One to One Coaching

I offer free 30 minute telephone/Skype consultations for people wanting to find out more about coaching on the 'baby decision'. Email me at and assistant Laura will respond and arrange an appointment with you. Visit for more information about my coaching services.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Will I fail at being a mother ? The ideal mother & the comparison trap

Image by Photos by Mahin

Are you haunted by images of the perfect mother?  Glossy hair, successful career and endless time to make cupcakes with their children?  Or maybe you remember the time and care your own mother gave you as a child but wonder how you could ever live up to her?

In 2019, images of  mother as both the domestic goddess and successful career woman are ubiquitous.  Women are exhorted to 'lean in' and embrace both motherhood and work.  At the same time, Daily Mail headlines warn that poor mothering is responsible for everything from obesity in childhood to their children's sexist behaviour.   Along with the pressure to live up to the image of the ideal mother,  the consequences of not living up to this ideal seem to be severe.

Naomi Standen explored this in her wonderful book What Mothers Do... Even When it Looks Like Nothing .  One of the causes of a phenomena of maternal ambivalence (where mothers of babies feel ambivalent about being a mother) is the disconnection between the idealised version of motherhood that is so present in our society and the reality that it is often boring, difficult, challenging etc.  Women report a huge mixture of emotions and feelings about being a mother that often do not match this idealised version.  This is particularly acute in mothers of children of a year or under where the demands of babies and in particular the lack of sleep and sleep deprivation, often put enormous strain on mothers - both the physical strain but also the feeling of failure that one is not living up the image of beatific mother earth mother hood.

“Babies of around one year old are often active by day and wake frequently at night, for no obvious reason. Then a mother can feel desperate for sleep yet equally desperate to comfort her baby when he needs her at night. I have spoken to many mothers who have sacrificed their own sleep, waking up numerous times every night because their babies cried for them. It seems terrible that these hardworking women think of themselves as failures as a result. Surely a mother who has chosen to sacrifice her sleep deserves respect and admiration for her generous mothering.”  Naomi Standen, What Mothers Do

Many of my clients come to me expressing their belief about motherhood as a black and white polarity.  On one side is the ideal mother.  She is fulfilled, successful, calm, present for her children, able to juggle work and do the domestic chores.  One the other side, is the failing mother.  She is a mess, chaotic, not able to cope with the sleep deprivation of having a new born and, she lets her children down.

The fear of being a failure as a mother who lets her children down that can haunt women trying to make this decision.  Often I've heard from my clients that it is this fear of failure that most worries them and causes them anxiety.  When we unpick this fear and look at it closely, we find that the client often has an inner saboteur (i.e. an inner critic) that is very harsh, that is constantly encouraging the client to compare herself to the ideal mother. 

So, how can you address this fear and escape the comparison trap?

1.  Take 15 minutes to write without stopping about what your saboteur has to say about how you could never be an 'ideal mother'.  Let all the negativity out on the page.

2.  After doing this, take a moment and shut your eyes.  Imagine the saboteur in the room and then imagine you can do something to reduce it's power and silence it's voice.  Perhaps you sprinkle water on it and it shrinks.  Or you could imagine throwing it out the window!

3. Psychologists have a concept called 'the good enough mother'.  Coined by Winnicott, the 'good enough mother' has her flaws - as all humans do - but she provides good enough parenting to for her child to flourish.  What would being a good enough mother be like for you?   Write about all the ways you can imagine being a good enough mother.  If you are struggling, read up about what a good enough mother is.

If you are stuck in the comparison trap and trying to decide whether to have children or not, it's so difficult to see a way forward.  By challenging the voices of the saboteur that seeks to make us feel inadequate, we can start to break free of the trap and be able to see our decision more clearly.

We may still decide not to have children - it may not be the right thing for us but by acknowledging we don't HAVE live up to an unrealistic image of the ideal mother, we can know that we are making this decision from the best possible mental place that we can.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Swimming against the tide

'Everyone in the small town I grew up with has children.  I live in NYC now - but when ever I go back, I feel so strange.  And Christmas is always difficult - I always get an air mattress in a corner while my brother and his family get the best bedroom. It sounds like I'm being petty - but I'm not upset about the sleeping arrangements.... I feel like I'm the 'odd one out' and no one knows how I fit.  I don't think I want children ... I don't have a strong desire to have kids... but I think having children would mean that I felt more a part of the community and like everyone else.'

It can feel uncomfortable if you don't have children, particularly as you get older.  Having children is still seen as 'the norm' and for many women,  this makes the decision to have children or to not have children very challenging.  As the quote from one of the women that I interviewed for my book shows, if you don't have children, you can feel sidelined.   This is more acute depending on where you live.   Fore instance, working with several clients in France, I'm aware that French culture is extremely family focused - more so than in the UK.

Swimming against the tide generally doesn't feel good or comfortable, particularly when we aren't sure ourselves of what we want.  Even if we  have a value of  'being independent' or 'doing things differently or 'being unique', it's very challenging for to do or believe something different than most of the people around us.  This is called 'Groupthink' and it is a powerful psychological tool that is very hard to resist. 

I work with clients to explore what their reactive pattern are under stress, pressure or conflict. When we are operating in our reactive pattern, we are mostly concerned with safety.  We seek safety through approval, or control.  The easiest way to get approval from our friends, family and peers is to conform to group norms.

But there is a huge cost to conforming.  It takes energy to pretend to want the same thing as those around us and to suppress our own desires and needs.   There can also be a sense of precariousness - and a belief that your membership as part of the group will be threatened if you don't conform. But the question is, how true is this belief?  Would we really be rejected, are we really outsiders if we follow our own path?   Or is this a fear that we have - in part - created?

An exercise that I think can help is to re-look at the situation with our friendship groups when we are feeling less stressed, when we are feeling calm and centered.  When we can 'recover to our centre' - we can experience how much better we feel when we challenge our usual reactive pattern. When we centre we can feel more at home in ourselves, more confident, more able to move forward and make difficult choices, even is they mean that we are going to follow a different path than our peers.

So try this right now:

1. Take a breath.  As you breath in, imagine the breath travelling up your body from your feet and then as you exhale, imagine the breath travelling back down you body, back down to your feet.

2. Imagine that you can expand your energy so that is becomes a bubble that surrounds you.  This bubble extends about an arms length all around you.   Now imagine your worries and anxious thoughts as if they were small paper balls that someone is flicking at you.  As those paper balls land in your bubble, the energy holds them so that they are just pieces of information that you can assess and then let go of.

3.  If you are holding any tension in your shoulders or jaw, just notice that and then allow that tension to flow out of your body.

4. Think of a quality you would like more of - it could be 'calm' or 'peace' or 'lightness' or 'ease'  or any word which is a quality you think would help you at this current time.  Now how the questions 'What would it be like if I had alittle bit more of my quality [insert name of quality] in my body or being right now?'

Once you have done that, look again at the situation you are in and what it would be like if you did choose not to have children; choosing a different path than many in your peer group or community.  Is there anything different in how you are feeling about this choice now?  Do you feel that you could make this choice and still be accepted?