*I am honored to have this guest post from Mallika Bush, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, share her insights for the wonderful mamas here. She is a wealth of knowledge and has been a light in my life since we met this past year. Enjoy ♡*
I think you will agree with me when I say that being a happy, healthy, conscious mama sometimes feels impossible! And it is when we think of it as something to achieve, a place we should get to (and stay in). In reality, how we feel about motherhood and ourselves as mothers fluctuates. When I work with mamas in my therapy practice, I encourage them to think of it as a daily practice. The goal is not to achieve something, but to be engaging in this process. Today I am going to lay out 3 steps for getting started.
Step 1: Listen to Yourself
You know more about what you need than you think. Society as a whole doesn’t place a high value on to the intuition a mama has, and the power of emotional intelligence! You know that pit in your stomach when you can feel the end of your rope coming. Listening to your needs in those moments will change your experience of mothering. Here’s an example.
Say I am a mama to 9 month old girl and I also work part time. I usually work on Mondays, but it’s a holiday, and thus I have the day off and I give our sitter the day off as well. I notice an internal pressure to “use” the day well. I think, “we should go to her music class in the morning and then meet up with some friends at the park after I take her home for a nap.” But something in the pit of my stomach knows that I will be completely empty by the end of that day.
I have to go to work tomorrow, like usual. If I am empty at the end of today, I won’t sleep well. I will be tired and grouchy the next morning. I won’t have the energy to pack myself a good lunch and will feel even more like crap at the end of tomorrow. SO, I listen to myself, to my need for a more spacious, nourishing kind of day.
I scrap the music class. We do some water play in the back yard, and have a nap at home. During nap I am able to make preparation for my lunch tomorrow. After nap, we make the park the big outing for the day. We will both get some socializing time and I especially will get some emotional support from mamas that I don’t get to see very often because I work part time.
Here are the key points of this story. While I am still putting out a lot of mom energy, I also make my needs a priority. I choose to miss a week of my daughter’s music class because I know I will get fed emotionally by the park date and not to music class. I know what I need to feel strong, healthy and capable for a day of work. And I know that my health and wellbeing is more important than running around town with my baby in tow, trying to prove to myself (and everyone on Instagram) that I have it all together!
Once you become clearer on your own needs, there is more space to actually hear what your child needs.
Step 2: Listen to Your Child
Children, even young babies, are quite capable of knowing what they need. And sometimes our child’s needs can feel really overwhelming; the list of demands just goes on and on. Here is where I remind you not to loose hold of step one (Listening to Yourself) and promise you there is a way for everyone’s needs to be heard and important. As we start to weave these two steps together, we see a powerful frame with which we can now look at parenting: we are teaching them how to be in relationship with others! Let me show you what I mean.
I’m sure we can all agree that we want our children to grow up to be happy and healthy, able to clearly express their emotions and their needs, able to be in healthy, fulfilling relationships. Yes? Ok. So, the way we help them get to that place as an adult is by providing some of that for them as children too. This means, listening to them, allowing them to cry about something they are sad about, allowing them to tell you (sometimes through crying) that they don’t like how things are changing, or that they don’t want to get in the carseat.
What I am NOT saying is to give your child what they want all the time. I am not saying “listen to your child, and do whatever they say”. No. I am saying, listen and HEAR your child. That is the place to start. By hearing your child’s feelings and experiences, they will feel more connected to you and trusting of you. Put your focus on who your child is, not what they are doing or not doing! Focus on connection not correction. Once they know they deserve to be heard, they will remind you – especially at times when you are starting to loose it with them.
Children who are raised to feel confident in expressing their needs will say things like, “I didn’t like when you yelled at me.” “It’s my body and I want to wear pants.” “I want to take my shoes off and get muddy.” “I want you to come sit with me.” “I don’t want to eat dinner.” Yes, they will let you know ALLLLL the feelings and desires and needs. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to say yes. Just being of the mindset to HEAR your child out will make a huge, huge difference in your long term relationship with them. It is deeply powerful to be heard by another person, especially someone who loves you. Trust me – I am a therapist; I hear people for a living!
The last piece of this process has to do with how you can tolerate hearing your child’s needs without getting triggered yourself. Many of us were conditioned as children to believe that our needs and feelings don’t matter. Some of you reading this might not even be aware that THAT is what’s so upsetting for you about your child’s tantrums or crying. So here is what I suggest with this final step.
Step 3: Pay Attention to and Learn to Work with Your Emotional Inheritance
It’s clear that there are cultural expectations and family dynamics that play a huge role in our emotional experience of motherhood, how we feel about our children’s needs and about having needs of our own as mothers. I first encountered the term “emotional inheritance” in Dr. Shefali’s book The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children. The basic concept represents all the emotional patterns and unexpressed feelings that get passed down from generation to generation. We are all wounded. We are all born into families with baggage and cannot help but be triggered by our own children in ways that are deeply painful. That is the design. If we let go into this design, it can be truly healing for you and your children.
This third step I am suggesting today is a big one. To truly be a happy, healthy, conscious mama, we must engage with our own emotional inheritance and metabolize our internal wounds. Thus, we can stop the pain from passing down to our children, who so gracefully trigger these painful, ugly places within ourselves. This is big work because it’s rarely solo work. I am talking about years of therapy, working one-on-one with a highly skilled parent coach or even being part of a support or therapy group that exist for this very reason. And here is what happens when we are engaged in this process.
At the beginning of this work, the pain and triggers are raw and raging. They come from our blindside and knock us and our children down with them. They are steeped in shame, guilt, anger, fear and sadness. Sometimes it feels like our pain gets worse at the start of this healing. We are more impatient with our children. We feel further away from the kind of mother we want to be. This is because we are no longer numbing the wounds, no longer pushing them down and away. We are welcoming the pain to the surface so that we may get to know ourselves better. Everyone’s pace is their own and I encourage you to be kind a gentle with yourself – only go to where you feel safe. There is no prize for finishing fast.
As the wounds begin to be seen and treated, they start to heal, little by little. We are able to see the pain coming before it hits us, and sometimes can even make a new choice. We no longer have to play out our own hurts with our children or compensate for our experience by doing the opposite with our children. We start to feel a lightness and freedom to choose how we parent, rather than being pushed around by our emotional inheritance. Do these wounds every fully go away? I believe they can.
I know, these are not the simplest 3 steps – but believe me, they are incredible powerful. Even engaging with them on a part-time basis will put you on your way to knowing how to get your own needs met, helping your child feel heard and healing your own childhood wounds. Being a mama is a lot of work. But being a happy, healthy, conscious mama is one day at a time. You can do this!
Mallika Bush holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT #97541) practicing in the Bay Area of California. She is passionate about womens health and specializes in maternal mental health, including preconception, fertility issues, loss, pregnancy and postpartum. Mallika believes in the self-healing power of our human psyche and body and encourages clients to trust their intuition, working with their unconscious through Expressive Arts Therapy. Mallika is also a RIE® Intern, working to bring respectful, conscious caregiving to families through courses and groups, including her Conscious Mothering groups. You can find her and learn more at www.MallikaBush.com