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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Role modelling for your child

This post has been a tough one to write. You know that honest self-reflection I mentioned before? It's quite hard to do. Even harder to publish for the world to digest.

The reason I turned to gentle, peaceful parenting in my home was because I didn't like aspects of the parent I was turning out to be. Fair enough, I had some additional stress to navigate when I became a parent - especially when Bean was cooking and in those early days of lone parenting. But whatever the reasons were for loosing my cool, I came to a point where I decided there just wasn't a place for reactionary parenting in our home. The kids might push my buttons, but as a grown up, isn't it my job to locate them and switch them off?

In those early days the buttons were pretty basic. I was too tired. I was too lonely. I was overwhelmed. I felt sad. So when Sprout did the usual toddler things, like expressing himself loudly tantruming for England or refusing to go to bed, my fuse was lightning quick. I shouted too much. There were nights I sat on the stairs outside his bedroom sobbing because I just needed the noise and the demands and the needing me to stop. There are times I know he felt frightened.

There are times I felt frightened. Scared I couldn't reign myself in, scared I couldn't love them enough. Scared I might actually hurt one of them because the end of my rope was already in my hands (and sometimes slipping away). I was brought up in a generation where spanking was acceptable and normal, but it felt wrong in the pit of my stomach when my instincts told me that all I had left in my parenting arsenal was to smack one of my children.

'Parenting arsenal' is a telling label all of it's own. Sometimes it felt like being at war with myself, or my family, just to keep on top of everything. To avoid smacking, I used a playpen to enforce toddler time outs, in not-quite Super-Nanny style. Or to separate the boys when I just had to walk away for 5 minutes. To say that I was unhappy about the resources I had as a parent is an understatement.

Discovering peaceful parenting was like walking into a wonderland of options, lifting myself out of the trenches to find a playground for me and my kids to spend our time in instead. Peaceful parenting was a lifeline emotionally, a new family strategy full of promise. I would develop a calm, nurturing and above all respectful relationship with my children. It was going to be wonderful!

Here I am three years later, and I can honestly tell you it IS wonderful. But it has been a journey, not a event. I've had to learn, practice, make mistakes, get comfortable with apologising to the boys when my reactions haven't been very gentle or considered! I accept that part of my role-modelling is going to be showing how to repair damage when you aren't perfect. Because none of us are. I'm not, and the boys won't be either as they grow up. Becoming humble has been the first and most impactful lesson in becoming a peaceful parent.

I have a set of resources as a parent now that have transformed my thinking from 'arsenal' to 'toolkit'. My fear and flashpoints have been replaced with a depth of patience I didn't know I could cultivate. Above all, I am able to step back so that I respond to my children, rather than react.

This hasn't come about because I've learned new techniques to discipline them effectively. This has come about because I've learned how to nurture and parent myself effectively first, so that I can model behaviour for my boys that I would like them to learn. Behaviour like slowing down, breathing, having perspective, accepting emotions as they arrive, not only as I want them to be. Being kind. Being graceful. Being gentle.

I've learned to notice what action has come before the reaction. First of all in myself - and over time, I'm able to see that in my children. When I'm tired, lonely, overwhelmed or sad now, I put self-care in place before I'm even remotely close to sobbing on the stairs. When I notice one of my children feeling tired, hungry, anxious, frustrated or overwhelmed I try and care for them before they wig out in response to the BIG feeling.

I don't always get there in time. This weekend, Sprout (now 5, and such a big boy in some ways, but so little in others) had a BIG feeling. I was trying to give Bean (3) five minutes of Special Time before they left to stay with their father for two whole weeks. They've never left home for more than 5-6 nights before, and that's only happened three times in their lives. It's a big deal. Sprout became very aggressive, trying to get in there to 'take' Bean's time. I calmly stated the limit, and asked him to wait for his turn.

In the time it took to be with Bean, Sprout tore his room to pieces. He was SO mad. And when I went in to see him, he was wild with fear. Books, bedsheets and clothes were everywhere. He was waiting for me to yell back at him - I didn't. I sat in front of him and counted down his breathing, 10 - 1. As we both drew big breaths I checked in with myself, using the countdown to ground myself. To not be triggered. To become present for my frightened little boy.

To step away from what the mess triggered in me, and locate what the mess was that was raging inside my son.

He stopped yelling. Tears began to flow. 'I don't want to leave you for two weeks Mummy. I'm scared'.


In the space between the trigger and the reaction, just 10 breaths gave both Sprout and I a chance to de-escalate our emotions so we could cuddle, I could reassure him, and we could problem solve together. We agreed to Skype, to call, and if necessary, for me to pop over for a mid-holiday visit. My toolkit gave him the tools he needed to feel in control again. This is what Peaceful Parenting means to my family. We aren't perfect, we have our moments of chaos and high emotion. But despite moments that hit all of my buttons, I've managed to locate my own off-switch.

Since I found my own, I've got a LOT better at locating my children's when they need me to.

If you're following this Peaceful Parenting series and wondering how to end the war in your home, try starting small. Write this on your hands if you need to have a physical reminder for now - I've done that many a time in the early days!


Breathe out your own feelings.
Count down from 10.
Focus on your child.
Tell them you love them.

Seriously, HUG.

Breathe some more. And hug some more. There is nothing that can't be cleaned up, sorted out, put right and dealt with, when you both feel loved. It's way harder to clean up, sort out, put right or deal with the terrible feeling of being unloved.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Clear Communication, Boundaries and Limits

One of the first things that resonated with me when I began to explore 'loving limits' in parenting was the idea that limits and boundaries keep us safe. Not just physically, but emotionally. I knew I didn't want to be a parent who squashes their child's personality under a list of rules. But I could feel intuitively that parents who set no limits at all do not in fact, give their child a wonderful sense of freedom and autonomy - they give them a huge world to live in that isn't at all contained. Even for me as a grown up, that's a scary thought.

There is a sweet spot somewhere between crushing authority and permissive boundary-less horizons. And it lies in containing the unsafe world, without containing my child at the same time. I've got to tell you, I don't hit the sweet spot all the time, but I'm getting better at knowing where it is. It's taken me some trial and error to find it, and I have the bruised ego (and occasionally body) to show for it. But if you like, I can show you what that sweet spot looks like in my house right now...

Last night I got a chance to find that spot for Bean. Bean is now a highly opinionated three year old. He's always been far more physical than Sprout and his passion for life comes out in many ways. From giving me a black eye when he meant to give me a hug, to launching himself off his bunk bed or the staircase, or a tabletop in joy, to having the kind of epic arms-flailing-hysterical-screaming tantrums I had only read about until now.

The tantrums have been particularly hard to navigate, because once they begin his whole body is consumed with fury and fear and sadness. The wave seems to be able to offer him a good long ride of misery. He won't be touched, or comforted at all. Left to his own devices, we're talking 20, 30 - maybe even 40 minutes of hysteria before he runs out of steam. It feels awful to not know how to comfort him. Tempting at times, to give in and let go of a limit, just to make it stop. (That's how he ended up with a dummy until his birthday just gone. The first time I took it away I just wasn't resilient enough to sit with his emotions and let them be expressed.)

What I've discovered, is that when he is in a BIG feeling, he really needs to be heard. 

So, last night, he was overtired. Really properly beat. And I needed him to get out of the bath so he could go to bed. But the bath is really fun! And he has new boats to play with in there, that he just got for his birthday! Man, it sucks to get picked out of the bath when you're three and having fun. Still - the limit is there because he needs it. He can't just play in there all night. So pick him out, I did. 

Ooosh the screaming began. And the flailing. And worst of all, as he kicked and screamed and pummelled his fists he was yelling 'Stop hurting me mummy. STOP HURTING ME!!!'. I wasn't even touching him, as he lay on the floor beating seven shades out of the carpet and wall. It's awful to listen to, but the limit still remains... bath time is over. So I looked for that sweet spot. The one between yelling at him myself to be quiet, because the force of his emotions scare me. Or forcing him into bed to cry it out because he must simply 'do as he is told'. Or putting him back in the cold bath I just removed him from, because he told ME to. 

I sat down quietly on the carpet next to him and said firmly, 'You really didn't want to get out of the bath.' He paused for breath, then carried on yelling. 'You're really mad at Mummy for picking you out of the bath.' He actually looked at me for a second. 'You are REALLY cross that the fun is over and it's making you feel sad.' He stopped yelling.

'You not nice Mummy. You not listen Mummy. You made me mad Mummy. I want a fun bath'. (sobbing). 

'I know Bean. I can hear you. It's really hard.'

We sat there for a minute, just breathing in a sense of understanding. I offered him my lap with a towel in it, and asked him if he would like a cuddle and to choose something else that might be fun. Maybe a story? With a look of deep resignation, he accepted my cuddle. A thirty second reconnect. 

And just like that, joyful Bean bounced back. Careered off up the stairs, laughing and jumping about while hunting for a book. It's like a tornado for me to witness, when he gets like that. The emotions just ripping through him. It's exhausting for me! Lord only knows what it feels like for him. 

What I've learned is that the limit isn't the problem for my kids. Really, the limits can be anything - keeping their seat-belts on, eating their dinner before getting pudding, going to bed at a reasonable hour, not watching 4 hours of television or eating chocolate cake for breakfast. When they get older, I bet it'll be limits on screen time, having a curfew, getting a fixed allowance they earn through doing chores... the problem for them, with all these limits, will be expressing how they feel about them, and in doing so, feeling heard. 

The limits themselves will actually help them to feel safe, that their worlds are contained in predictable ways, and there is someone lovingly steering the way through these formative years. That's my WHY. The reason I put in the effort to stay calm, be empathetic, and allow them their biggest feelings. It's also where I need my own support system firmly in place. Somewhere I can go where I feel heard, contained, loved and looked after. 

You see, it's a mobius ring when you get into this kind of parenting. No ending, no beginning. I can only give what I have when I'm getting it myself, so for every patient, resourceful, empathetic piece of me I give my kids, I'm grateful to the people who give it back to me. The other parents who listen and share their journeys. My partner who reminds me all the time that I'm doing an awesome job (even when I think I suck at parenting). My own parents who hold me up and still, after all this time, make me feel safe. It really does take a village to raise a child. So if you don't have one yet, and you're finding this peaceful stuff hard, bring a few more people into your loop. It will help, I promise. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Parenting without punishment

When I became a parent people joked about 'mummy guilt'. There was a spoken and unspoken agreement among my peers and the people I turned to for advice that feeling guilty as a parent is a given. I often heard the 'joke' that I would leave my dignity at the door of the maternity ward and walk out with guilt stamped on my forehead instead.

Funny, right?

Not really. As the long broken nights accumulate and the challenges move on from keeping your infant alive to navigating the emotional world of your toddler, then on to supporting the emerging identity of your child, stuff happens. We make poor decisions as well as good ones. We pick up bad habits as parents as well as those that help us out. We give ourselves permission to do stuff we never thought we would when we imagined holding that precious baby in our arms - things like yell at them, ignore them, punish them. Sometimes that makes us feel icky, or sad, or disappointed in ourselves. But we often fall short of challenging those actions because don't we all know and joke about the 'fact' that being a parent means guilt will accumulate along the way? Guilt is inevitable, right?

To a certain extent, I think an assumption that we'll feel some guilt is right. Life BC (before children) never drove me to question myself quite as intensely or as frequently as I do now in my role as mother. But a big part of me rebels against the assumption that guilt must be an integral part of my journey as a parent. A flash of guilt that triggers self-reflection, yes, that is inevitable and good. It's a message that I ought to check my behaviour and change it. But guilt that festers and accumulates and gets accepted as 'part of being a parent'? No thanks. You see, I recognise the shadow of shame in that scenario. Shame is guilt's right hand man. And I don't agree to walking through my parenting life with shame as my constant companion.

You see, I've lived with guilt and shame before. In my life BC I struggled with all kinds of uncool stuff. A terribly unhealthy relationship with a guy I loved very much, but who treated me like shit. Years when I got blind drunk on the weekends and woke up with a hangover of shame alongside the alcohol one. A period of disordered eating when I was treated for anorexia and bulimia for a year. Shame was my constant companion in those years.

What does shame do to you when you hang out with it a lot? Well, I know for me, it ground down my sense of self-worth. It made me tired. It made me tearful. It made me angry and then, in the end, it made me numb. Waking up to myself again after the anorexic stage was a really painful journey. But I worked really hard at saying goodbye to guilt and shame back then. I was prepared to like myself enough to stay present - and that is a VERY. BIG. THING. It's also the crux of parenting without punishment: Staying present and liking yourself and your child EVEN when things go wrong.

When motherhood arrived with all the joking about mummy-guilt, I was uncomfortable without really understanding why. Then when lone-parenthood arrived and I felt the guilt and shame associated with that experience pile up, 'mummy-guilt' really wasn't funny. Laughing off each others fears and insecurities only makes us bury them, where the seeds of shame are sown. It's hard to hold your head up high and stay present when the messages we get socially, culturally and intimately are that we are not good enough.

Now that I'm parenting a pre-schooler and a young child, the lessons I've learned about guilt and shame have seeped into my approach to discipline at home. I'd like to say that my awareness of how shitty it is to feel ashamed of yourself means I've never made my kids feel the same, but that would be lying. I'm not blogging about punishment free parenting because I've nailed it. I'm blogging about it because it matters.

The many ways I learned to be ashamed of myself as I was growing up and becoming an adult are still there. And boy, does having kids hit your trigger points. There are many moments in my life as a mum when I've walked away from a situation feeling deeply, painfully ashamed of how I have handled (or more accurately, not handled) myself. There are times I've yelled, times I've cried, or I've been mean because something in ME was hurting. Those times when I've kicked one of their toys, or told them off because I've reached MY limit. And oh yes - I used the naughty step plenty, before I found a better way. I can't even say now that I won't ever lose my temper again because I'm not clairvoyant. But I know that I'm going to try.

And the reason I'm going to try is because I don't want my kids to internalise a sense of shame about who they are. I don't want them to grow up squashing some feelings and hiding others behind playing the fool, or just numbing them out. I'd like to allow them all their big, bold feelings, good and bad. While they feel them, I'd like to teach them to express themselves

  1. - Respectfully
  2. - Empathetically
  3. - Gently
  4. - In a way that keeps them connected to me and to themselves 

Which means I have to model that in the way I handle myself. There will be limits, of course there will. And there are a hundred great blogs out there already about how to set them without punishment. You can check out this one, or this one, for starters! I'm not going to give you a breakdown of 'how to' talk out a big set of typical problems right now. But I am going to share what I've learned in our family:

There is only ONE thing you have got to get nailed down before you deal with your children peacefully and gently, without punishment.

You must let go of your own guilt and shame. Carrying those feelings around inside you means they will seep out around your kids, and despite yourself, you'll pass them on. So channel your inner Elsa and really, truly, LET. IT. GO. You will get stuff wrong. So will they. You will get mad. So will they. You will need to apologise. So will they. Sometimes it will hurt you, a lot, to be the parent. Sometimes it will hurt to be the kid.

It will hurt less when you accept that you are learning together as a family. That each mistake is an opportunity to reconnect, strengthen your bond with each other, and learn how to be empathetic and respectful and gentle with each other as a team. Never let your disappointment in yourself or your child cause you to bring shame into your home. Shame will draw up a seat at your table, and sit between you and the people you love. Shame will talk over the conversations you need to hear, preventing you from feeling loved and connected. Shame will teach your kids not to bother speaking to you because you can't hear them. Shame will numb you out.

Being vulnerable is ok. Saying you are sorry is good. Genuinely learning from all the things that you get right and get wrong along your parenting journey makes you a GOOD parent, so please don't let a pattern of guilt distract you from that fact. Hold yourself with loving kindness and I promise you, it will become natural to meet your kids on that level as well.

The how of parenting without punishment really is much less important than the why

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Patient, peaceful parenting

Have you ever read about peaceful, gentle or connection parenting and thought "Pfft! In your dreams lady!" while you pick cereal out of your hair and regard your prostrate toddler on the kitchen floor? I know I have.

The dream of peaceful parenting, and being a zen, patient mother did seem pretty unrealistic to me at first. Ok I'll admit it, there are days when it seems pretty unrealistic still. But here's some stuff I've learned about peaceful parenting that I'd like to share with you. If you're wondering how to achieve that beautiful, loving connection with your children that you read about, and this magical land of 'no punishment parenting' this blog post is for you.

Listen up LP's especially, you don't need a house-elf, fairy godmother or other magical being to make this a reality in your home. Seriously, it's easier than you might think!

OK I hear you. It's daunting. So let's start by breaking it down. What even is 'Peaceful Parenting'?

Here's a basic run-down:

If you want to explore the theory more, there's a great site all about Peaceful Parenting here.

1) Parenting without punishment (a mysterious concept for many parents at first)
2) Clear communication, boundaries and limits (the holy grail in my house)
3) Mutual problem solving (yes, even a toddler can do it - honest!)
4) Role modelling for your child (ahh, do as I do, not as I say. A bit of honest self-reflection required here my lovelies).
5) Meeting your child's emotional needs (recognising them first helps)
6) Meeting your own emotional needs (should this really be last on the list?)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say number 6 should be number 1 in the priorities. What I've learned as I've travelled the bumpy road towards a more peaceful and gentle home, is that when I'm out of whack, life is out of whack. If I'm unhappy, I am also likely to have a firecracker fuse, be prone to over-reactions and generally quite un-peaceful. 

So what does it take to be a peaceful parent, on the inside? For me, it takes time and space to be the best version of myself. I need to be able to meet myself as a friend and someone I actually like. When I have friendly thoughts about myself and can appreciate all my own good points, I'm much more able to share that person with the world. So if you really don't like yourself much right now, start with fixing that first. Here are some questions I really had to think about when I reset my parenting buttons...

Do you like who you are as a person? 
Would you want to hang out with yourself right now? 
Do you know what makes you happy, sad, or angry? 
Can you step away from your personal drama enough to laugh about it and have a sense of perspective yet?

If you answered "no" to any of those questions, (and I did, not so long ago) I hear you. It's hard. It's sure as hell not a peaceful place to be. But it can change. And when it does, mountains move, landscapes change, and children stop throwing cereal bowls at you. Truly!

Over the next few weeks I'm going to blog on each of the other five points of Peaceful Parenting and explain what these principles look like in our house. I'll give you a real, honest window into how I've got on board with them, one by one.

First of all though here's my checklist for "meeting your own emotional needs"
  • Start by making meeting your own emotional needs your top priority 
  • Abandon all guilt for needing 'me time' Right. Now. (Seriously)
  • Find someone to talk to about the stuff that drives you crazy as a parent. A friend, a coach, a therapist, your own parent - I don't care who it is, as long as it's not your kid. 
  • Go hang out with yourself. The fun you. The person you actually like. Do the stuff you enjoy, and let yourself enjoy it fully. 
  • Now take that fun, relaxed, emotionally supported and happy person back home with you. 
  • Introduce them to your kids. 

The rest of it comes later! Follow me for updates on the Peaceful Parenting path. You can find me on Facebook and on Twitter too.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Becoming Mum

Today I have a big yellow bruise around my left eye. It's the remnants of the shiner Bean gave me last Saturday, when he launched himself off the swimming pool edge towards me without warning. Connecting his chin with my eye socket first. *Ouch!* It goes down in parenting history as one of those moments where blue language was unavoidable. I did muffle the worst profanities in his armband, honest.

I am building up a catalogue of injuries and scrapes and breakages as my boys tumble wildly through their pre-school years. My hair is going grey around the temples faster than I like to admit, and now that Bean is almost three I can hardly blame my squishy middle on 'baby' weight any more. As each mark, dent, scrape and scar gets added to my mummy exterior, I can't help but wonder if this is what 'becoming real' feels like.

If you added up the injuries I have picked up from doing things with my kids, you might think I'd be put off taking them swimming or operating hot ovens in their presence. After all, I've grated the skin off my knuckles and received a black eye this weekend alone. Not to mention the glamour of walking around with globs of butter stuck to my shirt or in my hair. This week I actually managed to leave the house with a perfect little 'O' of porridge right on my chest (and by chest, I mean boob), where Bean gave me a cuddle wiped his face on me after chowing down on the breakfast he helped me to make.

But that's the best thing about having small children. The more you love them, the more beautiful you become. The scraped knees, bumps on heads and perpetually bruised limbs - all mine, never mind theirs - don't matter. Because generally, by the time you are a mother of small children, all these things have happened over and over again. Just remember, that the grey hairs and laughter lines and shabby clothes don't matter. Because to your children, you can't be ugly when you're showing them love.

Last weekend our swimming trip was to celebrate my rather lovely other half's daughter turning eight. We've been dating now for over a year, and I can attest to the fact that while I continue to parent alone (we don't live together) DP makes lone parenting a lot less lonely. The fact that he comes with two additional small people of his own as part of the package is just the icing on the cake.

And speaking of cake, boy do we love cake. The boys and I had a blast getting ready for the birthday trip. Cake baking is a big deal for us. We've been baking together since they were old enough to lick a wooden spoon and throw a fistful of flour. It's a messy, loud, hilarious and delicious activity that is guaranteed to make us all laugh. (And need a  bath afterwards).

As the boys get older and more capable I have moved on from letting them take turns to stir the batter, to allocating them proper tasks. This time, Sprout was in charge of breaking the eggs. This is the most exciting job, and the most risky. We only lost one egg to the floor this time, which is pretty good!

Adventurous Bean requested the job of grating the carrots for the carrot cake, so I gave him a tiny nutmeg grater and a carrot stick to have a go with (health and safety mum-panic prevented me from handing over the enormous cheese grater he was eyeing up. Which I promptly grated my own knuckles off with instead). As usual, Sprout saw the job through while Bean got diverted as soon as a bit of sugary butter made it's way into his mouth. But everyone gave their full attention to the magic bit of baking.

The magic bit of cake making is when you stir in the love. It's something my mum used to do with me, and I remember my nan telling me when I was little - cakes taste better when you add a little love. So we do. We stir in love and add a wish to the mix at the end. Of course, the enthusiastic stirring means that the cake mix gets everywhere, into ears, stuck in hair, all down clothes. What remains in the bowl is slopped into a tin and we all watch the gooey mess rise through the glass oven door. Once the smell of baking has floated through the whole house to the top floor, the boys know the cake is ready.

By that time I've usually managed to find myself a plaster, apply arnica cream or burn ointment, or other first aid to myself. Made a cup of tea and enjoyed the fact that my sharp edges are a little bit closer to being totally rubbed off.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Jar of stars

Our Jar of Stars is a family gratitude practice that I've been doing with my children for almost two years. It's been one of the most positive habits I have established with the boys. Gratitude is the fastest route to joy - and who doesn't want to live in a joyful home?

Our little lucky stars represent tiny moments of happiness we've experienced together. They hold memories that might otherwise have disappeared in the general business of life. Moments we celebrate and record - being proud of each other, being thankful, laughter.

Last week a group of our friends visited for a spontaneous barbeque in the sunshine. The boys were in seventh heaven pottering about blowing bubbles in the late afternoon glow, helping to chop mushrooms for the salad and stir chocolate into the cake batter in preparation for the feast. As the day slipped into evening, plates were put away and tired children called in for bed. Before pajama time and stories began, Sprout asked to put some stars in our jar.

He called all of our friends in from the garden and asked them to write a star with us. So around the circle we went, cutting paper, decorating our strips together, folding them into little bubble stars. One of our group was grateful for friendship, another for sunshine, another for delicious food. As each star was folded, kissed and put into the jar the beautiful simplicity of the practice made us all smile.

From one small act of thankfulness we have nine new stars in our jar. A visible, lasting reminder that there is magic in noticing the good in our lives. If you want to make your own jar, have a go! They're not as tricky as you might think. I'd love for you to let me know what you're thankful for in the comments below, so we can share the joy.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A ghost in my heart

Last night Sprout wouldn't go to bed. We ran through the usual list, a glass of water, an extra cuddle, a bit more chatting, a promise to come back in ten minutes. Eventually winding up at the usual place - a firm no. You must stay in bed, because it's late, end of story.

The whole routine is exhausting. For him and also for me. It's a repetative push-me-pull-me affair. In the closing scene I usually sit on the top step on the landing and wait it out, while he sits in bed and waits it out. When the soft sounds of him snoring arrive, I sneak in for a last goodnight kiss then get on with my evening routine.

But last night he crept out one more time, to tell me that a ghost was inside his heart. A ghost that kept knocking on it, making him feel sad, dissapointed, angry and alone.

Oosh. It was one of those moments I don't know what to do with, because instantly the ghost was inside my heart too - making me feel sad, disappointed, angry and alone with all the worry and work of parenting to do by myself. So we just sat there on the stair together in silence for a little bit, having a contemplative cuddle.

I had written on my hand earlier in the day, 'respond, don't react'. (Every now and then I need a little more than just a mantra, so I actually carry around the words I need written on me in plain sight.) With another tight cuddle, I squeezed that ghost right out of my little Sprout and told him it's ok, give me the ghost. He can live with me instead.

There will always be moments that slay you as a parent, they come out of nowhere, then just as fast they are gone. Some are happy and joyful, some are shocking. Some are so unbearably sad you can't possibly prepare yourself. Letting these moments go as easily and smoothly as they arrive is a skill I'm still mastering, but it's part of my commitment to respond and not react to life (and kids!).

As it happens, one sleep later, I'm glad that little ghost popped in for a visit because he has spurred me on in a new direction. The whispers in my little Sprouts heart have shown me where and how to develop my coaching practice this year. In October I'll be taking some extra training with Connected Kids to become a mindfulness and meditation practitioner for children. I will learn how to teach children to quiet their own hearts and minds, to feel good, calm, centred, and full of hope and happiness. Of all the things parents ask me about, supporting their children to feel consistently calm and happy is top of the list. I am so excited! It's going to be a wonderful complement to my work with lone parents and a bonus skill for me as a mum at home. Thanks, little Sprout for the nudge.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Borrow a penguin

I have a bold and outreageous dream for my family, myself, and women like me. It is technicolour, beautiful, and saturated with love. We have adventures and do incredibly brave things, celebrating all the wonderful and courageous people that we are.

I am beginning to manifest this dream. I want to share with you how.

When I first imagined my life as a lone mother, the bit that stuck out was being alone. I thought I would be somewhere between a tiger mother and a wrung out dishcloth hanging in the wind keeping it all together.  In the fullness of time, I've learned that we are never alone. With the blessings of friends, grandparents, wider family, my incredibly powerful coaches (Simon, Derek, Averil, I salute you!) and colleagues I have discovered that loneliness is not the whole story of being a Lone Parent. It plays a part, and I have blogged about that too. But the whole story is something much more wonderful.

It began with a vision. I didn't know how to create one, so I borrowed a penguin.

Ok, not a real penguin.

I borrowed the tools to make a vision from someone who knew how to make one (in my case, my inspriational first coach, Simon). Back in 2012, still pregnant, before my feet hit the ground - in fact when I still couldn't even see my feet - as a lone parent, I drafted a dream of the life we were going to live. I was bodacious, outrageous, crazy! I dreamed of a huge house and a business that made my heart sing. I dreamed of a partner I could love and pictured myself as powerful, healthy and strong. Back in 2012 that vision was as comforting as it was compelling. Today, I find it extraordinary.

In the midst of the crazy, I created a detailed, annotated, powerful vision of our future life. I believed in that life. I made it real in my imagination. At the time I didn't know anything about the Law of Attraction or manifestation of things through thought. I probably would have looked at you askance if you'd used those words to tell the truth. But here I sit, with that original document in my hands. A3, covered in pencil scrawls and coloured in (I had time on my hands back then!). As I run my fingers over those wild and crazy dreams I can count how many I have achieved. Here I am in the city I declared I would live in, in a house I described, my children living a life I dreamed of for them. I am even dating the man I dreamed of (more on that later for the curious).

I have called this life to me through my actions. I know I am responsible for much of what we have because I have worked bloody hard to create it. I have relentlessly worked for it to tell the truth! And I am glad. Because the lessons I have learned along the way have been so important. Now that I have educated myself about the Law of Attraction, I firmly believe that it is still all woo-hippy wishing on a star if you miss out the 'participate relentlessly' bit of manifestation. Work AND Believe. Then you achieve.

I am telling you this story because I just set a new intention and I want to invite you along for the ride. This is the year I take my hard earned expertise into the world and offer it up to you. I'm officially launching myself as the Lone Parent Life Coach. There will be a whole range of ways you can work with me to manifest your own awesome reality. From the comfort of your own home, via my ecourse, right the way through to a year long bespoke personal life transformation. My work with families in the children's centres here will continue as the Social Enterprise arm of my business.

Take a moment to breathe in whatever YOUR dream is. Close your eyes and make the image as real and beautiful as the memory of breathing in your little baby's hair. Immerse yourself as completely as you can in the memory of the first time you touched their tiny hand. Know the moment of your success as intimately as you know your most perfect moments and memories that went before. Release the doubt and fear with the breath you exhale. You will never know what you can create until you try! Find your penguins, my friends. The people who can help you draw from 'real life'. And then transcend it.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

H.O.P.E - Hold On, Pain Ends.

I am wrapped up in a blanket on my sofa. Cello music is playing from my speakers. I’ve eaten a little bit (ok quite a lot) of chocolate, and I am writing – one of my favourite things to do. Everything about this is comforting. I feel safe.

There are few things more important than having a place of safety to retreat into. Somewhere you can watch the rain falling outside, knowing that in your haven, you will stay warm and dry. Somewhere to go where the bad stuff can’t get to you. A door you can close on the world. The place where your heart feels peaceful and all your needs are met. They say an Englishman’s home is his castle. Mine is a fort made out of my sofa, and it rocks.

Recently, I’ve been asked how to create a sense of safety for children whose home environment has been shattered by a terrible thing. For children who possibly don’t have a sofa fort they can hide in with their mum or dad. It’s a very hard question to answer, but I’ve given my top practical tips in detail on my coaching blog.

Perhaps the terrible thing is the loss of a parent. Perhaps the child has witnessed something traumatic that no child should see. Perhaps their home has disappeared from beneath their feet because their parent has had to move them somewhere new. Perhaps the terrible thing isn’t over yet, with the constant threat of more bad stuff hanging over their head.

They may have two amicable co-parents struggling through the grief of separation together. Or they may have parents who are in such pain through their relationship breakdown that they cannot communicate with each other at all. Whatever it is that has snuffed out a child’s sense of safety, it is a terrible thing indeed. And we parents know it when we see it. Believe me, we do.

There are no easy answers for a parent who is feeling frightened, ill-equipped to cope or who has been hurt by life themselves. When you feel unsafe, it is a feat of tremendous strength to become a place of safety for your dependent children. When I stand in front of a parent who asks me ‘how do I talk to my child about this?’ or ‘How can I help them stop hurting?’ invariably, hurt and fear is what I see in the parents eyes too.

Give yourself permission to be hurting. It’s ok. I promise. The pain will end. It will end faster, when you give yourself permission to come undone and cry. Tears won’t break you into a million little pieces, they will just help to wash away the pain. Sometimes that release of emotion is the most powerful gift you can give yourself in the moment. Your children will learn more from your unraveling and honest rebuilding than they ever could from watching you pretend that life is A.O.K. If it isn’t, let them know. If they need to cry and it moves you to tears, cry together. Hold them. Listen. Love them.  Don’t lean on them as if they are adult, but let them know that adults get scared too. There are no bad feelings, only big ones. Welcome them all into your family and I promise you – even the big feelings will pass, in time.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Child of the universe

The Desiderata has been framed and hung on my wall at home since long before I had children. The timeless advice has often soothed me when I feel wounded, frightened or sad. Nevertheless, even when I hang something right in my eyeline, there are days I don't see it. If you've never read it, I'd encourage you to go check it out. There are lots of lovely messages contained in it, the quote below is just one of them.

As you know, the universe has been unfolding lately in ways I find a bit challenging. Accepting that this is 'as it should be' has been a struggle. Unfortunately, my frustration (and I'm hoping a fair few of you can relate) displays itself by unravelling my patience, prompting a lack of trust in others, and the desire to assert myself a little more than necessary. Which isn't fun if you happen to be one of the people around me. 

The trouble is, the people around me are the ones I most love. 

I've noticed that when I feel fear and disconnection, it is the people who I most love that I need to lean in towards and ask for help and nurture from. But it is the nature of fear and disconnection to make that a terribly hard thing to do. I trip over myself, and now and then (to my dismay) find I have unleashed a flight or (even worse) a fight reaction rather than using the responsible, considered, compassionate and respectful communication I intend. I know that the only option, in the aftermath of a day like that, is to look for a conscious reconnection. 

A reconnection is possible when I can apologise to the person I hurt, forgive myself, and move on. But finding the courage to do that is sometimes harder than I imagined it would be. In the words of a coach and writer I admire very much, you must Dare Greatly to allow your vulnerability to be seen. 

I've been interested in gentle parenting, connection parenting and various similar ethos for some time. One of the principle ideals behind these philosophies is to model for our children the kind of people we would like them to be. By which I mean, if we wish to raise respectful, gentle, kind, empathetic children, we ought to make sure that's how we behave ourselves. And if we haven't managed to be the kind of person who acts that way all the time (after all, we are human) that we teach them how to apologise and take responsibility for themselves by being willing to do the same. 

What I am learning is that being this kind of person isn't just an ideal, it's a spiritual path. To get there and become not only the parent I would like to be, but the person I want to be, I need to invest of myself and truly embody the ideas all the time. It's obvious that I  can't be that kind of parent if I'm not that kind of partner, lover, friend, daughter, or colleague. There's no way I can teach my kids to be that kind of awesome on a part time basis. And it isn't easy. It's not like you just wake up one day and decide to be "gentle". Stuff happens, you get pissed off, you lose your temper. You get scared. You feel alone. 

That's when habit kicks in. I don't have a whole heap of "gentle" habits, I can tell you. I work all hours of the day and night, I eat crap, I binge watch Netflix when the kids crash and I'm all burned up from a hectic day. Most days I admit, I am lazy with looking after myself, and that sucks. I want my kids to grow up with deep self-love so they can show that kind of depth to the ones they fall IN love with. I think it's about time I showed myself a little bit more of the kind of nurture and compassion I expect from myself towards others. 

So I'm making a commitment to myself to be more loving, more gentle, and more kind. Specifically, to actually do a daily practice with yoga (I'm curently on my Foundation course with a view to possibly teaching someday) and to get enough sleep. If any of this resonates with you, please share in the comments what you need to do to cultivate gentle habits in your life as well - perhaps we can help each other to keep them up! 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Kid, you'll move mountains!

I spent all day on Tuesday crying. Serious snot and tears - the kind of leaky eyes you can't turn off. Sounds like something terrible must have happened, right? But it didn't, not really. Sprout just went to school.

'Just'. What a deceptive little word! There was nothing small or simple about sending my not-so-little son off to school. I thought I managed quite well really, after all - I managed to walk him to the door, and leave before I cried. I held it together while he lost it and made sure he had his Baa-baa (the grotty old toy sheep he's adored since birth) clasped tight when Bean and I left. I even managed not to cry while Bean had a wailing tantrum about being separated from his 'best friend in the world and life'.

But my eyes betrayed me barely an hour later, sitting in a cold church hall at our local toddler group. Despite battling valiantly to hold back the flood, those determined tears started leaking out all over the place and I had to admit defeat. I was truly, truly sad. Hunkering down with Bean on the playmat, I asked him solemnly whether it was ok for us to go.

Looking up at me and considering the situation carefully, Bean replied, 'We go to Nana's house?' Sensible boy.

There are days when a support network make all the difference. My parents have been a cushion, a safety net, a sounding board and a home for us over the past three years. Even though the boys and I no longer live with Nana and Grampa they are a huge part of our family life. We all know that when the going gets tough, it's time for a cuppa with them. Even Bean, who's only two!

Sprout going to school has hothoused some very complicated feelings for me over the past 9 months. I deferred his place back in September, hoping against hope I would be able to find a way to carve out time to home-educate him. I am a passionate advocate of 'education otherwise' - all the various ways you can school a child without actually sending them to school. Since before he was born, I've anticipated doing something alternative with him and his brother when the time came. Well, it's come. And I have to accept that right now, I am not in a position to give either of them the time and attention they deserve to be unschooled, or home schooled, for now.

As the tide of emotion subsides, I have been reflecting on what sending the boys to school means to me and my sense of who I am as a parent. The funny thing about parenting is that no matter what you do, there's a hell of a lot of compromise involved. The parent I imagined I would be sure as hell isn't the parent I've turned out to be. Some of that is the oddness of life, happening to us. Some of it is simply realising I am not entirely cut from the tie-dye hippy cloth I would like to be. Some of it is the parenting I had as a child escaping out from inside me. It's not a question of blame or fault, it just is.

Not that I was able to see that in the moment. To tell the truth, I slipped into resentment and anger almost as soon as I started to cry. It was easy to blame my lone-parent status for having to let go of my dream of unschooling the boys. Just as they both wailed 'it's not fair!' to me, my heart cried back 'it's not fair' in reply. I stamped my feet and hot, frustrated tears streamed down my face. This isn't the life I planned. Why me? Ahem - well, why not me? There is no guarantee that being a two-parent family would have handed me my dream lifestyle on a platter. In fact, a brief assessment of reality suggests it never would or could have been that way. 

Life is good. There, I said it. I'm off the pitty-potty and pulling those big girl pants back up (yet again). Actually, three days in, it's great. Bean is thrilled to be the centre of attention. He went swimming all by himself with Nana today. His bright eyed breathless excitement about it all took me straight back to the two year old days of Sprout learning to swim with his Dad. The odd wrench of it not being me who gets to teach him (this time it's work that has stood in our way) but the same 'guess how much I love you' realisation that this is a wonderful time to be two. To be loved. To grow. As for Sprout, he read - yes, actually read - a book to me tonight. Sounding out every single word on the page letter by letter until he worked out each word by himself. There's no question he is hungry to learn. He was thrilled with PE (hula hoops and pretend crocodiles, the joy!). He has made friends with lots of kids. He seems to have grown up overnight into a proper boy, all traces of pre-school wiped out. He comes home sweaty, smiley and full of chatter about the adventure he is on. 

It is safe to say that today is their day, all that remains is for me to get out of their way.  

Friday, 3 April 2015

When in doubt, choose Joy

Some days I feel like I’m doing it all wrong. I’m exhausted. I’m working too hard. I’m not working enough. I feel like there is no time to be gentle, or social, or kind. I get shouty, I give too may ‘uh-huh, in-a-minute, just-a-second’ replies to my kids. And then the day is over. The house is quiet, and I feel terribly alone.

Those days are hard to find joy, I know.

Loneliness is one of the benchmarks of lone parenting and it’s a hard one to describe to those who aren’t in the tribe.

It’s hard to explain how it is possible to feel truly alone in a house full of sleeping people. The crushing weight of responsibility you feel when there is another bill, another job to do, or something that needs fixing that you don’t know how to do. And in the moment it needs to be done – there is nobody to call. Nobody coming home at 6pm to open a bottle of wine to go with dinner, and give you a cuddle and listen to all the crazy things you’re thinking before you divide up the jobs and tackle them as a team.

I know I am not the only lone parent who has days like these, because nowadays I work with many parents like me. Not to mention, I have a whole bunch of amazing lone parent friends too. I know that we need to talk about the tough stuff and be real with each other, because it’s only in the honesty that we can find the joy and the laughter again.

Lately I have had to refuse to meet my friends because I have too much work to do, or no sitter, or no cash. This is not a sob story or a pity party – it is a simple fact of being at the helm of a single parent family, sometimes there simply isn’t enough of me to go around. If you’re a lone parent, I know that you will have been there too. You know how isolating it can feel.

It is inside these moments of challenge, where you’re peering out of the trenches, thinking ‘dear god when will this END?’ that I’ve found my gratitude practices have literally transformed my experience of life. This week has been pretty terrible financially, and as a result I’ve had to grit my teeth, put my big girl pants on and just deal with the messiness of life.

It’s also been pretty epic for me and my kids. Big stuff is happening in our world. Sprout is starting school, I am launching new business products, Sprout and Bean and I have been out adventuring in the forest celebrating Spring Equinox with our favourite people. This is the good stuff. I don’t want it to be swallowed up by the teeth gritty me who has to be in charge. I am braver than that. I am happier than that. I promised myself to remember those things, for the three of us. 

So just to be sure that I’m noticing where the joy is in our lives I’m going to share with you my gratitudes for the week that just passed.

1)   Sleeping with beautiful Bean on the sofa for an hour. At two and a half, he is so feisty and bold and full of adventure that naps rarely happen any more. Feeling the weight of his sleeping body and the warmth of his cheeks against mine while he breathes slowly and softly on my chest. Such a gift, and one of those moments I sink into. They fill me up and renew me, from the inside out.
2)   Dressing four year old Sprout in his school uniform for the first time, practicing for when he starts reception class full time after Easter holiday. Seeing his pride and excitement about being a grown up boy, with his own identity outside of our home. Knowing I’ve done what I can to help him take this step with confidence.
3)   Sitting in my kitchen with the adult colouring book I was given for mothers day. Colouring in beautiful mandala patterns instead of watching TV, drinking in the silence while the boys sleep in the early evening and the sun sets behind the garden wall.
4)   Careering around in the blazing sunshine with my kids on Spring Equinox. Watching Sprout go porridge jousting (don’t ask!) and Bean playing among the daffodils.
5)   Being asked what love is made of by Sprout. Telling him it is made of happiness, only to be told that his happiness lives in me – so I must be made of love. Absolutely gorgeous (and a moment to hang on to in between the strops and stresses of a normal day!).

I am not made of stone, and the teeth-gritty days happen to me just as often as they do to other parents, I’m sure. But I will always, always be glad of the opportunity to be a parent in the midst of it all.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Carry your grief lightly

I came back to this blog today. There is a story inside me that I want to tell, and lifting the lid on these pages, I realised that I had already begun to write it. I don't want to pick a new beginning point, it began when it began. So I am sure it will continue, as most stories do, with a new chapter (no need for another Title page).

It's quite a leap forward of course, from where I left off. Bean is no longer a baby, and Sprout - well, he's sprouted! In the turning of the years (three now, and the world is still moving) since our life tipped upside down, I have changed immeasurably. I have grown (and happily, also shrunk a little!) in many ways. I am now a coach, as I planned. Not for young people, although I did dip my toe in those waters in the early days. 

I am a Leadership Coach for Lone Parents. Women like me, and perhaps like you. 

It is one of the inevitabilities of the story of a life, that the chapter I left you with last time, has morphed into a prologue to my now. At the time, it felt like the bear hunt was all consuming - so much to get through! So much thick, oozy mud. But I have to remember, 'We're going on a bear hunt' is a children's book, after all. The pages pass much more quickly than you think they will and someday, you outgrow it. 

I'm resurrecting this blog, to tell a new story. I may also fill in a few of the gaps for those of you who might want to know what happened in the unspoken spaces. 

But before I do I want to share a reflection I had today about the nature of grief. It changes the view, as much as it changes you. Despite the distance gained from your loss it will always remain there, a landmark around which you orient yourself. The grief inevitably becomes a point on your internal compass - although I don't allow it to become my North. 

I think I always knew, from the very beginning of the bear hunt, that I wasn't experiening grief for losing the love of my life. The second I recognised him for who he actually was, the love was gone. extinguished as swiftly and completely as a candle wick pressed between fingertips. It burned a little, but left no lasting mark. 

The grief that has stayed with me, the grief I have learned to carry lightly, is for the imagined life I lost. The Disney story of happily ever after. The dream of a together family for my children to thrive in - the Mummy and Daddy story I told myself I would be starring in. That's not our story. Snuffing out the fire that burned in me for the belonging I wanted to feel - that burned. That scarred. That hurt. 

In as real a way as I carry a c-section scar, I carry a d-day scar. You can't see it, and I don't show it off (well, who wants to see scars like that in real life?) but it's there. Now and then I run my fingers over it, just to see if the lines have changed shape or faded a little. It's still here. I still feel it. Occasionally, it still hurts. But I live with it, and truthfully, I don't think I could imagine being me without it now. It is one of my edges, part of me just as honestly as my curves and softness.