Losing the Way or Finding Yourself?

Tower Bridge at nightI had quite an evening last night. I was due to attend an Alternative Divorce Guide networking event, where I would meet other other divorce experts and do some civilised networking over cheese and wine at a very swanky London office. Sadly, Google Maps had other ideas. Tower Bridge is very beautiful at night, combined with all the other twinkling lights of the buildings overlooking the river. I was able to admire it twice, in fact, as I was directed back over it again after some torturous twists and turns. These continued all around Covent Garden and I felt a kinship with the horde of rather  bewildered-looking tourists wandering down Shaftesbury Avenue as the bossy female voice sent me down back alleys and up major roads, seemingly to no avail. The time ticked on and I was now destined to be an hour late to join my colleagues. In desperation, I turned into a small underground car park with a worrying array of very smart cars and an even more worrying nightly parking rate. Too late to worry about that now; I parked and rushed back up to street level to flag down a passing cab.

My journey back to the car was an altogether more leisurely affair. I love London, Nags_Head_London picespecially at night and it was fascinating to see how much Covent Garden has changed. New shops, bars, cafes, take-away street food joints and restaurants have sprung up everywhere – some so small that they are literally a hole in the wall. It made me wonder how any of them survive in such a competitive market, but then I began to get a sense that instead of worrying about the competition, the most appealing ones seemed to have simply concentrated on being quirky, authentic and true to themselves. We could all learn a lesson from that.

At first the array of choices for nightly entertainment seemed quite overwhelming. I passed theatres offering everything from Harry Potter to musicals, to old-time Agatha Christie. There were lively pubs, romantic bistros and enticing notes drifting up to street level from a basement blues bar. I started to enjoy the very variety of choices that had at first seemed so overwhelming. I felt young, adventurous and carefree again, like the free-spirited art student I was when I first lived up in London. It reminded me that at every moment in life we have choices and we can ultimately choose or create the environment that feels most suited to our mood or aspirations. It’s just that sometimes we are in so much of a hurry as we scurry through our busy lives that we forget to stop and really look around.

What delights have you been too busy to notice recently – and isn’t it time that you allowed yourself to lose your way for a little while in order to find yourself anew?

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Are Your Beliefs Getting in The Way of Getting What You Want?

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I had a lovely surprise today. When tidying my bookshelf in my office I happened to pick up a book I haven’t opened for a while, and flick open the cover. Inside I found £50! I am guessing that I must have hidden it there for some reason and then forgotten all about it until my lucky discovery this morning. Yet in a way I wasn’t all that surprised. You see, I believe that I always find money when I am tidying up. And you know what, it’s always true. Admittedly it’s usually coins but this isn’t the first time I’ve found a wad of notes stuffed into a pocket of a coat or bag, or tucked inside or under something else. So this is a great example of a helpful belief.

Have you met someone who holds the opposite of a helpful belief about the way life turns out for them? You might catch them saying things like “I never win anything”, or “I’m rubbish at dealing with money/cooking/art …” – fill in the blank. When we hear our children sounding so down on themselves we are quick to offer encouragement or help change that negative viewpoint. However, we often find ourselves saying things about our ex like: “It’s no good – he’ll never listen” or “it always ends up in an argument”, or “I never get my own way.” Imagine how much less likely things are to turn out for the best when you prepare yourself for a conversation by repeating that unhelpful belief!

Imagine if you repeated something positive instead. “I’m great at relating to people and I can talk to my ex in his language, so that he can hear what I need to say”. “I am choosing to ignore any provocative statements in this conversation and just stick to the facts and calmly reach an agreement.” ” I am a master negotiator, so I know how to concede on some points, whilst getting agreement on other things that are important to me”. If it sounds silly and lacking in credibility to you at first, try writing the statement out 7 times and then reading it out loud 7 times before you deal with the issue.

It was Henry Ford who said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” 

Disappointing Exam Results? Here’s How You Can Help.

test picAcross the UK today, parents of GCSE students will be either celebrating or commiserating. But what can you do if your child’s results are more disaster than triumph today?

Don’t panic. When the initial upset has eased a little, sit down with your child and discuss the situation as calmly as possible.

Emotions are OK. Allow your teenager to express his or her emotions but try and minimise any tendency to overly dramatise the situation. Remind your child that you love him or her irrespective of the results.

It might be worth a remark. If the result was close to the next grade boundary and only just missed a higher grade, you can apply to have the paper remarked. Your school will advise you how to go about this.

Could this be a wake up call? Your child will know deep down if there wasn’t enough effort put into revision or coursework. This is a tough life lesson but it can be a spur to ensure harder work or improved focus in the future. If there is a weakness with exam or revision technique then the teacher will be more than happy to set extra work and advise how to improve. It’s probably worth focusing mainly on those subjects key to their chosen diploma, degree or career.

Can they still go their chosen college? Even if the current results disqualify them from the original course, there may be another course they would still be eligible for. There may also be another route into the end career your child has set their heart on.

Don’t wait too long to make decisions and get advice if you need it. The UK Exam Results Helpline- 0808 100 8000 – has specialists on hand to advise students on the best course of action with the grades they’ve got. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.

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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.

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

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.