I deserve to stand in this space. A playground story.

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In the playground, I say hello and smile but I confess these days I avoid the loitering group by the school gates and the coffee morning chats.

I have a sphere of lifelong friends, those I can and would call on in the darkest of hours, both metaphorically and literally and I feel secure with them. Some live hundreds of miles away, others just a couple of roads.

Friendships, when we are children, are often fluid. Judgement rarely exists and resentment over playground spats are short lived.  However, even as grown ups we can confuse friendship with a desire to belong, to be liked, and for those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves, the stakes can be high.

More than once I have found myself emotionally winded by curve balls of disloyalty.

The result of being bitten by the playground, is that you become twice shy.

Last year, I began to retreat more and more, to sit on a wall at the back of the playground at pick up. Busying myself with my phone, reading phantom emails and searching, with fierce concentration for the non-existant anything in my bag.

I didn’t mean to be rude to the mums who hadn’t been unkind, when I walked out of the school gate, a quick smile and a hello but my beating heart would see me bustling straight to the safety of my car, as soon as I had small hands clamped in mine.

I had isolated myself in order to protect myself. However, the more I withdrew, the worse I felt. No man is an island but she can become an awkward mum.

It was a dear friend who finally lifted the rock under which I had crawled and demanded I came out and stood in the light of day.

My friend is older and a lot wiser than me. She said “Rose, you need to go into that playground your head held high. I want you to remember you deserve to stand there. I want you, at pick up, to find another mum, standing on her own and tell her, she looks nice.”

…and because I trust her, I did.

I made eye contact with a new mum and told her I liked her coat and just like that…the spell was broken.

In truth, I still don’t involve myself in gossip and avoid those who take pleasure in lifting the lid on other people’s confidences but I’m no longer afraid of these women. I’ll find the ones with a warm smile and pass the time day. I’ll ignore the sideways glances and silently repeat the following affirmation “I am a good person, I am a kind person, I deserve to stand in this space.”

I stood up from the wall.

Be a shepherd…

 

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The advent of nativity season is also that of tea-towel donning. I am constantly reminded, thanks to all the tea towel donning, of the words my father used to drum into me as a child,

“Be a shepherd, not a sheep.”

He wasn’t referring to the bun fights over costumes in Year One. No.

A true eccentric, my father has always been, slightly off-kilter shall we say.

I can still distinctly remember his dalliance with going everywhere barefoot, including shopping…painful for the average 14-year-old. Even now, in his sixties, my father sports a rather spiffing set of curled whiskers and wears a cravat and tasselled loafers.

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I have inherited a fair few of my father’s traits, not least his occasionally flamboyant dress sense. However, for much of my teens and twenties, I fought against this inevitable expression of my genes and allowed self-doubt to shoehorn me into social norms that for me, felt far from normal.

It wasn’t until I had my own children that I began to understand the importance of those words.

To be a shepherd, is to be true to you.

Anything else, in my father’s eyes, is to devalue yourself and the result will leave you feeling empty and worse still fragile. I spent many years feeling fragile.

I would like my three children to grow up valuing themselves. To understand that their quirks and differences are undoubtedly some of their greatest assets.

“Bang your own drum!” I chant, “Embrace your quirks!” I sing.

Very likely, these words are still falling on deaf ears. I have an eight year old painfully pre-occupied with ‘fitting in’ but at this moment in her little life, conforming makes her feel good…and that’s OK too.

You see, there is nothing wrong with being the same as everyone else either. Conform if it makes you happy, conform if it makes you feel secure. However, don’t conform if doing so leaves you waking in the middle of the night with a sinking feeling, because you have moved so far away from yourself, you can no longer feel the sparks of ‘living’ dance inside you.

I have been on a long journey of self-discovery. It has taken until now for me to understand how very right my father was.

In order to find contentment, you need to allow the voice that wants you to walk barefoot or wear rainbow colours in your hair, to be heard.

Note to self: Put your tea-towel on my lovely, wear it with tassels and be a happy shepherd.

It was all just a big mistake…

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It was the tow bar.

My heart rate soars, my palms are sticky, cheeks burning and I feel sick to the stomach. I have just dented the car behind’s number plate with my tow-bar…the owner is pretty nonplussed but I know that this error is going to stay with me for some time.

My body reacts with the same ferocity, whether the mistake is big or small. The email you wish you could retrieve, not passing a test, saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment, forgetting a birthday…they all elicit the same physiological response.

That mistake can stay with me for days, haunt my sleep, seep into all my thoughts and tarnish even the happiest moments. If you recognise these feelings than you will also know the self-critical, mocking, internal dialogue that results, encourages us to brush the mistake under the carpet and never see or speak of it again.

In truth, my response to making a mistake is tightly entwined with my fear of failing but is failing such a bad thing? In fact, can making mistakes be the key to us evolving, emotionally and physically?

If we work or socialize in environments that penalise or degrade us for making mistakes then we are never given the opportunity to learn and move forward, as a society, industry, culturally or at a personal level.

Matthew Sayed has written a brilliant book called ‘Black Box thinking’ where he extolls the merit of industries such as aviation, that actively encourage reflection, retrospective analysis of the black box and cultivate a safe and secure environment where individuals can talk about their mistakes.

According to Sayed, “Nobody wants to fail. But in highly complex organizations, success can happen only when we confront our mistakes, learn from our own version of a black box, and create a climate where it’s safe to fail.”

I would argue that ‘highly complex organizations’ could also easily refer to our family and social relationships. Boy oh boy can they be complex.

As part of my study, I have had to undergo a lot of reflective practice. This is the brutal task of looking at one’s own actions and interactions in the very stark light of day. When I first started this process, I found it painful. Having to study your own values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours close up can leave you feeling hugely exposed. However, it has also helped me develop a deeper level of self-awareness and I hope, emotional intelligence.

Sophie of @wifemotherlife and I were chatting about making mistakes over Instagram. Sophie had a beautiful turn of phrase when recounting a conversation with her daughter’s teacher, “I remember saying to my daughter’s teacher, when she was little, that because of her anxiety over getting things perfect, we needed to focus more on helping her learn how to fail gracefully. That it be a learning experience and not something to be feared.”

What a wonderful way to think about our own mistakes. That we might perhaps allow ourselves to fail without retribution, instead, recognizing it as an opportunity to learn.

How does this all relate to the number plate saga? Well, the first step is to take control of my anxiety by recognising it for what it is, a learnt response and then acknowledge that it is out of proportion.

The second step, remembering the tow bar.

May we all go into 2018 failing with grace.

The Comparison Trap

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It started with the barrel curlers.

A few months ago, I discovered a well-known and beautiful Instagram mum with a huge following.

‘Watch my morning routine,’ her latest post stated.

I swiped up.

I found myself immersed in a calm and well-oiled morning routine. No-one was yelling ‘Put your shoes on!’ No-one left the house blatantly having fibbed about brushing their teeth or forgetting P.E. bags. Playing out before me was the holy grail of school runs.

During the morning routine, the said beautiful mum, woke before the children to apply her make-up and barrel curl her hair, which then fell around her shoulders in beautiful waves.

I subconsciously put my hand to my unmanageable mane and decided in that moment that the answer to all my morning routine woes, lay with those barrel curlers.

I was set on buying a pair. If I had those curlers my hair too would fall in soft tousled perfection around my shoulders and I too would leave the house with well-coffered children in tow. A calm and serene mother.

Feverish with the promise of the perfect morning routine, I raced out that day and bought a set. The next morning I woke early, excited to tease my hair into perfect motherhood.

Oh, how the Insta-Gods laughed. Soft tousled curls, no, no. I was delivered an even spikier, sticking out, wild mane. I looked more cave girl than glamour mum.

Cursing the 20 mins of my life I would never get back, I admitted defeat, unplugged the curlers and went to remind my children for the 74th billionth time to brush their teeth.

I had blindly led myself into the comparison trap.

Easily done, the glittery perfect bait is thrown in front of us on a daily basis.

The perfectly portrayed and highly curated lives of others that tempt us to question our own. Throwing a spotlight upon our own insecurities and leaving us making useless and ill-judged comparisons.

Sometimes the comparisons are beyond ridiculous but we still find ourselves making them.

I have a friend, who like me (until recently) is a Marketing Consultant. We have remarkably similar tastes in everything, from clothes and interiors, to food. However, this friend is a good 8 inches taller than me. Thus, standing next to her at a tiny 5ft 2, the following negative self-talk frequently runs through my consciousness.

“She is so sophisticated. Look how elegant and graceful she is. You look like a 12-year-old next to her Rosie. You probably sound like a 12-year-old too. I bet she is better at her role than you are because she is so sophisticated, I bet she is better respected…..blah blah blah…..”

Just typing that I want to give myself a good shake. Although that is exactly what happens. How ridiculous in retrospect. Why on earth would I take what is genetically impossible to do anything about and project my own insecurities onto it?

Because I fall foul of the comparison trap.

After barrel gate, I began to give the nature of comparisons more thought. What if we turn each negative comparative thought on its head?

What if my beautifully tall marketing friend actually thinks the exact opposite when we are stood together? “I always feel so lanky and awkward next to Rosie. Rosie never worries about looking creative….I bet she is more creative in her role than me, I’m not creative enough….blah blah blah….”

Flip the mirror and we see a totally different picture.

You see that’s the thing about comparisons. They are all based on smoke and mirrors, on what we perceive to be the truth. Even that information we pass through a series of internal ‘filters’ until we have twisted it into a form that feeds our negative self-talk.

We need to be aware of our own filters. Are we seeing and hearing those around us clearly and without bias or are we taking their words and moulding them into the shape of a large stick with which to beat ourselves with? Allowing ourselves, to all too easily slip down the synaptic slope into self-loathing.

Next time I catch myself comparing. I aim to stop and remind myself that almost all we see is an edited illusion. In order to uncover the magic… we need to hold up a mirror to it.

It’s the most ‘socially anxious’ time of year…Ding Dong…

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‘Ping’ goes What’s App. Your Facebook notification page is filling up with event invites left, right and center. There is the talk of sequin dresses and party eyelashes in the playground. It can only mean one thing…

Christmas party season is upon us.

For the socially anxious of us, this time of year is a minefield. Over-thinking, over-analysis and social paralysis will be going off all over the place.

Oh, I talk a good talk but throw me into a party room and I am a fish out of water.

Firstly, because I am a crap drinker. Too much of an emotional lubricant for me to be any good at it.  Two is my limit at any event. Any more and you will find me weeping in the corner over a ladder in my tights or chasing my poor suffering husband to pick a fight over why he can never remember bin night….blah blah blah….which is pretty much all my husband hears.

However, being the sober one in the room at a Christmas party doesn’t do much to make you feel less awkward.

In fact, it means you are still stifling polite when ruddy-cheeked Martin from accounts makes his way over to you, brandishing a forlorn looking sprig of mistletoe. ‘Um no thank you, Martin…’.  However were you more emotionally lubricated, you could probably find two far more effective words to use on Martin.

Having your inhibitions still firmly in place, thanks to sobriety, you also often find yourself stuck in the corner counseling poor Marie, who has recently had her heartbroken, whilst everyone else is doing the Conga. Worse still, talking to Fred, who doesn’t have anyone to talk to and that makes your heart hurt. So you stay talking to Fred, although it is readily apparent that Fred is yet to discover the joys of a shower and this might be why he was on his own in the corner.

At these events, I find myself generally getting quieter and quieter…willing the babysitter to call with a non-emergency that would allow me to legitimately sneak off and back to the comfort of my dressing gown and bed.

In my teenage years, I always felt awkward and gawky at parties. I tried. I downed shots and whoop whooped with the rest of them but there was always this older than her year’s voice in my head mocking me…’Looking a bit of a tit here Rose.’

Let’s not forget the middle of the night post party anxiety either. The what did I say to whom? Did they think I was tedious? Did I really say that? Should never have said that! Negative self-talk that has you waking up in a cold sweat and spending the next day with your head in a biscuit barrel. I am very good at that too.

So what can the socially anxious of us do to deal with these worries and woes. How can we better cope? Well I know what I will be doing.

I will be politely declining.

I have spent decades putting myself through social situations that I just don’t enjoy. Why? Because I wanted to fit in, to be liked, to not be ‘anti-social’.

I have learnt though, that saying ‘no thank you’ to the invites that make you feel uncomfortable, ISN’T being anti social. It is being kind, to yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be hiding behind four walls all Christmas. There are plenty of seasonal events I will love attending.

My idea of a Christmas party is meeting friends on a wintery afternoon. Enjoying a glass of wine and making a Christmas wreath….that people, is my idea of fun.

It may not be yours but that’s OK too. Let’s not get all judgy here. Everyone likes a different flavoured slice of the party pie.

Luckily I have people in my life who also like the quieter slice of pie and I am off Christmas wreath-making next weekend.

Better get my party jumper on.

It’s fine, it’s fine, No problem at all…

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I was a pleaser as a child. Always wanting to do my best, never put a foot wrong. Which is all well and good when it comes to school awards day and aspiring to be Head Girl but in adult life, being a pleaser roughly translates as ‘crap at saying no’.

Perpetuated by perfectionist traits and still that overwhelming desire to be ‘liked’. I can on occasion, find myself silently weeping behind the steering wheel of my car, as I drive from one activity to the next. Knowing I still have the Christmas Fair sweetie cones to make, an essay to finish, the beds haven’t been changed, the dog needs a walk and oh what’s that? My old boss wondering if I wouldn’t mind, just for a moment, looking over this document. Even though I left two months ago and I am NO LONGER PAID!!

‘Sure, no problem, that’s fine’. The words have tripped out of my mouth before you can say nervous breakdown.

So why is it I can’t break the ‘can’t say no’ curse?

I was reflecting on this today. When having woken bone-achingly tired from anemia, a huge amount of study awaiting me, along with all the other ‘to dos’, I found myself volunteering to help with the Christmas Fair prep. Don’t worry I can squeeze it in…it’ll be fine.

Oops, I did it again. Although, when I did it in the playground, I didn’t look as hot as Brittany Spears.

Why is this? Ego? Do I want to be Wonder Woman? I don’t think so…I don’t think I have the energy.

I think, in part, it is my perfectionist streak. I fear showing any weakness. Not being able to ‘cope’.

I am simply terrified of failing.

I am scared of not being good enough. Not getting any of it right. The mum stuff, the work stuff, the friendship stuff. All of it goes back to being a little girl who wanted to please. Because when she pleased everyone, all the turbulent bits of my childhood went away for a little while.

But here I am now, a grown woman whose learned behaviour is still to please everyone.

Don’t say no, because if you say no, the sky might fall in. The silly thing is, if I don’t start learning to say no, that might just happen. Hubby said to me this week ‘A sick Rosie isn’t any good to anyone.’

How do I do it though? How do I unravel decades of head nodding?

Well, the first step I am taking is to buy myself time.

The next ‘Would you mind…’ email or text I receive, I am NOT going to automatically reply with ‘No problem….’

I am going to respond with ‘I’ll have to get back to you on this…’. Not, this afternoon or in a minute. Just I’ll get back to you.

Then I am going to ask myself the following questions:

What are the implications for me and my family if I say yes/no to this?

What are the implications for the other party?

Who else can they ask?

Finally, most importantly….DO I WANT TO DO THIS? If the answer to the last one is no, then I will be replying ‘I’m sorry I can’t help this time but hope you find a solution.’ No caveats, no, (although the temptation is so strong), can I help next week instead…

This isn’t going to be easy, in fact, it’s going to really difficult. I’m set to default head nodding.

But I am going to try, because I’m not fine. I am exhausted and you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Mum Guilt. Why We Should Practice What We Preach.

Mum Guilt

Sat in a local coffee shop, finally enjoying the long overdue catch up with a dear friend. Considering a quick mooch in the new clothes shop that has opened next door.

You have the morning off. Your husband is at work, the children at school. You relish having time to yourself, even if just for an hour or two.

Then there it is. That little eye-rolling judging voice in your head…”Well, you aren’t using this time very productively, are you? There’s that basket of ironing you STILL haven’t tackled, what about dinner hmmm, oh then there is that email you haven’t sent…”

Off you go, down the slippery synaptic slope into MUM GUILT.

We know the feeling well, so accustomed are we to it. It leaves un-drunk cups of tea, unshaved legs and unread books in its wake. The feeling that we must be all things to all people…but ourselves it seems.

Boy, am I guilty of mum guilt and probably have the unshaved legs to prove it.

Why is it though? I am worst than most. A martyr to feeling that I must earn my stripes as a mother. This has been exacerbated by giving up work and my financial independence to return to full-time study.

The feeling that somehow I can’t justify #selfcare.

What’s that about? No other 24 hours a day, 365 days per year job would minimise breaks to a quick wee and eating your lunch with one hand whilst unloading the dishwasher with the other.

I have been intrigued by the trending #selfcaresunday hashtag on Instagram. I mean, it is wonderful to see so many women carving out ‘me time’ but it also feels like we are having to claim it. Justify it, ask permission for it. ‘See we have a hashtag for it, we are allowed’.

We SHOULDN’T feel guilty and pssst here is a secret…we don’t need permission.

Children are vessels into which we willingly pour ourselves but we can only rely on us to replenish our own.

What words of advice would we give our daughters? Would we tell them to be sure they choose that chore over a friendship? Their housework to do list over expanding their minds? Of course not.

We teach our children the importance of kindness from their very earliest years. ‘Kind hands’, ‘kind words’, we hear ourselves say. ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’.

Perhaps as mums, we are forgetting that being kind to ourselves should be on that list too. That we are not failing if our to do lists, on occasion, don’t have our undivided attention. The dishwasher isn’t going anywhere. Run that bath, pop on a face-mask and shave your legs…I know at least one other person who will thank you for the last bit.

Replenish. Nourish you in both the mental and physical sense of the word.

I am talking to myself as much as anyone else here. Yes we will be better mums and wives for it, but more importantly, we will be kind to the women we still are within, when we drop all the titles.

I think we should dump the mum guilt and learn to practice the kindness that we preach.