present mama interview series
Dr. Joy Jacobs
Clinical psychologist, Professor, Published author, Mama of twin boys!
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE A PRESENT MAMA?
It means really showing up in the moment for whatever motherhood is going to present you with. Whether it’s a temper tantrum, homework that needs to be done, an autoimmune disease. Being present means you are aware of what’s happening and you hopefully are able to meet the needs of your child. Showing up for what life is presenting instead of trying to have life meet our agenda.
HOW DO YOU FIND BALANCE BETWEEN WORK LIFE AND EVERYTHING ELSE?
I try to have as much of a structured schedule as I can of when my work hours are and when my family time is. Working in a service based business that sometimes has to go out the window if either I have a client or family emergency. Moms are just amazing multitaskers whether we want to or not and we can switch hats really quickly. Learning to be flexible is huge. One of my greatest stressors as a new mom was trying to use my old ways for an entirely new situation. I had to really learn to surrender my schedule to whatever needed to be happening at the moment. I made peace with that and started to understand that motherhood is unpredictable and that it was just going to be that way and to sit back and surrender to that. It really changed everything. Of course I still get stressed sometimes but it isn’t the level of chronic anxiety that was really a challenge as a new mom.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE TOOLS FOR FINDING MORE CALM IN THE CHAOS?
Gratitude is a practice, it’s not just a thing to believe. That has been my biggest tool. I have friends that I do gratitude lists with every single morning. It’s the first thing we do in the day. It might sound really unrelated to finding calm in the chaos but it’s like building a new muscle. You start looking for things in the world to have on your list the next day. Whenever there’s a stress happening I’m automatically looking for the kernel of gratitude that I can find in that situation. It’s not about being a Pollyana at all. The way that I get through the stress is trying to focus on what I’m grateful for in each situation. Finding calm in the chaos is number one being grateful for whatever is. Really breathing. It sounds so basic but we forget to breathe when we’re stressed. I find that going back to the breathe brings me back to center. The third thing I would say is prioritizing, really learning to figure out what’s important. Categorizing things in your mind based on their level of urgency and level of importance is big.
WHAT DOES “SELF-CARE” LOOK LIKE IN YOUR LIFE AND HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO TAKE CARE OF YOU?
Self-care is a constant challenge for all mothers for sure. I don’t even know how much non-parents prioritize it but I feel like it’s big. For me, it’s having a spiritual practice everyday, whether it’s meditation, inspirational readings, or studying A Course in Miracles. I try to practice every single day to the best of my ability. It might be only 5 minutes. It doesn’t have to be time consuming but I feel that it’s essential to self-care. If I don’t have this practice I’m not fit to serve my kids or my clients. Physical activity is also big for me. It’s how I gather my energy and how I stay motivated and focused. Healthy eating habits especially as an exhausted new mom are also really important. I struggled with finding balance of the right nutrition but when I got that in order I felt so much better. New moms especially have so much body image stuff that they struggle with, and I did too. For me it was really important just to get my physical self as much taken care of as I could. You are stressed as a mom. You know you have exactly 30 minutes you have to be home and that’s a hard stop. It’s a constant challenge. Again, scheduling things is big. Trying to keep a calendar even if you’re booking that hair appointment out 6 weeks ahead of time. Line up a babysitter and do that work. It’s so worth it because you need to feel good in your own skin. Find time to give to yourself so you can give to others. I’ve been there when I’ve had a totally empty tank and that doesn’t help anyone.
YOU’RE HAVING A ROUGH DAY - EXHAUSTED, CHALLENGING PATIENTS, JUST NOTHING IS GOING RIGHT. WHAT DO YOU DO TO RE-SET?
It’s really about taking the next right action. We can get really overwhelmed and we can get negative and spun out really easily. That’s also where that gratitude practice comes in. It’s really a self-survival technique. If I find what’s going right in any situation I’m able to start to think clearly so I can take the next right action. I made a personal vow a couple of years ago, that whenever possible I’m not going to complain. I know that has been a game changer for me, because I try to avoid getting into bitch sessions with anyone about what’s not going right. Whatever we focus on grows. I really try to be very disciplined. It’s not easy and I’m not always successful but that’s been a really big thing in helping me get back on track. The other thing which was really a learned thing for me was to learn how to ask for help, whether it’s from other moms, from family, or hiring a babysitter because I just needed an hour to think or sleep. We think we’re supposed to be able to do it all by ourselves but that’s not how children were ever raised in any other time. We’re so geographically spread out that we have to build those relationships so we have people to call on when we’re in an emergency. It’s your life and sanity preserver.
WHAT’S YOUR BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR HANDLING MOM GUILT?
I think it’s been a constant thing especially as a new mom. My first big “failure” as a mom was that I thought that I was going to do attachment parenting, full on. I read all the attachment parenting books. Well with twins that was pretty much impossible. There was always going to be one of them crying, one needing you more than the other, both crying at the same time. I also really wanted to breastfed both of them for a year. Turned out neither one of them would nurse because they were so little when they were born. The first 3 months I was literally up around the clock, pumping, trying to get them to nurse one after the other. After 3 months, my family did a pseudo intervention telling me I needed to switch to formula. I was devastated. I felt so much guilt. I thought their health would be compromised. I truly felt like a failure around it and was even ashamed to admit I wasn’t nursing anymore. As a perfectionist my entire life I wanted to do motherhood perfectly too. It would be one thing after another and finally I got used to the idea that I couldn’t be perfect and be sane. Each stage of development, the target shifts. There might be the class moms doing their kids projects for them and everything is done beautifully. First of all, that’s not healthy for kids. They need to learn how to do things on their own. It’s important to learn to surrender it all and know that everything is going to be okay. This is all just learning. Life is just about being here to learn, to grow, to change, and to be okay with that. I even had guilt around my son’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. It’s a big source of sadness for me but there’s nothing I can do about it. So what can I do? I can help him build a mindset to feel a sense of purpose in this. To navigate this and hopefully be an example and a guide for other kids down the road. Even in some of the worst things that happen, there is a way to make it to have a purpose. You might not see it right away and it can be miserable for a period of time but if you can find the purpose in anything it’s going to be okay.
YOU’RE A SINGLE MOM. WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE THING YOU WOULD SAY TO A MOM GOING THROUGH A DIVORCE AND ABOUT TO EXPERIENCE LIFE AS A SINGLE PARENT?
I’ve said this and I said it to a friend and she also found it to be true. Just how resilient kids are. If you feel like you’re in a really unhealthy, toxic situation just know that that can’t be good for your children. If you can take care of your own spiritual, mental, and physical well-being your kids will be okay if you need to leave that situation. They are so much more resilient than we give them credit for. They respond to happy energy. Create an environment where they feel safe and cared for. It’s difficult for kids to move from relating to their parents as a unit to having to relate to them as individuals. There’s definitely some adjustment in that but there’s so much wisdom out there. Again it’s about being willing to ask for help. You’re not supposed to know how to do everything. It can be really overwhelming sometimes when you go for weeks without a single break and then you don’t have your kids at all for a couple of weeks. When you’re not with your kids, it’s a really important time to take care of yourself, to develop adult friendships so you have people to do things with when you’re not with your kids. You don’t want to feel like you’re miserable and pining away for when they’re going to come back. If you feel happy and fulfilled when they aren’t with you that energy is really positive for when they are. That’s what balance looks like to me as a single mom. When they’re with me I can be my best self. None of us can do that 24-7. I am also so very vigilant (as much as I can possibly control it) to not say anything negative about their father. Also, be attentive to their changing needs because things that work for them one week might be different the next. You have to somehow learn to co-parent effectively with people you might not like at all. You might have a lot of anger but you have to constantly put your kids first. See the other person as your co-parent not your ex. You have to be on the same team or your kids will suffer. People admire your strength as a single mom. As much as our ego may tell us that people judge us or think less of us because we’re single parents, we can be examples of strength and grace under pressure. We have to make a commitment to keep our side of the street clean no matter what the other person is doing.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO THE MAMA OUT THERE WHO WANTS TO BE MORE PRESENT AND MINDFUL BUT HAS NO IDEA WHERE TO BEGIN?
I would say first YouTube is one of the most amazing resources. Any time of the day or night wherever you are if you have a mobile phone you can find inspiration there and you can find teachers. Exploration is such a big thing. You don’t know whose voice or message will resonate with you. If you have a friend who’s really happy and peaceful amidst all the stressed out and complaining moms, usually they have a spiritual practice of some kind. Start to ask those people what they’re doing. Start asking questions, looking at books. I found May Cause Miracles by accident. I was doing Marie Forleo’s online business school and Gabrielle Bernstein kept showing up. At the time I didn’t even want to listen to what she had to say but she kept popping up. Then I started watching, listening, and reading and that was my message. Also, try not to have preconceived notions about what spirituality is and be willing to sample the buffet and see what resonates with you. When you do find something that really resonates with you, go deep into that so you can get a real foundation. Spirituality isn’t just a belief system. It’s a practice that we have to actually implement in our lives to see the fruit.
Want to learn more about this Present Mama? Check out her website DRJOYJACOBS.COM