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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A ghost in my heart

Last night Sprout wouldn't go to bed. We ran through the usual list, a glass of water, an extra cuddle, a bit more chatting, a promise to come back in ten minutes. Eventually winding up at the usual place - a firm no. You must stay in bed, because it's late, end of story.

The whole routine is exhausting. For him and also for me. It's a repetative push-me-pull-me affair. In the closing scene I usually sit on the top step on the landing and wait it out, while he sits in bed and waits it out. When the soft sounds of him snoring arrive, I sneak in for a last goodnight kiss then get on with my evening routine.

But last night he crept out one more time, to tell me that a ghost was inside his heart. A ghost that kept knocking on it, making him feel sad, dissapointed, angry and alone.

Oosh. It was one of those moments I don't know what to do with, because instantly the ghost was inside my heart too - making me feel sad, disappointed, angry and alone with all the worry and work of parenting to do by myself. So we just sat there on the stair together in silence for a little bit, having a contemplative cuddle.

I had written on my hand earlier in the day, 'respond, don't react'. (Every now and then I need a little more than just a mantra, so I actually carry around the words I need written on me in plain sight.) With another tight cuddle, I squeezed that ghost right out of my little Sprout and told him it's ok, give me the ghost. He can live with me instead.

There will always be moments that slay you as a parent, they come out of nowhere, then just as fast they are gone. Some are happy and joyful, some are shocking. Some are so unbearably sad you can't possibly prepare yourself. Letting these moments go as easily and smoothly as they arrive is a skill I'm still mastering, but it's part of my commitment to respond and not react to life (and kids!).

As it happens, one sleep later, I'm glad that little ghost popped in for a visit because he has spurred me on in a new direction. The whispers in my little Sprouts heart have shown me where and how to develop my coaching practice this year. In October I'll be taking some extra training with Connected Kids to become a mindfulness and meditation practitioner for children. I will learn how to teach children to quiet their own hearts and minds, to feel good, calm, centred, and full of hope and happiness. Of all the things parents ask me about, supporting their children to feel consistently calm and happy is top of the list. I am so excited! It's going to be a wonderful complement to my work with lone parents and a bonus skill for me as a mum at home. Thanks, little Sprout for the nudge.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Borrow a penguin

I have a bold and outreageous dream for my family, myself, and women like me. It is technicolour, beautiful, and saturated with love. We have adventures and do incredibly brave things, celebrating all the wonderful and courageous people that we are.

I am beginning to manifest this dream. I want to share with you how.

When I first imagined my life as a lone mother, the bit that stuck out was being alone. I thought I would be somewhere between a tiger mother and a wrung out dishcloth hanging in the wind keeping it all together.  In the fullness of time, I've learned that we are never alone. With the blessings of friends, grandparents, wider family, my incredibly powerful coaches (Simon, Derek, Averil, I salute you!) and colleagues I have discovered that loneliness is not the whole story of being a Lone Parent. It plays a part, and I have blogged about that too. But the whole story is something much more wonderful.

It began with a vision. I didn't know how to create one, so I borrowed a penguin.

Ok, not a real penguin.

I borrowed the tools to make a vision from someone who knew how to make one (in my case, my inspriational first coach, Simon). Back in 2012, still pregnant, before my feet hit the ground - in fact when I still couldn't even see my feet - as a lone parent, I drafted a dream of the life we were going to live. I was bodacious, outrageous, crazy! I dreamed of a huge house and a business that made my heart sing. I dreamed of a partner I could love and pictured myself as powerful, healthy and strong. Back in 2012 that vision was as comforting as it was compelling. Today, I find it extraordinary.

In the midst of the crazy, I created a detailed, annotated, powerful vision of our future life. I believed in that life. I made it real in my imagination. At the time I didn't know anything about the Law of Attraction or manifestation of things through thought. I probably would have looked at you askance if you'd used those words to tell the truth. But here I sit, with that original document in my hands. A3, covered in pencil scrawls and coloured in (I had time on my hands back then!). As I run my fingers over those wild and crazy dreams I can count how many I have achieved. Here I am in the city I declared I would live in, in a house I described, my children living a life I dreamed of for them. I am even dating the man I dreamed of (more on that later for the curious).

I have called this life to me through my actions. I know I am responsible for much of what we have because I have worked bloody hard to create it. I have relentlessly worked for it to tell the truth! And I am glad. Because the lessons I have learned along the way have been so important. Now that I have educated myself about the Law of Attraction, I firmly believe that it is still all woo-hippy wishing on a star if you miss out the 'participate relentlessly' bit of manifestation. Work AND Believe. Then you achieve.

I am telling you this story because I just set a new intention and I want to invite you along for the ride. This is the year I take my hard earned expertise into the world and offer it up to you. I'm officially launching myself as the Lone Parent Life Coach. There will be a whole range of ways you can work with me to manifest your own awesome reality. From the comfort of your own home, via my ecourse, right the way through to a year long bespoke personal life transformation. My work with families in the children's centres here will continue as the Social Enterprise arm of my business.

Take a moment to breathe in whatever YOUR dream is. Close your eyes and make the image as real and beautiful as the memory of breathing in your little baby's hair. Immerse yourself as completely as you can in the memory of the first time you touched their tiny hand. Know the moment of your success as intimately as you know your most perfect moments and memories that went before. Release the doubt and fear with the breath you exhale. You will never know what you can create until you try! Find your penguins, my friends. The people who can help you draw from 'real life'. And then transcend it.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

H.O.P.E - Hold On, Pain Ends.

I am wrapped up in a blanket on my sofa. Cello music is playing from my speakers. I’ve eaten a little bit (ok quite a lot) of chocolate, and I am writing – one of my favourite things to do. Everything about this is comforting. I feel safe.

There are few things more important than having a place of safety to retreat into. Somewhere you can watch the rain falling outside, knowing that in your haven, you will stay warm and dry. Somewhere to go where the bad stuff can’t get to you. A door you can close on the world. The place where your heart feels peaceful and all your needs are met. They say an Englishman’s home is his castle. Mine is a fort made out of my sofa, and it rocks.

Recently, I’ve been asked how to create a sense of safety for children whose home environment has been shattered by a terrible thing. For children who possibly don’t have a sofa fort they can hide in with their mum or dad. It’s a very hard question to answer, but I’ve given my top practical tips in detail on my coaching blog.

Perhaps the terrible thing is the loss of a parent. Perhaps the child has witnessed something traumatic that no child should see. Perhaps their home has disappeared from beneath their feet because their parent has had to move them somewhere new. Perhaps the terrible thing isn’t over yet, with the constant threat of more bad stuff hanging over their head.

They may have two amicable co-parents struggling through the grief of separation together. Or they may have parents who are in such pain through their relationship breakdown that they cannot communicate with each other at all. Whatever it is that has snuffed out a child’s sense of safety, it is a terrible thing indeed. And we parents know it when we see it. Believe me, we do.

There are no easy answers for a parent who is feeling frightened, ill-equipped to cope or who has been hurt by life themselves. When you feel unsafe, it is a feat of tremendous strength to become a place of safety for your dependent children. When I stand in front of a parent who asks me ‘how do I talk to my child about this?’ or ‘How can I help them stop hurting?’ invariably, hurt and fear is what I see in the parents eyes too.

Give yourself permission to be hurting. It’s ok. I promise. The pain will end. It will end faster, when you give yourself permission to come undone and cry. Tears won’t break you into a million little pieces, they will just help to wash away the pain. Sometimes that release of emotion is the most powerful gift you can give yourself in the moment. Your children will learn more from your unraveling and honest rebuilding than they ever could from watching you pretend that life is A.O.K. If it isn’t, let them know. If they need to cry and it moves you to tears, cry together. Hold them. Listen. Love them.  Don’t lean on them as if they are adult, but let them know that adults get scared too. There are no bad feelings, only big ones. Welcome them all into your family and I promise you – even the big feelings will pass, in time.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Child of the universe

The Desiderata has been framed and hung on my wall at home since long before I had children. The timeless advice has often soothed me when I feel wounded, frightened or sad. Nevertheless, even when I hang something right in my eyeline, there are days I don't see it. If you've never read it, I'd encourage you to go check it out. There are lots of lovely messages contained in it, the quote below is just one of them.

As you know, the universe has been unfolding lately in ways I find a bit challenging. Accepting that this is 'as it should be' has been a struggle. Unfortunately, my frustration (and I'm hoping a fair few of you can relate) displays itself by unravelling my patience, prompting a lack of trust in others, and the desire to assert myself a little more than necessary. Which isn't fun if you happen to be one of the people around me. 

The trouble is, the people around me are the ones I most love. 

I've noticed that when I feel fear and disconnection, it is the people who I most love that I need to lean in towards and ask for help and nurture from. But it is the nature of fear and disconnection to make that a terribly hard thing to do. I trip over myself, and now and then (to my dismay) find I have unleashed a flight or (even worse) a fight reaction rather than using the responsible, considered, compassionate and respectful communication I intend. I know that the only option, in the aftermath of a day like that, is to look for a conscious reconnection. 

A reconnection is possible when I can apologise to the person I hurt, forgive myself, and move on. But finding the courage to do that is sometimes harder than I imagined it would be. In the words of a coach and writer I admire very much, you must Dare Greatly to allow your vulnerability to be seen. 

I've been interested in gentle parenting, connection parenting and various similar ethos for some time. One of the principle ideals behind these philosophies is to model for our children the kind of people we would like them to be. By which I mean, if we wish to raise respectful, gentle, kind, empathetic children, we ought to make sure that's how we behave ourselves. And if we haven't managed to be the kind of person who acts that way all the time (after all, we are human) that we teach them how to apologise and take responsibility for themselves by being willing to do the same. 

What I am learning is that being this kind of person isn't just an ideal, it's a spiritual path. To get there and become not only the parent I would like to be, but the person I want to be, I need to invest of myself and truly embody the ideas all the time. It's obvious that I  can't be that kind of parent if I'm not that kind of partner, lover, friend, daughter, or colleague. There's no way I can teach my kids to be that kind of awesome on a part time basis. And it isn't easy. It's not like you just wake up one day and decide to be "gentle". Stuff happens, you get pissed off, you lose your temper. You get scared. You feel alone. 

That's when habit kicks in. I don't have a whole heap of "gentle" habits, I can tell you. I work all hours of the day and night, I eat crap, I binge watch Netflix when the kids crash and I'm all burned up from a hectic day. Most days I admit, I am lazy with looking after myself, and that sucks. I want my kids to grow up with deep self-love so they can show that kind of depth to the ones they fall IN love with. I think it's about time I showed myself a little bit more of the kind of nurture and compassion I expect from myself towards others. 

So I'm making a commitment to myself to be more loving, more gentle, and more kind. Specifically, to actually do a daily practice with yoga (I'm curently on my Foundation course with a view to possibly teaching someday) and to get enough sleep. If any of this resonates with you, please share in the comments what you need to do to cultivate gentle habits in your life as well - perhaps we can help each other to keep them up! 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Kid, you'll move mountains!

I spent all day on Tuesday crying. Serious snot and tears - the kind of leaky eyes you can't turn off. Sounds like something terrible must have happened, right? But it didn't, not really. Sprout just went to school.

'Just'. What a deceptive little word! There was nothing small or simple about sending my not-so-little son off to school. I thought I managed quite well really, after all - I managed to walk him to the door, and leave before I cried. I held it together while he lost it and made sure he had his Baa-baa (the grotty old toy sheep he's adored since birth) clasped tight when Bean and I left. I even managed not to cry while Bean had a wailing tantrum about being separated from his 'best friend in the world and life'.

But my eyes betrayed me barely an hour later, sitting in a cold church hall at our local toddler group. Despite battling valiantly to hold back the flood, those determined tears started leaking out all over the place and I had to admit defeat. I was truly, truly sad. Hunkering down with Bean on the playmat, I asked him solemnly whether it was ok for us to go.

Looking up at me and considering the situation carefully, Bean replied, 'We go to Nana's house?' Sensible boy.

There are days when a support network make all the difference. My parents have been a cushion, a safety net, a sounding board and a home for us over the past three years. Even though the boys and I no longer live with Nana and Grampa they are a huge part of our family life. We all know that when the going gets tough, it's time for a cuppa with them. Even Bean, who's only two!

Sprout going to school has hothoused some very complicated feelings for me over the past 9 months. I deferred his place back in September, hoping against hope I would be able to find a way to carve out time to home-educate him. I am a passionate advocate of 'education otherwise' - all the various ways you can school a child without actually sending them to school. Since before he was born, I've anticipated doing something alternative with him and his brother when the time came. Well, it's come. And I have to accept that right now, I am not in a position to give either of them the time and attention they deserve to be unschooled, or home schooled, for now.

As the tide of emotion subsides, I have been reflecting on what sending the boys to school means to me and my sense of who I am as a parent. The funny thing about parenting is that no matter what you do, there's a hell of a lot of compromise involved. The parent I imagined I would be sure as hell isn't the parent I've turned out to be. Some of that is the oddness of life, happening to us. Some of it is simply realising I am not entirely cut from the tie-dye hippy cloth I would like to be. Some of it is the parenting I had as a child escaping out from inside me. It's not a question of blame or fault, it just is.

Not that I was able to see that in the moment. To tell the truth, I slipped into resentment and anger almost as soon as I started to cry. It was easy to blame my lone-parent status for having to let go of my dream of unschooling the boys. Just as they both wailed 'it's not fair!' to me, my heart cried back 'it's not fair' in reply. I stamped my feet and hot, frustrated tears streamed down my face. This isn't the life I planned. Why me? Ahem - well, why not me? There is no guarantee that being a two-parent family would have handed me my dream lifestyle on a platter. In fact, a brief assessment of reality suggests it never would or could have been that way. 

Life is good. There, I said it. I'm off the pitty-potty and pulling those big girl pants back up (yet again). Actually, three days in, it's great. Bean is thrilled to be the centre of attention. He went swimming all by himself with Nana today. His bright eyed breathless excitement about it all took me straight back to the two year old days of Sprout learning to swim with his Dad. The odd wrench of it not being me who gets to teach him (this time it's work that has stood in our way) but the same 'guess how much I love you' realisation that this is a wonderful time to be two. To be loved. To grow. As for Sprout, he read - yes, actually read - a book to me tonight. Sounding out every single word on the page letter by letter until he worked out each word by himself. There's no question he is hungry to learn. He was thrilled with PE (hula hoops and pretend crocodiles, the joy!). He has made friends with lots of kids. He seems to have grown up overnight into a proper boy, all traces of pre-school wiped out. He comes home sweaty, smiley and full of chatter about the adventure he is on. 

It is safe to say that today is their day, all that remains is for me to get out of their way.  

Friday, 3 April 2015

When in doubt, choose Joy

Some days I feel like I’m doing it all wrong. I’m exhausted. I’m working too hard. I’m not working enough. I feel like there is no time to be gentle, or social, or kind. I get shouty, I give too may ‘uh-huh, in-a-minute, just-a-second’ replies to my kids. And then the day is over. The house is quiet, and I feel terribly alone.

Those days are hard to find joy, I know.

Loneliness is one of the benchmarks of lone parenting and it’s a hard one to describe to those who aren’t in the tribe.

It’s hard to explain how it is possible to feel truly alone in a house full of sleeping people. The crushing weight of responsibility you feel when there is another bill, another job to do, or something that needs fixing that you don’t know how to do. And in the moment it needs to be done – there is nobody to call. Nobody coming home at 6pm to open a bottle of wine to go with dinner, and give you a cuddle and listen to all the crazy things you’re thinking before you divide up the jobs and tackle them as a team.

I know I am not the only lone parent who has days like these, because nowadays I work with many parents like me. Not to mention, I have a whole bunch of amazing lone parent friends too. I know that we need to talk about the tough stuff and be real with each other, because it’s only in the honesty that we can find the joy and the laughter again.

Lately I have had to refuse to meet my friends because I have too much work to do, or no sitter, or no cash. This is not a sob story or a pity party – it is a simple fact of being at the helm of a single parent family, sometimes there simply isn’t enough of me to go around. If you’re a lone parent, I know that you will have been there too. You know how isolating it can feel.

It is inside these moments of challenge, where you’re peering out of the trenches, thinking ‘dear god when will this END?’ that I’ve found my gratitude practices have literally transformed my experience of life. This week has been pretty terrible financially, and as a result I’ve had to grit my teeth, put my big girl pants on and just deal with the messiness of life.

It’s also been pretty epic for me and my kids. Big stuff is happening in our world. Sprout is starting school, I am launching new business products, Sprout and Bean and I have been out adventuring in the forest celebrating Spring Equinox with our favourite people. This is the good stuff. I don’t want it to be swallowed up by the teeth gritty me who has to be in charge. I am braver than that. I am happier than that. I promised myself to remember those things, for the three of us. 

So just to be sure that I’m noticing where the joy is in our lives I’m going to share with you my gratitudes for the week that just passed.

1)   Sleeping with beautiful Bean on the sofa for an hour. At two and a half, he is so feisty and bold and full of adventure that naps rarely happen any more. Feeling the weight of his sleeping body and the warmth of his cheeks against mine while he breathes slowly and softly on my chest. Such a gift, and one of those moments I sink into. They fill me up and renew me, from the inside out.
2)   Dressing four year old Sprout in his school uniform for the first time, practicing for when he starts reception class full time after Easter holiday. Seeing his pride and excitement about being a grown up boy, with his own identity outside of our home. Knowing I’ve done what I can to help him take this step with confidence.
3)   Sitting in my kitchen with the adult colouring book I was given for mothers day. Colouring in beautiful mandala patterns instead of watching TV, drinking in the silence while the boys sleep in the early evening and the sun sets behind the garden wall.
4)   Careering around in the blazing sunshine with my kids on Spring Equinox. Watching Sprout go porridge jousting (don’t ask!) and Bean playing among the daffodils.
5)   Being asked what love is made of by Sprout. Telling him it is made of happiness, only to be told that his happiness lives in me – so I must be made of love. Absolutely gorgeous (and a moment to hang on to in between the strops and stresses of a normal day!).

I am not made of stone, and the teeth-gritty days happen to me just as often as they do to other parents, I’m sure. But I will always, always be glad of the opportunity to be a parent in the midst of it all.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Carry your grief lightly

I came back to this blog today. There is a story inside me that I want to tell, and lifting the lid on these pages, I realised that I had already begun to write it. I don't want to pick a new beginning point, it began when it began. So I am sure it will continue, as most stories do, with a new chapter (no need for another Title page).

It's quite a leap forward of course, from where I left off. Bean is no longer a baby, and Sprout - well, he's sprouted! In the turning of the years (three now, and the world is still moving) since our life tipped upside down, I have changed immeasurably. I have grown (and happily, also shrunk a little!) in many ways. I am now a coach, as I planned. Not for young people, although I did dip my toe in those waters in the early days. 

I am a Leadership Coach for Lone Parents. Women like me, and perhaps like you. 

It is one of the inevitabilities of the story of a life, that the chapter I left you with last time, has morphed into a prologue to my now. At the time, it felt like the bear hunt was all consuming - so much to get through! So much thick, oozy mud. But I have to remember, 'We're going on a bear hunt' is a children's book, after all. The pages pass much more quickly than you think they will and someday, you outgrow it. 

I'm resurrecting this blog, to tell a new story. I may also fill in a few of the gaps for those of you who might want to know what happened in the unspoken spaces. 

But before I do I want to share a reflection I had today about the nature of grief. It changes the view, as much as it changes you. Despite the distance gained from your loss it will always remain there, a landmark around which you orient yourself. The grief inevitably becomes a point on your internal compass - although I don't allow it to become my North. 

I think I always knew, from the very beginning of the bear hunt, that I wasn't experiening grief for losing the love of my life. The second I recognised him for who he actually was, the love was gone. extinguished as swiftly and completely as a candle wick pressed between fingertips. It burned a little, but left no lasting mark. 

The grief that has stayed with me, the grief I have learned to carry lightly, is for the imagined life I lost. The Disney story of happily ever after. The dream of a together family for my children to thrive in - the Mummy and Daddy story I told myself I would be starring in. That's not our story. Snuffing out the fire that burned in me for the belonging I wanted to feel - that burned. That scarred. That hurt. 

In as real a way as I carry a c-section scar, I carry a d-day scar. You can't see it, and I don't show it off (well, who wants to see scars like that in real life?) but it's there. Now and then I run my fingers over it, just to see if the lines have changed shape or faded a little. It's still here. I still feel it. Occasionally, it still hurts. But I live with it, and truthfully, I don't think I could imagine being me without it now. It is one of my edges, part of me just as honestly as my curves and softness.