With a title like that I feel the need to first say how much I love my children, which goes to show why I'm writing this in the first place.
It seems somehow radical to say that you don't live and breathe your little ones and I might think carefully about who I was talking to before I brought it up in conversation. But why?
I want to say that this often applies mainly to mothers (Dads please weigh in if I'm wrong...!) I'm not sure that as many people would bat an eyelid about Dad being away from baby for a night or two as they would Mum. I've never heard a Mum looking after children referred to as babysitting but I've heard it several times when it comes to Dads. I absolutely accept that Dads have their own challenges - dad and toddler groups anyone? - but it feels like there's a bit more freedom there when it comes to permission for time and space away from being a parent.
Before I had kids I spent a lot of time travelling, I sometimes got kicked out of pubs at closing. I liked learning, experimenting with cooking, reading for pleasure, being with my husband and my friends...
Guess what? I still do (ok, less of the pubs but that was probably on the way out anyway...)
For me, it's a pie chart. I don't know why, the only thing that stuck from some long forgotten maths lesson probably. For you it might be a box full of things or an actual pie, it doesn't really matter. The important thing is that it's a representation of how much energy we have to allocate to each of our roles, activities and relationships. It's how much time, how much of ourselves, how much space in our life we can give each thing - because we all have limits on all of those.
We're bound to have some conflicts and how big the pieces are for each section aren't fixed. Work might need more of us one week and family the next, it's fluid. But say we're at capacity with everything and then we get ill. That might mean there's not enough pie to go around and... bump. You're in overwhelm.
So, to avoid it we try to have some balance in how we allocate the sections of our pie. The big question is - how much do you get?
This isn't easy for everyone. Because of our responsibilities, circumstances or our living situation there will be times when we struggle to peel off a sliver for ourselves.
But do we notice that or did we never really feel deserving of a piece anyway? One way to find out is to imagine that you have a surplus of everything. In these good times how much do you allocate to yourself?
Even if you can only manage a couple of minutes every once in a while to do something that is just about you, it's more about your attitude and belief that you matter too. That having children (or partners, pets, friends etc...) doesn't mean that there is no part of your life that belongs to you anymore.
Check in with what might be underneath the need to always be giving.
If taking a piece of your own pie is shocking or even just uncomfortable there's probably a belief there that could be gently challenged.
As a parent, a good place to start is what we believe parenthood 'should' look like, because the pressure we feel from that can be worse than anything external. (Happy side note, if you're feeling the outside pressure and you work through your beliefs, external judgements might just seem to subside...).
Looking at our beliefs and behaviours can sometimes be tricky and confronting but it's worth being honest with yourself because that's where change happens. There is sometimes (gasp!) a bit of a martyr in us that needs to feel needed or maybe we learned somewhere that it makes us 'good people' to keep giving until we explode from being empty.
I have some experience of what this looks like. Not only did my Mum not feel completely fulfilled by making our family her whole life, she expected herself to and felt she was somehow a failure because she didn't. What a burden. Cue feelings of being trapped and resentment towards the children because all of us project emotion.
And guess who ended up with lots of unrealistic expectations of herself when she became a mum too? Yep, that's me.
The great news is, anything can change. It's all cause and effect, and often the key is finding the cause.
It's also worth asking ourselves if we expect other people to be responsible for filling our cup and keeping us balanced, or whether we really accept that it's up to us. If we want other people to do it and they don't meet our expectations or respond to our coded messages, we can end up angry and disappointed when we could have reached for what we needed ourselves.
There is no judgement (ever, these are always strategies that we have learned to meet our needs) just a message that there might be something there to work on if we want to feel differently.
Being a mother is a huge piece of my pie, and so it should be.
My children deserve to feel loved and supported and they really are astonishing little humans I am grateful for every day. I don't see looking after myself as a conflict with their needs but actually a priority because it serves all of us.
Ultimately, I want them to become adults who feel empowered to put boundaries in for themselves, who value their emotions, respect themselves and feel able to be clear about what they need. I would like them to connect with their bodies and their minds and to trust them. I want them to prioritise time and space to keep themselves in balance and not have to rely on other people to make them feel good.
But how can I teach them their needs matter if they don't see me honour my own?
In making them my everything, I might end up doing us all a disservice.
- If I rely on them for meaning and fulfilment in life, I'm inadvertently putting a pressure on them that they can never meet and teaching them that they should be carrying emotions that don't belong to them.
- If looking after them is my whole world, how will I let them go and encourage them to end up where their road takes them? They don't belong to me and if I think I already know where they're going, I won't allow them to surprise me or themselves.
More than anything if I don't connect with myself and take care of my own physical and emotional health I can't hold space for them the way I want to. I won't be able to be calm and giving because I'll be empty and - contrary to popular myth - mums are not superhuman. It's a recipe for burnout.
My kids have made my world bigger, brighter and more beautiful.
But if they are the only things in it, it won't feel enough for me or for them.
So maybe have a think about your pie and how big your slice is. How would it feel to take more? Do you think you would encourage a friend to if their pie looked like yours?
And actually, what would taking more look like?
It's a nice exercise to make a list of things you love doing / places you love to go / things that give you joy to create. They don't have to be big and time-consuming (although they can be!) It can really make a difference to bring in very small but consistent moments that are about looking after you or indulging yourself somehow.
I know it can feel hard, especially when it seems like there's not much pie to start with. Something I've learned though, is that often those are the times when consciously giving myself a better portion would help everyone.
I work with parents to improve balance, alleviate pressure and work through the beliefs that are getting in the way of where they would like to be. Book a discovery call below or get in touch.
"There is no way to be a perfect mother
You might not agree with me here, that's okay. With something as personal and as vulnerable as having our children and working out the best way to guide them through the world, we will come across different opinions and I respect yours, whatever it is.
I'm cheating here a bit too. There are actually a whole host of reasons why I've thrown out the motherhood job description - not least my own mum's battles with it - but those are other stories.
What is the fairytale?
That you sail through a beautiful pregnancy glowing like you're spotlit and find yourself with a bouncing baby at the end of it who latches effortlessly, sleeps like an angel and grows into a toddler and a teenager who does everything you ask and who you always have an easy relationship with (unlike every other important relationship in life).
Well, my children are adopted so my version of motherhood was already a plot twist. But also - really? it's the equivalent of a Disney princess and her guy walking off into the sunset as if that's the end of the story and not the beginning.
Learning is messy and hard sometimes and all parenthood is learning. If we don't acknowledge it we're going to have trouble coping with the tricky lessons we didn't expect.
I grew up in a household where there were a lot of elephants in rooms, a lot of burying unwelcome truths and a lot of expectations for everyone to live up to about what a 'good' family was. Now I'm allergic to any of those things because I know it takes more time and more work to try to hide a mess than to see it and clean it up.
What harm can a fairytale do?
The harm comes when the fairytale is never acknowledged as a lie or at least a very filtered version of the truth.
If I'm aiming for seamlessly making all the right choices or expecting my child to behave exactly as I want them to I'm going to mark every other moment as a failure; but if I already understand there are a lot of potential bumps in this road and that I will never finish learning and become a perfect super-parent, I can appreciate myself for everything I have achieved instead. It's a relief.
Where I differ from people who subscribe to the fairytale is that they think that the tricky moments aren't pretty and they ruin the story. I think that they are all parts of the complicated, individual magic that makes up a life and without owning yours, you're just reaching for an impossible goal. There's also no real progress without honesty so breezing over everything might feel more comfortable in the moment but doesn't always help make change.
In practice, what trying to live up to the fairytale means is that you're under pressure. You might not tell anyone about the time you lost your temper and it will eat away at you or you won't seek help for struggling to connect with your child and it will become a vicious cycle. If you create a 'perfect' narrative for everyone to be a character in, you are less likely to acknowledge the naturally occurring cracks that are there for us all and this is a great way of making sure they turn in into canyons over time. You also run the risk of feeling angry with your child when they don't fit into the mould you created for them before they arrived.
For me the power in our fears and anxieties comes from feeling alone in them. They're like the monsters under the bed when you were a kid - huge and looming but when you turn on the light you find there's nothing to see. None of us are perfect, none of us live the fairytale all the time. If we know that, we can enjoy it when we do without feeling not good enough when it's something else for a while.
All that worry, all that shame never spoken and the simple truth is that sometimes a good mate saying 'I completely get it' over a cuppa can be all you need to hear to start again. You've also just given that friend permission not to be flawless too.
If not the fairytale, then what?
Let's face it, it's fantasy. One story for everyone always is. It's also very one dimensional.
Where are the stories of mothers who didn't enjoy pregnancy or had difficult births? Who struggle to bond with their children or are raising children they didn't give birth to? Where are the stories of mothers dealing with their children's disabilities or challenging behaviours, raising their families alone or finding motherhood different to what they imagined for millions of reasons? It feels like we can learn more from allowing the stories we hear to be as real and as different as our experiences.
If that feels like bursting a bubble it's not meant to. There's more, rather than less, freedom and real happiness in that outlook for me because there is acceptance in it too.
- I can call a bad morning a bad morning and I don't have to feel resistant or disappointed about it because they come and go. No pressure.
- I can seek help when I need to because I know I'll never be perfect and there will always be more to learn.
- I can make being a mother fit me rather than trying to shoehorn myself into a cookie cutter mould. I believe that was something my own mum never really felt and I know which I would rather.
If you fit neatly into the fairytale I'm genuinely happy for you. Personally, I can't say that I would describe either my childhood or my motherhood that way and at the beginning it made me feel like an anomaly. Now I know I'm not.
Not only were we all different before we had children so we're not the same now, we all have a different version of where we want to be as mothers.
To get there we need to stop plastering one version of a story onto everyone and let mothers write their own. The stories we all write would be better, brighter and much more useful to each other without all the noise of what someone else says happy ever after should look like.
There is no need for something to be perfect for it to be beautiful.
I work with parents to let go of the fairytale and create stories they are proud of. If you are struggling with expectations, relationships with your children or your identity as a parent, book a free consultation to find out how.
A lot of us might have freedom as a goal, but what does it actually look like?
Where has your version come from?
We know that one of the most important steps in getting where you want to be is really being able to see what it is you're aiming for. Maybe something comes to mind for you immediately when you think of freedom.
A step that is sometimes missing though, is working out why you want that particular version of it in the first place. For me this is essential and it's also sometimes the beginning of the end when I realise that my motivation was really fear of what someone else would think or a 'should' - basically anything that comes from outside of me.
It can be so easy to fall into a goal based on what is expected, whether that comes from someone else, yourself, or you've just soaked it up from the thousands of messages we have waved in our faces every day. It's also very seductive to get distracted from what really matters to you because something else feels like it's the logical next step or what you should be aiming for whether you want to or not, say a promotion when you're actually really happy where you are.
External treasures are lovely, often hard-won and great bonuses but it is sometimes important to consider what we make them mean.
Maybe freedom for you really is that car or that shiny new job but are you expecting to see yourself or your life fundamentally differently once you have them? Are you actually reaching for something else - a sense of self-worth, power or recognition for example?
It can be worth the question because when we reach a goal expecting to feel suddenly fulfilled and it wasn't what we were really looking for, it can be a real disappointment.
What if freedom isn't a set of things at all?
As someone who spent a very long time feeling trapped in my own patterns, I measure my freedom as the absence of constraint in my mind and in my life. The ability to have easy conversations that I can let go of afterwards, even if I feel I said something I wish I hadn't. Being able to express myself and hold boundaries feeling calm and confident. The ability to be fully present and have space for real joy in the moment because I'm not worried about what I should be doing and I'm not lost in a moment that's already passed or is yet to arrive.
I experience that freedom as an almost physical lightness, and because it is a weight that I've put down, I can probably appreciate it in a way I wouldn't if I had never felt the opposite. Freedom for me is being able to live my life, right now.
I learned through trial and quite a bit of error, that when freedom depends on what we have or what we look like to other people it can easily disappear.
Externally, lots of things have changed for me over the years. I've lived in a fair few places, I've had different jobs, people have come and gone and I've had more and less financially - but my sense of freedom is something I build inside of myself and I bring with me no matter my situation.
Follow the feelings
A pretty solid way of staying close to your idea of freedom is to tune into the feelings you have about the actions and decisions in your life and keep it simple. Notice I said feelings and not thoughts which can quickly become a bit of a maze.
Does it feel constrained? Does it take you closer or further away from what you really want, even if looks all-singing, all-dancing with bells on and everyone you know thinks it's a great idea?
To do this we have to prioritise what really matters to us and sometimes we've been so distracted from it that we're not even sure what it is anymore. It can feel like standing in a loud room full of people and trying to find that one really quiet person in the crowd. The good news is they've never left the party and they are always waiting for us to find them again.
It might sound a bit woo but you've got a pretty reliable map with those feelings. If you listen, they are very likely to lead you where you want to go. Deep down we usually know the right path for us but the 'shoulds' get in the way of that little voice.
Ultimately, it's your connection to yourself and what is really important to you that is going to lead you to real fulfilment, even if that looks completely different than you would have expected.
If you were to let those feelings map the journey to your freedom, what would the first step be?
You know that person at work who drives you crazy? That friend who does something that makes you twitch every single time? Or the habit that, no matter how many times you mention it, your partner just won't break?
Listen to your body right now, how does it react when you think of those things - and how familiar is that feeling?
It seems counterintuitive at first but if we start asking 'what is my part in this?' instead of giving in to the temptation to stoke that anger, we might end up at a result much more like what we want to see.
Where are your patterns?
One of mine is being told what I 'should' be doing. The idea that someone knows better than me, about me, never fails to give me an automatic pang of defensiveness. These days I can see that happening more often and make a choice rather than biting back - but it's a sore spot.
Life has a way of showing you your sore spots and you might find that you keep meeting people or finding yourself in situations that end up up triggering them. Sometimes this can have us wondering why things are so hard, or why do people behave like this to me? but those questions can often be dead ends. More useful might be something like 'What pattern do I have here and how can I break it?'
Once you know that, it gives you a place to start. If you can follow that thread and commit to making a change - regardless of what the other person chooses to do - you are very likely to see a different result. The alternative is to focus on them and their behaviour, which is probably a result of all their own patterns and triggers and is completely unaffected by hours of you stewing on it.
There is a power in taking responsibility
Okay so maybe it doesn't feel great at first. If you suggest taking responsibility to anyone in blame mode, they won't thank you for it and we probably all know what it's like to be both sides of that.
The thing is, without taking responsibility you have no power at all. If the problem is with that person or with the rest of the world, what can you do to change it?
It's tricky but important to recognise that there might also be some comfort in staying powerless. It might mean that you don't need to do something that scares you or make a difficult decision. More often than not though, this is a false sense of safety.
If you look for your part in things, not only can you evaluate your own actions but you can let go of what really doesn't belong to you. That person is going to tell you what you should be doing? Okay, that's on them. How you handle it? That's all you, and you'll probably find that if you choose differently it will change how they interact with you in the first place.
When you accept your contribution you don't have to rely on what someone else says or does to feel good and you can also start to move away from what is holding you back. If you're feeling angry with them because you don't feel able to politely decline their unwanted advice, maybe there is a lesson there in expressing yourself and valuing the way you feel.
An inward focus can feel like it won't be productive but very often it can have the most practical impact because you are paying attention to the only thing you can really change.
It's not moments that matter the most
It's not about giving yourself a hard time if you get annoyed and have a good rant from time to time. None of us are going to reach a point where we never come up against some sore spots, no matter how much work we do.
It's more about taking the opportunities that other people's behaviour offers to look in the mirror. From there we can choose to take a conscious action or not. In the end laying blame with someone else or the world for how we feel can just be repetitive and exhausting.
Something I try to remind myself of - more and less successfully depending on the day! - is that sometimes you can't change the situation but there are literally hundreds of things you can do to change the way it feels.
"Don't turn away, keep your gaze on the bandaged place.
Our brains and bodies are amazing at protecting us.
They are unbelievably skilled at creating distance from the things that we find too hard to deal with, especially if those things happened when we were too young to process them properly.
These might be obviously life-changing moments or they could be things that, as adults, we wouldn't see as significant at all. The important thing is that they impacted what we believe about ourselves and the world.
Often we have a sense of those things, boxed up and put out of the way and our instinct might be to walk past quickly when we glimpse them out of the corner of our eye. It's not surprising. We've walked past them for a long time and at one time it felt safe and comfortable to do that, but now it might be holding us back.
Let me give you an example.
Say you made a joke once in a group as a child. No one laughed, maybe someone made fun of you and you felt humiliated. You learned not to put yourself out there in the same way in case you felt that feeling again and that belief became embedded.
You have completely forgotten the incident but at 50 you still feel an anxiety and discomfort in a group, you still find it difficult to speak up. You don't know why it is and think that it must be 'just the way you are', but the more it has happened through the years, the less confident you felt. Now, you tend to avoid groups altogether.
That belief became stuck, we can't help but act from our beliefs. Change that belief and change your life.
This example is a simplistic one. Very often there is a much more complex web of experiences and beliefs that form a behaviour we want to change, but sometimes it really is that simple.
Because it caused you pain at the time and those feelings were never released, it might be uncomfortable to start exploring. There is a natural resistance to looking into places that are tender, where we've been hurt before. It all makes sense and your wonderful body is always keeping you safe but if you keep walking by those boxes you will be left with that anxiety.
One of the hardest parts of doing this work is showing up to do it.
When a client contacts me for the first time, even if they have a strong belief that this is a waste of time and it won't work for them, they have a glimmer of hope there or they wouldn't be reaching out.
To me, that is the most powerful agent for change because change itself always comes from you and your willingness to start a conversation with those parts of you who are stuck, who need reassurance that now they can feel safe to be seen.
Being even a tiny bit willing, a tiny bit open to start looking inside is ground breaking and it takes courage.
It is standing in a doorway having no idea what you are stepping into and not many of us are completely comfortable with the unknown.
In my experience though, when you show up like that you always learn something about yourself and you might even find that freedom is on the other side of that door. I did.
Get in touch & book a free consultation if you are standing in that doorway and EFT feels like it might be the way through for you. Remember, it doesn't even need to feel possible, it just needs you to be open to the idea that impossible is a belief too.
I'm Jess, EFT Practitioner & mindfulness teacher, adoptive mum to two adorable little fireworks and a passionate advocate of the idea that change really is possible, no matter how far away it feels.