What not to say to a single parent

Perhaps you know a single parent or two. If you’re a decent sort and don’t want to irk your lone-parenting pal, swerve the following comments:

1. “I know what its like being a single parent. When David goes away on work trips, I can barely manage!!’ Umm…

2. “Single mothers! Getting pregnant to get housing benefit…*grumble, grumble*” Hey, the 1970s called, they want you back. Like Destiny’s Child, I pay my automo-bills, I pay my telephone bills… and I put a roof over us. (As do most single parents I know). So maybe you can chill?

3. “JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter as a single parent.” The poor woman. She has reached unfathomable heights with her unspeakable talent, yet is still defined largely in terms of her relationship/parenting status at the time when she first put pen to paper, many moons ago. AND I’ll be lucky if I write my shopping list this week.

4. “You never know. One day you might meet someone and become a real family.” Yes, if only that wooden boy-child I cart around with me would one day come to life!

5. “He’s a great kid considering…”

6. “I envy you having all that free time when he goes to his dad’s. I never get a weekend off!” Trust us. We’re busy. More likely to find us in Spar than the spa.

7. “You never come out/over!” Yeah. We know. We’re sorry. But… responsibilities…

8. “So how much do you get in tax credits?” Erm none. Besides do I ask about your Married Couples Allowance??

9. “Does he still see his dad?” “Ah…that’s good.” You’re giving me a trim. I’m not sure you really need my eight year old’s full backstory.

10. “Would you like some wine or chocolate?” OK. I made that one up. I ran out of ideas but it felt wrong to stop at 9. We’d probably like some wine or chocolate. Yes, wine or chocolate would be nice, thanks.

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Are you a single parent? If so, what do people say that makes you miffed? What do you wish people said to you instead?

School run fun? Discover how to have a stress-free start to your day

I’m almost giggling at myself for posting advice on how to nail the stress-free school run.  ‘Lo! The Oracle speaks!’ Actually, I feel like a bit of a charlatan.

As personality types go, I’m a bit of a stress-head.  If I was a cartoon character, I’m pretty sure I’d have permanently flushed cheeks and beads of sweat flying from my brow.

Yup. My stress-response is decidedly wonky. Missing car keys, a mislaid work pass, that ever-elusive left plimsoll – searching for any of these can send me into a cortisol-induced frenzy. So with this predisposition for freaking out, naturally, the school run ranks as DEFCON 1 on my internal scale of high alert.

In terms of unfortunate life events, it’s as though my brain places ‘being late’ right up there alongside being chased by flesh-starved lions or the Zombie Apocalypse. But I know it’s not just me who finds getting up and out in the mornings a total faff…

Why the school run sucks

All the conditions are ripe for the weekday morning ritual to be a royal pain in the ass.

Whether it’s breakfast bother (you SAID toast!!), a tooth-cleaning tantrum, raiding the sofa for dinner money, or playing Russian roulette on the roundabout-of-death – school run frolics can cause the most ‘zen’ among us to have a mini-meltdown. Especially on the days you have to make two trips due to the forgotten school bag/PE kit/banjo.

Or worse, the belated discovery that it’s wear-something-yellow-but-also-spotty day.  As Jane Austen once said:

‘it’s a truth universally acknowledge that, on such days, you WILL get stuck behind the bin lorry and have a 9.30am appointment with the boss.’

When you consider that there’s a tight time-frame for undertaking these scholastic shenanigans  – and throw in the fear of your child being marked as late (the shame!) – you soon wonder whether you’ll find your sanity in the Lost Property next to that missing plimsoll.

Teaching the school run a lesson

But all this aside, I have learned a few hacks to make it to the school gates without totally losing the plot.  Some are too obvious to mention (hot tip: get up earlier!) but, for what it’s worth, here are some things that help me:

1. Teach your child to be responsible for their own belongings. Get them to pack up their PE kit the night before, and round up their books in the mornings. Yes, it takes time to master this one. But ultimately it’s good for kids to learn to be self-organised (code for: gives you time to check you’re wearing trousers before heading out).

2. Get some perspective! That morning when you knocked over the entire box of cornflakes and then jumped in the shower to find the boiler had gone kaput… held you back a bit, right? No one wants their child to be late but, in the grand scheme, a small blot on their punctuality record won’t go down in the annals of history. Sh*t happens.

3. Breathe deeply and slow down your actions rather than rush. This doesn’t just work from a ‘less haste, more speed’ perspective, it also makes you feel a lot calmer and in control – which, let’s face it, is half the battle.

4. Don’t become Mumzilla. Just because you’re feeling flustered, don’t get all shouty with the kids. They need to start the school day feeling cheery – not like they’ve just escaped the tyranny of Sargent Major Mum. It makes you feel lousy too – not the best foundation for a hassle-free day.

It takes conscious effort to become a lower-strung mum but if it sounds like I’m wishing away my school drop-off days, I’m actually not.

Paradoxically, I love taking my son to school and waving him off everyday. It means a lot to us both. I know i’ll be gutted when he starts taking himself to secondary school. (But that’s not to say I am not looking forward to the break during the holidays!)

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So does the school run send you into a tailspin? Or have you got the daily drop-off locked down? If so, what’s your secret?

You Baby Me Mummy

When is it OK to lower your expectations?

Aim high. That’s what we’re told, right? Do more. Be more. Be all you can be.

There is nothing wrong with setting  #goals. And there’s no harm in sharing inspirational quotes or pinning ‘the top ten traits of super-productive people’ to your Pinterest. I love all that. These things give us a boost, a lift, fresh ideas for living… and help us through the day.

But when does the drive to ‘be our best selves’ become an issue? When does this holy-grail quest to become a hyper-productive person become a problem?

Is it even a problem – or am I just clutching at straws to write a post??

Yes, I think it can be. Personally, I think it’s a big deal when we’re so preoccupied with ticking off our to-do list that we forget to live in the meantime. It’s an issue when we’re still running around at 11pm trying to complete chores so we “don’t have to do them tomorrow” (yet somehow we’re still busybees come 11pm the next evening).

And it’s troubling when we can’t switch off the niggling inner voice that harangues us every time we don’t do what we’d planned. You know – the one that has a dig because you didn’t mop the floor even though you kicked the backside out of the ironing pile. The one that bangs on about you forgetting to empty the fridge on bin night.

The one that bitches because you haven’t made your first million or at least launched a fledgling start up… (“JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter as a single parent so you’re clearly a lazy, unimaginative ne’er-do-well.”)

We all know perfection is unattainable, so why do we set our standards so high?  Why do we, for instance, beat ourselves up because we didn’t get to the gym (again) despite having done a ton of other important, adulty stuff?

If you start to feel restless – worse, guilty – when you chill out for five minutes then it’s probably time to have a word and tell that pesky inner voice to buzz off.

It’s all very well wanting to be more productive, to work smarter, to boss it, etc. etc., but last time I checked there wasn’t a trophy for the person who had the least ‘me-time’ today. No, you’d get the wooden spoon instead for not looking after yourself or enjoying more of life’s pleasures.

As a single parent, I have battled with the toxic combination of little time, high standards, and wanting to do the best for my son.  But I was sick of feeling frazzled and burnt out.

Consequently, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s OK to lower your standards. Not always, no. You don’t want a crappy partner or anything like that. You don’t want to compromise your parenting or sack off things that are important to you or your sense of self. But some things you can certainly care less about or choose not to do… at least not today.

What we choose to drop off our to-do lists, what corners we cut, what life goals we scratch out, is a personal choice. And it’s not about giving up on dreams either. I’m not saying aim low in all aspects of life.

I mean stop for a minute and really think:  am I doing the things that truly matter to me and will enhance my life the most? Can other stuff wait?

It’s about placing fewer demands on yourself and refusing to let a self-blaming voice bully you into never hopping off the hamster-wheel of ‘doing’. Time is not infinite!

It’s also about remembering that one of your dreams is to be happy. Not at some point in the distant future, but now.

low-expectations

Single parent survival guide

As a single mum, you may often feel like you’re chasing your tail in some never-ending battle against the clock.

You might worry about checking everything off your to do list, or whether you’re striking the right balance between spending time with your kids and your other commitments (job, family, friends, life admin… whatever they may be).

As a semi-seasoned single parent (well, approx seven years under my belt), I thought I’d put together my survival guide….

Be realistic!

In my head, Time is personified as an evil adversary that I do battle with on a daily basis. I imagine he looks something like Skeletor or the Grim Reaper. Either way, he’s out to get me.

Part of this is my fault. My expectations are not realistic. For instance, i’ll make Saturday plans that include a cinema trip, homework, a marathon laundry sesh, four tip runs, a play date, organising my meals for the week ahead, and a couple of coffees in Costa.

Needless to say, I never achieve it all and end up feeling like Time has got one over on me. To combat my time-optimism, I try to be more realistic about what can be done in a day. I pick three activities and agree with myself that if I get those things done, I’ll have had a good day (pat, pat on my back).

If you suffer from a negative inner voice that beats you up over all the things you haven’t done, read my post on when it’s OK to lower your expectations. You’ll relate!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It can be hard to ask for favours, particularly if you’re very independent and used to doing things on your own. Of course no one wants to be a burden, but by the same token, people enjoy the glowy feeling of helping you. So if the offer’s there – don’t be afraid to take it sometimes!

Compartmentalise

By ‘compartmentalise’ I basically mean know when it’s time to stop thinking about (or doing) one thing and move onto something else.

So you’ve had a crappy day at work. Leave the issue on your desk and don’t bring it home with you. You don’t need thoughts whirring around your head when you’re trying to focus on dinner or bath-time.

Remind yourself that this is now family time. Everything else can wait.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

It’s taken me years to learn that, as a single parent, I just need a really simple life. For me, that means:

  • not having lots of clutter in my house
  • not owning any plants (I can’t live with the guilt of forgetting to water them) or pets
  • leaving the 25-ingredient recipes to Jamie Oliver
  • favouring clothes that don’t need ironing (I used to only wear dresses so I could get out the door quicker and not have to match up outfits)
  • Having a basic list of food items that I buy week in, week out.

OK, so maybe that’s not the most inspiring list ever – but, hey, it works for me.

Your simplifying rules may well be different, but the point about making your life easier still stands.

Don’t compare yourself to other mums. Ever.

So you’ve overheard the Perfect Mum at your child’s school regaling her playground clique with tales of how she whipped up 100 cakes for the bake sale, ran 30 miles in prep for the London Marathon, and stitched hand-embroidered name tags into ever piece of her children’s clothing – yes, including their socks and pants.

As well as kind of hating her a bit, you may be tempted to draw comparisons between her mumsiness and your own. Don’t.

Listen, it doesn’t matter if you’ve labelled your kids’ clothes with smudgy laundry pen, providing you’ve got your other priorities straight (and you can make out their names!).

Never compare yourself. You know what you need to do for your kids, so just crack on with it.

Seek out your support group (but avoid positivity hoovers)

It can really help talk to other single mums. It’s great when you find someone who has shared experiences and gets it.

However, I try to avoid conversations of the ‘aaaarrrggghhh… it’s allllll sssooo terrrribbble’ variety. It doesn’t help to have a pity party. Personally, I like to just enjoy my time with my son and would rather push on with things positively.

Get the school run sorted

If, like me, the school run can send you into a tailspin, get that morning faff under control, now! Check out my post on how to keep calm on the school run.

Outsource

While I deeply wish things were different, I’ve come to accept that I’ll never own (or use) anything made by Black&Decker. I begrudge a trip to B&Q. If it comes with an Allen key, it can jog the hell on.

So I’m at peace knowing that I’ll just have to beg or bribe someone else to do my DIY.

If there’s a chore that you really don’t have the time or inclination to do, sometimes it’s better to just pay for someone to take it off your hands. Your time and sanity is often more precious.

Keep on swimming

No matter how frazzled you are, no matter what fresh disaster has fallen from the sky to derail you, keep on swimming, my friend.

Whenever some new life-crap lands on my doorstep (which often happens) I remind myself of a time when I’ve leaped over a giant hurdle and carried on.

Everything passes. Don’t sweat it and just enjoy your kids.

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So that’s my two pence – what are your single parent survival tips?

Sugar-free Easter Treats for Kids

With all the chocs and sweets kids get given at Easter, like me, you might be searching for a few sugar-free options to add to the Easter Bunny’s overnight drop.

Here are a few of my favourite ideas… (also handy for kids with food allergies so please share with friends!)

Affiliate links where stated only. 

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Egg Pets, by Laura Long, notonthehighstreet.com, £6

Egg pets

 

Cutie Pie Looks for the Easter Bunny Book, WHSmith, £3.99

Cutie pie book

 

Mr. Impossible and the Easter Egg Hunt (Mr. Men & Little Miss Celebrations), Amazon.co.uk, £3.19 (Affiliate link).

 

Pokemon 8″ Easter Soft Toy – Pikachu, Toys R Us, £12.99

easter pokemon

 

The Peter Rabbit Library – 10 book collection, The Works, £12.99

peter rabbit library

 

Jellycat Bashful Blossom Bunny Soft Toy, John Lewis, £12.00

jellycatbunny

Kids’ Bunny Cross-body Bag, M&S, £12

bunny bag

 

Wobbling Easter Bunny, John Lewis, £4.50 (for decoration only, not strictly a toy)

Johnlewiswobblingbunny

Ten things you will discover when online dating

So as a singleton, I’ve chanced my arm at trying to find Mr Right via the glorious world wide web. Hit and miss, my friends. Hit. And. Miss. But always entertaining none-the-less.

If nothing else, it’s all good fodder for this blog post, so here’s what I’ve learned while waiting for cupid’s arrow to strike:

1. Conversation is dead.

Dating man: Hi
Me: Hi. How are you?
Dating man: Good. U?
Me: Yeah, great thanks. Good weekend?
Dating man: Yeah. Urs?
Me: [Gives up. I’m likely to develop RSI before I find out where he lives].

2.  For some men, being married isn’t the barrier-to-entry you’d hope it might be. ‘Erm…so who’s the woman in the white dress in that photo with you, the confetti and all the happy people…?’

3. Some guys love a challenge. You’ve made it clear you’re not looking for ‘hook ups’ but they still invite you around on the off-chance you’d like to abandon your sleeping child and stray into the lair of a perfect stranger. Cheers, but I’ll take a rain check.

4. The block/unmatch button is your friend. There are some really angry/scary/crazy people out there. Seriously. 

5. The move-you-onto-WhatsApp-manoeuvre: guys who are keen to get your digits and get you off the site/app so they can keep on chatting to you and other women.

6. Too much texting. Too much. Too, too much. Backing up every single sentence with a choice emoji is, quite frankly, exhausting.

7. Some guys don’t want to know if you have a child. And that’s perfectly OK.

8. There are some very strange ideas about what makes for a good profile photo: selfies taken in the toilet; holding giant fish; flipping the bird; toting a sub-machine gun.  ‘Great, I’ll meet you under the clocktower at 5pm. I’ll be the one wearing the bulletproof vest…’

9. If there’s two guys in the profile photo – he’s not the one you hope he is.

10. You’ll be amazed at just how many people exist that you have absolutely NOTHING in common with…

So, OK – it’s not all bad. There are some lovely, genuine guys out there trying to find love too and, of course, this is all just my subjective experience. I’m keen to know what your experiences are of looking for love in the digital age…

 

binnight

Should you mix study and motherhood?

In 2009, I found myself alone with a baby boy. I had a job but I was still filled with a sense of overwhelming dread: how on earth was I going to provide for us and give my son the best life?

As something of a knee-jerk reaction, I enrolled on a part-time Law degree course. So with my son still in nappies, I found myself surrounded by piles of textbooks, pulling caffeine-fuelled all-nighters to finish essays, before tootling off to my day job.

I loved studying and enjoyed my course but it was definitely a hard slog.  By the time I’d got my cap and gown, I was ready to say ‘enough is enough’ and decided not to go on to study for professional qualifications to be a solicitor (but never say never, etc).

With all said and done, I’m still glad I chose to study. So with this in mind, what advice would I give to parents thinking about studying? Well, here’s my two-pence worth…

  1. If you’re studying to enhance your career prospects, research your chosen career extensively before taking the plunge. I do think anything is worth the graft if it takes you where you want to go.
  2. Be hyper organised – about four weeks into each term I’d be in utter chaos, with my notes in different notebooks, handouts all over the place and behind on listening to my lectures. It takes real determination to stay on top of things. Plan how you’ll stay organised before you start each term.
  3. Maximize your time – listen to audio lectures when ironing, read notes while drying your hair… whatever works for you. Read EVERYWHERE (except when driving or operating heavy machinery, of course!).
  4. Be prepared for curveballs – the day before a deadline will be the night your child throws up all over their bed…
  5. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure. You’ve got other priorities, so accept that you can only do what you can do.
  6. Listen to your lecturers – what’s their pet topic? Chances are they might set an exam question on their specialist area.
  7. If you’re doing group work, try to work with fellow students in the same boat or who at least understand you have parenting commitments.
  8. Get involved in extra-curricular activities (no, not that kind) if you can as it helps with meeting people and can also give your CV a boost.
  9. Think about whether the course will involve work experience or a placement and how you’ll work things around that.
  10. Be kind to yourself. Eat well, exercise, spend time with your family. Heck, even put your feet up with a mag and a cuppa for five minutes every once in a while!

 

Childcare and work – how difficult is it for single parents?

So, of course, balancing childcare and work is a problem for many families – not just single mums.

That teeny logistical issue of school or nursery hours being shorter than the average working day (plus travel time) means that many of us have to fix childcare for our kids.

Sure, breakfast and after school clubs help, but often they still cost and may not be long enough to be of much use. Luckily, my wonderful parents collect my son from school (thanks Mum and Dad!), but if I couldn’t rely on them, I’d be a little bit… stuck.

So it’s not surprising to read today that, Gingerbread – the fabulous single parents’ interest group – has found that:

  • almost 50% of the parents they surveyed found that childcare was a barrier to them getting work
  • with 46% saying it was difficult to find childcare that matched work and study hours.

Is it just me who finds this deeply troubling? Surely something needs to be done to break down these barriers? After all, child poverty and poor life chances should be one of the biggest worries for those of us who want to see a happy little society in 20, 30 years time.

Thinking back to my own experience, when my son was really small he went to nursery every day. The cost was astronomical (particularly before the statutory 15 hours free childcare kicked in). And there was always the threat of a £10 fine for being late. (In truth,  the thought of having to grovel to the stern nursery manager made me more anxious than the fine).

But again, I’ve been fortunate – I work for an employer that supports flexible working and the nature of my job allows me to work from home once a week.  I can usually take time off in the school holidays (splitting holidays with my son’s dad).

But I don’t think all employers are as family-friendly or flexible as mine and that’s something that really needs to change in order to help all parents juggle work and family life. I’m sure most of us would like our wages to go towards our families rather than childcare costs.

I’d love to hear your experience and thoughts on this. How do you juggle childcare and work? Have childcare issues prevented you from working or caused you difficulty when in work? Please comment below or send me a message…

 

Awesome kids’ bedding – March 2017

There’s nothing better than seeing your little one cosied up in their fave duvet. But with kids’ tastes changing so quickly – who wants to spend a fortune on kids bedding? Here’s my top picks for cute but affordable kids’ bed linen. 

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1.
Graffiti World bedding Range, George. Single Duvet, £8. (was £12).
Matching items available, prices vary.

I love this graffiti-inspired set from George at Asda. Perfect if you don’t want to opt for the latest Marvel hero. Matching items include: fitted sheet, rug, fleece, cushions, curtains, lighting, funky signs and wall stickers.

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Credit/Source: George

2. 
Magical Unicorn Single Duvet Cover and Pillowcase Set, Tesco Direct, £14.90
Matching items available, prices vary.

With rainbows, fairies, flowers and unicorns, this kid’s bedding set – available from Tesco Direct – is truly majestic. The reverse-side features a pretty repeated rainbow design. You can also track down a matching quilted throw, but it’s a little pricier at £25.

unicorn-bedding
Credit/Source: Tesco Direct

3.
Paw Patrol Rescue Toddler Bedding Set, Argos, £8.99 (save 1/3)

My little one is eight, so I missed the whole Paw Patrol thing but this bedding set for Argos looks perfect for any fan of those mighty mutts.

paw patrol.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credit/Source: Argos

4. 
Trolls bedding Set – Single, Argos £14.99

I love the vibrant colours of this Trolls duvet and pillow set. It’s sure to have your little girl dance, dance, dancing (with joy)!

trolls.jpg

Credit/Source: Argos