'I used to berate myself': Initiative offers a helping hand for mams

With three children, a part-time job and the responsibility for the mountain of paperwork involved in the running of the family farm, 42-year-old Joann Crean is a busy lady.

Up to a year ago, this farmer’s wife took it for granted that — in her own mind at least — she came last. 

“I know as a mother that all of my time, I’m stretched. My whole focus was on the family and on my work and there wasn’t much time left over for me,” she recalls.

Last spring, however, Joann heard about Just for Mams, a free six-week programme due to start in her local town of Mallow.

She was intrigued, she recalls, initially because it wasn’t a parenting course: “It was about mothers. I thought it’d be a chance to learn more about being a mum, and being in a group of mums attracted me.

“Also it meant some time out for me. I was interested in talking about what it’s like to be a mum and finding out what other peoples’ experiences were — and it was free.

“It was just about us Mums. It wasn’t about parenting or about the right way or the wrong way to do things. There’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect parent and there’s a lot of stress about not doing things right.” 

She signed up. 

Joann and her family
Joann and her family

“I felt Just for Mams would be a breath of fresh air,” she recalls.

It was. Along the way, Joann learned to stop berating herself, to be kinder to herself, to stop feeling guilty about doing things for herself, and above all to accept that nobody’s a perfect parent and that simply doing your best as a mum, is, actually, good enough.

“For me, as a mum, one of the biggest things was that the course encouraged self- awareness,” she says.

“I wasn’t tuned into that — everything was about my kids, my husband and the family.

“As a mother you often don’t even think about yourself or accept that you have needs; you don’t think about your feelings.

“Before you have children you’ve only got yourself to look after; once you have children there’s no time to think about yourself any more.

“Just for Mams gave me the opportunity to think about myself and the relationship I have with myself.

We learned about being self-compassionate. I used to berate myself if I felt I wasn’t stepping up to the mark as a mother; for example if I couldn’t bring one of the children to an activity, my self-talk could be negative but now I try to be kinder to myself.

She’s also more aware of the importance of self-care, she says and no longer feels guilty about taking time out to meditate, run, or attend the gym.

“I learned to be more aware of how I treat myself, how I talk to myself; to be kinder to myself, to look after myself and give myself some time out,” she said. 

A very important element of the course, she says, was accepting that.

“I’m not a perfect parent but I do my best, and that’s good enough.”

Just for Mams is essentially a well-being programme for mothers, explains counselling psychologist Dr Dermot Casey who, along with his colleague Elaine Breen, developed the programme for Tusla’s Springboard Family Support Service.

“This is a programme for mams, to improve their well-being and self-esteem, which often can be negatively impacted by prioritising their family over themselves — something mams are not always conscious they’re doing,” he observes.

Funded by Túsla and the HSE Mental Health Service, the programme has been delivered free to mothers throughout the Cork region on a steadily increasing basis for the past two years. 

It was held in two communities in 2017, in 10 in 2018 and this year, it’s expected to be delivered to 20 throughout Co Cork. 

Next year, says Casey, it’s hoped to train facilitators around the country in Just for Mams with the goal of rolling the programme out nationwide.

Just for Mams has two primary goals, Casey explains. “The first is to improve the mam’s own self-esteem, self-care, self-compassion.

The second goal assumes that if the mother improves these internal processes she’ll model and teach her children how to do same for themselves.

“This program is structured so that it’s an enjoyable programme for mams.

“The assumption behind the approach with JFM is that mams are in most instances the cornerstone of the family and home, and have much more influence on a child’s life-path due to this important position that they hold.”

The six-week programme is run via a weekly two-hour sessions, usually in Family Resource Centres or other local community hubs.

Delivered by a therapist and family support worker it covers a specific theme each week— a mother’s relationship with herself, self-esteem, self-compassion, a mum’s relationship with others, self-soothing and self-care. 

“Mothers often think about themselves in a negative way — they want to be the best mother they can be and if something goes wrong with their child they blame themselves,” says Casey.

It’s easy to make a mother feel inadequate he observes: “That’s because for mums, the most important thing is being a mother.

“Mothers can be negative about themselves if they feel they don’t meet the standard they’ve set for themselves, which is to be the perfect mother,” he comments.

To date the feedback on JFM has been excellent says Casey, who says one mother described it as “Operation Transformation for the Soul”.

Just for Mams is currently running in Clonakilty. It will be held in Bantry in May before moving to Skibbereen next September.

Anyone seeking more information about the programme should email jfmenquiries@gmail.com

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