Not an Easy-Breezy Time

single mum's survival guide logoRecently my 16 year old and I had one of those conversations where you tackle Life, The Universe and Everything. During the course of our conversation he shared with me something very touching. A friend had asked him about his childhood and all the upheaval we’ve had in our lives, which (if you don’t know my back story) included his dad leaving us when he was 3 weeks and his brother 3 years old, a scary period when I was stuck in a disastrous second marriage to a Jekyll and Hyde character and the painful and confusing jordan-whitt-145327end of my 9 year partnership at the end of August.

His friend was moved to tears, which he reported had surprised him. “I mean, I know we didn’t have an easy-breezy time, Mum – especially you”, he explained, “but I’ve always thought of myself as having a very happy childhood”. And do you know: I agree. Some of our past has been incredibly sad and difficult but as a family the boys and I have kept close, kept talking and had some fun along the way. Whatever else was going on my sons had all the normal ingredients that a happy childhood needs – things like bedtime stories, fun and games, children’s parties and play-dates, fresh air, exercise, arts and crafts, days out and excursions, family time, essential rules and values, plenty of conversation and lots and lots of love.

Many of the single mums I’ve worked with have been consumed with guilt that the upheaval in their own relationships will have permanently damaged their children. Not necessarily so, I promise you. There is a well-known theory that the crucial formative years are 0-7 and that beyond that it’s too late too change what’s already been laid down. I have also heard that up until the age of 15, a child or young adult is still open to beneficial influence when it comes to the forming of their character, beliefs and values. The truth is that even as adults we are growing, learning and putting down new neural pathways all the time. It’s never too late to give your child a happy and stable childhood and even grown children can learn new ways to be at peace with the traumatic events or feelings of a less-than-perfect-past. If the love, communication and intent is there then as far as I’m concerned you are more than halfway there, no matter what life may throw at you and your child.

To get clear on your family values and how to create a happy home for your child, whatever else is happening, why not take advantage of my free strategy session?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Break Doesn’t Need to be Heartbreaking

single mum's survival guide logoIt’s the Easter holidays. Most mums are currently experiencing both the joys of having their children at home for the Easter Holidays and the slightly frazzled feeling of having to be Chef, Children’s Argument Umpire and Chief Entertainment Officer. Not me though – my boys have flown off to Portugal with their Dad for the entire two weeks.

In the old days I found letting them go almost unbearable, much as I needed a break and the chance to recharge my batteries and catch up on chores and my social life. When they were tiny I used to wander into their empty rooms once they’d been collected and have a little cry before giving myself a stern pep talk and trying to snap out of it. I worried about whether the baby had enough nappies and clothes, whether my little boy had his favourite toy and books and whether they’d be missing their mum and home as desperately as I was missing them.

These days, at 16 (nearly 17) and 20, they are quite old enough to relish the prospect of being away from home for 2 weeks – especially as we can message each other via Facebook or email. The fact that they are gone for the whole holiday wasn’t really something I was consulted on – it was presented as more of a fait accompli. Once upon a time I might have railed against this (in fact I remember doing so in the past when their grandma booked a holiday with them without my prior permission). What steadied me at that time and what I remember to ask now is: what would make the boys happy? Being in the sunshine with a pool, the beach and the other part of their family is definitely something that makes them happy. How churlish would I be to object to that? Besides, what’s the upside of this for me? It’s a chance to catch up with laundry and housework, do some writing and research for my Single Mum’s Survival Guide online course. I can meet up with friends, have my boyfriend to stay and plan my own agenda without having to accommodate anyone else’s.

So this Easter I will be grateful for the freedom, mindful to choose my battles wisely (or walk away from them altogether) and I’ll remember that what makes my children happy makes me happy. I wish you all a happy and peaceful holidays, whatever you are doing.daffodil basket

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8 Ways to Boost Your Energy and Motivation

lonely slide 001I ran out of energy today. My energy, happiness and motivation took a nose dive and everything felt like an effort. I’m willing to bet that you have days like that, especially if you are a single parent, single-handedly juggling so many things.

Sometimes I decide to lean into something and then learn from it later and that’s what I’ve done today. But as the evening continues, my confidence and determination are bubbling to the surface again, thanks to some research, reflection and re-commitment.

I’d like to share 8 ways I’ve found to shake off a slump in energy and motivation, making sure that taking time out to regroup doesn’t mean opting out of what’s really important in life.

1. Look at how you are fuelling your body and your mood. At this time of year I always feel extremely tempted to reach for chocolate or snack on toast or cereal. Today I’ve tried to avoid excess sugar and carbohydrates so as to sidestep that blood sugar slump which causes an energy crash and mood downturn.
2. Exercise and fresh air. We all know how beneficial this is – and the great thing is that you can instil healthy habits in your kids when you bring them along for the ride, whether you choose to ride a bike, rollerblade, play in the park, run or just take a walk. Yesterday we went for a bracing walk in the local hills and certainly got lungfuls of fresh air, as it was practically blowing a gale by the time we reached the top. But it felt so good to “blow away the cobwebs”! Today I wasn’t feeling quite so energetic but I ventured out between showers. My slower pace gave me the added bonus of noticing all the spring bulbs that are beginning to flower and reminded me of the hope and potential that most days I see with ease, even if today it was harder to do so. Researchers have found that the colour green sparks creativity and boosts motivation. Yet another reason to hit the great outdoors, even if that just involves stepping out into the garden.
3. Some time ago I watched a fascinting TED talk by Amy Cuddy, professor at Harvard School of Business, on the importance of body language. Just 2 minutes of a High Power Pose will increase your confidence and decrease your stress. It will affect your body chemistry and also how other perceive you. Try standing with feet hip apart and hands on hips, or having a big stretch with arms fully extended and see what I mean. A High Power Pose is anything that uncurls the body and opens up your stance – essentially it means making a bigger shape, taking up more space. If you feel shy doing it in front of people, try it by yourself in a bathroom!
4. Try doing one thing at a time, not multi-tasking – even if you just do one thing at a time for 15 or 20 minutes. Set a timer and see what you can get done.
5. Be mindful and bring yourself back to the present moment. Become aware of the physical sensations, sights and sounds that you are experiencing and make each chore or task a mini meditation.
6. If you can’t seem to get started at all: start with something small and work up to something bigger. Most things can be broken down into smaller steps.
7. Make a deal with yourself – for example: “once I’ve finished this I’m going to reward myself with half an hour of reading my book/ a cup of tea” etc. This works wonders for children too, and helps break up the drudgery of the day.
8. Don’t overthink your next action – just do it. Avoid the paralysis of analysis and remind yourself that once you get started there will be added momentum to keep going. There’s a fabulous mantra which I found online today – “Dream big, start small and act now”.

In need of an extra boost? Book an hour’s free Strategy Session with me.

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Advice – Easy to Give, Hard To Take?

We are all, at some time or another, in a position to both give and receive advice.

Both ends question-mark-1026526_640of that conversation can be fraught with difficulties and objections.

Over the weekend I was mulling over an issue I had at work. I am definitely someone who has to remind myself to compartmentalise on occasion, as worries at work can otherwise disturb time with my loved ones and vital moments when I should be switching off and recharging my batteries!

I was discussing my dilemma with my partner and he gave me the solution or action that he would take, yet pointed out that it was all very easy to give advice, which was generally ignored by the person who actually had to take the action as they already had their own individual ways to work through a problem and communicate with others. We laughed at how much easier it always was to see (or imagine we can see) exactly how to solve someone else’s problems.

This morning I was hard at work in my office when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to admit a somewhat tearful friend of my son’s who had an urgent dilemma and really seemed in need of some good advice. The first thing I did was to discover what she saw as the problem, what she had tried to do to solve it so far and what she now saw as her available options. Generally speaking, as was the case this time, there are more avenues to go down than there first appear to be. We talked through some of these and I reassured her that in my experience at least, honesty is the best policy and will often disarm even the angriest of detractors. With further encouragement from her friend (my son), this gave her the courage to decide how to respond. Happy (but still tearful) hugs ensued when the problem was resolved.

Today I talked to a colleague and discussed my options again. When I arrived at a solution to my own problem, he made the comment that I had actually known all along what the best thing was to do. I realise that this is true but also acknowledge how helpful both those conversations – one with my partner and one with my colleague- were in allowing me the courage of my convictions and the spur to take action.

So is it pointless to give advice? Absolutely not, just as it’s always worth listening to someone else’s proffered solution, even if you choose your own course of action. As a coach, as a friend and most especially as a parent, I believe that it is possible to help when called upon for advice – but that this help should encompass being a sounding board and asking the right questions, then giving the support and encouragement so that the person in question can make their own decisions. Today I’d urge you not to feel helpless when someone asks for advice, but to embrace the opportunity in assisting in their decision-making process. And when someone gives you advice: don’t reject it out of hand, nor mindlessly follow it but use it as a starting point for finding the decision that you knew all along.single mum's survival guide logo

A Little Bit of TLC

  

             

I’ve spent the day in bed with a streaming cold. Being self-employed, I can only be thankful that today was an admin day – no meetings to run, no client appointments, which meant that I’ve been able to try and rest a bit and get ready for the rest of a busy week.
I haven’t had a cold in months now, but when I was little I seemed especially prone to them. The one good thing about being ill, though, was the special treatment my mum always managed to roll out. After a hot bath I’d be able to sink into fresh sheets ( I still love the smell and touch of freshly-laundered bed linen). Trays of especially tempting food would appear, or a thirst-quenching drink. Even if she was busy, she’d pop her head round the door just when I was getting really bored and come and keep me company for a bit. I had a high fever and sickness once and she just curled up on the end of my bed for hours to make sure I knew she was there, for solidarity. 
As a single mum, any tender loving care needed when you are ill often has to be self-administered! There are some things that make me feel soothed and calm and I try to remember these when I need a boost. A warm bath, a cup of tea at just the right temperature, writing a to-do list to tackle when I feel better, rather than fretting about all the things I might forget that need to be done. Making sure to moisturise (with one of my favourite creams) a nose and lips made dry from sneezing and spluttering all day. Watching an old film, maybe even doing some writing or reading my book. Checking in with loved ones via text or email, even if I don’t feel much like talking.
How about you, when you are feeling below par? What small things make you feel better? How can you administer TLC and make yourself feel better, so you can resume normal service and carry on looking after everyone else? Could you ask for some help, even temporarily, to get you back on your feet again?
Before I forget: it’s worth remembering that your children will repay your kindness as they get older and more considerate. My youngest made me a cup of tea last night and helped unload the dishwasher. His brother is going out to collect him from his after-school job this evening, so I can stay tucked up in my bed rather than going out in the cold. Between them, they will get their own supper. And tomorrow I’ll be on the mend again.

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.

vivienne@thelifeyoudeserve.co.uk
www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com 
@SingleMumsGuide
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Feeling Overwhelmed?

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“Being a single parent is twice the work, twice the stress and twice the tears but also twice the hugs, twice the love and twice the pride.” — Unknown
I posted this quote on my Facebook page yesterday and received this honest and thought-provoking comment: “Don’t mean to put a downer on it but I rarely have time for double hugs as working full time, taking care of two kids and the rest is knackering”
Believe me, I really understand where this woman is coming from. There are days when it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other because you are so tired and it doesn’t feel like there’s any way off the treadmill, or any appreciation for what you do.
So how do you cope with this feeling of overwhelm? A recurring theme amongst all the women I interviewed for The Single Mum’s Survival Guide was the importance of asking for help. I know, it’s hard to do and perhaps you feel there’s nobody to ask anyway. You could do a babysitting swap with a friend, family member or another mother you trust. There may be a teenager or college student that you know who’d be happy to earn some pocket money. They could even come round whilst you are still in the house but upstairs or in another room if you’re worried about leaving your child for too long with someone new. The children get someone new to play with and you get some time to catch up on work, housework, studies, shopping or just plain sleep.
It’s also important to work out what’s really important. Take a good hard look at all you do and your expectations of yourself – along with other people’s expectations of you – and see if all of them are reasonable. I remember being criticised by my ex sister-in-law for not preparing all my own home made and organic baby food. After I had succumbed to the guilt of not measuring up/looking after my child’s health in the way she thought best I finally came to my senses and realised that I was looking after my baby perfectly adequately (I read all the packaging carefully and avoided additives) – it’s just that I was working, whilst she was a stay-at-home mum with more time on her hands. Other friends with babies stuck rigidly to routines and set times for baby’s bath, nap – even a walk in the park with the pram. That would never have worked for me, so our routines were more fluid and fitted in with everything I was juggling at the time (working, house hunting, going through a divorce etc.) As long as your child is safe, well-fed and knows that he or she is loved, the rest will follow. Make sure you look after yourself too, or you’ll be no use to anyone!
As I said to the single mum on my Facebook post: the hugs will come later – and you will be receiving them, not just giving them. It doesn’t feel like anyone notices what you do but believe me, it isn’t going completely unnoticed.