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!

A Close Call

Over the last 7.5 years, there have been plenty of occasions upon which my children have made careless decisions or I have turned my back for just a second at the wrong time and accidents have happened. There have also been a few times when I had the horror of watching a mishap occur without being able to do anything to stop it.

One that particularly stands out in my memory is watching a 2 year old Sophia speed down a small slope on her scooter, lose control and go flying into a nearby wall. I had a baby Isaac in a sling and somehow had to carry her, her scooter and our bags awkwardly back home where Dan was able to take us up to A+E. That time resulted in a broken finger and a minor operation to put her finger back in place as she had managed to knock it out of it’s socket. Ouch!

Of all these times though, I’ve never been seriously concerned for their lives or thought that they were at risk of serious harm. Today, however, I witnessed a near-miss that made my blood run cold. Isaac was scooting down a hill in Topsham and despite my hollerings to ‘STAY TO THE LEFT’ he careered off to the right as he scooted round a blind corner. A car suddenly appeared from around said corner and luckily, was going slow enough that when they pulled to a swift stop, they missed hitting him by mere inches.

I think me and my friend were more scared than Isaac! I grabbed him and I’m embarrassed to say that rather than pull him in for a hug, I gave him a stern talking to about listening to instructions. He looked folorn and said ‘why are you shouting at me?’ I answered ‘because you almost got hit by a car and I was scared because I love you and don’t want you to get hurt!’ I did feel bad though, that my instinct was to be cross. I guess fear does funny things to you.

This afternoon, I have been counting my blessings. I’m feeling so grateful to that car for driving at a sensible speed round a blind corner and also a little bit guilty that I didn’t stop to check the driver was ok. I’m feeling lucky that all my small folk are healthy, happy and unharmed. It struck me how close a call it was and how things could have easily turned out so differently. So apologies for the cheese but hug your little people extra tight today. I know I will be.

Nothing But the Truth

In the interest of full disclosure, I figure that as well as sharing the funny or adorable ancedotes from my children with you, I should also share the downright ugly. My children have been nothing short of foul this last week. The fighting has been incessant, the whinging has been prolific, the singing annoying songs has been off the charts. Yesterday as we drove home from an afternoon on a beautiful beach near Kingsbridge (where to be fair, they had mostly put their grumpiness on hold) they were kicking off in the back of the car. Eli was shouting at me because I wouldn’t put his window down as we drove at 70mph down the A38, Sophia was grumpy about something Isaac had done and Isaac was howling because he’d been told off for purposefully annoying Sophia. We pulled in for fuel and I glanced over at the campervan next to me. In it was another family with two young children. The parents looked relaxed and happy, the children were smiling. They looked like something out of an advertisement! I was green with envy. Dan got back in the car….’why aren’t our kids like that?!’ I asked in desperation, nodding in their direction.

To be fair to my children, they are perfectly capable of being lovely. They often play long complicated make believe games, they give us lots of cuddles, they read books and build lego creations together. We have long periods of mostly harmonious living with just the odd niggle. But these periods seem to be interspersed with phases where everyone clashes, all the time. This time round, I think it is probably something to do with getting back into the swing of things after the Easter break combined with far too much sugar over the last week (we’ve finally finished the chocolate today). I’m hoping that the permanent sugar high will wear off and as their normal routine continues, they might ease back into a more peaceful state of being.

I know it’s not permanent but it’s oh so annoying when it happens. I hate nagging and chastising all the time, I can’t bear them not listening to me and I feel oh so sorry for our neighbours or anyone in the vicinity! Mostly though, I feel so sad at the thought of them being so unpleasant to each other. Sure, I wasn’t best friends with my siblings at the time growing up but mostly I remember playing with them and getting on. Maybe my parents will remember it differently but I don’t remember being quite as mean to them as mine can be to each other. It’s probably rose tinted spectacles as I reminisce and this is probably completely normal behaviour but nonetheless, I hope this phase passes quickly and we’re back to giggles being more commonly heard than screams!

What’s my name again?!

As I write this at 7 in the morning, I have a 2 year old monkey climbing on my back, attempting to strangle or cuddle me (I’m not sure which) in between taking breaks to eat his cereal. We’ve been up since 5am and he is impossibly full of beans. My bean counter is looking noticeably less full. A situation that many parents are finding themselves in this morning and for those of you will older or grown up kids, an occurrence that I’m sure you don’t miss! But with this phase of 5am waking looking more and more like a longer term arrangement on my youngest son’s part, I’ve decided to try and embrace them and get on with work and tasks. I often struggle to fit everything in and realised I could utilise these early hours to create more time. At least that was the plan last night. This morning I sat, comatose, on the sofa whilst the electronic babysitter did it’s thing before finally rousing myself at 6.30 to make a cup of tea and find my laptop. It would probably help if I went to bed a little earlier but there’s always tomorrow right?! Sleep deprivation is a funny thing, I’ve written about it before so apologies for any repetition but given that it’s still an ongoing issue, I think there’s probably more to be said.

The biggest affect it has on me is forgetfulness and irritability. Ironically, for someone who loves to talk and write, my forgetfulness manifests in a complete inability to remember the names of the children I’m talking to, to be able to finish sentences and to formulate any sort of coherent thoughts without the aid of caffeine. The irritability needs no explanation but I do feel bad that it often ends up directed at the two children who are actually sleeping. Not only are they sleeping without regularly appearing in my bed but they actually like a good lie in, often not appearing until gone 8 and then often only with some prodding on my part. But I digress.

As the New Year dawned on us earlier this year, I read an article about how ‘clean sleep’ was set to be the trend of 2017. The concept being that there should be more awareness on the importance of a good amount of decent quality sleep. I wonder if the idea was planted by health authorities as a campaign and taken on my health and fitness websites. Or whether people simply love trends and ‘clean eating’ has somewhat run it’s course. Then just a few days ago I saw a video about how lack of sleep impacts your cognitive performance and your wider bodily functions.

I understand that there probably are a lot of folk that need reminding to get a decent amount of sleep (8 hours being the holy grail) but for parents who would LOVE to get that sleep but can’t, it kind of smarts! Still, I guess in the wee hours we can always comfort ourselves with the knowledge that as teenagers we’ll never be able to get them out of bed and if we really want to exact some revenge and a little fun, we can take to waking them at regular intervals to share inane thoughts or declarations of hunger…

Enjoying The Ride

As a general rule, I don’t really subscribe to the notion of the terrible twos, the tiresome threes or the fearsome fours. I think that at any given age, a child will present certain challenges but also provide a whole heap of joy as well. That said, there is definitely a point where your baby-turned-toddler gains a certain degree of awareness and you know, as their parent, that their actions aren’t always so innocent anymore. Elijah has been heading this way for a while but this week, when he strolled into the living room with a cheeky grin on his face, purposefully concealing a foraged knife and screwdriver behind his back, I knew we were there. (Third time round and we still suck at baby proofing!)

I swear toddlers were designed to drive you to the brink of insanity with their mischievous and testing antics before drawing you back with a heart melting smile or a gigantic cuddle, little arms wrapped in a death grip tight around your neck. I think all parents of small children often have moments where they’d give anything for a brief respite. A break from re-directing small curious hands, a break from clearing up food from the floor and walls, a break from tidying up what feels like thousands of small toys that have been spread around the house over the course of a morning.

But after having several conversations with parents of teenagers this week, I’m starting to see it from the other side, to realise the benefits of toddlers and small children that I know I’ll miss when they are over (mostly). To know where they are at all times doesn’t feel like a blessing right now but I know that when they are teenagers, out with their friends and staying out past their given home time, I’ll remember these days with fondness! I don’t have to worry about who they’re with, what they’re doing and what time they’ll be home. That aspect of their safety at least is a given. And at this age, as their parents, we are still their one true love. It might be overwhelming to be loved with so much force but before long, they will no longer want to be near us 24 hours a day (or at all!), they’ll argue with us, they’ll think they know better.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know there will also be amazing aspects to having teenagers. I’m looking forward to proper conversations with them, to eating out and knowing it’ll be an easy enjoyable evening, to seeing who they are as they blossom into adults. But I suppose that’s my point. Every stage of parenting is a mixed bag, there will always be challenges and there will always be joy. So as Eli is currently evolving into an exceptionally cheeky pickle of a small person, I will not wish it away too much. As one of my favourite fellow parents says, all is a state of impermanence, so I will take the good with the bad and just try and enjoy the ride!

Love is…the absence of judgement

On two separate occasions in the last week, Eli has been rescued by a general member of the public. The first time, one of the big kids opened our front door and he darted out and down our pedestrianised road with Dan in hot pursuit. Unfortunately he didn’t stop when he got to the actual road and ran into it before being caught and brought to safety by a passing gentleman. The second time, we were at Decoy Country Park walking around the lake. He jumped off the path into a puddle/ditch but misjudged the distance and landed on his bottom, covered in muddy water. Luckily, he was in no danger and wasn’t particularly upset (just as well because I was laughing at him)! I was perhaps 100 yards away when it happened and a lady walking her dog hoisted him out as I came to his aid.

Both times, Dan and I were obviously very grateful to the people who had helped. Both times, we were met with stony silence and quite obvious judgement that we had let the situations occur. Before I rant, I’d like to clarify that the majority of people that I’ve encountered during my parenting journey have been kind, supportive and understanding of the nature of children. But, unfortunately, from time to time I have received nothing short of disdainful judgement at the behaviour of my children, silly situations they’ve got themselves into or parenting choices that I’ve made. And it drives me crazy!

Regardless of whether these people are parents or not, surely everyone realises that these tiny human beings are unpredictable, prone to immature behaviour and not always the most compliant to the demands from those looking after them. So I absolutely cannot fathom why people think the best way to react is with pointed looks, snarky comments or tutting. Parenting is HARD. A lot of the time, when these things happen, parents are doing their best to manage the situation, keep their children safe and get to where they’re going. Be it a child screaming in the supermarket because you won’t let them carry the biscuits, a toddler who has escaped his watchful but exhausted Mum or energetic children not looking where they’re going and knocking into someone….these parents do not need to be chastised. They need sympathy, understanding and to be cut a bit of slack. Parents often don’t have the kind of support from extended family that previous generations did and it can be a lonely experience at the best of times without being told you’re doing it badly from a complete stranger. I’m reminded of the old saying, if you don’t have anything nice to say…then don’t say anything at all!

Whilst looking for a title for this week’s column I stumbled across several quotes about judgement and ended up choosing this one from the Dalai Lama as it seemed particularly apt. Love is the absence of judgement. Nothing good comes from judging other people. So next time you see a child behaving in a way that is less than ideal, why not decide to act in a loving way and offer the parent a hand, an encouraging word or simply smile at them. They’re doing the best they can and having that support from a stranger might make all the difference to that moment for them.

Gratitude Starts Here

Mid-January. A time of year characterised by the bleak weather and for a lot of us, equally bleak state of affairs when it comes to finances. The festive cheer has most definitely worn off and the combination of last month’s holiday overspend and the five week month is sinking in. At this point it’s easy to let a dark cloud of gloom descend as you constantly count pennies for the next few weeks and curse the you from last month that spent so frivolously on yummy treats and extra bits for the holidays. This was me before the weekend. With three children’s birthdays and Christmas within a 10 week period, we are not particularly flush at this time of year!

However, as I headed out for a run on Saturday, I got to thinking and realised that despite my not so friendly bank account, I still have a heck of a lot to be grateful for. Not only do we have a roof over our heads, food in our cupboards and religious and political freedom but we are also blessed to have (mostly) good health, some amazing friends and to be living in a beautiful part of the world, guaranteed to lift the spirits whenever you head out the door. It might sound ridiculous but just thinking about all that has changed my mindset and I now feel much calmer and more positive about things.

Interestingly, a friend sent a link to an article today that laid out 4 rituals a neuroscience researcher claims will result in increased happiness. One of the things it mentions is asking yourself what you are grateful for. Apparently, ‘the benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine….it can also boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex’. The complexity and cleverness of our brains and the way they works never ceases to amaze me.

Although we might mostly use the concept of being grateful to chastise our children when we think they’re being spoilt (don’t you know there are children starving elsewhere in the world?!), it turns out that there is a lot more substance to it than that. Gratitude has the potential to be a deliberate art, one worth devoting some time to, in order to gain some perspective on your life and to improve your mental health! Even if it’s only something seemingly small like enjoying your favourite meal or the kids fighting less, I think it’s worth making a mental note of the things you are grateful for daily. Although I’ve already covered New Years resolutions (I’m not a massive fan usually), I do quite like adopting the challenge of practising gratitude this year. It starts here.