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“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.

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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

 

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

Mother’s Day tips for non-custodial mothers…

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 today.

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. Having given birth to a child is a huge achievement. Sit quietly for a while and honour your status as a mother.

That said, it is essential to remind yourself that being a mother is only part of who you are. For many of us (especially in the early days of separation) it feels like a really big part but make no mistake, our status as a mother it is part of us not the whole of us. Many mothers are so used to being involved with their children’s lives they lose touch with their own. Living apart from our children is like experiencing premature empty nest syndrome. Children leave home eventually which means that at some point in your life you would need to address being without them. For us, this life stage arrived earlier than expected. Like all mothers who reach this transition, ask yourself: What would fulfill me? What have I always wanted to do but never got around to? Don’t let guilt get in the way. Take off the hair shirt – it’s your life, so make sure you live it.

Buy yourself some flowers today. Plan a special treat or, better still, ask your partner or a friend to go with you for a springtime walk, tea and cake, a delicious meal or whatever you love doing best. Whatever you, know that you worthy of love and kindness so please give this to yourself.

Warmly,
Sarah

What is Parental Alienation (PA)?

PA occurs when one parent, usually the resident parent, undermines the child’s relationship with the other parent, resulting in the child’s rejection of that parent (target parent), based not on the child’s own experiences with the rejected parent, but rather as a reflection of the alienating parent’s attitudes.

How does PA affect a child?

The alienating parent’s needs are experienced by the child as more important and urgent than their own. They have to be loyal and devoted, and show they love the alienating parent best of all. Contact with target parent seen as a betrayal. Love becomes conditional, and the child feels they need to reassure the parent. In my experience, children tend to either align themselves with the parent they perceive as being more powerful (materially, emotionally and physically) to try to keep themselves safe, loved and validated, or, sensing the emotional vulnerability of the alienating parent, they take on an inappropriate caretaking role, sometimes feeling they need to step into the shoes once filled by the target parent. Either way, the child can swing from feeling intensely powerless in a painful situation to being powerful in ways that are not appropriate for them as a child.

How PA can affect you and how you can help yourself

PA is very harmful to children and heartbreaking for target parents. The following thoughts are offered as a broader strategy for managing PA.

Children affected by PA often adopt black and white thinking – one parent is seen as all good and the other, all bad. As target parents, we can get stuck in black and white thinking too. Our ex partner is all bad, family members are either all good or all bad, and as a target parent – a victim of PA – we are all good. As mothers apart from children, black and white thinking keeps us stuck. It doesn’t allow for the flexible, resilient attitude needed for us to champion our child’s right to a relationship with both parents. As painful as this might sound, I encourage you to consider the shades of grey in your personal circumstances. Here are some areas to reflect upon:

  • Put yourself in your child’s shoes and take an honest reappraisal of the situation. What would they say has happened to your relationship with them? It doesn’t matter if this isn’t the truth of the situation from your perspective. There is no one truth, we all have a different view and experience of the world. Look for any grains of truth that could guide you to adjust how you communicate with your child now or in the future.
  • Put yourself in your ex partner’s shoes and repeat the above. Even if your behaviour has been exemplary, having an honest look at the world from his viewpoint might guide you towards a different approach and/or help you to understand and support your child. Remember, this is not about letting him off the hook! Your reflections are about finding peace of mind and trying to build a relationship with your child.
  • What has changed over the time you have been separated? As mothers apart, we have a tendency to see our child as the age they were when we last saw them. Their behaviour, beliefs, values will change. How have you changed? For example, are you managing your emotions better now than in the early days after your divorce? Are you happier and stronger? Do you need to communicate your new perspective to your child or your ex?
  • How might life be if you weren’t separated from your child? Many families who are not affected by divorce and break up experience long lasting misunderstandings, rifts and estrangements. Most family units are far from perfect and many children either never truly separate from their mother (or father) or pull away completely, in order to separate. A mother’s job – whether you are a mother apart or not – is to let go so your children can come back to you.

Life changes everything and everyone. Failure to acknowledge this results in black and white thinking. If as a target parent you examine any part you had to play, honestly, without beating yourself up for any mistakes, the shades of grey you find can ease your pain and release you from anger.

Tips for communicating with your child if PA is taking place

  • Don’t react. It could be your child is being manipulated and is looking for evidence to reject you. Hold the adult place and don’t confuse your child with your ex partner even though they might sound like your ex partner.
  • Show empathy and understanding. For example, say “I read somewhere that sometimes children think they can’t love mum and dad once they are divorced, but you don’t have to choose”.
  • Agree to disagree. Don’t tell your child that she/he is wrong or doesn’t feel that way. Say you will agree to disagree and move the conversation on.
  • Being in the moment. Resist the desire to ask questions about your child’s life with your ex partner or continually ask how she/he is feeling. Focus on your time with your child. Be in the present. Have fun.
  • Talk about memories. Remind child of past happy times, show photos. Reminisce and repeat and build upon good times together.
  • Just love your child, even though you feel rejected and your child’s behaviour might be difficult for you to manage. Let them know you will always love them no matter what.

I wish you comfort and joy – you deserve nothing less.

There has been some confusion about the exact date of ‘Blue Monday’ this year but some say that Monday, 24 January, was officially the most depressing day of the year in Britain. Apparently, foul weather, debt, failed resolutions and a lack of motivation conspire to make it the most anxiety provoking of the year. As worry is a topic which is often discussed in my work with mothers apart from their children, I thought I would write about ways to manage it.

One of the worst things about worry is the way it seems to take over our lives. Worrying and obsessing keep us so tangled in our head we are unable to solve our problems. It can paralyze thinking and activity. Some of us are habitual worriers and have worried for years, sometimes having learnt how to be a worrier from our parents. For others, the act of worrying has crept into our lives when we became mothers apart from our children.

Whether you are a seasoned worrier or struggle with anxiety provoking thoughts from time to time, here are some home truths about worry:

  • Worry is a state of apprehension from anticipating a real or imaginary threatening event. It is therefore possible to put yourself through very distressing imaginings about something that will not happen. Worrying, obsessing and trying to control, are illusions – tricks we play on ourselves. We like to think this behaviour is solving our problems but it is not.
  • Many people are superstitious about worry, believing that worrying will prevent something bad from happening. Just like managing guilt so that we can make ourselves happy as mothers apart, it is important to manage superstitious thoughts that tell us that feeling peaceful and calm is bound to make something bad happen.
  • Most worriers would like to be completely free of anxiety immediately. Trying to change habits takes time. Like adjusting to living apart from your child, the trick is to take things easy, lower your sights and aim to manage worry.

Three tips for managing worry:

Organise worry. Set aside a time of the day to methodically review your worries. If a worry shows up before or after your worry time, write it down on your worry list for later. Choose a certain time of day and a place for worrying. Avoid your bed as it should always be associated with your peaceful haven.  My clients often say, “I can’t do that, I don’t have control”- but think for a moment about how many times you worry and are interrupted by the phone or some other distraction. This means that you do set worries aside without realising it. You can learn to put aside a worry and get on with living your life in the here and now. You will also notice that a worry that felt strong at 10am has shrunk in significance by a worry time of say, 4pm. Aim to reduce your worry time from ten minutes to five, to two minutes per day. If you begin to make a joke of your new worry time habit with other people, then so much the better.

Focus on solving the problem if it is in your control, not your “what if…?” thoughts. What precisely is the problem or goal? List all possible solutions. Asses the main advantages and disadvantages of each one. Choose the most practical solution, the one that will most easily begin to solve the problem. Plan steps to carry out the best solution, listing the resources needed and pitfalls to overcome. Review progress and remember focus on what you have achieved first, before what is still to be overcome.

Write a personalised Worry First Aid Card. Keep some worry reducing reminders in your handbag and read when necessary. Here are some suggestions:

“I know that thinking about future bad events make me anxious but I can cope with these feelings and I don’t have to exaggerate things by dwelling on these thoughts.”

“I can choose to act in a way that is in direct conflict with my worry. I can face my fears.”

“I can take constructive steps to solve problems and that is as much as anyone can do. I will now think of or do something else.”

Rehearse the statements until they become an automatic response to worry. With practice you will experience fewer and shorter spells of worry.

As ever and especially when you are feeling worried and anxious, take outrageously good care of yourself. Get outside for some exercise, eat mindfully, treat and pamper yourself and make sure you get enough sleep.

Until next time,

Warmly

Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top tips to see you through the Christmas period…

Don’t fall for the hype

It is easy to feel the pressure to buy and consume more than we can afford or need at this time of year. Remember that you have a choice. We can also succumb to the hard sell that convinces us that everyone else is having a wonderful, happy, family orientated time. The reality is that Christmas is stressful for most people, with or without their children.

Someone else’s rejection of you does not make you worthless

If your children cannot or refuse to be with you over Christmas or New Year, try to separate their decision or the circumstances from your sense of self esteem. Rejection does not mean you are wrong, bad or unworthy – it is someone else’s decision or choice at this point in time. Love your child from afar. Love them in spite of their rejection. Love them and take extremely good care of yourself because you are worth it.

Take excellent care of yourself

Take physical exercise to lower adrenaline and cortisol levels which keep us over stimulated and unable to sleep during stressful times. Even a short outing will help but better still, a walk in nature, the park or wood will help lift your spirits. Observe your surroundings. Blue Tits are searching for nest sites already – you too can look forward to the Spring. Indulge your senses. Treat yourself to scented candles, fragrant warm baths, soft towels, warming drinks, tasty food, calming music or when the mood takes you, a bit of a dance in your living room. Sleep is much underrated. We need sleep to heal and grow. Make your bedroom a comfortable, safe haven and take yourself to bed at a regular, reasonable time.

Let go of competitive feelings

You will always be your children’s mother. No one can take this away from you so relax into your status as their mother. Remain as constant as you can. We are in this for the long haul. Love and let go of competition. There is enough love to go around. If your ex or his new partner behaves competitively, remember that this about a drive within them and not about you. Do your best to detach from their behaviour and keep your focus on what is important – loving your children.

Watch out for perfectionism

Perfectionism undermines you and can be hard to spot. It pretends that it’s only trying to do a good job but secretly it feeds on telling us that whatever we are, whatever we do just isn’t good enough. Christmas day, the presents you have chosen, your children’s behaviour, your mood, the food, the weather and so on does not have to be perfect. A relaxed, peaceful happy you is far more beneficial to others and much better for your health and wellbeing.

You are enough

Whoever you are, whatever you look like, whatever you feel is ok and enough. You do not have to be Supermother – it would be dreadful if you were! Supermother would need to have Superchild – far too much pressure for you both. Focus instead on being and becoming more of who you are, the real essence of you. Tell yourself, “I am loving and lovable”, out loud in the mirror. Smile at yourself because it is true. Go and do it right now and do so every day over the holiday period and into 2011. Believe that you are enough, just as you are.

In my work with mothers living apart from their children the theme of forgiveness occurs often. Sometimes a woman is resistant to forgiving herself for a perceived or real upset or injury caused to others, particularly her children. Other times it is related to not being able to forgive others including ex-partners, new wives, CAFCASS and the family court system for the hurt and loss she feels.

Quite often, women struggle with both forgiving themselves and forgiving others, which when you take a closer look, makes sense. If we are not able to grasp what longing to be forgiven does to us and apply our understanding to change how we view our circumstances and actions, it is difficult to look beyond our viewpoint to gauge the cost to ourselves of harbouring resentments towards others.

In my book, A Mother Apart, I write about longing to be forgiven for something we did or did not do – “I should have left sooner, stayed longer, been less naive or less angry”, we say with remorse. I have observed that mothers living apart from their children, whether they have no contact or co-parent, are susceptible to expecting very high standards of themselves, feeling they should be ‘perfect’ mothers. They have the ability to turn a blind eye to the stress they were under at the time of separation and divorce – pressure from other people and a lack of physical and emotional resources – especially if separation from their child was linked to their need to move on and develop personally. Being truthful about the full circumstances of our separation is very important but only part of what needs to be done to move forward. We need to consciously put an end to the ways we punish ourselves too.

Let us turn to forgiveness of others for a moment. A mother apart might say, “I just cannot forgive him/her/them for doing that to my child/me. They should not be allowed to get away with it!” Now, I am the first to understand their anger and resentment and believe it is vital to express this. However there comes a time when holding on to an offence or injustice whether intended or a mistake, comes at too high a price. Research shows that those who hold on to resentments are more likely to suffer high blood pressure, clinical depression and other health problems than those able to forgive.

Hanging on to umbrage and indignation about the wrongs of others towards you keeps you firmly stuck in the past. Yearning to be forgiven by others stops you from being in the present and gets in the way of you shaping up and creating your future.

Actor Lily Tomlin said; “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past”, and I think this sums it up well. I would also add that forgiveness is also giving up all hope for retribution or revenge. Nothing that has happened in the past can be undone – we simply do not have the power to do this.

A lack of forgiveness of oneself or others blocks hope and the ability to move on. It leaves you feeling helpless and powerless. So, ask yourself:

  • If I feel bad about living apart from my child, how can I help myself to explore and acknowledge the truth about my circumstances without unfairly judging myself? For example, you could try writing your story and sharing and reality checking it with a trusted friend.

 

  • What action can I take to gently lead myself away from repeatedly thinking that I must be forgiven? Am I perhaps turning someone’s rejection of me (perhaps my child or the family court system) in on myself, making myself feel guilty and remorseful instead of grieving my loss?

 

  • What can I do to support myself to avoid ruminating over how I think others have wronged me? Remember, you are the one who suffers if you continually run past events over in your mind.

 

If you feel stuck with trying to cope with resentment, remorse or any other difficult feelings, please find professional help for yourself.

Until next time, take excellent care of 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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