Mum-of-three and psychotherapist, Anna Mathur knows a thing or two about the pressure mums can put on themselves. With her fourth book, Raising a Happier Mother, out on August 31st, Anna wants mums to give themselves a break and start taking care of themselves.
Anna enlists the help of other mums and her own experiences as a parent in a book that is food for the soul and mind. The book encourages mothers to put as much love into themselves as they do their children – showing all parents that when you're looked after, so are your little ones.
We sat down with Anna and spoke all about her new book and what she wants all mums to know...
Why this book? Why now?
"Okay, on my bookshelf, I have got so many parenting books, all different aspects of parenting and development. And I think I would read those books, I'd absorb, try and absorb all this information. But when it actually came down to it, and challenging parenting moments, when things were hard and tiring, I found that I wasn't actually able to put into action, the stuff that I was learning. I realised that the more depleted we are as mums, if we're not thriving, if we're exhausted, and we're not looking after ourselves, we're living in that kind of fight or flight state, we were not really able to think clearly in those moments.
"So the book is basically the one to read before all the other parenting books. Because if you're looking after yourself, nurturing yourself, nourishing yourself, in those challenging moments, you're going to be able to actually use the information that you have, because you're not in survival mode.
"I was recognising over the pandemic, especially that the more tired I was, the more grumpy I was, the more I'd kind of overlooked self care and the things that made me feel good, the more guilty I felt, because I wasn't responding to my kids in the way that I wanted to. In the book, I talk about this kind of Mary Poppins, to the Hulk margin. What I mean is, I know how I want to respond to my kids but then I've got the reaction that just sometimes comes out when I'm grumpy and tired. I say that, as we look after ourselves, we get more choice in how we respond to our children - we're less likely to do that kind thing that we feel really guilty about later.
"This isn't a parenting book, it’s not parenting advice. It's actually just to help the mum be nurtured and nourished enough to actually put into action, any of the useful stuff that they're learning. Which is why I think, often the focus is on raising a happy a child, how can we raise a happy child, when actually if the mother is thriving, the kids are going to thrive as a side effect.
"We’re teaching our children that when you get older and you become a grown up, you don't matter anymore. All that matters is what you do and give to everybody else. Your fun, your joy, your rest, and your nourishment just doesn't matter, which obviously isn’t true."
You dedicated this book to the reader, 'your fellow mum'. What was the idea behind that?
"This is my fourth book. I've dedicated it to my kids, my mum, to my therapist, and I just thought, this is basically a love letter; it’s an invitation to fellow mums to start thinking about what they expect for their own mental health and wellbeing in motherhood. I'm on that journey too.
"We’re constantly being bombarded with information - we need to be doing more and try harder and all of this - so it's just so important that we keep going back to the concepts of, ‘we need to be okay, we need to look after ourselves’. Then a lot of these other things that we're trying so hard at will naturally fall into place."
You ended each chapter with three ways to absorb the information - what inspired those three points? ('Journal points, Talk it over, and Get creative')
"I think it is just knowing that people learn differently. I'd always done journal points, that's something that is in all of my books. I think it's my editor that said, ‘What about other creative expressions and ways to explore it?’ I thought, yeah, some people will just want to scribble and draw and write poetry and find other creative ways to engage in what they've read.
"My dream is that women will want to read this together, and then get together, on the sofa, every week or so and just talk it talk over, maybe compare notes and thoughts. There is so much of that through the book - sharing our experiences - this can bring a lot of clarity and validation. Hopefully those talk-over points will prompt people to remember that there is a lot of power in chatting these topics through with friends."
You write about speaking to your mother about mum guilt and some other parenting bits - would you recommend that to other mums?
"I think it's really useful to think about the differences in the generations. So, my mum, and I did a book called ‘Mind Over Mother’, where I did a whole chapter talking to my mum about why we're more anxious as mums. She would say, 'No, we were never anxious about these things. We never worried, and we never Googled things’.
"We had this conversation about guilt and I just found it really interesting to recognise how much pressure we put on ourselves. The level of perfectionism that we're seeking, that a generation or two ago, it just wasn't even a thing. It makes you realise how much our current culture really impacts where we’ve placed the parenting bar. Once we start recognising these things, and discussing these things, that's when we can start addressing them, because you're like, ‘oh, this isn't how it has to be.’"
What would you say are the best ways to lift up other mums?
"I think just noticing and affirming when people are struggling. Maybe saying ‘oh, gosh, it's so hard, isn't it?’ - that is an encouragement. In that moment, that person isn't feeling judged. They’re feeling like you're getting it and standing beside them. The relief you feel when someone else feels the same way as you and you're like, it's not just me. I think that’s so important."
In the fear and anxiety chapter you discuss the fear of illness - It’s a tough one but do you believe that there's a way parents can still speak up for their child's wellbeing without letting intrusive thoughts win?
"Yes, it's knowing what is practical and sensible, but then also recognising when that kind of anxiety and rumination is interrupting your sleep - You're going from concern about a temperature to suddenly worrying they’re seriously ill.
"I think there are ways that we can absolutely learn to control those anxious spirals, whilst just trying to be sensible and practical. So, I think anxiety is there as a liberal warning; it’s just that sometimes, it then spirals and takes over. And that's when it needs addressing."
Do you think that it's important for parents to sometimes show when they're feeling scared in front of their children?
"I think it depends. If they have a rash, for example, and the parent isn't able to maintain calm and composure and is flapping around, Googling, taking photos, and sending them off to like any medical person they know, then the child's going to pick up on that anxiety, and they're going to feel more scared.
"One of the most common questions I get asked by parents is, ‘How do I not pass my anxiety on to my children?’ The best way to do that is to address it for yourself. Finding ways to respond more rationally in those situations; otherwise, your children will think something bad is going to happen. Then wherever that comes up again, they'll be joining in the pattern of anxiety and health anxiety."
What techniques can we use to practice with our children?
"There are loads of amazing techniques that you can do with your children. I'll often do some deep breathing, and my children will see that, and I'll encourage them to do that too. It’s modelling that we do have big feelings sometimes, but there are things that we can do to help calm our body down and nurture ourselves."
What would you say to a mum experiencing burnout or feeling overwhelmed, who might be a little bit resentful of a partner that maybe isn’t?
"I think just knowing that you are burnt out, knowing that you're not being able to respond to your kids in a way that you want to, and knowing what your signs are is important. For me, even the things that I normally enjoy doing, suddenly start feeling too much. And I think the antidote to burnout is rest.
"There are times when I would resent my husband for getting the train into London, because I'd be like, ‘well, you're just sitting there. How lovely.' I'd be envious of him. I think resentment is often a real sign of exhaustion and burnout.
"Turning that into questions like, ‘What do I need? what needs to be expressed?’ can help. Asking yourself, ‘Why aren't I validating this? Is perfectionism playing a part? Is the fact that I find it hard to sit down because I feel guilty?’ These things perpetuate burnout. The more that we address that for ourselves, the less resentment we will feel with our partners who are able to take the rest that they need. We can ask them to help facilitate us getting more of what we need."
If you could give one piece of advice from this book, and give it to yourself before you became a mum, what would it be?
"It would be to learn how to accept kindness and support. I recommend people doing that by just feeling the guilt and doing it anyway, saying yes, even if you're literally squirming. Because down the line, when you've got kids and life is full, you need people.
"They say it takes a village, but often I think we find it hard to even accept support from the people around us. Start accepting it in small ways, so that down the line, when you really need it, going that doesn't feel quite so uncomfortable."
Eve Miller is a Commercial Content Writer for Mother&Baby, working for Bauer Media for over two years. She is passionate about beauty, creative writing, and women’s healthcare.