Conscious parenting through following our children’s lead

Conscious parenting through following our children’s lead

Parenting through a 6 week lockdown certainly had its challenges. But the thing about challenges is that they often make us look at things in a new way or support us towards conscious parenting.

During lockdown, Ian and I learned to follow our children’s lead a lot more than we’re used to. It’s something that’s definitely in line with our parenting approach and builds their self-esteem.

Following Dom’s lead started with home learning. I wanted to be able to continue Dom’s learning during lockdown. But, I was anxious that I would do something that would cause Dom to develop a lifelong hatred of learning and school.

His teachers provided me with the curriculum and learning tools. At the same time, a lot of noise was being made about how schooling wasn’t critical… safety, comfort and connection were most important for our kids.

So, I followed Dom’s lead. He wanted a timetable like he had at school – I made one. He wanted whakamata (activity) stations like he has at school – I set them up each evening. If he asked for a break, I gave it to him.

I think that because he knew I’d listen to him if he needed to stop and do something different for a while, he was also more willing to listen to me. I was successful, more often than not, at encouraging him to complete his lessons.

Science has been another way I follow his lead. Dom wanted to make Rainbow Juice. So, he told me that Rainbow Juice is what you make when you blend lots of different coloured fruit. He wanted to know what would happen if you put salt on a cookie and fried it in butter. These were his ideas of science experiments. So, we did them. And here’s what I learned:

  • Letting Dom make the decisions really boosted his self esteem.
  • These ~science experiments were a great opportunity for Mum/Dom time.
  • Rainbow Juice is delicious!
  • Salted, fried chocolate chip cookies are also delicious (although far less healthy).

Encouraging our children to have a say in their own lives builds autonomy and self-esteem. I’ve always let me kids negotiate with me. If I say it’s bed time and they ask to stay up later, we discuss it. Often we agree to a late night on the weekend. I’ve found this hasn’t meant they ask for a later bedtime each night. They don’t abuse the privilege.

Our children are people. They deserve the right to have control over what goes on in their lives. We’re here to guide them and help them make the right decision, but we’re also here to help them grow into awesome adults and one way of doing it is letting them take the lead as frequently as possible.

How to cope with anger and shame

How to cope with anger and shame

It’s Maternal Mental Health Day! Since sharing and supporting women through post-natal and ongoing depression is exactly why I wanted to start a blog in the first place, I figured I should probably write a blog today.

So, today I want to talk about two symptoms of depression… anger and shame.

Anger.

People think depression is all lying in the dark and thinking about ending it. For this reason, anger is such an insidious symptom because you might not realise that you’re depressed. You might write your anger off as lack of sleep, your baby going through a difficult phase or your partner being a douche.

About 6 months after having Dom, I was angry… ALL THE TIME! Everything that child did made me angry. Particularly trying to get him to eat. I can vividly remember him being in the high chair and I was feeling so full of rage I wanted to smash my head into the wall to stop release that energy in a way that wasn’t harmful to Dom. That’s the day I Googled about my anger and discovered it was a symptom of depression.

“Never shake a baby.” We all know this mantra. If postnatal depression really was just lying in the dark wanting nothing to do with your child, this mantra wouldn’t be something so drummed into all of us. It’s that anger that comes with postnatal depression that leads us to shake our babies. That rage that made me want to hurt myself could just as easily have been directed at Dominic.

And that’s why it’s so important to recognise anger as a symptom of depression… so that you know it’s an actual medical condition that you can see your doctor about.

Shame.

I’m not talking here about being ashamed that you have depression. I’m talking about the shame that depression makes you feel and ruminate on.

Depression directly causes shame as people stop living in accordance with their own values.

Maybe it’s the walks you’ve stopped taking or the junk food you’ve started eating. Maybe it’s yelling at your kids and nitpicking your husband.

For me, it’s the to-do list that I make each morning that never gets done. I want so badly to be motivated to clean, bake, exercise, work etc. and when the lethargy of depression prevents me, I feel shame. And then, I ruminate on that shame. So, not only do I hate myself for not being the wife, mother, friend, businesswoman and homemaker that I want to be, I can’t stop thinking about how effing useless I am.

Shame is a downward spiral. And a very difficult one to break. But it is possible!

I’m angry and ashamed… now what?

First and foremost, know this:

Depression is a medical condition in which you have thoughts and feelings that are not true!

The way forward is to develop your coping skills by challenging those thoughts and feelings. To help you do this, I’ve put together an overview and worksheet on challenging your thoughts and reactions.

Download the pdf now!

Read the overview and then here’s how to use the worksheet on the final page:

If you have a reaction to something and wished you’d reacted differently, fill in the worksheet. That might be that you felt ashamed after eating that whole block of chocolate or that you felt angry and yelled at your toddler for wetting themselves.

Situation/Trigger and Emotion/Feeling:

Write down the situation and what you felt. Often a lot of emotions are all battling inside us at once.

Unhelpful thoughts:

Take the time to reflect on the thoughts that ran through your head. Write down these unhelpful thoughts. There is a page of unhelpful thinking styles in the overview.

Helpful thoughts:

Take the time to think about what some helpful thoughts might have looked like in that situation. This can be difficult and can at times feel a little forced. That’s OK! It will for a time.

Response:

Write down how you wish you had reacted in that situation.

Once you’ve done this a few times in retrospect, you’ll find that you’re able to pause and challenge your thinking as it happens!!! Developing coping skills doesn’t happen immediately… like anything you’ll need to practice, but know this… it is possible to learn these skills!

What I learned in 12 months working from home

What I learned in 12 months working from home

I’ve been working from home for the past year and a bit. I’m still not where I want to be in terms of output, but I’ve come a long way from where I was when I began.

I thought now would be a good time to share what I’ve learned and how I make working from home work for me!

1. Workspace

I have a permanent, dedicated workspace. This is the single most important thing for my productivity. It means that I’m not having to set up and pack up my workspace every day. If I had to get everything out, clear a space to work, plug in my laptop and find the stuff I needed for the day, that task would be too daunting for me and I’d fail at the first hurdle.

When Olivia and I first started DBoP, we had our meetings either on the couch or at the dining table. When we had our meetings on the couch, they often became chats and catch-ups rather than work meetings. It’s true for me that if I try and work on the couch, I immediately go into recreation/lazy mode. Same for trying to work in the bedroom… that’s my sleep space and 95% of the time I take a nap rather than getting any work done.

Having a dedicated and permanent work set-up reduces the barrier to starting work and also helps your brain shift into work mode, immediately making you more productive.

2. Ergonomics and environment

This is linked so closely to my first point. If your work from home setup is a laptop on the dining table (or worse, the kitchen island), this is going to destroy your back and wrists.

Firstly, unless you’re magically the perfect height, the keyboard will not be at the correct height meaning you’re straining your wrists. Remember, that your lower arm (elbow to hands) should be parallel to the ground. Otherwise you’re risking OOS in your wrists.

Secondly, your screen should be positioned so that the top of the screen is at the same height as your eyes. Any lower causes you to slump and puts terrible strain on your back.

This is why a permanent workspace is so important to me. It’s set up to meet my ergonomic needs.

Some of the other environmental things to consider are lighting and heat. The great thing about working from home is that you now get to enjoy natural light and fresh air!!! Make sure that natural light is coming from the sides. Light behind you will increase glare on the computer screen and strain your eyes. Consider using a heater in your workspace. The one downside to having my permanent workspace is that it’s the spare room and not heated by the heatpump or fireplace in the lounge. I have a blanket for my legs and a heater in the room so that I can be comfortable while I work. I’d get nothing done if the room was a fridge!

3. Take breaks

This is a contentious one. A friend of mine who works from home doesn’t take breaks, except to quickly hang the washing out. Her preference is to get the work day done as quickly as possible.

My advice, and what works for me, is to take breaks. Just like you would in the office, take timed, regular breaks.

My breaks need to be timed. And frequently I need to really talk myself into getting back to work. If I didn’t start my break knowing I had to get back to my desk at 12.30, I’d end up down the Netflix hole for the next three hours.

Breaks are an excellent time to get exercise. When you work at home, your incidental exercise (like from the carpark to your desk, or visiting colleagues round the office) goes right down. I exercise most mornings because working from home is the most sedentary I’ve ever been and if I didn’t schedule morning exercise I’d barely move at all.

4. Experiment

Check with your boss about whether you can experiment with your hours. My husband is a night owl. If he was allowed, he’d work midday to 8.30pm. Those are just the hours that work best for him.

If you’re working from home, especially if your kids are home too, your usual 9-5 might not work so well anymore. The days Connor is at home with me, I get no work done during the day. Then once we’ve picked Dom up from school I leave the two of them to play together and get a good couple of hours of work in. This assuages my mum-guilt by not leaving Connor to entertain himself while I work.

Sunday morning is another of my productive times. It’s the morning that Ian gets to sleep in so while the kids play or watch TV, I work.

This is all well and good for me, I am my own boss… but I think it’s worth a discussion to see if you can find the hours that work for you, especially if you have children.

5. Accountability

Here’s a secret. Back when I was an employee, there were times when I “worked from home” for a day, but in reality I watched TV and just made sure to check and respond to my emails frequently so it seemed I was online and working.

I’d had the idea for Darling Buds for at least a year before Olivia came and said “let’s start a business together”… I’d just never actioned it because I know I can’t motivate myself. Having Olivia to be accountable to was the only way this little business got off the ground.

This is my first blog since November 7, last year. I still struggle with accountability!

If possible, can you get together with a friend or co-worker to do work? Can your partner make sure you’re keeping your productivity up? How about a to-do-list?

This one, I don’t have an answer to. I struggle with this every day. It’s why I have 3 people to exercise with… because I never exercise on my own. It’s why this blog is 4 months overdue! Please, tell me how to be more productive!!

6. Self-care

This one really shouldn’t be at the bottom of the list, but practicing self-care is so important when you work from home. For me, I practice self-care through socialisation. Whether this is chatting to people on Messenger, calling my parents, or meeting up with friends for a walk, or going to quiz nights… I need that socialisation that I usually find in an office environment. Socialisation may be difficult in the coming days, but remember that social distancing refers to physical distance, not emotional distance. Keep in contact with your friends and loved ones. Make use of whatever systems your workplace has to keep in touch with your team. Message a friend, check in with your family. KEEP IN TOUCH!

My other self-care, as I’ve mentioned a few times in this blog, is exercise. This morning I was out running round the suburban streets in the dark in 1.4 degree weather. But for me, there’s no better way to start the day than with an endorphin boost! Remember to forgive yourself. If your kids are watching more screen time than usual, or you’re not as productive at work as usual, forgive yourself. These are strange times and change is always difficult. Please, be gentle on yourself.

Perfectionist Thinking: Am I passing it on to my kids?

Perfectionist Thinking: Am I passing it on to my kids?

I’m a perfectionist. Unfortunately, this isn’t as cute as it sounds. For me, perfectionistic thinking means that anything less than perfection is failure. This is what drove me to tears, screaming, and ultimately the psych ward, after having Connor. I believed that I had to do it ALL, be the perfect parent, have the perfect children. Any time I was doing less that absolute perfection (which, with a newborn is ALL the time) I was beating myself up, internally and externally.

My perfectionistic thinking has been the main topic of conversation with my therapists over the years. It still plagues me, but I manage it much better these days. I’m able to find joy in the journey, even if the outcome isn’t what I expected. I’ve learned to value effectiveness over perfection… a birthday cake is still delicious even if it doesn’t look Pinterest perfect!

Unfortunately, I’ve started to see some perfectionistic behaviours in my children. Is it nature? Are they destined to inherit my messed up brain chemistry? Or is it nurture? Am I inadvertently teaching them that perfection is the only option?

At the start of October, I decided to start the kids on some extra-curricular activities. For Dom, I chose Aikido. He loves martial arts and with Aikido he’d learn respect, focus and control which are some areas he’s struggling in at the moment. Unfortunately, it did not go well. Dom would watch the demonstration of the move and then refuse to try it because he didn’t know how to do it.

And herein lies the problem with perfectionistic thinking. While most people accept that it’s ok to make mistakes, the perfectionistic thinker believes mistakes are NOT OK! Mistakes are failure and it’s terrifying. Growing up, I always said I had a fear of failure. This was me recognising the symptom of my perfectionistic thinking before I had a name for it.

I watched Dom refuse to try basic steps at Aikido because he was, in his words, scared. Scared of not being able to do it. Scared of humiliation. I tried telling him that it was okay to get it wrong first time. I told him that no one knows how to do things first try, it takes practice. I reminded him that bravery is feeling scared and trying it anyway. I tried to help him physically by positioning his feet so that the risk of mistake was minimised. Nothing helped. His fear of failure was so strong he couldn’t even get off the starting block.

So, I’ve been wondering… is this perfectionistic thinking? Or is it just the uncertainty of a five year old? Am I beating myself up more than I need to? I don’t know, but it’s made me think about how I treat mistakes or failure, and the things I can do to help my children manage the disappointment or fear of making mistakes.

1. Try new things when the kids are fresh and in a good mood.

Connor’s first trip to athletics was very similar to Dom’s first trip to Aikido. The next morning Connor told me that the reason he gave up was because he was tired and could he please try again. So the next week we made sure he’d had an early night beforehand, had eaten and rested well and was in the right frame of mind. It worked wonders! He was still coming near the back of the pack, but he was able to cope with that by telling himself that he would get better with practice.

2. Remind them of what was good about the attempt.

We play a lot of card and board games in our family. And losing can cause tears. We spend some gentle time with whoever is upset, talking about what they did well and reminding them how much fun they had during the game. Dom is now excellent at congratulating the winner and Connor’s working on it, but I really feel this is helping.

3. Own up to our own mistakes.

I call them by the wrong name. I forget things… like a spoon for Dom’s yoghurt in his lunchbox. I spill things and I make a mess. I own up to my mistakes and talk about how it’s not a big deal. I do this when they make mistakes as well. If they spill something or break something on accident, it’s not a big deal… these things happen. I grew up in a house where accidents meant being yelled at and I’ve vowed to not punish my kids when they make genuine mistakes.

4. Love them.

One of my favourite parenting quotes is, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.”

As frustrated and angry as I was at Dom over his refusal to participate at Aikido, I couldn’t let it show. He was dealing with his own fears and anxiety and my job as his mum was to help him manage those emotions. It definitely ranks in the hardest parenting moments for me, but I set my anger to one side to help him through the moment and disappointment he was feeling.

Work/life balance. Is it achievable?

Do you believe you have a good work/life balance? What does that even look like?

I’ve never been good at work/life balance. When I was at university the scales were very much weighted in favour of life, and when I was working the scales were weighted in favour of work. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been out of the workforce for over 2 years now. I was giving all my energy and motivation to my job and that left me with nothing for my family.

Over the past couple of months, the “work” part of life has been getting increasingly busy. Some days, I’m guilty of plonking the kids in front of the TV in order to blog or build a mud kitchen.

And that doesn’t take into account the “admin” part of life. The inescapable bits and pieces that have to happen for the rest of life to run smoothly. I’m talking the never-ending pile of laundry, housework, cooking dinner, weeding and mowing lawns. This is definitely the part of life that gets neglected when I get busy. If you’ve been to my house recently you’ll notice there’s always toothpaste smeared on the basin. I hate looking like I don’t have it all together, but it just feels so futile wiping it off only to have it reappear next time the kids brush their teeth.

So, how do I do achieve work/life balance? I’ve been doing two things lately to help ensure I’m giving each part of my life the time it deserves.

Number 1: Get up early. I’m a sleeper. I love sleep and I love my bed. Ian willingly gets the kids dressed and breakfasted in the mornings so I could roll out of bed at 7.30 and still get the kids where they’re supposed to be for the day. Instead, I get up at 6am. This is when the kids wake so I’m out of bed then too. That gives me an hour to take it slow, having coffee, playing Gardenscapes and actually eating breakfast (another one of those things that gets neglected when I get busy).

Number 2: Schedule, schedule, schedule. There is not a minute of my day from 6am to 6pm, that’s not scheduled. I schedule my breakfast and lunch, the school drop-offs, the groceries, the cleaning, the appointments. Then I see what’s left. I schedule specific work tasks and I schedule trips to the park and the pool. This is what I have to do to keep the house, the family and my work running smoothly. I sit down on a Sunday night and I meal plan for the week and I do my schedule. This is usually when I’m texting friends making plans with them for the week.

This Saturday I’m going to be building a new product. This Sunday we’re having a family outing with friends. This is how I balance work and life… I know the kids will be neglected by me on Saturday, but they have me for the entirety of Sunday.

And it’s working. The house is clean, my work’s getting done, I’m spending real quality time with the kids. And the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day is unbelievable! This is what I need to get shit done… it’s not going to work for everyone. But, if you’re feeling like your life is out of balance, maybe give it a try?