Coming very soon, Live Grow Bloom is going to be offering a new way to give you the tools you need to really thrive as a working mom. Stay tuned!!
By now, schools is in session across the country and I’ve talked with MANY moms who are struggling with the transition. Whether they are sending their six-month-old to daycare for the first time or their eighteen-year-olds off to college, it’s a difficult season for many moms.
There are two primary reasons for this.
First, it can be hard to watch our kids struggle with the transition. Seeing my younger son in tears in his new pre-k classroom has definitely been challenging this year.
Second, this season usually marks the beginning of a new classroom or a new phase of our kids’ growth that can leave us grieving the loss of the previous phase. Watching my older son start kindergarten and honoring his request to ride the bus to school certainly brought up feelings of sadness and memories from when he was a baby. Our brains can bring up difficult questions, like “Have I done enough?” Or “How did he grow up so fast?”
If you or your kids are struggling with this transition, here are some strategies to help.
Nothing Has Gone Wrong
When we feel a negative emotion and then think that we shouldn’t, we end up layering on more negative emotions and making the experience much worse than it needs to be. For example, if we try to push away feeling sad about the summer’s end by believing we should be feeling happy instead, we make our own experience worse and we don’t allow ourselves to benefit and learn from this natural part of the human experience.
On the other hand, when we can feel negative emotion and simultaneously believe that nothing has gone wrong, we allow ourselves to just feel the “clean pain” of life without layering the “dirty pain” of suffering on top of it.
This works with our children as well. When my three-year-old tells me he feels nervous or sad about school, I tell him, “it’s okay if you feel nervous or sad. That’s the way you’re supposed to feel when you’re three years old and you start a new school.”
If I were to push the feeling away and tell him not to feel that way, it would (1) be completely ineffectual, (2) create embarrassment or shame for feeling the way he feels, which would make the experience even more painful, and (3) instill in him unrealistic and unhealthy belief that he should never feel negative emotions as a human.
But when I tell him that nothing has gone wrong, he actually feels a bit of relief. He has permission to feel whatever emotion comes up for him. I tell him about when I was little and I felt that way, too. I tell him that little by little, I started to feel less nervous. I tell him that I still feel nervous when I do something new, too. Nothing has gone wrong. It’s part of being a person on the planet.
Fully Feel How You Feel
Allowing yourself to fully feel a negative emotion, rather than resisting it, allows your body to fully process and release that emotion. Research shows that the physiological response that is created when you have a thought lasts only about 90 seconds in the body.
What causes us to feel sustained negative emotion is when we argue with the emotion, push it away, or continue to perpetuate it with more of the same thoughts.
One of the best ways to interrupt that cycle is to ask some very specific questions:
- What are you feeling now?
- Where are you feeling it in your body?
- Is it tight or loose?
- Is it fast or slow?
- Does the feeling have a color?
- Watch it carefully as you breathe in and out: Does the feeling move or stay in one place?
- Notice the intensity: Does it get stronger or weaker? Does it come in waves?
Notice how the emotion doesn’t kill you, even though your brain tells you that it will.
This is just as effective with kids as it is with adults. In fact, teaching this to your kids is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. If they can learn how to handle their negative emotions now, they will be so much stronger and more resilient throughout their lives, and a lot less likely to turn to drugs, alcohol, and other emotion-numbing substances when they’re older.
Ask Good Questions
When you’re going through a difficult transition, it’s really normal for our brains to show us reasons why “everything” is going wrong.
That’s because when we think thoughts like “something has gone wrong here,” our brains’ immediate response is to look for and gather evidence in support of that initial thought.
But a lot of good is going on at the same time and you can direct your brain to see it by asking the right questions:
- What is right about this?
- What is good about this?
- How is this going to make me/us stronger?
- What am I/are we learning from this?
- What are the ways in which I/we can handle this?
Really do this exercise by getting some paper and writing down the answers to these questions. Start accumulating evidence to support the belief that everything is as it should be.
You can do this with your kids as well. At the beginning of the day, ask them to look for 3 things that they like about their new classroom that they will tell you about after school. My three-year-old promised me this morning that he could find at least two things that he likes about his new school. I’ll take it.
Doing this helps us and our kids not only get through these transitions, but come out stronger and more resilient on the other side.
Last week, I talked about self-care and the best way to practice lasting self-care in your life. But most of my clients really struggle with allowing their own health and wellbeing to be a top priority on a daily basis.
The clients who struggle with this the most are moms. Women are socialized to take care of others and be selfless but this programming really kicks into overdrive when we become moms. In addition to our societal programing, there is a very really mama bear instinct that kicks in when we give birth and we become solely focused on protecting our young.
Caring for our children is a wonderful thing but allowing yourself to become depleted and exhausted while trying to be everything to everybody is not.
When Was The Last Time You Did Something Just For You?
So many moms tell me that they don’t even remember what it was like to do something for themselves or to just do something they enjoy for the sake of doing it, that isn’t related to their children.
Here’s the problem with this approach: we can’t be the people we were born to be when we’re depleted. A mother has so much more love to give to her children when she’s feeling happy and healthy. Even if you can take care of your children’s basic needs when you’re running on fumes, it’s going to be really hard to genuinely enjoy that time with them and be the mom you really want to be.
Build Up Your Reserves
I’m not sure about you, but my reserve of patience and understanding taps out when I’m not rested, when I don’t exercise, or when I don’t make time to do things I enjoy. I show up as a much more loving and enthusiastic mother when my own reserve is full.
And I suspect that’s true for pretty much all humans. It’s hard to be the professional, partner, friend, or family member that you want to be when you feel like you’ve got nothing left.
So you accept that premise as true, it follows that taking care of others actually requires you to take care of yourself first. The proverbial oxygen mask that you must put on yourself first if you want to be able to help your kids with their oxygen masks.
Do It For Them
If you don’t currently believe that you’re worthy of this, or deserve this, then you can work on believing that over time.
But in the meantime, let go of trying to do it for yourself and start doing it for them. Do it for your kids, so that they can see a mother who is flourishing. Do it for your partner or parents or friends or clients. But above all, do it.
You were not born to live a depleted life. Let the world see you at your best because that’s how you can give the world the best that’s in you.
Have a beautiful week.
P.S. If this is something you struggle with, I can help you. Schedule a free one-hour call with me and I will help you with your specific situation.
After my first son was born, I initially went back to my job on a part-time basis. This worked very well at first, until my biggest case got busy and I started working much longer hours. I remember feeling like I couldn’t be a good mom to my son and do as well at work as I would like.
And I know that I wasn’t alone. Nearly every working mom that I know has felt the same way at some point.
Understand Your Mama Brain
Adult human brains are exceptionally good at finding problems. Problems at work, in the world, and in our own lives. But when you become a mom, your brain gets structurally rewired and becomes even better at spotting potential threats.
These changes are great at helping us form strong attachments to our children and keeping them alive in potentially dangerous situations. But it can make parenting in our modern world while maintaining a career even more challenging.
Couple that with societal pressure to achieve perfection, as well as the tremendous demands of raising young children and having a busy career, and you have all of the ingredients for a perfect storm.
To make matters worse, nobody teaches us how to manage our anxiety-prone mama brains, so we find ourselves living on an emotional roller coaster much of the time. Mind management is required if you want to be productive, feel happy, and thrive as a working mom. Here’s the first step to doing that.
Look At What You’re Telling Yourself
The feelings of guilt and inadequacy that I experienced as a new mom didn’t just happen to me, and they don’t just happen to you either. They are created by the thoughts that we tell ourselves every day. We often repeat some thoughts so much that we’ve accepted them as true, as beliefs. Often our subconscious thoughts and beliefs are dictating how we feel and what we do in ways that we don’t realize.
For example, if your mother stayed home with you when you were a child, you may have the subconscious belief that “mothers should stay home with their children.” If you are working despite having this belief, you might find yourself feeling guilt-ridden every time you leave for work. It’s not because you work that you feel guilty, it’s because you’re thinking that you should be home with your children. Another mother without that thought can go to work and not experience a scintilla of guilt.
Likewise, if you’re telling yourself “I can’t do everything I need to do for work because I have to take care of my kids,” that thought is also likely to create the feeling of anxiety, guilt, or inadequacy at work.
But these feelings of guilt and inadequacy do not invite us to become our best selves. To the contrary, they usually drive us to overcompensate, burn the candle at both ends, lose sleep, and waste a lot of time spinning in negative self-talk, rather than taking productive action.
When you do that, you’re not showing up as the best version of yourself at work or with your kids, and you become mentally and physically exhausted, on the verge of burning out. It’s really hard to do your best work when you’re operating at this level and you’re likely to be unhappy with your results, both as a professional and as a mom.
The truth is that the negative thoughts that cause us to feel this way are 100% optional. And since they cause us to create negative results in our lives, there is really no good reason to continue to think them.
You Get To Decide How You Want To Feel
The fact is that you have 24 hours in the day and you’re a professional and a mother.
How do you want to feel about that fact? Maybe you just want to feel adequate at both your job and being a mom.
Here are some thoughts that can help create the feeling of adequacy:
- I can’t do everything (because I’m human) but I can do what is most important at home and at work.
- I’m figuring out how to balance motherhood and my career, and that’s okay.
- Working for income is an important part of taking care of my family.
- There are times when I cannot work because I choose to tend to my family, and that’s okay.
- There are times when I cannot be at home because I choose to tend to my work, and that’s okay.
Thoughts like these are likely to be very different from what you’re currently telling yourself. You have to believe them in order to feel better, so if you don’t believe any of these, write down thoughts that you can believe that are more neutral than what you’re currently telling yourself.
Begin to practice these new thoughts daily by consciously directing your mind to them. Your old thoughts will be competing with these new thoughts and they’ll be easier to believe at first because you’ve been practicing them for so long. But how you feel is the direct result of how much airtime you decide to give the old thoughts versus the new ones. And feeling better is the first step toward creating better results.
Now that I’ve learned to apply mind management to my own life, my dominant thought about being a mom with a career is this: I am a better mom because I have a career that I love. My career energizes me. It gives me time and space to make a contribution. After a good day’s work, I relish the time I spend with my children. This thought serves me so much better than the thoughts I had as a new mom. It makes me feel calm, peaceful, and motivated. And it’s available 24/7 to anyone who wants to borrow it.
How do you want to feel about being a mom with a career?
Go forth, grow, and bloom.
P.S. Because this is such a big issue for so many moms and there is so much to cover, this post is divided into two parts. See Part 2 for more tools to help you manage your mama brain.