A blog about money (in which I attempt to justify to myself why it’s okay to earn money from something I love)

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They say that the three topics best avoided in polite company are sex, religion and money. I’m not planning to talk about the first one any time soon, but feel that as I frequently bare my soul on the second topic, I should probably ‘fess up my recent thoughts about money – namely, the idea of earning it in return for writing.

I’m hoping that, at some stage in the future, I’ll be able to make money from writing – but I’m also having a hard time justifying this to myself. After all, I’ve been writing this blog for nearly six years with no income – and none desired. The idea of people paying me for something I love seems wrong, somehow.

For those of you who are new to this blog, in January this year I decided to push my writing up a notch. I’d been offered a little paid freelance work, so I vowed to push a few other writing doors to see whether they opened too.

I’ve been wondering why I feel I need to earn a living from this. After all, if I’d chosen to remain at home as a full-time housewife, or commit my week to my church as a volunteer, wouldn’t these be valid uses of my time? What is it about writing that I feel the need to validate it with an income?

I think that, firstly, it’s a tangible sign of whether writing is worth pursuing in the long term. The hubs and I have agreed to give this initial ‘testing’ period two years. My aim, eventually, is to earn a part-time salary from writing – and, while I’m not expecting this to happen by the end of 2019, I think we’ll have a good idea at that point as to whether it’s going in that direction or not.

Secondly, I wasn’t ever really considering significant voluntary work at this stage of life. Whilst I love volunteering for school and church, my intention was always to try and do this alongside a part-time teaching job – and this, obviously, would have been paid. Why not writing?

Thirdly, I feel that to pursue my passion without bringing anything financial into the household would be irresponsible. My husband would love to have more time to write, but as things stand at the moment, he can’t do that because his paid job (i.e. the one which supports us and the kids) takes up too many hours. So why should I have this opportunity any more than him? (And – who knows – maybe one day my income will allow him to reduce his work commitments and have some more time to write!)

I have to keep reminding myself that writing is my business. Just like any of my friends who’ve started their own businesses, I need to work hard to improve what I do, build my brand, grow my audience and learn how to market myself. And I deserve to be paid for providing a service, every bit as much as my friends are paid for their photography or cooking skills.

The other week, with my husband out at a meeting, I got down to ‘business’, forming an email to send out to my subscriber list (click here if you’re not getting the emails!). When I finally sent it, someone my husband was with got the ping on her phone, saw it was me and said to my husband, “Wow…Lucy’s very audacious!”

But, the thing is, if I’m not audacious about my business – who will be? I’ve only ever been in jobs where others provide work for me to do. Now I’m self-employed, no one is going to throw work (or payment) at me – I need to seek it out myself.

You must understand, though, that none of this feels very comfortable right now. I’ve been writing this blog unpaid for so long, that to now start to use it as a platform towards an income seems wrong – even though my logical side tells me it’s not.

I genuinely want to keep this blog as it always has been: full of adoption/parenting/family/discipleship stuff, and anything else that floats my boat. Please would you tell me if it starts to become sales-y and annoying? I really don’t want that!

So, given my commitment to retaining Desertmum’s integrity, how am I hoping to build up my salary?

Affiliate links – you’ll be familiar with these from other websites. You see a link, click on it, make a purchase, and the author of the original website makes a small commission, at no extra cost to the customer. I’ve now become an affiliate of several companies, because recommending resources is something I’ve been doing since this blog began, and many of you have told me you’ve bought things you heard about here. Promoting new or unknown authors, bringing unusual or unexpected products to your attention – that kind of thing I’ve always loved to do, and will continue doing.

Books – I have two books in the pipeline – one hopefully coming out next year, the other to be confirmed. Obviously I hope to earn royalties from sales of these books – although unless you’re Julia Donaldson or Michael Rosen, this is hardly big bucks, particularly when you take into account the many hours spent travelling the country to promote your book, petrol costs, props/food/venue hire needed for book launches and signings. But having a book or two under your belt does help to build your brand, and bring in more work (hopefully).

Articles – I’m already doing some paid work for one of my favourite charities, and I would hope that this kind of work increases. One-off articles result in one-off fees (as opposed to continuous royalties from books) but, again, it helps to get your name known as a writer and builds your audience.

Freelance writing and proof-reading – I’m hoping that, eventually, I might have time to seek out this kind of work – again, it’ll be one-offs, but hopefully fairly regular and varied.

What I’ve learnt is that being a writer usually involves a certain amount of piecing together of a lot of different types of work, all of which feed off each other in terms of getting a name out there and building an audience.

It’ll be hard work, but hopefully one day all of these things might add up to an income which justifies the amount of time I spend writing!

Stay in touch! Click here to join my email list – and I’ll send you ‘Ten Survival Tips for New Adoptive Parents’ as a thank you.

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How to chase your dreams (and why so many of us don’t) – interview with Joanna May Chee

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I’m delighted to be sharing a Desertmum ‘first’ with you all today – a blog interview! Woop!

One of the huge, huge blessings I’ve encountered since starting my ‘proper’ writing journey in January has been getting to know other Christian writers through online networks. It’s my absolute pleasure to be able to introduce you to one of these new friends today.

Joanna May Chee is a hugely encouraging and inspiring person; both as a writer and as a Christian she has taught me a lot, not least through her fabulous book, which I reviewed back in February.

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I’ve asked Joanna to share a few thoughts about chasing our dreams – something that’s been on my mind since I started to pursue mine this year. Read away…

I’m so thrilled to have you with us today Joanna! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

It’s great to be with you, Lucy! I’m Joanna, wife to an amazing man, and mum to four
wonderful teen kids. We’ve lived in several countries – Malaysia, Bosnia and Turkey – and are now settled back in England. We’ve had a few adventures! I love to write and teach, and have a heart to encourage and equip women to love their families and meet with God.

What’s the dream you’ve been chasing recently?
It’s always been my dream to write a book. And, in February this year, my first book Forever Loved: Eve’s Story was published! It’s the story of Father and daughter, as told by Eve, and focuses on God’s Father heart of love for Eve, and for us as women.

I still can’t believe I’m an author! Or that my book hit #1 Women’s Spirituality and #1 Christian Literature on Amazon UK in its first week of publication. If God can do that for me – an unknown, first time, self-publishing author – just think what he can do with your dream! God is a God of the impossible!

What obstacles did you face in seeing your book come to life?
The largest and most unexpected obstacle to getting my book out there was getting a cover designed! It took me 3 years to write the book (Mum with four children here!), but then another whole year back-and- forward with designers trying to get a cover I loved. I didn’t like anything they came up with, and got through designers and money. It was a hugely frustrating and difficult process. (You can read how my cover came to be, and see previous versions, in this blog post.) In the end, I designed the cover myself and just got a designer to tweak and perfect it.

During the book writing process, I also learned how to blog, how to grow an audience to market to, and how to self-publish. This involved a lot of research, and a lot of hard work. Fulfilment of a dream usually requires commitment, pushing through, and passion. The result is totally worth it!

How do we discern which dreams are God-given, and which are self-indulgent?
If we are pursuing God, then I’m not sure that any dream is self-indulgent! The Bible says
God gives us the desires of our hearts (as we delight in Him, Psalm 37:4). He is a good
Father; I think He gets really excited by the things that stir our hearts, and loves to see us
pressing into them.

Of course, there is timing. One dream may be for now. Another may be for future. The key is probably to ask God what to pursue when, and to go with what you have excitement and peace for.

What sort of things do you think keep us from pursuing our dreams?
So many things: lack of time, fear of failure, financial pressures, not knowing where to start, fear of what others will think, life overwhelm, feeling inadequate, questioning the timing and so on.

Are there particular obstacles for women, do you think, in pursuing their dreams?
There is one area I can think of straight off! I know many women dream to speak, to preach, to lead. Often this is hard because they do not have a platform to do so, or sadly, are not allowed or encouraged to.

The amazing thing is that the internet has totally opened things up for us as women. Anyone can create an online course, and teach or speak. Anyone can start an online community. Anyone can mentor others online. Yes, there are things to learn, but the internet truly makes it possible for you to pursue whatever is on your heart!

What advice would you give someone who felt God had given them a specific dream to pursue?
Go for it! Get excited. Dream big. Ask God for wisdom in pursuing your dream: how to start, and what to do each step of the way. Prioritise your dream. Carve out short time slots in your week to plan, to research, to implement. Even 5-10 minutes a day for a year adds up!

Search out others pursuing a similar dream – Facebook groups are great for that. Learn from them; receive support and encouragement. Find a friend to pray with and be accountable to. Know that God is able. He can work through you to make your dream reality. Receive from Him each day. He is your source and your strength.

I recently wrote a blog post titled Beautiful Mum … What’s Your Dream? where I expand on these thoughts, and share my own experiences of pursuing my dreams, as a busy mum with a million other things to do! I encourage you to read it … and go for your dream! There’s nothing more exciting in life than living with purpose and passion!

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Joanna Chee gets excited about God! She loves to write, and is often awake in the night with a million ideas for her next book or project. Joanna blogs at JoannaMayChee.com and MumsKidsJesus.com, where it is her heart to encourage and equip women to love their families and meet with God. She is author of Forever Loved: Eve’s Story, a creative retelling of the Bible story of Eve, and a #1 Amazon UK bestseller. Connect with Joanna on Facebook.com/JoannaMayChee | Facebook.com/MumsKidsJesus | Pinterest.co.uk/MumsKidsJesus

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Ballet shoes and empty chairs: can we really trust prophetic words?

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I came of age in the wake of the Toronto Blessing.

It was quite common, at youth meetings I attended, for people to exercise all manner of ‘supernatural’ spiritual gifts, including prophecy. My ears pricked up when someone came to the front to share a prophetic revelation, but the person with a broken left ankle or having trouble sleeping was never me.

Fast-forward a few years, and it seemed like the church had become more cautious in its practice of the gift of prophecy. “I’ve had a picture of a desert,” someone would begin. “I think this is someone’s life. And there’s an oasis. I think that’s God wanting to refresh this person.”

Knock me out. God as an oasis? A kind of living water? I’ve never heard that one. Except in, hmmm, let me think – Psalm 42 (“as the deer pants for streams of water…”) or John 4 (the woman at the well) perhaps?

Don’t get me wrong, it was all encouraging stuff – but for this stuff to have been ‘prophetically revealed’ to someone? I was sceptical. Surely if we wanted to hear God, we just needed to read our Bibles more?

And then came January 2018. My life had just changed direction, with my youngest children doing more hours at preschool, and the hint of a calling on my life which I was attempting to pursue in my hours away from the kids.

But I was busy. So busy. Up past midnight most nights, keeping up with the tidying, planning and administrative tasks of a large family, as well as being deeply involved in the kiddoes’ school as well as our church.

I attended a women’s teaching day, and – like a child in a sweet shop just before closing – managed to grab the final ‘prophetic appointment’ slot – more by virtue of it being the last one, and therefore infinitely more desirable, than because I actually wanted it. Although something told me it could be useful.

When my slot came, I sat down in front of two women. They didn’t ask what I wanted or why I was there, they simply spent a few minutes praying for me, and listening, in silence.

And then came the prophetic pictures. One was of ballet shoes, the long ribbons being untied and the shoes coming off. The shoes were not indicating harmful things, I was told, but just things that had to be stripped away, in order for the dance to be more creative and beautiful, although perhaps not as technically brilliant.

I think that if prophetic words are to be trusted, they will first have an air of familiarity about them. I was able to easily recognise myself and my commitments in the ballerina and her shoes. And, not long after the appointment, it became so blindingly obvious that the ‘shoe’ I needed to remove was my role as a school governor. God was asking me to hand in my notice. Much as I loved this role, the revelation actually came as a relief!

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The second picture was of a garden party. I was the hostess – and yet all the chairs were empty. God was telling me that, although I was usually the host, for this season I needed to sit and eat. ‘The feast is for you’, my prophetic woman insisted.

Again, this picture was very familiar to me. We have a decent-sized vicarage and garden, and it’s rare that a day goes past without someone popping in for a cuppa, a meal or an overnight stay. But prophetic pictures and words also need to be weighed. If I had ascertained from this picture that God meant me not to host or cook for anyone else for the next few months, I think I would have missed the point.

I didn’t rule out that this might be the case, but as I’ve continued to ponder, pray and read the Bible, my interpretation has been that I need to spend this season seeking God, allowing Him to shape my character and inviting Him to ‘fill me up’, so that I might have something to give to others. It was no coincidence that my small group had already made the decision to study Kevin De Young’s ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ this term, a book which concentrates on personal character and righteousness.

Another aspect of prophetic words is that they will be specific and personal. Whilst the garden party picture was not a literal prophetic word, I was able to instantly relate to what God was saying because I love parties and I love to cook and host! If God created us and knows us inside and out, we should expect that anything he wants to reveal to us through others will be specifically geared towards our personality, character and situation. This word spoke deeply to me, as I know well the role of the host and the hosted.

Prophetic words don’t provide an alternative to God’s revelation in the Bible. On the contrary, if we are to make the most of any prophetic words given to us, we need to be actively committed to the Word of God – reading, thinking, applying, praying. And it goes without saying that genuine prophetic words will not contradict Biblical teaching.

So why bother with prophecy at all, if the Bible remains the authoritative voice of God? Because God longs to have a deeply personal, intimate relationship with each one of us. He already knows us deeply; if we long to know Him better, then it is right that we learn to hear His voice, primarily in the Bible, but also through the words and pictures which can speak the specifics into our lives.

We will never be able to discern, weigh, or appropriately act upon prophetic words if we don’t first know what God has revealed to us in the Bible – but without prophetic words, we may miss some of the personal applications of the Bible’s teaching.

Prophecy is not something to be feared, but a helpful tool in drawing closer to God and seeking more of His will for our lives. My year will be different now as a result of what God spoke through two ladies. Is God impacting your future too?

forever loved: eve’s story – a review and a GIVEAWAY (yes, another one!)

Yep, you read that right! No sooner after giving away a copy of the wonderful ‘Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation‘ to the equally wonderful (presumably – although I’ve never met her so I couldn’t be certain*) Su, I’m waxing lyrical about yet another brilliant book, whose author has very generously offered a signed copy to whichever Desertmum reader wins this giveaway.

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I enjoyed this book so much. For one, it is short – and, before you dismiss this as an irrelevant point from a literary lightweight, remember that many people don’t have lots of time to read. If God’s word is to go out as widely as possible – and author Joanna May Chee certainly feels that the message of God’s love for Eve is one which needs to be heard by women across the world – then length is important. Not all of us have the time for theological tomes on Genesis, thank you very much.

Secondly, it is highly thought-provoking. As I read it, I was confronted with aspects of Eve’s story I’d never noticed before. I don’t want to give spoilers, but highly recommend you get a copy and start delving into this rich narrative for yourself.

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Thirdly, it is different from any other Christian book I’ve read. The chapters do not contain the author’s commentary on the story of Eve, each headed with a different application point. There would be nothing wrong with this. But this book is different: the majority of words are dedicated purely to the creative retelling of Eve’s story, and so it reads like a novel, but a punchy one. There is an opening section of Joanna May Chee’s own story, and the final section applies the story to our lives, but the bulk of the book is simply the story of Eve.

And there is power in this narrative – power in the Biblical story, with nothing added except details which help you pull out even more from the tale. Honestly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing afresh about Eve’s life! If you always thought Eve’s story was a sad, discouraging one, this book will make you think again.

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This book would make a fabulous Mothers’ Day gift. Or maybe you can think of a friend in your church or small group who needs encouraging – why not surprise them with this? Buy a few copies and save them up to give your girlfriends on their birthdays. It’s that good.

Forever Loved: Eve’s Story is released TODAY and you can buy it from Eden, Waterstone’s, Wordery and Amazon. AND…as a special first-week offer…the book is being sold £2 cheaper this week than it will after Sunday.

But if you want to get your hands on a free, signed copy – please leave a comment (here, not on social media) before 11pm this Friday, 2nd March, at which point I’ll pick a name using one of those online number generator doo-dahs. Look out on Facebook and Twitter to see if you’ve won!

The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to BrK who won!

Disclaimer: I received a free eBook to review. However, writing a positive review was not a condition of the deal. I don’t write or publish reviews of things I don’t like – I simply don’t have time. And I never, EVER recommend things unless I really like them. So there.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I earn a little commission at no cost to yourself.

in search of a flatter stomach? the mixed motivations behind fasting

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It is becoming customary, at the start of January, for our church to take some time out, corporately and individually, to pray and fast for the coming year.

Coincidentally, January is also the time I’m keen to lose a few pounds. With Christmas out of the way, I can start planning our summer holiday – and, despite the fact we can’t yet bring ourselves to fly somewhere exotic and warm with our 8-6-3-3 combination of kiddoes, I feel like I need to have a bikini-ready body.

The fact that we will probably end up in Anglesey is beside the point.

If, at some unknown point in the future, I might wish to expose my midriff on a crowded beach, fasting is going to be helpful.

And therein lies the problem. Perhaps the reason that many of us don’t fast is that we’re a little bit scared of doing it for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps we have a complicated relationship with food, and fear that withholding it from our bodies will be more about controlling ourselves rather than allowing God to have control.

Perhaps we are desperate for God to respond to our prayers in a particular way, and fear that fasting will feel like bribing our ‘cosmic Santa’ God to give us what we most desire.

Or perhaps fasting simply feels like ‘work’ within a faith-based salvation. Surely our grace-filled God can’t demand that we carry out such an ancient religious ritual?

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I misunderstood fasting for years. I did it – occasionally – because I thought it was a helpful practice, but I didn’t really know why. Nowadays, however, it’s becoming an important spiritual discipline in my life.

On the eve of Ash Wednesday, when many of us might be planning to fast something for Lent, perhaps it’s helpful for me to share what God has taught me as I’ve plodded along:

  1. Fasting is expected (see Matthew 6:16-17). Like prayer, it is not an empty trapping of our religion, but something Jesus upheld which brings us closer to God. Unlike prayer, it doesn’t need to be part of our daily routine (Jesus didn’t fast every day as far as it is possible to tell), but should be a regular part of our lives.
  2. Fasting doesn’t have to be food! Anything which we love, crave, spend a lot of time on, or claim to be addicted to, can be withdrawn as the spiritual discipline of fasting. Social media, alcohol, screentime, a particular TV show…this is particularly helpful when a food fast is not recommended (e.g. in pregnancy, while breastfeeding or where particular health issues are present).
  3. Fasting doesn’t have to be as extreme as 40 days in the desert. It could mean certain times of day (e.g. not snacking between meals, or not eating until the evening), for a few consecutive days (e.g. no social media during a particular week), one day a week (e.g. no TV on Sundays), or for a specified period (e.g. giving up chocolate for Lent).
  4.  Fasting reminds us how much we have. And we have a lot, especially here in the UK. If we never fast, we run the risk of taking what we have for granted, assuming it to be an unchallengeable fact of the modern Western Christian’s life that we are ‘entitled’ to these possessions or that luxury. But God may have other ideas.
  5. Fasting helps us to relinquish our idols. It says to God that we are more serious about him than about food, alcohol, sex, social media, TV, or anything else we may feel is becoming an idol. But I think it says more to ourselves. Fasting reminds me that God is worth more than these things – and that, much as I believe I ‘need’ chocolate to get through each day, what I really need is God’s word. (Matthew 4:4)
  6. Fasting creates long-term habits of holiness. If we are serious about allowing God to develop a more Christ-like character in us, then I think fasting will be involved somewhere along the line. Several years ago, I gave up my favourite soap opera for Lent, using the time to read Isaiah instead. I’d been addicted for nearly 20 years, and was gripping on tightly. But the six weeks without it made me realise I didn’t even want to return to it. The grip was gone, the addiction was gone, and I was free to pursue God a little more than I had before.
  7. Fasting realigns our priorities. It keeps us focussed on God in this distraction-riddled life. I pray more when I’m fasting – because every time I feel a pang of hunger, or desperation for whatever it is that I’ve given up, it’s a reminder to pray. So if there are big needs in my life, or the lives of those close to me, fasting is a great way to prioritise spending time with God, offering Him these prayer requests, over any of the other ‘loves’ of my life.

I often picture the Christian journey as a pair of closed fists, holding tightly onto life and independence. As we mature, these fists gradually release, as God gently works in us to loosen our grip on the things which hold us back from loving Him completely.

Fasting, for me, has become a way of submitting my fists to God, asking that He will open whichever fingers necessary in order to let go of what is holding me back, and make more space for that which He would want to develop in me.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 3:12-14)

I would like to encourage you that, even if your motivation to fast is mixed or complex, please allow God to work in you through this important discipline. God doesn’t need our  fasting – but we probably do.

And, despite what images come to mind when you hear the word ‘fasting’, the Bible assures us that a life lived for God is more joyous, more full and more exciting than any alternative. Go for it!

teaching, stay-at-home parenting, and the attempt at a return to work

Before I had kids, my life-plan seemed very simple. I would spend my 20s getting as far in my career as possible and my 30s at home raising kids. Once they were all in school, I would return to full-time work, and resume the ladder-climbing.

The early career plan worked – I was Head of Department at 25, and by 26 was teaching at post-grad level – and the stay-at-home-mum thing has suited me well too.

But it wasn’t very long into parenting when I realised that full-time work would probably not be my bag for quite some time. What would be the good in making myself available to my kids during their preschool years, then subsequently preoccupying myself with a stressful job during their primary years? Who would be there when they finished school? The shoulder to cry on if their day hadn’t gone as planned?

Of course it is possible to do both – I know people who hold down full-time work and have great relationships with their kids. But I guess it is not without sacrifice, fatigue and stress – and it is rarely out of choice. And, importantly, much as others are great at making it work, I know that I couldn’t do it.

So, for a while now, part-time teaching has been what I’ve been aiming for. Although my youngest boys don’t start school till next year, I’ve spent the last year gaining work experience, making contacts, exploring my options. When you’ve had nearly a decade’s maternity leave, you can’t really take anything for granted.

And this is what I’ve found: I can’t pick up where I left off. Career-wise, your late 20s/early 30s seem to be the point where you specialise in something, become a bit of an expert, take on some management. I spent my late 20s/early 30s taking my kids along to toddler groups, weaning them, potty-training, playing with them, socialising them. So, unless I want a career in childcare – which, by the way, I don’t, despite having what feels like a childcare institution here at home – I don’t quite know where I fit in anymore. What once read as an excellent CV for a 28-year-old, now seems unremarkable for a 36-year-old.

I’m a strong believer that we don’t need to plan too far ahead in our lives as long as we know we’re where God wants us right now. In fact, in my experience, the road ahead often seems a bit foggy and unclear – and I think God uses this to build our trust in Him. I’ve felt His pleasure as I’ve devoted these last few years to being at home for our children, and actually I couldn’t care less about the financial sacrifices, reduced pension, or career suicide I may have committed. I would never, ever make a different decision. Professionally, I may not have any specialised knowledge of an area of teaching which would make me more employable – but I’ve widened my knowledge and skills through a large amount of volunteering over the last few years which I’d never have been able to do had I been working in a paid job.

Leaving this in God’s hands, I received an unexpected bit of paid writing work at the end of last year, for an organisation I have a lot of time for. I hadn’t given up hopes of ever returning to teaching, but there were precious few jobs going, so this offer made me wonder: If these guys are willing to pay me for writing, maybe other organisations would be willing to pay me, too?

With the twins doing a few more hours at preschool this term, now seems like a good time to push open a few doors and see where God wants to take my writing. I’ve registered myself as self-employed, gained a few useful contacts, seen some potential writing opportunities and even started to collect some deadlines (YES! Like a real writer!).

I’m not really sure what else to say, except I really owe this to you, my lovely and far-too-kind readers. I’ve never considered myself a writer. I enjoy it, but then I enjoy a lot of things. I don’t identify, for example, as a ‘TV-watcher’, or a ‘strategy-game-player’, or a ‘chocolate-lover’. (Actually, I do identify as the latter. Frequently. But not the others.) So now I’m having to force myself to believe that I can do this. I’m having to push myself forward (which is never fun – who enjoys self-promotion?). But you, with your wonderful encouragement and kind comments, have given me the boost I’ve needed to make this first step.

It may all fall flat on its face. And that is FINE. It actually is. I haven’t had to make a financial investment to start this ‘business’ – it’s just me and a computer. So if it goes pear-shaped, that’s fine, I’ll just pick myself up and try something new. But it feels daft not to try. Like I said, the road ahead is often foggy and unclear – but God knows the future, and as long as we’re following His footsteps in the present, I believe He will uncover the future when we need to know it.

And probably not a moment before.

five ways my toddlers are different from yours

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As the ‘at home’ mum of twin 3-year-olds, I spend a lot of time in the company of other parents and toddlers. We share our trials and joys – but largely the trials. We discuss what time our children are waking up, what they refuse to eat, how many times they’ve sat on the naughty step today, and all the latest misdemeanours – from drawing on the wall to hitting their siblings.

I join in these conversations with tales of my own frustrations with our toddler boys – and am often met with reassuring responses like, “Don’t worry – all children do that”, or “They will get through that phase”, or “My kid was exactly the same”.

While these reassurances are comforting and well-meant, I also have a nagging feeling that things are not so straightforward with my kids. On a daily – no hourly – basis, I feel like adoption rears its ugly head in each emotional response my children give to whatever is going on that day. Yes, they are toddlers, and on a surface level there is nothing to distinguish them from non-adopted toddlers. But, beneath the surface, there is something more complex going on – something which, nearly two years after our boys came home to us, I’m only just starting to piece together. Here are a few snapshots:

Our boys have two mummies.

I am their Mummy, in most senses of that word. They call me “Mummy”, and the reasons are obvious. I feed them, clothe them, play with them, care for them. I cuddle them when they’re upset. I put plasters on their cuts. I read stories to them and answer their (many) questions. God help me, I potty train them. They know no other person who is more deserving of the title “Mummy”, and so it gets transferred to me.

But I didn’t carry them in my womb, I didn’t give birth to them, I wasn’t around for the early feeds and sleepless nights, and I didn’t wean them. And that is confusing, even for children too young to remember the alternative mummies of birth and foster. Maternal bonding is not a figment of some psychologist’s imagination; in the womb, a baby is physically attached to mum, hears her voice, and feels her heartbeat. Separating mum and baby leaves an emotional scar, however young the baby was when separated.

Once or twice, I have heard one of my boys say “Mummy” and I know – don’t ask me how – that he’s not referring to me. More often, one of them is irrationally upset, and is calmed by looking at photos of “tummy-mummy” or talking about her.

This dual-identity is a struggle for any adopted child, not least before they’re old enough to be able to articulate it.

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Our boys regularly have periods of inconsolable sadness, anger or frustration.

My children aren’t comforted as easily or as quickly as my birth children were at the same age – or, indeed, as the other children I observe through the week. I think there are probably many reasons for this. One – obvious from the start – is that they simply weren’t used to us. Babies are tuned in to respond to their caregiver’s touch and voice – and if that caregiver changes, this becomes confusing. To start with, it wasn’t surprising that it took us a while to calm them down. But now, nearly two years on, things have not improved massively. Whilst there are times when we can calm them down in what might be thought of as a ‘normal’ toddler calming-down period, there are many times when their whining, shouting or screaming just will not stop. At these times, I suspect that the reason is that our boys have deep, deep hurt and anxiety which is brought to the surface by totally unrelated, ‘minor’ triggers, such as us saying ‘no’ to a cup of juice or a chocolate biscuit, or asking them to let us put their shoes on to go out, or any other request that toddlers usually rail against.

Our boys need to test us.

All children do this. They test the boundaries, they test what they can get away with to see at what point their parents will intervene. In addition to this, our boys test us. They love us as their parents – I’m certain of this – and yet they push us away. They repeat behaviours that they know are inappropriate for a lot longer than ‘normal’. For example, it took them a year or more to stop throwing their empty (or not so empty) bowls on the floor at the end of a meal. We don’t believe this is because it took them that long to understand that we didn’t want them to do it, and that it wasn’t an appropriate way to communicate that you’d finished, but because they had to test us, to see if we were going to abandon them should they not ‘perform’ as we were expecting.

This is one small example, but we see lots of this in daily life: negative behaviour patterns being repeated longer than is normal, physical pushing or hitting us, and (more recently) struggles with potty training, beyond what might be considered usual. Every day is a constant stream of such ‘tests’. Being steadfast, consistent and reassuring against this backdrop is one of our biggest challenges as adoptive parents – it is exhausting and stressful.

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Our boys struggle with daily transitions, and changes in routine.

Again – our boys are not the only toddlers to struggle in this area. But, whereas many toddlers will learn to become more flexible and accommodating as they grow up, our boys may always struggle with change. In this respect, I think our boys have something in common with children on the autistic spectrum, for whom any sort of change can be overwhelming, daunting and even frightening.

If it isn’t obvious why adopted children struggle with change, consider this: you are born to one person who, at some point during your childhood stops being your primary carer, and you move to a foster carer, eventually moving to an adoptive family. This scenario presents two major changes of carer (and all that accompanies this: home, locality, family, friends) – and this is one of the better case scenarios. Imagine that you’ve been moved between several foster carers before finding your permanent adoptive home (or, possibly, long-term foster home). These changes bring with them extra anxiety and heightened stress levels, as you have no idea how the new home will compare to the last. You have no security, and are not even sure of your identity anymore, as tied up as it is with what you know to be your ‘family’.

I noticed this summer that, when we were telling our children about our forthcoming holidays, we had to be very careful to reassure them that we would be coming back at the end of it. Our boys were also very keen to be reassured that Mummy and Daddy would be coming, and that their older siblings would be joining them too.

I’m just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of learning to manage change for my children, while they’re too young to manage it for themselves, but simply having identified it as an issue feels just a little bit freeing.

Most toddlers’ defiant behaviour will pass one day – but our boys will always carry their past with them – and this may present in a variety of different unhealthy behaviours as they grow up.

Our boys will grow out of being toddlers. They will start to get better at articulating how they feel instead of pushing or throwing, they will start to be easier to reason with, and they will stop being so bothered by the coat-and-shoes routine required for leaving the house.

But they cannot shake off their past so easily. The anxiety, the insecurity, the sadness, the anger – I hope all of this reduces as they grow older, but it’s unlikely to disappear altogether. As an older, wiser adopter once told me about her own grown-up adopted children, “They will always be vulnerable”. And, hence, we are prepared that this past may manifest itself in negative behaviours as our boys grow up – not the pushing and shoving of toddlers, but the withdrawal, sullenness, aggression and unhealthy addictions of teenagers.

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I write these things not to scare you or upset you or make you feel incredibly sorry for me, but to give you a little insight into some of the challenges of adoption. In fact, I think I usually write about adoption in very positive terms (take a look at my adoption posts here), so this is written simply to balance things out. It is hard work – but it is Kingdom work, I’m sure of it, and it is this that spurs us on when things get tough:

God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.

Psalm 68:6

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