Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Raising Girls

When my first was born I was told I had a girl. I remember that intense feeling of joy that you get when you don't know whether to laugh or cry, its just so big you can't really contain it. They handed me the most miraculous thing I had ever created. A real live tiny baby human girl.

These days it's pretty common to feel a bit scared for our children futures, with all the tourmoil that is happening in the world combined with the seemingly inevitable trends that are detrimental to our children's development. But after watching Oprah's empowerment speech from the Golden Globes, I was reminded of all the ways that our children have an advantage, the movement toward greater gender equality - bringing new hope taking place for girls (and boys) today, counteracting the uncertainty for future generations.

For as long as I remember having any opinion, this has been a passionate subject for me. I revelled in the idea of proving my abilities to debunk others attitudes about the limitations that being a girl might bring. I was raised in a family that nurtured all my ambitions and never once received the message that I couldn't do anything I wanted, especially because I was a girl. Sports became my thing and I was given every opportunity that my brothers had (if not more, in lieu of my growing passion) In fact it was encouraged, at age nine, when my mother, with the help of a five dollar bill, encouraged me to join my brother's hockey team, the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the sport. I grew up playing on the boys teams right through midget. At 5'4" & 125 lbs you can imagine the reservations my parents had watching me face off against guys twice my size and weight in a contact sport, but they let me choose and I chose to persevere. Looking back I admit I was in over my head at times, and am quite lucky I never broke a bone, for the amount I got knocked around. My hometown team as supportive, I was treated no differently than the rest of the team. The attitude from other teams was different, but the backlash I received only drove me to work harder.  To this day I still feel I am capable of doing anything I choose to pursue if I want it bad enough, and I can use my strengths as a woman to my advantage in this pursuit.

This is the attitude I want to instil into my girls (as well as my son), especially in a world that is so often sending messages that are contradictory. I take raising my girls especially seriously and am careful about the messages I relay, especially when it comes to my own insecurities. It's a challenge and sometimes I fail. Last week, in a amped up argument with Lucy about what she was wearing to school, I regretfully said something that contradicted the very message I hope to relay to my children. After unsuccessfully trying three pairs of pants on, I claimed they were probably too tight because she eats too much candy. As I heard the words come out of my mouth I felt like they were coming from someone who was not me and instantly regretted what I just said. As a kindergartener the size of her body isn't largely influential on her sense of self (yet), so I feel that this comment didn't have the impact it potentially could have had if she were older or someone else. But as my girls transition through an age where they are becoming more and more influenced by the external world I have more responsibility to teach them to own their own attitudes about their bodies and sense of selfs, and  messages I send to them must be concentrated in positive affluence to counteract the negative influence of the world around us. After this remark, I feel I have some making up to do, and will do my damndest to model this self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion that I am working so hard to learn at 35 years old to my girls as they grow. To stress that it takes all shapes and sizes and kinds of people to make the world and that we all matter. To love and celebrate myself and my children for who they are at the core, their authenticity, their individuality and the strength of their will, even on days that this very thing makes my job so much harder.

One way I can do this is through the lens. I love the challenge of capturing the true personalities of my kids on camera. They've become accustomed to just continue with what they are doing when I bring out the camera. I want to portray them as their naturally, just doing what they do, doing what they love. I want to show them the value and beauty in who they are. These types of photos, where their personalities really shine, have become my strongest storytelling images.

Yesterday I received a highly anticipated book called Strong is the New Pretty. If you are familiar with this book you can imagine my excitement. It is a collection of photographs of girls doing their thing, showing strength and authenticuty through their passions, each paired with a quote from the girl in the picture. They are captured by Professional Photographer Kate T Parker, also a mother of two young girls. I admire her work greatly, as well as the way she raises her girls and the message she is portraying through her project. It falls perfectly in line with my values and all I discussed above. I wanted this book not only for inspiration as a mother and photographer, but also as inspiration for the rest of my family. However, I didn't anticipate the potential ability it had to strengthen the bond between my girls and I, through a shared experience of becoming inspired, which was realized the moment I sat down with Scarlett and started reading. I got that similar choked up feeling I had received the day she was born, in realizing the opportunity this book was creating in relaying the very messages to my daughters that I wanted to through these photographs and quotes. Scarlett sat attentively and asked about the words she didn't understand. This has become a tool for opening up this discussion of many life topics, including dreams, resilience, perseverance, individuality etc., something I realized I was previously struggling to make time or find moments to do. We read the first five chapters in one sitting. She continued to navigate her way through the book when I got up to resume my many responsibilities that go with being mom. Seeing this left me very happy.

Side Note: Another lesson came out of this moment for me. I often feel guilty for not spending enough time doing things with my children. I will sometimes resent having to do things I do not enjoy or when it is inconvenient to do so. Then I feel guilty about not wanting to spend more quality time with them. Sitting down with this book and reading it with Scarlett brought me a lot of joy. It occurred to me that I have choices in what activities I do with my kids and if I choose things I want to do or that serve a greater purpose for me, I will enjoy them more and we will all get a greater sense of fulfillment through our time spent together.

Since receiving this book I've been inspired to gather my favourite images that show the strength and true nature of my girls into a collection. Here is just a sample...



Saturday, 13 January 2018

Learning to Feel

I feel deeply. This is something that has been said to me a handful of times by different people in the last year. It's not that I didn't know or believe this, but I had a hard time understanding what that meant, relative to other people and how they feel. I can only know the capacity to which I feel and can only speculate the capacity to other's peoples experience based on how much of what they feel they actually express. However, the more I understand my emotional needs, the more I understand what this means for me and the less it becomes relevant to others experiences.

Growing up I cried a lot. It wasn't very favourable for people around me and I was criticized a lot for being a 'big baby.' Life didn't feel fair most of the time. Crying and pouting was the only way I knew how to express that. As I grew older and acutely aware of how this affected how I was perceived, I worked hard to keep my feelings from being seen, as many of us learn to do. In Grade 7, the year I gave into more peer pressure than I did the rest of my teen years, I adhered to a friend's request (or bribe, possibly) to go shove a friend who she was mad at. So I did. I don't know why I did, but I did, and she pushed me back, I hit my head on the desk and cried in front of the Grade 7/8 class. My sister came home that day telling me how humiliating it was to hear her sister balled like a baby at school. I was really embarrassed. I secretly vowed to never cry in front of anyone again. With one or two exceptions, I kept to my word until through the rest of high school. To this day I've mastered the skill of holding myself together when it is required and still have difficulty crying in front of others. That was the first time I consciously started to bury my feelings. Sadness, anxiousness, joy, excitement and all the ones between.

The summer of 2016, approximately six months after I lost my friend Chanda and her family in a tragic car accident I started to notice my emotions surfacing at a new intensity. Feelings that were unfamiliar too. It didn't feel like a choice, but rather something that was happening to me. This brought on a feeling of being out of control and consequently anxiety. I later asked my therapist what can cause this and he gave me three theories:

1) Grief - 
2) Repressed feelings - 
3) Open to change - 

Looking at this list, I really had no chance in keeping my emotions down. I thought this new way of feeling would be a phase, the intensity something that would stave off and I would feel somewhat 'normal' again soon. But this has become my new normal and a year and a half later I am still adjusting to this intensified state of feeling, still struggling daily to figure out how to handle the amplitude of my emotions. I am in constant need of reminding myself that I am uncovering 35 years of repressed feelings and cannot expect to 'fix' it overnight.

After talking to a few people about this, as I suspected, I've realized this is an experience unique to me, to this time in my life. I am sure there are others who have gone through something similar but I've come to the conclusion it is not very common (that or people just don't talk about it). It has taken some work to understand that this doesn't make it wrong or made up, it is just my journey and I have to learn the best way to handle it for myself.

One of the hardest feelings to get a handle on is this anticipatory feeling of joy or excitement. It makes me nervous. For the most part, the low feelings weren't new to me, I've become pretty accustomed to them over the years (yet still aren't easy to deal with) but the highs are new and intense; fleeting, yet euphoric in nature. When I feel really happy I am riding high on my cloud, but I can't help but fear its mortality. I forebode it, anticipating the crash that is bound to follow, as if planning for it will make the landing softer. I almost always fall off my cloud. Fearing it only makes me fall harder. It comes with a sense of failure, frustration & disappointment. However, allowing this fall to be part of the process actually softens the blow. It is constant learning experience. The more I accept the place I am in the less time I spend getting up and dusting myself off.

Most of my therapy appointments are spent talking about how to deal with my emotions; labeling, investigating what they are asking for and trying to provide that for them. To an extent this is a natural process for me and something I started before I started therapy. But now more than ever, I find it a really difficult  process, especially since my sister passed away. Grief has a way of clumping all my emotions into a ball, and untangling the strings can be a frustrating process. Experiencing new emotions at new intensities, can make it difficult to even label them, which is the prerequisite for all the other work required. It takes great concentration and a quiet space to do this. But I've learned it is a necessary part of my well-being. I know this because when I neglect to do this, it shows up through  tension in my body, my body takes on these emotions, building up and becoming congested, often blocking my concentration, affecting my level of functioning. The minute I start to get irritable or critical is the moment I know I need a time-out. This is where I turn the lights out, lay down & do my work. Sometimes it involves asking myself what I am feeling. I start listing feelings that come to mind and the ones that elicit an emotional response within are the ones I dig into. This often starts a chain of insight into the processes that are lurking beneath the surface and more than not results in a cathartic experience, a release. I've never cried so much in my life as I have in the last six months, but I see it as an integral part of improving my mental health. Contradictory to what the world told me most of my life, crying is no longer something to be ashamed of but necessary in well-being, and even, believe it or not, a sign of courage. Sometimes when I don't feel like putting the effort in or don't have the energy to investigate I will listen to music or a meditation. Regardless, I almost always get up feeling a sense of relief, tension lifted. I often feel guilty for spending so much time on myself, but I must remain cognizant of the way this work creates a better balance which helps to improve the quality of my interactions with those around me.

Learning to feel has been one of my main focuses in my inner work. I've gone from a tough love approach to validating my feelings and it has been life changing for me. Don't get me wrong, this way is a hell of a lot more work, more than I ever imagined it would be. But hard work isn't new to me and when I can see it pay off, that is the biggest reward. It is motivated, not only by the desire to improve my quality of life, but also my want to do my best as a parent. In teaching my children these skills as they grow up, hopefully they aren't faced with such a great challenge of learning how to deal with their emotions for (what feels like) the first time as adults too.  Especially my Lucy, sensitive in nature, her emotions are bigger than five year old body and already one of her greatest daily challenges. I need to constantly remind myself to (appropriately) allow my children to see what is going on with me, and model how I deal with it. For most of my life it didn't feel safe to talk about my feelings, to express them the way I needed to. But I've been blessed with a handful of people in my life who have recently held space for me to do so and by talking it out it helps me to better understand my process. As a mother I feel it is my job to provide a safe place for my children to do so, through talking about our feelings together and teaching them that whatever they feel is ok, valid. This is hard to do, when you throw in all the other factors into play, but recently has become a major priority in my daily parenting.

Sometimes I get resentful at the complicated chaotic matter I seem to be made up of, that being a deep feeler currently requires so much work to keep my head above water. Yet, I must not ignore the beauty of my sensitivity either, the depths to my experiences that others may never have the capacity to feel, and the vast potential that this gift has to offer for those in my presence. Living in my truth involves accepting the whole of who I am, deep feelings and all.


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Baker Photographix

Monday, 8 January 2018

People are Kind

Today started out as one of those 'I just want to curl up and stay in bed and not talk to anyone all day' kind of days. But the crumbs of something I had recently read about how it never pays to stay small must have been lingering, so I dragged my hardly-put-together self and the little guy to the grocery store upon my husband's request. On good days I have had some of my favourite encounters with strangers at the grocery store, but today I wasn't into making anyone else's day, I was just getting the job done, dragging my feet in the process. An hour later my cart was full of strategically stacked groceries, carefully in a tower, so I proceeded to the checkout, feeling some relief in the idea of going home.

The woman behind me in line, about my age, had two young kids who were constantly demanding her attention, while Archer sat quietly observing his surroundings. As I packed up I secretly admired her patience in juggling the tasks of unloading her food, keeping her toddler from jumping the cart and responding to the chain of questions and statements that come with having a preschooler. As she started to load up I noticed we were packing our groceries into the same brand of tote and I thought about commenting on her taste, but voted against it as I didn't feel much like making small talk. We kept to ourselves and she finished before I did, loaded her kids and started to go, but then came back. She asked if I wanted any help loading up. I gracefully declined and said something to the extent of "Oh, I'm good. I only have one kid here today, but thank you." This gesture caught me off guard, surprised at the thought that I was the one who needed a hand when she had her hands more full with an extra kid, and got to wondering what it was that inspired this offer. Maybe it was the worn out expression on my face or my withdrawn disposition that she saw and related to days like this? Or the brief moments of eye contact made a couple times in the isles as we passed one another, relaying a sense of understanding for this messy-young-family phase in our lives? Or maybe she caught a change in mood when at the till I was interrupted with a phone call from the Kamloops RCMP with questions regarding the estate of my sister (who passed away 7 months ago). Or maybe it was simply that we were both wearing toques. I can't say for sure. But I'm convinced whatever motivated her to go out of her way to offer help to me, even with her hands full, stemmed from a perfect combination of intuition and empathy. I thought about this gesture all the way home, its simplicity and the impact it had on me, lifting me from the depths of 'Jessland' into this blog post.

It turns out I didn't need the help packing up, but I did need the offer. It was the little boost that I needed to release me from the spiral of self-loathing, so I could get on a little better with my day. It was a renewed reminder of the goodness of people, on a day I when I was swallowed by habits of self-defeat and dwelling on my relationship struggles - a switch in focus. I started to recall other incidents I've had in the store that left me feeling impacted. Like, for example, a couple months ago when a lady I didn't know complimented the way I looked (apparently I was having a more put-together day that time) during a time I was contemplating/doubting my style, and it really boosted my confidence in my wardrobe choices and self-presentation.

These acts make me want to do better. Better for myself and better for others. They remind me to pay attention to that little voice nudging me to connect with that person beside me. You never know what's going on in someone else's world, or how badly they might need a little kindness in their day. A gesture you may feel is ordinary could be the very thing that prevents them from going home and crawling into bed for the rest of the day. It could be the thing that inspires them to do something randomly good for someone else when that person needs it most. Even the smallest of impacts can lead to a ripple of kind-doing, with an incredible potential to create lasting impactful experiences. And then, in the accumulation of all the little moments of goodness, the world becomes a better place for everyone.


Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017, Conquered

As we finish up the last day of 2017, I'm surrounded by noise of flying nerf gun bullets, little feet  running and jumping, little voices squealing and laughing. It is the energy of being cooped up in the house for the last few days because the outside world is in the state of an icebox and our van battery stopped working. Despite the excited chaos I'm in a bit of a hazy oblivion. It's what I call a big feeling day. When I think about this year I get a sense of overwhelm, with all that has gone on. Not a bad overwhelm, just a dizzy attempt to sum it all up in a single thought or theme, or even in a single blog post. One year ago seems like an eternity and I feel like I've grown to become a different me inside.

A year ago I was in a very different state of mind than today. I had little good to say about 2016 and you could probably say the same thing about how I felt about myself. My depression had hit a new low, and anxiety had recently introduced itself to me, pitting in for the long haul. I retreated within, as the thought of leaving my house, even my bed at times, was overbearing. We almost skipped the family Christmas because of an argument centred around my state of emotion. It was then that I realized the impact this was having on my family, which lead me to reach out to a friend for help one January day, and spurred into a series of revelations about ways I was getting in my own way of being happy. In the beginning I had no idea of the amplitude of what was in store. In the following months, through conversations with friends, books, music, therapy, inner dialogue, art and writing, my insight snowballed into and ongoing project of inner reconstruction of self-worth.

It turns out there's no handbook for learning to love yourself, facing your fears or overcoming perfectionism. Everybody's journey is different, mine is no exception, one I have to figure out for my own. It became a frustrating ride of ups and downs like I'd never experienced before. Progress and regression, forward and backward. I felt lost in my inability to see an end, and knowing I couldn't go back to that familiar place that I started, I felt as if I was floating in the complex uncertainty of a new identity, immersed in the vulnerability of exploring my truth creating an ever-present feeling of being out of control, and thus anxiety. For someone who knew all four corners of her security blanket well, I was so far out of the comfort of what was familiar. I wanted to give in many times and go back to somewhere safe. But it seemed this path chose me and I had no choice but to just press on with my best effort.

What I thought would take weeks, turned into months, and eventually a year of intense inner work, and I came to the realization that this journey has no end, only checkpoints, and perhaps the biggest challenge is in learning accept who and what I am where I am. Only in the last couple months had I finally felt I like had landed and for the first time, feeling grounded enough to finally settle in the place I was in for a while and take a rest, knowing well I still have a long way to go, but for the first time confident that I was headed in the right direction. Peace of mind.

I can say with conviction that 2017 was the most challenging year of my life. I faced an ongoing battle with depression and anxiety, opened myself to new emotions at an intensity I've never felt before, dove into unfamiliar waters of self-discovery, faced a loss of a loved one greater than I have ever known (to name a few) all while facing the daily challenges of raising three children full-time at home. Being so inwardly focused has taken a toll on many of my relationships, as I have had less to offer the world outside of myself. But in the midst of these challenges, I've been granted many rewards: deeper connections with friends, emotional resilience, self-understanding and validation, stronger bonds with my children, and a newfound friend in myself. I am still hit with regular bouts of doubt, frustration, self-criticism, fear, regression and depression, but they come with less impact and don't stay as long as they used to. I'm starting to come to a clarity that will allow me to share my challenges and growth with others and hopefully bring a sense of belonging or comfort for others though this offering. Looking back, as I map out this journey I've been on I feel pretty good about my year, feeling a pretty big sense of accomplishment in my progress and a renewed optomism in my ability to handle whatever the future throws my way.

Friday, 29 December 2017

January 2nd

It's the time of year where traditionally I would gather a collection of little gifts to send to my sister for her birthday. I would include a few gifts from me, some homemade and some bought especially for her. I would include some second hand stuff that I figured she could use and I would include something my daughters made. I would throw in some photos of my family as well. I would collect from mom and anyone else who wanted to send anything. Sometimes I would include a video of all the nieces and nephews, or messages from family members. And I would package it all into one box and mail it to her, hoping it arrives in time for her birthday. Usually I would address it to whatever facility she is staying in, as it was almost always a given she would be in the hospital this time of year. I'd send it knowing well that there was a good chance she wouldn't keep it...she was notorious for eventually losing, breaking, disposing of or giving away most of her possessions. It became more about the thought of the gift. The satisfaction it would bring her to receive this package. The excitement that would bring out the child in her. This thought would bring me back to our childhood days and how the anticipation of opening presents at Christmas was just too much, so she would carefully unwrap or poke a hole in the gift to sneak a peak and then cleverly wrap it back up so that no one would know.

This year I have no parcel to send, nowhere to send it, no sister to send it to. This notion creates a void filled only with pain. A tradition of giving I have no choice but to give up. At least, I tell myself, we are no longer ridden of the worry that accompanies this time of year, aware of her suffering or anticipating the news of her landing in the hospital after a traumatic schizophrenic episode. Her pain is no longer hers, it is now ours as we - her loved ones - carry it in the burden of her absence, her suffering dispersed amongst each one of us to hold. We no longer worry, but we cry for our loss instead. The thought that there will be no phone call on her birthday, expressing her appreciation for the gifts or wishing me to wish her a happy birthday, strikes grief. I can no longer picture her opening this package, sharing it with her hospital family, and receiving the message that she is being thought of, she is important, she is loved.  All we have left behind are the few things she held onto from last year's gift, the photos from the memories of our time together, the paintings she created throughout the years. These things help us to appreciate all she was, but they will never replace what we've lost.

January 2nd marks her 38th birthday. I anticipate this to be a difficult day for me & my family. This will no longer be the day she calls, it has now become the anniversary of our last conversation. The last time I saw her was six months prior to that, and during that period I had been holding onto some resentment which had resulted from a tense conversation left unresolved from our visit last summer. I felt frustrated in her refusal to accept me for who I am, my beliefs, my practices, my parenting, as I felt all I ever did was support her unconditionally. When she called me on her birthday she was very manic and emotional and, as our phone conversations usually went, I could hardly get a word in. She became very expressive. She apologetically brought up the conversation and I was able to confront the reason behind my frustrations. Despite her state, I felt heard and validated, and I was able to let go of the resentment I had been holding onto. This was liberating. She told me that all I ever do is love and accept others unconditionally and expressed how pure my love is. This was a part of myself I struggled to show the world, but she somehow saw it anyway. She always had a way to find another's beauty, no matter how hard they tried to hide it. She told me that she knew I was a very spiritual person, something I am only recently starting to discover, but she knew it then. This conversation left me feeling a lot of things, but the one I remember the most after hanging up the phone, is that I felt understood. This was such a rare feeling for me.

This Christmas my mother crocheted a doll modelled after my sister and gave it to my daughter. This is my most favourite Christmas gift of all, even if it wasn't for me. She wears a nose ring and comes with a frog and the same hat & hair Niki wore when the two of us stayed with her in Kamloops. Scarlett seems to understand how special it is. I've noticed she handles it very differently than her other toys, cradling it carefully as she carries it and gently sets it down with care as if it were alive. Scarlett perhaps is the luckiest of us. Her memories include only good stuff from their time together: Niki's kindness, her inner child, her gentle soul, their shared connection with one another and with nature. These are the memories that she carries around so preciously through this doll.

As I notice the care Scarlett takes in carrying her memory doll from room to room, it occurs to me there is something I can take from this. Perhaps that feeling of being understood that resulted from my final conversation with my sister is a memory worth placing ever so carefully in the crook of my arm and carrying it with me to all the places I go.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

A Teachable Moment

Do you ever have those parenting moment so when your child says something that stops you mid-discussion & makes you realize that you don't really know what the hell you are doing? I know you do, we all do. Today I had one of those moments. In fact I've been having more & more of them as my children get older, they challenge me as a mom & my thinking in ways I never know they were capable of.

The girls have been fighting ALOT lately & I often find myself unsure of how to handle it, so I go to my automatic responses without really thinking about it, usually facing a sea self-doubt. It usually results in one of them coming to me, tattling on the other & me contemplating whether it is worth intervening & proceeding from there. Today Lucy came to me with a complaint that Scarlett pushed her & she fell & hit her head. I called Scarlett up to discuss, learnt the other side of the story& deemed them both guilty parties. So I concluded the fairest way to settle it would be by having them apologize to each other & move on. Sounds pretty simple, right? After Lucy's somewhat genuine apology, Scarlett snarled "I'm sorry" with that six-going-on-thirteen attitude that she's perfected as of late. I 'told' her to say it like she meant it, & she offered a half-hearted obligatory apology to suffice. Then she turned to me & said, "You shouldn't make someone say they are sorry." I felt my guard creep up and asked, "Oh? Why's that?" "Because it doesn't come from the heart." Floored. I knew she was right but all I could do to reply was mumble something about manners & how she should try harder to feel sorry then. I'm sure this could have been a great teaching moment. I'm sure there were a dozen or alternate responses that would have been better choices. My parenting abilities had been challenged by my six year old.  I took the  shame I felt for myself & redirected it towards her.  Not my proudest parenting moment.

So fast forward to the end of the day, the kids are in a deep sleep & the husband is on night shift. I find myself reflecting on this incident & feeling pretty crummy how it all went down. When confronted, I struggle with responding & find myself frozen in place when I don't know how to handle a situation. Looking for help, I turn to the internet for answers (my critical awareness goggles in tact) & am seeing some consistency in answers to my search: forcing your child apologize. Ok in retrospect, I realize this wording is going to lead to some one sided results, but I guess I was seeking some alternative solutions for my situation. The one that struck me most, & most fitting in the current direction I am striving toward as a parent, was to model apology for your children. I am coming to understand that the most important & effective way to raise our children is to model within ourselves the values we want to teach them. Or as Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly (which, coincidently, I just finished reading today), 'to be the adults we want our children to grow up to be.'

So I'm still not really sure exactly how I should have responded to my child's statement but I think it has something to do with admitting that she was right & that I should have handled it differently (I guess I mean with an apology?) And perhaps involving the two of them in a brainstorming session about how we can do it differently in the future (empathy). Maybe this is a discussion to extend into tomorrow. As for today...I suppose this teachable moment was actually meant for me.



 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Self-Compassion

So I've been exploring the idea of self-compassion lately. It seems like such a simple concept & makes me wonder why it is something that I need to work at, since it fits in with the way I want to see the world. But I've been living a life somewhat contradictory to self-compassionate. This new venture started when I began to recognize ways my habits & perspective were getting in the way of my own happiness. Understanding that the constant criticism I put on myself was not making me strive to be better, but only knocking me over, again & again. I imagine this as an invisible wall that will only allow me to go so far in my potential. I can see past the wall but I can't seem to get through it.

This becomes pretty evident when I look back at my achievements. If I were to list them on paper, compared to average, they are pretty impressing. But in my head, this lingering sense of 'never good enough' clings to these accomplishments. And I realized that it didn't matter how successful I became in any area of life I never felt like it was enough, which would lead to a constant frustrated state, wondering if ever feeling good enough was even possible for me.

Motherhood has Really highlighted this attitude & how it affects me. In a conversation with a friend a couple months ago I was expressing my frustrations of my inability to handle the every day stuff, when I was told that I had been disregarding the life I had worked hard to build up to that point & was only focusing on what was going wrong. This perspective was clouding my judgement on myself as a mother, and it didn't seem to matter how many times I had been told I was an exceptional mother by my loved ones, I never could believe it for myself. I realized that this had less to do with my parenting abilities & more to do with the way I saw myself. I realized that it was me that had to change inside if I wanted to find a happier life. And it had something to do with self-love. This is where self-compassion comes in, something that  I've learnt is a very important factor in practicing self-love.

It was a concept I had started to form in my own mind, when I came across the works of Brene Brown, & through one of her books was led to a website called Self-compassion.org, which I have only just started to explore. It has meditations that have helped me to calm my mind on sleepless nights & inspiring videos explaining what self-compassion is & why it is important. It has become an important tool in my every day to recognizing how critical I can be with myself & how the negative self-talk affects my emotions, thoughts & behaviour.

This was put to a small test a couple days ago. Our oldest was at school & I was out running errands with my husband &  two youngest. After loading the groceries & the yelling baby into the van, my husband says "Oh yeah, we have to be home in time for Scarlett. What time is it." Instant regret & panic simultaneously rushed over me when I looked at my phone to see it was 3:48. To make matters worse, it was an early dismissal day, so Scarlett had been out of school for over an hour. She would have walked home from school to find the door locked & nobody home...

I immediately called the neighbours to see if she had gone next door, a plan we had made when she started walking home on her own. Thankfully she had, she was safe & in good hands. My inner-critic immediately went to shaming thoughts of 'I'm a terrible mother' & feelings of inadequacy. My husband, in the drivers seat beside me, who has not been 'blessed' with tendency towards perfectionism, was calmly contemplating whether she would be upset or not. And even though we were equally responsible for this mishap, I could tell he wasn't facing the same inner-battle as I had been so I decided to give his approach a shot. Instead of talking to myself about what a mistake I had made (which it was simply that, a mistake) I thought about how I would speak to a good friend if this happened to them (or what my friends might say to me) & started telling myself this is something that jus took about anyone could see themselves doing & everyone makes mistakes. I took it a notch further & started explaining out loud to my husband the inner struggle I was facing & how I was working on it. He pointed out that I did a great thing by talking to her about what to do in this situation in advance & she followed through. I went from being a terrible mom to a great mom in a mere five minutes. By the time we got home I was able to laugh about the situation. In fact I even  forgot about most of the day except when someone would crack a joke about it.  Had I not taken this approach I would probably still be beating myself up for it 3 days later. In the end, everyone was ok, intact, probably a little better for it.

Changing self-talk habits took a lot of energy at first, as I found myself circling back to old ways of self-sabitoge, but the more I practice, the more I see how effective it is & the more automatic it becomes. Most of all it has allowed me to let go of many the unrealistic expectations of the perfectionist in me & the pressure that comes with it. Although it takes a lot of deliberation, this 'I am good enough' state of mind feels quite liberating. Don't get me wrong, I still go back to those old habits, and I think it is pretty human to do so. And I'll even admit there is that little part of me that is afraid to let go of those expectations in the fear that I might settle for mediocracy. But what I do know is my old way of thinking was anything but liberating. So I am working at finding that balance between healthy expectations & reprieve, the most nurturing environment for self-compassion to thrive in.  I really do think being kind to oneself is so important in fulfillment, but in reality it can be a real challenge, especially in a culture that counteract the value of it in so many ways. Especially for those of us that have spent years being so critical of ourselves. But it takes mindfulness, intention & effort, which I believe will be totally worth it in the end.