Could I be a single parent?

Image credit: Pixabay

If I’m honest, this is the week I was dreading most in 2018. My husband, who usually works from home and hardly ever goes away, has been enrolled on a leadership course which involves a couple of residential weeks. This has been the first of them.

I like to think of myself as fairly independent – a ‘coper’, I guess. And while this week has gone more smoothly than I could have hoped, it’s certainly had its challenges. Experiencing single-parenthood for four days has got me thinking…

I’ve had to be super-organised. Those who know me know I love my lists, my highly-detailed schedules, my reminders and systems for getting through family life (relatively) unscathed. But this week has tested my organisational skills to the limit. For a three-hour period on Monday, my actions were as follows (and yes, it was all written into Google calendar so I wouldn’t forget an activity or child):

  • 3.00 Collect Mister from school.
  • 3.30 Collect Monkey and Meerkat from preschool.
  • 4.15 Collect Missy and her friend from school disco – and drop Mister at his school disco.
  • 4.45 Take Missy and friend to Rainbows.
  • 5.30 Collect Mister from school disco.
  • 5.45 Collect Missy and friend from Rainbows. Drop friend home.
  • 6.30 Return home for a tea I’d cooked in between ferrying everyone around, which three out of four children rejected, at a time when really the youngest two should have been getting ready for bed.

I guess if I were parenting on my own, I wouldn’t have the money or the time to allow each child to do as many extra-curricular activities as they currently do, but this schedule was particularly gruelling without another adult involved. It’s made me grateful for the role DesertDad plays in supporting our children’s interests – taking them to activities, or staying home with the others while I go.

There’s been a lot to fit in. Of course sod’s law has dictated that this be the week where I have a governors’ meeting, governor link visit (and follow-up report to write), a Bible study to prepare for my housegroup, a story to prepare for toddler group, people to liaise with for a Good Friday family event, several blogs, articles and book submissions to write, as well as the usual number of increasingly-outstanding admin tasks that mount up quickly in a family. This would be a busy week even with hubs around, but the fact that I’ve had to add in all the bathtimes, bedtimes, and general clearing up has definitely stretched me.

If I ever felt like moaning that my Other Half wasn’t as involved in domestic chores, I take it all back now. Not only is he hands-on around the home, but he gives a level of support which allows me to pursue interests away from my (wonderful, but demanding) children. If I were solo-parenting, I would need to be much more cautious in my commitments outside of the home.

I’ve had to go easy on myself. I’ve worked hard these last few days, being Mum and Dad. I’ve tried to keep the house reasonable, and tried to spend at least a few minutes of quality time with the kids each day. But it’s exhausting. Many of the projects listed a couple of paragraphs ago (mainly the writing ones) haven’t happened – and I have to remember that that’s OK. I have to remember that I have four well-fed, well-nurtured kids tucked up in bed right now, and that is enough of an achievement for one day.

When you have the luxury of a partner, you have someone to gee you up, to tell you to relax, to watch TV with, chat to, play games with. Single parents need to become sooooo good at telling themselves to switch off! They deserve a break – and no one is going to force this on them apart from themselves.

It’s OK to ask for help. A friend popped in on Tuesday to take Mister swimming, so that I didn’t have to take all of his siblings (cue: half an hour of chasing 3yo twins up and down the balcony with sod all else to do apart from prevent them falling to their death in the deep end of the pool). It was a simple gesture, but I’m glad I asked – it was so much easier to be able to stay at home with the younger three.

Likewise, if you’re parenting on your own, you need to find (and use) this kind of support network. Don’t be afraid to ask – people want to help.

The kids have mucked in. In many ways, the kids have stepped up this week. Not so much in clearing up (more’s the pity), but in the way the older ones have played with/helped/mediated for their siblings has been much appreciated when I haven’t been able to come to their aid immediately.

Children growing up in single-parent families have such an amazing opportunity to learn life skills as they support their parent in running a household. I’m sure this is often incredibly challenging – for both child and parent – but, ultimately, that child has the potential to grow into a very capable, independent human being, knowing how to cook/entertain small children/clean/tidy up or whatever.

We have a few simple tasks we expect our children to help with, but this week has got me thinking – are they the right tasks? Are there ways we could better equip our children by teaching them important skills in running a home?

They miss Daddy. Actually, only one of them has regularly said this – and it’s mainly been when I’ve told him off! But still, the absence of Daddy has been very noticeable, and often talked about in our dinner-time conversations. I guess in long-term single-parent-dom, this feeling of missing the absent parent fades somewhat – or at least it doesn’t get verbalised as often. But it reminded me how hard it is to be both Mum and Dad – in fact it’s impossible, because although you might be doing the tasks of both parents, you can never be the absent parent. And that hurts. For the child, and for you, as you sense their pain and can do zilch about it.

Could I be a single parent?

I don’t think most single parents have the choice – some do, but the majority are flung into it by circumstance, and have no option but to cope. So, if I were put into this situation, yes of course I would cope – for the sake of the kids.

But it wouldn’t be easy. This week I’m learning that.

So, to all my wonderful single parent friends, and any other lovely single parent who may be reading this: hats off to you. You do a fab job and you are noticed.


Should we avoid Mothers’ Day just because it’s hard?

Luke 13:34 “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Photo credit: Pixabay

Every year Mother’s Day rolls around. And every year I see a barrage of comments on social media or blogs about how hard Mother’s Day is for many people. And every year there’s someone who’s calling for the whole thing to be abolished.

I do wonder whether Mother’s Day – like many festivals, special days and life events – has become harder since the advent of social media. Prior to the late 2000s, one could easily avoid card shops in February/March, distract themselves with other pursuits, and then burrow themselves away on the day itself. Nowadays, we’re faced with post after post about people’s brilliant Mums, brilliant kids, heartfelt messages or extravagant gifts.

It’s hard for many people. Not just those whose desire to have children hasn’t been fulfilled, but those whose own mother was absent, neglectful or abusive, those who have lost their mum, those whose mum no longer recognises them, those who have lost a child, Dads who have lost their partner and Mum of their children, and countless other situations.

For others, it’s not necessarily a hard day, but it’s complicated. I can (and will) praise God for giving me each of my four children, but knowing that two of them have a biological mum who they will never meet adds a different dimension to the day.

And this begs the question: should we stop doing something because it’s hard?

This is the world’s way, certainly, and this is the individualistic mindset. It’s a hard place for me to go, so I just won’t make the journey.

But, as Christians, we’re no longer just individuals. We are part of a wide and diverse community. We are called to share in each other’s joys (2 Corinthians 1:7), which means celebrating when one of our sisters is blessed with the gift of children, or another sister is celebrating her close relationship with her own mum, even if we’re not in that situation ourselves.

And here lies another question: does celebration have to be about forced smiles and pretend joy?

Again, this is the world’s way. The world, for all its glitzy appeal, has only very limited possibilities for celebration. It’s really all about looking like you’re having a good time. But, again, as Christians we know a different way.

The Bible speaks of joy and suffering alongside each other (Romans 8:17). Celebrating with a friend who has a big, noisy family, when we’ve suffered a series of failed IVF attempts, is not about being happy all the time. Yes, we share in their joy, but we also share in their suffering: their tiredness, their guilt at not being the Mum they want to be, their sense of helplessness at not knowing how to respond to a child’s behaviour. And they share in our suffering and joy too. We are permitted to cry and be honest with them.

I love the Jewish culture of celebration: it is loud, vibrant and authentic. And I love what they say to those who are suffering: apparently, when someone has suffered a bereavement, they are excused from dancing at celebrations for one year following the event. Note that there is still an expectation to show up at parties. It is acknowledged that a grieving person may not feel like dancing, but that it is still good for them to be in that place of celebration, to be reminded of (and uplifted by) the joys of others.

Mother’s Day is not about boasting of all the cards and presents we’ve received. It’s not about gloating over social media. But neither is it about avoidance. Celebration in its truest sense will involve having conversations with those who are different to us. We need to hear their stories, and they need to hear ours.

Furthermore, Mother’s Day should be a day for celebrating ‘mothering’ in the broadest sense of what it means in a Christian community. And we can all do that. Who has spiritually mothered you? They might be a ‘mother’ figure, or they might be physically younger than you, but Mother’s Day can and should be an opportunity to thank them for the impact they’ve had on your life.

I have two godmothers, neither of whom have children. It saddens me that I have never thought to honour them on Mother’s Day, because both of them have had a positive spiritual impact on my life, and still keep in touch with me well into my 30s. Maybe this is a tradition I can start next year.

One of my friends hasn’t had her own children, but has had a large involvement in the lives of her nieces, and each Mother’s Day they give her special ‘Aunt’ cards and presents, to acknowledge her mothering influence in their lives.

Rather than succumb to the secular urge of Mother’s Day, which is to highlight our nuclear families over any other way of living, we should use this day to do what we Christians need to do daily: thank God for what He has given us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), honestly share our feelings with Him (as modelled all over the Bible, a good example being Job 3), acknowledge our sin in failing to trust him with our parenting, or looking to children to bring fulfilment (John 4:13-14), and being assured of His forgiveness and grace (Psalm 32:1-2), knowing that He longs to draw us closer and change us more towards Christ’s likeness.

So, this Mother’s Day, celebrate. Celebrate with laughter and smiles, with tears and grumpy moments, with elation and confusion, happy thoughts and sadder ones. Embrace the fullness of our God, who has created us capable of experiencing the full gamut of emotions – and take them all to Him.

I’ve always loved this sensitive liturgy suggestion for Mother’s Day – take a read!

snow, stevie wonder and nineteenth-century murders (what i’m into – february 2018)

Books3D-COVER-WITH-DEVICE-cropped-267x300 (1).pngThis month, I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful, evocative, thought-provoking and affirming Forever Loved: Eve’s Story – it’s a wonderful book, and the great news for you is that my giveaway is STILL OPEN! Click here to read the review and enter (you have till 11pm Friday night).


For my Book Club, I’ve been enjoying – albeit rather slowly – The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. It tells the horrific true story of the murder of a young child in 1860, a case which shocked the country and inspired the crime writings of Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. The timing was interesting: detectives had only been around for a few years, and there were high levels of fascination with the mysterious methods they used – they were treated rather like celebrities. Kate Summerscale tells the story with her own perceptive observations throughout, combining the newspaper articles, letters and other evidence of the day with modern hindsight.

I’m not finding it easy to skim, so it’s taking me a while and I haven’t finished yet, but I totally intend to complete it, especially as March’s book is one I’ve already read!

20180301_144151[1]And I’m still going with the above holy trinity of interesting books – I read the top one daily, the middle one weekly, and the bottom one monthly. More on that here.


Sad news: I’ve given up chocolate for Lent. It was a necessary thing to cut out of my diet. When you can’t get past the 10am mark without reaching for Something, then that Something has to go. Quite honestly, if I were drinking as much alcohol as I was eating chocolate, my kids would be taken away from me.

Actually, it hasn’t been as hard as I imagined. I’ve even manage to make a double batch of brownies this week and not eaten so much as a crumb! I feel the ‘all or nothing’ approach works for me – I wouldn’t have been able to reduce my intake, but cutting it out altogether has actually been OK. And yes, I’ve substituted with crisps and other bits, but I’m loosening the grip chocolate has on me, ridiculous though that sounds.

And, of course, I’m fully intending to return to chocolate on Easter Sunday – although hopefully in better proportions!


It was my BIRTHDAY this month! Which, even as an adult, is quite exciting. A schoolfriend and I have a tradition going back probably 20 years at least, where we always buy each other CDs for birthdays. The world has become increasingly digital around us, but we still insist on CDs. This year, he got me three fabulous Stevie Wonder albums, so I’m enjoying those in the car with the kids, who got to know Sir Duke, If and Believe through taking part in Young Voices recently.


Quite a bit of interesting stuff this month:

Rachel Held Evans has helped many voice their questions but embracing doubt is not healthy  As a follower of Held Evans and others in the same camp, I really appreciated this article, which articulated some of what I feel when I read the writings of (particularly American) progressive evangelicals. As the author, Annie Carter, writes, “It’s easy to critique, criticise and mock and put the Church to rights. It’s not easy to lead the flock, or to be a faithful follower of Christ.”

I appreciated Hadley Freeman’s thoughts on what to say (or not) when a friend loses a child.

This short poem, Good Bones, was one I’d never come across before, but in the light of the recent school shootings, found particularly moving.

My missionary friend Suzy, back in the UK for a few months, compared life here with life in rural Ethiopia – worth a read.

Fiona Lloyd, whose debut novel has just been released (and which I hope to read and review on here very soon), wrote this fabulous piece for The Baptist Times on why Every Sunday is Mothering Sunday.

And, just because he writes so well, I thought Jay Rayner’s rant on people who complain about the price of meals in restaurants was classic.

On the blog

I reviewed TWO books this month, both with giveaways. If you missed the first (Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation), have a read now. If you missed the second (Forever Loved: Eve’s Story), click on the link and enter the giveaway as it’s open till Friday 11pm!

I shared what my first month of ‘being a writer‘ had been like, and wrote some thoughts on Fasting – is it just about a flatter stomach??


Elsewhere, my first piece of writing was published! A promotional piece, advertising the Beer & Pizza Festival at my friend’s marvellous bistro. No credit for the title – I’m rubbish at puns.

Stage and screen

Still catching up with stuff we recorded over Christmas (aren’t we old-fashioned?). On that note, we need a new TV so if any of you wonderful readers can shed light on whether we should go for an all-singing, all-dancing model, or something basic into which we can plug everything we need, please share.

Image result for my week with marilyn

My week with Marilyn was interesting, if it really happened like the film suggests. Having watched ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’, we were obliged to watch Whatever happened to Baby Jane, although I felt ‘endure’ might have been a better verb. I did enjoy Gone Girl, a psychological thriller depicting a man whose apathetic attitude towards his wife’s mysterious disappearance arouses suspicion.

In other news…

* We relished our second trip to William’s Den. If you’re local and have never been, do put it on your bucket list.

* After three years plus, I handed in my notice as a school governor. It’s been a great ride, but now is the right time to hand on to someone else. More coming in a future blog post…

* Over half term, we enjoyed a couple of days down in London, celebrating our eldest nephew’s baptism – as in, a proper baptism where he chose to get baptised, gave his testimony and got totally dunked! It was wonderful, totally glorifying to God and very particular to our nephew, his likes and interests – but I never expected to be blubbing all the way through. How can it have been fifteen years since we were in the same church, celebrating his dedication as a baby?

* We caught up with friends we hadn’t seen for nearly nine years, and another friend who we’re pretty sure we haven’t seen for nearly seven.

* We ate out at least six times…quite unusual for us…a combination of birthday fun and other occasions. Like London buses, you might say.

Yo Sushi! My guilty pleasure birthday lunch.
A non-chocolatey dessert at the All-You-Can-Eat place – a challenge, but not beyond me!
* The kids and I enjoyed making blueberry pancakes from the Gruffalo cookbook – very tasty.


* And, of course – SNOW!!!


Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into‘ posts. What have you been into during February?

five fabulous things you can do with your family this lent

Image credit: Pixabay

After the long Autumn term – which feels like it’ll never end – this term, by comparison, goes in a flash. Linger in January for a moment too long, and suddenly it’s Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and BANG! We’re into Lent.

I love using the seasons and festivals to make some family traditions and – more importantly, for me – draw my family closer to Jesus. But our family life right now is so manic that I live day-to-day, with little forward planning. I’ll get to Shrove Tuesday evening with nothing prepared to get my littlies through Lent, and think “Dammit! I wanted to make MEMORIES!” In protest, I will give up Pinterest and every other vehicle designed to make parents feel rubbish, and bury my head in the sand, pulling out the odd tradition whenever it fits or I remember.

So – this year will be different. Yes it will! Lent starts in three weeks, and I’m determined to make the most of it. If you fancy finding something family-oriented to teach your kiddoes about Lent, Easter and the Christian tradition, I’ve pulled together a few tried-and-tested ideas for you here:

Use ‘Follow Me’ for stories and creative activities. Check out my review for more detail, but allow me to give the bare facts here: it’s fun, it’s flexible and Amy’s done the hard work for you, so all you need is this book and (occasionally) a few basic props or materials – nothing you can’t find around the house. You can pick and choose what works best for your kids – everything’s designed to make you consider a Bible story from different perspectives and angles, and you simply choose what appeals. Whether you want something to use every day, or just once a week, this resource works well. I reckon it’s best for primary-aged kids, and probably slightly younger too – we used this two years ago for our then 4- and 6-year olds, and are planning to use it this year for our 3-3-6-8 combo.

Make a Lent prayer tree. You can do this any way you want! Click here if you’re interested in how we did it for a few years. Basically you pray for a different friend or family member each day – it can be as simple as mentioning them by name, or you can print out some photos to keep things visual and stimulating for your little ones. We used this when our kids were very young – babies and toddlers, but obviously as your kids grow, this idea becomes more about them verbalising their own prayers.

Sign up for 40acts. This is a wonderful and practical way of developing kindness, generosity and selflessness through Lent, and is a great fit for creative/industrious children who prefer to be doing rather than listening. You don’t have to follow a particular faith to enjoy and get lots out of 40acts! Last year Missy did it, and she raised £80 for charity through selling cakes and cookies she’d baked herself. With our help, she researched which charities to donate to. The best part is that the actual poster containing the 40acts is FREE – you just download and print it. (If you want to buy ‘Exploring Generosity’, a pack with more resources and stickers to go along with 40acts, you can do so here.)

Start a gift-giving tradition. Yes, I know our privileged Western kids have way too much as it is, but hear me out on this one. If Lent is supposed to be a time of focussing on, and drawing closer to, Jesus, then perhaps one of the most wonderful, yet simplest, traditions we can start for our children is to give ‘Lent presents’: something to help them in their faith journey. Last year, on Ash Wednesday morning, my children woke up to an unexpected gift at the breakfast table. Mister, then 7, received his first unabridged Bible (we went for this one, which is a very clear translation for early readers), and Missy received the Exploring Generosity kit mentioned above. We, affluent Christian parents, spend so much on our kids each year in clothes, toys, hobbies and interests – how much more, then, should we be prioritising generous investment in good-quality resources to help them develop their faith?

Use this Lent Family Creative Journal from Engage Worship. This is a simpler (and cheaper!) resource to take you through Lent than Follow Me. There’s not as much material to work with, but that takes the pressure off having to do something every day. It’s just as creative, with lots of different activity suggestions, but you may need to put in more effort to actually do them – think of it as the scaffolding for what could be a really explorative, creative Lent if you’re prepared to add the bricks.

Of course the random picking of odd traditions here or there as you remember is a fun way to go as well! None of the above ideas are necessary in order to cultivate a prayerful, God-centred family life – but I hope they’re helpful to those of you who have the time and desire to try something different this year.

Over to you…which great Lent resources or traditions can you recommend? Have you used any of the above? I’d love to know what you end up trying out!

can i be a feminist and a stay-at-home mum?

Image credit: Pixabay

I’ll be honest: feminism didn’t really play a major part in my life until recently.

I’ve been pretty fortunate not to have known any gender-related obstacles at work or at home. I haven’t suffered abuse or harassment at the hands of men, nor have I been prevented from doing anything I wanted to do because of being a woman. I’m one of the lucky few for whom the battles and struggles of previous generations of women have paid off. It’s not that I was oblivious to the ongoing need to fight for gender equality the world over but, as for my own battles, they’d already been fought, and won.

So perhaps it’s interesting, or perhaps it’s unsurprising, that I’ve been forced to think about feminism a whole lot more since I chose, in 2009, to take on a role which for centuries women were obliged to take, with no alternative option available to them: that of the stay-at-home-mum.

Over the last 8 years, I’ve seen a lot of friends become mothers, and many of them have felt torn between family and work – it’s such a strong compulsion to want to be excellent at both that the tension is nearly tangible.

So, if you’re reading this in the middle of the night whilst feeding your baby, or in a stolen moment between building Duplo towers and playing yet another Orchard Toys game, and you’re wondering where your feminist values have gone and what’s happened to your brain – this is for you.

Essentially I think we emphasise the wrong aspects of feminism.

Firstly, feminism is often associated with the need for women to be climbing the career ladder, excelling in whichever field they’ve chosen – so it’s no wonder that when we stop and have kids, take time out, or take a lower-paid job so that we can be around for their needs, we feel like we’ve failed as women. We have been culturally-conditioned into thinking this is largely what feminism is about, because one aspect of feminist campaigning in the West is, quite rightly, the campaign for equal pay and opportunities in the workplace. But this is just ONE aspect. And, really, it is about women who WANT to become top in their business being able to do so. It is not about forcing miserable women into a job they don’t want.

But of course what if you WANT to become top in your area of expertise, but have sacrificed this in order to devote yourself and your talents to your family? How do you deal with this tension? Well it would take many more blog posts to deal with this issue, but – for the moment – let me suggest that in a 40-year working life, there may well be time to do both. And, regardless of whether there is or not, perhaps we need to remember the importance of those early years in a child’s life, and the incredibly challenging job of nurturing a small child, meeting her needs and helping to regulate her emotions until she can do it for herself. (Why Love Matters, by Sue Gerhardt, goes into much more depth about the potential impact that a rocky start to life can have later on. I highly recommend it!)

Leading on from this, feminism is often misrepresented as shunning the role of the mother. Again, there’s a misunderstanding here. Should fathers be encouraged to see themselves as equal parents, every bit as important in their children’s lives as mothers? Absolutely they should. Should we be working to change attitudes – ours and other people’s – regarding stay-at-home-Dads, making them welcome at groups and social meet-ups? Absolutely we should. Should workplaces seek to become as family-friendly as possible, allowing Mums AND Dads the flexibility of sharing childcare? Absolutely they should!

I’m aware that there are some feminists who genuinely do not value the work of a parent. I’m a genuinely easy going person, but I’ll tell you for free: I don’t have a lot of time for these people. And that’s to put it nicely. But, on the whole, feminism supports the important job of raising the next generation – it just doesn’t believe that this job should fall exclusively to Mum. Neither do I. It just so happens, in our family, that everything works out nicely for my husband to be the full-time earner, and me to stay at home with the kids. He’s happy and I’m happy.

Stay-at-home-mums (and their partners) can practise feminism in the way they co-parent. I make lots of parenting decisions each day without consulting my husband, because if I had to call him every time I was facing the dilemma of what to serve for lunch, or whether my son should wear red or blue trousers today, neither of us would get anything done. But the longer-term decisions, the ones we have the luxury of pondering for a few days or weeks – those are ones we make together.

In addition, for the hours he’s around, my husband is a proactive, fully-involved parent and family member. He does stuff with the kids, he does housework, he researches stuff we need to buy – all the things I do solo while he’s at work. Financially, we don’t have such things as ‘his money’ and ‘my money’ – his salary, plus child benefit and working tax credits, all go into our shared account, and we’ve never even spoken about whether I’m allowed to spend this money or not, because it’s taken as read that we are a team. He earns the money, I care for the kids. To put it in crass, financial terms: if I didn’t have him, I’d be struggling to afford to raise my kids. If he didn’t have me, then he’d be paying one heck of a bill for childcare. So we are equal contributors to this family.

I am no less a feminist because I am a woman and I am the one who is at home. I am a feminist because I belong to a family in which my husband and I play equal roles. Your family maybe doesn’t look like what I’ve described above – in fact, it probably won’t, because there are as many different ways of doing family as there are families. But I hope you feel there’s a sense of equality in your family life. This is feminism – not some bizarre notion that mothers shouldn’t ever stay at home with their children.

Thirdly, feminism is about educating the next generation. And how better to do that than to take some time out to do the job yourself? Perhaps there are some nurseries out there who actively seek to raise young feminists, but it’s not something I’d expect to see on most childcare websites. As a stay-at-home parent – mum or dad – you can be responsible for imparting good moral sense to your children, which includes teaching equality.

And this isn’t just for your daughters, by the way. I’m very grateful that having a daughter has prompted me to think about these issues more – but I sure as heck don’t want my three sons growing up as misogynistic dinosaurs either. Because sexism is often about men’s attitudes, rather than women’s, it is so important that we take seriously the job of raising our little dudes to respect and honour those around them, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other differentiating characteristic.

Personally, for me, I’ve found stay-at-home parenting to be a wonderful way of being able to take time over teaching these sorts of values to my children. Of course many people do this amazingly whilst working part-time and full-time, but my point isn’t to elevate one way of doing things over the other. This is written for those of you who are at home, but feeling frustrated. I want you to know that you have a unique opportunity to raise the next generation of feminists, equalists, whatever you want to call them. You may not receive pay, promotion or recognition of your work – but please know that it is vitally important to society that you do so.

Finally, feminism is for men too. Traditionally, it was a bunch of women challenging the status quo – and thank God they did. But, at its heart, feminism is a movement which preaches equality of the genders. This is something we need to pass on to both our daughters and our sons, and discussing with our other halves too, making sure that, however we divvy up the roles of bread-winning, childcare and household duties, we run households founded on equality.

As a Christian, I see this equality running throughout the Bible and, although every day is by no means a joy or an intellectual challenge, I am satisfied – for now – to pursue my role as a feminist stay-at-home with grace and determination.

five ways my toddlers are different from yours


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.


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.


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.


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

what i’m into – october 2017

I’d like to say that I began October in a darkened room, wearing an eye mask, feeling my way to reach wineglass to mouth, sipping something strong and recuperating from the whirlwind of children’s birthday parties in September.

Actually, I was too tired to move, so I stayed on the sofa and the wine stayed in the fridge. #glamorous


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I finally finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin! Trumpets and fanfares and party poppers and silly string please! It was SO good that I reckon I should read a novel which takes me three months every year. Whilst it’s nice to be able to tick a book or two off my reading list every month, there’s also something about not being able to skim the sentences of a novel, breathing in every nuance and turn of phrase, which is life-giving and soul-enriching. If you haven’t read CCM, I highly recommend it!


You know by now that I’ll bake anything as long as it’s a Martha Collison recipe. So this month I tried her brownie ice cream sandwiches. They took a while, whisking up the ice cream and waiting for it to set, in addition to baking and cooling two layers of brownie, but the result was a hefty tray-load of goodness, which could be sliced up, eaten there and then, with the rest frozen to be a stand-by pudding or teatime treat on another day. It really did make a huge amount, and more than accounted for the time taken in making it in the first place.

For the benefit of any locals reading this, we tried Zill’s restaurant for the first time, and enjoyed the variety of tapas dishes to start with, the mixed grill main course and baklava for dessert. Hubby thought it was ‘fine’ (he’s hard to please), but I love pretty much anything that involves a pick-and-mix way of eating. I also returned to Ambiente and the good old York Tandoori, hang-out of students and locals alike, this month, with different groups of friends. (Oh my gosh, you read that right, THREE meals out this month. What can I say? Lots of birthdays. Not my kids’ though, thankfully.)

You’d have thought that October might see the back of birthday cakes but, no, Desert Dad has plonked his celebrations right in the middle of the month so, before I could recover from September’s onslaught of fondant, I was back in the kitchen crafting something which was better in my head than in reality.




Still, I think you can tell what it’s meant to be. I have to fess up here and tell you that I tried Martha’s chocolate cake recipe and, for the first time thus far working my way through Twist, I was disappointed. It was chewy and un-cake-like in its texture. I happen to have a pretty stonking chocolate cake recipe which uses hot chocolate powder to replace some of the flour, so reckon I’ll be sticking with that in future.

My one achievement of this cake, though, was that – like all good chocolate boxes – there was a second layer of chocs underneath the layer you can see 🙂 Happy days.


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The kiddoes have got hold of their Dad’s old mix CD and make me play Dolly Parton and Belinda Carlisle on loop for hours and hours – although I’ve now convinced them of the amazingness of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U, so that brings a welcome change.

We still have cello most days from Missy.

And Mister has started rehearsing for Young Voices, which he’s now old enough to take part in. I’m delighted the selection includes a Stevie Wonder medley, as well as A Whiter Shade of Pale, surely one of the most bizarre songs to have ever been a mainstream hit, as well as a good deal of songs with uplifting and affirming lyrics like “I’m powerful! I can do anything I want! Watch out, world – here I come! WA-HEY!” or “Music brings us together! It will be the repairing of the nations! It will succeed where politics has failed! Let’s sing and have peace, people!”

Still, I’m in floods whenever he opens his mouth to sing.

Stage and screen

Quite a bit this month… The three younger kiddoes and I went to see The Ugly Duckling with some friends. It was beautiful and engaging, and Missy (6) loved it, although Monkey and Meerkat (3) got a little restless.

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Then I headed out with a friend to see Son of a Preacher Man, an incredibly feel-good, toe-tapping musical, although various sections of acting, dancing and singing seemed a little stunted at times, probably due in part to the fact that pretty much all the characters are required to do all three equally well, which just isn’t the case in most musicals, where some characters do more singing, others do more dancing. However, the incredible versatility of the on-stage musicians, who also appeared to have amazing voices and act pretty well, more than made up for anything the main characters were lacking, and I spent the next few days screeching out Dusty songs at the top of my voice, with a piano if one was accessible.

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Towards the end of the month I got to see the poet Hollie McNish with a friend. Quite brilliantly wonderful – my head was nodding in agreement throughout, at the same time spinning with how eloquently she phrases the things inside my head. Well recommended if she’s coming near you, especially if you’re a 30-something Mama 😉

And The Apprentice has started, and I’m hooked as always. Some friends ask, “How can you possibly watch that? They’re so mean to each other.”


It’s funny and it’s gripping and it’s shouting-at-the-screen brilliant- well worth the licence fee on its own. Also, it’s not real – not really real, anyway. Everyone’s playing up to the cameras, and the editing is very clever. Those who are genuinely mean tend to get found out, and the tables turn pretty quickly. My money is on Sarah Lynn – although she seems a little too obviously good, so perhaps I’ve missed something?


Quite a few this month. The most interesting and true of them all, perhaps because it articulates things which are hard to articulate, is this article, on how – despite growing equality in parenting – it is still mothers who are the ‘keepers’ of so much information. Along a similar vein is this fantastically thought-provoking cartoon, translated from its original French here. If you only read two things this month, please read these!

Then this article in The Guardian is an interesting insight into the culture of the ‘involuntarily childless’; this piece (also from The Guardian) highlights a very interesting case of a headteacher who bravely adopted MUSIC as his approach to rescue his school from Special Measures; and this blog post on why adults need bedtimes was really thought-provoking too. (Needless to say, I don’t have a bedtime, or not a very sensible one!)

What little girls need from their fathers is outlined in this pretty challenging article, and I’m always fascinated by stories of parents who quit high-powered jobs to spend more time with their children, so here’s one of those.


New for this month: an actual paragraph dedicated to this very blog…BECAUSE I WAS ACTUALLY QUITE PROLIFIC THIS MONTH (for me) AND I’D LIKE YOU ALL TO BE EXTREMELY PROUD AND AMAZED. I finally got to share why I think the Suzuki method has been so beneficial in these first couple of years of being an adoptive parent – and I had to respond to the #metoo campaign with some thoughts on how the heck we are supposed to raise our own daughters and sons in this culture.

In other news…


* As part of my commitment to not ignoring my son for the rest of his life, I accompanied him (and his little chums) to my first ever football match. I know nothing about football, but York City are like in the Eighth Division. We didn’t win – but we saw a few goals scored from both teams (the illustrious Tamworth on the opposing side), and it was a good first experience – made, at times, more comprehensible (and at other times more hilarious) by the commentary of the four little men sitting next to me. Gosh, they know a thing or two about red cards.


* I sold all our (cloth) nappies and paraphernalia on eBay. That was a good feeling.

* I did some major toy clear-outs, to make room for all the new birthday Stuff, and that felt good, especially where I could give to known individuals or community groups. I still have the older kids’ bedroom to tackle, though, and am dreading it…

* I helped at our school’s first ever Film Night and it was great fun, especially dishing out the movie snacks!

* We had a few days away seeing my brothers’ families and some distant friends. Felt good to catch up, although travelling with the twinnoes is stressful.

* We visited a new-ish farm near us, and found an animal even smaller than our teeniest-tinest boy, so couldn’t resist this photo of our Meerkat bottle-feeding a micro-pig:


* We’re trying to buy an ironing board cover that doesn’t look like it came out of a 1980s batchelor pad. If any of you have experience in this field, do share.

And that’s it. Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s blog. How was your October? And can you believe we’re already into November? Feels like the year’s just begun, right?