Thursday, 24 April 2014

Wheel of Life

The Wheel of Life. Another gift from my life-coaching friend. Such a neat tool. The image here is pretty standard, covering the main areas of most people's lives. What you do is rate how happy you are with each area of your life, from 0 in the centre, to 10 if that area is perfection. There are at least a few different ways to do this first step. I do it asking myself, "How well am I performing in this particular area?" Others might think more about the external factors in each category, and how happy they are with them, regardless of their own input. For instance, when I rate finance, I think about how happy I am with how I'm managing our finances, and not the absolute value per se.

Step two is to join up all the crosses so that you get a visual representation of your bumps (good parts) and troughs (less good). The next steps are the real clinchers. Step 3 is to look at all 8 of the categories, and think about what a "10" would look like. Step 4 is to circle the 3 areas that if they were a 10, would make the biggest difference to your overall happiness. The funny thing about this step is that these 3 are often not the areas scored lowest. The final step is to list three things that you can do in each of those area to improve the score. Nice action plan, no?

If you google "blank wheel of life" there are more templates than you can shake a stick at. Recently I did it at our lab meeting (work), and we rated these areas:

1. Writing
2. Networking
3. Research work
4. Skill acquisition
5. Reading
6. Teaching
7. Marking
8. Time management

For the determinants of parenting, one could do:

1. Mental health
2. Physical health
3. Household environment
4. Marriage
5. Finances
6. Work
7. Social network
8. Fun & Recreation

I'm quite sure I could spend the rest of my life rating my life rather than actually living it. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Favourite Household Organising Books

I am getting really excited at the thought of May's focus -- household organisation. Our house isn't really that bad, but it could be a whole lot better. In prep, I'm re-reading my favourite (and I've read A LOT) organising book, Organizing from the Inside Out. I am so looking forward to getting out my label maker and getting the boys' toys in the kind of order that would make an OCD kindergarten teacher proud. I will start proper on the 1st, but in the meantime, I just might see if I can get rid of a few car loads of rubbish and donations beforehand. I love purging even more than organising.

The second book that I shall be re-reading is Sink Reflections. I think Julie's book (Organizing from the Inside Out) is better for thinking through how to get things properly organised, but the Fly Lady is better at thinking through daily maintenance. I wish I had found this book when I was pregnant with Harry. I had a really rough last couple of months. I came off my anti-depressants and I wasn't working. I wasn't sleeping well, I had no structure, and I was depressed. I wasted the time I had off, and that just made me feel worse. Although not marketed as such, the Fly Lady totally gets that kind of lethargic, stuck in a rut state of being. I would have done really well to follow her routines in those weeks.

Anyway. I am re-reading, and coming up with some daily routines for May, as well as some large overhaul-the-crap projects. This is going to be oh-so-satisfying. I hope some of you will play along!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Good to be Back!

I had 6 days off over Easter. It turns out I find it near impossible to blog about parenting whilst actually parenting. It's super nice to be back to my regularly scheduled programming!

All in all, it was a really great break. The weather was good, plenty of time out and about, and hours upon hours at the skate park. Grandma bought Harry his very own grown-up skateboard. Very exciting. Turns out it takes 5 hours before Harry asks to go home. We also hosted a birthday party for a hamster, and Easter lunch for the Grandmas, cousins, etc. I was pleased with both of those events because I was more realistic about them than I often am. For instance, I made the hamster party 1.5 hours. I did not endeavour to create a treasure hunt with elaborate clues for all the cousins. I'm learning! Maybe.

But that's not why we're here now, is it? I had one day that went a bit wrong. I was bemoaning my failings to a writer-friend, who pointed out that it was all good blog fodder. So true! Where would I be without my periodic parenting travesties?

The problem was that I had scheduled too much into the day. I had arranged for time at the gym (childcare!) 9:30 - 11:30, and to meet up with friends for the afternoon. Sounds fine, right? So of course I offered to take a friend of Harry's along. And when his mum suggested that we all go swimming afterwards, I said sure! Somehow I convinced myself that we could fit in a swim, lunch, and a half hour drive before meeting friends for the afternoon at 1:30. I also hate being late. Was I calm? No. Did I rush the boys at every turn? Yes. Did I shout? Loads. Did they end up eating lunch in the car? Sort of. Most of it ended up on the floor (still there), and hanging off their faces as they slept. Cue crying whilst hauling them out of the car - more rushing - to meet our friends. Late. Each bit of the day was actually quite nice, but the transitions were hellish, and entirely my fault.

Still, one "fail" day out of 6 ain't all that bad.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Tuesday Tip: Read Selectively

We usually have a parenting book or two in the bathroom for browsing. Sure, sometimes I flip through looking for answers. But the real reason I like having them to hand is to read sections on challenges that we don't face. My personal favourite is reading about bedtime battles. Our house shuts down at 7:30, and reading about the horrors we could be facing gives me a smug glow that lasts at least 2 minutes. The trick then is to close the book. 

I'm thinking that this could extend beyond parenting. Perhaps I should read books about anxiety (not depression), eating disorders (not garden variety over-eating), and post-traumatic stress! This could be fun.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Appreciating Irritating Habits

A blessing of having a second child is that it highlights some irritating habits you never realised your first child didn't have. I thought teething pain was a figment of parents' imagination before Tom had it. Likewise, I had no idea how blessed we were that Harry would poop on demand for a Smartie reward until Tom point blank refused (still no potty or toilet poop -- sigh).

Of course it works the other way round as well. Every time I put Tom to bed I enjoy it so much. He makes no fuss about getting his PJs on. He sits on my lap for a couple of stories. He stays in bed after you sing him a song and say goodnight. Be still my beating heart. With Harry I used to have to sit against the door to stop him escaping. I sat there with his PJs ready, looking down, not paying him any attention until he came to me. It would take 5-10 minutes. During that time he would run round his bedroom, often screaming, and sometimes hitting me for the hell of it. Age 3 was a hard year.

For the last three Saturday mornings I have taken the boys first thing in the morning to a local skating park. We meet another family there who have 3 boys (a set of twins) the same age. It suits us all so well. Their mum reminded me on the last trip just how lucky we are to have such independent boys. They run free, chatting away, checking in with us from time to time. It would bug me if one or both of them was wanting to sit with mummy the whole time. It's so easy to take for granted the irritating habits your child(ren) don't have.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Parenting Project Update

1. I didn't shout at all this past week. I think I'm out of the habit! Result. 

2. Correcting. I still do it. I don't think this one was a very good resolution. Correcting does need to happen as things go wrong, but I do want to minimise doing this (e.g., it makes no difference if I tell the boys to quiet down in the mornings -- I may as well not add nagging to the cacophony). What I am resolving to do instead is to do think-throughs about speaking in a polite, respectful voice with pleases and thank yous at least a couple of times each day, at a neutral time. I'm sure Harry will find this most enjoyable ;-). (This is from the book I've talked about before, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting.)

3. Still enjoying 3 good things. 

4. No therapy for the next 3 weeks! How will I cope? 

5. No sugar I found really hard. Like super hard. I was also eating more, in an attempt to scratch the sweet itch. And not increasing my veg intake, so I've eased up. I'm going back to my fruit & yoghurt smoothies in the morning. Yes, I am hungrier before lunch than if I have the same amount of calories in porridge form, but my morning smoothie makes me happy. And it's the only way I've found to get myself to eat two portions of fruit per day. I think I'll allow myself one other little treat per day. Something like that. This morning I had french toast with berries, maple syrup and creme fraiche. YUM. It's a lot of happiness, and on reflection, worth it.

6. Exercise. Not so good. Only twice in the past week. Must do better. I used to use an app called gym pact, now called just "pact." You say how often you're going to go to the gym at the beginning of every week, and then you get fined an amount you specify for any workout missed. I had it set up so that it would charge my credit card £20 for every workout missed (it also links with RunKeeper). Each time you go to the gym, you have to check in, and you can't cheat (very much) because it uses GPS to make sure you're actually at a gym. This worked really well for me. Yes, I got charged a few times, but the cost was far less than personal training. I thought I didn't need it anymore, that the habit was so well established that I could forego the hassle of checking in. Not so much. I've just reinstalled the app. I'm committing to 5 workouts next week.

7. The big winner for this month of physical health has been weaning myself off falling asleep with headphones in my ears. Every night I dread not being able to listen to something as I fall asleep, but it's oh so much better! I like the random thought-surfing as I fall asleep. I'm sleeping better for sure. Nice.

I'm starting to look forward to May. Household organisation!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Parenting Principles 2.0

I had lots of great ideas after last week's Parenting Principles post. I have revised accordingly. I am constrained by a desire to make each principle exactly two words.

1. Be calm.
(This really is a mantra for life -- I would love to be more laid back, but I'm not. I find faking it does help in all sorts of situations though. Knitting totes helps.)

2. No rushing.
(So key for me. If I have the time to wait, they will usually do whatever it is without reminding and without shouting.)

3. Adults first.
(I got this idea from a friend who had a child before I did. I remember that she and her husband had the rule that if two people in the house were crying, you attend to the adult first. The whole putting on your own mask first principle.)

4. Model well.
(I like "monkey see, monkey do," much better, but the two word thing.)

5. Be playful.
(Supposed to also encompass seeing the funny side, smiling & laughing.)

6. No cheating.
(This is consistency for me. It's almost never worth bending a rule, I find. Whenever I'm flexible with Harry's bedtime, I end up rushing him. Not worth it.)

I also like these 4 ideas, but I'm having trouble condensing them down to two word phrases:

7. This too shall pass.

8. Don't sweat the small stuff.

9. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
(Maybe: Leave it. Though I'm not sure that I personally need this one. I probably let too much go rather than the reverse.)

10. The days are long, but the years are short.
( I may indulge in this video later today. Always yields a nice cry.)

Any (further) suggestions gratefully received!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Family Dinner

I recently came across an article that made me say "I knew it!" out loud. Musick and Meier (2012) use a large American data set to test associations between family dinners and adolescent well-being. The background to this is that family dinners have reached mythical status in the US, been described as a magic bullet to prevent/cure everything from deteriorating family relationships, to depression and eating disorders. Through more careful analysis, Musick and Meier discover that the effect of family dinners is mostly due to the fact that more affluent, well-educated, white parents are more likely to host family dinners than are their less advantaged counterparts. It's a sign of having your shit together as a middle-class American parent to eat dinner together as a family.

Almost 20 years ago I was chatting with an American colleague who was doing some analysis on the Twins Early Development Study, a twin study of all the twins born in England and Wales in 1994 & 1995. My colleague was questioning the accuracy of the data because the item about family dinners wasn't working properly. He said that it should be correlating with household organisation and parent-child relationship quality, and it wasn't. This was one of those times that my cross-cultural upbringing came into its own. I was not the least bit surprised. The twins were only 3 years old. As I explained, any British family with their shit together feeds young children at 5, and gets them to bed by 7 so that the parents can enjoy a civilised dinner at 7:30 or 8.

Don't get me wrong, I can see that family dinners are a great way to actually talk to one another, model good eating behaviours, engender a sense of family cohesion. But these family processes can happen at other times and in other ways too. I'm definitely not ready to give up my civilised adult meal times.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Two Tips for Tuesday

These may well reside in the category of the blindingly obvious, but that makes me feel rather good about myself anyhow, so I won't hold back.

1. Schedule off-time. I love that by leaving the house at 6:40 I get to the gym, all equipment prepped and ready to go by 7. If I leave the house at 8:40, it takes about half an hour just to do the drive.

(Can't resist a little aside. The news coverage of 9/11 in the UK had to include information about the start of the American workday being prior to 9 am. The British workplace doesn't really get going until 9:30.)

2. Empty bags and cars. After every trip/day. I'm not saying I always do this, but it is oh so much better, no? Not nice finding long-lost items in a half-emptied bag. We are thinking to go back to being a one-car family, but our different attitudes to this particular "tip" might be the deal-breaker. (While I'm at it, why let children eat in the car? Really, why?)

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Demon Alcohol

Remember how I said I wouldn't be touching a drop of alcohol? Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way. I've had one glass most weeks. And it really sucks. Not enough for any kind of buzz, but one measly glass gives me a headache and makes me grumpy the next day. Totally not worth it. In all honesty, I just don't think I have the physiology for it.

What makes it hard is that I really don't like the connotations that go along with being teetotal. Earnest. Kill-joy. Dull. Humourless. I've decided to call it a full-on identity crisis. That's why it's so hard to give it up completely. Being a drinker is not quite my master status, but it was certainly in my top 5 for most of my adult life.

I had a really sick thought today. I think it would sound better if I could say that I'm an alcoholic, and that's why I don't drink. That would make me sound edgy. "It just doesn't agree with me, and makes me wish my children would go away," just doesn't cut it. I am absolutely appalled that I would have such an offensive thought. Perhaps appalled enough grow up.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Parenting Project Update

It's been a busy week, so it feels like a bit of a cheat. I haven't had much time to misbehave with the children. Sian says I'm definitely a lot less shouty, so that's good. In terms of defining shouting, I've realised that Harry is the best judge. Last weekend I took the boys to the skate park on Saturday morning. When it was time to go, I did need to yell to get Harry to listen to me. He said that it was turning into the worst day of his life because I was being a mean, shouting mummy. I tried to tell him that I was just "calling out" so that he could hear me, but he was totally right. I was irritated, and my voice was loud and mean. Ah well.

Correcting. I've made an effort. What I need to be better at is doing the think throughs in advance, at a neutral time. We had a couple of very early starts from Harry this week. Once he has already come into our room and bugged us, it's pretty much impossible for him to remain silent in his room. But when I remember to ask him the night before what he should do in the morning if he wakes before 6, he almost always manages to leave us alone. I need to start doing this for politeness (please & thank you). Harry is bad about this, Tom is not. I realise writing this that I am still correcting at the time. I need to wait without comment for the please, and talk to him about this repeatedly at neutral times.

As for physical health, I've had nearly no sugar since Tuesday. I miss it, but I'm coping. My diet could still do with improvement though. I'm eating a lot of crisps. Exercise - tick, and 3 good things - tick! And I do think I'm sleeping better without the headphone in my ear. Reading an actual physical book in bed feels very vintage indeed.

I bought some gold stars for my notebook, but now I can't find them. The coloured dots really aren't doing it for me.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Parenting Principles

I want to come up with 5 Parenting Principles that I can get tattooed on my arm of something.  Here's a draft:

  • Be calm.
  • No rushing.
  • Attend to the adults first.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff.
Any other ideas/modifications?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Today, how about a little serving of good old-fashioned behaviourism. In all honesty, aren't the principles of learning theory (rewards, punishments, reinforcement) the bread & butter of parenting?

Of all Skinner's principles, the one that I don't think is entirely obvious, and is a particularly pertinent one for parenting, is intermittent reinforcement. The finding is that if that if a behaviour is not rewarded every time, but just occasionally, the behaviour is more likely to persist than if it is rewarded every time. This is a real trap, because it means that even if you manage to ignore your child's whining 90% of the time, but pay attention to it 10% of the time, you have set up a perfect intermittent reinforcement schedule such that the whining will continue. And attention, even negative attention, is a powerful reinforcer. Ouch.

On the more positive side, it means that you don't have to reward a child every time they do a desired behaviour, say staying quietly in their room until 6 o'clock (gee, I wonder why that example popped into my head). You can occasionally give the child a treat, or praise, or whatever, and the behaviour should persist.

5:10 this morning people, 5:10.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Parenting Project: April

As I know that a handful of you are playing along, so here is a reminder of what I'm adding to the Parenting Project in April.

Parenting behaviour: no correcting.

Physical health: exercise every day, no sugar (including fruit!), and no iPhone in bed.

More explanation can be found here and here.

I'm also going to log my food and exercise on MyFitnessPal. My username is purlhussy -- be my friend!

Divide & Conquer

Last week I finally got round to tracking my 168 hours for Laura Vanderkam. When I first wrote about this, I worried that the Hawthorne Effect would make the recording exercise invalid. I decided not to fight it, and instead used it as a time management exercise. Instead of tracking as I went, I filled out Monday-Friday on Sunday evening. Then, I just adjusted stuff as I went through the week, but it definitely made me more mindful of how I was spending my time.

There weren't any big surprises because I obsess about this kind of thing already, but the colour-coded week makes me disproportionately happy. You can see at a glance how different the front and back of my week looks. Green is work and orange is time with the boys. Monday - Wednesday I spent on average just 1.5 hours per day with the ginger nuts, whereas on Thursdays & Fridays I spent 6.5 hours with them. Something I notice about the way we do things versus a lot of other people is that we prioritise me-time (i.e., gym) & minimising childcare by dividing and conquering. During the week we have very little time with all four of us together. I realise this wouldn't appeal to a lot of people, but I think it's totally worth it. Divide & conquer. Tag-team parenting.

We may take it to an extreme; we do quite a bit of this at weekends in order to go shopping, have haircuts, etc. It might be an idea to plan at least one family activity per weekend.

The most amazing part of the week? Do you see Sunday? There is a huge chunk of "family chill time." I KNOW. I did not believe there could be such a thing. We are creatures of habit. We go to the gym on Sunday mornings, with childcare from 9:30 - 11:30. (Have I mentioned how much I love our gym? Yes, it's expensive, but the monthly fees include 2 hours of childcare per day.) We usually meet up with another family afterwards, go swimming and have lunch. It's great. But this Sunday it really felt like we turned a corner. It was warm, so we were outside where the children can run free. There are woods for them to play in. It's all very wholesome. Anyway, both Tom & Harry had friends to play with (Tom's old enough to have a self-selected best friend!), and everyone had such a nice, chilled-out time without needing constant attention. Plenty of adult chat-time and time to read the newspaper. Next week I'm going to bring my knitting. Hurrah for Springtime and a play pick-up joint rather than play-date.

Monday, 31 March 2014

The Kids Are All Right

“The quality of relationships, and not family structure, is what really counts.”
                                                --- Prof Susan Golombok

Many people have asked me whether I worry about my children being bullied or at least teased because they have two mums. My partner worries about this too. Me? Not so much. The evidence is pretty clear-cut on this one, and I am a scientist with very little imagination.

When I teach about non-traditional family forms (nice euphemism, don’t you think?), it’s hard to make it all that interesting. There is a slew of studies comparing children raised by lesbian couples with children raised in traditional mother-father families, and there are practically no differences in parenting or child outcomes

Behind that headline, of course, are all the caveats that go along with non-experimental research. A true experimental design to test whether lesbian parenting is “damaging” to children would involve randomly allocating children to couples, whether they wanted children or not. Among straight couples, there is an element of this for some. Something like a third of children are unplanned. Not unwanted, but somewhat unexpected.

All children of lesbians are planned and (usually) paid for. This is a highly motivated group of parents. Many actively work to compensate for father absence. Most are careful to live in liberal, accepting communities. But when all is said and done, the kids are all right.

What about the mothers? Yep, it's pretty great. Except on Mothers Day. That was yesterday. There is no father to do the heavy lifting. Annoying.

Friday, 28 March 2014

PP Update

As I wrote about on Monday, the weekend was not great. After reading that post, a certain friend of mine who knows me well sent the following text: "...your blog is a good reminder of where I am in my cycle. Still don't believe in PMS?!" I was so ticked off I almost texted back a lie about where I was in my cycle. The truth is, I had no idea. I don't really keep track (lesbian privilege). But I was certain my bumpy weekend could not be due to hormones. 

I was so wrong. Come Tuesday, I was a whole lot less grumpy. Sheesh. 

So, parenting project. Therapy. Still very much enjoying that hour per week all about me. Some friends asked what my therapist thought about this blog. I haven't told her. I don't want her to know she's one small part of a larger project! Is that weird?

Mindfulness. So over it. 

3 good things. I love this so much. Some highlights from the week:
  • Tom wearing my Uggs and commanding us to "Talk to Ali!"
  • New contact lens prescription that has improved reading immensely. (Ignoring that this weaker prescription is a sign of ageing, obviously.)
  • Happiness Project dinner with friends.
  • Harry overcoming shyness and speaking into a microphone at school assembly.
It's a good life once the hormones settle down.

Thursday, 27 March 2014


Oh how I love planning! Over my coffee this morning I did a bit of PP (parenting project) planning and blog planning. (Notes is such an under-rated app). So the monthly Parenting Project plan is now:

March: mental health
April: physical health
May: household organisation
June: finances
July: marriage
August: friends & family

April is fast approaching. My three things are pretty predictable, and underlying it all is a desire for more energy. I'm going to cut sugar out of my diet, exercise every day, and not allow myself my iPhone in bed. The last one is going to be super hard for me! I'm addicted to checking Facebook, blogs, etc., and then listening to a podcast to send me off to sleep. Advice is clear that this isn't a good idea (see pp. 27-29). So I'm going to give it a try.

I thought it would be helpful (for me) to have a bit of a default timetable for the blog too. So I'm going with:

Monday Musings
Tip on Tuesday
Article/Book on Wednesday
Thunder Thursday (bullet list)
Friday's Parenting Project Update

Yes, this pleases me very much.

Finally, several people have asked me if it is ok to share the link to the blog. YES PLEASE! From Facebook you can just hit share, and the address is

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Can a Nomothetic Perspective inform an Idiographic Life?

Yep, using big words today. I've been thinking a lot lately about the tension between academic psychology (what I do), and clinical psychology (actually working with patients/clients). There is little communication between academic and clinical psychology, and I have found this troubling. Why don't clinical psychologists use the academic evidence more? Why don't academic psychologists listen to what really matters from those working in clinical settings?

Academic psychology usually takes a nomothetic approach -- we aim to make generalisable statements about human behaviour. I try and make general statements about family and child well-being based on numerical information from large(ish) numbers of families. Clinicians, on the other hand, take an idiographic approach -- considering the unique experiences of each individual. Clinicians might use similar techniques across their different patients, but the content of the sessions will be unique to each individual.

Academic psychology probably does a better job informing public policy than informing clinical practice. When it comes to parenting, I think the idiographic approach is (thankfully) much more natural for most people. Most parents naturally take into account the unique traits, capabilities, propensities of their child when making decisions. However, I still think that a nomothetic approach has something to offer. When faced with a particular problem, I do think it makes sense to look at the evidence base first. It's like hedging your bets -- it might not work for everyone, but it's a better bet than just winging it.

For a concrete example, we have found that household chaos (homes lacking in routines, that are noisy and chaotic), was at least as important as quality of parenting in predicting children's behaviour problems. This suggests that running a home in a more systematic way might be helpful. It's probably the case, however, that it is really important for some kids, and not at all important for others. Still, it's a place to start.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Book Review

Parenting research is all well and good, but it doesn't actually explain in necessary detail how to be a warm/responsive/supportive parent, and resist the urge to throw the blighters out the nearest window. I stumbled upon Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting a year or two ago while browsing in a bookstore. I bought it because I liked the look of the cover.

I love this book.  It's not rocket science.  It covers things like praise, bedtime routines, eating, planning with your children. But the detail is brilliant. For example, she talks about not saying "That's fantastic!" about your child's latest (pretty crappy) drawing, but instead, "You're really focussing well on that drawing." And to aim to descriptively praise at least ten times per day.  I love me some detailed instruction.

Perhaps my favourite technique in the book is about how to ask your children to do things only once. It is a 6-step process, and it takes time. But with Harry it totally works. (The trick is to really engage, have plenty of time, and wait. Don't repeat. But it's more detailed than that.)

Anyway, this is the parenting book I recommend, even though I don't agree with everything in it. No, Noel, boys don't need dads any more than girls do. No, Noel, first-borns do not need more one-on-one attention than later borns. But for all the parenting strategies I know that I should be using, I find her clear, step-by-step guidance really useful.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Bumpy Weekend

Shall I list the low-lights? Shall I?

1) Discovered that I managed to loose Harry's scooter earlier this month. Visual: £100 note flouting away. This is the sort of thing that starts me on a self-loathing jag that is pure poison.

2) Teaching the boys the appropriate use of the word "SH**!" when Tom spilt his milk in the living room. I don't really care about the language, I care about my lack of control. It's a wood floor, it's not like it fu**ing matters.

3) I hesitate to list this one as a low-light, because it was also a high-light. Dinner out with friends was lovely. But it was a £100 night, and the food was only fine, and the service was poor. Ouch. Stuff like that bugs me; it's my beef with most holidays. Aren't you glad you're not married to me?

And the crowning glory:

4) Shouting at the 3-year-old in the middle of a car park to MAKE A DECISION AND STICK TO IT. Because that's developmentally appropriate.

5) Helping the 6-year-old to write in a journal that the worst part of his day was when his mummy shouted at his little brother. Knife to the heart kid.

Where did it all go wrong? I was short-tempered and grump all weekend. I think part of it was that I didn't have a good work-week last week, and that leaves me feeling out of sorts. I was also finding Harry particularly irritating. He cries and whines far more than Tom. That's just wrong. Sigh. It was disheartening.

Today is a new week. Onwards and upwards. I would like to say that it's off to a good start, but that would be a lie. I accidentally had caffeinated coffee last night so had a really poor night's sleep. Tried a new exercise class this morning. Had to leave after 5 mins for my normal reason. In front of fellow school gate mum who has birthed 4 children and resembles a rubber band.

Thank goodness for 3 good things. It really cheered me up last night to list the lovely points in the day. Harry reading to Tom! Both snuggled on my lap! So very sweet. They are also so quick to forgive & forget. If they can move on, so can I.

Off to meditate. Taking myself back to Week 1. Thanks blog, without you I would have given up on it by now.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Parenting Project Update

So. The therapy and the 3 good things are going really well. It has really made a difference having a nice notebook to write the 3 good things in. In the past I have tried an app for that, but it's not the same. I like having a mix of things that I remember from the day, but also to remind myself of everyday luxuries that are so easy to take for granted -- living in my favourite city, having a cute little car all to myself, healthy children, a comfortable house. Life IS good.

I have been shockingly bad about the mindfulness meditation this week. As in I am supposed to be doing in twice per day, and I have done it twice this week. Once at lunchtime in my office, and I could hear my Head of School outside the door talking to a colleague. I was neither relaxed nor mindful. I'm going to be more disciplined about it for the rest of this month, but if it still isn't agreeing with me, I'm going to jettison this particular item.

The no shouting rule has been a winner. It is making a big difference (to me anyway). I am also not finding it that difficult. Perhaps the boys are going through a good patch!

As someone who struggles to live in the moment and loves to plan, I have been thinking a lot about what to add to the Parenting Project for April. I have decided that I will focus on physical health. Earlier in the year I signed up for a 10k on April 26th, so I will need to step up my exercise and include more running. I don't like it, but I will do it. I also need to sort out my diet. What am I eating right now? A latte and 2 caramel waffles. This has to stop. I would like to loose a few pounds, but mostly I want to have more energy. I get plenty of sleep and I don't drink. I should be more perky than this, and the appalling diet can't be helping.

As for the specific parenting strategy, I am going to try not to correct so much. It annoys me hearing myself, no wonder it annoys Harry so much. For example, instead of telling Harry to stop chewing with his mouth open, I am going to try and bite my tongue, wait for his mouth to be closed, and say, "It's nice to see your mouth closed when you're eating." Easier said than done this one. No fear that I will start this one anytime before April 1st.

Happy weekend everyone. Over and out.

Thursday, 20 March 2014


I'm trying to think of a good metaphor for this experience: you concentrate on one area of your life, and then realise that another area goes astray. What I have in my mind is a trapped bubble that you can seemingly smooth out, only to find that it has moved rather than disappeared.

Last year I really concentrated on getting into good physical shape, culminating in a triathlon in September. It worked. But I was spending A LOT of time at the gym. After it was over, I concentrated more on work & family, and now this blog & parenting can guess the punchline. I have now gained 5 lbs and lost quite a bit of tone. Annoying.

April's theme is going to be physical health, and especially diet. I am so quick to use sugar as a crutch to get through the day, especially mid-afternoon. I think I need to investigate those "slow release" carbs people speak of.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


Everyone is doing the best they can.

Today I am working on an academic paper about predictors of parenting in early adolescence from indicators in middle childhood. For mothering, we find that maternal proneness to anger (outside the parenting context) is the strongest predictor of hostile parenting, whereas for fathers it is household chaos (disorganised households that are noisy and without routine).

We reported the same thing in middle childhood, but back then I wasn't a mother myself. The finding didn't resonate with me. Now it most surely does. I am prone to anger. I am encouraged by my Head of School to knit during meetings because it helps curb my outbursts. I get unreasonably angry about poor service. It should come as no surprise that parenting is just the sort of stressful context where anger flourishes.

What to do?

Much of my anger stems from rigid ideas I hold about how people should behave in certain contexts. (If my repeat prescription has been lost through no fault of my own, a doctor should be disturbed on my behalf.) So being more flexible and less judgemental would be good. But tough.

I am trying out another idea. When I think through how/why things make me angry, I often attribute negative intent. For example when trying (and failing) to get a waiter's attention for the bill/check, I think they are being lazy and deliberately avoiding my gaze. That makes me cross. Instead, I am making a conscious effort to think to myself (as irritation begins to rise), "Everyone is doing the best they can." Whether or not it is true doesn't really matter.

The biggest job will be doing this in relation to the boys. I have a tendency to take their misbehaviour personally, and to think that they are doing annoying things deliberately. The noise level in our house is often high. I would like for it to be quieter. Surely they can remember to keep their voices down when someone is sleeping. But maybe the boys are doing the very best they can to regulate their volume.

Everyone is doing the best they can. Rinse & repeat.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Problem is the Solution

Harry's energetic nature also affects his sleep. As in he doesn't need as much as I would like. Again, this will be great as an adult, but now? He's not off the scale; he gets 10 hours per night before waking. But most of his peers get around 11, and some 12. I obsess about how much extra adult time that would give us in the evenings. But actually, it's the solution for how to fit everything in.

So the little cherub usually wakes around 5:30. He is then supposed to stay quiet in his room until 6. This means that on a day like today, I get up, get boys dressed and breakfasted, and am out of the house in time to get to the gym by 7. There is NO WAY I would be doing that without my trusty copper-topped alarm clock. Now it's 8, I'm blogging and having breakfast, and I will do the blasted meditation all before teaching at 9.

Thank you Harry, you have turned me into a morning person.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Goodness of Fit

The modern wave of temperament research was started by Thomas & Chess, and they introduced the idea of Goodness of Fit. In a nut-shell, the concept is that particular children's temperaments will be better or worse suited to the environment that they find themselves. In the West, a "difficult" temperament -- high activity level, emotionally volatile -- is not particularly well suited to the way that we raise children. In one of my all-time favourite studies, researchers found that during a drought in Saharan Africa, the "difficult" babies survived whereas most of the babies with easier temperaments died. Alright then, there may be an evolutionary advantage to all that screaming, especially in cultures where attachment parenting is the norm. (To be clear, I can think of few things worse than walking around with a baby strapped on my person -- shivers.)

Anyway. Yesterday Harry and I had our first rock-climbing-at-Rottingdean-beach trip of the season. It was lovely. My camera is broken, so the photo above isn't mine, but you get the idea. Very English rocky coastline. It brought back memories of the summer when Harry was 2-1/2. We were at the same beach with a group of mum-chums who all happened to have girls. The girls were playing with stones while their mums sat chatting. I spent my time running after Harry, trying to prevent him from killing himself by clamouring up huge boulders or running into the sea. I cried a little that afternoon. It was exhausting. 

It has got a lot easier. But our combination is not a perfect fit. I’m not a slug exactly, but I don’t move unless there’s a reason. I love my sedentary job, and an evening of House of Cards with my knitting is my idea of a good time. Harry, on the other hand, is in constant motion. He isn’t one for watching the telly, but when he does get sucked in, he watches standing up, jitterbugging around the living room. He bounds out of bed in the morning raring to go. He often runs around the house screaming for no discernable reason. When I describe (complain about) this sort of thing, people often say that all kids are like that, or at least all boys. I felt so validated when Harry’s keyworker at nursery confirmed that he was the most active child there. In fact, he was the most active child they had had for several years. 

I do find it helpful to be aware of my children’s characteristics in relation to those of their same-age peers. Not to judge or shame -- or perhaps worse – to brag about their accomplishments, but to have this understanding so that I can adjust their environment and experiences to suit their individual natures. Many people have observed that having a young, active child can feel like having a dog. They need to be taken out for a run-around every day. Well, in the case of my very active boy, he and I were often the only ones at the playground before 7 am. And back mid-morning. And again in the afternoon.

All that said, I wouldn't change Harry's nature. He has enabled me to be a lot more active than I otherwise would have been. And like so many traits that can be intensely irritating in children, Harry's energy level will stand him in excellent stead as an adult. I'm actually rather jealous.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Parenting Project Update

So I'm two weeks into month 1 of my parenting project. The 3 things I am meant to be doing to improve my mental health are going to therapy, practicing mindfulness, and listing 3 good things at the end of every day.

Therapy: I am loving this. I really wasn't sure about going when I'm not feeling depressed, anxious, or even particularly distressed. But I think this is an excellent time to go. Sort of like an inoculation against future bumps in the road. This week I really felt fraudulent walking in; I was feeling on top of the world! I still ended up having a good weep and dig around my psyche. It feels somewhat self-indulgent, but good. The type of therapy is Cognitive Analytic Therapy, and I like that it is time-limited. I think we decide pretty soon whether it will be 16 sessions or 24. 24 would fit nicely into the 6-month timeframe of this project.

Mindfulness: I am supposed to be meditating twice per day. Most days I am managing once. Not at all sure I'm doing it right, but I do quite like it. Difficult to know how/where to do it. The book says that a quiet place at home is ideal. The author clearly does not share a house with 3 & 6 year-old boys. Another assignment for the week was to choose different seats at meetings, the dinner table, etc. That's been sort of fun, though I am not convinced meaningful. The final assignment I have utterly failed to do. I am supposed to have chosen a habitual activity to do mindfully. For instance, pay attention when brushing teeth. I chose driving to and from work, but I find it near impossible to turn the radio off. Maybe I'll switch to the teeth brushing thing. But I like to check Facebook while brushing. I do not have a mindful nature.

3 Good Things: I have a perfect record of gold stars for this. It's nice to think through the day and list high points. I also like that this orients me to Good Things all day long. This morning I was looking at the book You Choose with both boys snuggled on my lap, and thought this is definitely a Good Thing.

The specific parenting strategy for the month is not shouting. I have slipped up a couple of times, but they weren't too bad. I would like for this to be like smacking -- a strategy that does not even cross my mind as a possibility. I have some way to go. I have to stop myself from lashing out frequently. It really is a pity that children are such annoying little creatures.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Time Tracking

I read this book by Laura Vanderkam last year. It's not a typical time management book, a lot of it reviews research about how Americans think they spend their time, versus how they actually spend their time, as well as how time use has changed over the past 50 years or so. I find this day-to-day stuff about human behaviour fascinating. In a nut-shell, Americans sleep more than they think they do, and work a whole lot less than they think they do. There's lots more, obviously, and I liked it a lot.

The title of the book comes from the fact that there are 168 hours in a week. Isn't it weird that we don't know that number off the top of our heads? I know that there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days per week, 365 days in the year, and that a typical day would include 8 hours of work and 8 hours of sleep. But I would have had to calculate how many hours there are in a week. When I then start adding things up -- work at 35 hours per week (I realise this is low for a full-time worker, feel free to hate me), sleep at 56 hours per week -- that still leaves 77 hours. That's a lot of time. I am confident that my time management at work is pretty optimal. It's one of the reasons I can get away with 35 hours. (The other main reason is that I am medium-successful rather than super-successful, but that is surely a topic for another day.) I don't think that I manage my personal time nearly so well. And I'm not even sure where all that time goes.

For some concrete accountability, I "volunteered" to track my time for Laura's Mosaic project. Actually, I bullied her into accepting me, as I don't actually fulfil the income criteria. I'm going to start on Saturday or Monday, I'm not sure. Obviously the Hawthorne effect will be at work -- I won't be able to help myself trying to make it an ideal week, rather than a typical week. For the next few days, I'm going to test out a time tracking app or two, versus recording on paper. 15 minute intervals? 10? 20? 30? I would love to hear from anyone who has any tips!