Tag Archives: parenting

Be kind, be brave

We haven’t quite hit the 1st January, but with just a couple of days to go, I thought it wouldn’t be out of place to mention the ‘R’ word.

Resolutions.

They’re everywhere. From pledges of getting fitter and healthier, to drinking less and relaxing more, you can pretty much guarantee you will have at least one conversation about New Year’s resolutions at some point from now until the end of January.

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Four irritating children’s habits that actually benefit your running (yes, really!)

I’ve been working hard to improve my strength, running pace and overall fitness this past month. For over a year, I’ve been plodding along at the same old pace, covering the same old routes, without ever pushing myself too hard (because, frankly, getting out for a run – whatever speed or distance – has felt challenging enough, what with two little ones to run around after all day, one of whom has NEVER slept through the night).

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A little more self-belief, please

When it comes to both running and parenting, I’m pretty good at telling myself I’m not very good. It’s my industry standard: Claire Chamberlain – Could Do Better.

For running, this manifests itself in fairly obvious ways: I should be running further; why didn’t I get up earlier? I could have pushed harder.

It doesn’t seem to matter when logic pipes up in a small voice in the background, reminding me that, actually, I’m doing the best I can; that I don’t have a whole heap of free hours right now; that I’m sleep deprived due to a teething baby and a child who has suddenly and inexplicably decided that 3.30am is time for cornflakes. Nope. All those ‘shoulds’ keep muscling into my thoughts anyway, making me feel that I could do better.

It’s the same with parenting. All those arts & crafts sessions I do with them (despite the fact it takes a bloody age to get the glitter out of the carpet); all the colouring and playing and chasing and cuddling; all the meals I cook; all the tears I wipe and knees I kiss better; the fact I gently stroke their faces as they sleep and that I love them to their bones. All of that can get wiped out in an instant, simply when I serve up an ‘orange’ dinner (fish fingers and baked beans FYI), or when I end up shouting after asking him 17 times to get his shoes on; or when I sneak a peek at my phone because playing Toy Story again is just so freakin’ tedious (sorry Buzz et al, but sometimes often I really do just want to jet off to infinity and beyond… and stay there. To have a nap).

So you know what? It’s amazing when you have a moment that makes you realise you aren’t all that bad. You’re not bad at all, actually.

This weekend, I did the Shoreham Woods 10K Trail Run, a very beautiful race – but also one of the toughest (and hilliest) I’ve ever encountered.

My training hadn’t gone exactly to plan (I should have run further, got up earlier, pushed harder… you know the score). Plus, due to the sleep deprivation, my diet had roughly consisted of caffeine, chocolate digestives and cake for the past week.

Cake

Carb-loading at its most delicious

But in the end, none of that mattered. Because yes, I could have been fitter. But it turns out, I was fit enough.

I ran with a friend and we chatted our way around the stunning route – along woodland paths, across grassy fields, down narrow rutted tracks that seemed to disappear perilously over the edge of hilltops, and up some frankly ridiculous inclines. The uphill sections saw my pace slow to a walk and had my heart pounding, but every time we reached the summit, we somehow regained our momentum and kept going.

What’s more, I loved it. I loved every leg-aching, lung-busting, calf-burning second. I loved the freedom of jogging through the woods on a beautiful almost-autumn morning. I loved the presence I felt. It was almost transcendental. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Shoreham Woods 10K

Kids. Medal. Cake. Happy

So yes, I could be fitter, obviously. But I’m perfectly fit enough, thank you very much (actually, it’s probably thanks to my two children, who have me lifting, playing, carrying, rescuing, chasing and fetching all day, every day. That’s my strength work and cross training, right there). From now on, I am determined to stop the negative self-talk: I AM fit and I CAN do these things.

And you know what? While I’m at it, I’m a decent mummy, too.

There. I’ve said it.

How liberating.

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Fantasy vs reality: motherhood

Remember those carefree days before you became a parent, when you and your partner used to stroll along hand in hand and half whisper to each other throwaway comments like, “How cool will it be when we have children?” And then you’d nuzzle into their neck and kiss their earlobe, while your brain concocted fairytale fantasies about flying kites, and toasting marshmallows over a campfire, and Saturday night films sprawled on the sofa as a family, all arms and legs and popcorn and happiness.

Well, I do.

And now here I am.

Is it anything like my dreams?

Erm, not today it isn’t: not when I’ve scraped another homemade dinner into the food recycling bin, and looked down at my top and wondered whether that slug-trail stain is snot or dribble; not when I’ve been lying IN THE SODDING COT with the baby trying to get her to settle at 9.30pm while pondering what the actual f*ck has happened to my life.

Motherhood isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be. Some days, it can break you. Some days you feel worried and worn out, and just not damn good enough.

But…

You know what? I wouldn’t swap any of it for those bygone fairytale fantasies.

Don’t believe me?

My children might be noisy and messy and unpredictable and sticky. They might have caused me to utter sentences I thought I’d never have to say – things like: “Stop sticking spaghetti to the telly!” and “Put the poo back in the potty!” Yes, they have sped like a whirlwind into my life and tipped the world I knew on its side. They have crippled my social life and they have zero regard for my sleeping patterns.

But they are real. They are three-dimensional and high definition. Their laughter is loud.

They are so much more interesting and exciting than those papery, one-dimensional fantasy children, whose neat-and-tidy quiet perfection would, quite honestly, have gotten on my tits.

More than that, when motherhood was just a dream, I only imagined that I would raise my children. I had no idea about the reality of being a parent: that they are raising me, too.

My children push me to my limits. They make me question myself. They threaten to tip me over the edge pretty much each and every day. And I have to pull myself back; become more understanding; alter my perspective. I have to become gentler; more forgiving. I have to change.

I am learning and growing with them.

So you can keep your boring, perfect fantasy children, who allowed me to stick being the same old me. I’ll take my very real, very brash, very present little brood any day of the week… even if they threaten my sanity daily.

Because they are reshaping my whole world and everything in it, with their sticky fingers and inquiring minds… and I love the new surroundings we are building together.

Clangers Beach Farm

Running wild

“Mummy, how does a bee carry pollen,” my son asked on a recent holiday to Dorset, “when he doesn’t have a pot?”

We were rambling up a steep coastal path at the time, in the sunshine, past swaying grass and gorse. We’d just seen a bee bumbling past and had been telling him how these stripy little creatures make the honey that ends up on his crumpets in the morning.

Cliff walk

I love his questions. More than that, I love the pause before his questions. I love watching his brow furrow, knowing his brain is building pathways and connections; unravelling facts we have told him; making sense of the world before his eyes. I love the fact he has no inhibitions; he does not worry about asking something ‘silly’. Nothing is silly. I love the fact he is learning without realising it.

Nature does that for children. It inspires creativity and understanding.

We have recently returned from a week’s holiday to Dorset. We have been barefoot on beaches and forest footpaths. The amount of time we spent outside practically qualified us as free range. We were a free-range family and our children ran feral.

It was wonderful.

I’m a huge believer in the power of the outdoors. For me, a trail run along rutted woodland paths, jumping tree roots and skirting fallen branches, beats a jog along the nearby A road any day of the week. Nature is a teacher; a healer. From woodland floors to wide oceans, it is an eye-opener. It is comforting. It is surprising. It is there to be explored.

And you know what’s really great? We’re part of it.

It’s so easy to feel disconnected, on those days when you’re sat inside the house; in an office; in front of a laptop; watching the telly.

It’s so easy to reconnect in mere moments, with a stroll in a green space; a walk through the woods; five minutes sat on the grass in the garden.

The more time we spent outside during our week’s holiday, the more certain I became of several things:

All children should know the feel of sand between their toes…

Sandy toes

All children should know the taste of dirt…

Eating dirt

All children should be trusted to climb and explore…

Rope swing Brownsea Island

It’s good for them. It’s in their nature. It’s a remedy for tantrums.

OK, OK, it’s not always a remedy for tantrums. Tiredness happens, whether you’re inside or out.

Overtired

But you get the gist. Mud should be embraced. They only get one childhood. Let’s encourage them to run wild.

Heart

Muddling through

I have spent most of my time as a parent feeling like I’m muddling through. From the early days with Baby Number One (when I constantly wondered why he did not seem to do anything the baby books said he ‘should’), through to now (a few weeks before Baby Number Two’s first birthday), our days seem to be a pick-n-mix bag of ‘let’s just try it and see how it goes’.

Sometimes, muddling through can bring unexpected joy. Like when your kids just WILL NOT go to bed at night (but it doesn’t really matter, because it results in cosy cuddles on the sofa).

Sofa cuddles

9pm and counting…

Other times, muddling through means watching in bewilderment as your toddler goes apeshit about what you can only assume is some major catastrophic life event.

Leafgate

His friend picked up a leaf

It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one muddling through – that everyone else knows what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. So it always surprises me when, while chatting to other parents – those who seem to have routines and plans and well-behaved children who never have a meltdown over a broken cream cracker – they say, ‘Oh, you know, we’re just muddling through.’

Huh.

But you know what? This makes sense. Because when it comes to parenting that first tiny newborn, none of us have done it before. It’s a whole new world of responsibility, sleep deprivation, unexplained crying, and sleepsuits with roughly 3,000 poppers that never seem to line up properly. Then later, if a second baby comes along? Well, we’ve never had to entertain a fully-grown child while coping with all the above, either.

It turns out that, as parents, often none of us knows what the bloody hell we’re doing. We really are all just muddling through.

When muddling through goes well, it can leave you feeling like you’re clutching a winning lottery ticket on a blustery day: by some miracle everyone is smiling… but you know not to get too cocky, because the wind could change any second, whipping the ticket out of your hand and the smiles off everyone’s faces. This is called a Good Day.

And when it goes wrong? You can feel perplexed and unsure. You constantly doubt yourself. It can make you question whether you’re a good parent; question whether you’re good enough at all. It can leave you exhausted, frustrated and sometimes even in tears. This is called Never Mind, Tomorrow Is Another Day.

Now, I’m not normally one for imparting advice (because, clearly, I’m no expert), but in my three-and-a-bit years of muddling through, I’ve learned a couple of little tricks that seem to keep the peace, which I thought I’d share…

1 No matter how dire things seem, the addition of breadsticks will improve almost any ‘child meltdown’ situation by approximately 97%.

2 Fresh air, fresh air and more fresh air! It’s amazing how running around a green space releases tension. For everyone. (Some days we spend so much time outside, my kids think we live in the woods.)

outside

…and breathe!

3 Bring a tub of Play Doh/paper and crayons/playing cards/some Lego everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. Cuddly toys get boring fast, but an activity can keep them entertained for, oh, at least five minutes. Result.

But do you want to know the most important thing I’ve learned? The only thing that really matters is that you love your kids. If you do, then you’re absolutely nailing this parenting shit.

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Not perfect? That’s perfectly fine…

The other evening, I sat down for dinner with my children. It looked like this: the two-year-old was eating a waffle and fish fingers. With lots of ketchup. The baby was being spoon fed straight from a jar of puree. We were sitting on the sofa in front of the telly. We weren’t even watching some sort of educational CBeebies offering… we were glued to Dragons: Riders Of Berk.

I’ll be honest – this wasn’t quite how I’d pictured mealtimes, back in the days when I was enthusiastically whizzing up a homemade puree out of an organic butternut squash.

A few years ago, I would have been mortified at the current scene (which admittedly is not every mealtime, but is regular enough that I couldn’t legitimately call it a ‘rare occurrence’). But you know what? Something has changed.

I’ve dropped the guilt.

This wasn’t even a conscious decision. It happened when my daughter was born. It happened because, frankly, running around after two children instead of just the one – and once more being on call during the night as well as the day – I simply don’t have time to worry any more. I don’t have time to worry whether the TV has been on for an hour more than it ‘should’ have been; whether all meals have been made from scratch; whether not taking my youngest to baby yoga/baby ballet/baby sign language/baby sensory classes is going to somehow stunt her development; and I certainly don’t have time to worry about how everyone else is raising their children – and how I compare. Ultimately, however parents get through the day, we are all doing the best we can for our children. And if that means a ‘from the freezer’ meal while glued to The Bedtime Hour to avoid meltdowns every so often most evenings, then that works for me. After all, tummies are getting filled and my children are happy. So now, rather than beating myself up about it, I’m happy, too.

There have also been a few actual parent fails this week…

I had 10 minutes to clean the house the other day and, on leaving the front room to locate a broom, returned to find the baby had discarded her toys in favour of the vacuum cleaner’s electrical cord and was cheerily using it as a teething toy.

Cable teether

‘Baby toys? No thanks Mummy, I’ve found this’

Then yesterday, while cleaning the splash mat after my daughter’s enthusiastic baby-led lunch, the toddler swiped the Dettol (which I’d left lying on the floor) and casually gave his little sister’s head a spritz.

BLW lunch

I’ll admit she needed a clean. Just not like that

In days gone by, both the above would have left me feeling like such a bad mother I’d have needed a 12-week course of therapy. These days? We simply rectify the situation and get on with things. Happily. No guilt.

It’s a revelation.

There’s been one other major change that has led to me feeling so much more relaxed and happy as a second-time-round parent: not only do I no longer have time to worry, but I have also not had a chance to open a single baby book.

Not one.

They have remained closed, on the shelf.

Which has resulted in all those ‘shoulds’ remaining on the shelf as well. Gathering dust. Where they belong.

Instead, I have been parenting by instinct. If it feels right to me, then it probably is. It’s liberating not to feel judged by a few hundred pages written by an author who does not know me, or my children. Not to be made to feel that I am somehow ‘spoiling’ my baby by cuddling her to sleep [check], bed-sharing [check] and baby wearing [check] (incidentally, I’m not saying any of this is the ‘right’ way to parent. It’s simply right for us).

Snuggles2

Sleepy cuddles to go. Nothing better

Ironically, this newfound ‘no-book’ attitude led me to an interaction on Twitter, which saw me recently attend a book launch. The Confident Mother by Sherry Bevan is a parenting book – but not as you know it. Comprising interviews with some truly inspiring mothers and experts, it doesn’t tell you how to parent: it simply helps you trust yourself. Its message is simple and brilliantly empowering – being good enough is good enough. Really.

I am not the perfect mother.

But I love my children with a love I never knew existed until they were here.

And that’s good enough for me.

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