What if the fear of your child lacking self-esteem is leading you to a response that tries to make your child feel OK by telling them they’ve done well, rather than guiding them to discover and believe that themselves? A response that helps you feel better in the moment but doesn’t build foundations of resilience for your child.
It’s easily done. And it ‘feels’ like the right response in the moment. But what if I told you that you didn’t always have to panic respond with a, “but that’s brilliant, darling” when your child clearly doesn’t think it is? How would that feel? Liberating?
We need to accept as mothers, that there will be times our children lack confidence in themselves and that our job is to teach them resilience skills and guide them, not fix it for them. To do this we need to free ourselves from using our children’s emotional ups and downs as a measure of how good a job we are doing. A good mother and a child with emotional struggles are not mutually exclusive. When we instinctively react to smooth the moment over, we're actually reacting to soothe ourselves under the illusion we're helping our children. Like a mama bear in protect mode, hearing negative words that sound destructive and damaging coming from the mouth of someone we love more than life itself, feels like facing our worst nightmares. It hurts.
Taking a moment to read the situation is a skill, but one we can all learn. And those moments of pause can reduce our parenting anxiety and support our child at the same time. Let me tell you what I mean ...
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. No doubt about it! I love the festive spirit and having taught in Primary Schools for many years, I can categorically say that the magic of Christmas never grows old. BUT ... I've noticed that over the last decade (since I had Miss Scribbler), parents are squeezing in more and more through December to maximise the Christmas 'experience'. To be honest, I wonder how much of it is for us as parents as it is for our children? Was Christmas any less magical for us when we were children? There was no elf that visited, no afternoon teas with Santa and no phone calls and videos from him either, and yet Christmas was full of magic and wonder. In fact, I think we are in danger of reducing the magic in our attempts to make Santa tangible. Perhaps there is more magic when he's left in our children's imagination?
Since becoming a mother myself, I've noticed that although I love Christmas there comes pressure. On reflection though, it's self imposed and unnecessary. The expectation I set myself to make Christmas magical for my children is almost always going to lead to disappointment, guilt or self criticism. Let's take the darn elf as an example. It all started well and was fun, but by the second year of our elf's arrival the novelty had worn off for us but not for Miss Scribbler! There have been many a night where the elf was lazy and stayed put or didn't get up to anything wild. The stress of panic story telling to counter the disappointment on our daughter's face! Every year I dream up ways we can be done with elf's visits.
There's other self inflicted pressures too. The perfect table spread on Christmas Day, the co ordinated tree decorating to match this years interior design trend, the hunt for the best toy of the year, the urge to give that goes beyond generosity and into excess.
These are the 5 myths of a magical Christmas:
It's easy to get caught up in the frenzy of the festive season, but it's important to remember that the quiet moments are memorable. The magic lies in the atmosphere you create, the time spent together and in the imagination.
Christmas. What feeling springs to mind for you as a mother when you hear the word Christmas? Excitement. Overwhelm. Somewhere in between?
Do you thrive amongst the tinsel and fake snow, or do you struggle with the pressure of making it magical for your children?
Now, Christmas 2020 feels like a whole new ball game. The big overall challenge is not knowing what it will look like. We’re waiting on the Governments of the UK to come together and set out a common approach for us all. But we can be fairly sure our children aren’t going to experience the same heights of delirium caused by numerous Christmas Parties, Discos, Afternoon Teas, Breakfasts with Santa or visits to Santa’s Grotto. Perhaps you’re feeling a little heavy hearted at the loss or compromised versions of these landmark childhood moments, especially when there are only a few precious years to soak them up. Perhaps the events of 2020 mean that on a financial level, there’s compromises to make. It pulls at the heart strings when your child writes to Santa asking for something Santa can’t afford to bring.
I was thinking about how my kids will experience Christmas this year and to begin with, it got me feeling a tad melancholy. I’ve got a ten-year-old who has reached her first year of non-believing, but a 4-year-old who has just come of age when it comes to magical Christmases. A Covid Christmas was feeling like a really subdued one.
But it absolutely doesn’t need to be. It’s a chance to create a Christmas we love. Although many mums love Christmas, it's the joy on their children's faces that makes the stress worthwhile. For mums, there's much rushing, shopping, planning, decorating and experience creating leading up to the big day. When something comes around but once a year, there's a real pressure to make it memorable for our children. But, we can really get caught up believing that some things really matter, when they don't. Perhaps the festive season of 2020 is the chance to reassess what really makes Christmas special. These are the things that I realised when pondering how this year might look:
More time focused on family and quality time together, less time faffing with table displays to impress Great Aunt Jane. More mums spending time with their children on Christmas day, rather than their cooker.
More time focused on what Christmas really means to you as a family. Less rushing and ticking off ‘must do experiences’ that usually leave you feeling stressed out and the children on a huge sugar crash. I mean, the irony of the effort to provide these experiences that usually result in parents threatening Santa’s naughty list!
More intentional shopping. Buying things loved ones want or need, rather than the rush to fill the present bag at the last minute. Less materialism. Less plastic.
I genuinely believe Christmas 2020 is a chance to reset the festive season for the better. It’s the opportunity to create memories that will really mean something to our children. Just as the first lockdown of 2020 gifted many people with time, a Christmas with 2020 restriction will gift us connection.
What if you based your accomplishment as a mother on your connection with your child?
We naturally reflect on how 'good' we are within our motherhood role, but so often we measure ourselves against a success criteria as if it’s job.
Is my child on course to read by age 5?
Have I taught my child to be well behaved all the time?
Have I provided my child with the chance for most success in life by signing them up for after school activities that cover a range of areas, including music and sport, whether they have a deep interest or not?
Am I serving at least 3 organic evening meals a week?
Am I protecting my child from negativity to ensure they are at their most happy?
Honestly, reading through these questions feels like being in a performance management meeting analysing KPIs. It’s no wonder we’re critical of ourselves! In the business world these would not be SMART targets. As mothers we are placing pressure on ourselves with unrealistic targets.
Our children are not a project for us to manage. When we hold them in our arms for the first time, we feel the sense the opportunity that lays in front of them. We envisage a successful life that we then continue to project on to them. We feel the weight of responsibility to help them achieve this vision. This vision, however, is not ours to own and focusing on it leads us to set motherhood goals that we work on as if it was a 'job'. A job we will probably be rather critical of, especially if our children don't meet the expectations we have as a consequence of our goals.
What if we focused on the relationship with our child instead? What would you look for now? How achievable do your motherhood goals become when they focus on relationship building?
Maybe you’d think about closeness, enjoyment of time together, compassion, empathy, kindness and trust.
Would you be kinder to yourself if you noticed how you and child show each other affection, or how you listened fondly as they told you about their day?
Would you recognise the safe space you give and how supportive you are, when your child comes to you upset, hurt or afraid?
Would you reframe the fact your child misses you when they are at school as a strong attachment, rather than an insecure child?
Motherhood is not a job. It’s a relationship.
Hey! I'm the founder, creator and voice of Ink and Scribbles. Sharing thoughts on child well-being and parenting that are based on my teaching and parenting experience, and NLP learning.