HER MISSION TO KEEP FAMILIES CONNECTED
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