Thursday, 24 April 2014

Wheel of Life

The Wheel of Life. Another gift from my life-coaching friend. Such a neat tool. The image here is pretty standard, covering the main areas of most people's lives. What you do is rate how happy you are with each area of your life, from 0 in the centre, to 10 if that area is perfection. There are at least a few different ways to do this first step. I do it asking myself, "How well am I performing in this particular area?" Others might think more about the external factors in each category, and how happy they are with them, regardless of their own input. For instance, when I rate finance, I think about how happy I am with how I'm managing our finances, and not the absolute value per se.

Step two is to join up all the crosses so that you get a visual representation of your bumps (good parts) and troughs (less good). The next steps are the real clinchers. Step 3 is to look at all 8 of the categories, and think about what a "10" would look like. Step 4 is to circle the 3 areas that if they were a 10, would make the biggest difference to your overall happiness. The funny thing about this step is that these 3 are often not the areas scored lowest. The final step is to list three things that you can do in each of those area to improve the score. Nice action plan, no?

If you google "blank wheel of life" there are more templates than you can shake a stick at. Recently I did it at our lab meeting (work), and we rated these areas:

1. Writing
2. Networking
3. Research work
4. Skill acquisition
5. Reading
6. Teaching
7. Marking
8. Time management

For the determinants of parenting, one could do:

1. Mental health
2. Physical health
3. Household environment
4. Marriage
5. Finances
6. Work
7. Social network
8. Fun & Recreation

I'm quite sure I could spend the rest of my life rating my life rather than actually living it. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Favourite Household Organising Books

I am getting really excited at the thought of May's focus -- household organisation. Our house isn't really that bad, but it could be a whole lot better. In prep, I'm re-reading my favourite (and I've read A LOT) organising book, Organizing from the Inside Out. I am so looking forward to getting out my label maker and getting the boys' toys in the kind of order that would make an OCD kindergarten teacher proud. I will start proper on the 1st, but in the meantime, I just might see if I can get rid of a few car loads of rubbish and donations beforehand. I love purging even more than organising.

The second book that I shall be re-reading is Sink Reflections. I think Julie's book (Organizing from the Inside Out) is better for thinking through how to get things properly organised, but the Fly Lady is better at thinking through daily maintenance. I wish I had found this book when I was pregnant with Harry. I had a really rough last couple of months. I came off my anti-depressants and I wasn't working. I wasn't sleeping well, I had no structure, and I was depressed. I wasted the time I had off, and that just made me feel worse. Although not marketed as such, the Fly Lady totally gets that kind of lethargic, stuck in a rut state of being. I would have done really well to follow her routines in those weeks.

Anyway. I am re-reading, and coming up with some daily routines for May, as well as some large overhaul-the-crap projects. This is going to be oh-so-satisfying. I hope some of you will play along!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Good to be Back!

I had 6 days off over Easter. It turns out I find it near impossible to blog about parenting whilst actually parenting. It's super nice to be back to my regularly scheduled programming!

All in all, it was a really great break. The weather was good, plenty of time out and about, and hours upon hours at the skate park. Grandma bought Harry his very own grown-up skateboard. Very exciting. Turns out it takes 5 hours before Harry asks to go home. We also hosted a birthday party for a hamster, and Easter lunch for the Grandmas, cousins, etc. I was pleased with both of those events because I was more realistic about them than I often am. For instance, I made the hamster party 1.5 hours. I did not endeavour to create a treasure hunt with elaborate clues for all the cousins. I'm learning! Maybe.

But that's not why we're here now, is it? I had one day that went a bit wrong. I was bemoaning my failings to a writer-friend, who pointed out that it was all good blog fodder. So true! Where would I be without my periodic parenting travesties?

The problem was that I had scheduled too much into the day. I had arranged for time at the gym (childcare!) 9:30 - 11:30, and to meet up with friends for the afternoon. Sounds fine, right? So of course I offered to take a friend of Harry's along. And when his mum suggested that we all go swimming afterwards, I said sure! Somehow I convinced myself that we could fit in a swim, lunch, and a half hour drive before meeting friends for the afternoon at 1:30. I also hate being late. Was I calm? No. Did I rush the boys at every turn? Yes. Did I shout? Loads. Did they end up eating lunch in the car? Sort of. Most of it ended up on the floor (still there), and hanging off their faces as they slept. Cue crying whilst hauling them out of the car - more rushing - to meet our friends. Late. Each bit of the day was actually quite nice, but the transitions were hellish, and entirely my fault.

Still, one "fail" day out of 6 ain't all that bad.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Tuesday Tip: Read Selectively

We usually have a parenting book or two in the bathroom for browsing. Sure, sometimes I flip through looking for answers. But the real reason I like having them to hand is to read sections on challenges that we don't face. My personal favourite is reading about bedtime battles. Our house shuts down at 7:30, and reading about the horrors we could be facing gives me a smug glow that lasts at least 2 minutes. The trick then is to close the book. 

I'm thinking that this could extend beyond parenting. Perhaps I should read books about anxiety (not depression), eating disorders (not garden variety over-eating), and post-traumatic stress! This could be fun.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Appreciating Irritating Habits

A blessing of having a second child is that it highlights some irritating habits you never realised your first child didn't have. I thought teething pain was a figment of parents' imagination before Tom had it. Likewise, I had no idea how blessed we were that Harry would poop on demand for a Smartie reward until Tom point blank refused (still no potty or toilet poop -- sigh).

Of course it works the other way round as well. Every time I put Tom to bed I enjoy it so much. He makes no fuss about getting his PJs on. He sits on my lap for a couple of stories. He stays in bed after you sing him a song and say goodnight. Be still my beating heart. With Harry I used to have to sit against the door to stop him escaping. I sat there with his PJs ready, looking down, not paying him any attention until he came to me. It would take 5-10 minutes. During that time he would run round his bedroom, often screaming, and sometimes hitting me for the hell of it. Age 3 was a hard year.

For the last three Saturday mornings I have taken the boys first thing in the morning to a local skating park. We meet another family there who have 3 boys (a set of twins) the same age. It suits us all so well. Their mum reminded me on the last trip just how lucky we are to have such independent boys. They run free, chatting away, checking in with us from time to time. It would bug me if one or both of them was wanting to sit with mummy the whole time. It's so easy to take for granted the irritating habits your child(ren) don't have.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Parenting Project Update

1. I didn't shout at all this past week. I think I'm out of the habit! Result. 

2. Correcting. I still do it. I don't think this one was a very good resolution. Correcting does need to happen as things go wrong, but I do want to minimise doing this (e.g., it makes no difference if I tell the boys to quiet down in the mornings -- I may as well not add nagging to the cacophony). What I am resolving to do instead is to do think-throughs about speaking in a polite, respectful voice with pleases and thank yous at least a couple of times each day, at a neutral time. I'm sure Harry will find this most enjoyable ;-). (This is from the book I've talked about before, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting.)

3. Still enjoying 3 good things. 

4. No therapy for the next 3 weeks! How will I cope? 

5. No sugar I found really hard. Like super hard. I was also eating more, in an attempt to scratch the sweet itch. And not increasing my veg intake, so I've eased up. I'm going back to my fruit & yoghurt smoothies in the morning. Yes, I am hungrier before lunch than if I have the same amount of calories in porridge form, but my morning smoothie makes me happy. And it's the only way I've found to get myself to eat two portions of fruit per day. I think I'll allow myself one other little treat per day. Something like that. This morning I had french toast with berries, maple syrup and creme fraiche. YUM. It's a lot of happiness, and on reflection, worth it.

6. Exercise. Not so good. Only twice in the past week. Must do better. I used to use an app called gym pact, now called just "pact." You say how often you're going to go to the gym at the beginning of every week, and then you get fined an amount you specify for any workout missed. I had it set up so that it would charge my credit card £20 for every workout missed (it also links with RunKeeper). Each time you go to the gym, you have to check in, and you can't cheat (very much) because it uses GPS to make sure you're actually at a gym. This worked really well for me. Yes, I got charged a few times, but the cost was far less than personal training. I thought I didn't need it anymore, that the habit was so well established that I could forego the hassle of checking in. Not so much. I've just reinstalled the app. I'm committing to 5 workouts next week.

7. The big winner for this month of physical health has been weaning myself off falling asleep with headphones in my ears. Every night I dread not being able to listen to something as I fall asleep, but it's oh so much better! I like the random thought-surfing as I fall asleep. I'm sleeping better for sure. Nice.

I'm starting to look forward to May. Household organisation!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Parenting Principles 2.0

I had lots of great ideas after last week's Parenting Principles post. I have revised accordingly. I am constrained by a desire to make each principle exactly two words.

1. Be calm.
(This really is a mantra for life -- I would love to be more laid back, but I'm not. I find faking it does help in all sorts of situations though. Knitting totes helps.)

2. No rushing.
(So key for me. If I have the time to wait, they will usually do whatever it is without reminding and without shouting.)

3. Adults first.
(I got this idea from a friend who had a child before I did. I remember that she and her husband had the rule that if two people in the house were crying, you attend to the adult first. The whole putting on your own mask first principle.)

4. Model well.
(I like "monkey see, monkey do," much better, but the two word thing.)

5. Be playful.
(Supposed to also encompass seeing the funny side, smiling & laughing.)

6. No cheating.
(This is consistency for me. It's almost never worth bending a rule, I find. Whenever I'm flexible with Harry's bedtime, I end up rushing him. Not worth it.)

I also like these 4 ideas, but I'm having trouble condensing them down to two word phrases:

7. This too shall pass.

8. Don't sweat the small stuff.

9. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
(Maybe: Leave it. Though I'm not sure that I personally need this one. I probably let too much go rather than the reverse.)

10. The days are long, but the years are short.
( I may indulge in this video later today. Always yields a nice cry.)

Any (further) suggestions gratefully received!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Family Dinner

I recently came across an article that made me say "I knew it!" out loud. Musick and Meier (2012) use a large American data set to test associations between family dinners and adolescent well-being. The background to this is that family dinners have reached mythical status in the US, been described as a magic bullet to prevent/cure everything from deteriorating family relationships, to depression and eating disorders. Through more careful analysis, Musick and Meier discover that the effect of family dinners is mostly due to the fact that more affluent, well-educated, white parents are more likely to host family dinners than are their less advantaged counterparts. It's a sign of having your shit together as a middle-class American parent to eat dinner together as a family.

Almost 20 years ago I was chatting with an American colleague who was doing some analysis on the Twins Early Development Study, a twin study of all the twins born in England and Wales in 1994 & 1995. My colleague was questioning the accuracy of the data because the item about family dinners wasn't working properly. He said that it should be correlating with household organisation and parent-child relationship quality, and it wasn't. This was one of those times that my cross-cultural upbringing came into its own. I was not the least bit surprised. The twins were only 3 years old. As I explained, any British family with their shit together feeds young children at 5, and gets them to bed by 7 so that the parents can enjoy a civilised dinner at 7:30 or 8.

Don't get me wrong, I can see that family dinners are a great way to actually talk to one another, model good eating behaviours, engender a sense of family cohesion. But these family processes can happen at other times and in other ways too. I'm definitely not ready to give up my civilised adult meal times.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Two Tips for Tuesday

These may well reside in the category of the blindingly obvious, but that makes me feel rather good about myself anyhow, so I won't hold back.

1. Schedule off-time. I love that by leaving the house at 6:40 I get to the gym, all equipment prepped and ready to go by 7. If I leave the house at 8:40, it takes about half an hour just to do the drive.

(Can't resist a little aside. The news coverage of 9/11 in the UK had to include information about the start of the American workday being prior to 9 am. The British workplace doesn't really get going until 9:30.)

2. Empty bags and cars. After every trip/day. I'm not saying I always do this, but it is oh so much better, no? Not nice finding long-lost items in a half-emptied bag. We are thinking to go back to being a one-car family, but our different attitudes to this particular "tip" might be the deal-breaker. (While I'm at it, why let children eat in the car? Really, why?)

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Demon Alcohol

Remember how I said I wouldn't be touching a drop of alcohol? Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way. I've had one glass most weeks. And it really sucks. Not enough for any kind of buzz, but one measly glass gives me a headache and makes me grumpy the next day. Totally not worth it. In all honesty, I just don't think I have the physiology for it.

What makes it hard is that I really don't like the connotations that go along with being teetotal. Earnest. Kill-joy. Dull. Humourless. I've decided to call it a full-on identity crisis. That's why it's so hard to give it up completely. Being a drinker is not quite my master status, but it was certainly in my top 5 for most of my adult life.

I had a really sick thought today. I think it would sound better if I could say that I'm an alcoholic, and that's why I don't drink. That would make me sound edgy. "It just doesn't agree with me, and makes me wish my children would go away," just doesn't cut it. I am absolutely appalled that I would have such an offensive thought. Perhaps appalled enough grow up.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Parenting Project Update

It's been a busy week, so it feels like a bit of a cheat. I haven't had much time to misbehave with the children. Sian says I'm definitely a lot less shouty, so that's good. In terms of defining shouting, I've realised that Harry is the best judge. Last weekend I took the boys to the skate park on Saturday morning. When it was time to go, I did need to yell to get Harry to listen to me. He said that it was turning into the worst day of his life because I was being a mean, shouting mummy. I tried to tell him that I was just "calling out" so that he could hear me, but he was totally right. I was irritated, and my voice was loud and mean. Ah well.

Correcting. I've made an effort. What I need to be better at is doing the think throughs in advance, at a neutral time. We had a couple of very early starts from Harry this week. Once he has already come into our room and bugged us, it's pretty much impossible for him to remain silent in his room. But when I remember to ask him the night before what he should do in the morning if he wakes before 6, he almost always manages to leave us alone. I need to start doing this for politeness (please & thank you). Harry is bad about this, Tom is not. I realise writing this that I am still correcting at the time. I need to wait without comment for the please, and talk to him about this repeatedly at neutral times.

As for physical health, I've had nearly no sugar since Tuesday. I miss it, but I'm coping. My diet could still do with improvement though. I'm eating a lot of crisps. Exercise - tick, and 3 good things - tick! And I do think I'm sleeping better without the headphone in my ear. Reading an actual physical book in bed feels very vintage indeed.

I bought some gold stars for my notebook, but now I can't find them. The coloured dots really aren't doing it for me.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Parenting Principles

I want to come up with 5 Parenting Principles that I can get tattooed on my arm of something.  Here's a draft:

  • Be calm.
  • No rushing.
  • Attend to the adults first.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff.
Any other ideas/modifications?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Today, how about a little serving of good old-fashioned behaviourism. In all honesty, aren't the principles of learning theory (rewards, punishments, reinforcement) the bread & butter of parenting?

Of all Skinner's principles, the one that I don't think is entirely obvious, and is a particularly pertinent one for parenting, is intermittent reinforcement. The finding is that if that if a behaviour is not rewarded every time, but just occasionally, the behaviour is more likely to persist than if it is rewarded every time. This is a real trap, because it means that even if you manage to ignore your child's whining 90% of the time, but pay attention to it 10% of the time, you have set up a perfect intermittent reinforcement schedule such that the whining will continue. And attention, even negative attention, is a powerful reinforcer. Ouch.

On the more positive side, it means that you don't have to reward a child every time they do a desired behaviour, say staying quietly in their room until 6 o'clock (gee, I wonder why that example popped into my head). You can occasionally give the child a treat, or praise, or whatever, and the behaviour should persist.

5:10 this morning people, 5:10.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Parenting Project: April

As I know that a handful of you are playing along, so here is a reminder of what I'm adding to the Parenting Project in April.

Parenting behaviour: no correcting.

Physical health: exercise every day, no sugar (including fruit!), and no iPhone in bed.

More explanation can be found here and here.

I'm also going to log my food and exercise on MyFitnessPal. My username is purlhussy -- be my friend!

Divide & Conquer

Last week I finally got round to tracking my 168 hours for Laura Vanderkam. When I first wrote about this, I worried that the Hawthorne Effect would make the recording exercise invalid. I decided not to fight it, and instead used it as a time management exercise. Instead of tracking as I went, I filled out Monday-Friday on Sunday evening. Then, I just adjusted stuff as I went through the week, but it definitely made me more mindful of how I was spending my time.

There weren't any big surprises because I obsess about this kind of thing already, but the colour-coded week makes me disproportionately happy. You can see at a glance how different the front and back of my week looks. Green is work and orange is time with the boys. Monday - Wednesday I spent on average just 1.5 hours per day with the ginger nuts, whereas on Thursdays & Fridays I spent 6.5 hours with them. Something I notice about the way we do things versus a lot of other people is that we prioritise me-time (i.e., gym) & minimising childcare by dividing and conquering. During the week we have very little time with all four of us together. I realise this wouldn't appeal to a lot of people, but I think it's totally worth it. Divide & conquer. Tag-team parenting.

We may take it to an extreme; we do quite a bit of this at weekends in order to go shopping, have haircuts, etc. It might be an idea to plan at least one family activity per weekend.

The most amazing part of the week? Do you see Sunday? There is a huge chunk of "family chill time." I KNOW. I did not believe there could be such a thing. We are creatures of habit. We go to the gym on Sunday mornings, with childcare from 9:30 - 11:30. (Have I mentioned how much I love our gym? Yes, it's expensive, but the monthly fees include 2 hours of childcare per day.) We usually meet up with another family afterwards, go swimming and have lunch. It's great. But this Sunday it really felt like we turned a corner. It was warm, so we were outside where the children can run free. There are woods for them to play in. It's all very wholesome. Anyway, both Tom & Harry had friends to play with (Tom's old enough to have a self-selected best friend!), and everyone had such a nice, chilled-out time without needing constant attention. Plenty of adult chat-time and time to read the newspaper. Next week I'm going to bring my knitting. Hurrah for Springtime and a play pick-up joint rather than play-date.