Food for thought...
Summer holiday survival
You’ve managed to sort out the childcare headache for the summer holidays, congratulations this in itself is no mean feat. Here’s to enjoying six weeks of carefree days, sun, sea and… screaming kids.
I remember it well the anticipation of sharing precious time with my 2 girls and yet there were some days when I couldn’t wait for school to be back. Does this make me a bad mum? No, it makes me human!
I was fortunate enough to raise the girls before social media took over our lives; before everyone posted what a fantastic time they were having together, pictures of what they were eating, where they were staying - what we need to remember that it is just a snapshot, one moment in a 24 hour period that might not actually be anything like the photo posted on instagram would have you believe.
Often as parents, and as individuals, we feel that we are not good enough, that we are bad parents/people and that everyone else has got is sussed. Truth is, you’re not and they haven’t! There is no real rule book on how to be a good parent, we’re all just winging it. Some days are better than others, but we are all just trying to be the best parent we can be today.
If you’re struggling how to entertain the kids for the remaining few weeks why not give some of these a go, they don’t have to cost a lot of money, so what’s not to like?
1. Turn off from social media
Challenge the family (this includes the adults) to have a morning/afternoon/day free from social media/internet. We as parents need to set an example, all too often we miss what is going on around us and not live in the moment because we’re so wrapped up in seeing what everyone else is up to. We miss seeing, exploring and experiencing life as it happens. We don’t need to take 20 photos or videos and post them to prove we’re having a good time, we can just live it!
2. Board... games
The sun has gone into hiding, now what? Why not search through all the board games, packs of cards, lego, puzzles, colouring books and pens. Each one of you choose a game and spend the day getting lost in the competition, closeness, rules of turn taking, laughing together as a family. I often used this opportunity to realise which games the girls had grown out of, or maybe giving them an opportunity to simply play again, as all to often they want to be racing ahead onto the next stage. (No console/phone in sight)
3. Making dens
Using a bed sheet/duvet cover, blankets and pillows, not forgetting a bucket full of pegs, why not make a den together? We’d peg the sheets to a couple of chairs, or use the sofa cushions to hold the sheet in place and make a tent. This often ended up sparking their imaginations; we became pirates and used cushion on the floor as stepping stones to get from one side of the room to the other without being eaten by crocodiles! As a reward we’d have a picnic in our den - usually some fruit chopped up and a glass of squash.
4. Movie memories
Movie/duvet days are also great fun. Snuggle up under the duvet together and watch a movie. The kids will love the fact that you’re there with them, these are the precious memories that will be remembered. The chores can wait, and it’s far cheaper than going to the cinema.
5. Fresh air
Take the kids out, even if it’s raining! This doesn’t mean paying a fortune. Walk around the area where you live, go to the beach/woods/park. Kick a ball around together, jump in puddles. Get them to pick up twigs, leaves, feathers and then when you get home use these treasures to make a picture of your outing. You don’t need glitter and paint, nature has provided you with all you need, that and some encouragement and imagination.
6. Unleash the artist
When the sun does come back out, there’s always chalk drawings on pavements (the rain will soon wash them away again) or using an old paintbrush and some water, ‘paint’ a picture onto the path before the sun dries it up.
7. And... bake!
Bake with the kids. It doesn’t have to feature on the Great British Bake-off or Masterchef, but the skills, time and concentration needed to weigh, measure, mix, stir, laugh, get covered in flour - obviously optional - along with the fun, laughs and connection with each other will be remembered for a long time.
It’s ok for your children to be bored, you’re not there to entertain them all day, every day. When children become bored, and with a little bit of direction they begin to use their imaginations, to create, explore and discover - all of which are precious life skills.
I’m not Mary Poppins, nor do I profess to be the best mum around, or know all the answers. However, I do remember some of the cheap, easy and fun things we did together. It’s about quality time together and reminding yourself you’re doing an ok job and that you are good enough.
If you have any other tips, why not share them below in the comments.
Recently I wrote this article for The Counsellor's Café. Click on the link below to have a read.
Well that year zoomed by!
After the anticipation and chaos of the festive season, the excitement of having our two beautiful daughters home with us for Christmas and welcoming in the new year, I'm now sat with a cup of coffee reflecting on the events of the past year. Christmas for me, always heightens the awareness of those we have loved and lost, whether this is through bereavement or lost relationships.
As Christmas cards dropped onto the mat, taking into consideration the cost of buying and sending cards, I realise that friendships that once dominated my life and felt so important have ebbed away as life changes and choices are made. It has taken me a number of years to realise that some people are only meant to be in our lives for a short period of time, they can enhance it or help us to learn from the relationship, whether positively or otherwise. I used to believe that having lots of friends was what I needed, that it somehow validated me and I was liked. I now realise that it is not the number of friends that is important, it is knowing which ones are there for you during the difficult times as well as the good, no judgement, just genuine friendship . Quality over quantity.
As many people start the new year vowing to make and keep New Years resolutions, I have decided that this year I am not going to do this as such. Having discussed it with my youngest daughter; instead of me committing to losing weight, drinking less, going to the gym weekly etc, I will make a promise to myself - we talked about learning to say yes and no. Learning to accept and love who we are, the good and the not so good bits. Being empowered to say yes to the things we want to do without fear of upsetting other people, yes to new adventures and yes to putting ourselves first. With that comes the ability to say no for the exact same reasons; to learn and value ourselves, we are the only person who can really make the right decisions for ourselves. We cannot decide how other people perceive, accept or don't accept our decisions, that is down to them and something that they need to work through for themselves. We all have a choice and with those choices come consequences. We need to learn to have strength and belief in our abilities. Those who truly want the best for us will (hopefully and eventually) realise that we do have the ability to make the right choices for ourselves (it's ok that these may differ from what they think or believe), and even if these choices don't work out as we hoped, planned or anticipated the journey of gaining knowledge, courage, strength and belief in ourselves is invaluable. You'll always end up where you need to be.
Happy New Year to you; and a message to our two daughters ‘Remember you are braver than you believe, Stronger than you seem, Smarter than you think and Loved more than you’ll ever know.’
I recognise and acknowledge that empty nest is not just a phenomenon experienced by parents whose child is leaving and moving to university.
After the warmth of the summer holidays, receiving exam results and finalising choices for the future, September brings with it new beginnings and transitions.
Over the next few weeks there will be countless streams of cars crammed full of bedding, crockery, pots and pans and other items from home, taking to the roads and transporting their children and possessions either back to, or to university for the first time. If you're really lucky and have left behind the extra items that might come in handy, there's just enough room for your child and yourselves to be shoehorned in too! Excitement, trepidation, anxiety are crammed in the car too, both for the young adult embarking on their new journey, and parents alike, a vehicle full of mixed emotions.
Having safely left your child in their accommodation, and usually wiping away a few (or a lot of) tears the journey back home begins. What now? Who am I? What should I do? I'll miss them... These and so many more questions and emotions fill the spaces where the bedding, pots and pans sat.
After we'd dropped off both our daughters at uni all these questions bombarded us, I realised that this was what they meant by empty nest. The girls are now in years 2 and 3 of uni, but this hits me each year, who am I now that both the girls have moved on to their next adventure in life? Up until now I knew I was mum; dependable, always there, teaching/nagging, supporting and loving both the girls unconditionally. This has not changed, however as time has moved on I realise that our relationships with one another has. They are now independent (most of the time - we still get the odd text asking how to defrost or cook an item, or is it ok to wash/tumble dry a specific item of clothing) they make their own choices and decisions - as it should be. Both have partners who are their go-to person and that is fantastic, however as a mum it has taken me a while (and I still am) adjusting to the change in our relationship, especially if they are going through a difficult time and all you can do is be there for them, no longer being able to just make it all better. It'll never be how it was, it is different, still positive, beautiful, the best job in the world, just different.
I tried to find and read numerous articles so I felt less alone in this new role and how I was feeling. Some were helpful, some not so, some even seemed to ridicule how I was feeling - there were undertones of 'pull yourself together' - or perhaps that was just my sensitivities. Now that I am getting used to how things are I found that working through some of these 'tips' can be helpful, they might help you too:
Keep in touch - Even though your child has moved away you can still keep in contact via phone calls, emails, texts or video chats. However, they are trying to build new friendships and support networks so they need time and space too! Arrange to visit - and be prepared that this usually entails filling the fridge and taking them out for something decent to eat, but nevertheless it's still quality time!
Talk to someone - If you're finding it difficult adjusting to having an empty nest talk to loved ones, your partner will possibly be experiencing something similar (whether their emotions and feelings are the same or different - just as we are all individuals we all experience things differently, neither is right or wrong) or friends in a similar situation - they'll understand. Share how you are feeling, it's normal to feel sad, lonely and lost (or excited and happy), whatever you're feeling is ok. If you start to experience a low mood or feel depressed, consult your GP or seek counselling.
It's ok to feel positive - You now no longer have a young adult asking for your undivided attention at all hours of the day and night. Using the extra time and energy you now might have, you could invest it in some personal interests or hobbies you have had on the back burner, or focus on getting to know who you are now. Some individuals nurture their relationship with their partner, that might have been put on hold, and explore the delights of being together and 'child-free'. Whatever you choose to do might help you adapt to this major life change.
Give yourself time - Most importantly, give yourself time to adjust and accept this new phase in your own and your child's lives; acceptance to be with the ‘not knowing’, accepting and trusting this new process and truly learning to let go. There will be a mix of emotions. Focus on what you can do to help your child succeed they do leave home. Feel proud that you have enabled this young adult to grow and mature into an independent person.
"How do I find a counsellor?" This is a question I am often asked. How do we as counsellors enable our clients to find out about us and what we offer?
There have been numerous occasions when I have been asked how to find a counsellor. I guess as it's my field of expertise it's only natural that people feel able to ask. However, I and others in a similar position assume that everyone knows how to find someone. I'm wrong.
Just because we in the profession have heard of the BACP, NCS, 'Counselling Directory', 'It's good to talk' website and countless other sites that we easily call to mind, doesn't mean that everyone else has, especially individuals who may be at crisis point; however these sites can often be a good place for them to start.
Deciding that you think you might need to see a counsellor, telling someone you need help or admitting that you are currently struggling is a huge step for many people. There is still, despite the improved image, increased publicity and Royal support, a stigma associated with mental health. There is confusion between the terms counsellor, therapist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist and other titles that even those of us within the profession can struggle to separate or understand the different roles, training criteria and specifics offered. Throw into the mix the different modalities and wow, it can feel like we're wading through treacle, so imagine how prospective clients must feel?!
How do we enable vulnerable individuals to find a counsellor and help them make that choice? There is no easy, clear answer.
Whilst some of the issues stated above need addressing by the umbrella of mental health and possibly our professional bodies, we as individual counsellors can ensure our adverts (these can include leaflets, which can often be overlooked due to the easy use of the internet) and websites are understandable, user friendly and as far as possible jargon free. Before I undertook my counselling training I had no idea about Person Centred Theory, Gestalt, Jungian Theory, CBT, core conditions etc, etc. Clients who feel vulnerable need to know you are there for them. Not to offer a quick fix, but someone who will support them during difficulties in their lives, understand and empower them. We need to be transparent and provide links to further information and other agencies who could be better placed to support the individual at that time.
As someone who works in private practice my initial thoughts were, “I can work with anyone.” There was also an element of ,"I need to work with anyone and everyone!" Whilst I acknowledge that, “yes I can” I have come to the realisation that although I can work with most individuals and their issues, I might not be the best person for the individual. I cannot be all things for all clients. I have my areas of expertise (although I am not the expert; I believe the client is the best expert of themselves) and realise that by acknowledging this, and as a consequence promoting myself in my own niche, will help the client in crisis identify which counsellor can support them best at this time.
My SEO (search engine optimiser) reflects these key phrases, I provide links from my website to the BACP and other directories where I promote my services, this enables the client to make an informed decision as to whether I am the right counsellor for them at this time. I also provide external links within my blogs for further reading or alternative agencies that could provide the support being sought. Ultimately it is the clients choice.
Going back to my initial title, if I am ever asked “How do I find a counsellor?” I signpost individuals to the counselling directory or specific counselling organisations that specialise in the issue that requires support. I also suggest asking friends and family for recommendations, word of mouth promotion is possibly one of the most powerful forms of recognition for any individual counsellor. Networking with other counsellors, letting them know your speciality enables them to promote you and what you're good at, if we all did just a little bit of this perhaps accessing counselling for our clients wouldn't be such a mine field as it can currently appear to be.
Miscarriage, unfortunately still remains something of a taboo subject. Women who have suffered a loss of pregnancy can feel embarrassed and isolated. The aim of this blog is to help get information out relating to the feelings associated with losing a baby, and provide a go to place for individuals, and their families and friends who want to sensitively support them at this time.
Losing a baby due to early miscarriage is devastating. It is not just the physical loss, but the loss of hopes and dreams for the future. Everyone’s experience of pregnancy loss is unique. It is normal to feel a vast range of emotions, and there is no right or wrong way to express your grief and loss, these will vary and be dependent on your own circumstances. Your way may also be different from how your partner expresses their loss. They may be trying to protect your feelings and emotions by not sharing their own feelings, neither is right or wrong.
Some people find it very difficult to know what to say, especially if your miscarriage is early in pregnancy. This can add to your feelings of loneliness or isolation. Others may end up saying the wrong things, even though they were well meaning. Some may be fearful that they might upset you so choose to say nothing. Whichever way people speak with you, these responses can be hurtful; some people just don't understand what your loss means to you and your partner. The Miscarriage Association have launched a campaign ‘Simply Say’ highlighting what might be helpful to #say/#dontsay. Their message is; ultimately each individual is different, listen to them and be guided by what they are needing.
Often individuals find talking about their loss can help. They may find that people can be supportive and understanding. Some may share their own experiences helping reduce the feelings of being alone. There are support groups available, however this is not for everyone, and some women and/or their partners find talking with a counsellor as a couple or on a one-to-one basis can be helpful. I can be that person for you to talk to, why not click on the link below and get in touch.
The Miscarriage Association offers a range of online support. www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk.
Choosing a counsellor can often feel like a daunting task. Once the decision has been made that the time has come to talk with someone it can often feel overwhelming choosing, where to begin?
In simplistic terms it could be compared to reading a book. I personally have to be in the right place (frame of mind) to read a book. I am sometimes envious of individuals who are able to constantly read something, and even have one or two books on the go simultaneously- now that just blows my mind!
Choosing what to read is making an informed decision and choice, as is choosing a counsellor. Some individuals go by recommendations from their friends or family, whilst others pro-actively search. Google can be a good place to start, as can counselling directories and websites that have all the counsellors within a search distance pop up... This can be overwhelming, which one to choose?
As with choosing a book, we can be drawn in by the front cover or font, whilst the old adage is don't judge a book by it's cover, there is a lot that can be said for going on gut instinct, we are often drawn to something we see for a reason - we just need to be mindful of what or why this has awakened our senses. Next, we tend to read the blurb on the back of the book, if it grabs us and we understand what is written, we take the next step... Once again, the same can be said about choosing the right counsellor for you. What draws you to their picture? Do you connect with the text they have written? Do you understand it (there is no shame in not understanding it, as there are some who blind us with the big words, phrases and terminology; and miss the point that many individuals seeking a counsellor just want someone to listen and support them.)
Finally, we might dip into the book and read a couple of pages. The majority of counsellors offer an introductory session (some are free, some are at a reduced cost, whilst others charge for a full session), the choice is yours. The introductory session allows both of you the opportunity to see if counselling is right for you, but more importantly can you connect with this specific counsellor. We don't always continue to read the book we've chosen, the same is true of counselling, it has to be right for you at this moment in time, and this is ok.
Whilst this insight might seem simplistic to some, for others it can help to realise that choosing the right counsellor for you may take time and a couple of goes, but once you find the right one you are one step closer to finding the best you too.
Good luck with your counselling journey, if you wish to contact me, please do using the link below. It might be the best choice you've made.
Exam time is speeding its way towards many of our young adults, whether it's in the form of GCSE's, AS or A levels.
The rise in anxiety levels and stress is marked, not only for those studying, but for parents and other family members too. With mental health being widely spoken about, we are slowly becoming aware of how it can impact on our youngsters. Many of the young adults I see feel anxious, pressurised, invisible and scared about this time.
As parents we want the best for our children; however at times we need to recognise that sometimes we don't know what is best for them. Yet they do. For example, they may have said they want to be a Dr and have said this for many years, but there are some individuals who know this is what their parents either want them or expect them to be, (they may have picked up on the wishes and desires of the family), when actually they have ambitions and dreams to be something completely different.
They fear telling the parents, they fear rejection, that they have let them down by not wanting to become the Dr, they also feel that they will no longer be loveable or hold any value within the family, that they have failed.
Young people today know how much work they need to do, they know the impact of this - whether they do it or not, and the majority also know how to manage their work loads. Some just choose not too. Many feel suffocated by the constant checking up, lack of free time and pressure to always be studying. They are aware of the consequences (they receive these messages from school), and there comes a times when, as young adults they need to have the freedom to make these choices and live by the results. To feel trusted to make their own decisions and choices.
We cannot live their lives for them, and they need to be supported to make these, whether we approve of them or not. One of the roles of a parent is to prepare our children to become independent, functioning adults who are able to make choices and live by the consequences.
Some of the young people I work with tell me they feel they will let their parents down if they don't get the results their parents and schools are expecting them to achieve, that everything hinges on the envelope they open in August. Wow, so much pressure, whether this is actual or perceived, it is real for the individual.
So what can we do to help? Your young person wants and needs your love, support and encouragement, they need to know that you trust them to make the right choices, and believe that they are achieving to the best of their ability. There are, of course, some young people who do need to be reminded and given 'extra' encouragement to keep on task, remember the saying you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink - how frustrating and time consuming!
Every child is unique
Not every child is able to achieve an A*, there are many who need to feel valued achieving their best grade, that as long as they are able to put their hand on their heart and say they did the best they could, what more can anyone ask of them (or any of us - the majority of us try to achieve the best we can at the time, in the circumstances we find ourselves in, so why should it be any different for our children?)
If in August the results are not what were wanted, needed or expected, then the young person has still learned a valuable lesson, they have ownership of their results and future; (there should be no place for blame, recriminations or "I told you so.") Life doesn't end here, there are always different options available.
I am a counsellor who wants to empower individuals to be the best version of themselves.