A positive framework can make us happier, stronger mothers.
Even though we may have planned and wanted to be mothers, motherhood is a sudden shock
“An important Positive Psychology theory is that there are five essential pillars of wellbeing,” she explains. “If you focus on even just one of those, life satisfaction can go up in a relatively short time.”
Here, Kate explains how we can use those five pillars to boost our wellbeing and improve our lives as mothers:
A great place to start is to try to regularly experience some of the 10 positive emotions that are key to wellbeing: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, awe, inspiration and love. When we feel these, it improves our capacity to think and plan.
Kate suggests you have ‘rescue remedies’ on hand to prompt one of these positive emotions. “It might be a photo, a joke, a film, a favourite song…have something on hand that will help you change your thinking.”
“If you’re feeling down, you often get tunnel vision; a sense that you only have one option. If you can tap into positive emotions, that immediately broadens your ability to think of more options to problem-solve.”
Tip: To capture positive emotions, ask yourself ‘What went well today?’.
The quality of our relationships is critical to our wellbeing, and research shows that the way we approach relationships has a huge impact on them. One way to handle relationships well is through ‘active constructive responding’.
“If people in your life share good news and you respond positively, it builds their joy and lets them re-live the happiness but if you under-respond with a ‘so what’ attitude, it kills their buzz and the relationship stymies or deteriorates,” says Kate.
“I am conscious of how I respond to my kids’ news. It builds their pride and it increases their feelings of accomplishment when I respond positively.”
It may sound obvious, says Kate, but to build a strong relationship with your partner, try to share the positives of the day when they walk in the door rather than venting immediately about any issues. “If you’re only ever sharing the difficult things, it reinforces the negative in your own mind and can make it harder for your partner to offer support. I’ve found that encouraging family discussion of things we’re feeling really pleased about paves the way to supportively discuss any problems later in the evening.”
Tip: Actively schedule good times together. Don’t save the times you’re together just for the hard stuff.
“A lot of mothers aren’t feeling as connected to daily activities as they could be,” Kate says, “They’re just trying to get through the day. Our clients sometimes complain that they feel life with a small child or two is like ‘groundhog day’, and that particular feeling can be a slippery slope towards reduced wellbeing for mums.”
The trick to engaging is to throw yourself into things you’re good at and that interest and motivate you, she says. “You must want to do that activity for its own sake. Engage your interest and utilise your skills just enough to make you proud, but not so hard that you’re anxious.”
Tip: Look for things that you can enjoy with the kids.
Think about what your values are at home and at work, Kate advises. “Use those as the foundation to create goals and actions. You can also build meaning into things. For example, while I don’t find cleaning interesting in itself, a welcoming house for my children is important to me. I can feel an increased day-to-day meaning, and an enhanced sense of wellbeing and purpose, from re-framing how I live. In this case, finding a new perspective on housework.”
When routine gets you down, consider how it connects to the bigger picture of what’s important, Kate advises. “Alternatively, you may have to take a harsh look at yourself and admit ‘These things I’m doing are not in line with my values, no wonder I feel a bit weird.’”
Tip: Remind yourself of what you’re grateful for in your life and why you do things.
“Positive psychologists use the word ‘accomplishment’ instead of ‘achievement’,” says Kate, “because it better conveys competency, a belief in our ability to do the things that matter most to us.”
“There is a link in the research between competency and hope and optimism,” says Kate. “It’s important to set goals that you believe you can accomplish as well as the goals being aligned with your values. When you believe you have the abilities to accomplish something, it’s easier to strive for it.”
“Along the way, also remember to celebrate the small steps that you achieve and the personal strengths you’ve used to make that progress. Sometimes, I advise mothers who are anxious about their lack of accomplishment to write a ‘reverse to-do list’ by listing all that they did achieve that day.”
Tip: Play to your strengths. It is empowering to be aware of your strengths; it creates a spiralling positive.
Write yourself a letter
Kate and Deb regularly ask clients to write themselves a ‘Letter from the Future’ from a significant point in one, two or even more years from today. “The letter helps you create a vision for your life and set goals,” says Kate. “Write from a place where all is as you dreamed it and explain exactly what you are excited and happy about. As you read the letter, identify your values and strengths. What are you thrilled about? Then ask yourself ‘What steps can I take to get to that point of flourishing?’ so that, in a year’s time, you don’t end up saying ‘Oh well, that’s another year gone’.”
Kate and business partner Debra Close are both mothers and have Masters of Applied Science degrees in Positive Psychology and Coaching. Flourishing Mothers offers consultations for women at all stages of motherhood, by Skype, phone or in person. Kate and Debra also speak at mothers’ groups and events.
Take their ‘Are You Flourishing?’ test at flourishingmothers.com.au
This article first appeared in CHILD Mags February 2017 issues.