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.

 

 

Advertisements

Stepping Away From The Tech

For the last two years, I’ve been working for The Outdoors Group, an amazing company the delivers outdoor education across five sites around Devon from toddler groups and home education sessions to specialist 1:1 intervention for those struggling to thrive in mainstream and adult training to send more Forest School Leaders into the world. We also host birthday parties and team building events. And excitingly, this year we are opening The Outdoors School, an independent special one-of-it’s-kind outdoor school, especially for ASD and SEHM learners.  I work in an administrative capacity, sat behind my laptop or on the phone, either at home or in our cosy office at West Town Farm. I never thought I’d enjoy doing admin so much but I think it’s a combination of loving being organised and being passionate about the business that means that I really do love my job and mostly find it a pleasure, rather than a chore. I like problem solving and I like helping people, both important parts of the role.

However, I’ve always said to folk when talking about what I do that I’d love to do the Forest School Leader training itself one day. ‘One Day’ was a vague concept, some magical time in the future when it would be appropriate and I’d found the courage. But excitingly/nervewrackingly, ‘one day’ has come sooner than I anticipated. At the end of February I’ll be joining a bunch of other aspiring Forest School leaders at our site just outside Exmouth for a week’s practical course to kick off the year of training required for this qualification. I am equal parts thrilled and terrified. I love learning and I love being outside but….after many years of living in houses with stoves and open fireplaces and having attended Forest School with the kids for the last 6 years, I still can’t reliably light a fire! Hopefully this week will solve that…

I’m also feeling rather nervous about the concept of actually running sessions. Sure I run activities at our Home Education group nearly every week but I’m not technically in charge there. I can corral a group of rowdy children aged 2-11 and get them involved in a structured activity but that is indoors, without the added factors of everything that the outdoors brings, including the health and safety element of it. Folk aren’t paying to be at the Home Ed group and if I muck it up, it matters not one jot!

It’s a bit of a moot point though at the moment as I’m not actually going to be in the woods doing delivery for the forseeable future I think but I like to think ahead to when that day comes. I know really, that the whole point of doing the training is to equip the learners with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be able to successfully plan and deliver sessions but still, eep!

Turning off the laptop, putting on my boots and waterproof trousers and stepping outside feels like a bold move. But one that I’m looking forward to. And even if I don’t use the training in the woods for a while, I’m hoping that it will better inform me for my role within the metaphorical ‘office’. However, even in order to make the week’s training happen has been a bit of an undertaking in terms of childcare and I owe a huge thank you to one particularly special friend and my Mum and Dad for helping Dan keep the kids occupied that week whilst he’s working from home. It really does take a village and I’m so grateful for my little one.  So here’s to stepping out of my comfort zone of inboxes and spreadsheets and entering a whole new world of outdoor learning and adventure…I’ll keep you updated as to how I get on!

Hannah-Bio-Pic

Cutting bits of string, I’ve got that. Fire lighting, watch this space…

 

Taking Time For You

I’m aware that I’m in danger of this sounding something like a self-help column this week but I want to write about self-care and about taking time to nurture yourself. With Mother’s Day just gone, it seems like a timely reminder that Mum’s (and indeed everyone) need a bit of a break regularly, not just once a year in an avalanche of flowers, homemade cards and breakfast in bed. But we are not passive in this, we need to claim space and time for ourselves.

It’s easy in life, especially as a parent (but not exclusively to those with small folk), to get so bogged down in the day-to-day tasks that need doing and meeting the needs of everyone around us that we forget about our own needs. Self-care is the buzz term for this but really, it just means remembering that you are a human with your own needs and wants and recognising that it’s not selfish to take some time to meet them. Mother’s especially can be prone to playing (unintentionally) the role of martyr, running themselves ragged looking after those in their lives and getting all their work done, constantly juggling tasks and appointments in order to keep their families ticking over. But the problem with this is that more often than not, we end up feeling burnt out, tired and resentful.

Luckily, the solution is not a hard one. Self-care doesn’t mean jetting off for an all inclusive spa-weekend once a month (although once in a while wouldn’t go amiss!) Rather, it means adopting a practice of remembering every day, to honour yourself by doing something that’s just for you. That might be taking the time to go for a run or to an exercise class, to sit down with a tea and a book or trashy Netflix show for an hour, it might be choosing to take some extra time to prepare a nutritious meal to better fuel your body, it might be simply going to bed early rather than spending an extra two hours tidying and tying up the loose ends of the day.

And the thing is, if we regularly make time to honour ourselves, we’ll find tension dissipating in other areas of our lives. We’ll have more patience and energy to deal with the demands that life throws at us. It’s not selfish to take time for ourselves. It’s not selfish to say no to a request to play by the kids or to turn down extra hours at work. It’s OK to put ourselves first once in a while. I remember reading something Dr Sears had written when Sophia was just a toddler, he wrote that the sun does not rise and set on one member of the family but rather that everyone in the family were of equal importance. He wrote that sometimes one person’s needs will be more pressing than others but that in the grand scheme of things, a family should equally look after each other.

I’ve come a long way in the way of self-care and now make sure I take time daily to do something for me (usually go to the gym or eat separately from the kids so I can eat something yummy I know they won’t touch!) and the difference is noticeable. I find that I shout less and that as a general rule, our house is calmer. I’m not going to lie, we still have stressful, grouchy days but there are less of them. So if you had a lovely Mother’s Day but wished you were given the opportunity to focus on yourself a little more, don’t wait another year. Adopt an attitude of daily self-care and take some time (even if it’s just 10 minutes) for yourself, you won’t regret it!

Going Dry

This week’s column has the potential to be mildly controversial but what’s the point in sharing my thoughts with the world (or readers of the Express and Echo at least!) if I’m not brutally honest? Despite my tendency to waffle, I’ve no interest in merely filling space or offering empty platitudes. So without further ado, let’s dive in and hopefully you’ll find my thoughts at least vaguely interesting!

I started this year with the pledge of partaking in “Dry January”. I wasn’t doing it to raise money or even really making it widely known that I was taking part. However, a mere 6 days in, after a week of tending for my flu-ridden family I, without thinking, decided to withdraw from the challenge and share a bottle of wine and a whiskey nightcap with Dan.

I slipped quickly back into our normal drinking habits; admittedly they are fairly modest and we just tend to share a bottle of wine 2 or 3 times a week, but still, not quite the dry month I had planned. It was only when Dan asked what had happened to my pledge today that I started thinking (again) about my relationship with alcohol. Over the last few years, I have swung from long periods of being sober, most noticeably when I abstained for over 7 weeks in the lead up to my first big run, to drinking definitely more than I should be.

Increasingly, I’ve been thinking about whether I should just go totally sober. I really like wine but sometimes I wonder if it’s a healthy relationship. Since upping my exercise recently, I’ve found that even after just 2 or 3 glasses of wine, I feel awful in the morning, my tolerance is lower and I feel drunk and not in control more quickly. I’m also quick to associate having a drink with relaxing and I’d rather turn to healthier ways of dealing with stress. Ultimately, I think I find drinking in moderation challenging and rather than constantly battle with knowing when to stop, maybe I just shouldn’t start?

During my periods of being ‘dry’ over the last few years, despite initially missing the booze and wanting to indulge in a glass (particularly after a rough day with the kids), I’ve quickly found myself feeling healthier, making more progress with my fitness and generally not missing it at all!

I’ve set myself the challenge of a baby-ultra marathon this May and so in order to maximise my chances of successfully completing this, alongside my flirtation with sobriety, I’ve decided to stop drinking until after the race. My thoughts are that I can use this as a ‘test’ period to see how I find life without the bottle! I was reading about someone who disagreed with the trend of ‘dry’ fundraising months and claimed they were faddy and ineffective. I would disagree; although I didn’t complete Dryanuary, it has been useful in helping me assess my relationship with alcohol and deciding whether it’s one that should continue or not. So wish me luck as I embark on 16 weeks of sobriety, I’ll let you know how I get on!

Germ Central

In my BC life (Before Children), I rarely got ill. I seemed to avoid most bugs and viruses and when I did catch them, it was a mild bone of contention with Dan that I was only ever ill for 24 hours before bouncing back to normal. I was proud of what seemed like a particularly hardy constitution and took for granted my good state of health.

Fast forward almost eight years and oh, how things have changed. The addition of children to my life has brought it with an unwelcome consequence, that of an unending steam of germs and the consequent illnesses they incur. Anyone that knows me will attest to the fact that unfortunately, I am not a particularly gracious patient. I cannot stand being poorly and am prone to letting that known to anyone in the vicinity. I think it’s just that I find it frustrating to have to cancel plans and for tasks to build up as I take a temporary leave of absence. I do realise that this is an area of my personality that could do with some improvement though and I am doing my best to rectify it. I would hope that Dan would say that I have got a little better over the last year or two.

As you have probably guessed, this weekend I was struck down with a 24 hour tummy bug, kindly given to me by my eldest daughter. Our plans to go shopping and then the local fireworks had to be cancelled and I spent all of yesterday languishing in bed and on the sofa, feeling sorry for myself. True to form I am basically fully recovered today and a plan has been hatched to watch fireworks from Woodbury Common tonight (I thought it was best to stay away from crowds for fear of infecting folk) so all is well. It has left me though thinking about people with ongoing illnesses and poor health.

I have many friends with chronic illnesses or health conditions (as well as a husband!) and I can honestly say that all of them are incredibly stoic at weathering what their bodies throw at them and just getting on with it. It makes me a bit ashamed of my moaning about a mere tummy bug to be honest. I can’t begin to fathom what life must be like when you face illness and all the challenges it brings, be that physical or mental, on a daily basis. I have so much respect for these friends and family of mine.

I’m afraid there’s no big takeaway from this column or funny anecdote to conclude things, just a bit of a rambling reflection about how we shouldn’t take our health for granted, about how we should actively make sure we look after our bodies, both mentally and physically. And finally, a reminder to be aware of friends who are not so fortunate, to go out of our way to help them and show them that we’re thinking of them. Bake them a cake, offer to go shopping or walk their dog, see if there is anything in particular they need help with.

Autumn Days

I feel like Autumn has most definitely arrived over the last week or two with the recent
spate of windy and wet weather heralding the change in seasons. I know it’s a cliché but I can’t believe how quickly this year has progressed. With less than 10 weeks until Christmas (sorry!), I feel that despite predictions of an Indian summer, summer is now completely finished for another year.

At this time of year, our home education seems to always focus on traditions surrounding harvest time, Halloween and Guy Fawkes night as well as the science behind the life of trees. We’ve investigated why and how leaves change colour, why the nights are longer (we looked at the Autumn Equinox just a few weeks ago) and have chosen a nearby tree to observe throughout the changing seasons.

And whilst I love the long warm days of summer, endless beach trips, swimming in the sea and spending so much time outdoors easily, I do also have a massive soft spot for
Autumn. I love getting out the hand knits to keep heads, necks and hands warm. I love the excuse for having a fire in the evening, autumnal casseroles and soups and snuggling
under big blankets whilst the elements rage outside. I love mulled wine, roast dinners,
piles of golden and orange leaves crunching underfoot, the winter sun shining in a frozen sky.

What I don’t love quite so much is the near constant stream of Christmas and Birthday related chatter that has started to ramp up and will remain at a steady buzz until the events themselves. With all three kids birthdays and Christmas within a 12 week period, this is a busy time of year for us! Last year however, inspired by Monbiot’s article ‘The Gift of Death’ (about the effects of consumerism on the environment) and trying to stem the tide of unused toys building up in our tiny terrace, I committed to more thoughtful gift buying, both in terms of the recipient and the environment.

This year I am trying to do the same and make sure that we only choose to buy things that the kids really want or need, items that will be used and hopefully items that are long lasting and durable, unlikely to break or end up in the landfill within 6 months. I’m also trying to prevent the excitement from building up quite yet, if the kids spend weeks getting increasingly more worked up about an event, on the day itself, disappointment (and tears) inevitably awaits!

So this Autumn I’m trying to put the focus on our planned Bonfire Party on Halloween to clear up our allotment plot, fireworks at the rugby club, the making of our pond at the plot and embracing the present, rather than looking towards the tinsel laden and gift wrapped few weeks that lie tantalisingly ahead. So…bring on the baked apples and the woolly hats and let’s enjoy the Autumn, whatever it may bring!

The Lost Village

I’m afraid that my musings this week aren’t on a particularly original subject. However, hopefully they will still be of interest or at least help you peacefully wile away a few minutes with a hot cup of tea! After a series of conversations and occurrences over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the concept of the ‘lost’ village and of the emerging trend of isolation over community.

Before I get into this, I will put forward a disclaimer. I am beyond lucky/blessed/priviledged to be living in a small town where I have close friends living literally next door and more just mere minutes walk away. When Eli was born and our on call childcare couldn’t come to take the big two, it didn’t take long to find a friend who dashed down the road to our rescue. When Sophia was struggling yesterday when we were out and about, a friend kindly ushered her away for a bit of R+R at hers. I feel reasonably confident that if need arises, there is always someone nearby who is willing and able to help.

However, I also have a lot of close friends and of course, family, who don’t live so close. And when they are going through hard times, be those related to sickness, emotional reasons or otherwise, I hate that I can’t easily go and offer a helping hand, shoulder to cry on or simply deliver a hot meal.

In times gone by, people lived near those they loved. Communities were close-knit and strong, families lived in neighbouring roads and friendships were formed within these villages. It was rare for a family member to leave and whilst some might be very relieved at the opportunity to put some distance between them and their family (!) I do think we’ve lost something important in the dispersal of families and friends.

Of course I can see the benefits, having the opportunity to follow good work opportunities, explore the world and live in diverse communities is amazing. But…we have also lost so much. We’ve lost the reassurance of knowing that you have support within minutes whenever it might be needed. There is a reason why they say it takes a village to raise a child but no longer can kids pop in and out to visit Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents. Increasingly, we live away from our families and often as we follow jobs, our best of friends. We rely on grabbing weekends where we can to catch up and life can be lonely in between.

Although I’ve found myself in a pretty good ‘village’, it saddens me on a daily basis that my village is missing some very important, key players. I don’t know what the answer is. Life moves on, our culture is constantly changing. But I can’t help reminisce about days I never even knew. Maybe they weren’t better. But the idea of having everyone I love within a stones throw to share my life with on a daily basis makes me think that they probably were…