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March 2016

What matters to YOU?

“To be mature you have to realize what you value most. It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.”

 Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living


Just read this via Gretchen Rubin's blog, and it struck a chord.


Do you know what your own values are?

Have a look here to read more about values and think about what your own might be. It has a list (you need to scroll down) of possible 'values'. One useful exercise is to pick your top 10 from the list, and then narrow down to your top 5.

For me, this is one of those questions to ask oneself over and over again: what really matters to ME?


There is a lot that needs doing in the world. Sometimes it seems depressing, or overwhelming. We can't do everything, be everything all at once, but we can figure out what matters most to us and make a plan to bring those things into our lives.


Good luck!

Elizabeth x

AKA The Writing Parent

Making Progress


I am aware of a gentle flowing of positive progress  [Julia Hubbs and Nora Monaco]



River Wallpaper HD (121)


This is one of my favourite affirmations, because it reminds me to take a moment to stop and notice the gentle progress I may have neglected in the daily rush of life.

 In the midst of thinking about the challenges ahead, I have realised that I've made ‘gentle progress’ in two areas that are important to me.


For nearly 2 years now, I have been carrying a MYSTERIOUS INJURY.

There was no ‘accident’, no moment of ‘breaking’ when I suddenly realised my left hamstring and knee had moved past a point of no return.

Instead, this injury crept over me, like the gentle flowing of progress in reverse. Decline, debilitation, gentle but pernicious nonetheless.

After a lifetime of dance, yoga and MOVEMENT, I was finding exercise uncomfortable, sitting uncomfortable, sometime even sleeping uncomfortable.

For the first time in my life, I felt: OLDER. I realised how a change in the body can spark a change in the mind – for WORSE as well as for BETTER.

‘Perhaps I won’t try and live to 104 after all,’ I found myself thinking. ‘Perhaps 85 is good enough really.’

I had shaved 19 years off my own imaginary timeline! This was serious.



Anyhow, the short story is, I have seen 4 physios, an osteopath and a ‘rolfer’.

Apparently I have very bendy joints but not much strength! So I have overhauled my exercise routine, quit yoga (for a while, to allow me to re-think my movements), joined the gym, taken up swimming, and am continuing with osteopathy and rolfing.

And I am feeling… much better. Stronger, less pain, YOUNGER again! Hurrah.



The second thing is a little different. From the body to... life!

Around Christmas/ New Year, I realised that, while there were many things in my life I was happy about, my daily routine was NOT making me happy.

I was spending a lot of time at home, alone, dealing with administrative tasks.

I resolved to get out more, socialise more and exercise more.

In addition, I let my TO DO LIST slide a bit.


To do list


It is still there, in the background, but I don’t run my day by it as I was doing for a while. And I feel much FREER as a result.

Freedom is one of my key values.

And I realised I feel HAPPIER. My daily routine is joyful to me now (most days!). Knowing myself, identifying my needs and changing my habits have all helped to make me happier.




Of course, there are some things I haven’t made progress on.

I haven’t managed to get the children into bed earlier and up earlier in the mornings…

I haven’t convinced myself to do a daily tidy to keep on top of our mess and thereby feel better about the state of our home


Maybe I’m not going to be ‘perfect’ ;-).

But the more times I tell myself,

“I am aware of a gentle flowing of positive progress”...

...the more I start to notice that I really am, in many different areas of my life.

It is easy to forget sometimes – do you agree? It is easy to stay stuck in the ‘problems’.

I remember when my daughter was about 2 and a ½, and my son was 5, saying to my husband: ‘This is it! We’ve slept through the night for a few nights in a row without being woken by the children!’ Days had slipped by before I had noticed the progress we had made.

It’s Easter, Spring (in this northern hemisphere where I write): a traditional time for renewed hope and second chances.


Can you feel that wind – blowing away the old to make way for the new?

What ‘gentle progresses’ can or would YOU like to celebrate?


Elizabeth x.

AKA The Writing Parent

A woman's story

In her TED talk, Chimamanda Adichie discusses the danger of a single story. We can't understand any one particular issue if we only listen to one narrative.

It has been International Women's Day, and there has been a lot in the press about gender pay gaps, and so on. I've been trying to understand the 'issues' through the filter of my own story.

Mine is not a heart-breaking story. I'm not one of the 493 million women who are illiterate or who don't receive a secondary school education. I have choices. I am lucky.

But I am A WOMAN. And my story might resonate with some of you.


When I was about 7 - the age my daughter is now - I was obsessed with babies. 'Can we have another baby?' I would ask my mother. Then, one year later, we did. My younger brother was born, and he was the cutest.


Eliz and Mark


At university, my friend and I would discuss work and family. I was single - this was a couple of years before I met my husband - and jaded, and reading a lot of feminist literature. I wasn't sure that marriage was for me, but I absolutely wanted to be a mother, if possible. I was open to all the different routes - the traditional one, adoption, fostering, sperm donors. My mother had volunteered in orphanages in China and Hong Kong, and I'd met and fed some of those babies and knew how adorable they were.


Thomas and babies

(These babies must now be in their late teens/ early twenties, so I hope they won't mind me using their images).


I didn't know what job I wanted to do. I'd dreamed of writing a novel since my early teens, I wanted to be involved with children - ideally as a mother - and I had a sense that I would do some other kind of work too, hopefully something 'worthwhile', though I didn't know what.

But what my friend and I discussed, in our late teens/ early twenties, was: how would we combine work and family? If we were going to get to have those children we hoped for, one way or another, how would we combine their care with our aspirations as well-educated modern women? What was the perfect solution?

As my friend said, 'we've spent all these years studying, should we just give all that up?' But we had been raised by our own mothers, and we wanted to pass on what they had given us - love, care, attention. Could we do that - to the level we wanted - in full-time 'career'-type jobs?


My mother was a full-time mother, and while I thought she'd done her job very well, I could see the limitations of 'only motherhood' when the children get older and leave the nest. I felt I wanted something more - something else.

However I was afraid of 'OVERWORK' - of giving up everything else I love to chase money and success, though I had to confess I wanted a bit of both of those, too.

My 'perfect' solution then, as now, was to seek a job that was as family-friendly as possible, and which would give me the option of part-time work, so that I could BOTH fulfil my own personal and professional aspirations, AND care for my children - at least part of the time. It seems I am not alone in this, as this article in TIME suggests.


I was drawn to jobs in the public sector, charities and education because I thought they would be more family-friendly. I didn't really consider working in law, finance, science, technology or other jobs that I thought would give poor work-life balance.

So the first issue is : JOB CHOICE. Or the limitations thereof.


I got 'unexpectedly pregnant' at 26. I moved to Denmark to live with my Danish partner - now my husband - and had our son in a Danish hospital.


Eliz and crying Samuel


I had UK Civil Service maternity cover, and my partner had 14 weeks of paternity leave, provided by the Danish state and his employer. It doesn't get much better than that for any couple, anywhere.

When, after 9 months, I returned to work for financial reasons, we shared the 'work' of nursery drop-offs and pick-ups, both of us working 'flexible hours'. Plus we each had 6 weeks holiday a year. Oh, and the nursery care was some of the cheapest and best quality of anywhere in the world, staffed by 'pedagogues' who had trained at university for 4 years.

[Danish women have the highest employment rate among women in EU countries.]


We moved back to the UK, (then later to Switzerland, and back to London) and the story changed.

Long commutes, long working days, less holiday and less sympathetic, more inflexible employers.

The full weight of childcare fell to me. As well as working reduced hours, I did all the drop-offs and pick-ups, adding an extra 1.5 hours to my commute each day. If our son was sick, I took time off. I did bedtimes, and early mornings. Our roles became polarised, specialised. The DIVISION OF LABOUR set in.

So the second issue is: WHERE ARE THE DADDIES?








When I had my second child, I decided to quit work. Partly because it wasn't the right job for me, and partly because, with 2 young children in day care, I would PAY TO GO TO WORK every month. You've got to seriously love your job to want to pay to do it.

So the third issue is: EXORBITANT CHILDCARE COSTS (in the UK, at least).



In some ways it was a relief to quit work and focus on only one 'job'. I am not a natural multi-tasker. It was nice not to get up and out and rush around to fit everything in. Plus I felt that the work I was doing at home was valuable.


But eventually the kids start school, friends go back to work, and the fourth issue emerges: THE PAIN OF RE-INSERTION.

I think anyone who has been out of work for several years can identify with this issue - the can I? should I? will they want me? what am I good for?


And if you can't go back to what you were doing before, because it doesn't fit with family life, or because you are no longer qualified after a career break, there is issue five: the COST OF RE-TRAINING.


And there's something more, something that's not often spoken about. The do-I-really-want-to-leave-my-familiar-own-domain-in-which-I-am-boss-to-go-work-for-someone-else? question.

Lots of women solve this by becoming enterpreneurs, small (or large) business leaders, working for themselves. Some decide to stay home forever, volunteer, or do some kind of work that stimulates their brain and/ or creativity but doesn't necessarily generate a big income.

So there's an additional issue: CHOICE. Freedom.


Which brings me back to the understanding that this is MY STORY, and that I am lucky. I had choices. Each woman's story is different.

I have missed 'working outside the home' the past 8 years, but I've had interesting projects to work on in the meantime. I've tried to approach my parenting work and home work with a spirit of curiosity - trying to learn what I can about myself and life under this particular set of circumstances, what I can extrapolate from that.

I've been lucky my partner has been able to support us all financially throughout the process. Had that not been the case, my choices would necessarily have been different. In some family situations, specialisation of roles works well, in other cases, not so much.


What is your story?


Shanghai babies



aka The Writing Parent.








What advice would you give to your younger self?

When my first baby came, I received a card with some advice from a new friend who had an older baby:


"Whatever you feel, at this point, is NORMAL."


She had been through the turbulence of early parenthood and would have loved to have known that herself at the time.

Other tips passed on from friends included:


"Have a shower, put on some makeup, and get out of the house." - great advice under any circumstances, methinks!


"Get organized. Do online shopping. It will make your life easier."


And this one I particularly like:

"Don't stress about the housework. Leave the vacuum cleaner near the door so if guests come round you can say, I was just about to hoover! With any luck, they might offer to do it for you."




The best advice is attributable in many diverse circumstances - do you agree? Are there moments in your past you wish you could go back to and whisper reassurance or encouragement in the ear of your younger self?

Do you think you would have listened?


In Brené Brown's Rising Strong, a book I am currently reading, she quotes a priest friend of hers who says,


" I used to tell couples getting married that the only thing I could tell them with certainty was that they would hurt each other."

(Joe Reynolds, quoted in Rising Strong)


Unusual and profound marriage guidance!

On my own relationship front, I would go back to my 23-year-old self at the knotty start of my relationship with my now husband and tell her,


" Relax. You'll be together."



What were the best tips you received - as a new parent, or generally?

And what would you whisper to your younger self?


Love Elizabeth,

aka The Writing Parent