Wednesday, 28 February 2018

“Is it enough just to be me?”

I wrote this last year for a talk....and decided to share... 

I spend a lot of time reading about parenting styles and advice, thinking and praying about how to parent our 4 kids, I stress about it a lot.

As parents it is easy to feel like we are failing a lot of the time. And I think this really affects our own sense of value and esteem.

Whether it is because we can’t get our baby to sleep through the night or to go to sleep without being rocked, or to sleep in their own bed.

Or we have given up on trying to get our toddlers out of nappies, or for our children to have a dry bed,

Or we can't manage to get the kids to school on time, or to make that healthy lunch/tea we had intended

Or we have run out of milk again

Or forgotten their reading books

Or sent them to school without a coat (oops)

Or we lost our temper when helping with homework and we shouted, even though we keep deciding that we are not going to shout any more

We can feel like a failure when we feel lonely, because aren’t we supposed to just be able to cope.

I don’t know your story, your family situation, your challenges, but what I do know is that parenting is the most difficult challenge that I have ever faced, I think that most parents would say the same.

All of this can lead us to a place of feeling that we are not enough.
We might feel that we are failing in our marriage or relationships,
Or in our jobs.

Why is what we think and feel about ourselves important?

I love the researcher and writer Brené Brown. She wrote this:
“If we want our children to love and accept who they are, our job is to love and accept who we are. WE can’t use fear, shame, blame, and judgement in our own lives if we want to raise courageous children. Compassion and connection – the very things that give purpose and meaning to our lives – can only be learned if they are experienced. And our families are our first opportunities to experience these things.”

I find this so challenging.
We can think that we are failing, worthless and bottom of the pile. Most of the time, perhaps, we can cope with our failures and mistakes and know that we are not a failure or a mistake. But sometimes we start to believe those things about ourselves. We can live in shame…thinking we are not enough.

But we have a choice as to whether we agree with that thought.

If we need to love and accept ourselves in order to teach our children how to love and accept themselves then this is high priority in my book.

In my role as a play therapist, one of the keys to therapy is my acceptance of the client, exactly as they are, behaviour, attitude, words, everything, total unconditional acceptance. They receive my acceptance as a communication of their high value and worth.  They are valuable and worthy of love just by being themselves. If I don’t value and accept myself, then this would be empty and ineffective.

To quote Brene Brown again:
“How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a wholehearted life: loving ourselves.”

We can't give our children what we don’t have.

If we want our children to grow up with a strong sense of self worth and knowing that they are loved and lovable, then we need to demonstrate this ourselves in the way we love and accept ourselves.

Where do we get our sense of worth from.

If it is healthy for our relationships to engage with the world from a sense of worthiness, where do we find our sense of self worth?

Some people were born into families where they were told how valuable and loved they are …. That’s a good start.

Even those people may have gone on to experience bullying, abuse or trauma, telling them they are not enough, not worthy, not valuable, not lovable.

So how do we find our value so we can love and accept ourselves?

“Then God said; “ Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness”
 Genesis 1 v 26

That is the starting point of truth for all of us. We are valuable, worthy of love and belonging because God made us and we are made in God’s image.
We actually reflect Him. Every single one of us. It does not say, “men” are made, mankind, not white people, not any particular nation,  not just Christians, all mankind, male and female. No human is excluded from this statement . We are all made in His image.

Secondly,  Psalm 139:14
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”

SO he is actually pleased with you. You are wonderfully made.

The truth is that we are not perfect. We make mistakes but God has chosen to love us anyway. He doesn’t love us because we are good. He loves us because we are us. He sent Jesus, his son, to die for us. That is how valuable we are to him. He desires closeness, relationship with us so much that he was willing to pay that price for it.

So how do we grow in our love and acceptance of ourselves as individuals and as parents?

We can start by deciding to give this some time and attention. You are important, valuable and worthy of love,  so have a little think about how you treat yourself. Are you kind to yourself? Are you quick to blame yourself? Do you feel shame? Do you need to find someone to blame? Are you able to forgive yourself and others for mistakes?

Accepting our own imperfections and allowing God to clear them away helps us to accept others’ imperfections and to forgive.

I don’t know about you but some of my most precious moments have been seeing my children immersed in play together.
As you would expect from a play therapist I have a high regard for play and creativity. I want to encourage each of you/us to invite play into your life.

Did you know that Jesus is playful? God created laughter and play. Have a think about how can you make room for more playfulness in your life?

As we journey in accepting ourselves, make time to play and connect with our children in a playful way, as we make room for love and laughter, we reinforce the truth that we are enough as we are. God loves us unconditionally, we are worthy of love and belonging.

I love this parenting manifesto that I have borrowed from Brené Brown.

"The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto:
 Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions—the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself. I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections. We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honoring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both. We will teach you compassion by practicing compassion with ourselves first; then with each other. We will set and respect boundaries; we will honor hard work, hope, and perseverance. Rest and play will be family values, as well as family practices. You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel. I want you to know joy, so together we will practice gratitude. I want you to feel joy, so together we will learn how to be vulnerable. When uncertainty and scarcity visit, you will be able to draw from the spirit that is a part of our everyday life. Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it. We will laugh and sing and dance and create. We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other. No matter what, you will always belong here. As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly. I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you." (from "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" by Brené Brown)

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Living life to the full

It's been a while since I last posted a it's time to get back on with it. 8 and 1/2 months ago our youngest daughter was born. She has been such a delight. After plenty of time worrying about how I was going to cope with 4 children I have been living the reality. The biggest impact for me has been how much we have enjoyed her.  It has been tiring and challenging but also rich with smiles and cuddles and with the depth and simplicity of building a new relationship. It doesn't matter how tough the rest of the day has been, a smile from our little one helps.

I was thinking about some of the things that I have learnt over the last few months and so that is going to form the theme for this blog:

1. My fears and worries are usually worse than the reality.
God doesn't give us the grace to deal with a situation until we are actually in it . When we worry, we enact the worst happening in our minds and emotions without His grace and help. Rarely does the worst happen anyway!

2. Ask for help when I need it...I am not a superhero.
Swallowing my pride and letting others help me has been good for me! I like to think I can do it all...but actually I can't. I know my limits better now and try not to push myself beyond them!

3. Bigger families can be good learning environments.
When I was pregnant, one of the positives I could see of a bigger family was that my children would need to share some responsibilities and help! This is hard in reality because they are just as reluctant as ever, however, I can see how they have matured in ways that happen naturally as a family expands.

4. It's important to be intentional about one to one time with each child.
Bedtime is a challenge because I still try to give each of them some of my time and attention as I put them to bed. There have been some difficult evenings, like the other night when each child followed me into the next room so after an hour and a half I still had 4 children in one room! But generally they want their own time with me so they don't disturb the others. Taking my eldest out for hot chocolatre and sitting building lego with my son have been highlights for me.

6. My marriage is the most important relationship in the house.
When I am kind and forgiving to my husband we have a happy home...nuff said!

5. Friends are a gift not an entitlement. 
In the busyness of the past 8 months I have felt so grateful for good friends and really enjoyed time spent with them, just chatting on the phone or FaceTime. I have felt a keen motivation to look after myself and my friendships with the little time that I have free.

6. Sometimes you have to work hard to get back to strength.
After 4 pregnancies and births my body, especially my back and stomach muscles were left weak. I had to make a decision to work at this so that I can be strong again. I am motivated to get back into shape so I can keep fit and go on long bike rides with the kids. Trying to fit in my physio exercises is a challenge but sometimes you have to work hard at something boring to help your body heal.

7. It helps when I stay grateful 
This is sometimes hard to do when my husband and I are both stressed out.  But keeping my heart soft, forgiving easily and trying not to keep a record of wrongs are my aims and when I get it right (which is definitely not all the time) it helps me cope in the difficult times. I am so grateful for the people in my life and aim to keep smiling!

These are the things I could think of as I sit and write today. There are more, I'm sure, but my time is up and the school run beckons!!!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Bring on the colour

I am sat (on my birthing/pilates ball) listening to my 3 children playing lego, enjoying the unusual low noise level! It has been an eventful few months since I last wrote my blog. I am now in my 40th week of my pregnancy and it is a waiting game with everyone wondering when the baby will arrive. In my last post I shared some of my feelings about becoming a mum of 4 and I can truly say that this pregnancy has actually gone really well (so far!) and exceeded my expectations in terms of the peace that I have experienced and the lack of my anticipated health problems. I am not saying that is has all been easy, because it hasn't. Wearing TED (anti embolism) stocking on my right leg for the entire pregnancy has not always been simple ...think Cornish beach, post sea paddle with my leg in the air for 10 minutes before I struggle to pull the stocking on with some dignity! And trying to be patient with my 3 children when I have felt exhausted and really just want to go and sit down with a cup of tea.

One of the things that I realised over the last few weeks is how much I was getting involved in the sibling battles of my kids and how cross I was getting with them. I was shouting (which I try not to do) and losing it much more often. I had excused myself with the fact that I was pregnant, and therefore tired, emotional, hormonal etc. But what I realised a few weeks ago was that actually I was panicking! I was desperately trying to control my children and make them good as I had the thought "what will I do when I have a baby to look after too?" As I began to take a step back not only did my relationships with my children improve but their behaviour also improved as I allowed them to sort out their own squabbles with out swooping in to save the day. This is an ongoing challenge but one that I am now more focused on.

I've written before about the temptation to conform to other people's expectations of my children's behaviour and to be moulded by their judgements (based on sometimes minimal observation). It is a constant challenge to parent in a way that I have chosen rather than trying to please other people. I have been reminded of this recently and I have been dwelling on the image of a rainbow of colours. My children have their own unique hue (...!!) that they bring to the world around them. Some people, adults or other children, don't like their particular colour and may reject them. The temptation is to cover our children up with a more acceptable shade or try to change their hue. But then the world would miss out on their particular colour contribution to those around them. I have been challenged to celebrate the unique personalities that God has given my children. They are certainly not perfect and James and I are constantly discussing how we can help them with undesirable behaviours that affect their relationships but I also want them to be free to be themselves.

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about the family that this baby is being born into. Noisy, sometimes chaotic, with tantrums and consequences but lots of love. And I suddenly felt so grateful for my husband and children and thankful for the noise and colour of our house. I wonder what our new little blessing will bring to the rainbow. I know that we will be the richer for their arrival. I just hope that they arrive soon!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

take courage

Well, it has been a while since I have posted a blog and I have been mulling over my thoughts and trying to decide what to write about. So we are expecting our 4th child, the baby is due at the beginning of October so I am nearly 16 weeks pregnant at the moment. That should give me material for a few blog posts!!

It's funny, but I always had an image in my mind of what a mum of 4 looked like. And I am pretty sure that I would not have lived up to that image. My perception of a mum of 4 is someone who is uber organised (not me), crafty and creative (it really doesn't come naturally!), patient (at my best yes, in the everyday...not so much!), someone who cooks from scratch, probably batch, at some point early in the day (no! I'm more of the 4.45...agh what am I going to feed the kids and 7.30pm what am I going to feed James and me?)

But the truth is that I am going to be a mum of 4 and I guess there is no personality/skills test to check if I am going to manage but I will just have to do my best...that is all I can do. One of the things that I have been learning is that sometimes you just have to be brave. It is so easy to let panic fill us when we feel out of control or out of our depth. I have felt both of these things over the last 3 months and yet I have had to ask myself where my trust of God is. If I really trust God with my future then I can trust that He will not fail me now. It doesn't mean that it will be plain sailing, but it does mean that as well as an amazingly supportive husband, I know that God is with me too, and He is a good friend, a good Father and has the supernatural at His disposal! He tells me not to fear. He tells me to be full of hope and joy in all circumstances and I know that He is rejoicing over this baby too. Unlike many in society, my God really loves children. He isn't panicking about how I will cope. He isn't shocked that we are going to be well and truly outnumbered.

I am challenged during this time to depend more on God. To look to him for encouragement and to find peace in His presence. At the moment, with 2 children off school on holiday and a 2 year old, I am finding that a struggle but I am determined to find spaces with God where I can renew my mind and my strength.

I am sorry if this is too "God" focused today, but really I am just so grateful that James and I are not alone in this parenting role. Wisdom is the key and Jesus is the personification of wisdom.  I know that I am going to grow as a person (not just physically!)but in many ways,  through this pregnancy and beyond as I am well out of my comfort zone and that is when we either cower with fear or stretch out and grow. I aim to do the second. But I can't promise that it will be pretty!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Year hopes...

As I steadily work my way through a box of chocolates I'm keen to take the opportunity to stop and consider my hopes for this new year. James is working in his makeshift office in the corner of our sitting room and I am not allowed to talk! So it's a perfect opportunity to write.

Christmas in our house has been a quiet- ish time. My parents have been away with my dad's work since September and we have really missed them, especially over Christmas. It was lovely to spend some time with my older brother and his family before Christmas and we had James' mum here for Christmas which was brilliant. But my younger brother, his wife and daughter live in America, and James brother and family spent Christmas overseas too so it has felt a bit strange this year. Less family time than I would have liked. So I suppose one of my hopes for 2013 is more time spent with our families. Difficult to manage when we are divided by miles and oceans but Skype and FaceTime are very helpful and need to be used more!

James has just taken down all the Christmas decorations. I shall especially miss our Angel light that has been hanging on the yew hedge outside our house. We first put the Angel up the Christmas we nearly spent in Great Ormond Street Hospital. We were heading back and forth to the hospital but we had an angel watching over our family. Symbolic, yes but pointing to something so real.

We have spent a lot of time at home over the last 2 weeks and I have been trying to tidy and organise some of our paperwork and also our eldest daughter's room. I hope to keep on top of things this year and be more organised! No small feat for me. James is the most organised person I know and I try but generally fail a lot. But, I will make more of an effort to get systems and processes in place that will keep me on track and impress my husband too! I just need to organise them!

Holidays with the children at home have their moments of stress, especially when it has rained constantly and they have found it difficult to get along with one another. But there have also been priceless moments. Like baking a cake with Florence after she had chosen a recipe, written it down and shopped with her dad to get the ingredients, baked it with me and then taken it to our friends house to share. It has also given the eldest two a chance to have sleepovers where they have made camps before falling asleep surrounded by toys. Millie has loved having the older two at home and keeps track of where everyone is. She will be most put-out on Tuesday when everyone is back to school and work.
So although I have found keeping the peace a struggle these last two weeks, I am also grateful for some time with my kids and a break from the running around. I hope that this year we will have good family time. More cakes baked together, cycle rides and wii game battles!

As I think about the coming months one of the things I find hard is deciding on how to invest my energy and time when there are so many good and worthwhile things I could be doing but not that much time. How do I work out which are the things that are right for me? Rather than things that are good to do. I am considering this at the moment as a couple of things that I wanted to commit to, clash. One of them I feel I should do because it will help a friend out but the other I had wanted to do because it would grow me and challenge me as I walk out my faith. Both are good to do, both will be fun, both would let someone down if I didn't go. So I have decided to do both! One week, one, the next week the other. I may look uncommitted but I think it's a good solution! This year I want to think about what I am doing and not be blown about in an attempt to please people. I want to be purposeful in how I spend the little amount of 'free' time that I have. Free time obviously means having a 2 year old with me too!

I want to worry less and pray more in 2013. Worry doesn't change a thing. But prayer really does. I have the awesome privilege of being godmother to 3 of my close friends children and one of my nieces. This year I want to commit to pray for them, purposefully, regularly. It fills me with excitement just contemplating that. But actually, with the business of family life, if I don't purpose to do something then days and weeks fly by and it wouldn't happen in the day to day. In the everyday I am going to need to make time for these important tasks. Maybe I'll ban myself from my iPhone, I really would save time if I didn't check my email and Facebook so much. Yes, that has got to make it into my plans for this year. Rationed iPhone use!!

I am sure that there are more things I can add but I wanted to finish by deciding that I want to live with hope this year. To hope for good things for my family and friends. To hope for the miracle not fear the worst. To have hope because I know that God is good and to let that hope really resonate in my heart this year.

Monday, 17 December 2012

calm after the storm

It makes me smile now to think how much I took my mum's love and efforts for granted as I was growing up. It is such a raw experience being a mum. It is so easy to get hurt. It hurts, when my children are ill, it hurts when they feel sad, it hurts when they reject me, it hurts when they make poor choices. It hurts when others harm them. It can sound so depressing.

Love is like that isn't it. It hurts. Many a poet has attempted to convey the relationship between love and pain. We love deeply and so we hurt deeply. But in the depth of relationship, built on real, sincere love,  the experience of life is the richest. So in the challenges of parenting I am persuading myself to remain soft, to love deeply. Not to build up walls to protect myself but to build a strong connection with my children that will last a lifetime. This applies to my other relationships too; my marriage, my friendships.
When I consider my relationship with God, my heavenly Father, my guide and source of strength, my friend and saviour, I wonder at the pain that God must experience because of His choice to love. There is the obvious pain experienced by Jesus as he suffered beatings and cruelty and then was nailed to a cross and left to die. There is the history of rebellion against God by whole nations and billions of individuals and then there is the pain and sorrow that we inflict on one another.

Recently I learned how important it was for my daughter to realise that I could cope with her emotions.
I told my daughter about a big change that was going to take place for her and although she was at first calm, her anxiety began to build until she erupted into a torrent of anger towards me. She shouted and screamed at me and then eventually came the tears. When she had talked and got all her fears in the open she became calm and brave. I have been learning about Filial Play, which is training me how to have a special play time with my child (initially with my son), where he directs the play and I follow, attend, get involved. I don't educate, direct, ask questions or react emotionally to him. I remain calm and create boundaries allowing him to know he has safe, special time with me where he can express what he is feeling. One of the techniques that I have learned on the course is how to reflect emotions. And it is this technique that I used with Florence. I responded to her anger and abuse by saying "You seem to feel very angry with me about this" "You look like you want to shout and scream" "you are telling me that you are scared and that is ok" and so on. It was amazing the way it unfolded as it allowed her to know that I was listening and that I was aware of how she was feeling and that I could cope with it, which seemed to help her draw strength to deal with our decision.

Since then she has remained calm and positive and it is amazing to think that the emotional explosion ever happened. I am so grateful to be learning new techniques to help me build strong and loving relationships with my kids. I just need to be mindful of what I say!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Busy, busy, busy.

I’ve just finished reading a novel. That means I must have been on holiday, as that is the only time I get to read. We have just returned from a week in Scotland with friends and during the holiday there were various opportunities to sit quietly by the fire and read. As that scenario doesn’t occur often at home it was a precious time of relaxation and I have relished the chance to read. I love it when a book I enjoy also stirs thoughts that challenge the way I approach relationships and life. I find that Francine Rivers’ books consistently lead me to ponder and assess various aspects of my life. Leota’s Garden was no exception. Francine Rivers' books shine a light on relationships and lifestyle in such an insightful way.

I think the biggest effect of the book for me was igniting a desire for a simpler life. James and I just simply love getting away. James especially loves the mountains, I love to be beside the sea (side, beside the sea!) Why do we so appreciate the space and wonder of the rugged countryside? Can we bring some of the simplicity and freedom into our everyday lives? How has our family life become so hectic? James has a demanding job but he is in the right place at the right time so that doesn't seem to be the part to change at the moment. So looking at the rest of the family situation, what are the causes of busyness and stress? Well I have realised that I spend a lot of time taking the kids back and forth to after school activities. James and I really want to give our kids the opportunities, whilst they are young, to experience different hobbies to see which they enjoy. We had the best intentions when signing them up to these sports, dance and music activities and yet when I stop and think about the impact that these activities have on everyday family life it makes me wonder if we are doing the right thing. There is something about allowing our children to be children and to enjoy playing at home that is being lost in the to-ing and fro-ing of our busy weeks. My eldest said tonight as she was getting into bed that she never gets a chance to play with her teddies. Although this is not strictly true, I can see that with homework and the different activities in the week there really isn’t that much time to play.

I was thinking that maybe the Olympic fever had a bigger impact on me than I thought. I think I got carried away with the Olympic dream and the feeling that our children should be given every opportunity to be involved with sport. However, half a term in to swimming lessons, tennis lessons (which were requested but now hated) and dance lessons, I must confess that I am tired out with it all (and I think the kids are too!) I feel like we need to decide as a family if this is how we want to live life. I am hankering for a more simple life. Where we make more room for friends, play, bike rides, walks, games, books etc. I’ve made bread from scratch twice in 4 days and before that I’d never done it before. I always thought I was too busy!

Life is so busy. But am I busy with the right things? That is what I am churning over in my head at the moment. I want to spend more time with my oldest friends and want to spend time getting to know new friends. I want my children to have my attention and to feel loved by me. I want to go on more dates with my husband and to laugh more. I want to spend more time reading my Bible and reading novels too. I want to make bread and to make the blinds to go up in our bedroom. I want to visit my Nanny and take a trip to see my Nana and Grampa. Now I just need to work out how I am going to adjust my life so I can fit all this stuff in!