Mothering not Smothering

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boarding school visit with my Mum and cousin

“Mum, that’s not mothering, it’s smothering”,  that’s what my nineteen year old son said to me recently.  Without question I have been a protective mother but living in suburban London I would be deemed negligent if I wasn’t especially when they were young.  It’s so easy to be critical of other people’s parenting methods but finding the right balance between encouraging independence and being overprotective is not always easy and may not come naturally even if you are a rational human being, well most of the time.  Neither extreme is helpful to your children’s development so how does a parent draw the line between being protective and being overprotective? I offer no answers merely some thoughts that may be helpful.

Many times I’ve said amongst our circle of family and friends that we are cosseting our children and it’s relatively easy to spot those tendencies in your friends, possibly less so in oneself.

Back to the conversation with my son, I voiced that instinctive maternal thought that if I could I would like to protect them as much as possible, wrap them up so that they do not have to endure any pain physical, mental or emotional. Sure, that’s not good preparation for life since life is full of ups and downs and if one is exceedingly lucky hopefully more ups than downs.

I am reminded of the speech made by Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook at a commencement address to Berkeley students in which she beautifully described her purpose there as a dance between youth and wisdom.   Remembering that she lost her husband tragically only a year earlier, the pain was still evident in every word she uttered.  Tragedy and hardship leave an indelible mark she said but there are things we can do to overcome adversity and Martin Seligman’s three Ps framework is a good place to start.  Seligman is one of the more respected psychologists and is often referred to as the father of positive psychology.  These are the 3 Ps:

  1. Personalisation – the belief that we are at fault, not taking failures personally allows us to recover
  2. Pervasiveness – the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life
  3. Permanence – the belief that all sorrow will last forever, instead accept our feelings and recognise that they are transient.

The 3 Ps are common emotional reactions to so many things in life, career, personal lives and relationships but if you can recognise that you are falling into these traps, catch yourself.   Finding gratitude and appreciation is the key to resilience says Sandberg and recognise that ‘it could be worse’, instead ‘count your blessings’, this is the mentality that will help us cope when tragedy, illness or disappointment strike.  Anchored deep within us is the ability to learn and grown.  Remember the saying ‘we are more vulnerable than we ever thought but we are stronger than we ever imagined.’

These are the words of wisdom that I’m trying to instill in my own mind at the moment so that I’m ready when the next ‘dark night of the soul’ hits and if it can work its magic, I hope that my children will find similar comfort when in need and I’m not around any more.

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