I found myself crying in the car last night. Truly blubbering. I had just dropped my teenage son off at his girlfriend’s house – well, around the corner from her house. I’d pulled over a few hundred yards early to give us a moment to finish our conversation and he’d got out and stormed off. (And, when I say ‘conversation’, you know what I really mean is argument…)
I calmed myself down, drove home and accepted his conciliatory hug this morning. But why was I so very upset? It was a stupid argument about tidying his bedroom, one we’ve had a hundred times before with much less drama. But as I sat crying in the car, I was really hurting. My brain was quick-firing with all the things my son had done that had hurt me – a litany of blatant unkindnesses all the more outrageous and undeserved given the hours of love, thought and lift-giving that I plough into his life. Continue reading →
I was recently asked to contribute insights for some research on modern family dynamics. I concluded that the modern parenting experience can be summed up by a simple equation:
Lack of time and energy + wanting to be a good parents = stress.
Modern parents are labouring under a double whammy. We are working more and parenting more. We are desperate to be good parents but with so many demands on our time and energy, many of us feel like we are running just to stand still.
The fact is that most parents in the UK now work. Our working days have got longer and we commute further to work. That is a huge demand on parents’ energy and mental resources and most of us are stressed and exhausted before we start the evening parenting shift.
Yet we are a generation of parents who believe that being a good parent really matters. We want to get it right. We want to be hands-on and engaged. And we want to be seen to be succeeding at parenting (even if we don’t feel that we are). In the past, being a good parent felt simpler. It meant giving basic things like love and shelter and food and warmth, making sure the kids went to school and telling them right from wrong.
Looking after yourself is one of the key principles of positive parenting. But it’s also often the first thing that falls off the radar when things get hectic. Being a working parent requires an endless supply of energy, so (as my gift to you!) I asked nutritional therapist Liz Driver for her tips on where we can all find a bit of extra energy to get us through the day.
It’s that time of year when everything feels a bit, well, grey. Christmas is long gone, the weather is cold and spring still feels like a dot on the horizon. Add in the challenges of work and parenting and it’s no surprise that a lot of us are suffering from a lack of energy and feeling tired all the time!
We’re currently going through a bit of an energy crisis in the UK. More and more of us are juggling conflicting priorities, the lines between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred and whilst technology can be a great enabler, it can also form a source of distraction and angst. No wonder a recent survey showed that only 56% of UK employees feel energised at work.
When we’re busy, it can be much harder to prioritise focussing on our own health. However, small changes can make a huge difference overall. Here are some simple strategies you can introduce to help improve your energy levels. Continue reading →
Grandparents can play a wonderful role in children’s lives and they make a unique contribution to families. They can bring love, support, perspective, fun, free time and an extra pair of hands or listening ear. But relationships between parents and grandparents can also be fraught. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel judged, undermined or intruded upon by grandparents’ family interactions. And if you are lucky enough to have them close by, managing grandparents can become an ongoing challenge.
Here’s my quick guide to managing grandparents, common conflicts and how to resolve them.
Being a step-parent means occupying a unique place in a child’s life. Every step-parenting situation is different and there are no exact rules on how to get it right. Lots of step-parents experience contradictory emotions about their role, and that’s ok. There will be times when things go well and times when things go badly. Here are a few step-parenting tips to keep you going forward, no matter what.
Have realistic expectations
Step-parenting and blended families can be very messy. There are lots of people involved, all with their own needs and sensitivities and all carrying their own hurts and trigger points. So expect lots of bumps. Forget about the fairy tales and be pragmatic. Nothing about parenting is ever perfect, and for step-parenting that’s one hundred times more true!
Take it slowly. Allow the relationships to develop slowly. Don’t expect your step-children to love you (or even like you!) to start with. Keep trying to find ways to connect but understand that those bonds will take time to grow. You can’t make them happen. Continue reading →
I woke up this morning with a hideous cold so today feels like exactly the right day to be writing about self-care ideas for busy parents. When you are a parent (especially a working parent), it’s easy for stress to get the better of you. We often deprioritise our own relaxation and wellbeing because there is simply so much to do and so little time. We can feel guilty taking time out for ourselves. And the people around us forget to help because they get used to us always helping them.
But, ultimately, neglecting self-care is self-defeating. Because that ‘To Do’ list really is neverending (there will always be something left on it). And when we don’t look after ourselves, we quickly deplete our resources for looking after others and for being the calm consistent parent we aspire to be. Stress negatively impacts parenting and by deprioritising ourselves, we make everything harder not easier.
I’m not suggesting that you take a whole weekend off or head off for a spa day (though that would definitely be nice!). Even just tiny bits of self-care time can a big difference. Looking after yourself is about small daily choices and little snippets of time rather than just occasional big breaks. Here’s a selection of 5-60 minute simple self-care ideas for busy parents. Continue reading →
Parenting is not something that anyone gets completely right. Like everything else, we learn how to do it by getting it wrong. (Just, hopefully, not too wrong). And there are some common traps that parents frequently fall into – I call these parenting holes. All parents fall into a parenting hole at some point or other.
One of these parenting holes is parenting on autopilot. When you are physically there but your mind is well and truly on other things. Present, but absent.
Maybe you are in the house but just too busy with other things to interact with your child. Maybe you are at the park, even pushing your child on a swing, but your head is in your phone and you’re not really listening to anything your child says. Or maybe you are just tired. Or locked inside your own head and worries. You are physically present, but you are not in any meaningful way available to your children. You are parenting on autopilot. Continue reading →
He just doesn’t listen! She just won’t do as she’s asked! Getting children to co-operate can be utterly infuriating. But when it comes to encouraging co-operation, there are some really simple things parents can do to get children to listen and do what they’re told (well, most of the time).
Here are my top tips.
Time your requests well
Young children have a strong inner urge to play. Play is their most important developmental task because play is how they learn and grow their brains. Play is serious business in a young child’s world! So asking them to stop playing and come and do something less interesting instead is always going to leave the odds stacked against you.
Try to time your requests so that they coincide with a lull in play or the end of a game. Signal in advance that there is only have a short time left for playing so that your child gets used to the idea. For example, give a five minute warning that after this game, we are going to the shops. It won’t work every time, but it does increase the chance of co-operation. Especially if you can present the new activity as something potentially fun! Continue reading →
There are lots of business theories about the science of team building. My favourite (mainly due to its simplicity) is the GRPI model. According to this model, in order for a team to be effective, it needs these four elements:
The GRPI Model of Team Effectiveness Rubin Plovnick Fry Model 1977
Goals, priorities and expectations which are clearly communicated
Roles and responsibilities for every team member
Processes and procedures for making decisions and getting the work done
Interpersonal relationships which are high quality, trusting and flexible
Families are a lot like teams. At their best, families have a unique team spirit which creates a sense of belonging and unity and shared goals.
At their worst, it feels like everybody is pulling in different directions, one person is doing all the work and everyone is arguing all the time….
Which got me thinking. What could we learn from business to help family team building in our own homes? Continue reading →
Change can be difficult for children. Children’s life experiences are much more limited than ours so they may not have learnt strategies for facing change confidently. And they often don’t have the reassurance of remembering previous occasions when they have faced big changes and adapted successfully. Young children, especially, thrive on predictability so can be stressed by even minor changes to their routine (see Helping children cope with change). Reading story books to help children cope with change can offer reassurance that change is ok and help start conversations about how children are feeling.
Here are my recommendations for reassuring and conversation-starting books to help children cope with change: Continue reading →
Is it just me who finds the consumer-focused gifts galore side of Christmas a bit dispiriting? Maybe I’m a bit of a Grinch, but I don’t believe the magic of Christmas is bought with a credit card. In my experience, all that present-buying and over-consumption can actively get in the way of the Christmas spirit. So, this year, I challenge you to give your children presence (not just presents) for Christmas.
What does that involve? It means not prioritising present sourcing, buying or wrapping over spending time with your children. It means not slaving in the kitchen for hours at the expense of relaxing with your children. It means slowing down and tuning in for some high quality family time.
Possessing an excessive quantity of toys and gadgets is not good for children. It isn’t number of toys that drives child development or wellbeing. Making up games from string and cardboard boxes is what’s good for children!
And stopping, chilling out and playing with children is good for parents too. Spending Christmas manically trying to meet unrealistic expectations is stressful. And stressed-out parents are less tolerant and more likely to snap – hardly conducive for the Christmas spirit!
So this year, take the easy route. Don’t compete for the best dressed Christmas award. Say no to that invitation. Buy the brussels sprouts precooked and just heat them up. Take short cuts that mean you can sit down with your children and play with them. Or snuggle up for a Christmas movie. Prioritise presence over presents. Spend time in the present moment with your children rather than fretting your time away buying stocking-fillers (and dreading the bill afterwards).
Here are a few ideas for how you can give the gift of time to your children this year. Continue reading →
Boredom is good for children because it stimulates curiosity and fires the imagination. At its best, boredom is a creative state that leads to new ideas and new play. And we know that good quality play drives children’s development and builds intelligence.
But boredom is good for children only when it results in children using their imagination to rise to the challenge of boredom. If they always turn on the TV or reach for tech as an easy chewing-gum boredom filler, then that spark of imagination is lost.
Imagination is vital for children of all ages. It stimulates children to explore their environment in new ways, which in turn leads to learning and skills development. Imagination also enhances social skills – after all, empathy is really just the ability to imagine being in someone else’s shoes.
And, because imagination is an internal resource – a habit of mind – it is something that children need to develop through practice and repetition. Adults providing imaginative activities for children is never as effective as children inventing their own.
Here’s how parents can harness the power of boredom to support children’s development: Continue reading →
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 →
Very few working parents use the same skills set at work as they need at home. Work skills tend to be task-focused and efficiency-driven. Whereas children need emotionally attuned parents who are curious and playful and empathetic. Developing good transition routines between work and home and learning how to switch successfully from ‘work mode’ to ‘parent mode’ is essential.
Good transition routines help working parents to:
let go of work stress
park work worries and thoughts until the next day
refocus on family issues
arrive home ready for the joys and challenges of a family evening
Being a calm consistent parent after a long day at work isn’t easy. Good parenting means standing your ground when children push at boundaries, firm but fair. It involves tuning in to your child, making decisions they don’t like, and managing your own emotions in the face of a child who has not yet mastered theirs. That is a big ask at the end of a long working day when you only have an hour to spend with your child and school has already filled that hour with homework.
Good transition routines between work and home can be the difference between starting the evening ready to snap and walking into the house relaxed and resourced for the family evening ahead.
Here are my top tips for developing good transition routines that work for you: Continue reading →
When you watch children playing, it is impossible not to be struck by how completely engaged and absorbed they are by what they are doing. Play is the epitome of mindfulness – being 100% in the moment and just going with the flow. Being truly present, without reservation, both in our actions and in our emotions. Children do it all the time.
When was the last time you felt truly in the present moment like that?
There has been a lot of theorising about how mindfulness can improve mental health and emotional wellbeing. Typical mindfulness activities include breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. But, as parents, one of the most valuable ways we can enter an engaged and relaxing flow is through playing with our children.
Now, I don’t mean the type of playing where parents are in charge. Not the type of play where you tell your child what to do or control the activity. I mean joint and reciprocal play where you are both equal and feed off each other’s ideas and signals. Like children do together.
The type of play where you tune into each other, suspend your typical roles and have real fun. Continue reading →