Sunday, 28 February 2021

On Being Intentional

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Every year at around the end of December/beginning of January, I spend some time reflecting on the year that has passed, I think about ways I have succeeded, ways I have been disappointed and things I am grateful for.  This process helps me to develop a mental picture of how I would like the year ahead to evolve.  As I journal and reflect I allow space in my mind for a word to emerge that might carry me through the year ahead.  I think about the ways I want to grow, how I want to be, how I want my family to be, what adventures we might embark on, how I want to grow spiritually and many other things. I have used many inspiring and provocative words over the years including Whole-hearted, Cultivate, Thrive and Organise.  These words, and more like them have helped me to be much more intentional about the year ahead. 

As 2021 approached and I looked back on the madness that was 2020, I reflected on how the year seemed to fly by, how little there was to remember, how few memory making moments there had been, it seemed like an unnecessarily wasted year.  I also thought about my diet and how little consideration I had taken for how I had nourished my body that year.  I thought about how I had parented, how I had home educated and felt a distinct lack of purpose.  It felt like I had tumbled through the year in a mindless struggle for the end of it, the end of lockdown, the end of...something, some point in the future when I could start again.  As I ventured into another lockdown in 2021 I knew things had to change, I didn't want another year of frustration and loss of time, love, care.  I couldn't blame the situation entirely on the Covid pandemic.  I had to take at least some responsibility for how the shape of the year had formed, I had allowed it to overwhelm me, this year I was going to action, knowing that I and only I could change the outcome of the year ahead lockdown or no. 

So I began this year with the word "intentional". 

You may be wondering why I am writing this at the end of February, aren't blog posts about words-of-the-year supposed to be in January?  Well maybe, but at this point in the year I am at least able to reflect on how this word has served me thus far and share it with you,  (it is never too late to choose a word-of-the-year) but mostly I didn't really want to talk about how important words-of-the-year are.  I wanted to talk to you about how important I think being intentional is. 

I grew up in a very loving, richly nourishing household, I had a very happy childhood and am eternally thankful to my parents for the way I was raised but, (and I checked with my mum on this!)  my mum and dad were never very intentional on how they parented, how they nurtured our spiritual lives, what the values of our family were and character building, or on forming lifelong memories and a family culture that would become traditions, rituals and habits, these things happened but they happened accidentally.  Essentially the happy outcome of our lives was more a serendipitous accident than part of a carefully planned and throughout out one; a lucky turn of chance that my mum and dad were both very reasonable, loving people, surrounded by a lot of other very reasonable and loving people, who exposed us to many experiences and in a certain time in history which allowed us to develop and grow in a healthy way.  

A bit like a seed that happens to fall on fertile ground, and is watered in a timely manner by the rain, encouraged to grow by the daily appearance of the sun, BUT was lucky enough to not have to go through a drought or flood or to be picked or stepped on. 

Now, this all sounds fine doesn't it, but the thing to remember is that my children are growing up in a completely different time than I was.  The world is a totally different place so just relying on replicating my own experience is not only impossible but also not as relevant.  I need to form a new path for my family or order for us to remain on a path that is nourishing.  I might be lucky and have the rain fall and the sun shine of my little seedlings and all will be well.  But what if it isn't?  We have just been through a global pandemic like nothing our parents, or we as children ever experienced, to make sure that all is well with my children and my family I need to be intentional about how we live our lives.  I need to make sure that we remain on the fertile path, that we remain in the sun, have the right amount of rain and maybe even a spot of fertiliser to boot. 

So what does that mean in practical terms? 

Here I will tell you about some of the ways the word "intentional" is feeding into different aspects of my life as we move into 2021 still in lockdown with many unknowns on the horizon, like moving house to a new area in the coming weeks.  I will be holding onto the word as an anchor which will inevitably be a bit of a chaotic time in order to ensure or values and hopes remain.  

Being intentional about screens:

For me, being intention about screens is about setting limits, both for me and my children. Now, I read and understand a lot about self regulation, I know it is important for children to learn to regulate themselves; their feelings for example and they only learn this by experiencing those feelings, being heard etc.  However when it comes to screens, the technology has evolved much more quickly and our poor old human brains haven't been able to keep up.  We are exposed to far more stimulation and information than our brains are able to process (and than we were exposed to as children).  I can attest to this as someone who has grown up during the technological revolution, even I at the age of 37 am not able to regulate my screen time in any sort of sub-conscious way.  The only way I can regulate my screen time is if I give my self strict externally imposed limits.  How then could I ever expect my children, whose brains are a long way from being fully grown yet, to be able to regulate themselves on something which is not only addictive in it's very nature, but is actually designed by programmers to be addictive?

How then do I expect my children to learn to self regulate when it comes to screen time.  Answer?  I don't.  I actually don't think it is possible at this point in history for children to be able to limit their own screen time. The constant stream of media, the 24 -hours-a-day programming, the instant access of phones and tablets means that it is very unlikely that they will just get tired of watching and go off and play in the garden or with their toys.  The way screens stimulate the brain releases hormones that cause addiction, so anything less stimulating is just not going to hit those reward sensors in the brain as quickly as screens can. 

The only way I see my children ever being able to control their access to screens is through habit (and a big old prayer to God that this method is going to work!)  So I set limits on screen time for them and for myself.  Of course we allow an element of flexibility here, if there is a program on that is relevant to our learning then we might enjoy some mid day viewing, or if I'm feeling unwell we will likely allow more screen time to take some pressure off me, and on long car journeys, a tablet with a movie can help prevent my children sleeping which makes bedtime easier.  But in general we stick to the boundaries we set. 

What is more, I have also started being more intentional about what my children watch and play. I was finding hours would slip silently away whilst they were playing games on the tablet, or watching mindless shows on YouTube.  Home education writer Ainsley Arment says:

"Dear friend, don't let the bustling culture determine the needs of your own child. You get to choose how they grow up.  You can protect their time, energy and imagination.  You are the gatekeeper of the garden of their childhood."

So I decided, whilst I can, I would be having more input into exactly what they were watching and it was going to be things that were nourishing and not over stimulating. 

Being intentional about learning:

My approach to our children's education draws from a variety of philosophies, but especially Unschooling and Charlotte Mason. We want to allow plenty of time for our children to play and to explore things that interest them, we allow time for play and learning to evolve, we don't stick to a strict timetable or structure, it takes intentionality to ensure there is time available for this and intentionality to allow flexibility and a rhythmic rather than timetabled approach.  However I do not believe my children would think to expose themselves to the art, literature, poetry and music etc that is out in the world if I wasn't intentional about showing it to them.  So I plan ahead to ensure that time is spent exploring things outside of their spheres or play and natural learning opportunities that occur with unschooling. 

Planning is key here.  I must be intentional.  I must plan ahead.  If I want to celebrate St David's day, for example, I need to make sure I have accessed books, checked out videos, YouTube, Twinkl (etc...) resources, bought ingredients, and gathered materials in advance that we would need to embrace the festival.  This stuff can't happen by accident, it takes planning and intentionality.  In the past I have missed out on learning opportunities like this because I haven't planned ahead.  

Planning ahead for my children's learning also leads to planning ahead for celebrations, traditions and rituals. Whilst I am planning learning opportunities for St David's day I am also creating a yearly tradition of celebrating this day, marking it, setting it apart as a special day.  This gives us a reason to gather together, a reason to be joyful and a reason to separate ourselves just for a few moments from the daily grind of chores and formal learning and think on a more spiritual and uplifting plane. 

Being intentional about our spirituality:

Growing up my mum didn't have the wisdom of people like Sally Clarkson to draw from as she parented us in a Christian household.  We were taken to church every week, encouraged to get involved in church and youth groups and had books about Christian growth pushed under our noses from time to time.  When I reflect on this experience in the frame of being intentional, I am moved to work hard at creating a family culture where our faith is at the centre. It has taken me a long time to get to the point I am at now, so intentionality has been feeding into this for a lot longer than the 2 months of 2021, but being intention has been at the heart of it regardless.  

Sally Clarkson, in her book "The Ministry of Motherhood" says:

"I realised with the passing of each day that spiritual and emotional maturity would not just happen to my children because I wished it so.  It would not come from a passive example of my being good. Effective spiritual, emotional and social training in the lives of my children would have to be both intentional and planned".

Reading his quote made me realise that, although this approach more or less worked for me growing up, there was definitely no guarantee.  I needed to take steps, I needed to know what I was working for and I needed to be intentional

Being more intentional in this area has prompted me to dig much deeper into my own spirituality though much more regular prayer, prayerful journaling, Bible study, devotionals and reading books about spiritual growth.  I chip away small amounts of time for this on an almost daily basis and I am getting better at it, I can see improvements. None of this would have happened if I had not been intentional about planning and living into those plans. 

For my children this means speaking Godliness into their lives, including the name of Jesus regularly in the language of our everyday lives (not just on Sundays) and praying together as a family.  It also means regular, morning, dinner time and bedtime devotionals.  All of these things have happened because I was intentional about planning them, about buying books and about making the time for them to happen.  They take a force of will. I am very far from where I want to be on this, I am not perfect and I don't achieve all this every day, but by being intestinal about it, I am putting it out there into God's hands that this is how we want to shape our family and trust that his Grace will fill in the gaps. 

Charlotte Mason says:

"Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man and the knowledge of the universe - the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable and most happy-making." 

Realising that my children's spiritual life is the MOST important thing has been key in allowing God to work in our family through creating habits, rituals and a Jesus-imitating attitude. I often fret that we don't do enough maths, or that they haven't had the opportunities some schooled children may have had or that they are too messy, but each time I feel this anxiety growing in me I remind myself that at the end of the day none of that really matters.  The ONLY thing that really matters is their relationship with the LORD, and if I get to the end of a day and the only "Educational" thing we did that way was read their morning devotional then I will know that at least what we did do was the most important thing of all. 


If you enjoyed this post the you might like to hop over to my Patreon page where you will discover access to more of my writing.  Also stay tuned because I will be elaborating of how the word "intentional" is adding to my life in an upcoming Patreon post. 

Saturday, 17 October 2020

On Being a Full Time Mum

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Before I had children I was a secondary Art and Design teacher.  There was much that I loved about this job, engaging with young people, hearing about their ideas and what made the excited, sharing my passion and love of art with a younger generation, and igniting a spark in them for a love of art.  At the end of the school year I could look over my spread sheets of marks, levels and grades and say "yes, I did a good job this year." Seeing some of my pupils go on to do degrees in the arts or gain creative jobs added another layer of job satisfaction, My work here was done. 

At the age of 28 I gave birth to my first child and I was forever a changed, a new adventure had begun.  

When that day came where I had to make a decision about going back to work, although I enjoyed my job and the rewards, both emotional and financial, the choice was an easy one.  Although it would mean living on a small budget and not upgrading our home as many of my friends were, the thought of giving my child to someone else to look after for upwards of 8 hours a day 5 days a week was unthinkable.  In spite of the words I was hearing around me about being a full time mother, that I wouldn't be mentally stimulated, that I would lose my identity and financial independence, being able to continue breastfeeding on demand, to be the one to help him off to sleep for a nap, to sit with him whilst he ate, to provide fun activities for him to do, to be there for him when he was sad, to witness his first words and steps, to mother my child full time was too much of a draw.  I would be a full time mother.  

At the time I didn't know what a challenging role full time mothering would be (there were days during my teacher training when I thought I couldn't be tireder, little did I know that that tiredness was nothing compared to the tiredness of being a first time mum) , I could never had imagined what this adventure of motherhood that I was embarking on would be like.  But as I look back over the last 8 years I can honestly say that it is the best, most rewarding and fulfilling job I have ever done.  Yes it can be crazy making at times, I continue to be thoroughly sleep deprived, and we are still having to stick to a small budget, but I have had the privilege and honour of being with my children whilst they are little, I will only get that time once.  As soon as I had my first child I knew I wanted to be a full time mother and I am so thankful that I get to live that dream. 

It would be easy in our society to feel like I was the only mother in the world to feel this way, in this country it is pretty much standard that mothers will go back to work either part time or full time once their child is at most a year old, only 20% of mothers stay home after the birth of their first child, we are in the minority (although ironically I hear some mums who go back to work experiencing guilt about their decision).  Returning to work is expected of you.  It is expected of you by society to return to being a contributor to the economy, and therefore it is expected of you by every other part of society.  Your family assumes you will return to work, because, although perhaps your mother didn't, you will because that's what modern women do, and being a full time mum is a relic of a past generation.  Your friends assume you will because they all are and they all want to. Even your church will assume that you are returning to work because they wouldn't want to appear to be expecting you not to and then seem sexist or old fashioned, (you may even be the only full time mum there). Likely, if you are a valued member of your work team, you've also had pressure from work to return, or at least they would like to know if they need to begin recruiting again. 

It makes you think that there must be something really terrible about being a full time mother, and something that is really amazing about returning to work. 

I find it really strange that some mothers experience guilt and regret about going back to work when it is what most mothers (4 out of 5) do.  I experience guilt because of NOT returning to work, I feel guilty that the burden of providing for my family falls 100% on my husbands shoulders I feel guilty that we can't have a more comfortable lifestyle on only one income, that my children don't have some of the luxuries and privileges of other children whose parents both work.  But I do not feel guilty about not contributing to the economy, because I know that in spite of what society would have me thing, my role is very very important, Sally Clarkson puts it perfectly:

"A mother, living well in her God-ordained role is of great beauty and inestimable value to the future history of any generation.  Her impact is irreplaceable and necessary to the spiritual formation of children who will be the future adults of the next generation." Mom Heart Moments,

The message from society is clear in its contrast to this; disparaging phrases like "stuck at home", and "tied to the kitchen sink",  reverberate with a feeling of imprisonment and subjugation, words ike "drudgery" and "monotony" will ring in your ears, they make us feel like being a full time mum is a punishment, a last resort, something you might do if you have run out of other options, or have no other skills to do anything else.  Society also tells us that other people could be doing a much better job than we are, trained nursery workers are presented as being able to offer our children care and experiences that we never could. 

The message that contributing to the economy is the only way to be useful and of value is insidious and hard to ignore.  It is a powerful message, and it has to be because the economy wants mother back in work paying taxes and the leaders do not want mothers at home cultivating a culture of togetherness, unity, home and family; the earthly leaders would rather us all split into our own separate boxes, work, school, care homes etc lest we realise that it is family and community that give our lives meaning, not expensive gadgets, cars and holidays.  Without any of the perks, rewards or gratitude one receives in the workplace it takes a lot of strength to believe that what I am doing is worth something, that what I am doing is of value and that what I am doing is something no one else can do. 

When I really think about it working on the job of making a home and caring for my family is far more rewarding than any paid work I could ever do. It's the best job in the world!  And I choose to make it feel rewarding and satisfying rather than making myself miserable by comparing and craving external validation.  I am beholden to no one, I am the Queen of my kingdom.  No boss to hold me accountable (aside from God) or check up on me. I am not working to fill someone else's pockets or build someone else's empire.  I am in charge. I choose.  You might say hanging laundry is boring and tedious, how can anyone find that sort of thing alone satisfying? Well I would rather hang laundry, cook meals and clean and tidy to care for my family, my own flesh and blood, the people who give real meaning to life than work day in day out for a corporation.  You might say that being with my kids all day must drive me crazy, and feel unsatisfying, but I'd rather gain fulfillment from breaking up fights between my children, holding them when there are tears, and being there for them when they have nightmares than find fulfillment in filling someone else's pockets.  I could serve strangers, or I could commit to serving my family, the gifts from God that I have been blessed with whilst they are all under my roof.  Being a full time mother and home maker is an honor and a privilege, I'm looking after my household, I am in charge of making my house a...well a home! It is my job to make my home into a loving, peaceful retreat away from the stresses of the world.  It is my job to educate my children in our ways and values, to build their character on the things we feel are important, to nurture them and help them grow into kind, loving thoughtful adults.  What could be more rewarding than that?  

As a full time mother there is no end of term tick sheet, no grades, no external validation, it's all a mystery for 18 plus years till you send them out into the world with a prayer and fingers crossed to discover if you did a good job or not. But I would really encourage any mums who are not sure if they want to return to work or to give full time mothering serious consideration, with intention it can fulfill all the wonderful claims that we are told we will gain by returning to work; find your tribe of other mothers to share your feelings with, they are out there if you look beyond the toddler groups and library rhyme time, find mums who share your interests, who have similar life experiences, who have the same parenting philosophies and you will gain so much in mental stimulation, support and encouragement.  My mum friends really are the best friends I have and I couldn't be without them. Also remember being a full time mum doesn't mean you stop having other interests.  Look at me right now!  Writing a blog post and everything!  I make time for the things I love, you can even make money from these things if you wish, if you do this you are less likely to experience the "loss of identity" which is so often hung over us as a threat to our emotional welfare if we quit paid work.  Remember there will always be jobs out there when the time comes that you are ready to return to work, you are replaceable in your job, but you are not replaceable to your children, and they are only little once. 

I do not need spread sheets and grades to give me a sense of worth and value, witnessing my children grow and develop, seeing them conquer battles and share compassion, hearing their stories, problems, feelings and ideas far outweighs any validation I gained from previous paid employment and I would not change it for the world.  What's so great about filling in spread sheets anyway?

P.S I know that there are people reading this who will disagree with what I have said here, and that's cool, we don't all have to agree on everything, we can still be friends and have different ideas about how to live life, I am simply sharing my own positive experiences and outlook in the hope that it might give another mum the courage to do the thing she dearly wishes to do but didn't feel confident enough to try.  It's to encourage that mum to take that step in spite of the messages she has been receiving from all around her, to ignore those messages and live the life she dreams of, if you're not that mum, that's cool, this message isn't for you.  This is a message to mums for whom it is not financially critical for them to return to work, if you're not that mum, that's OK, this post isn't for you. We are all different and if you're not relating to anything I am saying here then this post probably isn't the post for you and that's fine. I can't please everyone.  I am all for supporting mums in their choices, let's life each other up, not tear eachother down just because we have different ideas about what is best for our families.  However my message will always draw from my own personal well of experience and be for those who wish to receive it.

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Saturday, 3 October 2020

Lockdown reflections

A friend called me out on my complaining this week.

As most of you know I have struggled through lockdown and continue to struggle through the ongoing restrictions.  Phrases like "the new normal" set my teeth on edge and I want to throttle anyone to tells me that there is no going back to what we had before and that the virus will be with us forever. 

I enjoyed my life before lockdown.  I enjoyed seeing my friends and family, I enjoyed being able to do things spontaneously, I enjoyed socialising with other families, I enjoyed going to church and singing hymns. Living in our tiny house wasn't so bad when we were out of it most of the day at groups, other people's houses or visiting places, I have found spending more time at home with three children and an extra adult in the house all day (my husband working in our tiny bedroom) very challenging. I have had intense moments of cabin fever, wanting not only to run away from the house but to climb out of my own skin and just get away. But we've been trapped. 

That's how I've felt during lockdown: trapped. 

I have read often in messages from friends and on facebook that people have enjoyed lockdown.  All I could feel about this was envy and irritation. How can they find THIS enjoyable!! Don't they know how hard it's been for ME? How dare they say they've enjoyed it! 

And this is where my friend came in with her truth.  And I am so thankful for her insight.

"Your life was good before lockdown so lockdown is just a bad patch for you.  For the people who have enjoyed lockdown their lives were worse before and the lockdown is the good patch for them; and that's sad."


For some people lockdown has been like an oasis in the desert, compared to my relatively small shadow in the light, (apologies for the mixed metaphors).  There are people out there who have had to go to a miserable job everyday who have been furloughed or else been able to work from home for whom lockdown has been a huge relief and a rest, maybe they've got away from a mean boss or unpleasant coworkers and be able to relax and be themselves, there are people who have been able to spend time with their children that perhaps they never felt able to before due to school pressure, endless hobbies and clubs, and they have loved it.  There are people who have really enjoyed being able to spend time at home instead of  travelling away for work, there are people whose lives may have been so busy before that lockdown has given them the chance to pause and reflect on their lives. 

So while I have been busy moaning about how hard lockdown is for me, I should have been being thankful that my life was so good before and that lockdown in only temporary.  For me that bad bit is temporary, for other people the good bit is temporary.  Talk about food for thought.

I don't mean at all to sound patronising to people here, my life was good before but not perfect and I certainly don't mean to sound boastful or prideful about my life because it's not that at all.  It's gratitude, it's appreciation, it's thankfulness. It's feeling like actually I have got a lot to be happy about my life, as much as there are hard parts, like everyone else, overall, it's pretty damn good. 

Now there is no point in a moment of epiphany if one doesn't take something from it and change. How am I going to use this insight and make a difference in my life.  Here are some ways I am starting to make changes:

Stop moaning about how hard it all is, it's not as hard for me in lockdown as it is for some people normally, 

Tell myself that I enjoy cleaning and tidying for my family (fake it to make it!),

Make the best of the home we have, we are lucky to have one of our own despite how small it is, 

Enjoy my children as much as possible, I am fortunate to be able to home educate them, 

Craft a beautiful life.


My wise friend messaged me later and said this:

"Compare lockdown with food rationing during the war.  Families that were more well off, and could usually afford a wide variety of quality food, found rationing really difficult.  They were so unsatisfied with it because they were used to much better and much more food that that, and they tended to be the people that would buy stuff on the black market quite regularly.  However, the poorer working class families thrived during rationing because they were usually mal-nourished.  And so, they found that they were now getting more food than they'd ever had before.  A lot of them said "we've never had it so good!" By the end of the war the British nation was at its most healthy in terms of nutrition and cardio-vascular health as a result of rationing.  There was no gap in health between the rich and the poor.  Be like the poor people.  Proclaim to yourself: "we've never had it so good!"  Even if you don't feel like it."


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