The news headline that sent me into a Motherhood panic

I really should stay off the Internet more often. I mean, really, shouldn’t we all? I can’t even remember now where I read the headline I’m about to share with you. Perhaps it was an article that was shared on a parenting group or perhaps it came up on my Instagram feed. Wherever I saw it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how that headline made me feel (unintentionally no doubt) and how I’ve now (thankfully) come out the other side of feeling stuck with that feeling we so often get as parents…”I am not doing a good enough job for my child.”

“A child’s personality will be mostly formed by age 5.”

I didn’t even read the article. I didn’t even click the link or tap to read more because that headline alone sent me off on an instant spiral. Jasmine turns 4 next month which, according to the headline, means I have one more year of parenting to get it right, right? I have one more year to nurture her love of the outdoors and instill a strong sense of identity. I have one more year to turn out a well-rounded, emotionally secure, loving, kind, motivated, polite child with multiple interests and hobbies who will be successful and, and, and, and…. You can see where my mind went with this.

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I immediately started to doubt myself. I started to look at the things about Jasmine that are challenging (*that are in fact age-appropriate and developmentally normal but challenging nonetheless) and question whether we are doing enough to tackle those. I started to regret every single time I’ve let her watch something on Youtube, use a tablet or watch Peppa bloody pig, for fear that I’ve now damaged her brain forever and I will have created a screen-addicted zombie with no real life skills or ambition. I started to doubt whether we’ve taught her enough important lessons, like how to lose a game graciously, how to tidy up toys and how to stop saying “poo poo bum bum” whenever the mood strikes her (*all are still a work in progress.) I started to feel this sense that I have to really use this next year to pull it out the bag as a Mum if I want her personality to be “just right” (*approved by society) by age 5. I must try harder. I was stuck in this thought pattern for a while actually but let me tell you this. Once the initial panic dust settled, I was able to see my own feelings more clearly and they could be divided up like this:

  • 5% motivation (we could definitely do with reducing our screen time and working a little harder on the tidying up)
  • 95% fear

I was fearful that I hadn’t done enough. I was fearful of the fact that Jasmine still hits us or screams when she’s having a hard time (*it’s always the child having a hard time not giving us a hard time) and this meant she was going to have an aggressive personality. I was fearful that her resistance to listening sometimes (*um, hello, she’s a child) meant she was going to be a defiant teenager. I was fearful that I had made 4 years worth of mistakes and would need to spend the next year of her life dedicated to getting everything right (*perfect parenting DOES NOT EXIST).

But then, then came the softness and the forgiveness. Then came the deep breaths and the rational thinking. Then came the overwhelming LOVE that I have for exactly who Jasmine is right now, in this very moment, challenges and all. The headline didn’t set out to make me feel inadequate about myself and even more so about my child, that’s just what I allowed it to do. Perhaps a child’s personality is mostly formed by the time they’re 5. Perhaps there is a whole load of scientific research to back that up and after all, Jasmine has had her Jasmine-isms since day one! But what I refuse to believe (and what the voice of fear was telling me) is that there won’t be ample opportunities in the coming years for learning and growth. Children, teenagers and young adults are constantly forming their identities, their value systems, their preferences, their moral compasses and their unique sense of self and it is our job as parents to guide and support them through this whole process.

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Instead of listening to that voice of fear I chose instead to focus on the following questions:

What are the traits I see in my child that I am most proud of?

What are the gifts and skills that my child will and already does bring into this world?

What are the things I see in my child and admire about them that I wish I did more of myself?

What are some of the ways that my child amazes me every day?

I am so proud of both my children and who they are turning out to be. They are both shining stars of light and if I do say so myself, if the stop clocked now and all their learning was done, I’d still be so proud of their personalities and I’m pretty sure you’d feel the same about your child too!

We worry as parents because we don’t have a crystal ball into our children’s futures and we probably never will! We just have to trust that loving them deeply and showing it too, is enough. We have to trust that we are here to facilitate in their becoming who they are already destined to be, not to control who we or anyone else wants them to be. We also have to be kind to ourselves along the way, knowing that we only know what we know and do our very best with that.

Parenting…the never-ending journey of trusting both yourself and your child.


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.


An over-watered flower doesn’t bloom

I started this year determined to have a year of growth, of huge personal and professional development and a year I could look back on and say “YES” as opposed to “I wish I’d done better.”

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In January I feel as if I were a little seed ready to sprout underneath the soil, buzzing with naive excitement about the year ahead and convinced that what I was choosing to nurture myself with was the best of the best. I had big goals, determination and a sense of momentum that was keeping me firmly in the driving seat. I started a happiness project, I subscribed to the best ‘personal growth’ podcasts I could find, I read books (not enough), I journaled regularly, I took online quizzes and I continued to share my innermost thoughts and opinions on social media with the desire to inspire others to grow with me along the way. And this has been the way of things for pretty much the last 11 months. Grow grow grow. Don’t look back. Keep going. Keep learning. Be better. Do more. Do better.

To say it has been a lot is probably an understatement. On top of raising two young children, moving house and becoming self-employed, I have chosen to dive headfirst into learning, and at times, this year has felt more intellectually stimulating than my entire 4 years at University combined. My journals are full of reflective musings, notes I’ve taken from all the podcasts and books, my weekly goals and intentions and all those big epiphany moments that keep coming, even now. I can almost see the change in myself through the pages of my journal, yet I’m really just the same, but what I know has changed. Mostly too, it’s been amazing. The feeling of having an “aha” moment or learning something that shakes my core feels like I’m literally being propelled forward into a world once unknown and in truth, it’s kind of addictive!

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Recently though, I feel like I’ve over-watered myself because I’ve forgotten to pause to let things settle before continuing. I feel like the soil in which I’m living is now totally saturated and as a result, I’m feeling lost, stuck and unable to bloom, sometimes barely even able to move. There’s struggle instead of ease and there’s some pain instead of all the joy, and instead of feeling a balance of satisfaction and expansion, I’m beginning to feel the need to take a deep, long pause, to re-centre, to allow the excess water to drain away and the soil to recover.

I’m reminded again of one of my favourite quotes: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” – Lao Tzu

So why have I been rushing? Rushing towards becoming a version of myself I firmly believe exists but without taking into account all the unexpected twists and turns along the way. In rushing to learn and absorb all the wisdom in the world, I’ve forgotten the need to practice it all too, because simply listening, reading and talking about things is not the way to truly grow.

So what now? I can’t stop. It’s too late for that. Growth and self-discovery is exhilarating after all and I’m committed to it because I DO believe if done with self-care and attention, this journey can be thrilling and powerful. A growth journey can continually challenge what we think we know and believe about the world. It can encourage us to reflect deeply on who we are and it can open doors along the way that allow us to expand and reevaluate what we really want from life. A growth journey pushes us to be ever open-minded, to seek the knowledge that lights our brains up and fuels our passions and interests that we have the luxury to choose for ourselves, as adult learners of the world.

“A commitment to lifelong learning is a natural expression of the practice of living consciously.” – Nathanial Branden 

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Are many of us truly living to our fullest potential? Are we devoid of limiting beliefs and staring our deepest fears in the face? Or do we find ourselves sticking with the route most trodden, the safe and easy path? That’s the thing about wanting to bloom, isn’t it? We want to rush because the promise of what lies ahead tempts us there but we forget that the journey may last an entire lifetime, that each day we seek to learn something new and get through the ups and downs, is a day we are no longer the same person as the day before. That is growth. 

As we approach the end of another year I feel it’s the right time for a pause. There’s little more I can learn from another “chase your dreams” podcast or another “how to conquer your day” blog, but there is much to be gained from deep practice and from looking inward instead of constantly just seeking more. That is the true lesson here and that is the more difficult part of all.

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“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.

 

 


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 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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Operation day

Dear Jasmine,

I’m writing you another letter because that’s what I find helps me when I’m feeling sad and heavy-hearted, as I am tonight. We’re so similar, you and me, with our sensitivities and our emotions. We feel things deeply and strongly and that’s a beautiful thing my sweet girl. I struggle sometimes to feel the way I do, to feel every ounce of your emotion and pain as if it were my own and to feel intensely sad about sad things. I sometimes wish I could switch off my overthinking brain and things might be easier, more black and white and more straightforward, but then, I wouldn’t be me, would I?

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An epiphany about setting goals

Back in December 2018, I made a set of 5 New Year’s resolutions and vowed to make this year the year I actually stick to them and make some progress towards my personal goals. I set these goals for myself with good intentions and reflected for a long time on what I wanted to “achieve” by doing them. Whilst I wouldn’t say I’ve had a total transformation in the first 3 months of 2019, I’ve certainly kept these resolutions in the forefront of my mind more than ever before, have discussed them with friends on an ongoing basis and have made some positive steps towards them, even if it doesn’t feel like enough (the story of my life…I’m learning).

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