By Elizabeth Aylott Pope.
Halloween is right around the corner, filled with pumpkins, black cats with arched backs, candy and creatures! As you prepare your child’s costume (or your own!), pause for a moment. Take a look at the plastic masks on display – whether skeletons or superheroes, monsters or fair maidens – and consider for a moment:
We all wear masks
Whether it’s 31 October or not. Some of these masks are more useful than others. You might wear a protective mask of Avoidance, or a Functional mask to help you navigate a tricky situation in your life. The Happy Mask lets you project outward contentment and ease when you’re having a tough day. The People Pleaser Mask can be insidious, and the Anger Mask prickly, but both accomplish the same thing – guarding your vulnerability and helping you feel that you’re getting through your day a little easier.
Putting on a mask is natural; we all do it. It’s part of living in a society and managing complicated human emotions. In Japanese, the concept of social masks is handled particularly eloquently. Honne and Tataemae describe the contrast between how someone truly feels and what they want, and the public façade created through behavior and manners.
The difficulty is that masks preclude intimacy.
Feeling connected is a basic human need, but we can’t achieve that while wearing a mask. You may be not want anyone to know that you are having a hard day, but by covering it up, you miss the opportunity to feel better by sharing how you feel. You also may miss the chance to discover that the person next to you is feeling the exact same way, and help each other.
Perhaps even worse is the fact that you may wear so many masks for so long that you lose touch with who you authentically are and what you feel. That’s an incredible loss: to yourself, those who love you, and, frankly, the world.
The first step forward is to acknowledge that we all wear these masks, and be willing to learn what’s going on behind it, for yourself and those around you.
Be aware when you are covering up how you actually feel or what you truly think, and ask whether you really need to. There’s a huge difference between being polite to strangers despite feeling tired, and denying that you’re tired to your friends in favour of wearing the Super Mum mask.
It’s okay that you’ve been acting happy when you’re not. It’s even more okay for you to say that you’re upset. Accepting your internal experience and sharing it with others brings you face-to-authentic-face with whatever you’ve been avoiding. This can be terrifying, but it will also help you develop coping skills, ask for support from others, and give support to those around you who probably feel the exact same way!
Validating how we feel to ourselves and receiving validation from others is incredibly powerful. You get to choose when a mask serves you, and when it keeps you from connecting with others and with yourself. Intimacy is an act of courage: Let yourself be seen.
© Take time to BE YOU.com
By Elizabeth Aylott Pope.
If you’re a parent, especially a mum, and you’re breathing, you probably feel guilty about something. Whether it’s about keeping the house clean enough, working or not working, breast or bottle feeding, how much time the kids spend in front of the TV, whether they have too many or too few toys… the list is never-ending. Whatever choice you make as a mother seems to generate guilt.
It’s hard to escape the image of the Mother we SHOULD be that takes up residence in our minds, and to constantly compare ourselves to this ideal. How do we ever measure up? The answer is not to become a perfect, flawless, domestic goddess, Stepford wife and Mum Machine. The answer is to learn to let go a little, and recognise guilt for what it is, and what it is not.
At root, guilt is simply a feeling, along with the hundreds of others we feel on a given day. Like any other emotion, guilt is valid, and can be useful when addressed mindfully. We can learn from it, rather than let ourselves be controlled by it.
When guilty thoughts pass through your mind, you get to choose what to do with them. Sometimes, guilt can point the way to what you value. It always shows that you care. Let yourself feel what you feel, then ask yourself three questions:
1. Did you really do anything wrong?
Giving an extra hour of TV time so you can take a bath = not wrong. Remember the airplane adage: You need to put your own oxygen mask on so you can take care of others. Ask yourself, if my best friend told me she felt guilty over X, would you think it was justified? Probably not.
2. Could you actually control the outcome?
You can get your child to brush their teeth, but cavities still happen. There are simply things that are out of the most caring mother’s control.
3. Does it matter?
Mismatched socks, toys on the floor, disagreements… these are all normal parts of life. If you and your children are relatively uninjured and still speaking to each other at the end of the week, you’re doing your job.
Now that you’ve put your guilt into perspective, turn to it as a friend. Truly. What is your feeling trying to tell you?
In sum: You care. You feel guilt. Let yourself feel it. Ask yourself whether it’s warranted, and what it’s telling you. Take care of yourself, and remember you’re not alone.
© Take time to BE YOU.com
By Elizabeth Aylott Pope.
Long before the Internet, Doctor Seuss said it best: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. / The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Online learning is a wonderful, flexible way to broaden your horizons, improve your skills, work towards a degree or simply enrich your mind. But starting and sticking with an online course can be challenging and seem overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. You can make it happen for yourself, with a little planning and support.
The first part of the process is choosing the right course for you (read more about that here). There are loads out there, offering the flexibility a mum needs – we’ve got a whole website section devoted to them!
Think about why you want to take the course, and what you want to get out of it. Like most things - if we do them with purpose and a sense of direction then we get more out of them and feel more fulfilled.
Understanding the issues for online learning will help. In the Journal of Interactive Online Learning, scholars argue that online students need to be more intrinsically motivated than traditional students, as they are responsible for their own learning to a greater degree. However, the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning found through a series of case studies that “the perceived importance, relevance, and utility value of the activity (associated with identified regulation) were just as important as the interest or enjoyment of the task associated with intrinsic motivation).”
What this means for you is that it’s important to provide yourself motivation both from the pleasure of the activity, but also from consciously employing strategies to reinforce that this is something that is important. Here are four ways to keep yourself hitting the books (or the online lessons!):
1. Be realistic.
Choose attainable goals from the start. You can begin small, simply audit a course without being required to do all the homework, and still get a great deal out of the experience. Then, develop a realistic schedule that incorporates your study times into your other daily activities and responsibilities. Make appointments with yourself to study, and try to set aside a space that is just for you to do your work.
2. Take time to be you
As you make your schedule, leave time for yourself in there too. Give yourself a breather, a date night, a chance to read a non-class related book or see a movie. It’ll keep you happier and more balanced in the long run, and keep you safe from burn out.
3. Get involved
Online classes can feel isolating. You can break those walls down! Connect with your classmates and teachers online or via video chat. Talk about what you’re learning, whether with someone you already know who has similar interests, or with your online friends. Find study buddies you can interact with in person in your community, through an independent study group, or by encouraging a friend to take the class with you. All these tricks will help reinforce what you’re learning, build a support network, and stay motivated.
4. Celebrate your achievements
List your goals and why you want to learn, and review this list often. Visualise yourself accomplishing your goals – whether it’s getting a degree, or speaking French on a trip to Paris. Then, with each little step towards your goal, acknowledge your hard work and reward yourself for your progress. Give yourself a little treat, whether it’s watching a favourite TV show or getting a pedicure. When it feels tough to keep going, look at how far you’ve already come!.
© Take time to BE YOU – September 2015.
What works best?
By Elizabeth Aylott Pope.
When was the last time you did ONE thing? Can you even remember? Most of us – especially mums – are constantly doing everything simultaneously, simply because there is So. Much. To. Do. We feel that to be productive we have to be answering emails, cooking dinner, talking to the kids and cleaning the house at the same time or it simply won’t all get done.
But current research shows that there are definite costs to multi-tasking. First off, it’s not really multi-tasking. You may feel that you are doing it all at once, but in reality you’re “switch tasking” or “serial tasking.” That means that you are shifting gears between tasks and actually losing time and focus each time you do. You waste energy because you have to remember what you were doing and what you wanted to do next, incurring “switching costs.” The American Psychological Association’s research says this can add up to a task taking 40% longer.
It’s also more stressful. And you never really get in the zone for any activity! Plus, multi-tasking requires a lot of working memory – think of it as temporary brain storage – which takes away from our ability to think creatively because essentially there’s no more room to work.
Good news: there ARE areas where you can background task. This isn’t the same as serial/multi-tasking. Background tasking means you do two activities, but only one requires mental engagement. The other is entirely automatic and routine, and/or uses completely different brain processing - like listening to music and folding laundry.
This means that you can divide and conquer, combining background tasking with single tasking to get everything done more efficiently, while also maintaining your sanity and the quality of your relationships. If, for example, your me-time today is going to be reading a book, then don’t try and multi-task with something else. You simply won’t get much out of your down time because it won’t truly be your time. And ask yourself: can you really listen to your kids or spouse while writing an email? No. You can put the washing on, boil the kettle and listen to the news, though! Place the line between the things that you do that make you feel fulfilled or require true concentration, and simple household tasks.
Here are a few simple ideas to help you get there:
1. Make a list of your top priorities for the day. Try to keep the big ones down to a top three that you choose to focus on exclusively while doing them.
2. Use routine to your advantage. If the household runs on a particular schedule that doesn’t require constant thought, it frees up whole sections of your brain!
3. Ask for and accept help from others. Find ways for your spouse and kids to pitch in, even in simple tasks. Everything that comes off your plate is a win.
4. Separate out activities best done while kids are asleep. This might be tasks that require concentration, or give you the most pleasure when you can focus on them.
5. Practise mindfulness. Especially with things that delight you. You’ll get more out of every moment of me-time if you’re truly present for it.
By Elizabeth Pope.
If you’re a mum looking to return to work after taking time out of the formal workforce to care for your children, it can be daunting. You might be feeling a distinct lack of confidence that makes the task fraught with emotional challenges. Plus, there’s the stress that comes from the practical task of job hunting.
But you are not alone. Mums (and increasingly, dads!) all over the world take a few weeks, months, years or decades off in order to focus on their families. We know how hard this can be and that’s why we’ve put together 4 practical tips to help you get started:
1. Acknowledge and articulate your skills: emphasise your transferable skills.
Every past experience, skill, strength and preference matters. Seek out feedback from others and look at your background to assess all the skills you developed by being at home with kids. Your people skills, multi-tasking, organisational skills and financial savvy have been honed in a valuable way!
The key will be articulating these skills in a way that resonates with an employer. Think about them from that perspective. Get help writing your CV, and/or hire a career advisor or coach to help with practise interviews. Brainstorm likely questions and great responses.
2. Update your skills.
Scan loads of job sites and look at jobs you’re interested in, and then dig into the position descriptions for skills you’ll need to add or brush up on. If your certifications or computer knowledge are out-dated, there are plenty of online and adult continuing education courses at community centres, libraries and universities to help you get up to speed.
3. Volunteer work.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to refresh your skills, gain confidence and it can even serve as a stepping stone to paid employment. Consider all the volunteer work you’ve likely already done, whether with a community service organisation, a parents’ association or your children’s school. Whether you’re looking to return to the field you once worked in, or start a brand new chapter, seek out a relevant organisation and offer your services and time. It will freshen up your resume and help you make contacts.
Speaking of contacts… reach out to them! Whether your circle is mostly other mums, or includes a wide range of people from all professions, let them know you’re looking for work. Set up a casual coffee, or make a call, and ask them for ideas, their experiences, and at least two other people you could talk to.
Sign up for online webinars, attend job fairs, join online and in-person networking groups. Reach out to people through social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter also. Keep your communication style professional and express your gratitude when people reach back to you. As an added bonus, sharing your experiences with others and hearing their stories will help with your confidence as well.
Finally, remember your worth. Approach every job opportunity with your head held high: you have a lot to offer. You’re a mum, yes. But also a whole lot more.
© Take time to BE YOU – September 2015.
• Today, I give myself permission to...
• Finding calm and building resilience.
The SANITY kit
• What's underneath your mask.
• Putting mum guilt in its place.
• Strategies for sticking with online learning.
• Multitasking vs. Single tasking.
• How to find your way back to work.
• 4 top tips for reclaiming your morning routine.
• How to become successful in 8 steps.