Reflections on Resilience from a Recovering ‘Mom-aholic’

by Alison Rogers

If you are the mother of young children right now, chances are that relaxing moments are few and far between. Your reality is more likely to be long days spent navigating short attention spans, online schooling, challenging emotions, and cabin fever, all while trying to fulfill the family's practical and possibly work responsibilities as well.

The routines of the school year are suspended, leaving lots of room for chaos. Tactics for simple day-to-day survival might have replaced any ambitious plans and high expectations for creating structure at home. Getting through isolation with young children can feel a lot like trying to stay in Utkatasana, or Chair pose, for too long. You can start to feel shaky and exhausted. When you reach this point—both on and off the mat—you have two options: You can keep pressing through until you topple over, or you can ease up, and then, when you've taken a few breaths and rested a bit, you can begin again.

Sylvia Boorstein, the wise Buddhist teacher, says to herself when stressed, Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what’s happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do. What better way to give yourself permission to pause, breathe, and take the time necessary to respond? As mothers, we often feel pressured to have all the answers, now. But we don't always know the answers. How wonderful to let yourself say, “I’m not sure, I’ll figure it out and get back to you.” It might take just a minute, or it might take all day. But just giving yourself permission to not know right now is liberating.

It turns out that resilience isn’t always about pushing through with sheer grit. “Resilience is about recharging, not enduring,” Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan wrote in the Harvard Business Review. Occupationally induced stress without adequate time for recovery doesn’t build resilience, but rather depletes it.

Two Types of Recovery

What, then, is recovery? There are two kinds of recovery: internal and external. Internal recovery can take place in the context of caregiving. For mothers, this means finding a way to break the cycle of stress, by changing your focus from completion of a goal to attention to and the acceptance of the present moment—however temporary the moment might be.

There are many ways to engage in recovery, even in the midst of a stressful parenting situation. You can follow Sylvia Boorstein’s rescue formula by taking a moment to simply acknowledge that you are struggling. Show yourself compassion, while breathing deeply in Child’s pose for even a few minutes. It helps to acknowledge that you are not alone, that mothers everywhere feel stress, guilt, and dashed hopes. And then, it can help to offer yourself the same kindness you would offer a good friend who feels overwhelmed and guilt-ridden. These are all ways to recover and build resilience.

Taking a break from caregiving, even briefly, can shift everything. Get on your yoga mat, take a walk or a bike ride (if possible), or read a book. Workaholics never take breaks, and it creates an imbalance in their lives. “Mom-aholics” rarely take breaks from caregiving, and as a result find themselves often depleted and in stress-response mode.

The Power of Retreat and Renewal

Thirty years ago, as a young mother, I was lucky enough to spend a few midsummer days at Kripalu for R&R. I still remember the relief and calm I felt when I walked through the door and looked over the green lawns to the lake. The center was peaceful and bright, the people kind and caring. It was the perfect place to find some breathing space.

I discovered that yoga at Kripalu was different; the teachers encouraged students to move slowly and to listen to their bodies with kindness and acceptance. I didn’t know it at the time, but the word Kripalu means compassion. I left feeling deeply relaxed, more open, and accepting of myself and my life.

It turned out that going to Kripalu for brief stays made me a better mother at home. It wasn’t just the break. It was the break from all the demands and the cultivation of acceptance that made such a long-lasting impact. I returned to Kripalu again and again over the years. It was my way of recovering from the demands of motherhood, my way of stepping out of the strenuous work of caregiving until I felt rested and strong enough to step back in. To this day, I feel a sense of calm the minute I turn up the driveway and land at Kripalu.

Mothers’ Liberation Day

Many years after that first trip, when my own three sons were grown, I watched the young mothers of my small town gather for an annual rite of passage. On the Tuesday after Labor Day, they drank coffee together on the front steps of the general store in celebration of “Mothers’ Liberation Day." They cheered as the last child got on the bus, then talked and laughed for a while before they each moved into their day, relieved to focus on their other responsibilities.

As you move through the chaos, challenges, and unexpected sweetness of this time, remember that sometimes the best way to keep moving is to stop. Recharge, don’t simply endure. Come out of the unsustainable poses of motherhood. Rest, then begin again with renewed strength. Even if you can’t get a physical break right now, take a breath. Send compassion to yourself and all the parents in the neighborhood and beyond who are all in this together—and then deal with the juice your kids spilled on the kitchen floor. Know that we will all make it through, stronger and more resilient.

Alison Rogers is a graduate of 200-Hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training and the coauthor of Breathing Space for New Mothers; Rest, Stretch and Smile—One Yoga Minute at a Time. More about the author: