Here Comes The Sun


20140205-105731.jpg

It was the wettest January in UK history, apparently. To me it felt like the colour had been sucked out of the world. Everything seemed grey and dull and even the evergreen trees and plants looked insipid.

I used to like the sound of the rain on the roof if I was wrapped up warmly inside, it seemed comforting and cosy. But after a month-long downpour the novelty had well and truly worn off.

Soggy. Everything was damp and cold and just…. Bleurgh. Unbearable. I researched SAD lamps, vitamin D and the possibility of moving to a foreign country for six months of the year. My husband humoured me and my sister and mum started to look a bit concerned.

Even at 3am when I was awoken by my littlest, the rain continued to torment me and cause me to mutter expletives under my breath. I thought it’d never end. Washing away any positivity and dampening any cinders of hope.

You know those whistles….? The ones that give out a sound at a frequency audible only to dogs? I started to wonder whether I was the only one feeling utterly tormented and affected by relentless rain. I realised something needed to change…

Fortunately (and just before I lost what little grip I seem to have on my sanity lately) I woke up last Saturday morning to dazzling blue skies with the merest smattering of wispy white cloud.

Never have I been so thrilled so see sunshine.

I sat by a window (I’d like to say I was meditating or reading but in actual fact I was folding laundry) and let the sun warm my face. I even closed my eyes, which was when a thought occurred to me;

The light always wins.

It always prevails and even though we may not see it, feel it or in my case even remember it – the warm energy of the sun triumphs. It can’t be extinguished.

Storm clouds and changing seasons are part of life. But behind the storm, the sun never ever stops shining. It’s always there.

I like to think that the human spirit works in the same way; storms may cloud our judgement and obscure the view at times. Blue skies can feel like distant memories when the world seems dark and grey. But the sun always comes out eventually. There’s no stopping it.

And when it does, l for one am thankful.

I wish you a day filled with sunshine and light. But if this doesn’t come to pass, remember the brightness behind the clouds. Because even if you can’t see it or feel it, it’s still there.

20140205-110126.jpg

Advertisements

Not Just Me

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” ~Maya Angelou

In a few weeks my blog will be a year old. Writing it has been a hugely cathartic experience for me in many ways. Mostly it’s shown me how many of us hide our struggles from the outside world and pretend that we’re fine when we’re anything but. I know this because you, my lovely readers, have told me so.

I think I’m a more compassionate person now. Before I might have taken mild offence at the mother who doesn’t return my smile at the school gates, for example. I’d have thought her stand-offish, cliquey or rude. Now, more than ever I remind myself that everyone is struggling in their own way and we never know what’s going on behind the scenes.

I’ve learned so much in this past year, about myself and about others. I know I’m not alone and I hope that If you’ve been following my blog you’ll feel the same.

Sharing your personal thoughts on the internet is a bit like writing an intimate and private diary and then handing out photocopies in the playground. I quite often go to kids’ parties and wonder if any of the other mums read my blog or think I’m mad for airing my dirty laundry in public. I frequently have moments of panic at the realisation that thoughts kept private by most people are in the public domain in my case.

When these negative or self-doubtful thoughts hit I always remind myself how supportive my readers are and of the messages I’ve received from women who thought they were the only ones who find life hard, comparing their lives with others and coming up short. Women who felt I’d written their own thoughts for them. Imagine that? When push comes to shove we really are all in the same boat. We just need less pushing and shoving and more holding on to one another, really.

The past month or so has been very tough. I’m looking in to ways to cope with the being a far more sensitive person than I used to be, but at the same time I’m trying to look upon this character trait as a gift. Yes, I get far too affected by news stories and by the struggles of others and this often brings me to my knees. But at the same time I find helping others as much as I can to be healing for me. The fact that evidence points to this blog helping other people is really rewarding.

It’s with this in mind that I want to share something that’s been on my mind today. I have a very strong feeling that I’m not alone in this feeling either.

Yesterday was a brilliant day. I threw an end-of-term/Christmas party for Monkey’s new class. The children really had a fantastic time and it was lovely for the parents to get together too. I sat down in the evening and reflected on the success of the day; how the mums at the new school are so lovely and how happy I am with the school. How settled Monkey is after his first term and how glad and grateful I am that everything is going so well. I looked around me at my house and my amazing husband whilst my beautiful children slept upstairs and I felt….panic. And fear.

Yes, that’s right, panic and fear.
These are the two feelings which generally follow moments of joy for me. Panic that things are too good to be true and fear that something terrible will surely happen. Feeling happy makes me feel vulnerable. So, so vulnerable.

I am so fortunate. I am so blessed and so grateful and I have so much to lose. It’s overwhelming sometimes. I’ve also experienced a lot of darkness in the past two years and this has served to really illuminate the bright times. I think living in shadow makes light brighter when you finally reach it. I’m much more grateful for the joyful moments which in turn makes me afraid.

Some pretty awful things have happened in my life, most of which I’m not ready to share yet. I know that terrible things can befall good people and I’ve discovered first hand what it’s like to have your world fall apart in an instant. It’s difficult not to flash back to hard times, especially when there’s an abundance of joy.

20131221-233110.jpg

One of my favourite writers, Dr. Brené Brown talks about this in her book, Daring Greatly. She calls it Foreboding Joy:

Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster.”

Vulnerability is the key here and it’s behind the tendency to try to dress-rehearse tragedies in order to prepare yourself, should anything terrible ever happen. It’s a waste of time, it really is and it sucks the joy out of life. Your brain doesn’t realise that the tragedy isn’t actually happening so your stress levels rise and and you’re stuck in a state of fruitless anxiety for no good reason. Goodbye peace and hello anxiety.

Dr. Brown recommends “leaning in” to vulnerability rather than fighting it. She says that gratitude is the antidote to Foreboding Joy:

The shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the , the beauty, the connection or simply the moment before us.”

I’ve been working on this, and it really does help. When the panic sets in I remind myself how grateful I am for my blessings. I focus on my breathing and I remember that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s uncomfortable and difficult but necessary.
Being grateful helps to diffuse the dread and gets my mind back in a positive place.

It’s ironic, really that sometimes happiness can hurt. It’s the wrong order of things. Allowing yourself to be happy when it hasn’t been your default setting of late requires concentration and feels risky…like tempting fate. It’s all of these feelings that make us human.

So my plan is to stop giving small things big shadows… stop standing in my own light. I will remember to enjoy the wonderful moments and be grateful and not fearful of them. Because life is a hard, beautiful, joyful and painful teacher and lessons are everywhere.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this post, especially of you’ve had a “me, too!” moment reading it. Please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Prisms and Peace

20131021-184639.jpg

“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!