How many of us moms have had seasons of our parenting that were hard and maybe even painful?
I can think of those times when I was emotionally scarred by a family road trip, or how hard it was to manage babies and toddlers.
I know there are still many days where I feel overwhelmed by the sibling spats, and the toothpaste that is crusted in the sink, and for some reason, I can only find the right-hand version of every glove we’ve bought this year!
Especially in the earlier days of parenting, I remember months of being constantly stressed out in mothering three kids under four.
This continual presence of stress cemented my beliefs that I wasn’t a good mom, or my kids were too challenging, or maybe I should take up smoking just to get some stress relief (!?). Wish I was joking about that last one, but it crossed my mind as a viable option in my most stressful moments. My stress toolbox felt really empty.
I had shared that a couple of years ago I had this realization I didn’t enjoy my kids – and I put myself on a journey to enjoy them again. It taught me so much.
It especially taught me that I don’t want this negative story of my motherhood trailing behind me.
As a mom, I want to keep seeking the perfect little moments in my every day. I want to focus on the amazing things available to me, even if they come amongst all the hard things that are challenging me.
I want the story of my motherhood to be built up with one positive memory after another.
So at the end of my hands-on parenting years, I am left with this tapestry of inside jokes, and adorable moments, and simple ways we found connection and contentment amongst the chaos of family life.
THE ART OF MAKING MEMORIES
Over the years, I have watched how fickle memories can be. Through learning – in life coach training – how our memories evolve, through comparing memories with my siblings (their versions are inaccurate, obviously I correctly remember the facts of who ripped up the comic book in the backyard!), to hearing the tales my mom tells as dementia steals the tales of her past.
Memories are not facts, they are a story
What I find intriguing is that memories aren’t facts – they are the story we retell of the event. And science has found that every time we recall a memory, we recall the latest version of the story so, over time our memories (the stories) shift.
More emotion, more memories
They say that we have the most memory around events that carried a big emotional weight with them.
But what is meaningful to me, especially in motherhood, is that memories carry the emotion I associate with the event and who I was then, and how other people acted, and what it all means.
If I have negative memories then I feel negative about the event. If I have positive memories, I look back fondly on the event.
Add these all up and we get all the little stories compiling into one big tale, an emotional theme of our motherhood experience.
I thought back to some recent events I had where I was left with negative sentiments.
A road trip with a lot of frustration and fighting.
A weekend with a lot of chores and emotional coaching for the kids.
As a whole, perhaps these situations weren’t all bad. But we remember most, the things which are most emotionally charged. So I was remembering the negative and feeling like it was a negative experience, overall.
Feeling negative about our past will bring negative emotion into our future
When we feel like this, when we have this chain of negative experiences in our wake, then it can shift our beliefs and how we show up.
What we experience
We experience something we form an assumption around what it all meant. We label it good or bad. Our experiences are memories.
I went on a road trip, my memories tell me that it was hard. I assume that our family has no chill around travelling. I assume that I can’t handle them. I assume that I dislike them because of the negative experience I had.
When we have consistent experiences, or keep finding evidence that our assumptions are true then it becomes a belief.
What we believe
We start to believe that we aren’t good at life/motherhood. It shifts how we view ourselves and others in our life. We start to believe things about how our husband helps/doesn’t, how our kids act out, how hard our life is, and so on.
What we feel
We might start to feel depressed, or ashamed, or generally frustrated with our lives/the people in it.
How we show up
We might start to enter into our daily life already feeling stress because we are expecting the worst. We might judge or condemn others and shut ourselves off from seeing the best in them and growing together in love.
All of these will likely lead to the outcome of more negative memories and more negative narrative.
If we can reframe our experiences in the first place, we challenge the assumptions and change the narrative.
We do this by acknowledging the hard but highlighting the positives.
Documenting the memories
Over the years I have been someone who journals things. I love to look back on stories I kept about amazing moments I shared with Conor. On meaningful conversations I had with someone I love. On things that have been lessons I’ve needed, even if they were hard.
Giving these things a place to live helps me come back to the source and remember it more accurately. It also just helps me remember it, period. (Especially useful to look back on love stories when I’m feeling salty with Conor for taking my leftovers, again)
Find perfect moments and give them a home
Over the years I have been working on showing up for my life, on enjoying my life, on living it with more intention. I have been a ruthless seeker of the perfect moments hiding in everyday life. But what do I do with all that? I need to give it a home, I need to stop and mark these things I want to remember.
Because the sad part is that I don’t always remember them. The tension and stress and discomfort often overshadow all these little special moments – like a loud obnoxious one-man-band upstaging a quartet of violins.
Why we remember the negative
They say this is normal, our brains store information that helps us stay safe. (Our brain’s job is to 1 seek pleasure, 2 avoid pain and 3 stay efficient). So if we had a negative experience, our brain remembers the event in order to prevent us from repeating it because it was not pleasurable or efficient to go through that. It files this info under ‘DO NOT DO AGAIN’.
How remembering the positive can help us
On the flip side – the power of a positive memory can have intense effects on our mental well-being.
When we remember moments of outright love and joy in our lives and let ourselves be taken back there, to how it felt, to how it smelt, to all the little details then we FEEL good, our brain releases joyful hormones.
The year of great memories
ALL THIS TO SAY. This year I will be working on marking and documenting the POSITIVE memories. (I got myself a new notebook just to write these memories in! And also because I really love buying new notebooks)
I want to do this to help me have a place to return to. Like on really hard parenting days, I want to remember the inside jokes I have from going for that huge walk with my son, or the cute way my daughter said ‘polka bots’ instead of polka dots, or how excited my other son would be to play a game of memory with me (and beat me all the time).
I want to do this so that I can live out from this legacy of positivity.
So that I can remember my kids in positive ways. And as they grow into the next stage and the next I can keep assuming positive things about who they are.
So that I can remember myself in positive ways in my motherhood. And then I can LIVE OUT from this identity of positivity and carry on with HOPE, that even when it is hard, it can still be good.