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Although we know it happens every year, seeing Mother’s Day cards and gifts for sale in the shops can kick start what is called a frequency illusion, also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. This phenomenon happens when you notice something and then start seeing it everywhere. When we have strong feelings about something, the frequency illusion is bound to be heightened. For example, mothers living apart from their children might notice the date on which Mother’s Day falls, which can then lead to observing local florists and restaurants advertising the event with painful regularity.

Frequency illusion is a passive experience, in other words, our brain seeks out information that resonates with us, making us believe that there is an actual increase in the frequency of these occurrences. This being so, perhaps a more conscious, rational approach to Mothers Day will be helpful.

Are other people doing something?

So who is doing what on Mother’s Day? I’ve just searched the internet with the following ‘Mothers Day 2015’ and found there are over 35,100,000 results. If we’re not consciously aware of our own wellbeing, we could be blindsided by a bad case of FOMO at this time of year. In case you’ve not heard of FOMO before, new technology, particularly social media has coined this phrase. ‘FOMO’ stands for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. If you let them, happy family photos and messages on social media could leave you feeling hurt – you don’t even have to physically walk past Mother’s Day cards, flowers, chocolates, pink bubbly in the supermarket to feel excluded or envious. We can’t control whether or not our children will acknowledge us on Mother’s Day but we can take care of ourselves. Could the day be an opportunity for you to relax, create, take some exercise, book a trip, find a class, read a book? Whatever it is, do what feels right for you, never mind what others are doing or what they think.

Are you doing something?

Whether you’ve planned something pleasurable or spend the day doing something you’ve been meaning to crack on with, just do it – no matter how you feel. Instead of taking your lead from blue feelings and then giving up, practice watching your emotions come and go without trying to change them or push them away. This is what Buddhists call non-attachment. It doesn’t mean being like a stone. Watching rather than buying into our feelings becomes possible when we understanding them as passing and temporary. Upset comes upon us and it leaves and it can help if we don’t judge ourselves. In other words, we don’t regard our feelings or ourselves as either negative or positive. Try allowing feelings to rise, soften and fall away, rather than feeding and fuelling the drama of what we tell ourselves about our circumstances. So, even if you’re feeling unmotivated or resistance towards Mothering Sunday, allow the feeling and at the same time, start doing whatever it is you have decided to do on the day. Even though it’s not the aim, you might surprise yourself and find that you have a good time.

What thing are you not going to do?

Hot on the heels of doing something just for you on Mother’s Day, how about reconsidering what you currently do routinely? Maybe there are things in your life that you no longer have the time or energy for, such as a club or a class and you just don’t want to let others down by moving on. Perhaps it’s a belief or a behaviour that has had its day and you fear you’d risk losing part of your identity if you gave up on it. This might be the expectation of meaningful contact with your child at this point in time. It might also be the notion of taking off the hair shirt that we can inadvertently pull on when we live apart from children – ‘I should have done more or less, earlier or later, held my tongue or have spoken my mind or fill in the blank……’ –  leg traps all! If this resonates with you, there is no need to do this to yourself. It serves no one, least of all you. Make it top of your ‘no longer going to do’ list.

Whether you have contact or not with your children, whether they appreciate your love at this time or not, do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself this Mother’s Day. Do the thing you think you cannot do, especially if this thing is treating yourself with gentleness and compassion.

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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

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

 

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

 

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

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?  

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

 

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

Sarah’s new self-help book: A Mother Apart

Support for women

Sarah specialises in counselling and training women. She helps non-resident mothers find inner peace by dealing with guilt, distress and other difficult feelings which can be experienced when living apart from their child. Her self-help book, 'A Mother Apart', published by Crown House, is available now. She also supports business women grow in confidence whilst growing their businesses. To find out more, please visit Sarah Hart's website

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