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. ❤️

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!

 

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

 

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