[Warning: This story is deeply vulnerable but I decided to share it as I hope it will help many realize that you are not alone, yet there’s a way to train our brains.]
About a week ago, I shared on my Diary of a Happier Mom Brain page that I was overwhelmed and needed the time and space to pull myself together and push myself back up before I could write. The truth is I was under the influence of fears. “Overwhelmed” actually meant “fear”. I was fearful that I was not a good enough mother, that I would be perceived as a bad mother by others, and that I would be perceived as a bad person in general by others. I know you may surprise if you know me for a while as overall, I am very confident.
Before I delve into the details, let me share with you that fears grip me now and then. I am generally a happy and positive person and have trained my brain so much, but my brain is still a human brain. And fears never fail to reside in a human brain at all. They just come in different forms, sizes, powers, at different frequency levels depending on much a person has learnt to strengthen the positivity wiring in their brains.
It had been about 2 weeks into the lock down. Just as I thought my family were juggling well with our rhythm where my husband and I could focus on our work and where I could actually get more work done. This was thanks to no more commute, pick-up, and drop-off. However, the bigger reasons were that our 10-year-old son virtually went to school during set hours with a full agenda that kept him fully occupied and that we never failed to put our 4.5-year-old daughter to nap for two hours each day and that she was quite self-sufficient. We also determined that we would keep her education at a bare minimum by following morning circle time schedule, having her read and do some work by using the Apps provided by her teachers, and randomly teaching her math and phonetics, the areas recommended by her teachers in our parent-teacher meeting.
These dream days were soon over. It all started when I found out I missed a few circle times. At other times when our daughter did attend, I got perplexed when other kids were working on some printed materials and she asked where hers was. I was afraid my husband would blame me for not being attentive about her schooling (disclaimer: we each have a fair share of chores and parenting; however, I did forget about things quite often – if you are a mom and reading this, yes, you are not alone). I started to feel guilty and blamed myself for not being a good enough mother. A little back story was on average, when school was still open, I got my daughter to her classroom on time or just in time about 2 days out of 5 days a week and although the teachers didn’t say it, I felt they were not happy about that as it would disrupt the classroom. So I had a huge shame there. I tried to work on it but I hadn’t made it yet when there were no more opportunities due to closure. We also got her submitted her optional homework 10% of the times (although it’s optional, other parents may have their kids do it all the time or at least that’s what I thought). Therefore, I was afraid I would make a worse image about myself on the teacher. This is my first fear.
Anyway, I didn’t ruminate further by blaming myself and tried to find a solution instead. My positivity wirings were strong enough to get me back on track fast. Instead of going through a lot of materials and still getting confused or bouncing emails back and forth with the teachers, I sent them an email suggesting a quick call where they could guide me about the essentials, the when and the where. This, I learnt from my very first manager in my first job: speak first, and if you can’t then call, and if that is not possible, email. Seeing in the parents’ WhatsApp group that other parents also asked about a few things from the link to join a meeting to whether the meeting was on to when and where to find the materials, I mentioned in that email that other parents “may” have similar issues so the teachers may want to brief in groups to save time.
At the same time, some parents asked in the chat about whether any other schools refunded certain fees. The next day, the school director sent out an email to all parents stating that there would be no refund at all. This came after they had received requests from certain parents, as one could tell from the email. And the next day, our daughter’s teacher sent an email to parents asking whether some of us or all of us thought her efforts were not of value at all compared with the dollars we paid and that she tried her best and she felt sad. The teacher may have had the impression from the director’s email and worry about her own worth or about the perception of parents of her worth, but as far as I knew from the chat, none of the parents in this class filed a request or complaint (if they did then it could be either seen as complaint or request or constructive feedback that could be pulled towards mutual understanding, depending on how one viewed it). Upon receiving this email, I shared with the parents in the group chat that we should ask for a chat with the teachers to clear the air. This was however taken as a bad intention by a parent who then responded mocking me if the request was because I thought the teacher’s efforts were not enough.
This. Upset. Me. Big. Time. I felt insulted. My head was in a full spiral of negative thoughts. I was hurt. I was afraid I was perceived as a very bad parent who was mean. I finished dinner without knowing that I had eaten, which never happened before. I got irritated when my son asked me something.
Then I drafted a response in which I said I even wanted the teacher to work less because that would serve us as parents: I would just need to let my daughter hang around with free play and little structure. I got my husband review it before I hit the send button as I wanted to make sure it sounded neutral and objective without the influence of big emotions. The end of the message said that I would respond to the teacher directly because any lack of direct communication would lead to relationship conflicts, which were never necessary. I was not sure if any other parents responded to the teacher’s email, but I did. Of course, I had no interest in creating any conflict with anyone. Working on my core relationships already tires me out sometimes. That message sent was helpful in shutting down any spiral conversations that would lead nowhere or just somewhere toxic.
I then emailed the teacher affirming what we had shared with her many times that she was a wonderful teacher and that we wanted less of her, not more, as our daughter was small anyway and she wouldn’t miss anything. I also helped her understand the intention of the briefing for us not to miss important stuff.
I however couldn’t sleep well that night. I was pressed down by that big fear that I was perceived as a mean person. I knew I am not as I acted according to my personal values of integrity and fairness, but the fear got hold of me. On top of that, I had been coughing for a few days and the thought that I may be infected with COVID-19 just floated over my head. That night, I was awake as well to see if I got any fever. Fortunately, I finally fell asleep and no fever knocked at the door.
The next day, I talked to my husband, who was reluctantly my therapist now and then, and he did a great job, as always. He said, “One is you did nothing wrong so why worry. Another is if there’s a problem at the school then the school will have to solve it, not you.” That made me feel better. He was right.
And this below reflection guided by some self-coaching questions HELPED me feel even so much better:
✅ 1. Asking myself what this situation or fear wants to teach me / what I could learn from this. In this case, never deviate from my personal principle of not involving in gossiping or unnecessary small talks. If a situation requires, communicate with the source instead of forming hypothesis with others.
✅ 2. What do my personal values tell me to respond? I am reminded that when others judge my way of doing things or mock my worth, they actually have insecurities deeply inside. The least I could do for myself is not to let others’ reaction to their own insecurities override my own feelings and how I operate. This current Coronavirus crisis provokes more of these xenophobic reactions and people look for someone to blame as human beings, blaming others make the blamers feel they are better / not to be blamed but indeed, it doesn’t. Having this understanding helps too.
Anyway, I told myself to forgive that parent who may have been under certain pressure I was not aware of. I had made myself clear and that was enough. Later, I also realized that I was judging the parent for judging me. Before the incident, I had positive impression on the parent (our kids play with each other at school). I told myself, “Well, let’s not use this one time to judge the person. I like the family and they are good people.” Often, people see me so sociable and positive as I fiercely believe in their goodness seeing the great things and only the great things in them (this is why I do what I do as well and why I am generally happy).
✅ 3. What is the thing I am afraid to lose here and can I let it go? Here, I was afraid I would lose could-be good relationship with the other parents. But well, can I let it go? Yes, if that’s how people perceive me then that relationship is not worth keeping anyway. The relationship that stays is the real one, as it’s tested, and it will last.
✅ 4. What have I learnt about my blind spot so the next time I could be more aware? My husband told me, “You are generally happy but when things like this happen, you are so sensitive.” That made me think. And he was rarely wrong about me. And through the course of the day, my work (I am a Career Happiness Coach) led me to a personality test I did before. It was called Enneagram. I was 3 wing 2. I read on: People of this type deeply values social image and when their reputation is under risk, they tend to get very stressed and drained. That was so true. So what my husband said was correct but not totally accurate as I am not stressful with everything, but I tend to get very sensitive when it comes to social image. This means when I see any potential risk to my social image, I tend to amplify threats and underestimate opportunities. This has its roots in in my painful childhood where my own worth was dumped by my own father, my paternal grandfather and his family (and you see all men!). Being aware of this would help me have a balanced view of the world and more importantly, be less hard on myself. And I felt grateful to randomly checked on the test because else, I was under another layer of self-limiting belief that I am generally sensitive (as my husband remarked) which was not true as I am generally positive.
✅ 5. What is the boundary I set for myself here? I realized that, like my husband said, it was not my job to fix anything that’s not in my territory. As I thought about this and about the refund some parents asked about – not for (and I chimed in that I was aware some private schools did), it dawned on me that this school had been around for 10 years with good reputation and that meant they knew the right things to do. So I just have to trust them to make the right call and utilize the real estate of my 65,000 thoughts a day on my own stuff.
✅ 6. What are my TRUE priorities? I have to remind me more to ask myself this question. I actually have a growing to-do list. If I do have some time to spare for my sanity, it’d be for my family. Well, this brings me back to the first point as well: no small talks.
✅ 7. On thinking that I am not a good enough mother, I again ask myself what I could do. I realized that I should spend more time for my kids indeed. But feeling guilty is not a good start. It doesn’t help me to move forward as I shame myself. And the action is I am taking tomorrow off to play with them and will seriously commit to that one hour of teaching my daughter each day and dedicate serious time to play with my son, which I did yesterday.
In short, to conquer fears of any sort, we need to:
✅ 1. Be aware of the fact that we are fearful and that’s OK as we are human and fears are here to teach us and to help us grow.
✅ 2. Do some breath work, meditate or exercise or do something that helps us calm down. Or you can use mantra as well. They could be “These are just my feelings”, “I am not my thought”, or “As long as I am calm, everything will be fine.”
✅ 3. Ask ourselves the above questions, the most important are what I am going to learn here and if I can let go what I am afraid to lose here.
✅ 4. Talk to someone (many a time, I talk to my husband or my son or some loved ones).
✅ 5. Take small bad action. We often procrastinate as we are afraid there will be a better time to take action so we can be readier. However, the truth is the more we delay, the further away we are from the life we want to shape. Life is shaped of actions.
By the way, the teacher responded to my email being open to the suggestion of the call if I still thought I needed it. And today, they even created 1:1 call options for all parents in the class. The school also sent an email of all meeting links for the week in one email (and I responded to them saying it’s very helpful as I have one consolidated view that help me not miss things).
This is the time when everyone’s fear center may be amplified due to the environment we all are in and we can easily act in panic mode that could cause regretted consequences. But remember unravelling fears is a life time process and fear is our biggest teacher. So don’t act that fears are going away but embrace them and learn and grow from them. Each time you grow from fears, you become stronger and are better shaping your life.