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.
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.