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. ❤️

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!

 

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 

 

Why everyone needs a mum squad

It’s 11pm. Hubby is asleep, kids are asleep. You’ve had a horrendous day but still worrying about the colour of your baby’s poo.You can’t text your non-mum friends as they’ll be asleep because they have work tomorrow, or at some swanky bar launch. Who do you call? Your mum-squad. 

Being a new mum can sometimes be quite a lonely experience, but having a gang you can turn to makes all the difference. 

If you don’t have a mum squad, I urge you to find or build one. Here’s why: 

1. You can tell them anything and I mean anything. You see, a well established mum squad has this amazing ability to be non-judgemental. For some reason you feel so comfortable with this group you’ve known for 5 minutes, you’re happy to discuss anything from teething to the state of your post-partem sex life (or lack thereof) and they’ll just listen, or laugh knowingly. But they won’t judge. 

2. Because they don’t judge they’ll always try to understand or help. Nothing beats having friends that have always got your back. Or wipes. It’s so good to have a friend that carries wipes

3. You don’t have to join a new class alone. Even if it’s just to do a free trial, it’s great to have someone to go with. They’ll probably try anything once. For some reason a pack mentality sets in when you have a mum-squad. If one person suggests trying something new and a bit random, there’ll be someone happy to tag along. 

4. As time moves on, they gradually let you become you again because you’re on this journey together.

5. You have an excuse to dress your babies up in silly novelty outfits at every opportunity. 

  
 I had a great NCT group first time around so was keen to join again with Boy 2 and once again I’ve been really lucky – they are great. But I’m aware NCT ain’t cheap and not always the path people want to take. If NCT isn’t for you, then get yourself on Netmums or check out your local groups. Be bold and ask people if they want to go for coffee or a park walk after a class. Believe me, if you’re thinking about it someone else will be too.