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 stay.  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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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Rules for dads left in charge this weekend

I'm going away for a couple of days. That's right people, an entire 48 hours.  Leaving Mr Average in charge.

So there needs to be a list.  But it doesn't consist of simple errands or activity timetables. Oh no.  

My ten years of - ahem - managing Average Towers has resulted in a set of full-blown guidelines. Call it control freakery if you like. I call it common-sense based on past experience...


ACTIVITIES

Under no circumstances, should you blow our entire monthly budget on fun-filled and expensive excursions.  This may well result in our offspring having "the best time ever" and elevate you to the position of *fun daddy*.  It's still not worth incurring my wrath for.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it's equally unacceptable to park them in front of the telly for two days solid.

NUTRITION

Breakfast can surely take care of itself.  Lunch should feature at least one attempt at fresh fruit or vegetables. Boxed raisins do not count.

When it comes to teatime, ignore the lovingly well-stocked fridge at your peril.  Repairing to the fish and chip shop is not an option. Your failure to air the house afterwards means you'll be rumbled within 20 seconds of my arrival home.

ASSISTANCE

Roping in your mother (or indeed mine) to help is a cop-out. This applies to any other female relative who might be approached in the role of rescuer.

Worse still is the exploitation of any play dates that I have earned on behalf of our children. Don't even go there. Those two hours of payback are mine.

MY RETURN

It would be useful if the house interior was vaguely recognisable on my return. I don't expect clean.  I don't even expect tidy.  Merely habitable.

There should be a grace period of at least one week before you mention booking your own cycling/ski-ing/rugby trip with the guys - and the fact that it's several days longer than mine.

Stick to the above and we'll be just fine.

(To all those crudité-preparing, nature-rambling fathers out there, I apologise.  To all the other Mr Averages, read and learn.)

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Thursday, 12 March 2015

How (not) to exercise with kids

I was pregnant with my first child when I saw her. It was a beautiful summer evening and her blond ponytail swished as she pedalled along with her two children - one on a rear child seat, the other on a small bike beside her.

And I thought to myself: "That's the kind of mother I'm going to be."

Ha ruddy ha.  I may have been hallucinating a decade ago. Because we all know that serene cycling with two children in tow is nigh on impossible. As is any kind of productive exercise. Consider my own contrasting experiences...


Cycling

Let's start with the activity of choice of my blond pony-tailed friend.  Like every good mother, I bowed to the pressure of removing my children's stabilisers as soon as humanly possible. Warning: This does not instantly guarantee a Von Trapp family cycling experience.  Not in our case anyway.

As far as my children are concerned, the rules of the family cycle run are as follows:

  • One of you should hurtle along as quickly as possible, while the other languishes at snail's pace. This leaves the lone parent in a satisfying quandary about who to stick with.

  • Should any traffic approach, do the opposite of your parent's instructions. Don't stick to the side of the road. Instead veer towards the tempting white line in the middle of it.

  • If riding in front, feel free to slam on your breaks without warning.  This is a reliable test of your parent's reflexes - and their ability to curtail their language in front of you.

Running

After reading the above, I know what you are thinking. Why would you even try? Here's the rub. I'm not a very nice person if I don't run regularly. And Mr Average frequently works evenings and weekends. Fresh air and exercise is good for them. Right?

It may be good for them, but it doesn't bode well for anyone who takes their running seriously. Or anyone with the misfortune to share the pavements with you.  Determined to make a go of it, I've run alongside the kiddos on their scooters or bikes. Dog walkers and indeed any faint hearted pedestrians have regarded our small entourage with a mixture of bemusement and horror.  

Kerbs present a particular source of frustration.  Scooters don't go up and down them very satisfactorily.  As with the family cycle, one child will high-tail off gleefully while the other will have a strop - perhaps even grinding to regular halts.  You could try calling this stop-start situation *interval training*.  But even I'm not that much of an optimist.

There is but one vaguely satisfactory solution: You run circuits round the park while they play. Everyone else will think you're nuts. After ten years of parenthood, that's probably true.  

Yoga

Surely it's possible to arrange 15 minutes of zen-like exercise in the comfort of your own living room? Not at Average Towers.

Child number two has declared himself my yoga partner.  This enthusiasm may seem sweet. The reality of the situation is otherwise:

  • He hogs the yoga mat, resulting in substantial parental carpet burn.
  • He fails to do any of the exercises correctly, thus destroying any atmosphere of calm with frenzied panics as to whether he's injured himself.
  • He openly guffaws at my own efforts. Certain positions cause particular hilarity. Reclined goddess anyone? 

Meanwhile child number one, a gymnast who folds herself in half effortlessly, looks on scornfully from behind her novel. Just to add to the experience.

**********

When it comes to sporting heroes, forget your Olympians. Parents who successfully combine exercise with kids are the true winners.  And they really do deserve a medal.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Book Review: The Ice Twins

When I read the email from Mumsnet Bloggers Network looking for reviewers for The Ice Twins, I felt compelled to apply.

The blurb below explains why...

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity - that she, in fact, is Lydia - their world comes crashing down once again.

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed.  When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past - what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?

First impressions

As one of the lucky chosen ten reviewers, I was delighted to receive not only the book but an accompanying package containing camomile tea, a Kitkat and a tealight. These were designed to help the reader #SurvivetheNight, as the story was touted as a suspenseful read that would keep the reader awake into the wee small hours.

I rarely buy new hardback books, so the arrival of one through the letterbox was exciting in itself for me!  I thought that both the words and the imagery on the cover worked well and added to the sense of intrigue. No further encouragement was needed to get started...


The setting

Much of the action takes place on the tiny Inner Hebridean Eilean Torran (Thunder Island), on which the Moorcrofts are the sole residents. Their isolation, and Sarah's lack of familiarity with island life, adds to the atmosphere.  As a Scot, I was relieved that much was made of the beauty of the scenery as well as the harsh weather conditions!

The story

I'm mindful not to include any spoilers here.  The suspense in this story starts to build from the outset. The Moorcrofts' situation is a complex one.  Not only have they lost a child but Sarah and Angus have additional significant struggles - both as individuals and within their marital relationship. There is much talk of the sea and wild weather conditions and, indeed, the reader is also swept among waves of ideas and nuances that keep them guessing as to the answers behind the Moorcrofts' surviving daughter's identity.  I suspect that most readers will be kept guessing right up to the very end of this one.

Personal thoughts

The thoughts that follow are purely personal. Others may feel very differently...

As regards the characters, this was one of those books where my sympathies didn't really rest with one character.  Both Angus and Sarah are flawed (but aren't we all?!). Hints throughout the book about their darker sides are intriguing as they keep the reader toying with theories as to who might truly be at fault.  The downside to this, for me, was that I didn't really form an attachment to either of them.

I did, however, find the surviving twin's anguish during the book quite distressing. There are a number of traumatic scenes featuring Kirstie/Lydia and, indeed, she is unhappy throughout most of the story.  I think readers will feel for the little girl at the heart of this book - the author capably captures her despair, frustration and withdrawal from others.

In terms of the plot, it really is quite fast paced. For me, there were almost too many twists and turns to the story. I should confess here that I'm the sort of person who frequently has to pause a film and ask my fellow viewers for explanations... Although I might have preferred a slightly slower, more drawn-out build-up, I am equally aware that other readers will relish the speed and multi-faceted nature of the story.  

Conclusion

When friends found out I had a copy of The Ice Twins, their reaction was: "Oh, I want to read that book."  I'll recommend that they do.

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A review copy of this book was sent to me free of charge by Mumsnet Bloggers Network. All opinions are my own and no payment was received in return for this review.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Flexible working - a follow up

Last week, I was lucky enough to have my thoughts on flexible working covered in an 'Industry View' piece for the Your Job supplement of the Press & Journal newspaper.

Grateful for the opportunity, I  attempted to write some meaningful words that would be relevant to the publication's readership within the prescribed word count.

In reality my 500 words only scratched the surface of what remains a contentious issue. Articles like this one here are shared and commented on worldwide.  Clearly, lots of us have strong feelings on the subject.

So what of my own deeper feelings?

As with the newspaper article, I prefer not to focus solely on flexible working in relation to women. Men are equally entitled to this choice - and the associated benefits. And if the focus has to be on those who have children, let's talk about parents instead of only mothers.

I'm not living in la-la land.  I acknowledge that it's the female of the family who is more likely to put her career on hold and "flex" to accommodate the arrival of children.  That said, studies reveal that if no stigma was attached, most men would welcome the opportunity to reduce their workload to allow more time for family or other external interests.  The excellent 'Half a Wife' by Gaby Hinsliff talks about this in more detail. It's well worth a read.

Government and organisational systems have a long way to go before they truly facilitate and support flexible working for both men and women.  But until those systems are in place, we as individuals must continue to strive to make our work, home and family lives fulfilling.  Perhaps even harder than system change, is the change in mindsets and attitudes that is required for both sexes to genuinely believe that they can achieve a work-life balance that is right for them.

I, for one, have faith in our ability as humans to facilitate this change.  Many parents demonstrate great resourcefulness and creativity in finding ways to enable their families to function. Stretching budgets, splitting roles, juggling to accommodate children's activities, living off a single income: These are all challenges that families are plunged into and cope with admirably.

Having children also frequently acts as a driver for new parents to consider paths they might never previously have trodden, such as starting new business ventures or remaining within the same line of work but on a different basis - perhaps as a contractor or freelancer.  Others still, with the right support from an employer, may remain with the same organisation but with a different remit or work pattern.  These need not be viewed as 'second best' choices but instead as meaningful - and perhaps better - alternatives.

Flexible working arrangements are not always easy to achieve, or to sustain.  Both our systems and our attitudes can be an impediment.  But I do believe that a fulfilling work life should not be at the expense of a fulfilling family life - or vice versa.  Individuals, families and organisations need to work together and strive to find solutions that allow all parties to flourish.  This might mean opening our minds to new ways of doing things and accepting the element of risk involved.

When it comes to working flexibly, we need to keep up the good fight: For ourselves, for our future - and for our families to follow.

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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Turning forty doesn't hurt...REALLY?!

"It doesn't hurt. Honest." So said a number of friends on the approach to my milestone birthday.  

I don't consider myself to be a particularly fragile person.  However three months into this business of being forty and guess what? It does hurt. A lot.

Appearance
Let's get the vanity issues out of the way first, shall we? On the grey hair front, individual strands have morphed into wiry forests of full-blown white.  Fine lines have turned into crevices.  And don't even get me started on the injustice of having both wrinkles AND adult acne.  Surely one or the other is sufficient?

Maintenance costs
These are directly related to the unfortunate phenomena above.  Cleansing one's face with a baby wipe no longer cuts it as a beauty regime. Ditto to buying cheapo home hair dyes. The more mature lady requires a considerably larger budget in order to look semi-human. Enter my new obsession with the latest anti-wrinkle creams. And let's not dwell on my rocketing annual hair salon outlay.

The eye-watering expense doesn't end with beauty products though. The wardrobe needs to up its game too. Gone are the days when you can trip into New Look, select the first pair of £20 court shoes in the right colour and waltz out again.  Oh no. Forty-year old feet require quality footwear. And by quality I mean expensive. Likewise, the clothes shops of your teenage years with their teeny sizes (and teeny prices) are no longer your domain. Instead, you beat a path to the Hobbs sale because "their fit is so much more flattering."


Fitness
In fairness, I was warned about this one. A super-fit forty-something friend told me that she has to "do more just to stay in the same place".  No kidding.  I've upped my own regime with no tangible improvement in - er - anything.  Then there's the aches, pains and creaking joints to deal with.  I crouched down to retrieve something in a meeting recently.  The crack from my knees almost caused an echo.  If I don't die of decrepitude, I may well die of embarrassment.

Online form filling
Always a tedious exercise, this has reached a new level of discomfort.  I've now joined a bracketed age group that extends to 55.  Then there's the scrolling backwards to find one's year of birth, which takes an eternity.

I do, however, always like to end on a high. With that, let's consider my new eligibility for the veteran's category in running events. It may seem depressing, however it also means that I'm no longer competing against lithe eighteen year olds.  

As one fellow forty said: "Let's enter everything this year, while we're still the youngest."

Amen to that.

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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Excuses of a homeworker (and what they really mean)

Having freelanced for around a decade now, I've shared a lot of stories with others whose roles also involve an element of homeworking.  

There's a unique quality that you need to become a successful homeworker. No-one really warns you about it though. It's nothing to do with organisational skills or self-discipline, however handy these may be.

It's the art of ad-libbing, thinking on your feet and trotting out smooth explanations without a trace of hesitation. Ones that make it sound as though you're operating from a purpose-built glass-walled office when the reality of your working environment is something entirely different...

Here are just a few examples. (They're not all mine. Promise.)



Sorry I missed your call. I had to step away from my desk for a minute.

Translation: I nipped downstairs to shove the third load of washing into the machine.

I'm away from my desk today with limited access to email.

Translation: I rashly volunteered to help out in my child's class today.  I will be furtively checking emails during break time.

I have someone with me right now. Can I call you back?

Translation: My bewildered-looking partner has just entered the room clutching a shopping list and in desperate need of further instruction.

Please excuse me. I'm just about to pop out to a meeting.

Translation: The meeting is with my own offspring who are about to exit the school in three minutes. 

I am on annual leave this week.

Translation: I have decided to swap the stress of dealing with you for the stress of dealing with my children full-time for the next seven days.

********

Once you've got this little lot down pat, you really can't go wrong. After all, the ability to think on one's feet is surely attractive to potential clients?

Addendum: If any of the fabulous people I work for ever actually read this, please know that I love doing what I do for you.  Despite the lack of glass-walled office.

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