Anna Mathur: ‘It’s time to be kinder to ourselves’
Psychotherapist and mum-of-three Anna Mathur tells ParentFolk’s Jade Wright why parents need to be a bit kinder to themselves, and why being on our phones isn’t the end of the world
It can feel like just one more thing on a never-ending to-do list. As well as juggling work, family and friends, we now must all have some ‘me time’ too. How, exactly, is another matter, because while we’re aligning our inner chakras and listening to a mindfulness podcast, there’s still a mountain of laundry to put away and a half-eaten lunchbox of food to clean out and replace before morning.
It’s a struggle that’s all too familiar for psychotherapist Anna Mathur, as she dashes between an appointment to get her eyebrows micro-bladed and a counselling session in her private practice at home in Surrey.
“It’s something I have been meaning to do for ages – my eyebrows were out of control – and today I finally got round to doing it, but then I wished I hadn’t made the appointment because it pushed the rest of the day out of shape and now everything is chaos,” she laughs.
“We berate ourselves for not looking like the women we were before we had our kids, and then if we do make time for ourselves we feel massive guilt that we could have spent that time working or with our families.”
With three children aged five and under, Anna knows all too well how hard it can be to juggle work and family life. She’s an accredited BACP psychotherapist with a particular interest in working with women battling anxiety and depression, and finds that her own experiences often inform the work she does with clients.
“You hear people talking about ‘mum guilt’ and ‘mummy fails’ as though they are inevitable. Why do we often feel like we’re not enough?” she asks. “Most of the time we are just trying our best but being insanely hard on ourselves.
“We are our own harshest critics. We tell ourselves that we have failed before we’ve even started. If we spoke to our children the way we speak to ourselves, someone would call social services. And rightly so!
“We know it would be terrible to knock our children’s confidence or ever speak that way to anyone else. But the battle is to try to be a bit kinder to ourselves, and not to ignore the 99 things we got right and focus on the one tiny thing which wasn’t perfect.
“In reality, the one thing we forgot to do wasn’t the end of the world and maybe we are doing OK after all.
“Then there’s the guilt, which comes in two forms – the useful and the useless. We might worry that we are on our phones too much around our children and that we don’t focus enough on them. That’s useful, because we can learn from it and do something about it. Put down the phone and have some fun with them. But the guilt where we just constantly worry we aren’t good enough or that something terrible is about to happen, that’s the guilt we need to tackle and work out how to stop, and that’s where talking to someone about it can really help.”
As well as seeing patients face to face and offering downloadable self-guided courses, Anna leads weekly Mental Health live events on Instagram, a frank and open discussion, often drawn from her professional and personal experience.
She has spent her career helping women overcome mental health challenges, and had a relatively straightforward time with her first son Oscar. But following second son Charlie’s birth she battled silent reflux, tongue-tie, and sleep deprivation, leading to aching post-natal depression.
“I thought I knew how to be a mum, but really I’d just been lucky,” she says. “The second time around, everything was hard.”
Lying awake, feeding through the early hours, she found herself in tears scrolling though Instagram images of joyful mothers and their glowing babies, families seemingly revelling in every moment of easy, enjoyable parenthood.
“I looked at them and I wondered why I couldn’t do the same as them. My sense of failure felt even greater,” she recalls.
The difficulty with that is that we are contrasting other people’s red carpet moments with our behind-the-scenes disasters.
“If I compare my wobbly morning with someone’s #blessed photo of a serene breakfast with spotless kids, of course I’m going to find myself lacking. We so easily see other people’s snapshots and assume that that’s how their life is.
“We do it ourselves, putting on brave faces when we take our kids out, hiding our exhausted, tear-stained eyes behind super-sized sunglasses and just for a moment it looks like everything is perfect. But five minutes later there’s screaming and crying – mine and the kids’ – because nothing is ever like that forever. We are all just about getting by, so now, when I see those perfect moments posted up, I give those mums and dads a mental high five because I know those are the great moments, but everyone has struggle some way or other.”
The flip side of the positive images on social media were heart-breaking stories of loss, posted with good intentions but terrifying to a new mum trying to find her way.
“I’d read other people’s tragic stories and found myself panicking about anything happening to me or my children,” says Anna. “There are things which are rare, but because we read about them everywhere we start to think they are common. I’d lie awake worrying about sepsis, which is very rare, but because I’d Google every last symptom I became convinced my baby would get it. The tiredness and a truckload of hormones meant I had an inability to filter things out, and any potential risk became huge.”
Thankfully, Anna says she’s seeing a change in the way parents view mental health – their own as well as their children’s.
“More and more people are speaking out about it, and that’s a brilliant thing, because it means it is becoming normalised,” she explains. “We can’t really fix this stuff until we start to talk about the not-so-fun, challenging parts of parenting, and realising that we all go through it, and maybe it’s OK not to be perfect.”
1. Accept support
Ask for help where you need it. Whether it’s practical, emotional, professional, online, offline, paid, unpaid. Asking for and accepting support is a statement of worth. You have to believe that you’re worth the support of others. It gets easier. It’s vital to thriving. Sometimes it really does take a village.
2. Be kind to yourself
Self-care is important. It’s not always about the huge gestures. It’s also about attending to and meeting your basic needs. Listen to your body, look after it when you’re hungry. Drink water, get an early night when you can. It’s the little gestures that build up your self-worth. You wouldn’t let your child go hungry or thirsty, because you value their needs. You also need to value yours.
3. Start small
Even when it feels like nothing is ever going to change. Keep going. If you have an anxiety filled day where things have taken over and not one coping mechanism has been accessed, be kind. Don’t beat yourself up. This is a process and it’s a tough one, and often a long one, but a wholly worthwhile one. Carry on.
Find out more at www.annamathur.com and Instagram @annamathur