I love spending time with my son. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments when I can’t wait for a night away, when I just need some ‘me’ time but on the whole, he is growing into a funny, fiercely determined and yet sensitive boy.
This summer was the first time since he started nursery four years ago that I was able to spend an extended amount of quality time with him over the summer. That I was able to do so is thanks to my super flexible part-time job (thanks for being an awesome employer Wholegrain Digital!) and being able to cut back on my coaching hours and flex my writing projects around family time.
Altogether, we spent three weeks hanging out over the summer, with Mr.B joining us for a week of full-on family time. We went to the cinema, caught up with friends we haven’t seen all year, visited museums, ‘played’ schools (my sneaky way of making sure he doesn’t forget what he’s learned so far!) and learned how to ride a bike – mostly him. But me too, a little. Read on to find out what I mean!
Over the break, we had a lot of chats about life and I noticed him maturing and growing in confidence. He learned a lot, and reminded me of many things too. Here are the biggest takeaways that may be of interest:
1. Laugh every day
I wrote a poem about postnatal depression (PND) during the holidays and he wanted to know why the lady in the poem was sad. I explained as much as I could about depression, and he said, “If people feel sad they should laugh every day.” I asked what about when they don’t feel like laughing and he said, “Just do it anyway, like this: Hahahahaha” (with forced smile, then collapsing into giggles about how silly he sounds). Studies prove that faking a smile (or laugh) even when you don’t feel like it, can boost your mood. So he’s on to something there…
2. If you want to but you think you can’t, just try anyway
We were out and about one day, and being obsessed with bikes as he was learning to ride, he asked, “Is it true that you are still wobbly because you didn’t ride a bike for years?” I told him yes, and I was still a bit nervous when I try (this is true). He asked me when I’d last tried… It was when he was about two. He walked over to the nearest Santander Cycles stand and said “Get one of these and practice.” I wasn’t sure so I hesitated. He took my hand and said “It doesn’t matter if you can’t, just try ok? You can even just do it for only five minutes.” I tried. It was fine. Fun, even. I wobbled, yes… But I did it. He high fived me and I felt great. I am planning to buy a bike next year so we can go on family rides.
3. Be creative – for no reason whatsoever
Every so often during the holidays, I would leave him to his own devices. He’d often read a book or engage in imaginative play, which always tells me a lot about what is going on in his head. One day he was ripping up paper and arranging it on his rug. I asked if he was making a pattern. He shrugged “Not really.” So I asked what he was doing. He looked down for a minute, then said “I don’t really know.” I asked if I could join in and he said no, he had to do it himself. Curious, I asked why. He laughed and said “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing, I just like to do it.” Doing stuff just because you like to. Brilliant. We made paper mâché with it that afternoon. Just because.
4. Walk everywhere
Inspired by Daddy, he wants us to do the Great Newham Family Run next year (we’ve watched Mr.B do the full run twice now). My ankles are recovering from being broken earlier this year so I’m not at the running stage yet. So when he wanted to ‘practise’ together for the run, I explained I can’t quite yet. He thought for a minute, then said “Ok, we have to walk everywhere then, if it’s not too far, until you can. It’s healthy anyway.” So now we walk everywhere. I thought we walked a lot before (we don’t have a car) but now? We walk more, we talk more, we sleep better… and I’ve lost a few pounds without even trying.
5. Only let go when you’re ready
When he was learning to ride his bike, we had the odd tantrum. The bike was “stupid”, and was thrown to the floor a few times and he said he would “never be able to ride.” Every time I said I was going to let go (and the few times I, or Mr.B tried to sneakily let go), he would shout “No, never let go!” After a couple of days, I stopped commenting on the tantrums and just moved the bike aside if it was in anyone’s way. Every time, he got back on and waited for me to hold the back. I didn’t offer to let go and I didn’t pretend to hold him either. After about 30 minutes that day, he suddenly said, “Ok Mummy, let go.” And he was riding his bike – wobbling less than I did. It reminded me of when friends sometimes say “I know someone you should coach, they really need to change/let go of (insert behaviour that the commenter feels is unhelpful)” and I always say “but do they want to..?” Letting go, of anything (not just bikes) needs to be the choice of the person letting go. Once he trusted me to hold him, he did it all by himself.
Being present (not perfect!) as a parent
While these are all great things to keep in mind for life in general, the biggest reminder for me this summer, was of the value of simply being present as a parent. Many of our best days were just me and him hanging out, not expecting anything from each other. We both had bad days, but at the end of the day we’d own it (well, I would. He was a bit more stubborn. He is only 5) and we’d say sorry and start over the next day.
After a challenging couple of weeks towards the end of the summer term last year, I was beginning to wonder if I was ‘failing’ as a parent and had been planning to scrap my Proudly Imperfect Parents e-course as I couldn’t in good faith promote something I wasn’t feeling myself. However, as I reviewed the material, spent time with friends who still referred to their pilot version and hung out with my son on a daily basis, I found that it worked. I came back to myself and was ready to let go again.
So, I am re-releasing this course in November! In the meantime, I have created a ‘taster’ version to help even more of you (and/or your friends) loosen your grip on the idea of perfect parenting. This free taster course, What is Perfect Parenting Anyway? starts on Monday 24th October (so if you have school-aged children in the UK then it could help you through half term!).