Even before the unprecedented experience of Coronavirus and Lockdown, we were aware of the “mental load” that is a common experience of women, even in supportive partnerships. However it happened, we 21st century women wanted it all and got it ALL: We were educated, found fulfilling careers, had children, and somehow took responsibility for all of it.
The pressure we then put on ourselves to be the best parents we can be, whilst staying fit & healthy, maintaining a great relationship, looking like we did 10 years ago, keeping the home nice, and having a fulfilling career…
And now, just as we were learning to love and accept ourselves, flaws and all, comes an world and life-changing experience which we have to navigate in terms of our own (& everyone’s) safety, career, parenting and, well everything.
I don’t know where the sense we have of trying to manage everything well (dare I say “perfectly”) comes from – whether it’s our own experiences, part of our makeup, or absorbed from the society we have grown in, or a bit of all three. But in talking to many women I know it’s real and we have to work to keep perspective on it – to remember we are good enough.
So how do we strike the balance? How do we do what we need to do for work, meet some of our own emotional needs and the needs of those in our household and beyond? I think it begins with developing an honesty in the way we talk to ourselves. The single greatest piece of advice I’ve ever been given, many years ago, is very simple and one of the greatest gifts I’ve received. I use it a lot in the workshops I run and, and have written about briefly in other articles, is what I call the Full Stop Technique.
It’s so simple, and yet has made the hugest difference to my life.
In moments where I feel an emotion rising in me, or a need which I am ignoring, if I keep going I tend to explode! Then feel terrible! If I remember and have been practicing the Full Stop, then I find everything runs smoother.
So what is the Full Stop Technique?
It’s really the most simple thing; instead of reacting straight away to your feelings, just notice. Take a moment to notice and even describe to yourself how you are feeling. What are the physical sensations?
What are the thoughts coming?
What are the emotions?
And then apply the Full Stop, no judgemental thoughts about why, just notice.
For example, I can feel my chest tightening, I feel like screaming! I feel confused about which emotion takes priority.
Something about shining a light on these can be completely transformative; and so you begin an honest dialogue with yourself which can help with shifting how much you take on, when you need a little space or time to yourself. I know this can be so hard with small kids, but even noticing that you need a couple of minutes can help you to take a moment – even in the bathroom – to breathe, and notice.
This in turn can begin to create quality experiences with our children because we are aware of when we need to step away for a moment and return when we can focus. You can even name your feelings with your kids – it will be a model to them about their own limits and I’ve always felt that kids can sense your genuine expression.
You might say “I am beginning to feel really frustrated, because I know you feel excited and don’t want to miss anything, but as your mum I know you need enough sleep to grow and feel happy. I feel like I might shout, which will make us both feel yukky, so I’m going out of the room for a couple of minutes to calm down, then we can try again, ok?”
You will find your own words. There are no rules, but to be honest and kind to yourself without adding a value judgement. This will then spread out to your interactions with loved ones and you’ll be able to meet their needs by meeting your own first.
This is my way of dealing with my emotions. What about yours?
Director, PACT Creative Training