Friday, 22 May 2015

Earning your life skills certificate

My youngest attended a junior cycling event last weekend.  For his troubles he received a certificate for 'taking part, learning new skills and trying hard'.

Many people feel that today's children are over-rewarded. Everything is incentivised. Everyone gets a sticker, so that no-one feels left out.  Or has to deal with disappointment.

I'm still not sure where I stand on that one.  But as I paused to re-read the wording on the certificate , something struck me.

Taking part. Learning new skills. Trying hard.  These aren't just challenges for children.  These are ideals that all of us should strive towards.  Because, let's face it, these three seemingly simple concepts aren't as simple to put into practice.

Taking part
Easy huh? But how many of us like walking into a business networking event, a parent and toddler group, or a new exercise class for the first time? Thought not.  In the last week, I've grappled with butterflies and forced myself into two new situations - one sporting, one work-related.  Was I nervous? Yes. Did I enjoy it once I got there? Yes.  Did I feel better afterwards? Yes.  Will it be easier next time? Possibly not.  But deep down I know that I need to keep putting myself out there.

Learning new skills
Now, this is something I do want to achieve. The challenge with this one, for me, is discipline. I need to prioritise what I want to learn, then make the time to do it.  Meanwhile, I've decided that baby steps are better than nothing. Last night child number one asked if she could show me a new drawing technique she had learned. Two messy mats. Two pieces of A4. Two pencils. And the best 15 minutes of my day. For multiple reasons.

Trying hard
Possibly the biggest challenge of all. Particularly when there's no obvious progress or immediate reward. The ability to keep trying - even though your goal is distant and others are streaking ahead - is a tough proposition.  It requires determination. Strength of character. Resilience.  I believe that the ability to try hard - and to keep trying - is just as important, if not more, than natural talent. So often we tell our children to "try their best". The words are straightforward. In reality, it's a big ask.  

Take part. Learn new skills. Try hard. 

One innocent certificate.  Three pretty solid rules for life.  For all of us.

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Friday, 15 May 2015

Surviving school as a parent: Do you have what it takes?

When your children start school you worry about how they'll cope with the new challenges and experiences ahead.  Stop. Right. There. It's not them you have to worry about.  Hell no. Focus on the hurdles that you, as a parent, need to straddle.

Ready to put your abilities to the test? Off we go...

The class trip
A crumpled slip emerges from your child's rucksack requesting parental assistance for a forthcoming class trip.  Do you..
a) Volunteer your partner (who knew that his nine-day fortnight would come in so handy?)
b) Sacrifice your own flexi-day to proffer sick bags on an overheated bus, while being ignored by the child who begged you to come
c) Despair that you can't go: The trip clashes with your regular 'slot' helping out in one of the other classes.

The parent council
A plea for extra assistance has been issued by the parent council.  Do you...
a) Negotiate a hefty donation via the large organisation your best mate works for
b) Reluctantly agree to become a *floating* committee member, only to discover that you've inherited all the tasks no-one else wants
c) Follow up with a full-blown campaign for funds and fresh blood. After all, you are the chair.

Sports day
Time to line up for the parents' race. As the megaphone announcement echoes round the park you feel your child's eyes boring into you.  Do you...
a) Cheer gleefully from the sidelines. This is the sole event that you help out with. It's great for your profile - the whole school and their parents see you pitching in. It also neatly gets you out of the race as you're *looking after the children*.
b) Limp in last after gamely participating in your stocking soles and pencil skirt, having come straight from work
c) Win it. By a mile. (You've been in training all year.)

The school concert
Seats are always at a premium.  Do you...
a) Breeze in immediately prior to curtain up, taking the sole remaining seat in the front row. (So what if it was meant for the headteacher?)
b) Stand at the back for the two and a half hour duration
c) Have no requirement for a seat.  You're compรจring the entire thing for goodness' sake.

World Book Day
The children have been asked to enter the spirit of the occasion by dressing up. Do you...
a) Dress your conveniently brown-haired, similar-height offspring in their jeans and T-shirts, providing them with 'Biff' and 'Chip' name badges.  Result.
b) Make an emergency dash to the supermarket. You only discovered the all-important note at 8:30pm the evening prior.
c) Rejoice that the Pinterest board you created for this very challenge will be put to good use.  Sewing machines at the ready folks!

Mostly As
You are sussed mum.  No matter what school life throws at you, you come up smelling of roses. This does not always make you popular among the various parenting factions. Your philosophy on life? Minimum effort for maximum return.

Mostly Bs
You are harassed mum. Always last to arrive at any major school event, you do your utmost to be a responsible member of the school community (while also taking on far too much at work, at home and socially). Your frequent lament? "There just aren't enough hours in the day..."

Mostly Cs
You are Stepford mum. Born for the role of PTA chair, you dread the day your children leave school.  Still, there are always numerous community groups who could benefit from your organisational skills.  Your favourite saying? "Now if only I was in charge..."

Disclaimer:  The author is a trifle nervous that readers may draw some similarities between her own parenting style and one of the stereotypes identified above.  Any such similarities are entirely coincidental. She is, of course, a healthy mix of all three. 

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Friday, 8 May 2015

From 'meh' to 'mmm' in 3 simple steps

This week I had one of those 'meh' days.  You know the ones. 

Nothing major had gone wrong. Truth to be told, I had no real cause for complaint. Yet there I was. One girl and her bad mood.

Now I'm one of the lucky ones in this game called life. So how to kick myself up the backside and remember that? 

No-one likes a whinger. So I tried some quick fixes for getting back on track:

1. Half hour happiness hit
Schedules permitting, take time out and do whatever makes you happy for 30 minutes. For me it was a short run in the fresh air. I didn't feel like going but boy did I feel better afterwards. I always do. Running's not for everyone, though. Go with whatever works for you - climb a hill, bake a cake, dig out your crochet, attack the garden, chill out with yoga. You know better than anyone else what makes your heart sing.

2.  Do something for someone else
Far wiser people than me have doled out this advice. They've got it spot on. Do yourself a favour by looking outwards rather than inwards.  Email that relative you've been meaning to contact, offer your neighbour a lift home, surprise the kids with their favourite tea.   They'll love you for it. And you'll feel better as a result.

3. Find yourself a theme tune
Ah, the marvels of music. Seek out a *happy song*  to lift your mood on one of *those* days. It doesn't have to be as obvious as Pharrell Williams. I go through phases, the most recent of which is 'Birdhouse In Your Soul', played at top volume. (Yup, another old age reveal.) Find a track - or several - you can't help singing along to.  Play. Loudly. On repeat if required.

And if all else fails? Read this.  I defy you not to laugh. 'At The Clothesline', I salute you.

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NB. There's a difference between temporary doldrums and depression. If you think you may be suffering from the latter, please PLEASE seek help.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Popular family activities: Perception versus reality

As a parent, there's a huge amount of  pressure to be seen to be doing certain things with your offspring. Not only that, there's a lot of pressure to be seen to be enjoying doing these things.

Naturally, Team Average  has succumbed to such pressures. Like lambs to the slaughter, we've attempted to re-enact the *simple* Pinterest suggestions and inspirational Facebook posts. 

We've failed. Miserably. Perhaps you can identify with our average experience of popular family pursuits versus the sugar coated perceptions? If not, have a laugh at our expense anyway. I dare you.


The vision: Clad in a spotless Cath Kidston apron and resembling a Tana Ramsay-esque yummy mummy, you work in harmony with your offspring to lovingly prepare a delicious yet nutritious feast. You serve this warm (and a little triumphantly) from the oven as your partner arrives home.

The reality: Hubby appears home tired and grumpy to discover a kitchen resembling a snow storm, due to the lethal combination of over-exuberant child + industrial quantities of icing sugar. No utensil in the house remains unused. Nothing vaguely edible seems likely to appear forthwith from the oven.


The vision: You and your child fashion the modern-day equivalent of Blue Peter's Christmas advent crown project using handy bits and pieces from around the home. Your child scoops the class prize and you gain major playground kudos as the *modest yet talented* craft-loving family. 

The reality: At 10pm the night prior to submission you realise that your bright idea is doomed.  With offspring despatched to bed in tears, you send your partner to the nearest 24-hour Tesco for a craft kit.  The two of you spend until midnight glowering at each other over the kitchen table, cursing the ineffective tube of white glue that features in all of said craft kits.


The vision: You are the epitome of the sporty, community-minded family. Even in rainy weather, you forego all temptation to plonk the kids in front of the telly. Instead, you plump for a fun-filled active afternoon at the local baths.

The reality: It's raining. A zillion other families have the same idea. You eventually access the packed shallow end to discover that one of the small people needs the toilet.  As you shiver your way to the loos, you meet at least three people you know, all of whom have the advantage of being dry and fully clothed.  Your actual time in the water consists of bobbing around to keep warm while wondering how much longer you have to last before you can clamber out for a hot chocolate.


In case you are wondering, Team Average does enjoy spending time together as a family. 


Well, at least once a year.

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Dealing with disappointment

Disappointment has a bitter taste.  Most of us will have experienced it - perhaps combined with an unwanted shot of rejection and a side order of despair.

Disappointment can be crushing. It encourages a rash of negative feelings - shame, hurt, anger, despondency.  When you've gone all out for something, the disappointment of not getting it can hurt as much as a physical blow to the stomach.

Given that disappointment is part of life, how do you deal with it?

I certainly don't have a definitive answer. Instead, here's what I'm slowly learning from the life knocks I've encountered along the way...

Time  Don't expect to get over it immediately.  If it meant a lot, it will hurt a lot. Slowly but surely the sting of the smack will subside.  At the very least, you'll get better at living with it.

Perspective  If you're anything like me, you'll have experienced other such hurts.  Being told that you'll bounce back is an oversimplification.  But you will survive to tell the tale.

You're not alone While your particular disappointment is personal to you, bear in mind that almost everyone suffers setbacks in life.  Avoid the temptation to fall into the role of victim.

Experience Something can be learned from each life experience. However deep the disappointment. However painful. However stomach-churning.

In the words of the Dalai Lama: "When you lose, don't lose the lesson."

And if you feel your disappointment represents failure, remember this quote from writer and novelist Michael Korda:

"The freedom to fail is vital if you're going to succeed. Most successful people fail from time to time, and it is a measure of their strength that failure propels them into some new attempt at succcess."

So give yourself time. Acknowledge the disappointment. Remember that others have suffered similarly.  Learn the painful lessons. Regroup, move on and start afresh. You can, and will, find the strength.

How do you deal with disappointment? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Thursday, 9 April 2015

Housework hacks for family homes

Everything changes when you have children.  

Even the most mundane of procedures. Take housework, for example.

Pre-kids, it's something you tolerate.  A necessary evil. When the mood strikes (or when visitors are due), you knuckle down, get through it and get on with your life.

Post-kids, it doesn't work that way.  Not only do you have less time for it, the results of your efforts last but a fleeting nanosecond.  After which, all that hard work is undone.  Job satisfaction = zero.

As for the process itself, it becomes considerably more - ahem - fraught.

Let's start with hoovering. Pre-kids, your trusty Dyson blithely services your floors on a regular and uncomplaining basis. 

Post-kids, it contends with all manner of outrages - discarded loom bands, stray Hama beads and the dreaded Lego brick.  (The noise on contact can make a grown woman cry.) 

Our last appliance was killed by a more subtle intruder. All respect to the new destructive force on the block.  People, I give you the kirby grip.

As for dusting (yes, you're meant to do that too), simply accessing the surfaces is a challenge in itself. By the time you've shifted all the detritus of family life, you're ready for a wee lie down. Forget flying into a frenzy with the feather duster.  

As one chum confided: "I'd love to get a cleaner but I'd have to tidy up first." We hear ya sister.

So what's a hard-pressed parent to do? Assuming you'd like company within the next decade, consider some housework hacks...

Provided you can contain your guests downstairs, restrict your efforts to the ground floor.

Focus on hoovering only as far as the turn in the stairs. Ensure the downstairs cloakroom is gleaming like a pin. Shamelessly ignore the sorry state of affairs that is your en suite.

Stagger upstairs with all two hundred of your family members' assorted jackets. Lob said outerwear in a bedroom.   Revel smugly as guests admire your minimalist coat rack.

One cautionary note:   Beware the sociable pre-schooler who likes to invite people to *come up and see my bedroom*. Inquisitive guests won't be able to resist. 

And you, my friend, will be rumbled.  

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Friday, 27 March 2015

Parenting: When to push - and when to let go

Pushy parents.  No-one likes them. No-one wants to be known as one.

And yet...

Sometimes children need to be pushed.  I've lost count of the conversations I've had with other parents on the subject. Your child shows an aptitude for something but is nervous about pursuing it.  Do you coax and cajole or accept their reluctance? Or - and this tends to happen more as they get older - your child has already proven they are good at something but insists on giving it up.

When do you push them forwards and when do you let go? I wish I had the definitive answer. I'm pretty sure I've called it wrong a few times myself already.  Along the way, however, I've picked up some helpful guidelines...

Safety first
The one activity I insist that my kids stick with is swimming. Until they are water confident, the lessons continue. As for the rest of their sporting activities, as long as they exercise, I'm happy for them to try different things.

See it through - at least in the short-term
The plaintive "I want to stop drama/gymnastics/piano" inevitably strikes up halfway through the lesson block.  At Average Towers, this is another non-negotiable: If we've paid for the term, we stay for the term.  By which time, they've often decided they want to continue.  If not, then the bigger "Are you sure?" conversation takes place in the holidays.

Get to the heart of the matter
As a child, I gave up ballet lessons because another little girl repeatedly pulled at my leotard. I never told my parents why I wanted to give up; I just insisted that I did.  As an adult, I realise how easily this issue could have been resolved. Make sure you know the real reasons behind your child's decision. It may be nothing to do with the activity itself.  And it may be easily sorted too.

Same activity, different set-up
You know they're good at it.  Deep down, they know they're good at it. But something about the existing arrangement isn't working.  Could they go on a different evening - with different children, or a different instructor?  Does another club offer the same activity that they could try instead? Constant chopping and changing isn't recommended. But a one-off switch to avoid a personality clash with a coach, for example, might be worth exploring.

Over to them
There comes a point when children want to take some responsibility for their own decisions.  If older children persist in their desire to drop something, you may just have to accept it.  Many of us return to these activities in adulthood.  If it's meant to be, they'll find their own way back.

Time to relocate my ballet pumps?

Do you struggle with knowing when to push your children and when to let go? Leave a comment and let me know.

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