Having just had yet another email ping into my inbox saying ‘I’m sorry for being so quiet, I have needed to retreat a bit for a while,’ has got me thinking about times when we need to be more disconnected from the outside world and times when we need to reconnect.
And often it seems that for many people, the need to disconnect is seen as a ‘negative’ thing. It means that something is wrong with them. That’s why they need to apologise when they get back in contact. There is a shamefulness is needing not to be concerned with the needs and affairs of others.
There is truth that sometimes thinking about others can be a useful distraction from the things that are bothering us. Research shows that people who are more connected with others and people who volunteer are generally happier.
However, that can add an extra pressure at times when we need to take more time to look after ourselves and our internal affairs. Especially after transitions and losses such as moving house, the death of a loved one or even having a baby.
Having a baby can really mess with your ability to connect with others. Your familiar relationships might suddenly feel unfamiliar or your ability to meet other people might be reduced. Your relationships are all re-calibrating and your ability to ‘do’ relationships is changing. We're often trained to believe that being good in relationships means that you can always 'be there' and always available to give, and that can really trip you up when you're a new mum.
I know I drone on and on about being compassionate with yourself. But this is a time when I think it’s especially true. Trying to be the friend or partner or child you once were, when actually you want to spend time learning about your baby and connecting with them and yourself as a mother might just feel like too much. Trying to think about other people when you have barely enough time to attend to your own needs might stretch you to breaking point.
Can you give yourself permission to take some time out from these things?
Can you find a way of saying, "I'm sorry, I had no idea how absorbing or exhausting it would be to become a mum. I'm aware I can't be there for you very much right now and that makes me sad, and I'll be there again when things get a bit easier."?
People might not understand, I’m not saying that they will, and that might feel really hard. I’ve talked before about how sad it can be when relationships dwindle after the birth of a child. But the ones that are able to hear that you need not to be bothered by the outside world right now might be able to come and quietly join you. Many mothers have stories of the people who came and supported them by bringing meals, or by just giving them a hug, or by doing some washing up. These are the tales where people say, with a look of joy, “It was just what I needed! I just didn’t know it.”
Self-absorption isn’t really what I’m advocating, but a degree of self-compassion when we need to retreat and be quiet. When we need not to be ‘out there.’ When we need a break from other people’s stuff. And conversely, not being ashamed of needing to take time out makes it easier to ‘come back’ into the game. It’s not a big deal, you don’t have to announce it or apologise for it. You can acknowledge that you needed to take some space (and that it might have had an impact on others) without feeling as though you have done something wrong.
Talking of space, I know that the summer can be a time when there is a real lack of support as groups and agencies seem to close down, so I advise everyone I work with you check out online and phone support groups before they ‘need’ them. Just so you have that information there just in case – it can help manage any anxiety just to feel prepared and more in control.