How do I connect with my 8 year old son?

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A year ago, my son moved from Year 2 to Year 3.

I thought this was simply a matter of moving up a year, like Year 1 to 2. Apparently not. There’s been a noticeable change in my son’s attitude – and my friends say the same about their sons too. These 8-year-olds are displaying more sulkiness, stroppiness, rudeness and even aggression.

Mister’s teacher taught his class in Year 1. Although she’s enjoyed having them both years (and done a great job both times), she’s reported increased confidence and cheekiness. In short, they’re more likely to tell her when she’s made a mistake!

This change in attitude has given us a new challenge as parents. How do we establish boundaries? Should my son have his say in what he is and isn’t allowed? What discipline measures are effective?

But there’s another aspect to this. Just as I’m seeking ways to connect with my son, our interests are starting to diverge. His main two hobbies are football and video games – neither of which I have any interest in. (OK, save for the World Cup. That was pretty awesome. But otherwise.)

The fact that my son is not turning into me doesn’t come as a surprise – but I’m absolutely determined not to lose the relationship we’ve spent nearly nine years building.

For Mister’s first two years we did everything together. We went to groups, did baby yoga and massage, swam together, and made new friends. We hosted playdates, and went to play at others’ homes. We even hill-walked together on one occasion, just me and him.

Even with the addition of his sister, and later his brothers, I don’t think there’s anyone he’s spent more time with than me, nor I him, over the course of his life.

We have too much history, Mister and I. We were best buds from day one, and he taught me how to be a Mum. So – what do I do?

How do we connect with our sons when they start to drift away from being Mummy’s boys? How do we keep communication open so that boundaries can be discussed, negotiated and established? How do we stay close so that when adolescence hits, they still have a secure base to turn to?

I’ll admit I don’t have many answers. Please fire away in the comments, as I’d love to get some wisdom here! But here are a few things I’ve noticed in the last few months.

Shared rhythms

I’m grateful that, way back before we got to this stage, our family established daily shared rhythms. For example, we always eat our evening meal together at the table, and we always read the kids a bedtime story.

It might not seem like much, but these two simple acts ensure that, every day, I’m connecting meaningfully and positively with my son at least once or twice. Of course, we usually connect more than that, but for those days where we’re just not speaking the same language, at least we still have meals and story time.

Dad is important – but he still needs Mum

Mister has definitely made the switch from wanting me around to wanting his Dad around. He shares more interests with his Dad, and connects more easily.

For those of you who are single Mums to young sons, I encourage you to find some great male role models now so that, as your boy grows, he will have some people to relate to and let off steam with, when he can’t do that so easily with you.

But don’t delegate everything to Dad/other male role models! Even when he’s reluctant, I still make regular effort to converse with/hug/connect with my son. He won’t do it in front of his friends, but when we’re at home, he often asks to hold my hand, cuddle or kiss. Boys still need – and love – their Mums. Hooray for that!

Notice his positives

Yes, my son can be angsty and aggressive, shouty and rude. But, on the whole, he is a kind, thoughtful boy, who’s a great big brother and makes us proud every day.

If I’m not careful, I become the kind of nagging mum who no one wants to confide in. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t find ways of gently encouraging our boys to put their laundry in the basket or give us more than five minutes’ notice when they have homework due, but we can do this with grace and love, always remembering that our role is to teach our children these skills – they don’t just absorb them.

And the advice to ‘pick your battles’ is wise here too. I’ve learnt not to worry so much about the state of my son’s bedroom, for example, although I did intervene the other day when there was literally no floor to walk on. But, you know, other than that 😉

Don’t tease

Our family likes a bit of banter.

OK, we like a lot of banter. And we’re pretty sarcastic. We frequently have to check with each other whether we actually meant something for real, or were just using sarcasm.

But any banter at the expense of my son’s feelings is not good. Usually he enjoys being included in this way, and gives as good as he gets, but on occasion I’ve felt that we overstepped the mark in joking about something he’s passionate about.

It’s easy to make fun of how much Mister loves geeky football videos or Roblux – but the reality is that he’s trying to work out who he is (and who he’s not). If my wisecracks are purely about trying to score points from those listening, if it’s all about making me sound like I’m witty and quick and cool, at the expense of my son’s feelings, then this needs to be stopped. I’m effectively saying ‘Your identity is wrong’ or even ‘My needs override yours’ and that is really hurtful.

So I’m learning to raise up and encourage my son – particularly in front of others.

Try and show an interest

Even if it kills me (and it hasn’t yet), if I have a few spare minutes when the other kids aren’t making demands I’ll sit with my son while he plays Minecraft or watches football, and ask questions and try and learn about his hobbies.

This is kind of obvious good advice, I guess, and yet it’s so hard to actually put into practice when football is SO BORING and video games are SO NONSENSICAL.

But have you ever been on a walking tour led by someone passionate about what they’re showing you round? I think we all catch someone’s excitement when their eyes light up and they explain a new idea to us enthusiastically.

It’s like this with my son. If I listen carefully to what he’s saying, I’ll catch his excitement. Football, video games, or whatever he’s into that week, won’t be the boring stuff it used to be. It will be exciting, because my son is excited about it, and he is making me excited about it!

Learning from our kids is actually really great, because they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our love and nurture – and now look at them! Teaching us all kinds of things we’d never have known otherwise!

Parenting Mister is a little harder this year than it was last year – but it’s us who need to adapt, not him. He is simply doing the hard work of growing up. We are here to love, support and guide him as he discovers the person he was made to be.

Do you have, or have you had, an 8 year old boy? Does any of this resonate? What’s your advice?

And, for those of you with girls, do you face challenges similar to these, or different, or is it much easier?! (Please tell me it is!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

You may also be interested in:

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Eleanor Oliphant, pulled pork and a sexuality conference (What I’m into – June 2018)

Books

Wow. Just wow. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine certainly lived up to its hype.

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This was our Book Club’s choice this month, and I was delighted as it’s been on my list for months. Eleanor Oliphant lives an isolated life, devoid of any meaningful relationship, hobby or interest – beyond drinking vodka on her own all weekend to get through the gap between her working weeks.

Without giving anything away (because you really do need to read this book for yourself!), it’s fairly apparent from the start that there’s something unusual about Eleanor – but what it is unfolds gradually throughout the book.

I loved the hopeful way the book ended (not to mention the exciting twist in the last few pages), and I found the whole thing immensely enjoyable – laugh-out-loud funny at times, as author Gail Honeyman captures Eleanor’s straightforward, literal thought processes perfectly.

Again, without giving too much away, I particularly enjoyed this book from an adoption perspective. Although adoption isn’t a theme in the book, the impact of trauma, neglect and abuse is explored, sometimes making for difficult reading, but always sensitively and wisely handled.

In short – read this book! Seriously one of my favourite books ever.

It didn’t take me long to finish, but everything else I started this month didn’t get finished, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for more books!

Food

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Of course there were plenty of BBQs, and general al fresco eating this month – BECAUSE EATING OUTDOORS IS SO MUCH MORE FUN AND LESS HASSLE. And because – look at the weather! Even in the North!

My personal favourite was the yummy pulled-pork recipe you see above. It’s a great one for a busy day, because it takes about 10 minutes to get all the bits together and whack in the oven – then when you get home from your busyness, you’ve got a fabulous meal waiting for you with very little else needed except buns and coleslaw (although we did chunky chips – also easy – and some cooked veg for fussy little eaters).

And I successfully made canneloni for the very first time! I realised the problem was in the piping bag – so, in the month where I tried to reduce plastic usage by buying a shampoo bar instead of a bottle, I offset this by buying a roll of 100 disposable plastic piping bags. Eek. Sorry, world.

It did help, though. The result was amazing (this is the recipe I used). Sadly, I don’t have a pic of the finished article, so (just for evidence, so that you believe me that I actually pulled this off) here’s a pic of the cannelloni, all neatly piped and ready for some sauce, cheese and a half-hour in the oven.


Music

Not being at all gadgety or Internet-y, I was absolutely delighted to discover that Spotify was indeed as wonderful as everyone says it is. I bought a 99p 3-month trial so that I could put together a soundtrack for our Summer Fair (see below), but within an hour or listening for my own benefit, I was totally converted that THIS IS HOW I WANT TO LIVE FOREVER, THROWING OUT ALL THE CDS AND NEVER USING ANYTHING OTHER THAN DIGITAL MUSIC EVER AGAIN.

Until the hubs reminded me that our car only plays CDs. Oh well.

Through Spotify, however, I discovered Lily Allen’s latest album – I’ve kind of lost touch with her since her first album, but this one was perfectly accessible and just brilliant. I like how her music’s grown up with her, exploring different territories lyrically (divorce, being a working mum, etc.) but musically having the same quirks and emotional sweetness of her earlier stuff.

My personal favourite on the album was ‘Three’ but, honestly, there’s not really a dud song on there.

Stage and screen

download (2).jpgWell, having read it last month, our Book Club had to watch The Light between Oceans, didn’t we?! It’s good, and well worth watching – obviously not as good as the book (did I really need to say that?), predominantly because so much detail has to be left out – detail which changes how you view the secondary characters – but it’s a powerful film none-the-less.

download (3).jpgWe finished the UK House of Cards (the old one), and, much as I’d enjoyed the three series, I was hugely disappointed by the finale, which felt like a cop-out along the lines of “…and then they woke up to discover it had all been a dream”. I really felt that, with the clever plots and dialogue thus far, the writers could have come up with something better. Anyone seen it/share my views?! Feel like I’m kind of on my own here in 1990s British drama territory.

Articles

Some great stuff this month!

I’ve started to think a bit more about transgender and sexuality issues (and no, this is not my way of announcing my impending transition).

I absolutely loved Living Out’s Identity conference (see below), and interestingly I’ve started to find a few non-religious voices speaking out against the ease of gender transition (not against it per se, but concerned particularly for under 18s, and their vulnerability when it comes to their gender, and decisions which could have an impact they’re not expecting). This article is long but well worth a read – it’s one mother’s story of her daughter’s desire to transition.

Not on my watch is Krish Kandiah at his best, using Fathers’ Day to ask men whether they’ll step up to the challenge of caring for the most vulnerable. Adoption and fostering are two ways to do this, obviously, but they’re not the only ways. Our society has one particular definition of ‘real men’, but the Bible may be calling you guys to something different…take a read!

This article, about some fiery female missionaries who were practising Christian feminism way before the #metoo movement, was fascinating.

How disability makes a church strong spoke right to my heart about how vital inclusivity and diversity are to our church communities. I’m becoming so passionate about this!

And I’m really enjoying Abby King’s blog at the moment. She’s a fellow ACW member and writes a really thought-provoking devotional each week. I’m finding it so relevant and considered. Have a read of Why it helps to know what you really want.

On the blog

I was privileged to review The Mermaid who couldn’t, a fantastic book aimed at adopted children.

For Fathers’ Day, I published two pieces: some musings on the idea of having no father, and a tribute to my husband, who’s a wonderful father to our four kids.

In response to 5 Valuable Work Lessons from Maternity Leave which I mentioned last month, I wrote about five valuable work lessons I’d learnt from my nearly nine-year ‘maternity leave’…

To celebrate National Writing Day last week, I took up this writing challenge (“I feel most free when…”) – and then shared a few thoughts having watched the wonderfully thought-provoking ‘Gone Fishing’, featuring Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer.

Elsewhere

Whilst I still feel like a blog novice (after six years?! How can that be?), people have started to ask my advice when thinking about starting their own blogs. So I put a few thoughts down in my ACW More than Writers blog this month: “Why and how should I start a blog?” Do have a look if you’re in this position.

Other

* I went to the beautiful wedding of a lovely new friend – it was down-to-earth, simple, and God-centred.

* We finally found a Fathers’ Day gift for DD that he liked and didn’t complain about (he doesn’t like ‘commercial festivals’ and never knows what he wants for the non-commercial ones):

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God bless Pinterest.

* I went to watch my boy play cricket for his school (having no idea whether he knew the rules or not). It was a lovely, relaxed tournament for Years 3&4, with the Years 5&6 matches clearly taking on a bit more formality (read: they had rules). Our school did really well, winning our group and progressing to the semi-final where I think we came 3rd (?). Anyway, it was a great achievement for a school which doesn’t have loads of kids paying for additional sports coaching. We were all very proud!

* We had our school Summer Fair! Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will know what a big deal this is – our PTA only started last year, and this is our second Summer Fair. We were aiming to improve on last year’s £1000 profit by a couple of hundred, but I was sceptical about actually reaching it. In actual fact, we made over £1400 – smashed it!! It was also just such a lovely afternoon, with great weather, and a brilliant atmosphere amongst all the families who came.

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* The most exciting thing for me this month – and possibly this year (you can tell I don’t get out much) – was a child-free 24-hour trip to London with my good friend Izzy to hear Tim and Kathy Keller speak on Identity and Sexuality. Oh my goodness, they were superb! The first hour was like an undergraduate Sociology lecture – the second was a brilliantly packed sermon. After lunch Kathy stormed it with some practical guidance for churches, then there was a brilliant panel made up of the Kellers and a couple of LGBQTI+ Christians. I couldn’t type my notes fast enough! I hope to be able to share a few thoughts with you on this blog over the next month or two…let me know if you’d be interested.

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Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m into’ blog posts. Do check them out – you may discover a fantastic new blogger!

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5 valuable work lessons from a nine-year maternity leave

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Last month I shared with you ‘5 valuable work lessons from maternity leave’ from the Jasiri blog (a wonderfully thought-provoking new blog, if you were looking for one to get your teeth into!).

I was nodding along with every single one of Naomi’s points. Yep, that had absolutely been my experience too.

But I was also inspired to respond. I guess you could say I’ve had a rather long ‘maternity leave’ (nearly nine years and counting). If you asked me, of course, I’d say it’s just been a career of a different sort, but if you frame it in the context of ‘leave’ from paid work, then there are definite lessons I’ve learnt which are helping me now I’m starting to return to work. 

The five which I’m about to share don’t discount those that Naomi wrote about – I agree with all of them! – but simply add the perspective of one who’s been out of paid work for quite some time…

1. Use every minute

There are no two ways about it: I am simply more productive now than before I had kids. Nine years of cramming in cooking, laundry, tidying and cleaning to the tiny corners of life left free after four kids have been entertained, fed, bathed, read to, taxi-ed around and fed again have taught me to make the most of every scrap of time I get.

I won’t say I never faff about. I’ve been as guilty of spending 20 minutes scrolling through Harry and Megan pictures as the next person.

But mainly I can’t rely on having time ‘later on’ – whether that’s this evening, tomorrow or next week – because my kids might get ill, or there may be another crisis. So I have to do things now – there’s no putting them off, and the faffing is greatly reduced.

In work terms, it is this heightened productivity that has made me utilise my writing times more effectively. I drop off the kids, open my laptop and crack on, knowing that those five precious hours ahead of me will soon be gone for another week.

2. Plan, plan, plan

In order to use every minute productively, especially when you’re fitting in ‘lifemin’ around caring for your kids, you need to have a really good idea of what needs doing and when. When are you going to collect that prescription, buy that present, send off that form?

I’ve learnt to work everything like this into my diary. As ridiculous as it sounds to write ‘pay for school dinners’ or ‘count hot dog rolls for BBQ’ alongside ‘Swimming lesson’ or ‘Toddler group’, if I don’t plan my days and my week like this, I simply forget the things that keep our household running smoothly.

Getting better at planning has been SO useful on my writing days. Each Monday is scheduled with assignments well before I get to it, meaning that I can start work straight away, rather than having to spend half an hour wondering what I should do today.

3. Be audacious

If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Yet in my pre-kids working life, I often lacked the confidence to realise my dreams. The fact that what you’re asking for often benefits the other party is something I’ve learned through my voluntary work since having kids.

I remember the first time I negotiated with a photographer to run a reasonably-priced photo-shoot for families at our toddler group – I felt wonderful! Yet all I’d done was given him a rather lucrative opportunity to make a fair bit of money over a two-hour period – so it worked well for both of us!

This attitude has developed through the other voluntary work I’ve done, not least in my current role as PTA Chair. We’re always asking shops and businesses for things – and we’re not scared to put ourselves out there!

As I’ve recently turned my focus to writing, I’m not scared to approach professionals – writers, bloggers, editors and publishers, to ask for what I need, or offer my work to them. Sure, it’s always going to be nerve-wracking to show your work to another who might be critical, but audaciousness makes you do 100 things in the hope that one of them will pay off.

4. Build good foundations

I am the Queen of Impatience – I like to fit a lot of different things into my life, and I hate it when one of them seems to take forever, robbing me of something else I could be doing.

But parenting has taught me patience, the importance of a long-term view, and how it’s worth taking time over things to get them right.

For want of making my children sound like my ‘projects’ (they aren’t, but they are also kind of my job, so it’s a bit of a blurred boundary), I’ve seen that the hours you spend reading to them, even when they’re crawling away from you, pay off when they’re older and learning to read, and suddenly you realise – WAHEY! They have a vocabulary! They can put letters together because they know what word is expected in that context!

I’ve learnt that biting my tongue and intentionally practising patience when my kids and I cook together (THIS TAKES A LOT OF PRAYER) results in some pretty amazing chef skills eventually. (My 3yo twins can crack eggs like pros!)

This has helped me as I’ve started a new career, particularly when considering my aims. Instead of having a monetary target, I’ve realised I need to spend time building a good foundation: writing to the best of my ability, using social media well, building my audience, connecting with like-minded others. I don’t know where my writing will go in the future, but I do know that it will only go somewhere if the foundations are good and strong.

5. Focus

I’m an ideas person, and always have been. Looking back at my teaching career pre-kids, I was trying to do everything.

On reflection, I should have chosen one thing and done it well. Three years as Head of Music could have made a real difference to one aspect of the school’s musical life. Instead, my legacy was confused and haphazard.

Nowadays, I’m not making the same mistake. My kids have taught me how to focus on them while juggling a lot of other balls – and I’m determined to put this into practice for my work-life too.

As I write, there are many projects I could be getting on with – writing for businesses, charities, magazines, blogs…not to mention The Book. Yes, I’m frustrated that a couple of these opportunities have had to be shelved for the moment, while I concentrate on finishing the book and other urgent projects, but it’s more important to focus on these jobs, rather than to become distracted by all the opportunities, and end up missing them all.

***

A footnote:

I’ve written a few times about being a SAHM – how it doesn’t need to mean intellectual suicide, how it is a valid feminist option, and how we women work just as hard in the home as out of it!

I don’t believe that being a SAHM is always the best option for families, but my words come from a place of frustration towards what I see communicated in the media: that educated women are wasted if they don’t earn money, that SAHMs spend their days watching trashy TV, or that raising kids is not a worthwhile endeavour for someone with brains.

I hope my words offer encouragement to anyone who’s walking this path, or thinking about walking it in the future. It can be a totally awesome thing for you and your family – and, as I’ve shown, develop some amazing skills for the workplace too!

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The man my kids are blessed to call Dad

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I’m not one for gushing.

But today I feel compelled to write a post honouring my husband, affectionately known on this blog as DesertDad. Perhaps it’s because he’s been away most of this week, and has therefore gone up in my estimation, or perhaps it’s because tomorrow is Fathers’ Day – although, to all intents and purposes, this day functions like any other Sunday in our household, as he’s not a fan of what he calls ‘commercial festivals’.

I don’t know.

But recently I read this (celebrating the real men in our lives), this (speaking life to our spouse), and then this (how to show him he’s a great dad), and was challenged that our marriage is so full of banter and sarcasm, that to say uplifting, honouring things about each other (certainly in public) does not come easily – and maybe I need to change that.

The problem, of course, is that this type of post is likely to sting for those who have a poor, or non-existent, relationship with their fathers – or those who, for whatever reason, are raising their kids without a father. Others of you, I know, mourn the fact that, although your kids do have a Dad, he doesn’t fulfil his role with any sense of commitment.

So I want to be honest. I want to tell you, straight-off, that my husband is not perfect. To illustrate this, I just wrote a paragraph of his character flaws – but thought better of it and deleted it. But please promise me you’ll read the following in the context of knowing he can’t possibly be superhuman – just in case what I’m about to write makes him sound made-up.

Agreed? Then we’re good to go.

For someone who, in another life, would have been perfectly content as a childless bachelor, DesertDad has grabbed parenthood by the horns, and is fully immersed in the parenting of each one of our children.

He does the practical stuff.

After long days at work, when he’d be justified in collapsing in front of the telly, he doesn’t shy away from the grotty jobs, but willingly feeds, bathes and clears up the toileting accidents of our offspring.

It makes me very happy that he’s been able to spend today at the Stag Do of an old friend, because most of his days off are entirely child-focused. There are loads of hobbies that he’d love to do, yet building relationships with his kids remains his priority.

He’s also proactive with housework. Perhaps we don’t have the same ideas about which jobs are the priority (and we definitely both see ‘mess’ differently), but if he sees something which needs doing, he does it without being asked.

He willingly takes charge of the kids so that I can do things which stretch my brain. Governor meetings, PTA commitments, church events – he readily switches roles so that I can have a break, even though it might mean him having to play catch-up at his work later on.

He does the emotional stuff.

He’s amazingly pastoral and non-judgmental – and this isn’t just me, people say it all the time. A friend once said to him, “I feel I could tell you anything, and you’d never be shocked”. Our kids will benefit from his empathy more and more as they grow up, but already he is a great listener to our kids, often picking up on stuff that I’ve missed, even though he spends a fraction of the time that I do with them.

Our church feels like a family, and I think this is partly because he leads it like he leads our nuclear family: with love, grace and gentle nurture. He teaches his ‘flock’ with passion and authority – whether it’s his flock at church, or his flock of kids at home. He sets boundaries and he disciplines with love.

He does the spiritual stuff.

He shares his faith with our kids, reads the Bible to them and explains aspects of theology. I do these things too, but I worry about the impact on children who’ve only had spiritual leadership from their mother, and it makes me so grateful to have a husband who acknowledges his role in bringing up our kids to love Jesus too.

He’s fiercely outspoken about aspects of secular culture that most of us Christians accept too readily. He questions the things people take for granted about their children and planning for their futures. He’s not irresponsible, but he’s prayerful and godly, and wants our children, above all, to cultivate their own relationship with Jesus, knowing that nothing else completely satisfies.

He does the awkward stuff.

Like parenting ‘someone else’s children’.

I know some men who wouldn’t consider adoption, even though their wives might be keen, but this one willingly gave up his right to have more biological kids, in order to become the father that our twins would otherwise not have. He’s every bit their father, and gives them the same love, kindness, security and boundaries that he gives our birth kids.

In doing so, he leads by example. He shows our little family, our wider family, our friends and our church what it means to father the fatherless. What God’s priorities are when it comes to relationships. That a family which doesn’t reach out to others is poorer for it.

He is the father of my children, and they are so blessed to have him.

Read my first ever blog post – about Fathers’ Day 2012!

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Can you imagine having no father?

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I can’t imagine how it would feel to have no father.

I can imagine a remote father – detached, preoccupied, no space in his life for children. I can imagine his regret and guilt at having been talked into a family he never really wanted – or, perhaps, the absence of regret and guilt, as time starts to justify the distance that’s grown between him and his kids. I can imagine the loss, the sadness, the shut-down, the self-preservation of the children who long for his time and know they will never get it.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an absent father – living in a different town now, perhaps with a new wife, new life, new kids – remembering birthdays (or not), sharing a week together every summer, occasional weekends. I can imagine the awkwardness for a child struggling to fit into a different family every now-and-then, having to adapt behaviours and routines for different sets of parents.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine a neglectful father – leaving everything to Mum, putting his own needs first, not noticing the children who require his help to regulate their emotions, because he can’t yet regulate his own. I can imagine the children who grow up thinking this is what family life is like: Mum raises the family, Dad does what he likes.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an abusive father – letting his anger control him, free-flowing with the insults, the lies, the manipulation, the fists. I can imagine – although it pains me to write it – a father who cannot control his lust, who does the unthinkable, who abuses the trust of those who have no one else to rely on.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

No father? Obviously, at some point, there must have been.

But was that a father? Or was that a few drops of bodily fluid, moving from one body to another? Two lucky sperm which made it, which kick-started two new lives, unbeknownst to the person who ejected them from their being?

And now, somewhere, that person walks free, unaware of the lives he has created. He may pass them in the street – or he may be living on the other side of the world – and we will never know. Was he old or young? Tall or short? Does he have other kids? A wife?

I can’t imagine – because the possibilities are infinite.

What was his ethnicity? Was he unemployed, or was he a CEO? Was it a romantic liaison, or a one-night stand? Did he pay?

Okay, so maybe I am imagining. But imagination usually starts with reality – and here, there is no reality to know of. No clues, no evidence, no memories and no one to ask. With endless possibilities of what this sperm-donor may have been like, I’ll likely never guess the real him.

And the kids – how will they respond? Not just knowing little, but knowing nothing. Future Fathers’ Days, when they’re old enough to understand. “Best dad” cards taking on a new meaning. Adolescence, and wondering whether emerging character traits come from him. DNA tests when they meet their future partners.

There wasn’t really a father. What might have turned into one was actually just a couple of seeds, fertilising a couple of eggs.

But God likes seeds. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. Seeds planted in good soil will produce a healthy crop.

And a seed from a man can fertilise an egg, creating a life which God dreamed up many millennia before it happened.

You see, there is a Father after all. A Father who was intentional and loving from the start. A Father who wanted these children to be born into his world, to take their place in family life, to come into relationship with Him.

Yes, it matters that there is no earthly father. But no, it’s not the end of the story.

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The Mermaid Who Couldn’t – review and GIVEAWAY!!

Being removed from your biological family, at whatever age it happens, has life-changing impact. There will be negative emotions and responses which feel so intuitive, that the idea of ever shaking them off seems impossible.

The more resources which help children and parents to navigate these tricky emotions, the better! And so I was thrilled to find a copy of The Mermaid Who Couldn’t on my doormat recently.

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Written by adoptive parent Ali Redford, The Mermaid Who Couldn’t (illustrated by Kara Simpson) tells the story of Mariana, a mermaid neglected by her mother. Mariana is found and nurtured by a turtle, Muriel, and the book depicts Mariana’s journey from the deep, dark depths of the sea, up to the fresh air and light of the mermaids’ cove. This is a wonderful metaphor for vulnerable children to latch onto, offering hope and encouragement.

Just in case you might be thinking that this sounds like an overly-simplistic message for such a book to portray, let me reassure you that the journey from dark to light is never portrayed as straightforward. When Mariana first surfaces from the sea, for example, she feels totally useless, as she can’t sing beautifully like the other mermaids – so she dives back down to where she was. She is sad and angry that she hasn’t been able to ‘survive’ in the light – but doesn’t know how to make things better.

Even towards the end of the book, when Mariana is in a much better place, there comes the line: “But if she feels low, as she sometimes still does, Muriel is ALWAYS close enough to remind her to look up at the sky…and sing her own sweet, mighty song”.

Mariana’s background, whilst it hasn’t been loving or nurturing, is not dismissed – instead, she is encouraged to sing “her own sweet, mighty song”. This validation of her experience reassures both parents and child that, however damaged a child may be, he/she is a unique individual, with a very special contribution to make to society.

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

The Mermaid Who Couldn’t uses a lot of helpful emotion words – useless, scared, sad, angry – to encourage the reader to voice their feelings. I liked this very much – small children struggle to understand, let alone articulate, what they’re feeling, so putting this language into their vocabulary, via a character who has experienced a similar background, can only be a good thing.

And – this sounds obvious, but I’ll say it anyway – the fact that the story centres around a mermaid, i.e. a mythical creature, makes the whole thing rather more detached from reality and, therefore, much more approachable for a vulnerable child. Anything resembling real life more closely might just be a little too uncomfortable.

This said, there are a few phrases or sentences which might be distressing to some children. I don’t believe they should have been excluded, as they may start important conversations for the children who read them – but of course every child is different, and some are more sensitive to language than others.

I really loved the bold illustrations, and found some of the facial expressions in particular very moving, subtly depicting the different emotions Mariana feels throughout her journey. But a couple of my friends weren’t sure about them – I guess it’s all pretty subjective, and certainly not a reason not to buy the book!

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I recommend The Mermaid Who Couldn’t wholeheartedly – it’s a great book to have on the shelf. Whilst aimed at children who are adopted or fostered, it could be successfully used with birth children whose families were preparing to adopt or foster. It would also be a fantastic addition to any school library.

The author and illustrator have clearly intended this book to be aimed predominantly at girls, as they’ve previously released a ‘boys’ version: The Boy who Built a Wall Around Himself. It’s definitely helpful for children to be able to see themselves in the story, but in the interests of gender equality I like to read my children books containing heroes of both genders – so I read this with my 3 year old adopted boys, as well as my 6 year old birth daughter, and it was appreciated by all.

As the book is aimed at ages 4-9, I was not expecting my 3 year olds to start long, deep, meaningful conversations with me after reading this book, but I trust that as we keep it on our bookshelf and return to it regularly over the next few years, the conversations will start to unfold. Any resource which makes this easier is a godsend.

Now – onto the fun part – Jessica Kingsley Publishers have kindly sent me a giveaway copy, so to be in with a chance of winning, simply sign up to my newsletter – or, if you’ve already done so, leave a comment below. This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Katherine H who won!

And, if you haven’t already, why not read my review of The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting? It’s another brilliantly helpful JKP publication.

You may also like to check out my Adoption Pinterest board for more blogs and articles I’ve written on all aspects of adoption.

A couple of disclaimers: I was given a free copy to review, but all views are my own, and I never recommend anything I wouldn’t buy myself. Affiliate links are used in this email – if you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no cost to yourself. Thanks for your support!

How do I use herbs and essential oils to improve my family’s quality of life?

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Last Autumn, Missy requested a ‘lip-balm making party’ for her 6th birthday. I’d never made a cosmetic product in my life, but a Google search provided a simple-enough recipe, and I began ordering the ingredients. Missy chose the flavours herself, opting for lavender and lemongrass.

After the party, to use up leftover ingredients, we made more lip balms and other products for Christmas presents. We needed a few more flavours, so before long our essential oil collection looked pretty comprehensive.

Now – as I guess you’ll know if you’ve ever bought oils – these don’t come cheap. And, once the purpose is served, you’re still left with quite a lot in the bottle – so what do you do?

I’m aware that it’s possible to make a whole range of skincare products using oils. I’m also aware that you can use them in homemade cleaning products. Both of these have the capacity to reduce plastic consumption as well as lowering the number of chemicals we put on ourselves, our kids, and in our home. Sounds good so far.

The question is: where to start? You can Google individual recipes, of course, but who knows if they’re going to work or not? And how long is it going to take you to build up a decent collection of stuff that really works?

Cue the Ultimate Herbs & Essential Oils Bundle: a huge, diverse and useful digital library of e-Books and online courses carefully sourced and curated to give you ideas, recipes, tips and background information galore.

Ultimate Bundles is a Canadian company which scours the Internet, looking for the best digital resources on topics requested by customers. They then collate them all into an incredible ‘bundle’ and sell it for next-to-nothing – but only for a few days.

I came across them a couple of months ago when I bought their Ultimate Homemaking Bundle. It’s revolutionised my life, and I’m only a few books in! There were sections on parenting strategies, working from home (the Blog Boss course was SO helpful!), fashion and style tips for parents, budgeting, time management, self-care, home organisation and even faith. There were over 130 titles in all – and I paid the equivalent of about two or three books.

Anyway, you don’t want to hear about that (although I could ramble on for ages, it was such a brilliant buy) – you want to hear about what you get in this Herbs & Essential Oils bundle – right?!

Firstly, there’s a ‘Beauty’ section – seven fabulous e-Books written by people who know their stuff, going into detail on how you can make all sorts of different skincare and bath products.

I’m particularly keen on the ‘The Nerdy Farm Wife’s Natural Bath Bombs’ – I think I’ll be stashing this one away as a good idea for me and the kids to make for Christmas presents. And ‘Natural Body Care: Recipes that soothe the skin’ will be really interesting, as I have eczema and very sensitive skin.

Then there’s a section on Cooking, which includes a couple of helpful guides on cooking with herbs, spices and oils. I’m a huge fan of growing herbs, and we have a good selection in our garden, but I’m not so brilliant at finding ways to use all of them.

There’s also a section on Essential Oils – a 3-month membership to The Essential Oils Club, plus six e-books on all aspects of oils including recipes, safety considerations, benefits for families, and much more.

The other sections are on Herbs, Foraging, Natural Remedies, and For Your Home. DIY Holistic Cleaning: Safe and Natural Ways to Clean Your Home and Workplace sounds particularly intriguing – I’d love to learn more about how I can clean without chemicals. (When I do clean. Ahem.)

If you bought each resource individually, it would cost you $567.48 (roughly £426) – not to mention the time it would take you to source so much fabulously helpful material – but from May 30th to June 4th only, you can get them all in this fantastic bundle for $29.97 (roughly £22.52).

That’s the cost of about three actual books – but you’re getting 34 resources. Amazing! And there are 444 recipes across the bundle – can you imagine how much it would cost to buy this amount of inspiration? At least two, if not three or four, recipe books.

I’m not planning a hard sell here – that’s not my style – but I do like to share with you resources that I’ve found useful. The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle blew me away, which is why I’ve become an affiliate, bringing these packages to lots of my UK readers who won’t yet have come across this company.

If herbs and oils aren’t your thing, not to fear – there are plenty more bundles planned for the rest of this year: healthy living, photography, genius blogger’s, and healthy meal planning. I’ll be alerting you to each one, so that you won’t miss out on something you’re interested in.

Whatever the topic, each bundle will be filled with quality resources, designed to make your life easier, more interesting and enjoyable. And, unlike ordering paper books, you’re not waiting for a chance to get to the bookshop, or for an online order to be dispatched.

The Herbs & Essential Oils bundle is available from this Wednesday (May 30th) until June 4th only. To purchase it, simply click here anytime between those dates (I’ll remind you next week, but wanted to give you a bit of time to think about it).

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This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I make a commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thank you for your support.

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