Prisms and Peace

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“The more you approve of your own decisions in life, the less you feel the need to have them approved or accepted by others” – Unknown

I shared this quote on my Facebook page last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

One thing I strongly believe is that if we truly have peace with and faith in our own actions and choices, both as parents and human beings, we can take the sting out of almost any criticism and in doing so help to diffuse negative self-talk at the same time.

My breast-feeding story was an example of this. After having my daughter I spent the best part of two years berating myself for being unable to breast-feed her. As a result I was highly attuned to any conversation on the topic and would often find judgement where perhaps there was none intended. I really didn’t have peace with my inability to breast-feed and this clouded not only my interpretation of events but also my opinion of myself as a mother. I viewed every conversation and article on the subject through the prism of my own experiences so was extremely sensitive and self-critical.

Theodore Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
There will usually be someone who you perceive to have or be a better x, y or z than you. Perception is the key word here. I’ve said before that we never really know the struggles others are enduring behind the scenes and anyway, no-one else can lessen what you already are, even if they’re cleverer/richer/thinner/happier than you.
No one has the monopoly on any feeling or any characteristic and comparing our lives with others’, whether to make ourselves feel better or worse is never the healthiest of pastimes.

I belong to several Facebook mums’ groups and I never cease to be surprised (and often disappointed) at the fervency with which opinions are often communicated. I’ve witnesses many openly scathing online attacks on those with different viewpoints, and even more quietly judgemental and passive-aggressive debates turning into conflicts. Each one makes me feel both anxiety and despair at the sometimes seemingly non-existent sisterhood or solidarity amongst certain mothers online.

“What other people think of you is none of your business. If you start to make it your business, you’ll be offended for the rest of your life.”
Deepak Chopra

I genuinely believe that most of what people say is not about me or you, it’s a reflection of them, viewing life through the prism of their own experiences and often their self-doubts, too.

I spend a lot of time observing people’s behaviours. Watching a storm descend online I often pontificate on why people are conducting themselves in such a way…. What drives them? I wonder if sometimes, without even realising, criticism of others is a strategy for boosting a flailing self esteem. I suspect that much of the more embittered denigration of other mother’s methods comes from a place of buried inadequacy. Proving superiority. Knocking others down in order to build yourself up, as it were.

Having faith in our own choices could go such a long way in removing the need to be validated by the approval of others and the subsequent tendency to see an “us and them” pattern with other mothers who may do things differently.

Some choices are easier than others to reconcile and there will always be mistakes. But our mistakes don’t define us, they’re just learning opportunities.

I’m working on giving myself some grace and remembering that setbacks or minor-catastrophes can also be viewed as chances to practice self-kindness and cut myself some slack. Parenting seems to be one huge learning curve and every time you think you’ve sussed it, the goal posts seem to move again.

Rather than always elaborating on the most negative interpretation of events I need to remember that I’m human. Sometimes I shout and sometimes I cry and that’s OK. Because the decisions I make, whether right or wrong, are always made in love and with the best interests of my family heart. I truly believe that the vast majority of mothers out there are the same as me. We’re trying our best. Sometimes our best will be better than other days and sometimes “good enough” will have to suffice, but there is always love.

When looking back on why I reacted in a particular way to a situation, Often, on reflection, I realise that I’ve been looking to others to help me feel good enough about my decisions or choices.

I’ve said before that we can’t control what others say to us, but we can try our hardest to control our reactions. If, for example, your mother-in-law comments that your child isn’t dressed warmly enough for the cold weather you have a choice as to how you react. You can assume she thinks you’re a dreadful parent who doesn’t have a clue what’s best for your child and spend the rest of the day admonishing yourself. Or, you can remind yourself that you know your child better than anyone. You know your little one will get cranky and cross if she gets too hot. You can move on from the conversation and get on with your day by having faith in the choices you make.

The same goes for almost any decision you make for your children; feeding, weaning, co-sleeping, schooling… you’ve made your decisions with love and care. Others are entitled to do the same and it’s no reflection on you or me if their choices are different. Your instincts are usually right for your children and the same applies to other parents, too.

Now, I don’t think I’m ever likely to become to type of person who genuinely doesn’t care what other people think. However, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that by recognising my own strengths I can work towards nurturing a mindset of not needing everyone else’s approval or acknowledgement that I am a good enough person or parent.

Because, I’ll let you in on a little secret; I am a good enough person and parent. And so are you.

Please help spread the Mummy Kindness by liking my Facebook Page!

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Only Being Honest?

“If you can’t be kind, be quiet” Timber Hawkeye

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I wonder at what point it became socially acceptable to be rude or judgemental under the guise of “just being honest”?

I belong to several mums’ groups on Facebook and as a result I often see questions from various mums in my newsfeed. One in particular caught my eye last week, prompting me to reply.

Anna* posted a question in relation to a forthcoming holiday which I immediately felt compelled to reply to because had Anna proceeded with her idea, her child’s safety would have been in question.

I suggested a few alternatives and told her what we did on holiday to get around this issue whilst pointing out why I thought her idea was too risky to entertain. She replied with thanks and immediately said that she felt embarrassed about her post and would not, under any circumstances, be following through on her original plan.

One would hope that would be the end of it, but sadly this was not the case. Immediately dozens of women began throwing in their opinions, with very few of them employing any tact whatsoever. Again, Anna replied. This time re-iterating that she felt awful for her post. That she would never deliberately do anything to put her child at risk and felt mortified that so many people now thought she was a dreadful mother. Anna asked them to please stop commenting.

Still, they didn’t stop. Some felt the need to comment a second time, to re-iterate how shocked they are that she would post such an idea. Wasn’t her child her world? What would cause any mother to think this way?

It was at this point that I felt the need to pipe-up again. I was horrified at the way Anna was being treated. Granted, there was no doubt that her idea was out of the question and could’ve put her child in danger. But she had clearly stated her regret at ever raising the topic, she was sorry and was very upset.

I told the group that I felt the tone of their messages was becoming increasingly hostile. That their words were attacking Anna unnecessarily and I believed that support groups should be just that, a place for support. Honesty should be served with a helping of tact, in my opinion.

To this I received replies defending the aggression used. One woman said “If you share a post on here, you should expect an honest answer. We’re all shocked at Anna and she should expect a response like this. We’re only being honest.”

Only Being Honest?

How have we arrived in a time where we can attack people and wear them down like this, with our justification being that we’re “Only being honest”. What about tact? And compassion? What about concern for our fellow mothers?

I was frankly horrified by the words unfolding on the screen before me. All I could think of was a time in which I was unable to cope with any criticism whatsoever. If the same thing had happened to me during that very low point in my life, I can’t even imagine what would’ve happened to me. I think I would’ve ended up hospitalised and I’m not exaggerating. It was all I could do to keep my own negative voices at bay, without strangers in so-called Facebook “support groups” bullying me.

Because, without question, this was bullying. Anna repeatedly asked them to stop before eventually removing herself from the group altogether. These are all mothers of young children, who quite frankly should have known better. From an outside perspective it seemed almost a pack mentality, with one, possibly vulnerable target.

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I sent a private message of support to Anna, who explained how “utterly cyber bullied” she felt. She realised she’d made public what should have been a fleeting thought, quickly dismissed. There was no question that it was a bad idea but she did not deserve such treatment.

As a mother of two small children who keeps up to date with news and current affairs I’ve been shocked and saddened by the recent spate of teen-suicides linked to cyber-bullying. The world is such a different place to the one in which I grew up and I worry a great deal about a future where bullies could target my children even in the comfort of their own bedrooms. Some children will be resilient enough to bounce back and will have parents they can turn to with their problems. Others will not.

In my view, the first step towards supporting our children through potential difficult times ahead is to ensure that they can talk to us, openly and about anything. Let them never feel that they have no-one to turn to.

In order to achieve this, we need to be approachable and to lead by example. This goes for our online as well as offline lives. We need to treat others with the kindness that we all deserve. There is a real person on the other side of the screen, with real feelings. However much we may disagree we must respect one another; take a few metaphorical steps in somebody else’s shoes and ask ourselves if we’d like to be on the receiving end of our own words.

I’m pretty sure some of the women involved will be reading this post. I hope they digest it and take it as it’s intended. Not as an attack on them but as an opportunity to stop and think about words and the pain they can cause.

Like I said at the start of this post: if you can’t be kind, be quiet.

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*I changed Anna’s name to protect her identity. I have also deliberately not included details on her original question.

Being The Good

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers

Yesterday three people died and over one hundred were horrifically injured when two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. I watched the news in shock with my heart racing. I just can’t understand what would make someone feel that an act of terror like this is justifiable.

It seems that every day there’s more and more hurt, pain and bad news. For someone like me, who’s already prone to anxiety and panic, it’s almost enough to make me become a hermit, never leaving the house and relying on Internet shopping to keep my family sustained. I’m not really even kidding.

This morning I had a couple of child-free hours and as I drove to the Westfield shopping centre in East London all I could think of was terror explosions and how one minute you can be going about your business and the next…well, I can’t begin to imagine.

I mean, marathons are charity events. Bombers targeted ordinary, kind and charitable people.
Day after day we hear horrifying stories of pain and devastation all over the world. Each seems worse than the last.

This morning on Facebook someone shared a picture of a man in Boston with most of his leg missing. The image is seared on my brain. You can’t just “un-see” something like that.

It’s almost enough to destroy your faith in human nature altogether.

But where will we be without faith in human nature? What will happen if we all believe that the entire world has gone to shit and that no-one cares any more? That there’s no good left?

We simply cannot let our hearts be hardened by the sadness we see in the world. We can’t just accept that bad stuff happens to good people and do nothing about it. We can’t believe that the human race is tainted by Evil. We can’t let the sadness of an atrocity like yesterday distort our view of humanity.

We (or I) simply must remember that a minuscule fraction of the world’s population are truly evil. But not the majority. If this was not the case, the human race would have destroyed itself thousands of years ago. We never would’ve evolved this far.

Each of us are but one person, but together we’re a force to be reckoned with. In my view, our only option is to Be The Good.

It’s up to us, friends, to put the Good back in to everyday life.

“Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world usually do.” – Steve Jobs

You see, we can’t single-handedly stop terrorism, cure cancer or prevent natural disasters. We can’t heal the sick or turn back time. But we can Be The Good. We can love harder for every heart-breaking news story we see. We can be a little bit kinder. We can make charitable donations if possible. We can give blood. We can donate time. We can just be nicer to people. More patient. More friendly. We can smile at strangers and hold open doors. We can let someone in to our lane in traffic. Even pack an old lady’s shopping at the supermarket. Anything really. Any random act of kindness will do. Think of it as killing evil with kindness.

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Can you imagine what a difference it would make to humanity if we were all just a bit nicer? Kinder? More loving to our fellow human?

I’ve said before that I believe our children learn more from our behaviour and from watching us interact with the world than they do from any lessons we deliberately try to teach them. It’s up to us as parents and as citizens of the human race to lead by example. Not to let the bad in the world pollute all that is good. To show our children how to put the ‘human’ back in humanity.

If enough people commit to undertaking even the smallest acts of kindness we can collectively help to restore the world’s faith in human nature. Each smile at a stranger could make somebody’s day. It’s as simple as that.

I don’t normally ask this, but I’d really appreciate if you’d share this post. I want as many people as possible to see it. One at a time we can change the world, we really can.

I hereby resolve that for every heart-breaking news story I see, I will try a little bit harder to do good. For every sad article I read I will remember that I may just be one person, but I can change the world, one smile and kind gesture at a time. We all can.
We can, and we must Be The Good.

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All pictures credited to the Brave Girls’ Club