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 parent = 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.
Sibling conflict can really spoil family time. Constant bickering or relentless competitiveness can really wear on parents’ nerves. Yes, there are parenting strategies you can use to tackle rivalry between siblings (see Sibling conflict: a survival guide for parents), but sometimes a more subtle approach is useful too. Like snuggling up with story books about sibling rivalry and seeing where the conversation leads you. Using children’s books to tackle sibling rivalry helps children think more deeply and independently about relationships, about how other people feel and how to manage their emotions. Here’s my list of the best children’s books about sibling rivalry.
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 →
A key principle of positive parenting is noticing the good stuff and trying to make a bit more of it happen. For children, this can have a truly transformative effect. When parents notice what their children are getting right (rather than focusing just on what they are getting wrong), children tend to do more of that good behaviour. They get more stuff right, a virtuous circle. But focusing on the positives also has a powerful effect on parents too. When we look for what our children are doing well, we notice more and more of what they are doing well. Our viewpoint becomes a little rosier and we become more content and satisfied with our children and ourselves. Practising positive parenting makes you happier.
Positive psychology is all about understanding what makes life feel worthwhile so that we can do more of it. It focuses on positive experiences, states and traits and asks how we can create more of these in our lives to optimise our wellbeing and happiness. Sounds simple, doesn’t it! But positive psychology becomes a bit trickier when it comes to parenting. Because parenting is not just about the feelgood factor. Parents have a responsibility to help children learn the skills they need to be successful adults. And that inevitably involves setting boundaries and responding when children get it wrong. Parents can easily get sucked into focusing too much on children’s misbehaviour. And that’s when parenting slips into a negative rut of constant battling, shouting and cajoling. Which is a very miserable place to be. 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 →
I recently took part in some research on what adults think are the best toys to buy for children. Unsurprisingly, Lego was considered the top ‘classic toy’ that all children should have. Play Doh came out second highest (which was a bit of a shocker as so many parents curse it for getting into the carpet!). In general, bikes, puzzles, board games and balls were considered the top types of toys that all children should have. Which is not a bad list.
Children’s books are jam-packed with gender stereotypes. Boys play football, fight dragons, get into trouble and marry princesses. If you want to offer the boys in your life a slightly wider choice of role models, it’s a good idea to seek out books which go against the grain. Especially if they are feeling a bit of an odd-one-out.
Here’s my selection of brilliant books that offer diverse male role models and emphasise the positives in taking a different route from everyone else.
Have you read any Young Adult fiction recently? Because, seriously, YA fiction is where it’s all happening. Strong characters, gripping plots, imaginative worldscapes – the best YA books are packed with all the juiciest elements of fiction. Perfect for inspiring teenage daughters to take on life at full tilt. Here’s my pick of the best!
(Obviously, all these books can be read by boys too. I just think that these particular books have strong female characters with the kind of bravery and resourcefulness that I would wish for every teenage girl to carry her through to adulthood and beyond.)Continue reading →
If you want to help kids become independent, the principle of minimal assistance is a great motto to parent by. It’s a neat way of ensuring your child gets as little or as much help as they need to learn a new skill. When kids learn to do things for themselves, they feel good about themselves (and you have one less thing to do!).
On the scale of parental assistance, doing a task for your child counts as maximum assistance. Leaving them to get on with it unaided is zero assistance (or full independence). So far, so simple.
The difficulties arise when faced with a task that your child hasn’t yet mastered. Or a complex task that has lots of stages. Like washing your own hair, for example. If your daughter can’t yet wash her hair but you just leave her to get on with it, there is a good chance of an unsuccessful (or uncomfortable) outcome. Shampoo in her eyes, knots and tangles, water on the floor or still dirty hair, to name a few! But take over and do it for her and she will never learn to do it for herself. This is where the principle of minimal assistance comes in.
The principle of minimal assistance is a way to help kids become independent by giving them only the amount of help they actually need in order to learn a new or complex task. Here’s how to do it: Continue reading →
One of the things I encourage parents to do is to see parenting as a relationship between a parent and a child rather than as a one-way activity. That means focusing on building a good relationship with your child and tuning in to how they communicate. Seeing parenting as a two-way relationship not only enriches family life, it opens us up to understanding the influence of children’s innate personalities.
Modern parents like to think we’re very important. The fashion for blaming parents for how children turn out – or indeed giving credit to parents when kids do well – leads us to believe that we really matter in our children’s lives. That we are the deciding factor. That if we parent ‘right’ then our kids will turn out great. That way of thinking supposes that 1) we can choose how we parent and 2) our kids are totally shaped by their environment. It tends to forget that there is a child in the mix with their own unique fixed set of variables.
Now, there is most definitely evidence from quality research that certain parenting styles and strategies are associated with good outcomes for children. But, equally, there is clear evidence that the genetic factors that predispose children to certain personality traits are also influential on kids’ long term outcomes. Both nature and nurture are at play and parents are only part of the picture. Continue reading →
What parents ultimately want for their children is a long and happy life. We want our young teens to sail into adulthood feeling confident and acquiring all the necessary skills they need before they fly the nest to chase their dreams. But the reality of this aim, as a parent, can be something quite different. “Easier said than done”, doesn’t really cover it! It’s so common for life to get in the way, and to suddenly realise that all those things that you meant to accomplish with your 10, 11, 12-year-old are still pending – but they are now 17, 18, 19 and literally about to leave home.
There are lots of life lessons that we as parents really want to be responsible for teaching children. You want to impart the benefits of your experience and your core family values to them so that they really know the difference between right and wrong, and the wisest choices to make within the context of your lives. However, there are also myriad life lessons and skills that you can leave to someone or something else.
Working with sporting parents has shown me what a valuable experience an involvement in sport can offer young people. There are so many skills that can be gleaned on the field of play which need just a small amount of parental guidance to make them real life-shaping attributes. Continue reading →
A client recently asked me to recommend books she could read with her little one about going back to work. But I could only think of one book. I can recommend lots of books for helping children cope with change in general, and lots of books about issues in children’s lives (like starting school and making friends) but I couldn’t think of any storybooks for children about working mums. So I decided to do some research.
It didn’t take long to work out that a) there are not many books out there on this topic and b) that’s probably because it’s a complete minefield. After all, merely the act of writing a storybook about mums going to work presupposes that this is unusual or problematic, that it will cause issues for children that need to be dealt with. There are no books about dads going to work so why should there be storybooks for children about working mums? Mums work, end of story.
Indeed, the one book that does jump out on this topic (My Working Mom by Peter Glassman)has been widely vilified as insulting and offensive. The working mum character in this book is a witch who is either never there or turns up late and generally fails in all her child’s wishes and expectations (though the moral of the story is that her daughter loves her anyway). Do check out the reviews on Amazon if you fancy a bile fest!
But, having said that, the fact that a client had asked me to recommend something suggests that there is a need for storybooks that will prompt conversations with young children about the world of work and why adults go to work. Children are often baffled about what we do all day! And when things aren’t going well, due to separation anxiety or childcare issues for example, it’s easy to turn on the guilt and get trapped into emotional messages. Having a storybook to frame some blame-free conversations might really help sometimes. Continue reading →
It’s easy to forget how little teenagers know about the world. Partly because they look so grown up and partly because they have that know-it-all attitude. But, in reality, they are only half emerged from the cocoon of childhood where parents did everything for them.
I was reminded of this remarkable lack of real-world knowledge a few weeks back when my teenager got a cheque from his Grandmother. When the cheque fell out of the birthday card, he picked it up and looked at me with that “I have no idea what this is” look on his face.
It wasn’t the first time he’d received a cheque. When they were younger, Grandma used to send cheques addressed to me and I would deposit them in my account and give the kids cash in return. Last year, Grandma had a bit of a senior moment and forgot to post a card in time. So I texted her my son’s newly opened bank account details and she did a quick bank transfer instead.
This year, she wrote the cheque out directly to my son. And he looked at it, completely blankly. “What do I do with this?” he asked. Continue reading →