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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Patient, peaceful parenting

Have you ever read about peaceful, gentle or connection parenting and thought "Pfft! In your dreams lady!" while you pick cereal out of your hair and regard your prostrate toddler on the kitchen floor? I know I have.

The dream of peaceful parenting, and being a zen, patient mother did seem pretty unrealistic to me at first. Ok I'll admit it, there are days when it seems pretty unrealistic still. But here's some stuff I've learned about peaceful parenting that I'd like to share with you. If you're wondering how to achieve that beautiful, loving connection with your children that you read about, and this magical land of 'no punishment parenting' this blog post is for you.

Listen up LP's especially, you don't need a house-elf, fairy godmother or other magical being to make this a reality in your home. Seriously, it's easier than you might think!

OK I hear you. It's daunting. So let's start by breaking it down. What even is 'Peaceful Parenting'?

Here's a basic run-down:

If you want to explore the theory more, there's a great site all about Peaceful Parenting here.

1) Parenting without punishment (a mysterious concept for many parents at first)
2) Clear communication, boundaries and limits (the holy grail in my house)
3) Mutual problem solving (yes, even a toddler can do it - honest!)
4) Role modelling for your child (ahh, do as I do, not as I say. A bit of honest self-reflection required here my lovelies).
5) Meeting your child's emotional needs (recognising them first helps)
6) Meeting your own emotional needs (should this really be last on the list?)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say number 6 should be number 1 in the priorities. What I've learned as I've travelled the bumpy road towards a more peaceful and gentle home, is that when I'm out of whack, life is out of whack. If I'm unhappy, I am also likely to have a firecracker fuse, be prone to over-reactions and generally quite un-peaceful. 

So what does it take to be a peaceful parent, on the inside? For me, it takes time and space to be the best version of myself. I need to be able to meet myself as a friend and someone I actually like. When I have friendly thoughts about myself and can appreciate all my own good points, I'm much more able to share that person with the world. So if you really don't like yourself much right now, start with fixing that first. Here are some questions I really had to think about when I reset my parenting buttons...

Do you like who you are as a person? 
Would you want to hang out with yourself right now? 
Do you know what makes you happy, sad, or angry? 
Can you step away from your personal drama enough to laugh about it and have a sense of perspective yet?

If you answered "no" to any of those questions, (and I did, not so long ago) I hear you. It's hard. It's sure as hell not a peaceful place to be. But it can change. And when it does, mountains move, landscapes change, and children stop throwing cereal bowls at you. Truly!

Over the next few weeks I'm going to blog on each of the other five points of Peaceful Parenting and explain what these principles look like in our house. I'll give you a real, honest window into how I've got on board with them, one by one.

First of all though here's my checklist for "meeting your own emotional needs"
  • Start by making meeting your own emotional needs your top priority 
  • Abandon all guilt for needing 'me time' Right. Now. (Seriously)
  • Find someone to talk to about the stuff that drives you crazy as a parent. A friend, a coach, a therapist, your own parent - I don't care who it is, as long as it's not your kid. 
  • Go hang out with yourself. The fun you. The person you actually like. Do the stuff you enjoy, and let yourself enjoy it fully. 
  • Now take that fun, relaxed, emotionally supported and happy person back home with you. 
  • Introduce them to your kids. 

The rest of it comes later! Follow me for updates on the Peaceful Parenting path. You can find me on Facebook and on Twitter too.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Becoming Mum

Today I have a big yellow bruise around my left eye. It's the remnants of the shiner Bean gave me last Saturday, when he launched himself off the swimming pool edge towards me without warning. Connecting his chin with my eye socket first. *Ouch!* It goes down in parenting history as one of those moments where blue language was unavoidable. I did muffle the worst profanities in his armband, honest.

I am building up a catalogue of injuries and scrapes and breakages as my boys tumble wildly through their pre-school years. My hair is going grey around the temples faster than I like to admit, and now that Bean is almost three I can hardly blame my squishy middle on 'baby' weight any more. As each mark, dent, scrape and scar gets added to my mummy exterior, I can't help but wonder if this is what 'becoming real' feels like.

If you added up the injuries I have picked up from doing things with my kids, you might think I'd be put off taking them swimming or operating hot ovens in their presence. After all, I've grated the skin off my knuckles and received a black eye this weekend alone. Not to mention the glamour of walking around with globs of butter stuck to my shirt or in my hair. This week I actually managed to leave the house with a perfect little 'O' of porridge right on my chest (and by chest, I mean boob), where Bean gave me a cuddle wiped his face on me after chowing down on the breakfast he helped me to make.

But that's the best thing about having small children. The more you love them, the more beautiful you become. The scraped knees, bumps on heads and perpetually bruised limbs - all mine, never mind theirs - don't matter. Because generally, by the time you are a mother of small children, all these things have happened over and over again. Just remember, that the grey hairs and laughter lines and shabby clothes don't matter. Because to your children, you can't be ugly when you're showing them love.

Last weekend our swimming trip was to celebrate my rather lovely other half's daughter turning eight. We've been dating now for over a year, and I can attest to the fact that while I continue to parent alone (we don't live together) DP makes lone parenting a lot less lonely. The fact that he comes with two additional small people of his own as part of the package is just the icing on the cake.

And speaking of cake, boy do we love cake. The boys and I had a blast getting ready for the birthday trip. Cake baking is a big deal for us. We've been baking together since they were old enough to lick a wooden spoon and throw a fistful of flour. It's a messy, loud, hilarious and delicious activity that is guaranteed to make us all laugh. (And need a  bath afterwards).

As the boys get older and more capable I have moved on from letting them take turns to stir the batter, to allocating them proper tasks. This time, Sprout was in charge of breaking the eggs. This is the most exciting job, and the most risky. We only lost one egg to the floor this time, which is pretty good!

Adventurous Bean requested the job of grating the carrots for the carrot cake, so I gave him a tiny nutmeg grater and a carrot stick to have a go with (health and safety mum-panic prevented me from handing over the enormous cheese grater he was eyeing up. Which I promptly grated my own knuckles off with instead). As usual, Sprout saw the job through while Bean got diverted as soon as a bit of sugary butter made it's way into his mouth. But everyone gave their full attention to the magic bit of baking.

The magic bit of cake making is when you stir in the love. It's something my mum used to do with me, and I remember my nan telling me when I was little - cakes taste better when you add a little love. So we do. We stir in love and add a wish to the mix at the end. Of course, the enthusiastic stirring means that the cake mix gets everywhere, into ears, stuck in hair, all down clothes. What remains in the bowl is slopped into a tin and we all watch the gooey mess rise through the glass oven door. Once the smell of baking has floated through the whole house to the top floor, the boys know the cake is ready.

By that time I've usually managed to find myself a plaster, apply arnica cream or burn ointment, or other first aid to myself. Made a cup of tea and enjoyed the fact that my sharp edges are a little bit closer to being totally rubbed off.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Jar of stars

Our Jar of Stars is a family gratitude practice that I've been doing with my children for almost two years. It's been one of the most positive habits I have established with the boys. Gratitude is the fastest route to joy - and who doesn't want to live in a joyful home?

Our little lucky stars represent tiny moments of happiness we've experienced together. They hold memories that might otherwise have disappeared in the general business of life. Moments we celebrate and record - being proud of each other, being thankful, laughter.

Last week a group of our friends visited for a spontaneous barbeque in the sunshine. The boys were in seventh heaven pottering about blowing bubbles in the late afternoon glow, helping to chop mushrooms for the salad and stir chocolate into the cake batter in preparation for the feast. As the day slipped into evening, plates were put away and tired children called in for bed. Before pajama time and stories began, Sprout asked to put some stars in our jar.

He called all of our friends in from the garden and asked them to write a star with us. So around the circle we went, cutting paper, decorating our strips together, folding them into little bubble stars. One of our group was grateful for friendship, another for sunshine, another for delicious food. As each star was folded, kissed and put into the jar the beautiful simplicity of the practice made us all smile.

From one small act of thankfulness we have nine new stars in our jar. A visible, lasting reminder that there is magic in noticing the good in our lives. If you want to make your own jar, have a go! They're not as tricky as you might think. I'd love for you to let me know what you're thankful for in the comments below, so we can share the joy.

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!