Posts in Parenthood
HACKS FOR HANDLING KIDS, CONSUMERISM & CHRISTMAS

It’s officially November, so I thought I’d get in early and start the conversation about Christmas and kids and all the stuff that comes with that. I think it’s worth taking just a little time now before the rush comes in to figure out how we can handle consumerism with our kids and family at this time of year.  

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Raising kids that are not sucked into the consumeristic way our society is postured is a big deal to us but it can also come with its challenges. How do we keep our kids from having too much unnecessary stuff without feeling like we are depriving them? How do we align our values to these gift-giving times of the year when so much feels out of our immediate control? 

Firstly, I want you to know that it is possible. It’s possible to be a conscious consumer, to consider the impact of your purchases on people and planet and still have a magical time of gift-giving and joy with your family.  

Consumer Waste & Response Source reports that: 

Over the Christmas period family and friends will spend £181 on toys for the average child. 

41% of them will be broken or lost within three months. Because of the difficulty of recycling heavy plastics, most of these will head for the tip. 

Few toys biologically degrade and even batteries are not recycled, despite the poisons they contain contaminating the ground water we use. 

The packaging alone accounts for some 20% of the cost and 35% of the total amount of material, toy and packaging. 

We get through 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging during the Christmas season.

I can’t justify these statistics when there are so many alternative ways to give gifts to children. I feel like I need to have a word with Santa. 

As someone who finds it stressful to have excess stuff around me in the home, there have been years where I have dreaded these gift-giving times – feeling surrendered to the influx of presents that will inevitably come into the house at Christmas or around birthdays. For the last few years, we have been trying to prepare the way better in the lead up so that Dave and I can enjoy these times too and not feel burdened or like toy shop managers trying to keep track of all of the stuff that appears and needs a home. We should never be dreading how our house is going to feel around these times – this is our safe space – where our family does life together. Special occasions like Christmas should be a time for us to enjoy our families, not one where we head back to work in January needing a holiday to recover from our holiday. You feel me?

We have found that big influxes of presents can send our kids into a frenzy that can be exhausting to deal with (anyone else?). It feels like joy for a while, maybe even a few days, but sooner or later most of that stuff becomes forgotten about and we parents become burdened by it. 

At this point I want to say that perspective will show us that this is a really beautiful problem to have. Other people in our family and circles want to give gifts to our children! There is a lot of beauty in that. We need to step back and remember that gift-giving is a love language and that people want to show their love towards our families. There are ways that we can embrace that offering that won’t brand us as Scrooge or overwhelm us all. 

I want to suggest some hacks for getting a handle on Christmas and consumerism now before you feel hijacked by the amount of stuff that unnecessarily comes into your home. Here goes!

CLEAR YOUR SPACE

  • We know that inevitably new things will be coming at Christmas, so it will help you to receive them with a little less overwhelm if your home is not already cluttered up with unused things. Take a Saturday morning or a Friday night and begin to clear stuff out. Games, toys, clothes that aren’t being used, are too small, broken, could be sold, given away, dumped or donated.

 

  • It’s important to involve kids in the process of this as you go along. Be positive about it. Explain that it’s important to donate toys that we are done playing with to good causes. Maybe even set them the task of picking a few toys each to give away. Keep it positive - it is positive!

 

  • If your kids (or you!) are struggling to give certain sentimental things away, put them in a box and store them somewhere out of your sight for a few weeks and see if they are actually missed. Then give yourself a pep talk and make some more space. You'll be so glad you did.

 

SUGGEST ALTERNATIVES

  • If you want to limit the influx of stuff, you could suggest your family does a gift exchange system like secret Santa where everyone pulls a name each and has to buy for only one person. Set a budget and stick to it.

 

  • Ask family to come together on a bigger gift or experience present for your kids like outdoor toys or tickets to a show. 

 


REFRAME THE CONVERSATION

  • Pre-emptively start the conversation about having boundaries on presents with your loved ones now. The more time you give to the conversation and the gentle and positive you are about it, the more people have a chance to come round to your ideas and boundaries. This isn’t a conversation about depravity, it’s about the fullness you see in making sure that your kids get gifts that they will really love and use.  

 

  • So really think about what kind of gifts your kids would love. What are they into that they will stay into for a while? What kinds of toys stand the test of time? Imaginative toys are really important for development in smaller kids and studies show they also encourage kids to play well with others (think: art supplies, dress up kits, books, building blocks, farms, cooking kits, marble runs etc). Try to steer loved ones away from toys that do all the imagining for your kids (think: toys that talk, have lots of buttons/batteries, that are static or only have one function - these are generally the most annoying and the least played with). Outdoor play items, sports items and family board games are also great ideas!

 

  • Take advantage when people ask what they can get your kids – be specific! If they don’t ask, you could drop it into conversation - “I know it can be hard to think of what to get the kids for Christmas so let me know if you need any ideas because there are few things they have mentioned or that I know they would love…” 

 

  • Keep the focus on the child - instead of having a conversation where you ream off why you hate toys so much, how they clutter up your house and go against your values; talk about how much the child would LOVE XYZ. Keep that arsenal of ideas in the forefront of your mind so you can suggest gift ideas with ease and excitement. People want to give gifts that they know your child will love. Make it easy for them to feel like the present hero. 

 

Lastly, remember that you are the parents, they are your children and this is your home! You don’t have to justify your values to anyone and you shouldn't let anyone attach obligation or guilt to their gift giving.  

I really hope this gives you courage do set some boundaries in place this year; to open up conversations with your loved ones about how we can do this gift-giving thing better together and how we can model to our kids that the magic is so much more than just mountains of presents. 

Do you have any other ideas to add? How does the influx of 'stuff' feel to you this time of year? Have you found any alternative ways to navigate the overload of presents? Let's chat...

WOMANHOOD + TAKING UP SPACE

I wish I didn't have to write this post but I do. I wish I didn't have to consider the implications that come with pursuing that which makes you come alive with any kind of gusto but I do. I do because it seems like everywhere I turn, women are worried about taking up space. Worried that they are coming across as pushy; worried that they are seen as overly-confident; worried that if they go full throttle in their business and hobbies that they will be perceived as aggressive or salesy or up themselves or too much. So much worry.

I'm kind of tired of it. 

I recently got added into a really beautiful facebook group for women who are mothers that run their own business.  Spoiler alert: I don't officially run business - in fact you may be surprised to know that this blog space where I have been writing for almost 10 years isn't actually something I've chosen to monetise until very recently. I have made almost no money from my blog. More on that later.

The facebook group is run by the lovely and very wise Ray Dodd - a doula, hypnobirthing practitioner and creative coach for women and mothers in business.  Ray posted a video in the group recently entitled "Who is keeping you small?" where she delved into the idea that as women, especially mothers, we can absorb so many messages from people around us about what kind of space we should be taking up in the world.

I've realised that there are some significant issues that come up for me and many of the other women I know that are putting themselves out there to pursue what they love and it all centres around how much space we think we deserve to take up. I want to crack into some of the things we might be believe that are holding us back here - maybe you'll see something that you're struggling with too. Maybe shedding light on these things and calling them out for what they are will relieve us from the fear of them and give us all more permission to go for it. Here are some of the things I think we internalise that are keeping us from doing the things we were made to do:

+ We believe that someone else could do it better.

You have this idea, you want to do the thing, you feel passionate about 'X' but all you keep thinking about is how inadequate you are to do that thing compared to someone else and you feel paralysed and frustrated. Your inner dialogue says "someone else could do it way better and have way more influence and be more slick and funny and professional".  And you know what - that might be true to a degree but you cannot and should not let that stop you. They are not you. And your version of things is entirely important. If there is an idea or something you want to do that is eating up your soul or burning in your brain, you're going to put out a version of that thing that is totally unique to you and that will connect with particular people like nothing else will. You need to do the thing anyway. Take up your space. 

+ We struggle because some people do not want us to change.

When you decide to take up space and try something that takes you out of your comfort zone, some people aren't going to be happy with you doing that. When someone is used to you being a certain way or having certain parameters and you decide to step out of those parameters, it can be uncomfortable for them. Please hear me when I say this - that is not your issue. This is not your concern. Change can manifest some really interesting responses from people, even those that we love the most. When I started to take my writing and social media a little more seriously in order to develop opportunities for myself online, someone close to me unfollowed me on instagram. Isn't that wild? I was devastated. But it was about them, not me. The changes they were seeing me move into was uncomfortable for them. Don't let this be a barrier. You are entitled to evolve and change. We all are. Take up your space.

+ We think that we need to stay small to be relatable.

Taking up space as a women often means being unnecessarily apologetic or playing your talents down. You think people won't like you if you come across as confident - if you push your product, talk about what you know or claim your space as an expert. It is still in us to want to reduce ourselves for fear of what people may think. I think there are many ways to be confident in your abilities, to take up your rightful space and still be likeable or relatable. It's absurd to think it's not possible to do both - and frustrating because it never seems to be a concern for men. If you only ever promote yourself, try to sell, talk about yourself and only share your glory moments then sure - that's annoying and is going to alienate people but we shouldn't have to justify ourselves or follow every accomplishment with a self-deprecating caveat (it took me 6 months to be persuaded to put 'Mel Wiggins MBE' on my work email signature - I get that this is an issue for us). What we need is for men and women to champion each other publicly, so it becomes normal that women feel safe about unashamedly doing what they are made for. Take up your space. 

+ We know that us taking up space can trigger people who want to take up space too.

This is huge for women. I've been triggered by other peoples success and ideas and I know that things that I have done have been triggering for other people. Unfortunately the trigger is that when we decide to take up space, other people worry that there will be no space left; that you doing your thing will mean that there's no room for them to do theirs. And it's simply not true. The table is very wide and there are limitless places. This false culture of scarcity pips women against each other and it is damaging. Can you imagine how boring life would be without the flavour and variety of many people doing things in their own unique way? If you are someone who struggles with other women taking up space because it makes you feel like there's no room for you please hear this - your attitude on this is not only hurting yourself - but it's hurting the sisterhood. Cheer each other on and be supportive, even when it triggers that scarcity mentality in you and for goodness sakes, take up your space.

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And here's the crux of it all: when we allow these things to hold us back, nobody benefits.

You don't benefit:  you will be become paranoid, resentful, over-questioning yourself, paralysed and find your creativity and energy for the things you love start to dry up. Brene Brown says that "unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame."

Your family doesn't benefit: they will have a wife or a mother who is not living at her fullest and that unfulfilled part of who you are will ripple into your family life and they will sense and feel your lack of satisfaction (it's OK to want satisfaction outside of being a mother or a wife, feel no guilt about that).

The rest of us don't benefit: the world misses out on your gift, your contribution, your voice! That is a loss that we can't afford. 

We all have our issues, our doubts about whether we deserve to take up space in the world with our gifts, abilities and desires. I over think every single thing I write or put out on social media because I'm so aware of the space I take up. I've just launched my first online course where I'm asking people to pay for what I write and the knowledge that I have and I have second guessed myself about it forty squillion times before I put it out there even though the content of this course is about a decades worth of learning for me.  

But what if we reframed how we look at these scary, vulnerable situations and saw them as opportunities to be pockets of light. That when we set out to do what lights us up, it shines a path for others to bravely do the same. We all start to shine, we give each other permission to be bright and fulfilled. 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson

So consider this your launch pad, your permission slip to get stuck in and take up as much space as you need. There is plenty of room for us all. Take up your space.

Images by the hilarious and talented Kat Mervyn

5 THINGS WE'VE LEARNED FROM GETTING RID OF OUR T.V.

It's been well over a year now since that fateful day when I arrived home from having coffee with a friend to find an empty lonesome corner of our living room where our T.V. used to live.  

We had talked about getting rid of our T.V. for a while, but Dave took the bull by the horns one afternoon and dumped it in the basement for selling. At first I was a bit like "Oooookaaaaayyy....I'm on boaaaarrrrrd..." - the words leaving my mouth in slow motion so to try and give my head time to be convinced it was a good idea. We had a busy 4 year old and another baby on the way. How would I put in nine months of a maternity leave without being able to binge-watch something on the sofa while endlessly breastfeeding? What would I use as bait to give Levi some down time when I needed to see to the baby? It wasn't something I was totally sure was going to work for us, but I felt like it would only be fair to give it a try.

Now that we are well into the second year of having no T.V. in the house I can reflect and see that there have been some really significant lessons learned for us. Although they may have seemed insignificant as they have happened, in hindsight they have really changed us. Sure, there have been times where I have really longed to have a telly back, don't get me wrong - but for the most part there are zero regrets. Here are five things in particular that stand out:

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1)  An intentional peaceful space in your home is something to cultivate and cherish.

Our kitchen/diner is the central hub of our home. It's the first room we go into in the morning and usually the last place that we turn off the lights at night. It's where we make food, cook, eat, do homeworks, draw, work, entertain etc. It is the buzzing, busy core of our family living space - a room that is so happy and alive, but is also the epicentre of our chaos. One thing that has brought us loads of joy is being able to have another room that is free from that atmosphere of busyness. Not having a T.V. in our living room opened it up to be a really safe, sacred space for us to relax as a family without extra noise or clutter. We were able to get rid of all the furniture we felt only suited the room because it was pointed at the T.V. and were able to think carefully about how to lay it out to foster conversation and relaxation. We got this 4 seater sofa from DFS, got rid of our big T.V. table, we sold our second sofa because it felt too clunky and we had our big footstool recovered. Having a comfortable sofa really gives the room a warmth and a welcome that is needed and we are loving that our new one is really stylish and cozy. Add in some plants, artwork, blankets, candles and a handful of toys on rotation and it has become a haven for the end of the day.  

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Don't for a second think that it's all snuggling and reading books together by the light of a tapered candle - some chaos happens here too (and a lot of wrestling matches). But mostly this is now where we come when we all need to unwind from the noise of life and be a little more tuned in to each other.

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2.  Eliminating incessant advertising is good for your soul (and your wallet).

One of the driving factors for kicking our T.V. to the curb was how much we noticed that excessive advertising was creeping into our lives and making us a bit unnerved. Levi was constantly asking for new things and we tended to default to having the T.V. on in the background of our daily lives - letting all kinds of messaging and advertising into our space without much thought of the impact. Without it, we have taken back some control over what we take in and for that I am grateful. We still use our phones/tablets/laptops to watch Netflix (which doesn't have any ads) and playback TV (we pay a T.V. license so we can still tune into mainstream programmes when we choose to) but that's now on our own terms - no more passive consumer messaging. Levi isn't half as aware of the toys and gadgets that he may or may not be missing out on because endless adverts aren't thrust in his face every five minutes. We are able to be more purposeful about what we watch - only consuming T.V. shows that we really want to watch instead of the endless drone of background telly. It's just easier to tune that stuff out when it's not an option anymore.  

3.  Kids need the opportunity to be creative. It's in them to discover. 

One of the best things about eliminating the T.V. option from our home has been how much it has brought out Levi's creative side. I don't know if he was always going to be a creative child but not having the distraction of constant T.V. has given him loads of space to use his imagination.  There is not a day goes by that he isn't up at the kitchen table surrounded by stacks of paper and colouring pencils, crayons, glue and scissors making something. It is an absolute joy to watch and inevitably we get roped into his creations too. I ended up getting him a big wooden caddy from IKEA to store all of his supplies in and it never leaves the kitchen table - always armed with all of his tools to create something on the daily. One week my dad and him made an ice cream machine out of a box and he brought it in for show and tell in school. His teacher loved it and had him go up to the Principals office to show it off and the PRIDE on his face when he came home to tell us. 

I say that not to be smug, but to really appreciate the way that Levi has adapted to limited amounts of screen time. Sure, he gets a tablet handed to him at 6.15am when he wakes up ready for the day - I beg you to find a parent that isn't using the gift of technology to snag an extra half hour (hour) in bed, half-awake and longing for the good old days of a lie-in. He also loves to curl up on the sofa with his tablet and watch Netflix after school to wind down and we are really relaxed about that. What is beautiful though is that he now has the ability to regulate his own screen time and takes initiative to turn off his programmes when he's had enough and sit up at the table and draw or make things. I feel like despite all of the things that go wrong or are frustrating about parenting throughout these sometimes long days  - there are things worth being proud of and this is one of them.  I don't think he would be half as inclined to do this if T.V. was still an option for him.  I have even managed to chill the hell out about the mess he makes in the process because I know that it's so good for him to be free to create.

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4.  People notice and are drawn to the peace.

I love having people in our home - new friends, old friends, neighbours and family. Our home is for sharing and I want it to always be a welcoming place. When we first got rid of the T.V. I was really aware that other people might find it weird and I was even worried that my parents would hate babysitting for us because there was no T.V. but the opposite is true. So many of our friends and family have either not even noticed that we don't have a T.V. or have been really struck by how peaceful our living area is now. They love retiring to the front room after a Sunday roast or a day of taking care of our kids because it's the space where all there is to do is relax. No dishes or fetching for little ones, just stopping and being together. 

I love bringing people into our living room, lighting the fire and cozying up on the sofa for a good night of catching up. Not having a T.V. blinking in the background creates a really level, open space for real conversation and honesty - no diversions or distractions.   

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5.  We are not missing out. 

Ok, fine. There are times when all I want to do is watch Catastrophe or one of our favourite box sets on a bigger screen but those times are few and far between. There are still lots of ways that we can (and do) indulge in on-screen entertainment so we really don't feel like not having a T.V. has limited us in any way. We are much less likely to tune into something when it's on in real time because we aren't as aware of when shows are scheduled but in this day and age of catch-up telly, we can always go back to find something if we really want to watch it. There is so much choice now in terms of what to watch and how to watch it that we are really spoiled. Maybe had we done this before the days of Netflix and NOWTV or similar outlets it would be different but I'm more than content not to know who is making a fool out of themselves on X Factor this year.

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We are still trying to make sure that we don't gravitate to our phones too much in replacement of mindless telly watching. I feel like that's something we will always be working on as these little mini computers in our hands draw us to distraction more and more. 

Let me finish by saying that there is nothing at all wrong with television. It's a real gift to be able to learn and be entertained by technology and I would be a huge hypocrite if this post came off as a righteous rant about the perils of T.V.  It's not. 

Removing the physical object from our main living space has, however, opened up a whole new way for us to connect and be creative. It has forced us to be intentional about our consumption of T.V. and given us back a space in our home that is a peaceful and quiet in the midst of our busy lives with little ones and for that I am grateful.

So tell me - would you ever consider giving up the T.V. in your home? Is T.V. a big deal in your house? How do you think your family would feel if you decided to remove it for a while? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences so do leave me a comment!

With thanks to DFS for sending us our lovely new 4 seater Zinc sofa in collaboration with French Connection to enjoy in our living room.

THREE APPROACHES FOR POSITIVE, RESPECTFUL PARENTING (WHEN PARENTING IS HARD)

When it comes to parenting, we are mostly winging it. Every day of this job/privilege where we have to keep these tinies alive and make sure they grow up to be decent humans is a learning curve. Every day we are faced with new challenges that we hadn't thought about how we would handle and conversations that we are in over our head with. "Mummy, when you're dead are you just lying in the ground dead?".... Yeah. That stuff. 

The last six years of parenting has been both but a tiny portion of life and a steep time of growth.  We have unlearned a heap of things that we thought we were supposed to do and be as parents and that process has been difficult and freeing all at the same time. I write what I'm about to write here not as an expert, but as a normal parent that is figuring it out daily - drinking in grace and compassion for myself as we navigate these unchartered territories for our own family.  It is relentless and rewarding. It is hard. 

For us there have been some approaches and values that have emerged and felt really natural and magnetic for us - ways to view and operate that make sense to us and help keep us tuned in to the kind of way we want to raise our family. I thought I'd go into our top three parenting approaches a bit here - the values we come back to when we are finding it tough. I'll include some practical examples of how they play out in our day to day lives in the hope that some or any of it serves you on your path too and maybe frees you up to parent to your own tune.

1) RESPECT & CONSENT

This may seem like a no-brainer, but most of what I had known or seen of parenting was that respect was largely a one-way street when it came to children. Kids were expected to respect anyone older than them without question and consent was something we didn't really need to talk about until adolescence. For us, respect is something we want to be really mutual and really natural in our family. We are all equal, and every single member of our tribe deserves the same amount of respect as the other. This is the message I drive at in my work life, so why would it not apply in my home life? Nobody is the boss of anyone else; that language isn't even used in our home because we don't have to thrive on power-play dynamics. We all help each other because that's what makes a family work best. We apologise to each other when we know we have caused upset - us adults unafraid to show vulnerability when we have acted or spoken out of frustration. When it comes to consent, we are intent that children are in charge of their own bodies. Unless they are posing a risk to themselves or others, we try to stay out of the way and allow them to move around their world and try things without us hovering or intervening all the time. It took a lot of unlearning to get here - we live in a world that is so adult-centric and to offer children the same amount of autonomy over their bodies and decisions as we do grown ups is a real challenge to our culture, so we have struggled to get this right all the time and feel valid in our choices. But, we want our kids to grow up in a world where this is the norm and is a priority so we try to model this from the outset. 

HOW IT LOOKS FOR US: 

Respect and consent can be fostered in so many big and small ways. We don't force hugs or kisses - if someone asks for one we make sure Levi knows that he doesn't have to - that he can give a high five, or a fist bump or nothing at all.  We don't make a big deal out of him saying no - it's not up to him or us to satisfy someones need for affection just because he is small. It's totally up to him. We stop tickling when he says stop or isn't having fun anymore. We try not to talk about him with other people as though he is not in the room - if someone asks about him, we allow him to answer. Also, lately Levi has been really aware of his picture being on social media so we have started to ask him if it's OK before we go ahead and put his picture online (anyone who has been tagged in someone else's picture when you were unaware of the picture being taken and might look less than camera/public forum ready may be able to relate). Sometimes he says no to putting a picture online, and we have to follow through and respect that (even if it is the cuuuuutest picture and it pains me not to share).  We allow him to try things for himself when he asks - like pouring out the juice. Sometimes he spills it, sometimes he doesn't. We try not to be annoyed about that (entirely against the grain of my tidy nature) because he is learning that he can do things for himself and that we can trust him to try, even if he makes mistakes or doesn't get it right. 

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2) FINDING A WIN/WIN

Have you heard of the saying that you should never negotiate with terrorists or toddlers? Ha! I totally understand the sentiment of that statement but for us, negotiation is not only welcome in our family life but it is encouraged. There are so many times where we butt heads with each other. We could dig our heels in (and we have) to make a point, to try and make life easier for us adults or to assert our need to feel in control. What we have found to really diffuse difficult situations or power struggles in our family is trying to find a solution that meets everyones needs if we can. Children are not exempt from needing some sort of control over their lives and for so long that concept has been talked about as a terrible thing. "He'll rule you" "You're too soft" "You give in too easily" "You need to be the parent".  

Well, for us, 'being the parent' is trying to find a way where everyone feels heard - not just the grown ups. A little give and take can go a long way when you let go of the dynamic in your head that determines only adults can be in control. This approach of giving and taking, of picking the right battles (although battle isn't a great word to use because it doesn't have to be one against the other) can be mistaken for being permissive or not having boundaries but I find that a really unhelpful way to look at it. There is so much more room for connection and mutual respect when we try to find a way for everyone to get what they want. Sure, it requires calling on all of your communication reserves and that can be tiring and mean having to dig deep but it's worth it. 

Of course the necessity to negotiate isn't applicable all the time and sometimes you just have to make a call in the moment and be OK - understanding that your child will likely have big unhappy feelings about it.  Don't be afraid of being a 'soft' parent - we can be soft and supportive; soft and boundaried. It doesn't have to be one or the other. The world needs people to be a little softer these days, anyhow. 

HOW IT LOOKS FOR US: 

Bedtime. The most testing moments of the day in lots of family homes. The time when most good and patient people can transform into shouty, threatening maniacs. Amiright? Everyone is tired (even if they like to pretend they are not) and us parents are ready for some down time with Harvey, Lorelai, Schmidt or some other box-set friend. Every little delay in the bedtime process can feel like your child has decided to wage war on you and it can really provoke some tense feelings. Levi loves to negotiate at bed time and so we have tried to get into the habit of pre-empting the stalling and protesting by firstly giving lots of time warnings ("20 minutes until we go up to do teeth and toilet!"). Often he will ask for more time to play or draw or watch something, so we negotiate. "Sure, you can stay up for an extra 10 minutes if you get your jammies on now and brush your teeth." Sometimes we get in there first and initiate the negotiation. "Levi, do you want to get your jammies on now and stay up a little bit later tonight?". I love to see him working out a deal with us ("Right mummy, let's make a deal?" - we go back and forth until we are both happy with the arrangement and we have to shake on it too). I can see that he is proud to have some power or say in our dynamic. I really believe it will serve him well as he grows up and will help him assert his voice and at the same time be aware of other people's need to be heard too.

THREE APPROACHES FOR POSITIVE, RESPECTFUL PARENTING

3.  EMPATHY & ACKNOWLEDGING FEELINGS

Have you ever felt really entirely bummed out about something and you just can't shake it? Something has happened to upset you and you are struggling to lift yourself out of your mood? Imagine you call a trusted friend and after you pour your heart out, their response is this: "Now, that's enough. Don't be silly - you're fine! Up you get and get on with things. On you go!" Or, worse still - they completely ignore your feelings and try to drive the conversation away onto other things? Ugh. The worst, right? I see this happen so often with children. They fall and cry and our first response is "You're OK! No need to cry." or "That's a good girl - up you get, you're fine".  We can quite easily dismiss their feelings as immature and dramatic, instead of valid, or desiring of connection and entirely age-appropriate. There is something so powerful about someone else acknowledging your feelings that can help you shift how you feel. Even the smallest recognition of your situation can unlock deep isolating feelings. Validating and recognising a child's feelings (whether big dramatic displays or small) can be such an opportunity to foster empathy and we have found that prioritising that validation almost always diffuses the situation at hand and opens the door to communication and connection. For children, when the people that they trust and love most in their life truly show that they understand and are not afraid or nuisanced by their hurt or anger (and can even help them name what they are feeling), children are so much more able to regulate their feelings, build trust, show empathy to others and feel safe to come to you with other stuff.

HOW IT LOOKS FOR US: 

One of our big struggles is food. Namely sugar. We have a little boy who loves his treats but really doesn't cope well with the come-down from a sugar high. It can get pretty ugly and hard to manage, so we have had to really think hard about the boundaries we put in place when it comes to his intake of the sweet stuff. He is pretty persistent in asking for a 'treat' after school, and can get really upset when the answer is no. We have to spend time acknowledging that yes, sweet treats do taste nice, and that it's hard to not get things that you really want.  We talk about how our body needs good food to make us feel good so we can have better fun and we try to make sure that there are good alternatives in the house. Sometimes I even try to redirect that sad or upset energy into baking something healthy instead because we connect really well when we're doing something like that together.  We don't dismiss that he feels sad or annoyed with us, hoping that our avoidance of his feelings somehow magics him into being OK with it. Sometimes talking it through helps, sometimes he needs some time to be annoyed or sad and know that it's OK to feel that way. Often this acknowledgement can lead back to negotiation and we try to figure out a way forward.

THREE APPROACHES FOR POSITIVE, RESPECTFUL PARENTING

Hear me out - taking on some of these ways to parent does not means that your child will behave perfectly all of the time.  That is definitely not true.  

“WELL WHAT’S THE POINT, THEN??” you cry!  

Choosing to parent with respect, consent, negotiation and empathy is a long-term approach.  It is not a fool-proof guide to making your kid do all the right things so they don't ever end up lying on a shop floor crying in a fit of public rage because it was too close to dinner time for an ice-cream. This isn’t about producing results or compliant children (good luck with that - compliance is over-rated anyway).  This is about choosing connection over our need for control. When we stop seeing our relationship with our kids as a battle-field or a power struggle we can begin to foster a culture in our family life that really aims to see that all our needs are met. Parents who forgo their own needs for their children's end up resentful and struggle to enjoy family life. I know this because I have found myself veering into this zone myself and it's not how it's supposed to be. 

Children will still hit out, cry when you set limits, be unreasonable about things that we don’t understand but showing up for them with consistent empathy and respect in all of those moments is part of the process of building resilient people who can tap into empathy and respect as they journey through our fragile broken world.

What do you think about these three approaches? What are the values that underpin your parenting style? Leave me a comment here or on my facebook page and let's chat more...

DECIDING ON AN ECO PRAM

When it came to buying baby stuff for Ada, we were really focused on keeping things simple.  Most of the things we had from Levi's baby days had already found a new home or were donated and so almost five years later we were starting from scratch.  Most of the big stuff we tried to find second-hand, including our pram.  I remember feeling so overwhelmed by buggies and travel systems this time around.  The world of prams was a very different one now from 2011 and the amount of choice, add-ons and online reviews was immense and confusing. What did I really need?! It all felt too much so we settled on one from gumtree that looked really pretty but...

It took our trip to Italy for me to finally surrender that we had made the wrong choice of pram. Sure it was pretty, but it just didn't have the stamina for the amount of walking that we were doing. We had the tires blow out on us a couple of (really inconvenient) times over the two weeks we were away and had to scurry to local Italian bicycle shops to get them patched and fixed. Thank goodness for baby-wearing, even if it was 40 degree heat!  Lesson learned.  Sometimes second-hand items work out, and sometimes they don't. We needed a pram to be reliable as my back-to-work date was looming and we were leaving Ada in the trusty hands of grandparents who would be taking her out and about for walks all the time.  

Not long after we came home I was really excited to hear from Joolz, an exciting baby brand from the Netherlands, and they offered to send me one of their prams to check out. It was so timely and so I went about checking out the company and their ethics and values - something that's really important to me before I decide to work with or promote any brand.  

I was thrilled to read about their sustainability focus. Their headquarters in Amsterdam is a hub of energy-neutral buildings with hundreds of solar panels, they use completely recyclable packaging and they even plant a tree in Columbia for every pram purchased and registered with them.  It sounded great on paper, but I was keen to find out if the product itself was as good as their ethos...  

After almost 6 months of using the Joolz Day I can honestly say that this is the best pram we have ever had and here's why:

+  It is so incredibly smooth.  Everything about it - from how it manoeuvres on any kind of terrain, how the different parts click in, the extendable handle bar and the hood - everything just glides effortlessly.  I also love all the slick leather parts - the handlebar especially.

+  It is so nice to push.  You sure do recognise quality when you use a Joolz.  It is a pleasure to push and take on walks.  We have tramped through muddy forests trails, strolled around cobbled cities and rambled down stony paths and the Joolz can handle it all with ease.  I take Ada into town most days when I'm off and there is a stretch of footpath on our route that has so many bumps and dips that I used to dread taking her out with our old pram but I genuinely don't even notice it now.

+  It is easy to put together.  The amount of faffing that I have had to do in the past with footmuffs and handles and looping buckles on and off and under and through.  Gah!  You'd have found me lying on the hall floor in a flummox before, but the Joolz feels intuitive and simple to switch about.  You can easily move it to face in or out and recline it to a really lovely flat snoozy position; great for those cranky days when fresh air is the only thing for us all.  There is a certain knack to folding it down, but once you do it a couple of times it's like second nature.  

+  It is great for us tall folk! I'm 5'8 (ish) and I love that the handlebar is extendable to a height that feels really comfortable for me so I don't have to slouch down to push. No more back aches from walking stooped over a buggy! 

+  It is compact. Even though it's a sturdy pram and the base has some weight to it (which is a good thing for safety reasons), it still sits in the boot of our small car really neatly.  Everything tucks away with ease and we often have groceries and Levi's bike fitting in around it too.

+  When it's upright, it is properly upright.  Ada LOVES being up and seeing all around and the proper upright position is great for those times when you nip into a cafe and all the high chairs are gone because it can slide her right up to a table to join in the fun without being in the way. 

+  It has a generous hood. I am really not a fan of rain covers on prams. They are a massive faff and seem to never fit quite right so I absolutely love that the Joolz Day has a really huge hood that extends extra long and gives great coverage. We are prone to fleeting rain showers here in Northern Ireland, so it is so handy to just pop the hood up if we are caught in one until it passes.

Joolz has their own range of car seats but the prams are also compatible with all the big car seat brands too and you can really tailor it to your own spec with stacks of fabric colours and leatherette to choose from.

Trust me, I know how complex the world of baby stuff can be so I really wanted to share our experience with any new parents-to-be who are getting ready to make these important purchases. 

These Dutchies at Joolz know what they are doing with design for modern families and I feel really evangelical about it.  It is a really well thought through pram with uncompromising style, function and reliability and I am so pleased to be able to promote a brand that is dedicated to building a business that has sustainability in mind as well.  

With thanks to Joolz for collaborating with me on this post and to the wonderful Geoff Telford Photography for the images.

FOUR PILLARS FOR THE YEAR AHEAD

My first blog post of 2017! This month, usually the slowest and most dreaded of the year, hasn't really felt like that at all round here.  Although I have been a bit quiet on the blog front, I have been squirrelling away behind the scenes writing my first ever e-guide 'A Simpler Start To The Year' and putting some foundational priorities in place for the year ahead.

I wanted to share with you some of these things - put them in writing, almost as a form of accountability to myself.  I mentioned in the e-guide that I there are certain pillars in my life that when I make sure that they are upheld, they sustain me and help me keep my priorities in check. Being outside with my family, doing a job that has an impact, spending time with friends that know me and are for me, and making time for creative pursuits are the main four. So, right at the outset of the year I have tried to mark down some of the ways I am putting things in place to try and keep these pillars steady throughout the year.

FAMILY LIFE

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I really love my two days away from my Freedom Acts job when I get to spend time with Ada, pick Levi up from School, get stuff done around the house and skip off for lunch and playdates with friends.  I feel like it's a good healthy rhythm in my week that enables me to enjoy motherhood.  When it comes to the precious weekend, I want to make sure that we get outside more as a family - even when the weather sucks. We almost never spend the day outside exploring or going on road trips to the seaside and regret it. Every single one of us in our four respond well to the outdoors and fresh air - it needs to be a regular intentional thing.

As an aside - alongside our Instagram hashtag, Aly and I are hoping to start a monthly #MotherhoodAlive Podcast this year! The idea is to dedicate episodes to explore how different mothers work out rhythms to keep their passions and interests as priorities when family life can be so relentless and busy.  We both find this to be such an important thing for us and we know many of you are also working out how to find the space in your life to keep prioritising the things that you ignite you as you navigate parenting so we hope having some discussion around it and interviewing other mothers will be a real inspiration to us all that it can and should be done!  We are podcast novices so it should be fun figuring it all out - Aly and I have such a laugh together so hopefully we'll bring the banter too.  Will you listen in with us?!

JOB

As many of you know, I coordinate Freedom Acts, a project that I lovingly refer to as my third child.  My work involves raising awareness, campaigning and most of all, being strategic to prevent the exploitation of people most at risk in our communities.  Our team is small but fiercely committed. One thing that I've realised in the five years that I've been doing this is that having a creative element to this work is really important to me (and, I believe, to the cause).  It can be heavy, serious work, so I have felt like I needed some offline accountability to make sure that I am leading well and keeping my creative voice well tuned so I've got some coaching sessions booked in with Jen Carrington whose work and advice for creative women that are leading in various roles I've been devouring for a while now.  I really believe that investing in your own development (if you are able) is important and I'm looking forward to working through this stuff with Jen.

TIME WITH FRIENDS

I'm just back from a really beautiful weekend in England with two of my best friends. We decided it was stupid to continue missing each other, playing phone and FaceTime tag and that we needed to just book a long weekend in to catch up and make it a more regular thing.  There is something about being with friends that both affirm and challenge me that is so deeply good for my soul. Less chasing the half-hearted or one-sided relationships and more pursuing those deep soulful ones this year. 

CREATIVE PURSUITS

I used to consider myself a crafty person.  You may have even read a few crafty DIY's in the early days of this blog - there even used to be a whole room in our house that was dedicated to craftiness. However, my denial ran deep, as did my love for craft supplies.  I've realised that my creative muscles are not best flexed in the crafty area - I love the idea of being crafty, but truth be told most of my attempts end up looking like those 'pinterest fails'. I have found that I am at my best creative self when I am writing about things I'm passionate about or planning a special gathering of people so I'm really looking forward to making more room for that stuff this year.  

I can't tell you how awesome it has been to do 'A Simpler Start to The Year' this month and how overwhelmed I was by the response. To be honest, I thought I would launch it to crickets, but it seemed there were so many of us really ready to say goodbye to 2016 and delve into this new year with some intention. The series and content I wrote looked at our relationships with our possessions, our priorities and our perspectives (I do love an alliteration - it's the preachers kid in me).  As well as digging into these themes in each email, the conversations, sharing and support continued into a closed Facebook group where it has been amazing to meet such beautiful people on the same path and learn from each other.  I'm hoping to make the content available on here for anyone who didn't get to join in this time round.

This experience, my first taste of writing an email resource, was a learning curve. I'm so glad I did it and pushed myself to give it a go and I'm hoping to do more of these over the year.  Writing on the blog will continue, honing in on content that I'm proud to have here - posts about ethical living, family life, creativity etc.  I'm also going to be doing some writing for some beautiful magazines and online publications which isn't something I had planned on but I'm excited for nonetheless.  

Finally, I'll be launching tickets for the Assembly Winter Gathering THIS WEEK! We have secured a really cool venue and have lots of lovely things planned for creative females to come together in Northern Ireland. If creative community with other women is what you are craving, will you join us?

Phew! I feel good about putting this stuff out there as intentions and priorities, even if only some of them come to fruition. I know that making the space and effort for any of them will really feed my soul.

What about you? What are you carving out time for this year? What are the pillars or priorities that help you feel more fully alive? Let me know in the comments, I'm always interested to hear...

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