Keep Calm and Parent On

18 Feb

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself” – Oscar Wilde

It starts soon after you first tell people you’re pregnant. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion. On everything.

Whether you should drink tea or coffee. Whether you should eat blue cheese. Whether you should wear clothes that hide your bump or accentuate it. Whether you should take it a bit easier at work or be a trailblazer for how pregnant women can still do it all.

What I didn’t realise was that it gets worse once you have a baby. At least when you’re pregnant, the only people who tend to have an opinion are those who have been pregnant themselves. Once the baby arrives, it’s pretty much a free for all. Even those who have no babies and no experience with babies are happy to share their views on how you’re doing with parenthood.

Some said I should go back to work part-time, some said I have to do full-time for the money and others thought I shouldn’t go back to work at all. I should go out and paint the town red or have a date night with my husband (I think this was first suggested when my baby girl was 3 weeks old). I should be wrapping her up warmer – I was once told this by a random stranger in Tesco – or not fussing so much over her or watch her more carefully. One of my personal favourites was someone helpfully asking if I was producing enough milk because my six week old baby was always hungry. With hindsight I know this was because a) she’s my baby and greedy like me and b) six week old babies feed all the time.

Advice 3Mums Body and Soul rather scarily point out that this unsolicited advice can continue until your child is in college. Damn it. I had hoped this was going to ease up soon.

This is definitely a good reason to try nipping it in the bud and also learn how to deal with it without losing my cool.

A quick Google search shows 393,000 hits on how to deal with unsolicited advice on how to raise your baby, so at least I know I’m not alone.

I understand that our daughter is connected to people in our lives in a very special way and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the bond she shares with people who are close to us. They love Amaya completely and totally and of course, they only want what’s best for her.

But when I’ve had weeks of sleepless nights and am worried if I’m raising my daughter right, it’s not so easy to take advice in the often well-meaning manner it is intended. Julie Francis, manager of Parenting Australia, hits the nail on the head when she says that the most well-meaning advice can make parents feel unsure of their abilities to raise their child well. In other words, all these advice givers can be bad for parental health.

If I’m honest, there are also times when I’m not so sure the advice is well meaning. I’m pretty sure there are times people share advice because it affirms their own parenting style, or they just want you to know how much they know about babies or how relaxed they would be while raising their imaginary kids.

cara-adviceThere is no advice anyone could give a mum which she will not already have felt guilty about and fretted over. Parenthood is a very steep learning curve and babies don’t come with an instruction manual, so I’m always wondering how I’m doing.

If you tell me I should get out and leave the baby more, I can guarantee you it’s something I’ve already worried over. If you tell me my child needs more disciplining, it’s something I’m already struggling to figure out. In fact, I’ll pay you £1000 if you can come up with something I haven’t worried about. It might have to be Monopoly money though, babies are expensive.

Of all the things that no-one told me about pregnancy, babies and motherhood, was this; as a mum you feel guilty from the moment your baby arrives in this world. We constantly worry if we’re doing things right.

And here’s the most disheartening thing about the advice I’ve been given. I could count on one hand how many people have given me any encouragement or told me they think I’m doing a good job of raising my daughter. Now when you’ve got people all day every day telling you what you should be doing differently, those bits of encouragement are like a beacon of light and I cling onto them for dear life.

Advice 4Most people have been wonderful since I had Amaya and I’ve realised how lucky we are.  We have a huge, crazy family who are besotted with her, wonderful friends (many without babies) who have been amazing about our daughter hanging out with us. My two sisters living abroad adore their niece, encourage me and keep me going more than they know. Then there’s my group of ex-work friends who all got pregnant around the same time as me and in the early days were an absolute, non-competitive, Godsend. So it’s not all bad.

And a message to those who may occasionally be a bit overzealous with their advice. I know you mean well and I know it’s because you love me and Amaya that you’re sharing your thoughts with me. Just try balancing it with some encouragement too so I know I’m not doing a terrible job. I won’t get it right all the time but I want what’s best for her more than anyone.

So next time you’d like to give a mum some advice, be kind and know that she will definitely have beaten herself up about whatever it is you’d like to share with her. Better yet, wait to see if she asks for your advice. Or forget the advice and give her some reassurance instead. Tell her she’s doing an amazing job, or she seems to be holding up really well with the lack of sleep, or that she must be doing something right because her baby is happy.  Trust me, you will make her day.


Bucket List 2015 & Review of 2014 Bucket List

2 Jan

Bucket listHappy New Year everyone!

What a year it’s been. Our little girl turned one and we celebrated with a trip to Pisa and an Asian sized picnic in the park, we moved from our beloved East End to South East London and we both got new jobs. Phew.

I was so caught up with all this that a lot of my bucket list fell by the wayside. But it’s ok because the beauty of the bucket list is that it’s transferable and it doesn’t matter if you don’t do all of it. For a more detailed version of this argument, see my original bucket list article here.

Bucket List 2014

  1. Visit my nephews in Denver (this has been on my list so long I have another nephew to see – MUST DO THIS YEAR)
  2. See a modern Wonder of the World
  3. Have an article published
  4. Do 20 activities from Time Out’s 1000 Things To Do in London (I managed 14)
  5. Take a trip in a hot air balloon (one for next year)
  6. Learn to sew
  7. Do something for charity
  8. Tone my mummy tummy (it’s smaller but not toned, yet…)
  9. Do my family tree (way too difficult with records in East Africa and Asia)
  10. Write a short story (not enough time!)
  11. Create a first year scrapbook for my daughter
  12. Learn to hula hoop
  13. Enjoy a spa day
  14. Upcycle an item of clothing
  15. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant
  16. Try ballroom dancing
  17. Give someone a handmade gift
  18. See an original piece of internationally famous art
  19. Learn to juggle (bought the juggling balls – have no coordination)
  20. Host a dinner party (off the list until we have a place big enough to host one!)

When sharing last year’s bucket list with one of my friends I saw over Christmas, she sweetly told me that I don’t ask for much. To which my husband responded “that’s why I married her”. So taking this on board, I’ve added a couple of special treat items to the list for this year.

Here it is…

Bucket List 2015

  1. Visit my nephews in Denver
  2. Enjoy a 5 star afternoon tea
  3. Do 10 activities from Time Out’s 1000 Things to do in London
  4. Visit 3 different countries
  5. Get married (legally)
  6. Go to a festival or concert
  7. Take a trip in a hot air balloon
  8. Try a detox diet
  9. Own a pair of designer shoes
  10. Go horse riding
  11. Fly first class
  12. Experience zero gravity
  13. Make raw chocolate
  14. Study a course
  15. Hold a plank position for 2 minutes
  16. See a solar eclipse
  17. Have my palm read
  18. Get a bright red manicure
  19. Eat oysters
  20. Watch a film outdoors

Can’t wait to get started and it’s way more fun than my New Year resolutions used to be. Have a great year everyone!

Bucket List No 7 – Do something for charity

1 Jan

When I picked this bucket list to do, my idea was to give my time. Perhaps spend a day in a soup kitchen, spend time some with old people, or work in Sydenham Garden for those suffering from mental health problems.

As the year was drawing to an end, I realised I just didn’t have the time to give. The silver lining to this is that it forced me to think about charity work from a different angle and it’s made me realise there are loads of other ways you can help out.

You can give away unwanted things to a charity shop or set up a direct debit or make a one off donation to a charity whose cause you’re passionate about. Or you can give to your local food bank.

At this time of the year, many people with money worries are having to choose between heating or food and a lot of them are families with young children. In 2013-14, food banks helped 913,138 people and 330,205 were children. Shocking for the sixth richest country in the world, isn’t it?

Statistics can be hard to get your head around so here are just some of the ordinary, everyday people behind these numbers. An ex-serviceman whose life fell apart after post traumatic stress disorder, a young boy who refuses to go to school because he can’t face the embarrassment of not having money for lunch, a student who is made redundant from both her jobs within one month and a family who borrow a tin of soup from a neighbour to stop their 18 month old daughter going hungry.

Food bank

Food bank shopping list

When people like these access a food bank, they are given a box with enough supplies for at least three days. Food banks have a list of suitable, non-perishable items so check this before you buy anything.

There is so much food on this planet, more than enough to feed all those living on it. Which makes it all the more infuriating that there are still so many people going to bed hungry. But unlike so many of the problems our world is facing, this is one where you can provide direct, practical help to those who need it.

Check the link below for your local food bank and next time you’re in the supermarket, add a few items to your shopping basket and go drop them off at the designated time and place. That’s really how easy it is.

To find your nearest food bank go to http://www.trusselltrust.org/map

No 904-905. Take a Turkish Bath / Bucket List No 13 – Enjoy a spa day

1 Jan

Apart from voucher deals, a visit to a spa tends to mean a big splurge…until Spa London came along.

With six locations around London, the ethos behind Spa London is to make the pampering experience more affordable while still offering the luxury of a spa. The one in York Hall comes highly recommended by my cousin who teaches swimming there, but if you want a bit of London history head to Ironmonger Row Baths.

Ironmonger Row Baths

Ironmonger Row Baths

Initially a public wash house, which was then turned into a Turkish Bath, it is now a fully equipped gym with a hammam downstairs. You can pay £25 to use the facilities for four hours and there is plenty to keep you busy. Two saunas, three thermal rooms, two steam rooms, a monsoon shower (which lights up and blasts you with cooling water jets), an ice bucket shower, a plunge pool and a relaxation room with herbal teas and fruit.

I booked me and my sister in law a Turkish Bath which cost £60. As well as all the above, it includes a full body wash with black soap, body scrub and a massage. They even washed us down with warm rose water poured from clay jugs which made me feel a little like Cleopatra.

Fluffy bathrobe and slippers

Fluffy bathrobe and slippers

When we arrived, we were given a bag with a fluffy robe and slippers which puts you in the right mood for getting pampered. It’s so much fun trying everything out and we even braved the ice bucket and plunge pool (twice!). The relaxation room is really lovely with wooden loungers, fluffy blankets and soothing music. There were a few people who had dozed off in there while we tried to eat our apples as quietly as possible.

Relaxation Room - my favourite bit of the spa

Relaxation Room – my favourite bit of the spa

This was a really lovely way to spend a day and have some much needed catch up time. Definitely take a friend to giggle with, but be warned, the spa experience can be addictive. Our plan for 2015 is to keep an eye out for voucher deals and try as many spas as possible. This could turn out to be an expensive, but very enjoyable, new habit.

http://www.spa-london.org/