Reset The "Supermum" Notion
Posted by Nicola Elliott
Anya Hayes (Pilates Teacher, Writer and Author) is on a mission to reset our notion of 'Supermum'... Out with the plate spinning manics (that are dying a bit inside), and in with us real mums who are doing our best and THAT IS GOOD ENOUGH! Yay to that. Here's some great tips from her new book...
Q You don't like the term 'Supermum' - why not?
A It's not the term itself that I want to overturn, it's our interpretation of what it means to be a supermum. Supermum has connotations of "exemplary performance", of gold star perfection: no weakness, no vulnerability, of breezing effortlessly through motherhood with shiny hair, a flat tummy and smiling serene kids.Which leads us to feelings of failure if we feel like we're not measuring up to this idea, if we feel like we're failing because we're occasionally exhausted and grumpy, our kids are occasionally feral, and we sometimes go for days without washing our hair. In actual fact, simply striving for our children's welfare, safety and happiness is in itself a sign of supermum achievement. We are ALL supermums, in a messy, imperfect, slightly chaotic way!
Q Do you think we put more pressure on ourselves now than ever before? (it seems so to us!)
A Absolutely. We are under so much more pressure to be all things to all people. To be 100% partner, mother, career woman, friend, daughter. There are so many plates spinning and no recognition that this is not a realistic expectation to place on one person. No wonder we feel like we're failing at times.
Why is that?
In our modern society women have - amazingly - more opportunity to excel than previous generations have experienced before. We are reaping the benefits of the 1970s feminists in that we are gradually achieving a semblance of parity in the workplace, we are expected therefore to aim for career excellence on a level with male contemporaries, but while also still maintaining the throne of perfect mum. Without the acknowledgement that, actually, something has to give. There is still not the same explicit expectation of Dads to be excellent at both home and work, yet it is a constant question put to mums about how they balance motherhood and work, whether they are failing at one or the other.
Q You talk about therapies in the book...do you believe in practicing this before hitting breaking point? Which can be beneficial?
A Absolutely. It's exactly like becoming fit for a marathon. You wouldn't dream of not doing the training before you embark upon a physically exhausting event. Life, and particularly motherhood, offers the same types of trials as running a marathon for our mental health, but we only really see the "training" being offered once we actually "injure" ourselves and suffer from a mental illness.If we can create and foster good mental habits, practise gratitude, work on mindfulness techniques, notice internal thought patterns and unhelpful behaviours, we are more likely to be able to utilise them when we most need to. Like gradually creating a life jacket of resilience which will help if you ever hit choppy waters.
Q At NEOM we have a mantra - 'wellbeing small steps, big difference' - do you agree? why/ why not?
A Absolutely agree. Sometimes we feel like our goals are a bit overwhelming and you don't know where to begin when you just see a big mountainous goal in the distance, it's all too easy to give up when it feels like an unachievable overwhelming task.If you break it down into small steps, you set an intention to move towards the goal, like strapping on your walking boots, taking one step at a time, and before you know it you'll be halfway up the mountain and it's not half as intimidating.
Q We believe that lack of sleep, poor energy, stress and mood dips are all related - do you agree? why/ why not?
A Yes. it's a spiral of negative mood/physical lowness which makes it harder to pick yourself up once you're there. Lack of sleep is such a debilitating issue. When you're exhausted, and especially if the sleep is taken away from you by a third party (hello, children!) you feel out of control, and your coat of armour for dealing with daily stresses is removed. Everything seems more challenging when there is a lack of sleep.But we don't offer ourselves the acknowledgement that it's ok to take things easy when you are in the phase of life where small people are a chink in your wellbeing armour. We still strive to be "normal". When actually, it's ok to give yourself a break. The first step is noticing your internal dialogue in those exhausted days, and having a tool for calming the domino effect into stress and mood dip.
Q What small steps do you think can help us? What's the bedrock of wellbeing in your book?
A 1. - Breathing. The most important thing firstly is to pause, and breathe. It is the most fundamental tool in my own personal toolkit. Taking a long, slow inhale through the nose for a count of 5, allowing your abdomen to open and soften with the breath rather than breathing into your chest. Then breathe out through the mouth for a count of 8, as if you're trying to fog a window in front of you. In for 5, out for 8. Soften into the moment. Even say to yourself, "I soften into this moment" can help to calm any stressed mental chatter like soothing a bristling cat.
2. - Notice any negative thoughts running like a loop around your mind. Calm your negative thoughts by telling yourself "thoughts are not facts". Notice they are there, but don't invite them in. Sort of like noticing clouds across the sky - don't allow them to linger, gather and become storm clouds, allow them to pass gently without trying to ignore them or shoo them away.
3. - Smile. It makes you feel a bit silly, but you will fool your brain into creating fleeced endorphins if you smile, even if you least feel like it. Spread a smile on your face - even better, to yourself in the mirror, and you will soften your feelings in that moment.
4. - By the same token - it's also important to allow your challenging moments to "be". Too often we see weakness in feeling "bad" feelings and so we ignore or suppress them, and create a swirl of complementary negative feelings around it, guilt, anxiety, fear, worry... When actually, it's part of the emotional spectrum of being human. A balance of dark and light, yin and yang. Without dwelling in a negative thought loop and allowing it to spiral, imagine calmly sitting down with your challenging feeling, inviting it to be, asking it why it's here (or simply acknowledging that you are exhausted and your child has just thrown their dinner on the floor - it is normal to feel angry and at your wit's end under the circumstances). Say to yourself that these feelings are natural, normal, healthy. And ultimately that will enable it to release itself, without being suppressed.