Can’t you take a joke?

 

I am 37 years old. During my lifetime, I have been seriously sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, groped and told I have ‘beautiful blowjob lips’. I have been bartered over, whilst present in the room. “Suck my dick, and I’ll pay for your dinner,” “I bet you’re a right dirty bitch,” “You look like someone who can handle a cock,” are just a tiny example of things that have been said to me.

I am 37 years old. During my lifetime, I believed many of these things being said to me were compliments. I believed all the uninvited assaults and harassments were my fault. I believed that objecting to these assumptions about my character made me boring and unlikeable. The times I did speak up, I was silenced with five innocuous words. “Can’t you take a joke?”

I am 37 years old. I have finally realised the power of these words. I want my daughter to understand these words. I want my daughter to understand where the blame really lies when she inevitably hears these words. I want my daughter to not be afraid of these words like I always was.

Many won’t understand that what they are saying is belittling, hurtful and archaic. They may believe that their words are a joke (or ‘banter’, whatever the fuck that means). They may accuse you of being over sensitive and/or lacking a sense of humour. These people lack the intelligence to even begin to understand. They are fucking idiots. However, their idiocy doesn’t provide them with a free pass to go through their lives causing hurt and anguish to other people.

There will also be those who know they are in the wrong. They will use words to see how easy it is to knock you off balance, to make you believe it is your fault for taking it the wrong way. To make you believe you somehow deserved it. They will know that a line has been crossed. They should feel ashamed but whether they do, I don’t know. All I do know is, they will try to pass the shame onto you. They are fucking cowards.

I am 37 years old. For the rest of my lifetime, I will not be afraid of those five words. I will defend my body, my self-respect and my right to object. I will push back against misogyny and sexism with the fierce female determination I inherently possess. I will not carry the burden of shame gifted to me by fucking idiots and cowards and neither will my daughter. I have a voice. It will no longer be silenced by ignorance.

10548067_10152925942771340_5929066606645941827_o

 

Finding Mum

Back in 2013, when my body was ravished by exhaustion and broken from a human exiting via, what used to be, a teeny tiny hole, I wrote “I had a dream…and it wasn’t like this“.

Four years on, I’m still struggling under the heavy weight of parental responsibility. I have a 7 year old now that lays on the guilt thick and fast…

7yo: Did you know that when people don’t eat food, they can actually die?
Me: Yup. They starve to death.
7yo: I haven’t had breakfast yet.
Me: I see what you did there.

I have a 5 year old, who is thriving at his specialist school for kids with autism, learning to talk like Father Jack and who lovingly punches me in the face when it all gets a bit too much.

I still hide in corners in the hope of not being asked another fucking tedious question or having to subserviently wipe arses that are now clearly no longer in need of my assistance. This act of trying to gain mental health time is usually rewarded with one child falling down a well that I wasn’t even aware was at the end of the garden or the other one eating four jars of chocolate spread in record time. Don’t ask why I have that many jars of chocolate spread in my cupboard. I just do.

So, 7 years into parenthood, what am I doing? Well, I did have a little dream and now the kids are being looked after by actual grown ups qualified to teach kids useful shit, like spelling and reading and stuff, I decided to pursue it. I’ve gone back to school.

I’m inspired by my fellow females – some I knew before we became mums, others are as a result of becoming a mum. They’re all following dreams in some way; teaching yoga and mindfulness, moving to NYC to kick American arse, quitting day jobs to set up new business ventures, expanding their families and nurturing babies, all whilst coated in the sticky crust of motherhood.

I remember the first fog of motherhood. It was all consuming and overwhelming. There were even dark moments when I questioned if I’d done the right thing. To be honest, I still do. Especially when I’ve got two kids screaming at me for answers to their intolerable lives that I just don’t have, or I have been the cause of.

I am finding me again though. Perhaps a different me that wouldn’t have been able to exist had it not been for motherhood.

So in a usual shout out to my fellow ladies, trying to adult and navigate the dangerous (for us, not the kids – I have no idea how many times a bumhole finger has been poked in my mouth) territory of Parentland, keep those dreams alive. All dreams have the same value. There is no hierarchy to dreams. No one dream is better than another. They’re yours and yours alone and they hold the power to make you feel brilliant and inspired. And if you feel like you’re a million miles away from those dreams, don’t despair. Just say ‘fuck’ a lot. It has helped me no end over the last seven years and will no doubt continue to, looooooong into the future.

Now…mental health time over…where the fuck are the kids?…*Retrieves one from a well and confiscates four jars of chocolate spread from the other*

15965581_10154930538556340_4562072062334768396_n
My kids are just mocking me


Three words that can change everything

Before you start guessing, it’s not ‘I love you’.  No, the words I want to tell you about are far more powerful and I discovered them purely by accident.

I would class my six year old daughter as high maintenance.  That may be unwarranted. She may be just like every child but my only other example is autistic and believe it or not, his needs are pretty straight forward – keep everything exactly the same, only feed him crisps, let him be naked from the waist down and we’re onto a winner.

My daughter has the ability to take me from calm to rage in a very short space of time, usually when she’s being so bloody ungrateful.  I try to cater for all her quirks as much as possible in a way to ensure her life is nourished; full of adventures and experiences that will fill her brain with wonderful memories.  But no matter what I do, she seems to always find something to complain about, using those immortal words, “it’s not fair!”  (They’re not the three words, by the way.  I’m keeping you hanging on for those just a bit longer.)

The reason I want to fill my daughter’s life with happiness is to ensure she knows she’s loved.  I suffer with, as the wonderful Jack Monroe put it, a wonky head.  It’s on perfectly straight but my brain likes to make me feel very sad sometimes.  During these times, I’m not a great parent.  I have no patience.  I’m emotionally distant.  I tumble into a black hole and disappear from view from my children.  I know this because my usually happy to go to school girl finds it hard to get through the day without an emotional wobble about missing me.  These children are a lot more attuned to our feelings than we give them credit for.

‘Attuned’ is a word I’ve only recently become accustomed to.  It’s a word that has helped shift my wonky head into seeing there is a something more than love.

During my low periods (and I’m not talking about my menstruation), I try to tell my daughter as much as possible how much I love her.  The guilt I feel about not having the energy or inclination to bake cakes or ride bikes or just sit with her and listen to what she has to say overwhelms me, but I know that as long as she knows she’s loved, she’ll be okay.  So sometimes, when she’s irritating me, I’ll tell her, “I love you, but that thing you’re doing…please stop.”

It was when she was feeling a bit poorly, and my wonky head was starting to metaphorically straighten up.  She was desperately telling me all of her symptoms. She felt hot, her tummy ached, her head hurt and she couldn’t sleep.  I was giving her all my usual concerned patter, getting her medicine, giving her a cold flannel for her head, rubbing her tummy, but nothing was making her feel better.  She looked up at me, her eyes full of urgency and discomfort and something compelled me to softly say, “I believe you”.

I saw her exhausted, tensed up body visibly loosen and she finally laid her head on the pillow and was able to succumb to her tiredness.  As I laid with her and she fell asleep, I reflected on those three words.  Why had they made such a difference when all of my acts of love hadn’t?

I have surmised it was because of this.  In that moment, I had actually attuned to what she needed.  To just have me say, “I hear you”, “I get it”.  She had probably got so used to me ‘listening’ when I’m a million miles away in my head, that the confirmation I was actually present in the here and now and completely understood, helped her cope with her symptoms.  Or perhaps she just needed me to be in the here and now because that’s where she was.  Where all children are.  In the moment.

It’s made me realise that she’s not actually that ungrateful or high maintenance.  There’s me naively thinking I’m loving her unconditionally, but it’s entirely dependant on her being grateful for all these wonderful, exciting experiences I’m providing her – these things that aren’t happening till tomorrow, or three hours later. She’s not thinking about that.  She’s a child living in the moment and at that moment, something catastrophic may have rocked her world.  Like, I’ve given her the wrong temperature water to drink, or the swing didn’t swing enough.

I’ve used “I believe you” a number of times now, all with the same effect and all in different circumstances.  Not to fob her off  – she’s already proved she’s far too attuned for that.  But when I can see I haven’t really been present.  I get easily absorbed in looking at my phone, or needing to answer that email, or trying to tidy the shit tip that is my house and actually, she really needs to know I’m here. In the here and now, present in the moment and I totally get her.  No ‘I love you, but…’, just unconditional, ‘I hear you’.

I can’t always fix her feelings.  I can’t always fix mine.  I suppose sometimes, it’s just about letting them be.

peacock
Sleeping with a peacock on her head. Because peacock.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the details

There have been so many times since my children have been born, that I’ve reached over to pick up my phone and photograph a moment only to find my phone out of reach.  Frustrated at the missed opportunity, I’ve attempted to freeze frame the moment in my mind’s eye and fix it permanently into my memory box. I have long forgotten these memories or have no idea whether the ones I do remember were the ones I really wanted to.

It happened just the other day. Me and my nearly three year old boy were on the sofa, watching a film. He was laying, following the curve of my legs and lower body, resting one hand on top of mine and pushing one of his feet down the side of my slipper boot I had on. Once he had firmly wedged his foot in and was satisfied with it’s position, he remained still. My phone in the other room, I was unable to capture the image; a moment when his little foot, small enough to fit in the gap, wriggled so warmly next to mine.

Going through thousands of photos files recently, looking for one picture in particular, I came across a video. I don’t know what made me click on it – there are hundred of videos. In it was my son about six months old and my two and a half year old daughter. My son is belly laughing and there is this beautiful interaction between the two of them. I’m filming it and as I watch it back I have absolutely no recollection of the moment or any details surrounding it. So it seems that even if I do capture the moments, I still may not remember them.

Technology has been in the limelight a lot recently especially regarding what kind of future we can expect for our children when everyone spends so much time staring at a screen. I have read articles demanding parents put down to their phones, stop filming, stop sharing on social media and live in the moment.

This forgotten video was a wonderful reminder that memories can become skewed. Through the day to day drudgery of trying to make each day perfect, feeling overwhelmed with guilt at not achieving it and focussing on a belief my children don’t have the relationship I yearned them to have, I had forgotten the details. A beautiful moment lasting a few minutes showed me the truth. And with each subsequent photo file, leaving a trail like breadcrumbs to lost moments, good and bad, they helped me challenge my self image as a mother which always seems to be heavily weighted with regret.

So I say, keep taking photos. Keep filming. Capture the details. Share them if you want to. Every so often, look back and remind yourself of what a good job you are doing. Remind yourself that your children are nourished, stimulated and loved. Remind yourself that you are perfect in their eyes. And then, one day, you’ll be able to remember the details together.

I don't know exactly when this was taken, or what we did that day but what I do know is, it must have been taken when Dad was at work and her little brother was still asleep so we're having undisturbed, tired mummy cuddles

“The Power of The First Hour” – inspiring or terrifying?

As my little girl in the photo is coming up to five years old, I thought I’d share again one of the first moments of meeting her and how it still makes me feel now…..

Image

This is a photo of my first ever feed.  What do you see (apart from the carefully placed ‘x’ to preserve my daughter’s modesty)?  A loving first moment between a new mother and her baby?  Yet another lactivist exposing herself and wanting to show off how great she is?

This photo doesn’t make me feel good.  It makes me cringe.  Not because of my greasy hair, man arms or post baby belly.  Because, knowing what I know now, it is no wonder I had the difficulties I did with breastfeeding.

Save The Children have brought out a document which promotes breastmilk as a superfood, specifically colostrum.  Colostrum is bloody marvellous stuff.  “The most potent immune system booster known to science”.  Of course it is – it comes out of a woman (feminist hippy, get back in your cage!)   They have estimated that 830,000 infant deaths could be avoided if they…

View original post 460 more words

Strategies for spectrum children that might be useful for ALL children

There is a statistic that gets thrown about that dentistry is actually about 30% evidence-based and 70% anecdotal. I reckon that parenting is probably very similar and how I have made a five year old that only appears to have all the annoying traits of every other fellow preschooler is definitely more luck than judgement.

And then came my second born who turned out to have additional needs associated with autism. Everything that works for the neurologically normal child has no place in the universe with a spectrum child, mainly because they’re not experiencing the same universe. However, with a little gentle support and guidance (for me, not him), it all became painfully clear – I have to get into his universe. A world where things are literal and sometimes very overwhelming, to try and merge the two realities together.

Whilst on this journey, I have learnt many ways to help him (and me) cope and it became obvious how five main strategies in helping our spectrum child would also be enormously helpful to our non-spesh kiddo.

The Iceberg Analogy

Our boy is fairly non-verbal and his only means of communication presently is screaming, biting, hitting and physical positioning. Very antisocial behaviour which his father and I happily acccept (mostly) because we know he has no other way of dealing with whatever it is that is bothering him. However, we still have to be detectives to find out exactly what it was so we can (hopefully) avoid it the next time. I make this sound easy of course. A spectrum child may have an increased sense of smell, taste, hatred of lights and sounds, and many other things we take for granted that become overwhelming for them.

This got me a thinking. Just because my son has ASD, does this make his feelings more valid than my daughter’s? Ugh. No, I suppose it doesn’t. Which really means I have to stop dismissing my daughter’s feelings so readily just because she is sobbing her heart out, frantically licking chocolate spread off a spoon, because I didn’t do something in quite the way she wanted. I have to not focus on the behaviour being exhibited (as fantastically irritating as that may be), but look at the cause lying under the surface and see what I can do to help.

Take-up time

My son has no concept of time and sand timers offend him. Getting him to understand that something needed to come to an end so we could leave the house, especially when he was micro focused on his trains, or transfixed with Thunderbirds, was always a bit tricky. Then I was introduced to the idea of take-up time – a short amount of time for him to comes to terms with the fact that something will be ending and something new beginning. I have found that he likes counting so whenever his activity needs to end, I explain, “In three, this will be finished” and give him a countdown from three using my fingers as a visual cue. Not a lot of time, 3 seconds, but it seems enough to allow him to cope with it.

I now use a similar strategy with my daughter. She is more aware of time as a concept, but has no clue what time means. So I use watches, clocks and timers as a visual way to give her time to come to terms with what needs to happen next. Yeah, I may still get the mind melting whinge noise on occasion, but on the whole, it really does work a treat.

No is a swear word

This has to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Give up the N word. It’s not until someone tells you that you need to stop using it that you realise how thoroughly entrenched it is into daily life – especially with children. Every other word seems to be a teeth-clenched or exasperated, “NO!”

So what’s the thinking behind it. Well, spectrum children are very good at filtering things out, meaning that they can sometimes get mistaken for being deaf or ignorant. They’re merely having to bang the radiator repeatedly with a wooden spoon so they can focus on that rather than whatever it may be that is bothering them. Therefore, the word “no” gets filtered out too because it’s part of the background stimulation that is discombobulating them. Plus, they aren’t learning anything from the word. It doesn’t provide any information for the spectrum child. So what do you do instead? This leads me to the next strategy.

Say what you want, not what you see

The boy has particularly anti-social behaviour. Just saying “NO HITTING!” every time he hit or bit another child, made no difference to his intention because it provided him with no information on what to so instead. It also left me feeling very frustrated because I could see it meant jack shit to him. Therefore, giving him an instruction such as, “hands down” or “feet on floor” provides him with a clearer directive, and me a productive way to deal with the behaviour. He hasn’t stopped hitting or pushing but he definitely responds when he hears me saying, “hands down” meaning he’ll hesitate before sending a toddler hurtling off the top of a slide giving me enough time to catch them.

I think all children are very open to the power of suggestion, and hopefully now, my girl also benefits from clearer guidance focussing on the positive rather than the negative.

Backward chaining

Definitely my favourite. Spectrum children can disappear for hours in an activity that motivates them and have zero interest in anything else. This makes playing with a spectrum child quite difficult. Encouraging them to partake in other activities that might be a bit of a challenge for them is very important and how you do this is something called ‘backward chaining’. So you have a simple puzzle, for example, fill it in leaving just one piece out, then get the kid to put the last piece in, congratulate them and say, “well done for finishing.” The next time, you leave two pieces out and so on. This also works for getting dressed. Put all the clothes on, all bar one arm and then encourage them to do it. When they do, you say, “Well done for getting dressed!”

The thinking behind this is self esteem. We all know that sticking one arm in a jumper is not getting dressed but rather than laying out a pair of trousers and a jumper and saying, “get dressed and I’ll help when you get stuck,” by working backwards, it means there is less chance of failure; the child doesn’t get despondent because the activity is too hard and overwhelming therefore the activity always feels good.

So there you have it. Easier said than done. In fact, if anyone can give me ideas for alternatives to “NO BITING!” I would greatly appreciate it. “Kind mouth” or “soft teeth” just ain’t cutting it at the moment. Answers on a postcard….
Picture credits:
http://pixgood.com/
http://flipcomic.net/
http://blogs.babycenter.com/
http://www.gopixpic.com/

You’re not allowed to lie. Except at Christmas.

The excitement of Christmas Eve was like a permanent fizz ready to explode in my stomach. The anticipation was totally unbearable and my brother and I would wish the day away, keeping ourselves as busy as possible, till sleep time. Not that I could sleep; I just wanted to vomit with excitement at the prospect of an overweight man with magical reindeer delivering a heap of swag under our Christmas tree.

Every inch of our house was covered in decorations. The ceiling heaving with dangling, metallic wonderments and windows alive with flashing electric rainbows busy fulfilling their pre-programmed patterns.

When it was finally time for bed, I crept up the stairs, knowing that the buzz I had been living off since day one of opening my advent calender, would soon be replaced with an overwhelming happiness as I played with my new toys.

As I stepped into my bedroom, tingling with excitement, I noticed my window open. My room was cold. Why was my window open? There….there on the window sill…was that….magic dust? And on the floor underneath the window; two boot prints only a large man could make. Wait, had He been in my room? It wasn’t Christmas Day yet?

I looked around, holding my breath with trepidation at what I might find, scanning every inch of my room for clues. There it was! A present! Laying on my pillow! I shouted, “Mum, Dad! He’s been! He’s been!”

My brother came running in to see what all the commotion was about and saw me looking wide-eyed and open-mouthed holding my present. He looked at me, looked at my present, looked back at me and instantly I could see his thoughts. If He had been in my room, perhaps He had been in his bedroom too?

We both ran as fast as we could along the landing, banging the door open making an almighty crash against the thin, plasterboard walls. We stood still, neither daring to breath in the silence as we searched for any signs of activity. Laying on his pillow, in exactly the same way, was a present.

We couldn’t contain ourselves and ripped off the paper with such ferocity our presents inside came flying out. HOT WATER BOTTLE COVERS!! WOW!! AMAZING!!!! I had a bear one and my brother had a lion one. The best water bottle covers EVER!

That night, as my brother and I finally came down off of our adrenaline high, we decided to stick together so we could both witness anything we heard or saw.  I camped out on his floor in the darkness and we whispered, dissecting like detectives, all the possibilities of how Father Christmas had made it into our house undetected.  Every now and then we could hear a muffled bang from above, convincing ourselves that we could hear the reindeers landing on our roof. Was that sleigh bells? We both definitely heard sleigh bells. If I didn’t do a bit of wee, I was definitely going to have a heart attack at any moment. It was just too tense. Too exciting. And I loved it.

I too, vividly remember the year that I knew the truth. The sparkle was lost somehow and the presents became less important without the fantasy behind it. Certainly for me anyway.

However, I never once felt like I had been duped, lied to, or deceived.  I only felt grateful, amazed and thankful at the lengths my parents had gone to make Christmas so special. Reliving those stories now only make them more exceptional as I find out the details – I only discovered a few years ago that it was my very own Dad that was the Father Christmas that visited our school. I had sat on his lap, heard his voice ask me what I would like, whispered in his ear, “a My Little Pony pencil with a rubber on the end,” and had tottered off happy knowing I had spoken to the great man himself, without one iota that it was actually my Dad. I love that. I love that I was taken in so much by it all that I didn’t suspect a thing. An innocent acceptance that only a child can have. No matter how much I revisit that memory, I can only remember Father Christmas (and a little boy who was very upset that his little pre-Christmas present was a Garfield pencil and notebook, and not the truck he had asked for.)

Nearly three decades later, it’s my turn to create the magic. Fortunately, I have the added bonus of a smart phone, which Father Christmas has too – he can be messaged instantly to check whether ‘a gold chandelier’ is a possibility (“Sorry, Alice – Father Christmas says it’d be too tricky to put in his sack”) so there won’t be any disappointments from unrealistically high expectations.

The benchmark has been set ridiculously high by my childhood, but I’m going to give it my best shot. My mind gets filled with possible scenarios of trickery and illusion and it feels desperately important to me that my children get to experience that sensation of pure escapism that I felt. To feel like the possibilities are endless.

Some people call it lying.  I call it imagination and for me, that’s what Christmas is all about.

More Cuban heel than snow boot, but I'm working on it.
More Cuban heel than snow boot, but I’m working on it.

A Letter To My 34 Year Old Body

As I shifted uncomfortably from side to side, trying to get my hips into a less painful position, it suddenly dawned on me. I have been incredibly ungrateful to you for as long as I can remember and taken you for granted. It’s only now as aching sets in and the spontaneous groans exit my body when I bend down to pick something up that I realise how much you have actually done for me.

As a teenager, I blamed you for everything. You were the reason boys didn’t think I was pretty and so I starved you. I’m sorry for that. I’m also sorry that the not feeding you properly lasted ten years or more.  My weight was a constant source of antagonism to me; it taunted me and told me I wasn’t good enough. Even now, I could have had the most amazing day professionally and/or personally but taking my clothes off in the evening, inspecting every flaw and fat roll, can make me feel worthless and pathetic. I believe I can only be truly successful if I am thin and that I am not and have never been.

You gave me two beautiful babies and fed them. Maybe not 100% perfectly or conventionally but you did it and yet I cursed you for not doing it properly. I never had to experience the pain of my body failing me. I never had to stare at you and ask you why you didn’t work properly or why you let me down. But somewhere I still blamed you for my lack of perfection.

Despite the lack of respect for you in the early days, you are healthy. You’ve stuck it out and haven’t given up on me. So, I’m turning this around on it’s head for once and am going to give you some gratitude.

Thank you for my children. For providing me with the most satisfying part of my life. Instead of meticulously inspecting the scars of motherhood and wishing they weren’t there, I will from now on be grateful. My husband is. He sees what you did, what you’ve accomplished, and I will try to see you through his eyes.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to engage and play with my children, enriching their lives and mine. As much as I may moan about being on my hands and knees crawling through yet another soft play or having to run after them to stop them charging into danger, I am so very grateful that you do and when my back hurts at the end of the day, or my hip is giving me stick, I’ll remember that you’re helping me make wonderful memories for my children.

Thank you for keeping going. Those days when each step feels like it could be the last, but you put another foot in front of the other until you’re home again. Those days when you’re merely holding things together, precariously balancing on the edge of oblivion, but mustering the energy from somewhere to see it through, I am so very grateful that you do.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If only I had been able to see past the surface when I was younger, I might not have been so hard on you. I can’t guarantee that I won’t be hard on you still but hopefully I’ll be a little more gentle and perhaps my vision not so obscured by what you can be, but by what you are – a fully functioning human body with the ability to ensure your daughter doesn’t have to envisage her potential in hindsight, but only the reality of what she is now; brilliant, magnificent and good enough no matter what shape and size she is in the future.

Yours forever,

Me. X

Probably aged around 12 or 13, I remember clearly at this age being incredibly self conscious about my weight, convincing myself I was fat.
Probably aged around 12 or 13, I remember clearly at this age being incredibly self conscious about my weight, convincing myself I was fat.
My biggest achievements
My greatest achievements

Does Motherhood Complete You?

Once you have children, it seems inevitable that you lose a part of who you were before. You make new friends that have absolutely no clue about your past identity, apart from when they do a bit of Facebook stalking through your younger, slimmer photos. You are known as <<insert child’s name>> Mum. Your parents no longer pay you any attention, instead diverting their eyes to the little tiny version of yourself bounding through the door until about half an hour into the visit when they realise that they haven’t actually greeted you yet. I now find myself generally not greeting people any more. This probably looks quite rude when I turn up without a child and just barge my way in.

I was extremely fearful of losing myself before I had children, the great identity that I had built up over 29 years. I have no idea why – I was a massive dick. Opinionated, drunk and mentally unstable. I’m still a massive dick but I actually like being a mum too. I like this new identity. I remember walking down the road for the first time without my new baby and thinking, “people won’t know I have a baby. I want them to know I have a baby.” Like this somehow gave me an automatic VIP ticket into Betterdom.

However, my children don’t complete me. Despite definitely knowing that they make me a better person, and slightly less dickish because I am generally less drunk, they’re not my main purpose in life. Neither is being up to my elbows in disease-infested gums, despite how much I love that too. I want more. Something else.

I made this discovery recently during one of my low moods. I get them frequently. My husband struggles to understand them. Looking from the outside, I can understand why – I have two gorgeous children, a husband who loves me, a nice house, a well paid job, my health – I have absolutely no reason to feel depressed about my life. But I do. It consumes me till I’m numb and joyless, sometimes slowly, gradually like a creeping mist. Other times like a sledgehammer.

I Googled ‘happiness’ and up came various motivational memes and blog articles; “10 Easy Ways to Find Happiness”. After a bit of searching, I found one that spoke to me, helpfully informing me that the true root to happiness is not about having physical things, but having a purpose in life. Give someone a purpose, a reason to be and they will find happiness. 

There have been a few times in recent years when I was doing something outside of work and the home; charity work, volunteering and the like and it felt great. I felt really happy. I was helping other people without any financial agenda. It was purely for the feel good factor and it left me with a bounce in my step. Having a purpose other than my children makes me happy because just my children alone aren’t enough.

Writing that is hard. Reading it must be hard. Now you’re agreeing that I am a massive dick. But let me explain.

I am not ungrateful. I look at my life, my children and know that I am the luckiest person alive. I also know that they are not responsible for my true core happiness – I am. I have to be my own sunshine. I’ve come to realise that I don’t want to live my life vicariously through my children, putting expectations on their shoulders for achievements that I was unable to fulfil. I don’t want to get to old age and feel bitter about the life I could have had, had I not sacrificed my all to my children. I want to show them the true meaning of pride by personally demonstrating it with what I can accomplish. I want them to know happiness isn’t about what you have but about doing something that makes your heart sing. 

I had a taste of the dolce vita and I want it back. I want to feel complete again by doing something more worthwhile. 

Is it selfish to want to feel good by doing good? Is it wrong that my children complete my life but they don’t complete me? Do yours? I’d really like to know.

Saw this quote. Liked it. Stole it.
Saw this quote. Liked it. Stole it.

Why I Called Time On Time Outs

I am head strong, stubborn and determined. I am flaky, fickle and easily influenced. I am a perfectionist and control makes me feel safe. I am untidy, lazy and easy going. I am a stickler for rules. I don’t like reading guide books.

These are just a few of the many contradictions that afflict my personality.

Sometimes, these cacophony of traits have worked in my favour. In motherhood? Not so much.

When my daughter was born, I knew that I wanted her to be happy and healthy. Then as she grew, she started to develop freewill.

That’s when I panicked. It quickly developed into wanting her to be happy, healthy and not the kid that everyone dreads being around, or the kid that everyone stares at whilst silently judging the parents.

Freewill started to really kick in around the age of eighteen months. “Ahhh,” I thought, “she’s starting to push the boundaries. Test my tenacity. Act out. It is now my job to show her the boundaries of acceptableness and I know exactly how. Time outs.”

Here are the reasons why I used time outs:

To show her who was boss.
To show her I was in control.
To show her acceptable behaviour in society.
To show her the consequences of not doing as she was told without resorting to capital punishment.

I was excellent at it. I never gave in no matter where we were. I had perfected the technique. My perfectionism, stubborn determination and stickler for rules were working solely in my favour.

There was a slight niggling feeling in the back of my head though, that something wasn’t sitting quite right with me. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Just before Christmas, I was getting my daughter ready for a Christmas event being held in town. I was struggling to motivate her but I’d arranged to meet friends and I really wanted to go. I managed to get her all trussed up in a Christmas outfit so we could take part in the Santa Dash. All she needed now was a scarf. I found one of mine – a silver one – perfect for her Christmas outfit. She didn’t want to wear it. It wasn’t her scarf. Her scarf was the pink one. “But the pink one clashes with her red Christmas outfit. It’ll look shit,” I thought. So I asked her sternly to just put the scarf on whilst wrapping it around her against her will. Needless to say, WW3 broke out. She was screaming. I was screaming. I was furious that SHE was making us late by not wearing the scarf that I wanted her to wear. She wasn’t listening. The only thing for it was a time out for not being compliant and not listening. So I gave her a warning. She stuck a big middle finger up to my warning so I put her on time out.

Whilst she was there – red-faced, angry, distressed, crying – I went and cried outside in the garden. I counted to ten, composed myself and went back to her. I wasn’t sorry. I was angry SHE had let it get this far.

Needless to say, my controlling, head strong determination and stubbornness meant we made it to the Santa Dash, but nobody was happy. She refused to take part and I had lost the Christmas spirit so I waved goodbye to my friends and weeped all the way home wondering why it had all gone so wrong.

I don’t think it really takes a psychologist to see how everything about that scenario was about me and nothing about my daughter. My perfectionism, stubbornness, determination and stickler for the rules had started to work against me. It had started to control me and my daughter. I had forgotten it’s purpose which was supposedly to help her become a better person.

Actually, let’s look at that again. “Not be the kid that everyone dreads being around, or the kid that everyone stares at whilst silently judging the parents” was in fact what I think I had said.

Nope, that wasn’t thinking about her. That was thinking about everybody else. This wasn’t working.

There were a few events that started to make me doubt myself. I got into an online spat with two very dear friends about my justification for the use of time outs. They were both against it and I hated being made to feel like I was doing something wrong. But the seed had been sown. My flaky, fickle and easy persuaded side was starting to sprout and shortly after, I read a couple of chapters from an Alfie Kohn book which confirmed for me that all of my own justifications for using time outs were utter bollocks.

If I truly wanted her to be happy, then stifling her when she was just expressing herself was not the way to go about it.

The major turning point though was this; her little brother. He, turns out, to have autism. No amount of perfectionism and control is ever going to change that. He is just free to become the person he wants to be because he has no idea about societal etiquette. He can’t be moulded, shaped or controlled. He just is. And I’m so jealous of him.

His outbursts are extreme but he has no way of understanding them and I have no way of explaining to him.
His meltdowns make it almost obligatory for parents to stare and judge.
He is THAT kid that parents steer their kids away from fear of him being too boisterous or a bit trigger happy with the pushing.

So that is why I called time on time outs. Because it turns out being exactly what I feared the most, isn’t actually that scary after all.

Stopping has been hard. When you have a seemingly gold standard, fool-proof way of dealing with situations that you feel out of control of, it’s very tricky not to fall on old comfortable habits. I’ve had a few slip ups. I hated myself for them because they were as pathetic as Christmas-gate. But when the time outs don’t give you the result you want, where do you go next? Smacking? I’ve been tempted and that was also part of the problem.

But whilst I can’t help my son (yet) to understand his emotions, I can help my daughter to understand hers. By giving them names so they become easier to express. I’m desperately trying not to care what other people think when they’re clearly judging my parenting whilst my son flails on the floor screaming in a pitch only a spectrum child can reach – it’s heart breaking. I’ve managed to let go of a lot of control. I’ve had to. It was useless. I have managed to bring out my more easy going side and choose my battles wisely. Ergo, deciding that there are very few battles that are ever truly ‘won’ when the opponent is a child.

The house feels calmer. It feels happier. Of course freewill is as annoying as ever but I can live with it. Probably until she hits puberty. Then I’ll perhaps just hide under my bed.