’ and connected can help you feel better than trying to forget or deny your loss. Above all, be gentle with yourself. All we have is the moment we live in. Painful moments pass and no one knows what the future holds.

If you are in contact with your child
If you have contact with your child this Christmas, why not make a conscious effort to remember ‘good enough’ mothering. This holds true even if some of your children life permanently with you. Over compensating is a trap for mothers apart, whether their children are young or adults. Forget perfection, it doesn’t exist. At this time of giving, remind yourself to give ‘just enough’ – not too little but not too much either. This is goes for both material exchanges (presents) and emotional exchanges. Don’t be driven by guilty feelings to do or give too much. Check in with yourself: Does this feel reasonable? At what point would it start to feel unreasonable to me? Am I trying to buy love or forgiveness? Where is my ‘resentment figure’?

Just love them
No matter how hard your relationship with your child feels right now – just love them – whether they are near or far. Just love them. By so doing, you affirm your status of mother within yourself. ‘Just loving them’ can be a very powerful action as nobody can deny you your ability to love and ultimately, by allowing love to fill our hearts we expand our capacity to love others. You never lose what you give to love.

Wishing you serenity and peace this Christmas time,

Sarah

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!

 

 

 

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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