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

 

Give it a go! 

This is my mantra for 2017.

Following in from last year and embracing the power of ‘yes’, this year I just want to give it a go. 

Nothing specific, but whatever random experiences and activities that spring to mind, I’m just going to try them. 

I’m currently on a busy train, drinking overly priced Merlot from a plastic cup, having missed bedtime, but I’m buzzing. Why? Because I gave something a go. Details can’t be shared just yet, but I’ve had a brilliant day trying something out. Not the best of outcomes, but I have it a go. 

In fact one of the reasons I’ve done this ‘thing’ today is to encourage my kids to give it a go. While it’s great to plan and be prepared, sometimes time isn’t on your side and you can’t wait for things to be just right, because that perfect time may never come. 

You have to seize the opportunity, especially if you can’t lose either way. Children need to see us trying new things and challenging ourselves. Showing them that it’s ok to ‘fail’, trying is the important thing. 

You can’t regret trying. The worst kind of regret is when you’ve done nothing at all. 

So, join me. Just give something a go. No matter how small, make that step into the unknown. You’ll thank yourself for it! 

Afro momma! 

As a child I spent many a Sunday evening having my hair washed, greased within an inch of its life, then plaited so tight I could hardly close my eyes to sleep that night. Pretty standard for most young girls of African or Caribbean origin, then and now. 

As a mum of two boys, I thought that I’d never have that Sunday drama. I’d just need to deal with me own hair whilst my boys bonded with daddy during a trip to the barbers for their short back and sides or a quick ‘shape up’.

But last year, at the ripe old age of 7 and a half, Boy1 decided to embrace his fro. Having always had regular cuts he decided to let it grow. 

One year one and we’ve fully embraced the ‘wash days’, mighty Afro comb and even that funny in between ‘what is going on with his hair?’ phase. 

He’s started to embrace my love for new hair products, but doesn’t quite get what they all do. He just trusts my wisdom! 

This whole process has meant I’ve been more involved in his hair management than the hubster and it’s actually been fun. We’ve had chats about all kinds of issues, not just his hair,but school, politics, Pokemon! It’s been a great opportunity to bond with my big boy whilst helping him to find his identity. I’ve loved every minute. 

I guess what it’s shown me is that you don’t need a dedicated, cash driven ‘event’ to spend quality time with your child. In fact as he gets older, it might be that we find more of these natural moments to bond, rather than forced fun. 

And now he has the most luscious of ‘fros and I’m so proud 😊

X

Ps – to anyone rocking an Afro I’m loving Shea Moisture products at the moment 

My son is black, he needs to know 

I have a nearly 8 year old son. He’s handsome, funny, smart, caring. He makes us proud. But in recent months I’ve become increasingly aware of the difficult conversations I’m going to have to have with him. Aside from the puberty and girls chat (eeek! Think I’ll leave those to hubby!) there’s a somewhat more challenging topic. Race.

It wouldn’t be fair to avoid it altogether and keep him wrapped in cotton wool for the rest of his life, but I have to manage how honest I am with him.

You see, I’ve told him that there are small minded people out there who treat people badly just because of the colour of his skin. He knows that had we been living a few decades ago he wouldn’t have made many of the friends he has, because they would have been sent to different schools. He knows about racism. He knows that it’s wrong.

But what he doesn’t know yet is that as he gets older, as he gets bigger, this issue will stop being just a conversation he has with his parents, or sees on the news, but will very likely become a genuine battle he will have to face. And that is a difficult conversation.

I can’t tell him that just by being a black boy/man he will automatically be treated as a statistic by many members of the society in which he lives.

I can’t tell him that this society will expect him to achieve less than his peers.

I can’t tell him that as he gets older and bigger, people might cross the road or clutch their bags tighter, or follow him around a shop, because they feel intimidated by him or just don’t trust him. 

I can’t tell him that when he’s play fighting with his white friends, as boys often do, it’s his face that a passerby will most likely point out as the ‘aggressor’.

I can’t tell him that once he learns to drive, he will get stopped by the authorities at least once, regardless of the speed he is driving or the car he’s in. 

I can’t tell him that he might not get that job or role he wants because his ‘face doesn’t fit’.

I can’t tell him that the confidence to debate and share opinions that we try to encourage in him will one day be seen by someone as having an attitude, being arrogant or even aggressive.

I can’t tell him that no matter how articulate and polite we raise him to be, some people will be shocked to hear him pronounce his t’s when he opens his mouth.

I can’t tell him that when people crack a joke with him in a generic ‘African american accent’, that there might be a hint of inappropriate unconscious bias, that the deliverer might not even be aware of.

I can’t tell him that he will experience negative relationships, sometimes without even knowing, where people will discreetly put him down and subtly treat him differently.

I can’t be the one to ruin his view of the world. Not yet. That time will inevitably come. 

But what I can tell him as that he must continue to be a positive influence and think of the people who have and still fight for equality. 

He must work harder than every one else to prove to any doubters just what he is capable of.

I can tell him the importance of building positive relationships, regardless of race, gender or background, where he and his friends feel free to discuss concerns, encourage each other and more importantly, look out for each other.

I can tell him that he shouldn’t be afraid to challenge and debate issues he feels strongly about, in a well rounded, articulate manner.

I can tell him that by putting his God-given talents to use, that he can make a difference.

Because by doing this – by continuing to be the smart, caring, honest, funny person he already is and I know will continue to be – he could be that person. He could be the one to spark a light in someone’s mind. He could make someone question their opinions and behaviours. He could be the one to change someone’s small-minded views for the better.

Now, isn’t that a more positive conversation to have?

xx

PS. This post first appeared on the fabulous Selfish Mother