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“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

 

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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.

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 

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.

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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