I am writing this blog post to let you know that I won’t be writing a blog post this week. The summer holidays have started and it is time to chill out with my family. Well, I say with my family but since the kids turned into teenagers it has been increasingly difficult to get everyone together in the same place at the same time.
We have no family holiday booked. My eldest has already headed off on a charity expedition to Peru for four weeks (yikes!). And the youngest is vehement that hanging out with his Mum is not on his wish list. Begrudgingly, he has agreed to come on a short break to Berlin with me. (GCSE History parents will spot my not-so-hidden educational agenda there…)
But taking time off work isn’t just about family. It isn’t just about childcare. It’s about rest and recuperation.
Those of you with toddlers are probably scoffing and thinking “If only!” But actually, the bigger the demands placed on you (by family or by work), the more important it is to just stop sometimes. Get off the hamster wheel for an hour, for a day, for a week and truly rejuvenate. Continue reading →
Whenever I run parenting seminars, there are always some parents attending who are there for ‘prevention’ purposes. By that I mean that they don’t have problems with their child’s behaviour (other than the general run-of-the-mill stuff we all encounter) but they are keen to get parenting right. They want to get tooled up with as much information as possible to make sure they are doing all the right things to make their children happy and successful.
On the one hand, this is great. Being passionate about child development myself, I want all parents to know about the forces that drive their children’s behaviour. When we understand where our children are coming from, it makes it much easier to respond to their behaviour in a thoughtful and intentioned way.
But sometimes, wanting to get parenting right can tip over into anxiety or perfection-seeking or neuroticism. I worry that some parents come to my seminars because they believe it is possible to do everything right in parenting. (It isn’t.) Or, that if they get their parenting right then that will guarantee their child’s success and happiness. (It won’t.) Continue reading →
One of the key principles of positive parenting is looking after yourself. Being a parent is not all about the kids. Creating a family that you enjoy being a member of means balancing everyone’s needs. And nurturing your own wellbeing as well as your children’s. Stressed-out parents find it much harder to be calm and consistent or to provide the loving warmth and boundaries that children need to thrive.
The problem with stress is that it tends to create a short-circuit in our brains. This means we bypass the thoughtful front regions of the brain and fall back on the more instinctive visceral brain regions that trigger our defensive fight-or-flight reaction. Those fight-or-flight instincts have a very important role in keeping us safe from danger. But, in the face of a screaming toddler or tantruming teen, a fight-or-flight response (though understandable) is not especially helpful. Continue reading →
Brain-based parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment (by Daniel A. Hughes & Jonathan Baylin) tries to do something truly amazing – to explain the chemical and emotional brain mechanisms that interact to create and sustain the loving bond parents feel for our children. That magical bond that makes us love every inch of them, that makes us prioritise our children’s needs over our own and keeps their wellbeing central to our thoughts and fears. And that stops us throwing them out the window when they are at their most annoying and antagonistic. This is magical territory indeed.
This book covers some really crucial topics – like the importance of parents’ emotional self-regulation in parenting effectively and the negative impact of stress on parents’ ability to tune into their children empathetically (and remain the ‘adult in the room’). There are some fascinating insights into the roles of oxytocin and dopamine in building the parent-child relationship and ensuring the parent gets pleasure from it (and therefore wants to engage even more). And a truly wonderful “caregiving formula” comprising playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy to optimise a reciprocal and nurturing parent-child relationship. Continue reading →
Time and money are the two major currencies in modern life. Balancing our need to earn money to support our lives with our need for time to live our lives is our holy grail.
Once you have children, that can become even harder. Expenses go up (more people to house, clothe and feed) but we also want more time to be able to enjoy our families and nurture our children’s development.
So it’s not really surprising that according to the Modern Families Index 2017 only one in five UK parents say they have got the balance right between time and money for their families to thrive.
Supporting working parents (both in and outside the workplace), I witness daily the heavy demands work makes and how hard parents strive to carve out and protect family time. But attending the Westminster launch of new research by Working Families last week, even I was surprised by the stats on how far work now encroaches.
Heavy workloads mean that nearly three-quarters of parents say they take work home in the evenings and at weekends, with 41% of them saying this happens ‘often or all of the time’. Only a third of parents leave work on time every day. 3 in 10 fathers regularly work over 48 hours a week. And that is not to mention the long commutes for parents who are priced out of living in the place they work. Continue reading →
As mothers, we constantly measure ourselves against our own elusive (and often contradictory) ideals of perfect motherhood. We know those ideals aren’t real but their power over us can be so strong that we are left either feeling like a failure or warping ourselves out of shape in a doomed attempt to conform to those ideals.
The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood by Kirsten Toyne is a great antidote to that futile search for perfection. It is also a wonderful exploration of the troubling feelings that can come with adjusting to being a new mother. It is a book grounded in real women’s lived experiences of pregnancy, birth and the baby years that aims to showcase just how diverse and OK our different feelings and experiences of motherhood actually are. Continue reading →
The day my mother left us, my father decided to get a dog. It seemed like a straightforward swap to me. We went out to buy a border collie and when we came back my mother was gone. I was ten years old.
Swapping my mother for a puppy had many advantages. In one stroke I was liberated from all the petty restrictions of supervised domestic order. Bedtimes and hygiene went out of the window, replaced by endless summer days topped with coke and crisps in pub gardens. And without a live-in mother our family activities could no longer be divided along gender lines – no more being left behind to dig a stupid fish pond while the men went off to watch the Test Match! My world shifted shape. Continue reading →
Give me a baby and I can’t help experimenting on her. Sticking out my tongue to see if she will copy, striking up a ‘making-faces’ conversation, looking at an object to see if she will follow my gaze, playing peekaboo. Now that my children are older, I don’t get much baby time but The Psychology of Babies by Lynne Murray makes a great substitute.
This fabulous book recreates classic developmental psychology experiments in an easy-to-follow photo format specifically designed to support parents and practitioners in decoding babies’ behaviour and understanding why babies do the things they do.
They say it is the most important job in the world. But being a parent is not a job (though there are times when it can feel like a never ending set of tasks). Being a parent means having many different roles. And knowing which one is required when. And seamlessly slipping between them all. This is what being a parent means to me….
Recent research published in the New Scientist suggests that there is no such thing as ‘baby brain’. It seems that the muddled-headed forgetfulness that women often report during pregnancy and after having children has no foundation in neuroscience.
According to this latest research, there are some slight temporary effects on women’s brains during late pregnancy and in the immediate post-partum period. Lab tests (which I am hoping refers to questions and answers undertaken on appropriately comfy chairs with frequent loo breaks and not to rooms full of heavily pregnant women with wires coming out of their heads!) reveal a slight temporary dip in women’s verbal memory during the third trimester of pregnancy.
For a short time, this makes it just a little harder to recall lists or string complex sentences together. This might explain a woman at 8 months’ pregnant momentarily forgetting her own date of birth, for example (to use a personal experience).
Other than that, being pregnant or recently having given birth has no demonstrable impact – positive or negative – on a woman’s cognitive abilities.
So why do I find myself simultaneously annoyed and delighted by these new findings? Continue reading →
For me, becoming a mother was like being hit by a bus. I knew there was a baby coming and that babies were full-on and hard work but I was not expecting the complete shift in my identity that I actually experienced. I didn’t see it coming.
I was in my thirties by the time I had my first baby and I had lived a wide and adventurous life. The baby was conceived while I was living in Mongolia, a place where life and death come and go daily in a nomadic life too focused on the basics of food, fuel and water to get introspective about identity. I waddled back to the UK at 34 weeks feeling like a cow about to calve, more concerned about how I would fit all the baby kit into my suitcase to take back to Ulanbaatar than about how becoming a mother might change me.
And then the bus hit me. It turns out, babies aren’t just a practical undertaking after all. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago I attended a refresher course on safeguarding children and sexual exploitation. As a professional working in children’s services, I have attended dozens of these courses over the years and dealt with many child protection cases so I have become inevitably a little hardened to the topic. I am no longer the rookie who cried all the way home after her very first child protection workshop.
But, as a parent, I find it impossible to remain unmoved by a whole day thinking and talking about child abuse.
Of course my thoughts fly automatically to my own children. Then fly away again just as quickly. Because thinking about my children coming to harm in that way is just unthinkable… My instinct is to push it all away and seek refuge in denial. Continue reading →
Working mums often ask me “What’s the ideal number of hours to work if you want to be a good parent?” It is, of course, an impossible question and – like most coaches – I usually counter it with a question of my own (such as “How do you feel about the number of hours you work at the moment?” or “How would you define a good parent?“). The truth is that there is very little hard evidence with which to tackle that question objectively.
There’s definitely research that demonstrates that working mums are good for their children in certain regards (particularly daughters and particularly where lack of money would otherwise tip the family into poverty). Comparisons between the children of working mums and stay at home mums show no consistent evidence that one is better for children than the other overall – though there is emerging evidence that part-time working mums can bestow some benefits above either of the full time extremes. Continue reading →
Constant juggling is stressful: it impacts on our health and wellbeing and usually doesn’t contribute positively to mood or to work-life balance. So why do we do it?
Often, we juggle because we think it is enabling – that we need to accomplish all these tasks in order to create the life we want. But then we can find ourselves so busy creating the right conditions for life that we have no time for enjoying it.
Sometimes it’s a case of conflicting priorities. As parents, we want the best for our children. But in trying to shoehorn too much into limited time we can squeeze out other essential family ingredients.
And sometimes it’s just hard to switch off from professional mode. When we spend all day at work honing our efficiency, planning and analytical skills, it can be difficult to step out of that role and take a different approach when we get home. Continue reading →
The problem with working mum’s guilt is that it doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact, it can actually make things worse. Parents who feel guilty about spending time apart from their children are far more likely to give in to whining or complaining. By giving in or reversing our decisions when children turn up the emotional (or actual) volume, we accidentally reward this type of behaviour and therefore make it more likely to reoccur. Home becomes a battleground – not because you work – but because of a misplaced belief that your working might somehow be bad for your children.