The kids are back at school (mostly) and you are back in your workplace. Life is beginning to resemble some form of pre-Covid normality. Yet you still can’t shake off those feelings of guilt that somehow you are not hitting the mark – at home, at work and as a parent.
”I’ve yet to meet a mother who hasn’t felt at one point or other this huge feeling of not meeting expectations, of not living up to what we put on ourselves in trying to be the perfect mum. “
Social media doesn’t help. “Perfection does not exist but we compare ourselves with those apparently perfect lives which are not necessarily real.”
The result, says Tipper, is parents – and particularly mothers – who feel powerless and trapped with no hope of a reprieve.
The pandemic increased the potential for parental guilt with mothers having to supervise schooling at home and deal with extra household chores while still working full time themselves.
“We live in a part of the world where extra help is available at an affordable price, but lots of mums I speak to don’t have that option,” says Tipper. “So it’s a juggling act and often the plates are falling.”
But those feelings of inadequacy and guilt were most probably not caused by the pandemic; Covid-19 simply intensified them, she adds.
“It starts the minute you have a baby. There’s the fear of judgment if you had a C-section – what are the repercussions of not having a natural birth? Then there’s breastfeeding versus bottle feeding. There is this uncertainty about whether you are up to the job of being a mother. You feel isolated and almost ashamed that you’re not able to do this job you’ve heard so much about, the job that we’re supposedly put on earth to do.
“The struggle is real. Often we’re driven by fear – fear of failing as a mum and as a human being. This is the job we’re supposedly put on earth to do but a lot of the time it doesn’t come naturally.”
The good news is that those feelings are entirely rational and there are ways to cope with them – ways that are literally as easy as breathing.
“It can be as simple as connecting with your breathing, connecting with nothingness and emptying your mind and feeling the sensations of your environment,” says Tipper.
Here are her top tips for coping with parental guilt:
• When we’re anxious, we do chest breathing but we need to breathe from the diaphragm. Place your hand on your diaphragm and practice the odd sensation of pushing it out to inhale. This just takes you out of the “fight or flight” mode we get into when we’re worried or stressed. Drawing attention to your breath puts you in a more logical place.
• Ground yourself. Again, do this literally. Go to the park or the beach, take off your shoes and get your feet on the grass or in the sand or in the water. Let your mind be present in the now.
• Find your tribe. Instinctively recognize who you feel your best with, who energizes you. This isn’t always easy, as you will meet different types of mothers along the way. Sometimes we come across energy vampires. Find the sort of people you can open up to. It could be another mum in a mom group or a professional. You can’t share your journey with everybody, because not everyone will appreciate it. Find people you connect with because feeling isolated is quite a dangerous place to be.
• Understand it’s okay to not feel on top form. It’s not about being the supermum on Instagram. We can’t have it all even though we’re told we can. It’s about getting our priorities straight and being true to our values.
And what if you are concerned about your kids not feeling on top form?
Tipper is a big fan of journaling. This is not so much about recording the day’s events in a diary, but about recording your feelings and thoughts – and it works for children, too, she says.
“Journaling is amazing and I do talk about it a lot with clients. This is such an interesting moment in time, a wonderful record for them but also an opportunity to rewire our brain and to be grateful.
“I encourage people to find three things we’re grateful for every day. What were you excited about? What’s tomorrow going to bring? If you can do it every day, that’s great, but if not, just do it as frequently as possible. Sit down and “brain dump”; get it all on paper. It can be a family exercise and the little ones can draw.”
Lynette Tipper was a guest on the Livehealthy.ae podcast on Monday, September 28.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.