Monday, 31 March 2014

The Kids Are All Right

“The quality of relationships, and not family structure, is what really counts.”
                                                --- Prof Susan Golombok

Many people have asked me whether I worry about my children being bullied or at least teased because they have two mums. My partner worries about this too. Me? Not so much. The evidence is pretty clear-cut on this one, and I am a scientist with very little imagination.

When I teach about non-traditional family forms (nice euphemism, don’t you think?), it’s hard to make it all that interesting. There is a slew of studies comparing children raised by lesbian couples with children raised in traditional mother-father families, and there are practically no differences in parenting or child outcomes

Behind that headline, of course, are all the caveats that go along with non-experimental research. A true experimental design to test whether lesbian parenting is “damaging” to children would involve randomly allocating children to couples, whether they wanted children or not. Among straight couples, there is an element of this for some. Something like a third of children are unplanned. Not unwanted, but somewhat unexpected.

All children of lesbians are planned and (usually) paid for. This is a highly motivated group of parents. Many actively work to compensate for father absence. Most are careful to live in liberal, accepting communities. But when all is said and done, the kids are all right.

What about the mothers? Yep, it's pretty great. Except on Mothers Day. That was yesterday. There is no father to do the heavy lifting. Annoying.

Friday, 28 March 2014

PP Update

As I wrote about on Monday, the weekend was not great. After reading that post, a certain friend of mine who knows me well sent the following text: "...your blog is a good reminder of where I am in my cycle. Still don't believe in PMS?!" I was so ticked off I almost texted back a lie about where I was in my cycle. The truth is, I had no idea. I don't really keep track (lesbian privilege). But I was certain my bumpy weekend could not be due to hormones. 

I was so wrong. Come Tuesday, I was a whole lot less grumpy. Sheesh. 

So, parenting project. Therapy. Still very much enjoying that hour per week all about me. Some friends asked what my therapist thought about this blog. I haven't told her. I don't want her to know she's one small part of a larger project! Is that weird?

Mindfulness. So over it. 

3 good things. I love this so much. Some highlights from the week:
  • Tom wearing my Uggs and commanding us to "Talk to Ali!"
  • New contact lens prescription that has improved reading immensely. (Ignoring that this weaker prescription is a sign of ageing, obviously.)
  • Happiness Project dinner with friends.
  • Harry overcoming shyness and speaking into a microphone at school assembly.
It's a good life once the hormones settle down.

Thursday, 27 March 2014


Oh how I love planning! Over my coffee this morning I did a bit of PP (parenting project) planning and blog planning. (Notes is such an under-rated app). So the monthly Parenting Project plan is now:

March: mental health
April: physical health
May: household organisation
June: finances
July: marriage
August: friends & family

April is fast approaching. My three things are pretty predictable, and underlying it all is a desire for more energy. I'm going to cut sugar out of my diet, exercise every day, and not allow myself my iPhone in bed. The last one is going to be super hard for me! I'm addicted to checking Facebook, blogs, etc., and then listening to a podcast to send me off to sleep. Advice is clear that this isn't a good idea (see pp. 27-29). So I'm going to give it a try.

I thought it would be helpful (for me) to have a bit of a default timetable for the blog too. So I'm going with:

Monday Musings
Tip on Tuesday
Article/Book on Wednesday
Thunder Thursday (bullet list)
Friday's Parenting Project Update

Yes, this pleases me very much.

Finally, several people have asked me if it is ok to share the link to the blog. YES PLEASE! From Facebook you can just hit share, and the address is

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Can a Nomothetic Perspective inform an Idiographic Life?

Yep, using big words today. I've been thinking a lot lately about the tension between academic psychology (what I do), and clinical psychology (actually working with patients/clients). There is little communication between academic and clinical psychology, and I have found this troubling. Why don't clinical psychologists use the academic evidence more? Why don't academic psychologists listen to what really matters from those working in clinical settings?

Academic psychology usually takes a nomothetic approach -- we aim to make generalisable statements about human behaviour. I try and make general statements about family and child well-being based on numerical information from large(ish) numbers of families. Clinicians, on the other hand, take an idiographic approach -- considering the unique experiences of each individual. Clinicians might use similar techniques across their different patients, but the content of the sessions will be unique to each individual.

Academic psychology probably does a better job informing public policy than informing clinical practice. When it comes to parenting, I think the idiographic approach is (thankfully) much more natural for most people. Most parents naturally take into account the unique traits, capabilities, propensities of their child when making decisions. However, I still think that a nomothetic approach has something to offer. When faced with a particular problem, I do think it makes sense to look at the evidence base first. It's like hedging your bets -- it might not work for everyone, but it's a better bet than just winging it.

For a concrete example, we have found that household chaos (homes lacking in routines, that are noisy and chaotic), was at least as important as quality of parenting in predicting children's behaviour problems. This suggests that running a home in a more systematic way might be helpful. It's probably the case, however, that it is really important for some kids, and not at all important for others. Still, it's a place to start.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Book Review

Parenting research is all well and good, but it doesn't actually explain in necessary detail how to be a warm/responsive/supportive parent, and resist the urge to throw the blighters out the nearest window. I stumbled upon Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting a year or two ago while browsing in a bookstore. I bought it because I liked the look of the cover.

I love this book.  It's not rocket science.  It covers things like praise, bedtime routines, eating, planning with your children. But the detail is brilliant. For example, she talks about not saying "That's fantastic!" about your child's latest (pretty crappy) drawing, but instead, "You're really focussing well on that drawing." And to aim to descriptively praise at least ten times per day.  I love me some detailed instruction.

Perhaps my favourite technique in the book is about how to ask your children to do things only once. It is a 6-step process, and it takes time. But with Harry it totally works. (The trick is to really engage, have plenty of time, and wait. Don't repeat. But it's more detailed than that.)

Anyway, this is the parenting book I recommend, even though I don't agree with everything in it. No, Noel, boys don't need dads any more than girls do. No, Noel, first-borns do not need more one-on-one attention than later borns. But for all the parenting strategies I know that I should be using, I find her clear, step-by-step guidance really useful.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Bumpy Weekend

Shall I list the low-lights? Shall I?

1) Discovered that I managed to loose Harry's scooter earlier this month. Visual: £100 note flouting away. This is the sort of thing that starts me on a self-loathing jag that is pure poison.

2) Teaching the boys the appropriate use of the word "SH**!" when Tom spilt his milk in the living room. I don't really care about the language, I care about my lack of control. It's a wood floor, it's not like it fu**ing matters.

3) I hesitate to list this one as a low-light, because it was also a high-light. Dinner out with friends was lovely. But it was a £100 night, and the food was only fine, and the service was poor. Ouch. Stuff like that bugs me; it's my beef with most holidays. Aren't you glad you're not married to me?

And the crowning glory:

4) Shouting at the 3-year-old in the middle of a car park to MAKE A DECISION AND STICK TO IT. Because that's developmentally appropriate.

5) Helping the 6-year-old to write in a journal that the worst part of his day was when his mummy shouted at his little brother. Knife to the heart kid.

Where did it all go wrong? I was short-tempered and grump all weekend. I think part of it was that I didn't have a good work-week last week, and that leaves me feeling out of sorts. I was also finding Harry particularly irritating. He cries and whines far more than Tom. That's just wrong. Sigh. It was disheartening.

Today is a new week. Onwards and upwards. I would like to say that it's off to a good start, but that would be a lie. I accidentally had caffeinated coffee last night so had a really poor night's sleep. Tried a new exercise class this morning. Had to leave after 5 mins for my normal reason. In front of fellow school gate mum who has birthed 4 children and resembles a rubber band.

Thank goodness for 3 good things. It really cheered me up last night to list the lovely points in the day. Harry reading to Tom! Both snuggled on my lap! So very sweet. They are also so quick to forgive & forget. If they can move on, so can I.

Off to meditate. Taking myself back to Week 1. Thanks blog, without you I would have given up on it by now.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Parenting Project Update

So. The therapy and the 3 good things are going really well. It has really made a difference having a nice notebook to write the 3 good things in. In the past I have tried an app for that, but it's not the same. I like having a mix of things that I remember from the day, but also to remind myself of everyday luxuries that are so easy to take for granted -- living in my favourite city, having a cute little car all to myself, healthy children, a comfortable house. Life IS good.

I have been shockingly bad about the mindfulness meditation this week. As in I am supposed to be doing in twice per day, and I have done it twice this week. Once at lunchtime in my office, and I could hear my Head of School outside the door talking to a colleague. I was neither relaxed nor mindful. I'm going to be more disciplined about it for the rest of this month, but if it still isn't agreeing with me, I'm going to jettison this particular item.

The no shouting rule has been a winner. It is making a big difference (to me anyway). I am also not finding it that difficult. Perhaps the boys are going through a good patch!

As someone who struggles to live in the moment and loves to plan, I have been thinking a lot about what to add to the Parenting Project for April. I have decided that I will focus on physical health. Earlier in the year I signed up for a 10k on April 26th, so I will need to step up my exercise and include more running. I don't like it, but I will do it. I also need to sort out my diet. What am I eating right now? A latte and 2 caramel waffles. This has to stop. I would like to loose a few pounds, but mostly I want to have more energy. I get plenty of sleep and I don't drink. I should be more perky than this, and the appalling diet can't be helping.

As for the specific parenting strategy, I am going to try not to correct so much. It annoys me hearing myself, no wonder it annoys Harry so much. For example, instead of telling Harry to stop chewing with his mouth open, I am going to try and bite my tongue, wait for his mouth to be closed, and say, "It's nice to see your mouth closed when you're eating." Easier said than done this one. No fear that I will start this one anytime before April 1st.

Happy weekend everyone. Over and out.

Thursday, 20 March 2014


I'm trying to think of a good metaphor for this experience: you concentrate on one area of your life, and then realise that another area goes astray. What I have in my mind is a trapped bubble that you can seemingly smooth out, only to find that it has moved rather than disappeared.

Last year I really concentrated on getting into good physical shape, culminating in a triathlon in September. It worked. But I was spending A LOT of time at the gym. After it was over, I concentrated more on work & family, and now this blog & parenting can guess the punchline. I have now gained 5 lbs and lost quite a bit of tone. Annoying.

April's theme is going to be physical health, and especially diet. I am so quick to use sugar as a crutch to get through the day, especially mid-afternoon. I think I need to investigate those "slow release" carbs people speak of.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


Everyone is doing the best they can.

Today I am working on an academic paper about predictors of parenting in early adolescence from indicators in middle childhood. For mothering, we find that maternal proneness to anger (outside the parenting context) is the strongest predictor of hostile parenting, whereas for fathers it is household chaos (disorganised households that are noisy and without routine).

We reported the same thing in middle childhood, but back then I wasn't a mother myself. The finding didn't resonate with me. Now it most surely does. I am prone to anger. I am encouraged by my Head of School to knit during meetings because it helps curb my outbursts. I get unreasonably angry about poor service. It should come as no surprise that parenting is just the sort of stressful context where anger flourishes.

What to do?

Much of my anger stems from rigid ideas I hold about how people should behave in certain contexts. (If my repeat prescription has been lost through no fault of my own, a doctor should be disturbed on my behalf.) So being more flexible and less judgemental would be good. But tough.

I am trying out another idea. When I think through how/why things make me angry, I often attribute negative intent. For example when trying (and failing) to get a waiter's attention for the bill/check, I think they are being lazy and deliberately avoiding my gaze. That makes me cross. Instead, I am making a conscious effort to think to myself (as irritation begins to rise), "Everyone is doing the best they can." Whether or not it is true doesn't really matter.

The biggest job will be doing this in relation to the boys. I have a tendency to take their misbehaviour personally, and to think that they are doing annoying things deliberately. The noise level in our house is often high. I would like for it to be quieter. Surely they can remember to keep their voices down when someone is sleeping. But maybe the boys are doing the very best they can to regulate their volume.

Everyone is doing the best they can. Rinse & repeat.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Problem is the Solution

Harry's energetic nature also affects his sleep. As in he doesn't need as much as I would like. Again, this will be great as an adult, but now? He's not off the scale; he gets 10 hours per night before waking. But most of his peers get around 11, and some 12. I obsess about how much extra adult time that would give us in the evenings. But actually, it's the solution for how to fit everything in.

So the little cherub usually wakes around 5:30. He is then supposed to stay quiet in his room until 6. This means that on a day like today, I get up, get boys dressed and breakfasted, and am out of the house in time to get to the gym by 7. There is NO WAY I would be doing that without my trusty copper-topped alarm clock. Now it's 8, I'm blogging and having breakfast, and I will do the blasted meditation all before teaching at 9.

Thank you Harry, you have turned me into a morning person.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Goodness of Fit

The modern wave of temperament research was started by Thomas & Chess, and they introduced the idea of Goodness of Fit. In a nut-shell, the concept is that particular children's temperaments will be better or worse suited to the environment that they find themselves. In the West, a "difficult" temperament -- high activity level, emotionally volatile -- is not particularly well suited to the way that we raise children. In one of my all-time favourite studies, researchers found that during a drought in Saharan Africa, the "difficult" babies survived whereas most of the babies with easier temperaments died. Alright then, there may be an evolutionary advantage to all that screaming, especially in cultures where attachment parenting is the norm. (To be clear, I can think of few things worse than walking around with a baby strapped on my person -- shivers.)

Anyway. Yesterday Harry and I had our first rock-climbing-at-Rottingdean-beach trip of the season. It was lovely. My camera is broken, so the photo above isn't mine, but you get the idea. Very English rocky coastline. It brought back memories of the summer when Harry was 2-1/2. We were at the same beach with a group of mum-chums who all happened to have girls. The girls were playing with stones while their mums sat chatting. I spent my time running after Harry, trying to prevent him from killing himself by clamouring up huge boulders or running into the sea. I cried a little that afternoon. It was exhausting. 

It has got a lot easier. But our combination is not a perfect fit. I’m not a slug exactly, but I don’t move unless there’s a reason. I love my sedentary job, and an evening of House of Cards with my knitting is my idea of a good time. Harry, on the other hand, is in constant motion. He isn’t one for watching the telly, but when he does get sucked in, he watches standing up, jitterbugging around the living room. He bounds out of bed in the morning raring to go. He often runs around the house screaming for no discernable reason. When I describe (complain about) this sort of thing, people often say that all kids are like that, or at least all boys. I felt so validated when Harry’s keyworker at nursery confirmed that he was the most active child there. In fact, he was the most active child they had had for several years. 

I do find it helpful to be aware of my children’s characteristics in relation to those of their same-age peers. Not to judge or shame -- or perhaps worse – to brag about their accomplishments, but to have this understanding so that I can adjust their environment and experiences to suit their individual natures. Many people have observed that having a young, active child can feel like having a dog. They need to be taken out for a run-around every day. Well, in the case of my very active boy, he and I were often the only ones at the playground before 7 am. And back mid-morning. And again in the afternoon.

All that said, I wouldn't change Harry's nature. He has enabled me to be a lot more active than I otherwise would have been. And like so many traits that can be intensely irritating in children, Harry's energy level will stand him in excellent stead as an adult. I'm actually rather jealous.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Parenting Project Update

So I'm two weeks into month 1 of my parenting project. The 3 things I am meant to be doing to improve my mental health are going to therapy, practicing mindfulness, and listing 3 good things at the end of every day.

Therapy: I am loving this. I really wasn't sure about going when I'm not feeling depressed, anxious, or even particularly distressed. But I think this is an excellent time to go. Sort of like an inoculation against future bumps in the road. This week I really felt fraudulent walking in; I was feeling on top of the world! I still ended up having a good weep and dig around my psyche. It feels somewhat self-indulgent, but good. The type of therapy is Cognitive Analytic Therapy, and I like that it is time-limited. I think we decide pretty soon whether it will be 16 sessions or 24. 24 would fit nicely into the 6-month timeframe of this project.

Mindfulness: I am supposed to be meditating twice per day. Most days I am managing once. Not at all sure I'm doing it right, but I do quite like it. Difficult to know how/where to do it. The book says that a quiet place at home is ideal. The author clearly does not share a house with 3 & 6 year-old boys. Another assignment for the week was to choose different seats at meetings, the dinner table, etc. That's been sort of fun, though I am not convinced meaningful. The final assignment I have utterly failed to do. I am supposed to have chosen a habitual activity to do mindfully. For instance, pay attention when brushing teeth. I chose driving to and from work, but I find it near impossible to turn the radio off. Maybe I'll switch to the teeth brushing thing. But I like to check Facebook while brushing. I do not have a mindful nature.

3 Good Things: I have a perfect record of gold stars for this. It's nice to think through the day and list high points. I also like that this orients me to Good Things all day long. This morning I was looking at the book You Choose with both boys snuggled on my lap, and thought this is definitely a Good Thing.

The specific parenting strategy for the month is not shouting. I have slipped up a couple of times, but they weren't too bad. I would like for this to be like smacking -- a strategy that does not even cross my mind as a possibility. I have some way to go. I have to stop myself from lashing out frequently. It really is a pity that children are such annoying little creatures.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Time Tracking

I read this book by Laura Vanderkam last year. It's not a typical time management book, a lot of it reviews research about how Americans think they spend their time, versus how they actually spend their time, as well as how time use has changed over the past 50 years or so. I find this day-to-day stuff about human behaviour fascinating. In a nut-shell, Americans sleep more than they think they do, and work a whole lot less than they think they do. There's lots more, obviously, and I liked it a lot.

The title of the book comes from the fact that there are 168 hours in a week. Isn't it weird that we don't know that number off the top of our heads? I know that there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days per week, 365 days in the year, and that a typical day would include 8 hours of work and 8 hours of sleep. But I would have had to calculate how many hours there are in a week. When I then start adding things up -- work at 35 hours per week (I realise this is low for a full-time worker, feel free to hate me), sleep at 56 hours per week -- that still leaves 77 hours. That's a lot of time. I am confident that my time management at work is pretty optimal. It's one of the reasons I can get away with 35 hours. (The other main reason is that I am medium-successful rather than super-successful, but that is surely a topic for another day.) I don't think that I manage my personal time nearly so well. And I'm not even sure where all that time goes.

For some concrete accountability, I "volunteered" to track my time for Laura's Mosaic project. Actually, I bullied her into accepting me, as I don't actually fulfil the income criteria. I'm going to start on Saturday or Monday, I'm not sure. Obviously the Hawthorne effect will be at work -- I won't be able to help myself trying to make it an ideal week, rather than a typical week. For the next few days, I'm going to test out a time tracking app or two, versus recording on paper. 15 minute intervals? 10? 20? 30? I would love to hear from anyone who has any tips!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Lessons in Flowers

Aren't these flowers beautiful? I was with my Mum, eldest sister (over from the US) and neice yesterday. It was my sister's wedding anniversary, and her husband arranged for these lovely flowers. He messaged my Mum on Facebook, asking her to get flowers for the occasion, but she doesn't really "get" that feature. He could see no reply, so my niece was tasked with orienting her attention to the message. Then my Mum tasked me with going out to get the flowers. It was fun to conspire about it, and I love picking out flowers. I heard my sister thank her husband fulsomely over the phone.

Lesson 1: Look for the very best in people's actions. When my Mum first told me about the message, I thought, "Uh-oh, my sister is going to be so cross that he not only didn't arrange for flowers to be delivered in good time, but that he has bothered my Mum with it, giving her an extra task!" Of course, the reason I thought this is because that's how I would have reacted. I can be so judgemental, so ready to find fault with what people do, rather than seeing the good.

Lesson 2: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I get these ideas in my head of how things should be done. These ideas tend to be time-consuming and unrealistic. In my mind, after a dinner party I should send a card through the post to thank the hosts. Sometimes I get around to this, often I don't. This means I don't do anything at all, whereas it would be much better to send a quick text or e-mail of thanks every time, rather than an involved thank you note 25% of the time. It was much better for my sister's husband to do what he did rather than nothing. I would have done nothing at all -- the wrong choice.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Mindful Parenting

I'm still not exactly sure what I'm supposed to be doing for these meditations; this isn't my sort of thing at all. But that doesn't stop me having high hopes. Two in particular. The most obvious is that I'm hoping that it will help me to be more present with my children. It made a big difference when (years ago) I banned myself from having my phone with me in the mornings. This will also surely help me to be in the moment when playing trains. I wish I liked playing these sorts of things, but I don't. However, I know that when I force myself to get into that sort of thing for 10 minutes, I sometimes really "see" their creativity, sense of fun, whatever, and that's nice. It's also worth the investment because that 10 minutes often turns into the boys playing on their own for another 20 minutes.

The other hope would be far more profound. I'm hoping this will make me better able to stop my quick, angry reactions. I have an inkling that I should be able to register my irritation/anger/frustration about something, "see" that feeling going through my mind. And then through seeing it, rather than just feeling it, be able to take the extra second to think how best to respond. Often the best response is to do nothing at all.  

Monday, 10 March 2014

What Constitutes Shouting?

I've been doing pretty well at not shouting. But sometimes I "call out." So I've been trying to figure out when it's ok to raise my voice. It seems kind of like dieting -- you can't stop eating altogether, which makes it trickier than say, quitting smoking. Anyway, I yelled out, "Tom! Stop! Come back here!" when he was going into an unauthorised part of Harry's school grounds. That seems totally fine. Certainly it's fine to prevent running into the road, or other semi-suicidal actions that 3-year-olds attempt on a daily basis. It certainly isn't fine when it's venting my anger for the sake of it. Maybe it's to do with the motivation behind it -- anger versus fear. But that seems too murky. I've been mulling.

I've come up with two (closely related) signs of when it's ok versus not ok. One is whether I would mind if strangers saw me doing it. Certainly in the case of running off at Harry's school, there were plenty of parents around, and I thought nothing of it. Totally fine. I know that my worst parenting happens when there are no other adults around. Sometimes I imagine that there are web-cams in the house when I'm feeling short-tempered. Anyway. The other sign is if I would be happy for Harry (Tom when he's older) to model my behaviour. When it's about safety, I'm happy for Harry to yell to Tom to stop whatever he's up to. So these are the questions I'm asking myself to determine whether I get my daily gold star for not shouting.

Today is Day 1 of Mindfulness. I've just done the first meditation. It made me v sleepy.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Arrival Fallacy

I definitely suffer from the arrival fallacy -- as soon as I get to X, everything will be better/I will be so happy. I have always been this way. In college, I couldn't wait to get to grad school, when completing my PhD, I constantly dreamed of lecturing, and now as a Reader, I can't wait to jump the final hurdle and finally be a Professor. Then I will have arrived. Then I will be truly happy about my work life. This is just a bit silly when it's about work, but it's downright stupid when it comes to family life.

We didn't have the easiest time having these two boys of ours. (We didn't have a horribly hard time either, I am well aware of that.) It took me 2.5 years to get pregnant, and in the last year, I was doubtful it would ever happen; I was desperately distressed about it. I could not wait to have a baby. Then I could not wait for Sian to have a baby so that we could get on with enjoying family life. My past self would have been horrified at my present self. I now cannot wait for both boys to be in school. Primary school age is my favourite stage, and it is true that I don't hark back to the baby days. Still, I am essentially wishing away the next 18 months, and that's crazy.

I am obsessed with Gretchen Rubin, and I found this video of hers today which definitely resonates with me. This is it. This is what I've been waiting for.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Better Mornings

***Warning: 1st world problems***

My mornings for drop off (Thurs & Fri) have been much better this week. For one thing, we switched our cleaner day. Our Wonder Woman used to come on Fridays, and it made me crazy trying to tidy up the house at the same time as getting us all ready and breaking up boy fights. Now she comes on Mondays. Sian handles such juggling far better than I do. The second thing is that we have set a rule of no screens before 7 am. As the boys get up at 6, this means there is no telly/iPad option for the first hour. This seems to have flipped a switch for Harry. He had got into the habit of going straight to the iPad, but this would eventually put him in a bad mood, and for the last hour of so he would be really whiney and troublesome. Now they seem able to play much better, and I don't feel so guilty turning on the TV for the last 45 minutes or so and getting the house (somewhat) cleared up. Life transforming, if you want to know the truth.

What I am not at all proud of is how we made these changes. Usually I'm a very direct, honest person. To a fault. But for some reason I didn't want to ask for the cleaner day to be changed. I wanted Sian to guess/offer for it to be on one of her days. It turns out she is not telepathic. I spent months having horrible Friday mornings, and quietly seething about it. She's the one at home more, why am I the one doing this? It took a total melt-down for the negotiation to take place. Of course she's totally happy to make the switch. It just hadn't occurred to her. Boy do I feel dumb about that one.

The screen-time rule change came about by my using a third party to get the conversation going. It can be a little tricky; I LOVE rules, and find that it really helps things to run smoothly. Sian is far more of an instinctual, natural parent who rolls with the punches. Last year the thing that made the biggest difference was when I set the rule that we had to get dressed before having breakfast. But I announced it without our having discussed it, and there was some tension. In fact, we abandoned it for awhile, but the getting dressed battle got worse, so I won. Anyway, back to screen time. It was really bothering me that Harry was watching these totally inane videos of grown men playing video games. Isn't that creepy? I couldn't shake my discomfort with the morning screen time, even though I could see Sian's point that it keeps the peace and allows one to get the kitchen cleared up, etc. This time the thing that solved the problem was talking about it with a friend who was over (a friend who happens to be a life coach!). After hearing just how bothered I was, it was Sian who came up with the rule. Genius.

Perhaps April's focus should be on marriage. Communication in particular.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Amusing Mishaps

I didn't shout this morning, even though Harry really didn't want to go to school. Hurrah! Lest you think it's all been plain-sailing, let me share a few amusing stories from the first week of mental health.

At the conclusion of the therapy session, it was time to pay. I remembered having taken out £100 earlier in the day. I remembered incorrectly. I had £30 in my purse. HOW EMBARRASSING! To make matters worse, as I've mentioned, there is a sofa in the room. Actually, it's a proper analytic bed type-thing. So this means that instead of handing over the (inadequate amount of) cash in a civilised manner, I managed to leave it on the bed, as if for a prostitute. Awkward. I have a plan. I'm going to put cash for all the month's sessions in an envelope, and hand it over at the beginning of the next session. I can't go through that again.

Meanwhile, mindfulness. So I'm getting on alright reading the Mark Williams book. Only I really enjoy listening to books rather than reading them. So I thought I would go ahead and download it from Audible as well. So I was listening in the car, but also reading the kindle book as well. But I kept getting confused as to where I was -- I would be reading, and come across parts I knew I had heard on the audio, but then other passages weren't familiar. It was unnerving. If you click on those links they look like the same book, right? Well, not quite. Yeah. The audio is basically a condensed version. This did not make for a peaceful, mindful experience. To top it off, I have decided that in this case I actually need a hard copy of the book. So in the space of a week, I have bought the same(ish) damned book 3 times. And I think I may need to purchase a yoga mat for my office. This had better be worth it.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Rethinking the Outcome

A question I ask a lot of students I supervise is "What are you conceptualising as your dependent variable?" This is just jargon for, "What outcome are you interested in?"

I have been overwhelmed by the response to this blog. The comments on facebook, and the many personal messages have given me confidence that this is the sort of thing that folks want to read. That's very gratifying, and it really helps me to feel accountable -- sort of monitored in what I'm trying to do.

But what exactly am I trying to do? A few of the comments were reassuring that parenting only has to be good enough, perfection is not required. I TOTALLY agree with that. My boys live in an advantaged home in England, with plenty of folks around that love them. They aren't being abused. Beyond this, how they are parented won't make a difference to how they turn out. I absolutely believe this to be true. 

So I was wrong when I said in an earlier post that I wanted to improve my pareting, and in turn, my relationship with my boys, and in turn their behaviour. That's not what this is about. My outcome of interest is my relationship with the boys, not their behaviour. Obviously those are hard to separate, but I want the focus to be on enjoying my time with the boys more than I (often) do at the moment.

I still think that the research on the determinants of parenting is a good guide for what I should focus on. I can only change my behaviour, not the boys'. Although I am fond of pointing out that time has never moved more slowly for me than these early parenting years, I do know that when they draw to a close I will regret not trying to eek out maximum enjoyment from them. 

So you see, it's all about me.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


I bought a Moleskin diary with one page per day at the beginning of the year. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, but I love Moleskin notebooks, and I just wanted one. I've used it a bit for daily to do lists, but that's not really my style. I prefer electronic for that, plus I've started blocking time for tasks rather than listing, and that is WAY better on iCal than on paper.

Well, the diary is proving perfect for logging my Parenting Project progress:

I'm giving myself stars! I think I need gold ones though.

I'm getting on much better with this mindfulness book. It outlines an 8 week programme. I'm reading through it this week, and I will start week 1 on Monday. I'm going to feel ridiculous doing it, but I will.

Therapy tonight - yay!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Being Daddy

I remember in my early 20s, when I was just getting into my PhD and loving the work. I went home for Christmas break, and my Dad was saying that there is nothing in life that compares to parenting. I said rather flippantly that I didn't think I would be a mother. My Dad tried to explain the joys, and I replied:

"It's alright for you, you get to be a Dad."

To his credit, he got it straight away and stopped talking.

20 years on, one civil partnership, 6 rounds of IUI and 5 rounds of IVF later, I do sort of get to be the Daddy to our two boys. It definitely feels like that Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday. I leave the house 6:30/7, and return at 6/6:30. I love the Daddy swoop when I come home! Cuddles, a few games, books at bedtime, and it's a wrap. NICE. It is very easy for me not to shout on these days ;-).

We are so lucky to have been born at a time where it's fairly straight-forward for (middle-class) lesbians to have children. Living in Brighton, we aren't even remarkable. One of the things I enjoy is that there are no social scripts for who should do what, so we are forced to think through lots of stuff without a default. We would not necessarily have predicted that Sian would stay home so much more than I do, but it definitely works best that way.

I also like having insight into mothering AND fathering. I definitely get the mother guilt, and the constant feeling of responsibility. In a typically mother way, I often text Sian messages in the middle of the day with things like, "Don't forget to pay for H trip." (This does not seem to annoy her; I am indeed blessed.)

But I have a bit of an inkling about Daddy guilt too. When surveyed, the number one answer to what makes a good Dad is still "breadwinner." It's a weight. I feel that too.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Month 1, Day 1

So far so good(ish). I started therapy last week. I sat in a chair, but there is also a bed in the room. Having fantasies of getting a massage at the same time. But I think a mani-pedi would be more realistic.

Three good things for today: 1. It is March 1st, and the sun was SHINING! 2. The boys played nicely 98% of the time today. Harry was being a really super big brother. 3. There was free circus-type entertainment set up in the park today. Unexpected bonus. The boys played for ages with this hollow barrel:
A friend recommended the book The Power of Now for mindfulness. I downloaded it from Audible. Tried to start listening. Yuck. Have now downloaded a Kindle version of Mindfulness: A practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. We'll see…

As for the shouting, I did have one slip-up this morning. It wasn't too bad though, and I didn't let it ruin the rest of the day.