Category Archives: Control

06Sep/12

Help! I Need to get Organised!

I have to admit that I love being in control. Of everything. I need to know what is going on, what is happening, how everyone is feeling, what we are going to eat next, what I am going to do next and where everything is.

The trouble is, I’m not very good at reaching this state of affairs. In a nutshell I am not very well organised. I have my moments of organisational creativity and clarity. I also have small areas of my house and life which are incredibly organised (when I’ve just that week sorted them out) but it doesn’t seem to last very long. Part of me is hoping that many women live like this, perhaps somehow keeping their organisation systems in their heads, and just about managing to have enough control most of the time not to slide into complete chaos. Obviously chaos is always one of the ingredients of family life, but it seems that a lot of my physical and mental energy goes into trying not to let it get the upper hand.

The summer holidays is a critical time for the chaos / control balance. When the kids are around the whole time, there is less time to ‘get on top of things’, to keep yourself organised and to keep even a semblace of control. After six weeks, I feel desperate to wrestle back some control of my life and home. Ideally I would like to train myself not to be upset and so affected by the chaos and mess, but that’s probably even more difficult than getting myself organised.

As the children go back to school this week, I am focussing on creating small daily habits that will help me. I am getting back into the habit of waking up early, a habit which has slipped during the holidays. This makes me feel better and more in control when the kids get up, and start demanding things of me. Also, every Sunday I will decide what my priorities are for the next week, and take ten minutes first thing in the morning to keep focussed on them and plan the day.

One of the things I find most difficult is keeping track of all the things that I need to do in order to decide which are important and/or urgent and which are not. After years of trying different techniques, diaries, filofaxes, homemade printouts, online charts, which haven’t seemed to work, I recently read David Allen’s best seller Getting Things Done. He recommends organising all your paper and piles into folders and labelling them all lovingly with a proper labeller and to create your own personal library of ‘stuff’. As a lover of stationary of any kind I approached this task with gusto just before the school holidays and it has had a huge impact on my organisation. It is totally amazing because I now know where everything is. When I need a takeaway menu, or the login for the school dinners website, or ideas for a day out, or a particular happiness article, I go to my personal library of folders and find it within 10 seconds. No more rummaging around through the many piles and drawers around my kitchen or office. I am so pleased with myself.

But I still can’t manage my To Do list. To deal with this, during September, I am going to experiment with an iphone app designed in the Getting Things Done process. It costs £5.99 which is more than I’ve ever paid for an app – but I feel I need some help. With the app, I can create projects and next actions and categorise things according to the type of task they are (i.e. tasks involving the internet, errands out and about, phone calls etc.) so that you can bunch them together and save time and energy. To be honest, I’m a little sceptical about it’s prospects because I tend to forget about non-physical things like apps. Again, though, it’s all about creating a habit that I will remember to do everyday, so I need to give it enough time and effort to work.
I’ll keep you posted.

30Aug/12

How Was it for You?

The Jolly-Bynes at The Olympic Park

How have your summer holidays been?

Some mums love the holidays, enjoying the freedom and lack of school runs, ferrying children to clubs, packed lunches and ironing school uniform.  Others dread the seemingly endless hours that need to be planned, organised,  and ‘got through’ without much of a break or time to recharge.  I seem to vacillate between the two, loving it one morning, frustrated the next.

The two things I struggle with most over the school summer holidays are the constant mess and the repetitive, needless arguments.

The never-ending mess that my children make, and the noise and anger they express when they are arguing really affect me.  However much I try not let it get to me it seems to tip me towards feelings of overwhelm and stress.  Basically, they make me feel like I’m out of control.

You would have thought that after 10 years of parenthood I would have got used to these feelings – after all children seem to be designed to make you feel out of control.  But I suppose I have to accept myself as I am, without judgement and keep trying compassionately to work out ways to improve.

Over the last year what I’ve learnt from my new mindfulness practice has helped me to react more calmly and carefully, and cope with noisy and messy situations better. I am also trying to ‘get comfortable with the discomfort’, which means acknowledging what is going on, and focussing on the feeling rather than trying to change it. This is as difficult for a beginner as it sounds, so I’m not having a huge amount of success!

Overall though, my school holiday’s have gone well. We didn’t kill each other and actually had some fun. The Olympics were amazing, and we were lucky enough to take the kids so see 3 events – although they did get fed up with me saying:  “But it’s the Olympics. In London! Never again in your lifetime!”

As always the summer flew by and I can’t believe they are back to school next week.

It would be great if you could comment below on what you love and hate about the school holidays and what strategies you use to get the most out of them.

Thank You.

29Sep/11

Family Project Update

Well, the chaos of the holidays and the start of school term have taken their toll on me, and I have to admit that I haven’t kept focussed on our Family Project as much as I’d hoped.

However, despite my lack of planning this month’s family activities, the concept of respect has been central in my thoughts, and has caused much relief, hope and despair.

The story goes like this:   For most of my parenting life, I have felt uneasy with the general parenting techniques that our society uses, namely the culture of reward and punishment, blaming and shaming, and the reliance on external motivation to mould children’s behaviour.

However,  I’m also not comfortable with the more permissive, liberal side of parenting either, where we let our children discover their own path, and put their needs first.  I do believe that we should teach our children certain ways of behaving, and for them to learn that there are consequences whenever and however we act. 

Add to that the recent realisation that I am a perfectionist who feels the need to be in control of everything – especially her children – you have a set of contraditions that are not likely to bring about a safe, nurturing, respectful environment for children to grow up in.  Instead you find a mother who is instinctively loving and nurturing but who on a day to day basis uses threats, blaming and shaming with her children (and herself) in the misguided belief that this what you have to do to instill proper values, principles and manners into her children.  But it doesn’t work. And because I’m a perfectionist, I blame myself (when I’m not blaming the children!) which makes the whole situation ten times worse.

So when our Family Project focussed on respect I ordered three new parenting books.  But I didn’t get what I expected.  Instead of learning new techniques to teach my children how to act with more respect, I was told what I already knew deep inside: that it was me who needed to learn to treat my children with respect, not the other way around. 

Cue relief (my instincts were right after all), hope (it will be ok when I’ve practiced this respect thing – it can’t be too hard, especially since it is in tune with my thinking) and then despair (it’s sooooooooooooo hard.  Habits are hard to change, and my children don’t respond in the same way that they do in the books). 

So our Family Project will be concentrating on respect for as long as it takes, and it will involve as much learning, and changing, from me and my husband as it will from our kids.  It’s tough, and will continue to be tough, but it feels right. For once I feel like I am living in line with my values.

01Apr/11

Who wants to be a Tibetan Monk?

The idea of responding appropriately to my emotions has always haunted me. Why can’t I control my temper? Why do I get so frustrated and irritated with my children – who I love and cherish with all my heart? 

I heard a story the other day about a monk who was an experienced meditator and who – while having his head covered in electrodes to measure his brainwaves – did not flinch when a bomb went off.  How amazing, I thought. How fantastic that he can control himself and his emotions like this. Why can’t I master the art of not automatically reacting to everything?

But then I thought…. Do meditating monks have children? 

If I had spent 20 years meditating on a mountainside my automatic emotional reactions would probably be different too.   But do I want that?  To be frank, No. I’d rather be an imperfect mother than a perfect monk.

The thing about perfectionism is that it makes you want to be something or someone else.  It makes you feel like you are not good enough already as you are.  So we try to be something else in order to be perfect and only then will we be worthy of love and respect. 

But the real answer lies in accepting ourselves now. With our faults and our bad moods and our crazy idiosyncracies.  This is who we are and the only way we will ever be happy is to accept it.

So I am learning to accept that it’s ok to lose my temper sometimes, and that it’s only natural that I get frustrated with my children. It does not mean that I am a bad mum or that I don’t love them. And it’s also ok to want to improve and control my temper more. It’s just that I need to do it in a realistic way, not by beating myself up because I don’t have the serenity of a Tibetan monk.

14Mar/11

Pushing a Heavy Rock up a Mountainside.

The words below are not mine. They were written by Tal Ben-Shahar in his book The Persuit of Perfect.  These two paragraphs illustrate how striving for perfection will never make us happy.

The Greek myth of Sisyphus tells of a man, the most cunning of mortals, who was punished for his pride and disobedience. Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to push a heavy rock up a mountainside and then watch it roll down again, repeating this process for all eternity.

Psychologically speaking, the Perfectionist is like Sisyphus. But whereas the punishment of Sisyphus was inflicted by the gods, the Perfectionist’s punishment is self-inflicted. No success or conquest, no peak or destination, is ever enough to satisfy the Perfectionist. When he reaches the summit of one mountain or another, when he achieves some form of success, there is no delight, no savouring – only another meaningless journey toward a destination that inevitably disappoints.

A Perfectionist's Life

11Mar/11

Perfect Pancake Day – Creating Triumph from Disaster.

Ours did not look like this…

As millions of mums around the world know, it was Shrove Tuesday this week – aka Pancake Day.  Now, while I am not trying to be a Perfect Mum, I would not feel happy if we didn’t make pancakes in our house on Pancake Day (or at least one day this week).

So, feeling brave, my three children and I donned our aprons and started making our batter.  After arguing with my eldest over whether to double or triple the quantities of ingredients (I won, but he was right in the end) we shared out the weighing, pouring in, and mixing jobs evenly, and proceeded relatively conflict-free.  Soon, however we realised that we had very, and I mean very, lumpy batter.  I’ve made quite a few batches of pancakes in my life (some not even on Shrove Tuesday!) and I know that having lumps is really part of the process. In my kitchen at least.  But these lumps were massive, and probably because they contained half of the flour and egg, the rest of the mixture was really thin.

“Oh this is not good,” I try to say in a light-hearted tone.

We attempt to whisk, then squash the lumps out and it kind of works.  It’s  not smooth, but ok.  Then we melt the butter and add a bit to the batter.  Not only does the butter immediately go hard when making contact with the cold batter, but we realise it is orange.  We conclude that we used the pan that I had made a chorizo and tomato pasta sauce in a few days before, and someone – probably me – didn’t wash it up properly.

So we’ve got a thin mixture with big floury lumps and bright orange buttery lumps. We should give up and start again, but we’ve been through so much it seems right to soldier on.

“This is the worst mixture we’ve ever made” says my oldest, like he’s enjoying himself more because of it.

“Nevermind, it might still taste nice,” says my middle one, in a light-hearted tone.

“Yum, yum,” grins my youngest, licking the flour off the table.

We start the frying.  “Remember, the first one is always rubbish, ” I say.  And it is.  The mixture is so thin, and the frying pan so old and warped that the pancake has a big hole in the middle.  So we move to another pan, and sacrifice another rubbish one.  By now, I’m starting to get wound up.  I’m getting talked at from 3 angles, my youngest making the loudest ‘now’ demands, and everyone is getting too close to the hot cooker. But they manage to take turns pouring their mixture in, flipping over and then eating their own creations.

“Mmm, delicious.” “Yummy” “Can I have the last one?” “They were great, mum.”

We congratulate ourselves on saving our pancakes from disaster.  I congratulate myself at allowing the process to get crazy, chaotic and imperfect, and not losing it somewhere in the middle.  Not so many months ago, I might have given up, shouted, cried, and basically had a tantrum because it didn’t all run smoothly, and I couldn’t cope with the chaos and noise. I can’t say that will never happen again, but I’m proud of myself for letting go of the need to be in control, and of celebrating imperfection with my children.  Hopefully, they learnt a good lesson in failure and success, persevering, and basically enjoying the process.

Image by http://www.free-stockphotos.com