I was sat on the kitchen floor, crying. ‘I can’t do this anymore. I just don’t want to keep fighting all the time!’ I sobbed to myself. This wasn’t the mother I wanted to be. I was exhausted by yet another battle over what they wanted to eat for breakfast, or fighting to get them to put their shoes on, or wash their hands after going to the loo...I couldn’t even tell you what had pushed me over the edge that time.
After I had my first child I enjoy being a mother. My son was well behaved, intelligent and engaging. I juggled his needs with my own effortlessly and was sure I was a pretty good mum. However, 9 years later, and with two more kids in the mix, one of whom is super ‘strong willed’ and the story has changed. I was frustrated and lost in a world of food preparation, school runs and toilet training. I had lost faith in myself and my ability to parent. I was bored and yet exhausted, constantly repeating myself and yet completely unheard. I was lost. I had lost myself in those I loved as I desperately scrabbled to tend to their needs whilst entirely neglecting my own.
If I am totally honest, there were increasingly regular times when I wanted to climb in my car and drive away. On the bad days I had genuinely started to believe that my kids would be better off without me as their mum as the shouting, emotional, often raging mum they had wasn’t the one they deserved.
I take the responsibility to lead the Mums (and More) community with honesty and integrity, and support the other parents when they are struggling, really seriously. I had become increasingly aware that I couldn't be honest about the reality of how I felt so regularly and yet I didn't want to be fake or portray an image of a life that was not authentic.
One day, after yet another school run that resulted in all four of us taking it in turns to cry, I decided that I couldn’t carry on like this anymore. Parenting is hard enough, let alone without a global pandemic to contend with. I have never expected it to be easy all the time. However, I knew that the way I was feeling wasn’t how I wanted my parenting experience to be, and it certainly wasn’t what I wanted my children to remember of their childhood either.
I met Madeleine Woolgar at the Mums in Bath Show back in 2018 and have welcomed her to lead some live talks in the group over the last couple of years.
Madeleine is a parenting coach and mentor who works with busy mums to give them the skills they need to enjoy parenting more. I had had a free taster session with her before lockdown #1 so I knew that I liked her and the way that she works. She is a really positive person with tons of bubbly energy and has a way of asking the right questions and giving sensible, sound advice whilst making lots of space for my (often rambling) wordy outpourings.
I decided to take the plunge and reach out to her. Madeleine very kindly agreed to work with me and, in the spirit of being open with the Mums and More community, we agreed that I would talk about my experiences and tell our members about our work together so they might connect with her if they were feeling the same as me and might benefit from some help too.
I worked with Madeleine for 8 sessions over 8 weeks with a weekly Zoom call. The first few weeks I spent talking about my past, and expressing my fears of repeating the experiences that I had in my childhood for my own family. My childhood experiences have inevitably followed me like a black cloud into adulthood. I have been aware of this for a long time but felt helpless to move forward. I talked about my upbringing, explained my fears and frustrations and talked about how invisible I felt in my own life. Madeleine helped me to put into words who I am and the sort of parent I want to be. She helped me identify and let go of the baggage that I was still unnecessarily dragging around with me. Then she kindly and carefully helped me to look at practical and objective ways that I could start new patterns of behaviour and thinking. In my 7th session, feeling a sense of desperation that I was never going to be able to really shake the feelings of dislike for myself, I was able to really open up about the things that had been overwhelming me. And the gentle, supportive response she gave me allowed me to give myself permission to shift the way I thought about myself to something altogether more positive and hopeful. To forgive myself for not being the mum I wanted to be and start to make choices about the life I want to live.
Madeleine gave me some practical exercises to do. Each session began with 3 wins from the week just gone. Over time it has become easier to focus on these wins rather than the, still too often, failures. Whether is was choosing to walk away from a looming fight with my husband, or making time for some self care, or even just having fun with my kids, these wins suddenly seemed bigger than the times I got overwhelmed and shouted or got frustrated.
She gave me statements to say to myself each day. Mine are, ‘it is safe for me to allow myself to feel anger/frustration/overwhelm. How I feel is not an absolute about who I am. I am allowed to be messy and magnificent,’ and ‘My children are teaching me lessons. Their behaviour is not a reflection on me.’ These statements, said several times a day, have started to help me remap my thought processes so that, rather than reacting to the daily events in my life out of fear and anger, I am starting to be able to take a breath and remember that I have a choice in how I react.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is no magic cure. I am still shouting too much and daily getting frustrated and overwhelmed. However, for the first time, probably in my life, I believe that I deserve to be happy and that life isn’t supposed to be a struggle. Instead, I am safe to enjoy the life I have created and be happy in it. I am free to release the guilt and frustration and allow the wide range of feelings I feel daily to wash over me. They are not absolutes. They do not define who I am. They are simply my reaction to the world. And the more I do that, the more I am able to prevent the pressure cooker building. I still have a long way to go and I hope to continue to work with Madeleine moving forward to really consolidate the new skills I am learning and no doubt tackle new and unexpected challenges. But, for now, I will continue saying my statements and looking for ways to enjoy my life and my children more each day. As Madeline would say, ‘progress not perfection.’
So, if you are reading this and can relate to any of how I was feeling I am here for you. I understand. You are not alone. Reach out and ask for help. You do not need to be unhappy. Infact, you deserve to have a life you thrive in. I highly recommend you get in touch with Madeleine, or join her free Facebook group. Mums who Thrive Tribe where she gives lots of helpful insights. My thanks go out to Madeleine for helping me make the space in my life to really start to tackle the things that have been holding me back. I am excited to talk about my experiences and hope it helps some other Mums (and More) in Bath have the hope that they, too, can make the changes they need to be happy too.
Find out more about Madeleine at www.mumswhothrive.com