Sunday, 3 July 2022

So What Do You Actually Do All Day?

Home education has been on the public radar quite a lot over the past two years with parents across the country being plunged head first into trying to educate their children from home back in March 2020.  Many parents found this experience excruciating and couldn’t wait for schools to re-open, still others loved in and decided to embark on home educating their children full time.  I had a really hard time during lock down in spite of regularly being told that nothing much must have changed for me.  Clearly there was a pre-conceived idea that home education took place entirely in the home in isolation from the wider world.  This could not be further from the truth and I struggled so much not being able to attend our groups, see friend and visit museums, libraries and other educational places.  These were a huge part of my educational provision, just being home all day everyday was not part of the plan!



Two years on and many families have decided to continue home educating their children; as a result, numbers have risen and the government are starting to get concerned.  They don’t really want children being home educated because that means one parent not working (at least not full time) and therefore contributing less tax revenue than that of a full time working parent. I think the government would also prefer every British citizen to have the same educational experience as each other (except for the rich ones of course), it doesn’t really want too many free thinkers walking about.  So, in a small part as a result of the rise in numbers of home educating families over the last two years, the government have pressed on with their plan to introduce a home education register, along with their “schools bill” which all parents should be concerned about, home educating or otherwise. There is a lot of information on the internet about it, so I won’t harp on here, but needless to say the government’s claims that they will “level up standards” and be providing educational “excellence” are pretty laughable. 



The Government claim that there are children “under the radar”; parents who are keeping their children locked up at home, neglected, with no socialisation and likely abuse under the guise of “home education, or else are indoctrinating children with illegal schools.  The Government claim that a register will make sure that no children are missed (won’t those parents abusing their children just not sign the register seeing as they are already doing something illegal?!)  in spite of the fact that every single child who was abused under the guise of home education were already know to local authorities.   It seems to me a lot of parents, even those in the home ed community think the Governments plan is a good idea, “if it saves just one child from abuse it’s worth it” they say “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” they say.  But the reality is that sadly it won’t save any children from abuse.  More children are abused in school than in home education.  It’s never really about the children.



Maybe because of lockdown and how parents were forced into home learning in isolation, there are a lot of misconceptions about home education, and the image of all children sat at the kitchen table receiving drills in maths an English, churning out a generation of, at best, maladjusted weirdos, and at worst illiterate criminals, continues to permeate the minds of the general public. This perception was further ingrained after the lockdown as parents assumed what they were doing at home with their schooled children was the same as what we were doing with our home educated children (all at home, not going out, not seeing anyone).  And that, as I have said, couldn’t be further from the truth. 



One question I get asked a lot is “so what do you actually do?”.  So I thought I would take this opportunity to dispel some myths and to give an insight into our daily life.  This is in part inspired by a friend of mine who did the same recently on Facebook (so thanks for that Amy).  I’ll tell you what the average week looks like, but I will also tell you about some of the interactions and spontaneous learning opportunities that take place that simply cannot be substantiated. 



I dislike the use of the word routine and lean more towards rhythm in describing our days,  routine feels strict and unbending, but our rhythms change and move and flow with the seasons, the moods and the weather.  So please see this as less of a timetable of events and more of a flow of predictable rituals, traditions and habits interspersed with spontaneous learning opportunities, space for exploration, play and time with friends.



We begin each day at the dining table with breakfast and a story.  At the moment I am reading Bible stories to the children from a big old Hamlyn Children’s Bible with lots of colourful illustrations.  I like this book as it sounds a bit more like the Bible than some other children’s editions, so prepares their minds a little bit for the style of writing in the Bible.  I read a few chapters then summarise what has been read at the end and ask the children to narrate what they remembered.  After this we do a morning devotional.  At the moment this is “Our 24 Family Ways” by Clay Clarkson.  A devotional is usually something a bit like a discussion or Bible study around a certain topic.  This devotional is about character and values.  It begins with some thought provoking questions, followed by a bible verse, some discussion questions surrounding the verse and then a prayer.  After this we read some poetry.  Currently we are reading from Collins “Treasury of Poetry” illustrated by Hilda Boswell. I love Hilda Boswells illustrations and I also have “A Child’s Garden of Verses” illustrated by her. We discuss the poems as we go. 



Once the boys are dressed and teeth brushed and chores done (I will do another blog post about chores soon)  we usually sit down to do some Maths and English.  For Maths we are following the curriculum “Maths no Problem”.  Maths is my weak area so I feel much more confident using a curriculum which I know will take the boys through everything they need to know for Maths.  I like Maths no Problem as it uses The Singapore Maths approach, but also the traditional approach which I learnt at school, so it given children different ways of working things out.  I wouldn’t say this is necessarily the best Maths curriculum out there, but it is good value for money. For English we use workbooks for reading, spelling, punctuation and handwriting, the skills they need to decipher and understand texts and to write their own.  But they are free to do their own writing whenever they want, both hand written and typed on the computer, story and letter writing happens fairly regularly, on its own in our house.  On an average day this rhythm takes most of the morning.



We do a variety of things in the afternoons, at the moment on Mondays our afternoons are free so we usually do some work on our current topics.  Often this is listening to a story which we might do round the table with a cup of tea, sat on the sofa with biscuits, on a picnic bench in the garden or even on the trampoline!  Currently we are reading about Alexander the Great. We also do crafts, art,  baking, or science experiments in this time, then the boys play.   In the evening my two eldest go to Cubs.



On Tuesdays, after our usual morning rhythms, I take my eldest to drama, one of the home ed mums is putting on a performance of Mary Poppins 2.  While he is there I take my other three boys to a park and we usually do a nature walk.  After I collect my eldest from drama we go home and do stories, then the boys are free to play outside or with their friends or our neighbours.  In the evening all three boys do Jujitsu class.



Wednesday afternoons are a meet with a group of our Christian Home education friends in the afternoon.  We usually do some sort of activity or social.  On Wednesday evening my 6 year old goes to Beavers.

Thursdays are another free day. The afternoons are often spent with friends or doing activities at home.



Fridays are a social day, we do nature group in the morning, always with a different topic, usually following the “Exploring Nature with Children” curriculum.  This involves a walk in nature, be that a meadow, field or pond, a story and sometimes an activity.  We do this with a group of friends.  In the afternoon we do park meet with a big group of home educators from all over the Forest.  Friday evenings are a treat night, so the boys have a snack and dinner on the sofa whilst watching a film.



This is the general rhythm of our week, but what you don’t see from this description are the many spontaneous activities that take place.  The comic book strip writing, the engineering structures in the garden, the team work, the podcast one of them wants to make, the random questions that require an exploration in an encyclopaedia,  the board game playing, the spontaneous piano lesson, or French lesson on Duo Lingo, the story writing, the YouTube video inspired by something we read in a book, the lego building, the coding session, the stop motion animation, the nature walks, the excursions to castles, museums, libraries and shops,  the list goes on.  All these things happen spontaneously and without them being timetabled or planned in.  Making sure there is plenty of free time allows for this sort of exploration and genuine learning experiences.


We are very flexible with our week, we do not do Maths and English every day if there is a day out planned, or perhaps, some days things are just different, maybe we slept in one day because we were late to bed after staying late with a friend the previous day, or maybe the mood just isn’t right for table work and we decide to do some baking or painting instead.  I don’t like to be too strict with our days.  I like to present my children with new ideas and experiences as much as possible to allow their brains to think and grow.



So that is our life at the moment, it changes and flows throughout the year as different groups or classes start or end and the seasons roll on, it’s working well for us and is unique to our family, but might not be right for another family. Some families will do fewer groups, be home more, others will have online classes and group lessons and be at home even less. That is the beauty of home education, it is tailored, personalised and unique to each family. 



Most importantly we are doing life together, learning to love and care for each other, to be responsible, to be kind and make life good as a family.  We see the good and the bad together and work through big feelings.  We don’t live a complicate life and I try not to be too busy, I like to be calm and have as little stress as possible.



I hope this dispels any myths you may have and satisfies your curiosities, I hope it gives an understanding of what home ed life might be like, not to persuade you to make your life like mine but to gain understanding, because with understanding come acceptance.



Sunday, 5 June 2022

Being a Home Maker

A few months ago I had to register the birth of my forth baby.   As with each child I was asked what my occupation was.  For baby number 1 I chose "teacher" as my occupation, I didn't know at that point that I wouldn't be going back into teaching.  I wasn't doing paid work when I registered babies 2 though 4 so had to choose another option.  I had forgotten what the official choice was for a woman who was caring for her children full time, so I asked for "Full time mother " to be my recorded occupation.  The registrar kindly informed me that that was the term usually reserved for single mothers and that married mothers like myself would normally be recorded as "House Wife".  Now I take no issue with the term "House Wife"  I don't find it especially offensive and have never considered it to have associations with ownership as some women do, I find it quite a homely term, it is simply that "house wife" doesn't really describe what I do. 



I am not normally one for favouring the American version of words, but in this instance I find the term "home maker" much more helpful in describing my occupation, in fact I think it is a beautiful description of what women who do not receive income for their work at home actually do. 

Not only is it a more accurate description of what I do in this phase of my life but it is also far more poetic and intentional.  It's not just a practical description as words like carer or housekeeper or cook are, but it embodies and encompasses the overall goal that I am working towards.  My purpose, what adds meaning to this phase of my life isn't just the meeting of children's needs, it isn't just the process of education or keeping a house tidy and clean, it is about creating a space within not just a building but a family that has meaning and purpose. 

The bible alludes many times to us one day living in a heavenly home with God, for example:

"For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." (2 Corinthians 5:1)

Also:

"My Father's house has many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2)

And:

"Yes we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord"(2 Corinthians 5:8) 

The Bible also describes what this home in heaven is going to be like, it says:

"My people will abide in a peaceful dwelling-places, in secure homes and in undisturbed places of rest." (Isaiah 32:18)

So it seems to me, seeing that we pray "your kingdom come" in the Lord's prayer we should be trying to make something a bit like heaven in our homes now. To me this seems places of peace, places where we are accepted, places to feel safe and places to rest and recuperate.  They should be places that contrast with the world, where we can be unhurried, taste the sweetness of life and not feel pressure to confirm to the worldly ways of appearance, attitudes, materialism and busyness.  

The world lies to us and tells us that a home is about fancy wallpaper, fashionable furniture and accessories, and the latest electronics.  It tells us a home is a thing to be bought.  Now I have no doubt that heaven will be beautiful and it is therefore not wrong to want to make our homes a beautiful place to be, in fact I think that is a good thing.  God has given most of us the desire to create beauty in our lives and this reflects his character.  But this is not the only thing that makes a house a home. 



Sally Clarkson says:

"Everyday in each inch of space, each rhythm of time, each practice of love, we have the chance to join God in coming home, in living so that we make a home of this broken and beautiful world all over again. Love is enfleshed in the meals we make, the rooms we fill, the space in which we live and breathe and have our being."

A home is a place where family grows and is nurtured and cared for, it is a place to feel safe and a place to be yourself. It should be a place of light that contrasts with the darkness of the world.  it should be a place where we get to enjoy the best things in life;  good and nourishing food and drinks, an abundance of good books that inspire, encourage, excite and comfort.  There should be comfortable places to sit together and enjoy each others company, there should be music and a pleasant atmosphere. 



To the world my life as a home maker may seem like one of servitude, housework and self sacrifice.  Many would say that when I gave up paid work I gave up meaning, I lost myself.   But to me, the work I am doing here is more important that any of the paid work I have ever done, because I am shaping life for my family.  I am creating joy, comfort and peace for the most important people in my life. 

This is what I am trying to create for my family.  Am I achieving this all the time? heck no!  I wish I was.  But it is what I am working towards and it is my goal, and I hope that as I work towards it, even though I know I will never create a home as good as the heavenly one which is to come, I am at least creating a little glimpse of it in my own little patch on earth.



The fact that I can never make a true heaven on earth of our home encourages us to always have our eyes on God.  C.S Lewis says:

"The settled happiness and security which we all desire.  God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure and merriment, He has scattered broadcast.  We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.  It is not hard to see why.  The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.  Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home."

I hope that in this life I am creating in our home a "pleasant inn" in which to rest on our journey through life.  So I am choosing the embrace the name "home maker" in my life and use it to inspire me to create a special place for my family. 



Saturday, 30 April 2022

Cloth Nappies and Letting go of Perfection

My journey with cloth nappies has been a bit of a bumpy one, there have been times when I was so puritanical about using them that I decided we should even use them whilst camping.  I had visions of my lovely cloth nappies swinging from the guide ropes, drying in the sun. The reality however was rain, nappy leaks in a sleeping bag and a lot of time and money spent on the camp site laundrette and tumble dryer.  Not a fun experience on reflection. 

At other times I have shunned cloth nappies altogether.  For example when my first son was born I had all the good intentions of using cloth and had my lovely sets of new born cloth nappies ready to go, but the reality was that I was so overwhelmed with motherhood and trying to look after this wriggly baby that cloth nappies became just another new, difficult thing that I had to learn.  One too many things, so for a while I guiltily and shamefacedly used disposables.

I once attended a cloth nappy meet in a cool area of the town I used to live in.  The event was really lovely and I was thrilled to meet other mothers who were like minded, I felt like I had met my tribe.  But I couldn’t help but feel daunted by some of the mothers’ approaches to cloth bumming, one mum was like a ninja as she wrapped and tied her baby’s bum in her organic wool cloth nappy like someone folding origami!  I couldn’t live up those standards.

I now seem to have settled into a nice balance of using both cloth and disposable, who knew it was ok to use both! But it has taken me a while to let go of the perfection I thought was required and embrace an acceptance that life is not perfect.  Accepting that I don’t need to be perfect with my approaches to motherhood parenting has given me a little more peace and made life just a little bit more enjoyable.  

  

Perhaps you have thought about using cloth nappies saw one of those ninja mums and decided it was all too overwhelming.  Or maybe you thought they were too expensive, messy or time consuming,  here I will show you have none of these things is necessarily true and how you can enjoy using cloth nappies with your baby, without guilt and without loosing your marbles.

Why use cloth nappies?

There are three great reasons to use cloth nappies, they can be better for the environment, they can save you money and they can be healthier for your baby, let me explain:

                                                     

I have been using cloth nappies on and off for ten years and some of the nappies I used with my first baby are still going with my forth.  Imagine how many hundreds of disposable nappies going to landfill that has saved!  Not to mention the manufacturing, packaging and transportation of disposable nappies. Disposable nappies take hundreds of years to break down, even the more eco friendly versions whereas a single cloth nappy can be reused hundreds of times. Cloth nappies are up to 40% less harmful to the environment than disposable nappies and can reduce household waste by a massive 50%.  What is more, when washed at low temperatures and line dried cloth nappies also create less carbon emissions, if you acquire them second hand, use them with multiple children or pass your nappies on after your children are potty trained then you’re reducing your impact even further. If you add into this using washable wipes then you are further reducing your environmental impact. 

Another great reason to use cloth nappies is the financial saving.  You might be surprised you can save money on cloth nappies if you have seen the price of them new in the shops,  why would you buy one cloth nappy when you can get a pack of 40 disposables for the same price?  Well over the last 10 years I have probably invested no more that £50 on cloth nappies.  This is because I have reused the ones I first bought to their death, I have bought them second hand and I have gratefully accepted cloth nappies from my friends whose children were done with them.  I do no more than two extra machine washes per week to keep on top of the washing and I try to line dry them in the warmer, dryer months so electricity costs are minimised. I am absolutely certain that using cloth nappies has saved us a significant amount of money.  If you need to buy nappies new then you will find many sources of cheaper cloth nappies than the supermarket.  I have tried many brands over the years and have had success with both more pricey and cheaper brands.  You don’t need any special detergent to wash your nappies (check the brand as some mainstream detergents can’t be used) and you don’t need to use any special settings on your machine. I just whack them in on a 60 cotton wash with ecover non-bio and that has served me well over the years.

Washable cloths can also save you money, you don't have to spend a lot on purpose made wipes, just use cheap flannels.  I use a mix of these and some old washable liners, I've also used bits of cut up fleece and towels in the past. 

Finally cloth nappies can be better for your baby because your baby’s skin is in contact with materials that contain fewer toxic chemicals and many cloth nappies are more breathable than disposable.  The ultimate nappy might be an organic cotton or bamboo cloth nappy, but even those with microfiber and polyester fabrics release fewer toxic chemicals that can harm your baby especially if they are second hand.  Also by using cloth we are able to leave a better planet to our children for the future.

It could be easy to look at all that information and feel bad for using disposable, but it’s important to remember that we all only do as much as we can do and even just replacing a few disposables here and there with cloth is a small help. None of us is perfect, we are all just trying to be a better mum and a better person than the day before, and sometimes we are just trying to survive.


Cloth bum with ease:

If you are thinking that using cloth nappies must take a lot more time than using disposables, let me tell you that this isn’t necessarily true.  Of course at the point of use it does take more time to process a cloth nappy than to just whip a disposable out of the bag, but when you factor in the cost of disposables and the fact someone has to work to earn the money to keep buying them week on week then the time saving value of disposable doesn’t seem so great.  All that to say, there is additional time required to process the cloth nappies, and you might feel like you really can’t manage on more thing, and that’s ok, but the reality is that the extra time needed needn’t be exorbitant.  I keep the time spent washing and drying my cloth nappies down with these simple techniques:

·        I dry store my nappies in a bucket with a tight fitting lid. This eliminates smell but also means that I can do a full machine load in one go rather than lots of small washes.  I do no more than two washes of cloth nappies per week, I make sure all Velcro tabs are folded down before the nappies go into the bucket then as I empty them into the machine I unfold or untuck any pads or stuffers.

·        Hanging up nappies on the washing line takes no more than about 10 minutes, so with two loads that’s just 20 minutes per week, so not a huge amount of additional time.  If you use the tumble dryer than this time is reduced even further as you just transfer the whole lot into the dryer, switch on and walk away.

·        Finally using cloth wipes rather than disposables is a great time saver as far fewer wipes are required on a poopy bum when you use washables.  By this I mean you usually only need one wipe per poop, and the actual process takes less time and the fluffy fibres on the cloth and the size means than one or two wipes over the bum and it’s done.  You can also save time by whacking them in the washing machine with the nappies.

I imagine you expect cloth nappies to be a bit gross to deal with but over the years I have developed techniques that have made dealing with the dirties much easier.

·        To begin with, when I remember, I carry a bag around with me to put the poopy nappy into if I am changing it on the go.  Sometimes I forget and then end up in a sandwich bag at the bottom of my rucksac for a week!

·        As I said above I dry store my nappies in a bucket with a tight fitting lid which keeps in the smell, when it then comes to washing the nappy I can just toss them all into the machine.  Some people choose to wet store the nappies in a bucket of water with special detergent but I never liked the idea of transferring dripping nappies to the washing machine then having to deal with the poopy soup left behind in the nappy bucket.

·        Before your baby is six months old it is simple to just put the nappy, poop and all straight into the machine.  But once they are weaned and producing proper poops these need to be removed from the nappy first.  Some people find using a disposable nappy liner makes this a much easer process but I found I could fairly simply flick the poop into the toilet from the nappy if it was dry enough. 

·        Wiping a baby’s bum with a washable wipe is far less messy than with a disposable, your fingers don’t get poop on them because the cloth is so much thicker and larger than a disposable.  Far more hygienic and quicker.



So remember if you feel drawn to using cloth nappies, there is no need to be a perfectionist.  You don’t need to stick religiously to one brand, or use the right boosters with the right nappy.  After ten years of cloth nappy use I am now happy to use any thing I have lying around to stuff a nappy, mixing and matching brands and types and I’ve even been known to use old flannels when I ran out of stuffers! So long as it is absorbent I don’t care what type I stuff it with. 

Using cloth nappies doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even if you are only reducing your use of disposable nappies but one or two per day, that is still going to have an impact over the years.  I used to be so militant at times, but I have come to realise that, when it comes to enjoying life, all things in moderation if a good rule of thumb, and it is ok to not be perfect.  I now mostly use disposables at night and cloth in the day, sometimes I use disposables in the day too like if we are going out on a day trip and I don’t want to carry the dirty cloth nappy in my rucksac all day, I don’t feel guilty about it because I know I am doing the best I can.  I have made peace with not being perfect.   

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

How I got through the hardest year of my life.

Cast your mind back to November 2020, we were still in the midst of a global pandemic, my husband was very stressed in his job and we were living in an overcrowded house with three lively little boys.  My husband was searching for a new job and we were trying to find a way to move to a bigger house, little did I know that our prayers for a new job, house and a desire to move west would be answered.  But God answers prayers in strange ways sometimes.  Who knew that with the gifts of a new job and house would come the hardest year of my life. The Bible says that hard times are like a refiners fire, like metal after it's been refined we come out the other side more pure, stronger, and the last year has certainly been like a fire, it remains to be seen if I have been refined by it yet!

The whirlwind began when my husband accepted a job offer in Gloucestershire and we got our house on the market.  It is a commonly known fact that moving house is one of the most stressful of life experiences and our experience was no exception.  To begin with15 years’ worth of possessions belonging to five people in a tiny two bed semi had to be packed, sold, given away and otherwise hidden to make our house presentable for sale.  We must have done a good job because we sold in the first week it was on the market, then began a fast furious house hunt.  We began making the two hour journey to the West Midlands for several weekends in a row to visit up 5 five houses at a time.  We saw a total of 16 houses, but house buying is never easy and even after finding the right place it was a bumpy and extremely rough road to completion.  We finally moved into our new home on 1st April 2021, three months after my husband started his new job.  


Everything was looking pretty rosy, we now had four bedrooms, one for us and one each for our children, a big garden and enough money to refurbish, then to all of our surprise I found out I was pregnant! After the initial shock I was pleased but then followed 3 months of appalling sickness, this was hard to manage on top of refurbishing a home and trying to continue home educating. The pregnancy was by far the hardest I have experienced, the sickness continued the entire pregnancy and I was beyond uncomfortable by the end.  

Then at the end of May we thought it would be fun to add a dog to our family.  It was not fun.  She is lovely now, but at the time getting a dog felt like the biggest mistake ever, the hair, the barking, the biting, and pooping and weeing everywhere was immensely stressful.  In June my eldest son fell down the stairs, bumped his head and got a concussion which resulted in a 999 call and another hospital visit, he was thankfully, fine, but stress levels were increased yet again.  In July my second son was very ill and was hospitalised with Asthma which was a slow recovery.  At the same time I came down with a bad chest infection which put me out of service for a large proportion of the summer.  All this happened under the umbrella of covid which as I am sure you can imagine heightened the anxiety around socialising, our health and the many hospital visits.


Still on a back foot from the chest infection our whole family then did go on to catch covid (not the watered down version, but the nasty Delta version) in September.  Both my husband and I realised quite quickly that we weren't going to be getting an easy ride. He had to go into hospital and the next day so did I.  I had to drop my children off with a new friend who I didn't know well, and they stayed with her for 5 days (along with her own 6 children!!).  The next day my husband caught sepsis from the covid infection and I spent one long night not knowing if he would still be alive the next morning.  He came out of hospital on his 40th birthday, but we were still both too ill to look after the children so they had to stay with my parents for another week. 

Thankfully we didn't die from covid and in December I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy, of course not without drama, he was born into the hands of my husband at home before the midwife or paramedics arrived.  Unfortunately there were concerns about the baby so we had to spend three days in hospital.  

After coming out of hospital I developed terrible allergies and a wheeze, I was diagnosed with asthma.  Then in March we call caught covid again. My chest was still in recovery and a few weeks later I ended up being diagnosed with a bad chest infection (but not before a hospital visit with a suspected blood clot on my lung).

At the end of March, I looked back over the past year since we moved to The Forest of Dean and couldn't really believe the year we had had, it was certainly not what I had expected.  But we had got through it, I had got through it, it hadn't broken me.  It would be understandable if I had plunged into depression.  In her book "The Wild Remedy"  Emma Mitchell talks about her experience with depression saying:

"...the shift in GABA receptor expression and activity [a possible cause of severe depression] is caused by our environment influencing the way in which our genes are expressed, which in turn influences our neuronal activity.  Which in essence means that suicidal thoughts might be caused by a series of difficult circumstances or life events.  The GABA-focused research hints at mechanisms that lead to the most severe cases of depression...)

Of course there are many causes of depression, and much more research needs to be done into why some people get depressed and others don't when placed under severe pressure from their circumstances.  The reasons why my circumstances over the last year did not cause depression in me probably go deeper than the things I am about to share, but perhaps they will give insight and encouragement for others going through a hard time.  This is not however a guide to preventing or overcoming depression and if you are feeling depressed I would urge you to seek medical advice. I have included a few phone numbers at the bottom of this post.

We will all, throughout our lives, encounter hard times and I am acutely aware that some peoples hard times are far more sever than mine, but all things are relative which is why depression is indiscriminate. My tips here will hopefully offer suggestions for ways to boost morale, ease stress and encourage positivity when we are faced with the sort of hard times that we are all likely to encounter throughout our lives, but they are not quick fixes for mental illness or extreme circumstances.    

Friends:

It would have been easy to feel lonely during all the troubles we experienced over the past year, but not only did I stay in contact with a couple of friends from our old area whom I met up with regularly and who cheered me immensely, but I also got in touch with the local communities in our new area.  Seeing other people gives us a reason to laugh, occasions to have fun and share experiences. Our neighbours, the home education community and the Christian community have all been really welcoming and friendly and even brought us food when we were ill and again after having our baby and have looked after our children when we needed it. Sometimes it can feel hard to insert yourself into an already established community, but I think more often than not people are happy to include new faces and it just takes a bit of time and effort to make new, and perhaps even lifelong friends. I think that being in need of help and support actually brings out the good in people, it gives people a reason to do a good deed (which in turn makes them feel good) and although it might feel like we are being an inconvenience and it can be hard to ask for help sometimes, people do like to help others.  A friend in need is a friend indeed as they say. Having a community around you helps so much when you are going through hard times, it’s not just the practical support friends can offer, but perhaps more importantly a listening ear, having someone who you can share your troubles with is invaluable as well as giving you a reason to laugh.  What is even more valuable that having beautiful hearted people around you to help you and listen to you is being able to offer help and a listening ear to others.  The more time you spend helping others, the less time you spend on worrying about your own troubles, and somehow your own troubles seem smaller and smaller.


Routines:

One of the things that kept me going through covid, when I could have spent every day of those five days that I was home all alone, my husband in hospital and my children staying with a friend, feeling sad, was getting up every day, dry brushing my skin and getting dressed.  I did this without fail every day.  It would have been very easy to just stay in bed every day and feel sorry for myself (and completely understandable), but I made the decision to get up and complete these simple routines and I found they kept me going.  Other little jobs like letting the dog out and feeding her, and taking my medication also helped provide consistency and predictability to my day at a time in my life when things felt very chaotic. Little jobs that needed doing each day, the regularity, the rhythm, helped me to feel calm and added an element of normalcy to each day.  Creating a rhythm of activities to keep you occupied and keep your mind busy helps immensely when going through hard times, the soothing folding of freshly washed laundry, the satisfaction of a swept floor, a regular phone call with a family member, time set aside to read or watch a TV show are all things you can do to preserve your mental health through challenges. They helped me get through the hardest time of my life and they might just help you too.

Self care:

Much can be said about the benefits of self care, we all know it’s important to keep your own cup filled so that we can pour from it to help others, but when we are going through a hard time it can feel insurmountable to do anything kind to ourselves, and yet it remains essential.  If we can create small spaces of time, little actions to care for ourselves we will be able to face challenges a little more easily.  The hard times are when we need a full cup more than ever.  Here are a few things I have done to look after myself in the last year:  Although I have often belaughed the humble bath I am realising the benefits of half an hour to soak in the tub, it’s time to yourself and healing for your body.  I know I always feel better after a bath, although I get them so rarely. Going to the doctors when there are small problems may seem frivolous but it’s really important to get small things looked at, they can prevent further problems developing and have a psychological effect of telling your body you care about it (not to mention the few minutes peace you get in the waiting room before an appointment!). After giving birth I found I really needed to wear very soft and comfortable clothes, I couldn’t bear a bra or jeans, I needed soft things against my body.  I also stopped removing body hair as inflicting pain on my body was something I couldn’t perceive at that time.  I needed to give my body time to heal and be kind and gentle with it, give it soft things and avoid causing harm. Being kind to my body in this way helped me to heal, maybe this will help you if you have had medical challenges.


Getting into nature:

Being in nature can have a wonderfully healing effect on our minds bodies and souls. I believe one of the reasons I didn’t drown over this past year was because I had regular exposure to the natural world.  This of course was made much easier by virtue of the fact we had moved to The Forest of Dean where we are surrounded by an abundance of beautiful flora and fauna.  But getting out into nature doesn’t necessarily mean you have to travel for miles to be out in the countryside.  A walk around a local park, a sit under a tree, a dig in a small patch of earth to plant a seed can all help improve our mental health and get us through difficult times.  The beauty of the natural world calms our minds, it allows for space in our spirits to reflect, in contrast to the busyness of modern life with all its distracting technology.  In hard times take a moment to meditate on the beauty of a bunch of flowers, sniff some soil or find a place to watch the clouds.  You will notice a positive effect on your mind and wellbeing.


Prayer:

Finally, as many of you know I am a Christian, so I talk frequently on God in times of trouble.  We want to desperately to be in control of everything in our earthly lives, if we feel in control we can feel some sense of power over our destiny.  But I have come to learn that so much is out of our control and attempts to control those things that are out of our power are futile and end up causing a lot of stress, worry and anxiety.  I place my troubles in the hands of God knowing he sees the intimate details of my life, hears my worries and cares about me and my experiences.  We might not always get the outcome we hope for but we can always trust that God has our best interest at heart. Of course there is always an element of fear in knowing that God’s way might not always be my way, but praying in the hard times has given me so much peace over circumstances out of my control. When you are facing troubling times in your life I would encourage you to reach out to the higher power and hand over your troubles to him.

This life on earth is fraught with vulnerabilities, dangers and challenges that we will all need to face and have to overcome at times, I hope that all of the above will give you a little store of ideas to relieve some of life’s stresses and make hard times more manageable.  We cannot avoid hard times but we can find ways to get through them with a little more peace a little less harm and with a bit of luck we will come out the other side wiser and stronger to face the next challenge to come.

Samaritans: 116123,

National suicide prevention helpline UK: 0800 689 5652,

SANEline: 0300 304 7000,

MIND: 0300 123 3393

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Yes Adele, I also love being a woman!

 A little while ago singer Adele announced to music fans across the world, when receiving her award for best artist, that she loved being a woman and a female artist.  I loved so much that she said this and it was poignant because the BRIT awards recently decided to make their awards gender neutral, I could talk about why this is problematic, for example because female artists have been under represented in music for decades and to have male and female categories ensures women get the recognition they deserve, but that is not the main point of this post.  What I really want to say is YES!  I also love being a woman, thanks so much for saying that Adele!  You made it ok to love being a woman. 

Why would it be hard to love being a woman?  Well it must be very difficult for girls and even grown women today to be glad they were born female. The #METOO movement revealed some bleak statistics about life as a woman in the UK including that one in five women in the UK have experienced rape or sexual assault (compared to one in twenty men) and one in four women will experience domestic abuse.  It must be frightening and daunting for young women knowing these statistics and difficult to see the positives of life as a woman.  

What is more, things seem to be getting worse, we live in such porn drenched and sexualised culture that boy's expectations of girls and girl's expectations of themselves are very distorted and harmful.  One only needs to look at sexual assault statistics in schools to know that there is something seriously wrong with what our culture is teaching boys; One third of 16-18 year old girls say that they have experienced unwanted sexual attention in schools and on average one girl a day is raped in school (source). 

When girls see the freedom of their male peers at school and socially; less pressure on them aesthetically, clothes than enable them to move around more freely and in comfort, freedom to adopt subjects and careers from virtually any discipline and succeed in them, little reason to feel fearful when going outside at night etc, they must be envious, and even resentful of their own sex which puts so much pressure on them to look and behave a certain way. 

The biology that girls are born with must also sometimes feel like a massive burden that they do not share with the male of the species, and perhaps don't feel like they even want; the changes in puberty that mean we become sexualised and objectified, the mess and pain of periods, the discomfort and dangers of pregnancy, the pain and permanent changes to our bodies in childbirth and finally menopause (which I can't comment much on having not entered that phase of my life yet but frequently hear talk of it's unpleasantness).  From the apparent chains of our biology we watch on the side-lines as men breeze through life with none of the emotional chaos or physical bridges that we have to cross, achieving their physical and career goals, enjoying more free time and evading the emotional and physical labour that women take on simply because we are women (source). 

It is easy to understand why many girls and women feel there is much to complain about as life as females. And I can see why they feel this way, but I really want to shout it into the microphone across our TV screens just like Adele that in spite of it all I LOVE being a woman. Of course I don't necessarily LIKE everything about womanhood. I don't relish the worry of a leaky moon cup or the awful indigestion in pregnancy or the burst stitches I had to endure after giving birth (and that's to name but a few)  but all things considered I love it!

Maybe I am just lucky to have had many strong female role models in my life, especially my mum who made womanhood and motherhood look pretty good, maybe its luck that I was excited to be entering puberty and become a woman and that I longed to start my periods (I was a late starter at 16), that these things were a sign I was maturing and entering a new and exciting phase of life.  I am also thankful for the good fortune of never feeling like I was anything less for being a girl, and never thinking there was anything I couldn't do because I was female. 

I am certainly thankful that I had the protective upbringing I did, I was never sexually assaulted by a boy at school and I have never been raped.  I never felt that being female put me at any disadvantage in my career choices, and always felt that I could do anything that I wanted to do if I worked hard enough and put my mind to it (regardless of whether this is true or not). I am incredibly grateful for this and acknowledge that these facts likely play a part in my love of womanhood and that not all women have had this fortune. 

So what is so great about being a woman? Well I love that my body has its own rhythm and flow that ebbs and changes over the weeks, that my emotions and feeling are changeable and sensitive to the hormones in my body.  I love that women's bodies change through the seasons of their lives, they aren't fixed objects that just get old but we develop and blossom into different eras of life each of which faces us with a relearning of our bodies and minds. 

I love that my female body is capable of creating and sustaining life.  Some women feel like being the only sex to be able to fall pregnant and give birth is a huge burden, but I see it as a blessing and a gift. The fact women and women alone are given the godly gift of being able to produce life is amazing. That we have breasts to nourish our babies for the first few years of their lives is astonishing, that are babies have that dependence on us is magical.  In a society that does not value mothers or indeed children, where the loss of the village leaves mothers feeling lonely, it is no wonder that the gift of motherhood is overlooked as such, but when I put aside this unfortunate development in humankind I can see the true wonder of this gift and not only do I cherish it but I am thankful for it, I love it.

I have often seen women on the TV ancestry show "Who do You Think You are" say that they are proud of coming from a long line of strong women.  But we have all come from a long line of strong women, because women have had to be strong, we wouldn't be here without them and I love this about us.  Women have endured hardships and raised families, shaped homes and picked up the pieces and started all over again.  We are all strong women. 

I love that women are beautiful and creative, spiritual and thoughtful, sensitive and strong, I love being around women and although many reading this might not relate to the image of women that I portray, might find discomfort in the values I attribute to us, I am not here to argue that women are no less for not giving birth or being mothers or breastfeeding or that not all women are such-and-such,  of course these things are true, but for me the image of a woman as a mother and home maker, a comforter and gentle listener is true to the experience of my own life and the lives of many of my female friends and relatives.  

So thank you Adele for declaring that you love being a woman, I love being a woman too and I wouldn't want it any other way.  

Happy International Woman's Day everyone. 

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