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.

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

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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

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.

Happy Mother’s Day

I was treated to Mother’s Day breakfast, cards and gifts in bed today; the last picture is of the handmade cards that I made this morning for my mum and my sister (it’s her birthday today), inspired by these pretty mugs.

Yes, I know it’s not Mother’s Day yet elsewhere in the world, but if you’re not currently living in the UK, why not share in ours? It’s always good to celebrate!

I was having a long chat with my youngest the other day. He has a lot on his mind at the moment. GCSE exams are looming, he has a part time job and all the pressures of a friendship group going through huge changes and trying to find their place in the world. We always feel better after these heart-to-hearts and because I know him so well I can empathise and make suggestions that I know will resonate with him.

It reminded me that from the time I was a little girl, through my teens and early 20s and even now at 49, there have been times when only my mum will do! Whether I was at a loose end, feeling at odds with the world or coping with a crisis, my mum could always be relied upon to care enough to give me sound advice, cheer me up or give me a good talking to if required. When I was ill in bed she had a wonderful way of making me feel cherished with a soothing drink or something tempting on a tray. She’s nearly 87 now, so I know that the time I have with her is extra precious.

I also know, this Mother’s Day that however independent and grown-up my boys may get, it will always be my job to be there, to pay attention and to care enough to listen and be that safe port in the storm. After all, I’m the one person who knows and loves them best. So Happy Mother’s day to all of you! Keep up the good work and remember that you are irreplaceable!

www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com

 

February – The Month of Love?

Single Mum's Survival Guide Illustration 13February is traditionally celebrated as the month of love. Statistics report that here in the UK £557 million will be spent going out on romantic dinners, £461 million on presents, £173 million on drinks, £211 million on flowers, £115 million on chocolates and £57 million on cards. So where does that leave single mothers? Some of you will be going out for that dinner, receiving the card and marking Valentine’s day with a happy heart. You may be embarking on a new relationship, in the throes of early lust or love and wondering if he’s Mr. Right. You may even be contemplating introducing him to your children. This Valentine’s day could be a perfect test, to see if he matches up to your romantic expectations!  In my book, I give you some suggestions for how to tell if he’s right for you.  Continue reading

Forgiveness Is a Gift You Give Yourself

 

Single Mum's Survival Guide CARTOON NUMBER 11 001There was a time a few years ago when I started to have terrible dreams about all the people in my life who have hurt me or let me down. The plots changed and became a changing cast of characters over successive nights. These ranged from my first and second husbands, childhood and college friends, a scary ex-employer and a dear friend from schooldays who now has a new life and interests and no longer makes time for our friendship. The one thing they had in common was that they were all people who had left me with unresolved feelings of sadness, hurt, loss and resentment. It may well have been that writing my book and going over painful old ground had dredged up all these old wounds and brought them up for me to look at and resolve once and for all. You may well find that at a time of great stress and emotion in your life, such as the events that caused you to find yourself starting out again as a single mother, you have a similar experience of introspection. This can be a very uncomfortable process, but one thing I have learned in my own work as a transformational coach, hypnotist and Beyond NLP practitioner (not to mention in my own life) is that emotions will continue to resurface until you deal with them, so this can be a liberating and cleansing time for you if you only let it. Forgiveness of yourself and others and the process of letting go of these emotions and thoughts that no longer serve you can finally free you from the shackles that would otherwise hold you back and impede the fantastic progress that you are making with your new life.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” —Lewis B. Smedes

“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” –Suzanne Somers

“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” —Marianne Williamson

As you move towards the end of this year, how good would it be to move on feeling happier, lighter and freer, without the burden of resentment and bitterness? My gift today is a guided meditation to help you do just that. Find somewhere quiet you can listen to this session, close your eyes and enjoy the journey.

Click here to listen: The Forgiveness Process

If you would like my help and advice, do visit my website www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com, where you can find a free audio on Coping with Christmas or sign up for a free one to one session with me. single mum's survival guide logo