Meaningful Motherhood episode 6: Jess Caire

Meaningful Motherhood episode 6: Jess Caire

How do you think it would impact your family to spend one week of every month living in another state, away from your husband and children?

This is the lifestyle of this week’s Meaningful Motherhood podcast guest, Jess Caire, who lives in Queensland with her family, but runs her business in South Australia.

I first met Jess earlier this year when she interviewed me on a panel at a women’s business conference, and later featured me on her Conversations With Jess blog. So it was great to turn the tables in this interview and be able to ask Jess to answer the questions instead. I was super-keen to chat to Jess about her experience of living across two different states while raising a young family, but what I found through this interview was that Jess had SO MUCH more to say about motherhood, and how her various life experiences have shaped her parenting decisions.

In this episode we chat about:

* how Jess flipped her life from being the wife of a FIFO husband, to being the FIFO-er herself, and how this made life exponentially better for her, her husband and her children.

* her experience with postnatal depression and adrenal fatigue

* why she hates the phrase “work-life balance”

* the impact of social media and “comparisonitis” for mothers and the importance of letting go of perfection

*  how a life-threatening accident on the Kokoda Track last year changed her view of motherhood and life in general

* why slowing down and “making space”

As always, I’d love to hear what you thought of the episode, so feel free to let me know what you think. Don’t forget to share with anyone else you think might enjoy this episode.

Cheers, Sarah xx

 

Meaningful Motherhood Episode 5: What to do about the mental load of motherhood?

Meaningful Motherhood Episode 5: What to do about the mental load of motherhood?

Have you heard of the “mental load”?

If you’re a mother, chances are you’re already bearing the brunt of it, whether you know it or not.

Today’s podcast episode is out and I’m talking all about the mental load – what it is, but more importantly, what we can do about it.

Feel free to listen below:

If you don’t have time to listen to the full episode, here’s a few brief notes from what we cover in the episode:

What is the mental load?

The mental load is the name given to all those invisible mental tasks we undertake, on behalf of our families, to keep our household running like a well oiled machine. We’re not talking here about mopping the floors, packing school lunches and washing load upon load of laundry each week. Rather, what we’re talking about is all the stuff we keep in our head – such as remembering to sign and return excursion forms by the due date, thinking about whether you’ve got enough squeezie yoghurts to get through the week, and figuring out what Christmas gift to buy your children’s teachers. The stuff that Mums have running around their heads 24/7.

Even if we have partners who do an equal share of the practical house and kid work, it’s likely one of you has taken on the role of “organiser” and it’s likely that person is you – the mother.

It’s constant, and it’s exhausting. It’s also what can change our experience of motherhood from one that’s fulfilling, meaningful and enjoyable, to one that is frustrating and impactful on our wellbeing. It’s time for us to start offloading some of that mental load, for the sake of our own wellbeing, and that of our family.

This concept of the mental load isn’t new, but it’s something that has come to the forefront of our discussions recently, thanks to this cartoon.

However, what I’ve found is that so much of the discussion is, to be honest, a bit of a whinge-fest. Yes, it’s important that this issue is brought to light and discussed, but we need to do more than whinge. We, as women, need to have practical, actionable steps we can take to help ease this mental load.

So here’s the four steps I outlined that we can take to start addressing the mental load.

 

1: Acknowledge it

Start to become a bit more aware of just how much mental load you take on – you can even keep a journal for a day or two if you want

Chat to your partner/husband about it – explain what the load is, how much it’s constantly on your mind, and how it impacts your wellbeing.

Remember, this is just step one – you stiill have to take action – just knowing about it is not enough.

2: Offload what you can

Sit down with your husband (and kids!) and as a family, figure out how you can better share the mental load tasks around – in other words, delegate!!

Think about each of your individual strengths or circumstances and figure out what tasks could be offloaded, and to whom – don’t forget to offload age appropriate tasks to the kids. This also includes offloading some practical “work” tasks to others, to give you a bit more time to manage the mental load, if you’re not able to offload much of that.

What can be done together as a family? Maybe instigating a regular family meeting can help open the lines of communication, and take some of the responsibility of running the family away from Mum.

Remember – when it comes to delegation, you should “Expect More, but Accept Less” – so you can expect others to take on more of the tasks of the household, but you also have to be willing to accept that they might not do it as well, or in the exact same way as you. Just remember – “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”!

3: Do less, and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Take some time to figure out if and how your family is over-scheduled. What can you remove from your week/month/yearly schedule? Where can you slow down and open up a bit more space for yourself.

Stop “should-ing” yourself into an early grave! Have a think about places where you might be placing too high expectations on yourself or others, and remember what’s really important.  Be honest with yourself – are there things you’re doing just for the sake of keeping up appearances, or maybe keeping others’ happy?

Perfectionism is not your friend – end of story

4: Autopilot as much as possible – don’t rely on your poor tired brain and do away with decision fatigue

Even after you’ve delegated, discarded and simplified, it’s highly likely you’ll still be left with a significant mental load list! Whatever you do, don’t rely on your poor, tired brain to do all the heavy lifting. Remember that routines and habits can be your best friend – having mundane tasks on autopilot actually gives you freedom.

Declutter, and make sure everything in your house has a particular spot – and make sure everyone else knows where that spot is.

Use calendar alerts to set reminders for anything and everything – eg. putting out the bins. This is one area where technology truly can be your friend!

So that’s it from me today. Don’t forget to find me through one of my social media channels, you can catch me on the Facebook page, join the Meaningful Motherhood Tribe Facebook Group, or find me on Instagram.

Is motherhood a soft skill?

Is motherhood a soft skill?

Do you ever feel that the concept of supporting mothers through motherhood doesn’t quite get taken seriously enough? That the people who choose to work with and for mothers somehow carry a little less weight, a little less credibility?

That personal trainers who choose to specialise in fitness for Mums are thought of as “Mummy trainers”, that lawyers who work in family law probably aren’t as smart as those working in international relations, that psychologists who support women through Post Natal Depression are “just a shoulder to cry on”, that a business coach who specialises in working with Mums who own a business is just a “Mumpreneur”, or that a physiotherapist who chooses to focus on postnatal rehabilitation probably couldn’t cut it in the sportsmed field?

I often feel there’s an undercurrent of this in today’s society – and the most frustrating thing for me, as an Occupational Therapist who works primarily with mothers, is the underlying assumption that there are better things I could be doing with my degree than “helping the Yummy Mummies”. Because the way I see it, this is the most important work I’ve done in my career so far.

At the beginning of my life as an occupational therapist, I worked in the field of vocational rehabilitation. My job involved supporting unemployed people with disabilities or injuries to find suitable and sustainable employment.

Part of the role was helping individuals figure out what their strengths were. This was often challenging, but at the same time immensely rewarding. Anyone who has been unemployed for a period of time would know how much it can impact your confidence and self esteem, and the people I was working with were often battling with the double whammy of long term unemployment and an injury which heavily affected their work capacity. Helping these people to identify their strengths was often difficult, because their confidence and self esteem had simply been eroded to the point of non-existence over a period of months, years, or even decades.
But it was always valuable work identifying strengths – because people always have strengths, even if they feel they don’t. Frequently we would classify these strengths into what we called “vocational skills” and “soft skills”. Vocational skills were those that were directly related to performing a paid job – such as does this person have a truck licence, can they use an excel spreadsheet, do they have a trade certificate? The soft skills were those skills or attributes a person possessed which weren’t specifically required for the job, but which would make them a valuable employee. For example – were they punctual, well presented, did they work well in a team environment, did they have a friendly and welcoming demeanour?

The comparative value of soft vs vocational skills has long been the subject of debate among human resource circles.

The irony is, while the soft skills are often thought less of, they are actually more important in a worker – because they better represent the true personality of potential employee. But because they don’t come with a certification or a parchment, they are often less valued and considered ‘nice to have’ but not as important as the ‘hard’ skills.

Sometimes I feel like motherhood gets treated like a ‘soft skill’ by our western society. Under appreciated and frequently disrespected.

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As a health professional working in this area, I’ll admit to initially feeling a little conflicted about choosing to focus my work in this area. How much support do Mums really need? Wouldn’t my time be better spent working with people who’ve had a stroke? Or children with autism? Or teenagers with spinal cord injuries? Or something else equally as altruistic?
Are mothers really in need of specialist rehabilitation or wellbeing support?

The short answer is yes.

When I began working with this population early in my motherhood journey I hadn’t experienced a broad range of the challenges and adversities that mothers frequently face. I had one lovely baby who fed well and slept 16 hours a day. I was truly blessed, I know that now. But around me I saw other mothers grappling with so many more difficulties than I had. Women struggling with postnatal depression, battling musculoskeletal injuries, raising children with life threatening illnesses or challenging behavioural conditions, or doing it all as a single mother. Often without much support, guidance or understanding from the broader community. The traits they demonstrated throughout motherhood included resourcefulness, negotiation, physical and emotional strength, resilience, amazing communication skills, delegation, scheduling, managing competing priorities – the list goes on. And sure – these skills too might be considered soft – but they’re not. Particularly not when they’re being implemented in the process of raising future generations.

It was then that I realised how much society treats motherhood as a soft skill. When in actuality – it’s one of the most challenging, multifaceted skills a person can possess.

From that point on I never again questioned my role in working with mothers. For me at this stage in my career, its where I feel I can have the greatest impact in my world, and the world that will one day belong to future generations.

So no, motherhood is not a soft skill. If you’re a mother please don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise. Whenever you start to feel disillusioned and perhaps unconvinced of the role you’re playing in this life, always remind yourself of the gravity of your role. You are creating, teaching and leading the future custodians of our world.

There’s nothing soft about that.

And if you’re a professional who supports women through the motherhood experience, please always know just how important and specialised your role is – don’t ever let anyone doubt you, your abilities, or your choice to work in this field.

Until next time,

Sarah

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What you should really spend your money on as a new Mum

What you should really spend your money on as a new Mum

Instagram has a lot to answer for.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Insta-fan. Between work and my personal life I actually have four different accounts, but that’s beside the point…

Because here’s my gripe. As a women’s health occupational Therapist who works primarily in the field of postnatal women, this is what I see:

Women spending a lot of money on cool, beautiful, on-trend stuff for their babies, and not a lot of money on their own wellbeing.

There I said it.

You may think I’m being harsh or insensitive, but I can guarantee you, there’s thousands of other antenatal health practitioners out there who agree with me. And we’re all wondering the same thing: “Do women truly value a beautiful nursery over their own health and wellbeing?”

I saw a Facebook post the other day which mentioned that the average cost of a wedding these days was $48,000. Forty. Eight. Thousand. Dollars!! That’s a whoooooooole lot more than I paid for my wedding nearly 8 years ago.

It made me wonder how much the average couple spend on setting up their home for a new baby – how much for the nursery, the pram, the car seat? Which is where my Instagram reference comes in. We see these beautiful nurseries, those gorgeous baby outfits, the extravagant baby showers – and we think we need them. Insta-envy is real – I know, I’m not immune. We get swept up in the romance of new parenthood, in the gorgeousness of it all.

But we don’t need that stuff. Your baby doesn’t need a $50 teething toy or a $200 tutu she will throw up on within 14 seconds. What we really need is to look after ourselves. And not just in a “popping-out-for-a-coffee-and-a-pedicure-mummy-me-time” kind of way, but in a “considered-practical-meaningful-evidence-based-longterm-wellbeing” kind of way.

So it makes me wonder – what would it take to convince women (and men) to take at least part of the money they might otherwise spend on beautiful baby stuff, and instead invest it into their future physical and emotional wellbeing?

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Those of us who work in this industry see the difficulties (and oftentimes devastation) that pregnancy and motherhood can wreak on a body and a mind.

We KNOW for certain, that our services can help. We see the life-altering loneliness of disconnected mothers, the silent shame of incontinence after birth, the unresolved trauma of a labour that didn’t go exactly to plan. We see all that. And we want to help. We know we can help. But we need you to pay for it.

It’s as simple as that. There’s not a single women’s health practitioner I know who wouldn’t gladly run oodles of free workshops, classes and sessions if she could. That’s why so many of us have blogs, YouTube channels, and free resources on our websites,  But the truth of that matter is that many of us are self-employed, or work in small private practices, and the reality of running a business is that you have to charge for your services. We have to charge to pay rent, pay for supplies, pay for our extensive clinical training, and of course pay ourselves a wage – because we also have families to feed and mortgages to pay.

And this is why we get frustrated. Because we know women need help, but we continually see them spending money on other things – other than their own wellbeing. We see women paying $1500 for prams, but not $500 for a hypnobirthing program. We see women buying $300 nappy bags, but not investing that same amount of money in a few physiotherapy sessions to help restore their pelvic floor function. We see women spend hundreds of dollars per term on baby swimming lessons or gymbaroo, rather than spending that exact same amount on a postnatal yoga or pilates class.

And it breaks our heart.

Truly it does. Seeing women neglect themselves and their own wellbeing is one of the biggest frustrations of our jobs. We don’t want to see you in pain. We don’t want to see you hiding indoors due to postnatal anxiety, or shying away from jumping on the trampoline with the kids because your pelvic floor can no longer handle the task.

We want you to be strong – physically and emotionally.

We want you to be a confident and connected mother – able to take the challenges of motherhood in your stride, to celebrate the joys with fervour, all the while knowing that your body and your mind remain resilient and capable of carrying you long into your future.

We know you can only do that if you’re well. And that, potentially, means you coming to see us.

It’s our job to convince you that we can help you, but it’s your job to invest in your own wellbeing.

Here’s the question I want you to ask yourself:

“Do I really value a beautiful Instagram-worthy nursery over the long term wellbeing and function of my own body and mind?”

I say this with love, because I truly believe it – but your money is better spent on supporting your wellbeing as a mother, than it is furnishing your nursery with pretty things.

I get it. I know how exciting it is to create the perfect nursery theme, to have all the latest baby gadgets with all the bells and whistles. But at the end of the day, they don’t compare to you being well, with you being emotionally resilient, with you avoiding a lifetime of incontinence.

Here’s something to consider:

If you choose the Boori Urbane Noosa Cot for $399, over the Boori Pioneer Cot for $699 – you would save $300 – that’s three one to one sessions with a Women’s Health Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist.

If you choose the Baby Jogger City Mini GT for $799 over the Bugaboo Chameleon 3 for $1519 – you would save $720 – that’s 12 weeks of personal training sessions with a womens health specialist PT.

If you chose a Collette Pocket and Zip Baby Bag for $79 over the Mimco Splendiosa Baby Bag for $299 you would save $220 – that could buy you four weeks of professional housecleaning while you spend that first month getting to know your baby.

Finally, just remember this – within a few years all those baby blankets will go to Vinnies, the cot and the pram will be sold on Gumtree, but that body you’re inhabiting? That’s going to be with you for a lifetime. Invest in it wisely.

Until next time, Sarah

ps. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article – comment away or email me at sarah@bloomwellbeing.com.au

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Are you just a worried Mum, or is it anxiety?

Are you just a worried Mum, or is it anxiety?

“We can’t sell that car seat, it only has a year left until it’s expiry date – what if the person who buys it has an accident and their baby gets hurt?”

“She’s running too far ahead of me, what if she forgets to stop at the road and gets hit by a car?”

“Why is the school phoning me? My daughter must have had an accident, I hope she hasn’t broken anything.”

These are real, actual thoughts I’ve had at some point over the past few months.

I’m an over-thinker. A worrier. And yes, just a teeny bit anxious.

In my mind, these three things are pretty inter-related. In fact, feeling worry and feeling anxious pretty much exist on a continuum. And my over-thinking tendencies tend to push the needle with regard to where I am on that continuum on any given day.

Personally, my anxiety was never an issue before I became a mother. Certainly my worrier tendencies were always there, but they were pretty low-key and probably no different to most of the general population: that little sinking feeling in my belly if I ever got called into the boss’ office, or that nervous over-preparing that came with a public speaking event.

So I never identified as being an anxious person. Which is perhaps why it took me a few years to recognise my anxiety as a mother. You know that saying they have about the plumber whose home is full of dripping taps? Well that’s kind of my situation. Even though I’ve worked in this field of mental health for years, it took me a little while to realise the issues in myself – probably because they were so mild. I was used to working with people whose mental health concerns were much more compelling, and much more complex. So that led me to put my thoughts down to typical new-Mum worries. But as the years passed I started to realise that many of the quirky little thought processes I had over my six years as a parent weren’t actually your bog-standard run of the mill concerns.

Not so much the thoughts listed above, but how about this one:

“This pathway is a bit secluded, I feel pretty vulnerable. What would happen if someone tried to steal my baby from the pram here? There’s no-one close by to help, no-one would hear me scream. What can I use as a weapon? What should I do?”

This was a thought I had pretty regularly on our daily walk in our small coastal town in Central Queensland – it was hardly Gotham City, and a brazen daylight abduction was highly improbable, but my brain still went there. So, yes, in fact, I actually was meandering a bit further along the anxiety spectrum than I realised. And even though my anxiety was quite mild when compared with others’, and I certainly wouldn’t classify it in a clinical range of anxiety, that didn’t mean that it didn’t deserve my attention.

Anxiety is a sneaky little thing – particularly in emerging or mild cases. It has blurry edges and often disguises itself as something else. It’s rarely cut and dried, and it can be difficult for us to identify. We can tend to explain away our anxiety under the guise of being “safety conscious”, “over protective” or just “a little highly strung”. In fact, in our world worry and anxiety are practically state sanctioned – think of the marketing campaigns from your workplace OH&S rep: “Safety First”, or “Take Five to Stay Alive.” Or popular phrases such as : “Better safe than sorry.” Even the Boy Scouts validate our anxiety with their iconic slogan: “Be prepared.”

Of course, I’ve got my tongue firmly planted in my cheek here. But my point is that, on the surface at least, it’s far more socially acceptable to be anxious than it is to be depressed. And that’s where the difficulty begins. Everyone worries, because the world is a dangerous place. Just turn on the evening news or scroll your Facebook feed for evidence of that.

So if everyone worries – how do you know when it’s too much worry? How do you know if it’s something more than just “worry”. And what do you do about it?

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So here’s a few questions to ask yourself to help you figure out where you sit on the “overthinking vs anxiety” continuum.

1: Are your worries constructive or controlling?

What do you do about your worries? Do your thoughts help to keep yourself safe in productive and socially acceptable ways – for example, making sure you have enough petrol and locking your car doors when driving at night time, or do they force you to make decisions and take actions that diminish your life in some way – for example, cancelling or turning down evening catch ups with friends due to your worries about driving at night. One of the hallmarks of anxiety is that it impacts our ability to undertake everyday activities.

2: Do your worries go away once you’ve taken action to address them?

Worrying thoughts are one way in which our mind alerts us to danger. Generally, once we’ve addressed the worry, it will leave us, but with anxiety, the fear and worry remains, despite all the actions you take to address it. For example, your daughter, who has a peanut allergy, is going to stay with your in-laws overnight. How do you handle this situation – do you give your in-laws one quick reminder about the allergy before you leave, or do you continue to worry about it for the entire night, find yourself unable to focus on the event you’re attending, and constantly wanting to send them another quick reminder text message?

3: Is your worry in your head or in your body?

Overthinking and worrying tends to stay predominantly confined to our brain, whereas anxiety is generally felt all through the body. So are your worries combined with a racing heartbeat, sweaty temples, shaking hands, tapping feet, a surging tummy, or a tightness across your chest? Physical symptoms such as these, when unrelated to physical exertion or another illness, can indicate anxiety.

4: Does your over-thinking affect the way you function day to day?

We touched on this in point one, but there are other ways that anxiety and worry can impact our daily life – more so than just avoiding certain activities. Is your work productivity being impacted by the amount of time you spend worrying, or reacting to your worries? Are your relationships being impacted – do you find you push people away due to your fears, or feel compelled to ‘put on an act’ around others? Are you delegating decision making responsibility at home or at work due to your worries? For parents in particular, are you finding you’re not enjoying your role as a parent as much as you should, because of your worries. Or are your worries affecting the amount of time you spend with your baby or child – eg. do you avoid letting anyone else hold or care for them – even trusted family members, or alternatively, do you relinquish care responsibilities more often than you want to, because you think others can look after them better than you can?

What do do about it

Anxiety is a personal experience, and it can be different for everyone. If you’re concerned you may be experiencing anxiety the most important thing to do is to speak to a GP, your Community Health Nurse, or another health professional involved in your care. A GP will be able to provide an assessment and diagnose an anxiety or depression. They can also refer you for Medicare funded services from a mental health Occupational Therapist (such as myself), a social worker or psychologist, under the Better Access to Mental Health Care program. If you already have someone in mind you’d like to speak with you can let your GP know and he can refer you specifically to that person, as long as they are registered for the program under Medicare.

When it comes to treatment options for mild to moderate anxiety, counselling therapies and lifestyle changes are generally the first course of treatment, with best practice being attempting these prior to prescription of medication if necessary. (Please note this is general information and treatment strategies are always personalised).

As I mentioned earlier though, you don’t have to be at a clinical level of anxiety to have it impact negatively on your life. Common motherhood traits such as excessive worry, stress, overthinking and the infamous “Mummy Guilt” can all impact our wellbeing and experience of motherhood. Which is why I developed my Mindful Motherhood program – a five week online program to help mothers overcome stress, guilt and overwhelm, to live a more meaningful life. You can check it out here. We start this week, registrations are open until Friday.