When #SolidariTEA was kicking off last year, I must have been the only “mummy blogger” on the block who didn’t post a photo on social media of kids eating fish fingers with a glass of wine or G&T in the background. I didn’t feel it was morally right to do so, just because everyone else was. Instead I wrote this piece here. The way I saw it, and still do, is a group of highly successful bloggers/authors/merch makers were slated in the Daily Fail (nothing new), and accused of being bad parents for feeding their children still-frozen food whilst swigging neat gin from sippy cups.

keeping it realSeriously who does that? No-one, and anybody who actually took the article seriously needs their head read. I always suspected the main outcome would be driving blog hits/book and merch sales of said bloggers through the roof. I’ll leave you to ponder that for a second.

Many bloggers now boast about their six figure incomes, which basically means there are people at the top getting paid a shit tonne of money while the rest of us are left to scratch around for the scraps. Ooooooh, sound familiar? Every week, it seems, bloggers are releasing how to books, and e-courses about blogging. Apparently anyone can do it, and with the right attitude, work ethic and GRIT an uber lucrative new career is at all our fingertips. By grit they mean playing the social media game.

My three kids are my main priority and I don’t have the time to be permanently attached to social media engaging with my audience. Nor do I have the money to pay a VA to do it for me. 

This week I have seen the very worst side of blogging and social media. I have seen a wonderful woman get torn down in the most vicious of ways. Her character has been decimated, and her abilities as a parent have been questioned. There have been accusations thrown around saying her daughter would be better off going up for adoption. Apparently she is an unfit mother because she’s going through a very hard time financially, and sometimes has visit food banks. Trust me, I have know many unfit mothers in my time, and this lady ain’t one of them.

She is constantly trying to be a better person, and in turn a better mama. She doesn’t hide behind a cloak of G&T when life gets tough, she goes to AA meetings. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, that’s something to aspire to. What on earth is our world coming to, when one side of the fence are allowed to use their channels for keeping it real, they’re allowed to have fun,  yet the other side are vilified for the same things? The double standards in the so-called sisterhood astound me for all the wrong reasons.

There was no solidarity for her from the blogging clicks and Insta-Mums, which is possibly the most shocking part of all. Thankfully she has received lots of support from many other people across the Internet, and IRL.

keeping it realI know all about the trouble with keeping it real online

With my properly raw posts I quite literally bleed all over the screen. I’ve been told by some readers that they wince as they’re taking in what I’ve written. I have questioned myself over and again, wondering if it’s absolutely necessary. Doesn’t all this emotion just leave us vulnerable? Well in a way yes it does, and of course I can only speak for myself here, but I would never change the way I write. I don’t make much money – a few grand a year, which keeps me ticking over (and by a few, I mean less than three last year). We get some nice meals and lovely days out for the kids, in exchange for my words. But I am rarely paid in cold hard moolah. This illusion that we’re all earning six figures has to be shattered!

The reason I’m still blogging, even though I have gone through many cycles of wanting to stop over the years, is because my readers regularly get in touch and tell me my blogs are their therapy. That I make them feel less alone. Trust me, no matter how understanding friends and family are, no-one truly gets how utterly all consuming it is to raise kids on the spectrum, unless they’re also doing it.

More than anything though, I’d like to be remembered as someone who isn’t afraid to talk about the things most people shy away from. I will never stop standing up for injustice when I see it, online or IRL. We are living through a seriously sad and polarised era, where Donald Trump is the most powerful man in the world, and the Tories have been voted in THREE TIMES since 2010. Largely I think due to non-voters and those completely unaffected and apathetic towards the devastating austerity cuts.

Which is why I point blank refuse to be silenced through the fear of people rolling their eyes at me. I will never stop keeping it real, and talking about things that are truly important. After all, isn’t that what blogging is supposed to be about?

**For details on why I have decided to publish Become the Best You on the blog, please read this. Should you wish to buy the book, you can do so here**

Question: What is the cycle of dysfunction?

Answer: A negative pattern of behaviour passed on from parent to child, which will continue indefinitely unless the person at the end of the cycle actively breaks it.

My mother had a rotten childhood. Her father was killed in a road accident when she was small. He left behind my pregnant Grandma who was carrying their sixth baby, along with five kids aged between one and ten.

They were living in the United States at the time and she came back to London where she raised her family alone. She worked six days a week to provide a roof over their heads and food on the table, yet her kids all resented her for it.

They would have preferred to have had a mum who was home more, but she thought she was doing the best thing by working. While Grandma grieved for her husband and threw herself into her job, the six of them were largely left to their own devices and brought each other up.

cycle of dysfunctionMy mother and her siblings are classic examples of a dysfunctional childhood. As adults, the four women chose their men badly and suffered affairs, violence, emotional abuse and loneliness. Although the men chose their partners well, they both had their fair share of issues.

All six had two or three children each, and the last time I saw any of my cousins it was clear that we were all (in some way or other) still reeling from what we had gone through. None of us were spared our parents’ dysfunctions.

My mother was deeply affected by her childhood and she emerged from it knowing she wanted a better start for her own children. There was no way she would go out to work all hours leaving her family behind once she was a mum. She wanted a family desperately and felt that constantly being present would be enough to ensure her kids grew up happy. Unfortunately, the reality couldn’t have been further from what she had intended.

Rather than dealing with the past, healing herself and gaining some life experience, she rushed into having a baby with my biological father when she was 18. A man who abandoned her to marry the woman he was engaged to throughout their brief affair.

She then did the exact same thing less than two years later with my step-father. She’d only known him for a few months before falling pregnant with my half-brother. My half-sister came along three years later even though they were not a proper couple.

From my earliest memories I knew my path was straightforward. I would not just talk about how my kids would have a better childhood than the one I had yet still rush into having babies anyway.

I knew I had to do everything in my power to become emotionally stable before bringing children into the world

Once they were here I would ensure I did not repeat history. In my early twenties I honestly didn’t think I had a maternal instinct. I was far too busy experiencing as much of what life had to offer to be getting broody.

For me, breaking the cycle of dysfunction meant finding true happiness within myself. I then had to settle down with a suitable partner before even entertaining the idea of starting a family. I found my husband long before I found inner peace, but both were firmly in place before falling pregnant with our eldest daughter.

Now as a mum of three, one diagnosed autistic, I know with absolute certainty that I did the right thing. I would have never been able to cope with the trials and tribulations of motherhood had I not fully dealt with my demons and put the past to rest before having my children. I also know that I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without the support of my wonderful husband and amazing friends.

the cycle of dysfunction

This is a chicken and egg situation, because without becoming the best me I would not have kept hold of the fantastic people I have in my life

I believe most negative behaviour patterns lead back to a cycle of dysfunction, and you can apply the rule to almost any negative situation. The hardest part can be realising the cycle exists in the first place. Once you are able to recognise the cycle and are committed to breaking it, you’re half way there.

You have to be willing to unlearn things that have been passed down from your family, and shun deeply ingrained thought processes. It’s time to start truly thinking for yourself.

If you have a cycle of dysfunction to break yet do nothing to actively break it, you will almost certainly pass your dysfunctions on to your children one day. The cycle has to stop with you to ensure they are given the very best start to life that you can possibly offer them. If you are already a parent then please do not feel the opportunity has been lost. As long as you are 100% committed to the cause, the cycle can be broken at any time.

Today is a good day to start your journey.

More examples of the cycle of dysfunction

Emotional and physical abuse
– Growing up in a violent environment, then going on to become violent yourself or having a partner who is violent towards you.
– Growing up watching one parent always putting the other one down, destroying their self-confidence with every comment. You may do the same as an adult or have a partner who is derogatory towards you but feel you do not deserve any better.
– Watching a parent be cheated on and generally treated badly by the other, then going on to treat your own partners badly or being treated badly yourself.

Health Issues
– Growing up around alcoholics or drug addicts and developing addictions yourself. It’s imperative that you wake up to these addictions and seek help as soon as possible.
– Having a bad diet as a child which has led to weight and/or psychological problems as a result. If you were never taught how to cook and are still eating badly you are likely to be struggling with these issues well into adulthood.
– Some minor health complaints can be completely fixed and avoidable in the future through eating well and looking after our bodies.

Other examples
– You may have felt you were a disappointment to your parents when you were growing up which has led to having low self-esteem. If your parents expected too much from you as a child, this could lead to feeling that nothing you ever do is enough.
– Not being good with money and getting into debt while you are young is a curse. If your parents were bad with their cash then you have never known any other way of life.

cycle of dysfunction

What separates the cycle breakers from the cycle repeaters?

This is of course the million pound question. What is the fundamental difference between a person capable of breaking the cycle of dysfunction, and a person who goes on to repeat history and continue it?

The answer is of course complex, with too many variables to pinpoint any one defining factor. I believe there are three core steps we need to go through to break the cycle. We will look at each of them in depth throughout the book.

Step One: Awareness
It can seem so much easier to just ignore our problems in the hope that they disappear, but they never do. In fact they become harder to deal with as time goes on. To break the cycle you have to acknowledge the cycle exists in the first place. Self-reflection can be a bitter pill to swallow but it is absolutely necessary during this process. There will be lots of looking long and hard at yourself, and the company you keep, to assess the changes that need to be made so you get to become the best you. No matter how bad your earlier life has been or how messed up you think you are, it is down to you and you alone to secure your future happiness. No-one else can do this for you.

Step Two: Determination
Breaking the cycle of dysfunction is hard work. Some people convince themselves that they don’t possess the tenacity to do the job. It is much easier to just follow in the footsteps of our parents because it’s all we have ever known, but if you want to have a different life you will need to do things differently. Waking up to wanting more is a massive step in the right direction, but you’ll have to surround yourself with the very best people in order for it to happen. A supportive partner, real friends or loving family will want to help you, not try and sabotage your efforts. People who genuinely love you would only ever want to encourage your success. You have to be strong and not let anyone take advantage of you. If certain people are bringing you down then you’ll need to be prepared to get some distance from them.

Step Three: Courage
You will have to get to know yourself, and always be true to who you really are. This means not getting swept up with the crowd, and never living your life according to anyone else’s timetable. You will need to be a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of person, not someone who changes their personality based on who they happen to be. Anyone can put on a brave face but a cycle breaker will have a truly positive attitude towards life. Once we are thinking positively we start acting positively and after a short while it becomes our natural default setting. Cycle breakers do not sit around waiting for a lottery win or dream job to fall at their feet, they make stuff happen. Ultimately it’s one thing talking about change, but actually changing is a huge challenge. You must always have the courage of your own convictions, stay focused and believe without doubt you are doing the right thing.

I hope you found this useful. Please pop back next weekend when I’ll be sharing the second chapter. 

 

My first book, Become the Best You, was written in 2014 while I was deep in the midst of maternity leave with my third child. He’s now four and a half, where on earth does the time go?

For those new around here, Become the Best You is an autobiographical self-help book. It walks you through my dysfunctional childhood, and how it led to a self-destructive young adulthood. It details my journey from rock bottom borderline alcoholic to happy wife and mama.

The initial response to be book was amazing. Sales were great, social media shares were being given unasked for. I had it trending on Twitter and the five star Amazon reviews were pouring in. Unfortunately as my time became more and more stretched, momentum to promote the book waned.

Almost four years on, and sales are pretty much non existent. So I’ve decided to publish the book as a series of blog posts. I want my story to continue helping people and hopefully by doing this it will. Should you wish to purchase a copy of the book, you can do so by clicking here.

become the best youBecome the Best You is an easy to read (and digest) book, and the overall reader feedback has been very positive. Some readers said it changed their lives, because it opened their eyes to their own demons. Many have said everyone could use reading the book, because it’s so relatable and impossible to not take something away from it. Others have said it felt like they were sitting in a cafe with me, having a chat over a cup of coffee.

Why should you bother reading Become the Best You?

There are many self-help books out there telling you how to think, what to wear and how to behave. Qualified professionals are desperate to give you their views on any subject matter you require guidance on. What’s so special about me? I’m just a regular person. I don’t have letters after my name or a rags to riches story, so why should you bother reading this book?

After having a dysfunctional childhood, and self-destructive young adulthood, I broke away from my past and created a much brighter future. Rather than just talk about my children never having to experience what I went through myself (like my parents did) I worked damn hard to ensure it was the case. Throughout this book I will share personal stories from my life and insights on how I overcame the many obstacles I have faced over the years.

I’ll tell you how I broke the cycle of dysfunction, and hopefully it will inspire you to go off and do the same. Getting passed my past wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible. I promise not to talk about things that I have no personal experience of, and I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But I might just have the ones you are looking for.

become the best youIf you can identify with this list of demons I had to conquer, this book is for you!
– Raised by parents who had dysfunctional childhoods and subsequently had one myself
– Moved house lots and went to many schools
– Suffered bullying in several schools
– Suffered sexual abuse as a child
– Left home at a very young age after not finishing school
– Struggled with depression
– Got into a lot of debt
– Had very little self-respect
– Used to sleep around
– Abused drugs and alcohol
– Put myself into unnecessary, dangerous situations

What do I hope you will achieve by reading this book?
– The ability to make peace with your past
– The ability to look in the mirror and like what you see
– The ability to find your inner strength and start respecting yourself
– The courage to re-define the rules of a relationship that has become toxic
– The courage to cut ties with people who make you miserable
– The courage to break the cycle, keep it broken and become the best you

What this book doesn’t do
– Use overly complicated words or examples that are difficult to understand
– Go into minute detail telling you exactly what you should do
– Patronise you and assume that you aren’t capable of turning your life around

 

Today is my 39th birthday. I am almost forty, and that’s okay

I didn’t think I’d feel this way, but something has shifted in me this past year. I’ve finally accepted the fact that I’m getting older, and am genuinely okay with the idea. Might sound ridiculous, but this mindset hasn’t come easily.

I started adulthood at fifteen, and was always head and shoulders younger than everyone else. In all my jobs and house shares I had at least half a decade on my peers. Now I often find myself in situations where the extra five years is in the other direction.

Saying goodbye to my thirties

I had a bit of a freak out over turning thirty, but I needn’t have done. 3-0 was good to me. I’d recently got married and become a mum. I felt ready and happy to embrace the next chapter of my life. My thirties gave me three gorgeous kiddos and immense strength to get through the challenging times.

This decade has seen mine and Hubby’s relationship tested to the point of most people being incredulous we’re still together. It’s seen me make and lose friends, but my rock solid crew have never faltered. It’s been about truly looking inwards to squash the demons that have previously had too much control.

Bring it on!

Now that I am almost forty, I’m embracing it. Age is simply a number after all. If we feel healthy and happy in our achievements then who cares? I’m finally comfortable with who I am and the way I look.

I’m not going to waste another second agonising over my thighs which seem to get bigger every single day. I’m not going to cry over the weird mole/skin tag thing on my right eye ever again. My teeth suck, but hell I’ll cross that very expensive bridge when I have to. My nose isn’t, and was never, that big.

I just smile now when people make silly jokes about getting old. Or look at me in mock horror when a stranger asks my age. I absolutely refuse to cling to the next 365 days with dear life.

I am almost forty.

I am fully onboard with the flaws which make me me, and you know what?

Being me isn’t such a bad thing.

Planet Hollywood London Before having children, eating out in nice restaurants was a regular occurrence. For Hubby’s thirtieth birthday, which was six days after Polly’s first, we went to The Ivy and were in for a massive shock. It would seem that dining with a small child in tow was a very different experience to the ones we had become accustomed to. We’ve still eaten out a fair bit over the years with the children, but now choose where to go based on reviews of kids menu and entertainment. So you can imagine our delight when Planet Hollywood London invited us for lunch.

Why? Because they’ve been voted Bookatable’s Best Child Friendly London Restaurant for the third year in a row. We had our meal on Andy’s 38th birthday, and here are our thoughts.

Planet Hollywood London is not your average themed restaurant  

Usually when hearing the words themed and restaurant, my mind starts conjuring up images of tacky fancy dress joints and un-instagrammable fodder. I was surprised in the nicest way when I discovered the incredible food on offer.

There are a ridiculous amount of delicious dishes to choose from, and a wide range of cuisines. You’d be hard pressed to not find something to eat. They cover everything from sharing platters and American fare to burgers and grills; pizza and pasta; fajitas; noodles and salads. There is an extensive gluten free menu, and Donald Russell supply their beef.

For those not in the know, Donald Russell are an online craft butcher, whose meat is traditionally matured and grass fed. They’ve held a Royal Warrant since 1984, so they’re clearly doing something right. Quality ingredients like this are everything, and just in case you were wondering, my chuck eye did not disappoint (more on that later).

Planet Hollywood London

I imagine one of the main reasons Planet Hollywood London gets the thumbs up for family friendliness is due to their entertainment. There are huge screens all around the restaurant, and you can ask for messages to be displayed for your loved ones. They can be anything you like, and ours revolved around Hubby’s birthday. The screens flip between cartoons, movies, music and these personalised messages, which is lots of fun.

There is tons of original memorabilia to check out, including outfits and props from iconic movies. Clara and Freddy were delighted to see a Power Ranger’s costume as we walked in, as it’s their current favourite TV show to watch. The big kid in my life was suitably impressed, especially seeing Hans Solo frozen in carbonite, and Polly was in awe of the Willy Wonka chocolate bar. I had to do a double take of the T-Birds jacket, worn by John Travolta himself when he played Danny in Grease (my fave film growing up). We were also thrilled to see a storm trooper wandering around.

In addition they have colouring for the children and a fab game for the adults where you have to guess the film star based on a photo from their younger days. Some look exactly the same as they do now, others were trickier to figure out. There really is plenty to keep you and the little ones busy throughout your meal, so much so for us that we stayed almost three hours. I could have quite easily set up camp and stayed all afternoon. In another life I would have hung around drinking cocktails.

Planet Hollywood London

What we ate at Planet Hollywood London

Regular readers will know we eat mostly paleo as a family, but I’m happy to be flexible when we’re dining out and gave the children free rein over the kids menu. Polly had spaghetti and meatballs, which she loved and Clara had hot dog and chips, which she polished off with gusto. Our little fussy eater Freddy just had chips, which is better than eating nothing, right? Meal times can be fraught, especially when we’re out, but they were so mesmerised by the big screens that we had zero fighting. Possibly a first in our family! They all enjoyed their ice cream sundaes afterwards, but that was never going to not be the case.

Portion sizes are very generous, and excellent value at £9.50 which includes a main, dessert and unlimited soft drink. The staff are all great with the wee ones too, which can make or break a lunch like this. There’s nothing worse than being made to feel like your children are not welcome.

Hubby and I shared some popcorn shrimp to start, and both had surf and turf for mains with medium rare chuck eye. He had his as it was on the menu – with a trio of fries, buttered green beans and a grilled tomato. I had mine from the gluten free menu, served with salad instead of chips. The steak was cooked to perfection, juicy and succulent with just the right amount of marbling. I’ve salivated over the memory of it many times these last two weeks.

Andy had sticky toffee pudding for dessert. The staff decorated it with a sparkler and sang him Happy Birthday as they brought it out. We had seen them do it for another table earlier on, but it was still a lovely surprise. I hadn’t asked them to do Planet Hollywood Londonthis, and thought it was a really nice touch. I had a bite, and it was very yummy, but I’m definitely over non-paleo sweet things. I appreciate I’m the exception not the norm in this respect, and if sweets are your thing you’ll love the dessert menu. It has all the classics some with a modern twist. You’ll find white chocolate bread pudding, Toblerone cheesecake, good old fashioned coke floats and more.

They even have a giant brownie sundae called the Big Boy, which is served in an oversized martini glass and is meant to be shared between the whole table.

Apparently their hand-dipped milkshakes are amazing, and they are currently serving Super Nova Shakes, which sound epic. Check out this video if you’re interested.

Where could Planet Hollywood London have improved things? 

No restaurant is perfect, and improvements can always be made. If I could have a direct word with the management, I would urge them to redecorate the toilets. They were very clean, had brand new Dyson hand dryers and non-touch soap dispensers. However, the seats were a bit wonky and the tiles were in need of re-grouting (or better still replacing).

It’s also worth mentioning that they do not have a coffee machine, and only offer standard filtered coffee and tea. This did come as a shock, because I’m so used to all restaurants offering a range of artisan coffees. To be completely honest though, I didn’t need to be putting anything else in my belly, it was more than full.

Planet Hollywood LondonWe were looked after so well and I wondered if we were being given special treatment, so had a stealthy look around a few times to see if the other patrons were also getting great service, and they certainly seemed to be. The staff weren’t only competent, they were happy, which is always a good sign.

Hubby said it was his best birthday since having kids, and the children have been asking when we can go back on a daily basis. All in all it’s a huge thumbs up for us!

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**disclaimer: we were invited to Planet Hollywood London for a complimentary meal, in exchange for this honest review. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**