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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

My book, The Single Mum’s Survival Guide, is for sale on Amazon.

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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

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

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.