Whānau Stories

Love and sandwiches

Parenting Place Love and sandwiches

I farewelled my mum over 20 years ago and as each year passes, I often find a new treasure about her to reflect on.

Let me tell you about a very ordinary moment in my childhood that has anchored me in my own journey as a mum. I'm the fourth child in a family of six children – it was a busy home, you can probably picture it. I was ten years old at the time, obsessed with horses and I had a pony of my own.

I'd spent the day at pony club, riding and grooming my horse – so enthralled I didn’t even stop to eat. I got home tired and hungry and I must have been rude. I don't remember exactly what I did except that I know it was uncalled for and I felt pretty bad about it. I slumped off to my room where I sat sulking and sad (and still hungry).

A little while later my mum knocked on the door and carried in a tray with a plate of egg sandwiches on it. The egg mix had parsley in it and the bread had the crusts cut off. It melted my heart. I dropped my defensiveness and instantly felt reconnected to my mum. The sandwiches were made just the way I liked them. The presence of parsley and the absence of crusts told me I was known and seen.

I am loved, even when my behaviour hasn’t earned it.

I also remember the deep realisation that my mum really loved me, even when I was rude or out of line. Those simple sandwiches represented a peace offering and a way out of my exile. They also gave me a life-changing taste of unconditional love.

I am loved, even when my behaviour hasn’t earned it.

What a great seed sown in my 10-year-old heart.

More precious than jewels

I’ve needed that anchor over the years of motherhood. I often struggled with a critical inner voice that was quick to judge the things I had or hadn’t done.

For my 40th birthday, my husband Stuart put together a slide show of family memories spanning the previous 18 years. I watched it again when the party was over. The compilation of photos was a very real endorsement of the things I had done with our children over the years. Of course it was a highlights reel, but I was so affirmed in my realisation that I had been a good mum. I had done some fun things, I had built close relationships. I wasn’t perfect, but I was engaged often enough.

I've had the privilege of walking alongside many mothers over the last 25 years. I see myself in a lot of these women, and I’ve learnt so much as we've worked together to understand our children better and find new ways to replace some of the things that have not been working so well.

Often, the common thread of the struggle is to do with loving ourselves. Self-care is so very important in parenting, and I say to all the mothers out there – you’re amazing, you’re lovely, you are enough!

First there must be love, then there must be technique.

We all struggle – love is the key

The famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi said "First there must be love, then there must be technique." I think this is very fitting for parenting. There is nothing wrong with great technique and I have a lot of strategies at my disposal, tools I share with parents every day. But love is the one to lead with.

Like the message behind those simple egg sandwiches, unconditional love empowers, encourages and transforms us. Unconditional love sets our kids up to thrive, but it’s also a transformative place for us to operate out of as parents too.

Here are four thoughts to help you lead with love – love for your family and love for yourself!

1. Banish that old 'friend' guilt

Mother guilt almost feels a rite of passage – we often believe that it’s part of our job description. In essence, mother guilt boils down to feeling ‘never enough’. Never good enough, patient enough, playful enough, kind enough, firm enough, calm enough, present enough…

While I believe that guilt can sometimes motivate us to change, if it sits with us as a default feeling, it’s actually debilitating.

Tune out those whispers of mother guilt. Shut them down and send them packing with a simple, “Nope, not listening – I AM enough.”

2. Look around and take note

Keep a journal and note down what you did with your kids each day. Take a moment to pause and remember the stories you read, the grins and giggles you shared, the silly dancing you did and the sandwiches you prepared. Look back at these memories whenever you need to, especially when you’re feeling like you’re missing the mark, and savour a moment of motherhood affirmation – like I did when I scrolled back through my birthday party photo slide show. It felt like a warm hug.

Pause and remember the stories you read, the grins and giggles you shared, the silly dancing you did and the sandwiches you prepared.

3. Tomorrow’s a new day

What failed yesterday may go much better tomorrow when everyone is rested. There is always room for repair after a rupture. We get new chances every day to push play again. Take a deep breath, and move forward.

4. Hold yourself kindly and with acceptance

I sat with an overwhelmed mother recently who was troubled that she was showing her kids what her own mother had shown her – I’m too busy for you.

She was critical about her imperfections and berated herself for her loss of control at times. We talked about the need to treat yourself kindly and not be held hostage by self-criticism.

A helpful way to do this is to ask yourself, what would a good friend say to you if you shared your latest parenting mistake/failure?

Would they say: “Oh my goodness, you didn’t!? You are a total twit and failure. No hope for you, buddy!”

Or would they say: “Jenny, everybody makes mistakes – everyday. You’re doing just fine. You can repair this.”

Unconditional love would certainly say the latter.

The best kind of list

Recently another mum shared with me a tricky spot she found herself in. At Christmas time she had told her three-year-old that he had better make sure his name was on Santa’s nice list. She had hoped it would forge some better behaviours. It didn’t. He just started comparing himself to his sister, convinced that he was winning on the good list and she was losing on the bad list. Human nature has a tendency to do this – to divide us up and to create uncertainty, comparisons and competition. We do it to others and we do it to ourselves.

Let’s forget about the nice list and disregard the naughty list. Let’s all be on the ‘deeply loved and accepted’ list.

That changes everything!

Happy Mother’s Day.

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale is our Senior Parent Coach and we’ve been lucky enough to have her on our team for over 24 years. She’d love to raise free-range chickens, write children’s books and perhaps even take up horse-riding again.

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