Category Archives: Relationships

14Jan/13

How Could I Forget the Most Important Happiness Habit?

The trouble with being a perfectionist is that can make you very insular and inward looking.  Perfectionists are usually concerned with how well they are performing in their lives and how they look to others.  Sometimes we get so obsessed with ourselves and how to be perfect that we forget the basic priorities in our lives.

Over the last few months I’ve forgotten to make time for my friends.   It’s a basic happiness habit that I am well aware of.  People who spend time with friends and family, nurturing and enjoying their most important relationships are happy. However,  I seem to have withdrawn myself from my friends recently…not intentionally as such… but in an attempt to focus on my family, I’ve neglected my connections to my most important friends.

Last week however I got back on track.

On Monday I spent the day with a good friend taking the kids out for inset day. It was raining but we still had a picnic in the park, complete with fresh air and mud, wet bottoms and flasks of tea.

On Tuesday my husband worked from home and we popped out for a quick lunch together to plan the year ahead.

On Wednesday I spoke to an inspiring group of business women who I have become friends with over the last year, and who, when I announced I would be writing a book this year, gave me the most amazing support and advice.

On Thursday I spoke to my best friend in Australia for the first time in about 3 months. We are planning a trip to see them next month.

On Friday I went out to the local pub with a group of girlfriends that I love, but don’t see enough (my fault!), where the laughter, banter and support nourished my soul.

And finally on Saturday, I spoke to some other friends who have just moved to Perth, and caught up with all their news.  We are planning to see them next month too.

For the rest of the weekend I had a spring in my step, joy in my heart, and a seemingly never-ending supply of patience.  In other words, I was happy.

It was an important lesson that has reminded me to make time to nurture my friendships this year.

10Dec/12

Love Me When I Least Deserve It

Recently I have been talking with my kids about the need to show each other more love, not less, when one of us is tired, or grumpy or ‘misbehaving’.  I know this is counter-intuitive because our main instinct is to punish or cold-shoulder someone who is being rude or mean.  But, as we say in our family, when someone is behaving badly, there is a large chance that this is because ‘their heart is feeling bad’.

When our ‘hearts are feeling good’ – i.e. we are happy with ourselves, proud of our actions, feeling loved and a have a powerful sense of belonging and purpose – we find it easy to be kind, loving, happy and competent.  So therefore, even though we might not think that someone ‘deserves’ to be loved when they are acting badly, this is really when they need our love the most.  They need their heart to be repaired, or recharged, or just soothed, so they can recover their equilibrium and be themselves again.

While this all makes perfect sense to me, it is something that I find really difficult to practice.  I am, I have realised, somewhat grudgingly, someone who finds it hard to hide their emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve, as they say, especially within the safe confines of my family. Therefore, my family knows exactly what mood I am in, at any particular time of the day, and often the reason behind it.  This is better than hiding everything, but I would prefer to reach the middle ground of being able to control some of my negative emotions when it would help those around me if I did.

This personality trait of mine makes it quite difficult for me to control my irritation, anger, frustration and resentment at other family members’ rudeness, anger and tantrums. (I know this is a double standard, but I’m working on it!)  Nearly 11 years of parenting has shown me that shaming, punishment and anger in response to a child’s ‘misbehaviour’ is ineffective not just in the long-term but the short-term too.  It just doesn’t work, not to mention the harm that it can cause. So I have to use this experience and evidence to remind myself to go the other way.  Sometimes (when my heart is feeling good) I can offer real love at those moments when my children need it, even though they often don’t accept it.  At other times (when I’m low on energy and resilience, AKA ‘my heart is feeling bad’) I have to force myself to offer words of forgiveness and love through gritted teeth.  I have been known to cuddle an angry child who is trying to calm down while simultaneously making angry faces that they can’t see just because I can’t control my own anger. I know! It’s really immature of me, but at least I’m going in the right direction.

So when I was Christmas shopping last week in Horsham and saw this (above), I had to buy it as an early present for my family.  It is now up in our kitchen to remind us all that this is what we are aiming for. We won’t ever be able to do this all the time, but by having it as one of the guiding principles of our family life, I am hoping we will learn to tolerate and help each other when we need it the most.

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.

27Nov/12

“Everybody Hates Me!”

Zach with his bags packed ready to leave home.

Recently I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my youngest son, who is 5.  One minute he’s the most loving, thoughtful and happy little boy, and then suddenly he can change into a crazy ball of dynamite hurling punches, kicks and hateful words at anyone who is in the area. I know that all young children can switch their mood at what we adults think is the slightest upset, but he has always had more of a tendency to declare that he hates his family, is leaving home, and packing his bags, than my eldest two.

At first I put it down to his personality – he was just different, perhaps more independent, maybe more fiery, than his siblings. But then he started saying he didn’t want to go to school.  He would refuse to get in the car, or get out of the car at school, but I knew that he actually loved it when he was there.  He always talked about what he had done at school, he loved learning and ‘working’ in school more than many 5 year olds do, and the teachers said he seemed happy, and had many friends.  It was really hard to see him obviously upset about something, but not knowing what it was, and how to help him.  And then when he wrote to Santa and said ‘I rile need a noow famlee’, it broke my heart. We are a loving family and are always telling him we love him, and giving him cuddles, playing games with him, etc.  Why was he feeling like this?

Last week as he was telling me again that the reason he didn’t want to go to school was because there were bullies and he had no friends, it finally dawned on me what was happening.  I realised that he believed that whenever someone disagreed with him, or was mean to him, or told him off it meant that they hated him.  So when that happened he went into attack mode to protect himself.  After talking some more it became clear that where his friends at school were concerned, if they had been mean to him once then it meant that they hated him forever.  He now thinks that one of his best friends hates him because he pushed infront of him in the dinner line.

Given that this little 5-year-old spent most of his day with other 4, 5 and 6-year-olds at school, and then with two older bossy siblings at home, and a mum who is a control freak about behaviour, then there was no wonder that he wanted a new family and a new school.

So, since then, we’ve been talking to him about how friendships and families work. That we can get angry,or grumpy and do things that are a bit mean and selfish to our friends, or even do things by mistake, but that doesn’t mean we hate each other. It happens in all relationships – especially when young children are still learning about friendships and controlling their impulses. It’s difficult to know how much he is taking in because he is still focussing on a couple of ‘small’ incidents at school as evidence that other children hate him.  But I think if we keep telling him we love him (I also try to say this while I am telling him off or when I’m defending myself from his punches, but I don’t always manage it!), and not take his anger personally, we will in time help him to see disagreements and arguments as part and parcel of school and family life.   And maybe he’ll eventually stop packing his bags and leaving home quite so often!

01Jun/12

How do Your Children Live?

I have this poem in a frame in my office because I think I need to be reminded of if every now and then.

Children Learn What They Live

If a child lives with criticism, she learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility, she learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.

If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.

But,

If a child lives with tolerance, she learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement, she learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness, he learns to show justice.

If a child lives with security, she learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval, she learns to like herself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship he learns to find love in the world.

How you live and what you model to your children are far more important than what you say and teach your children.

What are your children living with?  What are they learning?

26Mar/11

Making the Perfect Choice

On Thursday, my daughter was upset. Nothing new in that, but it seemed to go on for longer than normal, and she was very reluctant to talk. The sun was shining, we were all enjoying the gorgeous spring weather….except she wanted to stay inside watching TV – which was very unlike her.

Finally, she accepted my offer to have a cuddle and chat, and it emerged that she hadn’t had a very nice time at school during Golden Time – the part of the day when they can choose what to do or play with. Her problem was, she couldn’t decide what she wanted to do. She walked around the playground on her own trying to decide what to play with. By the time she had chosen it was time to finish. ‘So I only got to tidy up’ she said, her face crumpling.

Whey-hey I thought, we’re on my territory. I know this. I’ve been there. So I told her that I too worry about making the right choice. And she admitted that, like me, she was sometimes scared about making the wrong choice, and ‘wasting’ her time. We talked about there being lots of right choices, and usually not many wrong ones or less good ones.

And then I got to the punchline. “And remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Life isn’t perfect, and we don’t really want it to be. So don’t worry about making the perfect choice, you’ll make a good choice and that’s OK.”

A few months ago, this encounter would have involved me asking about what things she could have chosen, and why she couldn’t choose, what to do next time, and it probably wouldn’t have got got us very far. Instead, she seems lighter after our sharing chat. I feel proud that I recognised the opportunity to start teaching her – at six – what I am only just learning myself.

16Mar/11

Nature or Nurture?

Is chatting a woman thing?

As a perfectionist I sometimes struggle with the fact that other people are not perfect too.

My husband, for example.

He ticks a lot of boxes, but one of the things that I try to accept that he doesn’t do, without it being a sign he doesn’t love me is to show interest by asking me questions. You know, like in having a chat. He can do the How are you?, How’s your day gone? fine, and he listens and nods admirably. But then it pretty much stops. There’s no more.  No more investigation or interest, whether I’m happy, sad, excited, or angry.  When I mention this he says he is interested, but why doesn’t he want to find out more? (Surely I’m not that boring?!) It doesn’t seem to enter  his head that he should gather information not only in order to be polite but also to share it, own it, dissect it, and then maybe – or maybe not – solve it.  Which is strange you would think, since (like the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus says) his first instinct is to solve any issue, and surely information forms the basis of any good kind of problem solving. But maybe information gathering is a woman thing.   The fact is that my husband acts like he missed out on the “showing interest in other people” part of the social skills curriculum at the school of life.  Is this a subject that only women learn?  I know we are the best at it, but I kind of thought men did it too though perhaps in a less skilled way.* It seems that my husband does not. My daughter, however, could already pass with an A+, as we discovered last week.

We were having a ‘celebration’ with the kids. This is a family tradition on a Friday where we have a drink and some snacks together and talk about our week. Last week we all talked about what we were proud of. When it was my turn I said that I was really excited because I had set up a survey on the web and I that 32 women had completed the survey so far – in only 2 days. My six-year-old daughter immediately started asking loads of questions in a really animated way, using her hands and body and tone of voice to communicate her excitement, support and interest in my survey. “So what kind of questions did you ask?” “What did they say to that question?” “How many people want to join your club etc.”  “When are you going to run the first one?” She chatted like an expert and we had a lovely little conversation about it.  It was my husband who pointed out later that it must be a girl thing, this asking questions business, and perhaps he should take lessons from her.  Maybe it’s true.  She doesn’t get to see me chatting to my girlfriends any more than my sons do, yet here she is asking all the questions in the way a best friend does.

*I know I’m generalising here, and accept that some men are wizards at discussing people and feelings, and some women are awful at it, but generally…you know what I mean.