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,
Isn’t it always the way that when life gets hectic or stressful, the first things we let go in our tight schedule are generally those things we most need?
When my life cranked up last year the first thing I let go was my meditation practice. At the start of the year I had a nice little meditation habit happening. But sometime mid year it seriously slipped by the wayside.
I didn’t think too much of it until my Headspace
app renewal came through at the start of last month and I realised that in the whole of 2016 I’d not even made it through the three introductory levels!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been making a big effort last year to be a lot more mindful through my day to day life. But I do feel that, for me, adding in a regular block of formal meditation time daily has huge benefits. So I’ve been doing just that since the new year. Not every day yet, but most days, generally switching between my Headspace and Smiling Mind
apps depending on how I’m feeling.
The way the Headspace app works is that I’m currently stuck on 20 minute meditations, I need to get through three more 20 minute sessions to move out of the “intro” series, at which point I again have full reign over which track – and which length track – I choose.
Only three steps left til I can make my own choices!
I gotta say – 20 minutes of meditation is a HUGE stretch for me. I struggle big time. Which is why I keep flipping back to Smiling Mind, where I can choose a lovely seven minute track I can easily manage! I’ve done many, many more seven minute tracks there in 2016 than I have 20 minute tracks here!
But at the same time, I also want to extend my practice, so this morning I headed back to Headspace.
Ready for some zen.
It didn’t exactly turn out that way…
Here’s a brief rundown of at least 19 thoughts that ran through my head through this morning’s meditation.
1) Man I haven’t done this in ages.
2) I do love Andy’s voice.
3) Oops. I closed my eyes, I’m not supposed to do that yet.
4) Okay now I can close my eyes.
5) This is so much easier with my eyes closed.
6) But why do I struggle so much with eyes open meditation? I should be able to go that.
7) Don’t ‘should’ yourself Sarah
8) Gah, you forgot to respond to that person that texted you last Friday
9) I better send that power point presentation off its due today.
10) But I better change that slide that needs changing first…
11) Damn I forgot to link up my new accounting software with my invoicing software.
12) I really should YouTube how to do that.
13) I wonder how hot it’s going to be today?
14) I hope that dress I bought yesterday is okay for tomorrow’s conference?
15) What shoes shall I wear with it?
16) Hair up or hair down with that dress?
17) And what about earrings….?
18) Oh, there’s Andy talking again.
19) That’s right I’m supposed to be meditating…
And that was all in the first five minutes! There were way more thoughts in the following 15 minutes, but that’s okay. I’m slowly more able to not beat myself up about my wandering monkey brain!
You see the whole point of meditation isn’t actually to eliminate thought. It’s about being able to let those little thoughts come and go without getting hooked on to them. Clearly my little meditation hiatus has disrupted my ability to do just that. I did find myself latching on to some of those thoughts. Which is why I still love guided meditations, that little voice in my earbuds gently reminding me to let those thoughts go.
So hopefully I’ll be hearing a little more of Andy from Headspace on a daily basis as I head further into 2017.
What about you? Do you have a regular meditation practice? Any favourite apps? Any advice you can give me to keep a little more focused and build this habit?
I’d love to know your thoughts.
Until next time,
Some of you may know that I’ve been working on addressing my adrenal fatigue in recent months. And one of the things that comes along with that is a recommendation that I give up running for a while.
I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with running. I’m not a naturally gifted runner, I’m very much a plodder/shuffler/stumble over the liner. I hate that I find it so hard. But I love how it makes me feel once it’s done. The “runners high” everyone talks about. (At least, everyone who’s a runner). I loved that I worked my way up through the mileage. Beaming with pride when I finished my first 10km event, my first 15km event, my first half marathon (at which I was six weeks pregnant!)
I didn’t run much through my pregnancy, but between my first and second babies I was running pretty regularly a few times a week. But over the past four years between juggling two children, moving home to Adelaide, deciding to open my own business, and my husband changing jobs to one where he leaves the house at 5am every morning, I’ve really struggled to get back into it. I couldn’t go out for my usual early morning run as I had the girls at home, I hated running with a pram and the treadmill at the gym bores me to tears, so I didn’t run during the day, and by the time hubby got home and we made it through the cactus hour “dinner-bath-bed” routine – it was too dark. And I definitely don’t run the streets in the dark.
I’ve certainly tried, I’ve pushed myself through a run at least every other week when I found time on a weekend, and there’s been periods of time where I’ve been more motivated than others – increasing my runs to a couple of times a week – sneaking out the door as soon as hubby got home from work for a quick 20 or 30 minute job – especially in those first two years after we moved back here.
Bu then the adrenal fatigue really kicked in at the start of last year and I found I just couldn’t run. My legs always felt heavy, and I no longer actually wanted to run, despite desperately wanting to want to run (if that makes sense.)
I even signed up for two running coaching programs last year, the first one I pushed myself through with a once a week run with my personal training group. This was great – having a team around me meant that I actually went for those runs. But afterwards I would be just completely spent, and crash on the couch for the next few hours. My ‘runner’s high was completely non-existent’, and in it’s place was a ‘runner’s crash and burn’.
The second program, was a fantastic online running program, with a great online community. I had the best of intentions when I joined up – despite not listening to any of my body’s signals. I was mistaking my body’s call for rest as simply being lazy and unmotivated. “Maybe I just need a program to get me on track?”, I thought to myself. So I signed up. But I just couldn’t do it. When I did go for a run my body responded the exact same way it had in the previous program.
And it’s because it was exhausted, literally. My adrenal fatigue has just stripped my body of any energy reserves, and – quite frankly – it’s shit.
So I’ve given up on running for the next few months. Until at least April (I’m still harbouring dreams of my second half marathon in July). I’m giving my body the opportunity to rest. I’m going to be focusing on less strenuous activities such as walking, light weight training and yoga.
Oh, and swimming!
Remember when I said I’m not a naturally gifted runner? Well as it happens what I am naturally good at is swimming. I’m not fast, no sirreee. But I’m a strong swimmer and I have great endurance. A couple of decades ago I used to be a swimming instructor and lifeguard, which is how I worked my way through Uni. Back then I used to swim 2km every morning (that’s 40 laps of a 50m pool!).
But once I graduated and gave up the swim teaching, I lost the swimming for fitness alongside of it – after all, I had a full time job now and I could afford a proper gym membership! I also moved to pretty much the coldest place in South Australia and suddenly swimming didn’t seem so appealing anymore.
I dipped my toes back in the pool briefly again during both my pregnancies, but didn’t continue after I had my babies.
Until this week, when I signed myself up for the 300m swim leg of a triathlon with some people from my personal training crew. I knew there was no way I could do the full thing. But a 300m swim – that’s less than 10minutes. I can definitely manage that!
So I jumped back in the pool for my first swim in about four years. With no idea how I’d go. Would I even be able to make it to the other end of the pool without struggling for breath? Turns out I could. I did that first 300m easily, and I felt good, so I kept swimming for another 700m. And just like that I did my first 1km swim in a very long time.
Me, after my first swim last week. Red faced, but relaxed.
Funny how we sometimes forget the things we love. And the things we’re good at.
But now I’ve been reminded, I think swimming is just what my body needs. Movement, that doesn’t stress it out physically – or emotionally. More than anything, I find swimming calming. It’s just me, the water and that blue line. The slow rhythmic “one, two, three, breathe” of my stroke rate is so incredibly calming. It’s basically a moving meditation.
So while I mourn the loss of my regular runs, I’m going to enjoy my return to the pool.
Something we do a lot of here at Bloom Wellbeing with our paediatric Occupational Therapy crew is “Messy Play” – in any given session one of our kiddos can be found elbow deep in gloop, slime, paint, mud or shaving cream.
And while it probably makes more work for parents in the laundry, messy play is actually a fantastic task for all children. As an Occupational Therapist (OT), I’m a big believer in providing a wide range of play opportunities for all children of all ages. Messy play is a winner on so many fronts, not the least because the majority of children absolutely love it!
The fun factor is definitely a big plus in our OT eyes – we always strive to make our sessions super fun – kids learn and develop through play – so we use play to help them learn and develop. For 99pc of our clients, they can’t wait to get back into the OT room for their next session to see what fun stuff they’re going to be doing this week.
So yes, the fun, fun, fun is important, but here’s a quick roundup of several of the other reasons we love, love, love messy play.
Messy Play supports children’s physical development:
- The sensory experience of messy play helps children build body awareness, build fine motor skills, finger and hand strength and dexterity and improve hand-eye co-ordination. To build on this, we encourage the use of lots of tools within the sensory play, such as using utensils, filling and pouring from cups, and ‘writing’ with tools.
Messy Play supports children’s communication and language development:
- Messy play offers lots of opportunities to talk and communicate. We speak with your child about how the activity feels – talk about the sensations they’re experiencing, colours, the actions – we use lots of describing words. Eg. “Wow, feel how fluffy this foam feels, look at this enormous/tiny/squiggly circle you drew, this slime is sloppy and bright green”.
Messy Play supports the development of children’s creative play skills
- Creative play is another area where lots of children struggle, and messy play is the perfect medium for creating vivid, unexpected play stories. For example, if we add a few mini Mac Trucks to a stack of shaving foam it instantly transforms into a blizzard, if we add a few plastic frogs to a pile of green gloop it can become a swamp, deep inside a spooky forest.
Messy Play supports children’s emotional and social development:
- There are no rules in messy play, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it, so children can have the freedom to experiment, explore and create in their own time, without feeling the pressure of “getting something right”. This can build confidence and self esteem.
- Messy play is also a great sensory outlet for emotions – such as joy, anger, frustration, excitement.
- Messy play can also have a calming influence for children. The sensory and repetitive nature of some activities can help children focus their attention, increasing mindfulness, which is a powerful tool to reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms in both children and adults.
Messy Play supports children’s intellectual and mathematical development:
- Messy play also provides opportunities to build foundational academic skills, including concepts such counting, measuring, mixing colours, sorting, creating patterns, predicting and observing outcomes, cause and effect, etc. It may not seem like they’re learning – but they definitely are!
How to embrace more messy play:
Remember that messy play is really important for your children’s development, but most of all it’s FUN! As parents we can get so caught up in making sure we do all the right things for our children’s development, but messy play is one activity we can simply set up and enjoy – we don’t need to think too much about it!
Here’s some tips for making it easier (on us as parents!):
- Set the activity up in an area you don’t mind getting messy – eg on the patio, on the lawn, or cover the kitchen table with a plastic tablecloth.
- Have a drawer full of older messy play clothes for your kids, or let your kids play in their bathers or undies if the weather is warm enough
- Make sure you prepare lots of towels, paper towels, face washers, and fresh sets of clothes before you start the activity, to make clean up quicker and easier.
Easy ideas for messy play at home:
Finger painting: use any kind of paint, or make your own (see recipes below) – add lots of other sensory items, both for the actual painting eg. Different sponges, squirty bottles, cotton balls, and also sensory items to add to the paint mixture, eg glitter, sand, sequins
- Basic paint: One cup plain flour, one cup of water, add food colouring
- Puffy paint: ¾ cup shaving cream, ¼ cup white glue, ¼ cup plain flour, food colour
Gloop/slime – kids LOVE this one. Here are a couple of recipes – they require hot water – so use caution when preparing and make sure you check the temperatures before allowing children to play with it.
Mix together 1 cup of lux flakes and 3 cups of hot/boiling water – whisk together in a big bowl until light and fluffy – this mix will thicken up overnight. Let your kids explore different textures by adding food colouring, sprinkles or glitter.
Shaving cream – cover a smooth surface with shaving cream and let your children explore the texture with their hands – they might want to create patterns, write letters or shapes, draw pictures, or move their hands through the foam in random movements, or pile the foam into big mounds. You can use a table covered with a plastic table cloth, or use shaving cream on different surfaces – a great option is to use a large window or sliding glass door – the vertical surface helps to build upper body strength and core strength at the same time.
From the pantry – have you got a big pack of uncooked rice, split peas or pasta shells, these are all good for messy, sensory play. Pop a few tiny objects in the tub and have your children try to find them using their hands.
The old faithfuls – such as playdough, finger paint and kinetic sand – you can get these all pretty cheaply from department or toy stores these days.
Playing outside – channel your inner Peppa Pig and get them jumping in muddy puddles, water and sand tables are a great resource – I think every home should have one – they can fit in even the smallest yards, sandpits – at home if you have space, or at the local park – or the greatest sandpit of all – the beach! These offer great opportunities for children to get messy “all over their body” which provides great sensory input.
Cooking – kids of all ages love cooking! Think about tasks which allow them to use their hands, such as kneading dough for homemade pizzas, or pouring handfuls of sprinkles onto cupcakes. Just make sure they wash their hands before cooking! As a bonus, getting fussy eaters involved in the food preparation might even help them be more inclined to try a new food.
Eating – for those of you who have babies or young toddlers, remember that messy eating is a good thing! When children are first exploring new foods it’s important for them to play and explore their food – with their hands and mouths – encouraging increased exploration can help improved children’s willingness to try different foods later on through the lifespan. Think about it this way – if a child isn’t sure about touching a food with their fingers, is it any wonder they’re unsure about putting it into their mouths? Get them to touch and explore their food.
Self care – have your children help rub in their own sunscreen or body lotions, or lather their own shampoo in the bath, let them pop extra bubble bath in the tub to make bubble beards and mohawks. Remember – the name of the game is fun!
Well that’s it from me on the topic of messy play for today. The most important thing is to not overthink it – just channel your own inner child and have fun!
Until next time,
I’m a Pilates Instructor. I have a body.
But I do not have what would be considered a “Pilates Body”. I don’t really have to explain what a “Pilates Body” looks like, just type the words “Pilates Body” into Google images and see what the internet spits back at you.
I do not look like ANY of those images. Actually, sorry I take that back – there’s a few ‘before and after’ shots on the page, and my body probably does resemble some of those before shots.
In case we haven’t met before, here’s a picture of my Pilates Body (minus my head, which is what happens when a three year old gets hold of the camera!) I know it’s not really important that you know what I look like, but maybe it helps, so here you go:
Check that lack of six pack, that lack of thigh gap, the squooshy boobs in an ill-fitting sports bra (it must have been laundry day!). I’d also really like to thank Miss Three for the shocking angle of this image. You’d never see a Pilates marketing photo from this angle!
In fact, when it comes to Pilates Body internet imagery you don’t even need to type the word “body”, just type “Pilates” into an image search and this is the body you’ll find. Young, blonde, female, long and lean. You’d be forgiven for thinking the only people who can or do practice Pilates are Australia’s Next Top Model contestants.
Why, when we type Pilates, don’t we see more women with bodies like mine? Or images of the 14 year old girl in her school sports uniform doing Pilates to address her scoliosis, or the 50 year old truck driver doing Pilates to recover from his back injury, or the 70 year old woman doing Pilates to keep strong after her osteoporosis diagnosis? And I know we see lots of pregnant bellies in crop tops and “Mummy and Me” Pilates – but those Mums are, by and large, quite “yummy” – there’s rarely any new Mums pictured in beige maternity bras with baby spew down their shirt and dark circles under their eyes due to lack of sleep. It’s all matching crop tops and leggings with bouncy pony tails and no hint of a “mum-tum” at all.
Pilates has an image problem. And the problem is the general public is only being presented with one image of Pilates.
Part of this is due to the fact that Pilates instructors are, overwhelmingly “Pilates Bodies” types – but that is slowly changing – here’s just a selection of a few instructors doing great things to promote body positive Pilates over on Instagram.So hopefully the stereotype of Pilates just being for the beautiful bodies is slowly changing.
But we still have a long way to go – and a lot of that rests on us as instructors to lead the charge. Just as @sixthstreetpilates, @grace.movement.pilates, @pilates.fbg and @sheofdc are doing.
At a women’s health conference I attended recently I was seated next to a lovely Pilates studio owner who did indeed have a ‘Pilates Body’, she was stunning – the workshop we were in was about marketing and naturally we got chatting about marketing our respective studios through social media, branding and imagery. This lovely lady had two studios, and while she said one just ticked along nicely through word of mouth, the second, inner city studio, was all about “the body beautiful”. That was the marketing strategy that drove attendance at that studio.
“It’s all about the body beautiful”, she said, “That’s what the clients want.”
I had to politely disagree. The “body beautiful” is what people who value the body beautiful want. But there are also people who value the “body functional”, the “body pain free”, the “body recovering from pregnancy”, to “body challenged to see what it can perform”, the “body that feels so much more relaxed after this one hour per week to myself”, the “body that just wants to stretch and move”, the “body who likes to hang out with friends in a space that’s not a pub”, or the “body who appreciates mindful movement”.
There are a hundred reasons why someone might start, and continue, a Pilates practice, the least important of which is rock hard abs.
Joseph Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method, wrote a book about his work. He named it “Return to Life Through Contrology*”, not “Return to Booty Through Contrology”. (*Contrology was what Joseph originally called his method, I guess he just wasn’t Kanye enough to personally name it after himself, his protégé’s named the method Pilates after his death.)
Pilates is about moving your body, and restoring it to functional movement patterns so that it can carry you through life. In the words of my lovely friend Taryn Brumfitt, of the Body Image Movement, “My body is not an ornament, it is the vehicle to my dreams”.
So if you have dreams, and you want your body to be strong, flexible and functional, in order to help you achieve them, maybe give Pilates a go. Even if you don’t have (or don’t want) a Pilates Body – you’ll fit in at my studio just fine!
Until next time – Sarah xx
ps. If you are keen to give pilates a go, and you’re close to me in western Adelaide – make sure you check out my “Buy five, get 10” discount – 10 classes for the price of five ($90). To book or check the schedule, click here.