Dr Emma Svanberg knows a lot about Mums. In fact, she probably knows the most about Mums – psychologically-speaking – out of everybody we know. She’s the clinical psychologist behind blog The Mumologist, and we spoke with her about why Mother’s Day can be tough, whether you’re a Mum or not, and how best to care for yourself and those around you. We’ll let Emma take it from here…
What exactly is a Mumologist?
I chose the name for my blog, which I started 9 years ago now! I had been working in primary care perinatal mental health services, predominantly with mums. Initially the focus of my work was on mental health difficulties but I became really interested in the common themes that all of the mums I saw were experiencing – isolation, pressure of overly high expectations, trying to break patterns of parenting from their own childhoods. My work shifted more towards understanding not just the psychological processes but also the social reasons behind maternal mental health problems. It seemed a natural name for my blog – a psychologist working with mums should be called a Mumologist! In the years since, my work has expanded and I also work with dads and partners but the name has remained. Parent-and-pregnant-people-ologist isn’t as catchy.
What is it about Mother’s Day that can be so hard?
I think for many people difficulties around Mother’s Day can be threefold. It can remind us of idealised relationships with our mothers that we don’t or didn’t have, whether that’s because we have lost our mums, or because our relationships are difficult. All the images of family togetherness can be difficult as it highlights the possibility of what could be. It can also be an incredibly bittersweet day for those who would like to be mothers and find themselves without children.
The other side is people often feeling down and resentful afterwards, hoping to be appreciated as mothers themselves on that one day and finding that their expectations were not met. Resentment at overload is a common feeling for mothers and again, the idealised images of mums being given breakfast in bed and sent on spa days can make you feel undervalued.
If somebody needs some support themselves, what can they do or where can they go?
Initially, it’s a big step just to acknowledge it. Often we can minimise our feelings about these days, but acknowledging how you are feeling, naming it and exploring it can help us to process what we’re going through. If that doesn’t feel enough, then finding someone to talk to who you trust and who will listen non-judgementally can be an enormous comfort. Sharing your experiences with others who feel similarly can also just help to feel connected and know you’re not the only one feeling sad when it can feel like everyone else is celebrating. It’s why Others’ Day is such a brilliant idea.
If somebody knows a person who needs support, what can they do to help?
Just listen. We can often feel afraid of hearing others’ difficult feelings because we have the urge to make it better, filling the gaps with ‘at least’… but often what we need is just to feel heard and have our feelings understood. You don’t need to say a lot, just validate that these feelings are completely understandable.
What’s the best piece of Other’s Day-related advice you could give?
The thing is, we’re all ‘others’ in some way, aren’t we? We all recognise the feeling of being on the outside of something. So look for the connections instead of the differences.