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) 

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!

 

Let’s talk about Flex! 💪🏿 

So on Friday Boy 2 and I packed our cold selves off into Manchester City centre to take part in the latest #FlexAppeal flash mob hosted by the insta-famous @motherpukka and @papapukka. 

I donned my Lycra and flexed to the music, along with 200+ other parents and little ones to campaign for flexible working. 

Why? Because everyone should have the right to work and live. It’s not just about parents trying to save money on childcare. Or about allowing people to rock into the office three hours late with a hangover. 

It’s about giving people a bit of flexibility in the working life, without fear of being held back from career progression. 

It’s about realising that people can bring more to the workplace if they are able to develop their lives outside of it. Whether that’s because they are walking their dog for thinking time, or taking a course to enhance their skills, or even God forbid, pick their child up from school every now and then. 

It’s about recognising that advances in technology and the changes in our workforce mean that so many job roles (or elements of them) could easily be done from home, coffee shops or on-the-go. 

It’s about employers trusting their staff to get the job done, even if they have a late start or early finish. 

It’s about realising the next generation of workers aka ‘Millennials’ will expect to be able to fit work and life together easily, without jumping through a million hoops and feeling guilty for it. They’ll automatically be prepared to juggle the two in a way that works for them. 

It’s about acknowledging the facts. The stats that say the UK economy would benefit by £165 MILLION if flexible working was more widely available for parents and non-parents alike. That’s a lot of cash money and I have a sneaky suspicion our country could do with it right now. 

Far too many women are discriminated against for getting pregnant or asking to attend the odd assembly when they retun to work. It ain’t right! 

Attending this event made me realise just how common this sneaky discrimination is. I also realised I’m kind of ok when it comes to my job. I work 4 days a week and thankfully have an employer who is good at protecting that day off. And my hard work has been acknowledged – without me having to bang someone’s door down. It might not be perfect for everyone, but that’s what #flexappeal is asking for….Flexibility that works for yet benefits everyone!  

We can’t keep losing smart, talented people because of restrictive, old-fashioned approaches to work. 

When you have a spare minute check out www.motherpukka.co.uk. She’s very entertaining. Her employers’ loss is our gain. If you are on instagram check out @motherpukka and @papapukka. Use the hashtag #FlexAppeal and you might spot me trying stop Boy 2 from running off whilst I try to keep up with the routine. Or just see below 😬


But if you do anything else, please just spread the word about the importance of flexible working. 

*Mental & Capital Wellbeing Report 2016

** photo courtesy of Bec Lupton via MotherPukka 

Why are women still getting ‘pregnant then screwed’?

My thoughts on how to reduce maternity discrimination.

Another week has gone by and more reports are being published showing how working women are being treated like crap when they are pregnant or on maternity leave, only to become victim to a pay gap with their male colleagues once they return to work.

This really annoys me. Particularly women who are sacked, made redundant, demoted etc just because they have pushed out or are due to push out a baby. This is illegal and needs to stop.

Yes, I understand that for some organisations (particularly small businesses), the cost of maternity pay could have an impact, especially if they need to pay for additional cover. BUT that doesn’t mean we make it ok for any business not to employ women of childbearing age, or treat them like rubbish. Nor does it mean we should just accept there isn’t a place for us in the workplace after we’ve given birth aka comtributing to the future of the human race. 

What it means is that we clearly need a more equal view in our approach to parental leave and responsibilities. Society’s mentality towards leave and parenting is outdated, still in a time where women didn’t have professional roles and fathers weren’t as hands on. But times have changed. Women are pursuing or already in senior, demanding careers (God forbid) and many fathers actually spend time with their children (shock horror!). But the ‘system’ doesn’t acknowledge this.

Let me explain. At the moment our maternity system is very much that, maternal. Focussed on solely the mother. She is allowed to take time off for medical appointments, without question. She gets paid to take time off caring for a newborn. If a father wants to take significant time off, he might get funny looks from an employer and he’ll have to accept a drop in pay. Not the best move at a time when finances are already be impacted by nappies and wipes (and coffee and cake for mum lol). So it makes sense for mother to take more time off (up to a year), leaving her with a gap in her career, which according to statistics will impact her financially for life,  whilst dad continues to work, progressing his career to bring home the proverbial bacon.

And in most cases, this then continues once she has returned to work as she is the primary care giver. She takes the pay cut to work part time, leaves the office early when a child is sick etc etc. And employers kind of expect it. Some embrace it – ‘that’s her being a mum’ they accept. Some use it as an excuse to treat women differently which is down right wrong. Either way, all employers need to respect the fact that fathers are parents too! Make it acceptable, in fact the norm, for a dad to leave the office at 430 to do the nursery pick up or ask if they can do a conference call from home to nurse a sick child.

Now, imagine if both parents received the same pay for leave? They could split the leave, reducing the ‘time out’ of work for either parent, but ensuring they bring in some kind of income, meaning the onus isn’t on any one parent. I know that the right to shared has been introduced in the UK, but statistics show that take up has been very low. But we shouldn’t give up on it. If we got to a stage where this was the norm, employers wouldn’t or couldn’t discriminate against workers just for being parents. They wouldn’t have many people left in their books!

If you haven’t heard of the wonderful Joeli Brearley, check out her amazing campaign, Pregnant then Screwed. It really is an eye opener into the number of working mothers being discriminated against. But she is actually helping women to challenge their employers and supporting them in the process. Positive action! Thankfully I haven’t had such experiences, but it really is sad that in the 21st century, this is such an issue. What’s more sad is that it’s getting worse. 

But I think it fans, and will get better. It will take time. It will take a lot of effort. It will take mothers to stand up against discrimination to hold bad employers to account. It will take fathers to use their right for shared leave and make it known to their employers that they actually want to parent! It will take the government to make discrimination tribunals cheaper and easier. And it will take the rest of us to provide support for our friends and family in these situations.

Then maybe less of us will be screwed. 

 

Friday feeling?? 

If you are a fan of Twitter and Facebook, like me you’ll be used to seeing the weekly posts and memes referring to “that Friday feeling”. 

Examples include”walking out of the office like…(cue sassy image of Beyoncé doing the Crazy in Love walk)” or “can’t wait for drinks with <insert numerous names here>, a crazy night awaits.” 

This was the Friday feeling of days gone by. That feeling of freedom, the sense of impending self-indulgence. Do I get that feeling now? 

I. Wish. Like most mothers of young children, my Friday feeling is more tiredness than excitement. 

I’m still woken up at 630am, getting kids ready and try to sort various chores whilst entertaining the Energizer bunny, sorry, Boy2, inbetween school runs and swimming lessons. I actually get home around the same time as a normal working day. 

Gone are the days when Friday would mean a drink after work with colleagues. Then home to get glammed up, while listening to music and enjoying a few more drinks. Then out until who knows when! Saturday would mean a lie in, full English, strong coffee, newspapers and shopping for clothes for my next night out. 

Nowadays the most excitement I get is  when the buzzer goes on the oven, signalling the fish fingers are ready. 

My Friday feeling arrives when my children are in bed, I’ve gotten through at least two loads of washing, consumed way too much Chinese take away and cracked open a bottle of red. Only to be woken at 630 am on Saturday, to start over again with football, tennis, birthday parties etc. Not quite the same.

Times have changed and so have I. As much as I might miss those free spirited , self indulgent days, I must embrace my new Friday feeling, which I actually quite like. Well until 1130. That’s my bed time! 

Xx

Work work work….

This past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded of how hard it is to keep on top of all the elements of ‘life’ when work so easily takes over. 

When a work load piles up and there’s genuinely nobody to delegate to, you have to face it head on. This can mean continuing my work day in the evenings, after meal times and bed times are sorted. It’s not fun. I should be at the gym or chatting to the husband. Instead I’m face deep in my laptop, Tv on to make me feel less guilty (trying to convince myself I’m actually watching it), not sure when I’ll finally go to sleep.

Food planning has slipped, washing piles up more quickly, general house admin goes to pot. I’m going to bed late and waking up early. I’m probably a little bit cranky with it too! 

It’s interesting how modern life has some how managed to make work so important. It’s so easy to drop other elements when it comes to issues about work. Why do we so often let it take over? 

I saw a photo online saying ‘don’t let anything stop you from going to church that wouldn’t stop you from going to work.’ Although it’s clearly targeted at a Christian audience, it could be applied to a lot of situations. We make excuses for not doing certain things, but rarely for work. Whether it’s plans with friends or a trip with the kids, it’s always easy to find an excuse. Tiredness, hangover, double booked. Would you use those with your boss?! 

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves about the other important things in our lives before work takes over. 

I’ve written before about my work-life juggling analogy, which helps deal with the many ‘balls’ of life. 

I have to remind myself that, as much as I might moan, I know this work situation is temporary. This particular ball needs to be held right now, but I’ve got plans to grab the others so I don’t drop them completely. 

I must keep on juggling. So should you.