I’m copying this interview that my daughter Anya Hayes did about writing her book The Supermum Myth. I hope it will be interesting to all parents, mums AND dads….
Can you tell us a bit about how you came to writing The Supermum Myth?
It’s a bit of a long story of serendipity and twists and turns, but in a nutshell – I wrote a book about Pregnancy (Pregnancy: The Naked Truth), and in researching and interviewing for that it became really clear that a lot of women were feeling overwhelmed and undersupported in their lives as mums, feeling anxious and overwhelmed with guilt. I began running Mothers’ Wellness Evenings, 2-hour workshops based around Pilates/pelvic floor (obviously!) rehab, softness and releasing tension…but then we’d spend at least an hour chatting over life coaching activities and generally discussing Being Mum. And it was so clear that a room full of capable, brilliant, wonderful mums were all on some level feeling they were failing at something. So I thought, hmm, this is something that needs to be looked at. So I got together with Dr Rachel Andrew via my publisher and we created the proposal for the book. And there you have it!
We are in a time that mums are expected to be perfect, what is your go-to advice for mums who are feeling overwhelmed in this role?
Taking a pause, every time things become overwhelming either logistically (carrying babies/pushing the buggy/luging the scooter/emotional labour), and literally take a breathing pause, Deep breathing is something which is so hugely overlooked as it sounds so obvious, but it’s so crucial for mums to check in with their breath to soothe their nervous system, because it’s when we’re anxious/in fight or flight that we become so much more vulnerable to guilt/anxiety/irritability/rage/tearfulness/self doubt. We can’t think rationally in that environment, and if we can’t think rationally, we can’t have a view of what we ARE doing as opposed to being consumed by what you feel you aren’t. Gratitude lists or the 10-finger gratitude exercise, counting 10 things, the teeniest of things count such as a nice cup of tea or a lovely blue sky, this helps you to see the bigger picture and calm your flighty mind. Journalling, generally – write down and offload all the emotional labour. Not in ‘to do lists’, but in a feels list, how you’re doing in your head. Taking it out of your head onto paper lifts the heaviness and creates space for productive awareness and lightening the load.
Reframing is a powerful Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tool – where have you found this to be the most effective when applied to mums?
Challenging our internal dialogue, for me that’s the number one tool which has transformed my daily experience. The inner critic who hogs the mike. Just notice it, with curosity. Begin to track your negative automatic thoughts, and the habitual criticism that you heap onto yourself every day. Once you notice it, you can catch it, and you can begin to shift your relationship with yourself to a more positive, nurturing one. But noticing it is the start. And change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s an ongoing process. Mums need to learn not to be our biggest critic as, let’s face it, there are a million other critics out there who are happy to suggest we’re doing the wrong thing, so we need to learn to be our biggest champion at least sometimes, in the face of that.
A real challenge many ‘want to be Supermums’ come up against is clashing over parenting styles with partners who very often become “the fun dad” how can we handle these scenarios without damaging our relationships?
Yes it’s hard. Communication is key. Learning about how you both come to your parenting space – different upbringings, and the patriarchy, can simply mean that male partners have a very different view of parenting than we do. Keep the lines of communication open, and remember the magic ratio of 5:1 with your verbal interaction: 5 positive comments for every negative. This is apparently proven to be the golden number when it comes to “successful” relationships. It’s so hard to slip into only pointing out the negative, so just keep an open mind and an open heart, and keep talking about the hot spots which are making you feel rageful, but notice HOW you’re talking about them.
Your description of mothers‘being lonely but never alone” is so perfect. What can mums do to reconnect to themselves, the person they were before children and how can we nurture friendships?
Such an important thing to highlight. We’ve all felt that disconnect with who we were before….the freedoms we had, the playfulness, the lack of eyebags… I find that writing a list of things that you love, noticing the things that make you happy. Make a point of filling your day with as many things that make you feel like you: music, podcasts, a 5-minute yoga snack, connecting even in a tiny whatsapp message/voicenotes with friends. Really small but crucially regular check ins with what makes you feel like you. There’s an activity in The Supermum Myth which is writing a letter to your pre-mum self. Kind of catching up and connecting with her. Saying hello and meeting her where she is now. That’s such a valuable thing to do – and we also need to be able to grieve without guilt if there are elements of ourselves which we feel we have said goodbye to. It’s an important thing to do to be allowed to say goodbye, and feel that loss without feeling like it makes you a “bad mum” or someone who isn’t hugely grateful for what you have. Motherhood is such a complex space, and we need to be kind to ourselves for feeling mixed emotions within it.
It is not only our identity we feel we lose when we have children it is our bodies too! How can we recover our postnatal body?
Well, this is a huge question which merits more than a small answer (I’ve written an entire book about it…) but the main thing I want to say is that the “bounce back” culture is hugely toxic. Meet yourself where you are NOW. Honour the changes you’ve been through – instead of looking at the aesthetic, work on your inner strength. Go to a women’s health physio for a full pelvic floor and abdominal separation check. Work on your self compassion skills to accept the permanence of things that you can’t change: scars and stretch marks are simply your gateways into motherhood. Abdominal massage will help to moisturise and tone your skin and deep abdominals, is essential post caesarean for helping to prevent scar tissue build up, to enhance your pelvic floor function, and deepen your connection to your body. Pilates and pelvic floor work will transform your inner foundations and make you feel stronger and more in control of your emotional space: babies only get bigger so the physicality of motherhood gets more demanding not less over time, and we need to be physically strong. Who cares about being back in your pre-pregnancy jeans if you’re still wetting yourself – focus on that first, and the aesthetic as a side-effect of that, and you’re on stronger footing for an emotionally healthy recovery.
My Postnatal Pilates book comes out in March 2020 and there is a whole load of tips and exercises and advice in there. But in the meantime, download @squeezyapp and go to your GP to be referred to physio. I think we’re not honest with mums about the mojo reboot taking years, for some women it’s more about looking really closely at our relationship to our bodies rather than being angry with our bodies for not conforming to society’s aesthetic ideals. Optimise your nutrition: bone broths are the most powerful healing tool for our cells that are working their socks off to heal on very deep levels for us. Move every day: breathe, stretch, move. Speak your body’s language: drink enough water, move enough, breathe enough. Listen to your body and don’t put up with pain or pelvic floor dysfunction such as incontinence, as you’re basically telling your body it doesn’t matter and isn’t worthy of healing. It is. You are. Those are the most basic and most important elements for a full recovery, in mind, body and spirit.