“Since I became a mother, even going to the grocery store on my own feels like a holiday!”
Have you ever said this in jest? Or something similar? Makes you laugh right? But pre-kids would you ever have considered a trip to the supermarket to be a bit of “me-time”? Nope. Didn’t think so.
So what is it about motherhood that so drastically skews our concepts of “time out”, “self-care” and that all important “me time”? Why do we as mothers feel the need to be so grateful for any time spent on our own, even if it’s just to do mundane tasks?
I get the feeling that it comes down to one very important misconception: that we are only “On Duty” as mothers when we are WITH our children, and that any time we are away from our children is a break from our motherhood role.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. To explain this further I want to introduce you to a concept called “co-occupation” – which is an Occupational Therapy term referring to “the interplay of the occupations of two or more people”*.
Motherhood is the perfect example of a co-occupation, because motherhood is all about the intrinsic linking of a woman and her child. Without a child there is no mother.
So how does the co-occupation of motherhood impact us? At first thought, we might presume that the role of motherhood only occurs when we are physically with our child – “doing with” such as playing games with your child, reading a book together, eating meals together, going for a walk or bike ride: “doing to” such as changing a nappy, administering medication, or rocking a baby to sleep; or “doing alongside” – such as watching your child play independently, driving them to school, or extra-curricular activities.
These are generally the times when we see ourselves as being “On-Duty” as mothers.
But what about the co-occupations that occur when a mother and child aren’t physically together? The “doing for” and “doing because of”? Those times we fold mountains of laundry while watching our favourite TV show, or book dentist appointments in our lunch break while the kids are at school, or bake a batch of muffins for school lunches while Dad takes the kids to the park, or listen to a parenting podcast while on our morning walking, or yes, doing the groceries alone while someone else cares for your child.
These times aren’t “me-time” – but sometimes I feel like we’ve been led to believe they should be. That we should be grateful for any opportunity to relish some time alone without our children – even if we’re still doing stuff “for” them, because all time spent without our children present is equally as restful and rejuvenating.
Because these things are still “co-occupations” – things we do for, or on behalf of, our children. Certainly they might have been things you would have done, or would still have to do if you didn’t have children. But now that you DO have children, tell me, have you ever managed to do a grocery shop without thinking what you need to feed your child? Or have you ever taken an hour to go shopping for yourself, only to see a million things you’d like to buy for your little one?
Even when we do things without our children present, they are still at the forefront of our mind. And that’s why it feels like you never get a break from motherhood – even when you technically “took a break”.
I want mothers to understand the difference between “time away from their children” and “time off”. Because those two things aren’t the same.
But why do you need a break? Isn’t motherhood enough?
Nope. Sorry, I know sometimes we think it should be. But we are all more than mothers. We are individuals first, and we deserve to have an identity apart from our motherhood status.
So what’s my suggestion? How can you actually take a worthwhile break?
You need to find something to do that is just for yourself – something that doesn’t classify as a co-occupation, and something that has these few elements to it:
- It should be something that you do, just for you – 100 percent. Not something that you do for yourself that your kids also benefit from, like baking food for their lunchboxes or crocheting them a beanie. And not something you do with your children present – such as Mums and Bubs Pilates, or coffee with your Mums group. That’s not to say you should stop these things. They’re all great – they’re just not enough!
- It should be something active. Now, I love passive “time out” activities – such as getting a massage or a pedicure, as much as the next mum, and they’re often touted as an excellent “me time” activity, but they’re not especially engaging. They don’t require any effort on your part, but they do give you lots of time to think about how nice it is to have time away to yourself, without the kids – it’s a kind of escapism. But that’s not the point. For me, these tasks fit into the realm of self-care, which is lovely, but they’re not as rejuvenating and fulfilling as truly meaningful, engaging activities. It’s a subtle difference between “self-care” and “me-time”.
- Which brings me to the third factor – it has to be something meaningful to you. We OT’s love, love, love the concept of meaningful occupation. It’s what our whole profession is built upon – the notion that engagement in meaningful activities is what makes a person truly “well” and what makes life truly worth living. But what makes something meaningful? Well that’s completely up to you. Broadly speaking a “meaningful occupation” is something you do which is important to you, or that you enjoy and which benefits your life in some way. So what is meaningful to you? Maybe it’s dancing, maybe it’s reading crime thrillers, maybe it’s bushwalking, or surfing, or painting, or running marathons, or yarn bombing, or restoring vintage cars, or playing the piano, or growing prize winning orchids, or poetry slam nights, or roller derby, or tap dancing, or surfing? It could be anything. Can’t think what that is for you? Here’s a tip. Think back to what you loved to do as a child, or a teenager? What is something you used to do and love that 21year old you would be devastated to think you no longer do? THAT’S your meaningful occupation.
Have you figured yours out yet? Do you know what it is? Then go out and do it. As much as you can, whether that’s once a day, or once a month. Find a way to fit it into your schedule. Make it a priority. Because until you do you won’t find time for it.
Motherhood is all-encompassing. If we let it, it can swallow us whole. We need to have something that reminds us of who we are – without reference to our children. Something that isn’t a motherhood co-occupation.
You matter, and what you love matters. And I’m sure there’s something in this world you love doing more than the groceries.
So go do it.
Until next time, Sarah xx
If you’re the parent of a child who has been referred to an Occupational Therapist for support then chances are you’re not quite sure what to expect from the process. Unless you’ve had a child undertake Occupational Therapy in the past, or have been close to someone else who has, you may not know exactly what’s going to happen in those first few sessions.
Which is why I’m creating this series of blog posts focused on the process of having a child referred to a paediatric Occupational Therapist (OT) for support. Stay tuned for future blog posts coming this week on this topic, including: “How can an Occupational Therapist support my child?” and “What to expect at your child’s first Occupational Therapy session”.
Today’s post is all about the paediatric OT assessment. The good news is, an OT assessment is likely to be the most fun assessment your child will ever undertake. Many of the tools we use are play-based, because we use play as our primary means of therapy and of understanding a child’s functional skill level. But it’s also important to remember that any time a child, or their parent, meets a new therapist it can be a little nerve-wracking, especially if you don’t know what to expect. So here’s a few notes on what’s likely to happen in the OT assessment process.
Before the assessment:
A pre-screening questionnaire:
Many Occupational Therapists, including those at Bloom Wellbeing, will ask parents to complete a pre-screening form prior to the assessment day – which you will either return prior to the assessment, or bring with you on the day. This questionnaire is likely to have questions about your child’s medical and social history and development, as well as questions about their strengths and weaknesses, and any goals you have for OT intervention. This questionnaire is an opportunity for us to gain relevant background information from the parent or guardian which will help to inform our assessment process. It’s useful for parents or guardians to fill this out in advance, as it gives you the chance to think through your answers, and it also saves a lot of time in the clinic room during the assessment.
During the in-clinic assessment:
Firstly, you should know that an OT “clinic room” doesn’t really look very “clinical” – it actually looks like a big playroom – with movement based play equipment, and a range of toys are games to engage your child. It’s a great idea to make sure your child is wearing clothes suitable for play – things that are easy to move around in and something you don’t mind getting dirty (ie covered in finger pain or shaving cream!); shorts, pants or leggings are better options than dresses and skirts to allow free movement; layers are handy in case your child gets warm during activities; and socks are a great option for hygiene, as we do a lot of activities without shoes.
The OT is likely to want to discuss in a little more detail the information you provided in your pre-screening – this helps to clarify any important sections, or to perhaps provide additional information for other areas. The first session can be a little more focused on the parent and therapist talking, but future sessions are likely to be much more focused on the therapist and child undertaking activities together.
It is likely that while they’re undertaking the interview with you, the OT will set your child up with a developmentally appropriate self-directed play activity. While you chat the OT will also be watching your child during this activity, to collect a bit more observations about your child’s play skills. Once the parent interview is over, the OT will then be likely to get down on the floor to play with, and observe your child’s play, more closely. They will be looking at different components of your child’s play, including the play themes they use, how they use objects during play and the creation of play storylines.
Gross motor skills assessment:
“Gross” motor skills refer to the big body movements your child undertakes. Tasks such as walking, running, jumping, throwing, crawling, dancing, rolling, sitting down, standing up and balancing all fall into this category. These tasks may be assessed through a standardised assessemnt such as the “Movement ABC” assessment, or it may be conducted through skilled observation of your child undertaking these type of tasks, and relating them back to age-based skill expectations.
Fine motor skills assessment:
“Fine” motor skills generally relate to tasks your child undertakes with their hands – including drawing, colouring, playing with small items, using cutlery, doing up buttons and zips, or tying shoelaces. As for gross motor skills, these fine motor skills might be assessed with a formal assessment tool such as the “Movement ABC” – or it might be conducted informally through engaging your child in a range of age-scaled fine motor tasks – such as playing with marbles, threading beads, playing with lego or cutting shapes out of paper.
Visual-motor co-ordination assessment:
This part of the assessment concerns how well your child’s vision and motor skills work together – you’re probably familiar with the term “hand-eye co-ordination” – and this is part of visual motor co-ordination. This task is likely to be a pencil and paper assessment, such as the Beery Buktenica Development Test of Visual Motor Integration.
If your child is at pre-school or school age their OT assessment may include a handwriting component. This generally consists of pencil and paper tasks, including drawing “pre-writing shapes” (eg. Lines, curves, squares, circles), and writing words and numbers such as their name, age, the alphabet, or the name of their school.
Sensory processing assessment:
The Occupational Therapist will be very interested in understanding how your child processes sensory information, which includes the five senses of touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell, as well as two additional senses: proprioception (related to body awareness) and vestibular awareness (related to balance and position in space). Difficulties with sensory processing can often create difficult behaviours for children, which can impact their ability to participate in general activities. You will likely be asked to fill in a form, such as the Sensory Processing Measure, for the OT to score after the session. If your child is at school you may also be given a form for their classroom teacher to fill out, if their sensory issues appear to be impacting them at school. Once the OT has an understanding of the sensory profile and needs of a child, it helps them to better plan therapy sessions and provide advice on how to support your child’s sensory needs in their daily life – such as at home, at school, or out in public places such as shopping centres.
After the assessment:
You will generally receive a report within an agreed time frame, which outlines the results of the Occupational Therapy assessment process. Depending on your child’s needs and situation, you may be able to choose whether you want a brief report, outlining basic score results and providing brief information on goals and therapy suggestions; or a more detailed report, which more thoroughly explains the results and observations taken during the assessment, as well as more specific goals and therapy considerations. When deciding which option to choose you will need to consider how much information you might need – for example, do you need a full report to apply for NDIS funding? Or are you simply after some general suggestions on minor issues? Be aware that it is very difficult to come back and write a full report more than a few weeks out from the assessment, and most Occupational Therapy providers will not be able to offer a full written assessment report a few months on from the assessment, without re-administering at least some components of the assessment.
Recommendations and Therapy Plan:
The purpose of an Occupational Therapy assessment is to not only give you information on where your child is at with regard to their development and functional abilities, but to make suggestions for therapy which will help them to further develop in any areas where they might currently be lacking. Following an assessment and report, an OT will discuss with you the potential therapy options available, which might including the duration and frequency of treatment – eg once a week, once a fortnight; the location most suitable for therapy – eg in the clinic or at school or childcare; and the sort of activities that will provide best results, eg. sensory integration therapy, a developmental movement program, or an emotional regulation program. Remember Occupational Therapy is a collaborative process between your child, you and the therapist (and perhaps their teacher or child carer worker), so it’s important you work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for your child.
Why is the assessment split into two sessions?
An Occupational Therapy assessment can be a lengthy process, and as such at Bloom Wellbeing we split the process over two one hour sessions. In special circumstances it is possible to complete the assessment in a single extended appointment, however we prefer not to do this, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, although many of our tasks seem like play and fun, they can still be taxing on little bodies and brains, so we don’t want to overload your little one with too many new experiences all at once. Secondly, each assessment component is best undertaken when your child is feeling focused and content – if we try to cram too much into one session, it’s likely they may start to become tired, grumpy or quite simply “over it” in which case the assessment results might not be indicative of their true abilities. Thirdly – having a two part assessment gives the therapist two opportunities to get to know your child and build rapport with them – the first appointment can sometimes be overwhelming for your child, so having two sessions helps your child get to know the therapist, which means that hopefully by the second session they have already built a small connection to the therapist, and are more comfortable in their presence – this too gives the therapist an opportunity to see and assess your child at their best. Finally – having a two part assessment gives the Occupational Therapist time to think! An Occupational Therapy assessment covers many different areas of development, and the OT will not always know before the assessment exactly which areas of development are of most concern. Many of the assessment components interlink with different skills or areas, so during the assessment, the OT will constantly be looking for different markers or activity examples related to your assessment and child’s development. Having a break between assessment components gives the OT the opportunity to spend longer focusing on one area of development, or to introduce another assessment component they might need to add after their initial observations.
All of these reasons are also the reasons we try (wherever possible) to ensure that the Occupational Therapist that undertakes your child’s assessment will be the same OT to continue to deliver therapy services on an ongoing basis. The assessment process is the first opportunity for a therapist to build a rapport with your child. We build trust and connection in these first sessions, and this serves both your child and the OT – for your child, they will be starting therapy with a person they’ve already met, and for the OT, they will have already gathered a huge amount of information about your child which will help them plan some wonderful initial therapy sessions.
Phew! I know that’s a lot to take in, so well done if you made it this far into the post! Remember that every OT clinic is a little different – they may structure their assessments differently to how we do it at Bloom Wellbeing, or they may use different assessments and tools. Additionally, every therapist, child and parent is different, so in that respect, no two assessments are ever going to be exactly alike. But hopefully this post has given you a lot more information, and in turn a little more confidence, about what to expect when you go for your child’s assessment.
It’s 3am, an exhausted, sleep deprived mother stands over the crib of her screaming infant, the baby’s cries have been non-stop for hours. She’s tried everything. Everything. She doesn’t know what else to do. She snaps.
“Just go the f*#k to sleep!!!” she screams at her tiny, defenseless baby.
A moment later, realising what she’s just done, she slumps to the floor sobbing. Ashamed of herself, scared of what she’s become.
Who is it you empathise with more in this situation – the tiny baby, whose only crime was simply being a dependent infant? Or the mother at the end of her tether?
The answer to that question is likely to hinge on whether you’ve ever been that mother. Whether you’ve ever found yourself so completely overwhelmed, so completely under-resourced, so entirely depleted and so unwillingly consumed with rage, that you no longer feel in control of anything anymore. Least of all your tiny baby. Or your emotions.
I’ve heard it said that you don’t truly experience unconditional love until you become a mother. The same could also be said for this other of life’s most intense emotions: Anger. Rage. Fury.
Personally, I never experienced true rage until I had my own children. Certainly I got my knickers in a twist over many a situation – and I experienced anger – at myself, my parents, my partners, my family. But rage against your peers, or your elders is rarely seen as a source of shame. In fact, at those times, our anger is easily justifiable, the teenager raging against the impossibly strict rules of her parents, a grown woman crying hot tears of anger over a partner who cheated on her, an employee venting to a colleague about an incompetent boss. That kind of anger is understood and openly discussed – and in many cases welcomed – anger is good – it provokes you to fight back, to stand up for your rights, or to advocate for someone less fortunate than you. We can support, or at least understand, when a person’s anger is directed at someone who slighted, deceived, hurt or manipulated them.
But what happens when the source and target of your rage is a tiny infant, or a toddler, or any child? A tiny human whose only crime is simply crying too much, or refusing to sleep, or smearing finger paint over a wall, or losing their school hat for the 18th time this week?
How many mothers do you think would feel comfortable telling another person that they quite literally screamed at their baby, or stormed out of the room on their toddler, slamming the door behind them, or threw their child’s favourite toy in the bin, because they wanted to punish them so badly. It’s a difficult truth to face. And when it happens it generally brings with it mountains of shame, self-judgement and self-hatred. The women I’ve spoken to who have experienced these intermittent episodes of rage don’t intend to behave this way. When I’ve had women explain it to me they tell me of how they “just snapped”, and how petrified they are of something similar happening again. These are not mothers who are systematically abusing their children. These are wonderful, caring mothers who wholeheartedly love their children, would do anything for them. But they’re just not coping. They snap, and then they berate themselves for being a terrible mother, because “how could any mother treat their child that way?”, they believe they’re all alone in their rage, and wonder how it is that they became so unhinged. If this is how a woman sees herself after an episode of motherhood-triggered rage, just imagine what they believe others are thinking of them.
Is it any wonder they won’t admit publicly to this silent rage they’re feeling?
But if this is you. If you’re an ‘Angry Mother’, I want you to know this:
It is okay to feel angry at your child.
Anger is simply an emotion, albeit an incredibly intense one. But emotions are never inherently “good” or “bad” – not even those emotions commonly acknowledged to be negative – anger, jealousy, shame, resentment. We are entitled to feel and experience the broad spectrum of our emotions. We can’t really expect motherhood to bring us only joy and wonder. Anger is going to be inevitable at times. We’re only human.
But it’s what we do, how we act, in response to those feelings of anger that makes the difference.
Being angry is okay. Taking your anger out on your child (or any other person really) is not. That distinction is important.
So no, it’s not really okay to scream at your child, or to hit them, or to lock them away because you’re angry with them. I’m certainly not advocating for that. But what I’m saying is that these things can and do happen – to the best of us – but if we find ourselves in that situation, what we need to do is seek support to lessen the chances of it happening again, not hide away from it due to shame and fear.
It’s okay to admit to yourself how much anger you’re experiencing as a result of motherhood. In fact, acknowledging your emotions is the first step in dealing with them. Being conscious and mindful of your anger is one of your greatest protections against not letting that anger manifest into aggressive, hurtful and potentially dangerous behaviour.
What we need is a more open discourse on the emotion of anger in motherhood. Because it’s there – hidden away behind closed doors and walls of shame, fear and self-loathing. Why is it happening? Now, today, in our western society where women and mothers have even more freedom and rights than ever before? That’s an enormous question, and perhaps one for another blog post. But my focus for today’s post is to help women understand what’s happening inside their brain and body during these rage moments – so that they might be able to prevent them from happening again.
Anger is multi-faceted, and it’s origins are often misunderstood. The good news is that “lashing out” when angry isn’t an inevitability. To avoid it, it helps to have a better understanding of what’s behind a moment of rage filled behaviour.
There’s several factors at play when it comes to why we get angry:
1) The trigger. This is generally what we blame our rage on – that driver cut me off, my husband forgot to buy milk, my boss made me work late, my baby won’t stop crying. But the trigger is rarely enough to create a rage response in itself. If it were, we’d all be flying off the handle at any and every slight against us. This isn’t how the majority of us behave on a regular basis.
2) Our pre-existing personalities. We all know people who are more prone to rage than others, who are more laid back, more highly strung, more glass is half full, or more “the world is out to get me” – often these personality traits are set while we’re quite young, and are influenced by the events, environments and relationships we experience as infants and children. (Which is not to say they are fixed, but personalities are deeply ingrained and not easily changed).
3) Our emotional and physical state at the time of the trigger. Our response to triggers will change depending on these factors. So we’re potentially more likely to act on our anger if we’re tired, sick, stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, scared, anxious or sleep deprived (sound familiar? Hello Motherhood!) These factors can turn even small incidents into huge explosions.
4) The breadth of skills we have to deal with unpleasant emotions and feelings. Our generation didn’t get taught this stuff. We never had mindfulness lessons or yoga classes at school – it’s great to see this happening more and more in schools today. But for those of us born before the turn of the century, unless you’ve studied a health profession, or undertaken formal counselling or therapy, it’s unlikely you were ever given explicit information about how your emotions work – about how they can impact your behaviour. Emotions just were. Some people had more trouble with them. That’s about all we knew. But we now know there’s so much we can do to better address our anger, so that it doesn’t take control of us.
So what can you do? How can you better manage anger?
1) Improve your awareness of your anger. Be more mindful of times when your anger appears, and start to make connections between your emotions, your thoughts and the physical feelings in your body. Awareness is the first step.
2) Do what you can to make positive steps on a daily basis. Check out this article from the American Psychological Society for “Strategies to Keep Anger at Bay”. Finding stress management, self care and relaxation strategies that work for you is also a helpful option, such as learning how to start a mindfulness practice.
3) Seek support. Be open and honest with someone you trust about your anger experiences and concerns, perhaps your partner, or an understanding friend or family member. If you feel like you need further support a counsellor, Occupational Therapist or psychologist can help provide you with strategies to support yourself.
Remember – managing your anger better is an entirely achievable goal. Even though it may seem overwhelming and especially traumatic when you’re in the grip of “mother-anger” it’s crucial to seek support – for your own sake, and that of your children, your family, and your relationships and connection with each other.
Until next time,