A Letter to My Family at this Super Difficult TimeDear Andy, Polly, Clara & Freddy,

My family, it should go without saying that I love you all to the moon and back, but there’s no denying that we’re experiencing a really difficult phase. 

I’ve ummed and ahhed over whether or not to press publish, and have decided that this needs to be said. Out loud. On the record. So here goes.
For Andy

There’s no way to dress it up, these last few months have been exceptionally tough. Your new job has taken up a lot of your time and attention. Ditto going back to off-site training. We’re either ships passing in the night, or bickering on an epic scale.

It can feel to me that you’re being distant, moody and uninterested in what’s going on in my life. It’s not a good way for a wife to feel about her husband, but in fairness you probably think the same about me. Let’s face it, I’ve always been terrible for feeding off your negative vibes. It’s really getting me down though, my love. Riding the storm has become par for the course.

We go through a monumental amount of stress on a daily basis, and are still as sleep deprived as most brand new parents. It’s not going to be easy is it? It’s been horrendous watching friends separate, divorce and suffer mental breakdown over the last couple of years. We joke about the mid-life crisis, but it’s not funny. No-one is immune. As our anniversary approaches, I’ve been thinking of past celebrations. The ridiculous amounts of fun we’ve had, and the adventures we’ve been on. Last year’s weekend away replenished us, and I can’t wait for our weekend away next month. I’m certain it’ll do the same.
For Polly

A Letter to My Family at this Super Difficult TimeMy darling girl, you have the ability to make the entire family smile and laugh their socks off. You’re also able to bring us collectively to our knees, with exasperation. Seeing how amazingly well you took to GAPS at the start of the year made me so proud. You aced it during those first couple of weeks, but it didn’t last. You quickly got back into the sugar cycle, and your body just can’t handle it. Even though you only eat natural sugars, they still make a difference to your mood and ability to control your emotions. It’s awful watching you become so angry and irate over things that were passing you by.  

So we’ve gone back to being strict again, and although it’s only been three days, I can already see improvements. The bottom line is that no behaviour intervention we’ve tried works as well as clean eating does. I am more confident that ever that this is what we need to do. The best thing is that now you’ve had a taste of how wonderful life can be, you’re fully on board with GAPS. You haven’t been pestering me for treats and lashings of honey on pancakes in the morning. You’re happy to eat the kind of breakfast I do, and are back to eating with gusto again. We’re going to own GAPS this time my girl, and we’re going to get you on track for good.   

For Clara

It’s been a tough few months for you my sweet little girl, hasn’t it? Watching how much of a negative effect school has had on you has been absolutely soul destroying for me. Six months ago I was certain that you needed to go to school for your independence, now I’m almost certain that I was wrong. It’s beyond heartbreaking watching you become so nervous and anxious.

However, in the face of all this, I still see glimpses of the happy go lucky gorgeous girl you are deep down. You and Polly are getting on better, which is wonderful to see. I’m so pleased that you can finally play together for longer than five minutes without it turning into a fight. It’s lovely when you sit at the table and create masterpieces of artwork together. You girls could be the best friends if you showed each other a little bit more love. 

For Freddy

Even though at three you are still a complete sleep thief, you are also a little ray of sunshine. It sounds silly to say please don’t change, and totally futile, but I can’t help myself. You’re the most sweet natured, loving little boy I know, and I’d like to keep you this way forever. I try not to let my mind race when you jump up and down, and cry your eyes out over the smallest things. What will be will be, there’s not much more to be said on the matter. 

For all of my family 

They say the days are long but the years are short, and I’m feeling this sentiment a lot right now. The days are so very long, and so very challenging. Outings to the local park have descended into meltdown recently. Restaurant lunches have caused more problems than they’re worth. Plans have been cancelled this half term, or altered to make them super easy for us.

This mama is exhausted by life, and is going to be taking the path of least resistance for the foreseeable. It’s time to concentrate all our energies on coming together as a family. No more complicated days out, and expensive activities that seem like a good idea at the time. I’m going to embrace a smaller life, and you know what? I think it’s exactly what we need.

Much love to you all. Always ❤

 

Today’s been super hard. I started my day on a sleep deficit, after being up for hours in the middle of the night with F. The girls have been cranky to put it mildly. All three have spent the day on a knife edge, kicking off at the slightest thing. Tears on the way to the park, more tears on the way home. It’s been exhausting, and my head is pounding. 💖 I used to pride myself on my together-ness, but days like today push me to my limits limits. My mind starts drifting off into a bleak future, and I think f***, if I can’t cope now what will it be like in a few years time? I start worrying that the foundations of my marriage aren’t strong enough to take the strain of this pressure cooker environment we call life. 💖 Then I remember to breathe. And I remember that the days are long but the years are short. I count my blessings, and think of the empty armed mama’s I know, who’d sacrifice a limb for what I have. And I remember that I’m made of tough stuff, but I’m not a robot. 💖 Is parenting the toughest gig of all? I’m starting to think that yes indeed it is. We can only do our best, and hopefully our best will be good enough.

A post shared by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on

An Open Letter to Theresa May: Our Children's Mental Health is Suffering for the Sake of Your School Statistics #CMHW17Dear Prime Minister,

I hope this note finds you well. I’m writing to you today as a mother of three. As it’s children’s mental health week, it feels like an appropriate time to do so.

Allow me to introduce myself  

I’m Reneé Davis. I’m the survivor of a dysfunctional childhood and was failed by the education system in the nineties (I left at 15 with no qualifications). I was also bullied throughout school, so know first hand how much damage it does to one’s mental health. I suffered two breakdowns, and numerous bouts of depression as a young adult. Through sheer determination I have broken the cycle of dysfunction, to ensure that my children have a better start to life than the one I had. 

My little family is neuro diverse, which means that we do not fit into a standard pigeon hole. My eldest daughter Polly was diagnosed high functioning autistic in 2015. So far, my two younger children appear to be neuro typical, but I don’t have a crystal ball. Who knows if further diagnoses are on the cards later on down the line? 

Polly is a July baby, and sending her to school weeks after her fourth birthday in 2013 felt like throwing her into the lions den. She was the smallest in her year, and due to her sleep problems back then largely wandered around in a little world of her own.

I believe it was a combination of these two things that made her an ‘easy target’. She would often come home with a red note to say that she had banged her head, or injured herself during the day.

Polly suffered low level bullying from the end of reception, and all throughout year one. Not only this, but the ridiculously high expectations of learning were too much for her to cope with. She lived in a perpetual state of anxiety, and her pre and post school meltdowns dominated the happiness of the whole family. My husband and I would plough all our energies into getting Polly on track during the holidays, only to see our hard work being undone almost as soon as she went back to school.

You see she’s a classic high functioning autistic girl. She is able to convincingly mask her autism, and appears to cope in public. All the pretending to cope takes a lot of effort, and is exceptionally overwhelming for her. It got to the point where she would come home, where she felt safe, and spend up to two hours screaming. This was her way of communicating to us that she was unhappy at school, and wasn’t coping as well as she appeared to be.

After her diagnosis we thought we’d get support from the school, but none materialised. Perhaps if she had been subjecting her teachers to huge meltdowns things would have been different? That’s just my speculation though. Going against my gut instincts, I sent Polly back to school and into year two in September 2015. Within a few weeks our lives had once again become soul destroyingly hard. My husband and I knew that if we wanted different results, we were going to have to take matters into our own hands.

We made the decision to not send Polly back after the first half term of year two, and home educate her instead.

It’s not been an easy ride, but in the fifteen months that Polly’s been at home, we’ve made great progress. In addition to her core learning, we’ve invested a huge amount of effort in rebuilding her confidence, and fostering emotional intelligence. She is finally, at seven and a half, sleeping most nights. She is calmer and happier, and more patient. 

Now, no two children are the same, and this is especially pertinent in a neuro diverse family such as mine. My other daughter, Clara has always been laid back and mostly happy. I say mostly because no child is going to be sunshine and rainbows 24/7 are they? Especially when they are exposed to some times unpleasant behaviour from their older siblings.

For many reasons, my husband and I made the decision to send Clara to school in September. We figured that being such an easy going kid, as well as being super bright, she would excel and flourish.

Clara loved the first few weeks of school, but sadly it didn’t last.

When she returned after the first half term, things changed for her. She wasn’t so happy about going to school in the mornings, and has a few times, point blank refused to go. She started having meltdowns after school, like her sister used to. She broke out in the same stress eczema that my husband gets on his hands when he is bogged down at work. For the first time, Clara began displaying the familiar symptoms of being seriously overwhelmed.  

The decline in our girl has been shocking to witness. She has become highly sensitive, aggressive and inflexible. It’s as clear as day to me that she’s stressed out. She has little patience, and gets very upset very quickly, over things that wouldn’t have mattered to her six months ago. It feels like she’s a shadow of her former self. 

One day last week Clara wasn’t feeling well, and had a raised temperature, so I kept her off school. When she saw Polly getting her learning books out, she said she wanted to practice her writing. We got her dry wipe tracing book out, and she started tracing the alphabet full of enthusiasm. By the time she got to F she’d started crying. It wasn’t long before she was completely inconsolable, screaming that she wasn’t doing her writing perfectly. She ended up shutting herself off from the rest of us by hiding behind the furniture, and didn’t come out for over an hour.

Am I the only parent who feels it’s too much to expect four year old children to learn to read and write (in joined up handwriting) from the very first term of school?

I can’t imagine that I am, but know from experience that there’s a lot of turning a blind eye us parents have to do. My husband and I weren’t always in a financial position for me to stay at home with our children. In fact I only stopped working in my part time City job weeks before we began home educating Polly. The combination of a promotion for my husband, and voluntary redundancy presenting itself to me led to me being able to drop out of the traditional workplace.

Since then I’ve been able to make a little bit of money through writing, which has kept me afloat. I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have the option of staying at home. If I had financial pressure to go back to an office based job, we would be, to put it bluntly, screwed. 

The school system has already failed one of my children, and it’s beginning to look like it’s failing another. The one size fits all approach does not work for so many. 

Seeing the change in Clara has been nothing short of heartbreaking. It feels to me that our children’s mental health is being sacrificed for the schools numeracy and literacy statistics. That all the emphasis is put onto their academic capabilities, and very little thought is given to their emotional well-being. 

I felt that too much pressure was being put on the kids when Polly was in reception. Now, three years on, I am truly astounded at the expectations put on their little shoulders. Surely at four and five, it makes more sense to invest in our children’s mental health. Wouldn’t it be better to let them learn through play, rather than forcing them to read and write?

For now I have put my faith into the Senco at Clara’s school, to see if there are interventions available to help her. Only time will tell, but one thing is certain. I’m not going to sit back and watch school turn my happy go lucky ray of sunshine into an anxious wreck.

I have signed this petition to make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools. It currently has over 33,000 signatures, which means it will definitely get a parliamentary response. 

At this point, Mrs. May, anything is worth a shot, which is why I’ve written you this letter. To ask you personally to put our children’s mental health on your agenda.

Yours sincerely,

Reneé Davis 

I have never been a fan of bog standard children’s birthday parties.

You know the drill. A selection of the class are invited, usually to some lame hall or smelly soft play centre. The kids are given ridiculous amounts of junk to eat and drink, then they run around like loons for a couple of hours. At least one kid always cries.  

It can take longer than the party lasted to calm your kids down afterwards. 

Not my idea of fun

Parties for the children of real friends are different of course. The mums are my friends, and I often go early to help out with the prep. It’s a good opportunity to catch up with people we only see sporadically.  

When Polly was at school she wasn’t invited to tons of parties. She spent reception and year one walking around in a sleep deprived haze, so wasn’t particularly aware of what was going on. Which was a good thing in many respects.

She went to a couple of parties, and it was heartbreaking having to send her to them with a packed lunch. This was one of the many ‘joys’ of her allergies back then. Never being able to just eat the food that the other kids were eating. It was more hassle than it was worth, because the fallout was immense.

One party does stick in my mind though, for all the right reasons. The girl’s mum had been working in the school, and was aware of Polly’s situation. When she gave me the invitation she told me to text her with a list of Polly’s favourite treats. When we got to the party, there was a tray of food marked Polly. Her face lit up. My eyes welled up. Oh the kindness. I texted the mum afterwards to tell her much it was appreciated, but she will never really know the true extent.

The parties we throw are always fab, if I do say so myself

Polly’s birthday is in the height of summer, and we’ve had some cracking do’s. Last year was just perfect. The weather was glorious, and we had an amazing turn out. So many of our nearest and dearest came, and everyone had a really great time.

Freddy and Clara’s birthdays being in February make it trickier but not impossible. We had a beautiful party for Clara’s first birthday, and an awesome triple celebration two years ago for Freddy’s first birthday, Clara’s third and mine and hubby’s wedding anniversary.

Now that Clara’s at school, I’m back to viewing birthday parties with dread. She started in September, and the first party was in November. She wasn’t invited. Not only that but the little sh*t took great delight in rubbing her nose in it.

“You, you and you are coming to my party. You, Clara, are not.”

She sobbed in my arms more than once because of his cruelty.

We were going to throw her a party next month to mark turning five

the politics of children's birthday parties We were going to conform, and invite the whole class. If nothing else so she got invited to other parties in return. When push came to shove, it didn’t feel right. My instincts were screaming ‘don’t do it, don’t do it!’ 

Making the decision without consulting her didn’t feel right either though. In the end we gave Clara the choice. A birthday party or a family day out, and she chose the latter. 

So we’re off to London to see the Lego Batman movie in one of the fancy cinemas on Leicester Square. Then we’ll have lunch in China Town, and a whizz around the new Lego store for her and Freddy to pick their birthday presents.

As it turns out Clara’s best friend is having a birthday party the weekend before, so that will satisfy the party fix without it causing us too much pain. In an ideal world, my kids would go to a birthday party every few months, and we’d throw one a year ourselves, but I’m aware this is wishful thinking!

For now, I’m not even going to pretend I’m not relieved to have ducked it. 

Surely I’m not the only parent in the world who feels like this? What are your thoughts?

A Letter to My Four Year Old Almost One Term After Starting SchoolDearest Clara, 

I’ve been wanting to write you this note for a while now. It was originally going to be a good luck before you started school. Then I almost wrote you a letter after parents evening, one month in. Your teachers were positively gushing about you in every way, and the proud mama in me wanted to tell the world. 

It didn’t seem right to count chickens though. 

I’m glad I didn’t, because I had a feeling all along that it wouldn’t last. It’s not that I’m being overly negative. Or that you aren’t still kind, and energetic and a keen learner. You very much are, and amaze me on a daily basis with details of your new friends, and new knowledge. Watching you read is nothing short of mind blowing, and when you teach Freddy phonics my heart actually soars.

But you’re breaking it too baby girl, mama’s fragile heart!  

The post school meltdowns are getting out of control, and trigger off memories I’ve worked hard to forget. When you tell me you hate me and that I’ve ruined your life, all the while screaming at me to go away. 

Polly and Freddy were scared of you last night, and hid. You wouldn’t let me come closer than arms length for over an hour, but I know you desperately needed love. After the storm had passed you asked for a hug, and your beautiful smile returned. 

Being our best sleeper, it’s always extra tough when you’re going through a rough patch. The night screaming and 4:30am starts take their toll on you more than me. I’m used to the lack of Zzzzzz’s, but you my gorgeous girl, you need your sleep and can’t cope without it. Zombie doesn’t come close to describing the state of you on Sunday evening, after another too-early start to the day. 

Your hands are covered in the exact same stress eczema that flares up on daddy from time to time.

You already know that you can’t win them all my darling, but not getting invited to Jack’s party has been brutally tough for you to accept. I’m so sorry that it’s happened, but the trouble with being awesome, is that some people will take an unfair dislike to you. I have a feeling it’s because Harry is his best friend and Jack doesn’t like you playing with him. It’s a horrid lesson to learn so early in life, but probably a good one to cross off the list. We’re going to have a love bombing Clara day this weekend to make up for the disappointment. 

Watching your relationship with your sister decline even further, and seeing you take your frustrations out on your brother has been the hardest thing to witness. I can only hope that kindness prevails, and you realise for yourself that the three of you are better off on the same team. You’re an amazing little team when you get along.

I hope this is a temporary blip on your radar my dear girl. You deserve a wonderful school experience, not one where I’m dragging you kicking and screaming.

Everyone says it’s ‘normal’, but as I have no idea what that word even means, I’m reserving my judgement. 

Love you more than I could possibly convey. 

Your Mama 💗

the-importance-of-finding-the-right-childcareTwo years ago I was gearing up to go back to my part time job, after being on maternity leave with Freddy, who was seven months old.

My amazing ex-boss agreed for me to work mostly from home, with a monthly visit into the London office, providing I signed an agreement that stated my children would not be present while I worked. I was really glad for the opportunity, but super stressed out over what we’d do for childcare.

I was also wracked with guilt for returning to work quicker with Freddy than I had done with the girls. They were both weeks away from their first birthday, and I was much happier handing them over to nursery than I was with my little man, who was still very much attached to his mummy.

We had no choice though, we wouldn’t have coped financially had I taken any more time off

We needed childcare for Clara who was two and a half, as well as Freddy. Polly was at school back then, and our neighbour was collecting her on my work days to save us having to put her into after school club again, which had caused us problems prior to me being on maternity leave. Our preferred option, the nursery that the girls had gone to, wasn’t possible because they were full to capacity.

One of the ladies who worked there put me in touch with someone she used to work with, who’d since become a qualified nanny. Her second child was the same age as Freddy, her daughter was at school all day, and she was looking for a part time job that she could fit around her family. I met with her and her son, and she seemed nice. She had good references, came highly recommended, and as she would only be working six hours a day we wouldn’t be paying out my entire salary in childcare fees. On the surface it appeared to be the perfect solution all round.

The reality was a different story entirely

Initially I was thinking the nanny could look after the children at my house – I could work upstairs, while they were downstairs – but she didn’t like this idea. I reluctantly agreed for her to look after them off-site instead, but quickly regretted my decision. Freddy would come home restless and grumpy, even though the nanny said he’d had a great day. Clara seemed okay, but as the weeks passed, and she became more articulate, little snippets would come out, indicating that something was wrong.

Apparently the nanny got angry a lot, and didn’t comfort Freddy when he was crying. “Mummy, she shouted at me today, and said go and play or watch TV!” It sounded deeply disturbing coming from the mouth of a not quite three year old. I will never know what happened of course, but my gut instincts told me then and are telling me now as I write this, that it was far from ideal.

In the same week that Clara told me this, I received an unexpected call from the nursery. They had a place in the baby room for Freddy, and one in the pre-school room for Clara if we were interested. We jumped at it, and promptly let the nanny go, thinking all our troubles were over.

Unfortunately they weren’t

Freddy absolutely hated nursery from day one. He’d cry when we were getting him ready and when he was dropped off, and he’d still be crying when we picked him up. They weren’t tears for show though, they didn’t stop after mummy or daddy left. Oh no, these tears lasted all day. He wouldn’t eat either, and the situation was distressing beyond belief. This went on for almost six months.

The manager of the baby room was nearly in tears herself one afternoon. She said the kids usually settle in after a few weeks, sometimes months, but Freddy was showing no sign of doing so. To make matters worse, Clara started complaining about going in – my previously happy go lucky three year old wasn’t very happy anymore. This wasn’t entirely down to nursery, but it certainly wasn’t helped by it.

Mama’s heavy heart

The Importance of Finding the Right ChildcareI wrote a poem last year called Mama’s Heavy Heart, which perfectly conveys how I was feeling about it all. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve just cried reading it.

We were at crisis point as a family, but as luck would have it a small glimmer of redundancy presented itself to me. As you can imagine, I welcomed it with open arms. The money had become irrelevant, I knew that we’d find a way of coping financially. We just couldn’t put the children through it any more.

I’ve often thought back to those days, and realised that had we chosen a better nanny in the first place, it could have saved us all a lot of heartache. If I had my time over, I would have used a site such as Childcare.co.uk to find the perfect carer(s).

I asked childcare expert Jo Witshire for some advice, to help other parents who might be in the same situation I was in

the importance of finding the right childcareIs there an optimum time to return to work after having a baby?

The right time is when it feels right for YOU. That will vary and depend on various factors which are likely to be financial, emotional and practical.

The most important thing is to make a decision based on your own circumstances and do not feel you have to conform to what you think you should do.

Some mums find they may want to return to work sooner rather than later to keep their careers on track. Some may need to return to work for financial security whilst others may feel they need longer at home with their baby. We all worry about if what we are doing is the right thing for our child, but by discussing your feelings and options with your partner you can find an answer that suits your family.

Top three pieces of advice for parents to minimise stress on the child/ren when returning to work

1. Talk to your childcare provider about settling in sessions
Many nurseries and childminders will provide ‘settling in’ sessions before your child is in their care. Giving your child the option of visiting the childminder’s house or nursery gives your child the chance to become familiar with their new location and the opportunity for the child to start to get to know their childcare provider and perhaps other children. This means when your child starts their new childcare setting they will have a familiar face and environment on hand, helping to make the transition easier.

2. Communicate with your child
One of the best ways to relieve stress on children and prepare them for your return to work is to for talk to your child about what he or she may be feeling. When discussing the subject be sure to tell them of all the exciting times they will have whilst you are at work as well as what may be a little anxiety-provoking.

3. Manage your own expectations
Are you expectations realistic? Remember it is perfectly acceptable and normal for your child to miss you a little bit in the early days. And likewise, for you to be upset too while you move onto this new stage.

But remember too that it is an exciting time for your child, to have new experiences. Mums and dads too, may start to enjoy a bit of me time.

Be realistic about the time it takes to settle into this new arrangement – and be kind to yourself too!

back2workTop three pieces of advice for parents when searching for childcare

1. Check and double-check
Do your homework. Check the setting’s Ofsted report, take up references (at  least two), do a news search of the setting on the internet to see if they’ve been in the local press for any reason (good or bad!). Drop by unannounced, and see what things look like when they’re not expecting you – are the staff interacting with the children, down on their level? Or is the television acting as a childminder? Are the children clean and occupied and the staff unflustered and happy to greet you? Ask to use the loo, so that you get to walk into areas that may be less ‘prepped’ for visitors. You may feel like a spy – but if they have nothing to hide, you won’t catch them out!

2. Ask questions from your potential care giver, and also any friends, family or wider acquaintances who have already used them.
Word of mouth works – as long as you are sensible enough to overlook individual grudges or personal disputes. When you visit the caregiver, don’t be embarrassed to really drill them – you are considering handing them responsibility for your precious child, and any caregiver worth their salt won’t mind answering anything you can throw at them. Ask about staff ratios, qualifications, daily routines, policies on discipline, practicalities such as provision of food and nappies, outings and trips, whether they have a key worker scheme, what happens when a childminder is poorly. If they can’t or won’t answer, think again.

3. Trust your gut!
A recent study by Childcare.co.uk found the over a third of parents go with their gut when looking for a childcare provider and have reported to know when they found the ‘one’. Make sure you visits lots of care givers and go with the person you feel is going to be right for your family and who you feel confident communicating with. However shiny and impressive the premises are, it counts for nothing if this relationship isn’t right.

childcarelogo-352x75“Childcare.co.uk is the UK’s largest childcare website. Over 1,000,000 people have used the website to find childcare or childcare work since launching in 2009. You won’t find a larger choice of babysitters, nannies, registered childminders or private tutors anywhere else!”

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