An Open Letter to Parents Considering Home Education Dear parents,

Firstly I hope that your journey to this point hasn’t been too traumatic. I’ve heard so many horror stories, and my heart breaks for all involved.

Only you will know if this is the right move to make, but I’m sure many have given you their opinions on the matter.

‘You’re bonkers for even thinking about it.’
‘I could never do it.’
‘You’re braver than I am.’

Sound familiar?

I’m going to be straight here, home education is no walk in the park. In fact it’s been the biggest challenge of my life, and believe me I’ve had my fair share over the years. Although home ed may be the best option for your child, have you given full consideration to the impact it will have on you?

You must, absolutely, factor yourself into the equation you see. It’s not all about them, you are vital to this being a success. If you aren’t fully prepared, it could end up being disastrous.  

The big questions to ponder…

Are you mentally strong enough to cope with the additional responsibility? Can you cope financially if it means taking a pay cut? Do you have a support network in place? How are you going to feel about having no separation time from your child(ren)?

I thought I’d asked myself all this prior to pulling my then-6yo daughter Polly out of year two in 2015. I can now see, however, that there were bases I didn’t have covered. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Go over these questions again and again until you know for certain what the answers are. 

For Polly, home education has been the best move, because she desperately needs the flexibility that it provides. She was drowning at school, masking her autism and trying so hard to fit in that she couldn’t cope. She has grown and flourished since being at home. Gone are the two hour meltdowns every night, and slowly but surely the challenging child is becoming a lot less so.

The thing is, getting my girl on track came at a very high cost: my mental health. Already severely sleep starved and chronically stressed, it pushed me to my absolute limits last year.

I very nearly fell over the edge.

Been there, done that. Twice. Mental breakdown is not pretty, and I never want my children to have to witness it

I realised that if I didn’t take action about my frame of mind, one of my worst nightmares could become a reality. Getting back to super clean eating and having a break from the booze is working wonders for me now, but it’s a shame it had to get as bad as it did for me to recognise that a disaster was on its way. 

It’s all too easy to get engrossed in the vicious cycle of negativity though, isn’t it? My kids’ challenging behaviour was too much for me to bear. The fighting and screaming and shouting made me want to run away. Having a drink became my only guarantee for quietening down the ringing in my ears.

When Polly dug her heels in, and refused to do any learning, I’d take it personally and get upset with her. My internal monologue became toxic, full of unhelpful comments. It told me I was a useless mother and crap wife. I wasn’t cut out for home education, and I was going to mess it all up. 

I felt helpless and trapped by the circumstances I’d created.

I started thinking that putting Polly back into school was the only solution

Which was ludicrous, because even throughout the toughest moments, it’s been clear that we did the right thing. The positive changes in her can’t be denied.

I’d like to say that alone makes it all worthwhile, but it’s not. I’m a mama of three, and at points, home educating Polly has come at the detriment of her brother and/or sister. It’s not a pleasant thing to admit, but it’s the truth.

I’m not writing this to put you off, quite the opposite. I wanted to share my story with you just in case there were holes in your plan. Just in case it made you think of other complexities that you might have overlooked. So you can cover all bases before taking the plunge.  

A few tips

Touch base with your local authority, and see if there’s any assistance available. You could be surprised. We are in contact with the home education team and the ASD service, and have only met lovely people. They can see that we’re providing a safe, varied and engaging learning environment for Polly, and we more than tick their boxes. They’ve offered us behaviour strategies that I might not have come across independently, and I’ve been grateful for their expertise. You have nothing to hide, so you have nothing to be afraid of from them.

Don’t fret about how much work the kids are doing, as long as they are learning. We aim for an hour of maths and English each day, which we do first thing. We have workbooks, games and computer-based programmes. Once we get the basics done, we are free to do the fun stuff: science experiments, baking, art work, trips out. I aim for Polly to keep up with where she would be if she were still at school. Some days she breezes it, others it’ll take hours to complete a simple task. No two days are ever the same, and some days are best written off and forgotten about.   

Focus on their emotional learning. I feel that far too much emphasis is put on a child’s academic abilities, and not enough is done for their mental health and emotional well being. This should be a priority, especially if they’ve had a bad school experience that they’re recovering from. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are all great to counter their anxieties. Getting them to keep an emotions journal or draw pictures of how they are feeling, might also help them process those feelings.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities. If you’re anything like me, you will have torn yourself into pieces agonising over this decision. Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts, if you know it’s the right move to make. Be bold, be brave, and have faith that no-one else knows your child(ren) the way you do. 

Also remember that home education isn’t for everyone, and that’s just fine.  

Wishing you the very best of luck!  

 

10-sure-fire-ways-to-boost-your-happinessI’ve come to the conclusion that happiness has many variable parts, and the pursuit of it can leave us exhausted.

During the course of my colourful, roller coaster of a life, I’ve learnt a few golden rules, which I’d like to share with you today.

Cards on the table: none of these will bring you the short term gratification that a glass of wine or slice of cake will, but trust me they are tried and tested long-term happiness boosters! I’m sure most of us could do with a few more of them in our lives.  

Learn to distinguish between your wants and your needs

This one is perhaps the most important, because people often place too much value on the wrong things. It’s a common train of thought to believe that if we were wealthier then life would be better. Here’s the thing though: unless we have attained our happiness first, all the money in the world would be pointless.

We hear time and again about how miserable a lot of celebrities are. Not to mention every day people who win the lottery and became filthy rich over night. There is no denying that money can make life easier, especially when we’re in debt and see all our problems relating back to finances. It can seem that money has caused our unhappiness, but it usually stems from something much deeper rooted than money. Which leads me nicely on to my next point.

10 Golden Rules of Life which lead to HappinessMake peace with your past, otherwise it will haunt you forever

Unhappiness, depression and anxiety always comes from somewhere deeper than the surface problems in front of us. Having been through two mental breakdowns, and seeing numerous friends suffer from mental health problems over the years, I am more convinced than ever before that our own behaviour and the environment we live in has the biggest impact on our well-being. 

Coming to terms with a dark past or facing up to an unpleasant reality can be a scary prospect. The fact is that unless we face our demons and make peace with whatever has gone down, we will never be able to properly move forward and experience true happiness. Our demons will haunt us forever, and we might even pass them onto our children, which just isn’t fair. If you feel you’re ready to start facing your demons, but don’t know where to start, check out my book Become the Best You

Trust your gut

In a nutshell: if something doesn’t feel right, then just don’t do it. I’ve only gone against my gut once in the last few years, and I am living to regret it BIG TIME. I’m not even allowed to blog about my situation because I’ll get sued. What a sorry state of affairs. I knew what I was doing didn’t feel 100% right, but went with it anyway because it seemed like the easy option. Unfortunately it rarely works out this way, our gut instincts should always be our guide in life.  

The same rule applies to people, if you have ‘friends’ who aren’t supportive and don’t have your back, then don’t be afraid to ditch them. A true friend would want nothing but happiness for you. They would not be jealous of you, or try and sabotage your success.

happiness boostersDon’t resist change

Life constantly evolves, and we must be prepared to adapt when necessary. Refusing to change, and being stuck in our ways rarely leads to happiness. It leads to bitterness, resentment and feeling like everyone else is happier than us.

I think most people have ideals they feel they’ll adhere to when they have a family, but once we become parents we realise that it’s best to make decisions based on our circumstances. It’s useful to remember that what worked beautifully for someone else’s kids more than likely won’t for our own.    

Never assume

When we assume we make an ASS of U and ME. Think about that. This rule is most poignant when assuming that people are out to get us. It’s equally important to learn that not everything is about us, and we are not the centre of the universe. (Can you hear Carly Simon singing in your head too?)  

Listen intently (especially to our children)

parentingYes I know that we all have lots of wisdom to impart, and that’s great, but properly listening is a underrated skill in this day and age – especially when it comes to our family. Listening to our children is the only way to properly connect and understand them. 

Earlier this year Clara (almost five) declared that she didn’t like being called darling anymore. We had to correct ourselves multiple times a day because it would automatically roll off the tongue, but it clearly bothered her. She would get even more upset when people outside our fivesome called her darling. Rather than make a show of telling her how silly she was being, like I’ve seen many other parents do, I made a point of telling them that she would prefer to be called Clara. It made her so unbelievably happy when everyone stopped calling her darling.

Freddy is going through the same thing at the moment, because lots of people call him Fred. He corrects them every time, saying ‘no my name is Freddy.’ Little things matter to little people.

Concentrate on finding solutions, rather than getting bogged down by the problems

Day to day life can be overwhelmingly grinding, and it can feel like curve balls are being thrown left, right and centre. However, focusing on the challenges, instead of putting our efforts into finding ways to overcome them is a straight road to a negative rut. Anyone who has been in a rut will know how hard it can be to get out of it. There are always solutions, and often they are staring us in the face. We just need to be willing to open our eyes to seek them out.      

happiness boostersI never for one single minute expected family life to be all sunshine and rainbows, but not once in my wildest imagination did I consider that I’d face some of the obstacles I have. I’d barely heard of autism when I was pregnant with Polly, but over the last few years have had to get very cosily acquainted with it. Life is hard for us, I’ve written about that many times before, but we’re still very fortunate to have all we do.

I have been known to get bogged down by our problems, and my husband is always the one who pulls me out of my hole and gets me focusing on the solutions instead. Concentrating on the negative is bad ju-ju all round.     

Don’t buy into the fallacy of perfection

There is nothing wrong at all with aiming high in life, but don’t become a slave to the idea of perfectionism. It’s possibly the biggest lie we’re sold: the myth that other people are perfect. 

If you have a warm house to live in, food in your belly and love coming at you then you’re a very lucky person. No matter how difficult our lives are, there will be plenty of folk who would give a limb to have it. Absolutely no-one is perfect, even though Instagram would have us believe otherwise.

We are what we eat

happiness boostersIt is now common knowledge that what we eat has a huge impact on our physical health and state of mind. The gut/brain connection cannot be underestimated! I’ve thought long and hard about this, and have decided to go back onto the highly controversial GAPS Intro diet (hopefully with Polly too).

I need to be functioning as optimally as I possibly can to have any chance of surviving these challenging early years. Here’s the thing though, I don’t want to just survive them, I want to thrive and enjoy them. Knowing how clear headed I felt whilst on GAPS in 2014, I am confident that it’s what I need to do again. Take a look at my other blog for more info on the GAPS diet.    

In the mean time I’ll leave you with my biggest piece of advice for healthy eating. The fewer ingredients the better. The only way to fully control what goes into your body is to make it yourself. That’s not always possible, so when you’re buying pre-prepared food, you should always scrutinise the labels, and aim for the smallest amount of ingredients. 

For truly healthy food inspiration, check out my recipe archive here

kindnesspemaAlways be kind to yourself

Just for the record it’s not something I’ve mastered yet, but I am working on it ❤️

 

Kids are Resilient and Other Lies Parents Tell ThemselvesAs my 4yo daughter, dressed as an angel for her school nativity, sobbed in my arms in front of the whole hall yesterday afternoon, I cried with her.  

I wasn’t expecting it. Which made it even more upsetting. 

My husband had gone to the other performance on Tuesday, and came home proud as punch. He’d recorded loads of clips and took a ton of photos. Clara looked every bit the angel you’d expect.

I was pleased that the teachers had let her keep her shoes and socks on, even though the other angels were barefoot. She had a cough and cold brewing, and had it not been for the play I would have kept her off school.

Clara’s naked feet were the first thing I noticed when I walked into the hall. Why had they not let her keep them covered? The cough had progressed, and she’d had a fitful night. I put the thought out of my mind and beamed my biggest smile at her as I sat down with Freddy on my lap.

To be completely honest I think expecting nursery (3-4yo) and reception (4-5yo) kids to perform for fifty minutes is a bit much. Some schools don’t put on proper shows until the children are older.   

kids are resilientClara and the other angels were sat in a row at the very front of the stage, completely on display. There was no where to hide the tiredness. The head mistress came along halfway through and pulled hers and another girl’s dress down because they were absent mindedly showing their knickers. Another thing that (more than likely) didn’t help her cause.

Clara was enthusiastic for the first ten, maybe fifteen minutes of the play. The rest of it she was yawning, forgetting the words to the songs and towards the end crying.

Literally bawling her eyes out in front of her classmates and their families. I lost it myself, and sat in my chair trying not to let Freddy see how upset I was. I was mortified for her. She looked so sad and lost up on that stage.  

As soon as it was over I went up and gave her a massive hug, then had to hand her back to the staff to get changed. When I collected her half an hour later, her lovely teacher (thankfully her teacher and TA are both awesome) reassured me that she was fine once she got back to the classroom. While we were walking home I asked her what was going on. 

“Didn’t you feel like being an angel today my darling?”

“NO!” she growled at me, in her one-step-away-from-a-meltdown voice.

Fair enough. It’s a bloody lot of pressure for a four year old, who wasn’t feeling well.

kids are resilientIt’s opened up a big wound that’s never properly healed for me. The one that signifies my biggest fears. That question that rings through my ears on a daily basis.

How the fuck are we going to survive these early years in one piece? 

Clara has always been the one out of the three who we didn’t have to worry about. Our best sleeper, and most placid child is no longer ‘fine’. She’s been slowly coming undone for a while now. I wrote this letter to her recently, and although I would love to say she’s back to her old self, she very much isn’t.

You see I don’t think kids are as resilient as we parents like to think they are. I think they are fragile little things that should be treated with the utmost respect and care. 

There’s no nice way of saying this. My youngest two have witnessed their big sister behave in unpleasant and undesirable ways. Yet they aren’t allowed to behave like that themselves. It must be confusing beyond belief for them. 

Almost three year old Freddy is struggling massively. He’s having nightmares a few times a week which see him wake up in a cold sweat shaking in fear. We thought potty training was a done deal, but in the last week he’s been having daily accidents. He pines after Clara all day when she’s at school, but if she comes home in a foul mood she takes it out on him.

Polly is jealous of their close relationship, but doesn’t know how to go about fostering the same for herself.

They don’t talk, they shout, and if someone else is speaking they just shout louder. I often feel like cymbals are going off inside my head. 

On my darkest days I wonder how this can possibly be happening to me?  I’m a good person, I know that. I have amazing friends, and rubbish people do not have amazing friends.   

kids are resilientI never imagined motherhood to be 24/7/365 sunshine and roses, but cards on the table, I wasn’t even slightly prepared for this.

After turning my own shitty childhood around with therapy sessions, self-reflection, willingness to change and positive thinking. I thought I would be a great mum. 

My biggest problem is that I know where I’m going wrong. Yet I’m powerless in the face of that knowledge some days. The exhaustion is just too overwhelming.  

Yesterday morning I had it all sussed out. I was going to get my positivity back on track, and make more time for me. 

Today I have been shattered into tiny pieces by my children. My day started at 4:30am, and I alternated between being a nurse maid and zoo keeper. I started bedtime at 5pm, and it took two hours to get the tired, unwell bunnies into the land of nod.

Welcome to parenthood – the toughest gig you’re going to get!     

But tomorrow is a new day. I promise to wipe the slate clean, and start all over again.

 

Let's Not Beat Around the Bush. Relationships are Damn Hard work!To mark our seventh wedding anniversary in February, I wrote my husband this letter, where I jokingly asked if we would survive the so-called seven year itch.

We got married after being in a relationship for five years, and I was twenty weeks pregnant with our eldest daughter Polly.

We had led huge fulfilling lives before settling down. We’d travelled both independently and as a couple, and had made plenty of memories from our amazing experiences. We used to laugh until our bellies ached, eat in top restaurants, and partied many a night away. We had both sorted out our ‘shit’ (well my shit mostly). By the time we got married I had worked out who I was and what I wanted out of life. I’d been through mental breakdown, rock bottom and back, and was well on track to becoming the sort of person I once could only dream of being. I was, for the first time in my thirty years, stable, secure and happy.

By the time we tied the knot we had weathered many storms, and thought we had it all sussed out

Ultimately we were both ready for marriage and babies. Neither of us felt that we had a bucket list not being worked on, or that we’d be missing out on life by having kids. We thought that every aspect of our lives would be enriched and enhanced by them. We envisaged a healthy, unimpenetrable union, that got stronger as time went by.

Call it naivety, or wishful thinking, but never did I once consider that we would go seven years without having a full night’s sleep, and sometimes be so exhausted that I wouldn’t be able to muster the energy to even smile. Or that we’d at points go months without having sex, because when you’re averaging four broken hours per night, the only thing you want to do when you get the chance is go to sleep. Or that rather than come together as a team, we’d allow the stress from the children to get the better of us and drive a wedge between us.

I turned thirty seven in July, so perhaps it’s an inevitable age thing, but in the last few years I’ve watched as friends’ relationships have broken down and some have ended. I’ve seen couples grow apart, and a few end because of affairs. Or worse. Deception that goes far deeper than drunk indiscretions.

It feels like the once laughable, cliched midlife crisis is playing out before my very eyes

People change, we know that. When you’re in a long term relationship there will be a lot ‘sucking it up’ that has to be done, and sacrifices that have to be made for the greater good of the future. There will be times when your needs are understandably at the bottom of the pile, because other members of the family have bigger and more urgent needs that have to be met first.

BUT

Consistently putting our own needs at the bottom of the pile will do no-one any good, because that will more than likely lead to breaking point. Where you feel like screaming and want to walk out of the house and never return.

I’ve come to the conclusion that relationships are bloody hard work!

We are constantly told that the way to survive, and not end up a statistic, is by communicating with each other, so as to not allow ourselves to drift apart. We must also not allow ourselves to be tempted by other delights that might be lurking around the corner. The grass not being greener is a well documented fact after all.

The thing is, I don’t have the same naivety on my side that I once had. I know how tough things get. I learnt long ago that the answers are never found at the bottom of a bottle, yet I’ve still drunk a monumental amount of gin this summer. I know all the things I should be doing, but sometimes I can’t help myself. When sleep is in such short supply, good sense has a habit of going out the window.

Our twelve and a half year relationship is small fry in comparison to my husband’s grandparents, who celebrated their diamond anniversary a few months before his granddad passed away. It’s still a long time by today’s standards though, and is certainly worth celebrating.

Pipe dreams come and go. When the chips are down it’s worth remembering why you decided to build a life with that other person in the first place.

On that note, I’d like to leave you with this video. Seems pretty apt!  

Only People with a Bigger Family Will be Able to Relate to thisWhile I was away on my own in Ibiza recently, I had a chat with a random, as you do. He asked me, in all seriousness, if people actually had three children in this day and age.

He spoke as if a bigger family was some kind of urban myth, and going against the 2.4 grain and breaking the unwritten rules would be a truly ludicrous thing to do.

Unsurprisingly this guy doesn’t have any children of his own, and didn’t strike me as the type of person who encountered many kids in his day to day. For some inexplicable reason I can’t shake this short-lived conversation off, his naivety (and rudeness) have been playing on my mind.

His thoughts are not unique though, and largely you are going against the grain by having a bigger family (which is anything more than two kids) these days. Most of our friends and family thought we were crazy when we announced our third pregnancy.

I’ve been noticing looks over the holidays – sideways glances from young folk off on adventures that don’t include changing nappies or pushing a buggy. Some comment on public transport, or when we’re out and about, saying ‘you’re braver than I am’, or ‘I couldn’t even cope with one let alone three…’

So here’s a little list I’ve compiled, to answer all those burning questions you might have*

Yes, they are all mine, I’m not the nanny.

Yes, they all have the same dad, we are even married!

No, we didn’t have a third because we were desperate for a boy.

In fact number three wasn’t planned at all, but then the best things in life rarely are.

My standards have undoubtedly got lower with each child, but that’s not such a bad thing. Motherhood and perfectionism do not belong on the same page, and certainly not in the same sentence.

It might take us longer, and we are usually running late, but we do manage to leave the house and do stuff.

wpid-wp-1454930587722.jpegWe also manage to go on holiday (abroad), and have a great time.

Three children is commonly revered as the hardest number of kids you can have, and certainly for the first couple of years I’d be inclined to agree.

At least one of them is always always hungry. Peace had to be made early on with how much my grocery bill costs.

At least one of them (in my house anyway) is up in the night *sigh* Which means I run mostly on coffee and cortisol.

It is true, that three is an odd number, and one will mostly be left out. However, when all three play nicely together it makes me want to weep with happiness and pride.

With three you are hedging your bets. Surely at least one will be willing to look after you in old age?

Just think, my lovely friend Mel has four children, and some people have even more than that…

*this list was complied just for sh*ts and giggles, and is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to tweet me @mummytries with anything you’d like to add! 

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