Reasons to smile this week are wonderful.

reasons to smile

1. You find me in bed under my butterfly duvet and I am blogging.

2. Him Indoors is on late shift which means I get his company and help in the mornings. It also means I am in charge of the remote and other matters in the evening. By the time he gets in, I am very pleased to see him.

3. I made some quality time with my teenage son last night and also managed to contend with some sibling rivalry with aplomb.

4. We had a really interesting discussion about politics yesterday. It is good to find out what the children think and also what messages they are taking on board from the mainstream media.

5. I have come up with a really inventive idea for Him Indoors’ forthcoming birthday.

6. I have treated myself to some bargains via Ebay. Bits of jewellery and other non-essentials.

7. I feel on top of the housework and less daunted by it these days.

8. I also find I am feeling ready to let go of some of the items I kept following the death of my parents. I guess we move on in our own time.

9. The sunshine cheers the soul.

10. I published revealing picture of me on Facebook and it did not crash.

blackbikini

11. I feel more relaxed generally. There is no doubt I have given myself a very hard time over the years but that makes the good times now all the more joyous.

What are your reasons to smile?

I have not blogged for longer than usual. I have had an odd time really with various events shaking me up a bit. Anyway, I am sharing some of my happy stuff from last week.

1. I asked my OH to clear out the shed. He agreed and then checked the bank account and we changed our plans. We have had a windfall so we went out to play instead.

2. We have a new and reliable car. Not only that but it is a Jaguar. Silver with leather seats and funky gadgets to boot. I have always dreamed of having a Jag and how generous of Him Indoors to give up his dream of a Mercedes so I could fulfil my dream. The children ask questions like whether it is actually a courtesy car and will it need to go back? Him Indoors is walking taller and that is nice to see after the troubles of the last couple of years. I can sense he feels he is providing for us and that makes him feel better altogether.

3. Of course, you can take the girl out of the charity shop but you can’t take the bargain-hunter out of the girl. I have had a lot of fun in charity shops and on Ebay recently. Funnily enough, after a few days of spending more than I am used to, I am a bit bored of it. I am recognising it is the very small things that can make a difference. I have also enjoyed ensuring the children have what they need in terms of ICT and so on. It feels nice to say yes to them more often.

4. I asked two people I have worked with how they would describe my input and received glowing references. I now accept that considering the calibre of people who way lovely things about me, I must be OK. This has been a long journey but I am happy in my own skin. In fact, I quite like myself.

5. I am no longer embarrassed to share photos of myself and my weight loss journey. I get wonderful emails and messages telling me I am inspiring other people. So I keep going flashing the flesh and hoping that by Christmas I will have a photo that is really worth sharing with the world.

Lots has changed and in a very short space of time. I am reminded that there is such a thing as positive stress as well as negative stress. I need to feel a little more grounded. Blogging will help with that as it does with so many things

Do you pursue your dreams? What would happen if you took that brave leap of faith? Photographer mum Anna shares her story of finding the right balance for her after initially giving up on her dream to be a freelancer.

mum photo

Striking a pose!

What is the striking story you have to share?

Since I started doing photography seriously at the age of 16 I always wanted to be a freelance photographer. I studied photography at university and got a job working as a studio assistant. However, the long, unsociable hours that were incompatible with having any family life and the financial uncertainty made me feel unsure about making freelance photography my career. I started working in photography education, which I did enjoy but was also a “safe” option. I always did some freelance photography alongside it, but was never brave enough to switch to just doing that.

After having my son I became more unhappy with my job and working in education in general, spending my time somewhere where I was stagnating and unhappy just to earn money left a much more bitter taste when it meant time I was away from him. I also want as much as possible to teach him by example and the idea of striving to earn your living from something you are good at and enjoy seems like an important lesson to pass on to him. Following some life coaching sessions I decided to go for it: to quit my job and finally do what I had wanted to since I was 16 – work for myself as a photographer full time, on my terms.

What were the joys that this experience brought your way?

Deciding for myself how to spend my time and where to focus my efforts, as well as having time to pursue my own creative work and keep fit is amazing. With my family photography I often get regularly re-booked by the same client and get to record their children growing up, which is a wonderful privilege.

What challenges did this situation bring your way?

Financial insecurity and ensuring I have proper relaxation time where I shut off from work. Also having no day-to-day colleagues means I am having to build a network of fellow freelancers and self-employed people to meet regularly with, which is actually great. I’m reconnecting with old friends and meeting lots of new people who do interesting and creative things.

How do you ensure you get time to yourself and what do you do with that time?

My son goes to nursery and is looked after by his grandparents. I have much more time for myself now than I did previously, because I have built it into my schedule right from the beginning. As I often do photo shoots at weekends and in the evening I am taking time for myself on weekday daytime without feeling guilty. I spend that time working on my own creative projects and swimming, both of which are very important for my happiness and sense of general well being.

Have you ever rediscovered or reinvented yourself? How?

After having my son it took me quite a while to understand my new identity as a mother – which parts of my old identity were still relevant and what did I need to add to that. In fact, I’m still working on it. My photography style is now closely related to my parenting style, so that is in some ways a reinvention of myself as a photographer.

Describe at least one physical feature you have that you consider to be beautiful

My height. I’m 6’ and I have never been ashamed or uncomfortable about it. It has had a role in shaping my personality and when I actually manage to get clothes that fit me they hang really well.

What makes you stand out?

Physically, my height makes it hard not to notice me. In terms of my photography business, I use the principles of attachment parenting (empathy, respect and understanding) to create a situation where children can feel comfortable and express themselves, so that I can take pictures that are a true representation of their personality at this point in their lives. I also work with a designer to create unique and beautiful photo products.

Is it important to you to support other mums?

Very. Since becoming a mother myself I feel like I have been welcomed into this special society of talented, creative, warm, caring and understanding women. I have much better relationships with other women than I ever had before. When I have struggled other people have supported me selflessly and I aim to do the same whenever possible.

Which mum inspires you?

I have been massively inspired by all the mums I have met who have forged new careers inspired by what they have learnt from being a mother, and then juggled these careers with parenting. The first of these that I met after having my son was Emily from the South London Sling Library.

What would you like the next Government to do to improve the lives of mums?

I’d like the choice of who looks after a child (either parent or childcare professional) to be able to based on what is right for that family rather than what they can afford. There is so much emphasis on getting mums back to work but what if they want to stay at home? And what about dads? The nature of mine and my husband’s work means that we are both able to be around for our son and pursue our careers at the same time. We are very lucky in this and I think we should work towards everyone having this option. In addition to help with childcare costs parents need flexible working options, higher wages and lower housing costs so that they are really able to make choices rather than having to do what is necessary.

A big thank you to Anna for sharing her story and do check out her lovely website.

Will you create a stir and make mums and the tasks they juggle visible to the wider world? I was delighted when artist Steph contacted me to tell me about her range of textiles. As regular readers know, I am keen to raise the visibility of mums and the work they do. Check out Steph’s interview and let’s resolve to always create a stir perhaps sporting this fun apron.

apron

Mums juggle so much!

What is the striking story you have to share?

It started with a list. As a mother, there is always a list. Notes scribbled on bits of paper, whiteboards or chalkboards in the kitchen, activities listed on family calendars. It got me thinking about the connection between work, status and visibility. Those who are less visible tend to enjoy less status, don’t they? What would happen if I made my largely invisible list of daily family tasks more visible, public even, in simple black and white? I did an experiment. I compiled my list, which included things like ‘shave legs, make love, buy birthday presents’ and had the whole list printed on a range of textiles. I call them my ‘Create A Stir’ range because they often do. The response to these has been amazing– they seem to connect women’s experiences across the globe in a way that’s fun but, crucially perhaps, they also provide a relevant talking point.

What challenges did this situation bring your way?

My first challenge was fear! Talking about motherhood is emotive stuff and even as I write this, I am aware there will be a mixed responses. So the only way forward was to make my list grounded in factual autobiographical experience. This meant including a few of life’s less glamorous tasks such as ‘treat nits’ and ‘clean the bathroom’ as well as the all-important relationship stuff such as ‘listen to each other’ and ‘console and encourage’. I think this has made it honest, slightly daring, but witty at the same time. I began with 100 T-towels which were first exhibited in a gallery near Old Street, East London. It was quite nerve-wracking as I had no idea what the reaction would be, but they sold out almost straight away. My second challenge was practical. I trained as a fine artist making one-off pieces, not as a product designer, so I needed to learn about working with UK manufacturing partners to organise fabric printing, embroidered labels etc and intellectual property issues. However, it has been well worth the effort.

What were the joys that this experience brought your way?

I was overjoyed when people began to buy them! I love the fact that other women recognise their own lives in the list and laugh, somewhat wryly! The range has expanded into cotton aprons, oven gloves and a canvas bag. It’s satisfying to have produced a range of well-made UK products that women buy for themselves and their friends or families all over the world. I’m glad I listened to and acted on my inner impulse because the response shows that many women feel the same way.

Have you ever rediscovered or reinvented yourself? How?

Yes. At different life stages I have been a full-time student, secretary and stay-at-home mum volunteering in the community. Twenty years ago I decided to try a weekly art class while living as an expat wife with small children in Jakarta, Indonesia. I used to enjoy art as a child but never pursued it for school timetabling reasons and this opportunity to rediscover it began a key change in my life. I so enjoyed the classes that on our return to England, I enrolled to do Art A-Level and eventually took a Fine Art degree at Wimbledon School of Art – twelve years of part-time study which fitted very well around raising my family. Ten years further on, I am enjoying my career as an artist and I hope to continue into my old age!

How do you ensure you get time to yourself and what do you do with that time?

Now that my older two children are grown and the third is at secondary school, I have plenty of time to enjoy my art practice. I often work from home but also have a separate studio about a mile away where all the painting takes place. I love having my studio where I can work all day and leave things messy! I also appreciate having a private space to test new ideas before showing anyone else. For inspiration I visit London’s fantastic array of museums and galleries. If I visit with a friend, it’s fun to discuss the pieces and get different perspectives on what we’re looking at. If I go alone, I concentrate on the pieces that particularly interest me and always come away feeling refreshed and eager to get on with my own paintings and designs.

Describe at least one physical feature you have that you consider to be beautiful

That’s an awkward question! I think smiling makes everyone beautiful!

What makes you stand out?

People say my colour sense. I have my childhood in Brazil to thank for that, growing up with mangoes, sunshine and blue skies!

Is it important to you to support other mums?

Yes. Motherhood is a challenging so it’s great when mums help each other. I was very involved with other mums when my children were small, helping at playgroups, scouts and inviting mums over. I now have a wonderful toddler grandson and love to help out. Looking after little ones requires lots of energy, patience and ingenuity to get from one end of the day to the other and very hard to do alone. So getting out, sharing with others and having time off is really important.

Which mum inspires you?

Lots of different people do, but in particular those who will tell you every now and then that you’re doing a great job – that can keep you going for a few weeks or more! If you don’t always feel appreciated by others, remember to give yourself a pat on the back!

What would you like the next Government to do to improve the lives of mums?

Alarm bells start ringing when successive governments keep talking about getting women ‘back to work’. That’s fine if mothers want to return to a job outside the home, but it sends a clear message that this is society’s current norm and expectation. Sadly this must put many young mothers under undue pressure and signals a lack of government recognition for the essential mother role in the lives of small children. These are the mothers who often also invest time and energy volunteering in playgroups and schools and who help foster supportive and friendly communities. It’s very valuable work, just not so straightforward to put on your CV.

Huge thanks to Steph for sharing her striking story. Do check out her website.

How to move on after abuse is a question on the minds of so many people. They might have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse. They have scars which may or may not be visible. Moving forwards positively often takes huge courage and a willingness to seek support. Vicky shares her story.

vicky

1. What is the striking story you have to share?

I have been a single mother since my daughter was 3 weeks old and her abusive father walked out on us. I was very lucky that my health visitor stepped in, and sent me to the Freedom Programme, which is group counselling for people who’ve been in abusive relationships. I was scared of my health visitor, convinced that if I didn’t do everything she told me, she would deem me an unfit mother and my baby would be taken away – so I went to the counselling, even though I felt like I was making a big fuss about nothing and just causing trouble.

It took me a while to realise that I had been in an abusive relationship, that I wasn’t just being deliberately difficult, that I wasn’t just difficult to live with and moody and selfish. It took me longer to recover from the realisation; for a long while afterwards I would have flashbacks and memories of things and a dawning realisation, “oh wait, that wasn’t my fault…” or “oh wait, that was probably a lie…”

Very early on, I had this feeling that “it’s fine for you to treat me like this, but you don’t get to do this to my daughter.” I was very protective over her and determined to keep her safe from the life I knew her father’s other children were living. I stopped all contact with him when my daughter was four months old, after he refused to have any counselling for his abusive behaviour. On the day I told him he could not see my daughter if he would not seek help, I didn’t realise he was recording our conversation – but I did wonder why he was speaking so strangely. He said, ” you and I both know that she is in no danger with me.” I said no, that’s not true. He went through his usual “box of tricks” that all abusers have, trying to find the one that would make me back down – I wasn’t a fit mother, I was mentally unstable, he would take me to court. When I said “ok great, take me to court – I’ll bring Social Services with me and see you there” he shut up. I walked away as he shouted at me down the street, “you’re not mentally or financialy capable of looking after my child!” For the first time I thought to myself, “yes, I am – because I know to keep her safe from you.” He has not set eyes on her since – and has barely attempted contact – usually an odd email here and there when he’s had a fight with his girlfriend, or turning up drunk at our door on his way home from somewhere. The last time we were in contact, my daughter was teething and I was studying for an Open University degree. He boasted to his friends, “she’s tired and stressed; she’s never had to deal with a teething baby before. She’ll give in soon and let me come in to babysit so she can study – and then I’m taking my child.” At that point, I stopped answering him or acknowledging his existence in any way. He and his other children still live around here, and he works two blocks from where we live – but the police are aware of our situation, and I refuse to be driven away from the city I grew up in, from all of my friends and family. I stand my ground because it’s the only choice I have.

People tell me I am “inspirational” as if I have done something outrageously brave or incredible by caring for my daughter alone – but for me, it was just what I had to do. I was alone with a tiny baby relying on me for everything – what else was I going to do, but keep her safe and protect her?

2. What were the joys that this experience brought your way?

Being a single mother means that I am not being second-guessed or belittled by my daughter’s father. I am immensely proud of my daughter and the amazing person she is growing to be. No matter how bad my day is, I get into bed at night next to my gorgeous daughter (yes, we still share a bed!) and everything is ok. Being a single mother is not a bed of roses, but it brings me immense joy and pride to know I’m capable of doing this alone

3. What challenges did this situation bring your way?

Every day is a challenge, to a certain extent. Teething wasn’t much fun, and night feeds were tiring – but I find that when I’m feeling stressed and “challenged” as if I just can’t cope any more, the best thing is to call it a day and accept that my work/blog/housework/whatever just won’t get done today. Once I remove the pressures of trying to get something done, and just accept the situation, it just gets easier.

4. How do you ensure you get time to yourself and what do you do with that time?

I am self employed and work from home – so “time to myself” is generally translated as “time working on the business or the blog” – luckily I enjoy both!

My daughter goes to nursery four days a week, which gives me time to do my work and get basic housework done. She also has a bed time that is kept to all of the time, unless she is ill or it’s a special occasion. Sticking to our routine means that things run more smoothly for both of us. At the moment she is in the process of dropping daytime naps. She naps at nursery, and then goes to bed at her usual time, but when she’s home with me she doesn’t nap and goes to bed earlier – which works out well for me, in terms of having time to myself!

5. Have you ever redisovered or reinvented yourself? How?

When I met my daughter’s father, I was recovering from a massive nervous breakdown. When I became pregnant I had to come off my medication, and took the decision that I would never go back to it. Once she was born, I think something just clicked inside of my head and I was so incredibly lucky. I am painfully aware that there is no backup – if I fail, my daughter has nobody else. So I do not fail. Becoming a mother has reinvented me; I have a confidence I never had before because I know I’m doing a damn good job, and that I have no choice but to do so. I’m self employed now, something I never thought I could do before – and I am prepared to argue my point if I believe I’m right. A large part of this was setting up the blog.

6. Describe at least one physical feature you have that you consider to be beautiful

This is such a difficult question! I’ve never considered myself to be beautiful but actually, when my Timehop throws up selfies of myself and my daughter, I think my smile can be quite beautiful, given the right light – and the right gorgeous baby to smile at!

7. What makes you stand out?

I’d like to think I stand out because of my strength. I don’t feel particularly strong from day to day, but I know if someone else told me this story as their own, I would think them quite strong.

8. Is it important to you to support other mums?

Absolutely. I feel like new mums are bullied into all sorts of everything: you must do this, go there, your baby must wear this, sleep this way. A lot of the time we’re told this by self proclaimed “experts” who half the time don’t even have experience with their own children! I think we should all support mums to trust their own instincts with regard to their children and what is best for them. The best thing any of us can learn to say is “thanks for your input, but I’m going to do it my way.”

9. Which mum inspires you?

All mums do – we all have our own battles, our own struggles. When my daughter was first born I thought all mums with a husband at home had it easy but a close friend with a husband also suffered terribly with postnatal depression – something I was lucky enough to avoid. Another struggled with a partner who was physically present but didn’t help with nappy changing or night feeds – and I know from experience it’s easier to just know there’s no help and get on with it yourself, than to have someone there who’s not helping. Babies get colic and reflux and constipation and they teethe and they cry for no discernible reason; we worry they’re too hot or too cold or not feeding enough or their head doesn’t look quite right or they’re sleeping too much or we’ve put the wrong colour babygro on. All mums have that; all mums are inspiring in their ability to care for a small, screaming creature that can’t tell us what to do to make it better.

10. What would you like the next government to do to improve the lives of mums?

I am lucky in that being a single parent, I had a genuine choice as to whether I returned to work at the end of my maternity leave, or claimed Income Support and stayed home with my daughter until she started school. Other mums do not have that choice; some stay home and care for the children out of choice; others do it because they can’t afford to pay for childcare but would rather be at work. Some go to work because they’re desperate to have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around nappies or CBeebies; others do it because they can’t afford the rent if they don’t. All mums should have a genuine choice and government funding should be used to level the playing field in terms of Tax Credits, subsidised nursery placements and general assistance.

What I love about Vicky’s story is that she recognises her own qualities. Her story if presented in her own words and if you would like to know more about Vicky, please visit her blog.

Vicky shows us how to move on after abuse but every individual will do it in their way and if you have a story to share, please leave a comment.