9 lessons from 9 years of parenting

Boy 1 has just entered his last year of single digits. I never really saw it as a 'thing' when I was younger, but it really has struck me just what a milestone turning 10 is and how much I have learned from my first few years of being a mother. Not just the cliched "time goes so quickly", I know that, but there are few others that stick with me.

  1. Parenting is never easy. From the first day I held Boy1, I realised the enormous responsibility of bringing a human into the world. Every year that passes, there is a new challenge or concern. And the arrival of Boy2 hasn't eased any of it. From lack of sleep, weaning and toilet training to school choices and 'serious conversations', I defy you to find any parent who doesn't walk around with a permanent worry buzzing around the back of their head. We always seem to be longing for a particular phase to pass or arrive, but all we are doing is wishing a new challenge on ourselves whilst wishing away the precious moments we have in the present. Yes, it's hard, but it's a blessing. The moment it becomes 'easy' is probably the moment we stop parenting and have to standby and witness the fruits of our labour. That thought alone fills me with dread and a feeling of loss. I'll stop right there before the tears start 😢
  2. Parenting is confusing, which probably partly explains why it's so hard. So much conflicting advice from friends, family and so-called experts can lead you in different directions. The feeling of only having one chance to make the right decision is horrible – no rehearsals. I like to tell new parents to listen to all of the advice but don't take all of it on. Why follow the advice of someone whose parenting style you don't respect or admire, or whose lifestyle is so far from yours you could never implement their approach? Everyone is confused at some point, just find what works for you and your family, find your own juggling technique, then go with it. As the above mentioned worries and challenges evolve, so will your approach. That's fine.
  3. Kids are expensive. I'm not complaining, just making the point to anyone reading this that hasn't jumped on the baby train yet. It doesn't end after newborn phase. In fact that phase is kinda justifiably expensive as you're investing in big stuff – Cots, buggies, car seats. It's later one when you feel like you're constantly feeding and clothing an ungrateful machine, who's always on school trips and has a social calendar that would put Paris Hilton (circa mid-lay 90's) to shame. Yep, showing my age. But be prepared for the constant haemorrhaging of the cash you once would spontaneously spend on shoes, holidays, or meals in places that didn't serve everything with chips.
  4. Children like simple things. No big party for Boy1, in fact we only do a 'party' on alternate years. Just three of his friends at Total Ninja followed by takeaway pizza and a very small, undecorated Victoria sponge from Tesco. They loved it. Just the simple act of acknowledging his birthday and spending time friends was enough. I think we often over complicate or exaggerate what our children want, need or like, because of our own insecurities, public opinion or the things we missed out on in childhood. Guess what, there's no need.
  5. Happiness is so important, but we can't define it for them. Every child is different. They learn differently, they want different things. Our role is to help them find out what brings them joy. I'm not a total advocate of 'don't worry about your schooling, as long as you're happy', education (not necessarily academic success) is very important. But by opening their eyes to different experiences, we can only hope that they will discover something that sparks real happiness. Because as they get older and more burdened with roles and responsibility, finding a source of joy, something which rests your soul and eases any stresses becomes more difficult. As adults, our own happiness can impact our children. They pick up on everything, even if they don't or won't tell you. Being a parent has really helped me to prioritise the happiness of my family over everyone else's, because that's what's important. Their happiness today will influence their route to happiness in the future.
  6. Friendships are important. Not hundreds of them, not for social media kudos, not for ego polishing, but real relationships. Friendships give children a lot. As well as the obvious happiness and laughter, they teach children about communication, respect, trust, support, conflict, compromise. Childhood friendships can be messy and fickle, but they are so important to our kids. As much as we can try to instil certain things in our children, it's real life situations that help them understand and navigate the world. As adults, our friendships are just as important, not only because children see the way we treat others, but we become more conscious of external influence. I don't want negative energy around my children, so any 'inappropriate' friends are kept away from our home. That's not because they are at risk, of course not, but because sometimes kids just don't get that the 'banterful' or over opinionated friend isn't being serious and I shouldn't have to explain them.
  7. Honesty really is the best policy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to sit down with my 2 year old and break down issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia, the list goes on. However, I've realised that kids do listen even when we think they don't. They watch when we think they aren't looking. They have conversations in the playground and eventually on phones and social media, where we aren't privy to what's being said. So it's important to give them an appropriate amount of truth and honesty. If not to avoid confusion and influence from those negative sources, but to build trust in your parental relationship.
  8. There's nothing wrong with living in the moment. It's so easy to get caught up in the day to day routines and rituals. Running from activity to activity, living life through calendar reminders. But there's nothing wrong with throwing caution to the wind and being spontaneous with your kids. They love it. A random decision to bake a cake, watch a film or go splashing in muddy puddles, can bring sunshine to a rainy day. Just having genuine, unstructured fun is great for all of you.
  9. Nothing beats love. The cheesy bit. I realised when I reflected on my mothering experience for The Mothers project, just how overwhelming the feeling of maternal love really is. I slightly recoil when I see #blessed on my news feeds, but in this instance it's totally true. My children make my heart smile and they bring a feeling that I have never and will never feel again. Regardless of anything that's going on in life, this parental love can get you through the most difficult of times. Don't ever, ever forget that. ❤️

Review: Total Ninja (toddler session) 

I’ve noticed a few Groupon offers for a place called Total Ninja in Trafford Park. Given Boy1s obessesion with obstacle courses etc, I checked out the website. OMG a genuine Ninja Warrior style obstacle course. In Manchester (screams). 

Then through a random Facebook group I discovered they have launched weekday toddler sessions, so just had to check it out with Boy2. 

So yesterday we rocked up just before the start time of 11am and there was quite a queue, so much so that we didn’t get into the venue til 1115 – meaning I had to try and entertain an excited toddler for 15minutes – not easy. But the friendly manager did explain that on a first visit, customers need to register and they are hoping to have an online system up and running soon. So whilst it was frustrating, I let him off just for being informative and friendly. Customer service goes a long way in my book. 

Once we were registered and had our wristbands, we entered the Ninja Academy. 


Walk through and there’s a table for kids (or parents more likely) to rest their tired legs. There’s also a good number of lockers – the usual £1 style – to lock up your stuff so you don’t have to lug a massive change bag around. That’s also why I have very few pics. Sorry!! 

Dumped our stuff ready to get stuck in and OMG (yes, twice in one post) it was bloody brilliant! 

Climing walks, balance beams, rope swings, soft pits, all in miniature – perfect for kids. Boy 2 is VERY active so this was perfect for him. Being able to attempt to climb a sopping wall, without fear of breaking his neck if he fell, was just heaven for him! 


What’s great is that whilst this area is usually for over 5s the toddler sessions are strictly for under 5s, so there’s no fear of a hyperactive long limbed 8 year old bombing on to your toddler. 
They can run around freely, but you do need to walk around with them a) because the lighting is a little dark and the obstacles do block your line of sight and b) some of the pits under the obstacles are a little deep for a toddler to climb out of unaided. 

Due to the long wait times the friendly manager extended the session to 1215 so we got pretty much the full hour (again a massive tick in my book ✅). 

Once they were all ninjad out we headed upstairs to the cafe. Pleasant surprise not to see a load of deep fried beige stuff, but noodles, tempura and Asian inspired salads or soups, keeping with the Japanese theme. We went for the rice noodle chicken box £5.95.

A few snags here as they’d run out of teriyaki sauce and some of the veg, plus it was a looong wait, not great when trying to feed tired and hungry toddlers. But I’ll put this down to teething problems because when it finally arrived it was a good size portion, freshly cooked and tasted good. Like I said, a nice change from fish fingers and chips at soft play! Hopefully once they’ve got a good idea of customer numbers, they’ll have plenty of stock in and enough staff to cook it! 

There isn’t a separate children’s menu, which would have been nice, but the portion we had was fine for us to share. Not sure Boy1 or the hubster would have been happy to split though! 

All in all it was a great morning out. Definitely gets the thumbs up from me and Boy2. So much so I’ve already purchased a Groupon voucher to bring Boy1 and 3 friends at the end of the month for his birthday and the hubster is doing the adult course in a few weeks with some friends! 💪🏿 I’ll be sure to post my reviews – and some pics – then! 

For any active families in and around Manchester, I definitely see this becoming a regular haunt. 

Rating 4.5/5


We paid £2 for the toddler session at Total Ninja, currently running weekdays 11-12

To find out more visit http://www.totalninja.co.uk

Or for the latest offers check out Groupon (correct at time of publishing) 

Is fear winning? 

God, I hate these posts. Paris, Manchester and now another attack in London. As a parent what do I do? 

I always try to stay positive. I’m factual with my son so as not to shelter him, but when two attacks on home soil happen within less than a month of each other it’s so much harder. 

Everyone says we won’t let fear win. But I’ll be honest, fear is creeping in.

I’m becoming fearful of going to busy events.

I’m becoming fearful of the reaction my oldest will have when I tell him I’m going to London in a couple of days.

I’m becoming fearful of catching the tube, or any crowded transport. 

I’m becoming fearful of other people’s divisive talk and racist rhetoric that’s gradually being allowed into our society. 

I’m becoming fearful of how political powers might respond to this rhetoric and the consequences that might follow. 

I’m becoming fearful of letting go of my son’s hand as he gets older and has to navigate the world alone. 

But regardless of my fears, I have to put a brace face on. I have to appear undefeated, unnerved by recent goings on. Because children cannot operate in a world of fear. They have to operate Ina world of positivity and opportunity. Yes they need to understand the challenges and ‘reality’ of the world, but equally they need to have a mindset that fear does not and will not win. 

So whilst fear seems to have crept into my home quietly, my children need to see me close the door on it. 

Ps – I’d love to hear how you stop fear entering your thoughts 

Manchester: Keep on buzzin’

It’s been 48 hours since my beautiful city was attached. 48 hours since 22 lives were taken. 48 hours since many more lives were impacted in ways we’ll never really be able to measure. 

I’m broken hearted. 

I can’t find the words to express how I feel. Shocked, saddened, scared, angry, confused. But what I can say is that I’m proud that the city I love; the city I call home has not been broken. 

I worry for my oldest child and what he’s thinking about, what he’s saying or hearing in the playground and if I can really reassure him that things will be ok. 

I want to wrap them both in cotton wool and squeeze them for years, protecting them from this horrible, horrible world. 

But I’m his mother, his Mancunian mother. And because of this I must keep on going. I must embody the spirit of our Manchester bee and be proactive, industrious and collaborative. I must, as we say,  keep on buzzin’. 

Mothers unite for fish fingers. Seriously…

So any fan of so called ‘instamums’ would no doubt have seen or heard about an article that appeared today in a certain national newspaper. I’m not going to link to it but it starts with Daily and rhymes with ‘Fail’.

The ‘article’ basically slammed some of my favourite mama bloggers and authors, Clemmie Telford, Hurrah for Gin, Don’t Buy Her Flowers, The Unmumsy Mum and The Scummy Mummies, describing their work as “a race to the bottom to prove yourself the worst mother ever…” where “women compete to seem incapable of caring for their children’s basic needs.” Yes it was total B.S.

No sooner had this article appear did the most mumtastic of backlashes begin. Every mother, in fact, every parent who relates to these women’s accounts stood up in solidarity against some pretty shoddy journalism.

These women are just a handful of mothers using their creative, intelligent minds and the power of the internet to connect women at what can be the loneliest and most confusing time for many. They are shattering the romanticised facade of perfect parenting. They admit to feeding their kids fish fingers and surviving a soft play centre with a hangover. They are helping us to realise that sometimes motherhood is a bit shit. But its ok, because we all go through it.

They are honest, self deprecating, funny, sometimes controversial, but always honest. What this article failed to gather from all of the sarcasm was that these women LOVE their children.

And the parents of the world love them for it. Seeing so many other women standing in #solidaritea against this article has been really refreshing.

If you ever thought the sisterhood was dead, today it has truly been awoken. And if anything, this article has helped to raise their profile even more (which sounds like a reason to crack open a bottle if you ask me!)

So thank you ladies. Keep doing what you’re doing.

And as I said on my Instagram post: People who don’t like fish fingers can’t be trusted. FACT

x

 

Breaking the News to a child

Last week, I was interviewed by a journalist for the Telegraph who wanted to know how I explained and answered difficult questions about current affairs to Boy1.

Its a really interesting issue because I’ve always wanted to make sure I don’t overprotect my children from the big wide world. In fact its my responsibility as a parent to teach them about ‘real life‘, but at the same time, I have to filter and edit to a level that’s comfortable for them, and me (to be totally honest).

We have the news on every morning, as I always tell him its important to know what is going on in the world around us, but I guess that world has always seemed quite distant from him and nothing to worry about.

So when, out of the blue, Boy 1 asked me about the Westminster attacks a few weeks ago (just before I headed to London), it took me by surprise. I had to try my best not to use the word ‘terrorism’ as I knew this might scare him even more. Instead I described this very angry man that wanted express his anger and unfortunately some people died because of him. But with any ‘deep’ conversation I have with him, I try to end on the positive, so explained that the police were on the case, keeping us all safe. Because, for a child, that’s the most important thing. They need to have confidence and optimism and it’s our job to maintain that view for them. 

When he asked my why Donald Trump had won the election if he’s such a mean man, that says horrible things about women and Mexicans, I had to explain that sometimes not everyone agrees with each other. That’s how democracy works.

I’ve found that in these situations its beneficial to put things in a context a child can related too, without over-simplifying the situation.Whether that’s through the importance of talking and compromising or helping those in need, it helps to put their mind at ease.

Through the interview I realised that whilst I try to be honest, I will still try to change the conversation in certain situations. Seeing injured bodies of innocent children that could the same age as his brother, or hearing about young people being attacked by their family members – he doesn’t need to hear that, not just yet.

But in a world of hyperbole and click-bait driven content, where youngsters have easy access to media, the challenge for us as parents is to ensure they are enlightened, not exposed. Educated, not excluded from the world they live in. We use this an opportunity to build strong citizens of the world.

Then, as in most cases, after about 5 minutes they’ll turn to you and ask ‘what’s for dinner?’.

X

PS – if you are really struggling for words to explain the news, I’d highly recommend a subscription to The Week Junior. Boy 1 loves it!

 

Review: Apple Jacks Adventure Park

Day 3 of my Easter week off, the random mini heatwave is well and truly over and we’ve already done a farm trip and chilling/movie day. So what else do we do when it’s blustery with April showers? Yep, head outdoors! #ILiveWithBoys

I’d heard of Apple Jacks and seen a few offers on Groupon in the past but never got round to buying a ticket. With boys that somehow never feel the cold we thought today might be a good day to venture out as it would most likely be quiet. 

Based in Stretton, Warrington, Apple Jacks is a great place to spend a few hours if you need little ones to burn energy whilst avoiding the usual softplay hell that ensues during school holidays. 

There are plenty of activities included in your entry pierce of around £8. From a giant slide to zip wires, archery to roller skating, it certainly has plenty of things to keep them busy. The big boys particularly enjoyed the maze and the Eliminator, an ‘It’s a Knockout’ style bouncing/boxing challenge…

Boy2 was quite disappointed that he couldn’t go on the giant, nearly vertical, slide or zip wire, but he was perfectly happy in the ball pit and miniature soft play. 


For just £1 a go he also joined Boy1 and his pal on the go karts. The rides only last a few minutes but you can’t  really complain for a pound. Word of advice though, don’t go for the karts closest to the entrance. There’s a larger track to the back of the site. 😉


My personal highlights were the pig race (yes, you read that right) and watching Boy2 attempt to roller skate with the big boys. I was pleasantly surprised they had skates small enough for his little toddler feet. He only lasted a few minutes, but he gets an A for effort 😊


Having to entertain 9 year olds can be tough. They are at that point where they feel confident to just run off from one activity to another, which can be hard to keep up when you have a toddler in tow. What’s great about this place is that it isn’t too big or crowded, so you feel a little easier letting them jog off together. They can’t really go too far, but I did make them promise to stick together at all times. 

Staff were also very friendly, letting me head back to the car to drop off the buggy once I’d realised Boy2 was in his element running and around with no intention of sitting down. 

Foodwise, there’s a small kiosk selling burgers, hotdogs, chips, jacket potatoes and sandwiches. Nothing too fancy but decent enough and not too expensive. But if you are on a budget, there’s plenty of space for picnics. 

All in all, we had a great morning and the cold didnt impact their time at all! I’m not sure I’d venture that way with just a two year old as he was restricted in the number of activities he could do, but if you’re looking for a decent trip for 6 year olds and above, definitely put this on your list. 

We’ll certainly be back. 

Apple Jacks Adventure Park is £8 per person, under 4s are free and so is parking! 

Rating: 4.5/5

I’ve dropped the balls!

You might have noticed I haven’t posted for a while. I’ve tried. I have about 5 drafts started and saved, but unfinished. If you ever read my piece about work life ‘balance’, you’ll know what I mean when I say I’ve dropped my balls!

Work has been busy, an expand role, lots of travel. Kids have been busy, matches, performance, tests. I haven’t exercised. I’ve eaten crap because of the stress, which has made me tired and therefore less motivated to go to the gym. Hubster had an injury rendering him unable to even pick up a toddler to put him to bed. Then once he was better, he had to travel for work, leaving me in charge of the tribe.

It’s been a tiring, calorie-laden, vicious circle. Then today was the tip of the iceberg. Rush home to cook dinner, a lovely herby buttered cod with new potatoes and steamed veg (yes, on a Wednesday!) and what do a do…. knock it over and smash it on the floor. Butter, cod and shards of glass everywhere!!

Fast forward to 6:45 and my children are sat on the living room floor eating fish & chips and some leftover sweetcorn. Total. Parenting. Fail. Balls totally dropped. Tears filling up and a feeling I have totally let everyone down. SO much so that in the rush to get them a replacement meal, I didn’t actually buy anything for myself!

But tomorrow is a new day. I’ll slowly but surely try to pick the balls back up, so nothing or nobody goes ignored. One more working day tomorrow, then I’m putting down the laptop to enjoy a fun day with my gang. It will no doubt involve more calories, but it will be quality time.

Sometimes, when things get hectic, you just have to pause, take a breath and remind yourself why you are doing this. Then I’ll gradually work out which balls to pick up when and which to start throwing.

Bring on the weekend. And the balls!

 

Five reasons why half term is the worst school holiday 

Ok – this might sound a bit extreme but I’m starting to come to the conclusion that I’m not a fan of half term. I understand why it’s great for kids to have a break from school and the various activities they are involved in, but I don’t think I enjoy half term. 

  1. It’s too short. By the time you get into the swing of things, you have to start planning for returning to school/work
  2. Same goes for kids’ sleeping patterns. They have a few days of late nights and lazy mornings, then before you know it you’re having to nag them to get to bed on time again in preparation for school. 
  3. There’s nothing that everyone is looking forward to. Yes, some people have holidays booked, but collectively there’s no big event that everyone awaits. The festivities of Christmas, indulgence of Easter or just the long, lazy sunny days of summer (or a big holiday if you’re lucky). They bring some excitement and anticipation and make great conversation starters. 
  4. You want to rest, but you don’t want to ‘waste it’ because it’s so short. So you are in a constant state of confusion and uncertainty about what to do with your time: relax or go out. 
  5. If you do decide to spend money on days out, you feel like you’ve spent a fortune in a very short amount of time and return to work tired, unrested and broke 

Maybe schools should consider making it 10 days, so moaning mothers like me would have as much to complain about. Maybe after more than 8 years of parenting I still haven’t cracked the half term balance. Or maybe I should just get back to enjoy the short week with my boys 😉

I’m one of The Mothers!

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to mothering. That fact alone is encouraging.

Anyone in the Manchester area might be aware of a great project by photographer, Bec Lupton, called The Mothers. Its a great collection of photos and reflections on motherhood, from different women. What’s great about it is that it proves just how different everyone’s experiences can be. There isn’t a one size fits all approach to mothering. That fact alone is encouraging.

If you haven’t heard of it, check it out here: http://www.the-mothers.co.uk/

Inspired by some of the articles I’d read and in an attempt to articulate what I really think about my mothering experience, I decided to get involved.

The verdict? I loved it! It was almost therapeutic to take the time and really think about motherhood from my own perspective. Expectations vs reality. Good advice vs bad advice. Hopes and aspirations.

Plus I got some great action shots of me and the boys – it was a nightmare getting them to both sit still at the same time without resorting to Paw Patrol (!)

With parenting life being soooo busy, its easy to lose perspective and forget what its all about. I’d highly recommend taking a few minutes out to think about what you want for your family. And if you fancy it, get in touch with Bec and take part in this fab project – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx

PS – she’s also started The Fathers, for any dads who’d like to share