The Journey or the Destination – Which is More Important?

I wrote this while sitting enjoying a refreshing sea breeze on a boat bound for three beautiful Croatian islands. We enjoyed swimming in clear turquoise waters, a lunch of freshly-grilled fish and salad and an unlimited bar.
The last year has been quite a challenge, to put mildly, and I was really looking forward to a week away from it all. For me, the whole process of choosing, booking and anticipating  adds to the experience of travelling. Choosing the destination is exciting. I had never been to Croatia before but from what I heard it was gorgeous (it is!) I’d done lots of research online and I chose a charming old hotel with views of the harbour.

I knew what our view would be like from the terrace and what  we might see from from our sunset walk around the ancient city walls of Dubrovnik. The prospect of this holiday has sustained me for the last few months, and added an extra shape to my days. Having a goal can certainly do this. I also try to savour each step in the lead-up to departure – shopping for holiday clothes, writing a list of everything I need. We got to the airport in plenty of time, so as to allow a leisurely breakfast and a mooch around the Duty Free. My travelling treat is a purchase of my favourite Chanel fragrance. It’s important to treat yourself and this little ritual adds fun to flying for me.

20525964_10155477008263376_2308002772248920820_nLuckily, the reality has been even better. It was my first holiday with my boyfriend and we have had  a wonderfully relaxing, fun time. But I’m glad I have taken time to enjoy the journey, not just focusing on the destination. And rest assured, I made sure to savour every precious moment of the trip, rather than dwelling on how soon we would be departing for normal life back in the UK.

Many parents I meet and work with get a bit bogged down with trying to plan for their future or manage the myriad tasks that being a parent  (especially a single parent) can involve. Occasionally they forget what it’s all for. They forget to enjoy the journey. So take a deep breath today. Slow down, look around and see which bits of life’s journey you could be eking more enjoyment from.

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It’s All About Attitude (and Plenty of Preparation)!

The Single Mum's Survival Guide - Easter BlogRecently, my eldest son landed his ideal starter job on his career journey. Sure, he worked at a well-known supermarket during his college course, but we always discussed that this would just be a stop gap to earn money before getting serious about what he really wants to do in his life. There was a time, after the rotten year the boys and I had last year, when college had finished and I thought he’d lost his customary focus and energy. I kept asking him, “What’s happening about your job applications? Are you still looking? Don’t leave it too long!” I remember feeling exasperated when a promising job came up, but he dragged his heels too long and he missed the application date. He started doubting that anyone would want to hire him because he was new and inexperienced.  I was getting frustrated with him and then I realised that he had worked so hard on his course and dealing with our family crisis – literally holding himself together – and perhaps he just needed a break. We all need to cut ourselves some slack some times. So I continued to gently nudge him every now and then but I stopped nagging him.

Finally, he started to take an interest again and lo and behold, things started to happen. A job was recommended to him by his college and he applied. As soon as he started taking action, I swung into action too – helping hone his CV and covering letter, discussing his approach, reassuring him that it was his ability and skills that counted, rather than his experience. Then the big day came for his telephone interview. He had prepared meticulously – researching the company, thinking in advance what his answers to their questions should be and what to ask them about the company and his role. He even decided to dress smartly in suit trousers and smart shirt to take the call because he’d read that would get him into the right mindset to feel and sound professional. Luckily, I was working from home that day. I listened as he took the call, my heart swelling with pride. He sounded relaxed and confident, but not too cocky. He asked all the right questions and answered every question in a composed and measured way. He even businessman-2056022_640cracked a joke! On the day of his second interview I got up early to write his good luck card and told him that they’d be lucky to have him. I wrote that his research and preparation had been immaculate and that he had all the abilities required. The interview went smoothly and they promised to call early the next week. I was on my way out to the gym before running a meeting but when the phone rang that morning I decided to wait and see whether it was that important call. The gym could wait – being there for him was way more important! Needless to say, it was good news and I was so happy to be there to hug him and congratulate him in his excitement. My partner and I took him and his girlfriend out to a celebration dinner that evening.

The whole process really illustrated to me the power of getting the right attitude in order to attract what we want, preparing and laying the foundations for our goals and remaining open for good stuff to happen. It also reminded me what we as parents can do to keep our children on track, pushing them forward at times or just holding the space at others, but always there to support, commiserate or celebrate when needed.

If you are struggling to communicate with your child, or you’d like some ideas on improving your relationship – or creating that positive attitude (either for your child or for yourself), why not take advantage of my free strategy call? Click here to arrange a convenient time to talk.

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

A Taxing Time?

stressed-out-tax-return-woman Today is the UK deadline for submitting an online tax return. The process is, for many, a stressful one. Like many creative people, I work well to a deadline but this can mean a harrowing race to the finish with hours of “last minute” work, piles of paper and sleepless nights.

The process of going back over the year is strangely satisfying, though – and made me think of other areas of life in which we would all benefit from reviewing, assessing and accounting for ourselves.

Each receipt or entry relates to a specific time, place or memory – a decision made about how to spend your time or money. Calculating your mileage reminds you in a very literal way how far you’ve travelled to be at this point in your life.

For some people the costs outweigh the gains of the last year and for others the reverse is true; there’s always a price to be paid in order to arrive at that place of balance. But facing up to the truth of things – the hard, cold facts – will always bring a sense of relief and peace once the reckoning is done. As with relationships, you need to be honest with yourself about what happened (even in the costliest of mistakes), and see what there is to learn so you can do better next time. This will help you decide exactly what is needed to bring that peace of mind and clarity you only gain when all is reconciled and accounted for.

The Single Mum's Survival Guide - Easter Blog

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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.