Motherhood, fear and overthinking: the school decision

We are in the midst of making one of the most important decisions we have ever had to make so far for Jasmine, her Primary school choice, and the significance of this decision has been weighing heavy on my shoulders. This is the thing with parenthood, isn’t it, that as they happen and as they unfold, particular moments can bear so much significance that they can become all-consuming. Over the last few weeks and months, ever since the day the letter arrived telling us that it was time to choose Jasmine’s school, I have spent many an hour considering this decision to the point where at times, the enormity of it all (or so it seems) has become overwhelming. I have not been able to switch off my over-analysis of each detail, each conversation and each classroom and have become ‘stuck’ on issues that have left me feeling exhausted, depleted and confused. I have sought reassurance from family and friends, hoping that someone would just say something that would ultimately help me decide. Yet deep down I already know that no matter how difficult it seems now and no matter how much it really does matter to me (and Jasmine), significant choices and significant moments in our children’s lives don’t stay significant forever. The choices, big decisions and memorable moments that once too all felt so mega, are now just smaller parts of our bigger journey, most likely etched in my memory as a Mother and erased almost entirely from Jasmine’s.

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So why then, despite knowing this, do I find myself so stuck when it comes to making Jasmine’s school choice? Why the overthinking to the point of driving myself crazy with it all? Why can’t I just make the final decision? Of course, I want the very best for her, just as all parents do for their child. We all love our kids beyond measure. We want them to thrive, reach their potential, succeed in life and ultimately to feel safe, secure, happy, loved and understood, be it at school or at home. But there’s just something so big about choosing a big school, after all, it’s where Jasmine, and then Summer, will soon be spending the majority of their time throughout their childhood. It’s the place that will harness what will hopefully be their love of learning, nurture their individualities, challenge their ever-developing brains and provide a well-rounded, fun, supportive and engaging environment, right?

But I am still terrified of getting it wrong. Even when being faced with the fortunate option of various good schools, I am still afraid to make the wrong decision. There is no crystal ball with Motherhood. There is no way of seeing our kids in the future or truly knowing that they’ll be “just fine.” Everything feels like a slight gamble, as if we’re placing bets on the best chance of a win, without ever really knowing what’s around the corner. It is certainly all a big exercise in releasing control over the things we, well, cannot control at all.

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So whilst I do think that careful consideration of a school choice and trying to find the best fit for your child (especially if they err on the side of sensitive) is vital and ultimately a huge expression of our deep love for our kids, there are several things that have helped bring my crazy overthinking brain back to more of a neutral place:

  • School is a big part of a child’s life, but it isn’t everything. There will be plenty of time and opportunities for Jasmine to learn from us as her parents and from her wider community and for us to enrich her life with a variety of experiences that will also forge her sense of identity, her desire to learn and play, and encourage her to embrace her uniqueness.
  • In a world where millions of children, and even more girls, are denied access to education at all, being faced with choosing between one good school and another becomes a relatively good problem to have. Sometimes looking at the bigger picture can really help to tone down our very valid, but often exaggerated concerns.
  • I trust in Jasmine’s ability to thrive, just as she is now, and to develop resilience when things don’t quite go to plan. I know that wherever she goes to school, not everything will always be plain sailing and that is, just life.
  • I trust in my ability as her Mother to nurture the child I know and love more than anyone else in the world. I know that I will sense her happiness or unhappiness and I know that I will always advocate for her, support her and be a part of her school journey with her, wherever that may be.
  • The significance of this decision will fade over time. As she brings home her homework and talks about her friends, as she learns to sound out words and learns how to add numbers, the weight on my shoulders will lessen and the joy of watching my first baby enter this huge new chapter of her life will take over instead.
  • It is a privilege to have a child whose “normal” needs will be met without me needing to fight for her. There are parents out there, many of whom I know and work with, for whom this decision really will be a monumental choice and where each and every detail about a school really can make a difference for their child.
  • I recognise the role of fear in the mix of this decision and I know that fear is our mind’s way of protecting ourselves from things we cannot predict or control. I fear her reaction to another big change, to bigger classrooms and to pressure to perform. I fear not being a part of her day or that she won’t tell me things that happen. I fear that I will miss out on her, hugely. But I also know that FEAR is just false evidence appearing real and the antidote to fear is to not only lean into it but to trust in the gut feelings that exist within us too, that everything will be absolutely OK.

When there is fear, there is work to be done on ourselves so that we can ease into these moments with greater understanding, focussing more on our children and their reality than on ourselves and the projections of our own fears. No one said it would be easy but it’s difficult because we care so much and that certainly makes me feel better.


“I want to eat meat,” and other things our kids might say to us one day

It probably happens about once a month. That question that we get asked as vegan parents raising vegan children and the question that crops up in one way or another yet is so rarely asked in reverse of omnivorous parents raising meat-eating kids.

“What will you do if Jasmine (and Summer) turn around when they’re older and say they want to eat meat?”

“Will you give them a choice?”

“Do you think they’ll want to try meat one day?”

“Do you think they’ll always be vegan?”

Honestly, my first response…sigh. You see, I know that this question is asked with genuine intrigue and interest but to be on the receiving end of it, and frequently, implies that there is still a level of uncertainty and perhaps sub-conscious judgment from the questioner and therefore reflects their own stance about eating, or not eating meat. In other words, it could sound more like this:

“The way you’re raising your children to be vegan is restrictive/unfair/forced/weird/not normal/dangerous/makes me uncomfortable/not what I would choose and I think they will rebel against it one day because of this.”

Perhaps that’s a little unfair but this type of question, along with, “how does your child get enough protein?” is asked 100 times more often than, “I’d love to make more vegan food for my child. Could you share any recipes?” The difference is stark and one subtly requires us to defend our choice to raise vegan kids whilst the other would indicate understanding and respect.

Veganism as a way of life and a belief system is based upon the following facts:

  • Breeding and killing animals for food is unnecessary* in a world where we have access to plant-based foods that offer every nutrient necessary for a healthy and balanced diet
  • Animals killed for food suffer in life and death
  • Animal agriculture & fishing industries are the leading causes of climate change
  • A vegan diet is not restrictive or limited
  • If you can live a life that causes as little harm as possible to other creatures**, why wouldn’t you?
*for those of us with the privilege of choice
**in this case, I am referring to non-human creatures although veganism in itself benefits the human population but is not a perfect system in protecting humans from harm

It is because of these facts that I don’t actually worry about this question being asked by either of the girls. That’s not to say it won’t happen and in fact, they are both likely to have numerous questions about veganism which we will encourage, but I’m certainly not worried about it. We are raising the girls to choose (and enjoy) foods that align with our core belief system that we believe most other children have too…that causing unnecessary harm to animals and damaging the planet is not cool!

Our girls are thriving on their vegan diets and both have a very healthy relationship to food for which I’m very grateful. They eat a huge variety of fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu and grains (the list goes on) but they also enjoy crisps, ice cream, biscuits, cakes, pizza, chips and any other special treat going. A vegan diet is not in the least bit restrictive and therefore it doesn’t make children feel “forced into something,” but rather that their pure and genuine desire to foster positive relationships with animals is being respected. It’s therefore more unlikely that at age 16 they may turn around in a fit of anger and wish they’d never been raised vegan. It just makes sense. Kids love animals and don’t want to eat them.

 

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Jasmine with her vegan “chicken” nuggets, eating what all kids eat, but without the dead animals

 

We are equipping our children with the ability to live in alignment with their beliefs, challenge societal norms, contribute to the well-being of the planet and to enjoy the huge range of delicious and healthy plant-based foods on offer to them. 

My biggest worry is not whether they’ll turn around and ask to eat meat (of course by the way, this will be a choice they can make). No, my bigger worry is how they will cope as vegan kids living in a non-vegan world. How they will cope with difficult questions at school, how they will cope with being different, how they will cope with being misunderstood and ultimately how they will cope when they finally learn the truth too.

So if you’ve also wondered whether vegan children will grow up to get a choice or if whether raising vegan kids is fair, I kindly ask you to consider the following:

Which child is more likely to grow up and turn their back on the way they have been raised to eat? The child who loves animals and doesn’t eat them or the child who loves animals but eats them too?

 


Motherhood and the fear of making mistakes

Last week in a moment of deep reflection, I realised that I have a profound fear of making mistakes. It feels funny to me that I hadn’t realised it previously but the thing with our fears is that usually until we work to unpick them, our fears manifest in our real life as some of our more unwanted habits or behaviours. For me, the fear of making mistakes manifests as procrastination. I procrastinate because that protects me from making mistakes.

Several months back I took an online quiz to discover my fear archetype having listened to Ruth Soukup’s podcast series called, “doing it scared.” The results were a little, “yes, that’s pretty much what I expected,” and so I parked the idea and didn’t think I’d particularly learnt anything new about myself, as I so often seek to do. But then something seemingly insignificant happened whilst I was at work the other day and I was suddenly floored by my realisation that perhaps these quiz results were perhaps a lot more revealing than I’d first led myself to believe. According to the quiz, procrastination manifests as the fear of imperfection, preferring not to do something at all than to risk it not being perfect. I’ve never been much of a perfectionist at anything which is perhaps why this label didn’t resonate with me at first but what does resonate with me is that I put off doing things that I want to and should do because I’m fearful of making mistakes.

Motherhood has opened up a rather daunting portal into my own childhood, my experiences and my upbringing, both the good and the bad. Looking at my inner child, I can see where some of this fear may come from. Perhaps it’s the inherent people-pleaser in me, the child (turn adult) who seeks to please others through their actions, who longs for praise and acceptance and who strives to make others proud before herself. Or perhaps it’s those times at school where I didn’t know the answers and having been put on the spot for an uncomfortable minute too long, I burst into tears in front of everyone, to release my emotions, the fear of being wrong (and therefore being told off /criticised/reported on) paralysing me into a state of discomfort unparalleled by much else. Perhaps too, there were times when I did indeed make some big mistakes as a child and the feeling of disappointment that I sensed from someone else led me to want to avoid that being repeated. I need to go deeper here, to explore the route cause of this fear but for now, I’m just happy to have joined some of the dots and worked out some of the puzzle.

I procrastinate so much in life and literally always have done, that it drives me (and my husband) pretty mad. I’m working on it, and I’ve made a lot of positive changes this year but I guess sometimes, in order to make the biggest changes of all, we have to truly understand the reasons why we have our “bad” habits because the release of fear is in the discovery of why the fear exists.

This fear of making mistakes is the reason I haven’t written more blog posts, despite more than 30 sitting in my drafts. This fear of making mistakes is why I haven’t taken steps towards starting a podcast yet even though perhaps I could have made the time to. This fear of making mistakes is why I agonised for weeks over deciding which new nursery to send the girls to because I just didn’t want to get it wrong.  This fear of making mistakes is why I dwell on the times when things haven’t gone right in Motherhood because I’m scared that somehow, I’ve messed up.

The responsibility of raising babies is heaped with opportunities to make mistakes. Of course, as parents, we will all inevitably make mistakes but sometimes the fear of doing so is so consuming. The fear and worry of not being good enough. The fear of one day being blamed and resented. The fear and worry of not raising kids to be able to manage everything life throws at them. The fear and worry that comes with every decision you make along the way and with that fear of making mistakes, the hope and knowledge that everything will probably be just fine!

So what can I do with my fear now I know why and how it exists? I can be more mindful about it, notice it and not fuel it. Action is the antidote to fear. A life lived to please other people is no life at all. A life lived to be of benefit to other people, is quite a different story.

 

 


Moving house, a lesson in saying Goodbye. 

Four and a half year ago when Ben and I bought our first home together, newly-ish married and full of young naivety about the world and our future, I couldn’t have dreamt of the happiness that was due to come our way and I couldn’t have imagined how at least ten years worth of our lives would appear to squash themselves into just four (and a bit). I couldn’t have dreamt about my two girls, Jasmine and Summer, and all the joy they have brought into my life. I couldn’t have dreamt about how it would feel to bring my first baby home from the hospital and through the door of our home, to start my life as a Mother and our life together as parents. I couldn’t have dreamt of the smiles and the laughter that would come from watching our child grow, through all the first times and proud moments and through all the tears and the sleepless nights. I like to think that the walls have watched us all grow up, soaking up all the love they’ve seen here, all the good energy and all the happy moments. I like to think they’ll hold onto that goodness forever, and sprinkle those happy sparkles onto anyone who needs it next.

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I couldn’t have dreamt of the deep heartache and pain that losing a baby here would bring upon us too. This home was my anchor, my safe place to grieve and cry but also get me back up and it supported me in more ways than one. I couldn’t have dreamt that I would ever, ever, then welcome another baby into our family, whose first breath was taken in this home, in the very room where we have grown together as a family and shared almost every single day. That little baby girl has once again brought me back closer to home as babies do when they’re so small. I couldn’t have imagined the ripples of joy that would wave through my body as I watch two sisters laugh together, giddy with glee, pure with childhood wonder. I couldn’t have dreamt how watching them could be enough to stop me in my tracks, to bow down in gratitude and know that if nothing else, my world and my heart are full to the brim. I couldn’t have dreamt up the half of it, probably not even a fraction and back then I was probably too scared to dare to dream this big.

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Summer, born at home

Now I’m here, surrounded by boxes, all of our things wrapped and ready to go. I’m staring at empty shelves and empty walls, where special photos used to hang and filled jars used to stand, the very items that became part of our everyday environment yet that become strangely unnoticeable over time. They’re noticeable now that they’re no longer here. I can see the marks on the wall where Jasmine has rubbed her sticky hands whilst carefully climbing the stairs and I can see those little holes where we hammered in nails, trying to get frames to lay straight before giving up and getting on with more important things in life, never ones to have been good at DIY. So now as we prepare to bid our home farewell, I sit with the comfort that we are taking our memories with us, that they are not lost but merely traveling too. But with that comfort, there’s an ache in my heart. It hurts my heart to think that Jasmine and Summer won’t remember this house and the way they chased each other along the corridor upstairs or fought over toys in the living room. They won’t remember their garden and the games that we played and they won’t remember their birthday parties and the family celebrations we held in their honour. They won’t remember the baths we took and the snuggles we had or the cakes we baked. I know though, that they’ll remember the feelings that go hand in hand with these memories that I suppose are mostly mine. They’ll remember the warmth and the connection, the happiness and the love and those are the feelings that will be familiar to them forever. Perhaps with time, my own memories will fade too, however much I hope they won’t, I know that’s just what happens over time.

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Jasmine and Summer

This home is part of a community too, a community of neighbours (the best kind) and a wider community of friends. Friends who have held me up through the early years of Motherhood and friends whose children mean not only the world to me but to Jasmine and Summer too. Children who have played here and snacked here and smiled at me at the door. Children who Jasmine calls her best friends and who I wish we could stay close to forever.

Tomorrow is the start of a new and exciting chapter in all of our lives and I feel so grateful for every moment we’ve had the privilege to spend in our first family home. I’ll miss doing yoga under the skylights and I’ll miss sitting on the stairs taking deep breaths having finally got both girls down to sleep. I’ll miss things I won’t even know I’ll miss until we’re gone but I’ll notice those moments and I’ll stop to realise that we only miss things that once meant so much to us.

Farewell, lovely home,

Take good care.

 


Mindful parenting tip – don’t take it personally!

If your child doesn’t eat the lovely dinner you made them, don’t take it personally.
If your child doesn’t want to give you a hug or a kiss, don’t take it personally.
If your child hits you or shouts at you, don’t take it personally.
If your child stops playing the game they asked for after two minutes, don’t take it personally.
If your child ignores you over and over again, don’t take it personally.
If your child does the opposite of what you say, don’t take it personally.
If your child breaks something of yours, don’t take it personally.
If your child screams because you did something wrong, don’t take it personally.See the source image

Part of being a mindful parent is noticing when our child’s behaviour is triggering something in us. An emotive reaction, rather than a proactive response. When we take the time to cook for our kids or play the games they begged us to play and then they push the plate away or become quickly uninterested, we can so easily fall into that place of feeling hurt or disrespected, like our time has been deliberately wasted. But kids, and young kids especially, are just being honest and authentic. They don’t go about their days trying to make us feel bad or hurt our feelings but instead are just being their truest selves, not conditioned to think, act or behave for anyone else. It’s likely that there’s something else going on beneath the surface and it’s our job to tune into that.

Of course, it sucks to have your meal rejected or to have to take the brunt of the kicks and screams that get hurled our way, but it really isn’t personal. Finding that way to understand and tune into your child’s behaviour and work out what is going on for THEM helps curb that feeling of wanting to react. Resist the urge to say, “but I just spent ages cooking this for you,” or “you asked me to play so I am playing,” and replace those words with your observations instead. Be proactive, not reactive. Ask yourself why that behaviour is there and no that in these situations where we feel triggered, the reality is that it’s not about you at all, it’s about your child.

It’s not easy and there are many times when things really do feel personal but this practice, this ability to be mindful, it makes everything feel calmer and more peaceful overall.

Does this resonate? Share with me in the comments!


Happy Birthday, Summer!

Dear Summer,

Happy 1st birthday to my sunshine girl!

As I was thinking about what I wanted to write to you for your first birthday, I was stood holding you in my arms before your nap, singing ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ as I have done so many times since the day you were born. I stood in front of the long mirror in our darkened bedroom, the bedroom which you still share with us, and it struck me. Read More


Vegan Mum guilt

I know you’ve all heard of and experienced the usual Mum guilt that comes with the territory of Motherhood and the desire to do right by our kids while maintaining our sanity at the same time. I don’t think there’s a single Mum friend of mine who doesn’t experience this feeling of guilt at some point every single day. Read More


Summer’s home birth – Part 2 – the birth!

I went into labour on a Tuesday afternoon in July whilst out food shopping in Tesco with Ben! I knew that familiar feeling of things getting started and felt thankful in that first moment for having experience on my side to guide me and to help me feel at ease to trust the process and my body. My waters began leaking that evening as Ben was watching a World Cup football game and Jasmine slept upstairs. I decided not to call the Midwives at that stage, knowing that they may suggest I come in to hospital to be examined if things didn’t start on their own and any trips to hospital were not part of my birth plan, unless of course, it was absolutely necessary. I felt assured in this very early stage that everything was OK so I distracted myself by doing the washing up and getting the house “birth ready,” (tidying up) then went off to bed hoping to catch some sleep whilst trying to ignore the building feeling of anticipation that my home birth journey was really about to start, after all this time and preparation.

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Summer started nursery and suddenly, I fell to pieces

Summer started nursery yesterday, for just under 4 hours, and when I went to pick her up, I was told that she’d cried the entire time, other than settling briefly outside for a few moments and inside for a short nap in her Key Worker’s arms. My usually happy and hungry baby hadn’t eaten or drunk a thing all afternoon and of course, just to add insult to injury, she burst into tears the minute that I picked her up, crying out with a look of sadness and confusion on her gorgeous tiny face. I know this is an all too common scenario, not unique to me or Summer but a situation that unfolds for thousands of kids and their parents at the nursery drop off every single day. It’s not fun for anyone, least of all when as a highly sensitive mum of highly sensitive children, the experience becomes difficult to shrug off.

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Summer’s home birth story – Part 1 – Preparations

It’s taken me almost a year to put this story together, to put into words one of the most profound experiences of my life and also one of the most personal. I’ve started writing and re-writing it a hundred times, unsure of the details to include or keep private and unsure of how to tell a story with a million parts and details without writing a whole book. From preparing for a home birth, to confronting previous birth trauma and then experiencing profound joy, giving birth at home was, and is, one of the most significant moments of my life. In sharing my birth story(s) I hope to inspire other women to consider home birth if they want to but more importantly I hope to inspire people to talk about birth with a more open dialogue. To talk about the good and the bad. To talk about all the choices and options and to help women believe in themselves and their bodies and to rid themselves of doubt, worry and feelings of failure.

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