Why The Breakdown of a Relationship is Like Renovating a House

single mum's survival guide logoI’m right in the middle of renovating at the moment and it strikes me how closely the process parallels the breakdown of a relationship. In my case, the renovation is currently focused on my kitchen. Several years ago, when my old kitchen was newly-decorated, I had high hopes for its longevity. It was clean and smart and fresh and I loved it. Admittedly, it didn’t have everything I wanted, so I had compromised on certain things but it made me happy and I was (as ever) optimistic about the future.

But then came the day when I realised that it had become a major problem. It was, quite literally, falling apart. Help came, as it so often does, from a familiar source and just when I needed it. My sister offered to buy my share of our family property in London, which would make possible – not only the kitchen renovation – but all sorts of other much-needed improvements.

My husband (always critical of my house because he is a dissatisfied soul and it has never been tidy enough or luxurious enough in his eyes) reluctantly agreed to help with the project. He listened politely whilst I enthused about colours and materials and how much better life would be once we’d made the changes. He even helped demolish half the cabinets and unload the new flat-pack furniture. But then he left, in the hope of finding a shinier, more aspirational property which was already perfect and would require no work and we were left with the chaos.

Luckily, the boys and I have always been a great team and so we got to work creating a new space for the three of us to enjoy and feel proud of. Clearing the rest of the room has been hard, heavy, back-breaking work and has required multiple trips to the tip to get rid of the old and make way for the new. The floor was the hardest. At first it seemed that the old tiles would be easy to chip away. But it was slow and painful work and all three of us suffered cuts and bruises. We uncovered lots of unexpected issues, including a gaping hole and places where what we thought was a solid foundation had been built on crumbling sand. It was time to enlist professional help to smooth out the floor and provide a clear, level base on which to build. But we can’t use it yet, because it takes time to dry.

Are we there yet? Not quite. There are more challenges to come and some days we’ve felt weak and discouraged. The contents of the kitchen seem to have spread all over the house; it’s slow and difficult to manoeuvre and it has made even the simplest of daily tasks exhausting.

My sons have been amazing, though, and we’ve had so many laughs working together on this project. We’ve nearly finished building all the new cabinets and next week it will all start to come together. All the blood, sweat and tears will eventually become a distant memory but the sense of pride and achievement will remain, as will the bond I have with my boys.

The Single Mum's Survival Guide
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How To Keep Going When You’re Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Single Mum's Survival Guide Illustration 5 001I have a challenge coming up this Wednesday. I will be one of the speakers at an event where the audience could number up to 50. They say that the fear of public speaking ranks up there with fear of death and the stress of divorce! Do I still get nervous? Every time! Is it worth the  discomfort? Every time! A lesson I’ve learnt in my life (especially during those intensely “character building” early years of single motherhood) that pushing myself out of my comfort zone is a good thing for me. They say that the regrets you’ll have at the end of your life are not the things you did, but the things that you left undone. For me, the joy of connecting with an audience, getting their feedback and feeling the energy in a room gives me an incredible buzz. If I can uplift and inspire just a few people in that audience, it has all been worth it.

So my question to you is: what are you putting off? What’s the one thing that would make the biggest difference to your life if you could only face up to it? For some of you it might be thinking the unthinkable and putting something in place so that you know that your children will be provided for if something happens to you. As a single mum, the idea of not being around to protect your children can be terrifying. So, imagine the feeling of reassurance and peace of mind you will have once you’ve made a will and perhaps even set up an affordable life insurance scheme. If finances are the thing you haven’t faced up to, try scheduling in a  money date with yourself to get clear about your current situation. Instead of ignoring financial difficulties, speak to your bank, speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau – or a free debt advice charity like https://www.nationaldebtline.org. My friend Bonnie Gortler is a wealth coach; here’s a link to download a free chapter of her book, Journey To Wealth  http://bgjourneytowealth.com/jtw-chp1offer/jtw-chp1offer/jtwch1/.

But what if you understand the need to take action to improve your life but it just doesn’t feel real or attainable? Or perhaps you’ve been doing well but you hit a wall and don’t feel you can continue. Here are some magic words that I learnt from my mentor, Dr Sheri Kaye Hoff:

“I decided to…”

“I’m in the process of…”

“I love the feeling of…”

I tried out one of these magic phrases just recently. I have been doing brilliantly with my running but this week I really found it hard to motivate myself. It was a cold, wet and windy evening and I’d had a busy day. All I wanted to do was curl up in bed and enjoy being toasty and relaxed. However, I found myself saying to my husband “Although I don’t feel like going out running, I love the feeling of having just completed a run – the satisfaction, the sense of achievement”. Sure enough, I found myself out there pounding the pavements and even better, that was the first time I’ve run for 25 minutes straight with no breaks! You see, I’m in the process of training for a 5k run because I decided to challenge myself this year!

For a free and confidential Strategy Session with me, just use this link: http://meetme.so/VivienneSmith


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Good Riddance to January?

Help!Are you glad to see the back of January? Not only did we suffer torrential rain and flooding, Blue Monday and Failure Friday (which was on 22nd January, the day when the UK’s collective willpower is most likely to be broken), yesterday was the final day for self-assessment tax returns to be completed. Still recovering from the culinary  and financial excesses, we wonder if our waistlines, bank balances and the weather will ever be the same again!

Even if statistics show that by now 80% of us will have failed in our New Year’s Resolutions by now, my friend and fellow coach Dawn Tarter suggests making a NOW Year Resolution instead. I love this concept – it means that now is the time to start and you can press start on a daily basis! Two other hugely helpful ideas I heard recently are the following:

Don’t set goals, set schedules instead.

Focus on practice, not performance.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t set goals – you have to have a plan to feel a sense of purpose. The trick is to break it down into steps, actions, habits of movement, speech and thinking. Don’t start judging yourself too soon, just focus on putting one step in front of the other and before you know it those actions and habits will have become so deeply ingrained that they will indeed produce results and get you to your goal. If you look too far ahead it can be overwhelming.

To give you an example: I always hated running. Give me walking, swimming or badminton and I’m a happy girl. But running? Who wants to be pounding the pavements and gasping for breath? Surely people didn’t really do it for fun, did they? Well, this year I made a big commitment. I am doing the 5K Mud Monster Challenge in aid of Chestnut Tree House, a wonderful local charity. My plan is to get comfortable with the running first, before I get comfortable with the mud (don’t worry, no mud wrestling planned!) So I found an app called Couch to 5K. It breaks you in gently with a mixture of walking and running, gradually increasing the periods of running until you are used to it. I have completed fourteen runs since New year’s Day and guess what? I’m actually enjoying myself! Yes, it’s challenging but I am really rather proud of myself and I know this is a habit that I’ll continue, even after the charity run is over. I’m taking it one run at a time.

Do you need some help changing your thought patterns to support those positive habits you’d like to put in place? It doesn’t need to be a health goal – it might be to do with increasing your confidence and improving your communication with your ex, or creating a better bond with your child. For a free and confidential Strategy Session with me, just use this link to book a convenient time. Wherever you are based, the scheduling tool will show you availability in your time zone. I’ve worked with all sorts of situations and my clients are as far afield as England, America and Australia – that’s the beauty of Skype!



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It’s Not Fair

As a single mum, particularly in the early days, when you are still adjusting to the situation, it becomes all too easy to spend your time bitterly bemoaning your fate. “It’s not fair, why me? What have I done to deserve this?” You wistfully imagine just how much rosier life would be if you were in a relationship. Then everything would be better. You wouldn’t be worrying about making ends meet, or dealing with lawyers, or finding childcare, or dealing with all this emotional upheaval. If only you had a loving partner,then everything would be OK.

The truth is that it’s not just what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it that counts. Sure, you’ve had a basinful, but there are ways to deal with those challenges that will minimise your stress. It’s why I wrote the book and why I have included chapters on the most common issues that single mums face – dealing with the breakup, keeping your head above water financially, the legal stuff, all the emotional and practical help that I wish I’d had at the time. My book is for you, so that this time in your life can become one of your proudest achievements and a chance to create the life you deserve.

“THE SINGLE MUMS SURVIVAL GUIDE – How To Pick Up The Pieces and Build a Happy New Life” is available to order on Amazon and hits the shops on 1st July. If you’d like to come and meet me and get a signed copy of the book, come along to The Steyning Bookshop, The High Street, Steyning, West Sussex on Friday 4th July at 7.30 pm. We’ll be celebrating, so there’ll be wine and nibbles and you’re welcome to bring a guest.

Nature or Nurture?

My youngest son and I went to another exhibition today – an artist’s open house, part of the Brighton Arts festival. It was a very exciting day for me, as I got to meet an acclaimed watercolourist named Ilana Richardson whose work I have been collecting (albeit in poster form) since I was a young art student, living in London. Her paintings are set in sunnier climes- often the Mediterranean- and the depiction of light, shadow and colour is superb. You can feel the warmth of the sunshine and imagine you are there, in some sleepy Greek or Italian hilltop village, overlooking the sea. What made the occasion extra special, though, is that I got to see things through my son’s eyes. He even chose a postcard of one of her paintings of Venice and the first thing he did when we got home was to find a frame for it and proudly display it in his room.


Ilana Richardson 2

Sometimes, when  you become immersed in the day to day business of raising children  you forget the true rewards – the fact that as they grow older you can share ideas and interests, the wonderful knowledge that you have helped to shape their characters and show them some of the world that’s important to you.

We struck up a conversation whilst we were there, with the wife of a ceramic artist. She was telling us how, as a child, she had always been fascinated by fashion. Her parents, although in that industry themselves, had insisted that she get a “proper” degree and she let that ambition go. We joked about how it was always the parents who got the blame and she laughingly told my son that after the age of 30 he would no longer be able to blame me  for any of his mistakes or shortcomings,  but that he could also take full credit for all his achievements. I think she may have a point. Do you agree?

“THE SINGLE MUM’S SURVIVAL GUIDE – How To Pick Up The Pieces And Build a Happy New Life” is available to order on Amazon and hits the shops on 1st July. Visit my website, http://www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com.

A Mother’s Pride

Today my tall and handsome 17 year old son excitedly shared with me his plans for the web design and internet marketing course he plans to attend on leaving school. I’m so proud of him and the young man he has become, as well as the productive and successful adult I’m sure he will be in the future. I look back to the time when his father left (my son was 3 years old then) and I first became a single mum. Being a parent has always felt like my most important job in life and days like this make it all worthwhile. Here is what some of the single mums in my book have to say:

 Louise So, I suppose somewhere along the line I’ve done a good job, with the immense help of my family, even though I haven’t got everything right. Somewhere along the line I did OK. Despite the most horrendous stuff that’s been thrown at us we have survived. Just always make sure that the kids are alright, no matter what.

Emer. That’s what got me out of being a flaky art student, the fact that I had this focus and it pushed me massively through life, and I’m extremely proud of everything that I’ve achieved. I’ve got my two degrees and I’ve got my MA and my post grad and now my teacher qualification and a good job. If I hadn’t had my daughter, none of that would have happened. Definitely not. I would be backpacking round Australia, working on some banana farm or something!

Elaine I could never regret marrying my ex because I’ve got these two wonderful children. So don’t regret what you’ve done in life.

As I state in the book, I do feel it’s a real achievement to have raised happy and productive people in our children and we should applaud ourselves and each other for the milestones we reach in parenting.

“Everything I am is because of my mom.”
—Sarah Michelle Gellar

“THE SINGLE MUM’S SURVIVAL GUIDE – How To Pick Up the Pieces and Build a Happy New Life” is available now on Amazon and will be available in bookshops on 1st July.

Out of Your Comfort Zone?

Let’s face it: becoming a single mum probably took you way out of your comfort zone – it certainly did in my case! It can be a scary place to be and bring up every one of your fears, doubts and insecurities. But there is an upside – being out of your comfort zone is the place where the biggest changes and the most personal growth and achievement happens – and the end result is that delicious feeling of elation and pride. So, guess what? I’m going to recommend that you deliberately go there every so often and take a chance to do something that you’ve always wanted to do, try something that you’ve always wanted to try, express yourself, dare to stand up and be counted. I do believe that at the end of my life it will be the things I didn’t do that will likely cause the most regrets, rather than the things I did. Yesterday I ignored my nerves and agreed to go onto a live radio show and be quizzed about my life and my book. Today I shared the recording with my teenage sons, hoping that they would not be embarrassed or uncomfortable to hear me talking in public about my / our life, but to my immense relief they were pleased and proud of me, as was my husband. What will you dare to do next? Go on – take that step and show the world what you’re made of!

Click Here to listen to my interview.