Family is a huge part of our personal social life, from the most intimate to the absolute strongest bonds. Keeping that life healthy and happy becomes one of the most important things to strive for. Like most parents, I’m always wondering how to manage daily situations differently. What can a parent take into consideration to have a peaceful household? To engage in more family bonding and feel like you are not doing everything wrong. Have you ever felt that way as a mother?
Being lost in motherhood as a new mom, or within blended families, the pressure to be perfect can develop anxiety, worry and stress, leaving family relationships strained. I personally have been there and wanted to get my family into a better place. To have more healthy and happier bonds, as well as grow into the best mother I can be for my own daughter, was a great motivator into discovering change. With effort put into bettering myself and in building understanding, family life has become more cohesive as a mom to a toddler and stepmom to teens. Even my husband and I have grown in our relationship. There has been one greatest discovery I cherish, that imperfections can be beautiful within the family, a safe haven for natural human flaws and the place to learn empathy in a hardened world.
So what exactly did I discover?
Take Care of You
First and foremost, the need to take care of myself, be happy with who I am and who I am becoming as a new mother is the main foundation to everything else I have learned. How Taking Care of Yourself Makes you a Better Mom by Kelly Ross, MD, FAAP advises:
“It is so easy to stop caring for yourself or to get overwhelmed. But, when you stop caring for yourself, your ability to care for your child is impacted and your ability to enjoy motherhood is impacted.”
Especially in the first year of new mommy hood, the anxiety and stress to keep up with your growing child, on top of other responsibilities, can become intensely overwhelming at times. Mindfully recognizing how important it is to take care of yourself postpartum and allow rest is vital. It wasn’t till I took daily walks out in the fresh air and allowed myself to just relax or sleep from time to time that I could work on more positive thinking for myself and my family. Opinions and criticism can also be debilitating, only if you allow them. Knowing personal strengths and true heartfelt intentions despite bad days and wrong assumptions, can build up a mother’s self esteem in what she feels is best for her children and family. Gaining better confidence can bring the best out of you as a parent and even benefits brain function for women. Confidence Boosts Women’s Spatial Skills like parking a car, any boost like that for a busy mom is a plus! After believing more in myself, I delved into growing as a person, learning different ways to react to challenges and encouraged more positive thinking.*
Be a Better Person
Another important change was accepting humility to apologize for mistakes and take responsibility. Sometimes we overlook the simple and kind act of apologizing because we are so use to one another within the immediate family, but it can be the very thing needed to alleviate tension and help bad days flow into better ones. Following through in correcting yourself as a parent can be even more important, this has been especially necessary within a step-family, where bonds are not automatically natural. ‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Heal Children’s Hurt but It Mends Relations via Science Daily comments on a study regarding apologizing and making amends:
“Restitution — some sort of active effort to make repairs after a transgression — can make the victim feel better because it may undo some of the harm, and it can repair the relationship by showing the transgressor’s commitment to it,”
I have apologized many times for being imperfect, but most importantly I have strived to learn different ways to approach difficulties and continue to grow and become more mindful as a parent. It is far from easy working on your reactions and showing more understanding when you feel you have to live up to a certain image. It can be accomplished and make a difference, I have experienced it and you can too. Self care plays a key role- as a mother or step-mother, accepting that we can grow from mistakes while continuously trying and giving our best, is proof enough in being a good mom! By doing so, we also provide a model for our young ones to take responsibility for words and actions as they mature, and most importantly, to never give up!
Burnout is a very real part of motherhood and can stem some tough and raw emotions at times. I found this article interesting, How to Give to Others Without Burning Out. As a parent it can be helpful to acknowledge and keep showing empathy despite our challenges. It can lessen the stress you carry, calm not just yourself, but an environment and show understanding towards loved ones. Emma M. Seppälä Ph.D. states:
“When you truly connect with another person who is suffering, you can actually feel empowered and energized, because you are inspired to feel compassion and empathy for that individual. Your worries stop as you become immersed in the goal to be there for another.”
This personally has been a constant work in progress, especially in reprogramming an automatic response to stressors. Dr. Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D., featured on Psychology Today, offers a great method (The PEN Method) that encourages the use of not just mindfulness but empathy when disagreements arise. I have learned to take a step back and pause, to get that few moments breather to not escalate and then remember empathy. Accepting that the current negative feelings of another is only a surface response and that underneath it all there can be a common ground.
Working on empathy is great in accepting negative feelings instead of teaching to hide them or shove them down, our children need to learn ways of mindfulness to gain an ability to reason on the positive not just the negative in their life! Finding ways to benefit myself as a mother to become more self aware and practice more understanding brings a less stressed me and provides a positive example for the rest of the family.
Create a Positive Environment
Take a negative mindset that may be growing within the family and turn it around! I believe trudging through daily complaints with your own positive voice can build a model of resilience for the family. Redirecting negative talk and helping each other find the good in a bad situation can bring positive results. As parents, we have gone through many life experiences and if we have come out a more wise individual because of them, why not teach methods we have gained along the way? Changing how I think has benefited me personally and improved my emotional well being, I also have done my own research on how we can work to turn around our children’s negative self talk and help them build more confidence, it all starts with you as the parent! Self talk and criticisms, be it towards yourself or others, is the very inner voice our children learn. It has been my goal as a mother to keep working on any negativity that shows itself from time to time, and to help encourage more positive perspectives for my family. Now, certain negative feelings are still necessary for a healthy mindset and can help us process through life difficulties, I discuss this in more detail in a previous article post. The goal is to find positive solutions and build resilience towards everyday life.
Finding ways to encourage family time and more openness to communicate is another great way to improve the home environment. This scientific article on eating together as a family gave positive results for teens. What about a game night or movie night? It is a great opportunity for all in the family to feel involved.
“‘More frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction,’ says Frank Elgar, an associate professor in the McGill University Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry.”
The weeks we have done more together as a step-family has made a difference in our family life, making conversations easier and the ability to discuss problems more calmly, creating better understanding. It is time well worth spending and encourages healthier habits for all in the family!
Parenthood has its challenges and rewards, the beautiful moments and the raw imperfect ones, with great effort we all try to make the best of family life. The lesson I have acknowledged as a parent is the need for personal growth and an ability to adapt healthier habits in the home. The greatest impact in our children’s lives does not only come from what others should or should not be doing, but in what we personally do. When difficulties arise we can model self care, responsibility, empathy and positivity to improve not only ourselves but our family relationships. Being a step-mother has been entirely humbling, and becoming a new mother a wonderful privilege, to continue growing in this adventurous life is a beautiful mindset I wish to share. Being wise is not just proving of what we know or have learned, it is truly accepting personal growth in changing any negative habits for a healthier well being. How much we can truly teach resiliency and capability to our children by doing so! What helps you as a parent? And what personal growth would benefit your own family?
*Finding support through postpartum can be a wonderful help for new mothers. Create a supportive network through family and friends or seek out professional therapy or support groups. Postpartum anxiety and depression is real and many mothers can get the support they need to be the best for their children and family.
Cover photo: Alec Mills Photography via WordPress.com