‘Mum’ isn’t the first word that comes to mind when talking strength. Not physical strength anyway. But as I found out, mothers are strong – they have endless reserves of patience and are the lynchpin of the family.
As I interviewed my Mum, I discovered ‘strength’ means different things to different people.
Strength is hard to pin down. While the physical strength of strongmen and powerlifters is clear to see and quantify, there is another form of strength that eludes the naked eye.
“There is physical strength and inner strength. We need both,” Mum says.
“Physical strength helps us to keep up with the demands of life and maintain wellbeing”.
She was less sure when defining inner strength, admitting it was difficult to put into words. “Inner strength is what stops us from falling apart. It’s a type of emotional strength that helps us cope with bad news and tough times,” she says.
Physical strength is something that can be developed but what about inner strength?
“I don’t know if this counts but I pray to God. I don’t believe in organised religion though there must be a creator,” she says. “I pray for help, guidance and reassurance. I feel a sense of calm after”.
It’s invaluable to spend time with our thoughts. It gives us a chance to break away from being on autopilot and interpret what’s going on in our head. It also lets us practice gratitude.
‘Mindfulness training’ is no longer a tool accessible only to yogis and the enlightened. There is an increasing number of mindfulness apps available while businesses are beginning to focus on mental wellbeing in addition to physical health through increased support and flexible workplaces.
But building emotional strength isn’t as logical as physical strength. Mum admits that having a proactive approach to inner strength is difficult. It’s something that is developed mainly with time and experience, in her opinion.
“It’s about stepping up to challenges. When you receive bad news, like a health scare, it’s important to stay positive. I’ve learned over the years that nothing good comes from falling apart. You’re better off acknowledging the event then getting on with what needs to be done,” she said.
Life gives us opportunities. It’s how we perceive them that determines how we respond. If we view obstacles as challenges, then we put ourselves in a position to tackle the issue positively. But if we see obstacles as problems, we shy away, make excuses or complain.
It’s our choice.
Who is strong?
People who have overcome adversity, like financial hardship or a health scare, are those we consider strong. But there is more to it than that, according to Mum.
“They may be strong on the exterior but this could be a facade. People act tough to protect themselves,” she says.
Though, what might begin as false bravado might become genuine strength and resiliency over time. Just as those around you perceive you as strong, you too will begin to believe in yourself if you put on a front for long enough.
There’s value in acting strong even if you don’t necessarily feel it.
Your biggest strength
It doesn’t take me long to list off my Mum’s strengths – patience, commitment and consistency, are few of many. But when asked, Mum draws a blank, “I don’t know if I’ve got one,” she says.
At this point Dad chimes in. “Her cooking!” he shouts from across the room. Then he answers more seriously, “She’s fair-minded, your Mum. And what still strikes me to this day is her ability to put others well being before her own,’ he says.
After gentle coaxing, Mum finally opens up. “I guess I would say my ability to raise my children,” she says.
Parenting is a balancing act, “I wanted to make sure I didn’t pressure your way of thinking but at the same time provide enough guidance to a happy life,” she says.
“It’s funny when you were little you wouldn’t listen to me when I asked you simple things, like to sit down at the table at dinner time. I’d pull my hair out and tell myself that you’d listen more when you grew up. But you still don’t listen!” she says.
Luckily I evade getting drawn into a discussion on why you should always listen to you mother by pointing out that the interview is over. The perks being the interviewer!
I’m guilty of hanging off every word of a stranger’s opinion on strength, success or happiness. But the people around us – family, friends, and colleagues – can teach us just as much through their experiences.
Fame isn’t proportional to a person’s worth and strength is more than lifting a heavy weight.