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NAME: Leonie Percy FROM: Syd­ney, Aus­tralia SIN­GLE MUM TO: Lael ( 6) and Luna- Joy ( 7 months) SIN­GLE MUM FOR: Four years, now repart­nered Af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a sud­den end to her mar­riage when her son was two years old Leonie found her­self over­whelmed reg­u­larly. Hav­ing to re­turn to work full-time af­ter her sep­a­ra­tion, she found her­self run­ning to the bath­room in tears sev­eral times a day, and at night she bat­tled with night-time rou­tines and an over­tired tod­dler. Stress was quickly man­i­fest­ing it­self in her aching body and dis­tressed mind.

It was then she knew some­thing had to change and so she threw her­self into a whole new world of yoga, psy­chol­ogy, mind­ful­ness and med­i­ta­tion to dis­cover what had hap­pened to her mar­riage. And she found it all comes down to con­nec­tion: stay­ing con­nected with our­selves, our loved ones and our chil­dren.

Since then, the cor­po­rate ca­reer woman turned yoga and mind­ful­ness teacher has founded Yoga Ma­mata, au­thored the book, Mother Om, and has wel­comed a daugh­ter into the world with her new part­ner.

To­day she talks to us about fam­ily, re­cov­ery af­ter di­vorce and how to re-build a con­nected fam­ily unit.

In your book, Mother Om, you say you ini­tially strug­gled as a sin­gle mother. What did you strug­gle with?

I felt in­cred­i­bly lonely. The iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness al­most ate my soul. I was with my ex-hus­band for nine years and you be­come so de­pen­dent in a re­la­tion­ship. Look­ing back in my life I’d al­ways been sur­rounded by peo­ple and then sud­denly it was just me and my baby. It was my worst fear re­alised.

How did you deal with that?

That feel­ing was there for about 18 months. It was like a phys­i­cal pain, right in my gut. I’d be driv­ing along in my car, to­tally fine, and then a par­tic­u­lar song would come on and I’d be in floods of tears. There were so many trig­gers where I’d have no con­trol over the lone­li­ness. What helped was go­ing to power yoga twice a week. At the end of the class I’d end up cry­ing, it was such an emo­tional re­lease and all the phys­i­cal ten­sion and stress just evap­o­rated. It was dur­ing those classes that I started to see a beau­ti­ful light and I knew I had a choice to fol­low the light or be a vic­tim. Now I truly be­lieve you need dark­ness to see the light, so there’s a real beauty in the strug­gle and the chal­lenge but you’ve got to em­brace it oth­er­wise you be­come a sin­gle mum who never re-parters or gets bet­ter.

And you know, I think the lone­li­ness is still there to some ex­tent. I don’t think you can ever heal cer­tain as­pects of your soul, you just learn to man­age it and learn from it. Now I teach mind­ful­ness and it’s all about ac­knowl­edg­ing how you feel, be­ing with it and then evolv­ing and grow­ing from it.

And now you’re on a mis­sion to keep fam­i­lies con­nected through mind­ful­ness... The word “fam­ily’ is a more com­plex idea than it used to be. What’s your idea of fam­ily?

I think fam­ily means dys­func­tion, in the nicest pos­si­ble way! Fam­ily is so many things to so many peo­ple. You can be a sin­gle par­ent, blended, rain­bow, adopted, sci­en­tific and have sur­ro­gates, it doesn’t mat­ter what your def­i­ni­tion is – it’s about liv­ing to­gether in a sup­port­ive, lov­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Fam­ily may be dys­func­tional but it’s beau­ti­ful. If we lived in per­fect nu­clear bub­bles, how would our chil­dren learn to be re­silient? How would we learn from our own strug­gles and chal­lenges? It doesn’t mat­ter how you de­fine it, what mat­ters is keep­ing it con­nected amidst the dys­func­tion of to­day’s busy and stress­ful world.

I’ve heard sin­gle mums say that they don’t feel like a real fam­ily or that oth­ers have told them that they should ‘hurry up’ and repart­ner. What’s your take on that?

It’s quite in­ter­est­ing you know, be­ing repart­nered now and hav­ing a new daugh­ter has made me feel like my fam­ily’s com­plete be­cause I al­ways wanted my son to have a sib­ling. Say­ing that, I ac­tu­ally miss it just be­ing the two of us. Now our life has be­come more frag­mented as we bal­ance time with all our

fam­ily mem­bers. Be­ing a sin­gle mum cre­ates a spe­cial con­nec­tion with your chil­dren. To your child, you’re their en­tire uni­verse and that’s the most beau­ti­ful, pure love you can find. How can that not be a fam­ily?

So be­ing a sin­gle par­ent fam­ily is a good op­por­tu­nity for bond­ing and con­nect­ing?

Ab­so­lutely yes! When I was pre­sent­ing at a re­treat re­cently, some­one asked me about how I at­tracted the right part­ner, and one of the keys was that I took the time to heal, face my fears and de­velop new fam­ily bonds with my son, so when I did start look­ing for a part­ner, it wasn’t to com­plete me or my fam­ily. I wasn’t at­tract­ing a part­ner be­cause I felt alone or in­com­plete, it was be­cause I thought that my son and I could be a beau­ti­ful ad­di­tion to some­one else’s life.

Do you ever worry that the same thing could hap­pen again? That your new part­ner­ship could un­ex­pect­edly end?

There was def­i­nitely a fear of the cy­cle be­ing re­peated again. When I was preg­nant with my baby girl I started to get scared and anx­ious about los­ing my part­ner so I went and got coun­selling be­cause I knew that if I didn’t deal with it, I would have man­i­fested it. I still had to process all those things from my di­vorce.

So you don’t think you can just sit by and blindly hope that these things won’t hap­pen again?

Right. I still freak out when my part­ner is late home. It’s not that I sit there ob­sess­ing that he doesn’t love me or he’s go­ing to leave me, but I still have that fear that I’ll be on my own again. That’s al­ways go­ing to be in­side me and it’s wound that needs to be nour­ished, not ig­nored. Ul­ti­mately, of course I know that if it did ever hap­pen, I’d be ok . You have to be ac­count­able for your own life; your daily choices and emo­tions and words. Check in with your­self. And check in with your part­ner if you have one. I’m a big be­liever in ther­apy. Over time you will change and your part­ner will change. See­ing a psy­chol­o­gist isn’t neg­a­tive, it’s es­sen­tial. Right now my part­ner and I are deeply con­nected but we’re still in our ‘two year bub­ble’ and re­la­tion­ships can change. If you don’t change to­gether, you’ll dis­con­nect. If one of you changes and the other doesn’t, you can get to a point where you can’t go back.

So do you con­sider your ex-hus­band to be part of your fam­ily now?

Ab­so­lutely. We’re con­nected for life. My re­la­tion­ship with him is now is ac­tu­ally much bet­ter than when we were mar­ried, although it took us a while to get there. The com­mu­ni­ca­tion now is very open and flex­i­ble, it’s like a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship; very fac­tual, sched­uled and money re­lated.

Our fam­ily home is cov­ered in my son’s art­work of his fam­ily. In his pic­tures he draws two mums and two dads and a baby sis­ter. We do birth­days to­gether and I’m very proud of how am­i­ca­ble we are now – to have not let our own anger and frus­tra­tion come be­tween his hap­pi­ness. He has pho­tos of all four of us to­gether with him in his room. Now that’s not great for me to look at it, but I have to move on. For my son it’s so im­por­tant and his dad and I have never said a bad word about each other in front of him.

So how do you stay con­nected when it comes to your co-par­ent?

It is what it is. Let it go – it’s an in­cred­i­ble les­son. You can’t change it. If they’re an­gry with you or use you to be toxic with your chil­dren, you can only take care of your par­ent­ing with your child and cre­ate a nur­tur­ing space.

What was the big­gest chal­lenge in stay­ing con­nected or per­haps re-con­nect­ing with your ex-hus­band as a co-par­ent in­stead of a part­ner, and how did you over­come that?

I was still des­per­ately in love with him. I was so happy to be mar­ried. He lost his love for me but I hadn’t lost love for him. I just wanted to fix things but in the end the ex­change of en­ergy wasn’t work­ing – it has to go both ways or it’s never go­ing to work. So we wrote let­ters to each other to end our re­la­tion­ship and iron­i­cally the love I have for my new part­ner is a whole di­men­sion I never knew was pos­si­ble.

You talk a lot about our over­stim­u­lated world af­fect­ing the con­nec­tion of fam­i­lies. What is the cause of over­stim­u­la­tion how have you seen that im­pact fam­i­lies?

The way we are so ad­dicted to tech­nol­ogy. I see it in a very alarm­ing way in my son. He’s ob­sessed with be­ing on the com­puter. I’m all about un­plug and play. Tech­nol­ogy is amaz­ing and im­por­tant, it con­nects us but it also dis­con­nects us. We don’t phys­i­cally con­nect any­more. It’s a toxic world. We eat pro­cessed food, we don’t sleep well and we make bad choices be­cause we’re tired and stressed

and it af­fects the con­nec­tion we have with our­selves, our part­ners and our fam­i­lies and we end up be­ing on au­topi­lot. It re­ally does ruin re­la­tion­ships.

As a sin­gle mum with ma­jor­ity care of my lit­tle one, I’m re­ally con­scious of this. Do you have any tips to help re­duce screen time that will also give tired mums a break?

It’s a tough one – as a sin­gle par­ent I did use tech­nol­ogy as a baby sit­ter. To cook din­ner, I’d just have to put on the tv. Al­low­ing them to watch a twenty minute show on Playschool is fine. There’s been stud­ies done say­ing there should be no screen time un­der two, then about an hour a day pre-school age and it builds up, but I won­der if my son’s ob­ses­sion with tech­nol­ogy now is be­cause I needed to have that break as a sin­gle par­ent.

I also had lots of sin­gle mum friends and we had play dates. Two mums is al­ways eas­ier than one!

What about sin­gle mums with mul­ti­ple chil­dren? How can they get that one-on-one time with each child on a reg­u­lar ba­sis?

I have friends go to psy­chol­o­gists about this. They say that do­ing things with each child for 10-15 min­utes a day is enough to keep them con­nected. It’s not my area of spe­cial­i­sa­tion, but try­ing to find that time where one goes to bed ear­lier and you have that time with the other or find­ing another sin­gle mum and or­gan­is­ing a play date to have time with the other. Get as much help as you can!

You say you wrote your book, Mother Om, to de­scribe the mother you want to be. Do you ever find your­self fall­ing short of your ex­pec­ta­tions?

Only ev­ery mo­ment of ev­ery day. Some­times I feel like a hyp­ocrite. I still shout some­times and I still get frus­trated as a mum, but I al­ways say sorry. We’re hu­man. We’re not per­fect. My son re­ally chal­lenges me. I find it stress­ful and I do make mis­takes, so I need to be re­ally mind­ful of my re­ac­tion and how I speak to him. I could be that mum shout­ing at her kids in the su­per­mar­ket. I try re­ally hard not to but that’s what we do. That’s par­ent­ing. one mo­ment you can be think­ing ‘Was that mo­ment of hor­ren­dous drama real?’ And the next you’re hav­ing a beau­ti­ful con­nected mo­ment. The pen­du­lum of emo­tions you ex­pe­ri­ence as a mother is so ex­treme… and that’s where mind­ful­ness lets you be aware of how you’re feel­ing but not be too at­tached to it, it’s a daily prac­tice.

If there was one thing mums could do right now to start be­ing more con­nected, what would it be?

Grat­i­tude! For me it was a big game changer. Once I be­came grate­ful for what I had not what I’d lost or didn’t have, it turned ev­ery­thing into enough. Now I teach it to my son; we sit around the ta­ble and say what we’re grate­ful for ev­ery day and you know what?, it’s al­ways small things... like the smi­ley face I draw on his ba­nana. Kids say re­ally beau­ti­ful things and it strength­ens that con­nec­tion.

Another great way to re­lieve mummy guilt is to con­nect with your kids while they’re sleep­ing. Go in, sit on their bed and say all the things you wanted to say that day but didn’t. Get all your emo­tions out. It gets it all off your chest and clears it so you can sleep and start afresh with a new day. That’s the beau­ti­ful thing about fam­ily, you can choose to do some­thing dif­fer­ent any mo­ment you choose.

4th Quar­ter 2015 Is­sue 5 I Fam­i­lies

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