3 years ago my daughter, then 14, ended up in psychiatric hospital after trying to take her life for the third time.
It was the biggest crisis I had ever faced as a parent.
I was terrified.
And once I got to the hospital and realised all of her limbs were in place and she was still breathing – other emotions began to surface.
- Rage that this child who I had devoted my life to and given everything to make her happy was so sad she didn’t want to be here anymore…
- …Swiftly followed by sadness and disappointment that I had failed her as a mother.
- Guilt that what was going on for her might be because of an argument her dad and I had had or that when she was 7 her granddad had died who she loved most in the world.
- Eventually, I started to think about who to blame. I decided this was her dad’s fault. He was too angry, too loud, hadn’t been very nice to her… and on and on.
Stepping away from my thoughts
It was only when my daughter said “Mum’ that I realised how loud and all-consuming my thinking had become.
“I’m sorry” she said. “I just can’t do it anymore.”
My heart broke into a million pieces. I felt sick. I had to make it better.
“Of course you do, love! There’s so much for you to look forward to! You’re only 14, nothing can be that bad!”
She looked at me and said nothing.
I started babbling.
“I’m sure things will get better, we’ll get it sorted!
My words sounded hollow, as if I was trying to convince myself… which of course I was.
Now, my daughter shouted: “YOU’RE NOT LISTENING! I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE!
Finally, I got it.
She just wanted me to listen. Not to say anything. Not to fix it. Just to be with her.
My thoughts grew loud again.
How can I make this better?
I took a breath.
LISTEN, said my heart.
I took her hand.
“I’m scared” she said. She started to cry and so did I.
“So am I” I said.
Lessons from the edge of motherhood
My daughter was in crisis with her mental health for a year and during this time she taught me the most profound lesson – what unconditional love looks like and how it starts with me.
The question I had to wrestle with was this:
How could I love and support her when my mind was so busy thinking about how to rescue her?
Because that’s what I thought a mum was supposed to do.
The Mother PowerType and self care
Later, when I found One of many and joined Living the Change I learned about the Mother PowerType.
A woman does not need to have children to have a robust Mother PowerType. Always available to provide a space of safety, warmth and solace, the Mother is where we all go for nurture and nourishment.
What I learned was that the true power of Mother is only available to us when we’re able to provide that same care and nourishment to ourselves.
When my mind became full of shoulds, guilt, judgement or repetitive thinking – which felt as though my daughter’s needs were critical, urgent, and only down to me – it was actually a signpost that I had to look after me.
I learned that wisdom, resilience, peace of mind and unconditional love are within every one of us and they are accessed when we remember that they are always there and through bridges of reconnection.
My busy thinking was my psychological system shouting at me, telling me it was desperate to be back in balance. I needed to remember who I was, connect back to the place within me where unconditional love always lives.
5 bridges to find your way back to yourself
During this incredibly challenging time, I found that there were 5 simple bridges back to my innate wellbeing.
Whenever I observed my mind doing its shouty, judgemental overthinking thing I would do one – or ideally a combination of these.
- Taking myself out for a walk
- Sitting by a tree
- Having a guilt-free nap in the afternoon
If physically leaving wasn’t possible I would lock myself in the toilet and take 10 deep belly breaths.
These 5 things became simple acts of kindness for myself, moments where I was able to deeply connect into the essence of me.
My daughter taught me that looking after me was the gateway to looking after her. The more I accessed peace within me, the more I could intuitively parent from a place of unconditional love and hope.
I learned that I could love all of her pain. Not needing to fix her, just to love this beautiful child before me and not need her to be “better”.
I watched as my unconditional love and trust were all she needed to remember that she had the wisdom and the resilience within her to figure all of this out.
The biggest challenge for women who care
3 years on my daughter is thriving. She just forgot who she was for a while.
And I’ve come to realise that putting ourselves first is perhaps the most important thing we can learn to do as women. You might not be facing the same challenge I did (in fact, I truly hope you never do).
But whatever you are up against right now: whether it’s parenting, work, finances, or just the general overwhelm of everything you are juggling – know that putting yourself first isn’t selfish.
It’s absolutely essential.
Imagine a world where there was deep trust that all of us are built for life, a deep knowing that whatever life throws at us we have the resilience to face into it and grow from it.
That is the world that my daughter and I know to be true.
And I hope that you can find it too.
Counsellor | Interfaith Minister | Facing my fears and learning to swim at 50!
I work with mums whose children are in crisis, guiding them back to their innately resilient, full-of-wisdom selves so they can parent from that place.
Find at more at The Serenity Practice.
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- Guest article: 5 bridges to find your way back to yourself - December 9, 2021