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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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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How To Keep Going When You’re Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Single Mum's Survival Guide Illustration 5 001I have a challenge coming up this Wednesday. I will be one of the speakers at an event where the audience could number up to 50. They say that the fear of public speaking ranks up there with fear of death and the stress of divorce! Do I still get nervous? Every time! Is it worth the  discomfort? Every time! A lesson I’ve learnt in my life (especially during those intensely “character building” early years of single motherhood) that pushing myself out of my comfort zone is a good thing for me. They say that the regrets you’ll have at the end of your life are not the things you did, but the things that you left undone. For me, the joy of connecting with an audience, getting their feedback and feeling the energy in a room gives me an incredible buzz. If I can uplift and inspire just a few people in that audience, it has all been worth it.

So my question to you is: what are you putting off? What’s the one thing that would make the biggest difference to your life if you could only face up to it? For some of you it might be thinking the unthinkable and putting something in place so that you know that your children will be provided for if something happens to you. As a single mum, the idea of not being around to protect your children can be terrifying. So, imagine the feeling of reassurance and peace of mind you will have once you’ve made a will and perhaps even set up an affordable life insurance scheme. If finances are the thing you haven’t faced up to, try scheduling in a  money date with yourself to get clear about your current situation. Instead of ignoring financial difficulties, speak to your bank, speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau – or a free debt advice charity like https://www.nationaldebtline.org. My friend Bonnie Gortler is a wealth coach; here’s a link to download a free chapter of her book, Journey To Wealth  http://bgjourneytowealth.com/jtw-chp1offer/jtw-chp1offer/jtwch1/.

But what if you understand the need to take action to improve your life but it just doesn’t feel real or attainable? Or perhaps you’ve been doing well but you hit a wall and don’t feel you can continue. Here are some magic words that I learnt from my mentor, Dr Sheri Kaye Hoff:

“I decided to…”

“I’m in the process of…”

“I love the feeling of…”

I tried out one of these magic phrases just recently. I have been doing brilliantly with my running but this week I really found it hard to motivate myself. It was a cold, wet and windy evening and I’d had a busy day. All I wanted to do was curl up in bed and enjoy being toasty and relaxed. However, I found myself saying to my husband “Although I don’t feel like going out running, I love the feeling of having just completed a run – the satisfaction, the sense of achievement”. Sure enough, I found myself out there pounding the pavements and even better, that was the first time I’ve run for 25 minutes straight with no breaks! You see, I’m in the process of training for a 5k run because I decided to challenge myself this year!

For a free and confidential Strategy Session with me, just use this link: http://meetme.so/VivienneSmith

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