life

The power of Hope

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I’ve been reflecting on the word ‘hope’ and the power of it lately.  It’s easy to think that hope is a weak emotion – a desperate clutching onto something we desire but are not sure will happen – it’s simply a wish.  However, the definition states hope is; a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.  Still sound a bit flimsy?  Well maybe but, without that very simple notion nothing will happen in life.

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How bond with mother in first 18 months can shape your love life

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So I came across another article yesterday that basically blamed mothers for any messed up adults (again!) the headline being – ‘How bond with mother in first 18 months can shape our love life!’ I should probably say it was in the Daily Mail which helped me not to take it too seriously.  However, the article was based on research done by a team of psychologists and university professors (The study is published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science) which again doesn’t particularly mean it’s any more true – but nevertheless made it appear slightly more official.  The researchers found ‘those children with a secure bond with their mothers were likely to have more successful relationships later on in life’.  This much I agree with and I know there has been extensive research that the first years are of huge significance to a person’s life course.  There has also been extensive research on how physical touch and love have a massive effect on the brain development of children – see a brilliant book on this called ‘The Science of Parenting’.  However, the research in this article goes a step further claiming:

‘Your interpersonal experiences with your mother during the first 12 to 18 months of life predict your behaviour in romantic relationships 20 years later.’

Apparently the ability to ‘trust, love and work through arguments’ is developed early on in these crucial stages.  I don’t think a single person could read the article and not end up analysing whether there is a correlation between their mother’s love and the success or failure of their relationships.  My problem with this is whether it gives adults an excuse for poor behaviour and encourages a lack of responsibility for one’s actions.

The article does go on to say, ‘Old patterns can be overcome. A betrayed baby can become loyal. An unloved infant can learn to love.’ Which suggests we are not a slave to our upbringing though even this was put in a particularly harsh way.

It is not new news that our childhood affects who we are as adults but when it comes to romantic relationships I would have thought we were more influenced by the opposite sex parent to a larger extent and surely at a much later stage in life?  As with most sweeping statements it ignores the multitudes of other factors that influence a persons conduct in a relationship.

If this study is to be trusted then where does that leave every mother who has suffered with post natal depression and was unable to bond with her child during that crucial first year?  Feeling pretty crap I would think!

I’m a firm believer that most things can be turned around with a big, and consistent, dose of love and that we have the power to change ourselves, break the mould and decide who we want to be!

L

What makes children happy?

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I read with interest yesterday an article on the updated findings of a landmark report published three years ago by the Children’s Society – ‘A Good Childhood’ which I blogged on some months back – here.  The previous study warned that young people’s lives are being blighted by Britain’s selfish society.  However, the updated findings say that ‘half a million children in Britain are unhappy at any moment’.  Following interviews with 30,000 under-16s it claims those who have deeply negative feelings about their lives are at higher risk of bullying, depression and eating disorders.  At first glance it makes for depressing reading and is another stark reminder that we still have unacceptable levels of child poverty in this country are more than unacceptable.  But, I then realised that the study was not talking about children on the poverty line but children in general across the board!

As I read on what actually concerned, and frankly annoyed, me about the report was the findings that;

‘Children who worry that they do not have the right clothes to “fit in” with classmates are three times as likely to be unhappy with the way they look, with the problem affecting girls more than boys.’ And ‘Those who received less pocket money than their peers reported lower levels of well-being, but so did those who were given a lot more cash, suggesting that children want to be similar to their friends more than they want to be rich.’

I’m sorry but since when did we not balk at the idea that our responsibility for making our children ‘happy’ lies with providing them with the right ‘clothes’ and enough pocket money?   Is it just me or is something amiss here?   Should it not be more cause for alarm that the emphasis and importance placed on image, labels and material things in general is completely out of control and endemic?  Instead of being encouraged to revise our children’s opinions we’re being pressured to adhere to their demands and (in my opinion) helping to compound the problem.

Don’t get me wrong; I do understand the mortification of not having a ‘puff-ball’ skirt, ‘Wallabies’ or a ‘United Colors of Benetton’ sweatshirt at school because we were a single-parent family who lived on a council estate!  However, despite our low income, my mum always dressed us ‘well’ albeit not the latest labels.  My mum, instead encouraged us to be individual and suggested it was cool to be different – just as well seen as we were the only mixed-race kids in our entire year!  I remember my aunt made us some ‘flares’ just before they heavily came in fashion (I’m talking the second time round in the 90’s – I’m not that old!) and although we were a little nervous at wearing them in the first week, the ‘top girl’ of the school came up to us asked us where we got them from and if our aunt would make her some!  There is a lot you can get away with if you’re confident and this attitude has got me a long way in life ever since.  I just think it’s a much more helpful trait to encourage in your child – confidence, individuality and setting the trend rather than following it.

There is a big difference between not having any shoes at all (real child poverty) and not having the ‘right’ shoes.  And as for pocket money – don’t even get me started. They don’t know they’re born!!

L

Flexible working with children

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Today’s post is part of a clever little linky dreamed up by Maria of FeistyTapas.com. She is a very hard working lady, juggling an 18 month old and a fulltime work-from-home job as a translator, oh and blogging about it all. (I bow to her superior abilities!)

Her linky  is all about working with children. The only real guidelines are that you should write about how you work around your kids – be it full or part-time working from home, running your own business, blogging or whatever you do – and what works/doesn’t work for you.

Maria’s idea is that as many people as possible link up with posts about how we work around our kids and once all the linking is done, we’ll have a database of advice for other Mum’s who may want to change, adapt or improve their working lifestyle.

So here is my (Ruth) two pennies worth of information about how working with a child has changed my work/life balance and how I manage working and family life…

Working from home

I’m a teacher.  When I went on maternity leave, I was a head of department in a ‘challenging’ London school and loved it.  Once I had my daughter, I knew that if I went back to work in the role I had been in, I would not be able to commit 100% either to my daughter or my job and that bothered me enough to quit.  I enjoyed being a stay at home mum and as we could survive on one wage, I didn’t even think about going back to work.

The way I kept my brain going during this time was to study (you may have read that in my previous post – sorry to keep repeating myself!).  I studied with the OU on a part-time MEd course.  I did my reading and wrote assignments in year one of my duaghter’s life, almost wholly in her nap times.  Then as she got older, nap-time got shorter and I had to do more work in the evenings.  At this time, however, her sleeping also got better, so I did have enough brain power to work in the evenings.  With the odd weekend where my husband did ‘Daddy-daughter’ things so that I could have a larger block of time at key moments, this is how I managed my study – and I have passed, so it worked!

When Munchkin was 18months, I landed a job that doesn’t really exist in teaching.  Essentially I now do curriculum development and staff training for an SEN school.  It just happened rather than being planned, but the Head offered me 11 hours a week from home for a short term contract, which has since been extended. The hours are flexible – some weeks I work much more and some weeks much less.  My Head doesn’t mind how things are completed, as long as they are completed to deadlines.

At the beginning I would do most of my hours from home and use email to keep in touch.  I popped in for meetings with the Head about twice a month and she was happy for Munchkin to come too.  As and when I needed more time in school, my mum would come to stay and then I’d head in for the day to blitz face-to-face things that needed to happen.  Training was all after school, so I’d drop Munchkin into hubby’s classroom for the hour or so that I was working.

One thing that you will notice is that a flexible and understanding boss is paramount if you work for someone.  It is also important that you have the understanding of colleagues.  On the whole, mine are great, but I know of other Mum’s who find office bitching and jealousy makes working flexibly in a majority full-time environment very stressful. I think you need a thick skin to work flexibly with others. The key thing that I have found is to ensure that you do your job impeccably and are utterly professional, but are also honest and up-front about what you can and can’t do in the time given.

Now that Munchkin is almost 3, has given up her daytime naps (*sob*) and I have started blogging (and who knows what else we’ll develop through More than a Mum!) I have had to make a few changes.  It was getting to the point where every hour was taken by being a Mum, working, blogging or studying.  There was no time for me and there was no time for my OH.  This was not a state of affairs I could stomach for long.  I love my job and More Than a Mum, but not over my relationship and sanity, therefore I decided that at least some of my work hours had to become regular and I needed to consider childcare.

Munchkin had been going to a crèche for 1.5hours every Friday while I ran a peer support group for breastfeeding mothers for about a year and loved it, so I decided that a few more hours of childcare were a) not going to harm her b) going to help me!

I went to my Head and as she wanted me to do a bit more in school support anyway I proposed that I should come in one morning a week. It’s only 4.5 hours, but that means a good chunk of my hours is completed and I have a better ability to keep in touch with staff.

Again you may have read my post about why I wont be sending Munchkin to pre-school, but in spite of this, I do believe that she needs to socialise with her peers without me, therefore nursery seemed a good option.  Munchkin was not impressed with me leaving her at nursery for a good few weeks and I did have several second thoughts as I peeled her off me and ran for the door with the screams echoing in my ears.  4 months down the line, however and even though she only goes once a week, she asked when she could go again this Christmas holiday. Phew!

Anyway, I have wittered on enough, I think that my top tips for making working with children work can be summed up as follows:

1)      Be organised – I make lists, but do what works for you.  I write down all the things I want to get done in the day (from work projects to washing up) and prioritise them, both for importance and time slots.  Some things can be done while Munchkin plays, some can be done with Munchkin and some have to be done while she watches Cbeebies or once she’s asleep.

2)      Be professional – people make value judgements about Mums, you need to prove them wrong, whatever sphere you are working in.

3)      Be honest with yourself and others – my priority is my daughter.  I wont neglect work, but I will much less neglect her.  If a project is too big for 11 hours a week, I wont take it on or I will work out how parts can be delegated to make it manageable.

4)      Be flexible – some weeks you’ll get loads done and find time in places you didn’t think there would be any, but some weeks you’ll slave away for hours and achieve very little.  Don’t worry about this, it’s pretty normal.

R

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Me Time: Learning something new

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In this time of New Year’s resolutions and making promises to “do better this year”, don’t forget you.  You are probably aware by now of the mission of More Than a Mum (if not, click here!) and therefore I’d like you all to look carefully at your New Year’s resolutions and check that you’re not using them as a stick with which to beat yourself…

It is easy to get into a negative frame of mind with New Year’s resolutions.  Looking at the ‘bad’ things you do and trying to improve them is important, but don’t dwell only on what you do that you shouldn’t and don’t do that you should.  I advocate (and have a few of my own) resolutions which fit with the ‘giving up …’ ‘trying to stop…’ ‘making more time for…’ ‘Getting round to…’ themes, but I also think that we should all have at least one resolution which is based purely on a positive and gives you some of that all important “Me Time”.

That is why this year I am going to learn pottery.

I am a learn-a-holic. I’m a teacher by trade and last year I completed my Masters in Education. This completion has left me somewhat bereft.  Doing my MEd kept me sane at many points during the last few years (No honestly, it did!) and the flexible study of the OU was perfect to fit around family life. I love education and enjoy learning for its own sake, but this year it is OH’s turn to start studying, so there is no way that there will be enough time for two of us in the family to be working on academic stuff and frankly I should take a break from essays and all that jazz. But, I couldn’t take a break from learning, hence the pottery.

I really think that learning something new is a great gift to yourself.  It challenges your views of yourself.  It gives you a goal and who knows, it could open new avenues for you. Watch this space for my online pottery catalogue! You could learn a language, take an eyebrow threading course, try burlesque dancing or learn to sew.  It doesn’t matter what it is; how big or how small; it doesn’t matter if it is academic, practical or even pointless, learning something is all about focusing on you for a bit.

As a Mum it is also great to share learning experiences with your kids.  You will be better placed to understand their trials and tribulations in school: they may be struggling to understand algebra and you trying to get to grips with ice-skating, but you’ll remember what it feels like to be learning.  You’ll be able to talk to them about strategies you use to help you learn. You can discuss ways of overcoming difficulties and sympathise about how teachers and/or other students can really get on your nerves!

The things you could learn are endless, the places you could learn them diverse and the costs varied.  For first inspiration you could try googling your postcode and the word courses, classes or learning. I tried and found a photography course, a reki and natural healing course and Spanish lessons in less than a minute. Libraries and local council websites can also be a good place to start looking for ideas, as can local pubs and clubs (my local has Salsa classes in its function room on a Wednesday evening) or shop and community hall noticeboards.

My OU masters cost a fair bit (though some was paid for by employers as it was relevant to my job – always worth asking your boss; the worst they can say is no.) The pottery is run by the Arts Centre at a local University, and costs just over £90 for the term, including materials. Our local Children’s Centre runs various free courses from drawing classes to job interview skills, from yoga to bhangra. Many universities run free taster courses in both academic and professional development courses. If you don’t fancy or can’t afford taught courses there are so many things you can learn for free online. Just google “learn to knit online” if you need an example.

Why not make this year the year that you learn something new?  It might be something you’ve always dreamed of, or something you spotted on a whim on a flyer, but go on, make a resolution to spend some time on you this year: learn something new.

R

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New Year’s resolutions for children?

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The New Year means new beginnings for many and an opportunity to start again, set some goals and make some changes.  These very often take the form of New Year’s resolutions for adults.  But what about children?  Is it a good idea or even healthy for children to have a set of New Year’s resolutions?

I must admit, personally I change my mind from year to year with regards to resolutions.  In some ways I think they can set you up for inevitable failure, in other ways I think it is good to have something to aim for.  I guess as long as you don’t beat yourself up about it if you don’t reach your goals than they can be helpful guidelines.

Anyway, I came across an interesting American article about New Year’s resolutions for children.  It quotes American pediatric psychologist, Stacy Flowers.  She says, “The New Year is a fresh start and it’s a great time for families to take a look at the past year and see where they can make improvement. For children and teens, making resolutions helps with self-discipline, goal setting and, when they are successful, improves self-esteem.”

I was skeptical at first but as I read on I felt Flowers had some interesting and helpful points.  According to Flowers, parents can play an important role in helping their children decide on goals and successfully meet those goals in the coming year:  “The first step is knowing your children. What areas can they work on? Where can they improve? Where will they see the biggest benefit?”

The key, according to Flowers, is to come up with manageable accomplishments that are personally meaningful to your child. These accomplishments will vary greatly with age.

However it’s all very well setting goals but how on earth do you get children to keep them?  Flowers suggests,

“Young children might benefit from charts and stickers to document their progress and accomplishments. Older children and teens can utilise calendars or electronic documentation of their achievements. Parents can also use age-appropriate rewards to recognise their children’s successes.  No matter how old you are, it feels so good to get something crossed off your list, and the absolutely best way to change behavior is to reward it instead of punish it.”

We, as parents, don’t get let off the hook in the article either.  Flowers says if children are making resolutions, their parents should be as well.  She says, “Those goals should be shared with the children so they are aware of what their parents are hoping to achieve. That actually makes it fun for the children. They get really excited when they can point out something their parent isn’t doing right.”

Flowers concludes that, “Everybody has something they need to work on, so resolutions can become a family tradition.”

After reading the article I felt that if nothing else it would give me a chance to approach and tackle some of the ‘difficult’ behaviour my son has made a habit of over the last year and I can set some goals that I know he’ll relish keeping me accountable to.  It could actually be fun! What do you think?

L

All I want for Christmas (that money can’t buy)

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Firstly I would like to apologise to Not Just a Mummy for our tardiness in addressing this very worthwhile post.  The idea of this post is to list the things that you’d like for Christmas, that money can’t buy and it’s a tough one to do without sounding trite or hackneyed, but here is my attempt.

1) Smiles.  The thing that I am most looking forward to this year is the smile on munchkin’s face on Christmas morning when she finds the full stocking in her bed.  She is 2.5 and this is the first year that she has really been excited and had a full understanding of Christmas and her face lights up with a huge grin whenever we talk about it.

2)Family and friends.  I am very lucky to have a wonderful network of family and friends around me. It is they who keep me sane, who boost me when I’m down, help me to achieve and support my hopes and dreams. These people don’t just make Christmas, they make everything.  I am really looking forward to being surrounded by my nearest and dearest over the Christmas period.

3)Laughter. There is nothing better than laughing.  Laughing long and hard with people who you love and care about. Laughing about nothing in particular.  Laughing about poor cracker jokes. Laughing about silly Christmas TV.  Laughing is really important, so much so there are entire exercise and wellbeing groups set up in its honour (just google ‘laughter yoga’!)

4)Time. This is something there is never enough of. Whether it’s time to get all those little tasks done, time to play with munchkin, time to be with darling husband, time to get my work done, time to write a blog post, time just for me…time, time, time. Hubby asked me what I wanted for my birthday earlier this year and in an exasperated moment I old him “TIME!” He’s a genius and gave me a spa voucher, saying “here’s a little time, just for you.” 🙂 There’s never enough time, but we all need to try to make time for the important things. This Christmas I intend to ensure that I take time just to watch things going on, rather than spending the whole time buzzing around.

So those are my three things I’d like for Christmas that money can’t buy and I’m tagging the following people to give it a go as well.

Yes We Do Have A TV

Margot and Barbara

Older Single Mum

R

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Can Toddlers be bullies?

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This week is anti-bullying week and thinking about it made me recall a conversation I had with a mummy-friend a couple of weeks back.  She had been pulled aside by the nursery staff when she went to pick up her son and was told her son had been caught ‘bullying’ another child – a child with Downs Syndrome.  The whole incident was very distressing for my friend and she apologised profusely.

I had very mixed emotions when she told me about it and lots of questions.  In particular, what constitutes bullying by a 2 year old?  My son, and many of his friends, are presently living out the ‘terrible twos’ in full force, testing every boundary known to woman and generally challenging everything.  This sometimes manifests in what I suppose could be described as bullying: Being territorial over their toys, snatching, randomly diving on some poor unsuspecting child’s head, shouting at the top of their voices while just an inch away from someone’s face!! But is this bullying?  Had the nursery made an issue out of ‘normal’ two-year old behaviour because the other child had Downs Syndrome?

Now, from our previous post on prejudice and children, you’ll know that I don’t believe very young children can be racist or prejudice.  Difference doesn’t threaten them like it does when they get older.  The other thing that struck me was how it is just as devastating to be the parent of the bully as it is to be the parent of the victim.  We try to do our best with our children but sometimes they may still display bad behavior despite our best efforts – see our nature V nurture post.  I am devastated at the thought of my son coming home having been bullied at school but, I am even more horrified at the thought of the school contacting me to say he has been the bully!

I am passionately against bullying and fully support this week’s campaign.  Like racism, I think we can help our children against bullying by simply celebrating difference from a young age.  Ask any teacher and they will tell you there is no easy way to deal with bullying however, if we can focus our efforts on growing our children into accepting, caring, confident and content human beings, maybe that is our best fight against bullying as parents.

The Beatbullying organisation says their key aim is all about ‘shaping attitudes and changing behaviours’.  I’m inclined to agree that this is probably our strongest weapon to help combat bullying and we can start this with our young children as parents in the home before school even starts.

L

Pelvic Floor Exercises (or… You must have pissed yourself laughing…)

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I am going to share a little more about me than I ought to in this post.  (I’ve had a few glasses of wine!) This evening I have realised that the phrase, “you must have pissed yourself laughing” can only have come from a woman…

Yes, I am talking about the lack of pelvic floor muscles I have post baby.  Yes, I do mean that post child an irritating cough or a mis-timed sneeze can have rather worse consequences than it used to, and yes, I am insinuating that “piss yourself laughing” could be rather more literal than it used to be!

To anyone reading this who may be pregnant, or considering becoming so for the first time, please follow the antenatal teacher’s advice and do those rather odd exercises to tense your pelvic floor muscles, it might just make the difference between being able to go to a comedy gig post- child and not!

I recently met up with 3 mates who I used to live with at university. We were once young and carefree, enjoying our late teens and early twenties in pubs, bars and clubs… Now, our discussion as 30 (plus) year olds is rather changed. 3 out of 4 of us have kids and the 3 who do were fervently persuading the 1 without to do pelvic floor exercises right now to save embarrassment later.

When I tweeted about my hate of coughing-fits with post child pelvic floor muscles I received support (I won’t embarrass anyone by saying who this came from!).  In fact, one person suggested that it was a conspiracy – who bothered to do the pelvic floor exercises and therefore who can tell you if they work or not?!

So the question I pose is this – what one thing would you tell a friend who had just become pregnant and why? I would definitely say “for goodness sake do those pelvic-floor exercises, no matter how ridiculous you feel.”  What’s your best piece of advice?

First steps to rediscovering your identity

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Rediscover your dreams

One of our aims and commitments as More than a Mum is to not only help you to be a brilliant mum but to help you rediscover your identity as a woman too.  We want our posts to be practical as well as informative, constructive as well as inspiring.

I’m conscious we could easily neglect the identity issue as it is incredibly easy for us to become absorbed, and dare I say, all consumed in being parents.  Sometimes without even realising it.  But who are you without your child?  Do you sometimes wonder what to talk about or even what to do with your hands when you don’t have your child with you? People lose their identity for all sorts of reasons; a dominating partner, a demanding career, a busy parent.  However, it’s worth remembering we are only in danger of losing who we are if our identity is wrapped up ‘only’ in what we do.

As parents we long for our children’s successes to surpass our own, for them to have the opportunities we never had and we do everything in our power to help them along the way.  However, as we’ve said time and time again in our posts ‘a happy and fulfilled parent equals a happy and fulfilled child’.  The best thing we can do for our children is to lead by example.  To live what we want to teach them – not just talk about it.  Not only do we owe it to our children though, but we owe it to ourselves to reignite our passion for our dreams, to dig them up from the depths where we, or life’s pressures, have buried them and to start to construct a plan towards achieving them.

Maybe it’s been so long that you’ve forgotten your dream.  Maybe you think you don’t have one anymore.  I’m confident with the right kind of digging you can uncover it and be on your way to rediscovering your identity as a woman in the process.

The following steps are just for you.  You don’t have to share them with anyone yet but I do encourage you to write them down to make it more real.

Step 1: What did you want to be as a little girl/boy? (Try to remember the self-belief and abandonment you had as a child – that the world was your oyster and you could do or be anything you wanted to be.)

Step 2: What would you do if you were guaranteed you wouldn’t fail?

Step 3: What do you wish you could be doing this time next year? (Your short-term goal)

Step 4: What do you wish you could be doing in 5 years time? (Your mid term goal)

Step 5: Where would you like to be and what would you want to be doing in ten years time? (Your long-term goal)

Step 6: What is something you would quite like to do that you know you can do you just haven’t got round to doing it or made time to do it?

Step 7: What would you love to do but it seems like too much hard work/effort/time?

Step 8: What’s your crazy dream you secretly would love to do but struggle to believe it’s even possible?

Step 9: Look back over all your answers so far.

–       What small step could you do tomorrow towards any of these things?

–       What medium step could you commit to do in the next two weeks towards any of these things?

–       What big step could you take by Christmas towards any of these things?

Step 10: The important thing is to just get on and do it. Stop talking yourself out of it or looking at the obstacles or difficulties in the way – Just get started.

Wake up tomorrow and take that first tiny step.

L