Working Parents Anne Ferguson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Inspirational International School Parent: Anne Ferguson from The Centered Mama Project

June 7, 2016

What initially brought you to Switzerland?
We came to Switzerland eight years ago when my husband’s company moved their offices from Barcelona to Geneva. I was thrilled to move to a French-speaking place. We love the mountains and are very happy here.
What inspired you to start The Centered Mama Project?
A few years ago I had a lot going on – we were building a house, I had a full teaching schedule and my husband was away constantly. I was solo-parenting my two small children and had been for years. I wasn’t taking proper care of myself and I fell ill, eventually spending 24 hours in critical care. My husband was in the US at the time and I cobbled together a solution for my girls, but I was very afraid.
In the years that followed I spoke to countless mums who faced similar situations: everything was fine and “handled” until it wasn’t. When things fell apart they tended to do so quite spectacularly. I realised that many mothers (and fathers) haven’t learned to factor themselves into the family equation and as a result neglect their own needs. Doing this for a day or two is fine, but as a consistent behaviour it often leads to illness or other problems that could be avoided if we took care of ourselves FIRST.
So I created The Centered Mama Project to give international mums a place to build joyful community while re-learning to take care of themselves. I guide mums back into the centre of their own lives through self-awareness and self-care practices that leave them feeling healthy. Along the way the mums create friendships and establish the support they’ll need when life gets a little shaky. Because it takes a village to raise a child, and it also takes a village to support a mum.
How does being a parent yourself influence and shape your business?
My business was born for and because of mothers, so everything I do is geared toward their timings, needs and experiences. That said I have to balance my tendency to work all the time with my family’s needs and our treasured time together.
Working mums often ask for The Centered Mama Project events at weekends or in the evenings. While I’m looking into different possibilities, I always check that whatever I plan works for my family, first.
Balancing work and family often means late nights for me but I love what I’m building so I have a lot of energy for it. Working this way I get to be fully present for my family while growing my business and my career. Everybody wins!
Can you briefly describe The Centered Mama Project and who it’s aimed at?
Parenting far from home and loved ones can be really difficult. The Centered Mama Project helps mums take care of themselves and build joyful community right where they are, no matter how long they plan to stay.
At past events I’ve welcomed women from all walks of life: expats, international mothers, even Swiss mums who have lived abroad and come back, or have moved a few hours up the road (or over the mountains!) from their families. These mums have many things in common, but mostly this: they have no family or old friends around, and they feel isolated and alone.
The Centered Mama Project helps build joyful, huggable, invitable-over-for-tea community right where mums live, and offers support 24/7 via our rapidly growing online community. Mums can join that community by visiting the following link and asking to join. It’s a free group and a great resource: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CenteredMamaOnlineHub/
I’ve been asked a few times if dads can also join The Centered Mama Project. The vast majority of “trailing spouses” in Switzerland are women, and they also represent the majority of caregivers at home. I may plan something to include dads in the future, because I’ve heard from many that they have their own challenges in being the main caregiver and support away from home. For now though it’s all mums at The Centered Mama Project.
What are the principles that guide you when helping mums on their journey?
Every Centered Mama Project offering greets mums the way I’d like to be met: with kindness, compassion, full transparency, vulnerability and a healthy dose of fun! My main aim is for mums to connect: first to themselves, to remember what lights them up and gives them joy, and second to connect with other beautiful mums in the area and beyond.
The Centered Mama Project’s events are basically conversation starters. Each gathering is an invitation to step into a circle with other women and discover the resources within each person and then in the broader group.
Creating spaces to let mums rediscover themselves and re-member (in the sense of reattaching a member) their likes, loves and dreams is magical. Once they’ve reconnected, then mums rediscover their own beauty and uniqueness. It’s powerful and life changing. When we all show up vulnerably and honestly, with a great sense of humour, we have fun and leave feeling nourished.
Tell us about your Mini Mama Breaks, what you do and why they’re great?
Mini Mama Breaks happen on weekdays, while the kids are at school. Mums drop their kids at school or crèche and join me for four hours… when it’s all done they slip back into their lives, and no one needs to know they were away!! I created these mini-breaks because many mums would love to get away for a full retreat, but family logistics and lack of support make it almost impossible.
This way they enjoy the nourishment and community and can still show up where they need to be at the end of the day. We enjoy gentle yoga (no experience required), meditation, journaling, lots of time for introspection and a whole lot of sharing within the group.
Throughout the day we nourish our bodies with great, plant-based food and smoothies provided by a brilliant local, mum-run business called BonJu. We do a little dancing if time permits and everyone leaves smiling, rested and with hearts full of love and new friendships. It’s a fun way to feel nurtured and refreshed.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
I love meeting mums from all over the world and getting to know their stories. There are some incredible women mothering in Geneva and elsewhere. They have such capacities, intelligence and varied experience. Learning about them is something I could do all day, every day.
Whenever we gather, I see connections happening. One woman tells her story and it sparks realisations for others in the group. There’s such a power in being in circle with other women. Watching those “clicks” and witnessing the bonds as they form is deeply fulfilling for me. I see how much the participants benefit from taking time for themselves and opening to receive care, attention and time. It’s magical.
You are also a yoga instructor. How can yoga and meditation help parents and their children? How has it helped and influenced you?
I initially started working with international mums through www.pauseyoga.ch, offering yoga+community classes in Geneva. There are many places to practise in here but few provide an intentional space and time for community. The classes are very successful because women are finding what they want there – movement and quiet and meditation – and also getting what they need: deep connections, both inside and then more broadly within the group.
The mums say that their Monday class is the best start to the week, because they begin with themselves and are ready to meet whatever comes next. That’s the beauty of a yoga practice for anyone: the mindful setting aside of time, the pause in the midst of life’s chaos and a return of focus, love and attention within.
I know from my own experience that yoga has huge benefits for international living. When you’re away from home, the places or people you might turn to for comfort or reassurance are not available. Sitting in meditation – no matter how brief – or practising even a few yoga poses per day can make the difference between a wildly frazzled mind and one that allows you to pause and reflect before responding. And that can quickly change a family dynamic.
Like many mums, I struggle to keep my yoga practice as consistent as I’d like, but when I practise regularly it changes the way I feel in my body, and my connection to my own strength. It changes how I parent, how I show up in all of my relationships and most importantly how I feel within myself. My kids join me on occasion, and I know they’ll come to it more fully when they’re ready. For now it’s all fun and play and that’s a great way to begin.
I’m hopeful my girls will become more interested in the future because children really benefit from practising yoga. Their concentration improves, they are often calmer and start to become aware of, and grounded in, their bodies. It’s a practice that evolves and grows through life, and sharing it with children is an immense gift. That said, even if children don’t practise themselves, they still benefit from calmer, kinder and less reactive parents!
How can other mums get involved? What are the most important issues to the mothers you engage with?
The mothers who join The Centered Mama Project hail from all walks of life and countries all around the world. Without exception they are educated, well travelled and usually frustrated that they can’t or aren’t using their mind and professional experience more fully.
Whether they’re living in a big house with land and paid help or a tiny apartment without any support, mums share this: they’re overwhelmed, lonely, isolated, feel lost and often can’t remember what fun means for them. They spend their time and energy ensuring that children, house and partner are well, happy and cared for, and seldom turn their attention within. They sometimes struggle to build relationships that are more than a casual hello at the school gates and crave familiarity and closeness with other women.
Another recurring theme is the loss of identity – many never dreamt of being stay-at-home mums and don’t feel fulfilled. For many, the high cost of childcare means working doesn’t make financial sense, so they stay home and grow frustrated by what they feel is a narrow life. Finding the balance is something they all strive to do.
The Centered Mama Project allows mums to see that they’re not alone, and they often share ideas and leads during our gatherings. Seeing the sparks of joy and possibility is exciting.
Mums who are feeling this way and looking for more fun, connection and direction can get involved with The Centered Mama Project in many ways:

  • Attend the monthly workshops in Champel and Nyon where we discuss specific themes and start to build connection
  • Participate in a Mini Mama Break to give themselves some of the care they crave
  • Join our free virtual community for 24/7 support at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CenteredMamaOnlineHub/
  • Step into a small group of mums for a six-week journey in the International Mama’s Circle, which will be kicking off in September 2016, and in which they will build strong bonds of community and make significant shifts in their lives
  • Suggest ideas for events and activities either in the online group or directly to me at anne@thecenteredmamaproject.com

What would you say are the three main things you have learnt from creating and developing your business?

  1. It’s a lot easier to set up a business than you think (legally and financially) and it doesn’t have to cost much (depending on the type of business you create).
  2. Thinking and planning are important but taking your ideas into the world, testing them and being open to adjusting your direction slightly is where the true magic lies. The sooner you do this, the better, because you’ll save time and potentially avoid spending money in places that won’t benefit your business.
  3. Listen: offer your best to the people you serve. Then listen. They will tell you what they need, and you can choose how and whether to serve those needs in a way that aligns with your calling, your business and your deepest intention.

What were the main challenges when setting up your business in a foreign country?

  • Terminology and process – even though I am completely fluent in French, I didn’t know anything about the process of setting up a business here, and the terminology is often complicated. I worked with a notary to simplify things but might have saved money by registering the business myself.
  • Understanding what resources are available – Geneva is an incredible place to create an association or a for-profit business, if you know where to go and whom to ask for help and funding (where applicable).
  • Finding a way to structure the business that makes it portable. We hope to stay in Geneva but if we ever left I’d want to take my business with me, so I’m looking at ways to support mums around the world while growing “live” communities here in Switzerland, so that I can eventually work from anywhere.

What advice would you give to other parents living abroad who might be thinking about starting a business?
Find a group of entrepreneurs who live near you and ask smart questions. Fellow entrepreneurs are often happy to share information and experiences. Do as much research as you can within the limits of your language skills, and collaborate wherever possible to grow your business more quickly.
Finally, think about the future. If you’re creating a business that you plan to sell if you leave the country, build that into your plans now. If you’d like to take your business with you, think about its structure and look at where it’s best to base your business (home country vs. where you live now).
What is family life like for you in Switzerland? How do you make the most of living here? What do you like to do at the weekends with your kids?
Right now our life is fairly quiet. One of our children is dyslexic and attends Oak Hill School in Nyon every morning while her sister is in school in Geneva, so our family logistics are a little complicated. As a result weekends tend to be fairly quiet and extra-curricular activities are kept to a minimum to ensure we all stay healthy and sane. We place a high value on space and time to do nothing. Boredom is ok in our house!
We also place a high value on the relationships our kids have with other adults. With extended family far away our children are missing the opportunity to inter-generational relationships. So we made the commitment early on to ski at the same resort every year so our children could know their instructors very well and have “their people” as a fixture in their lives. Four winters later those instructors are some of the girls’ best adult friends.
As for exploring Switzerland, we’ve been doing more and more of that as our children have grown. Last summer we ventured to Ticino, which was incredible (especially the Valle Verzasca), and also enjoyed a beautiful stay in the Valais. This year we’ll be taking advantage of the brilliant rail system to visit Basel, Bern and Zurich. We’ll probably explore a few new mountain villages and hopefully a glacier!
What does the future hold?
I’m excited to expand the number of yoga+community classes I offer via www.pauseyoga.ch across the canton of Geneva, and will be making announcements soon about the autumn schedule. I’ll also be creating weekend retreats for mums close to Geneva so they can get away but still zip back home if needed.
The Centered Mama Project will be launching the first six-week International Mama’s Circle this September, and I’ll be hosting more frequent and varied events as the year progresses. In the autumn I’ll also be inviting mums into a deep dive experience where we look at building a life based on desire – joy, happiness, whatever each person craves – rather than on a to-do list. Those Desire Mapping workshops will start from the autumn and happen a few times throughout the year.
I’m excited to have collaborated with mum-run businesses this year and look forward to many more collaborations in the year ahead. I love supporting other mothers and drawing on their incredible skills and knowledge to move our businesses forward. When one of us is stronger, we’re all stronger, and I look forward to building more villages (real and virtual) around mums in Geneva and around the world.

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