Category Archives: Personal Experiences

04Dec/12

What We Love About You

As I mentioned in my last post, my youngest son frequently thinks that the rest of the family hate him.  Somehow he has come to believe that whenever someone is mean to him, tells him off or even disagrees with him, then that must mean they hate him. And not just hate him in that moment, but pretty much forever.

To combat this I talked to my eldest children (aged 8 and 1o) about showing more love to Zach, especially when he is being grumpy and mean, and to spend the next 4 to 6 weeks trying to change this belief of his.  My daughter suggested we make a poster for him telling him how much we love him and making him feel more part of the family.  So we did, and below is our creation. It has lots of photos of Zach with us and some of his friends, and a letter from each of us telling him what we love about him.

It was a lovely moment when Harvey and Jasmine presented Zach with his poster, going through all the letters and photos and explaining what we had done.  The look of pride and amazement on his face was wonderful to see.  It really touched him.

The next morning he came into my bed at about 6.40 asking to go downstairs. When I asked him why, he said he wanted to go and look at his poster.  So I got up with him and we spent a good ten minutes looking at the poster, reading the letters and choosing our favourite photos.  It was clear how much this meant to him, and how much better it made him feel.  Later that day we put it in a picture frame and put it on his bedroom wall.  He is very happy with it, and maybe one step closer to believing we love him all the time, no matter what, with no conditions attached.

19Nov/12

Daring Greatly or Stretching Too Far

On the Chrissy B Show discussing Perfectionism

Two weeks ago I was invited to talk about perfectionism on the Chrissy B Show on Sky TV.  At first I was flattered, then I was excited, then I started to get scared.  I said yes, because it’s a topic close to my heart, made plans, then seriously wished I hadn’t.

As my inner gremlins set about me I began to feel worse and worse. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t concentrate on the children. I was in meltdown. Completely overwhelmed by stressful emotions, it certainly was a weird few days. I thought I knew what was happening: I was just scared about doing something new, about being vulnerable and ‘out there’ with the potential to look foolish or rubbish in front of other people.  I endlessly rationalised: it will be ok, and if it isn’t that’s ok too. I’ll learn from it and I’ll still be loved by those who are important to me. I told myself that it would be fun to see a working TV studio, great to meet new people and a change from my normal life. I knew all this so why did I still feel so bad?  I ‘should’ be able to deal with this.

At other times I tried to convince myself to cancel, but my pride wouldn’t let me and I knew that in the long run it was a positive thing to do. But I found it difficult to justify much of the time. I’m all for pushing my boundaries, but to feel sick with nerves for a week felt like too much of a price to pay. Too much for my children to pay as well, since it was their mother who was away with the fairies one minute and snapping at them the next.

Gradually it became clear to me that the reason I was so scared and worried was because the situation was something I was not in control of, and because of that, I couldn’t guarantee that it would run smoothly.  These – I suddenly realised – are my two big perfectionist ideals. I was also ‘shoulding’ myself too much:  ‘I should be able to deal with this.’  I ‘shouldn’t let this affect my family.’  Being aware of why I was feeling so bad, made me feel a lot better.  Understanding yourself really does go a long way to improving the situation.

Last Monday I got the train to London and appeared on the show.  And, actually, it was fun, and I really enjoyed myself. The presenter, producer and other guests were lovely, friendly and interesting people.   I wasn’t half as nervous on the day, perhaps because I was living it rather than thinking and planning for it in advance.

So what’s the lesson here? Mainly that feeling bad is not all bad, because if we allow them to, negative emotions can teach us so much. It also strengthened my belief that my family is the most important thing to me.  Being successful professionally is very important to me, but will never take priority over looking after my young family.

On the way home, I was proud of myself for getting out there and giving it a go.  It didn’t go horribly wrong.  And at the end of the day, I’m still the same person, still worth the same as every other human being on the planet. I had just been lucky enough to add another new experience to that journey called life.

If you are interested in watching the programme here it is.

25Sep/12

Other People Can’t Make You Happy…..and Vice Versa

I am reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home, in which she embarks on her second happiness project focussing on creating a happier home.

She talks about how important her family is to her happiness, but that it’s also important not to rely on other people for your own happiness.  She says:

My family’s happiness matters so much to me; realistically, if they weren’t happy, it was very hard for me to be happy – but the truth was, I couldn’t make them happy, no matter how fervently I desired to, and they couldn’t make me happy, either.  We all have to find happiness for ourselves.”

Family life is very emotional.  Dramas of one kind or another seem to happen very regularly in our house.  As an emotional, expressive, heart on my sleeve kind of person these ups and downs of family life really affect my equilibrium and therefore my happiness. As a perfectionist, I have struggled to let go the desperate need I seem to have for every single moment of my family’s life to run smoothly.  I often rest my entire happiness on how other people are feeling, and how they behave.  Our family is very good at ‘catching’ emotions from each other like a nasty disease.

But it needn’t be that way. Recently, mainly as a result of my mindfulness study and meditation practice, I’ve come to realise that emotions are transcient (yes, I know that may be obvious to most of you, but it wasn’t to me) and that if I felt angry this moment, it didn’t mean that I would still feel angry in 5 minutes. Also, I’ve learnt that uncomfortable emotions are not necessarily bad and don’t constitute some kind of failure on my part.  Feeling bad, I’ve come to accept, does not mean that my whole life is wrong.

Being aware of this has enabled me to ride the family’s daily dramas much better.  When my children are upset, angry or frustrated, I can see it as a normal part of life rather than a huge problem that I need to fix, right now, perfectly, otherwise they will be doomed to misery for the rest of their lives.

Taking responsibility for our own emotional equilibrium and happiness is something that we are not taught how to do in school (if we were, the world would be a much calmer, happier place). Some of us might have been lucky enough to have parents who were able to model and teach this, but most of us need to learn as we go along, developing our own personal techniques over our lifetime.

13Sep/12

At Forty: I am who I am.

So it finally happened: I was 40 last week.

I have spent the last 18 months or so counting down to this moment, treating it as some kind of deadline to get my life in order.

I trusted that when I was 40, I would finally be fit, organised, well dressed, calm, and at peace with myself. Because, let’s face it, 40 is quite old, and with age comes wisdom and maturity, surely.

Obviously, it didn’t quite happen like that. I didn’t change overnight into this perfect version of myself just because I was approaching 40. On my birthday I didn’t suddenly develop amazing self-control and determination to avoid wine, exercise more, or to stop shouting at my kids when I was irritated.

What happened was that I realised that I am me. I know it sounds obvious, but I think I have always believed that the me that exercised 3 times a week, had 8 hours sleep a night, was permanently serene and calm and was in control of her household was the real me, and I just had to find a way to let her out.  In reality, she is just an ideal that I beat myself up with by constantly comparing myself to her.  I’m never going to be her. If I’m honest, for the most part I’m not going to change a huge amount over the next 10 years.  I’ll probably always drink a little bit more than my doctor would be happy with, my tummy is always going to be a little bit bigger than I would like. I am probably always going to have too many ideas and not enough time.  I’ll probably always put my family life-balance before my personal business ambitions and I’ll probably always have a To Do list as long as the road I live on.  But because I’m a very ‘everything in moderation’ kind of person my flaws and bad habits are not too extreme (I hope) so I can live with them.  They make me me.

So being 40 has made me finally realise that it is ok to be me – as I am.  I know myself enough to accept that I’m not always going to feel like this, I will have moments, days, even weeks where I will sink into a hole of wishing I was ‘Perfect Me’, but I also know that I’ll come out of that hole with a renewed sense of acceptance and understanding that life is all about being vulnerable, accepting our flaws and carrying on regardless.

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.

22May/12

Stop Resisting

So, I was having a bad day. The car broke down and had to be towed away for the second time in a week. I missed a meeting, the kids were grumpy and argumentative, I felt guilty for giving the kids chocolate biscuits again, the fire alarm kept beeping and I couldn’t make it stop, and I found myself thinking that the whole day had been waste of time.

Try as I might I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that because I hadn’t actually achieved anything, then it meant that not only did the day score low on the worthwhile scale, but so did I. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was somehow of lesser value because I hadn’t accomplished enough with my time that day. It sounds crazy I know, but trying to rationalise it away didn’t seem to help. The fact that I had a bad day meant not only that I felt bad but that I was bad.

Even when I told myself that actually, most of the component parts of the day (even the two hours waiting for the tow truck) were ok, and that I hadn’t got particularly stressed or upset or frustrated throughout the day it didn’t seem to help.

And when I told myself that actually I have achieved a lot today (fed, clothed, cared for and loved 3 children) it still didn’t make me feel any better about myself.

But then – eventually – I remembered what I’d learnt in my mindfulness classes about not resisting my negative feelings and thoughts, but simply letting them come and then go. To be able to experience them without judgement and let them pass through me.

So I said to myself: “I am feeling upset and a bit inadequate because I didn’t get done what I wanted to get done today, but that’s ok. I’m allowed to feel that.”

And do you know what? The bad feelings just floated away.

I accepted them without judgement and they floated away.

21Jun/11

If only I could just reboot…

I seem to have arrived home from my family holiday with my energy, motivation and patience levels at rock bottom. I can only see the mess, clutter and jobs to do around my house, my children are constantly annoying me and can’t do anything right, all I want to do is sleep or read a book, my work feels overwhelming, I want to hide away from the world, and my computer problems make me lose the will to live.

Basically, I’m not a very nice person at the moment. I have turned into a snappy, irritable mum who resents her children, because she’s tired, frustrated and angry.  Considering that I thought my life was running along pretty well before I left, and I’m fairly sure I used to be an upstanding, conscientious considerate member of the human race,  I’m a bit surprised and disappointed by this turn of events. And it’s lasted a whole week now, so I can’t blame it on jet lag or the holiday blues anymore.

So, what to do?  I wish I had a reset button which I could press to take me back to how I was feeling before my holiday.  The daily habits that I had in place then were obviously working pretty well, but I seem to have lost them all now. If only I could reboot myself like a broken computer, maybe the glitches in my life would mysteriously disappear. But alas, I am not a machine, I am a human being and it’s all a bit more complicated.

As a human I will need to reset myself another way.  I need to recharge my body with more sleep, less alcohol (I’m still in holiday Gin and Tonic mode), healthier food and exercise. And I will need to nourish myself by taking some time for me (for pleasure not work) to counteract the constant demands made by the children. And I’ll need to just get on and deal with it. I keep telling my kids to stop complaining and be grateful for having such a wonderful life.  Now I need to take that advice and practice it myself.

27May/11

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.

Homeward bound.

Sitting on a train last weekend, I had a lovely moment.  I’d just spent a weekend in Manchester with my cousin Ana, and I was looking forward to a peaceful journey home to see my husband and children.  As I watched the beautiful English countryside whizz by I slowly felt my heart fill with joy. Ana and I had spent most of the weekend chatting, eating and doing a bit of shopping. We’re close but don’t see each other much, so having nearly 48 hours to catch up was a luxury. It was nice for me to get out of the family routine for the weekend too. I went to bed late, could be relaxed about timings, had no children demanding things of me, didn’t have to tidy up (Ana wouldn’t let me) and slept in till 10 both mornings. We savoured patisserie cakes, Brazilian tapas, cocktails, and a proper English fry up. As a mum, it felt so good to step out of my everyday role, and remember what its like to just be me.
 
As I travelled home, my thoughts returned to my children and I looked forward to hugging them, hearing how their weekend had gone, and settling back into family life again. I felt lovingly grateful and appreciative of my husband who eagerly took on the job of looking after the kids all weekend. I expect that he should be able to and happy to do that, but before I went I thought grateful thoughts about him doing it. Now I feel my gratitude in my heart. It all reinforces the old cliche….absence makes the heart grow fonder.
 
I also think it’s about stimulating the brain by experiencing novelty, getting out of the regular routine, and recharging my sense of self. This is especially important for parents I think. Personally I came back feeling renewed, re-energised, reconnected with my cousin and my family, and an all round happier person.      
23May/11

Health and Fitness Tactic 4 – It only takes 5 minutes

Exercises can be done anywhere…and at any time.

This week, and while I am on holiday (or am I deluding myself?) my new health and fitness tactic is 5 minute exercise slots.   I want to get into the habit of incorporating quick sets of sit-ups, press ups, lunges, squats etc to my daily routine. I could even market it to myself as a time saver. Don’t waste time waiting for the kettle to boil, get down on the floor and crunch.
Why do I have to wait until I’ve been for a run, or have completed my bootcamp session to do some stomach exercises? It’s not essential to do these toning and muscle strengthening exercises at the same time as cardiovascular work.  By doing 5 minutes a day, it soon adds up to more toned body, which is what we all want. After 3 weeks of my health and fitness drive I am quite proud of my newly defined stomach (I’m talking very softly defined. A six pack it ain’t), and just think; if I did sit ups everyday how much better would it look?