As a mother living apart from your child, how do you approach Mother’s Day? Some of us set out to ignore it as much as is possible and why not – it could be argued that viewing Mother’s day negatively will save you from feeling at best disappointed and worst, rejected. Others choose to make a day of it even if they are not acknowledged by their children. To adopt a positive attitude and enter into the spirit of Mother’s Day by pampering yourself or buying flowers could protect you from feeling pain or punished on the day. If either of these approaches work for you, stick with it! But if not, why not consider giving up trying to focus on either the negative or positive and give up the hope of Mother’s Day being either this way or that?

Giving up hope might not be as hopeless as it sounds. When you have done all that you can to maintain contact with your children to no avail, or you have tried to encourage your child to live with you or meet up with you more often – being willing to be with what is, the reality of life this very moment – can be a huge relief.

Being with what is means to stop trying to reach a place where we are immune to the pain of estrangement or being hurt by our ex. To look for permanent security and happiness in our relationships can’t help us either, as just when we reach a point of comfort, someone or something shakes life up again. It’s true too of blame. It might be that someone in our lives is behaving badly but while we keep the fire stoked under the pot of blame, we keep ourselves invested in it. Every time we try to push our pain away by blaming others who won’t accept responsibility or the part they have to play, we keep ourselves stuck.

Trying to hold on to lasting pleasure or happiness can be a useful teacher – we learn it cannot be done. Sooner or later someone says or does something to upset us – maybe we won’t get the Mother’s day card we hope for, or one might arrive without loving words, or a card with the right words might come but without flowers, or flowers and chocolates arrive but our children don’t want to spend the day with us. Can we accept that at that moment, we feel pain and disappointment and if we allow it, those feelings will pass – just as feelings of happiness, joy and pleasure will come and go?

How would it be for us to make peace with knowing that nothing in life is completely safe and sound? We will probably feel frightened and a little panicky. But if we can relax into the present moment, be with ourselves whatever we feel, warts and all – yes, our warts and wobbly bits are allowed, they are part of being human – we can gain comfort from not abandoning ourselves. To be with what is, releases us – it is a loving act towards ourselves. We can gain stability from accepting that nothing is totally secure. The paradox is that if we can relax with the free fall of life, we can restore a little firm ground under our feet. As Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, ‘If we are willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.’

I hope that this Mother’s day you will join with me in being with yourself just as you are, no matter what is happening in your life. If we give up the hope of Mother’s Day being as we would like it – we will have a chance of being joyfully with ourselves, present in our lives on the day. I believe you are worth this, I hope you agree with me.

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It might be considered the season to be jolly, but it is jolly hard being jovial when your Christmas is marred by difficult, little or no time with your children. In the run up to the holiday break it’s not easy to avoid the mass merriment of Christmas songs and cards, turkeys and tinsel to remind us how things ‘ought’ to be.

The busiest shopping day of the year (Cyber Monday) has already been and gone, but how can we hold fast through the commercial pressure and festivities when life is not the way we want it?

Trying to ignore the fact that the big day will soon be upon us can be just as energy sapping as striving to make sure it’s a happy one. Instead, why not aim for a ‘good enough’ Christmas and end to the year? Maybe if we pace ourselves, lower our expectations over the next few weeks, we can find some peace of mind.

Here are my suggestions for a conscious, ‘good enough’ Christmas time.

Your guiding star

Who, what or where is your guiding star? Who gives you sustenance, what has meaning for you and how can you draw on this over the holiday period? Whether your guiding star is your religious or spiritual belief, time to meditate, a world famous icon, a true friend or family member, or a book or poem that reaches your heart – keep them or it within your sights. Give yourself permission and space to reflect, read, talk and connect as one year ends and another begins.

Goodwill to all

Everyone has a place, everybody has value and you are no exception. If you are feeling redundant or lonely, let the season of goodwill begin with you. Have compassion for yourself – you are worthy of this. Compassion for ourselves allows us to feel compassion for others. Despite any injustice against towards you, aim for kindness and goodwill. Even just a smile, a hello and thank you to a stranger can bring you the warmth and nourishment to be gained from a small act of human decency.   

You are a wise woman

It might be the time for wise men but you can trust you inner wise woman. After estrangement or a hostile divorce, some of us have trouble believing that we can make good, healthy decisions. You don’t need to be perfect nor do you need to provide a perfect Christmas for your children. Be your lovely self – that way your inner wise woman will be at hand. If you make mistakes, take responsibility for them. That’s part of what we do as human beings. That’s how we learn, develop and become wiser still. 

‘Tis the season to be merry

Putting a brave face on things can cause us to lose touch with what we need and lead us to eat or drink too much. This is especially true at a time when so much is on offer – whether this be the office drinks party or the half price tin on chocolates. Taking care of ourselves means that we consider our actions. If we are feeling blue, would it help to limit quantities or time at events? Poor nutrition and too much alcohol will affect our mood. A lack of sleep or exercise will impact on our physical wellbeing. I like to use the twelve step fellowship acronym HALT to check in with myself. Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? If I am, I need to remedy it.

Don’t let your Christmas past betray your Christmas present or future

Make this very moment count then move on to the next. Don’t spoil today by ruminating or projecting yourself into another time or place. Be mindful of the phone, email, photographs or music taking you away from being with yourself and others in the present. If the present is painful, remind yourself that this too shall pass. Be in the here and now and nurture yourself in healthy ways.

I wish you ease and comfort this Christmas. A peaceful 2014 to you.

Until next time, take good care of yourself.

Warmly,

Sarah 

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

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

For mothers living apart from their children, the occurrence of Mother’s Day can feel like the unavoidable force of advertising pushing our noses into the painful reality of being estranged from our children.

An obvious place to start to remedy this is to remember that the pink cards, bouquets, chocolates and bubbly are a money making Mother’s Day marketing strategy that occurs after Valentine’s Day and before Easter. We can take comfort from knowing that we are not alone, that many mothers apart feel as we do and that like any day, it only lasts for twenty four hours.

How else can we look after ourselves and channel our energy away from difficult feelings like rejection, hurt or anger? Maybe these tips will help you this week:

You are more than being a mother

Whatever our circumstances, it is essential that we remind ourselves that being a mother is only part of who we are. For many of us (especially in the early days of separation) it feels like a big part but make no mistake, our status as a mother it is part of us not the whole of us.

Re-route your mothering

I am not saying that you should deny you are a mother to yourself or the world. I am suggesting that if you are not able to be with your children twenty four seven or your children do not want your hands on mothering at this point in time, divert your mothering ability elsewhere. Who or what would benefit from the mothering part of you? Is there anyone or anything out there that needs your special care and attention? Remember, to mother is not the same as smother. It is not wise to take responsibility for someone who is capable of taking care of themselves. Re-routing your mothering skills might simply be taking more time to listen to or act lovingly towards someone or something. Diverting your care and attention might take the form of voluntary work, supporting those less fortunate that ourselves, becoming a trustee of voluntary organisation or working in a charity shop. Caring enough to make a meaningful contribution without burning yourself out is what we are talking about.

Allow yourself to be mothered

Who roots for you? Who bursts with pride at your achievements? Who cares about you, your choices, your work? In her truly inspirational book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes says that we all have access to ‘the little wild mothers’. These are people who, when we take one look we think, “I am her progeny, I am her child, she is my mother, my grandmother.”’ We know instinctively that these women (and men) are ‘like the fairy godmother…mentor…the  mother you never had, or did not have long enough’. Be open to receive nurture from little wild mothers around you. We are all worthy of love and support, so make sure you find your supporters.

What floats your boat?

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 fulfil me? What have I always wanted to do but never got around to? Think back to when you were a girl – what were you good at, what were your hobbies? What interested you before you met the father of your children? Maybe the answer comes easily but maybe you’ll have to soul search. It is much better to quest for a while to find meaning in your life than to take the first shiny, pretty thing that is to hand.

Involve yourself as a woman in your own right

This year, Mothers Day in the UK falls two days after International Women’s Day, on 8 March 2013. In the lead up to International Women’s day there are a vast array of activities and gatherings for women. Take a look at www.internationalwomensday.com There are currently 1022 Women’s Day events across the world and 340 in the UK alone and the number of events keeps rising! What takes your fancy? Music festivals, markets, empowerment workshops, singing, belly dancing, business support, poetry readings and more. If you are struggling to find what lights your fire, you might just find a spark by involving yourself as a woman first and foremost.

From one woman to another, take good care of yourself!

Warmly,

Sarah

Christmas is seen traditionally as a time for happiness, celebration and in particular, a time for giving. Over these past few weeks, my work with my counselling clients who live apart from their children has often included exploring their feelings and decisions around giving presents to their children.
 
Circumstances vary. There are those who are anxious that they over compensate for hurt caused to their children by their divorce or separation. Some question whether they spend too much on their children as they compete with an extravagant ex-partner for their child’s approval or affection.  Hurt and angry after years of giving presents without acknowledgement or thanks, still others wonder whether they should send a card only or whether this could be misconstrued as unloving or selfish. Some fear gifts being returned or cheques remaining uncashed, and say with sadness that they are never sure whether their child even knows that they send presents.
 
If you usually give gifts at this time or any other, I hope that you achieve peace of mind with your decisions. I encourage my clients to examine and reality check their feelings so that they consciously choose whether or not to send gifts, as opposed to reactionary giving –  giving to try to avoid rejection or not giving because of feeling hurt or angry. I remind them that we have no control over how our children receive or feel about our gifts but what is important always, is our intention. Is what we send enough to show our love without attempting to buy the love of our children? Is deciding not to send a gift or card out of respect for our child’s request for no contact or to punish our child, an attempt to make our child really feel what they are missing out on?
 
Whether or not you are troubled by giving presents to others at this frenetic time of year, I would urge you to pause and consider ways of giving to yourself. Even without the pain of separation, Christmas is loaded with time restrictions and stressful must and should dos.
 
Here are my top five gift suggestions for you:
 
The gift of giving yourself permission to enjoy yourself
Many mothers apart feel unworthy of or guilty about letting their hair down and planning fun as well as nurturing activities over the holiday period. It is so important to you and those around you to give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. Why? When we are having fun we relieve ourselves of stress, regain a balanced view on life and relate to the people and world around us as safe, life enhancing and full of potential. Live a little, luxuriate, revel, kick up your heels – do what makes you happy.

The gift of a new tradition
Our mind is playing a trick on us if we tell ourselves that what we have done for years is the only way of doing things. If you feel in pain or overwhelmed by memories of how Christmas used to be with your children, create a new tradition for your holiday time. None of your previous customs are cast in stone. Feel as free as you truly are to redesign the old routines. Rejoice in the liberating opportunity of making new plans. Cut loose and shape things to just how you (and those who will be with you) like them.

The gift of receiving openheartedly
You are worthy of receiving gifts, attention, love, compliments – even if you are rejected by your children. You do not have to suffer. Take pleasure in receiving unreservedly, gifts, love and kindness from others. Accept openheartedly, without longing for the giver or gift to be someone or something else. Don’t lose sight of the good intention of the giver – to receive graciously, even a simple compliment, can be a rewarding experience for you both.

The gift of being in the present moment
Living in the past or the future separates us from reality of the moment. Of course it is natural to feel a sense of loss and sadness about not being with the children you love at Christmas but being stuck in feelings of disappointment and hurt for long periods of time does not serve you, your children or the people around you who care about you. At significant moments of the holiday period, stop, hold your child in loving thought and then honour yourself for being your child’s mother. Many people find a symbolic ritual like lighting a candle can help them be with their feelings in the moment, before letting go and moving on with their day.

The gift of serenity 
We can work our way though waves of grief but indignation and grudges keep us stuck. He or she might deserve your resentment and bitterness – but you don’t. Decide to side step the vengeful or galling behaviour of others we have to have to communicate with. No one has the right to steal your serenity. Choosing not to play the game or answer back takes you along the road of inner peace – surely the biggest gift you can give yourself.
 
To end this year, my wish for you is taken from a meditation of Lovingkindness:
 
May you be well, may you be healthy, may you be happy, may you be at ease, may you be at peace.
 
Until 2013, take very good care of yourself.

I regularly listen to mothers living apart from children who blame themselves. Self-blame highlights all the things we think we have done wrong, making circumstances our fault. Sometimes self-blame is linked to what we believe about who we are as people. We think there is something inherently wrong with us, that we don’t deserve anything other than to be treated badly.

Here is a typical scenario…I know a mother who lives apart from her children who won’t mind me telling you how she had for years, felt solely responsible for causing her children damage and pain. If she was telling you her story a while ago you would have heard her say that it was her fault for marrying the father of her children, she should have stood up to him sooner, she shouldn’t have been so emotional in court or as angry towards the Cafcass officer. Most of all she would tell you how she is responsible, she is to blame for causing her children distress even though her husband badmouths her, does not encourage the children to have contact with her and is not interested in co-parenting their children.

I also hear from women who do the opposite. They blame others – another person or group of people, making outcomes their fault. They tend to view the world through the lens of other people being totally responsible for causing them distress – their ex, their solicitor, their children or their parents for rejecting them.

Here is an example…Not long ago I had a conversation with woman who blamed her father for the many ways in which he had let her down over the years – he had divorced her mother and left her to live in another country when she was a teenager. When she tried to speak about her fears and worries, his problems were always bigger than hers. He had told her he would move back their ‘home’ country when he retired but he changed his mind and didn’t apologise for it. It was clear how hurt and aggrieved this woman was. She held her father responsible, blamed him, for how she felt even though she is 53 years old and he had died five years earlier.

What do these two examples have in common? Very painful circumstances edge us towards a tendency to either blame ourselves or project it on to others. It’s what we do in order to make sense of and try to deal with a host of difficult feelings. Whether we turn it inwards or push it outwards, both of these ways of blaming and fault finding have a common outcome – they keep us stuck in painful feelings and stuck in time. Self-blame generates remorse, regret, a lowering of self worth and eroding of confidence. Blaming others fuels anger, a desire for revenge, and a sense of powerlessness as we stew on the injustice of our circumstances. We don’t deserve any of this negativity!

If you recognise within yourself a tendency to self-blame or blame others you might like to consider the following:

  • With an honest heart, ask yourself whether you have a genuine need to take responsibility for your behaviour or circumstance which you might be avoiding because it feels too painful or hard to acknowledge. This might include a truthful look at how for example, you deal with your anger, how perhaps drinking is having a negative impact on your life and other people, how you monitor and manage depression and the like. Taking responsibility for yourself includes finding a professional to help you work through and take control of your behaviour.
  • When we blame ourselves, we often believe we are responsible for causing negative feelings and reactions in others, sometimes those who have manipulated or abused us and most particularly our children. Recognise that self-blame is a trap.  Blaming yourself serves no one. It does not make amends to anybody, it won’t take away anyone else’s pain, least of all yours. It won’t rid you of any guilt you might feel. Acknowledging and taking an honest look at our feelings is the key. A true sense of freedom and inner peace comes when we are able to differentiate between the things we are really responsible for and the heavy, unnecessary burden of other people’s responsibilities.
  • Blaming others is a form of protection. When we blame others we are trying to devalue or discredit them, and in the process we hope to find ourselves and our own actions superior to theirs. Consider healthier ways to boost your self-worth and confidence, ways that aren’t linked to or controlled by anyone else. When we choose not to focus our energy on blaming others (even though they have caused us hurt and harm), we avoid the unhappy high jacking of ourselves that comes when dwelling on them, giving the person we blame centre stage in our life. They don’t deserve the star role and you don’t deserve the torment.
  • Praise is the opposite of blame. Try turning self-blame on its head by appreciating and congratulating yourself for being the harmonious and wonderful person that you are. Likewise, try turning the blaming of others on its head by finding some redeeming trait or behaviour in this person, even if it is only that like all of us they are human and therefore flawed. Do it for you, not for them. Why should you? Because you will be shrinking the image of them in your mind, reducing their negative powerful hold on you.

Until next time, take care.

Warmly

Sarah

Living your own life can feel like a difficult prospect for mothers apart from children. I suspect it reminds many of us of well meaning  family and friends advising us to ‘move on’, ‘forget the past’ or ‘get over’ the fact that we don’t live or have contact with our children. We know that people who care about us just want us to be happy, but ‘getting over’ isn’t easy. For those of us who chose to live apart from children, ‘moving on’ can be more difficult than we imagined. Feeling guilty, having divided loyalties and experiencing delayed grief is common.

Living our own lives, having dreams and aspirations may not seem possible after all that we have been through. Perhaps we have been so focused on what our child is or isn’t feeling or what our ex partner or parents say about us that we have forgotten how to live and enjoy life. Maybe we have experienced so much emotional distress we think that we don’t have a life, don’t deserve a life and that all we are capable of, is feeling pain. This isn’t true. We are more than our problems, thoughts and feelings. Just because life has been this painful so far, it doesn’t mean it has to keep on hurting. If life is a bowl of cherries it doesn’t mean we have to settle with the pits! (thanks to Erma Bombeck).

So how do we live our own lives to the full?

Self care is the starting point. In part this is about nurturing ourselves – eating healthily, taking exercise, having warm baths and so on. But self care is also an attitude towards our lives in which we are responsible for ourselves. An empowering attitude that says: I am mistress of my own ship. I am responsible for my choices in life. I am responsible for identifying and meeting my needs. I am responsible for solving or finding help to solve my own problems and for learning to live with those I cannot solve. I am responsible for how much I enjoy life. I am important. I count for something and even if the most important person to me in the world rejects me I am still real, loving and lovable.

We are living our own lives when we…

  • Endeavour to work out what we can change and what we cannot change, then stop trying to change the things we can’t. If we don’t have control of a problem or if we have done what we can to try to solve it, we learn to live with or in spite of, our problem or circumstances.
  • Try to live happily, focusing courageously on what is good in our lives today – and feel gratitude for these things. In time, we can come to experience that appreciating the little things, making the most of what we do have, makes what we have increase in value.
  • Practice letting go with love. Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care. It means that we learn to love, sometimes from afar, without driving ourselves crazy. This involves living in the present moment. We allow life to happen without forcing or trying to control it and we let go of regrets and fears about the future.

The biggest risk of not living our life is that life passes us by. As a counsellor, I have worked with mothers who have lived apart from children for so many years they can no longer say they ‘live apart’, as their children are now adults with children of their own. As we work together, they grieve over having lived apart but also over the loss of not setting themselves free to live their lives and make themselves happy. As I tell them they have suffered enough, given enough, they have ‘done their time’, I encourage each one of these wonderful women to live well and to the full, one day at a time. And this is my dearest wish for you too.

As the Mother’s Day hype is building, noting the history of Mother’s Day is a good place to start to get this Sunday’s tradition into perspective.

The honouring of motherhood was originally connected to goddesses and symbols rather than actual mothers, for example the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek Rhea.

In Britain, historians think that the tradition of Mothering Sunday is linked to the one day in the year when church goers, working away as domestic servants or apprentices returned to their ‘mother’ or ‘home’ church.

In the United States, from 1870 onwards, two women social activists tried to establish Mother’s Day for very different reasons to the giving of cards, flowers and the like. Julia Ward Howe wanted it to be a women’s day of protest against war and Ann Jarvis to campaign for healthier living conditions. It was Ann’s daughter Anna who had Mother’s Day officially recognised but quickly became vehemently opposed to its commercialisation, and spent her inheritance and the rest of her life trying to put an end to it. What would these women make of Mother’s Day now!

Understanding the origins of Mother’s Day and the money spinner it has become is only half of what can help us gain perspective on what has become an emotionally loaded day for many people. As mothers apart from children, we can maintain perspective by understanding ourselves and being aware of what we need.

Here are some thoughts on how mothers apart from their children can manage Mother’s Day:

Treat yourself with compassion

Compassion for yourself is not self pity or wallowing. It is the first step towards acknowledging your feelings and experience without allowing guilt, shame and self criticism to keep you stuck in pain or avoiding your feelings through addictions or unhealthy behaviour. Whatever your circumstances, whether or not you have contact with your children – treat yourself gently and lovingly on Mother’s Day and every day thereafter.

Stop judging yourself

In my work with mothers apart from their children, I hear how women fear the judgement of others: “How could she? She must be a bad mother. What a disgrace!” Although others may have opinions, I nearly always find that what a mother fears she will hear is what she is already telling herself. We are our own worst critics. No one is perfect, we all make mistakes. What matters is your intention right now. Step one: Give your inner critic the day off on Mother’s Day. Say to yourself, “Just for today, I am not going to buy into this negative voice.” Step two, to be taken after Mother’s Day: We can’t change the past or others but we can change how we feel about ourselves by having an honest, compassionate look at our circumstances and reality checking them. Find a trusted friend to talk through and reality check your inner judgements or find professional support to do so if necessary.

Be mindful rather than distracting yourself

You might feel you want to block out Mother’s Day. This is very understandable but you can’t stop the world around you and it takes a huge amount of energy to batten down the hatches to keep yourself watertight. You can’t stop your thoughts and feelings. By choosing to make your well being your priority for Mother’s Day, by tuning into what you need to take care of yourself hour by hour – good food, a walk, a fragrant bath, or whatever lifts your spirits – it is possible to find peace of mind.

Finally, a repeat from a previous post because many of you said it made you smile:

Change happens

Change is inevitable – accept from vending machines! You never know what is around the corner – a cliché I know but in my counselling practice, working with mothers apart from their children, I know how true this is. Change can happen when you least expect it, sometimes quickly or sometimes years after separation. Keep your heart and door open. Above all, live your life and make yourself happy, you deserve it.

Take excellent care of yourself.

Warmly,

Sarah

 

 

 

 

Learning to co-parent your child during and after divorce and separation can be difficult. It calls on us to be very adult at a time of high stress, hurt and conflict – often when we are most vulnerable and feeling childlike ourselves. As challenging as this can be, it is possible to share the parenting your child with your ex and their new partner in ways that are nurturing of your child.

In my book, A Mother Apart, I write about non-competitive co-parenting and suggest ways for mothers who are no longer full time parents, to relax into open hearted mothering, to practice letting go and holding on to their child in equal measure.

When I counsel my clients, both mothers and fathers, I approach issues they might have with co-parenting in two distinct parts. Firstly, we explore the feelings and experience of my client, the parent. Then, with greater awareness of where her/his feelings and experience end and where the separate identity of their child begins, we focus on the needs of their child.

In my experience, if you don’t explore and validate the often very strong feelings of fear of loss, being replaced, competition, jealousy, over protectiveness, possession – all very normal, natural feelings – and if you move too quickly on the needs of the child, a parent isn’t helped to identify and accept these strong feelings, and will then find it very hard to choose to act with grace and dignity, and very importantly, in the best interests of their child.

Now, let’s be clear – experiencing strong feelings of jealousy, competition, fear of being replaced is normal and for some of us, these feelings are very intense. However, there is a clear difference between feeling and choosing to act in any particular way. This is why I believe it is important for parents to examine and understand their feelings and make a conscious choice to co-parent their child. An example internal conversation of a separated parent could be something like this: “Hmm, I notice I am feeling fearful about letting Gemma go to Mike’s this weekend, I feel jealous and imagine that she is having a nicer time with him than with me.  Ok…this is how I am feeling. Feelings are not necessarily reality. I am not going to act on these feelings. I am going to wave Gemma off with a smile and do something nurturing for myself.”

Here are some thoughts and tips to help parents co-parent:

  • Just as with 24/7 hands on parenting, you are in it for the long haul when you co-parent. Mindful parenting means that we pay attention to our child’s immediate needs and in so doing we shape the relationship we will have with our child as an adult. When it comes to your ex, remember that having a child together means that you are also in it for the long haul – you will have to deal with each other at graduations, weddings, and share your grandchildren with him or her.
  • Every action you take role models a behaviour for your child. Think and check in with yourself before you act.
  • The reality is that you have even less control of parenting when you split up with your partner and how you parent needs to change. The less contact time you have the more mindful you need to be.
  • Go out of your way to communicate with your ex. Be as generous as possible, keeping the needs of your child clearly in focus.
  • Different parenting styles and approaches will become more apparent when you co-parent. Tell yourself that different is not wrong or bad, it is just not how you would do things.
  • Your child has a right to a relationship with your ex and his/her new partner, new and step siblings which is completely separate from you and your life.
  • Don’t badmouth your ex in front of your child. Children identify with both parents and experience badmouthing of a parent as a personal attack.
  • Show empathy and understanding regarding your child being separated from one of their parents – assure them that it is really fine with you that they love and want to be with dad/mum after your divorce
  • Don’t pump your child for information on the other parent, their new partner and family. Not knowing about and controlling the impact of your child’s family beyond you is the reality after divorce.
  • Tell yourself there is no competition – you will always be child’s mother or father – there is enough love to go around.
  • Focus on your own life! You deserve to be happy, find love with a new partner and experience the joy of other children.

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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