The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting – review and GIVEAWAY!!!

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I’m hugely excited this week to be sharing an absolutely brilliant book with you. The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting (Sarah Naish) was released a few weeks ago, and I have to tell you that it’s already revolutionising my parenting.

Wait…rewind a few steps…what’s therapeutic parenting?

It’s a style of parenting favoured by many adoptive or fostering parents – but with numerous benefits to birth parents too. Some may think it sounds a bit wishy-washy, as if you’re allowing your children to run amok with no boundaries, but the reality is pretty much the opposite.

Therapeutic parenting provides very clear and consistent boundaries for children (particularly important if these have been lacking in their early childhood), but it looks beyond the immediate, presenting behaviour to see the emotions being expressed and what they tell us about what a child might be struggling with.

Children who have not been loved, nurtured and cared for in the first few years of life may well have difficulties in responding to people or situations, due to brain pathways not developing as they should. These difficulties can include: little understanding of cause-and-effect (the consequences of their actions), an overactive stress response, and struggles with daily transitions, to name but a few.

Sounds complicated!

It is! And that’s where The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting comes in. The first part of the book gives a really helpful and practical guide to therapeutic parenting – what it is, why it’s necessary for vulnerable children, how it works in practice. And this is compacted into 70 odd pages.

It might sound like a lot, but whole books have been written on this subject – so Sarah Naish’s helpful analysis is very concise and readable, broken down into several chapters.

OK – but that all sounds a bit theoretical.

That’s where part two comes in! The bulk of this book is given over to its title – an ‘A-Z’ of over sixty behaviours commonly presented by children, with clear bullet-pointed lists of what the behaviour looks like, why it might be happening, strategies you can use during and after the incident, and preventative strategies you can put in place to reduce, or eliminate, the behaviour in the future.

Pretty much everything you can think of is included, from shouting to sleep issues, disorganisation to dummies, hypochondria to homework. We adopted our boys over two years ago and I’ll be honest with you: the first two years were simply about keeping head above water. Now that I’m out of the initial haze, I’ve had time to read more deeply and widely about trauma, attachment and parenting.

But in those early days? This book would have been SO HELPFUL. You can literally just look up the behaviour your child is struggling with, read a couple of pages, and be armed with so many ideas for how to prevent and deal with it.

For example, two issues we’re constantly up against in our household are aggression and controlling behaviour. Both of these are included in this book, and both of the articles gave me strategies I could start using straight away, with further ideas to think about long-term.

If you’re in the early days of adoption or fostering, with little time to read lengthy and technical books, but need something quick which will actually help you, this is the one. Quite simply, this is THE most practical and helpful book on parenting that I’ve seen!

Sounds good! What a shame only adoptive and fostering families can make use of it.

Did I say that?! Whilst therapeutic parenting is a fabulous (and, in my opinion, the only workable) way to parent vulnerable children, the approach does no harm to other children – and, in fact, will usually help them too!

Many birth children will have suffered trauma in their early lives too (a complicated birth, bereavement of someone close to them, an absent parent or parental relationship breakdown, etc.), and may well be presenting the behaviours listed in this book.

And, even for children who have led un-traumatised lives, these behaviours will sound familiar! I have two birth children who fall into this category, but they still present difficult behaviours, and I know that many of the strategies Sarah Naish outlines in this book will really help them (and me) too.

So this book is good for all parents – great! But who is this Sarah Naish woman? Bet she doesn’t actually have any kids, right?

Wrong! Sarah Naish has an incredibly inspiring background which involves a career in social work, followed by adopting five siblings, followed by her husband suffering from compassion fatigue and walking out, followed by a few years of single-handedly parenting these five damaged and wounded children. (Yep, you read that right. FIVE. On her own. Geez.)

She eventually got re-married (to an impossibly-awesome-sounding guy!), and her children are now grown up. Sarah now works with hundreds of families to support them in their parenting journeys, through the National Association of Therapeutic Parents, which she set up, and the Inspire Training Group, which delivers training on attachment issues. She’s written several books.

I think the girl probably knows what she’s talking about.

OK, you win. I’ll bet she’s a bit patronising, though, with all that experience.

No! That’s another fab thing about this book: it didn’t make me feel rubbish about my own (often inadequate) parenting. Sarah understands that we’re human, that we don’t always act as we’d like to. She’s a great believer in new starts, in picking ourselves up after something’s gone wrong, and having another go. I loved her forgiving and encouraging tone.

Sounds brilliant! How does one get hold of a copy?

There’s the traditional route: you click here and buy a copy.

Then there’s the non-traditional route: Jessica Kingsley Publishers are kindly offering a copy of this book to one lucky winner in a fabulous giveaway!

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Trevor Nicholas who won!

For a brilliant adoption book aimed at children, I highly recommend The Mermaid who Couldn’t – read my review here.

And if it’s your first time here, why not check out my other Adoption posts?

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy to review by the very kind publishers, but my review represents my own views, which I was under no obligation to make more positive than they actually are. For those of you new to my blog, please rest assured that I only ever review stuff I love!

Another disclaimer, because I’m getting all bloggy and stuff: This blog post contains affiliate links, which means if you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a teensy-weensy bit of commission at no extra cost to yourself. In fact, the link I’ve given you is the cheapest I’ve seen this book, so you’d be a fool not to use it…

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the day of demands (and the half-dead flowers which spoke more than any bouquet)

Today’s sultry summer weather has reminded me of a similar day a few weeks ago.

It was a day of demands.

And, being the good British mum I am, I wanted to let my children experience the glories of summer in case the season decided not to greet us again until next year. Read: I got the paddling pool out.

It’s no mean feat, this. In my head, suffering with the amnesia which comes from not having done something for a whole year, it takes around 10 minutes to inflate and fill a paddling pool. The reality? Allow half a day.

So, by the time the big kids came back from school, all four were fired up and ready to go. The clothes came off, the swimsuits came on.

And the demands flowed like honey:

“Mum – can you put the slide in the paddling pool?”

“Can you get down my other swimsuit?”

“Can I have a drink?”

“I done wee-wee in my pants.”

“Can I have a snack?”

“Mum – can you help me with the slide?”

“Can you fill up my water gun?”

“I don’t like breadsticks.”

“Mum!! Monkey’s tipped water all over me and I’m soaked!”

“Meerkat’s fallen over and he’s crying.”

“Mum! There’s a nettle growing through the trampoline!”

(Silly me, thinking I might be able to hang out the washing while my children played contentedly.)

In the middle of the demands, though, came a small and almost-missed voice. See if you can spot it.

“Mum – can you fill up my water bottle?”

“I want more snack!”

“We’ve found some snails and we’ve called them Tilly and Billy and we’ve put them in my bed to live forever.”

“Mum – I want to get changed – where’s the towel?”

“I brought you some flowers Mummy.”

“Where my snack? Me hungry.”

“I need a poo!”

“Mummy help me – can’t get my swimsuit off.”

“Mum will you tell Monkey to stop hitting me?”

“I’ve put them by your bed, Mummy.”

By the time they all went to bed, I was exhausted. And yes, somehow, we’d managed to get some food into them, cleaned their teeth and got them safely to bed, but it had zapped all my energy, and I was lying comatose on the sofa for the rest of the evening.

Eventually, I dragged myself upstairs. Walking round the bed to get to my side, I was struck by a sight which made my eyes well up and a broad smile creep across my face.

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More precious than any fancy bouquet I’ve ever received were these three half-dead flowers, lying in their quiet generosity on my bedside table. A sign of unconditional love from my girl – that amidst my snapping and gradual loss of patience, she not only still loved me, but wanted to give me something to show it, even going to the trouble of carrying them upstairs for me, as if she knew that this small action was going to be something I wouldn’t get round to today.

And I don’t really know what else to say, except Love. Love love love love love. It’s borne in the moments of impatience and frustration, of tiredness and snapping, as much as it is in the giving and the celebrating, the laughter and the smiles.

If you’ve had a day of demands: never underestimate what you are investing in your kids each day through the miracle of your humanness. You don’t need to be perfect: you just need to be you.

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Log-fired pizzas, hands-free parenting and incredible acrobatics (watching, not doing) – What I’m into – April 2018

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Books

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The adjective for me reading Ian McEwan’s Solar would, I think, be ‘ploughing through’. In many ways it was an enjoyable read – he has an amazing ability to articulate such fine details in precise but creative ways, teaching me so much about working with words – but, with lots of talk about physics, plus a lead character whose infidelity and general self-centredness didn’t endear me to him, it felt a bit of a slog.

It was the book chosen for my fab Book Club this month, and I’m glad I got to read it, as I’d never have picked up this sort of novel otherwise. But I’m also glad I’m through it!

I was also disappointed by the ending…I somehow felt that if there was a spectacular showdown in the last few pages (which I really did feel the story was building up to) then I would have forgiven the slog. But the end was an anti-climax – almost as if McEwan had got distracted by something – a wasp flying into the room, maybe? – and had finished the book in a rush.

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This month I (and my housegroup) finished Kevin de Young’s The Hole in our Holiness. There were many great themes in this book of which I needed reminding – but the writing lacked nuance and sensitivity to those who might read the Bible slightly differently on issues, and the whole book seemed to sit in a frustrating no-man’s-land betweeen academic rigour and accessible discipleship. He used unnecessarily long or complicated language for the layman to understand – but also didn’t quite back up his points well enough, or make coherent enough arguments in places, for the book to be considered ‘academic’.

downloadI am still, however, really enjoying Hands-Free Mama. Its author, Rachel Macy Stafford, recommends reading one chapter per month for a year, which is what I’m doing, except that, with the length of time passing between each chapter, I was finding myself losing the train of thought.

I’ve now got a better solution: keeping the book in the loo and reading a page or two regularly! I usually hate reading books on the loo, as I can’t get into them before my bottom goes numb. But this book is written in short sections and anecdotes which add up to the same idea, so it’s really easy to dip into for short bursts.

Food

Well obviously I ate Too Much Chocolate. It was inevitable, really, after my Lenten fast. Since I have Zero Shame on this blog, you may as well know that I had the chocs lined up on my bedside table, ready to indulge first thing on Easter Sunday morning.

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Photo credit: Joy Photography

Besides that, my favourite York bistro launched its Pizza and Beer weekends, and I visited twice. If you’re a local, make sure you don’t miss out on these absolutely phenomenal log-fired pizzas, with crazy-awesome toppings. Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm, all through the summer.

Music

We got out our old Karine Polwart CD and have been enjoying her fresh, light, folksy sound – even 6-year-old Missy’s been converted to Karine’s beautiful voice and lyrical melodies. If you don’t know her, all I can say is that she’s PERFECT for summer drives. (Karine, not Missy. Missy will spend the entire journey moaning that she’s too warm, complaining about her head-rest and requesting snacks – not nearly as relaxing as Karine.)

Stage and screen

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Image credit: http://www.mettatheatre.co.uk

The older kids and I went to a stage production of The Little MermaidIt was breath-takingly beautiful: essentially a piece of musical theatre, with live ensemble integrated into the cast. But the most stunning and different aspect to it was the acrobatics – incredible circus-like feats which gave the impression of swimming through water. We were spellbound.

It’s currently on in Malvern till Saturday, then Windsor, then three weeks in London. I highly recommend getting some tickets if you’re within a stone’s throw of any of these places. The recommended age is 8+, but I took my 8yo and 6yo and they both loved it. The performance lasts just over an hour, so any child who can sit for that length of time would enjoy it I reckon. (Needless to say, you’d also enjoy it as an adult with no kids in tow!)

Films-wise, I enjoyed Kramer v. Kramer – an oldie I’d never got round to seeing. So much of the public gender debate covers discrimination against women, that it was refreshing – although painful – to watch an example of discrimination against a man. The story is fictional, but could have been real, very much reflecting the feeling at the time (and even now for some) that a man wasn’t as equipped as a women to raise a child. Needless to say, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep are incredible, as is Justin Henry, who plays their child – much of the film is pure dialogue, and requires these veritable talents to pull it off. Recommended if you haven’t seen!

About Time is the kind of film you’re still thinking about (and smiling at the memory of) the day after you watch it. Such an interesting premise, the idea that you can repeat moments over and over again, to get them ‘right’ – but, as with all time travel stories, there are complications and limitations. Learning how to balance this all out results in some heartwarming lessons – and, as you would expect from a Richard Curtis film, there are some stonkingly good lines throughout. I was laughing out loud one moment, and crying the next.

Finally – I enjoyed The Notebook, a touching drama about an ill-fated love affair between two teenagers in the 1940s. It avoids cliche by taking the perspective of the lady many years later, now suffering from dementia in a nursing home – and I love the way we’re left till soooooo near the end before discovering how the love story turned out.

Articles

Love is not a Feeling is so beautifully written, so wise and thought-provoking – and deserves to be read by everyone!

On the blog

child-817369_640I asked Why adopt when you can have birth children? and explained Why my son tore up his Mothers’ Day card. I also shared the highs and lows of my writing journey so far.

Elsewhere

I launched my career as a HuffPost blogger with a plea to stop talking about ‘working mums’ as if some of us laze around all day with nothing but Loose Women and a big bag of Haribo for company.

woman-1733881_640.jpgThe Association of Christian Writers (ACW) has a fabulous blog – most days of the month are covered, and all the contributors are writers (doh!) so the quality is really high. I recommend you take a look! I’ve recently bagged the 2nd-of-the-month slot, and April was my maiden voyage.

On the Home for Good website, you can catch my article What the Church needs to know about Trauma (actually, it’s what we all need to know about trauma, church-goers or not), and read the incredibly powerful story of Fran, who spent her childhood in a disfunctional family and her adolescence in foster care. It was a privilege to be able to interview Fran, understand her story and glean her wisdom.

And I was delighted to share some ideas for when you and your partner disagree on parenting issues over at the fabulous To Love Honor and Vacuum blog.

In other news…

* thank you to what is lovingly referred to as ‘Beauty Twitter’ for advising me that coconut oil removes make up. It really does! And is cheap as chips!

* I spent an inordinate amount of time this month sorting out GDPR for my mailing list, learning how to blog properly (after six years…who knew there was actually some skill to this blogging lark?), designing a few exciting graphics for forthcoming blog posts, and signing up for affiliate programs (see below).

Did I mention my mailing list?! If you’re not on it – get on it! The form won’t even take you a minute to fill in, and I’ll send you ‘Ten Tried-and-Tested Tips for Kids’ Parties’ as a thank you. (Or, rather, Mailchimp will. Because I worked out the automation feature. Yay me.)

* And, of course, I’d love to connect with you via Facebook or Twitter!

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into’ series.

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link and make a purchase, I will earn a small amount of commission, at no extra cost to yourself. I seriously only recommend stuff I like – I never lie just to earn commission!

Why my son tore up his Mothers’ Day card (and it’s not what you think)

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Image credit: Pixabay

As an organised, sentimental yet time-starved Mum, my approach to archiving all those special bits and pieces that your kids produce (and which you want to keep because, my gosh, some of it is truly awful), consists of throwing them all into named box files.

It works pretty well: each child has a file, and in it there is a fairly comprehensive stack of cards they’ve made, special pieces of art, certificates, and so on. If anyone ever wants to marry our kids (seems unlikely at the moment, given the apparent difficulty of remembering to change underwear on a daily basis, but you never know, this may sink in at some point), then we have a stack of stuff ready to embarrass/encourage them at their Hen/Stag parties, in the wedding speeches, or whenever we damn well feel like it. (Ammunition? Me?)

However, in Monkey’s file there will always be a gap where his Mothers’ Day card 2018 should have been. Mister and Meerkat have theirs safely filed away. Missy, who you can’t stop writing and drawing for love nor money, has all 28 of her cards filed away (well, maybe I binned a few).

But there’s a gap in Monkey’s file.

About a week or so after Mothers’ Day, he came into the kitchen where I was doing some job or other, a bit distracted as usual, and said calmly, “Me not like my picture. Me put it in the bin.”

I didn’t know to what he was referring, so just said, “That’s fine, sweetheart, you can do what you like with your own drawings”. It was only later that I discovered it was the cute card he’d carefully coloured and decorated at preschool for me.

You might think that this was some sort of toddler protest, that what Monkey was actually saying, in fact, was that I wasn’t his ‘real’ mum and that I therefore didn’t deserve a card.

You might think that, and you’d be forgiven. After all, isn’t this one of the well-known emotional stages that an adopted child might go through?

Well, yes, it can be. But I’m pretty sure Monkey wasn’t making a statement about me. For one, although we talk about birth mum, he is still too young to understand the implications of having two mums, and to consider that perhaps I’m not the best option, perhaps he’d have preferred to have had the other one raise him.

Secondly, he was entirely calm as he tore up the card and binned it. We hadn’t had a fight, he wasn’t having a meltdown, there were no tears or harsh words.

And I’m actually pleased that I didn’t realise till later that it was his Mothers’ Day card that he’d ripped up, or else I might have made more of a deal out of it. (And that would have been entirely because I was hurt, not because of any consideration to his feelings.)

The reason I believe he tore up the card is a little hard to describe, so bear with me. Partly, it’s because he needs to feel in control. Whilst my boys can’t remember moving from birth mum to foster mum, or from foster mum to me, the experience of changing care-giver as a young child is highly traumatic, and leaves its imprint on the mind. This imprint is one of anxiety and insecurity – “Will we be moving again? Will this family stick with us? Is it our fault?”

Whilst all babies and young children have decisions made for them, these are usually stabilising decisions which help to make the child feel more secure (such as what house to live in, which childcare to use, what to feed them etc.).

By contrast, the decisions that are made for looked-after children, although positive in the long-term, have an initially de-stabilising element. In order to keep these children safe, and to provide them with the best chance for their future, they need to be moved from one caregiver to another – moved away from everything they have come to know.

The effect of this is that looked-after children can often look for ways they can control and stabilise their environment. A simple way that a young child can do this is by taking ownership of something they’ve created, something they know is theirs – and to destroy it. My son wasn’t claiming that I wasn’t fit to be his Mum – he was simply taking control over something in his life which made him feel safe.

The jury’s out on whether I should encourage or discourage this behaviour (it’s not the first time), but I’m tending towards the idea that allowing my boys to take control in appropriate settings, whilst realising when their Dad and I are in control, is in the right kind of ball-park. And therefore, if they want to destroy stuff they make, I’m not going to protest wildly that “Now I don’t have anything to cover the period September-October 2017 on your 18th birthday speech! Damn you, child, with your lack of concern for feeding your mother’s maternal insanity” even though that is EVERY BIT how I feel.

Another reason for the destruction of the card – one which worries me a little more – might be that Monkey has a low opinion of himself. It is highly common for looked-after children to experience feelings of inadequacy (“I’m not good enough”, “My birth family didn’t want me”, “I don’t have a proper home”, “I’m not really their son”). I worry that the destruction of something he’s made reflects Monkey’s attitude about himself (which he can’t yet articulate) – that he is not valuable or precious or loved, and neither are the things he owns or makes.

There is no easy answer to this one, except to keep on loving, keep on reassuring, keep on praying, keep on whispering over and over again, “You are my very special son, and I love you. My sweet, special boy – I love you so much” until, like a stuck record, it becomes the unswerving refrain of his soul. Until he starts to believe it.

It’s only a card. I may joke about sentimentality, but really I’m not fussed whether it’s in the file or not. Like so much of adoptive parenting, what really matters is not the short-term behaviours but the long-term goal: parenting my son to face the future with a healthy attitude about himself and others.

It might sound easy, but to a destabilised and insecure child, it’s anything but.

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The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum – review and GIVEAWAY!!!

When you write a blog, it’s inevitable that people start telling you to write a book. All very well, you say, but it’s a bit harder to come up with an idea that might actually sell. After all, a book has to be more than a group of disparate thoughts all fused together. (Unless you’re a celebrity, in which case people will buy this kind of book in the thousands.)

This has been my dilemma over the last year or two, and particularly in the last few months since taking the plunge to devote more time to writing. If this blog could ever be translated to a book that people might want to read, then it would probably be a sort-of diary, perhaps halfway between Bridget Jones and Adrian Plass, recounting the pressures of parenting whilst telling the funny stories and also trying to pursue discipleship through the haze of early…

…BINGO! Fiona Lloyd has written this book, and it says EXACTLY what I would want mine to say, and she has done it A BAZILLION times better than I would have done. One thing can now be crossed off the to-do list. (Which seems to grow rather than shrink. Anyone else have this experience?)

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I’ve had a wonderful March, indulging in The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum. It’s honestly been my guilty pleasure, and has had me laughing out loud at times, and moved to tears at others.

The diary follows the ups and downs of Becky Hudson, mum of three and wife of one, who struggles to keep afloat in the sea of tweenager tantrums, toddler mischief, and one little boy who’s very obsessed with Formula One – not to mention a husband who’s facing Ofsted, an overly judgemental mother-in-law, and a church leader who seems to think Becky has a gift for leading whole-church prayers.

It didn’t take me long to warm to Becky, and her group of friends, as they support each other through their various parenting struggles and joys. I saw so much of myself in her, and various other characters. If the author has resorted to a couple of stereotypes (a holier-than-thou church mum, and the aforementioned MIL), she’s quickly forgiven because of such brilliantly funny, sassy writing, and a plot which develops cleverly throughout the diary entries.

I don’t usually read Christian fiction, and I found the whole experience completely wonderful. Christian non-fiction can inspire in a radical, ‘things you hadn’t thought about before’ way – but Christian fiction, like this book, can inspire you in a much more down-to-earth, ‘getting alongside you’ way.

If you’re a Mum, you’ll love this. If you’re a Dad who likes reading Mum books, you’ll love it too. (If you don’t, then buy it for a Mum you know.) I would also go a step further to say that even if your kids are all grown-up, you have grandkids or great-grandkids – you will still love this book! I’ll bet it’ll take you back to your days as a younger mum, and have you nodding away as you chuckle into your cuppa.

If you’re keen to get to know Fiona Lloyd before investing in this book, you can read this brilliant piece she wrote for the Baptist Union on why (and how) churches should welcome parents, or listen to this wise and articulate podcast she recorded for Premier Radio. If you subscribe to Woman Alive, you may also be interested to read her article in the April issue.

But before you head off to order the book…enter this giveaway! The kind folk at Instant Apostle have offered TWO FREE BOOKS to two lucky readers! All you have to do (you’ll be getting to know the drill by now) is leave a comment below by 11pm on Wednesday 4th April. I’ll use a random number generator to pick two winners, and let you know the happy news pronto.

THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO HEATHER AND REBECCA!

Like what you’ve read? Click here to sign up for my emails and never miss another post! Plus, I’ll send you ‘Ten Survival Tips for Newly Adoptive Parents’ as a thank you!

Like books? Read some of my latest reviews!

Disclaimery bit: I reviewed my own copy of the book. All views are my own. Instant Apostle are kindly supplying the giveaway copies. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t review books I think are no good. I don’t receive payment, and if I receive a free book myself I’ll always let you know.

Also, this blog contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thanks for your support.

Could I be a single parent?

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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.

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

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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!