Hurricanes, Fires and Other Fears – How Do I Calm My Child?

I’ve just come off a call with some colleagues in America. It’s such a frightening time for them at the moment, what with hurricanes and forest fires and the choking smoke that is affecting nearby states and making it hard to breathe, let alone forget the ever-present threat of natural disaster. Times like these are hard for everyone, but especially for our children. The media and the internet don’t exactly help to allay their fears – there’s little escape from the bad news some days and it becomes virtually impossible to shield our little ones from worry.

So today I thought it might be useful to write about helping a child with anxiety about the risk of a traumatic event, whether that be a natural disaster or a man-made act like a terrorist threat.

 

As usual, communication is key. Spend time talking to your child and reassure him or her that it’s perfectly alright to ask questions – not just once but as often as they need to – particularly if the situation changes. You should answer their question briefly and honestly but also ask some questions of your own. Ask your child for his or her opinions and ideas on the subject too. It might turn out that what’s really worrying them is something seemingly trivial that you could answer straight away and put that particular fear to bed. Or it might be something specific that you couldn’t possibly have imagined.

For little ones you could follow a discussion like this with something soothing, like a favourite story or family activity.

Limit media exposure where possible.

Be a positive role model for how to handle stressful situations.

Where possible, maintain routines, house rules and positive behaviour expectations.

Reassure your child about work being done in the community to contain the threat, or deal with the aftermath of a traumatic event.

Monitor adult conversations to ensure that they are not being overheard and providing a further source of anxiety for your child.

Hope is a helpful emotion. Identify some positive aspect or belief to counter all that negativity and fear.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” ~ Louisa May Alcott
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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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Is It Possible To Ever Achieve Balance?

Balance. It’s the hot topic, whether it be work-life balance or parent-self balance; and for single mums it gets a whole lot more complicated.

Show me a parent, particularly a single parent and I’ll show you a whole load of mixed feelings about balanced-stoneswhether they have – or will ever – achieve a good balance.

Let’s look at parent-self balance. Yes, you are a single parent and your children are the most important thing in the world to you. But how can you be a healthy, happy parent if you don’t attend to your own needs as well as theirs? As a healthy adult, you will need “me” time to keep you going.  In an article for the Telegraph, TV presenter Cherry Healey explains her belief that the “me” time she carves out prevents her from going into overwhelm and means she is less likely to snap when the pressures of everyday parenting start to mount. She explains that in the weeks where she can’t find that time, she really feels the difference. Healey argues that this time, instead of being “entirely for me” is actually “entirely for everyone” because of the positive benefits that impact the whole family when she takes that vital time for herself.Read Cherry’s article here

When I was writing my book, one of the women I interviewed scoffed at this concept of “me” time, or free time. As far as she was concerned, it was non-existent! And yet if you are really creative in the way you look at time it can be done. The next trick, once you have that precious chunk of time, is to be fully present and not waste it worrying about other things. I found some great ideas on ways to spend and not fritter away your me time, whether it consists of five minutes or an hour in this post on the Web MD site.

Then there is the question of how to strike the balance between your adult relationship with a partner and that as a parent with your child or children.Of course in families where the biological parents are still in a relationship together as well as jointly raising their offspring – either in the context of a marriage or committed relationship – this balance is just part of family life. I’m not suggesting it’s easy, but it may be easier than other scenarios. Because once you start bringing other people into the mix the balance isn’t a given, it’s something you have to consciously create.

I am currently dating again and over the last couple of months I have been exploring that theme of balance all over again. I have two well-balanced and easy-going young adults living at home. Whilst they are clearly not keen to have another male adult take up position in their home just yet, they are delighted that their mum is out having fun and have given my new relationship their blessing. I am having a great time and rediscovering all sorts of things that I love to do (like visiting art galleries) with someone like-minded, whose company I really enjoy. I am also lucky to have a partner who is respectful of my responsibilities.

Despite all this, I have worried at times about whether I have found that balance between giving enough time to a new partner and allowing enough time at home to keep the household running smoothly and make sure that my boys are not missing out too much on my help and support. I’ve been concerned that we are still communicating well and spending enough time together. Do I get it right all the time? No. I can tell when I am getting it wrong and spending too much time away from home because the house starts getting messy, the laundry piles up and the children and I miss school, college or work deadlines. I feel anxious and my confidence and sense of self begins to get submerged. Other signs that your life is out of balance may be that you are not sleeping well, find yourself drinking or eating too much or finding it hard to concentrate. Pay attention to these symptoms, stop and ask yourself what’s really going on and whether there is an underlying thought or emotion that needs your attention.

As far as relationships go, one of the important things to remember- particularly for an old romantic like me – is that partners, especially in a new relationship, need “me” time too (however tempting it might be to become really wrapped up in each other and all the delights of a new-found intimacy). Time apart can be a blessing and ensure that both individuals maintain important friendships, commitments and interests outside of that new relationship.  It’s more than likely that a new partner will have their own children and responsibilities, which will need the same careful consideration as yours do. Besides, excessive neediness in a relationship can translate as clingy and off-putting.

So how can you achieve the right balance in a relationship when you are also a parent? It has to come down to communication and it will be up to both of you to negotiate a pattern that works for you. It may be harder to be spontaneous, particularly if one of you has small children but you can always plan ahead to snatch that time together. A single mum I spoke to recently explained how great it was just to get a few hours to spend with her new partner one evening a week – even if they just spent it watching TV and having adult conversation! If this all sounds very practical and unromantic: maybe it is, but as a single parent you do need to be practical and any potential partner worthy of you will recognise and respect this because it’s got to be part and parcel of the package that comes with you.

And what about the children? Don’t rush into integrating your partner into their lives immediately. Your children might still be dealing with issues from your breakup, or be feeling insecure about any new changes. In my case, my children are old enough and confident enough to articulate their feelings about this and so I can explore this and any other future changes without ruffling any feathers. The decision is always yours as the adult and nobody would suggest that your children should dictate your choices in this regard but I do believe that children of any age must have a safe space to express honestly how they feel about proposed changes that may affect them. If this relationship is right there’s no need to rush because you’ve got plenty of time and if it isn’t then you’ll be glad that the children haven’t been too saddened or traumatised, even if the adults in question are.

Perhaps you feel that it’s all just too much like hard work to have a relationship at all? I know that at various stages of my single mum journey I have been advised just to stay single for now. I could concentrate on my work and studies and make the most of time on my own and of course in many ways that would be simpler (albeit, from my point of view anyway, lonelier). The single mums I’ve worked with in my coaching sessions have often felt very keenly the conflict between wanting to be fulfilled as an adult woman, yet mindful of their role as mother. However, as author Dr Ellen Kreidman explains in her book Single No More, you should feel the guilt and do it anyway because otherwise you’re going to resent the fact that you’re not dating and this resentment can negatively impact the children in any case! As she explains: ” The best gift you can give your children is the example of a well-balanced, happy adult life. Everything you do and say and feel is a lesson for your children. When you take care of yourself emotionally by enjoying your life and the people who populate it, you’re teaching your children how to become healthy, happy adults as well.” 

Am I learning and getting better at finding the balance? Yes, I believe I am. Balance: it may not be a straight line – more likely a zig-zag path,  but we need to make sure that in the end the average is somewhere near the middle. I think the thing to remember is that it changes all the time and we must just learn to adjust as we go along. For me, the best guideline I have is to go on my gut feelings and to keep tuning in to the signals I am getting from the significant people in my life and from my own inner sense of equilibrium.

The Single Mum's Survival Guide - Easter Blog

Summer Fun?

Many single mums struggle in the Summer holidays. With no money to go on the foreign holiday that everyone else is talking about and without the break in the day that school or nursery can provide (vital for those who work and for those who don’t: a chance to catch up with chores, errands, or even a bit of me time), the time can feel like anything but a holiday. This is where you need to be on the lookout for all the small things to enjoy. With the glorious weather we’ve been enjoying, England has certainly felt like a holiday destination. Sunshine makes me happy and I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way. Without the tyranny of the school timetable to adhere to, you can be more relaxed about bedtimes and enjoy the luxury of getting everyone up at your own pace in the morning. I find that I’m naturally waking up really early at present as it’s so light, and this means that I can do a lot of my creative work, catch up with emails and plan my day before anyone else starts stirring. The fine weather means that you can have regular outings and really enjoy some family togetherness without breaking the bank. A trip to the local park is free, as is going down to the beach. Picnics are always fun and children can get involved with packing everything up in the picnic basket and helping to choose and prepare the food. If you do need to work, do your best to plan some family time as well and let everyone know the schedule. Even older children can be prised away from their technology from time to time. This weekend we all played Creationary (like Pictionary with Lego) – my 17 year old and his girlfriend enjoyed it just as much as my youngest! There’ll be some projects you can complete as a family, too – clearing out old toys, books, clothes and shoes to donate to charity or redecorating a room. You don’t need to plan everything down to the last detail- just have a few outings in the calendar and some time each day where you do something fun together. This could turn out to be your best Summer yet!

“THE SINGLE MUM’S SURVIVAL GUIDE – How To Pick Up The Pieces and Build a Happy New Life” is available now on Amazon and in selected bookshops. Sign up for my free newsletters, webinars and presentations – email me at vivienne@thelifeyoudeserve.co.uk for more details, or visit http://www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com