Crunchy or stingy mama?

Looking at a pile of shiny presents, I have to ask myself – is trying to be a more humble person making me a selfish mum?

When I was expecting our son, I had all these ideas about the kind of mom I’d like to be. It was only several months after our son was born that I stumbled across the term ‘crunchy parenting’. Whilst I don’t pretend to be a die hard crunchy mama, I certainly implement my quota of crunchiness. 

As our son approaches his first birthday, it’s made me pause and reflect. We have deliberately avoided buying him lots of toys. I’m not a fan of overstimulation or overt consumerism. Several of his toys are homemade (often using up-cycled materials) or wooden items made locally within our city.

We’ve now taken it a step further. For his birthday, we’ve asked our friends to not buy him a gift, but to rather bring a new toy that we will then donate to children in need. It is our hope that this will become an annual birthday tradition. As for his grandparents who understandably want to buy him something, we’ve suggested items that he needs (and I really do mean needs.)

It’s all very well when he’s so little and unaware of the idea of his birthday, let alone the traditional trappings that go along with it. But what about when he’s older?

I often joke that when he gets older he’ll start saying things like, “Mom, can’t we just buy one like everyone else?”

How do you straddle fitting in, in a largely  materialistic and image-conscious society, whilst trying to pare down to a more minimalist lifestyle?

I myself find it challenging. I’ll readily admit that I like ‘nice’ things. But I’m making a conscious effort to cut back on ‘things’. After all, at the end of the day it’s experiences – not things – that enrich life. 

And so, yet again, I circle back to the question of how to raise a child with this mindset? I guess, like every other aspect of parenting, we’ll take it (wing it?) one day at a time and do our best… with no expectations. 

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To those men who defy the ‘father’ stereotype

To those men who defy the ‘father’ stereotype

I still believe that I am right. Okay, so granted that as an Aquarian, that is my default position… But I’m sure a lot of you intelligent people out there (yes, you) will agree with me on this one:

A while ago I got into a debate argument with a colleague about the roles of mothers and fathers. I was adamant that men can be as nurturing as women; that being a nurturing parent comes just as naturally to men as it does to women. I was up against the view that nurturing only comes naturally to women (expressed with some man-hating vehemence, I might add). I was – and am still – right. Obviously.

My brother and I are lucky enough to have been raised by two loving parents, both of whom were nurturing. Our dad was a hands-on, involved dad. Nappies, burping, rocking to sleep, etc. He did it all. And my husband is just as involved in the raising and nurturing of our little man.

There is a lot to be said for the way in which fatherhood is now perceived by society in general. Just yesterday I was chatting with a longtime friend about family life and she was relating how the men in her family, be they dads or uncles, play just as an important role in the daily lives of their kids. In fact, a lot of women relate these kinds of stories about their husbands and partners. The idea that fathers are there to provide financial support, discipline, and physical protection to the exclusion of all other aspects of parenting is just ludicrous.

So do I believe in ‘maternal instinct’? Absolutely. In fact, I was quite overwhelmed by the way in which it instantly kicked into gear after the birth of our son. But I also think that dads can have an incredible bond with their kids, and experience an instinctive nurturing and care for their little ones.

In some ways, I think that it’s more about personality than it is about gender. There are lots of women who choose to not have a family, and it’s hardly fair to say that that is ‘unnatural’. If you’re not the maternal type (whatever that is), that’s perfectly acceptable. In the same way, we should accept – and embrace – the idea of nurturing dads who defy those outdated gender stereotypes and shower their kids with love and affection.

So Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there! And let’s not forget those who have lost their dads, dads who have lost their children, and those men who are still yearning to become dads.

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Grilled cheese leads to better relationships

Grilled cheese leads to better relationships

Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich? I dare say that even those of you who are lactose intolerant will be sorely tempted. (Although ‘sorely’ might be an unfortunate choice of adjective in those instances…) In the modern world where technology is impeding, rather than fostering, quality social interaction and meaningful relationships, grilled cheese just may be the answer. Hear me out…

In my previous post I reflected on the modern trend of choosing to be stressed and strung out. Part of this phenomenon, I believe, is choosing to adopt the mindset and subscribe to the idea that there is seldom sufficient time to make headway on ever-lengthening To Do lists. Some of this is due to poor time management, but largely it can be attributed to how we choose to prioritize our time.

When we choose to be ‘too busy’ we are choosing to neglect our relationships. Take, for example, teachers who assume that any social engagements have to wait for the school holidays. Or friends who live in close proximity who seldom see each other. It’s just nonsense. Honestly, where are our priorities?

The solution? Yip, you guessed it: grilled cheese.

Social occasions need not involve extensive planning and preparation. Friends do not expect a table setting worthy of Pinterest accompanied by an equally elaborate menu (unless you’ve set that precedent, in which case you should kick yourself – hard). It’s the time you spend together that is important. Needless to say, I’m referring to quality time, not a case of we’ll-be-in-the-same-room-but-stare-at-our-phones. True friends probably wouldn’t mind in the least if you spontaneously invited them over, even if all you could offer was a grilled cheese sandwich. They’d probably love it, not because they’re dairy obsessed (guilty as charged) but because it’s about friends spending time together.  Which, going back to my earlier point, is a great antidote for all the stress and busy-ness of today’s world.

As soon as you lose the idea that everything has to be planned, has to be an event, you will find the time to invest in your friendships and relationships. Importantly, your life will be more balanced and enriched as a result.

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Are you simply talking yourself into feeling busy and stressed?

Are you simply talking yourself into feeling busy and stressed?

Have you ever realized partway through a TV programme that you have no idea what’s going on because you’ve been distracted by your phone? It happened to me earlier today. This morning the lure of social media apps on my phone meant that I lost track of the British TV game show I was watching (a guilty pleasure that I’ve inherited from my mum). The effect was inconsequential, to say the least.

But what about when technology distracts us from engaging in the important aspects of our lives?

Phones, TVs, computers, tablets: they all provide us with constant sources of distraction. This ubiquitous distraction seems to be an ever-increasing characteristic of modern life. Sure, technology makes life easier, more convenient, and so on. There’s no denying that it has its place.

However, the benefits of technology rapidly wane when we are distracted from being present and mindfully engaging with what should be our priorities in life. And no, I’m not talking about game shows.

Consciously developing and nurturing relationships that, in turn, nurture us is an essential underpinning of happiness. At least, that’s what I believe. Unfortunately, all too often we are too distracted to give our relationships the focus that they warrant. More often than not this can be traced back to the modern lifestyle: not only technology in all its forms, but the all too common habit we have of repeatedly telling everyone (including ourselves) how busy we are. How stressful life is. That we simply don’t have time. That we have too many things to do. And yet, I’m sure we’d be appalled if we realized just how much time we devote to ‘screen time’ on a weekly, or even daily, basis.

This is precious time that is essentially wasted. It’s time that we could – and arguably should – be spending in more mindful pursuits. It’s time that would allow us to be properly present in our interactions with others: our spouses, children, family, friends, and colleagues.

It seems to me that we choose to be distracted, albeit on a subconscious level. I’m not saying that stress is not a real concern, or that we aren’t busy. I just think that we tend to talk ourselves into adopting the mindset of a stressed busybody. No matter how much we have to get done, no matter how much pressure we experience, the truth of the matter is that relationships need to be a priority. Spending time being mindfully present in our interactions with others will enhance our relationships and, ultimately, our happiness and sense of fulfilment.

And isn’t that what life should be about – feeling happy and fulfilled whilst enjoying meaningful connections with others?

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Parenting, anxiety, and smudged nail polish

Parenting, anxiety, and smudged nail polish

It happened. There’s no going back. There are certain moments and events that change your life. Irretrievably.

No matter what happens from now on, I have been forever changed.

Exactly five weeks ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. We’re parents. To be honest, it’s still a surreal experience for me. I still catch myself staring at my son in a state of disbelief. In a good way. A great way.

They say that nothing can prepare you for parenthood. And yet, we still attend antenatal classes, download the apps, follow the blogs, etc. Does it prepare you? I think that selecting the correct classes etc for you can help to prepare you to a certain extent.

The thing that best prepared me for being a mommy? My journey through depression.

And no, I’m not talking about postnatal depression here: on the contrary, I have found the first five weeks of motherhood to be incredibly fulfilling.

So just how on earth did the most trying and devastatingly dark periods of my life prepare me for the most overwhelmingly poignant experience?

Ironically, my journey through depression (“through” implying that you can in fact reach the surface and gasp the fresh air) has taught me many invaluable lessons. Not only have I gained insight into my own psyche, for want of a better word, but I have also come to understand what kind of life I want to lead, and the best mindset and approach to realise this.

The goal-oriented, perfectionist, compulsive nature of my anxiety just doesn’t wash with the daily reality of being a mom. I sat down last week to write a blog post. I got as far as switching on my laptop. That’s it; no further. There is nothing perfect about parenthood. Nothing. I decorated the nursery exactly as I had imagined: a perfect replica of my vision. Two days ago I found myself moving furniture into the centre of the room so that I could wash off projectile pee from a large section of wall and nearby furniture. As for being compulsive, it’s simply not an option. Especially when you have a newborn who has a finely tuned sixth sense that wakens him as soon you step into the shower, pour a cup of tea, or apply a fresh coat of nail polish.

My resultant level of anxiety? Nada. Why?

Before becoming a parent I decided that I would try to be as mindful as possible. I decided that I would not set goals. That I would not entertain ideas about being a supermom. That I would adapt my days to my child’s routine to the best of my ability. That I would not read a single pregnancy or parenting magazine. That I would take each day as it came. That I would trust Mother Nature to give me sufficient maternal instinct to ‘wing it’ for the most part.

So far, I’m managing. Of course, it’s only been five weeks. I might be singing a very different tune next week. Or at three o’clock tomorrow morning. Regardless, my point is that depression and anxiety have provided me with countless opportunities for growth. Sure, I did not grasp all those opportunities. But I did take advantage of some.

It is this ongoing process of reflection and growth that I hope will stand me in good stead in this new stage of my life – smudged nail polish, tepid cups of tea, and all.

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Insomnia-fuelled cringe-worthy craziness meets ‘Sound of Music’

Insomnia-fuelled cringe-worthy craziness meets ‘Sound of Music’

Last night was one of those  nights. You know the kind – when a rooster in the suburbs, Maria from The Sound of Music, feelings of impending anxiety, and silly rhyming couplets somehow make a sensible combination. That kind of night.

Unrelenting heat and a thirty-two week cumbersome pregnant belly is not a combination that lends itself to a good night’s sleep. I do not cope well with sleep deprivation. At all. On any level. What I find to be most unsettling is that it has the potential to trigger anxiety. Which is all very well when you can take a delightful little pill for anxiety. I can’t right now, for obvious reasons.

Last night I tried meditation. I tried quenching my thirst with a few sips of an isotonic drink. I tried reading. I was still awake when the bloody rooster that someone introduced to our neighbourhood started crowing. At bloody four o’clock in the morning. (I will find that rooster. And I won’t hurt it. I’ll simply introduce it to our cat. Who’s very friendly. And an adept hunter. )

really hope I’m not alone in this, but my thoughts start going in all sorts of crazy directions when sleep evades me in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes I dream up creative projects. Sometimes I start planning home renovations. Sometimes I compose silly little rhymes. Last night was one such occasion.

For full dramatic effect, you need to sing these lyrics to the tune of ‘My Favorite Things’ from A Sound of Music. Because insomnia makes your creativity meet your crazy in a place that you seldom want to revisit come the morning.

I’m feeling anxious but no meds for tension

Going a bit crazy from sleep deprivation

Lots of ‘to do’ lists followed by nothings

These are a few of my frustrating things.

 

When the cock crows, when the pain stings

When I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my frustrating things

Then I really feel quite mad.

Somehow, I don’t think I have a calling to be a songwriter. Or a singer.

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Are you disappearing? I think I want to.

Are you disappearing? I think I want to.

What on earth is this man saying??? Have you ever read something that really made you stop and think? That made you question ‘deeper’ issues? That stayed in your thoughts, lingering for several days? Where the meaning evaded you? That’s exactly what happened to me when I came across this quote on Impromptu Promptlings (the original source can be found here)…

The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability,

how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate

through our intimacy with disappearance. 

David Whyte

The first thing that struck me was the fact that it’s taken for granted that we are all vulnerable. And sure, that rings true when you think about it. We all have our insecurities, our vulnerabilities, and they affect us in different ways. But, as this quote says, we have a choice in how we deal with these feelings. Personally, I feel that in all our interactions – with ourselves and with others – we would do well to remember that everyone is vulnerable in some way. We need to tread carefully, with empathy and sensitivity and loving-kindness, with others and with ourselves. And, I feel, we also have a duty towards ourselves and those around us to learn how to process these unsettling emotions so that they do not damage or even wreck our relationships.

The second thing  that stood out to me – and the word that really made me pause and think – was the notion of ‘disappearance’. Just what exactly does this guy mean? To be honest, I was stumped at first. Maybe I still am! For what it’s worth, this is what I think is going on…

The act of inhabiting your vulnerability implies accepting it without judgement, without fighting against it. In other words: mindfulness. And that is definitely a practise that encourages compassion. I also feel more confident when I am mindful – perhaps this is what the author is referring to when he speaks of courage. As for growing ‘larger’, this definitely seems to tie in with the sense of an extended consciousness and connecting to the energy that surrounds us.

And that, dear readers, is where we disappear. Through the practice of mindfulness, we lose the egocentric and often selfish mindset that seems to pervade our modern individualistic society. The notion of ‘self’ as a separate entity wanes in light of an expanded consciousness. And again, we have a choice regarding how (and if) we embrace this.

At first, it struck me as ironic that focusing less on the self leads to an empowered sense of identity, courage, compassion, and confidence. But then again, you have to have experienced and practised mindfulness in order to truly understand the value of surrendering what you regard as your ‘self’ in order to reach a more actualized state of being.

I choose to embrace this disappearance. Do you?

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