Every journey starts with small steps

How is your post-natal body doing?

Mine is fine. 

Well, I say ‘fine’. It has been 9 years since my second c-section birth. My body is doing okay. I can do most things I want my body to do. I don’t usually leak, my pelvic floor is okay.

I have known for a long time – well, probably 9 years! – that my body is only just ‘fine’. My c-section scar has continued to be a little sensitive and sore when touched; so I just don’t touch it. My core strength has never been great; I’m strong in my upper body and that has always allowed me to get away with not using my core muscles properly. That has only got worse with two c-sections. I get niggles in my lower back, hips, knees and ankles, especially when I try to implement a proper running routine. In fact, my knees and ankles always start to hurt or get injured every time I get back to a proper exercise routine, but it’s fine.

Until I decided it is no longer fine. I actually don’t have to put up with those niggles. I deserve to feel better than ‘fine’. I deserve to feel great! My body is amazing – it has done amazing things and taken me to amazing places. And I want to maintain fitness and strength as I navigate these menopausal years and beyond.

For many years now, I have been recommending Libby Phillips, a local chiropractor at S1 Chiropractic, who specialises in pre- and post-natal work. I know she is great because so many of my colleagues, acquaintances, friends and clients have recommended her, so I recommend her in turn to my clients.

Finally, I thought, ‘What about me?’ This summer, I decided to focus on my physical health with the aim of getting beyond ‘fine’, to a place of ‘really good’.

I realised I needed to go back to basics, so I decided to try out the Mutu system. I am loving it; I love the fact I can fit the exercises in around everything else, and it builds up slowly so I can create better habits as I go along, instead of trying to make huge, overwhelming changes all at once. I can keep track of it all online, and get the motivation from seeing it all building up.

Finally, I also booked in to see Libby – and she really is great. Even after the first session I started to feel so much better. Many of my questions about the little niggles over the years were explained. The treatments, alongside the Mutu core exercises, and those that she has recommended are really helping me to feel so much better on a really basic level. I honestly can’t recommend her enough!

But there are two things going on here: firstly, my willingness to spend the time, energy and money on myself – in really prioritising sorting out my health and seeking out Libby’s expertise to support me. But the second, equally important thing, is for me to keep investing the time and energy to prioritise the exercises and little adjustments I need to make in order for this to really be successful; for me to really make sustainable and long lasting change.

Of course, the first couple of days were great – I did the exercises without fail, really kept noticing what my body was doing, and what it should be doing and making those adjustments. 

Then it all started to slip a bit.

Having Libby to reassure me that it is all okay, and that changing habits does take a long time, is priceless. She believes I’m worth it, and it helps me to believe I’m worth it! I keep taking these small steps, with my eye on the bigger picture, and the future where I don’t have to have painful hips and knees. 

But I need to keep doing it. Every day. And that feels great! Keeping my physical health in the forefront of my mind feels wonderful. It doesn’t have to be for ever. It won’t be forever. Pretty soon, if I keep going, all these things will become my new habits; my new way of being. They won’t require the energy needed right now to make sure they become new habits.

As a coach, this is what I want to offer you. I know you are fine just as you are. I know you want to make changes to be that bit better at being who you are. 

When you come on a retreat with me; work with me online or face to face; in groups or as individuals; I know you feel good in that moment. It then requires effort from you to keep with it, to keep the focus on yourself while you make those changes that become your new habits.

Watch out for all the new ways I will be supporting you taking those tiny steps – so you can make small, manageable changes without the overwhelm!

Keep going, beautiful souls. 

Life Coaching – how can it help?

Have you ever wondered exactly why you would benefit from working with a life coach?

One of the best parts of coaching is catching up with clients to find out how things are going for them, and the difference coaching makes to their life.

I recently received a wonderful testimonial from a client I worked with last year; her list of accomplishments is phenomenal!

“As promised, here’s the list of all the changes that the programme of life coaching has helped me make:

I applied for promotion and was successful! I’m now an associate professor!

Before coming to life coaching, I was frustrated that I didn’t feel I had a way of expressing myself intellectually and creatively. Over the last year, I have developed a big project working with some really interesting people, for which I will apply for funding (but I have faith that some of the project will happen regardless of securing this funding). This was the result of a visualisation exercise we did, which helped me to think creatively about what I would want to do in an ideal world and this project is very close to my dream! (fingers crossed I get funding for this). I have also been better at asking people for what I need to help this happen, including asking people to commit to being involved (which involved them writing letters of support) and to read my proposal to help make it as best as possible. This was noticed by our department administrator.

I feel more secure in what I’m doing and worry less about how I compare to others. It doesn’t matter to me if someone has a better career than me provided I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

I passed my driving test over 10 years ago and hadn’t driven at all (apart from one occassion that reinforced the feeling that I shouldn’t drive). Since life coaching, I have started driving and I enjoy it. I no longer see this as something I shouldn’t be doing and I find it easier to move on after making mistakes. I am already a much much better and more confident driver. This has made my life much easier!

I used to be frustrated that I didn’t seem to get the same opportunities as other people. Life coaching helped me to take seriously that idea of making your own luck and asking people for what I need and want (within reason) rather than waiting to be noticed. I contacted the editor of a journal to see if they would commission an article on poetry and they said yes! This is a really nice moment for me.

I’ve lost a stone in weight after radically changing my diet and feel generally more healthy. How this happened was the result of not hating my body but instead wanting to stop punishing myself by eating poorly.

I’ve developed a better support network including a local physiotherapist, sports massage, dentist (I hadn’t been to the dentist for 6-7 years). I also get my hair cut more frequently (now 2 times per year, when previously it was more like once at a push)

I have become better at creating boundaries between work and home including taking fridays to work from home. I also have a much more balanced life (although there is still room for improvement!). My partner and I have started exploring the peak district by going walking after work (usually on a friday). 

I don’t shy away from having intellectual conversations with others (I used to avoid such conversations or turn them away from the intellectual content).

I’m also better at walking away from conversations that aren’t working for me (for instance, situations where I am being excluded — I used to stay around and get frustrated, I now move on to talk to someone else when this happens).

I have improved my confidence as a teacher — rather than spend my time concerned with whether or not the students are enjoying it, I instead enjoy what we are discussing, which has had a positive impact on them!

I really am amazed at what a difference it has made to my life and I struggle to remember what I was like before but I do know that I found it hard to do things for me, I was working too much (including evenings and weekends), which had really started to affect my friends and family, I struggled to concentrate and wasn’t very productive (which led to feeling even more stressed). 

I have struggled with depression, stress and low self esteem for much of my adult life. Life coaching with you has made the biggest impact so far. Unlike with counselling, I looked forward to each appointment and came out of each feeling stronger than before.”

Christmas Stress

Stress is the body’s response to a threat, in the simplest terms. It is useful to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode if you are in immediate danger; it becomes a problem when you are spending too much time in that state of stress, in response to things that aren’t actually dangerous to you.

People get stressed for all sorts for reasons at Christmas; there is so much to do with a strict time limit. From buying presents to preparing food; meeting up with all the various branches of the family, friends and colleagues; feelings of grief, loss and loneliness if you are unable to spend time with loved ones; there are so many extra responsibilities that we need to pay attention to at this time of year. We try to squeeze a week’s worth of activity into a single day – every day.

Many of these pressures, though, actually come from our internal expectations. The desire to give the perfect gift, serve the perfect meal, be there for everyone, and be happy and joyful throughout it all. 

Add to this the fact that we have had a whole year of cumulative stress building up – little things piling on through the year, ending in this time of fuss and activity – meaning that what we can cope with in September, causes us to feel burnt out by December.

  • Be honest – with yourself and others. Be realistic about what commitments you can actually keep without piling too much pressure on yourself.
  • Don’t believe the pictures –all those picture perfect Christmas trees, meals, laughing children, joyful pictures you see on social media. It’s only a snapshot of the best of someone else’s life. Moments after the photo was taken, it probably all dissolved in screaming piles of tears. Don’t get sucked into measuring yourself against something that isn’t entirely real.
  • Say no. To people, or commitments, whatever is just too much. Ask for help too, people love to be asked and feel useful
  • Buy or make gifts that have meaning. You don’t have to give the best or funniest or most expensive gifts. Shop local and support your community.  

Christmas can be a time when old family conflicts resurface; this is perhaps one of the biggest stresses at this time of year. Think about letting some of those old quarrels go – do they really matter anymore? Does it really matter if lunch is late? If someone makes a comment about your house, or children, partner, or life, do you need to respond in a negative way? Try simply smiling and thanking them for their advice.

Keep the conversation light; ask questions that show you are interested in the other person and what they have been doing. This has the added bonus of keeping the attention away from you, which can be great if you often feel criticised by others.

This is the season of goodwill, so be the one to start spreading it! The people around you may well follow your lead…

Merry Christmas!

First published in Castleton Parish News

Motivation – how’s yours doing?

I’m lucky. I really like exercise. I (mostly) feel motivated to get out and exercise. Once I’m out, I love the feeling of moving my body; I like feeling strong and healthy; I like knowing what my body is capable of. I like being able to walk up hills, run for a bus, play with the kids without feeling slow, sluggish and out of breath.

So you see, my motivation to exercise comes from wanting something – feeling fit and healthy. That makes it easier to put on my running clothes in the morning, get out there and get started. Once you’ve got started, the motivation comes more easily. “Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.”

Actually, I hadn’t been for a run for 3 weeks. I’ve had a sore knee, then the never-ending cold, and the weather has been awful – in short, my motivation has been non-existent. I listened to my body, and rested until I felt like I was ready to get back on it. This morning, I was raring to go, and it felt so good to get out again.

Back in September, I blogged about doing the Couch to 5K programme. It should be a 9 week programme, yet here I am in December just about to start Week 5! Hey, it took me about 4 months to complete the 31 Day Yoga Challenge with Adrienne….

And this is the thing. I don’t beat myself up if I take longer than I *should* to do these things. It would be so easy to give up when I don’t manage to do my yoga every day, or my 3 runs a week. ‘There’s no point. I can’t keep it going, I can’t make it the routine that I’m supposed to. I might as well just give up and not even bother’. 

But as the wonderful health coach at Run with Karen once told me, this attitude is crazy. If you drop your mobile phone, and crack the screen, she told me, you don’t then take a hammer to it and smash it up completely because it was a bit broken. You just look after it a bit more, get it fixed, and carry on trying not to drop it again.

And this is the important thing about motivation. Life gets in the way, things happen that need your attention and disrupt your routine. If you are motivated towards something – like feeling healthy – it feels much easier to carry on working towards that goal despite all the set backs. Whatever gets in the way, the goal is there so you keep on being motivated to work towards it.

However, when your motivation is directed away from something you don’t want, rather than towards something you do want, it is much more difficult to sustain it. For example, if you feel you should exercise because you think you are overweight, and you don’t want to be seen as ‘fat’ (we live in a pretty judgemental society, after all), or you have even tied in some emotional consequences: ‘no-one will find me attractive if I’m fat’, then those knock-backs are harder to deal with.

So, how do you sustain that motivation, or even re-frame your motivation towards a positive rather than away from a negative? 

There are some great ideas in the article linked to above:

  • Don’t wait for the motivation before you act; get started and feel the motivation afterwards! Make it easy to get started, make it something small and easily achievable that prepares you for the actual task.
  • Get your routines sorted – mine is to put my running gear on as soon as I get up. This means that I don’t need to get dressed, get the kids to school, get home and then change into running gear – there are so many things that will distract me away from my purpose if I do it this way round. If my running gear is already on, I have already decided that I’m going for a run. It also means that I’ve been seen in public in my running gear – it’s like I’ve made a public announcement, so I am much more likely to carry on and actually do it.
  • Use the ‘Goldilocks Rule’: make it not too hard, not too easy, but ‘just right’. Isn’t that a lovely way to think about what motivates you? A wonderful way to challenge yourself, keep yourself interested but without over-facing and overwhelming yourself. We love to achieve things, but not if it is too easy, and we give up if it is too difficult!
  • Use your network; arrange to do things with others where possible – you are less likely to back out if you would also be letting someone else down. Tell other people your goals and aims – once you have said them out loud, you are more likely to achieve them. Have an agreement with someone else to be accountable for the things you want to do. Having someone else check in with your progress really helps to keep motivation going.

Keep in touch on my Facebook page, let me know how you’re getting on with motivation in your life.

I love the way you help me when I need it!

This is about habits of connection. All our children really want is connection. They want to know that you’re there; that you see them; that you hear them; that you love them.

Over the years, our family have developed our own little traditions; ways of doing things and speaking to each other. It can be really helpful in times of stress to fall back on these little habits to reconnect and get through to a better place.

Especially when they are very young this can feel like an uphill battle. It takes a long time for these things to become habit for us, the adults, and it can be even longer before you start to see your children really start doing them independently.

For years now, we have got into a beautiful habit of giving each other gifts of nice things that we say. When I first introduced the idea, it made my husband squirm with embarrassment. He’s not very comfortable talking about feelings, or giving and receiving compliments.

We don’t do it often; just now and again, around the dinner table. We take it in turns to go round and ether say something nice about each other – something that you like or appreciate about them, or something that you are proud of them for doing, or something you’ve noticed recently. Or, sometimes we say something about ourselves that we’re proud of.

The kids absolutely love it. It models how to give and receive compliments, and how to be nice to yourself too. It makes everyone feel warm, happy, loved. It really kindles that connection, that sense of ‘I see you. I appreciate you’.

I take it a step further and sometimes write little letters or notes that I leave around the house. I even sometimes send little cards through the post with nice things written in them. Leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, I left a little note for each person in the family starting on 1stFebruary, with something that I love or appreciate about them.

As I said, we have been doing this for years.

And now, the kids have started reciprocating. They both joined in with the Valentine’s notes, not every day but frequently through the fortnight. It is so lovely to receive a little note with something someone values about you. I can see that this is creating beautiful memories for them too, and hopefully they will do something similar with their own children. Maybe they will even take this practice into their work environment when they are older. I can imagine those tiny ripples of kindness and appreciation spreading out, further into the future.

And right now, I’m struggling. I’m overwhelmed with things going on that are beyond my control. These stresses are affecting everyone in the family, but I’m doing my best to push on through with dignity and calm.

This morning, my daughter was in a bit of a grump. I was short tempered and lacking in patience, though trying very hard not to lose it completely. When I went upstairs to brush my teeth, there on the mirror was a note from my son to his sister.

“You are the best big sister anyone could have.”

Right there, stuck to the sink, was a note for me.

“Mummy. I love the way you help me when I need it!”

Right then, my heart lifted. I felt loved, appreciated, by this amazing 8 year old boy.

“Thank you!” I said. “I’ll put this in my pocket so I’ll remember it all day.”

And off we went; more loving, more connected, more able to get on with the day.

 

Ego, sit down and be quiet!

Has your ego ever got in your way; stopped you from doing something, even if you know it would be good for you?

Mine has. Probably many times.

I’m a bit better at noticing it now, though.

I like running. I can be quite competitive. These are two things about me that make me, me. I’m also getting older, and keep getting physical niggles. Yeah, running and being competitive probably aren’t such a great combo!

Earlier this year, every time I went for a run my knee kept hurting. Really, really hurting. I hadn’t been running for a bit, just due to time pressures and being busy with other stuff. I’d start again, immediately run in the way I know I can (there’s no point going for a slow run, or a short run, right?). Then my knee would hurt. I’d give it another week or so, then repeat the process. Clearly, I needed some help and advice.

A physio gave me some exercises, and also suggested I do the ‘Couch to 5k’.

What?? That’s for really unfit people. I’m not unfit, I can easily run 5k! Oh yes, except when I try, it really hurts….

I saw the sense in what she was suggesting. My ego screamed ‘Noooooo’.

So, I gave it a go. Well, I downloaded it. Then I realised I did need to do it, despite my ego trying to stop me.

You know what? It’s great! It is paced so well, right from the start. I’m enjoying it immensely; I get out for a run, three times a week. I’m gradually progressing, and my knee isn’t hurting. Now that my ego has sat down and shut up, I can just get on and enjoy the progress I’m making, feeling fitter and pain free again.

Where is your ego stopping you? What could you do, if your ego wasn’t telling you not to?

‘Soft Play’, Self-love and Self-care – feel it, love it, live it!

Most of the women I know are always busy. Busy working, looking after the family, busy doing things; endlessly doing for other people.

Last night in our wonderful Women’s Circle, we talked about this busy-ness, and the – often conflicting – need to look after ourselves. It seems to be a fairly common theme, the fact that we take time to look after ourselves only if there is time left over after doing everything else and looking after everyone else.

I introduced the idea of Soft Play, from the One of Many programme. This is a very simple idea, but one that often takes women by surprise.

It is simply this: for one hour a week, plan to do something for you. Something fun – not routine; not work; not looking after yourself; not housework or family time. Not even having fun with others – as soon as you are with someone else you will naturally put energy into making sure they are okay, or listening to their stuff, rather than concentrating on fulfilling your own desires.

For one hour a week, take yourself off alone to replenish, recharge, explore and even push yourself out of your comfort zone a little. It is about bringing more fun, adventure, courage, and joy into your life.

By doing this, you replenish your energy and end up feeling better and doing better – not just for you, but for everyone around you. But we still feel this huge guilt around doing something for ourselves, something we might enjoy. It feels selfish, frivolous, indulgent even.

Yet when we allow the feeling of loving ourselves and caring for ourselves in, it is very far from being selfish and self-indulgent. We all know it benefits us and the people we love; yet we still struggle to do it.

So, last night we committed to holding each other accountable to take one hour a week to replenish ourselves. As is so often the case, a lot of people were stumped when trying to think of what they might actually enjoy doing for an hour.  We fall so easily into that pattern of keeping going until we slump down exhausted at the end of the day. If I were to do something fun for an hour, what on earth would it be?

We went round the circle starting to share possible ideas. Then, one of the women asked me what my plan was. I realised I have let my habit of Soft Play slip. I went through a period of being pretty good at committing to something in my diary every week, but then busy-ness seems to have crept in again.

I have a confession: I cheated! Last night I asked my husband if he wanted to go for a bike ride with me this morning. It’s one of his days to take the kids to school, so I suggested I would come with him (they always cycle to school) then my husband and I could continue off around the hills. So, true Soft Play is a solitary activity but actually I do need time to connect with my husband as well.

He is also always busy. We do have a great work life balance but we can easily fall into habits where we rush around from one thing to another. We rarely spend time together having fun on our own – we don’t go out in the evenings very often, we both enjoy being busy, we have lots of fun as a family, but it occurred to me that maybe we’re not modelling a healthy relationship to our children.

I am pretty good at self-care. My kids know I go for a regular massage; I exercise because it makes me feel good, and I just went away to Morocco for 9 days! I do think it is important for our kids to see their parents having fun together as well though.

Because it all boils down to the fact that our children learn what they see. If you are the sort of mum who never has time for self-care, never does anything for herself, talks negatively about herself, what are you teaching your kids about being a parent?

They will learn that mums don’t deserve to have fun. That mums are at the bottom of the pile. Our sons and daughters will both learn those lessons, and internalise them – then act them out in their own relationships as adults. Where did we get this guilt from in the first place? For many of us our own parents modelled it to us from the start.

Often, although not always, there is a gender difference in this idea of having fun and meeting your needs. Often, dads will automatically have their ‘thing’ – whether it is football, going down the pub with their mates, running, biking, climbing and so on. Our children see this being acted out, that it is somehow acceptable for dad to do these things but mums do it less often, or worry about it, or feel guilty much more.

Is that a lesson you want your daughters to learn? Do you want your sons to think this is okay, just ‘the way things are’?

So, when you commit to having fun you are actually modelling to your children that everyone in the family deserves to get their needs met, and have fun along the way. They will see you relaxing, enjoying life more, being happier. What better lesson could they learn from you?

Back to my bike ride – I realised how important it is to model having fun with my husband. Before the kids, we had so much fun together. Now, we have loads of fun as a family. It is equally important that the kids see us nurturing our relationship as well. I want them to grow up to have happy, healthy relationships where everyone makes sure that they get their needs met. I want them to know that it is wonderful to get out there and just have fun!

Now, here I am back home – relaxed, happy, ready to work so I can get out and play more this afternoon!

What can you commit to this week to model healthy, happy living to your children?

Statistic of the Week: There is no point in mothers going to work

A friend shared this on Facebook today. There was no context, no date, but my immediate response was, “Ooh, awful. Isn’t the world just a rubbish place for us women?”

That was my social media response; the knee jerk, believe everything you read, react to everything you read, don’t apply any deeper thought to it.

Then my real world response kicked in; you know, where you can apply a bit of rational thought and see if there is any difference to what you think about it.

My rational thoughts went, “Is this a single mum? What about the dad? Why is it only the mother’s salary that comes into this equation?”

You see, childcare is woefully underfunded in this country compared to other countries. That much is true. And it is incredibly hard to make ends meet with childcare costs so high. And it is hard to make ends meet if you decide not to return to work. And mothers feel judged whether they choose to return to work, or stay home to look after their kids.

But where are the dads in this discussion? They, presumably, were part of the decision to have kids, and present and active during the conception of said children – at least in most heterosexual partnerships. In a co-habiting relationship, they will presumably share the parental responsibility for those children in legal terms.

If both parents previously worked full time, regardless of who earned the most, then surely we should be looking at how those parents share the responsibility for those years when childcare is needed. So often, it comes down to this bare mathematical problem of ‘Does the mother’s salary cover the cost of childcare and is it therefore worth her returning to work?’

Now, I’m not going to get into the discussion here of whether she wants to return to work, or indeed if her husband would rather stay home and look after the kids. These are separate, although also very important issues.

For now, I am just focussing on a discussion of the maths. I did track down the original article this came from; it is from April 2016, so the figures might be slightly out of date. I found the most up to date figures of average salaries that I could; this states that the average annual salary for men is £30,549 while the figure for women is £25,140. Now again, I won’t digress into any of the issues around that difference. Let’s just work with those figures.

Let me introduce you to some made up friends of mine. Before they had children, Mr & Ms Average were earning the average annual salary appropriate to their gender; that gave them a household income of £55, 689. They decided Ms Average would take the full 9 months parental leave after her second child, although I believe nowadays they are supposed to be able to split it between them.

Now, they are going through the painful process of trying to juggle work, family life and childcare. They don’t have any parents or family nearby who can help them out, so they have some tough decisions to make ends meet. I know Ms Average has been off with the little ones for the last 9 months, but how does this suddenly become entirely her problem? Why are we only looking at her salary and whether it covers the childcare costs? Mr Average also has a job which he has been able to do for the last 9 months because they decided Mrs Average was going to take the parental leave.

Actually, they now have a choice of full time paid childcare for both of their kids; or one of the parents not working and staying home to look after them; or some compromise where they both work part time or condensed hours and work around that. And whatever they decide will only be until the kids start school – and from the age of 3, the children will get 15 hours of funded childcare. This is nowhere near enough help, but the financial difficulties concerning full time childcare will be short lived. Once the children start school, there is a whole other set of difficulties with wraparound childcare but the parents won’t be paying for full time childcare.

The original article does include a brief mention of this whole issue:

“The calculations do not take account of a partner’s income but illustrate the challenge women face in finding a job that makes financial sense after becoming a mother.”

Oh, right. Thank you, The Times. Thanks for that brief mention – we’re not going to take account of the partner’s income because, well, this is a women’s issue. Because if we point out how absolutely terrible this is, we can be seen to be supporting women. We are showing our sympathy, while at the same time putting the responsibility for the childcare firmly at the woman’s door.

So, the whole gender imbalance is perpetuated. It doesn’t make financial sense for the woman to go back to work and have to pay for childcare. She might as well stay at home, in financial terms. Never mind that this will set her back hugely if and when she decides to return to the work force. She may have to retrain, take demotion, take a completely different, less well paid job. All while her husband continues to work his way up the career ladder and gets to enjoy the perks of parenthood.

Personally, I am one of the women who didn’t return to work after having children. It wasn’t because of this issue; it was far more complex. What happened next is that I became self-employed. I used my talents, skills and resources to build a better future for myself and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to do that. However, at various points along the way as I was building my business, I frequently questioned my husband as to whether I should continue when I was earning so little, or simply give it up and look after the kids because it made financial sense to do so.

I am eternally grateful to my husband for pointing out that my arithmetic was flawed. It was he who suggested that our childcare costs weren’t only paid for out of my earnings; they allowed him to go to work too. What a difference in perspective! These are our children; this is our household income no matter what proportion I bring in.

So, to anyone else going through this situation – it is not just the mother’s problem. It may make financial sense in the short term but start the discussion from the point of view that both of you are parents; and both of you have financial and emotional responsibility for your children. I know that fathers often face even worse discrimination if they even hint that they would like to take a break from work, go part time, or give up completely but things will never change unless we actively change them.

I am aiming to bring up my children, one of each gender, in a world that allows them to both enjoy their careers, and have a family.

Will you join me?

 

Can you just do something for me please?

I found myself saying this to my husband this morning. I’d dropped the kids at school but they needed something I hadn’t brought; my husband was going into work a little later than usual today, so would be driving past shortly. Of course, it made sense to ask him to drop it in on his way past rather than me heading out and making the journey again, so I asked him. ‘Can you drop a bag into school for me, on your way past please?’ We work together as a team, right?

The problem here is the ‘for me’. They are his kids too. He also has a responsibility for their education. We set out on this parenting journey declaring we would share the responsibility, the work. He works one day more than I do, so the actual childcare was always slightly tipped in my favour. The emotional work has continued to be largely my responsibility, though. I get frustrated with this, the idea that I have to ask him to do the things that need doing. I want him to take responsibly for noticing, for working out what needs doing and then doing it so I don’t have to always be the responsible one, in charge all the time. And, from my work with women, it seems that I am not alone.

So, where does this unequal division of emotional work come from? Are women simply better at this stuff, genetically? Do we just naturally notice all the things that need doing because it is in our nature? Or are men bred to expect to be looked after, all the family needs met without them having to worry about it, while women are trained to look after everyone around them?

From what we now know of the nature/ nurture argument, it would seem to be largely learned rather than inherited. Of course, character will play some part in this – we all know someone who just loves organising, cleaning, nurturing others without resentment – but there is no reason to suppose it is a clear gender divide.

So, how do we, as women, contribute to the status quo? Back to my original question – we ask our partners, husbands, soul mates to do things around the house, chores, things for the children – FOR US. We add in that little caveat ‘for me’ all the time.

Can you empty the dishwasher for me please? Can you pick up the dry cleaning for me please? Can you empty the bins for me please? How many times do you say it? Do you even notice you’re doing it?

The other one I hear all the time is, ‘Can you help me in the kitchen please? Can you help me sort the clothes out please?

By using this language – unnoticed, habitually – we are putting ourselves in charge of the household labour. We are stating that the responsibility is mine so please help me to do these things, do them for me.

I get how hard it is to change these unspoken, learned-from-birth habits. For me, and for my husband. We slip into these roles, these ways of working within our family without noticing until suddenly the frustration builds and I’m fed up of it.

But then I perpetuate the unspoken, unconscious responsibility by using this language. By stating and re-stating my ownership of all the household and child rearing work.

I have got so much better at accepting that I notice things that need doing around the house that he doesn’t; I have changed my language to start asking him more if there are things that need doing. Now, my next step is to start asking him without stating my ownership of the chore.

Can you drop this bag off at school on your way past please? Can you put the laundry away please?

See how simple it is? And even better, your partner will appreciate the simplicity of being asked to do something. Without the smouldering resentment coming from your underlying guilt at asking/ frustration at having to ask him, that simmers away beneath the surface and really, really freaks him out because he has no clue what it is.

How to be Kind

I mean, I’m sure you already know how to be kind. I’m sure you have an understanding of what kindness is.

We do hear a lot about ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ though; maybe you’re wondering what that actually means, and how kind you actually have to be? Like, all the time? To everybody who asks you for anything?

I am in a wonderful local Facebook group where we celebrate acts of kindness – both those we do ourselves, and lovely things that others do for us. It’s a lovely place that can really help to lift the spirits. Whenever anything bad happens that hits the news, we have a flurry of raffling off – completely free – small acts of kindness. It can be baking, delivering a meal, services like cleaning or ironing, giving away clothes, toys or any unwanted gifts. Anything that anyone has to offer – and people are very creative; even if they have little to give, they think of something that makes someone else’s life slightly better.

Can this really help you, to help others? Surely it is only the people on the receiving end who benefit?

Well, “evidence shows that helping others is actually beneficial for your own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress, improve your emotional wellbeing and even benefit your physical health”.

Amazing, eh?

Being altruistic, in short, is when you put someone else’s needs before your own. Maybe it is simply offering your seat on public transport to someone who looks like they need it more than you; or just offering to make a cup of tea for a work colleague. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; just making the world slightly better for those about you by showing care and consideration.

Now, you might be worrying about what this is going to cost you in terms of time, energy and money. If you are always helping others, you might find you have given away all your money; you have no energy left, and no time for your own family and friends. You might turn into the classic martyr: “Look at all I’ve done for you. I have nothing left. Why aren’t you grateful?”

Of course, you need to be aware of your boundaries. We can afford to be generous when all of our needs – physical, emotional, financial and so on – are met. When we have a surplus of anything, we can afford to give to others without sacrificing ourselves.

So, if you have very little money but you do have time, consider volunteering. Bake a cake for a neighbour. Offer to help someone out if they need it, or give what is needed if they ask for help. Smile at the people around you. Make conversation. There are plenty of things you can do that don’t cost a penny but show people that you care – and this will improve your own health too!

If you have enough money but are constantly working, by all means choose to give some money to charity; although this can often feel rather distant, like a salve to the conscience. What might have a greater effect on you instead, would be to open your eyes to the real people around you. Yes, you might be busy but is there anything you can do in your daily life to spread a bit of cheer? Maybe even look at the people serving you in shops as real people – share a smile and eye contact. Make conversation – do you see a pattern here? However much you have or don’t have in a material sense, you can always make small differences to the world around you.

When to say ‘No’. 

Now, don’t get me wrong – I am completely human and sometimes don’t have the necessary energy or desire to be wonderfully upbeat and make everyone around me feel slightly happier. We all have off days.

If you feel like this, your needs haven’t been met – so, to try to give to others at this moment in time would put you into the realm of sacrifice. Once you are in the habit of spreading kindness, it somehow becomes easier to ask for help, so if you are feeling this way, try asking for what you need; also, try being kind to yourself.

Even if you have started the habit of spreading a bit more kindness in the world, it doesn’t mean you have to agree to everything that people ask of you! Automatically saying ‘Yes’ to everything is as unhelpful as automatically saying ‘No’ to everything. If someone asks you for something, take a moment to consider the request. Can you meet their needs as well as your own? Say ‘Yes’! If it doesn’t work for you, say ‘No’.

Above all, just be mindful of how you can make small changes around you to make the world a better place.

When we believe that our actions don’t make any difference; when we think there is too much bad in the world so there is no point trying to spread some good; we feel down, depressed, disheartened.

When we take control of the tiny influence we do have on the world, and do what we can to make the world a better place, we spread tiny ripples of goodness; we inspire others to do the same; we start to see the good in the world.

Do pop over to my Facebook page and share what kindness you have given or received!