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?

 

 

 

 

SCAN0041

 

 

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

 

Elizabeth

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


Every problem has a solution

 

"Growth mindset is about learning from mistakes and unlocking potential."

Jim Knight, TES

 

I didn't do well on the 'growth mindset' front this Monday morning gone.

8.23am, over breakfast, my son told me he needed his English notebook, which he'd taken away on half-term holiday to France, ostensibly to do his homework during the holiday week (as opposed to Monday or Tuesday evening before the hand-in deadline, as is our usual wont).

The English notebook, clearly, was nowhere to be found. Nor were the practice SATs test papers he was supposed to be correcting for Wednesday. A quick search of the car, his suitcase, my husband's briefcase, and any other spot we could think of, yielded nothing.

Had we left them at our holiday place? Had they been thrown out by mistake? I had no recollection of seeing them at any point during the holiday, even though I'd done a fairly thorough (I thought) sweep of the place before we left.

 

  Angry face

My rage at myself for neglectful, distracted parenting I hid under sarcastic fury towards my son for not 'being more careful with his stuff, not caring about his homework,' etc.. There was barely concealed irritation towards his father too for leaving the mundanities of domestic life, such as homework-tracking, to me.

'This is a disaster!' I wailed, head in hands.

My son looked as though he were going to cry.

'I will probably have to stay in at lunchtime and breaktime to re-copy all the work we've done in English since the start of the year,' he said, face pale. He hates getting into trouble at school.

'I thought I'd put them in [my sister's] suitcase,' he said.

'Why on earth would you put them there??! In any case, I opened her suitcase and I couldn't see them, and she didn't know what I was talking about when I asked her.'

  

I walked him to school as though I were leading him to the gallows. Dear oh dear, what WILL the teacher say?

 

Hangman

 

On the way back home, I thought to myself, hmmmm.

'What a performance, Elizabeth. Bravo. You say it's ok to make mistakes, then you project all your OWN panic about years of mislaying papers and important documents onto your 11-year-old son. What is REALLY going on here?'

A second internal voice piped up, scattering woes.

'I can't believe I didn't pay more attention to his stuff! I've failed him! Why did I think it was a good idea to take homework on holiday anyway? I should have known we'd forget the minute we got there! Why is it I can write essays about 'my 25-year life goals' but I am so DISASTROUS at taking care of the small details of everyday life - like my children's homework?'

 

And so on and on, the verbal hair shirt.

Once I'd calmed down a bit, I re-set my mind to the problem, and reminded myself of one of my favourite affirmations:

                

            Every problem has a solution.

 

 

Tinkerbell pic

 

Perhaps it was divine intervention, or a more problem-solving frame of mind, or our Finder of Lost Things - our resident Tinkerbell, my 7-year-old daughter (who was off school sick that day) - but somehow the solution appeared.

I knelt calmly before my daughter, who was playing in her room, next to her still unpacked suitcase.

'Darling, we REALLY need to find your brother's school papers. There is a purple notebook with his name on it, and a couple of other test books. Do you think you might have seen them?'

'Oh!' she said, and turned to her case, from which she unearthed the SATs papers and the notebook from under a stack of Barbies and soft toys.

'You asked me earlier, but I didn't know what you meant,' she said.

 

A problem solved.

A heartfelt apology due.

 

A lesson or two learned... maybe??

 


To what extent should children be free to ‘follow their own curiosity’?

10 years ago in Denmark, I taught a father of 3 in his 50’s who had been part of the 'Freetown' of Christiania (an area of Copenhagen) in the 1970s, but had gone on to be a “respectable” middle-class kind of family man, with a suburban house and a job in engineering.

We discussed the Danish forest kindergarten his kids had attended when they were little, and the freedom it gave pre-schoolers to explore their surroundings unimpeded by the need to follow a curriculum set by grown-ups.

‘The teachers didn’t track the children too closely,' he said. 'Sometimes they would even come back at the end of the day and discover they’d left a child behind in the forest and have to go back to fetch them! But it’s better that way. Children should be free to follow their own curiosity. It's the most important thing. It’s better when the adults don’t get too involved - even if it means there is the odd mistake.’

He didn’t approve of safety locks on school gates, or constant head-counting, or any of those 'modern' safety measures. It was clear, on the spectrum of safety versus freedom, at which end of the scale his proclivities lay.

 

                    SAFETY <--------------------------------------------------------------> FREEDOM 

 

According to a recent study by the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) at the University of Westminster, British parents are among the strictest in Europe, in the sense that they grant 'their children less freedom to travel and play in their local neighbourhood unaccompanied by adults', despite the 'significant impacts'  on children's 'health and physical, mental and social development'.

There is certainly a sense, amongst many parents here, that the world has become a more dangerous place, and children need protecting at any cost.

At the same time, children's time is more scheduled: less time 'playing in their local neighbourhood unaccompanied'  means more time for piano lessons, judo, extra maths tuition and gymnastics clubs ( I am aware that I am speaking from the heart of 'middle England', where relatively affluent parents hold high aspirations for their offspring).

 

So my real question here is about the everyday dilemmas, on the scale of safety - or should I say structure - versus freedom, of where we should thrust in our stake???

To what extent should we adults just back off, and let children follow their own curiosity?

Or should we be guiding, goal-setting, boundary-fixing, encouraging and cajoling all the while from the wings of their lives, relationships and learning careers?

This is a LIVE question for me.

My oldest child is 11. He is a Questioner – he won’t do anything unless he personally sees the import of it. He is closely approaching the dreaded TEENAGE years, and some of the clichés applied to that age range are already becoming apparent.

Furthermore, his interests, whilst pretty common to boys of that age, are mysterious to his parents (Minecraft, anyone??). There is a strengthening tide away from parental influence towards peer influence.

And my dilemma is: to let go, or to hold on tighter? To believe I know better, use my declining influence to help chart his course, hold the long-term goals in mind, so he can go on to be successful, healthy, SAFE? Or, to let him wander, unguided, in the forest of his choosing, at the risk of his being left alone in the darkness of night?

 

Lost in minecraft forest

 

Have you felt this dilemma too?

Do you instinctively fall on one or other side of the freedom v. structure balance, or are you too hovering somewhere on the beam?

 

My husband and I are trying to increase the kids' participation in sports and outdoor exercise. We are lucky to have access to skiing at half-term, and have been trying to make it a 'family activity'. But the kids don't want to ski, the 11-year-old in particular. They don't like ski school. They put their little feet down, and I/ we almost surrendered.

But just before capitulating, we took a deep breath, invoked Stephen Covey's win-win habit, and struck a bargain: ski school in the mornings, without complaints, and you have FREEDOM in the afternoons - be it Minecraft, Barbies, or whatever.

It's a luxury dilemma. I know. Boo hoo, my kids don't want to go to ski school ;-).

But it could be anything else - homework, reading practice, going outside for a walk. The dilemma is the same.

 

The outcome for us, in this case, was... success, I would say. The deal held. There were minor complaints first thing in the morning, but I reminded him of our deal, and his desire for Minecraft outweighed his disgust at ski school. He even learned parallel turns, showed us them proudly, and got a badge at the end of the week that he wore all day pinned to his jumper.

 

Ski badge
 

 

He'd won. And we'd won. A win-win.

So far, so good.

 

Will we remember the next time?

 

 

With love,

Elizabeth

Aka The Writing Parent


Tiger-ish

 

'Tell us the story,' the children say.

'Which one?' I ask.

'The tiger one.'

Alright.

 

My father is a human but my mother is a tiger.

Her colouring is remarkable. Dark brown, almost black-ish, with tiger stripes showing through her under-carriage, so she looks permanently like a tiger in the shade. It's no wonder my father fell in love with her. She's so special.

 

A moment of love they shared, but tigers are wild and my father knew he couldn't keep her, not without a fight he would probably lose. So she roams her jungle forests and my father roams near her, where he can spy her from time to time swishing shadowy through the long grasses.

I grew up, a girl with a black ponytail, white skin and eyes the colour of tiger's eye: normal human girl on the outside. Knowing inside I was tiger-ish.

Tiger-ish-ness comes out at moments. Then I know, like my mother, I must prowl alone, and keep from those I love so I don't eat them, in a moment of mistake.

I don't go near her, though I've met her, with her blackish-brown markings, and she has seen me too. We have looked into each other's tiger's eyes. But I'm not a baby she could bundle and own. She left me to the care of others, and roams alone.

 

I roamed too, apart.

 

I left the home and combed the loneliest beaches of the world. I wanted only those that were wild and free.

On a long stretch of sand in Norway, I crawled from promontory to promontory, pounding great stretches with my tiger-ish strides, velvet soft paws leaving feathery marks on the sand where I'd been. A cat, I was afraid of the sea, so grey and cold and wet. My fur yearned for the warmth of the tropics.

I flew to Thailand, each paw delicately balanced on an armrest above a cigarette ash holder, my back arching as waves of tiger-ish-ness protested the restraints. My tiger loved to look out the small windows at the clouds. They reminded me of softest grasses under my belly and dreamy white dunes. My tiger mind flew out with the birds while my powerful pads pushed where hands are supposed to rest.

Thailand was warm. I found a beach. I stretched my cat fur in delight on the sand, and my skin turned a tiger-ish brown under the black hairs. I played in the sea! I told my tiger to stay curled on the sand while my girl laughed and leapt under the water. I found my inner fish.

When my tiger was tired of being soggy wet, I borrowed a board to stand on the waves instead, and roam without getting damp. But my tiger claws found it hard to grip the slippery surface, so we gave up and moved on. Too crowded in Thailand anyway. I wanted somewhere hotter still.

 

I went to India, where I was afraid I would run into my mother.

I couldn't remember her place - I was so young when my father came to the home, took my paw and led me to her. I had no sense of time or space, and my father didn't talk much. He lived on the edge of society, did his work and looked out for shadows, swishing through the grass.

 

'What did Grandfather do?' my son asks. 'Will we see him one day?'

'Grandfather's a hunter,' I reply. 'But hunting is hard to do today. He tried to hunt but he got no money, no tiger either. So he hunts money instead. He sits in a cubicle tapping away, thinking of big tiger paws slipping over the keys. But the hunter is still in his eyes. Will we see him one day? I don't know, my son. If he roams this way.'

 

My son looks for a moment with his big brown eyes, shrugs and goes to hunt for a stick.

 

I didn't meet Mother in India. She must not have been there. I saw all sorts of other things instead - everything. Everything in one small space. That is why people dream of India - the colours, the smells, the people, the food.

But the heat!

I fell in love with an Indian saree, and my girl said, maybe I could do this too. Maybe I can make something with these paws of mine, retract these claws for a while, and keep clothes around my body. 

I thought of you, the two of you.

 

So many people in India, and so hot. My cat fur loves to stretch out in warmth, but I was getting sticky here. So I packed my saree in a bag and returned to where I had begun.

I got a room, with a bed, stretched out my saree and studied it. Women carrying baskets of rice, and a peacock with colourful plumes. Coral pink, red and gold, sequins sparkling here and there.

My tiger paws were soft as silk as I held the fabric.

I looked at it a long hard time.

'It is a start,' I said. 'A start.'

I folded it carefully back into my bag.

 

Every time I dreamed of crawling along Nordic sands or swishing between Indian grasses, I took it out, and looked at coral, red and gold, women with baskets, colourful peacock plumes; I put needle to canvas, and pulled the thread through. And pulled it through again. I built up a fabric, created a design.

I found a hunter in a cubicle and he knew me too.

 

My daughter looks at me with big round eyes. Brown flecked with yellow, and tiny black stripes.

'Are you still tiger-ish inside?' she asks.

I brush the sand from her forehead and lay my paw on her hair. I think of my answer before I reply.

'Am I still tiger-ish inside?' I say. 'My darling, I gave up tiger-ish-ness for you.'

'Will you be tiger-ish again one day?'

I consider my answer before I reply.

'Will I be tiger-ish again, my darling?' I kiss her.

'I'll be tiger-ish, yes. So might you.'

 

Elizabeth Ritchie


What is your greatest fear?

 
What is your greatest fear as a parent?

Are they the same thing, or different?

(My greatest fear, I think, - or one of them, at least -  is seriously harming my kids in some way. So, for me, my greatest fear and my greatest parenting fear are the same).

Xxx


Is perfectionism love, or the ultimate love-killer?

Betcha they're young
Betcha they're smart


 Bet they collect things
 Like ashtrays, and art.

            ("Maybe" from the musical Annie)

I've been thinking about perfectionism in parenting, and wondering how perfectly to express what I want to say. So much so, that I got stuck, and couldn't say anything for 2 and a half weeks.

Then I realised: forget perfect. Just do your best.

I tell my kids: it's ok to make mistakes, that's how you learn.

But we say so much more by what we do and who we are than the lectures we give, and here is an example of a lesson in self-criticism I've given recently.

I have to take (and pass) a numeracy test before I can train as a teacher. So I found some practice tests online and started having a go. The first part is mental arithmetic: a voice reads out a question, then you have 18 seconds to come up with the answer before the next question is read out, and so on for 20 minutes.

By around question 3 or 4, I realised, sh*t, I am going to fail this numeracy test without some serious study/ revision!

And what was my internal response to that? Was it, that's ok, Elizabeth, no worries, you'll do this. You haven't done maths for 20 years, not surprising you're a bit rusty. It's ok to make mistakes - that's how you learn! What an exciting learning challenge!

Nooooo.

More like: you stupid woman! Why didn't you pay more attention in maths at school? How can you have forgotten all this? You're never going to pass this test! You're not good enough! Why don't you know this already???

And so on. You know that voice? The critical, self-damning, catastrophizing, why-aren't-you-perfect, why-don't-you-already-know-everything voice? The It's No Good Trying If You Can't Do It Perfectly First Time critic?

Do you have her (or him) too?

It got me thinking: does what I say to my kids match up to who I am as a parent? And what are the effects of perfectionism on our kids?

 

Seems there are 2 schools of thought on this one.

There are the tiger parents, who set high aspirations and expectations in order to set their children up for success.

 

 

And there are the laisser-faire parents who think their kids should be free to be who they want to be, do activities they want to do, not be 'pushed' one way or the other.

 

The first group would equate 'striving for perfect' with love; the second group says perfectionism is the ultimate love-killer.

 

What do you think?

 

I want my children to be intellectually developed, creatively curious, socially agile, physically strong, and emotionally resilient.

I want them to behave well, be polite at other people's houses, interact well with other children, and mind their Ps and Qs. And write thank you cards of their own volition, ideally.

And I want all this, you understand, because I want them to be HAPPY.

 

I want them to have CHOICES. Because choices make you happy - don't they?

And I want them to be SUCCESSFUL. Because success makes you happy - doesn't it?

 

And I want all of this because I love them more than anything else in the world, and when I know they are HAPPY it makes me... happy.

I know I have been a good parent when... my child grows up to be.... Successful. Productive. Not a serial killer.

Happy?

 

It's ok to make mistakes, because mistakes are how we learn.

But I am angry at myself for not knowing the correct answer first time round, for having forgotten how to multiply a decimal by a fraction. How can I be so OLD? How can I be so STUPID? Stupid, stupid me.

I don't want to have to learn. I want to KNOW. I want to be... perfect.

 

My son asked me. "Why do parents want children to be perfect?"

"Because we want to be PERFECT PARENTS, my son."

 

Do kids want perfect parents?

 

 We went to watch 'Annie' at the theatre.

At the start of her song 'Maybe', Annie imagines her long-lost parents as 'young', 'smart' and collectors of 'art'. By the end of her song, she concludes:

"Maybe they're strict
As straight as a line...
don't really care
As long as they're mine!"

 

'The best thing about you,' my daughter said to me the other day at bedtime, 'is that you're my mum.'

 

Well, if that is good enough for her, I can't ask for 'better'.

 

 
 
  Tiger-kissing-baby-tiger-mother-love

 

 

 

Love,

Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent

 

"The perfect is the enemy of the good." Voltaire

 

 


'What makes a good mother?' Or, 'First World Worries'

When I was a younger woman, I thought I was going to make SUCH a good mother.

I was so patient! Tolerant! No troubles controlling my temper.

Besides, I knew so much about babies! Didn't I have a brother who was 8 years younger than me? Didn't I know how to change nappies and bottle feed? I was going to have no problem.

 

 

  Mummy angel

 

 

I got... unexpectedly pregnant, at 26, in the midst of my Generation X-er extended adolescence. My partner was living in another country. I was still flat-sharing in London and going to parties on the weekends.

Let's skip the birth for a moment, sweep past infancy and early childhood, and journey 11 years through time, across the world and back through space to a bourgeois English town on the outskirts of London... This is where our story begins.

What story?

The story: how to be a good mother/ parent. Or something like that.

I don't know what this story is, or what the end will be.

I just know - and I suspect I am not the only one - that there is a lot of scope for feeling like a BAD PARENT.

Has there always been?

I can't help feeling, when I read some of my favourite old children's books - Little House on the Prairie, for example, or Farmer Boy - that parents back then didn't spend time navel-gazing about how to provide educational opportunities for their children , taxiing them to after-school clubs and nagging them to do their homework. They sort of got on with their own Work, and the children got on with theirs, without complaint or much interference from their parents.

Of course, in 19th century Kansas the fathers did have to go out and shoot their dinner, and the mothers forage for food in their vegetable patches, cook from scratch and spend a whole day each week washing the laundry by hand.

In Enid Blyton's books, the kids made friends with adult strangers, spent all day away from home in the woods and climbed through secret under-sea passageways to mystery islands and tackled smugglers. What the heck were their parents doing all the while? Definitely BAD PARENTS.

I'm reading Gone With the Wind for the first time ever. Scarlett O'Hara is a shockingly BAD MOTHER. She even says she hates babies! Mind you, she had no choice, if she wanted to, ahem, marry and... everything that went with that. Babies were the natural outcome for a vibrantly healthy 16-year-old bride.

 

In my privileged, appliance-abundant middle-class world, I suspect that a GOOD MOTHER is one who provides OPPORTUNITIES  for her children, who helps them uncover their talents and passions and nurtures those, who keeps her children SAFE and HEALTHY, helps them develop their skills and ACHIEVE, is calm, patient and loving. Something like that.

 

I've got a guilty conscience. I have realised, this week, that I have been letting plates slip and crash to the floor, hoping they were not irredeemably damaged. I've taken my eye off the ball: I've let my kids get away with doing, basically, no exercise for the past 5 months.

 

In my defence, we moved country last summer, back from Switzerland to the UK. I was fed up with taxiing the kids to after school clubs that they invariably seemed to tire of after the first few enthusiastic weeks.

What the kids REALLY wanted to do, after they'd been in lessons all day, doing what they were told (more or less), was to PLAY. Alone. Or with friends. Or with me (or their Dad, when he is home).

And I couldn't be bothered to fight that, to keep whipping out my bag of mothering tricks - WHEEDLING, CAJOLING, BRIBERY - to get them out of the house and into whichever activity I had paid for that term. NEGOTIATING, making deals: ok, just one week off, then you go back, your father and I have paid for this course. LECTURING about VALUES: you need to learn commitment, stick-to-it-ness.

But shouldn't they be allowed to play, follow their own curiosity, have plenty of unstructured time...?

Problem is, we are not talking Enid Blyton-style tree-climbing, forest-exploring-type play. There is not much cardio-vascular work involved in Barbies or Minecraft, besides the pounding stress of avoiding dastardly Endermen, or deciding between survival and creative.

 

 

 

 

 

My worries are the epitome of First World Worries. I am well out of survival mode and fully into creative. I don't have to worry about putting food on the table, or keeping a roof over my kids' heads.

I worry because they are behind their friends in swimming, and gymnastics, and neither of them plays football, or a musical instrument, or does judo.

 

I want them to learn COMMITMENT, but I don't want to force them to do things they don't like. I want them to find a PASSION. But what if they don't? Is that alright?

 

 

Anyway. I've asked around about swim lessons. I've signed my daughter up for gymnastics. We held a crisis meeting and explained that they needed to do at least one physical activity a week after school. My son signed up for a swimathon in March. We are going to start family swimming sessions at the weekends.

 

The thing I've always thought about parenting is: it keeps taking you right back to Square One.

What makes a good parent?

Failing, acknowledging it, and trying again?

That's the kind of 'good' parenting I am aiming for this week. ;-)

 

How do you go about instilling your values in your kids?

How do you manage the negotiations and taxi-driving?

Do you ever feel a sense of failure for not 'keeping up' in some areas?

 

Come on - make me feel better! ;-)

 

Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent

 

 

 

 

 

 


Befores and Afters: January cures

Does your daily routine make you HAPPY?

I ask this because, just before Christmas, I realised that, while I have many things in my life that make me happy and for which I am deeply thankful (my family, my friends, our home), what was NOT making me happy was: my daily routine. My 'daily work'.

 

 "Nothing is really work, unless you would rather be doing something else." J.M. Barrie

 

One of the most unexpected challenges of parenthood, for me, has been the metamorphosis into Household Manager, Family Secretary and General Dogsbody.

For someone earlier famed for untidiness (as well as a tendency to spend hours on the loo, reading... - What? It's peaceful!), the throwing of domestic duties at me at the same time as I was tackling baby-care and sleep deprivation was, let's say, an INTERESTING EXPERIMENT.

For many years, our house looked mainly like this: 

Messy bedroom pic

Okay, this was in the midst of a renovation, but still, fairly representative.

This particular renovation experience was transformative, for me. We put the house up for sale after we'd finished renovating (- we were off to China for an adventure!) and so had to spruce it all up.

'It needs to look IMMACULATE,' the estate agent warned us.

I read my first book on de-cluttering - Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

We sifted through our stuff, put things on Ebay, did countless trips to the tip, bought big wardrobes from Ikea to hide things in, and stuffed all the kids' toys into the car when viewers were coming round. And we got that messy bedroom to look like this:

 

Tidy bedroom

I didn't actually think I had it in me. I remember the joy - the ease - of keeping house when we had so little stuff, everything had its place, and we'd cleared out all the rubbish (or hidden it in the boot of the car).

 

5 and a 1/2 years and 4 house moves on, I sometimes feel as though we've gone backwards from that point. I feel as though I am constantly sorting stuff - and still the house rarely looks as nice as I'd like it to.

I read my second de-cluttering book - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, by Marie Kondo.

In some ways, it has changed my life. I've been through all our stuff again and got rid of loads more clothes, books, toys, papers. We have less stuff. Instead of flinging clothes into piles in the cupboard I now fold them on end in the drawer, so I can see them all every time I open it, like this:

 

  Drawer pic

 

And I can't imagine going back to the way I did it before.

But, still. Somehow it all seems to creep back again - especially after Christmas, with all of those presents, paper and packaging. I can't seem to inspire much tidying zeal in the rest of the family, and I am still so new to it myself - and still quite lazy - that I don't really know how to TEACH it.

For me, a way of getting myself to do chores I dislike is to find some sort of INSPIRATION. The 'Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui' book talks about how you shouldn't spend your time tidying: you should get your home organized and clutter-free so that you can then focus on what is REALLY important to you - your work, your family, friends etc.. Marie Kondo says something similar in her book - tidying in and of itself is not important; what is important is what it frees you up TO DO afterwards.

In theory. But sometimes I feel as though I am going round in circles, cleaning up the same old sh*t.

 

Know what I mean???

  

We went away for the New Year week, to France. I had a week of sitting on the sofa reading novels, interrupted by the odd walk, pony ride (the kids, not me) or bit of cooking. It was lovely.

We got back late after our drive home and walked through the front door and I thought, 'Oh. All this STUFF to manage again.'

 I read an article on apartmenttherapy.com (a website I am now totally addicted to!) which said [something like]: keeping a house clean and tidy is a lot of work. There is no way round it. 

I thought, huh.

That's kind of helpful. I COULD keep my home super clean and tidy - IF I could be bothered. But I can't. Not really. I want it to BE tidy, but I don't really want TO tidy.

I have signed up to the January Cure, though. Every day in January you get a small 'assignment', so by the end of the month your home - be it big, small, owned or rented - can be as spruced up as you like.

I am a bit behind on my 'assignments', if I'm honest, but I do appreciate the daily INSPIRATION HITS. They get me thinking, and then, when I'm ready, doing. And it feels good, afterwards.

 

So, de-cluttering is back on my list of NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS.

 

What I REALLY want, though is to TRANSFORM my daily routine. And part of that, I think, is worrying less about the house, getting out of the house more. Sometimes I think I had more FUN when the house was still like it was in the first photo :-).

So, my other GOALS FOR 2016 include:

  1. Doing more exercise - getting strong. Prioritizing physical well-being.
  2. Learning about plot and how to structure a novel - reading creative writing books and novels
  3. Meeting up with friends - several times a week, if possible (to banish loneliness )
  4. Adding activities with the kids to my To Do list - I feel I used to do loads of fun things with them at home; now we seem to spend time at home doing our own thing, and I'd like to get some of that FUN back.

 

How about you?

Is de-cluttering on your 2016 list too?

Is there an answer to the circular task of TIDYING, or is it just 'hard work' - what do you think?

Have you set any other goals? I'd love to hear!

 

Love Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent

 

"Out of clutter, find simplicity."   Albert Einstein


Back to School

Ooh, they were cross this morning.

 

Cross face

 

Like baby tigers.

 

One of them 'pushed me with her foot' as I was trying to help her dress. The other scowled all the way to school and shouted how unfair teachers are.

I couldn't help feeling that I was the messenger, being shot BAM BAM BAM.

 

It's not like I don't have reservations about this 100-year-old social experiment called school (despite my aim to become a teacher next year). It's not that I don't empathise with the fear of pressure, of public humiliation and social pain, that I don't equally dread the early starts, the homework and the teachers' succinct, critical notes: 'Please read more with your child', 'Please check your child's homework is properly done', 'Please pay your overdue lunch bills'.

But what are the alternatives?

I considered home-schooling, briefly, before I realised that HOME-schooling meant HOME for me as well, for a LONG time, and no income, nor any time to myself.

 

House pic

So back to school it was, with a sigh of relief, and gratitude.

 

I met an old friend for coffee after drop-off this morning. La-di-da. (Still a stay-at-home housewife for just a little bit longer, and intent on enjoying it...)

The kids had to stay all day at school and concentrate. They're still there, poor poppets.

 

Still, there's no need to KICK me.

 

How did you get on getting back to the Old Routine after the holidays?

 

Love, Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent.