Choice #5: I Foster Connection
When another mother admits, “Yeah, me too..."
That moment of laughter you shared.
A hug, or simply a smile....
How do these small exchanges make you feel? How much do other people matter to you?
I've long known other people are a key component of wellbeing, but since making it through a traumatic experience with my family (by the grace of other people), I notice how even the most fleeting positive interactions on an ordinary day are a reason for gratitude.
I started sharing stories the night I found myself in a burn unit at my toddler son’s bedside. I was 36 weeks pregnant with a baby needing surgery, and had a four-year-old daughter at home. I simply didn't know how I was going to cope, so I sent an email to my girlfriends asking for help.
By morning, my inbox was flooded with words of support, plans for playdates, meals, and visits. My story was forwarded around and eventually, even strangers were emailing me with words of compassion.
I started a blog simply to stay connected with my well-wishers, and four years later, you are reading my words on resilience and motherhood here....
I often wonder how my story would have unfolded if I didn't ask for help. I credit the supportive circle I gathered for my ability to remain calm and ward off the onset of labor. I remained with my boy through the two surgeries that saved his life in and out of the burn unit over a month.
Friends and family rallied behind us, but the glue that held me together were the nurses. In fact, every year on the anniversary of my son's accident, my appreciation for the nurse who saw me through that first hard night in the Burn Unit outshines the haunting memories of trauma.
The beautiful ending to this story is that we walked away from it all as a very grateful family of five.
Yes, this is a rather dramatic way to exemplify how much other people might matter, but it carries a powerful lesson in resilience. When people openly wonder how I survived that time, I reply,
"Other people mattered."
Every time I started ruminating, there was someone who pulled me back from despair.
My gratitude for the support I found inspired me to write. Since I'm now following my calling to be a storyteller, I'll make the claim that other people not only carried me through a crisis, but transformed my life.
That's why I don't let the other people who matter on my most ordinary in motherhood slip by, even if it's just savoring the fleeting comment:
I've written extensively about the connections that sustain me in ordinary motherhood:
The Resilient Father highlights my supportive husband, and the fact that I am only one-half of the stories I tell.
3 Science-Based Qualities of a Life-Changing Teacher is a letter of gratitude for the teachers who supported my children this past year.
I Practice Happiness reveals how hard I work at happiness, and shows how the authenticity of other moms supports my wellbeing goals.
How to Thrive in the Sh*t is a story about performing as a Rockette after 11 years of retirement, and how important my fellow dancers were in this meaningful experience.
Just Show Up With Love is a call to let go of perfection and show up with love not only our children and our ourselves, but for other mothers too.
Clearly, authentic connection is nourishment for my mom soul....so I go out of my way to connect with those who are around me.
Here are The 4 Ways I foster Connection:
1. I notice how much other people matter.
I was in graduate school when Christopher Peterson (who has sadly since passed away) told my class,
“If I could sum up positive psychology in one sentence, it is this:
Other People Matter.”
You can read more about why he believed other people are a key component of "the good life" here.
Peterson's words continue to inspire me to notice even the smallest moments of connection and how they influence my life (e.g., the long list of my writing on this topic above). His book, A Primer in Positive Psychology, remains prominently displayed on my bookshelf, and while I reference it in my work, it serves as a reminder of a powerful mantra we all should use:
Other people matter.
2. I ask for help.
Do you like asking for help?
I don't. Asking for help (especially in motherhood) makes me feel really weak.
Yes, I did ask for help that night my son was in the burn unit, and I believe it changed my life. Still, since life is "ordinary" again, I find myself moving through motherhood while striving to be independent.
I realize I am not alone in this struggle, and the words of Margie Warrell suggest why asking for help is actually a strength.
I recently watched Amanda Palmer's TED Talk, "The art of asking." She is a musician who presents an interesting argument about how powerful simply "asking" for what we need can be.
Since I am trying to wrap my head around the power of ask for help (and realizing I need to do it more), I found this quick clip of Brene Brown on Oprah suggesting, "If you cannot ask for help without self-judgment, you can't give it without judgment."
Brown's words never fail to inspire me, and this time, they remind me that asking for help is a form of "connection" and "vulnerability."
I wrote a whole post on why I think vulnerability is the birthplace of growth, so I'm setting some new goals around asking for help. (To be continued...)
3. I pay it forward.
Last weekend, I found myself back in the Burn Unit where my son was treated. I was trained to be part of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivor's SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) Program, which has a simple yet powerful mission:
To provide one-on-one support for burn survivors so that they do not feel alone on their journey to recovery.
Connecting with the community of burn survivors at The Phoenix Society helped me through the grief and guilt I experienced following our discharge from the hospital. Simply knowing I wasn't alone gave me hope that I could heal, and my boy could thrive despite his scars.
Remembering how important other people were on my journey to recovery motivates me to reach out and connect with other mothers of burn survivors. From this one day of training alone, I am already feeling the benefits of altruism:
I have a renewed sense of meaning, hope, and purpose.
The science behind this is beautifully explained in an article by Timothy So, Lesson From the Earthquake: Altruism and Selfless Love, on Positive Psychology News Daily.
4. I build my hive.
When I think about the early days of motherhood, I can easily recall how lonely and isolated I felt.
I still consider that first year of motherhood to be one of the most challenging of my life. This is why I have an abundance of compassion for new moms, which manifested in my article on Scary Mommy, New Moms, Don't Mistake My Parenting Experience for Expertise.
A strong sense of belonging is more important than ever in motherhood, and I explained my thoughts on why we all need to find a "Mom Hive" here.
I learned about Hive Psychology from Jonathan Haidt, and if you are interested in the why he posits "hives" are an important part of evolution, check out this video.
I realize it's hard to find a hive within the constraints of motherhood, which is why I suggest we need to find it anyway we can. I am technically part of a community, but with four kids, there are many days I'm totally kid focused and scattered. I just don’t feel connected to a larger group the way I did in high school, graduate school, or when I had a "real" career.....
Interestingly, I've learned how to find the connections I need for wellbeing.
Nearly a decade into motherhood, I've gathered a vast and diverse group of moms I consider my hive. My hive is comprised of nonjudgmental, authentic, and compassionate moms near and far.
You know who you are...
If you are willing to tell your truth with your whole heart, I consider you a part of my hive.
You are what motivates me to keep writing, sharing my truth, and being more open on social media these days. I'm sharing glimpses of my life on Instagram, and my thoughts on resilience and motherhood on Facebook. Why don't you connect with me there?
Since I'm working on "asking for help," if my words resonate, will you consider sharing my work with others?
Or, at the very least, subscribe below and my weekly reflections will come straight to your inbox.
One day, one word at a time, I'm building a hive on resilience and motherhood.
I'd love for you to be a part of it.