Practical advice for the underslept, overwhelmed and exhausted mother

practical advice for the exhausted mother

Before we had kids, we envisioned a fantasy of how our lives will look like with them – we imagined how amazing it would be to hold the small, fluffy, sleeping baby, just like the one we saw on TV, in that diapers commercial. They would hug us with their chubby arms and talk cute baby talk.

During their school years, they would get accolades, have extra curricular activities, awesome vacations, laughter, exploration and discoveries.

Then they would go to the college of their choice, they would be happy, get married and have kids which we would get to love and care for just like we cared for our own perfect little babies. All while they would be living down the street from us, of course.

This fantasy ends in the exact moment that baby is in our arms, crying inconsolably. Or doesn’t sleep more than 2 hours unless having constant contact with us.
The day they come back from school brokenhearted because their best friend didn’t want to play with them. Or when they can’t understand why 3 comes before 4 and not the other way around. Or when they had a fight in gym class. Maybe it’s their inability to find their passion or willingness to fail while trying.

How about when they come home and introduce us to their partner of choice which may be an absolute opposite of what we had in mind for them. Too old, too young, same sex, too different background, too many tattoos, drugs, just TOO MUCH…

So how do we cope with the reality that is so different from what we envisioned for ourselves and for our kids?

Unconditional love? Yes… That makes sense and we all feel it for our kids as an ultimate emotion, but how do we cope EVERY DAY? When it’s really hard. When we’re in the middle of a crisis. When we haven’t slept a full night in 2 years. When we cried so many times in the past days we can only be seen in public with sunglasses. When we feel we failed as mothers. What then?

Mindfulness

This may be a concept that sounds mambo jumbo new age-y and many people are resistant to it. I know I was. I thought I didn’t need mindfulness, simply because it has never been part of my vocabulary. I didn’t grow up hearing people talking about it. So I planned to go about this life business with my rational thinking, extraordinary planning and logical approach. I wish it worked…
That’s until I learned to define mindfulness in terminology that made more sense to me.

“Mindfulness is simply paying attention.“ -Brené Brown

It’s that simple. To be mindful means to pay attention to what is happening RIGHT NOW. How we feel, what emotions we experience and how they feel in our body.

To be mindful means our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehearsing the past or imagining the future.

Many times we feel hurt, we just want to make it go away, so we do anything in our power to numb the unwanted feelings. We watch 6 hours of “Orange is the new black” after the kids are in bed. Or we eat a gallon of ice-cream instead of dinner. Or we approve the start of cocktail hour at 2PM, because that’s what they do in Europe anyway.

We just DON’T WANT TO FEEL. Because feeling is hard. And we don’t know how do to hard things because nobody taught us to just SIT and FEEL and ACCEPT and LOVE ourselves through it. So instead we distract ourselves with tv, food, internet, alcohol, trying to find some sort of comfort. We end up numb and we believe it all went away. Only it didn’t. The pain is dormant and when it comes back, it will knock us off our feet.

Mindfulness is paying attention to the feelings, feel them fully, and move through them without getting stuck.

Just sit. Acknowledge it’s hard. Allow anger to manifest. Grief. Mourn. Let your heart be open wide to feel disappointment. Cry.

Label emotions

“Name it and you tame it” said Marc Brackett from Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
This means not only to say “I feel anger” but to describe in full details how anger feels in your body:
I feel a tightening of my chest.
I feel my head pounding.
I feel my hands tingling.
I see red.
I feel my breathing getting faster.
I feel hot.
I feel a knot in my stomach.

Whenever we feel a certain way, we want to just label it as good or bad. Enjoy it or get rid of it.
But we’re much more complex than that.

Explore the small details.
Become aware of how they manifest for you.

Common humanity

It’s very easy to over-identify when we are in the middle of struggle. Over-identification is the birth place of jealousy, judgement and isolation.
We think “This only happens to me!” or “Everybody else is doing a better job at being a mother”.

We all have the same issues. We might experience them differently, but we have the SAME problems, insecurities and questions.

We all lose our patience with the kids.
We all feel our lives can be so much better if only we were less angry.
We all wonder if this is truly our path.
We all have insecurities about a certain part of our bodies.
We all debate how would life be like if we made different choices.
We all cry over something hurtful we said to the people we love.
We all have days when we simply can’t wait for bedtime.

You are not alone. You are not the only one who goes through this.

Self-compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture at the Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin, conducts pioneering research into self-compassion.
She teaches: “It is not about distracting yourself from difficult emotions, but it’s about intentionally soothing yourself. You are the only one that knows what you need in the moment. The key is doing the practice with intention.”

How does this translate into our lives? Identify the practices that make you feel better when you feel down. The soothing activities, whatever they may be.

“We give ourselves compassion not to feel better, but because we feel bad.“ says Dr. Neff.

We’re not trying to fix how we feel or make the feelings go away. We are just responding with kindness and empathy towards ourselves.

Inhaling a full box of chocolates is not self-compassion, it’s numbing. Taking one chocolate and really tasting and enjoying the sensation is a self-compassion practice.

Other soothing practices:
-taking a bath
-touching our arm with soothing motions
-giving ourselves a hug
-enjoying a cup of tea
-getting a massage
-spending time with a small child or a pet

What is your self soothing practice? What if you dropped everything right now and allowed yourself to do it?

So my amazing magical moms, it may be hard right now, but we owe it to ourselves to take charge of our own happiness and in full consciousness and intention get out of whatever it is that holds us back.

One foot in front of the next:

Allow mindfulness

Pay attention to what is happening right now. Don’t try to change the feelings or numb your pain.

Label emotions

Identify where you feel those emotions in your body and how they feel. “Name it and you tame it”.

Acknowledge the common humanity

You are not alone. You are not the only one suffering. This is what unites us in our humanity. Every mother struggles. Every person struggles.

Practice self-compassion

Being kind to yourself is not indulgent, it’s a necessary step for moving forward when we when are faced with a difficult event. You know exactly what you need to do to soothe yourself when you feel bad. Do it intentionally.


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To be mindful means tuning into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehearsing the past or imagining the future. 

We all have the same issues. We might experience them differently, but we have the SAME problems, insecurities and questions.

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2 Comments

  • Jamima

    Reply Reply July 20, 2016

    Love the definition of mindfulness from Brene. Simply paying attention… Awesome!

    • Talida

      Reply Reply July 21, 2016

      Brene Brown is amazing Jamima 🙂

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