The Mom Who Won’t Stop

In the movement of encouraging moms to realize that they are enough and they do enough I believe myself to be an advocate. I’m tired of all the competition and the pettiness among moms. Whether you stay at home or work you’re accomplishing something. Whether or not you decide to join the PTA doesn’t indicate who you are as mom or establish you as a “better” member of the community. But…

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explo (1)

 

 

….sometimes I feel like a hypocrite speaking out to moms about this because even though I try to believe I am enough I can never seem to stop. Stop signing up for things. Stop making plans. Stop finding projects. Stop thinking I always need to do more.

I’ve always been the person who signs up for everything. I like my hand to be in many pots at the same time.  A lot of the times I spread myself too thin. Even my past employee evaluations would note that at times I can “bite off more than she can chew.” Sometimes I  come across as the overachiever. While sometimes my overextension habits have lead me to a nervous breakdown or two they have also brought me out of really dark times. And I would be lying if I didn’t say that some of the the time I’m getting involved in too many things for not the right reasons- to please others, to be admired, to increase my self-worth because of the recognition and not because it just made me feel good. But I’ve also come to realize that I’m just that person who can’t stop because I like the pace of a thousand miles per hour. When motherhood came along I went to snail’s pace in life. I wasn’t working and wasn’t sure what to do with my energy. So I started looking for and creating as many opportunities as I could to exert my energy.  In the 2 years since my son was born I started my own parent’s meetup group, ran support groups for new moms, worked a part time job, started a blog, moved across the world, and started an  online mentoring program for moms. I join as many moms groups as I can. I reach out to other moms new to the city I live in now. I find as many programs that my son and I can attend together as I can.

Some might think it’s a problem to be this way. To not be able to slow down and just be present.  I get that and I know that’s something I need to work on. I try to work on the balance while also respecting what is just genuinely me.

But I can’t stop. I won’t stop.

I’ll probably be the mom in the PTA, a den mom in Boy Scouts, managing moms groups and playdates left and right. But please don’t peg me as “that mom.” Because I’m not
“that mom.” I don’t try to control, or judge, or look better than other moms. I just really like connecting to people, giving back, and most importantly, getting this nervous energy out of me. If you’ve got work/life balance down pat or prefer the quieter life I totally respect you. In fact, I’m a little jealous.

I think a lot. I say a lot. I do a lot. But here’s the thing. It’s not to show you up. It’s not to believe I’m better. It’s because I can’t stop. I won’t stop. See I have this belief that looms over me every single day and it says “You’ve only got so much time” So yea I think a lot, I say a lot, I do a lot. But it’s only because I’ve got this one life and I want to say I said a lot, I gave a lot, and I lived a lot.

So I tread on striving to believe that I am enough even if I stop. But I can’t stop. I won’t stop. Because I’ve got so much to do.

What I Gained When Breastfeeding Didn’t Work Out

It has taken me a while to get to this place, the place where I can look back at the first major challenge I experienced as a mom and start to feel a sense of healing and gratitude. It wasn’t always like this. I want other moms to know that if they read this and it’s really hard for them to absorb it. I read many articles and blogs telling me it was “okay” and I didn’t feel it was “okay” until I was ready. You can’t rush the process of learning or healing.

What I Gained When Breastfeeding Didn't Work Out

 

I allowed my challenges with breastfeeding to hold a shadow over my first year as a mother. After my son didn’t gain any weight 30 days after birth I followed doctors orders and gave him his first bottle of formula at his pediatrician visit. I will never forget how quickly he gulped it down and I was horrified at the thought of how hungry he had spent his first month of life. But I was determined to keep trying and thought that maybe I would get back to exclusively breastfeeding.I spent a lot of time obsessively tracking ounces of breastmilk, taking upwards of 20 herbal supplements a day, spending the majority of my waking minutes pumping, and researching myself into confusion to try to make things work. At 6 months when I realized I spent so much time pumping and feeling stressed for my son to get maybe 2 ounces of breastmilk a day I finally let go. As difficult as it was emotionally for me to give up I know that I became a more present and less anxious mother that day.

Throughout my breastfeeding challenges  I allowed myself to feel that I had failed even though looking back now, I had really prevailed. On the other side of that darkness was a new light for me. I learned the valuable lesson that my goals as a parent aren’t always about me and my vision of parenting but what is best for my son. Sometimes those things are one in the same and sometimes they are different. Giving up breastfeeding was one of the first sacrifices I have made as a mother and now I am proud of it.

Parenting isn’t always about what I think is best for my child? That is a really tough pill to swallow. I have idealized versions of how I will raise my son and what kind of person he will become. But the truth is sometimes what I want won’t work out or won’t be what’s best for him.  And I can say now with humility because sometimes I don’t even always know what’s best for my son. My love for him is profound and our connection is deep but that doesn’t transcend being able to control everything that happens or always having the right answers.

When we become parents we are on the constant search for security that we are doing the right thing by our children. This starts with nourishing them the “right” way  and connecting with them the “right” way and morphs into reacting the “right” way to their behaviors or providing them with the “right” resources for their growth. But there are no guarantees that any way is truly the “right” way. So we get ideas and philosophies stuck in our head because that’s what we feel is best and then we get tunnel vision. ‘This is the way I have to parent. Anything else is failure. ‘

At some point during the many hours of pumping I spent and the tears I shed when those bottles contained so little I took a step back. I asked myself a question. Am I trying to force this to work because it is the right thing to do in this situation or because it will make me feel better? I realized my fight for breastfeeding was starting to become more about giving me a sense of security that I was a good mother rather than really being passionate about breastfeeding my son.

We have signed up for a lifetime of the discomfort of uncertainty as parents. For the vast majority of our decisions we cannot truly know if the result we want will be achieved. We are shooting darts blindfolded. We use our values or philosophies as a compass. That’s why we have them in the first place, to guide our decisions. But sometimes when we become so attached to those values or philosophies they can mislead us. We cling to them because they are giving us direction but sometimes you have to find a new path in the darkness because the compass isn’t working. This isn’t because our values are “wrong” but because due to the various circumstances of life they aren’t right for this particular situation.

I think about my own relationship with my parents and the ways I’ve strayed from what they wanted for me: a Ph.D, staying with the religion I was raised with, choosing a career that was more lucrative or respected. Sometimes I’m hurt that I perhaps disappointed them but then realize those choices were about me and couldn’t be about them. And I know that they understand that.

Looking back I realize the fight I fought for breastfeeding was more about how attached I was what breastfeeding said about me as a mom than believing it was the “right” way to feed my son. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of breastfeeding here. Rather, I am trying to point out that sometimes we get so passionate about parenting decisions that we fight through struggles that sometimes we don’t always need to fight.  In the beginning of my struggles I refused to adapt. My thinking was guided by “this has to work out or it obviously means the alternative was failure.” How very wrong I was and how very judgmental I was towards myself. Today it’s much easier for me to believe that formula feeding is a great option and doesn’t reflect poorly on me or any other mother. The only regret I have is the happiness and pride I refused to allow myself to experience in the act of giving up those philosophies to do what was best for my son. I remember feeling disappointment and sadness when I gave him his first bottle of formula at the doctor. But I am proud of that today.

So I move on in my parenting journey finding more philosophies and values that speak to me but always remembering that important lesson. Sometimes the direction these values take me won’t be the right path for my son. Sometimes I’ll need to find a different path than what I intended. Love and understanding what is best for him is now my main compass. It takes immense strength to truly put our children above our own values, to realize that what we want for them doesn’t always equal what’s best for them. But love is full of beautiful sacrifices.

Erica’s Story

Each week for Maternal Mental Health Month I will be bringing you a story of a real mom’s struggle with mental health issues. These moms so graciously volunteered their stories in hopes of inspiring others through their journey. I owe much appreciation to the writer of our first story this month: Erica.

Erica's Story-Don’t isolate yourself, get yourself out of the house, even if you are tired and anxious. Don’t let the walls close in. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You will be OK.

When did you notice or realize that your struggle were beyond “normal” baby blues?

6 weeks post birth.  My mum, visiting from the UK, left to go home.  Around the same time, I made a decision to stop breast feeding because it just wasn’t working out.  I felt my world fall apart.  I didn’t know what I was going to do without my Mum around, and hadn’t felt I’d ‘bonded’ with my son, either.  He didn’t sleep very well, and I wasn’t getting enough rest.  I felt tired, isolated, anxious and lonely.  I cried most of the day, wasn’t sleeping well, and stayed home rather than face going out.

At what point did you decide to seek help?

6 or 7 weeks post birth.  My husband encouraged me to go to see my GP [general practitioner].  I had a few, what I call ‘breakdowns’, which at one point in the middle of the night, had my husband debating whether to call the ambulance because I lost control and became terrified of what was happening to me.  Unfortunately, the GP I went to see, didn’t really talk to me about my options. He prescribed me with antidepressants and shooed me out the door.   I took the antidepressant for a week, felt awful, and stopped.  I can’t recall if I was my decision to change GPs, or whether someone else told me to, but I did.  My new GP proved to be a much better support, and referred me to a counsellor straight away.

The second time around, with my second son, I started seeing cracks in my moods during pregnancy.  Because my first birth and first year of motherhood hadn’t gone to plan, I started to get anxious about how I’d cope with baby #2.  This time, I was able to seek help sooner.  I went back to my GP to organise a mental health care plan and referral to a counsellor.   After a few sessions it was established I’d suffered from anxiety for most of my life, I hadn’t actually realised until that point.  After baby #2 was born, I coped a bit better than I did the first time, but unfortunately PND [postnatal depression] reared its ugly head again.  After many months of counselling, it got to the point where I needed medication. At that point, I felt suicidal, that my family would be better without me.  After initially rejecting the idea of being medicated, I accepted that’s what I needed to do to help me out of my dark place, so I started taking antidepressants.

Describe your journey to recovery. How have things gotten better?

Weekly counselling helped me immensely.  Much of my weekly sessions involved tears and lots of them.  Slowly, that changed.  I could confide in my counsellor in a way I couldn’t with anyone else.  Because I had no connections with him in terms of friendship or family, it helped me talk about what was really going on in my mind, and helped me understand (to some extent) why.

After a few months, I changed my weekly visits to fortnightly then monthly.

I stopped keeping my thoughts to myself, and worked on releasing some of the guilt I had of burdening my loved ones with my woes.  Communication has always been a little difficult for me, but I’ve got better (although forever working on it) and find I can talk more freely than I used to with my family and friends.

Baby #2 is now 2.5yrs. I am still taking antidepressants but I’m down to minimum dose.  At some point I may not need to take them anymore, but right now, I’m running on about 95% and feeling so much better.

What was the most helpful thing to you during your struggles?

When my baby reached 6 months, I made the tough decision to quit my job because I wasn’t coping.  My baby was in childcare three days a week and I worked in the city; an hour commute each way.  When I didn’t work in the city, I still worked, with my son at home with me.   My baby didn’t sleep well at night because of reflux, which meant none of us were getting enough rest, nor enough time to recover.

The job I quit, wasn’t just a job, it was my everything.. before kids.  I had a fulfilling career, in a job I thought I’d be in for the rest of my working life.  All of that changed when my son arrived and my priorities changed, but when I quit my job, I felt so lost and didn’t understand my purpose anymore.  Was ‘being a Mum’ all there was for me?  Was it enough?  I hadn’t planned for that.

My husband said to me “you need to get a hobby”, and I laughed in his face.  A hobby?  When would I have time to find a hobby in between the daily chores of motherhood?  Well, I did find a hobby, I started to write.  A blog to start with.  My blog give me a creative outlet and something I could focus on, other than my daily struggles through motherhood.  My blog gained momentum and recognition.  I made blog friends, and taught myself to sew.  I started to get paid to share my words so I made my blog my job, and that made me happy.  I found my purpose again, and new doors opened, which I hadn’t thought possible.  8 years on, and I’m still writing; not just a blog, but for agencies and websites, too.  I didn’t find a new job in the same field of work I did prior to having kids, instead, I changed my career and turned my hobby into my job.  Lucky me.

What also helped me in the early months, was getting out of the house.  Even in my sleep deprived, anxious state, I went to playgroups, music groups, mother’s group meet-ups, sometimes to the café by myself, just to break up my day.  A year down the track, I found an occasional care centre; a community run facility offering low cost, short term childcare.  I enrolled my son into the centre, and slowly got both of us used to the facility before I left him in caring hands for a few hours a week.  Those few hours, increased to 5 hours, and eventually x 3 days a week, when he got a little older.  Not only did I meet some amazing friends (who are still my amazing friends, today) through the centre; other mothers who didn’t have local support nearby, but the short break meant the world to me.  Doing a little creative work, or simply running errands during that time, gave me the opportunity to appreciate being a Mum.  I couldn’t wait to see my son at pick up time, to see the smile on his face, and jump back into my important role as MUM again.

Do you have any advice for moms in seeking professional help or outside support/resources?

If you sense you aren’t coping, or think your ‘baby blues’ aren’t going away, please talk about it.  See your GP and get a referral to see a counsellor/physcologist.   If you aren’t confident with your current GP, change.  Ask your friends for a GP recommendation if you’re not sure.  When you see your GP, ask for a mental health plan to see a counsellor, or speak to your counsellor about it because you should be entitled to receive a rebate for sessions from Medicare [in Australia].  If you are really lost and don’t know where to turn, call the PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia telephone counselling service) helpline.  I did, on more than one occasion, and can’t thank them enough for helping me through my most difficult days.

What would you like others moms to understand and learn from the most about your experience?

Don’t keep things bottled up and don’t think you are burdening other people with your troubles.  I know it’s hard, but you have to talk to your friends or family.  When you find someone you feel comfortable to talk to, even if that person happens to be your counsellor, keep in regular contact.  Don’t isolate yourself, get yourself out of the house, even if you are tired and anxious.  Don’t let the walls close in.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  You will be OK.

 

Erica was born and raised in England, but now calls Australia home.  She lives in Melbourne Bayside with her husband and two young sons.

Erica writes all about sustainable fashion for her personal blog Recycled Fashion, and she specialises in writing entertainment and event reviews for WeekendNotes all things kid-related for KidTown Melbourne and Melbourne Mums Group.

Erica’s number one passion is to write, although op shopping, travelling and craft related activities all fall a close second. Erica might live in the coffee capital of Australia, but she is 100% fuelled by chai lattes and chocolate.

Erica is a qualified in Business and Finance, although for a large chunk of her working life managed a volunteer travel business, saving little corners of the world in the name of wildlife conservation research.

 

Why My Child’s Happiness is Not My #1 Priority

happinessIt seems in society today people are on the constant search for happiness. We try to obtain it  through materials, success, fame, a nice body, a new perspective, the “perfect” relationship. But why does it seem that when we have all these avenues for happiness at our door step so many people are still dissatisfied? Maybe its not because we aren’t finding things that are making us happy but that we aren’t understanding that happiness can not be a 24/7 feeling.

And why should it be? What would life be without struggle, sadness, anger, or despair? How can we be in touch with the full experience of human life if we don’t expect difficult parts? I want my son to understand that happiness is not something to be constantly chased. Happiness is a wonderful part of life but it is one part and not the entire meaning of our existence. I believe that when we only focus on being happy we start to lose our tolerance for everything but happiness. Uncomfortable emotions become “bad” and something we should avoid at all costs. But sometimes we need sadness, fear, anger, vulnerability, and even jealousy because these emotions hold the clue to who we are, who we want to be, and what we care about. When we teach that happiness is the ultimate goal we start to equate that with an avoidance of everything else.

This does not mean I want my son to live a life of despair. I want him to have goals and desires and know what brings feelings of joy, pride, and a sense of accomplishment. But ultimately I want him to know that to get to those feelings you often have to tolerate and embrace the discomfort of vulnerability, potential rejection, frustration from barriers, and disappointment when it seems you aren’t getting anywhere. None of these things are “bad” but a part of the journey to getting what we want. They are the character building hurdles we must jump over to get to the grand prize.

Sometimes when he cries it tears my heart apart. I don’t like that feeling but I understand that it goes hand in hand with my love for him and that my discomfort with his struggles is a symbol of our beautiful connection. I cannot lie to myself in believing that he will never know suffering. Nor do I really want to prevent it full stop. I want him to know rejection, anxiety, vulnerability, guilt, jealousy, and anger. I want him to know himself, his strengths and limitations, and ultimately, his purpose. I want him to know the fullness you feel when you have pushed through a difficult time and emerged knowing more of yourself.

Our child’s lives will have pain, anguish, rejection, and despair. It does damage to believe our children should be shielded from that fact. It can send a message that they can’t handle the tough parts.

So I let him have tantrums on the floor and cry his heart out without offering quick fixes. I tell him he is feeling sad and that is okay. Initially I have at that discomfort with his negative feelings. I acknowledge this in myself; the vulnerability I feel.  I push past it and start to see the beauty in our struggles. I comfort him but I do not fix it. I allow myself to witness his wrestle with his feelings. I see him start to take deep breaths and calm down. He comes over and gives me a hug. That moment is bliss to me and not because he’s calm now but because he’s wiser, more resilient, and more aware. Those are the tools that lead him to live a purposeful and full life. These are the moments that define him. I have Christmas mornings, opening birthday presents, watching him ride his first roller coaster or win his first soccer game. Those fill my maternal need to witness his happiness. But I will not push him forcefully towards happiness or shield him from any discomfort. I will guide him through darkness and teach him not to be afraid but to embrace it because those feelings are a part of him that is just as beautiful as his smiles and laughter.

So what is my #1 priority for my son in the grand scheme of life (other than the obvious-safety)? For me, it’s finding meaning in his life experiences. When we can take our experiences and derive meaning from them we are able to use the experiences as tools rather than view them as unnecessary pain. Finding meaning means examining how the experience changed us, how we can grow from it, and how we can use to it obtain joy and purpose. So I may be that annoying parent that asks my child “what can you learn from that?” when he makes a mistake or encounters rejection but I do this so he can build meaningful experiences from the painful ones. In meaning there is hope.

My love for him is stronger than happiness and joy because it is full of all the human experiences. My love knows when to tell him no, when to allow him to fail, when to encourage him to do something he wants to even thought it might not work out. I will not protect him from discomfort all the time especially when it’s for the purpose of keeping myself comfortable. My love is stronger than that.

The Lies Sleep Deprivation Tells You

We all have negative thoughts. But the negative thoughts that accompany me in the middle of the night when I’m awoke by my son have a stronger hold. These thoughts are angry and malicious. They are lies that I find so easy to believe in my desperation. In the darkness of the night I feel the darkness come over me.

Maybe you relate. And I hope you know too, these angry thoughts that have you believing that you are at the end of your rope, are LIES. Lies like these:

I can’t do this anymore.

I hate this.

I’m not cut out for this.

Why did I think I could be a mom?

Why won’t he go back to bed? 

Today is going to suck.

I want to run away.

I just don’t care anymore. 

When I believe them and hold on to them, they win. They control me. They control how I talk to my son. They make me look angry with him. They make short with him. They keep me simmering throughout the day, irritable and on edge. They keep me from being the best version of myself as a wife, mother, and person.

I’ve made a living out of helping people not believe what they think. I’ve coached them on skills, mindfulness, relaxation….I’ve talked people through their judgements and negative self-talk. But in the midnight hour I forget all those skills somehow. My brainpower and willpower are minimal. I feel depleted, empty, a small shred of the person I usually am.

I realized I come to a crossroads in the middle of sleep deprivation. I can choose the path to believe my sleep deprived thoughts and carry on feeling sorry for myself and holding on to resentment towards everything that contributes to them- my son, my choice to be a mother, my husband for having a lucrative career and thus not being the primary wake up at night person. Or I can choose that in spite of these thoughts I will still get up and try and wake up later and begin the day believing that I am still a good mom because my sleep deprivation isn’t the cause of the me being a bad one, its an effect of me being a good one.

Because I am better than these thoughts.This is a dark corner of my mind but it is not who I am. And if you relate remember that you are too. Although I may believe those thoughts in the moment I still get up. We are not the summation of our thoughts but the substance of our actions. We are the willingness to go to that crib and pick up our screaming child. We are the rocking, the soothing, the gentle lullabies. We are the going to get water, the looking for monsters, the telling that the nightmare wasn’t real. We are the willingness to do this night after night after night. We are the love it takes to do all of this in spite of those dark thoughts, in spite of feeling like we have nothing left to give.

We may trudge back to bed or sink into that rocking chair with great heaviness and little hope but we fought and we did it and we didn’t give up even though we wanted to so much. We are the fight, not the thoughts.

 

 

The Beauty of Vulnerability

I pooped on the table. I was determined not to. I told my husband not to tell me whether or not I did. Then I asked him afterwards anyways. And he told me the truth-I pooped on the damn table.

I don’t think our vulnerability as mothers can get any more metaphorical than the birth process. We are all splayed out at least half naked. Numerous people are looking at our nether regions. Some of us actually defecate in front of these people. For others our organs are even taken out or moved around and again people are watching. But one thing is for sure, we don’t try to do it all alone.

But then, after being so vulnerable, we get home with this tiny creature and start to believe that we should know what we’re doing and not ask for any help. We think as soon as we get out of the hospital wheelchair or as soon as the midwife closes our front door that that’s it. No more help. It’s on us now. And we are going to be strong and figure it out on our own. And some of us internalize shame, guilt, and fear when things aren’t going well or we don’t know what to do. So we hide, we withdraw, and we live tiptoeing through the darkness trying to find our way out.

I would often discuss the concept of vulnerability with my clients in order to increase their awareness of the things that make them vulnerable to giving into impulses or emotional responses that were unhealthy. I would use the metaphor of a shield and discuss what we need to surround ourselves with in order to be strong and keep ourselves safe from outside forces (i.e. coping skills, support system, healthy habits, etc).

I wish I could go back to my conversations with those kids and tell them I got it wrong.

What I’ve learned is that strength is earned from letting down our shields instead of making them stronger. I’ve learned that safety can lie in being bare and vulnerable. When we truly allow ourselves to take off the super hero costumes we can do the real work of growing and being happy because we are saying “Here I am with all my imperfections. I need help and I’m struggling. And I deserve this help because I am worthy of it.”

A lot of us view life as a “get through with as little trouble as possible” type adventure. We want to avoid bumps and bruises. More trophies, less losses. More smiles, less tears. But with the focus being on only experiencing positivity we make discomfort more intolerable. And when discomfort becomes intolerable we hide and we push away. This is evidenced when we tell someone “I’m fine”, or we don’t speak up for our needs or we smile when we feel like breaking down.

As Brené Brown said, “You can not selectively numb emotion. You can’t say ‘Here’s the bad stuff- here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment-I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.’”

You are vulnerable mama, for so many reasons. You are doing something that can be really difficult. You are doing something different that you have never done before. You are raising a child in a world full of problems and no guarantees. And you are still trying to do it all while figuring out who you are. Motherhood is joyful, and scary, and irritating, and sad, and exciting, and full of love and yes, even poop. But all those things make it a beautiful mess.

So the next time you feel discomfort—in the form of shame, guilt, fear, sadness…..stop yourself and sit with it. Don’t push it away.  Write about it, talk about it, and uncontrollably sob to your partner/mom/friend about it. Let your vulnerability be witnessed. Then ask yourself what you need and find a way to get it. Ask for help. Demand it. Believe you deserve it. Don’t dare do it alone.

This post was inspired by Brené Brown’s work and writings on vulnerability. I highly recommend her TED Talk- “The Power of Vulnerability.” She also has several books including Rising Strong (2015) Daring Greatly (2012), and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010).

When Things Don’t Go as Planned- Be a Resilient Mama

From the moment we know we’re pregnant (and maybe even before then) we start forming expectations of parenthood. What kind of birth do we want to have? What kind of parenting style will we adopt? Will be breastfeed or formula feed? Co-sleep? Cry it out? Babywear? It starts to feel like a really long cafeteria line of choices.

We feel the more we plan the more we are prepared and that gives us a sense of security. We get excited as we think about how beautiful a natural birth will be or how proud we will feel when we start breastfeeding/co-sleeping/making our own purees, etc.

And then for any multitude of reasons……..things don’t work out. We couldn’t anticipate how it would feel when things went awry but here we are and for some us, we are devastated.

I remember telling others when they asked if I planned on breastfeeding, “I plan on it as long as I can do it”– I even approached breastfeeding with a “no serious expectations” approach. Or at least I thought I did. But things didn’t work out I was emotionally gutted.

Over a year after breastfeeding concluded for me I am finally feeling a sense of acceptance and growth from the experience. But in the beginning all I felt was an utter failure of a mother. Whether or not my lack of success with breastfeeding was in or out of my control I felt a profound sense of unwarranted guilt and shame that overshadowed the first year of my sons life. I dwelled in a dark place for far too long. I chose to hold on instead of letting go and I wasn’t fully present to soak in the many other beautiful aspects of what I did as a mother.

When Things Don't Go As Planned Be A Resilient Mama

I have become more resilient from my challenges as a mother. I am grateful for them because they have taught me important lessons about my sense of self-worth, my identity as a mom, and how I want my son to handle challenges in his own life. I have learned that perspective goes a long way when we start to obsess when things don’t work out. Not breastfeeding was one small portion of my sons life and although it mattered to me in the moment I have learned that nothing deserves as much weight as the love I show my child. My concerns over my son knowing that I love him should be the largest portion of my thoughts. When I reflect on how much love I have showed him I feel I have accomplished something amazing no matter how many ounces of breastmilk or formula he received.

So how do we foster resilience in ourselves as moms? How do we overcome the disappointment we feel when things don’t work out as we planned for our child or our motherhood journey? Here are a few tips to improving your resilience.

Respect your healing process. Its not going to be an overnight process to just “get over” what you expected to happen. Know that time will play a huge role  in you developing a healthier perspective and demonstrating acceptance. And remember that true acceptance is not the same as saying something is “okay.” You had a lack of support or resources in making a parenting decision? Not okay. You didn’t get the birth experience you expected because of medical complications? Not okay either. But you can practice acceptance by just simply stating to yourself: “This is what happened. I don’t  have to like it or approve it but this happened. I will choose to not let this define me or cause me an unhealthy amount of distress.”

Reject Unwarranted Guilt. Unwarranted guilt may be a daily challenge for you. One of the first steps in getting rid of it is recognizing when you have those thoughts. Then you can challenge yourself to  find a healthier replacement thought and distract yourself with something constructive.

Here is an example: You think-“I’m such a bad mother because I let her cry in her crib last night. I never planned on crying it out.” Catch yourself and recognize this as an unhelpful, judgmental thought. Replace with a helpful and nonjudgemental thought. “I made the decision to let her cry in her crib. I can think more about how I want to respond tonight and make a plan. This does not make me a bad mother. I am doing the best I can with what I know and I am trying different things.” Then distract yourself with something positive like a self-care task, a conversation with a friend, or tickles and songs with your little one. The hardest part is deciding to move past the thought and not letting it rob you of your energy and positive attitude. If you feel yourself giving into obsessing over these thoughts try to limit your time when you catch yourself thinking about it (i.e. “I will give myself 5 minutes to mull this over and then I am moving on.”)

Stop asking questions and explaining yourself. A big part of letting go of failed expectations is realizing that there is not a need for answers for ambiguous questions. I became obsessive over why breastfeeding didn’t work out and I have now accepted that I may never know why and that it isn’t of great value to me when it doesn’t change anything that happened in the past. A lack of certainty in life is inevitable and one of the most difficult things with which to cope. Simply said-we just have to let go and find something more constructive to lend our energy too. We also don’t need to hold on to the explanations as to why things did not work as planned. Whenever I took out a bottle of formula in front of other moms I felt compelled to tell them why (cue long boring story about a baby asleep at the breast, fruitless pumping, and enough herbal supplements to open my own natural pharmacy). I realized over time it wasn’t really because I needed to have an excuse for them to understand but because I needed to believe that the excuses were enough. We can spend some time analzying our efforts or where we could have made different choices but this only helps to benefit us in the future and when we obsess or carry guilt associated with these explanations we are held down and remain disillusioned with our experience instead of seeing the lessons we can learn so we can move on.

Remember that modeling resilience fosters resilience in your child. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges. We tend to believe that a person’s ability to work through a challenge is determined by how difficult the challenge or stressor may be (i.e. a chronic illness is way tougher to deal with than moving to a new home). However, research shows that a person’s ability to overcome a stressor is related more to the person’s perspective and response to it rather than the actual stressor itself (Center for the Study on Social Policy, “Parental Resilience”) So this basically means its not the challenge itself that matters–it’s the way we perceive and respond to it. We practice resilience by demonstrating a healthy perspective of the problem, having confidence in our ability to overcome it, taking responsibility for our response, and focusing on solutions. It can be easy to overanalyse a problem, find something or someone to blame, believe that you have no power over the problem (including your response to it) and stay focused on potential barriers. But when we practice resilience we are modeling it to our children and thus fostering them to be resilient towards the many challenges of life. Sometimes remembering that can help us stay strong for our children.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. My husband uses this phrase frequently and its an unofficial slogan for the Marines. But the reason I like it is because it snaps me into action. One of the things I wish I could have understood before becoming a parent is just how much I will have to figure out as I go because there isn’t any amount of research or experience that will prepare you for everything when you are a parent. A large part of resolving problems is using your strengths and creativity to find what works for you (improvise). Then you have to demonstrate flexibility in being able to accept that And finally you allow yourself to work through the problem and let it go. Look to the future and if its in regards to making a mistake because of a lack of knowledge of experience remember- when you know better, you do better.

Remember that motherhood is so much more than your expectations whether failed or succeeded. Oftentimes our identity and relationships are defined by the challenges and growth we experience from them. So stay strong Mamas, you can get through this.