My Elfless Shelf

Warning – contains strong opinions!  If you are a big fan of elf on the shelf then please don’t read this!


During half term I had the rare treat of a day off!  No children.  No work.  A  proper, time to myself kind of day mooching round some charity and gift shops with tea and cake thrown in – utter bliss.  During this trip I had a proper encounter with Elf on the Shelf.  I’d sort of heard about it before, but here I was with plenty of time to look AND read the story – Eek!!  The title of this blog may be a give away, but I was left a little alarmed.  Whilst on the surface it looks very cute and finding the elf in the morning and seeing it’s adventures might be fun (although a whole lot of work I don’t need in December), my shelf/ves will remain very much elfless!!

As I was reading the box I was straight back to last Christmas and the puzzlement I experienced when my 3 year old was asked on multiple occasions if she’d been good so Father Christmas would bring her presents??  Stop right there!  When did presents become rewards for good behaviour?  (No I didn’t say that in my reply– I nodded politely.  Nearly a year later I still haven’t worked out what an appropriate response should be to this question that is usually posed with the kindest of intentions.  If you have any  suggestions then I’d love to hear them.)

I know the whole Santa knows if your naughty or nice thing isn’t a new concept, but it’s not one I’ve heard given any serious emphasis before. Maybe it’s because up until now we’ve had older children in our care so we’ve not had to worry about them taking it seriously. However, as a parent of younger children, Elf on the Shelf feels like taking it to a different level.

Pause and imagine that for a moment your partner decided to tell you that in the run up to Christmas they were watching your every move very closely and regardless of extra pressure or stress, work wise or home wise that if you didn’t meet the standards they set you wouldn’t get your Christmas present.  Being totally frank if my husband implied that my Christmas present was dependent upon me completing all my share of our household responsibility to the agreed standard in order to get my Christmas presents he would be told exactly what he could do with said present (and it wouldn’t be taking it back for a refund!)  If it’s conditional then perhaps it should be called a Christmas reward and not a Christmas present……….  Anyone else feel uncomfortable with that?

Secondly, who’s going to be the parent on Christmas day who watches their child go to their stocking all excited only to find that Santa’s decided that they were so badly behaved in December that their stocking is empty?  No loving parent I know is going to do that!  If you are threatening a consequence that you don’t mean then what does this say to your child about how reliable and trustworthy what you say is?  Maybe they’ve never tested you that far, but what if one day they did?  What would you do then?  What happens if you don’t do the things you say you will?

I know once 1st December arrives, unless you are exceptionally fortunate, most parents need to brace themselves.  The combination of over excitement, multiple extra events, being indoors more, dark evenings and end of term tiredness mean that parenting without frequent meltdowns, sibling fall outs and general stress can be more challenging than trying to get a herd of cats to complete an obstacle course on a windy day.    I’m also pretty confident empty threats of withdrawing presents are NOT the solution to this.  There has to be a better way.

According to the Oxford Dictionary gifts are “ A thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present” To be a gift it surely be given without condition not subject to behaviour or achievement.  They are a demonstration of love and care NOT approval or even being deserved.  Having seen how much time, effort and expense so many parents go to in order to give their children gifts that they will love I am convinced that the intention is to show their children love, that they’re valued and to give them great memories of Christmas.

When we make a gift subject to good behaviour, be it through open threats or through cute little elves we take something really precious out of Christmas and that message of love and valuing the person is compromised.  In a season that is all about giving generous gifts to those we love we can send our children a very powerful message.” The question we must ask ourselves: is whether the message we are actually sending is the one we want our children to receive?


Parent vs Teacher – The Homework Debate


There were a number of things I expected to happen when my daughter started school in September. Getting out of the house on time would be a challenge.  Tick.  Despite putting clean uniform on her everyday she would, more often than not go to school accessorized by toothpaste smears and breakfast crumbs.  Tick.  By midway through the term she would be VERY tired and grumpy after school each day.  Tick.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that by mid-November she would have 26 pages of homework – all incomplete.  26 pages for a 4 year old in addition to reading regularly!  What’s more I have no intention of completing them unless my daughter shows a sudden burst of enthusiasm. Before we had even hit October half term I had been called aside by the reception teacher who said to me that my 4 year old had told her “My mummy says I don’t need to worry about homework.”  What’s worse is that is exactly what I did say to her.  In my defence she was anxious about going to school because she hadn’t done the first 4 pages and daddy does hold the same view, but it’s mummy who has to see the teacher most days!

As a former teacher I feel very torn.  I don’t want to undermine the school or be the nightmare parent – I know all too well how much pressure those who work education are under and how staff in schools work incredibly hard to serve their pupils’ best interests, but just a short way into the school year and already there is a clash as to what really is in my child’s best interests.  In my heart of hearts, however difficult I find the position I don’t believe it is right for her to come home and be pushed to slog through 4 pages of handwriting each week.

I’m not sure my daughter’s teacher was particularly impressed with my parenting when I said I would rather she (my daughter not the teacher) was out in the garden hunting for bugs and worms or doing some craft or just resting.  She may well be capable of learning to read and write ahead of the targets for her age and yes I do very much value her education, but I also value her wellbeing.  If she’s already exhausted at the end of the school day and I enforce/cajole/bribe her into doing her homework she may well be able to write just that little bit sooner, but if I just go with what I’m told I should be doing what is the true cost of this?

Here’s just a few…

Playtime – the more time we spend on homework, the less we spend on playing.  Fun, freedom to explore is all part of learning and growing as a child and so important.  There are many well researched articles to back that up that I cannot ignore this important part of my children’s childhood in order to strive for academic success.  I also hope that I’m teaching her the value of downtime – in a society where it is common to complain of stress and pressure I’d like to start early on with showing my children how to manage this.

Our relationship – if, instead of being the safe place where she can be grumpy and tired after school, I become the enforcer of more work what impact does that have on our relationship?  I’ve got no problem with setting boundaries where necessary, but I’m not sure that there are many benefits to making homework one.  We do a little reading if she’s in the right frame of mind and then it’s time to play or relax or just cuddle. I’m convinced that this calm space puts her in a much better place to learn the next time she’s in school.

Lost love of learning  – after years of working with children who were very disaffected with all forms of education and apathetic towards learning,  to see my own children’s love of learning and exploring the world is PURE JOY.  What a gift to find everything so interesting, to have an urge to explore and know more and how much does this become all too easily lost?  I am desperate for my children to thirst for knowledge and understanding and to remain fascinated with the diverse world in which we live and I’m not sure a heavy load of homework is the way to achieve this.

Overwhelming expectations – my daughter has many of my traits – she’s driven, focused and likes to get things right.  Great qualities, but push them too much and they become unhealthy.  If my husband and I push academic success as the number one goal at the cost of all else then that pressure will at some point come back to bite us all.  You only have to briefly look at some of the factors that increase the risk of self harm and eating disorders in teenagers to start to question this.   Of course I want her to do well at school, but it really isn’t the only measure of success in life.  I want offer her the best opportunity to be emotionally healthy, to be positive and resilient and to be kind and caring towards others.  After a day at school any of those is a big ask let alone if we chuck in lots of handwriting.

It’s all too easy to follow the crowd or just to go along with what the teachers say because we believe they know best.  My daughter’s teacher is lovely and I have a huge amount of trust and respect for much of what she says and does.  However, I think on the topic of homework she (and the school) are misguided.

Whether it’s 4 year olds and homework or 14 year olds and a myriad of other issues, , as parents we need to regularly pause and reflect upon the potential impact of where others are leading us and our children and whether it is actually the right direction.  Whether I battle 4 pages of homework a week or take on the mantle of the parent who refuses to do homework the real question I need to ask is:

What longer term path do these actions and decisions put my child on?

Research evidence of the benefits of homework and you’ll soon discover that the jury is well and truly out.  There is huge debate amongst educators about homework and no clear evidence to confirm its benefits conclusively.  My suspicion is that it will depend on the child, the home circumstances, what the homework is and when and how it is offered – so many variables it’s impossible to measure. By not making my daughter do her homework am I encouraging a lack of self discipline or devaluing her education?  I don’t believe so, but I must honestly consider this too.

learn through playNeither my husband or I are wholly against homework.  When our children are older I expect homework to become a more regular part of her (and our life) but until someone can give me evidence to the contrary our every instinct as parents says the current homework load for 4 year olds is not healthy or helpful for our child.  As with most parents we make the best decision we can with the information we have and hope we’re getting it right.  That’s the path we’re on – in 20 years I’ll be able to tell you  if it was the right one!



If you’re interested in reading a little more around this try the following:




The “Luxury” of Self-doubt


If you’ve ever found yourself constantly questioning your own judgement and abilities, thinking “who am I to do ….?” Or  “Everyone else is so much better at….” Or simply “I can’t” even though there’s no real evidence to prove that.  If you change outfits before you go out multiple times only to still feel a bit rubbish or if you often feel stupid or don’t apply for that great job/course because you just don’t quite believe you’re good enough then you’ll be pretty familiar with self-doubt.  Perhaps, instead, you just feel the need to prove yourself all the time or compete with others or to constantly demonstrate your skill and worth.

Self-doubt comes in various shapes and forms, but whatever form it takes, it sucks.  I know I and many others experience it disproportionately to our skills, talent and abilities.  How often do many of us look at ourselves and see something totally different to what the rest of the world sees? How often do you look at yourself and find yourself lacking despite evidence to the contrary – qualifications, feedback from others, previous successes?

Whilst questioning ourselves is common, how often do you question the cost of this pest on your life?  What would you be doing if you didn’t have those doubts whispering in your ear?  What is the impact on your relationships when you misjudge yourself?  How much time and energy is wasted on these things?

In one way it sounds preposterous to claim that self-doubt is a “luxury” when I know I, and so many people wrestle with this, often quite painfully.  However,  I am increasingly starting to think that it is in the realms of far too costly and I’m  wondering if it’s a luxury that I can afford.  I’m not talking about believing I’m superwoman, just not bending the knee to the voice that says “you’re not good enough” or “you can’t.”  One of the things I love about coaching and how it has benefitted me, is how it shines the light on the limiting beliefs we hold and how much they are based in fact or fiction – start down that route and it’s a scary, but exciting adventure.  When I start exploring the evidence that says “I can’t” and I find it’s actually far more shaky than I thought it sets me on a whole different path.

When I pause and reflect on the number of things I haven’t done over the years because of self-doubt it’s actually quite scary.  The scariest part is that I don’t think that I have been aware of that being the real reason.  Sound familiar?  If not, just consider for a moment how often your anxiety levels rise when other people are watching you?  How often do you hold back for fear of what others think?  How often have you made an excuse to not do something that actually was probably not the strongest reason when you truly reflect on it.

Having made the scary jump from employment to self-employment this year I can tell you that I am more aware of my own self-doubt than ever before.  When you are your own boss you no longer have that safety net of someone else having to give you feedback or guide your work – it’s all down to you and it’s sink or swim.  Whilst it’s great to be reflective, analytical and to evaluate your work –  self-doubt, for me, if unchecked, is a fast track to overwhelm, inaction and living life out of fear not hope.  It has the potential to keep my life as small and risk free as possible at the expense of all adventure and learning.  If I live like that what am I missing out on, what is it doing to my business, my relationships and what am I modelling to my children?

The thing is that whatever our area of self-doubt – body image, academic prowess, parenting, work, relationships, self-doubt can be a poison – it can suck the pleasure out of things that otherwise might bring great joy and fulfilment, it can cause us to hold back or make poor choices for fear of the wrong things and most of all it can cause us to pay a high price with nothing in return.

So the quick fix or magic wand? I’m not sure there is one –  how many qualifications, encouragements from others, likes on Facebook do we need before it goes away?  What is enough?  Change has to come from within and we are all a work in progress.

For me the awareness of what I am thinking and doing is key – it means I can now make a choice – to listen to that self-doubt  – or to take a step back weigh my decisions and choose to risk.  Is self-doubt a luxury that I can afford – actually I don’t think it is – can I afford to waste the opportunity to grow business that supports families, builds confidence in others for fear of putting myself out there when everything tells me I have the skills to do it (except that little voice of self-doubt)?  In 20 years time am I going to look back and regret taking brave steps forward or staying safe because I was too scared to do otherwise?  What if other people don’t like me or what I do? Pushing through self-doubt is hard, but it’s possible and exciting and worthwhile.

If you can afford to live in a small safe bubble and that’s ok for you then great, but if the cost of that will be huge regret then I would ask you again – can you afford it?  What is the impact on your children and relationships? What would it cost to make a change? Is it truly necessary to carry on as you are or is it actually in the realms of luxury?

Here’s the acid test…..ask yourself the question “If I had all the confidence I needed what would I do/say/think/feel?”  If the answer is something different to what you’re doing now then maybe it’s time to stop and think – what is the self-doubt costing you and is it a price you want to pay?

Starting School – endings and beginnings



In a few days the moment  I have been dreading will be upon me – I’ve been emotional about this for weeks now, so how I’m going to hold it together when the day comes I have no idea.  My daughter is starting school.  Whilst many of my friends with older kids are counting down the days left in the holidays, craving the return to routine and surviving on wine and chocolate, I feel a huge sadness at the end of a very special chapter.  I know that this also marks the start of a new and exciting time for my daughter, that she’s ready for the challenge and that my son will benefit from a bit more of my attention with his sister otherwise engaged.  I still wish though that I could press pause and hold onto this time just a little longer.

I know once we’re into our new groove it’ll be fine and this time next year we’ll be all too ready for the return to routine – I’ve done the school routine before and I know the ups and downs of it all too well.   The real issues for me right now are firstly that I am really going to miss my daughter’s company – she’s funny, bubbly, chatty, affectionate and always on the go.  In the midst of some pretty challenging times over that last few years she has been a daily ray of sunshine and I know when she comes home she’s probably not going to be at her best for a while!

Secondly, I am no longer able to manage my daughter’s day.  (I’m hoping that me finding this a challenge is more out of being protective than total control freak, but it’s probably a bit of both!) I have to entrust it to someone else and hope and pray that they “get her”, that they are kind and supportive and that she meets other children who bring out the best in her and her in them. That process of letting go as a parent is tough and I am glad to know that I am not on my own in this – that the tears I will probably shed as I leave her on her first day are a rite of passage for so many parents.

The thing is that whilst I regularly wish I could press pause and that the end of a stage is sad, rather than focusing on the loss this is, in actual fact, a reminder of all I have.  To reach a change and growth point is a privilege so many people don’t have.  When I consider the many people I know who would have loved to have children, but for various different reasons– not meeting the right person, health issues, infertility – it didn’t happen then I am reminded how I am one of the lucky ones.

I’ve met parents who have experienced miscarriage, still birth and bereavement so never even got to those stages.  I know others with children who have major health issues which mean the usual stages are so much more complex or not even possible and I’m so thankful I actually get to do the things with my child that I’d imagined doing.

I am also reminded of a friend of a friend whose daughter is the same school year as mine.  After a long battle with cancer she’s not here to help her child put on her school uniform or wave her off for her first day – to have the joy and heartache of letting her child go one stage at a time.

So often the hopes, dreams and our expectations when we consider having children are vastly different from reality – illness, relationship breakdown and a million other problems – so when we get to go through the usual stages in the ways we imagined doing it then that truly is a gift. So despite the fact that this is a significant and emotional change I am going to choose to celebrate it as a mark that we are so blessed to have got here – to live in a country where my children can access free education, where I am fortunate enough to have made it to this stage with them and to be ready to hear about her experiences, successes, frustrations and all the ups, downs and in-betweens of school life.

I can only hope that I will be able to go through so many more of these emotional stages of letting my children go and watching them spread their wings as this is surely the ultimate role of parents.  I may also need to take out shares in Kleenex!

school uniform

Why my daughter may be wearing pyjamas to nursery.


There is a high risk that at some point soon my daughter may be going to nursery in her pyjamas.  This is not because I can’t be bothered to put her in proper clothes, but because on a number of occasions she has refused to get dressed.  Just to be clear she does like nursery and she does like wearing her clothes, but if it is a morning when quite frankly she’s not in the mood to go out at the time the adults deem necessary her current tactic is to announce that she’s not going to get dressed!  Whilst I have a grudging admiration for her stalling tactics the bottom line is that I feel I have to set a boundary here – school is looming and last time I checked attendance and time keeping isn’t optional according to your mood!

Given that we have reached a stage of mostly independent dressing trying to force her into any form of attire would be an entirely pointless activity and one I’m not personally comfortable with.  I’m also not going down the road of bribery – she’s got 14 years ahead of her in full time education.  That’s a long time! So my current approach is that we ARE going to nursery – if necessary with pyjamas on.

At this point I feel the urge to try and justify how I’ve set my boundaries – to establish that I am not a terrible parent or uncaring or harsh etc  and this sums up for me the problem that I see so many of us encounter as parents when it comes to setting boundaries.  Not only do the majority of us not want to be in conflict with our children, there is also the  issue of how other people perceive our parenting.

We know that as parents we have to set boundaries.  However unless you are super confident and don’t ever question your own judgement then it’s probably going to cause some personal angst at least some of the time.  Throw into the mix what other people may or may not think of you or the issue you’re setting a boundary on and it’s no wonder that as a coach confidence is one of the biggest challenges I see parents encounter.  It’s one of the biggest drains on parent wellbeing  and one of the huge benefits of coaching.  Whilst my clients know that I don’t offer advice or tell people how to parent I still quite often get the question “What do you think…..?”  Actually it doesn’t matter what I think of your parenting style – you are the expert in your child and you will have a far better idea what is best for them.  My job is to help you clarify what this is and identify how you’re going to  achieve this.

Setting boundaries is a minefield because there is no universal agreed guideline on where these should be set.  Our own upbringing, values and the needs of our family unit all vary so much.   What is the “right” bed time?  When do you let them do xxxx on their own?  What if “everyone else” is doing xxxxx?

Sometimes I see fear of what others think or being deemed “bad parents” holds us back from giving our children the opportunity to flex their wings and test out the consequences of their own choices.  Let’s say my daughter does call my bluff and go to nursery in her pyjamas.  Would that make me a bad parent or would it help my daughter to realise that me encouraging her to get dressed is for her benefit? If my teenager is late for school because I don’t drag them out of bed, layout all of their clothes and then spoon feed them their breakfast does it make me a parent who is trying to teach responsibility or abdicate my own?

Like so many things it boils down to our own knowledge of our children and how we deliver actions.  Boundaries can be set down in hugely loving ways or dominant and cruel ones.  What for one child can be oppressive for another can free them from anxiety and worry.  Sometimes not bailing our kids out can be the most loving thing ever, even though inaction is harder for most parents than constantly picking up the pieces.

There will always be others who will do things differently to us, particularly in the spheres of family life and actually it is possible to parent differently to your friends and both be right if it is the best thing for your child.  The big challenge is holding our nerve confidently and lovingly.  So if you see a little girl in pink pyjamas on her way to nursery then please know that I am picking my battles, I love her more than words can say, I think carefully about what is best for her and I whilst time will tell whether I made the right decision it was the best decision I could at the time.


Post script – I wrote this blog a little while ago and I am glad to report that my daughter has made it through the whole of nursery without attending in her pyjamas.  However we do have school starting soon……..

The Evil of Screen Time


If there was a pub quiz round on Cbeebies currently I would have a good chance of winning. Find an episode of Topsy and Tim that I haven’t seen and I will be speechless!!  Shockingly my knowledge of current affairs or anything of a more intellectual view would, at this point in time come second to Cbeebies.  That’s because we watch quite a lot of it. I also know quite a few sections of certain Disney films off by heart too.

Whilst I am far from being the only parent in this situation I still find myself on occasions wanted to justify to the world my children’s screen time.

For some reason there seems to be this underlying belief that screen time means poor quality parenting about which we should feel terribly guilty. Pretty much every parent I know has a hang up about this borne out by the number of times I’ve heard mums (dads do this a lot less) say “I know it’s bad, but I let them play on the iPad/watch……”

Is all this guilt we experience around screens really warranted and if so why are we not acting on it? Whilst I admire families who don’t have a TV and rarely use screens I haven’t felt the need to go down that route.  However, feeling guilty without it leading to action or change is pretty much a waste of time, energy and emotion.  If you can relate to this then rather than feeling inadequate/guilty/anything that drains you I’d encourage you consider some of the following:

  1. Work out what your real issue with screens are.

The best way to do this is to identify what life in your house with screens would like in an ideal world.  Imagine you had a magic wand and everyone would go with what you thought best – what does a healthy and balanced approach to using screens look like for you – consider not just time span or device, but also content.

When we fostered we ended up in the sticky situation of debating with one of our children about taking a games console on holiday.  To me the thought of taking a full blown console on holiday was unthinkable.  To my foster child going on holiday without it was fairly torturous.  My issue – holidays are sociable times and games consoles often kill that.  In the end we came to a compromise – we’d take the Wii, but not the Playstation.  My husband and I then agreed that we would go and buy/borrow a couple of new games  & enough controllers for one each– the net result – a lot of sociable fun and a fantastic holiday with our young person.  Because we had identified the real issue with the screen we were able to find a way forward that work for all of us.

  1. Keep it in context

Look at the big picture of all that you do not just the time they spend on a screen

My preschool kids watch TV pretty much every lunchtime – to be totally honest this is because by that point in the day I need a bit of time where they sit still and don’t talk to me.  I love their company and conversation, but sometimes I need a few moments break – the TV gives me that and I don’t really feel guilty unless someone else sees me doing it and then I need to point out:

  1. We’ve usually been out all morning – they will have been doing a whole heap of activities ranging from running around, to socialising to reading to using their imaginations – the lunchtime screen doesn’t stop them doing that.
  2. It is the only meal time where they’re allowed to watch a screen and they know that boundary. We sit and eat together pretty much every tea time and talk – the TV isn’t stopping that.
  3. I am really careful about the content – Cbeebies is pretty awesome – there is load of educational stuff and NO ADVERTS .
  4. I am a much nicer mummy to be around in the afternoon if I’ve had a few moments of peace. The thing is that’s not their only screen time – they also spend half an hour watching nursery rhymes on you tube while I’m cooking tea (far preferable to tearing round the kitchen and getting injured or us all descending into meltdown). We also watch films together quite often.  My personal view is that like many things it’s not the screen that’s the problem it’s how we use it.


  1. Set boundaries based on what your child and family needs not what other people do.


Everyone else…” does not live in your house or fall under your responsibility.  You know your child best, your values and lifestyle and you are best placed to manage what they (and you) need. 


So often parents feel guilty when they’re little for any screen time and then giving them free reign when they’re older because “what can you do..?” From when they are small to when they are older we need to consider their screen use carefully – lose the guilt and gain some assertiveness.  Screens used well mean great social contact and access to a whole world of learning.  On the flip side if they’re going to school exhausted because they’ve been online at 2am or experiencing overwhelming peer pressure with no escape that needs to be managed (there’s probably a whole other blog around this topic).  Sometimes as parents we have to make tough decisions to protect our children.


Given that it is going to be hard to function in the adult world without being able to use a screen (don’t even get me started on the headache of my in-laws and internet use) our children need to be confident and competent screen users. However they also need to be wise and to have healthy boundaries. If we, as parents,  rather than feeling guilty or powerless, learn to confidently set and manage and model boundaries early on then our relationship with our children and screens might be an altogether  happier one.


Living On The Edge

rollercoaster-801833_1920“Living on the edge” is probably not the first phrase that anyone would utter if they were asked to describe me.  In fact, I doubt they would say that of me at all.  I am pretty risk averse and fairly cautious.  At a theme park I am more than happy to sip a cuppa and hold the coats than ride a roller coaster.  I have little need of an adrenalin fix and am much happier with my feet planted on terra firma than racing around upside down or at any speed.

Despite that,  I would still describe myself as someone who leans towards “living on the edge.” Many of the clients I work with do this too.  Some of the worst culprits?  Mums and teachers.    I don’t mean living on the edge because of all the excitement of never knowing what’s going to happen with children or even that terrifying process of constant change or the emotional roller coaster that is life with kids.  “Living on the edge” is more about how I live on the very edge of my resources, particularly when it comes to looking after myself.  It’s that constant juggle to keep things in balance and how my idea of “balance” too frequently becomes having just enough resources to get through the day.

glass-containers-1205611_1920Anyone who has experienced coaching with me will know that I am a big fan of the whole comfort, stretch and panic zone model.  It’s great to be stretched – it’s how we grow.  However constant overstretch is very unhealthy.   I have always been too tempted to try and do just that bit more than I really can and feel guilty for looking after myself.  Add in being a parent – when there is no point at which I feel I have done “enough” – and it’s a real challenge to eke out time and resources for myself.  I know from my work it’s a very common problem.  So many of us live on the edge of “just about getting there” and utter chaos and feel guilty if we do “too much” (more than the bare minimum) for ourselves even if the price we pay is feeling exhausted and being just a little too strung out.

smiley-2091991_1920So in an age of so much choice and resources what makes us push ourselves like this?  Guilt? Martrydom?  Our perception of what success means?  We each have our own set of drivers.  I don’t think there are any medals though for being the person who attended least to their own needs – it’s just the fallout of whatever is going on for us on a deeper level.

Sometimes when you unpick what’s going on it’s crazy and powerful – is finishing work at a sensible time and going home to spend time with family or friends rather than working late into the evening a sign of a bad worker (try finding a teacher that actually does this – they’re a rare breed)?  Is going out with friends, a partner or doing things for yourself really going to scar your children (more than being a very stressed out and exhausted parent).  When we boil it down it’s nuts!

So my own personal challenge is to move further away from the edge.   Easy to say harder to do.  I’m much better at this that I was a few years ago, but it’s a long road.  I am fortunate in that I know myself well – I am familiar with what tops me up and what drains me, what drives me and what discourages me and that understanding is powerful.   As a planner I know I need to book in things to make sure that I’m a bit further away from the edge and then have those around me keep me accountable and then keep on doing it.

beach-1449008_1920The great irony is that so often when we look after ourselves the ripple effects on those around us are huge.  As parents, partners, friends, workers we actually do a better job – we’re able to be more present with our kids and those around us and are probably a lot nicer company – perhaps instead we should feel guilty when we don’t look after ourselves!

Probably The Most Important Parenting Question You’ll Ever Ask Yourself.

question-3-1146620-1279x1662I know I am not alone as a parent if I tell you that throughout the course of the day I ask myself hundreds of questions about my parenting.  Could I have handled that better?  Am I too strict?  Am I too soft? Do they eat enough vegetables?  (Do Goodies Carrot Stix count as veg?) How much screen time is ok? Do I spend too much time on my phone?  The list goes on.  And on.

These questions are in essence a reflection of how I want to make sure that I have protected and nurtured my children to the highest possible standard which is great up until the point where it just makes me uptight!  I think back to when I was a child and riding in the boot of my friend’s mum’s car was a massive treat, baby monitors weren’t invented and who wore sun cream unless you went abroad? This makes me realise that our despite all the readily available equipment and knowledge to protect children, confidence levels as parents are probably no better for it.  We just find new things to worry about.

Being a thoughtful, reflective parent comes with the risk of over analysis and I see this repeatedly as I work as a coach with other parents.  There is no point where it is easy to measure and relax safe in the knowledge that we’ve “got it right” and so the questions and self-doubt continue.

Coaching brings many benefits such as clarity, identifying goals, finding fresh ideas, but one of the outcomes I love the most are when I see a parent visibly uplifted as they pause and reflect on what they have done and what is going well.

ripple-1181181So many parents do such an amazing job and when they pause to acknowledge this it is hugely empowering.  When we parent from a place of confidence combined with thoughtful, reflective approaches then the ripple effect on our children can only be positive.

So today I would encourage any parents as you ask yourself multiple questions today to pause and ask yourself this very important one and then do so again and again each day until it becomes habit.    Ask yourself – “WHAT HAVE I DONE WELL TODAY?”  Don’t just ask that question – answer it too! If necessary write it down or tell someone.  List the ordinary as well as the extraordinary – their clean(ish) clothes, the fact they are fed, the setting boundaries even though it can be a battle, the juggling work and family life – all that shows them they are nurtured and loved.  Please don’t take these for granted. Mundane doesn’t mean unimportant.  Too many children don’t have these things and I’m not talking about abroad.


Rather than dwelling on the fact that they spent a bit longer staring at a screen than you would have liked, that they spent most of the day wearing a top with a stain on it or that you didn’t engage in 3 hours of non-stop imaginary play with a bit of educational activity OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAchucked in for good measure – look at all you have accomplished. Are your children physically and emotionally safe and well cared for?  Your version of this might involve more screens, a bit of shouting and fewer vegetables than your ideal. It might even be everyone getting just through the day in one piece,  but the point is focus on WHAT’S GOING WELL.

And for good measure here’s one more question – imagine for a moment you do this as a regular thing and your child sees that as well as evaluating what you could do better, you build a habit of focusing on what you’re doing well.  What might be the ripple effects of this simple, but significant question?

A “Proper” Family

family-1421593-1920x1280“Family” is such an emotive word.  Too frequently I hear single parents berate themselves for not providing their child with a “proper family.” These are usually incredibly devoted parents who work day and night juggling the demands of raising children, dealing with all the complications that come with a relationship break up, making decisions alone and occasionally still trying to hold onto their own identify.  To do this under the shadow of a belief that right from the start they have failed because it’s not a “proper family” begs the question what is a “proper” family?

Is it having 2 parents together?  If so do they need to be married?  Different genders?  Birth parents? Happy together?  Does proper family need to include grandparents, aunts, cousins?  How big is the right size family?

dog-1482113-1600x1200If adverts are to be believed it’s often a happy, trendy mum and dad and probably 2 or 3 kids, a dog and a beige/cream settee.  Who has children and a beige/cream settee that stays that colour? I certainly don’t know anyone who has managed that! The problem is that we don’t see the fact that sometimes the mum and dad in the “proper family” have bad days too – that they fight, sometime set the boundaries differently, maybe work crazy long hours to pay for the beige settee and all the cleaning it requires so don’t have so much time together and sometimes the dog piddles on the kitchen floor….

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe point is that real life family is messy, complicated and a mish mash of experiences and emotions – some comfortable and uplifting and some challenging.  Family comes in all shapes and sizes and sometimes when we hold false beliefs about what family life should be like we are only setting ourselves up for failure.  For those who are fortunate enough to have 2 parents happy together then fantastic, but so often that’s not the way it goes.  Sometimes official relatives are not up for the family thing – my uncle was never keen on the role, but then he never asked to be an uncle – however we have friends who are family in all but name.  My 3 year old daughter is still trying to understand how our best friends’ kids aren’t her cousins…

If we are trying to provide our children with the perfectly structured family set up then a huge number of us are destined to fail.  Even those of us fortunate to have supportive partners/spouses, parents, siblings can’t guarantee family life will be positive for our children.  However if we regard family as a safe and loving community where you are accepted warts and all then look a little closer at what you offer mums and dads, especially single parents.

childhood-1241405-1279x1918When no matter what personal tumult you have been through you have stood firm for your child, sought a positive relationship with others who have a relationship with your child and sought to ensure that your child is loved and supported no matter what then please give yourself a huge pat on the back.  Whether it’s the family you dreamt of or a more muddled, complicated version then the structure is nowhere near as important as the security you offer.

Today I encourage you to pause and take stock of all the ways in which your child has a safe, supportive and accepting “family” community.  Grow and develop that whatever shape and size it takes and think carefully before using the word “proper.”

Princess Dilemmas

little-princess-1561402-1599x2398.jpgIn the aftermath of International Women’s Day and the celebration of women’s achievements my parenting dilemma over princesses is again at the forefront of my mind.  The princess obsession which has been established in our home for over a year now.  As a child I was more of a tom boy so not that into princesses, but on one level I’m happy to tolerate them. They’re usually a bit pink and one or two are a bit insipid, but hey ho there’s plenty of fictional characters I’m not that keen on including Tony Welch who really irritates me (and I’m not even sure why).  On the other hand there is something about the whole princess thing that just makes me uncomfortable and I’m not quite sure what.  I know I’m not the only parent who feels like this – I recently read an interesting blog on this topic at

I worry about gender stereotypes and will my daughter grow up thinking that beauty and falling in love with a prince are the norm, but then I also probably need to recognise that she is only 3 and lives in a magical fantasy world that just happens to include princesses.  I feel frustrated at the illusion of “happily ever after” as that just sounds like a road to disappointment but then I also wonder whether there is much to be learned from princess stories.  Jealous women, vanity and petty behaviour are common themes in these tales and a reality of life too.  Still being kind and good and “beautiful” despite having faced adversity are a challenge for us all.  An “act of true love” in Frozen is not all about a kiss from a prince, but self sacrifice. So what is the cause of my discomfort?

I’m not really any closer to understanding what it is about the whole princess thing that leaves me uneasy.  I find the marketing of all things pink and girly as an expectation quite intense, but my daughter loves all things pink and girly (thank goodness for hand me down princess paraphernalia). Intense marketing is an issue for all parts of society, not just in the realm of princess merchandise.  Maybe it’s the sense of expectation and conformity that goes with it or the stereotyping of both genders – I’m not really sure, just uneasy.  I recently turned down the offer of a free fire engine bed for my son – I still don’t know if this was a good or crazy decision –  but I didn’t want him to be expected to like vehicles because he’s a boy. At 18 months old I’m not sure exactly what he likes, although ironically it does seem to be cows, balls and vehicles – arghhh!!  I may be stepping into the realm of overthinking here!

princess-headwear-2-1424158-1599x1335.jpgAs someone who has studied women’s history (my husband is convinced I would have been a suffragette) I am very proud of the pioneers of previous generations who fought hard to get us to where we are now. When writing a dissertation on the development of birth control in interwar Britain I read horrendous stories of what some women endured before contraception was widely available and the battles to get it were hard won.  I know that our rights and freedoms as women are not available in all countries and should not be taken for granted, but does letting my 3 year old enjoy a magical world of princesses contradict that?  I guess the princess dilemma is secondary to how I teach my children to treat other people, not just in terms of gender, but also ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious belief etc.  If they can learn to be wise, thoughtful, kind, individuals who are confident around people from all walks of life then the princess dilemma is probably not a big one!


This is a blog written by a variety of people living and parenting in Gloucestershire today and sharing the ups downs and in-betweens of real family life.