Having It All

Over the last few years I’ve gone through a variety of ‘occupations’ alongside being a full time Mum and home educator. I trained as a breastfeeding peer supporter when Sophia was a toddler and for a while volunteered in a postnatal ward and then at community groups. After Isaac I trained as a doula but after my first client had to take a break due to the arrival of Elijah.

Then, not long after Eli, a good friend offered me a break and I entered the world of social media management. I did this on a low scale with just a handful of clients for a few years before starting my current role on the admin team at the wonderful Outdoors Group (the company behind the locally loved Exeter, Exmouth and now Okehampton Forest Schools).

Not long after starting the latter role, I realised my work-life balance was skewing heavily in the wrong direction so I stopped working with my social media clients to just concentrate on the Forest School admin and the kids. I felt that finally I had found a balance. I enjoy work but also have time to do everything I need to with the kids for their home education. I’ve even found time to run two marathons! I’ve been feeling smug, I’m busy but I felt like I was doing everything I wanted to.

Then a seed planted itself deep in my brain, I really really want to do the training to become a Forest School Leader. I started trying to work out how I could fit this into our already very full life. Whether there was anyway I could take on extra work and meet the needs of everyone else.

But a conversation with my Dad last week hit a chord with me, he was talking about a time when me and my siblings were young and he was doing too much with work, Church, judo and family life. He said he made the hard decision to stop practising judo even though he loved it. I realised that sometimes we need to make these hard decisions in order to preserve a good balance in life and allow ourselves some breathing time.

Life with small children is very, very full and it’s probably not the season for me to be doing more than I am at the moment. It’s taken me a long time to realise this but as soon as I did, I felt a massive sense of relief, a weight off my shoulders. Sometimes it’s not possible to have it all but that’s ok. We are sold a myth that we should say yes to everything, that we should do everything we want to do.

But in reality, life is a series of compromises and making decisions that are most sensible for a healthy balance in life. We should enjoy our lives but there’s no point filling them to the brink with activities and work otherwise we won’t have the energy to appreciate them! So I’m embracing the season I’m in at the moment with the knowledge that nothing lasts forever. There will be many more years when my children are older in which I can further my career or take on more challenges if I so wish. For now, I’m embracing what I have, for what it is.

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Do as I say… (not as I do)

Although there is obviously a degree of hierarchy in families, I’ve been thinking recently about just how little control chidren have over their lives and the extent to which we can help them manage what must feel like an unfair situation where their lives are dictated by us, the parents. Every parent has a store of anecdotes about children who are fussy about food, difficult to potty train or particularly defiant at bedtime. The common factor here is children trying to be in control of at least one aspect of their life. At the end of the day, you can’t force a child to eat, to sleep or to wee when we want them to.

It’s a difficult situation in some respects. It goes without saying that children need boundaries, that parents often know better/best and that unfortunately, children cannot choose what they do and when they do. It would be a completely unsustainable, unsafe, and chaotic way of life. But how can we allow our kids to have a little bit of control over their own lives? How can we can make them feel like they are listened to and respected?

Respect goes both ways and I do think that it is worth trying to treat our children like we would treat our adult friends and families. They say your child is your mirror and if we talk to them in a more equal manner, hopefully, in time, they will return the gesture and start talking to us instead of shouting or crying when life isn’t going their way. If we saw a friend sobbing in a corner, would we snap at them to stop crying or would we ask them what was wrong and try to help? If we wanted to leave the house at a certain time would we bark at our other half to put on his shoes and wait in the garden with no warning or would we have a conversation earlier in the day about our expectations for the morning?

There are some elements of life that are non-negotiable. Roads must be crossed safely, school or other extra curricula activities start at a set time, a reasonable bedtime is necessary for adequate sleep. But, there are many ways in which we can give our children a little bit of choice and allow them to exercise some control over their own lives. Letting them choose what they wear in the morning, allowing older kids to pack their own lunches, negotiating a bedtime that allows that extra chapter to be read without being too late… They may seem like small gestures but in the grand scheme of things, they can help a child feel like they have more control over their lives and hopefully will be less grumpy, more content and happier to help and be part of the family.

Maybe some of you think I’m being a bit soft but children are just small humans and autonomous beings. And whilst I agree that they lack the maturity and benefit of age and experience to make some decisions sensibly, I don’t think that means that we should treat them any less respectfully than we’d treat our adult peers. So next time I’m hollering at them from the bottom of the stairs to get to the table for dinner, I’m going to try and remember that I chastise them for shouting at me from another room and realise the double standard. If I want a harmonious family, I’ve got to be a key part of achieving that through the way I talk to and treat the kids.