Saturday 19 January 2019

Mammies, don't do so much - just enjoy rollercoaster ride

By trying to do it all, modern mothers put themselves under too much pressure, writes Niamh Delmar

Niamh Delmar is a counselling psychologist, mental health educator and freelance writer. Anyone who may feel in difficulty should contact their GP, PSI OR IACP for support
Niamh Delmar is a counselling psychologist, mental health educator and freelance writer. Anyone who may feel in difficulty should contact their GP, PSI OR IACP for support

Niamh Delmar

The Irish mammy of 2018 is a varied species and has evolved into a child development expert, nutritionist, educator and cyber monitor.

She is generally healthier and fitter than her predecessors and is fully equipped with a smart phone, a souped-up buggy and child-related gadgets.

These mothers appear to be enjoying life more - there's the gym, coffee mornings, play dates, purpose-built creches and indoor play areas.

Yes, the nation's daddies are more involved today with parenting - but the division of childcare and housework still tends to weigh more on the woman's side, irrespective of whether she is at home or out working. The role of mother is fundamental to the emotional and economic health of a society.

Women today take their roles very seriously, consulting psychologists, support groups, the internet and the exhaustive list of books on how to raise children. One in eight people in Ireland is living in a one-parent family with the vast majority headed by mothers. The average age of becoming a mother in Ireland is around 32, with assisted reproductive methods facilitating more births and older mothers.

But is this new breed of mother happy?

More and more women end up in therapy with me, or with other professionals in psychological distress. Most are presenting with post-natal depression, stress, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Becoming a mother can be complex. For me, it involved failed IVF treatments, miscarriages and a lengthy and intense adoption process.

Not all mothers are 'naturals' or have a real choice whether to work full-time or part-time, stay at home, outsource help or come off social welfare.

For the stay-at-home mothers, issues can arise such as lost identity, a lack of confidence, a sense of isolation, mundanity and zero headspace.

On the other side of the coin, mothers who are working may feel trapped, experience separation anxiety from their kids or feel deprived of opportunities. Mammy burn-out is a hard one to admit to. Many mothers come to me on medication prescribed to help alleviate symptoms. At the extreme end of the mothering spectrum, there are those with addictions, struggling with psychiatric disorders or domestic violence. Regular wine drinking to alleviate stress is increasingly being reported in sessions, and across the board.

Women also tend to complicate matters with perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, over-thinking, comparisons with peers and celebrity mums. The subliminal text among many social media moms is to be all and to have it all. These days Irish mammies are intensively parenting, involved with every step of their child's development. She wants her kids to be able to talk to her about everything and nurtures every interest her child is drawn to. She orchestrates it so they can experience what she may not have had as a child such as affection, the latest trend, play, hobbies, magical times or having friends.

What can help make mothering smoother?

One of the keys to becoming a happier mum is to acknowledge that each child has individual temperaments, behaviours and needs. And that mothers, too, have their own personalities, histories and coping mechanisms. Accept what your best fit really is.

For mothers working outside the home who feel overwhelmed and burnt-out, try negotiating a four-day week, job-sharing or working from home.

Mothers need to seek representation at organisational and governmental levels to push for pro-mothering working conditions. And mothers need to expect partners to value and support their role.

Another step to becoming a happier mammy is to seek professional support. Acknowledging the struggle, taking off the mask, talking it through and modifying coping skills can foster well-being. It also helps to expand your identity beyond the role of mother to prevent becoming dependent on children, or living through them.

We need to be conscious of clearing headspace for ourselves, prioritising and managing time effectively. Does the floor need to be mopped again? Is that battle with your kid really worth having?

Mothers need to accept their limits, while reflecting on what is working well as an antidote to self-abating. Showing compassion to yourself can gradually shrink your inner critic. A little empathy can mean so much to a mum, letting her know she is doing well, or offering practical help.

Getting outdoors, exercise and limiting screen time is good for mother and child. Mindfulness fosters easy-to-use methods to calm, ground and refresh oneself. Mammies often tell me that by talking, thinking less and enjoying regular guilt-free time to themselves, they become more content.

While it's healthy for both parties in a relationship to enjoy activities and outings, it fractures relationships if it is one-sided or at the expense of the next day and family life.

Women often tell me they feel like a single mum, even though they are in a relationship. Irish mammies take their roles seriously and invest so much in their children. If they sit back and enjoy the rollercoaster, they may have more fun.

Niamh Delmar is a counselling psychologist, mental health educator and freelance writer. Anyone who may feel in difficulty should contact their GP, PSI OR IACP for support

Sunday Independent

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