As a corporate recruiter for some of Sydney's top businesses, Sasha Dumaresq was a master of dealing daily with pressure, pace and people. But when the birth of her third daughter made her a mum to three kids under four years, she found herself unhappy with some aspects of her own most important role.
Wrangling her unpredictable little posse and surrendering the order of her work life, Sasha sank into post natal depression. "I had no connection really to my emotions—I was over functioning, controlling, very controlled,” she says. “If someone asked how I was doing, I’d say, ‘perfectly fine’."
Her need to present a capable, perfect, I've Got This front to the world affected Sasha's relationship with her firstborn, who is now nine. (Her other girls are almost 8 and 5.)
"I shut my eldest down," she admits without hesitation. "I didn’t allow her emotions to be okay because I didn’t know emotions were okay."
Now, years on, Sasha says she is still carrying a mother load of guilt: "I really feel as though I didn’t allow her to be who she is. I feel as though there is so much more I could have done that I didn’t, and so much that I did that I probably shouldn’t have.
"Any time she's not okay, I'm not okay ‘cos I take full responsibility for how she is in the world.”
After trying other ways over time to resolve her heavy feelings and problems around mother guilt, Sasha—who started studying at The Coaching Institute in 2016 and is now a mindset and career transformation coach with her own business—volunteered to be coached one-on-one by me in what is a #Perspectives first.
So this Mother Load episode works two ways: you get to hear one woman's story of what is a far too common affliction for women, and see how a professional coaching session works.
Here's why I think it's important: you can see that coaching doesn't require fancy linguistic acrobatics. I was able to help Sasha unpack her own thinking by asking some simple foundational questions, and allowing her the space to find answers within herself that were already there, that she just hadn't accessed before.
Being willing to go public with your private stuff is never easy, especially when it's magnified by a worldwide audience. So I was grateful to Sasha for her openness and how she whole heartedly embraced what we uncovered together.
I won't give too much away because it's a fascinating episode to watch, but the outcome of the session was it's really easy as a parent to internalise and blame ourselves for creating the dysfunction in our children.
In doing that, we cloud our vision because we're making it about us, whereas if we let go of our own expectations around how we believe things should be and instead celebrate the child for they are, families can feel and be very different.
It's a powerful way forward.
Shifting the focus to letting go a bit and empowering the child to figure out their own boundaries and the expression that serves them means you're assisting them to grow into individuals rather than controlling them.
Many parents will know that it only feels like they're doing it right or have control when the child is feeling good and thriving. As soon as the child starts expressing their needs in a negative manner, love is withdrawn and control is tightened, and that creates more of an explosive environment which doesn't move anybody forward.
Talking about this with Sasha, hearing about the ugly bits of her mothering experience, was a privilege and quite fascinating.
“I think I’ve beaten myself up enough … I just feel this story has been playing out for such a long time," she told me.
"I’m seeing her through this filter of shame and blame and guilt, and I don’t want that for her anymore. I don’t want that for me anymore.”
Of course, she knew I didn't have a magic wand to wave and repair things instantly, but I got immediately that she wanted to reduce the negativity and the emotion and see her daughter more clearly.
We dived into her "chaotic" childhood—she's the eldest sibling in a family of four boys, and the only daughter—and the desire for freedom it gave her, plus the subtle and not so subtle ways that may have informed her own parenting style.
One of my early questions to Sasha was one of the most important: Does her daughter have to be perfect?
Could she not see her daughter's wonderful creativity in knowing how to push Mummy's buttons at age nine? That's cool. Go her.
Her answer to that and what happened next was so valuable for her and the conversation unspooled in ways I trust will give a few lightbulb moments for anyone who is navigating the complex feelings around motherhood and parenthood, and those who are coaches: love in the time of rejection, smashing things (metaphorically and literally), happiness and early expressions of self.
And the knowledge that if you're a mother, you want to be the mirror, not the glass.
Sasha told me at the end of our session that she felt lighter and inspired, and had "such heightened clarity" around how she had been seeing herself and her daughter.
"That really helps clarify where I’ve been so self focused in this, and I want her to be the focus of her experience and all the good things that can happen within the mess," she said.
"That’s really the shift I’m feeling in this.”
For years, Sasha is going to be tested by her daughter—and hopefully the other two go full banshee mode too!—but now she has a new framework to deal with whatever motherhood throws at her and how to beat the guilt she's had for such a long time.
I’s a gift for her daughter to be able to reflect on her behaviour, see herself reasonably accurately and be aware of how she was aligned with her values and she walks away better for knowing herself and what she did instead of knowing what you think of it.
We're preparing her for the 15 year old she’s going to be in the blink of an eye. We’re investing now for the next 10 or 15 years.