And…breathe.

I’m not going to mince my words. Over the last few weeks, the behaviour of my children has been pretty unpleasant. They’ve been bickering constantly, there has been shouting and screaming fits (regularly) and I’ve even been hit whilst trying to help them negotiate a tricky situation. Thus far, I have been fairly successfully fostering a calm facade and have managed to avoid shouting mostly but I am so far past the end of my tether at this point that the veneer is starting to crack. What I’m most puzzled by is what is causing it. Usually I can pinpoint a reason for such a noticeable decline in temperament but this time, I am clueless. If I was going to clutch at straws I’d suggest that maybe it’s the end result of too much time inside after recurrent bouts of illness and a long wet and cold winter. I’m not convinced though. If it was just one of them I’d blame sleep or hormones but for it to be all of them (actually not so much the smallest) is a bit of a mystery.

However, I have long known the best way for me to manage through such a season of discontent. And that is with regular breaks to go somewhere, by myself, and just enjoy the peace. One such opportunity presented itself last weekend when I realised it was time to do a long training run for the upcoming mini ultra. So I laced my (new!) trainers, packed my running belt with snacks and headed out for a blissful 3 hours of running around the Exeter Green Circle. I covered 18 miles and returned with very muddy and slightly bleeding legs (I lost an argument with some brambles) but feeling much more β€œzen”. It’s amazing what a little bit of exercise and some time outside without the constant refrain of ‘Muuuuuuuum’ can do for your mood!

And whilst I don’t fully blame cabin fever or the upcoming full moon for their moods, it does have to be said that after a consecutive few days of getting them outside to play or walk for several hours they have been a little bit better. Granted, today in Rougemont Gardens the boys and my friend’s son drew the glances of a fair few passers by with their exuberant running, yelling and general mud covered antics. But after that and an afternoon exploring her amazing garden we returned home with everyone feeling a little happier and a little less grouchy.

I refuse to believe scare mongering of a third Beast this Easter and am living naively in the belief that it will be, if not glorious sunshine, at least not too wet or cold. I am hoping to cram in as much outside time as possible to the coming bank holiday weekend in the hopes that I can fully shake the grumps out of my kids and enjoy a few weeks off our normal routine with a little more harmony than we’ve seen of late. And if it is cold and wet, then that’s what raincoats and woolly hats are for! As long as I remember to grab my moments to breathe, then we’ll weather this rough patch and come out the other side with no hard feelings!

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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!

Setting the temperature

A good friend of mine introduced me to the phrase ‘your child is your mirror’ several years ago. Admittedly at first I thought she was being a crazy hippy, but I quickly realised how true it was and it is a concept I find it useful to remind myself of time and time again.

Over the last few weeks the dynamic in our home hasn’t been great. Isaac has been mildly destructor-like and ignoring me a lot and both him and Sophia have been very shouty and irritable with each other. I’ve been blaming it on the post holiday come down, the imminent arrival that we’re expecting, hormones, the lack of routine as everything we attend took a seasonal break, too much screen time… However yesterday I took a step back and realised that the problem actually lay with me! I’ve been mega grumpy the last few weeks. A mixture of having to finally stop weightlifting (so I’ve lost my exercise endorphins) and my SPD having got much worse and painful and limiting my mobility and ability to get out had left me glum and down in the dumps and it was rubbing off on everyone. Yesterday, I decided to make a conscious effort to be happier and not shout or be grumpy. And low and behold, everyone was much happier and it was the best day we’ve had in weeks! My children really are my mirror!

At first I said to Dan what a huge responsibility it is, being able to affect the mood of the whole household. To be honest, I almost slipped back into being blue as I pondered how tough it was for me πŸ˜‰ But then I realised what an idiot I was being! It is in my own best interests to be happy and positive and if that rubs off on the rest of family then that is ace!!

I’m not saying that it’s always easy, old habits are hard to break and, for reasons I’ve never fathomed, sometimes it seems more satisfying and easier just to bark and shout rather than staying calm and talking through what feels like the hundredth sibling squabble of the morning. But I’m finding that for me it’s about reaching deep into my reserves to search for that last shred of patience in order to try and model good conflict resolution skills. And the funny thing, the more I do this, the easier it is to do the next time, and the next… Of course, we slip up every now and then. Yesterday Isaac thought it was hilarious to run away from me in the library and refused to listen to the waddling mother slowly dropping behind as I asked him to come back to the children’s section. In the end I told him there’d be no ipad when we got home if he couldn’t listen. That stopped him in his tracks! I didn’t feel comfortable having resorted to bribery but at least it was a calm solution. It’s a constant evolving process of trial and error, this parenting malarkey! But I am committed to being less shouty, less of a dictator in my own home and actually trying to engage in dialogue with the kids. If I want them to show me respect, I need to model it through respecting them as humans (albeit small ones).

It all seems so idealistic and easy when they are babies, but as they get older you realise that no matter what you do, they all want to push boundaries, to explore their own ideas about what they want to do. Some of the mainstream parenting techniques might seem appealing but I genuinely believe that communicating through talking rather than shouting, being reasonable in the boundaries you set and trying to parent from a loving, gentle perspective, although may take longer to see results, is a viable and successful approach.

So that about sums up my rambling thoughts for this Saturday morning. I discovered The Orange Rhino last year, a site set up by a Mum who challenged herself to go a year without shouting. I think it’ll be a site I keep going back to for support and advice in my attempt to change my parenting style to maintain a quieter approach this year. I really hope this post hasn’t come across as preachy, I just thought I’d share what I’ve been pondering over the last few days in case it was useful to anyone else. I hope you all have a lovely weekend, whatever you find yourself doing.