Tag Archive | parenting

Mean mummy or just the hardships of parenting?

My daughter’s sense of relief was enormous. The exhibition was over and she was ready to celebrate. So I’ve come home again to leave her to it.

One of the few perks of them being away from home is that you don’t get to witness the parties. Or clear up the consequences!

I think that’s the only time I felt really mean; when I made one of them clean up their own vomit! I’d had to fight to resist the urge to make it all mummy-nice, but that wasn’t part of the bargain.

The bargain had been that I’d pick up my eldest from the party because then she could drink and I also didn’t have to worry about her driving home. As long as she didn’t throw up and leave me to clean it up, we joked!

I waited in the dark and she tottered out on her high heels with a happy smile and a kind of vacancy about her in allowing a friend to hold her arm. Or was that hold her up? I thought that was a bit funny. Plus the fact she’d rung me much earlier than expected.

‘You okay?’ I asked. She looked a bit strange.

‘Yea. Drank too much too soon….and work the next day,’ she said, smiling sickly sweetly.

I drove home and as I did so her head lolled a bit and I had that sudden painful wave of motherlyness I’d had when she was first born and equally helpless. My maternal violin strings thrummed round my heart and I wanted to stop the car, sweep her in my arms and cradle her head upon my shoulder and let her sleep there, face in mum’s neck, like she used to. Protect her from the pull of the world and reattach the cord that strips her of her independence.

But of course I couldn’t. She was eighteen. And I was driving. And she wasn’t my baby any more.

She staggered up to bed and the bathroom door went regularly in the night. I knew…I was alert and listening.

The bedroom was full of vomit by morning, although she’d had the presence of mind to get some of it out the window!

She reckoned someone spiked her drink. She had indulged sensibly, as ever, but the impact of it was devastating. And it took a lot of cleaning up, not that I did it because that was the bargain after all.

But I felt very mean.

It’s hard to allow your children – who are not children really and not yours – to learn these tough lessons and be wise for the future. But she knew this was not something she was going to go back on her word and ask of me, I saw it in her face, and she bravely stuck it out.

But I don’t know who it was harder for. For her to have to do it? Or for me to stand back while she did? Both are hardships of growing, her and me, of mother-and-daughter-hood, of being a parent.

And I know the symphonies of heartstrings plays itself a lot longer than it takes to do the clearing up. The memories of childhood and the tugs and pulls of growing independence are troublesome for both of us. Whether that’s when they’re toddlers or twenty, home or away, then or now.

But we have to have respect; the respect that keeps a bargain. The respect to let them learn and let them go.

And the beauty is that the ultimate consequence of respect is the deepest imaginable love which I have now.

Sea shells with motherhood

shells 035 I’ve revisited a book I discovered when in the midst of small child motherhood and looking for answers.

I think many mums reach a kind of questioning about their life, a need to resolve the many pulls that tug us off centre, off target and out of sense with what we believed ourselves to be. There we were thinking we were proceeding towards clear intentions and goals when suddenly they are consumed in a fog of changed thinking, changed feeling, and the goal posts have moved anyway.

Did anyone else feel like that? Please say it’s not just me?

This book was one of many I dipped into about the spirit of motherhood. What was so astounding about it was not so much that it described so recognisably the challenges modern mums face, but that it was written in 1955! Updated 1980. And yet still it resonates. Makes you wonder how much we’ve actually moved on since then?

Here’s some of it that may sound familiar:

For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive…..How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of all these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives….The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls….The problem is not Woman and career, Woman and the home, Woman and independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces pull one off centre; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.’

(From ‘Gift from the Sea’ by Anne Morrow Lindberg)

Through analogies with the shells she finds on the beach (hence the title) Anne goes on to explore the different relationships within our families which we have to adapt to as they grow and change.

Mothering can be one of the most transformational times of our lives. It changes our perceptions and perspectives. It changes what we thought we believed. It changes our whole life.

The changes can be beautiful and inspirational, uplifting and exciting. But all change is challenging and takes a while to grow into. Then, when you think you have some answers, it changes once again.

So is there ever an answer?

Not if you’re looking for one elsewhere.

But yes; in that you observe and absorb all changes, keep an open heart and mind, have patience and flexibility, and you’ll finally grow your own.

For only your own will do.

(‘Mumhood. How to handle it. Why it matters’ was written to support you in finding some of your own answers. Hope it helps).

Pedalling away the problems

I’ve dashed out on my bike. This charges both my limbs and my thought processes. Because it’s not only my legs that become flat and flaccid sitting under the laptop it’s also my mind! charleys photo wkend spring14 008

I only get half a mile down the lane and I have to stop, not from breathlessness – thankfully I’m more fit than that – but because the problems that were stuck under mind-flab when I was indoors come thick and fast. I have to dump bike down and whip out notebook or phone whichever I’ve remembered and make notes.

It happens like this so often.

I’m not surprised; increasing evidence illustrates how physical activity boosts mental activity and well-being.  It also increases mental productivity by stimulating the brain with blood flow. Which is why it’s so worrying that kids are kept in classrooms and in front of screens doing sedentary activities or chasing grades, with decreasing physical activity, turning to gaming to deactivate the stress, which actually can exacerbate it! Seems like a potential explosion of emotional and mental health issues to me. Never mind adding to obesity and poor heart health.

When we were home educating my two cherubs got whisked out regularly. It wasn’t always nice weather. It wasn’t always nicely received! There was often reluctance, sulking, sighing. (Some of that might have been from me)! But it always changed the moods, it charged minds and calmed emotions. Mine and the children’s.

Sometimes it was just a local walk. Sometimes a visit out with others. Sometimes going to the pool, the park or a bike ride. Occasional bribes were used – on myself too. (I like to think of them as rewards)! But I considered it an essential part of our learning routine, our education, and our overall physical and mental health. No education is complete, surely, without learning about ourselves.

And I also considered that it was essential to set that example. If my own well-being mattered to me they could see it was important and worth including in the way they lived their lives. It carries on now.

I know some parents are as reluctant to get moving and get outdoors as their kids are when the weather’s rubbish and the Xbox lures. Some parents lack the confidence to just get up and go outside, especially lacking confidence in exercise. But physical activity doesn’t have to mean gruelling practises in figure hugging Lycra which make you look gross and grunt for breath. Getting out for a walk right now, in whatever you’re wearing, counts just as much. And the beauty of it is; the more you do the more confidence it builds. In you. In the children. What better could you be giving them than that?

As parents we have to set an example. This influences kids far more than anything we could say. Demonstration is the most powerful way of teaching, inspiring and motivating youngsters. We have to live the way we want them to live. Making physical activity as normal a part of our daily living as putting our socks on will give them a way of building their mental and physical well-being for life. It shows how to look after yourself, how they can look after themselves, take responsibility and take charge of it. And is as important as teaching them maths english or science.

In fact it is science, as usually the walk is interrupted for observation of our fascinating world. You can certainly discuss it as you go along – even if you’re puffing. In fact, you’ll be doing more good if you’re puffing.

So, better get back to the pedalling!

Mum’s lessons for Mother’s Day

March; the time when mums are most in my mind.

Not because it’s Spring and there’s nesting going on. Not only because of Mother’s Day coming and I have lovely charleys photo wkend spring14 006people in my life that I am mother to. But more because it was the day before Mother’s Day and in her favourite season that my own mother died. Unexpectedly.

When we discovered her, my own two girls and me, she just looked as if it had come upon her, unexpectedly. And she’d sat down in the chair irritated by the inactivity. She had her gardening trousers on and would be going outside as she did most days. Even at eighty five.

But not that day. In the split second I looked upon her silent face I knew that she had left, even if her outer shell in gardening trousers remained.

What I didn’t know at that shocking time was that although her soul had left, she had left me much behind.

She had left me and my children that innate capacity for giggling and mischievousness at times.

She left us with a slight sense of rebellion against fitting neatly into round holes. In fact neat was not much in her vocabulary. She taught us that creativity was more important than neat – or convention – and busy was more important than tidy. That being yourself was more important than image and not to be too precious to have a wee behind a hedge when necessary. A mouse in the living room didn’t matter too much as nature had a license to be here too; we didn’t always have to tidy it away.

When I was little she walked me round the city on Spring evenings to listen to the bid song. And when she moved to her rural idyll she proved that contentment came from an inner source not an outer trapping. It’s being resourceful that creates solutions – they don’t always have to be bought.

She left us knowing what it was like to have a rotund tummy to hug and what it felt like to be unconditionally loved, thus teaching us how to love in return. She left us with a compassion for all living things, even those that frightened her to death flapping round the lampshade whilst she hid under a tea towel.

She also taught us that the beauty of a person comes from what’s in their heart not what’s plastered on their face. And even at eighty you can stand up straight and not give in to the conventions of age.

But by far the most wonderful lesson my mother left me was a lesson that didn’t need to be taught at all. That the way to pass things onto your children was not to ‘teach’ but to be what you believed in. And the way you demonstrate which thoughts and actions you believe are right and good and useful comes from the way you are and will be passed on that way. To be a loving mum was more important than anything else you could teach.

And now I see her in my own two lovely daughters through a smile or a gesture or their wonderful loving minds. And know that as a mum I am still truly loved as she loved me.

(If you’d like to read a little more about her she features in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ with gardening, mouse in the house and all!)

Playing the part of calm!

‘How did you cope with the stress of home educating?’ someone asked me recently.

‘How do you cope with the stress of anything?’ I replied.

Because it’s no different coping with home education than coping with anything as a parent. Stress is stress wherever it’s coming from. Parenting is already stressful and worrying about your child’s education is stressful, whether they’re in school or not.

Of course, parenting can also be peaceful, uplifting, tremendously rewarding, inspirational and utterly exquisite but folks don’t tend to say that much.

Besides, being stressy is far more trendy! Maybe it makes folks feel more important.

I’m not meaning to belittle stressful events and circumstances people have to endure, like all those who’ve been flooded out this year for example, or awful illnesses. But those kind of stressful disasters aside I do think that there are some people who can invent stress, who create it in themselves, who make it a lot worse than it needs to be. Sometimes this is just down to personality. Sometimes it’s the way we’ve learned to be. Sometimes it’s habit. But we can control it to a degree.

I recently heard Jenny Agutter talking in an interview about the character she plays in ‘Call the Midwife’. She plays the part of a serene and calm nun who you could never imagine being stressed. Jenny said she personally is not anything like as calm as that, but playing the part actually had a calming effect on her.

So could calmness also be a part we play? Can we create our own calmness as parents and thus calmness in our kids?

Creating calm as a parent, particularly as a home educating parent, is a fabulous thing to be doing. It creates a lovely atmosphere in the home. It teaches your children how to do it when they feel stressed. It demonstrates that we can sometimes be calm even about events that challenge us. And calm promotes wellbeing and health. That’s something that we want in our children more than stress. And it will ripple out from them and show others too.

I tried many strategies for creating calm over our parenting and home educating years. Sometimes I managed it, sometimes I didn’t! (You’ll read about those times in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ – one particular tantrum I had springs to mind!) But in the end we can only ever do the best we can. A good starting point is being aware.

Some of the things I did both for me and the children’s sanity when we were getting stressed were:

-          Focussing on something else for a while – really focussing – which diffuses attention from a stressful situation

-          Using a distraction technique maybe telly, music, change of activity, room, environment

-          Getting outside regularly

-          Physical activity most days

-          Mindfully slowing down in the way I did things rather than rushing

-          Looking after myself as well as the children

-          Making sure we all got space from each other, whether physical or mental

-          Reminding myself ‘what matters most’ about what’s going on (releasing expectations)

-          Letting go of needless control

-          Shutting up!

We can all gradually build up a repertoire of strategies that work for each of us in different ways. We are all different after all and are coping with different scenarios. But building these calming moments means that we’re focussing more on being calm than on being stressed. Stress is just a response and we can choose other responses if we keep an awareness of them.

If we keep in mind that we create much stress for ourselves, as I believe we do much of the time, it stands to reason that we can un-create it too. We can choose a calm response – when we’re self aware.

And as a final word on it pop over to Miss Fanny P’s blog and read a story – reading being another great diffusing technique. It’ll show you how important it is to look after yourself as well as the children.

Wishing you a stress free day.

New best friends

A serious moment – there won’t be many of those!

I’m getting to see one of my two newest and bestest friends next week and I’m as over excited as a little child. Because she also happen to be one of my daughters.

Your children can be your best friends too. That’s a lovely thought isn’t it; that you’re not only raising children you’re raising new best friends!

That doesn’t mean cloying or possessive relationships – best friends are not like that anyway. It’s just about relationships and you’re sowing the seeds and building the skills for good ones right from when they’re tiny.

While many parents – and teachers too – often want to be the best friends of the children they are looking after, they sometimes forget what it is about friends that makes them so, what makes for that special relationship.

Sometimes it’s interpreted as all give and no take – that’s not a healthy way to forge relationships. Sometimes it’s misunderstood as making the other feel all-important to the sacrifice of the self – that’s not right either. Some people think that if they always give in to what the other demands it will secure friendships – nope!

That special relationship – in fact all relationships – are built around reciprocation. They’re two-way. Both give and take.

Take respect. Respect is essential in relationships. But it has to be mutual – demanded as well as given. This happens through behaviour. We have to behave in ways that others will respect – always – no short cuts. And we show respect for others if they behave in ways that command it. That’s important whether those others are adults or children.

And this mutuality works whatever it is we are giving and receiving within a relationship; with compassion and empathy, loyalty and support, understanding and trust, honesty and communication. All these are fundamental to good relationships, to good parenting, to good friends. They’re all necessary for relationships to properly work.

And they are demonstrated by the way you behave towards your children and the way in which you guide them to behave towards you and others. Everyone is as equal and important as each other in relationships. It’s never about competition or being boss or one-up. It’s a mutual demonstration of behaviour.

The other thing this approach will show your kids as well as how to be best friends, whether that’s to you or others, is how much they are valued.

Your children will feel as valued and important by having the chance to return that love and support and friendship you give, as they will receiving it. Children feel valued by knowing what they give to you, as well as by what they receive. You’ll know for yourself as an adult that it is lovely having friends you can turn to, but it’s also a lovely feeling knowing that you are a valued and trusted friend to someone else.

These things show children how to be good friends to others, an important part of their progress towards happy and enduring relationships. And one day they might become your best friend too. How lovely will that be!

It is – take it from me!

And I’m off next week to spend some time with one of mine. Hugs will be shared, chat will be endless and cake will be involved! Here’s wishing the same for you one day too!

Moved to tears…

I might cry! I had such a beautiful comment by mammajai about my newest book ‘Mumhood. How to handle it. Why it matters’ I was nearly moved to tears! (Read it here)

People who don’t write won’t know why it makes such a difference. It makes a difference because, although it’s commonly thought that writers have a very glamorous and easy life, the real scenario for most is that you sit in complete isolation, force yourself to climb the enormous mountain of getting thousands and thousands of words down on paper, bite down the self doubt with no idea whether you’re just wasting your time till the task is done probably a year later. So to know that you haven’t wasted your time is enormously heartening!

Thank you to all those who’ve sent me kind comments. I want you to know how much I appreciate it and how it moves me.

Especially as the whole reason I wrote Mumhood was to move others!

Firstly, motherhood (like writing!) can be a completely overwhelming experience, often isolating, certainly bewildering with all the decisions you have to make, definitely life changing, and I think few appreciate that. So I wanted to move people to understand that.

Secondly, I wanted to support all those mums in the job they do; from those who weren’t getting any to those who maybe don’t have a partner, their own mum, or family member around to give them support and pass on wisdom and ways they could handle it to make their life as smooth as possible. I just wanted to send all mums a bit of love and support. Mums give out love with such fervour and selflessness – they need plenty back again.

Thirdly, I also wanted to change a few minds. So many people have such fixed ideas about what mums should be doing, fixed ideas about parenting, often traditional and rigid ideas that may not work for everyone, especially about a mother’s role. I’m not knocking traditional – if it works. Trouble is, when it doesn’t, we can feel stuck with it and unable to launch into something different if we need to. I want to encourage mums to make choices about the way they want to be and the mum they want to be, despite traditions and current trends, cultures and social media!

And finally, I wanted to make sure mums know their worth. Mums are raising new human beings and those human beings are going to make a difference in the world and that’s important to understand. It’s so easy to forget that children aren’t children forever; we’re raising new adults, adults who will need to take on care and responsibility towards each other, towards the planet, and make their own special contribution. The way these children turn out starts right from mums (and dads) being there with their kids, giving them a demonstration of a caring, responsible human so the kids know how to do it when their turn comes. Mums are educating their children – raising children is educating them – right from birth. That is the vital work that mums do. And I wanted to move people to appreciate that enormous worth.

Whether I’m writing about mums, mothering, raising children, learning, parenting or home education in the end it all amounts to the same thing: the worth of the work parents do.

And that lovely comment showed me there’s some worth to what I do. I am grateful almost beyond words for knowing that. Thank you – you know who you are!

If anyone else reads my books and thinks they’re worth commenting on, do post a review on Amazon because this helps others find the book too and receive the help they might need.

Which is exactly what I do it for! You have my heartfelt thanks.

(Check out this page for details)

The value of mum

I’m doing it again; harping on about the importance of mums. About the value of their role, their time, the impact mums have simply being there engaging with their children. Because it’s SO understated. And I’m not the only one shouting…

There was an article in the Independent (click here) recently about studies which show how time spent talking to a baby impacts on their development, particularly their performance in education.

Now I don’t want mums to think they’ve got to start priming their tiny babies for grade getting already, as some parents might interpret this research.

But what it does endorse is the indisputable value of mums at home with their children (or dads for that matter) – and why that time matters so much. Which is very refreshing to know when so many political decisions seem to be geared towards getting mums out of the home away from their children, whilst paying a child-minder to do the job for them but with thirty others. (see here) I find that rather warped thinking!

The worth of the work mums do at home with their children cannot be emphasised enough; it creates the fundamental building blocks of a child’s future development. That’s how vital it is. Mums at home are the child’s first point of reference, first social reference, first understanding of relationships, first experience of language and communication, first introduction to the wider world, first teacher. It is a time when the basis of everything that is to follow is laid down, education included.

And above all it makes them feel loved, secure and valued. Children who feel loved, secure and valued are children who build stable relationships, who value others, who contribute something good to society.

There are no shortcuts in my mind. You have to properly interact, to talk, to engage.

The article says that ‘speaking directly to a baby or reading a bedtime story has a direct impact on how well they will do in school and possibly their career in later life.’ 

Professor Fernald from Stanford University in California says that; ‘Providing children with learning opportunities in their first years of life is as important a part of care-giving as changing and feeding them.

I think some parents neglect to take this on board, maybe because they feel they’re not clever enough to ‘teach’ their kids anything since they’re not ‘educated’ enough themselves (or qualified – as many define being educated). But the simplest of things will count.

Because what really counts is being there to do the talking, reading stories, chatting – whatever level. From doing things together however insignificant like putting socks on or carrots away and chanting and counting as you go, to more creative tasks like making things, cooking, play, building, playing with dolls, making up games. Going out together and talking about what you see. Meeting and playing with others. Feeding the ducks or taking the dog for a walk. Visiting Granny or doing the shopping. It all educates in some way or another.

Your child is picking up messages from you, guidance from you, demonstrations from you, which are teaching them things like how to behave, what to say, what’s appropriate, how to interact, who you love and how to care, as well as language, counting and all the other basics for education later on. And it starts in babyhood.

To do all that you have to be there. That’s why mums at home interacting with their kids do such an important job. This job teaches. It develops. It educates. It teaches the basics of being human.

That’s why we have kids isn’t it? Because we’re interested in raising and developing another human being?

That starts from the moment they’re born. And is surely part of our parental responsibility!

(You’ll find lots of support in doing that in my latest book; ‘Mumhood’ which champions mums from beginning to end!)

Breaking down paper barriers

colouring book and hair dye 009 It’s weird – I have a love hate relationships with colouring books!

I was reminded of this abnormal fetish of mine by an art and culture magazine the girls had (Frankie) because it had some colouring in for grown-ups drawn by artists.

You wouldn’t think anything so innocuous would stir me up, but then I was always a bit averse to doing what I was expected to do – like colour in between the lines. I can’t even write on lined paper now because the inhibition of it irritates me so!

I used to love colouring books as a kid. There’s just something so desirable about them isn’t there? But my rather artisan parents frowned on them by saying I ought to be making my own pictures rather than colouring in other people’s so my enthusiasm waned a bit. Can’t parental principles be irksome? I tried hard to be careful with mine.

And my kids did have colouring books – they liked them too. And they have a value in helping children to practise specific skills (e.g. hand-eye co-ordination and manipulation of tools needed for writing) and inspire ideas of their own. Like with all things in life there is a value to using structure when needed…as long as you have a go at the alternatives too.

For my folks did have a point in suggesting that we break out of those structured boundaries at other times. And it helps for our children to know that especially when their lives are so controlled all the time.

The colouring books are just my example of how conditioned we are to always stay within pre-set boundaries, forgetting that we can actually do differently when it serves us better. We do not always have to stay within the limits, structures, rules and routines that other people adhere to.

Other people do so because it serves them well. Or they’ve never thought about it or discovered there are options! But sometimes we go on and on in life sticking to ideas or rules or institutions simply out of habit or compliance not realising they don’t always serve us well as individuals,

Readers of this blog will know that our family decided to give up on the institution of school because it wasn’t serving our kids well and home educated. That’s one example of an alternative. But there are less dramatic alternatives we can choose every day if we just remember this simple idea; we don’t have to always stay between the lines – whether that’s in colouring books, or what’s trending on Facebook, or in life!

With the influence of social media we’ll need to be particularly vigilant in making personal decisions about how we want to lead our lives and the ideas we really believe in.

I have a super quote to remind me of this: When a man has once broken through the paper walls of everyday circumstance, those unsubstantial walls that hold so many of us securely prisoned from the cradle to the grave, he has made a discovery. If the world does not please you, you can change it. (From ‘The History of Mr. Polly’ by H.G Wells)

Whatever you’re doing today, don’t let any ‘paper walls’ hold you back.

Beyond mummy-moon; the wonders of graduated parenting

Reading this blog you’ll have guessed I’m an ‘older’ mum. Not older as in started older, but older as I’m a parent of older children now. My parenting has graduated and is no longer at that lovely first flush of baby honeymoon. If it was I wouldn’t have felt qualified to write my newest book ‘Mumhood’, because when you’re first swamped in the wonder of mother honeymoon it’s hard to be that objective.

I know that mummy-moon doesn’t describe it for everyone, but for me it was totally, completely, mind-body-and-heart-wrenchingly love at first baby sight. Twice! And although that doesn’t stay the same – just as well as there’s lots to be done as well as croon over a baby – it grows with the children into something richer, deeper, more steadfast perhaps, but still as strong.

As time goes by you grow into ripe and settled love.

And it’s just as beautiful; older parenting as well as baby parenting. I wanted to tell you that because it’s not talked about much.

Babies, new mums, toddler lives and infant times get talked and written about loads. But life with teens and life with grown up young people, who may be independent but you’re still connected to, hardly ever gets mentioned as if no one was interested any more. Or like you weren’t a parent anymore and didn’t have just as many concerns – and just as much love!

This time of older parenting has just as many heart wrenches, most particularly since you can no longer hold them in your safety net like you used to. But adjustments are made and it’s just as heart-lifting, your parenting still remains full of love and as connected as you want it to be. Babies are beautiful, toddlers are beautiful, tweenies and teens are beautiful and young emerging adults are beautiful too – actually they’re totally awesome.

And I just wanted you to know, if you’re at that stage of having lovely little ones around, what you’ve got to look forward to.

Meanwhile, cherish the here and now!

(Read lots more about how to overcome the challenges of being a mum and tips on early parenting in ‘Mumhood. How to handle it. Why it matters’. See the page for details and extracts).