How do we not lose our cool when the world – and our little ones – are demanding so much from us each day? Mama Melissa Rowe shares her mindfulness journey.
It’s such a familiar story: brought up with a high level of expectations, and working long hours in a stressful environment, Melissa Rowe found the balance of working and raising her girls pushed her to the ‘edge of sanity’. But just a few years later, she was being asked to share how she stayed calm in the face of mamahood chaos.
What was the key to her transformation?
Gratitude, mindfulness, and a little tree change.
Here, Melissa shares her journey from working with homeless mothers to starting Mindful Mamas.
“When I got pregnant with Charlotte, I was actually working in child protection. I had recently graduated uni and just started in my first job, and I found out I was pregnant. It was a very unusual space because a lot of my work was investigating child abuse claims – which was a really interesting space to be in when you don’t have children of your own. I remember really starting to identify with the people that I was working with on a much deeper level. Then after I had Charlotte, I actually came back to work after six or seven months.
“The motherhood part was actually the easy part for me – I transitioned into it surprisingly well. It’s interesting because I’d never really wanted to have children, then all of a sudden, I just took on this amazing mother energy. As soon as I was pregnant I started cooking and embracing all these things that I really wasn’t doing before. It transformed me, and it was actually the transition back to work where it really hurt. When I was at home, things were kind of manageable but then when I went back to work, it was really a challenge. Charlotte wasn’t a great sleeper and everything was magnified by being in this workspace where I was with women who were really not coping.
“I vividly remember having a very different view of that work and really having this sense of empathy and open-heartedness – almost sadness – because I knew how difficult that it was for me. I had resources and a husband that was supportive, and family, and no drug or alcohol issues, no mental health issues, and it was still hard for me. I was struggling and I had everything. Yet, here were these women with all of that to deal with, as well as motherhood. I remember really feeling into that. I’ve got everything, I’ve got money, I’ve got food, I’ve got this house, and this beautiful husband and everything. And I’m finding it so challenging.
“And then, the along came toddlerhood. I felt like I was being taken to the edge of sanity. It really challenged my view of motherhood – bringing up so much ‘stuff’ from the was I was brought up. It’s probably similar for so many women around my age – the house had to be clean, the dinner had to be on the table, and that was the measure of success of motherhood. I found it really difficult. I didn’t really want to do it because I wanted to spend time with my daughter. I had these really high expectations of myself; of needing to be ‘put together’, to exercise, look OK and get back to pre-baby body, plus keep the house perfect. I was really hard on myself.
“The shift towards mindfulness started when my eldest daughter was around three or four. To be honest, I probably didn’t know what I was doing, but it just started out of the work I was doing. It just started with this space for reflection on what was really going on in my head. And then, I had my second child, and that’s when you say ‘things are really getting real now!’ It didn’t really come from something that I read – it just came from this want to be gentle and wanting to be compassionate to myself and the girls.
Then, when my youngest daughter was about four, we decided to have a bit of a tree change. We moved out to Gippsland (country Victoria, Australia) and I became friends with one of the women that rented us the farmhouse we lived in while building our new house. I remember very clearly she came over for a cup of tea one day, and both of our kids were always so busy and creative and crafty. And as we were sitting having a cup of tea at the kitchen table, my youngest kept flying past us – as four year olds do – saying ‘Mummy, where’s the sippy cup? Mummy, where’s the food? Mummy, where’s the jar? Mummy, where the egg carton?’ And this woman turned to me and said ‘If I wasn’t here, please tell me you wouldn’t put up with that.’ And I said what do you mean? And she said, ‘I would go mental. I’m annoyed with her because she has interrupted us so many times.’
“And it really hit me. I just wasn’t annoyed like she was. We then went on to start a whole conversation about – she told me she’d watched me every time she’d been over with my kids and she’d never seen anyone communicate with their kids like that. To not yell at them or get frustrated with them and tell them to stop interrupting. And then she said – ‘I want you to teach me how to do that.’ And that’s how it all started.
This isn’t how I’ve always been though. I am a completely different person to who I used to be. I’m not even recognizable. Even my husband has said that to! He said he feels like he’s married to someone completely different. I feel like in the early days I was switched on and running a million miles an hour. I had high expectations of myself, and really hard on myself. My mum was one of those classy strong women – if you want something done, you do it yourself. You don’t need to rely on other people. Things have got to be just so. I’ve definitely come from that – I was definitely conditioned in a way that is pretty strong.
“But after my first daughter, I had some thyroid issues, and I had some physical limitations on what I could do. I realised I actually can’t push. I can’t live up to those unrealistic expectations, and I had to figure out what was important to me instead. Then the real turning point was when we moved to Gippsland. I felt like the life that I knew, which was still getting up and running around, and going to the gym and exercising, having coffee, and all of those type of things, was stripped back to nothing because we moved out into the middle of nowhere and it was very isolating. Suddenly, we had this really beautiful, slow pace, and mindfulness just dropped itself in. I found my first women’s circle out there, I started to fall into the magic of women coming together and telling stories and supporting each other, and I started to practice meditation. It just all fell into place – and out of that, mindfulness was born.”
Melissa Rowe is the creator of Mindful Mama retreats in Victoria, Melbourne, and is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker.
All images by Ang Bergmann Photography.