There is one important and sometimes surprising type of work that moms who work with me find they have to do, if they are to achieve their intention of consistently being the mom they long to be.
They need to get to a place of fully accepting what they are living, mourn what they wish was, and fully feel the pain of not having what they long for and of what they experienced instead.
Read on for a detailed explanation of what I mean, many examples that might help you uncover if there are parts of your life with your children which you’re not accepting, or feelings that you’ve not taken the time to fully feel that are getting in your way of being the parent you so wish to be.
I also provide some guidance in how to mourn and heal in those areas of your life.
Acceptance is key is two main areas in our lives:
Our thoughts don’t have any impact on the person or situation, but rob us of our inner peace, of our ability to be present, and of our ability to take effective action. They also often get in our way of seeing the situation or person objectively.
I think of it like this: Imagine that you’re wanting to drive somewhere, which we’ll call location B. You’re sitting in your car with a map and are very disgruntled that you’re at location A. You really think you should be at location C because something about location A feels wrong. It may feel too far from your destination, it may be that something your partner did caused you to be there instead of in location C, etc.
Your partner is ready to start driving toward your destination but you can’t let go of focusing on where you think you should be, blaming yourself, your partner, the weather or a situation that happened for being there. All your attention is on where you think you should be and what caused you not to be there.
You can see here that until you accept that you’re in location A, find it on a map and find the route to location B, you’ll never get there.
One example of this that I often come across is moms wishing their partner was more on board with peaceful parenting, more empathetic, or more engaged with the children. Or thinking that they should be. (Incidentally, I consider ‘should’ to be the only bad word in the English language, because it so very rarely is helpful, because of all that’s discussed in this article.)
While that mom is thinking about what her husband isn’t or should be, or what he isn’t doing or should be doing, this is where all her energy is focused.
What would be productive instead, is to accept that for now, her partner is how he is, and then deciding what she wants to do about it.
It could simply be accepting that he is how he is, and arranging her life around that reality, accepting to be with him as he is.
It could be deciding to have a proactive conversation about what she wants and needs in order to be happy in the relationship, and seeing if there’s a way of getting there with that partner.
It could be deciding to go to counselling, to get help in addressing the parts of the relationship that aren’t working.
It could be realizing that what that person actually is is not someone she can live with, and deciding to leave the relationship.
There’s no right or wrong here, it’s just about ensuring that she's using her energy toward what she wants instead of what she doesn’t want, and finding out what’s true for her, so that she can move toward creating a life that will be a fit for her, meet her needs and match her values, if that’s what she desires.
THE PAIN OF ACCEPTANCE
It can be difficult to accept a situation, person or circumstance, because doing so can be very painful. It sometimes forces us to accept that something we want will not become reality for us.
Acknowledging that I’d never get married again in time to create the new family life I wanted with my daughters was excruciating. This was a dear dream that I had, both because I wanted to experience it with my daughters but also because the pain of my deeply unstable childhood was triggered by not having it.
As long as I kept thinking and talking about how I wanted it and needed it to feel stable and fulfilled, I didn’t have to face the pain of not having it. Yet when I finally decided to accept it and mourned it I suddenly felt free of a weight and pain I’d lived with for years, of something that was so often occupying my thoughts yet offering absolutely nothing positive in my life.
ACCEPTANCE CAN FORCE US TO MAKE A DECISION OR TO TAKE ACTION
It can also be difficult to accept a situation, person or circumstance, because doing so can force us to make a decision.
In certain situations, fully accepting that what is is forces us to make a conscious decision.
For example as long as you think your workplace should be a certain way, you stay at that job talking with your co-workers about what’s wrong with it, blaming who’s responsible for it, thinking about how it hurts and wrongs you, thinking about who should be doing what. But once you fully accept that it is exactly as it is, you then have to choose whether this is something that you can live with or want, whether you can proactively affect the change you want and are willing to do so, or if you need to take the step to leave your job and deal with all the ramifications of that decision.
I vividly remember this happening to me in a relationship. In the depth and safety of a women’s Circle, I finally named something I’d never been able to admit to myself relative to my relationship. Once those words were spoken, I couldn’t unspeak them and had to face the fact that the relationship I’d always thought would last my whole life may not work for me. And I did end up leaving it, from a place of groundedness and clarity, a few months later.
ACCEPTANCE DOESN’T MEAN WE DON’T DO ANYTHING
Another reason people resist accepting situations as they are is a belief that it means giving up on what they want. A fear that if they accept it, they’ll be stuck in it forever.
Accepting something doesn't mean that we don't do anything about. It means we let go of the fantasy of being where we wish we were and get firmly grounded in where we actually are, in reality.
And then, from this place of being grounded in reality, we can start taking effective and clear actions to get us where we want to be.
One critical and often overlooked step to acceptance, without which genuine acceptance often just isn’t possible, is mourning. The reason we refuse to accept situations and people as they are is because there is something that we’re not experiencing in them that is really important to us. A need that’s not met. And that it would be very painful to face that fact.
Taking time to feel that pain, to mourn, is what clears the way to acceptance (and though this is the topic of a whole other article, to genuine forgiveness as well.) To being able to take action. And often times to suddenly have access to solutions that will work, either because we can just then finally see them for the first time or because by having cleared our resistance, Life (The Universe, God, whatever you call the universal intelligence) is suddenly able to meet our desire.
COMMON SITUATIONS WHERE MOURNING HELPS MOMS
Here are some situations I encounter regularly with moms, where mourning could not only help but is often necessary in order for them to fully thrive and have healthy relationships that are about what’s here now instead of still impacted by the past:
Negative things we’ve done to our children:
This was a big one for me. Just writing about it now, I feel my heart tightening, so I apparently have more healing work to do on the trauma I caused one of my daughters when I completely pushed her away, after the birth of another baby, when I plunged into a deep depression. Even though I continued to generally be a respectful mom to her, and focused on meeting her needs, I at times would literally push her away. And all my joy, love, desire to connect with her and reveling in her was gone overnight. And this lasted for 16 months.
The pain of knowing I’d done this to my daughter was one I couldn’t face for many years, but always carried in me. And it got in my way of at times parenting her from a clear, strong place, because I understood her behaviors arose out of the trauma I caused her, and this knowing paralyzed me.
I’m currently working with two moms who I've guided through intensive healing work on their regrets and guilt over circumcising their baby boys. Having done the work of mourning doesn’t mean they no longer care that they’ve done something they believe to be detrimental to their sons, but they now have acceptance about it and are no longer haunted by it and no longer have their daily lives regularly highjacked by feelings of guilt.
Other situations moms I work with commonly feel deep regret about are:
Please note that I’m not making a statement about those things necessarily being wrong, just that they are common things that moms I know feel debilitating guilt around.
It's important to understand that mourning and developing acceptance about negative things we’ve done to our children doesn’t mean we suddenly believe that what we did was okay.
It just clears our energy so we can live in the now instead of in the past, be present to our lives and our children, and can now be the best possible parent to our children.
It’s also a lot easier, once we’ve gotten to a grounded place relative to it, to help our children heal from that same trauma. (You'll be hearing a lot more from me on this topic over the next several months, but if you're looking for some info on this right now, check out this great article by my friend Francesca Redden.)
Dreams we had but won’t come to be:
Many of us have very high ideals of what we’d like to provide our children:
Some of us also had dreams or desires of what we wanted in our lives. For some moms, though they adore their children and wouldn’t change them for anything in the world, a part of them still feels the longing of the child-free life they thought they’d have. Or miss that life.
Some dream of being stay-at-home moms, but have no way of making it happen. Some would love to homeschool but it’s illegal in their country or again, they have no way of making it happen for their family.
I had to face this one in November of 2015, when I realized that I was an HSP (highly sensitive person) and fully got all of its implications. When I realized that I'd never be easy going and low maintenance for the people in my life, that I'd never heal myself enough to be able to handle my life and relationships as they were. That I was going to have to make some serious changes in my life if I was to focus on meeting my needs as I had done with my children.
It was an incredibly painful thing for me to face, as it required me to completely change the way I was seeing and going about my life. I had to do a lot of mourning work around it. But (and this might be good news for you too if you're also an HSP!) doing so allowed me to finally orient myself in a way that worked for me, to make massive changes in my life, and today, I can't believe how sweet my life has become.
I'm reveling in a quality of life that I never could have dreamed of had I not faced the reality of being an HSP, and taken the time to fully experience my feelings around it.
Having a challenging child:
For parents who have high need children, children on the autism spectrum, with sensory processing issues, who are highly sensitive, have chronic illness, etc, it can be hard to accept the reality of their lives with that specific child.
They might envy their friend who has two easy, well-behaved children she can take anywhere, whereas just running a quick errand is a massive undertaking for them. They might feel jealous of ‘normal parents’ who get to choose how they spend their time, instead of having so much of it dictated by the physical and emotional needs of their child.
If that’s the case for you, please know that it’s normal to long for that ease and freedom!! For a part of you to be envious of those other moms, to wish your child and life were also as easy as theirs.
It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible mom. Or that you don’t love your child.
Just that it takes a lot of extra effort and focus on your part to parent them and live with them, and of course you have feelings about that! And life might sometimes/often feel like more than you can handle, and as a result you sometimes feel resentful of your child.
If this is the case for you, it is critical that you find a way to fully process those feelings.
Only then will you feel some peace and space in your life, will you be able to be fully present to your child, and will you be able to get to a place of enjoying this life you may not have chosen, but is your reality.
It’s not betraying your child to express your negative feelings about her, in a proper setting, with the intention of cleansing yourself of them. It’s actually a brave and powerful action, that will benefit her greatly.
Trauma from parenting a challenging child or having parented under tough situations:
Though this situation is connected to the previous one, it comes from a different place.
What I’m talking about here is the buildup of stress and trauma stored in the body, that affects the parent’s quality of life, and lives as a pocket of pain in the body, which can get triggered by the most innocuous of events, and lead to negative and disproportionate reactions.
You can find a great explanation of that phenomenon in this video, which I share with all the moms I work with in my Clean Parenting program.
WAYS TO MOURN AND CLEAR THE PAST
One question I often get once moms get the importance of mourning in order to let go of their limiting feelings is ‘but HOW do I mourn?’
Here, for you, are a few ideas that I’ve recommended to those moms:
Connect with the longing for what you so dearly wanted which didn’t happen:
If you’ve studied Nonviolent Communication, as taught by my favorite teacher Robert Gonzales, it’s what he calls sitting with the beauty of the needs, the aliveness in your heart of the experience you were wishing for.
Feel how much you wanted it, what it would have felt like to have it, and allow any emotions related to it to come up. Sit with them until they pass through.
This is something I did after my first daughter left for college. I was hit at that time by the end of my dream of getting my shit together in time to experience my life with her in the way I’d wanted. I’d officially run out of time. This was one of the most debilitating pains I’ve experienced in my life, and I realized that unless I fully felt it, I’d keep living with that regret and pain ready to be triggered at any moment, for a long time.
So 3 or 4 times, when I was alone and had some free time, I let the pain take me over. I literally dropped to the ground and sobbed in a little ball on my floor, for all I’d wanted for my life with my girls that didn’t come to be. And once I was done, my heart was freed, and I was able to move on in my life with her as an adult, living away from home, and enjoy it.
(Little update, for the record: This daughter is now 25, and all three of my daughters have now left home. But we're still all very close and like each other, and I enjoy being the mom of adult children even more than any other previous stage. ♥)
Connect with the regret or pain of what happened:
Though very similar to the previous one, the process here is to feel the pain itself.
I experienced this one just a few years ago, when I finally decided to face my feelings about having pushed my toddler away when her sister was born, and what this must have felt like to her, 15 years later.
I did make sure to tackle this deep trauma with the support of a trained professional, who could hold me in it, as it would have been impossible for me to get through it on my own. In this session, I just screamed and sobbed for a full hour, finally releasing 15 years of bottled up feelings. It took me several days to recover from the process, but once I did, I was freed to interact with my daughter from a place of presence instead of from a place of guilt and trying to compensate for the pain I’d inflicted on her, the trauma I’d caused her.
Work with a trained professional:
As I touched on in the previous section, it can be beneficial in order to mourn something big or tricky to feel, to schedule a session with an effective therapist/counsellor/practitioner. But make sure you choose someone who knows how to skillfully hold space, and how to gently guide you to connect to the painful feelings that are keeping you stuck and to feel them fully, in their compassionate and welcoming presence.
Just talking about your experience is not enough for the necessary mourning to take place.
This is a service I provide to moms who have completed my Clean Parenting program.
Create a listening partnership:
I encourage all the moms I work with to create a listening partnership, because it's such a powerful, supportive and mutually beneficial practice to have for moms! You can find some info on listening partnerships here.
If you have a trusted partner, you can use one of you meetings to process your feelings around anything that's interfering in your life.
If you have a child who’s challenging, or triggers you in some ways, using that space (or any safe and non-judgmental relationship) to name all your negative thoughts and feelings about that child can be cathartic and healing.
Though it might feel like a betrayal of your child to put those words out into the world, the process of naming them and being lovingly received in it can take away a lot of their power. It can also allow you to access your positive feelings about your child, which were previously sitting just beneath the negative ones.
Purging through writing:
One practice I often recommend to moms who have a challenging child is to purge (I usually call it puke, as it's more illustrative of the actual process) all of their thoughts and feelings through writing.
The most powerful way to do this is to direct the writing at your child, writing him a letter where you express all the horrible things you’ve thought and felt at times. Finally letting out what keeps swirling in you, but that you refuse to name and keep trying to suppress. The key to this working is to be as uncensored and raw as possible. Writing out everything single thing alive in you, until you feel a sense of relief or completeness.
And please know that writing out or expressing all your negative thoughts and feelings is in no way being mean or disrespectful of your child. It’s actually an incredibly positive thing that you’re doing, that will greatly benefit him and your relationship.
And most of the time, when parents do this exercise, they find that once they’ve expressed all their negative thought and feelings, their love, understanding and empathy for their child spontaneously comes to the surface.
Many people find that burning the paper they wrote on is a beautiful way to ritualistically release the old feelings and thoughts. (And to insure the child never gets their hands on it.)
Whatever you do, if you choose to do this exercise, make sure that your child can NEVER find it, or find out what you wrote!
THE GIFTS OF MOURNING AND ACCEPTANCE
Once we take the time to fully feel and mourn experiences related to our children, we create an emotional clean slate, from which we can then be the best parent that we can to be to them.
Where we can enjoy them unburdened by the past.
And once we let go of our attachment to what we wanted and wasn’t working, it clears the way for something new and sometimes even much better to come into our lives.
How often have you said ‘I’m so grateful that I didn’t marry this person/get this job/do this one thing’ which you really wanted at some point and experienced pain at not getting?
We rarely get the most fulfilling thing until we let go of our attachment to the previous one, as I illustrated with my experience of letting go of being a though, resilient person to accepting being a highly sensitive one.
I hope you’ve found some of the ideas in this article helpful.
Please email me if you’d like my support in clearing what’s in your way of being the best possible parent to your children.
Lots of love,
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Would you like my support in removing the obstacles that prevent you from fully enjoying your life with your children?
Then join me in my next Clean Parenting™ group!