I’ve had a fair few conversations recently which have ended with me saying “…but we’re sleepwalking into oblivion, and no-one even cares!” Needless to say it makes me pretty unpopular at parties. I have only a teeny tiny amount of people in my life who are willing to openly discuss this topic. Which feels largely like preaching to the choir. So I’m being bold and sharing this piece. I’d love to hear your own thoughts on it all. 

I feel the main problem with our society is that “we” largely place too much value on the wrong things. The way we look, how popular we are and how much money we have are drummed into to us as important – from the youngest of ages – and go to the top of our priority list. The world that our kids are growing up in can feel like a harsh one, and with the added filter of social media distorting reality, is it any wonder? It’s not just the kids who are suffering either. Almost everyone I know is consumed with the pressures of life.  

sleepwalking into oblivionBut is this added layer of pressure all down to the consequences of our own choices?

There seems to be such a lot of pressure these days to do and be so much more. Coupled with the notion that women can (apparently) have it all. Motherhood is deemed by many to be a tiresome and unattractive chore. It blows my mind away how such an un-newsworthy debate as breast vs bottle it still dividing the sides.

From where I’m standing, the sisterhood only seems to exist when we’re nodding along in complete agreement to what is being said. The minute we challenge someone’s stance on a controversial topic, well we’re deemed as being unsupportive. We’ll get blocked from their social media and bitched about in closed Facebook groups. It makes me sad beyond belief. 

Trouble is, in the process of trying to be and do so much, we are selling ourselves short. Are today’s actions going to cause long term damage? Not that raising a generation of mentally healthy children who grow up to be mentally healthy adults appears to be on the government’s agenda. Judging by their year on year shocking cuts that fund children’s services across the board, they appear out of touch and unsympathetic to how so many are forced to live. 

I didn’t have it easy, but I turned out okay

I’ve heard this tired mantra all my life – “I didn’t have this or that when I was growing up… I had it harder in my day than the kids have it today… blah blah blah.”

For those unfamiliar with my story, I had a severely dysfunctional upbringing, and left home at 15. I then drank and partied my troubles away for a whole decade. Along my treacherous journey I suffered countless bouts of depression and anxiety, had two full mental breakdowns, declared bankruptcy and cut ties with my entire family. These are not experiences I would wish upon anyone else.

Through therapy and a whole load of self-reflection, I came to realise that everything I went through as a young adult was directly linked to the way I raised. Fortunately for me, I met my amazing husband and some rock solid friends who became my family. Without their unfaltering support I dare say I wouldn’t even be here writing this article.

sleepwalking into oblivionIf society is sleepwalking into oblivion, how can we chose not to? 

In the school of life for the Davis kids this week (or home education as most would call it) we’ve been talking a lot about cause and effect. How every single decision that we make effects everything else that happens next. This is a bit of a mind blowing concept for my almost nine year old autistic daughter, but she’s getting there. We all need to fully understand this, because it’s one of the most valuable things we will ever learn.  

In all areas of our lives, if we are to have a decent shot at long term happiness, we have to be making decisions that we are truly comfortable with. We can’t be afraid of putting our hands up when we’re wrong, changing tact and finding another way of doing the things that aren’t working out. We can’t allow the fear of doing or saying something that might offend someone else stop us from making good choices. We mustn’t let our wants blind us to our needs. Check out my autobiographical self-help book Become the Best You if you’d like to go one step further than a blog post. It’s a short book, and quite a few people have told me that it’s changed their lives.  

If we are making well thought out good decisions, then we won’t have to live with negative consequences for years afterwards. It’s a simple equation, but it’s not sexy or interesting. It doesn’t sell stuff, and how boring would it be to have a happy society? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know this. Until we start putting down our devices, taking a step back and properly thinking about the effect our decisions are going to have on our future selves, then I truly fear that society will end up sleepwalking into oblivion.

Do you need a plan of action? Here’s a simple one to get started

Get happy: This might sound like the most basic thing in the entire world, but if you aren’t happy you will find it exceptionally difficult to make good decisions. By doing everything you can to smile more than you frown, you are instantly inviting positive opportunities to present themselves. Check out this little video clip I made for tips.

Switch off: Tune out from mass media by only consuming information that will enhance your life. Ditch the tabloids, the whingey websites, the trashy magazines and reality TV. While you’re at it, have a social media detox. How much time do you waste on Facebook even though it bores and depresses the hell out of you? I had got myself into a great place with Instagram, but this past week or so I’ve been spending way too much time on there so shall be taking another break over the weekend. Switching my phone off for hours at a time is like medicine for me. Why not give it a go?

Don’t live in an echo chamber: there has been much said over the last couple of years about the pitfalls of living in echo chambers. Whilst I wholeheartedly advocate surrounding ourselves with positive and inspirational people, we do also need to ensure that we have good enough friends in our lives to challenge us when we’re factually wrong or being an idiot. 

Don’t compare: Stop comparing yourself to others because it’s a pointless exercise. Instead feel safe in the knowledge that no-one has the ‘perfect life’, we are all flawed in some way or another and everybody has problems. While you are lusting after another person’s life, there will more than likely be someone out there lusting after yours.

One shot: We get one shot at this life people, lets make it count! If my own experiences have taught me anything, it’s that a good life doesn’t just happen. We need to make it happen and constantly strive for it. Often against the odds, and in the face of extreme adversity.

I certainly won’t be sleepwalking into oblivion, how about you?

**many thanks to Unsplash for the gorgeous photos used in this piece. Credit to Though Catalog and Clem Onojeghuo**

Having recently breached the elusive 10k follower mark, I’d like to share my tips on how to win at Instagram (when you’re a busy parent who doesn’t have the time to engage 24/7/365)

Juggling the spinning plates of parenting and running an online business is bloody hard work. I’m not only a busy mum of three children, I also have a blog and write books. In between home educating the kids, cooking all our food from scratch and my writing, I also have to find time to promote said writing.

No mean feat! 

win at instagramEngaging on social media to build a following is what some consider to be a full time job, and is just not possible for people like me. We have enough going on already. I’ve learnt the hard way that if I have to sacrifice time with my children to win at Instagram (or anything for that matter), then it’s simply not worth it. So here’s my version of winning… 

Don’t be a dick

Actually this is also rule number one of life as far as I’m concerned. Playing the follow/unfollow game, buying followers and setting up like bots are the quickest and most surefire ways to lose your credibility. Nuff said. 

Try not to get too caught up in what everyone else doing

Again, a great rule for life, because as we all know comparison is often the thief of joy. As soon as we start copycatting what others are doing on Instagram we dilute our own message and become background noise. 

Who honestly gives a crap about the perfect flat lay or a pair of feet while drinking a cup of coffee?

Have a truly unique voice  

Which brings me nicely onto this point. Every blogger, vlogger and Instagrammer thinks they’re unique. We all believe we have an important message to bestow upon the world otherwise we’d have chucked the towel in long ago.

The sad fact is that most people are just parroting what everyone else has said. Don’t be like them, be yourself. By sharing the bits of your life that others are afraid to you’ll get the absolute most out of the experience, and your followers will genuinely feel they are gaining something by coming to your feed.

Vulnerability personified…

 

I grew up in a world where Jimmy Saville would fix all your problems, and Gary Glitter wanted you to be part of his gang. Where primary school kids had access to porn films and 8yo girls had their innocence stolen on a daily basis. 😔 I grew up in a world where comparison wasn’t always the thief of joy, and in fact sometimes knowing that others had it so much harder was a good thing for me. 😔 I grew up in a world where the WORST happened, and I got to the point where I could no longer forgive and forget. I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made (to date) when I was 26 years old (I’m now 38). 😔 Motherhood without a mum is more heartbreaking than I could ever articulate. On any given day I’ll flit between knowing I’ve made the right decision to desperately hoping I was wrong and wanting her to beat my door down. To say “I’m here now, and everything will be ok!” The words I know without doubt my dear grandma would have said, given half the chance. 😔 So if you’re struggling with similar issues please email me and I’ll send you a copy of Become the Best You. Had I read the book I wrote when I was on the edge, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have fallen down a deep, dark hole.

A post shared by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on

Follow people who properly inspire you

Instagram can too easily turn into one big linky. Scrolling through all the pretty photos, hardly reading the captions, because really who has the time to bother doing that? It can become exceptionally fake and pointless very quickly. The best way to avoid this happening is by only following the people who inspire and support you.

Accounts I like to follow: 

  • fellow home educators
  • people who make the sort of food I like to eat (not just take pretty photos of food) 
  • other parents of autistic kids 
  • yogis 
  • families who go travelling 

Don’t be afraid to unfollow people who don’t inspire you (they probably unfollowed you long ago anyway) 

I used to follow loads of other bloggers, and I would spend ages engaging on their pages because I thought that was the done thing. Then I installed a followers app, and learnt that around 80% of these ‘blogging friends’ didn’t follow me back. Which  is why they never engaged on my feed. So now I don’t bother wasting my time on these people at all. I still follow plenty of bloggers, but the genuinely supportive ones who care when I’m having a hard time and know what my kids are called. 

If someone comes to my feed and shows me a lot of love, then I like to return the favour. It’s nice to show other people that you care as much they do.

Choose your shortcuts wisely, because if they seem too good to be true, they usually are

People who promise to help you win at Instagram by growing your account with real followers are usually lying. I’ve done several trials of outsourcing my Insta, which has led to even more work on my behalf where they’ve followed loads of accounts I have zero interest in. I’ve come to the conclusion that there aren’t many shortcuts to be had in this arena.

In all honesty, my version of winning might not be everyone’s. I’ve had some great highs, such as this post below which is my most engaged with of all time. I’ve also had some very low lows recently post-algorithm change.

I am not glued to my phone though, and for me, that is more important than anything else!

The things no one tells you about bloggingYesterday I put a plea on my Facebook page asking if my followers would help me do a little test. After finally getting round to making and photographing the Paleo Caramel Slice recipe that I’d been promising for over a week, and putting it up on the blog and sharing on Facebook, it was shown to just twenty two people between Friday and Monday, and had gathered just one like.

So I pinned the post to the top of the page, and asked if people could like it to show that they had seen the original message asking them for help. Once people started reacting to the recipe post, it was shown to more, and the post has now reached almost five hundred people. What I’ve noticed is that when I share a meme, news article or (sometimes) other people’s posts, Facebook will show it to hundreds, if not thousands. When I share my own blog posts, I’m lucky for them to reach fifty.

It’s left me feeling seriously despondent, and wondering for the millionth time, how on earth a small time blogger like me, with zero marketing budget, will ever ‘get out there’

I wrote my first post on this blog on April 29th 2013, and in the last three years I have written over a thousand posts, and published almost seven hundred. I have also written and published a non-fiction book, and am currently halfway through draft one (43k words written) of my first novel. That’s a whole lot of words that have been written – for my catharsis, to potentially inspire others and sometimes because I’m being paid to. 

I’ve been featured on the Huffington Post, The Mighty, She Knows, Autism Awareness.com and countless blogs across the web. I’ve had one post go properly viral, several go semi-viral, and had so many comments on my posts last year that I decided in January to switch off the comments function. 

I have made genuine friends through Mummy Tries, and have received love and support through tough times. If nothing else, this has been the greatest gift that blogging has brought me.  

The good, bad and ugly of blogging

Untitled design (3)BUT over the last couple of years I’ve also witnessed pettiness, spitefulness and bitchiness that would put most teenage school girls to shame. I’ve seen nepotism that beggars belief as well as selfish, shitty messages that spread like wildfire because they are ‘so hilarious’ (apparently). I’ve seen people sell their soul for a sponsored post, and spend so much time on social media there can be no way that they are properly looking after their children as well.

Right now my three kids are running riot because I’m ignoring them and writing this instead. I need to get it out though, otherwise it will drive me insane all day long, and if I wait until after I’ve put them to bed I will more than likely not be able to articulate what I want to say (because I am frazzled by that point). I don’t do this very much at all any more, but every now and then I do, and it is not okay.

Ultimately Facebook is one of many areas where I feel like I’m bashing my head against a brick wall. I’ve come to realise that almost every single aspect of blogging is about who you know and not how good you are. It’s about who your contacts are, and who is championing you. Blogging is a huge distraction that often takes time away from the things you should be doing.

I’ve come to the gloomy conclusion that unless every blog post you write goes viral, and you end up amassing a gigantic following, or you’re prepared to dedicate your entire life to the blogging cause, then you are very unlikely to properly succeed in this game.

Cards on the table: I don’t know what to do about this right now, so please feel free to send me your answers on a postcard…

whatimwriting

How to Achieve the Elusive LifeBlog BalanceI was under the illusion that I had it all under control. I thought my life/blog balance was a-okay, but last December it was rather off kilter.

When my husband and I sat down over the Xmas holidays to discuss our home education plans, he told me in no uncertain terms that the blog was distracting me. He said that if I wasn’t prepared to make some changes, and it prevented me from putting 100% into home ed, then I’d be losing him as my biggest cheerleader. Not only that but I would kick myself for it in the future.

As always he was right!  

I don’t think he was being out of line whatsoever. When we’re so close to a situation it can be difficult to look at it objectively, and once I took a step back and reflected on his words, I completely agreed with him. I have chosen to educate my children myself, which is a huge responsibility, and needs to be taken very seriously. Our chat was the wake up call I needed to put a few things into perspective. With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to share some of the things I do these days to ensure that my blog doesn’t interfere with my family life.

Don’t get sucked in to social media

I’ve written about this several times, and always come back to the same point. Present parenting and social media cannot co-exist, it really is as simple as that. Most bloggers can bash out a post quite quickly, and it’s easy to chuck it into a scheduling service to auto tweet, etc.

Promoting it to an ‘engaged audience’ is a whole other ball game. Many pride themselves on their follower numbers, and the amount of likes they get on FB and IG, but that takes up a truck load of my most precious commodity. Getting hundreds of likes isn’t on my priority list, and I’m comfortable with that.

Knowing when to say no

For a multitude of reasons, when I created Mummy Tries I did so anonymously, and blogged incognito for the first eighteen months. This naturally ruled out quite a lot of PR opportunities and event invitations. When I came out I started getting offers, mainly for reviews in exchange for products, and my first few paid collaborations were for peanuts. I made a pact with myself pretty early on that I’d only say yes to products we genuinely needed; and set myself a lowest fee I was prepared to work for.

I’ve mainly stuck to this like glue, but around Xmas had so many offers I ended up saying yes to way too much. It was exhausting, the work I produced was not my best by any stretch of the imagination, and it left me feeling meh. Since then I’ve completely stopped taking on reviews, and am only working on quality collaborations. I might not be making a ton of cash, but I am so much happier. 

Don’t get too distracted by the online community

Untitled designI consider myself privileged to have met as many lovely people as I have through this blog, and I chat to a sizeable amount of fellow bloggers when I can, online and offline. Towards the end of last year though I was spending all my allocated blog time either chatting, reading / commenting on other blogs or replying to the comments on my own.

Something had to give, so I made a bold move a few weeks ago and disabled my comments function. I’ve also completely stopped participating in linkies, and leaving comments for the sake of it. I subscribe by email to all my favourite blogs and still read tons of posts. If I feel compelled to and have the time to comment I will, if not I’ll give the post a like or I’ll share it. Far from alienating me from the bloggersphere, it has actually cemented my real friendships, and I cannot tell you how liberating it’s all been for me.  

Don’t compare your blog to others

It’s been said so much, but I really do feel that not comparing is absolutely vital for your own success. There are some big fish in our small pond, and they work tirelessly for all they have. Comparing my blog to theirs would be like comparing myself to my friend who teaches languages for a living, and getting upset because my Spanish isn’t as good as hers. Think about it for five seconds, and how utterly absurd that would be.

We all know how crap comparing ourselves to our friends and acquaintances can make us feel, but honestly folks, the grass is very rarely greener on the other side of the fence.

Never stop enjoying it

write from the heartMy first ever post was my life in a nutshell, and I think it was pretty obvious from the outset that my writing was all about the catharsis. This is still very much at the centre of my blog, but I also use my little piece of cyberspace to express bite sized chunks of creativity.

When I was writing Become the Best You, it was brilliant to be able to share snippets of it, and get feedback from my readers. I’m now writing a novel, and feel exactly the same. The day I stop enjoying my blog, or it starts feeling a bit too much like hard work, will be the day I hang up my blogging shoes for good!

Ultimately, it’s a blog, not a nobel peace prize. I genuinely try not to take it too seriously 🙂 

One Thing After AnotherI pride myself on my togetherness. My normalness. Some people consider the N Word to be as dirty as the C Word, no not Christmas. I don’t though. With my background, being as normal as I am now is a wonderful thing.

Lately though, I don’t feel very together. I can’t seem to shake my sadness. It comes and goes, and comes back again.

Sadness at the state of the world.

Sadness at what human beings are capable of doing to each other.

Sadness at the big picture.

Sadness at the small picture.

It feels like we take two steps forward and three back where my eldest is concerned, and it terrifies me.

The violence. The spitefulness. The screaming. The pinching. The destroying. The soul destroying.

I can’t bring myself to think about the future because it reduces me tears.

Questions plague me: what if we don’t manage to get her on an even keel? What if it just continues to get worse and worse? What if all the love and good parenting in the world isn’t enough?

What if our family becomes so messed up, and lost among the shouting and throwing and hitting and kicking, that we can’t get ourselves back to happy?

What if we’ve made a huge mistake deciding to home educate

What if so much damage has already been done to my marriage that it doesn’t survive?

These are the thoughts that run through my mind on a loop. Eating away at my sanity and waking me up in the middle of the night when the kids are actually sleeping.

Maybe I’m turning into an emotional wreck?

Maybe it’s the six long years of sleep deprivation getting the better of me?

2015-12-09 08.18.41Maybe it’s because Freddy has been unwell (the pox, poor boy), which has triggered off Polly’s morbid obsession with death that has been apparent since we lost Andy’s granddad? 

Or maybe it’s the relentless one thing after another cycle that our life has been this year? So much stress that I can almost see the god damn cortisol.

I know there is lots to be grateful for. I also know that I’m not a robot thoughI’m not super human. I have my limits.  

So what am I going to do about it?

First and foremost, as I mentioned recently, social media is not my friend when I’m feeling low. I’ve been online less and less these last few weeks and gone entire days without checking Facebook (my main nemesis). This has definitely helped.

Polly declared the other day that she hates me looking at my phone, so this has been the final kick up the bum I needed to completely stop checking it as much during the day. If I miss a blogging opportunity because I can’t answer an email quick enough then so be it.

I’m trying my hardest to not beat myself up and add extra pressure where it doesn’t need to be.

After all these years of doing everything myself and never asking for help, that is going to change. My lovely neighbour has offered to do some arts and crafts lessons at her house, which I’ll be taking her up on soonest. Any offer of the Grandparents coming to help out will be snapped up without hesitation.       

And to end on a positive note, my wonderful friend is taking the girls off our hands this weekend for a sleepover, which will provide a much needed time out. Some breathing space, so we can gather our thoughts and just be for 24 hours.

Only three more sleeps… not that I’m counting 😉