Motherhood: Is it ok to not be enough?
Today I dropped my daughter off at pre-school, for the first time since March 10th, with extremely mixed emotions. Happiness and joy at her excitement and relief that life might be returning to something resembling normality. But also a huge amount of anxiety at her being apart from me for the first time in months, and a touch of guilt, because as a mother I always feel a touch of guilt.
These feeling are normal. This much I know. We all experience these emotions to some extent, as mothers, women, humans. However, its how we deal with them that really matters and can have an impact on our lives.
This is exactly the subject of the discussion I had last week with Anna Mathur, an experienced psychotherapist and prominent voice on all things mental health.
Anna has recently released her first book, Mind Over Mother, looking at maternal mental health with a focus on anxiety and our internal dialogue which can have such a massive impact on our lives.
I have followed Anna for a long time, and have done her online anxiety course, and to be honest, I have used her words where mine have failed me. She is so able to sum up the unique condition that is maternal anxiety and explain it in a way that makes sense.
Anna recognises the power she has over women like me, instagram is a powerful tool to share your experiences and it has been pivotal in lifting the lid on many mental health conditions. We all feel a little less alone when we can read about other's concerns on those little squares.
But Anna wants to go further.
"Opening up about emotions and vulnerabilities is vital and it is good to know we are not alone,
However, we don’t want to just swim around in this collective anxiety, it is important to know that there are things we can do about it. It's ok to be a shouty mum, and feel validated when we learn others feel like that too, but do we want more for ourselves than to be shouty, or anxious? There is a step more than that…there are tips and tools to help."
Anna feels that in sharing her most vulnerable moments and thoughts, she is in fact sharing lessons that she has learned and will go on to help others to grow as a result.
I asked Anna why she thinks motherhood can be the great leveller of mental health. No matter how you go in to it, motherhood seems to bring out very similar traits in a range of women.
"When you have kids everything has a higher cost. The worries that you had before, even as a therapist, are magnified, because they impact they way you parent. Before you have children you may learn to live with anxiety, but when you hug your kids and you can only think of the fear of losing them then it has a higher cost. It's getting in the way of enjoying your kids. That is when I started to see anxiety as something that I needed to get help with."
Personally, my worries almost all stem back to the wellbeing of my children, and by relation my husband and I. And I have to be honest it can be crippling. Anna puts this down to a need for control and that is the root to over coming these thoughts.
"Its about management. We can’t control everything, all anxiety comes down to a fear of bad things happening, a fear of loss or failure. If we can try to come to terms with the reality of these risks then we recognise them for what they are. But it is hard and needs work, mindfulness, and self-care. Often as mothers we don’t know the language of our own needs and I have known this conversation to bring women to tears in my coaching sessions.
In our culture we are taught that to love well is to give yourselves away. And that is wrong.
It might seem controversial to some, but I think we do feel that we are not enough because we are not. We don’t have enough resources to fulfil all those roles. We are not enough because we we were not made to be our own village. We need to come to terms with our own humanity and limited resources."
In many ways this sentiment is a release, it's ok to not be enough. But in the age of social media, combined with the current lockdown conditions, where help is not readily available, how do we cope with our own lack of resourses?
Anna reminds us that comparing is the problem here, and we simply do not know the full story of those that we follow and admire on instagram, even her.
"Our brains fill in the haps with the stories that we tell ourselves. That someone else is better, happier, more successful. Even though we know that it can’t be true. It's just human nature but it is more polarised now with social media. Our parents would never have had the pressure of seeing others live their lives. They would have had lived lives in fornt of them, with a few people that they knew and understood in the round. The majority of the what we see isn't real."
The good news is of course that there are techniques and resources to help us change our mindset, and way of thinking. To release us from some of these anxious patterns. Anna's book and online resources are a great place to start.
But in these strange times, when we have to be our own village, and any support network we had is unavailable, I asked Anna what she suggests.
'Speak about it. We are so fixated on getting results now that we have forgotten how important it is to speak to others and verbalise our concerns. Even if they can’t fix it, it's validating our experience and feelings so speaking to people is incredibly helpful. We are so used to getting quick results now that we just think what is the point, they can't practically help me. We also think we are a burden and so internalise what is going on for us. We find it easier to be there for others than to ask for help ourselves, but the first step is to find someone you can talk to."
Wether you struggle with mum guilt, health anxiety or are just feeling overwhelmed, they key point is to recognise is that it's human nature, and often stems from the deep, all incompasing love we feel for those around us. But Anna's mission is to show that we don't need to put up with feelings and thoughts that get in the way of us enjoying those loved ones, and that is exactly what she does by sharing her own humanity. And I for one am extremely grateful that she does.
Anna's amazing book Mind Over Mother, is out now. You can also find a lot of helpful resources on Anna's website www.annamathur.com. And her amazing podcast series is like therapy.... not to be missed.