This has been an incredibly hard pandemic for mothers.
...Yes, it's been hard for so many. Yes, other people have it worse than you. Yes, you're lucky in so many ways...
But today we're not going to shrug off how hard it has been for us. We're going to take a moment to appreciate the unsung efforts of mothers. To appreciate you and all you've done. Yes, you.
What you've survived. What you've achieved despite so many odds being stacked against you. What you're continuing to achieve every day.
This week, I read an article by Natasha Walter that highlighted how much more of the weight of this pandemic has been carried by us mothers. It spoke about the unfairness and inequality of the childcare workload - especially this time around - and the fact that the powers-that-be don't value what we do, or take our daily realities into account when they make decisions. It acknowledged the painful truth that so many mothers have put our families first during the pandemic - because that's what we can be relied on to do - at the expense of our own dreams, careers and sanity.
...Yup, pretty depressing reading...! And yet, it was surprisingly powerful to see it all written out in black and white. To see the evidence of how it has been for so many of us - and why. To see that we're not imagining this strain. Or somehow failing because it's hard.
Let's stop to notice all you've managed and somehow found a way through over the past year. Let's witness your strength. Your creativity. Your persistence. Your resilience. Your moments of genius.
In the last 12 months, you've done things that you would previously have thought impossible. You've had days when you thought you couldn't go on, and yet... you're still here. You've found a way to keep your family fed and nourished, even when the thought of cooking yet another meal made you want to scream. You've created a home in which to survive lockdown - however chaotic it may have been.
It's been so hard to witness the toll that the pandemic has taken on the kids - on your family - and yet you've been there for them when they needed you. You've felt their pain and struggle, taken the punches when they came, soothed their anxiety, encouraged them forward, and learnt from each others' mistakes. Even when it took every last ounce of strength you had left not to lose the plot.
And sometimes you did lose the plot. But when you did, you recovered - somehow. You picked up all the pieces, put yourself back together, and carried on… Sometimes you even managed to reach out and ask for help, one of the most courageous acts there is.
And in spite of all the personal challenges you've faced, you've continued to support friends, family, your community - in whatever way you could. Even if that support didn't feel like much, or enough - it was. Whether it was sending a text message, or collecting someone's favourite biscuits, it mattered. It helped. You made a difference.
Maybe your job was being a full time mother, and that was all-consuming. Maybe you were attempting to hold down another job through all of this too. Maybe more than one job. Maybe your job was directly affected by COVID, or meant that you couldn't be with your family.
And as for home "schooling"... whether you were bringing up a babe in arms without baby groups or relatives; managing toddlers without playmates and a moment of respite; trying to get a scared child to sleep; attempting to get a child out the house for exercise; or navigating the frustrating world of online learning, you tried.
You came up with new ideas. New strategies. You found new powers of persuasion. A nd when that didn't work, acceptance.
You did what you could.
It may not have felt like it, but that was enough too. Because the truth is, it was impossible to juggle the responsibilities of parenting "successfully" with the rest of life's pressures.
You couldn't have done more.
It's an exhausting list to read. And it isn't even exhaustive. There are many more things that you've survived, achieved, and found a way through in the past 12 months than we've listed here.
Can you take a few minutes now to bring some of those moments to mind? You could quickly write them down - a list to read when you next need a boost.
A time when you were there for your child. When you won the fight and made it out of the house. When you helped someone. When you asked for help. When you managed to get a task done despite impossible odds. When you somehow managed to find the good in a bad day. When you got back up off the floor. When you found compassion for yourself or others.
In any other year, we'd be handing out medals for this kind of resilient magnificence. And you would be top of the list. Instead, you've been so busy getting on with it, that there's been no time to notice how much you've adjusted to, all the impossible things you've made work, and the many challenges you've moved through.
...Actually, clearly we need medals. I'm going to make some and come back to writing this in a minute...
Tadah! Introducing the UTTERLY EPIC MAMA AWARDS. Feel free to choose whichever awards you deserve (probably all of them...) from the selection below, and use the big blank one to add your own. Click on the images below to download them, or just take a screen grab. Then print them to display or wear with pride...!
I thought making these awards might be a lovely family moment at the end of the day's home-schooling... so I asked the kids what I should get an award for. They couldn't think of anything. Undeterred, I came up with my own list.
When I shared them with the kids, my son told me I didn't deserve any of them (he was joking, he's nearly 13 after all...). My daughter told me I deserved all of them - and an award for making awards. Then, as I was making myself a huge award badge to photograph for your amusement, she decided that I needed an actual award ceremony and proceeded to present me with the award. The nearly teenager even joined in. We had a hug and everything.
If you have a go at making and giving yourself a lockdown award too, with or without your kids, I'd love to see any photographic evidence!
Learning to be kinder to yourself
So much of what I've created at Story of Mum, and now at Sea Soul Blessings, has been about encouraging you to value what you do, and to be kinder to yourself.
That's because, as someone who has struggled with a loud inner critic for, erm, only about my first 40+ years of my life..., the journey towards finally finding self compassion has had a profound impact on me. I'm always looking for new ways to share those practices with others. So over at Sea Soul Blessings, I've been offering a monthly subscription called A Year of Sea and Kindness.
This month, our focus is "may you feel compassion". We'll be looking at some of the self compassion practices that have changed my life for the better. And I'll be sharing all sorts of simple tools for being kinder to yourself - and to others. This month's digital subscription includes:
- a soothing sea meditation (video and audio versions), including a simple but powerful self compassion practice you can use straight away.
- a printable Sea Soul Journal full of activities and prompts to inspire you to make time to pause and reflect.
- two emails to encourage you along, looking at being kinder to ourselves from different perspectives.
- a Sea Screen Kit (6 screen-savers to bring the sea and kindness to your devices).
- my pocket e-book to guide you to find more self compassion in and around the sea: "Self Compassion and the Sea”.
If you sign up for the full subscription, you'll also get this lovely 'may you feel compassion" postcard print below by mail - a visual reminder to be kind in difficult moments.
If you have questions or need some extra encouragement as the month progresses, we can exchange emails as you go along.
Because I want to make it accessible to you whatever your current financial circumstances, the bursary price of the digital subscription is just £7. (If finances aren't tricky for you right now, you can pay £14 or £24 for the same materials).
If you'd like to include the postcard print too, the bursary price for the full subscription is £9 (or £19 or £29). You'll get the same material whatever you're able to pay.
If you want to sign up for this month only, choose your subscription price over here and pay for the first month, then cancel the subscription (if you get stuck, I can do it for you.) I’d love you to join us. Find out more over here.
(lovely photo above of me, copyright Nicola Montfort)
Monthly Retreat Party:
I'm aiming to host another #somum Mamas' Retreat Party on Wednesday 17 March from 8.30pm to 9.30pm in Mamas' Everyday Retreat.
Mamas' Everyday Retreat is a safe kind space for mamas to connect and support each other. You can expect me-time encouragement, compassionate conversation, and gentle motivation.
If you're not already a member, ask to join the group and we'll add you.