Raising Girls Who Are Switched On, Not Scared

When I’m running on my own on trails or secluded country roads and I spot a man coming the other way, regardless of the time of day or light levels, I make a mental note of his appearance and what he’s wearing. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

When a man in a pub makes lewd comments about my appearance, I do not always respond the way I’d like to. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

When heading home by myself at night, I will choose the route that is more public and better lit, even if it’s a substantial detour. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

I’ve been having lots of conversations with the women in my life about this recently. And how about how frustrating, unfair and angering it is that in 2019, we still need to take these precautions more than our male counterparts. We’ve discussed how we first knew that we needed to take these precautions, about the undercurrent of fear that we experienced as we first started to venture into the world by ourselves as teenagers, all those years ago. About how really, by doing these things, we are perpetuating the myth of victim blaming; that if she was more careful, she would have been safe. And this is not OK. Violence against women (and obviously men) is the fault of the perpetrator. Always. End of story.

But more pressingly for me at least at the moment, is how to raise girls to be women that are switched on, smart and safe but not scared. How do we prepare them for the reality of the world once they’ve left home or are starting to be out without parental protection. You don’t want to put the fear of God into them, to leave them instantly distrustful of anyone who crosses their path. But you also want them to be sensible and have a good awareness of how to stay safe. Obviously this is something we teach all of our children. Learning how to behave in society is essential for a future world that is hopefully kinder and more productive than the one we currently exist in. But it breaks my heart that I will have to teach my daughter this with more of an emphasis on personal safety than I will my sons.

When it comes to the how though, I am so very open to receiving wisdom and suggestions from those around me raising girls, whether they be younger or older than mine or already grown up. My instinct is that it will come down to lots of honest, open conversations. It will mean answering hard questions truthfully, to philosophical discussions about why things are the way they are. We’ve already spent a long time dissecting why I’m less comfortable with her being topless in public spaces than her brothers even though she’s only 9. She wasn’t satisifed with the reasons and I don’t really blame her.

We’ve come a long way since the suffragettes in terms of representation and rights of men and women. We no longer need male guarantors to have a mortgage or a credit card. We can spend our own money in a pub (up until 1982, we could be refused service). We have the right to equal pay (although the pay gap is far from closed). We can work on the London Stock Exchange, access the contraceptive pill and obtain a court order against a violent spouse. All these examples have come from this list, a simultaneously depressing and celebratory read. But not far enough. I want my daughter to live in a world where she’s feel as safe as her male counterparts. To feel as valued and listened to as her male counterparts. To feel as powerful as her male counterparts.

And for want of knowing what else to do, I think it starts with talking. Talking to her, to her brothers, to anyone who will listen! So please join the conversation with me and let’s raise our girls to be switched on, but not scared.

[Not] Back To School (again)

This September marks the third and final time that one of my children reaches school age. Eli, at 4.5 years of age, would have been starting reception this week if we’d chosen to engage with mainstream education. As we didn’t, I am now officially home educating all three of my offspring and we marked this today with a trip to the Eden Project to catch the ‘Earth Story’ exhibition on it’s last day.

As with each of the others, this is almost a non-event, we’ll simply continue as we are. I will continue to provide educational opportunities and guidance that is age and ability appropriate for them and a number on a bit of paper doesn’t make much difference to that.

Yesterday, for example, after some Mum-dictated music practice, Isaac spent a long time devising codes and writing in them, practising handwriting, spelling and a whole host of other skills (without even realising it). Elijah practised his pen control with some requested alphabet worksheets and colouring before playing with Lego for hours. And Sophia took it upon herself to work through some KS2 grammar before doing some sewing and then composing acrostic poems. We also played world twister (geography) and went on a blackberry hunt where, for reasons unknown to me, they demanded to be quizzed with mental arithmetic questions. It was nearly all child-led, challenged them and was pretty productive.

Today, as I say, we went to Eden where the focus was on the devastating effects of climate change on both British and global wildlife and on championing visitors to be part of the solution. It provoked a lot of conversations and anger from all three but overall felt positive when we were able to see examples of the work that conservation groups and dedicated people are doing to fight for our planet.

Over the last few years, as a member of the local home educating community and within my role at The Outdoors Group, I’ve seen a significant increase in the numbers of people choosing to home educate. I’ve written plenty before about why that might be. Whether it’s a case of schools not having the funding to support children with additional needs, disagreeing with the national curriculum or just that you want more freedom as a family to live and learn in your own way, the reasons are many and varied.

I won’t repeat myself in that respect but I will say that if it’s something you are considering but find overwhelming, it’s honestly not as scary or full on as you think it will be! There is a lot of support out there and the home education community in Devon is absolutely thriving. To summarise what I’ve said before, you don’t have to be able to teach to home educate your child (ren), you just need to be able to facilitate learning, to be able to go at their pace and to trust them enough to follow their interests and curiosity. I’ve learnt so much myself over the last decade (fun fact of the day: did you know that the term ‘plankton’ refers to any living creature that floats within the ocean currents, so jellyfish are technically plankton? I didn’t until earlier today!)

So whether your kids are going back to school this week or not, I wish them a very happy, healthy and adventurous academic year! I’ll leave you with these photos of when we visited the Deer Park at Dartington Estate recently and the kids got to hand feed these absolutely beautiful creatures! (Another great trip organised by a home educating parent)

If you have any questions you’ve always wanted to ask about home education, comment below or on my facebook post and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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Taking It Slow

As a general rule, I don’t take photos whilst I run. There are two reasons for this. The first and main reason is because I am rather competitive by nature, not with other people, but with past versions of myself. I don’t want to waste time by stopping to snap a good view, no matter how breathtaking, as I’m always trying to run as fast as possible and beat previous personal records. The second (minor) reason is just because I’m not very good at taking photos! I don’t take the time to adjust the settings or compose a good scene, as in the rest of my life, I rush to get it done and be on my way.

But this morning, I went for a run and I knew it would be slow. I’ve had a month off training due to illness and every time I’ve attempted to run in the last few weeks my lungs have felt like they’re going to give up in protest at the cheek of me making them work. I also did a rather brutal leg day yesterday and my glutes are angry with DOMS. So this morning I set off in the beautiful Spring sunshine with a brilliant blue sky above me and took my time. I just ran 4.5 miles around the country lanes nearby but it was so restorative. My lungs worked and because I wasn’t racing myself I didn’t beat myself up when I stopped to walk up some particularly steep hills (even with the knowledge that I usually run up them). I even stopped to take a picture of the rolling Devon hills with Dartmoor looming in the distance.

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People often react with a mixture of horror and bemusement when they find out how much training I do (5/6 days a week of running or in the gym) but for me, it’s my time away from the kids, just for me to re-set. It’s my medicine for mental health, my quiet headspace to think and just be me. After 50 minutes running in the gorgeous fresh air this morning, I feel ready for whatever the day throws at me, whether that be warring brothers or a particularly hefty workload. And this morning I feel like I also finally took on board everyone’s advice to slow down.

In life I am prone to trying to do everything quickly. Sometimes this is in the fitness side of things, trying to lift ridiculously heavy weights without building up to them or trying to launch into a crow pose or handstand without all the conditioning and beginner progressions necessary to lay the groundwork. Sometimes this is in the house, doing a half-assed job of washing up or other housework just to get it over with. Sometimes this is in my role as a parent, rushing bedtime or games with the kids, simply because of parenting-fatigue or an inability to be in the moment when there is a never-ending to-do list. Sometimes this is in my self-care, not taking enough time to rest because I’m anxious to get back to my busy schedule.

But after having been ill for the best part of a month, I have had to slow down. My body wouldn’t let me rush anything! And actually, I think I’ve come out the other side hopefully a little wiser for it. Which is why, when I came in from my run this morning with an urge to write, instead of putting it to one side to pack lunches, do home ed and process registration forms for work, I decided to sit down with a cup of tea and share my ramblings with whoever might be reading this instead.

Sometimes there are deadlines that have to be stuck to and sometimes you do need to hurry. But a lot of the time, it’s all in our heads. We can probably take five and slow down without any horrendous consequences. So I’d encourage you if, like me, you’re prone to rushing, to take it slow today. Even if it’s just taking a few minutes to sit in the sun and soak up the rays before getting back to the grindstone, you’ll feel better for it. (Or if time, family and work allows, do what we did yesterday and spend several hours lounging on the beach enjoying the spring sunshine and the water gently lapping the shore – bliss. See, I told you I’m learning!)

Sophia Jumping!

This photo is courtesy of the talented and most lovely Elsie

 

 

 

Guilt

At this very moment, I should be in the woods at Exeter Forest School, running my first ever session as a Forest School Leader. Instead, I am sat under our biggest, cosiest blanket with a large cup of tea feeling rather sorry for myself. I’ve been ill for close to two weeks now and feel like I might finally be on the tail end of it but certainly not well enough to run a session without coughing and spluttering over the unfortunate parents and children in attendance. I feel so cheesy saying this, but my proverbial village has, once again, leapt into action to assist. A dear friend (who I now owe so many childcare favours to it’s ridiculous) is having Eli at the group and for the afternoon and Dan has gone to deposit the big two with her as well so she can take them to the older group where they attend by themselves. I have a whole day to rest and hopefully finally recuperate after an incredibly busy two weeks where I have just kept going when perhaps I should have declared a few more movie (or to assuage my home ed conscience, documentaries) and sofa days for the kids.

However, my primary emotion today is guilt. Guilt that I’m letting down work by not being able to run the session. Guilt that my friend is helping out and looking after my kids again, especially when she’s not feeling 100% herself. Guilt that I’m probably not going to be particularly productive even though there are things that need to be done (work, cleaning…etc). Guilt (ridiculously) that once again this week, I won’t reach my step count for the day. When I sat down to write this I was thinking mainly about what some term ‘mother’s guilt’. The guilt that means you feel like you are constantly failing those around you. That you don’t have enough to give to your kids to fulfill what they need. That there isn’t enough of you to go around. That your house is a mess. That you can’t find the work-life-fun balance. That you have goals and projects left unfinished. That you shout, nag and lecture. That maybe your priorities aren’t where they should be. That sometimes you take more from your friends and family than you give.

But then I realised that guilt is not exclusive to motherhood. Guilt is something that lots of us are plagued with. Most of that list above could apply to all of us, regardless of whether we have kids or not. And we could add more. Guilt that we’re not doing more in the fight against climate change would be one for me. For someone else it might be guilt that they skipped the gym. Guilt that they let down a friend. Guilt that they pay someone to clean their home. Guilt that they don’t cook their meals from scratch. Guilt that they got a promotion over a colleague. Everyone feels guilty for a myriad of different reasons.

Clearly, guilt that we feel because of something we’ve actually done (deliberate or not) that we know has affected someone negatively (physically or mentally) is a different category. It’s right to feel remorse and to try and make amends. But I’m talking about the guilt that so many of us feel unnecessarily.  Guilt that we essentially make up for things that we don’t need to feel remorseful, shameful or sad about.

I’m struggling to think of anything positive that comes out of this kind of guilt. Acknowledging a fault or weakness and acting on it to promote positive change is one thing. But endlessly beating yourself up about stuff, valid or not, is useful to no-one. I know that if the situation was reversed, I would do the same thing for a friend or family member in need. I know that I would cover sessions for a colleague if I could. But it doesn’t stop me feeling bad about being the one needing the help right now.

I don’t know what the answer is and I realise this may come across as a somewhat woe-is-me post which is not my intention. Rather, I wanted to start a conversation about unecessary guilt. About why we feel it, about why we shouldn’t let ourselves get so caught up in such a negative feeling. It’s not something we talk about a lot I think.  A quick google produces a wealth of articles from people much more equipped to talk about this than me. And a few things stood out to me particularly as helpful ways to break the cycle of self-flagellation caused by needless guilt.

Firstly, as I mentioned above, engage in a spot of role reversal. Imagine what you’d say or do to a friend or family member saying what you’re feeling. Chances are you’d reassure them that their guilt isn’t based in anything real and advise that they need to be kinder to themselves. Which leads nicely to the second point which is to make an effort to remove yourself from the situation and actually look at what you do. Look to see if there is any evidence to back up your guilt, I bet there isn’t! Practice a little bit of self-gratitude. Make a list if you need to of all the things you accomplish. But acknowledge what you do and try and be at peace that this is enough.

Finally, practice some self-care. I know this is a bit of a buzz topic at the moment but there’s a reason for that. You can’t give from an empty glass and we live in a world where we try to do much more than is practically possible for any one person. Our villages are  broken and dispersed and people often don’t have the support they need. I’m going to drag out a parenting phrase that I have quoted many times before, bestowed on me from a very wise friend ‘your child is your mirror’. If you are overworked, stressed and brimming with negative emotions, your child(ren) will feed off this and reflect it back to you. If you take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy, just for you, you will be calmer and happier and your children will absorb this positive energy and that makes for a more peaceful household all round (if only in attitude and emotion rather than actual volume. Even when happy, my kids are loud.)

Funnily enough, as I came to the conlusion of this post, a message pinged up from the friend who has my kids today saying simply (in response to my apologies and thanks)

Don’t feel guilty! It’s lovely having a village”

And whilst I know not everyone out there is lucky enough to have a village in place like I do, I think the take home is the same. Don’t feel guilty. We don’t need to haul any extra baggage around with us if it’s not needed. And if you don’t have a village, why not try and make one? Social media is great at connecting people, find some other folk who are village-less and start building a group based on friendship, support and community. And when you’ve got it, accept offers of help when you’re struggling, gratefully and guiltlessly.

 

 

New Year, New Me?!

We are finally approaching the end of the first month of the year and it’s taken me this long to think about what I want for the year ahead. We spent New Years Eve with some lovely friends and in the morning, spent some time making ‘vision boards’, cutting out pictures and words of things that we wanted to come into our lives during 2019. I liked the idea but didn’t put much as thought into it as I could have, hence my board finishing with a picture of aspargus middle and centre (meant to represent growing generally, not just a love of this particular vegetable), a bottle of gin and some other assorted outdoorsy and fitness related cuttings.

I knew from the offset that for me, 2019 was about saying ‘no’. During the last few months of 2018 I was struggling to manage with fitting everything into our lives that we wanted or needed to. I have never been good at turning down opportunities and prioritising but by December I felt absolutely burnt out and constantly slightly frantic as I attempted to get everything done whilst still saying yes to every invitation offered. So I knew that 2019 needed to be about doing less, about saying no to opportunities that aren’t right for us at the moment, about prioritising what is really important to us. I was also starting to struggle with Home Ed, I didn’t (and don’t) want to send the kids to school but I was also starting to feel the strain of having them around me all. the. time. I was starting to revert back to being a bit of a shouty Mum (which I hate) and the atmosphere in the house was on a decline. And this was mostly just because we were always rushing to fit everything in. I needed to revisit the Orange Rhino blog and remember that the children are my mirror, if I’m chilled and willing to talk through things rather than snap, so are they!

So I’ve made some decisions and had some things happen that already is helping me feel positive and hopefully, less stressed about the year ahead. Firstly, I decided not to run any marathons this year. I know that sounds stupid but I have done three in the last two years and have a growing list of races I’d like to try so had just taken it for granted that I’d run at least one this year. The training however, is fairly sizeable and inevitably eats into our time as a family as well as my own time. (Another reason is because I want to focus on calisthenics and strength training this year but that’s possibly another post – albeit maybe a boring one for most!) So I have committed to not running any races longer than 10 miles and feel really happy with that decision.

Secondly, my wonderful, amazing parents (can you tell I’m sucking up!?) have kindly offered to take the kids for a morning on a fortnightly basis for violin and piano lessons and some reading practice for Isaac and I am so excited! I’m going to pop down the road to a cafe to get some work done in peace and the kids are excited about the extra time with their grandparents.

I’m also trying to make a conscious point of not saying yes to all the incredible home education opportuities that arise on an almost daily basis. I’m starting to realise that we don’t have to go on every trip and that the children’s education will not suffer if we don’t! On the contrary, it means I should actually be able to commit to planning and executing the projects they have requested (WWII and Victorians) and that we will get some more much-needed time at home to do some structured work (and for me to get some of my work done in daylight hours rather than working to 10pm every evening)!

There are a few other things potentially in the offing but really, I think it’s a change of attitude rather than any huge monumental changes to our lifestyle which is going to have the biggest affect on me this year.  I don’t usually subscribe to the ‘new year, new you’ school of thought but this year I have used the change in the calendar to mark an end to one way of doing things. I’m going to say no to more things but also try and rebalance our life so that my work, home ed and my love of fitness all gets an equal say rather than one dominating over the others. It’s only a few weeks in but I’m feeling momentously more relaxed than I did a month ago already!

What about you all? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions or has the New Year prompted you to rethink the way you do things? Or how are you finding 2019 so far? (Brexit notwithstanding, obviously that’s just a dire shadow clouding all of us!) I’d love to hear from you!

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A Better Version Of Me

Recently, I’ve started thinking more and more about the traits that the children have inherited from me and Dan. It began with a startling realisation that Isaac’s insistence on holding everyone to impossibly high standards (himself included) is something straight out of Dan’s personal rulebook. Sophia has inherited my clumsiness as well as my love of sweet things (and tendency to overeat at times)! Eli is the first to admit fault in the case of damaged posesssions or general mischief and that’s me all over; as a teenager I told my parents the first time I drank alcohol and when the police might be callling because I was hanging out with people whose idea of a good time was to throw eggs off the top of a multi storey car park…

What’s interesting though is when you see your child in a situation you were in in childhood, anticipate how they’ll react and they then take you by surprise by how they deal with it. Case in point…when we moved, Isaac was desperate to join a local football team and to my surprise, Sophia (having shown no previous interest in the sport) decided that she wanted to try it out as well. She’s always wanted to give everything a go, not wanting to miss out on any available opportunity so I suppose it was just another example of that.

Anyway, fast forward to their first training session. They are in separate groups and Isaac gets stuck in and shows a natural aptitude for running around and kicking the ball. Sophia however, a little like me, appeared to have two left feet, little interest in the game and at times seemed more interested in dog walkers at the other end of the field than in where the ball was. As I watched her, I felt my cheeks redden as I saw her out of her depth in a team full of seasoned players. When they finished I fully anticipated embarassment, perhaps some tears and definitely a refusal to come back. She walked towards me and I merrily asked how she’d found it. Her response? ‘Great! I’m going to come again next week’. I couldn’t have been more shocked! I’m so used to seeing her as mini me that I couldn’t believe how confident she was and willing to give it another go. (She has since given up but only after realising they play all year round, whatever the weather. She liked it but not enough to play in pouring rain and freezing temps!)

A few other occasions since have made me realise that she is the lucky possessor of an unfailing confidence in her own abilities. She was mildly surprised when she couldn’t do an unaided headstand on her first ever attempt and her life ambitions are to own a bakery and be the first woman on the moon. She truly believes she can do anything she puts her hand to and is eager to give everything a go. Where she does struggle, she just ploughs on through and is an amazing example to us all!

The more I look at the kids, the more I’m able to recognise the traits they’ve inherited from both Dan and myself and how the combination they have is a new and improved version of ourselves. More often than not, the characteristics I see in them that we share are positive and whilst obviously they have their own flaws and foibles, they seem less pronounced then in myself and Dan. Maybe it’s because they’re young and haven’t had time to develop but I am starting to appreciate why some people invest so much in their children, hoping they’ll do what their parents couldn’t.

Obviously, I don’t want to put any pressure on my kids. I’m not expecting them to win Nobel Prizes, play sports at national level or discover the cure for cancer (although obviously I’d be bloody proud if they did!) I simply want them to grow up and live healthy, happy lives that have a positive impact on those around them. But it is interesting to think that perhaps they will take the best of us both and use it to go further than previous generations have.

I don’t know if any of your know ‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin but up until this point, I always thought there was a grain of truth in it. It reads…

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
And I suppose that whilst that can be the case for some parents and children, I’m really hoping to actually achieve the exact opposite as I traverse down this rather tumultous road of parenthood. I’m sure they will inherit some of our flaws and have plenty of their own but I want to actively push against the sentiment in Larkin’s poem. I want to build them up and instead of handing on misery, I want to hand on happiness. I want to hand on an integrity of spirit, the confidence to challenge what is unfair and unjust and the belief that with hope and positive actions, we can change our path. And given the state of the world that we currently exist in, I truly believe that if we all try to do this for our children, the world will be a better place.

The Joy of Spontaneity

Since we got back from Italy, sibling relationships have been a little, ahem, tense in our household. Whether it’s a delayed reaction to moving, a combination of pre-teen girly hormones and the testerone surge of the boys or just general grouchiness I don’t know. But it culminated in a series of unfortunate events over the weekend (which I won’t go into for the sake of privacy) that left both the older kids feeling bruised and a little downtrodden. Eli, very unhelpfully, tends to always contribute to my discussions with them about treating each other in a loving way by chiming in ‘It’s not me Mummy, I didn’t do that! I wasn’t grumpy!’. (He’s right though, he doesn’t seem to get quite as involved in the fights and is the first to relent in the hope that he can restore happiness to his big siblings who he adores). Anyway, I digress.

So this morning, I left them playing some convoluted game involving lego whilst I went for a run (Dan was working from home, obviously!) and told them they could continue playing their game whilst I was gone on the proviso they didn’t fight. I also explained that we’d get on with some work once I was back. An hour later I returned and they were all still completely engrossed in their game. I had a shower and pondered whether to interrupt their play or not. However, it had been so long since I’ve seen them playing in such a calm, cooperative and clearly enjoyable manner together that I decided to put the ‘academic work’ on hold for the day and let them keep playing. I thought that allowing them time and space to heal their somewhat fractured relationship was more important than reading and comprehension. And we had a lovely day. They played until lunch and then we headed out to Bovey Tracey for a 4 mile walk around Parke (a National Trust estate) with friends before heading home for dinner and cake with Bake Off. There were literally no fights all day, minimal whinging and it felt incredibly restorative for us all.

It got me thinking about the importance of spontaneity, of not being rigid in sticking to plans and in being able to recognise the most pressing needs in a situation. I often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day and having recently have started to feel the tell tale symptoms of anaemia returning have realised that once again, I need to step back and take stock. Today (don’t laugh guys…I know I’m a absolute stereotype of a hippy home ed Mum!), that meant not making my own bread and hummus (my recent habit in efforts to cut down on waste) and telling Dan to buy some from the shop. And when it comes to the kids, although I certainly don’t think I’m making them too busy, I do need to be able to reevaluate what’s important. And sometimes, missing a day of our more structured learning to play and then go for a stomp in the woods is infintitely more important than sitting round the table arguing about who’s cheated in the maths game we’re trying to play or trying to juggle three different sets of work at once.

This is short today because I’m tired but basically, if you or the kids are feeling grumpy and tired, it’s OK to cancel all your plans and take a break! Go for a walk, visit the library, bake a cake, swim in the sea (with a wetsuit maybe at this time of year?!)…do whatever makes you all happy. Being in touch with what you all need for harmony and a peaceful life is so important and trumps everything else I reckon. I’m hoping that today was a turning point for us all and we can see more days of calm and less of the ridiculous fighting that has characterised the last few weeks. Wish me luck!