A Year of Dates

I'm very excited to share a little delivery that arrived today….

My new date jar courtesy of a fab mum-run business, A Year of Dates.

The concept is simple, but impressive. A jar of 52 envelopes (yes an idea for EVERY weekend), each with a little date idea inside. The envelopes are colour coded so do have a certain level of control:

  • Blue for staying at home
  • Yellow for going out
  • Green for having a day out and
  • Red for a surprise!

We haven't sorted a date for our next date night yet, but I'm really excited about cracking it open.

Feel free to check out their website for other products for kids and birthdays.

Now to find a babysitter….

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. ❤️

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 

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!

 

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

 

Donald Trump, Thank You!

Hard to believe, but I’m finding the positives in the arrival of the Trump

Donald,

21 days since you became president and I want to thank you.

Thank you for reminding us that we still have so much work to do to remove ignorance and intolerance from this world.

Thank you for teaching my children that if you judge and speak badly of someone because of their gender, sexuality, religion or ethnicity, everyone will stand up against it to prove you wrong, no matter how powerful you might be.

Thank you for teaching them that complacency is as disruptive as extremism. We will no longer take a good, or great, situation for granted.

Thank you for showing my children that if they disrespect women, they are disrespecting mothers, sisters, daughters and wives everywhere.

Thank you for shining a light on just how gullible and lazy we have become in our consumption of media. We will no longer click and share ‘news’ without verifying facts and sources.

Thank you for showing us just how many people are disenfranchised, disillusioned and discouraged from politics.

But most of all I want to thank you for bringing us together. For helping us to unite, regardless of race, religion, gender or even location. You are spurring us to build bridges, when there are threats of walls. Without you, so many of us would not be standing up to make our voices heard.

Donald, on behalf of everyone who believes in tolerance, freedom and fairness, I thank you.

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. 

 

Life lessons from 48 hours in a theme park

During our France trip we spent two days in the “Magical Kingdom” in Paris. It’s been fun. Still deciding if I should write a review (I loved it!). Before I do that, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve observed​ and learned about life, just from our short time there…

  • Children can move quickly if they want to – tell your child they’ve got 10 minutes to get to the other side of the park before they miss the slot on a Buzz Lightyear ride and just check out the speed they develop. Think about that next time their dawdling in Tescos
  • Children can be patient when they want – we waited 90 minutes for one ride! That’s about the length of a Disney animated film!! Regardless of the fact he hated the ride and cried when he finally got off, it reminded me that finding your child’s motivation is really important. I sound like a cheesy management training guide, but knowing what motivates someone can really help to drive them towards a goal
  • Fast food is still king – yes I know it’s a holiday destination and we should all have a ‘treat’, but the amount of burgers, chip and sugary snacks available in modern life is worrying. It was actually difficult to find anything that resembled a vegetable, apart from in the expensive restaurants 
  • Islamaphobia is real – sad but very true. I’m a people watcher. I love looking at people in a queue, wondering what their story is, conjuring up some exciting journey that has brought us to the same point. But I couldn’t help but notice the number of extended glances aimed towards people  of a certain skin tone or women wearing headscarves. Isn’t it sad that we can’t just let people enjoy their days out? Do I want my sons to grow up in a world where people so blatantly give fearful or even disgusted looks to people because of their race or religion? 
  • We are selfie obsessed – they are everywhere!! From young girls to ‘wannabe cool’ dads. I worry that people aren’t really soaking up the environment around them and missing beautiful sights, just so they can perfect a pout
  • Languages are important – I love languages. I sometimes regret not pursuing a career that let me use my degree level Spanish. I don’t think everyone needs to learn them to this level, but just having a basic appreciation for host language can break barriers. Seeing the smiles on people’s faces as my son uttered a mancunian “merci”, was lovely. One of my favourite quotes from Nelson Mandela says, 

    If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

    In times of ignorance and intolerance, this couldn’t be more true

  • Family time is important – even with the sugar highs (and lows), spending small fortunes on fatty foods and tat, you can’t get much better than family time. No work emails, no chores, no gadgets, nothing to rush back for. Just a chance to talk, laugh, play and really enjoy each other’s company. Even moody teenagers were laughing with parents and siblings!! Whether it’s going abroad or staying at home with a board game, this is what really makes a difference to little ones – blocking out other influences and just enjoying time as a family. We just can’t let modern life let us think otherwise 

XX