Do what scares you…

Both of my daughters take taekwando lessons. They both enjoy learning the patterns, the different types of kicks, the punches etc. My eldest now is at the stage where she wears protective headgear, gloves and footwear – and this girl, who is small for her age, has to spar with others who are often a lot taller and bigger than her.

A few weeks ago, we picked her up from her lesson. She had tears in her eyes and looked angry. I’d not seen her like this before and asked what was wrong, ‘I don’t like sparring!’

‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘I was sparring with my partner and they punched me in the stomach. It really hurt. I don’t want to spar anymore.’

She was sitting in the back of the car, directly behind me. Although I couldn’t see her face, (I didn’t want to look at her and see the tears in her eyes), I could hear her trying to control the emotions in her voice. Really trying to hold it together, not wanting to cry from anger at being punched, it hurt, the outrage – how could someone hit me. Worse still, within her voice I could hear a request. No. More than that. Thinly veiled pleading. Please don’t let me go back, Mum, I don’t want to be punched again.

Within that split second, I had two choices as a parent. I didn’t want my daughter to be punched. I don’t want her to be hurt. Clearly, she was upset – so I could say to her, ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to go back. We won’t go again.’

That was one choice.

However, I made the other choice….

‘Baby, I know that you were hurt. But that’s what happens when you’re learning to spar. You learnt a valuable lesson today. You don’t like being punched. Next time, make sure you watch your opponent and put up your guard. Don’t get punched.’

It’s not what she was expecting to hear. The words left my mouth before I could even think. But the reason why we were sending both girls to these lessons was so they were confident out there in the big, bad world. Nobody likes being hurt – and the thought of my daughters getting hurt both angers and terrifies me equal measure – but I couldn’t teach her to give up.

Whilst we ate our dinner that night, we sat around the table and tried to talk it through a bit more. My husband and I both tried to explain to her that she must have punched the other person too – that must have hurt them too. (She wasn’t consoled by that).

Eventually, I said –

‘Well, the worst has happened. You were punched in the stomach and it hurt. But now when you spar again, you won’t be scared – because you’ve been punched. You know what it feels like, you won’t let it happen again!’

She turned to me and said, ‘You’re right Mummy, that does make me feel better. I do know what it feels like. So I’m not scared anymore!’

The following week, she went for her lesson and we kept reminding her, watch your opponent, remember to block, watch their moves. Are you feeling ok? She appeared to be fine but she’s one of those who puts on a front because life is sometimes easier that way. My husband and I just kept our fingers crossed and hoped for the best.

45 minutes later, he went to the class to pick her up. As he walked in, he scanned the room looking for Eesha. His eyes were drawn to a little girl sparring with a boy almost twice her size, circling him and sparring with him fearlessly. He sent a text to me immediately: Our little girl’s a warrior!

At the end of the lesson, she leapt down the stairs and ran towards the car with a huge spring in her step. ‘Daddy said that you’re a little warrior! Were you sparring with a much bigger boy today? What happened?’ I asked.

She just grinned and shrugged, sweaty, happy and slightly out of breath and said, ‘I chose to spar with him because he was bigger and I wasn’t scared anymore!’

I was incredibly proud of her and incredibly pleased for her. She was scared and worried – but those are the moments in life when you have to be courageous – it’s not that you’re not scared. You are. But you push through – do what terrifies you and have a go anyway.

I wished I could tell her that she’d never be fearful of anything again. But that would be a lie. The truth is that even as a big, grown up adult, I still get scared. I get worried.

This week I had to face some fears. I had to take part in something that I didn’t want to do and was worried about it. My husband was away and I was pretending to be strong and fearless in front of my girls. He sent me a text with a message containing just what I needed to hear:

Remember what we said to Eesha when she got punched in the stomach? Go back keep guard up and fight back – similar analogy 😘😘😘😘

And so I went, remembering the advice that I had given my daughter. Remembering that you never stop being scared but you have to step out of your comfort zone and do things that scare you anyway. And it was fine. Absolutely fine. And I realised that it was something that I needed to do, for my own good. For closure. To move forward.

If I could, I would always try to do things that frighten me the least – but growth comes from being challenged. From doing things that you don’t necessarily want to do, or feel that you can’t.

Sometimes – willingly or unwillingly, we learn most about ourselves when we do what frightens us. And when we come through the other side, we can look ourselves in the mirror and feel that we’ve changed somehow. Perhaps standing a little taller. Shoulders rolled down and leaning further back.

But it’s the eyes that give it away the most. The eyes show that you have been hurt, but you came through it and you’re that bit braver and wiser now….

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Good enough!

I don’t think there is a profession in the world, where the ‘must do better’ culture does not exist.  Every person I speak to, regardless of position, profession, part time, full time – the factor that is in common between us all is – striving to be better all the time.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask?  Absolutely nothing at all.  Nothing! How does anything ever improve if people are always doing what they have always done, in the same way, never questioning, never analysing, never reflecting on how things are.   And it’s certainly the culture that I was brought up with, both at home and in the workplace – have goals, strive to do better, achieve more, smash targets etc.

The one area – that I feel, the ‘must do better’ culture isn’t helpful – is parenting.  In fact, I was fortunate to sit in on some training at school, about ‘Attachment Theory’, and the impact this has on children in the very first few months of their lives.  How babies are treated by their parents, at the very beginnings of their tiny lives, goes onto shape their behaviour and how they form relationships with others as they grow bigger.  It comes as no surprise, that the children who display a lot of ‘unlovable’ behaviour, need the most love, and the psychologist who was training us, explained that if you remember nothing else – ‘connection first, then correction’.  Which meant create a connection, a relationship with those children who present challenging behaviour first – then correct their behaviour.  For those of us who have been teaching for a long time, or have worked predominantly with children who can present quite challenging behaviour, this came as no surprise, although it was nice to have that soundbite to take away; ‘connection, then correction.’

What was particularly refreshing, and actually blew my mind a little, was when we were learning about attachment theory, and the significance of the first few months of a baby’s life, the psychologist called effective parenting, ‘good enough parenting’.  I was stunned when I heard it.  I repeated those words again and again in my mind.  Good enough parenting.  Good enough parenting.  Not good parenting.  Not great parenting.  Good enough.

This meant that as a parent, you were doing what you could to respond to the baby’s needs – be that milk or nappy change or sleep or comfort – you were trying to solve the problem.  You might not get it right every time, but at least you were trying.  You are being good enough.  You’re trying your best.  You are good enough.

In many professions – it’s not ok to be ‘good enough’.  You have to be the best!  That’s all I’ve heard since I was tiny – aim high, reach for the stars, be the best.  But the hardest job of all – parenting – it was so incredibly refreshing and calming to hear – if you’re doing your best to meet your child’s needs, even if you don’t get it right each time – you are good enough.  And you know what?  I’ll flipping well take that!  I’m happy to be good enough as a parent.

One of the things that causes me the most amount of concern, is am I giving my own children enough opportunities to do things out of school?  Do they go to enough clubs?  Are they getting enough exercise?  Are they learning enough instruments?  Do I need to teach them some languages?  Should they be going on more playdates?

After that training – I’m now thinking to myself – are they fed?  Do they have clothes to wear?  Are they getting to bed on time?  Are they reading and doing their school homework?  But most importantly – are they loved?  Are they loved? Are they loved?  I can categorically say, yes to all of those questions.

And I am happy to say, that I pronounce myself bloody well good enough!  All the other stuff – it doesn’t even matter.  If I want my children to remember two things about their children, it’s that they felt happy and extremely loved.

What more could anyone ask for?

My best day ever.

Don’t kid yourself and don’t let anyone kid you either. Parenthood is one the hardest roles you’ll ever undertake in your life. Don’t be fooled by the images you see on social media. The cute chubby cheeks, the gorgeous outfits (matching, or not, depending on your preference), the delightful smiles, the massive hugs….they are a snapshot, I repeat, a momentary snapshot, a second of a sometimes relentless, gruelling 24 hours, where everyday feels like Groundhog Day. Wake, get the children sorted, get to work, come home, sort out the children, eventually they are in bed, go to sleep. Wake up. Repeat.

When they are tiny, your life revolves around feeding, nap times, nappy changes, feeding, nap times, nappy changes – and that’s it!! I was having a conversation with some Mum friends, and we were talking about how no one was honest enough at the time when our children were babies- that this was hard!!! We didn’t know each other at that time. But we all had our own stories of the some of the challenges we went through. A common running theme, our children thought that sleep was ‘optional’. Sleeping through the night was a non-event. And if you were type of person that needed sleep….it was physically and mentally torturous.

I remember cutting myself off people who’s children slept. I couldn’t bear it. I didn’t want to hear how their child slept through the night at the age of 6 weeks, had no trouble teething, how they had no trouble breast feeding….

For my own sanity- I had to cut those lucky, smug, mothers out of my life.

The struggle was real.

But I had snapshots too – of incredible joy, the cuddles, the first words, the way their eyes would light up when they saw me…yes, those moments carry you through the times that were ‘a challenge’.

Yesterday though, I had a day that was heavenly. A day straight from a Disney film, where I was Julie Andrews, the idyllic mum, and the girls were the idyllic children. Bluebirds were singing when I walked and the only thing that the girls didn’t do was refer to me as ‘Mother’.

I was not a referee or a barrister trying to solve disputes, ‘Milud, I do believe your sister had that toy first, so you shouldn’t have grabbed it from her.’ I was not a detective trying to solve crimes of – who left this mess? Where has such and such gone? Simultaneously being good cop and bad cop. I wasn’t telling anyone to stop moaning or whining because that’s just the way things were.

It was absolutely ‘the best day ever’! We went to the supermarket and the girls helped me to scan and put all the shopping away. We came home, had lunch and read books together. Actually listening, no one arguing about who will read first, who will sit next to Mummy, who can’t see the pictures properly – none of that. I then made dinner, then after that we played Ludo, snakes and ladders and then a game of junior bingo. We laughed, no one cried because they lost, no one accused anyone of cheating, no one was grumpy.

It was the best day ever.

Why am I blogging about it? Because my eldest is 7 and a half – and this has never happened!!!! There has never been a day, where at some point during the day, I haven’t lost my ….. (you can decide what should go in the gap yourself).

For the first time in my life, I was a smug mother. All I needed was a quaint apron and I then I would have looked the part of ‘perfect mother’. When the girls went to bed – without arguing might I add!!!!!! Accepting it was bedtime and that they were tired, might I add!!!! I called my Mum to share my news with her – Mum, you’ll never guess what????? She was suitably indulgent of me as well, knowing what a miracle it was.

Today I woke up warily, assuming that we’re going back to business as normal – that’s ok though. I’ll have had yesterday. In my memories, I’ll have yesterday to fall back on. And that’s what matters.

Anybody who can relate to me a tiny little bit, your day will come too. Hang in there. Each day is a challenge, I know, and then one day you will have a day where you think you’re in a dream.

Seems so silly to write about something that must seem like such a non-event to lots of you. But for me, yesterday, was definitely, my best day ever.