Anna is the author of fantastic book Mind over Mother: Every Mum’s Guide to Worry and Anxiety in the First Years, is a mum of three, and a Psychotherapist, Author and Speaker.
This month we are celebrating motherhood in all its beautiful and varied forms. First up is Anna Mathur who talks about her challenges during the pandemic.
How would you describe your family set up?
I am a mum of three young-uns. They are 2,4 and six. We live in Godalming, Surrey. I am a Psychotherapist passionate about using my personal experience and professional skills to help fellow mums gain clarity, insight and find some much needed compassion for themselves. Many of us live in a cycle of burnout, having learnt that to love is to give ourselves away until there is nothing left. We need energy to be able to enjoy life, to laugh, to rationalise anxious thoughts, and to be present. I think there is an epidemic of low self-esteem and a general acceptance of a constantly anxious and worried brain being ’normal’. I want to encourage and empower mothers not to accept constant overwhelm and a life lived to the background buzz of anxiety. There is SO much more for us than that. It might be common, it doesn’t NEED to be our normal.
Pre pandemic, my husband would work in London Monday to Friday, leaving early and arriving home late, rarely seeing the kids during the week as they’d be all tucked up when he was home. I currently work from home 2.5 days a week (officially….that’s what I have childcare for), but I totted up the hours the other day and I think I work about 35 hours per week, fitting the other hours in during nap times, evenings and quiet moments.
I’m always seeking more balance, but I have a wildly creative brain and a very passionate heart, so they leap into action as soon as I grab a breather! I often have to reign my brain in and discipline myself to do things that slow it down!
Our nanny, Ella has been working with us for 2-2.5 days a week for 3 years. She lived with us for a year over lockdown as the family she lodged with had to shield early on. We took her in as a lodger with less than 24 hours warning, with no idea as to what we’d journey through together. A year later, we’ve secured ourself another member of our family. We have eaten every single evening meal and breakfast together for a year, laughed and cried together, and pretty much completed Netflix. Tarun has had to put up with constant giggling (we both have the same sense of humour and laughter has carried us through the dark times). She is Godmother to our youngest, and we often laugh as we try to work out whether she is a substitute sister, daughter or niece!
We have a cat that now stays indoors after repeatedly befriending walkers for miles, and prompting the usage of local Facebook communities to get him back. We love to walk, to be outside, to cycle, to host friends and family. We like barbecues and kids tea parties that turn into impromptu sleepovers. We usually fit a lot into weekends as it has tended to be the only time in the week we are together.
How has being a mum in a pandemic been for you?
It has been a juggle. Parenting has been intense with each child dealing with the challenges of lockdown in different ways, and work has been incredibly busy. I’ve craved the natural space that life usually offers, the quiet drives home from the drop offs, the half-finished sentences with a friend whilst leaning against a washing machine in their kitchen, one on one time with my youngest. I’ve missed people, a-lot.
I’m an introvert, I refuel from being alone, and am then energised by the company of others. However, I’ve had little to no time alone other than stolen moments, and the company I’ve kept has been the same (it’s a good job I adore them all, but man, we’re complex beings, us humans. We need a change in context, environment.
I’ve been trying to stave of the parenting burnout to varying degrees of success, and at times, with zero success. I’ve had to listen to my needs more than ever, and let my feeling be what they are. I guess I’ve learnt to respect them more, to trust them to pass instead of analysing them and trying to hurry them along. It’s not comfortable, I like comfortable, but it’s healthier and more respectful I think.
One moment I’m thinking ’this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done’, and the next ’this is so special!’. As the months of the pandemic have rolled on, those highs have felt higher and the lows lower, and they’ve come thicker and faster. I think we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for, however we have far fewer opportunities to be topped up, emotionally, mentally and physically, so the things that ‘help’ have become harder to access, and we’ve had less energy to fight for them. That’s how I’ve felt.
I have had to come to terms with, afresh, that looking after my mental health isn’t just a way of being kind to myself, and ticking a self-care box, but is an act of love to my family. I have had to ride the wave of guilt that comes upon me when I ask my husband to facilitate me stepping away for a breather, or to do a quick Headspace meditation. I’ve had to realise and respect when my resources are empty. I’ve also reframed the way I understand self-care. The showers, the water, the fresh air, I used to see those as ticking the self-care box. But I’ve come to realise, that those are just acts of self-respect that keep me at a very base level. I’ve had to up my game as to what I deem as self-care, those are the things that fill me that little bit more – the bath, the talk with a friend, the doing exercise that fuels me a bit. As I’ve given more, I’ve needed more, and it’s been a huge awakening to have to deeply respect that and find ways to accommodate it, even in small ways, otherwise everyone pays for it.
I’ve also recognised that I get this red roaring rage. I was horrified at myself to begin with. I don’t like to think of myself as an angry person, but I’d get this feeling of a red ball of fire sitting in my belly, it would be there simmering away, and then something, seemingly inane such as yet another tantrum, or a glance from my husband that I interpreted in a certain way, and I’d erupt. I have identified this rage to be a mish-mash of unmet and unvoiced needs and feelings that have just been repeatedly pushed down. When it comes out, it manifests in melt-downs, an overspilling of emotions that either go outwards towards my husband or kids (I get a fight or flight feeling. The fighting is shouting. The flight feeling of wanting to run away). Or alternatively the anger and rage goes back towards myself, manifesting as guilt, shame, feelings of failure and self-criticism. None of this is helpful, for me, for my mama heart, for my relationship. The only ways I can disperse this ragey mess, is to listen to myself, to respect and voice my feelings and needs even if they can’t be met in the way I’d like.
So, back to the question, how has this pandemic been for me as a Mum? An utter rollercoaster of highs and lows, often in tandem to one another! It has turned up the gas on my passion for supporting and equipping mums. Because if I, as an experienced therapist have just about got by, despite all my personal therapy, my training and my insights to draw from, then how would I have coped if I had not had this knowledge to hand? I want to keep writing and sharing things that will encourage, equip and affirm fellow Mums as we navigate the challenges, the highs and the lows.
What has been your favourite moment of being a mother during lockdown?
My favourite moment has been the ones I’ve stopped to absorb them. In many ways life has been simpler and utterly stripped back, but in other ways it has felt more intense and fast than ever. I remember before I got married (over 11 years ago), someone told me that the day would speed by in a blur. They advised us to take a couple of moments, to step back, to inhale the atmosphere, take in the colours, the noises and the faces, and take a mental photograph. I have been using that technique through this last year. For a few years of motherhood, I shamed myself for not being able to ‘enjoy every moment’, and for struggling to be present for more than a few seconds. Yet, I’ve realised that the kindest thing is to remove that pressure from myself, after all, some moments we want to hurry by, we want to forget them. I have a mantra saying ’this moment matters’. When I think about it, I stop, I breathe and I really LOOK at them. I take a mental photograph, I drink them in even if it’s chaotic and hard, and then I carry on. I can’t be present all the time, but sometimes I try to take myself out of autopilot mode.
I have missed mothering alongside other mums. I have missed my mum.
Anna’s book Mind Over Mother is available in all packages with a book option, and she’s over on Instagram with information about her therapy courses and bitesize ’60 seconds on…’ with topics such as phone usage guilt, rage and slowing down. You can also find Anna’s book ‘Know your worth’ here – helping to build your self-esteem, grow in confident and worry less about what people think.