Saturday, 23 August 2014

let the sisterhood unite

Us women, we are so hard on ourselves. And sometimes, each other. And when children come into the equation, this is only intensified ten fold. So many expectations to strive towards; rearing the most well-rounded children, being a text book wife or partner, maintaining the perfect home, keeping a foot on the career ladder and of course looking flawless whilst doing all (just because we have kids now, it doesn't mean that we've taken our finger off the style pulse, or god forbid, become 'mumsy'.) Well I'm putting my hand up and saying I've fallen off the bandwagon. If sporting an ugly pink fleece dressing gown for too many hours of the day with hair that relies embarrassingly heavily on dry shampoo repels anyone then I'm sorry but it's the truth. I have no idea what I'll do when it's time one day to leap back into the work force with both feet. I also couldn't possibly tell you what's current in the music scene because when I try and listen to a radio station playing the latest hits my kids just latch onto the most horrendous pop songs with questionable lyrics and sing them relentlessly. So we end up listening to Smooth FM in the car which makes me feel like I'm sixty, but at least it's a relaxing antidote to any bickering coming from the back. I can't pretend this isn't making me shudder a little...just who exactly have I become? But at the same time, I'm tired. And I suspect I'm not the only one. Tired because I have a three month old baby but also tired of the pressure of trying to seem like I always have it together (of course anyone who spends time with me regularly knows this is certainly not the case).

I think we need to be kinder to ourselves and to each other. When we become parents we all inevitably do things slightly differently and though we're no doubt guilty of a bit of judgement now and then, the bottom line is that we all love our kids like crazy and we're just trying to do the best we possibly can for them, whatever that looks like. And you know what? That's good enough. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by an amazing, unfailingly supportive bunch of friends who never make me feel lacking for my shortcomings but when womenkind in general are being upheld to ridiculous expectations of 'doing it all' from everywhere we turn then it's time for the sisterhood at large to rally together and reassure each other that it's ok just to be ok. There's something chilling about the idea of motherhood and life in general being a competition. Most days I'm not excelling in any field, just getting by and finding happiness in the small moments when my baby breaks into a beautiful smile when she sees me or when I find my eldest with her head buried in a book. Then I know I must be doing something right. My three year old certainly isn't wearing a pair of the latest trendy leggings that cost half of a weeks grocery shop, but she's eaten two and a half meals today. If I also managed to shower, get dressed and do a load of laundry and hang it before it started smelling all damp and horrible then things are looking good from where I'm standing.

This life business that we're all trying to figure out as we go along, ebbs and flows like the tides, and  we all encounter days when wish we could just crawl back into bed. Often a cup of tea and a hug can be all that's needed to get back on track, and the reminder that we're all in it together, doing our best to keep the train of daily life on the tracks. Next time we find ourselves at the playground, let's vow to throw out a smile and a hello to the other mothers that don't look like they've just stepped off the fashion pages of the latest magazine, but do look like they would welcome some extra sleep. Or if children aren't in the equation, then maybe a quick chat and a cuppa with a work colleague who you suspect may have had a rough week. The bottom line is we never know what battles others are fighting behind closed doors and it's easy enough to spread a little compassion and support each other.

It has bothered me a lot more than it should that I can't fit into most of my pre-pregnancy jeans (turns out that regaining your body after three babies is not quite the walk in the park it was after the first two) but I'm not wasting another minute of precious time dwelling on it. I know I'll get there in the end. No doubt when I find the willpower to stop eating chocolate and make time to exercise. And even if my hips never return to their former selves, well it's really not that important. My precious little crew, flaws and all, is worth a whole lot more to me than the satisfaction of fitting into all the skinny jeans in the universe. I hope you feel the same way too and know that if your house isn't as clean as you'd like or your hair isn't cooperating today then you're not alone, because I can guarantee mine isn't either. Lets just shrug our shoulders, smile about it together and instead get on with enjoying all the good things life has to offer.

Image via Pinterest. Sadly I wasn't able to discover it's source.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

reading material

As much as I love to have my head buried in a novel whenever possible, I also appreciate a good non-fiction read too. I've never really been drawn to self-help bibles and generally steered clear of the majority of run-of-the-mill parenting manuals, preferring to follow my instincts after I picked up a copy of The Contented Little Baby by Gina Ford shortly after my eldest was born. While her approach no doubt works for some, it quite frankly terrified me with all its talk of rigid scheduling of newborn babies and seemingly a complete loss of joy and flexibility in the whole parenting experience. However, there are a few books in particular that I've come across which have really made an impact over the past couple of years. These have inspired me, offered up new ways of thinking, put forward practical tips and confirmed in my mind the kind of lifestyle I want for myself and my family. I usually borrow any I am interested in from the local library first and if there's one I truly love then I will buy a copy to refer to whenever the mood strikes. Here are the ones which have made the most lasting impression...

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids // By Kim John Payne

If you are a parent (or are thinking about becoming one in the near future), then I would seriously recommend getting hold of a copy of this book. It brings to attention the undeniable truth that our lives today are busier, faster, with too much stuff, too many choices and too little time and this is all leaving childhood in a sad state of affairs. Offering up a blueprint for change, it helps parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish. It advocates scary things like getting rid of at least 50% your children's toys and not just plonking them down in front of the TV when you need to get things done, but I can say hand on heart that I've found that these things are so worth doing. Aside from ideas on how to streamline your home environment, it offers advice on how to establish rhythms and rituals which help children feel secure and ease tensions, how to provide intervals of calm and connection in your child's daily routine and scale back on parental and media involvement.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder // By Richard Louv

I love the idea behind this book, which documents decreased exposure of children to nature in our modern society (the book focuses on America as this is the home of the author, but the message is relevant to us all), and how this harms children and society. The message is that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. It examines a lot of research and certainly some of the text can get a bit heavy at times but it's easy enough to dip in and out of chapters, focusing on any which particularly grab you. The list at the end, which breaks down all the different ways you can get out and experience nature with your children is fantastic if you feel like you're lacking in ideas.

Free-Range Kids: How to raise safe, self-reliant children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) // By Lenore Skenazy

This is written by the mother who hit the headlines and caused a media furore a few years ago for a piece she wrote about letting her 9 year old boy ride the subway in New York City alone. Dubbed 'America's Worst Mother' by some commentators, she was applauded by others for allowing her son (who had ridden the subway countless times before and been fully coached on how to handle the excursion) the freedom he was desperate for a taste of. The antidote to the increasing number of 'helicopter parents' in todays world, Free-Range Kids has since become a national movement, advocating that children today shouldn't be sheltered from every possible risk, danger or difficulty in their everyday lives, as this gives them no opportunity to grow up. Indeed, the greatest risk of all might just be trying to raise a child who never encounters choice or independence.

Rethink: The Way You Live // By Amanda Talbot

This beautiful, hardback book with stunning photographs shows how in different corners of this rapidly changing world, people are reviving age-old methods and redesigning their homes and communities to blend with modern life. We are having to adapt to accommodate new social and environmental behaviour and more of us finding creative outlets for reuse, recycling and reappropriation in our homes. It has an emphasis on day-to-day habits such as growing your own food, sourcing quality products instead of big-name brands, and taking time to craft rather than purchase. Focusing on case studies of specific families, couples and individuals in various countries, it takes a look into their lives and homes and reveals the ways we can combine old resourcefulness with new methods, modern technology and a fresh vision and strive to weave creativity, sustainability and quality into our life and home.

The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less // By India Knight

My mother bought this book for me one Christmas, when I was just setting out in my first (very badly paid) 'proper' job post University and travelling, which was also when the recession first hit. Though it was written back in 2009, it's still incredibly relevant and I continue to pull it off the shelves and read it at least once a year, just to refresh my memory of its genius advice. It's written by the very humorous British author India Knight, who is a regular columnist for The Sunday Times. All about how to live beautifully while saving money and easing your conscience, it covers every aspect of life from how to make wonderful dinners with very little money, dressing fabulously on a budget, and holidaying imaginatively with very little carbon footprint. It contains a wealth of great suggestions, tips and resources though I should point out that whilst a lot of the advice is universal, some of it is tailored with the UK resident in mind.
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