The past year (and then some) has been so hard for so many people, especially women, but for Katherine May the hardest season of her life came well before the pandemic. Through dealing with the grueling pain of sudden illness (both her husband's and her own) and making the tough decision to pull her then 6-year-old son out of school because of bullying, May developed a process called "wintering" that not only gave her the tools to weather her own storm, but also help others get through trying times. She published her experience in a best-selling book titled Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.
On the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, May opens up to Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about the process of wintering and how it's particularly important for the mental health of moms.
"Wintering is this word I've borrowed really, to describe times in human life, where we fall through the cracks," the English author explains to Tenety. "When we feel kind of, I mean, there's loads of wintery metaphors you can use, but sort of left out in the cold when you feel frozen. Just those times when something happens, like a mental, physical illness or a big life event, that stops you from being able to function along the same lines as everyone else for a while."
While those times can be painfully difficult to endure, May encourages being present in your feelings. "I think that you can choose to really dig into your winter and that you can learn from nature, how to survive it well, and how to use it as a way to build wisdom and resilience and all of those brilliant qualities that we kind of hope we have, rather than to keep pushing it back and to prolong our suffering," she says, later in the interview adding: "I think that the skill of wintering is rather than to say, summer is coming to say, I am in winter. Like just to be where you are right now. And to know that you can't control the end of that winter in the same way that you can't control a season. And if you have faith in life being a cycle. And if you have faith in winter being like a normal part of this cycle, rather than an anomaly or a mistake, that's where your hope comes from."
This mindset is particularly helpful for mothers, especially those experiencing parenthood for the first time. After bringing new life into the world, we're suddenly forced to juggle motherhood with our careers and our social lives, and the burnout is real. "The level of isolation that mothers feel particularly early on is horrifying when you look at it and the level of poor mental health that comes with that, and also the strain and stress that people are put under in needing to make a living at the same time," May points out. "That's a perfect storm. And we are so quick to blame mothers if things are difficult with their children, if something goes wrong for their kids. But we do not stop nearly enough to think about how we are facilitating the upbringing of children as a whole society. And that includes the wellbeing of mothers."
To hear more about Katherine May's experiences in motherhood and her career, listen to The Motherly Podcast for the full interview.