If you’re going through it right now, you’re not alone. At different times in our lives something sucks for all of us. 

Whether your kid is struggling with friends, your basement is leaking, your mother-in-law isn’t respecting your boundaries, or soemthing else—it’s hard to go through challenges in modern motherhood. 

Having the right tools can help tremendously.

In this podcast episode, you’ll learn a five step process to navigate what to do when something sucks. Save this one for whenever you need it! You’ll get unstuck and feel better every step of the way. 

If you’re a mom, you’re in the right place. This is a space designed to help you overcome challenges and live your best life. I’d love for you to join me inside the Mom On Purpose Membership where we take this work to the next level.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Mom On Purpose, where it’s all about helping moms overcome challenges and live their best lives. My hope is by being here, you are more inspired to become the mom you are made to be. I’m Natalie, your host, a wife, boy, mom, dog, mama, Chicagoan, and former lawyer turned professionally certified coach. If you’re here to grow, I can help. Let’s go.

Hello, my lovely friend. I’m so happy to be here with you today. It is winter in Chicago and I love it. I am loving the snow and the dramatic seasons that we are experiencing. And I think about how I didn’t experience that for the last few years in the south and I was just reflecting on how similar it is to life and how there are different seasons of life. And those seasons may be a few short months or they may be a few long years. So if you are in a winter season right now, hang in there and today’s episode may be for you. We are gonna talk about what to do when something sucks at any time in our lives. We go through things that suck and we want them to suck. A few months ago, one of my dogs, Penny, Penny girl was so sick and she doesn’t get sick like this. Just like kind of your kids and just people in your family. You sort of know what types of sicknesses and what types of, um, challenges they tend to have. And Penny has her challenges, but getting really sick is typically not one of them. And we were so concerned and I was, um, you know, already feeling a little bit of stress and overwhelm. It was around the holidays and we were hosting and just so much going on and it really sucked that she was sick like this and we took her to the emergency room, her vet, and um, it just was, it was hard and that’s okay, that it was hard.

It’s supposed to be hard when something sucks and that’s really what this is about. But more than that, it’s about providing you with a way to navigate something that sucks so that you don’t feel powerless, so you don’t feel like it’s permanent and you can’t do anything about it. And there’s this sort of hopelessness like your life is happening to you that is just one of the worst places to be. I’ve definitely been there and I’m so grateful for this process. I use this process. I go through it in my own life. I use it in my clients’ lives. And it may be for you today or it may be for you in the future, so you can just sort of bookmark this one. If something doesn’t suck for you right now, save it. I think about the variety of things that have sucked in my own life and then also in my client’s lives.

So I just want to kinda share with you some examples. And again, it’s, it’s personal. You get to decide what that thing is in your life and whether and to what extent it sucks. But some common examples that I coach my clients on that, that come up are divorce or any marital challenges or your child is struggling and you are struggling to help your child or you know, a cross country move or just a move in general or a diagnosis or, um, something’s happening in your community. Um, something’s happening with your in-laws. Maybe you have someone in your extended family staying with you and that’s challenging. It really doesn’t matter what the circumstance is. It could be “big or small”. If your brain interprets it as something sucks, then that is valid and that’s the first thing that you really wanna know is just this is something that sucks right now for me and give yourself permission to validate that experience.

I think if we take a really broad perspective and we take a step back, of course things are gonna suck from time to time in life. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. And yet when we’re in it, it’s almost as like we have this idea that it shouldn’t suck so bad. I was just coaching someone and her basement had flooded twice and her kids were sick and her husband had his own stuff going on and she was like, you know, I just didn’t think it would be this hard, right? And, and that’s sort of how we think in the moment when something challenging is happening, there’s this sense of like, yeah, things suck from time to time, but do they have to suck this bad? Does it have to hurt this bad? Does it have to be this challenging? And the answer is yes.

Sometimes, sometimes things are gonna suck. Now hopefully most of the time things are amazing and things are going great or they’re going just fine. But when something sucks, I want you to have a process for what to do because I think that can be the most challenging of times and the most disempowering feeling like you’re hopeless or helpless or there’s nothing really for you to do to get out of the challenge that can really feel um, hard. With that, here’s an overview of the steps to take when something sucks.

Step number one, calm down. Step number two, ask yourself, is this even a problem? Step number three, focus on what you can control. Step number four, create a plan and come up with some solutions, some steps to take. And step number five, take care of yourself. Okay, let’s go through each of these steps one by one.

Step number one is to calm down. The reason that this is so important is because when you are in that fight flight response, when your nervous system is really activated, the thoughts that you will have, the solutions that you will come up with will not be your best. They will be very urgent, they will be very panicky, they will be kind of rooted in things that you can’t control and it just is gonna serve you so much to calm down. So I just like to remind myself when I find out something immediately when something sucks, that my number one job is to calm down. Now, one little caveat here, this assumes that nothing is actually burning down and on fire. So when I was coaching my client and she was talking about how she was having a plumber come over because the basement, um, had had water and all of these things I was coaching her out of the moment, there was not actual water like flooding into the basement at that moment.

And so assuming that there is no fire, there is no water in that moment, your number one job is to calm down because we want the nervous system to kind of go into overdrive when there is a fire. But most of the time of course, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about we just found out something from our kids or something’s going on with our husband or our dog is sick and we feel like it is life or death in that moment, and our brain is in overdrive. And so what will serve you tremendously is to just get calm. That’s step number one.

Step number two is to ask yourself, is this even a problem? I love this question. I used to not have this step in the process and I added it because a lot of times we think that anything our brain perceives as a danger or a threat or a problem means that we should take it on as a problem. But I like to say you’re not responsible for your first thought, you are responsible for your second thought. So if your brain perceives your husband’s negative emotion as a problem, at first you can pause and ask yourself, is this even a problem? An answer with your prefrontal cortex, that very smart part of your brain, it might not be the problem. You could just allow your spouse to feel stress and not make it mean anything.

I was coaching actually a few clients recently on the topic of their spouses getting dysregulated during their kids’ tantrums. So they are trying to navigate their kids’ tantrums and the kids are dysregulated and then the spouse is also dysregulated. And I said, you know, why is that such a problem? And I think we have this idea that if our brain perceives something right away as a threat, then that automatically means it’s a problem for us to fix.PBut it is such a relief to know that you are not responsible for fixing other people’s feelings. Did you know that? So good. So I just like to add in this question after calming down, is this even a problem? A lot of times when something sucks, it is a problem. So when my sweet Penny girl was sick, that was a challenge. That was something that I didn’t wanna coach myself out of and just see what happened. I wanted to navigate that challenge. It was a problem. So for you, when something sucks, ask yourself, is this a problem?

When I was coaching a client recently, there were like five different circumstances that she was navigating all at once. And let’s say three of them were problems but two of them weren’t, and one of them was her spouse and his sort of response and his feelings, it’s like, well, that doesn’t have to be a part of the problem. Is it ideal that he’s acting how he’s acting or he’s feeling how he’s feeling? No, but it’s also not a problem, not part of the, you know, area that we need to focus on. And that is so freeing when you can just say, oh, this actually isn’t a problem. Awesome. Another time that this step comes up is, let’s say you have, um, an in-law who said something to you that was like, really unkind and that can suck for sure, and maybe you get triggered at first and then you calm down and then you ask yourself, is this even a problem? It might not be a problem. Isn’t that fascinating to think about? Like it doesn’t have to be a problem. It could be information for you to kind of take a look at what was so triggering about it. You might want to think that what they said was inappropriate and something that you didn’t like.

For example, let’s say that you are taking care of your aging aunt and you say to your mother-in-law, gosh, this is just so hard, it’s gonna be a lot easier when I don’t have this on my plate, but I feel horrible saying that. And let’s say your mother-in-law says back to you, you should feel horrible saying that. And you’re sort of like taken back by that. And after the call, you’re sort of ruminating about it, you feel a little bit triggered, like, how could she say that? You know, I’m going through a lot right now. And, and you feel upset that she said that. When you ask yourself, is this even a problem? It might not be a problem if we just make peace with Mother-in-law saying what she said and make peace with knowing that we are going through a lot. And that’s our job to validate ourself.

It doesn’t have to be a problem that she said that. Now there will be times when someone says something to you and it is a problem, you get to decide. But the point here is adding in asking if this is a problem is really, really important because you could just decide some things aren’t a problem. I actually love doing that. Like I’m just gonna decide it’s totally fine they’re being who they wanna be. It’s not a problem. Okay? Step number three, when something sucks is to make sure you focus on what you can control. You can’t control a lot of circumstances. You can’t control what other people do or what they say or what’s happening in the world. You can’t control if your husband yells. You can’t control if your child hits. You can’t control if someone has wronged you or stolen from you. You can’t control the weather. You can’t control if you or your spouse are laid off. You can’t control what happened in the past. You can’t control your sister-in-law or if she’s not responding. You can’t control the rules at your kids’ school or your kids’ friends. There are so many examples of what we can’t control and what you can control is where you will feel most empowered.

So shifting your attention away from what you can’t control and back to yourself, which is what you can control because you can always control how you think, how you feel, and what you do that is going to feel the most empowering When something sucks, when you think about whatever it is that sucks for you, ask yourself, how do I want to think about this? And how do I want to feel about this? 9.99, nine times out of 10 when I am coaching someone, they will ask, what should I do? They’ll say, Hey Natalie, this thing really sucks. What should I do? And that’s not a bad question, it’s just a bad first question. And my primitive brain does this on default. We wanna take action right away. But what I do, and I’ve sort of just trained myself to do this, is to say, okay, the best first question isn’t what do I do? The best first question is, how do I wanna think and feel about this? And I think either one with thinking or feeling asking either one first is fine. So you could ask yourself, how do I wanna feel about this first? Or you could ask yourself, how do I wanna think about this first? Either one, and then answer the other one second. And then from showing up with the thoughts and feelings that you want to have, you will take such better action.

Like the action that you will take will be night and day. It’s sort of like the saying, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. If you are feeling confident and loving and connected and empowered and strong and any other kind of useful, helpful emotion, the action you will take will reflect that. Versus if you are feeling defeated, um, maybe resentful or um, angry or any other negative emotion that isn’t gonna be useful, the actions are gonna look a lot different and they’re not gonna be as helpful. Let’s take a recent client example. A client came to me and said, my spouse told me that he is unhappy. We’ve been married for almost 20 years. And he came to me and he said, I’m really unhappy. And she was asking me like, what should she do? And she just feels like she doesn’t know what to do.

And again, it’s not a bad question, it’s just not the most helpful first question, the most helpful first question is how do I wanna think and feel about this? And I offered to her that feeling really loving towards her herself and compassionate towards herself is the best first step. And then feeling, if she wants to feel love and compassion for her husband as he’s going through this, that could be really helpful. But a lot of times we think on default that when other people come to us with their feelings, it’s our job to solve them. And that is not true. If someone else tells you that they’re unhappy, we can ask them questions like, tell me more about this. What’s going on for you? Do you wanna talk about it? Why do you think you’re unhappy? But it’s not an invitation for us to take on their happiness, and I can totally relate to this.

I think it just stems from growing up thinking that we cause other people’s feelings and this creates an enormous burden on us in our marriages, thinking that it’s our job to make the other person happy. Now, do we influence our spouses and other people? Of course. And so if there’s something that I’m doing that is influencing Steve’s unhappiness, I wanna know, I want to know. So I can change that if I want to, but it’s not from a place of thinking that I’m responsible for his feelings. And so this client got to such, um, a better feeling place and so much more peace when she could focus on thinking and feeling how she wanted and then taking action to show up as the supportive spouse that she wanted to be. Versus on default what her brain was doing was, you know, taking on her spouse’s unhappiness as her problem to solve.

And I think that’s what we do on default, and that’s the benefit of going through a process like this and, and really getting your power back. And so you can navigate this challenge it’s not great when your spouse comes to you and says, I’m unhappy, but it doesn’t have to mean that you are unhappy, and it doesn’t have to mean that you are now in charge of figuring out why they’re unhappy and solving this problem for them. Sometimes it’s just we just let them be unhappy. And that doesn’t mean you don’t care and it doesn’t mean you don’t offer support, but that’s very different than trying to fix it and get to the bottom of it and thinking that it’s our job. You with me? It’s a game changer. I coach a lot of women on their marital challenges, um, with respect to one spouse coming to them and saying like, I’m unhappy.

So again, this falls under step three, which is focusing on what you can control. You can’t control your spouse’s unhappiness, but you can control what you make it mean about you, what you make it mean about your marriage, what you make it mean about them, what you decide you want to think and how you decide you want to feel. You probably had never thought of, how do I wanna think and feel when my spouse comes to me and says they’re unhappy, right? It’s a totally different question, and one that we probably won’t ask ourselves unless we need to. And so you might wanna sit with it and, and come up with like, how, how do I want to feel? Well, maybe I wanna feel loving towards myself. Maybe I wanna feel supportive of him and of us and of me. And what do I need to think to feel that way? That is focusing on what you can control.

Step number four, create a plan. This is where you come up with solutions instead of ruminating and dwelling. Have you ever done this? I hope you have. I do this on default. It’s like the problem happens and we’re just gonna dwell and ruminate and think. Worst case scenario, going back to when my sweet Penny girl was sick, it was like spinning in my mind. She never gets sick like this. She was like vomiting and had diarrhea and it felt like it was gonna last forever and that she was probably going to die. It was really, my brain was really, um, you know, taking what was in front of me and running away with it, and I was so anxious about it and really just not feeling great. And so coming up with a plan was really helpful because it gave my brain something to do.

When something sucks, if you don’t direct your brain, it will ruminate and kinda dwell on, on the, the parts of the challenge that you can’t control. So if your kids are having challenges at school and it relates to their friends, this step would look like your brain focusing on what it can’t control, which is the other friends and the other parents and what they’re saying and doing. And the more kind of complicated and dramatic it feels to you, the more likely that your brain is focused on things it can’t control and not being solution focused. So when you direct your brain back to coming up with a plan, you can decide not how you’re gonna solve this, but okay, what action step do I want to take? Maybe I just wanna go to my child and say, Hey, tell me what’s going on. Let’s go for a walk.

Let’s talk about it. I’d love to support you and, and see how I can best do that. Even just knowing one next step is so helpful. Oftentimes we think because we don’t know all of the steps to create a solution, we think that there is no next best step, but there is always a next best step, and we get to decide what that is. And if that doesn’t create the result we want, then we’ll try another thing. And another thing and another thing coming up with solutions can feel very empowering when you focus on what you can control regardless of the challenge. I promise you, my friend. So when something sucks, ask yourself, what do you want to do next? This gets you focused on the future and solving the challenge instead of feeling stuck and helpless and dwelling on what happened or dwelling on the past.

And step number five is to take care of yourself. This is so important. When something sucks, our brain goes into overdrive and it can focus on the challenge relentlessly. And before you know it, we haven’t eaten, we haven’t been drinking water, we’re waking up in the middle of the night. We are worrying, and it is taking us away from taking care of ourselves. And I think that when something sucks, that is when you need self-care the most. So even if you don’t feel like it, just decide with your prefrontal brain, that smart brain that wants to take care of you, decide what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna drink water throughout the day. You’re gonna make sure that you eat nutritious foods. You’re gonna make sure you eat some extra food that feels really good to you. Give yourself a little treat if that’s helpful. Uh, make sure that you lay down and rest.

Make sure that you avoid inputs that are gonna make your brain feel worse. Like the news. Anything that’s really negative or dramatic or could really, um, like make it harder for you to manage your brain, take care of yourself. Just check in with yourself and ask yourself, what is it that I’m needing right now? What is it that I could really use to take care of myself? I was on a recent Mom On Purpose coaching call, and several of the women in there were saying, I don’t even know what it is that I need, and I can totally relate to this. It’s really being so attuned to everyone else’s needs that you have no idea what it is you need. And I think that this stems from, as women being raised and being taught to be good girls. And good girls means pleasing whatever the authority figures are saying.

So if you behave well, then you’re a good girl and everyone else is pleased. But by doing that, it’s not bad in and of itself. It’s just that the part that’s missing is to be good to yourself, to take care of yourself, to turn inward and ask yourself what your needs are and then give yourself that. And so I think that’s, you know, entirely helpful just in and of itself, regardless of when something sucks. But it’s extra important when something does suck. If your spouse comes to you and says he’s getting laid off, and your brain goes into worry mode and overdrive and you’re doing the process, you’re calming down, you say, yes, this is a problem. You’re focusing on what you can control and thinking about next action steps throughout that process. Make sure you are taking care of yourself. Maybe it’s that you go on a walk every day at lunch, you take the dogs for a walk.

Maybe it’s that you, you know, make a new recipe every night to get your brain off of it. It’s just a reminder that life is still going to go on and you will get through this challenge. Circling back to the beginning, it is just a season. Whether it’s a season for a week or a month or a year, maybe when something sucks right away, you don’t know how long the season will be, but reminding yourself that it is temporary can be really helpful. And since it is temporary, it’s so important that you take care of yourself and it might look different when something sucks. If you get a diagnosis, maybe the way that you start to take care of yourself is gonna be different.

If someone you love gets a diagnosis and you want to care for them and take care of them, it’s so important as a caretaker that you remember to take care of yourself. So my friends, five steps. When something sucks, number one, calm down. Number two, ask, is this even a problem? Number three, focus on what you can control. Number four, create a plan. And number five, take care of yourself. Save this podcast episode for when something sucks and refer back to it. And if you want more help and coaching on this, join me inside the Mom On Purpose membership. I would love to take this work with you to the next level. I will talk with you next week, my friend. Take care.

Thank you for being here and listening. Now, head on over to mom on purpose.com/coaching to learn more about the Mom on Purpose membership, where we take all of this work to the next level.

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