Why Having A Positive Outlook Can Be Good For Your Emotional Health

It’s as simple as the weather forecast. Is lá breá cúnamh do chách.

Its an Irish saying..”A fine day is a help for all.” If you see rain, you stay inside. If you see sunshine, you venture out. If the weather is fine, and the roads are good, you’ll make today the day that you venture out and take a little trip.

Now, imagine, on this same day, you have a fairly daunting task ahead of you. Say, travelling a long distance, starting a new job, caring for a relative, balancing work and childcare, or working to meet a new group of people. (For some of us, this may all be happening on the same day.)

From your mind’s point of view, what’s the forecast for this new adventure? Rain-soaked, unattainable and fool-hardy? Or, as bright as the sunshine itself?

Depending on your outlook, you are that much more (or less) likely to lace up your boots and tackle what’s ahead of you. This is because your outlook sets the tone for your actions. If you think you are likely to succeed, you will try. If you can’t see the point, or see hazards everywhere in your path, you might not.

And so we begin with our introduction to optimism. For it is here that every journey starts. We aren’t all natural optimists. Whether or not you tend to see the glass half full or empty is more or less hard-wired. An optimistic outlook can, however, be learned.

Why try to develop optimism? Because when we believe that things have a good chance of working out, we are more likely to try. And when we try, we are more likely to succeed. And as you have figured out by now - every day motherhood introduces new challenges for us to try to succeed at.

Optimism helps us persevere and among other many benefits, has been shown to facilitate coping with, and acceptance of, stressful, life-changing and traumatic events. Optimists tend to be more successful in their lives, live longer, and have better relationships. Optimism is good for you...

...Just as long as it is balanced with realism. Experience suggests that sometimes things are worth taking a cold, hard look at.  The balanced result is a very helpful approach developed by the psychologist Martin Seligman known as Realistic Optimism. When we are realistically optimistic, we choose to expect that things will work out in our favour unless: 1. the stakes are too high to risk an error (such as when health or safety are at issue) or 2. we have clear and compelling evidence that we should be more cautious.

This strategy works against the mind’s tendency to give more weight and credence to the negative. Because the brain is first and foremost meant to keep us out of harm’s way, it has a high sensitivity to danger. It’s an effective survival mechanism, but it can also prevent us from doing what is necessary to grow and change.

The ‘bad stronger than good’ bias can lead to all manner of distortions in our thinking. We remember the one nasty thing our partner said over the 10 loving things they also mentioned. We avoid returning to a place where we made a mistake, even though we had many successes there. We go over the silly thing we said at a party over and over (and over!) in our minds even though most of the night was spent in pleasant company. And we start to doubt ourselves.  

Do any of these scripts we might work with sound familiar? “They won’t like me.” “I’ll never get the hang of this.” “I shouldn’t even try.” Can you imagine saying these things to a friend? The very thought of undermining another’s belief in the promise of things to come could feel downright mean to many of us. So why do we allow it to happen to ourselves? As mothers, we are routinely learning the ropes of an entirely new world. We have to try to be optimistic about our chances. 

So what exactly is the ‘right’ outlook for the tasks on our horizon? How can we clear the lens and calibrate our view to make sure that the way we think about what’s ahead of us is a help and not a hindrance?

The key to realistic optimism is evidence. Do we have evidence that our fears of failure are founded? Do we have proof for our self-criticism? Do we know that our expectations of defeat are based on fact? Or, is the rain cloud of doubt just that - a cloud - that can be blown away by a few well-crafted questions to ourselves?

Fly too close to the sun, the adage goes, and we can get burned. Yet, when we are weighed down to the land by our fears, we also can’t feel its warmth. Balanced optimism nudges us to travel that middle ground. Try it out. Learn. Try again. Use evidence to guide the flight paths we choose.

On any journey, we can’t choose the weather. But we can choose our outlook.  So let’s start today with a belief in ourselves. A Vote for Mom. After all, we’ve come this far. Evidence that we have what it takes to travel farther still.    

 

For a great read on Learned Optimism:

Seligman, M. (1998) Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind to Change Your  Life. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Additional supporting references:

  1. Carver, C. S., Pozo, C., Harris, S. D., Noriega, V., Scheier, M., Robinson, D., et al (1993). How coping mediates the effect of optimism on distress: A study of women with early stage breast cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 375–39

  2. Baumeister, R., Bratslavsky, E.,  Finkenauer, C. (2001) Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323-370.

Boost Your Productivity With A Bit Of Rest

If you ask anyone who knows me, they will tell you I never rest. I find it hard to be still, unless I’m doing something whilst being still. It’s in my genetic makeup to always be moving and doing.

It’s also in my genetic makeup to repair the energetic debts I run up in this frenzy.  As a biological system, my body maintains homeostasis - a set point of functioning that it always returns to - as long as I don’t get in its way. Replenishing and repairing from the wear and tear of just being alive is a necessary part of my daily cycle.

It was hard, at first, to push aside the distracting thoughts - the lego pieces haphazardly strewn across the play mat that I wanted to pick up, the toilets needing scrubbing, the lunges I should be doing, that I didn’t want to do. Despite all that, I was diligent in trying to re-centre my mind on the present moment.

And so with some practice, I spent time today actively resting. The boys went out for the morning and I sat down at my laptop, sipping my coffee slowly and getting in a great flow with some research I was doing for Well Made Mama. Flow, another important element,  is the state we find ourselves in when we are totally immersed in the task at hand, and loving it. A flow state can happen when we are so absorbed in an activity that we forget all about the world around us. It happens when we are doing something cool, consider it challenging enough to keep our interest, and most importantly, know how to do it well.  

It felt good to start something and finish it, and I kept going. The rest of my time alone I tinkered around the house at my own pace. I felt rested and content and I was waiting for my little guys to come home. When they did, we played and built things, I gave them little foot rubs whilst I listened to their stories of the morning they had, and we get lost in the pleasure and process of being in the moment. We all flowed together.

So what have I learned about taking time to rest my overactive brain?

  1. I needed space to myself and I enjoyed it.

  2. I felt ready to give my 100% attention to the people who needed it.

  3. I felt accomplished and inspired by my good work.

How will you experiment with rest this week? Here’s an idea to work with:

A few times today, stop, breathe, and focus on what is happening right in front of you. Let all the other thoughts in your mind float away for a minute. Keep your focus on the here and now.You can try this with your child, relishing the present moment for what it is. In this moment, you are together. No other thought is more important. Push aside any distracting thoughts. Keep bringing your mind on the present moment, on the here and now.   

A Natural Approach: Founder Of The Natural Parent Magazine, Hannah Shone, On Why Attachment Parenting Feels Right

As children, we play and tinker, dreaming of new possibilities. For people like Hannah Shone, Publisher and Founder of The Natural Parent Magazine, the feeling never goes away.

At Well Made Mama, we like to write about the benefits of creativity for Mothers. We know that when we create, we can joyfully lose track of time as we get to do what we do best. The more time we spend creating, the happier we can become, as we are afforded the opportunity to see our work completed and reflect on its strength.

And what Hannah has created by starting up the first magazine of its kind in New Zealand and Australia (lucky us!), is to bring perspectives and real-life stories about natural parenting to the mainstream. What the Natural Parent Magazine also creates is a sense of belonging for parents which, as we are also fond of pointing out, is a fundamental requirement for a happy and healthy transition into this new role.

Hannah graciously gave up some of her precious time (in the wee hours of the night when Mothers usually get stuff done) to share with our Well Made Mama readers.

We’ve been a fan of the Natural Parent Magazine for quite a while now! What first drew you to the principles of natural parenting?

Like many first time mothers to be, when I was pregnant I had this idea that I would be back at work three months after giving birth. I thought that my baby would sleep in her own room, that she’d be at daycare and I would go to work. Once I had my baby these sentiments changed dramatically. I realised instinctively that all this little one wanted and needed, was to be with me.

I am also naturally a bit lazy so breastfeeding was the best way to keep her happy (it was incredibly hard for me to get breastfeeding going well I will point out - mastitis and 6 months of pain!) When we eventually got into the groove, breastfeeding was a life saver. Being together was an easy and happy situation for us both. Along with that, came co-sleeping (safely).

By the time my daughter was two she still wanted to be carried in a carrier, breastfeed and co-sleep, and more and more people began to comment: “Isn’t she too big to be carried?” And at mothers groups, “are you STILL co sleeping?” This irritated me enough to think – hang on, this feels natural, why should I stop carrying/breastfeeding/co-sleeping?

That’s when I started reading perspectives on breastfeeding and co sleeping and all of the things we were already doing, and of course discovered wonderful articles written by Robin Grille, Genevieve Simperingham, Lauren Porter, Pinky Mckay, Sarah Buckley, and Pam Leo to name a few. One of the first articles I read on the topic that made sense to me, is now on our site I love it so much! Read the full article here.

And that’s how it began for me.

We love that NP is a magazine promoting conscious parenting - how important was it for you to see it created?

Once it occurred to me that there was no other magazine offering conscious parenting articles in our geographical location and I could support people to parent gently, it was like a nagging ache that wouldn’t go away...It took me two years to take the plunge with the magazine and I turned myself inside out during this time not knowing whether I should (could) do it or not. Finally, I felt it was too important not to do something and that I might regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t just get on and try! In 2010 I started the ball rolling with the support of my partner and my parents (our daughter was 4yrs old at this stage.)

What has been the biggest lesson learned when starting your own venture?

That working for yourself is one of the most liberating things a person can do. Starting your own venture gives you hope, freedom, confidence; that anything is possible, even with young children.

You and your team have created a place rich in content for parents who want to tap into better and more instinctive ways to parent their children, as well as a safe group for parents to belong to.  What have you learned from your readership and contributors?

We are a tiny team – just myself, Tim my partner, and since 2016 our online editor Hannah Schenker. I feel like the magazine has been part of a bigger world movement towards conscious and gentle parenting and perhaps conscious and gentle living as a whole. Our contributors are incredibly inspiring to me. I would say that I’ve learned from them that treating our children with love and respect can be world changing and hopefully we will see this in the next generation.

If there was one healthy change that you could inspire mamas to make in their lives, what would you want it to be?

This might not be quite what you would expect me to say, but this is my advice: Exercise. Get outside and go for a walk with your children. Make it a habit every day and everyone will benefit from it! Even when you don’t feel like it – push yourself to get outside. Through exercise clarity and happiness will follow.

 

If we weren’t inspired enough, we asked Hannah to share a bit of her manifesto with us - what does a homeschooling, social change maker and entrepreneur want the world to know about what makes her wake up in the morning and take a giant bite out of life?


I believe...that breastfeeding until children wean naturally is the biological norm and is healthy for both mother and baby.

I wish...that parents would treat their children with love and respect.

My goal...is to continue the growth of gentle and conscious parenting throughout NZ and Australia. To make gentle parenting the norm.

My one piece of wisdom…

"One generation of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world." - Charles Raison, M.D., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine

 

We thank Hannah for inspiring a generation of Mothers and Fathers to tinker with alternative ways to parent and live their best most natural lives. xx

A Beautiful Journey: Elate Cosmetics Artist Lisa Torti, On Sustainability, Kindness, And Purpose

Purpose. It's the happiness that can take a while to arrive because you have to work for it. Technically known as ‘eudaemonic’ happiness, this is the hit of wellbeing you get when all of that work finally pays off. You’ve saved your pennies. You’ve finished the marathon. You made a tough decision but stayed true to your beliefs.  

Purpose, in our opinion, is one of the seven categories of elemental needs we need to have met, to feel well..  An important element within this category is Legacy.

And why does Legacy matter? Well ask yourself this, are you working towards a better future for yourself and your children? When you’re stressing about tasks you would rather not do, think about what you can do, to make an impact on the life you create for yourself and your children.

Lisa Torti is a Certified Freelance Makeup Artist, offering vegan, organic makeup services and homeschool teacher to her 9 and 7-year-old children.  She is someone I look up to for the sacrifices she is making for what she believes in.

I’ve known Lisa for three decades, and when I asked her to contribute for this piece because I wanted to celebrate the choices she has made for her family, she said, “this feels like something I don’t deserve.” We think we all deserve a bit of gratitude for the selfless decisions we make every day as parents. Paying it forward is not only just a nice thing to do, we think it’s a healthy thing to do!

Our decision to homeschool was made when my first, now 9 years old, was just a baby.  We knew that we wanted a different type of life for him than we had. Not that we felt that we had a bad childhood, but because we knew that we could provide a more eclectic lifestyle with plenty of child-led experiences.  We wanted our children to be able to decide what they wanted to learn. We knew how difficult it was going to be to juggle our businesses with schooling. But, I wanted to try to spend as much time with my children as I could, so I felt that the only way I could do that was to keep them home.

The decision was followed by a whole lot of research about the types of home-based learning and all the legal aspects of our decision.  Since I am a freelance makeup artist, I make my own schedule, which ended up being perfect. I could work lessons around my schedule. We took quite a pay cut.  It's been very difficult to make ends meet and there are a few times of the year that are much harder than others. I quite often feel worn thin because I don't really get any time to myself.  My children are always with me. Would I change anything? No. When I'm having a tough day, I have the choice to say 'No school today! Let's go for a walk in the woods.' which ends up being educational anyway.

Trying to work on anything to do with my business during the day doesn't work.  I often have to wait until they go to bed to dig in. It's a small inconvenience that I can handle. 

Quite recently Lisa joined the team at Elate Cosmetics, a cosmetics company that lovingly creates, “vegan, toxin-free, cruelty-free, gluten-free, sustainable, conscious beauty products that are healthier for you & the planet.”

 
Putting on Mascara isn’t going to change the world, but it may change your perception of yourself just a little bit, so you can.
— Melody Reynolds, Founder, Elate Cosmetics
 

Talk about leaving a legacy behind! Founder Melody Reynolds makes it her mission to empower women to make choices that won’t compromise their skin or negatively impact the environment - ingredients and package are free of toxins and entirely sustainable.

Besides the fact that their products are among the best I’ve tried in green beauty, Elate is all about community, kindness, sustainability and authenticity which really resonates with me.  Their values are very aligned with mine in the sense that we live a vegan, organic lifestyle at home and work on sustainability as much as possible.

And to end our chat with this lovely lady, we tasked Lisa with writing her own Manifesto - what would she want the world, her friends, her clients, her children, to know what is at her core? What gives her a feeling of purpose each day?

 

It is important to me, that my family and I live our lives with integrity. That our values not be compromised by the many temptations of the world.

I want to do less worrying. To not give in to my anxiety and become the helicopter parent I don't really want to be. To give them space to test the limits of their bodies without me stepping in to help, unless they ask for it.

I want to do more of what makes me feel full. To fill my life with happy, fun experiences and to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I cherish the life that my husband and I have created for ourselves and our children. Though we may often struggle because we've chosen to live against the grain, we feel to our core that we are doing what's right for us.

I promise to continue to work on myself, both mentally and physically, because I know that when I give in to laziness in these areas, I feel unhealthy and unhappy. I also promise to continue to fight the urge to compare my parenting to other mothers, which can be challenging because of social media.

I hope my children grow up healthy, happy and kind.  That’s all I want. If they grow up appreciating that they had an opportunity to learn in a different way that most other children don’t have, it would just be a happy bonus...

...that is the legacy I want to leave behind.

 

About Lisa Torti

Lisa is a Certified Professional Makeup Artist offering vegan, organic makeup services, as well as the Western Ontario Business Development Partner and Artist for Elate Cosmetics. She received a diploma with honours at The Canadian Aesthetics Academy Advanced Aesthetic Program and a certificate from Mohawk College's Make-up Artistry Program.

Specialising in makeup for Weddings, Special Occasions and Personal Branding, Lisa prides herself in offering green beauty services that highlight your own natural beauty. Her goal is to enhance your features without hiding your light so that you can feel your best while still looking like you. 

website: www.lisatorti.com

instagram: @greenbeauty.bylisatorti

 

Being Busy Is A Choice

I use the phrase “I’m Busy” when I don’t want to commit to something. There, I said it.  And luckily for the person on the receiving end, I very rarely say it. I might also say “I’m so busy”, to make myself feel better for not actually achieving what I set out to do. Because, if I’m so busy, I clearly don’t have the time to concentrate on something or someone that might require a large investment of time, emotion, and commitment. I might also face failure or have to work outside my normal routine. So, I make myself busy with other things, the easy wins, so I don’t have to face the truth. 

But the truth is that I do actually have time, and being busy is a choice. 

Parenthood is a series of decisions - some small, some not-so-small. As our expertise is still developing, choosing the right motivations can help. When we commit to making our choices based on compassion and our best efforts to help, we can be confident we have brought our best qualities to our quandaries. We need to try our best at making the right choices for ourselves and our families, with an open heart and a devoted mind. 

With that said, I have to ask myself, am I living my life according to my own values and choices? I will answer that I’m nearly there, but I know I can do better because I want to live every day I have on this planet purposefully. Accomplished Author, Writer, Public Speaker and Mother of four, Laura Vanderkam writes in detail on the subject of living intentionally by asking her readers to examine and prioritise what they do with their lives. Her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, debunks the ‘time crunch’ myth and offers practical ways to start making better use of time. 

 

Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time’, try saying ‘it’s not a priority’... changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently. - Laura Vanderkam
 

As a Producer, I’m game for anything that makes me more efficient at achieving positive outcomes, so this book was a page-turner for me. Now that I’ve finished reading 168 Hours, here is what I’m taking action on first: 

Tracking my time spend. A lot harder to do than I thought! I managed to do a week of tracking (168 hours worth) and I had at least 20 hours unaccounted for. So, I did it again a couple weeks later. What the combined results showed me,  is that I have a pretty good distribution of time spent on activities that I like doing. What it also uncovered, is that I had at least five hours a week during my daily commute to work, that I used surfing the web on my phone when I could have been using that time to write more, do more research, or plan for the next events I would like to be at to further my WMM journey. So, I’ve acquired a laptop, tap into free wifi (and if I can’t, I make sure I have working copies on the desktop), and get lost in my work. Since I’ve started, I’ve been way more productive and less frustrated when I get home when I know I have limited time to work, once the kids are finally in bed.

Making a list of 100 dreams. Now that I can see how I spend my life in 168 cells, I’m looking at how I can use some of that time differently - If I had a choice, how would I fill those cells? Yes, money might be a constraint to live out some of the loftier dreams I have (living on a yacht in the Mediterranean), but how can I fulfil some of the more tangible dreams right now, and work up to some of the bigger ones later? I’ve started my list and I’m at number 10, I will commit to working through them in little sprints. What would your list look like? Have a go at exploring your possibilities!

Understanding my core competencies. This is something that took longer to do. Primarily because it required me to let go of my more loftier (and frankly less attainable) aspirations and to focus more on getting even better at what I am already kick-ass at. I’m a producer by trade, but I hate building formulas in excel. I’ve spent countless hours reading books and watching youtube videos on the matter, with little improvement of my skills.  So what have I done? I’ve taken excel learning off my “To Do” list and have outsourced it to way more capable people. All I need to do now is work on the strategy and fill in the blanks. Job done, and done better than I could have. In turn, I have more time to do what I’m good at - connecting with team members, problem-solving, scheduling and making great content. 

I reached out to Laura, inspired by her courage to call us out on our ‘busy lives’, and grateful for her practices that have helped me take stock of how I’m living my life. I wanted to know more about what makes such an inspiring woman tick, and asked if she was tasked with taking inventory of her own beliefs and dreams, what would she find? She graciously replied: 

 

I believe...

That we have enough time for what matters to us. When we say "I don't have time" that often means "it's not a priority." If that's true, fine! But best to acknowledge that much of time is a choice, with the understanding that we must accept the consequences of those choices. 

 

I wish...

That people won't limit their lives based on cultural narratives. Pundits think they're being profound when they lament that "no one can have it all" but I'm not sure how they're defining "all." It is quite possible to build a fulfilling career, raise a happy family, enjoy your own pursuits, and get enough sleep. Plenty of people do all these things. 

 

My goal...

Is to continue to write most days. I think of myself primarily as a writer, but my career has evolved in many ways, and it's amazing how easy it is to let non-writing work crowd out the creative stuff. I now put writing 500 words of purely speculative stuff on my to-do list every work day. I've kept up the habit for 3 months, and plan to continue. 

 

A piece of wisdom...

Relax. Most of us can't remember what we were doing on today's date, two years ago. Maybe if it's a particularly special day (e.g. a child's birthday!) but probably not. Few things matter much in the long run. We need to keep our eyes on the big stuff and let the smaller pieces go where they go. 

 

 

Laura’s Bio & Other books

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including Off the Clock, I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. Her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Fortune. She is the co-host, with Sarah Hart-Unger, of the podcast Best of Both Worlds. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and four children, and blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.

Laura Vanderkam is the author of the forthcoming book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done (Portfolio, May 29, 2018). Based on a time diary study of a day in the life of 900 people, this book looks at why some busy people feel relaxed about time, while others feel rushed.

You can check out Laura’s TED talk, "How to gain control of your free time," here: https://bit.ly/2muLgM2

Building Confidence And Expertise: The New Mama

About 120 years ago, your great-great grandmothers, just like you, sat down for a two-minute respite from the day’s trials and perhaps glanced at an advertisement similar to one we recently found in an old magazine from the 1890’s. In the advertisement, women are implored to make good use of newly available baby formula as a superior replacement to the exhausting exercise of nursing.

Nursing is so tiring, the ad points out, and your milk supply might not be enough. Why wouldn’t you give our formula a try?

Now, for the record, I was grateful for the availability of formula when I was learning to nurse. I appreciated knowing that support was there if needed. But I certainly didn’t need anyone telling me to give up before I had even started.

Hark! Your child is at risk because of your inadequacies!  Let us help you. A loud and clear, turn-of the-century bronx cheer. The favoured cry of so many unscrupulous marketeers. “Betcha can’t”!

Betcha can’t really do this. Betcha can’t trust yourself. Or your body. Or your baby. After all, this mothering game’s a big deal. And you’re so busy. Sit back and let the professionals step in. The nation’s health and wealth depend on it.

The date of the advertisement is 1889. This means, in the English-speaking world,  we’ve been passively absorbing these messages for over a century from the marketplace. Traditionally, a mother might be seen as a fair judge of her own performance. Yet, in the modern world, it is the fashion to hand it all over to the ‘experts’. ‘Doubt thyself’ may as well be written on every new mother’s forehead. Hand over the cash. We’ll take it from here.

Now, to be clear, we had no idea what we were doing when our first babies were born. But like everything else in life, we did get the hang of it..eventually. Scary? Yes. Frustrating. Absolutely. Exhausting? Yep.  But so was learning to read. Or dating. New things are daunting. But you possess the most fantastic learning machine in the known universe between your temples. Give something a good try, and, eventually, you will figure (at least a good portion) of it out.

Of course, we thank our stars there were experts available when they were truly needed. When babies are sick, colicky, won’t feed, or won’t sleep far beyond the limits of what parents believe to be acceptable, then thank goodness for the availability of helping, healing experts who can right the ship. The same goes for mothers. When we are tired or not at our best, we can all use a helping hand. An enormous part of the healthy postpartum transition is played by the community of support a mother can rally around her during those early weeks and months.

Yet what about when help isn’t actually needed? When, instead of giving a mother space to build confidence, a culture built on the buying and selling of goods and services deliberately sows doubt in her mind about her capability to execute? That, then, becomes a very different message and a very different problem. Are we silently, mindlessly, beginning to accept a model of zero-confidence in our own parenting abilities?

It has been proposed that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at something. This can vary based on the domain we are discussing, but it refers roughly to ten years of solid practice, day in, day out, learning everything there is to know about a topic, figuring out its subtleties, its patterns and its idiosyncrasies. Based on this finding, it appears that we will all become experts on parenting, eventually, if we give ourselves the opportunity to be. If we are not afraid to jump into the fray and learn - painfully, slowly, pragmatically - what it takes to get there.

On the way, we will stumble, of course, but we’ll also hit a thousand little milestones of mastery. Every time we turn a corner, we’ll gain a little bit of the liquid gold of new parenthood: Confidence. Confidence that we cracked a code. Noted a pattern. Got ahead of the curve instead of behind it. With each new stage in our child’s life, there will be new challenges. Yet, armed with the confidence hard won by the riddles of previous stages, we can sally forth with heads held high. We won’t give up. We’ll keep trying. Because we have evidence we can figure these things out.

Without these little victories, without confidence, we can become passive recipients, afraid to roll up our sleeves and try. Because without confidence in our budding expertise we spend our days avoiding failure as opposed to chasing little victories. We won’t enquire, we won’t push back, and we won’t advance. We won’t learn a thing. We are ripe for those who would shoo us from the mothering scene and sell it back to us at three times the price.

Personally? I am going to keep clumsily sewing my daughter’s Halloween costumes. I don’t really care if she doesn’t wear them and we end up buying new ones. She’ll learn that her mother isn’t afraid to try to figure something out and keep at it. I am going to keep tinkering. Because I do have a lot of little victories.

So here’s the element of Expertise. May you allow yourself as many opportunities as possible to try, to discover, and eventually, to get better. May you see yourself as a work in progress and give yourself permission to make mistakes, get back in the saddle, keep your sense of perspective and keep practising.

Of course, if health or safety is at stake - call in the experts and make grateful use of their wisdom. A licensed expert on medicine, nutrition, sleep or any other published scientific evidence that can help solve a problem and keep a family healthy is a required ally. For the day to day adventures - we hope you will give yourself (and your confidence) a chance to also grow on their own. You are your own laboratory of parenting discoveries.You’re a baby guru in training.

We can’t wait to see you earn that PhD in mamahood and strut it proudly every chance you get.  Don’t let yourself off the hook. Dig in. Try to learn something new. Practice constantly. Strive.  

We betcha can!  

Looking At The World Through The Lens Of Motherhood

Wellington. It is as windy as they all say it is and, charming. It was our home for two years and the place my second child was born. Years after we left, I came across a link to a short film called, Coffee Group, created by local Wellingtonians.

Coffee Group is a short film written and directed by Tess Jamieson-Karaha, based on characters written by Tess, Jane Ballentyne and Stefanie Delprete. It is a story of “3 mums, 1 mother of a morning, 3 conceptions, and 3 very different reactions to a positive pregnancy test.” The film is an honest exploration of the moments of Motherhood we all experience, but rarely talk openly about. After watching the film and being so inspired, I knew I had to reach out to Tess Jamieson-Karaha, who wrote and directed it.

Please, introduce yourself Tess!

I was born and raised in Wellington.  I travelled the world for 5 years after high school then returned to study at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama school when I was 26. I was pregnant when I graduated in 2010 and so my double careers of motherhood and acting were born simultaneously! Since then I have worked in film, T.V., radio and theatre and currently teach screen acting at Te Auaha New Zealand Institute of Creativity.

How did you recruit the team that created Coffee Group? (I'm assuming that with a team full of Mamas and lots of laughter, there definitely were some near accidents!)

Jane (Karen) came to an open acting class I was teaching. We bonded over the real life of Motherhood, ( she has four girls!) and so it was a no brainer that we had to create a film together, plus, she's a comedic genius. Megs (Phoebe) was in my acting class at Toi Whakaari, so we had a strong creative bond as well. The rest of the crew were sourced randomly, but it just felt like everyone who was attracted to the project 'got it'. Andreas ( D.O.P ) is a Father so he also loved the idea of creating a glimpse into the 'secret life of...' There were some real life accidents on set! A beautiful poop on cue from my niece! (who played my baby).

The stories are candid and confronting, especially in the face of idyllic representations of Motherhood in the media. Was it easy for you to share these stories or were you apprehensive at all?

I was driven to tell this story as candid as I could. I was sick of seeing glossed over representations of motherhood on screen. I wanted to show reality so that mums out there could go, “Yes! Thats me! Ahh I'm not the only one! I'm doing Ok.”

What do you love about each of your characters?

I love that they are all just doing the best they can with the resources they have; each searching for some connection from the outside world to get inspiration, whether it be caffeine for some kind of brain function, someone to talk 'at', or just 5 minutes of peace. Underneath it all, it’s just a place to be messy, vulnerable and accepted. All the characters represent a different part of me. I am all three of these women at different times.

What advice, if any, would you have each of them if you could sit down and hold her hand?

Haha. Firstly Don't listen to my advice! I don't know what I'm talking about!  And then repeat after me...Keep bringing it back to kind. You'll be OK. They'll be OK.

Would you be happy to comment on your experience as a first time Mother?

We were really idealistic about the kind of birth we wanted and what type of parents we were going to be. All that was blown to pieces in the form of an emergency cesarean and a little insomniac fire-cracker of a daughter! Being an actor freshly trained, staying at home as a mum was really challenging for me.  Luckily, my partner Hayden had a flexible job and he worked extremely hard to provide for us, whilst supporting me in building a career at the same time.

What did you feel, if any, was lacking in the support and preparation for this momentous experience called Parenthood?

No one warned us it would be so incredibly hard and confronting! Everyone is so excited and positive when you say you're having a baby, but no-one pulled us aside and said "So, just so you know...there will be times when it feels like an evil puppeteer is pulling your strings in the deep hours of the night and you will be so sleep deprived you will feeling like you're legitimately going insane and screaming and punching the wall will feel like the only logical thing to do.” “Oh, and also you're opening yourself up to the world of  judgement, projection and competition between Mothers you normally wouldn't be in the same room with."

How do you feel Motherhood changed you? Your career?

Motherhood has confronted me with all sorts of emotions and behavioural patterns that I didn't know were in me. Having kids is like having two little mirrors reflecting back all your unprocessed life lessons and forces you to have accountability. I'm still learning to let go of teaching lessons and just  flow with the energy that exists in the present. It’s a blimmin’ hard job! In terms of my acting/writing career I think motherhood has allowed me go much deeper into the characters I play and the way I view the world. Also it's nice to be able to focus on a single thing for a day! You appreciate the space to focus so much more, so you do focus so much more!

Were you lucky to have support structures like the 'mummy village' or 'mummy tribe'? Did you feel you could be open about the highs and lows of motherhood?

I was lucky enough to live close to my best friend who had already established a community of kick ass women who could talk openly about the light and dark of motherhood. I just jumped in and got cosy. I also have three sisters who were all raising kids of similar age. I seriously think I would have lost the plot if I didn't have my village of mum's help, through the first few years. So much blood, sweat and tears were shared between us. The support of like minded women is invaluable on so many levels.

So what's next for you?

We're just in post production of a web series called Burnt Chops. Written by Jane Ballentyne who played Karen in the film. The story follows six mothers as they leave a coffee group. It's very funny in parts but has the ability to go much deeper into the lives of these mother's as they battle relationships, PND, single motherhood, allergies, living with mum, etc. I'm really proud of it and will keep you posted!

About Tess Jamieson-Karaha

Tess gained a BPA from Toi Whakaari in 2010 and has worked as a professional actress in the T.V, Film, Theatre and Radio industry ever since. 

She has many screen and theatre credits including Seed by Elisabeth Easther at circa in 2015, Playing Lisa in Desperate Huttwives in 2017 at the Hannah Playhouse and picking up a best actress nomination in the Rome web awards for her role as Beth in the web series Potluck by Ness Simons ( Head Tutor at the film school). Potluck has gained 8 nominations worldwide and had over 2.6 Million views making it to number 6 worldwide on the youtube channel web series list.  

Her solo show Please Help Yourself was transcribed for Radio New Zealand in 2012 and is set to be filmed at Te Auaha this year in collaboration with Ness Simons and Robin Murphy. 

Tess produced, wrote and performed in her short film Coffee Group which was nominated for an online audience award as part of the promofest short of the year competition in 2016. She is currently producing her next film project, a web series called Burnt Chops

You'll also hear her voice on the radio, in schools, and on T.V. adverts as she is a regular voice over artist for NZME, School journals and Clemenger.

Why Feeling Understood Is Important For Your Wellbeing

It has been argued that one of the basic functions of human emotion is to create bonds with others. Feeling valued, appreciated, loved and understood, is a sign that our bonds with other people are intact and that our welfare matters. The sheer pleasure of hearing an “I love you” signifies the great value the brain places on our bonds.

I feel loved in bucketloads, but this week I’m not feeling particularly understood, by anyone. And so I tasked myself with writing my own manifesto. I very rarely sit to reflect on me. Just me. Most times it's done in brief moments as I’m making lunches for the next day, or when I'm in the shower before my privacy is highjacked by the rest of the family. So here’s what came of a bit of self-reflection today:

I’m in love with…

My most precious cargo; my children and my partner. Everything that matters to me now extends from our inner circle.

It is important to me…

That my boys love life - that their compassion, interests and inquiries take them to the corners of the world. That I raise children who find value in experiences and connections, over things.

I am trying…

To nourish my own growth. Setting goals to do new things and push myself to sense and respond to what the world has to offer, rather than trying to control what happens.

I want to do less of…

What doesn’t add value to my life. I promise I will practice this more and be honest with myself about what I really want to do.

I want to do more of…

What makes my body feel good. My health is important to me and I need to give myself more time to do the activities I want to do.

I cherish…

The friends and family that I can share my deepest, darkest and brightest feelings with. These people make me feel inspired and loved, and very very lucky.

I promise…

To give myself the pep talk I need when I’m feeling I’m not stacking up, because what I actually know, is that I am awesome at my job, at the projects I take up, being a mum and a partner. I need to worry a lot less. I promise to continue living gratefully and give where I can and find nourishment when I need it.  If I’m not understood, that’s OK, because at least I know myself.
 

Take a few minutes today and experiment with your own Manifesto!

The Flow Of Motherhood

On our lesser days, we are either a little bored or a little stressed out. As you can imagine, boredom and stress do not fill us with delight. They deplete us. Slow our motivation down to a grinding zero. We do not wish to experience them regularly.

Yet on some days, our best days, we are focused. Absorbed. Energised and totally enjoying the task at hand.  We are the captains at the helm of a thrilling adventure and are most certainly not watching the clock. We barely notice how much time has passed since breakfast.

The difference? Informally known as being ‘in the zone’, is Flow.  

Flow is the state we find ourselves in when we are totally immersed in the task at hand, and loving it. A flow state can happen when we are so absorbed in an activity that we forget all about the world around us. It happens when we are doing something cool, consider it challenging enough to keep our interest, and most importantly, know how to do it well.  

Does this ever happen to you? When you find yourself so absorbed in something that you forget all about the world around you? It happens to us when we are creating something new. Or out and about, exploring some new place. Even putting together flat-pack furniture. In those moments, we are most certainly not bored. We are both too focused and enjoying ourselves to to be worried we’ll mess something up. We are making/fixing/cleaning/exploring/explaining/arranging/analyzing, something. We are making progress. And it feels great.

Flow is an important component of our happiness. When we have the chance to experience it, we get to see ourselves as valuable and talented. We’re progressing. Making an impact. Moving the mountain. That breeds confidence, and with it, a belief that we have something worthwhile to contribute. And it’s fun.

So how do we get more of it?

Flow happens to us when the level of challenge is equal to the level of skill we bring to it. Too little challenge - we get bored. Too much challenge - we become anxious. The sweet spot, where our talents perfectly meet the world’s needs - is Flow. The recipe for ensuring as much flow as possible (according to the concept’s originator Psychologist Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi) is simple. If you’re bored..increase the level of challenge. If you’re overwhelmed..increase the level of your skill.

Let’s put this to the real world and begin with skill. When one of our Well Made Mamas brought their newborn home, breastfeeding was not completely smooth. She was spooked. She didn’t believe this was a talent of hers, and it worried her. She started to view it as a chore she had to battle through. Nowhere near the idyllic experience she had read about.

A few days later, she found someone who helped with her technique and got her going. As she practised, as her skill level increased over the weeks and months, things did get better. It was no longer a chore because she started to believe she knew what she was doing. She skilled up, and things became less overwhelming. 

And now boredom. Many parents might admit to finding some moments spent with young children, filling in the time between school, work and dinner, a little boring. And it isn’t because children are dull. They’re fascinating. But, they are young. And they simply don’t have the attention span to follow along for more than a few moments before being distracted.  For the parents of young children, (as expertly reviewed by Jennifer Senior in in her parenting book All Joy and No Fun) a lack of interest and challenge are not the real roadblocks to flow. Its interruption.  

At the end of the day, there isn’t a lot about parenting small children that gets us anywhere near ‘the zone.’ Sometimes its dull. Sometimes we worry we aren’t not doing it right.  It isn’t often we hit that sweet spot.

Yet this doesn’t mean we don’t need flow. Our brains crave it. We want to get lost in a moment. We want to make a little progress. We want to see something better as a result of our efforts. We want to know we are holding back the chaos in some small or big way.

So for now, we accept that sometimes, this will need to come from elsewhere. Our writing. Our research. Trying to piece together our children’s toys after they go to bed. Part of understanding our wellness is accepting that while our children are everything to us - the daily tasks of mothering them might not always provide everything our flow-seeking minds need.

The good news is that as little children grow they also become wiser. They develop greater powers of focus and concentration. And suddenly, one day, you are able to build model airplanes together and get lost in the pleasure and process of it. One day, you’ll all flow together.

But in the mean time..remember to leave a little space in the day for your own projects. For something you know you can start..and finish. For something you know you can do a great job at and captures your interest. Remain mindful of this often-overlooked part of our wellness. Giving our brains the opportunity to flow when its possible, can allow us to be our best when we are..on occasion..interrupted.  

For a some great reading on Flow:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Collins.  

Seligman, M. (2002) Authentic Happiness. Simon and Schuster.   

Senior, J. (2014). All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Harper Collins.

Mamas’ Minds Matter: Postpartum Support With A Twist

Becoming a parent is an adventure.

The thing about adventures is that most of the time, people try to prepare for what they might run into. As mums-to-be, we were travelling light on this journey, but even we weren’t bold enough to avoid what we thought were the necessary pre-baby preparations.  We read the baby care books. We had the car seat and stroller all ready to go. And we enrolled in the parenting class that everyone told us we had to in order to learn the basics of baby-rearing. We were as prepared as we could have been.

As it turns out, the only thing we didn’t prepare for this adventure was us. Or, specifically, our minds. We didn’t realize this until much later, but suffice it to say, enough unnecessary suffering happened in that first year to make us wonder if a huge part - perhaps THE part - of our preparation for motherhood had been overlooked. After all, it is in our minds that we become mothers. And it is the one area for a mother that there is almost complete radio silence on as she prepares for (most likely) the most monumental shift in her identity to date.

We noticed that when we talked with our friends, the conversation moved beyond baby-care trouble. We were often grappling with real fears that spanned far beyond the advice in the baby manuals. These included fears over the unknown, of feeling so newly vulnerable, lonely or lacking in confidence. We came to notice the emotional and thinking aspects of our struggles and wanted to do something to help other mothers strengthen their own resources to manage their own new challenges. And so, Well Made Mama was born.

As part of our mission, we are creating a series of products based on the positive psychology of motherhood, filled with key findings and exercises designed to help you feel stronger, tougher, wiser, more joyful and more confident in early parenthood. 

It's not about buying anything new (phew!). While the science is new, motherhood is not. We tap into the science of performance and our CORE formula to help you learn about the elemental Mama that each of us is and to understand what will nourish her in this very complex world we are tasked with modern mothering in.

What’s our only prerequisite before embarking on your journey with us? Bring your desire to learn about you. Remind yourself that YOUR MIND MATTERS and that how you feel is important to how you perform.

We are currently Beta Testing our products and would love you to join us in the Well Made Mama laboratory to tinker, explore and leave learning something new about yourself. 

Well Made Mama was made for you with love x

The 1% Rule And Working On A Life Well-Lived

So, true confession time. I am an avid voyeur of other people’s lives. I like to watch other people work through this thing called life. I admire their accomplishments. I feel pain at their roadblocks. I am inspired by their ideas.

I like my life too. I like to try out everything. Dream about better days. Make this day beautiful. I hope that I, too, live a life that piques the interest of others (intentionally or not!)  

My wandering eye has taken me across the terrain of many of the mothers I am lucky enough to know. I see the worlds they create for themselves and their children. And invariably, they seem like they are holding things FAR more together than me. They are more efficient. More organized. More in the know. Better decorators. Prompt texters.

I would love to be a little more like each of them. But it’s cool. I am me. They are them. We all dazzle a little differently.

Yet there are some aspects of my life - the ones that have to do with motherhood  - that I can’t quite let myself off the hook for. I feel like these are parts of me that it is unacceptable to NOT be good at - because, to me, they sum the basic nuts and bolts of what I want to leave my children remembering about their lives years from now.

These are the things I have to get right.

They’re going to be different for each of us. And I won’t tell you my top three because I don’t want to bias yours. But before you read any further, take a moment to think about the three factors in your life you really want to excel at in order to feel like you are nailing this motherhood game.

What do you want your children to remember years from now?

Got’ em? Good.

Now that we’ve focused on what’s important, let’s take a look at what might help us get us far better at it.

The answer, according to British Olympic Cycling coach Sir David Brailsford, is to aim for a 1% improvement in whatever it is you are aiming for. That’s right, just 1%. And then, when you’ve mastered that 1%. Try to aim a little higher. Give yourself another 1%. And so on.

As it turns out, this actually works. 1% better can change everything.

It’s a celebrated approach to performance that resulted in the British cycling team wiping the floor with their competitors in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Brailsford summed up his team’s success to believing in the power of many small, incremental (1%) improvements. Known technically as ‘the aggregate of marginal gains’, Sir Dave promoted the idea that making small improvements in everything you do  - from the way you sleep to the way you eat, to the way you think - can add up to significant advantage in the long run. In the experience of Team GB - this approach resulted in a lot of gold medals.

In exploring this theory more deeply, it seems that many people committed to exceptional performance (from the theory’s origination in the world of competitive chess to innovators in medicine and patient care) see the value of many small changes adding up to large improvements in the end.  

This theory is appealing to us at WMM because, let’s face it, we don’t exactly have a lot of time or resources. But we’ve probably got 1% in us somewhere.  

So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How can we use this 1% strategy to get better at the things that matter? The things we really want to be good at. The things the kids will remember us for.

  1. What does ‘1% better’ look like? 1% is not a magazine-worthy life. 1% is coming in from work to a messy kitchen, an empty fridge, homework to finish, an equally exhausted family and digging just a little bit deeper to improve on the one part of this equation that matters the most to you. Then, you keep repeating that 1% improvement until it feels normal. When you don’t feel like this is a push, you repeat the whole process and extend yourself another 1%.

  2. Don’t just take your word for it: Ask your kids. Ask your partner. What would ‘slightly better’ in any of your big-ticket areas look like? You might be surprised to learn that everything is just fine. Or, you might pick up on some interesting insights you hadn’t expected.

  3. Build your 1% team: Sometimes it takes a village. But you knew that. Get the whole family involved in the 1% process. Tell them you are constantly on the lookout for little ways to make a difference in that parts of your life that matter. Make it fun. Get everyone on board and making suggestions. There’s no reason that the whole family can’t improve right along with Mum.   

  4. Stay committed: When you’re run down or discouraged it can be hard to envision a better anything. Yet that’s where the beauty of 1% better kicks in. There’s always something you can do, right now, that’s bite-sized and moves you in the right direction. And when that little victory is won, next comes a little boost in your mood. For today, you will have told the world you are moving forward, not backwards. 1% is possible. And habit forming!

When it comes to motherhood, certain things just matter way more than others. These things deserve your attention. By utilizing the marginal gains approach, you can keep your priorities on the horizon, and not feel like they are depleting you. A little bit, over time, adds up to a lot. Try it out today and see what you find out about what’s possible.

Supporting Resources:

Durrand, J. W., Batterham, A. M. and Danjoux, G. R. (2014), Pre-habilitation (i): aggregation of marginal gains. Anaesthesia, 69: 403–406. doi:10.1111/anae.12666

Slater S. Olympics cycling: marginal gains underpin Team GB dominance, 8th August 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/19174302 (accessed 11/08/2017)

Birthing Of The Well Made Mama

Once upon a time, a young woman in a big city welcomed a tiny child into her world.

In the early weeks of their acquaintance, she spent her days trying to get the child what it seemed to need. She offered food, warmth and a place to sleep. She had never met the child before, so she set about getting to know her in the same way she might try to learn about any new friend. On the very deepest level, she tried to help the child understand it was loved, it was protected, and that things would be fine. She had so many dreams for them both.

Before the child was born, the young woman had moved very far away from the people who had mothered her. And so, she searched for teachers. Someone who could help her learn about how to care for the child. She found a few books. And a few other mothers. There were doctors and nurses and midwives. She picked up some good advice that made sense to her, balanced it with her own inner voice, and kept going.

As the weeks progressed into months, despite getting better at giving the child what she needed, she started to realize that the world didn’t always make it easy. Life was sometimes hard. People weren’t always as kind as they could be. Her body was different. Her relationships had changed. And the world could seem so hazardous. Sometimes she felt unsure, depleted or off-balance. There were other days when she felt downright scared, sad, and exhausted. Some days she wondered how she would get through until tomorrow.

It was then that she realized she wasn’t just in the middle of a difficult change. This was a change that had rocked everything.  Right down to her most elemental core. Because, since becoming a mother, it felt like even her mind was different. And the teachers she had depended on up until now hadn’t really talked about that.  

Yet here’s what never changed: She was still courageous, she was still curious, and she had a deep, human desire to feel better.  

So she made a choice. Either she could keep being worn down, or she could change what she could, inside of herself, to build herself up. She decided to strengthen who she was on the inside to better deal with the world outside. She turned to science to learn about the role her amazing maternal mind was playing in her experience as a modern parent. She researched strong and healthy habits and started to practice them. She argued with her darkest fears. She made room for new perspectives. And she let go of the world that ‘was supposed to be’ for the one that was - here and now.

She also took a long, hard look at what it was about her world that made it hard to be a parent. She changed what she could. Some were big changes, some were small. And for those things that couldn’t be changed, she set to work out ways to live peaceably.

She did this because she knew, down to her roots, that when she felt well, in her mind and her body, she was able to be well. A stronger, wiser, happier mother.  And so our Well-Made Mama was born.

The Well-Made Mama is a woman who strengthens herself (her head, her heart and her hands) with healthy, science backed practices that help her meet modern parenthood head on. She recognizes the strength that lies within her, understands the science of a well-made life, and dives deep into the art of its practice. She is in each of us, waiting with a hello, a high five, a super-hero cape, and a “Wow - who knew I was that strong?”

Discovering Inner Strength

Fatima’s story truly touched me. She was presenting at a working mums expo in Adelaide and I was just in awe of how candidly she shared her life story.  She opened up, guts and all, why? “My hope and prayer is that it encourages or inspires other mumma bears or mumma bears to be", she explained.  We reached out to Fatima because she is a model of a true survivor, discovering her inner strength one challenge at a time.

Fatima recounts, “I grew up with 4 adorable (sometimes not so adorable!) younger sisters and a dedicated and loving mother.  Growing up I witnessed and lived with the effects of domestic violence at the hands of men from a very young age. I always vowed never to live that life when I was an adult.  As a young girl I dreamed of getting married, having children and living happily ever after…I believed in fairy tales. I held on to this desire although, having been in an abusive 15 year relationship with my husband and father of my 3 gorgeous little boys, I knew I had to get out.

At 30 I had what I call an epiphany – I saw myself at 50, with a husband still treating me badly and three children that became grown men…grown men that believed it was normal, or even worse, that is was acceptable to treat the women in their lives the way they had witnessed me being treated. Then I saw them having their own children, Sons that would continue this unacceptable behaviour and Daughters that would expect or accept this type of treatment by their own partners. The ripple effect was enormous.

It was at this moment I made the decision to save my life and that of my boys from the fate I had so clearly seen for us should something not change.  This decision to save our lives is the one that very nearly cost me my life. My husband took his own life and almost ended mine.

Five months later I moved away from the place I had called home all of my life, I left my family, my friends, my support network and everything that had been safe and comfortable to me for so long. That environment had become toxic to me and I could see no way that I would recover, heal and be able to find peace and happiness.  I often asked myself what terrible thing must I have done to have all this happen to me?  One day along my journey I decided that I would no longer be a victim, I chose to be a survivor.  I chose not to live my life as a victim being angry, revengeful and blaming the world for my situation, obstacles and challenges that seemed to never stop and were relentlessly happening to ME.

I discovered FAITH, FITNESS and FOOD…I learnt the awesome power of using these 3 F’s as tools in my life & discovered my true inner strength.

I became the handy-woman of the most valuable house I would ever live in – my mind, body and soul...setting about fixing, mending, repairing, ripping down walls, digging up foundations and rebuilding my life.

My children and love for them gave me the strength to set off on the journey I have been on since my husband took his own life.  I started to invest in myself and my physical, mental and emotional well-being. I became stronger on a mental & physical level by  incorporating fitness into my daily life, learning and understanding the connection between my mind and mental state with the movement of my body; choosing what to feed my physical body (food/nutrients) and mind (prayer/personal development).

My sons are the most important people in the world to me. I came to a very confronting realisation that if I did not care for myself physically, mentally and emotionally and happened to become unwell with a disease or depression or simply felt low in energy and regularly unhappy, I would be no good to my children, the most important thing in the world to me.  Like most mums I had always put my children, husband, home, work and everything else before me (there was never any time left for me).

I understood that in order to raise my sons to be well rounded, healthy, loving and grounded members of the community I needed to first prioritise my own well-being, I learnt to ditch the "mum guilt" first of all; Mums prioritising themselves is not selfish it is actually selfless and I am passionate about sharing this message with mums, helping them become empowered to put themselves first and start living a VIBRANT, ENERGETIC life.

I am Fatima Ingles, and I am just like you…

A daughter

A sister

A wife

A mother

A widow

A friend

A survivor

An empowerment warrior

And a Freedom Fit crusader.

Our Well Made Mama community is truly inspiring, and we thank Fatima for sharing her story with us. Learn more about what Fatima is up to here on Instagram and on her website.

Resilience Training For Mums And Trying Something New

Outside of the suffering that is brought by illness, modern parenting introduces a whole range of challenges to new mothers that can be upsetting, frustrating, surprising and sometimes painful. The outcome of these experiences may not be an illness specifically but can make the process of adjusting to this new stage more challenging than anticipated (6). As a result, we want to talk about building resilience for Mum and why we need to try something new when it comes to preparing for Motherhood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and the American Psychological Association, a new mother has anywhere from a 12%-14% likelihood of developing postpartum depression after the arrival of her child. (1,2) New mothers are five times more likely to develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder than women in the rest of the population (3). (To put this risk in perspective, smoking cigarettes makes you 3-6 times as likely to have a stroke (4).

These statistics become more alarming when one notes than only 15% of women who suffer from postpartum mental health concerns receive treatment. The remainder, for reasons of lack of access, inadequate screening and detection, or concern about the stigma attached with a diagnosis, continue to suffer while they work to raise their children.

At Well Made Mama, these statistics leave us with so many questions. Why, in an age when we have so much data amassed on human behaviour, do we not work to improve the postpartum lexicon around the mind and its health? Why, when the statistics show that 1 in 7 of us will suffer from Postpartum Depression (2), are women given so little information about the mental and emotional transition to motherhood, risk factors for illness, health promoting practices, what is normal, what isn’t, and how and where to seek help if it is required?

If you could do something to reduce your risk ahead of time, wouldn’t you?

We would.  And sometimes inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places. In this case, the United States Army.

In 2008, fighting a war in two theaters, and realizing the enormous potential for trauma and resulting post-traumatic stress that modern combat brings, the army anticipated at least 150,000 soldiers per year could be expected to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their combat experiences. Suicides in returning soldiers were at an all time high. Combat carried tremendous physical risks, yet the emotional scars sustained could threaten veterans lives’ for years to come following the fighting. The US Army decided it was no longer going to sit and wait for its soldiers to suffer. It was time to act. (7)

The Army created a training program for soldiers that aimed to help them be as psychologically fit as they were physically and technically fit. (7) Since then, millions of US soldiers have been provided skill training that can help them better cope with the emotional trauma of war.   

Here are two quotes from a primary review of the program we find compelling:

‘The program is not meant to replace existing efforts to diagnose and treat mental health problems. Rather, it is proactive, providing soldiers with the skills needed to be more resilient in the face of adversity. (7, p.6)

Waiting for illness or injury to occur is not the way commanders in the U.S. Army approach high-risk actions; and it is not the way we should approach high psychological risk activities. In any other area—whether it is a risk of a mosquito-borne illness or risk of injury from an IED (improvised explosive device) exploding— commanders follow three basic steps: assess risk, mitigate risk at the unit level, then mitigate risk at the individual level.’ (7, p.5)

We don’t know about you, but in a world that can sometimes behave as if mental health is an afterthought, we find the US Army’s acknowledgement of its criticality for performance encouraging.

Now, of course, the proof is in the pudding. This program has been subject to a fair amount of criticism - as any healthy scientific endeavour should be (8). It’s still experimental and was implemented on a massive scale very quickly. The benefits to soldiers, as tracked, are in the right direction, but small (9). Much has still to be learned. Yet crucially (in our opinion) they are trying.  

Where does this leave us, as mothers? What can we learn from the experience of these soldiers, whose job descriptions are so fundamentally different from our own?

For starters, here’s our take:

  1. New motherhood is both beautiful and profoundly changing. It requires adjustment and coping and a return to baseline. As a result, some individuals adjust well. And some individuals find it harder.

  2. Adjustment can be helped with specific coping skills. Some of these are the skills the US Army seeks to impart to its recruits, but they aren’t specific to soldiers. When life becomes stressful, unpredictable, or downright bewildering, there are a wide array of techniques that have been documented to help people work through them with more success. Crucially, many of these techniques are trainable (13).

  3. Predicting an individual mother’s adjustment to her new life with a baby seems about as difficult as predicting an individual soldier’s experience of war. The amount of individual and situational variables to take into account appear infinite. Yet in both situations, it is agreed that preparation is crucial to increasing the chances of a successful outcome.

  4. Based on data around mental health outcomes, both motherhood and warfare can introduce challenges to emotional well-being (1, 2, 7). The US Army has added psychological preparedness to its tasks for new recruits. Why not try something similar for new mothers?

Of course, Motherhood is not warfare. As mothers, we are tasked with protecting the welfare of our children. Our motivation is love, not war. Yet what gets us there? How notable is the overlap between what strengths and talents a mother and a soldier might rely on? Courage. Discipline. Perseverance. Loyalty. Resilience. Different objectives. But the same, deep requirements for exceptional performance.

So here are where the uncharted waters begin. At Well Made Mama, we believe new mothers deserve better information on the part of mothering that happens in their minds. Yet to get there, we need to start here. In a world that has some answers, but needs more research on what works best for mothers. To date, there could be a lot more.

So while we will always endeavor to bring you good information, we don’t position ourselves as having all the answers. We are trying to change things for the better. But this is new. And good practice will continue to be informed by good research.   

We’re trying. We’ll keep trying. For you.

 

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/

  2. http://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-depression.aspx

  3. http://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/sites/asher-center/mood-disorders/postpartum-ocd.html

  4. https://www.stroke.org.uk/sites/default/files/smoking_and_the_risk_of_stroke.pdf

  5. http://postpartumprogress.org/the-facts-about-postpartum-depression/.

  6. Figes, K. (2008) Life After Birth. Virago Press. London.  

  7. Cornum, R., Matthews, M., & Seligman, M. (2011) Comprehensive soldier fitness. Building resilience in a challenging institutional context. American Psychologist. 66, p. 4-9.

  8. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1009&context=pdharm

  9. Hefferon, K. & Boniwell, I. (2011). Chapter 6: Resilience, post-traumatic growth and positive aging. In Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications. UK: McGraw Hill.

  10. Hefferon, K. & Boniwell, I. (2011). Chapter 4: Eudaimonic wellbeing and Chapter 6: Resilience, post-traumatic growth and positive aging. In Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications. UK: McGraw Hill.

  11. Tedeschi, R.G. and Calhoun, L.G. (2006) Foundations of post-traumatic growth. In R.G. Tedeschi and L.G. Calhoun (eds) Handbook of Posttraumatic Growth (pp. 3-23) Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  12. Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B (2007) Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. Oxford University Press. New York.

  13. Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B (2007) Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. Oxford University Press. New York.

The Secret Fears Of New Mothers

I still remember the moment, my 6-pound, 4-day old child wrapped up next to my chest, standing in a dark, damp tunnel filled with strangers, that I first felt that fear.

I was doing what I had been told to do by my midwife. A medical professional who cared about us. Travel to a breastfeeding ‘cafe’ in a neighbouring borough in London. There she would be on hand with some needed coaching and advice. I told her I didn’t drive. She said public transportation would be absolutely fine for the baby due to all of the antibodies in my breast milk.  

I entered the lift to take me down to the platform of the Underground station. While I was waiting people started to notice us. They were the kind comments of well meaning strangers. Nevertheless, I started to wonder if this was really a good idea. Walking through the tunnels, to my platform, I could feel the cold mist in my lungs. Damp. Dickensian. Far down the platform from me, I heard a man cough. I froze. And turned around. And went right back up to street level. There was no way I was going back in that tunnel with my newborn.

I arrived home in tears. I rang the midwife, explained the situation, apologised. I was too nervous. She said it was fine. Probably just my ‘progesterone’. She would see me the next day.

Nevertheless, I felt like a failure. No one told me there would be days like this.

Our question at WMM is: Why Not?

In more than one study of how well antenatal education classes (those classes you take to help prepare you for your baby’s arrival) prepare new parents for parenthood, attendees have noted that, while the information provided on the birth itself was extensive, they would have appreciated more information on the time after baby has arrived. Specifically, tactical concerns such as how to care for the baby, but also social and emotional concerns, such as adapting to life as a parent.

You could add us to that list. We had a lot of information about the birth of the child. Almost no information about our new lives as mothers. And so at WMM, we are working to change that for the world’s mothers. Because we believe it is a crucial, yet typically overlooked, component of your preparation.

We are approaching our task scientifically, by first understanding what type of information can help mothers adapt to their roles. And based on that, trying to either improve on existing designs or help make proven models more widely available to new mothers.

Depending on what study you look at, antenatal training does - and doesn’t - set out to do what it intends to.  It doesn’t actually reduce the pain of labour or the number of epidurals requested. But it does help mothers feel more informed about the birthing process, and possibly more in control. As long as the advice given is followed, it does appear to be helpful for certain health-related behaviours, such as reducing smoking, attending doctor’s appointments and the follow-on impact of reducing the incidence of low-birth weight babies.

Yet what ‘antenatal training’ is can vary. There is no one set standard antenatal curriculum. As a result, tracking ‘its’ impact on the outcomes of new parents is difficult to do, unless one is very specific about exactly what outcome they are tracking. For our purposes, let’s dive into the available research on those training sessions that expressly set out to improve a mother’s mental adaptation to her role. (Resulting in less anxiety, less depression, more confidence, improved relationships, etc.)

When the content of the training is targeted at reducing postpartum distress in new mothers, by offering information that raises awareness of the emotional experiences to be expected and how to cope with them, antenatal training does appear to be able achieve these goals. Across three studies that looked at training designed specifically to strengthen a new mother’s psycho-social skills, mothers reported stronger feelings of confidence, greater internal resources for coping, better moods, and stronger social support than the groups of mothers they were compared to who had not received the training.

It is possible, it seems, to train mothers to be more emotionally resilient in the face of the many ups and downs they may experience after the arrival of a child. This is in line with other recent research that establishes that resilience, can, indeed, be trained. Feeling like one is having a harder time than one would like doesn’t have to be chalked up to a personal deficit. Coping and bouncing back in life is a skill that can be learned - and honed - over time.  

Would this training have helped me to have a better experience that day on the train?

It’s possible, if one is realistic. It’s unlikely any antenatal class would have prevented my mind from worrying. Yet it could have prepared me for this heightened sense of vigilance. It could have offered me coping strategies. It could have made me aware that I was not a failure because I couldn’t do something I did with ease a week prior. That instead, I was a new mother undergoing tremendous biological change. I was normal.

The question then, is where to access this training? Our answer is to watch this space. We are currently working on a resilience training course for new mothers that we plan to launch at the end of 2017. In the meantime, we encourage you to make the most of the content on our site. Engage in your own research on you. Spend time acknowledging the fantastic transition that both your body and your mind are undertaking.  

Modern motherhood happens in the mind. It’s about time those miraculous minds get the attention they so rightly deserve.

Academic Sources:

Lepin, A. et al. (2014) The efficacy of resilience training programs: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. PLos One, 2014, 9. retrieved: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4210242/

Matthay S (2004). Prevention of postnatal distress of depression: an evaluation of preparation for parenthood classes. Journal of Affective Disorders; 79: 113-126.

McMillan, A.S., Barlow, J. & Redshaw, M. (2009) Birth and beyond: A review of the evidence about antenatal training. Warwick Infant and Family Wellbeing Unit, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick. Retreived: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_110371.pdf

Schachman K, Lee R, Lederman P (2004). Baby Boot Camp: Facilitating maternal role adaptation among military wives. Nursing Research, 54(2),107-115.

Svensson J, Barclay L, Cooke M (2009). Randomised-controlled trial of two antenatal education programmes. Midwifery, 25(2),114-25.

How To Find Yourself When You Are Feeling Lost

One morning, not so long ago, as I accompanied my son into his classroom, he marked his arrival by proudly announcing to all who could hear  “MY MUM LOST HER JOB!”

My..Mum..Lost..Her..Job.

Ouch. Like the bandages I so gingerly pull off my children’s scraped knees to trade quick pain for prolonged … the phrase stung. And there was no one nearby to kiss me and make it all better.  

I swallowed my breath, dug around in my proverbial handbag for my brave, big girl face, and attempted to smile. It didn’t work. I welled up instead.

I was sad, of course, to have lost a position I had worked hard for. I was also filled with emotion at his innocence. As I wiped back a few tears, and knelt to say good-bye, he gave me a hug and apologised for making me sad. I told him there was absolutely nothing to apologise for. Everything was ok. Mummy was resilient.

I was? The occurrences of the past month (unexpected expenses, medical bills, redundancy) had made me feel like I had been punched in the gut. The surprises, in succession, had been hard. They had hurt.

Yet, on the whole, I also didn’t feel that bad. My focus was sharpening daily on a plan for our next steps. My son’s innocent announcement had only caught me off guard. In an instant I knew what to say because I knew it was true. I am resilient. I will bounce back from this.   

And I think I know why. It’s because I have heroes.

I come from Italian grandparents who left post-war Italy with one suitcase, saying goodbye to their parents forever, for opportunities in foreign lands. “I didn’t even have 2 dollars for a cup of coffee, but I had your Grandmother", my Nonno would always say.

Growing up, I was always reminded of how the sacrifices that were made by the generations that preceded us made it possible for my brother and I to grow up without strife. My grandparents were ordinary people who were shown, by life, that they were capable of extraordinary strength. Their trials and triumphs became our legends.

In our home, my Mother always had a can do attitude. She let me throw myself at any experience I could whilst growing up. She taught me that messing up was worth the life’s lesson learned, and was necessary for growth. She knew that life twisted and turned, and that I needed to learn to get up again, dust myself off and get back in the saddle.

My partner lost his parents early on in life and had to grow up quickly. He succeeded wildly beyond expectations for a young country kid from the deep south of New Zealand. This was due in large part to perseverance, stubbornness and a keen drive for survival.

From my grandparents, I had legends. From my mother, I had lessons. From my partner, I had proof, that when life demands strength from us, we will find what needs to be delivered.

These people are my heroes. What I have learned from their adversities is that, even if I don’t know exactly what to do in a given moment, I know I will see it through. Because these people are mine. And they taught me that triumph is possible.

And so, now it’s my turn to be a hero.

One day, my children and I will recount the story of the time Mummy lost her job. I don’t know yet how this legend will end. But I have confidence our hero will, eventually, save the day. After all, I  come from a long line of every-day, in your face, never, ever, ever give up, stare-it-right-down warriors. I am fierce. And exceedingly well-trained in the ways of trying again. It’s a lock. 

And do you know how I’ll know I’ve won? When this little twist in the road becomes a new legend. For my own heroes-in-training. Because one day, they’ll be able to draw their own strength from my story. So what if I lost my job? I have been given an opportunity to show them what I, and one day they, are truly capable of.  I am teaching them to be fierce.

And so, as I take stock of my past month, I am left with a new lesson. Resilience isn’t part of the story. Resilience is the story. As families, as tribes, as people, we progress. We make use of the extraordinary examples we have seen in our loved ones as they tackle their ordinary days. We honor these heroes with our own, every day bravery.  We learn. We take stock. We move on.

Here’s to all of our heroes, and the heroes in all of us.  

Resilience: Ordinary Magic For The Mind

The world we inhabit is changeable. As a species, over the millennia, we’ve learned to roll with this.

The story of humanity, and our survival, has been honed by shifting circumstances. There have been many times, during our long human story, that the proverbial winds have changed. When we have found ourselves needing to focus, stand strong and fight through. Our survival success demonstrates that we are wired to work through these challenges. As a species, it’s arguably one of our signature strengths.

The ability to bounce back from life’s challenges is called resilience. Resilience is the antidote to life’s big punches. It's the elastic band in our being that lets us absorb a shock and then recover our previous level of functioning. Sometimes, we even become stronger as the result of our experience.

Yet, like most traits, resilience exists on a continuum. Some of us are able to work through unpleasantness with more ease than others. This variability has caught the interest of researchers: Why do some people seem better equipped than others to recover from the challenges life throws at them? And if resilience does vary in each of us, is it possible to help people develop more of it over time?

The short answer is, yes, resilience is something we can each create for ourselves. This is because resilience is not so much a fixed trait one is born with as it is a process of calling up resources when times become trying.

Resilience isn’t unusual or special. It’s a typical and adaptive response to stress. The “ordinary magic” of the human mind, as noted by Susan Masten, one of the first researchers to study its processes.

It is argued that anyone can become more resilient when they start to pay attention to their resources. Resources that take time, commitment and planning to build up.

Some of these resources are in the people around you. Those people that you can call on for advice, confidence and support. A few of these resources are in your mind, like the lessons of past experiences, realistic optimism, hope, goals and courage. Some reside in your body, in the form of strength, good nutrition and exercise. Some can also reside in your environment in the form of accessible green spaces, safety, and opportunity.

So, what does the evidence suggest is a good starting point? Where does the cultivation of resilience begin?

Here are a few take-aways from the literature:

Connections with others: Connections with others refuel us, help us make sense of the world and can provide some needed respite during a stressful time. Take stock of your relationships. The ones that nourish you are the ones that should be paid attention to and kept strong.

In unusually trying times, meeting other parents in a similar position can also be very helpful. Professionally led groups that bring parents together who are working through similar issues have been shown to be particularly supportive.

Our own research has demonstrated that new mothers often cite their friendships with other new mothers as a key element in their ability to adapt to the the demands of their new roles. Many new mothers view their friendships with other mothers are powerful coping mechanisms in their own right.

When it comes to building up resilience, attention to your connections with others is ‘job one.’ A kindred spirit or two can offer a little light relief on a heavy day. A larger social network of like-minded people can provide helpful resources when needed. “The village” is a bona fide requirement for mothers. Keep searching for yours. You’ll soon know when you have found it.  

Experience: The more experiences we collect in life, the more likely we are to believe in our ability to handle what’s next. Every time we try something new, our brains grow and strengthen, creating deeper and richer connections than before. Over time, our growing archive of evidence that we can master new situations provides a deep well of confidence to draw from.

As it's possible, make some space for a few manageable, stretch goals in your days. Learn something new. Tackle a problem you’ve been putting off for a while.  As we make progress in these areas, we learn about ourselves and our capacity to both problem solve and keep moving. We aren’t just working through things. We are building up experiences that can give us additional strength, confidence and resilience in the future.

Helpful outlook: Realistic optimism, hope, courage and a growth mindset are all habits of mind that can help you work back from a setback. The trick is not to have a blanket policy of rose-tinted glasses, but instead to realistically appraise the possibility in a situation, and dispute negative thinking when the evidence does not support it.

In the midst of uncertainty, the brain can prefer to dwell on the negative. Yet your outlook sets the course of your actions. A helpful outlook is going to be the one where you can see progress as both possible and worthwhile. To strengthen your brain’s ability to do this, practice acknowledging the many ways you can make improvements, either big or small, in any situation. Work to note both the good and the bad in your day. Push back on your inner critic whenever you can.     

In sum: A twig that gets nudged in the forest might bend. Or, it might break.  If the tree it belongs to is fed, watered, and healthy it’s likely the twig will be elastic enough to bounce back. If conditions have been hot, dry, or otherwise depleting, the twig will be fragile.

Whether or not the twig breaks depends on the conditions it has experienced beforehand. Resilience is less a matter of the tree’s traits as it is a matter of the tree’s nourishment - the sum total of the resources it was able to call on to keep itself strong.  

As mothers, our ability to bounce back from challenges, big and small, is a core element in our performance as parents. It is hard to know how we’ll work through a challenge until we are presented with it. Yet by strengthening the resources we have in place, we are stacking conditions in our favour, making it more likely that we will bend, not break, when life twists and turns.

The regular practice of maintaining these resources just might be the “ordinary magic” of motherhood.

Resources:

American Psychological Association. (2014). The Road to Resilience.

Cochran, M., Larner, D., Riley, D., Gunnerson, L. and Henderson, C.R. (1990) Extending Families: The Social Networks of Parents and Their Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Chandra, S and Leong, F. (2016) A diversified portfolio model of adaptability, American Psychologist, 71 (9). 847-862.

Gavidia-Payne, S. et al. (2015) Parental resilience: A neglected construct in resilience research. Clinical Psychologist, 19, 3, p. 111-121

Ghate, D. and Hazel, N. (2002) Parenting in Poor Environments. London: Jessica Kingsley

Hill, M., Stafford, A., Seaman, P.,, Ross, N., Daniel, B. (2001) Parenting and Resilience. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Retrieved https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/files/parenting-resilience-children.pdf

Masten, S (2001) Ordinary magic. Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56 (3), 227-238.

Seligman, M. (1998) Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind and Your Life. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Werner, E., & Smith, R. S. (1992). Overcoming the odds: high risk children from birth to adulthood. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

World Health Organization. Urban Green Spaces and Health: A Review of Evidence. Retrieved: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/321971/Urban-green-spaces-and-health-review-evidence.pdf?ua=1

Zolli, A. & Healy, A.  (2012) Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back. Simon and Schuster.

Finding Strength in the Borderlands

As anyone who has headed out at night, without the benefit of streetlights knows - the darkness can be tough.  Without the light to show us what’s ahead, we are left in the recesses of our imaginations. Fears await in the shadows. Twisted ankles whisper “I’m waiting”. We fumble around slowly and clumsily, ever mindful of the cliff drop just ahead that we didn’t see coming.

Motherhood is filled with these brief sojourns into dimly lit borders. Where you are moving on from one life stage but haven’t yet arrived at your destination. Our first steps into these borderlands of motherhood are tenuous, shaky and uncertain.  The terrain ahead is not yet lit by the light of day, We can literally feel ‘in the dark’ for a while.

From a psychological perspective, it’s likely we don’t like the dark because our brain’s favourite thing to do - recognise a pattern and stick with it - isn’t possible. Human beings are creatures of habit because our habits and patterns, once learned, take very little brain energy to execute. Our efficient brains get a lot of value out of them.

When we are in the dark, we are starved of pattern. Every move is a new move. A strange path. A venture into the unknown. We literally can’t see a single thing that helps our brain say, “Hey, I know where we are and how to get out of here.” Starved of the routine that makes daily living possible, our brains cry out. “Turn the light on! This is hard!!”

But - these dimly lit borderlands between one phase and another exist for a reason.

They mark progress.

Any new phase of life you find yourself in can feel dimly lit because, cognitively speaking, it is unknown. Yet it is also a sign that we are growing beyond our comfortable pastures. We are evolving into something new. Someone wiser, stronger, and imminently more experienced than the person we were before. On the other side of this clumsy sojourn is growth, mastery and pride at who we have become and how far we have travelled.

We just can’t get there without spending a little time in the in-between.  

Of all of the borderlands we will travel through as mothers, perhaps few are going to be quite as transformative as the very first. The first weeks, months and years as a parent are filled with intense emotions, swift changes in identity and physically intense responsibilities. We can feel tired, challenged, unsure and ineffective, over and over again, with every new wave of our children’s development.

Of all of the borderlands the early days of motherhood can also feel like the most erroneously represented. Magazines show us images of new mothers glowing with energy, organization and contentment. Society informs us that we’ll be ready to bounce back into our jeans and our jobs in six weeks. We can all be forgiven for feeling surprised by the reality of the feeding complications, sleep challenges, relationship changes, new emotions and general upheaval of confidence that can come with the arrivals we thought we had prepared for.

One of the things to remember about transition is that, despite it being a sign we are moving and growing, it can also feel uncertain, unnerving and downright weird. In these instances, when the brain is starved of predictability, it can be tempting to pull right back; to stick our heels in and pause in our journey. This can look like a nostalgia for the way things were. It can also look like worry, defensiveness and frustration. When nothing feels normal any more the mind has its ways of crying out in high alert that its beloved patterns are shifting.

Yet these initial feelings don't need to define your journey.    

When the changes of new motherhood make us feel far from daylight, there are things we can do to help make our journey a more peaceable one. With time, the sun will rise. Your passport will be stamped. You’ll confidently stride forward into your destination.

In the meantime, it might be helpful to think about the following:

Connect: Your connections with other people (especially other new mothers) during the early days of parenthood are essential to a good journey. Other mothers will make the this new world make sense for you. They will listen to your stories, celebrate your victories and help soften the landing of any stumbles. Talk to as many women as you can. Connect with them over your shared experiences. Hang on to and nurture the connections that bring you joy. Friendships with new mothers can be your shelter, your navigation system, and your fuel as you learn about your new terrain.

Take in the whole horizon: Any journey will have rough spots, yet on balance, you may find just as many (or many more!) pleasant surprises awaiting you. Remember that the outlook you choose to take on any given day should be based on evidence.

When your world feels a little upside down, it can be tempting to feel sceptical, uncertain or a little sad. Remember, your mind is processing a lot of new information. It can be easy to avoid seeing all of the new experiences, lessons and opportunities present in your day. Yet they are there, and are just as important to notice as your challenges. Take time to savour, and remember, the happy, the restful and the humorous moments in your day. Take a look at the ratio of good to bad, in balance, and then decide how to make up your mind on how things are going.

Re-affirm: Before you set out on any journey, it’s essential to carry documentation delineating who you are. It’s no different on our journey into motherhood. We each need to take the time to remember who we are, what fuels us, and what makes us so downright fantastic. Each of us has strengths, values, virtues and talents that are unique. Remind yourself of them regularly. When we regularly re-affirm who we are and what we value, we are less likely to feel threatened when the road twists and turns. You may be a brand new mother. You are also still the courageous, humorous, smart, adventurous, loving gal you always were. While life can feel very different after the birth of a child, it is always possible to check-in with the parts of ourselves we know to be constant.                                                                                          

Practice: With a new baby, you are at the very beginning of a very long journey of learning. As soon as we learn the ropes of one phase, a new phase is introduced. And there we are - back at the beginning again. With so much information to absorb and so many new behaviours to learn it is very easy to lack confidence. And without confidence, it is also easy to feel anxious, low or frustrated. The antidote? Practice. Practice, day in, day out, in the art and science of parenthood. You will get better at figuring out your child’s needs and meeting them because you will keep doing it. Every day, every night, until it doesn’t feel so new anymore.  

To veer away from a habit and to figure out something new requires us to carve a brand new path in our grey matter. This uses up expensive brain energy, and is not the brain’s preferred approach to daily living.  Yet it is nevertheless one of the most important paths to confidence and well being as new parents. Whenever you can, give yourself the space and compassion to keep practising and to get better. Practice is the only difference between you and veteran parents. You’ll get there before you know it.  

So  if you find yourself in the midst of change, and it feels hard and dimly lit, remember that the arrivals hall is only the beginning. The borderlands are real, yet they are only the very first page of a long-awaited adventure. As you work through your earliest days in a new land, remember that strength and wisdom are rarely far behind you.  

Any first step feels wobbly. Because if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be the first step.

Travel happy Mamas!

Academic sources:

Furnham, A., & Bochner, S. (1986). Culture shock. Psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments. Culture shock. Psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments.

Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B. (2007) Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Edge. Oxford University Press.

Nelson, S. K., Kushlev, K.  and Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?. Psychological Bulletin 140.3, 846.

Seligman, M.P. (2006) Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind And Your Life. Vintage.

Back To School: The Borderlands Of Motherhood

Life transitions don’t typically happen overnight. Your ticket might say you have arrived, but the emotional work of adjustment does not have a time and date.

Back to school can be a particularly trying time because of its ability surface, in one concentrated week or two, all the many ways parenthood can both fill us with pleasure and wear us down.  It can be so exciting to see a brand new school year begin. Yet, if you’re feeling a little unsteady in this period of transition, you’d hardly be alone.

The back to school period, like childbirth (or any major life transition) is a liminal one. This means that for a while, we sit in the ‘in between’, straddling two life phases. One foot in the old world, one foot in the new.

It can be exciting. We are marking a new life phase and a new accomplishment, both for our children and for ourselves.  Yet in the midst of so much anticipation and hope, things can also feel a little unknown. And downright raw.

Welcome to the what we call the ‘borderlands’ of motherhood. Those periods of transition where the promise of your destination awaits, but your passport still needs to be stamped, the guards don’t smile, you’re a little homesick, and your luggage might be missing. You’re travelling forward. But you haven’t arrived just yet.

This time of year, many of us find ourselves in a brief - but trying -  part of these borderlands: The ‘back to school’ weeks. While you’re there, here’s what you might find:

Tough Feelings: Parenthood can make us joyful. It can also make us worried, anxious, frustrated and sad, depending on the day and what we are managing. The new school year is filled with possibilities for these feelings. We can worry about how our children will make friends or get along with their teachers. We can worry we haven’t remembered all of the crucial calendar dates. We can be frustrated our children won’t wake up on time. We can be a little sad to see them move on, one step closer to the fantastic, grown people they promise to become.

That little goodbye at the school gate can feel every bit as emotional as the day they arrived into the world. In an instant, they, and you, are in a new life stage. The awe and intensity of that realisation can make the most steely of us a little less so.

Sleep Disturbance and Fatigue: Back to school brings with it a change in rest patterns. The low key schedules of school holidays are over. You might be staying up later than usual trying to get clothes and lunches packed. You might be up earlier trying to set the stage for your new school year routine. You might not be sleeping very well at all given all of the worries that a new school year can bring.

And then there is the physical and emotional strain of trying to adjust to so many new roles, activities and responsibilities. Yes, your children are the ones completing the activities. But you are the one making sure they get there, get back, and get everything done. This work takes it toll.

Relationship Stress: For many reasons, the work of raising children can stress your relationship with your partner. These fault lines  can come into vivid color during the back to school period.

It’s possible your partner shares in the many to-do’s a school year brings. It’s also possible that they don’t. It’s possible your partner does not see eye to eye with you on the school your child will attend, the routines you adhere to, or the priorities you each place on activities. It’s possible they don’t share the same worries, concerns or frustrations you do with specific aspects of the school experience. You are two different human beings. The possibilities for different worldviews are infinite. So are the stresses and disagreements these differences can introduce.

Financial Strain: Kids are expensive. Especially this time of year. Whether you are paying a hefty tuition bill or handing over large sums for new school supplies, clothes and after school activities, this time of year can be pricey. Its no secret that bills can also impact all the factors discussed above. Worry, lost sleep, and relationship stress can all stem from uncertainty or disagreements over money. Education costs a lot. So, it seems,  does everything else these days. It can be especially hard this time of year to feel like things are balanced financially.

Mourning the loss of the old: With all new beginnings must come a goodbye. A goodbye to the old year. A goodbye to the smaller clothes. A goodbye to the sweet artwork of last year.  And with goodbyes can come sadness. Completely normal sadness.  When we lose something we have held dear, like an old identity, old role, or old relationship, we can feel grief. You might miss the warmth of last year’s teacher. You might miss the nurturing embrace of a school for younger children. You or your child might be missing old friends.

The years that have led up to this point may have been wonderful ones. Even if they weren’t particularly notable saying goodbye to them can bring a twinge of regret. With a new school year, we have to leave one life stage and step into the next one. While hello’s can be exciting, it can be harder to relish a farewell.

Losing support networks: On the subject of loss, one change that can be felt acutely this time of year is the loss of a prior support or care-giving arrangement. Many families have care-giving arrangements for their children that are designed to end when school begins. This means that a human being who provided support and love to your family moves on to another employment arrangement. The intersection between care, love, and finances can feel stark this time of year.

“The village” is a bona fide requirement for parenting. Today, with so many families living away from extended support networks, early childhood caregivers can become a vital part of the village we create. They listen to our stories, provide perspective and wisdom, and reassure us that things will be just fine. Sure, your children are adjusting to their days away from you at school. But you, too, can be adjusting to your new days away from your own sense of support. Having to say goodbye to people who have provided such essential care and friendship to our families is not easy.

Culture Shock: Make no mistake, a school is a living terrain unto itself. It may as well have a geographical border. It will have its own, unspoken ‘way’ of doing things. It will have a social order, which lives and breathes in both in the parents and the students. It has a culture all its own. And, if you are new, the learning curve can be both steep and surprisingly difficult to acclimate to in the beginning.

Culture shock is a well-documented response in travellers that occurs when one must adjust to a new culture quickly. It can manifest itself in many ways, but principally take its toll on the emotional health of the newcomer. Not understanding the invisible ‘rules’ of a new place can feel disorienting, confusing, and downright exhausting.

Your notably social brain does not like its familiar rules to change up. Don’t be surprised if it puts up a fight and you feel a little lonely, tired or down for a while. Your brain has a lot of new learning to do. Things should feel better eventually.

If any of the above this rings true, giving yourself enough space, time and self-acceptance to acknowledge the impact on your wellbeing is important.  Motherhood’s borderlands are real. We all travel through them. Yet this doesn’t mean we can’t do everything we can to travel a little more comfortably.

Expertise: With a new year, comes new list of never-before-seen hurdles you must work through. Having to feel like we don’t really know what we are doing (again!!) can be disheartening. Especially when we see so many veteran parents at the school gate making it all look so easy. Remember, not a single parent out there was given an instruction manual. The only difference between you and the parent who seems to have it all together is practice.

Parenting is a muscle that has to be built and used. The more opportunity you give yourself to roll your sleeves up and learn, the more confident you will feel about your ability to tackle this. For the next couple of weeks, try to commit to getting better at just one thing that has been nagging at you. Give it your all for an hour a day. Mess up. Experiment. Try again. And then keep trying. Pay attention to the the power of practice. Watch and observe yourself as you do get better at practically anything you want to get better at.

Connection: Remember those new mama friends you couldn’t have lived without after your baby was born? Birth was a borderland time and they acted as your fellow travellers.

In the back to school version, you need these relationships again, yet this time with parents of school-age children. These relationships will serve the same powerful purpose as those early motherhood friendships. They will help you make sense of the world. They will provide some comic relief. They will offer a sense of shelter and belonging in the midst of unknown terrain.

For mothers, friendships are big magic, and big medicine. By taking your social connections seriously, you are building up a resource that takes on a completely new importance in these times of transition. It’s not a vanity. Its crucial. Keep trying to find a kindred spirit ot two.

Outlook: If your outlook is skewed to the negative side, and you find yourself regularly anxious or low as a result, it’s possible you might need to push back a bit. Sometimes it pays to be cautious, and sometimes we need to embrace the possibilities in a new situation. The key here is accuracy. Ask yourself if you have evidence for how you are feeling about a situation, and then choose your outlook.

A new school, or a new year, can be filled with uncertainty. When the brain feels unsure, it can be tempting to withdraw into scepticism or weariness. Yet a new school year is also filled with possibilities. There are rewarding new relationships that have yet to be made for both you and your child. There are as yet untapped wonders, challenges, joys, curiosities and accomplishments to look forward to.

Remember that the borderlands are only the beginning, They look nothing like the green and pleasant land ahead. When you feel unsure or negative, remind yourself to try and take in the full picture (of both the strains and the possibilities) as you make up your mind about today.  

There’s so much possibility on the horizon. Welcome to the new school year and its promise. You’ll be a seasoned traveller before you know it.  

Academic sources:

Furnham, A., & Bochner, S. (1986). Culture shock. Psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments. Culture shock. Psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments.

Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B. (2007) Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Edge. Oxford University Press.

Nelson, S. K., Kushlev, K.  and Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?. Psychological Bulletin 140.3, 846.

Seligman, M.P. (2006) Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind And Your Life. Vintage.

Well Made Teacher: Thriving In And Out Of The Classroom

We tip our hat to teachers this week, especially those that have their own family to nurture as well. Meet Sarah, primary years teacher at an International Baccalaureate School where my children attend.

When you walk into Sarah’s classroom it’s unlike any other you’ve ever been in. Picture flowers or plants on each child’s desk, Mona Lisa framed on a bookshelf, the soundtrack from Amelie playing...you may even find a lizard visiting and helping the children with their maths, sitting on their desk, or in their lap. Her way with the children is almost majestic.

She also works with a student committee called, ‘World Wide Voice’, which gives students aged 5 to 11 the chance to make a difference in someone’s life and to learn the invaluable lessons of gratitude and selflessness, with complete autonomy. The children recently raised $400 for a drinking well and immunisations, through an international charity working with at-risk kids, families and communities.

A little bit heroic? Ya, we think so.

What inspires you about your role as a teacher?

I really believe in the Reggio Emilia way of thinking in regard to the environment as the third teacher. No environment can be too beautiful for children, which is why I try the best I can to keep the room full of flowers and plants!

Fostering an ‘attitude of gratitude’ is so important for the children as well, that's why books like James Mollison's 'Where Children Sleep' is my favourite to share this year. Our weekly gratitude walks are so special too.

I also believe that International Baccalaureate brings together the children's way of seeing the world with their learning. My own girls go to an IB school and their conceptual understanding is broadened through each Unit of Inquiry and built on in future units. It is meaningful learning.

How do you find the time to go the extra mile with your students, your family and the greater community?

I am in bed by 8pm with the girls every night without fail. The major challenge for me is not enough hours in the day and sheer exhaustion! My house always looks like a tornado has run through it, (with the exception of the days my cleaner comes) and I just have to be ok with that.

My girls Eliza 7 and Bel 11, do a lot of work within the house though. They wash and hang out clothes, fold, mop, put away, cook and organise themselves and their belongings. They are really independent and all these life skills will help them when they live alone one day.

There are a few things I do though, to help me manage the busy balance juggling act. The thing that is most effective is being highly organised! I make meals during the holidays and fill up my freezer for term time. I make 6 lunch boxes on a Sunday night, so I don’t have to think about the girls’ lunch until Wednesday night. I have the world’s most enormous calendar with all girls extra curricular activities- weekends are full of parties and sport and drama rehearsals...there is never a spare second!

As well as having a system for managing the day to day needs of your young family, we also think it’s important for us working mums (and mums in general) to carve out some space for ourselves. How do you manage that?

For me, exercise is the most effective way of keeping sane. I go to the gym before work in the morning most days. I make sure I am reading a novel at all times, not just educational literature for work. I try to stay up late at least one night a week and watch a foreign film as it transports me into another country.

I use ‘HEADSPACE’ to keep myself balanced and I make sure I spend a little time in my garden each day, preferably lying on the grass and watching the birds bellies as they fly over. Hand weeding is my favourite past time, when my hands are in the earth my feet are on the ground.

What makes me the happiest? Being patient with my girls even when I have run out of puff. Taking time to read with them even if my eyelids feel like they need match sticks to stay up and letting them do one more show, or tell me one more funny story before bed.

We thank Sarah for taking the time to chat with us and share with our WMM Community!