You know that feeling when the phone is ringing, someone is trying to have a conversation with you, you've got a floating to-do list in your head, noisy family demands and then the door goes? That is what life feels like at capacity and we all know it to some degree.
This year has been a real journey for me. I started feeling strong, creative and knowing effortlessly my next steps until bit by little bit I found myself floundering. The things I had been doing so easily were suddenly impossibly hard work. As I tried to plug the same amount of energy in at the end as I had at the beginning, I was surprised to find that instead of feeling fulfilled and excited, it felt overwhelming and daunting. Here are some things I learned along the way...
The danger of comparison
You might think that because you have a friend who gets up at 2 in the morning, runs a marathon every other day and single-handedly holds up a family and a business - someone who it seems is doing it all - that you shouldn't complain because you are struggling with your job, your family or your own mental health. I was baffled by my sudden crash because I am lucky and supported in so many ways. For those few weeks it almost felt like I didn't deserve to have a tricky time, but things don't work that way.
Any kind of comparison is pointless at best and really damaging at worst. There are so many variables that it will always be apples and oranges, not to mention that the window you have on someone else's world is tiny and what you can see in it is much less complicated than their actual life.
In EFT we also come across this a lot. You have the original feeling (say overwhelm), and then the guilt, resistance and self-directed anger compound the original challenge.
If we can turn kindness inwards to start with it can avoid those layers of pain and negative emotion on top of what is already a difficult experience. Shouting at yourself for feeling tired never offered anyone more energy.
If the body asks for rest and we respond by dragging it forwards harder and faster, we take longer to recover and the road becomes a lot more difficult and unfriendly in the meantime.
Going with the flow
When you are riding high, feeling successful and juggling all your plates effortlessly it's an amazing feeling. It's also temporary, like everything else.
For those energy-rich weeks, months or years we can add more and more to our plates and they will keep spinning. It's exciting and fun but it can mean that when our energy levels start to fall we find those extra plates overwhelming.
It's at those times that we can give into self-criticism, being the person who stands next to the plate-spinner shouting unreasonable demands as they become more and more flustered. Bad for everyone and really not going to make a difference to the fact that we can't go as fast as we did and some of those plates are getting dropped.
Instead we could do what we would tell any friend to do - get rid of the ones we don't need.
This is tricky, especially when we are really attached to them all but the reality is that something has to fall and if we don't consciously decide what it is it might be something crucial - our self care, our important relationships, our health.
If you're an achiever or maybe you like to do everything to amazing standards - which ones can you realistically drop (even if it's uncomfortable) to give yourself that recharge? When you are already running on almost-empty, priorities are key. Forget needing to have an immaculate house or be the host for family gatherings, never mind about taking on extra responsibilities at work if it's not life and death and someone else can do it. It's not the time to be a yes man or woman, even if it's your default.
It's also worth remembering that fluctuation is natural, it's just the seasons of ourselves and it can't be perpetual summer. The leaves will come back to the trees in spring whether we are underneath the tree screaming at them to hurry all winter or not.
Does it make you proud?
This is worth knowing.
If you are someone who hears the phrase 'I don't know how you do it' a lot - does a part of you love it and want to hold on to the label of being someone who can always manage, who doesn't need to ask for help? Does needing to be the likable, up for anything go-to person make it hard to say no?
There is a little hit of achievement every time we manage a tricky juggle, complete a big project, maybe squeeze one more job in. There is also a cost if we didn't really have the time and energy to give to it before we started.
If you knew you were at capacity, how easy would you find it to say no to the next ask? If the answer is 'not very' or similar, it's worth understanding why. There are things that have to be done, even when they feel impossible but more of those plates than we sometimes care to admit are bonuses rather than necessities.
Being the go-to person is amazing and doing lots of things well is a great achievement but it's not worth your wellbeing and it's not possible to sustain unless you support yourself like you support others. Saying 'that's enough' is not a failure, it's an act of love.
It's on you
Ultimately, the thing to remember is that no one else is going to be responsible for making sure you have enough energy or for looking after your needs. If you're someone who struggles to connect with them or express them in the first place, no one else will even know what they are.
The changes can be tiny. If you feel glued to your desk can you check in with yourself each hour and ask if you need a break, a cuppa, to go to the toilet! We can get so lost in finishing a task that we neglect basic needs. For the bigger things, like feeling overwhelmed with family life - is there anywhere you can take a few minutes to read something, listen to an audiobook, write a journal or eat something you love in peace? More time is even better.
The key is the focus and giving yourself some attention so that you're not blindsided when you realise you've been running on empty for weeks and so that, once you know, you can use the tools you need to come back to balance.
That tool for me was and is EFT, a line of connection into ourselves that also offers the insights into how to move forward in a healthy, kind way.
If you think about your wellbeing as something precious it becomes easier to protect. There might be things happening in your life that make that balance very hard to achieve but it can always be worked towards as much as possible.
If we have very little to give for whatever reason, it's even more important that some of it is given to you.
Because we're not actually in control of what happens next...
If we carry on regardless, ignoring the red flags and being 'productive' at all costs, the consequence is burn out. Lethargy, brain fog and big implications for physical and mental health. The body and mind will eventually take the rest they need, with or without our permission.
In a world that prizes doing above everything, it can pay dividends to check in and offer ourselves the kindness and permission we would so easily give to someone else.
My focus for 2024 is balance.
Taking care of myself doesn't mean stopping or even doing less. I am looking forward to achieving as much and more as I did in 2023 - but in a paced, sustainable way and in better partnership with my mind and body, who deserve for me to listen and respond when I push them too hard.
Wishing you a 2024 filled with success, health and plenty of recharge x
If you are struggling with overwhelm and burnout or would like to know how EFT can support you to work through resistance to putting yourself first, get in touch for a free consultation.
Questions worth asking...
Have I been keeping up my hobbies and interests?
Am I getting less joy from things I usually love?
Am I feeling sluggish physically, or less creative and sharp?
What gives me joy and how can I build it in, even if it's for tiny moments?
What do I need right now?
Adoption is like anything in life - it will look different for all of us and I can only speak for myself.
Here are some thoughts that would have helped me hold on to my seat during 3 of the trickier bits of the adoption rollercoaster.
1.) Deciding to adopt at all
Beginning the adoption process may not have been how you imagined your family would come into being and you might need some space to acknowledge the loss you feel for a version of your life that didn't happen. That's healthy. Some of the roads to this point are difficult enough without piling on any extra pressure to feel a certain way.
Yes, it's an exciting time but maybe it's other things too.
It was a surprise to me but you might find that you come across some negative judgements from people around you too when you say that you have chosen adoption. A lot of resistance comes from a rigid view about what a family looks like and a lack of understanding about what adoption involves or what birth family circumstances might be.
The antidote is often education but it relies on that person's willingness to be open to a different story and your willingness to offer it.
It's not your responsibility and you've probably got enough going on so don't put pressure on yourself, it's okay just to hold your boundary (ending the conversation maybe) and it's worth saying that you might end up wishing you hadn't overshared if you try to explain and it still isn't received well.
Those kind of judgements can be a hard thing to handle, especially when you get an unexpected comment from someone you thought would be supportive. Think about choosing who you speak to carefully and be kind with yourself, this process can have you feeling vulnerable for all sorts of reasons. Ultimately the people whose views matter when it comes to if and how you choose to have children are you and anyone on your parenting team - that's it. Any other opinion is just that, even if it stings.
You might also find yourself blindsided by invasive questions along the way. I welcome questions as long as they're not specific to my children's stories but you might not. It's okay to draw your lines where they feel right to you and sometimes we might need to do this more than we expected to.
Ordinarily I don't love seeking support on the internet (keyboard warrior judgement-fest) but when it comes to adoption support, Facebook forums have been really helpful.
I would personally recommend YAWN (You've Adopted What Now) and Adopters Support and Advice UK for advice, friendly faces and a good rant with people who get it.
If you're a prospective adopter it's also a great place to find people in your area who have some knowledge of the agencies close to you and how they work, it's always helpful to have an idea of what to expect.
At the beginning it can feel like a bit of a maze - local authority or voluntary agency? Do they want to speak to your ex-partner? Does BMI matter or whether you rent or own your house? It often depends on the agency and because we are all looking for a bit of certainty when we begin the process, this can be tough.
It's worth doing some research, whatever that looks like for you. Most agencies will run information sessions for an overview on their process and timescales or you can just ring them and have an initial chat with a social worker. There are great online forums where you can speak to adopters who are further along and get some advice and clarity.
The amount of training and information before you have a little person to actually apply it to can be overwhelming at times and if you've drawn the short straw with your local authority you can experience clunky communication and lots of delays. Take it day by day and give yourself the space to wobble sometimes.
Inevitably at some stage it will take over your every thought for a while, especially in the periods of just waiting for various things which can be a bit painful.
It can be really helpful to have some enjoyable distractions ready. Date nights, great mates and time away if you can get it all worked well for us. You can also expect to be tired at times so TV, sofa and flight mode can also have their place.
Listen to your body and as much as you can, try not to let the process take more from you than you have in the tank. If it happens, see if you can block off some time to recover, that email can wait until Monday.
A wonderful friend of mine who was considering being a single adopter at the time had the great foresight of nominating someone to be her adoption partner. That person understood the process from beginning to end as she went through it, was the person she would sound off to and would talk through decisions with her as she made them.
We all have days where it will feel like a lot and we need to be allowed to feel that, it's a good idea to know who your person / people are and in my humble opinion, you need at least one who you can say literally anything to.
For lots of people the assessment process itself can feel very invasive. Going through your childhood with a fine tooth comb with a stranger isn't for everyone and neither is inviting lots of different professionals into your home and family - sometimes for years - before your adoption order is granted.
What did help us was using the process to learn. We had already talked a lot about how we grew up and how we might like to raise our children but there were still questions that surprised us both and we ended up finding threads of conversation we might not have arrived at without it.
If you have to do it you might as well use it to learn and to make sure you're on the same page if you're adopting with a partner.
It's also an opportunity to check in with how it feels to tell your story. I believe that we'll always find more to work on once our kids arrive and beyond, but if there are any particular points of tenderness that might translate into a parenting trigger it's a good time to address them.
Also, and I can't stress this enough - do not be afraid to ask for someone else if you are struggling. We were lucky enough to have the same great social worker from start to finish (I know this is very rare), but other social workers involved were very unhelpful and honestly damaging to the process and to us as a family. It wasn't easy but getting a change of worker transformed the whole landscape for us. We can sometimes suffer in silence with the belief that as professionals 'they know what they are doing'. Like all areas in life - some are amazing and some less so. Ultimately this is their job but it's your family. Where possible, trust yourself and push if something doesn't feel right.
3.) Our children's stories
Our children's birth stories are as different as they are. As someone who narrowly missed being removed myself as a child I had compassion for the loss that many birth parents experience. I knew that these sad and complicated situations are not about 'good' or 'bad' people.
Having said that, the reality isn't always easy to navigate when your priority is children who were very often not safe and protected in their birth families. It's one thing having an idea of what adopting a child might mean and another looking at a child's profile, bringing them home for the first time, or negotiating contact.
You'll often hear me talk about the unrealistic expectations of parents everywhere and adoption is no exception. Making positive space for our children's stories while knowing they have been impacted by what they went through and holding a safe, compassionate connection with birth family while protecting our kids where needed...is complicated. We are parents but we are also people and these things are difficult for anyone.
If you struggle with your child's story that's normal. Most children who are adopted have a background with some kind of difficulty, whether that was before they came into the world or afterwards. Even with the commitment to openness that we all make as adopters, it can be hard to come up with an answer to a hard question that keeps things safe, compassionate and honest, especially if you have a particularly difficult story to tell the person you love the most.
Your child's life story is bound to interact with your feelings as their parent at some point and whatever comes of that, try to let it. Once you know how you feel you can start to work through it so it doesn't impact your child's experience. Burying your (very normal) feelings doesn't mean they don't exist and if you find that during assessment there is something you feel is too triggering for you, you are never doing a child a disservice by saying you don't feel you can cope with something in their background. They need your honesty because they need to find the home that will best support them.
While I absolutely agree that our children's lives before us need to be acknowledged, honoured and talked about as much they need - life is messier than they can teach us in the training.
It's one thing to deny a child's identity as part of their birth family and something else completely to have complicated feelings about it. Despite encouragement from care teams, other adopters or anyone else to plaster on a rosy smile - if you feel sad, ranty or upset sometimes, that is not the same as not prioritising your child's need to know where they came from. Feelings are not actions. Our choices begin when we decide what to do with them and that gets a lot easier when we can find a safe space to lay them out in the open.
This isn't helped by the fact that (at least in our experience), there was very little acknowledgement of the difficulties that you might experience as an adoptive parent navigating this world and figuring out how to explain everyone's place in it the best way for your child, especially if there are complications, hostilities or aspects of the story that you feel unequipped to properly communicate. During our journey we asked for advice on how to talk about a specific issue and we were told it simply isn't available. This is very common and it means that our support for each other as peers is even more important.
No matter how smooth the process there are likely to be unexpected bumps in the road and you are guaranteed some emotional highs and lows. There is a lot involved and almost all of it is out of our control as adopters until we are a family.
Go gently, ask for help and give yourself a pat on the back for getting through the hard days - a lot like once they're home!
I support adoptive parents through 1:1 EFT sessions to meet their challenges gently and work through difficult emotions. For more information you can drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or book a free call here to find out how EFT can help.
If you've got any questions about the process, you can always drop me a line. I am no expert but if I can I'll point you in the right direction.
It probably isn't an exaggeration to say I'm a bit of an honesty fanatic. Having said that I cannot remember a single time when a deception - mine or anyone else's - didn't feel wrong and cause a problem, or a time when the truth didn't move things on.
Lots of you will know that Not a Perfect Parent was started in memory of my own Mum, who for all sorts of reasons struggled around her parenting journey and mental health and who didn't have a lot of people validating that struggle. In fact for much of my childhood it was an elephant in the room which I think she must have very much felt the weight of.
I believe that using our voices to connect instead of judge each other can disappear that elephant or at least make it a lot lighter and so NAPP was born.
The truth, unwanted as it may be, is always there whether we say it or not. My experience is that if there is anything to heal, it always starts with acceptance.
The thing is, it's not always easy. There seem to be lots of reasons as a parent NOT to say you are struggling with sleep or food or toilet training, NOT to say you're not enjoying the terrible twos or the teenage years. The exception is if you say it in a very light-hearted eye-rolling way like you're sailing along merrily when actually it feels like you're drowning.
All relationships we will ever have - especially life-long ones - are going to come with some ups and downs. When it comes to our children we can find it very hard to verbalise our challenges because it feels like we're failing or like we shouldn't find it difficult so we must be doing something wrong. Often we only feel comfortable to talk about tough times once they're behind us, which means we still never really give ourselves permission to seek support when we need it.
The truth can be uncomfortable in the moment but that is usually a growing pain.
It takes courage to be honest. We all know the feeling when someone cautiously opens up and everyone breathes a sigh of relief and says 'me too!' or 'I've been there', which is also a great reminder that feelings change and the storm will pass.
I am lucky enough to host the Not a Perfect Parent podcast and I have learned so much from every single conversation. It's worth saying that the greatest lessons have always come from my guest's willingness to share their challenges and pain. From that place of honesty we can celebrate ourselves and each other in a real way for the amazing journey we are all on instead of buying in to expectations that we should just be able to do it all at 100 miles an hour for 18 years and anything else is a failure.
Whether you say it or not the truth is there and nine times out of ten it's shared.
It's fear that holds us back from telling it - but fear of what?
Judgement is a biggie. A lot of us don't feel comfortable saying our kids are driving us mad through the holidays or we're overwhelmed with the juggle in fear that someone will think less of us, or maybe we shy away from drawing a boundary in case someone thinks we are a helicopter parent.
With that premise it becomes truly impossible to say things that feel deeper and sharper - I'm not connected with my baby, I'm not enjoying being a parent - but we know that parents do feel these things and that silence doesn't help. No part of me is offended that my mum felt those things but I do feel sad that she wasn't always able to be honest and so didn't find a safe place to explore them.
The truth is usually kind of messy and not everyone is ready for that. When you do come across judgement it's usually down to the other persons insecurity or fear - we all have it. It can be useful to remember what you are responsible for (owning your emotions and expressing yourself calmly and kindly) and what you are not responsible for (other people's emotions afterwards or how they receive you).
Judgement goes hand in hand with competition which I won't harp on about but which can be rife in parenthood.
I suggest - opt out. You will always find someone who appears to be doing 'better' or 'worse' than you but those comparisons are meaningless. Us and our children are all going to get further along the road if we look out for one another instead of getting our self-worth from watching someone else trip up.
Can you take the pressure off?
Holding ourselves up to impossible standards can end up meaning that we just lie to meet them, whether it's to ourselves or to other people, because we are afraid of what it will mean when we admit what we are thinking and feeling. This goes nowhere and you don't need that pressure on top of what you are already feeling.
If you aren't sure how you are feeling or how to get it out, a really nice exercise is to do some free-writing. Let the flood gates open through your pen and go to town. Don't filter it or worry about what someone else would think of it. Allow yourself your feelings whatever they are and get them on the page.
Suppressing things we don't think we 'should' feel for whatever reason takes massive amounts of energy. Once we lift the lid the magic is that sometimes some of those emotions dissipate on their own and if not, the next steps usually seem a lot clearer. *If you are not a writer try a voice note rant (technical term obviously...)
Remember that feelings are just feelings - you are not them.
Feelings change. They are in motion and if allowed to move through us, they eventually will. By accepting them and verbalising them we create the space to release them or allow them to change into the lesson they are going to leave us with.
There is no judgement on a thought or an emotion, we didn't choose them. We can find it's better to hold them lightly, especially when they are painful. By pushing them down and resisting the fact that they are here we end up keeping them, as well as creating another force of frustration and resistance.
They also don't define you. You might think something ugly one day, maybe you even act on it and say or do something you didn't mean - it doesn't then become who you are. It also becomes a lot more likely that we will eventually release pressure in a negative way when we have a lot of strong emotions and nowhere for them to go.
Find your safe space, find your people
What would happen if we expected imperfection? If we really understood and accepted that we sometimes behave in ways that we wouldn't choose and we knew the people around us would love us anyway? What if we knew we would love ourselves through it too so we were all honest about it?
In that space judgement becomes null and void and we can open to being much more solution focused. Why did I fly off the handle? Why am I feeling disconnected? What needs to change in my environment or my beliefs so I'm not so overwhelmed?
We can start to involve other people in that conversation too and look at what everyone needs instead of using that moment as another stick to beat ourselves with.
There is freedom in saying we failed as a parent if that's how you feel today because of the warmth that comes when you realise you're not alone.
It's easy to feel like we're failing, there are so many unrealistic messages out there about how it all 'should' be and I challenge you to find one parent who has never experienced that emotion.
The truth is that our children and our experiences with them are as unique as we are, one size fits all just doesn't work and that means comparison doesn't ever lead to anything useful. Honestly? When you are sat in tears on that really tricky day there is probably someone out there comparing themselves to you and feeling inadequate, we only have a tiny window on each other's worlds.
Also, what is failing? Making mistakes? We all do and we all will, forever. We 'fail', and we learn, and we start again. It is much less painful if we do it kindly.
If we can be brave enough to be honest we can forgo comparison for connection, for support and for learning from each other.
The bad days don't seem so bad with company and the good days are even better when there are people on your team. If your team don't make you feel good they are not your team.
Start by listening to yourself.
Your feelings are never wrong to have and you won't be the first person to have them, but they might be a message that you need some support or you need something to change.
You never have to be silent. Find your safe space whether that is with yourself in journaling, friends, family, a wellbeing professional or here with us at Not a Perfect Parent.
EFT is an incredible practical tool to manage difficult times and meet those difficult emotions gently and with kindness. Get in touch if you would like to book a free call to talk through how it can help you.
You are doing an amazing job.
If it doesn't feel that way, better times are coming.
There is a map that exists in you and there are probably lots of roads on it that other people think are wrong turns.
They wouldn't go your way for all sorts of reasons (which they will tell you about a lot of the time) and they will probably encourage you to choose theirs instead. Sometimes they are so convincing that you end up following them in the opposite direction despite that quiet but persistent little voice that wants you to trust your own route.
Over the last few years I've really got to know that little voice of mine and I've found that it is always taking me where I need to go. When I hear it, I've learned that however unlikely it feels and however loudly my logic or my worries disagree, it's best to listen.
Sometimes, it pops up when you least expect it.
I set myself some goals at the beginning of the year.
I believe that our intentions matter. By setting them we dedicate focus and energy to them and we start to plot the journey to that destination. I've worked on a lot of those goals this year but one of them hasn't always made the top of the list.
Connecting with my body
As you might have heard me say, I made a promise to myself once that my mind would become a place I could walk through freely, and for the most part now I feel welcome there, it isn't the dark, hostile place it used to be.
But my body?
My body was an afterthought until not that long ago and I didn't take care of it for a long time. It feels sad to say that now because of the gift that it is but I also understand. Things happened that made me disconnect from it so much that it was uncomfortable for me even to see it, I absorbed messages too about what my body was 'worth' and started to value it based on superficial things like how it looked rather than the amazing vehicle that it is.
It was somatic therapies like EFT that supported me to make the shifts that talking, analysing and understanding just hadn't got me to, even if I felt more comfortable in my head. That was when I started to understand the power that connecting with my body, trusting it and bringing it in to my internal conversations about change and self-love could have.
What's an ice bath got to do with it?
As someone who sits under a blanket even in August I wouldn't have expected to find myself volunteering to submerge myself in icy water but I felt that little voice last week when I saw an event pop up on social media.
(The event was for Get **it done club, run by the very lovely Laura Teare-Jones https://www.tearejonescoaching.co.uk).
I had seen it and been interested before, but this time my little voice told me I need to go, and even though it was tricky to arrange, I listened and I went. The event itself was brilliant and well worth going to and it just so happened that while I was there I was invited to something else the following day that my little voice was also very interested in...
The Ice Warrior Experience
I didn't know anything about the Wim Hof method, the benefits or what this would entail, I just had that feeling...
I don't want to set up expectations if you haven't done it yet because everyone's different and the beauty of this is that it isn't about trying to achieve something or tick it off a list so it doesn't really matter what someone else experienced, it's about opening up to whatever it is for you.
What I will say is that it is for me it was about partnering with my body and allowing myself to push against the edges of my comfort zone. I resisted my usual impulse to research so I still couldn't really explain to you in great detail exactly what is behind how it works, let's just say there's a lot more to it than sitting in cold water!
The day was a genuinely amazing experience, especially as I was lucky enough to be part of a wonderful group. I left feeling clearer, uplifted and much more in touch with my body and the next day I woke up with a powerful sense of possibility and self-belief that hasn't left me.
I went with almost no expectations and I found it much more emotional, much more challenging and much more transformative than I could have guessed. If you're intrigued I would definitely encourage you to explore it and you'll find Angela's details below.
And it's been another reminder - to follow that little voice.
I set my intentions when I set that goal - then life happened and I got distracted but opportunities tend to appear if you're open to them and if you're able to welcome them in. We all know that when our eyes are fixed firmly on the ground we can rarely even see the opportunities inside our comfort zone, let alone take leaps for the ones outside. I had no idea that this one would appear and in times past I would have let my apprehension speak louder than my interest.
I don't like the cold.
I don't know anyone.
That would have been okay but it also would have been a turn in the road that I missed. Another choice to stay comfortable and less vulnerable but also smaller and less invigorated.
Connecting with my body in these last years has been like opening a door on another world. It has so much wisdom, so much to teach me.
If you spend a lot of time in your head there is a relief, a freedom and a real gorgeous, gritty trust in allowing yourself to lean in and learn a language that doesn't tie you up in knots the way thoughts and words can.
I'm starting to travel down the road of speaking that language much more fluently and the Ice Warrior Experience was like getting a lift part of the way in an F1 car. If you want to start a conversation with your body I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Trust your map
There are probably lots of places that are dark and unknown on your map, bridges that are tricky to cross and times when you feel like you're completely lost when you're actually exactly where you need to be right now.
My belief is that you can always make your way back to your path even if you have ignored your compass for as long as you've had it. Sometimes when we feel lost the temptation is to search for the next action when actually what we might need is to pause, reconnect and listen.
You might call it your heart, your intuition or a higher power but somewhere that little voice is whispering the next part of the route.
It might not be what you would choose or even what you think you want, but I have never regretted following it.
EFT is the tool that has kept me in touch with my own inner compass and given me the courage to follow it. If you are ready for a bigger, brighter life get in touch to see how it can support you.
If you are into authenticity and straight talking, you are up for trying something new and you would like to be expertly and gently supported through a personal challenge, I can't recommend Angela Bentley enough ( https://theicewarrior.com)
Thanks to Jo Squires https://themidlifeclaritycoach.com for organising the event and for roping me in at the last minute!
Thank you to Ali Ford Photography https://aliford.com/ for the amazing images and to a gorgeous group who made the day so safe, special and hilarious... x
Most of the time, food in our house is fun.
We all love cooking, we all love eating and one of the signs for me that I'm doing well with lots of energy is when I'm getting excited about being creative in the kitchen.
Food has also meant other things to me and I have used it in different ways over the years to avoid or try to change my emotions.
I've used food in stressful times, to fend off sadness (we see this representation everywhere too. The girl in the movie after the breakup with a tub of ice-cream and a spoon...) or to break up boredom.
All those things are okay as long as they are okay with you and not causing problems but sometimes, because we've learned that food is a fixer, we can struggle to put it down as the first solution when it's not working for us anymore.
EFT works (gently, always) with our beliefs and emotions to help us understand where we learnt about food as a strategy and how we might have made it mean something that might not be helpful to us.
It won't stop you enjoying a treat but it does give you a choice where once it might have felt more of an impulse.
Using food to feel better is so common and so accepted in our society that we don't always notice it but if you associate a certain type of food with relaxation, you find yourself eating when you're not hungry or when you think about food you think about challenges with it, there is probably something there to look at.
Our associations can be made and reinforced over years and intertwined with beliefs about our bodies, ourselves and the world so there may be more there than you realise.
This is also true for many of the other ways we soothe difficult emotions. I used to be a smoker and when I gave up it was the last cigarette of the day - 5 minutes outside quietly looking at the stars usually - that I missed most. It was a moment where I gave myself permission to do nothing else and I used to try and make it last.
Of course there was no reason I couldn't take that time anyway and I now understand that smoking definitely did not relax my body, but that wasn't what I believed at the time and the associations I had meant that I chased that relaxation through the cigarettes.
There is still an element of that for me with food. If it's been a long, tough week I might get in some things that feel especially indulgent - and if I'm honest when I'm in that mood it's usually more than I will really enjoy. I allow that to a degree and sometimes there are other things at play (hormones maybe, or the 10,000 Christmas Roses tins?!) but there is a line when I don't really know why I'm carrying on, where it has stopped feeling like a treat and where I need to say okay, enough. When I struggle to draw my line I use EFT which works with the emotion and the real need that I'm trying to meet in that moment.
There have been times in my life that food has been problematic.
Often I've used it to make me feel better - usually with lots of unhealthy snacks - which has implications for my health, energy and finances.
At other times, I've eaten too little because stress has caused me to lose appetite, because of my beliefs about what I 'should' eat or look like or because manipulating my diet has helped me feel in control.
Food and eating are incredibly personal. I personally don't tap for weight loss because I don't believe it correlates with health but if your behaviours around food or any other craving are problematic for you then there is something to work with through EFT.
When we can clean up our beliefs and behaviours around food, we often find we can enjoy it and have fun with it more easily.
EFT is not a replacement for medical treatment.
I talk about freedom all the time, to other people but also to myself.
A long time ago I made a promise to myself that one day I would be able to walk through all the corridors and all the rooms of my mind with total ease.
My promise came about because I had an image of myself trapped in a dark corridor of locked rooms full of memories and feelings I was too afraid to open. There was no freedom, no movement and definitely no ease.
What it meant in practice was that I was someone whose opinion of myself and whose expectations of other people were so low that I had no boundaries at all. I was someone who experienced hard ceilings when it came to joy and found it almost impossible to relax, someone who relied on the validation of other people to feel safe and worthy and someone who woke up every day in a world which was absolutely full of triggers for my anxiety.
I want to emphasise that those things didn't seem like anything I was in control of or that I had any kind of choice in, they just felt like the truth about me and the world. They were also so longstanding that I couldn't really imagine living any other way
Even though I can safely say it was a tough place to be I did have what I believe is the most important thing no matter where you are in life - if you don't have it right now that's also okay because you can find it again - but it's worth really looking for it because very often it feels like it's gone and there's still a tiny flutter left.
You probably wouldn't have read this far if you had none.
It's a little bit of hope.
Not hope for a movie ending where everything is suddenly better, I'm too much of a realist for that. I'm not talking about about bags of it either.
If you have a half a percent of hope and a feeling that maybe one day something can change you have everything you need, because hope is something alive. If you give it anything to hold on to it will start to grow and if you show it the light it will lean in. It's okay if the light is weak and infrequent, sometimes that's just how life is.
Hope can be breaking down in tears to a friend or keeping hold of an idea of something you'd like to do one day even if it feels like it will never happen. It can just be about finding something to pass time and get you through difficult days and having the faint idea somewhere that one day you might laugh again.
Sometimes, like for me, it was going to therapy even though I didn't really feel like things could change. The fact that I asked for help and showed up at all says that I had that little bit of hope, it's fine that the bigger part of me thought it was a waste of time.
Sometimes hope and belief in something better is this glorious, dramatic, energised thing and sometimes it's much more delicate.
Whatever form it comes in, it's a lot more powerful than we realise sometimes.
If you imagine those rooms and corridors in your mind, are they peaceful?
If not that's really okay and not necessarily a cue to rush in and try to pull down all the piled up boxes in the room and rifle through them.
If you have gone through a lot of things in your life that never felt fully resolved or you've struggled with negative patterns you might feel there's a lot there. We all collect difficult experiences, it's how our bodies and brains learn how to keep us safe and we might not have had the time or the tools to work things through before.
It's important to say too that there is no exhaustive list of things that might have really impacted you. It doesn't have to be something that feels 'big', it doesn't even have to have happened to you, maybe it was someone you love or you just heard about it. If it stayed with you and if it causes you an emotional reaction there's usually something there that could be cleared.
Isn't it easier just to carry on?
Honestly? Only you will ever know the answer.
There are times when yes, carrying on is what we need to do. Maybe because of our circumstances, responsibilities or an ongoing situation it's just not the time to reflect or give space to the things we could process. For a lot of my life, I was just standing in the corridor stuffing things behind doors and closing my eyes.
Eventually though, my personal experience was that all those things started finding their way back out. I had invasive thoughts and memories, limiting beliefs that impacted my relationships, career and self-esteem and because there was so much I had tried so hard not to look at, I didn't even really know where to begin.
I carried on for a long time but life has a way of showing us when it's time to look.
I remember having repeated anxiety attacks at university and looking for a place to hide. I always ended up in the same set of loos, I always unconsciously went into the same toilet and every time I shut the door I saw the sticker for a counselling service on the back of it. I think that probably happened for about 6 months before I contacted them and started a journey that would last the next 5 years.
Now I am so far away from the life I was living that I can't remember what it was like to obsess about other people's opinions, be haunted by parts of my past and keep myself small because anything else felt too vulnerable. When you are frightened of what's inside you, it can be almost impossible to feel safe in the world.
I knew that I wasn't going to get any further forward without going back to all those things I'd stuffed into those rooms, there was no magic wand. I also didn't have any knowledge of what I was aiming for, I only knew what I wanted to stop - but I did have that little flutter of hope. That quiet thought that maybe, just maybe, something could change.
It's a catch-22 when you're on the cusp of that decision because the world doesn't feel safe but neither does the help. Making the decision was the hardest part and I won't lie, working through things was painful in part, growth often is.
There is an illusion though that not facing what's behind those doors is always less painful and I have to disagree. It might feel that way in the moment but over time it can get harder and harder to force those doors closed and meanwhile, nothing changes. Over years there is inevitably more to avoid and the effort it takes to turn away can use up a lot of the passion and purpose you could put into your life instead. Maybe it feels safer right then but it's not always without cost.
If you ask yourself the questions - Is there anything to look at? Is it time? What would life be like if this wasn't holding me back? - and really listen, it will always be you who knows what's best for you right now. It's not always the right time but fear isn't always a stop sign either.
In the end I would do it all again (maybe just sooner!) because doing the difficult thing means that now I can live with much more ease, and when new things start to pile up in those rooms I can see them and deal with them instead of just throwing myself harder at the door.
Most importantly I have created a feeling of safety in myself and I don't need to cower in that corridor anymore. I opened the windows, I let the light in and now I dance through those rooms.
EFT was one of the main ways I moved forward once I'd decided I wanted something different. EFT is gentle and collaborative but powerful for working with difficult emotions and feelings of stuckness. My sessions are virtual, 1:1 and led by you. You can book a free Zoom consultation here if you feel we might be a good fit to work together.
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.
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.