5 lessons from my 5 year old

5 year old riding a bike

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!).

Find out more and sign up now to claim your free space!

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A book launch with Sarah Beeson MBE, bespoke poetry and PND

OurCountryNurseThis summer, I was invited by Sarah Beeson MBE and her daughter Amy, co-authors of parenting book Happy Baby Happy Family, to be part of their latest book launch for their third book, Our Country Nurse. This book is the second in a two-part series based on Sarah’s journey to becoming one of the youngest health visitors in the UK.

I first met Amy and Sarah in person at the launch of part one of Sarah’s memoirs, The New Arrival, in 2014, having connected beforehand on social media and it’s been lovely to follow their journey as they have published a book a year since then. As I had been planning to read the latest book anyway, I was excited to be involved in its  launch and to read it pre-publication in order to get the creative juices flowing!

I enjoyed ‘meeting’ the various characters in the book – some of whom I liked a lot less than others… and learning more about the challenges and successes of Sarah’s early career. There are some lovely touching moments and some storylines I was very keen to see resolved as I felt real concern for the characters. There is also a bit of light relief! I could have written poems about many of the characters but chose two who jumped out at me the most… Dr. Botton, who… Well, let’s just say I ‘liked less’ than his colleague, the lovely Dr. Drake… and one of the mums Sarah helped, Jackie Bowyer.

Here’s a sample from my poem about Dr. Botton; ‘I’m the man’:

No, just give the baby some morphine, that will shut him up
Now excuse me for a second, I need to refill my cup
It’s been at least an hour since I last had a drink
And I need to get back to the golf course… What? No, I don’t care what you think…

The poem I wrote about Jackie though, I want to share in its entirety because, although it’s not representative of her character, this part of her journey really struck me and the resulting poem speaks to something that touches many of us, however lightly, at some point in out lives.

If you prefer to read and digest in your own time there’s a full text version you can read over on medium.

To find out if Dr. Botton really is so awful (he is), and to get a fuller picture of Jackie Bowyer’s story, you’ll need to read Our Country Nurse, which was released last week.

If you’ve been touched by postnatal depression yourself or know someone who has, the Pandas Foundation may be able to help. Pandas is launching the first Pre & Post Natal Depression Awareness Week (#PNDAW16) in the UK from 5th – 11th September.

Making time to write

pocket-watches-436567_1280A lot is made of morning routines and the importance of setting yourself up for the day. A quick google search for ‘writing routines’ brings up more than 40 million results, many of which talk about the importance of writing when the world is still. For some that may be early morning, for others writing into the night might work better. Personally I think that when it comes to daily routines (for anything, not just writing) whatever works, works and that may change over time as our lives and responsibilities change.

Life changes the way we write

Before I had my son, I’d write whenever the muse struck. Sometimes that would be at 3am, when I’d wake up from a dream with a thought I couldn’t shake off. It could be at the bus stop when an overheard conversation sparked an idea or it could be straight after a swim (I often have my most creative thoughts when water is involved). Then, my son was born and it became harder to whip out my phone or a notebook whenever I wanted. When he was little I wrote when he napped (whenever that might be). Now, when I’m not coaching, I’m writing all day while he’s at school. So I take what time I can. When I’m writing for clients I do my research during the day but actual writing usually takes place either right at the start of my working day before I even open my emails (I try to avoid opening my emails before lunch if I can. I can lose half the day otherwise!), or into the night once my son is asleep. But what about the writing that’s just for me, the almost therapeutic purging that leads to my more creative pieces, and often forms the bones of most of my poetry..?

Well, I became a morning person (most days. I still have my off days, when I don’t force it). On a usual weekday, I rise before my son, before birdsong even, to make time and space for me, to meditate, to write and to be.

It’s 5.30am and I’m at my desk. If you had told me five years ago I’d willingly get up before 6am I would have struggled to believe you but here I am.

The birds are not yet singing but if I listen very carefully I can hear the distant hum of other early risers. Mostly cars already on their way to work. Not on our street though. Before 6am when my husband wakes up, it’s just me and the silence, until I fire up my laptop and add the tap of the keyboard to my morning music.”

You can read more of the above essay, Before Birdsong, about my morning writing-as- self-care routine over on literary magazine Raising Mothers.

How about you? Are you a morning person? Whatever your day involves, whether you’re a writer yourself, running your own small business or a busy parent (or all three!), do you have any routines that you try to stick to, that make a positive difference to your day? How do you make time and space for what’s important to you..? Do share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Want to really feel proud of your (perfectly!) imperfect parenting?

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Back in November, I wrote about why I was creating my first ever online coaching programme, Proudly Imperfect Parents. At the time it was still a work in progress, and there have been a couple of versions – one far too long, as I was trying to fit everything in, and another lacked the right level of support. But I got there in the end and the course is now open for booking!

Here’s what the lovely mums who did a test run of the course had to say:

“I love the intro videos, you come across as really approachable, warm and friendly. The course has a good balance of suggestion/direction and find your own path.”

“The worksheets are good but I especially liked that you say they are not compulsory, so it never feels like work… But it works! I now feel much more comfortable with my parenting approach.”

If you keep reading about being a ‘perfectly imperfect’ parent and you know this is all we can ever be, but somehow, deep down you’re still trying to live up to an impossible ideal – then this course is for you. Here’s what we’ll cover across the four weeks from 22 February:

Week 1 – What is perfect parenting anyway?
We’ll deconstruct our idea of perfect parenting so that we can begin to lesson our attachment to the idea that there’s a universal ‘right’ way to do things.

Week 2 – From Guilt to Good Enough
We’ll take a look at some of the things we might feel guilty about, what we can do about them and how we can let that guilt go.

Week 3 – Finding time for you
We’ll investigate how we really spend our time each day, and the importance of creating space for yourself.

Week 4 – Proudly Imperfect
We’ll further explore our perfect imperfectness, thinking about how this can benefit us and those around us, and why we should be proud of this.

Each week, you’ll get an introductory video, a worksheet to prompt your thoughts across the week, a weekly live Q&A with me in the private Facebook group and four Friday meditations on each of the themes.

You can find out more about the course and book your place over on the Proudly Imperfect Parents page. Booking closes before half term (on Friday 12 February) so reserve your place now!

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If you’re not yet ready to take part in this programme but would like to know when future dates are available, and receive occasional special offers, you can sign up to the Proudly Imperfect Parents list here or by clicking on the image above.

On intentions, parenting and poetry… Happy New Year!

I hope this year has started well for you… I’m not going to write to much here as – for the first time since I promised more videos back in September – I have actually recorded a vlog for you!*

In just seven minutes of screen time (you can spare seven minutes, right?) I share some of my intentions for the year ahead, offer support with your resolutions (or intentions, or goals, whatever you prefer to call them), talk parenting and share a poem to see you into the New Year.

*Sorry about the background noise, hope that it’s still clear enough!

Here are some of the links I referred to in the video, in case you’re interested 🙂

Monika’s Story
Proudly Imperfect Parents
My personal blog (where I’ve been keeping my poetry), Honest Speaks.

Want support with your intentions/goals/resolutions?

You can email or tweet me…
Or leave a comment on my Facebook page.

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Proudly Imperfect Parents

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What? Proudly Imperfect?

Yes! Back in March, I ran a coached workshop for working mums, which focused on addressing the specific challenges of those mums who work outside of the home. Following the feedback from this, and from all those of you who completed my survey about what you’d like, I decided that the best way to reach even more of you would be to create an online programme for all parents, on the more general theme of letting go of the idea of parenting perfectly.

Why am I doing this?

Because none of us are perfect parents. Right now, there is a lot out there about being ‘perfectly imperfect’ and why it’s important… And we nod and smile and say ‘Yes!’ but deep down, do we really believe it’s ok to be imperfect, flawed even..?

When my son was first born, I fell into this ‘story’ for a minute. I read some books on the first year and re-read some stuff on early development while pregnant and had some idea about routines but I was mostly taking on board what I liked and doing what felt right for us. On our own, we were fine. When other people questioned me though, I started to question myself. Was I wrong? Not good enough?

Over time I became more confident and now, although I have my off days, I know why I do what I do and I’m not afraid to make mistakes and change something if it’s not working. Why? Well first and foremost, my internal representation of a good mother isn’t a perfect one. My mother wasn’t perfect but she was perfect for me…. And as a coach, I know that what I used to perceive as failure is actually just feedback. If I try new approach to parenting and it doesn’t work, then I try something else…

Perhaps you have an idea in your head about what the perfect parent is and despite all the nodding when you read about being perfectly imperfect, inside, you actually still want to live up to this ideal (which will be different for each of us) and get upset when you don’t.

How can we really let go of this idea of what we feel we need to be and truly be who we are, knowing that this will benefit both us and our children?

I’m not a parenting expert. I’m not a perfect parent. And that’s kind of the point. If you’d like a step-by-step guide on how to parent better, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a mum who tries to be a gentle parent and sometimes fails. A mum whose own mum was less than perfect but more than she could have wished for in an early role model for love. A coach who knows how to ask the right questions to shift your story from ‘I’m not enough’ to ‘I am good enough. And that’s more than good enough’ so that you can honestly state, ‘I am a proudly imperfect parent’.

By the end of the four-week course, you’ll be paying more attention to what you’re already doing that works for you and your family (so you can do even more of that and less of what doesn’t serve you, or them) and you’ll have a deeper, more personal understanding of how being even more of yourself can take you from anxious about what you’re doing ‘wrong’ to proud of how your imperfect parenting actually works. For your whole family.

Who says there’s a right way to parent anyway? Right…?

The four-week course will launch in early 2016. To be first to find out more and know when dates are confirmed, make sure you sign up to the Proudly Imperfect Parents mailing list, where you’ll also be first to receive any freebies or special offers!

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Making friends with our monsters

If you’ve been over to my Facebook page this week (you haven’t? Pop on over and say hi!), then you’ll know it’s my son’s first week of school. Some of you may be in the same boat, with kids either starting school, starting a new school or returning to a new class/new building/new teacher. Maybe you’re even doing something new yourself.

As with anything new – comparisons for us could be starting a new job, beginning (or returning to) further education or moving house –  there are a lot of unknowns. This makes it all a bit scary and it can take a while to settle (perhaps longer than most for the more sensitive among us).

My ‘Mushroom’, as he’s known online, has had some tearful mornings and although he’s always had fun at the end of the day, there was some talk of ‘monsters’ everywhere at the start… The way he embodied his fears got me thinking about our monsters and what we can do about them

Let me explain further as I make friends with one of my own monsters – around visibility and tech – video blogging! Watch (it’s only 4 minutes!):

Tell me about your monsters… Have you made friends with any? If not, what tiny steps could you take towards getting to know them better? Do share your thoughts in the comments below!

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On parenting imperfectly

If you’ve arrived here via my parenting blog, Mothering Mushroom, you’ll know that imperfect parenting is a bit of a theme for me. I’m not a perfect parent. And, despite being a recovering perfectionist, when it comes to parenting I always knew there was no such thing as perfection. At the start, I wasn’t always ok with that. I’d listen too much to other people and worry I was coming up short as a mum. Over time though, as my son really started to grow into the little person he now is, I realised that the way I parent, while far from perfect, is just right… for us as a family. I do still have my moments and a negative comment on a bad day can occasionally hit me hard but on the whole I now rarely question the principles and values that lie behind any parenting decisions I make.

Good Enough is good enoughIn my coaching practice, I find I often talk to mums who worry about their parenting style, concerned that what they’re doing isn’t ‘right’. I still have to check in with myself when I start saying “I should/shouldn’t have…” Ok, sometimes I could have made a better choice but is the occasional ‘mistake’ the end of the world? No, it’s not. This year, I decided that I really wanted to address this and help even more parents to let go of the notion that there is a ‘right’ way to parent and find the value in their individual, imperfectly perfect parenting styles by developing the Proudly Imperfect Parents series of workshops, which kicked off last month with a Working Mums workshop.

On the day, a small group of working mums came together to share challenges and frustrations – including the desire to be the best we can be both at work and at home, how to manage everything on little sleep and ways we can switch from ‘work’ mode to ‘mum’ mode at the end of the day. We also talked about the idea of the Good Enough Mother and how that could be good enough, maybe even better than aiming for perfection, as we give our children permission to also make mistakes and know that it’s ok, before moving on to talk about how we can reclaim our identity beyond motherhood. As a more creative exercise, we let go of the ‘perfect’ ideals we’ve placed on ourselves (literally – watching as our perfection balloons whizzed across the room as they lost air, and their power) and made cards to take home, as reminder of how we’re Good Enough.

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How are you good enough.. and what can you let go of today..?

I’ll be tweaking the content of the Working Mums workshop in the coming months before running another one in London later this year but I also want to serve parents across the UK and beyond, whether you’re working, a full-time parent, a single parent or anything in between! So, if the idea of letting go of parenting imperfectly appeals to you, would you mind sparing five minutes to answer a few questions to help me develop future workshops and an online programme? Pretty please?

It might even take less than five minutes, depending on your answers!

If you’re interested to know more about the Proudly Imperfect Parents series, do sign up to the mailing list below. Everyone who signs up will be first to know when new dates are released, will receive special offers and occasional freebies first and will be given full access to the closed Facebook group, where you can find like-minded parents sharing resources and supporting each other.

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