My week as a solo parent

recently spent my first week without my husband to co-parent our two boys with me. While  he was visiting some of his family in the US and having a short holiday for a week, I’ve been home, taking care of the boys, keeping house, and working my job.

I’ve always wondered how I’d fare, as I’ve been fortunate enough that neither my husband nor I ever travel overnight for work, so we’ve always been in it together.

One thing that surprised me was that it was easier than I had imagined it would be.

Of course, it’s a bit like the woman in the Pulp song Common People: I’m fully aware that spending a discreet time period as if I were a solo parent is not the same as being on your own with no end in sight. I still doff my cap very much to all the solo parents out there.

But being a solo parent, even for a finite time, meant that I had to be on it, every evening. There would be no one to tap in to help with bedtime or doing the dishes. My evening routine changed and had some surprising benefits.

And yet…in some ways, I found the experience enriching and has given me so much that I want to incorporate in my normal, happily married, co-parenting life.

Continue reading “My week as a solo parent”

Weekly planning guide

I have somehow developed a Weekly planning guide that really works for me. It’s simple, quick, and yet holistic. In short, it’s much more than a list of tasks to do, and has been a boon and a comfort to me in difficult times recently.

It evolved from a need to get a lot done, but also from a need to make sure what I was doing mattered.

Because being busy isn’t the point of life. I’m not 100% sure there is any point in life beyond the meaning we give it, and I certainly didn’t want my life’s meaning to amount to a bunch of balled up to do lists, or my kids to remember me after I’m gone as merely an efficient taskmaster.

And there’s also how I wanted to feel whilst living my life. I’m the one who has to live it, so I better make sure it feels good to me. And what feels good can vary from week to week: sometimes I crave silence, stillness, peace, and other times I want fun and joy and excitement. Continue reading “Weekly planning guide”

Tips for coping when a loved one is depressed

Many of us will experience depression in our lifetimes. And it sucks. I’ve been there myself.

And many more of us will not only experience it ourselves, but will experience living with or loving someone who is anxious or depressed. I’ve been there, too.

So I wanted to write a blog, not about overcoming depression yourself, but to help you if you, like me, find yourself struggling to deal with the fallout from another person’s depression.

Because ultimately, the person dealing with depression will need to find their way out, and there are few things more frustrating than watching helplessly as someone you love suffers.

This frustration can lead you to try to help, to end their suffering as quickly as possible.

It can appear in your life as anger for their apparent unwillingness or inability to help themselves.

It can show up as added stress while you try to shoulder more and more of the burden of life to protect them, or simply because their depression makes being productive and helpful difficult for them.

So it’s frustrating for you, and you also need care and attention. So this post is not about them. It’s for you. Continue reading “Tips for coping when a loved one is depressed”

The Overwhelm

We’ve all been there. Or at least I hope we’ve all been there so it isn’t just me.

You’ve got deadlines piling up at work faster than you can finish them regardless of the effort and hours you’re putting in…

There’s a seemingly never ending list of admin things to do at home that you never seem able to find time to do…

Despite your best efforts at timekeeping you find it’s the kids’ bedtimes what feels like five minutes after you get home (“where did the evening go?” you ask yourself as you’re trying to gently but firmly get your kid out of the bath, teeth brushed, and bedtime stories read so he isn’t too late along asleep)…

The Overwhelm.

I had a serious case of it last week. But I’m pleased to say that I think I broke the back of it, and this week is going much more smoothly – even with a couple of illnesses in the family scuppering plans for the week.

Here are some of the things that I’ve learned along the way that really helped me last week, and I hope will help you next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all.

Identify the main triggers

Whilst by its nature overwhelm is often the feeling of lots of things adding up, sometimes there are a few big triggers for feeling this way (as opposed to your run-of-the-mill busy-and-slightly-stressed feelings).

For me last week, I realised it was work, money, and home routines. Sure, other things contributed, but as I reflected on this (on my commute – no fancy break to reflect on this all so do it when you can!), I was sure that if I felt more in control of my spiralling workload and my money, and if I could ease the pre- and post-work hours at home, I’d feel everything else was much more manageable.

Which leads me to my next helper…

Identify the simple steps

A simple step is something really straightforward that doesn’t take a huge amount of time and you have and know everything you need to be able to do it.

So instead of, “finish X piece of work” for my work stress, it might be, “send this email to this person.” Simple, simple, simple.

I set myself five simple steps. Really simple steps.

One, for example, was to put my out of office on my emails so I could get my head down and do a key piece of work that needed focus and time. That was it – put out of office on – but it meant I knew exactly what to do immediately upon sitting down at my desk that morning.

The simplest steps (putting out of office on, diarising time to do certain pieces of work) made way for the bigger things (shortlist the 60-odd applications for a vacancy in my team at work, finish budget planning and forecasting).

The result? I actually got everything done that I really needed to do. Which ended up being a godsend this week when I had to take a day of sick leave myself and another day of leave to look after my toddler, who is home from nursery for two days following a tummy bug.

Celebrate successes

It’s easy to skip this, but I found it hugely helpful to take a minute on the train to celebrate what’s gone well, and particularly what I have done well.

Why does it matter?

Well, for starters, it chips away rather significantly at that feeling of overwhelm. Overwhelm shrinks away from the bright light of Accomplishment, so taking a minute to feel those accomplishments and let that light shine helped me feel I could handle everything still left to do.

Secondly, I was able to identify the things I did that worked well, to repeat with the next day’s battle with the to do list. So for example, realising how well it worked for me to turn off email and knock out big chunks of work, I can decide to do this again (judiciously) in the future.

Thirdly, celebrating success helps combat the dreaded imposter syndrome, which in turn reduces the unreasonable expectations we set for ourselves.

Think about it – quite often we set really high expectations for ourselves as a way to overcome the ways we feel not good enough.

So if I feel like not a good enough manager, I respond by trying to get Herculean amounts of work done to a high standard; then no one can know what a fraud I am.

Or if I’m not a “good enough” mother, I can fool others from realising this by signing my kid up for all kinds of activities and making sure he’s immaculately dressed for school with award-worthy homework completed every night.

But when I can see that I am good enough, just as I am, I can be far more compassionate to myself and reasonable in my expectations.

This week, that has meant telling a colleague quite honestly that I wouldn’t be able to look at something until next week. It meant postponing some work that I wanted to do sooner, but which actually could wait a week or two. The urge to overperform is still there, but I haven’t felt like I absolutely had to do everything immediately, as my performance is less linked to my worth.

Ride it out

The last thing I’d like to leave you with is this: ride it out.

The wave of overwhelm can make you feel like you’re drowning, so it can help to remember that you aren’t drowning. You’ll be fine. This page in your life will eventually turn to the next page. There will be busy and overwhelming times again but there will also be calmer times. How you’re feeling right now is not permanent.

Identifying the triggers so you can take simple steps to address the root causes of your overwhelm, and then celebrating your successes and realising you don’t have anything to prove – you are enough, just as you are – will help you regain a little more sense of control, so you can ride out the storm until the sun starts to break through the cloud again.

Which it will.

Returning to workforce

As I write this, I have just wrapped up my first week back at work after a year’s maternity leave with my second (and last) baby.

And it’s been great.

It’s been great seeing my colleagues and getting myself reacquainted with all the work that’s happening. It’s been great being myself again, and actually having time by myself on the train or on my lunch break. Even having some time to focus on work without also keeping an eye on the kids so the baby doesn’t eat a book (a real possibility) has felt like a luxury.

It’s also been great seeing my 5-year-old excited about going to the childminder’s after school and playing with other children, eating new foods, and then buzzing about his day as we walk home together. It’s been great seeing my one-year-old bonding with other babies and the staff at his nursery, and then coming to pick him up and give him loads of kisses and cuddles, all the sweeter for the time we spent apart.

And I’ve thought, “This is how a return to work should be.”

But it is a million miles away from my first return to work, which was a disaster that marked the beginning of one of my unhappiest periods of work life.

So what’s made the difference? There’s some luck involved, but there’s also a few things I can’t help but think have made the difference between miserably job hunting after work and looking forward to Monday. Continue reading “Returning to workforce”

Embracing the seasons

We’ve had to turn on the heat in the early mornings, which are staying darker, longer. Leaves of orange and brown rustle under the empty swings at the park, and when the wind blows through the trees they rustle as only dry leaves about to drop can. It’s official: autumn is here.

There’s something to be said for embracing the season for what it is, not trying to make it what it isn’t.  Continue reading “Embracing the seasons”

Making the most of the summer

As we celebrate the last day of school, I’ve been preparing for the summer holidays. This is kind of a one-time thing for us: I’m effectively a stay at home mum this summer, and it’s my first summer holidays with a school-age child. I see an expanse of six gorgeous weeks with my boys. Even the weather has been unusually dry, sunny, and hot. What could be better? And I’m reminded of something I read recently: we only have 18 summers with our kids. Not much at all, is it?

Then I think practically about it. I’m approaching the last thirteen, unpaid weeks of maternity leave as summer holidays start, so money is tighter than tight. And I’ve been enjoying my time with my baby while my older son is at school, which is my quality time with baby but also when he is nursing or sleeping in my arms, it’s my only me-time all day. During the week-long holidays so far this year I’ve not really had time to read or write or meditate. How will that go for six weeks?

And then there’s also the very real situation when my son stands in the lounge and asks me what is something fun we can do together today and all I hear is crickets chirping in my head?

So holding both the amazing opportunity and the challenge of full-time and largely-solo-parenting, I’m sharing my brainstorm of ideas to make summer work for my kids and, importantly, for me, too. Here we go. Continue reading “Making the most of the summer”