Becoming a grandma is an important milestone. I interviewed Nickie who became a grandmother aged 36. Nickie was one of the first bloggers to be kind to me when I started my blogging journey telling me that content matters so very much. It seems fitting to see her featured on my blog at last with her views on life and parenthood.

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What is the striking story you have to share?

​I was a teenage mum giving birth to my daughter at the age of 18 and then she became a teenage mum at the age of 17 which, if we count on our fingers, meant that I was becoming a grandma at the age of 36.​

What were the joys that this experience brought your way?

​My daughter had cancer as a baby so we were never sure if she could have children after receiving intensive chemotherapy for 6 months. In one respect, her having a baby and me becoming a grandma was nothing short of a miracle.​

What challenges did this situation bring your way?

​Stereotypical opinions! I wished that my daughter would have had the opportunity to forge a career rather than become a young mum. Dealing with the emotions across the family (and extended family) that come with the stigma of teenage pregnancy including wanting to tell our story so that it could be shown that you *can* get through this even though it’s an emotional journey but STILL being met with preconceived opinions.

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

​I have had a myriad of hobbies which include blogging and vlogging, crafts and studying for a degree with the Open University but my new love is running. It’s totally changed who I am as a person and how I give back to the community who helped me find this new passion.

Have you ever rediscovered or reinvented yourself? How?

​My life is a continuous path of self-discovery. Each step is part of that journey. I woudn’t be who I am now without my past and I won’t be the person I’m going to be without what is happening now. ​

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

​My eyes. I love their shape and the colour. ​

What makes you stand out?

​I’m not afraid to share my opinion, I’m a very loyal friend. I’m a very determined person who isn’t afraid to fail because it creates a learning experience. ​

Is it important to you to support other mums?

​Absolutely. I’ve been through so much in my life as a mum that there’s always some advice I can give. I can also learn from others too if they are prepared to share. ​

Which mum inspires you?

​My own. She died at the age of 55 after suffering for 45 years with Bronchiecstasis (wrongly diagnosed as TB when she was a child). She managed to keep a house, a family, a small part-time job, deal with the divorce of her and my dad (the only man she’d ever been with) and still had time for everyone else. I didn’t appreciate her enough and regret that every single day. ​

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

​I don’t necessarily think the Government needs to specifically target mums but look at family life as a whole – maternity/paternity leave, childcare costs, working hours (making it easier for the employer as well as the mother/father) and also​ to fully support non-traditional family units as an equality.

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As April arrives, the question is how will shared parental leave work for families?

You may be entitled to Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if:

your baby is due on or after 5 April 2015

you adopt a child on or after 5 April 2015

Until 4 April 2015 fathers may get Additional Paternity Leave and Pay instead.

SPL and ShPP must be taken between the baby’s birth and first birthday (or within 1 year of adoption).

You can start SPL if you’re eligible and you or your partner end maternity or adoption leave or pay (or Maternity Allowance) early. The remaining leave will be available as SPL. The remaining weeks of pay will be available as ShPP.

You can share the leave with your partner if they’re also eligible for SPL, and choose how much of the leave each of you will take. This means you can look at your contractual maternity and paternity rights and see what pattern of leave would be most advantageous to your financially.

SPL also lets you suggest a flexible pattern of leave to your employer. You have the right to take SPL in up to 3 separate blocks but your employer can agree to more. They can also let you split each block into several shorter periods of work and leave.

Check out your eligibility to leave and pay on having a chld.

What I like about the new regulations

There is an implication that fathers should be actively involved in the care of a child in its first year. I am one of those mums who believes that if a man has conceived a child he should be willing to step up and do nappy changes, night feeds and whatever the mum is expected to do.

I always like things that offer flexibility to individual circumstances. I wish more policies offered that as life is made up of individuals and changing situations.

I am pleased to see the regulations apply to employed, self-employed and agency workers.

When finances are tight, it may be best for the higher-earner to return to work quicker whichever parent that is. There may be projects at work that one of the parents particularly wants to be involved in at a given time.

I also like the idea that parents could be on leave together for a period building up that family unit.

Where it works best, parents will understand each other better and that could contribute to a lower risk of relationship breakdown in what is a wonderful but challenging year.

What are my concerns?

There may be a low-take up. That might be because it of no real interest to some families. It might be because some dads just don’t want to step up. It might be that some mums think it is only their role to be heavily involved in the child’s first year. It might be that people do not know about or understand the regulations.

There is also the key point that not all parents will be eligible and if one is and one is not I can see that leading to tension.

As with most family-friendly initiatives some employers will not like the idea and do things to prevent parents taking advantage of the regulations. Bad employers may use bullying tactics to put pressure on parents not to benefit from the regulations. It two employers are involved and both of them are not family-friendly, that could be a very troublesome situation at a time when a family needs all the help it can get.

My experiences

When my first son was born, his grandparents were very keen to do daily childcare to enable me to take up an exciting new job and for my husband to continue in his work.

When my daughter was born, my parents were not able to offer the same due to their age and infirmity. My husband worked and I stayed at home. I hated not having a work role and was blighted by post-natal depression.. My husband had a very long commute and I felt totally cut off from the world. He was so tired when he got in that he never saw how much I was struggling. Shared parental leave could have helped us so much on this one I think.

When my third child was born, my husband was redundant so he took care of my son while I took on a well-paid job.

This goes to show that circumstances can and do change rapidly as I all three of my children in less than five years.

Conclusion

It would be great if shared parental leave could work well and not just for a few families.

Lots needs to change for it to work at its best including our culture being less sexist when it comes to who should look after children and less discriminatory against men who do want to stay at home with the kids.

We need regulations to insist that employers are family-friendly. You cannot in all conscience say you back hard-working families if you do not put rules in place so that employers have to be family-friendly. Most people have children and a society should do all it can to ensure those children are well cared for and enabled to be great adults in due course.

How will shared parental leave work for families? I guess only time will tell.

Have you heard that a long-term study has pointed to a link between breastfeeding and intelligence?

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The research in Brazil published in The Lancet Global Health traced nearly 3,500 babies and found those who had been breastfed for longer went on to score higher on IQ tests as adults.

I am not against research but sometimes I wish they would tell us why they are researching something in the first place together with who is funding the research and the gender balance in who is coming up with the conclusions.

Day in and day out, mums wake up to these sort of stories often after a sleep-deprived night or where they really are doing their utmost to juggle it all. In my experience, most mums question themselves constantly and make decisions with the basic idea of doing the best by their children. Such stories and the attention they get in the media do little to build self-esteem of the mum which for me is a very good thing for a child to have in their life.

If we are going to say that mums should do something, please can we ensure that funding and other resources are put in place to help them to do so?

I wanted to breastfeed but struggled to do so. I felt very bullied by some midwives. Breastfeeding hurt and I was concerned my son was not getting enough nourishment. Nobody had warned me not every mum finds it easy so I felt a failure.

When I was pregnant with my second child and a midwife told me I had a choice whether to bottle-feed or breastfeed, I felt so relieved and it made for a happier pregnancy.

Having said that, I wanted to breastfeed all my babies. I just did not feel capable and lacked support.

As for myself, I doubt I was breastfed considering the circumstances of my birth but I managed to get into Cambridge University if that is a marker of intelligence.

I have 3 children and only the one who was breastfed has learning difficulties.

For me, these facts prove nothing and I am not sure the research does either.

Apparently experts say that much more research is needed to explore any possible link between breastfeeding and intelligence.

Does it matter? Is it desirable to force every mum to breastfeed so we can have a society full of highly intelligent people? Shouldn’t the research be watertight before the media take it up and beat mums over the head with it?

Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing, Public Health England, said there was strong evidence said “PHE’s advice remains that exclusive breastfeeding for around the first six months of life provides health benefits to babies.

“We recognise however, that not all mothers choose, or are able, to breastfeed and infant formula is the only alternative to breast milk for babies under 12 months old.”

Dr Colin Michie, chairman of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s nutrition committee, said: “It is important to note that breastfeeding is one of many factors that can contribute to a child’s outcomes, however this study emphasises the need for continued and enhanced breastfeeding promotion so expectant mothers are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding.”

Janet Fyle of the Royal College of Midwives said new mothers needed breastfeeding support.

Very interesting how it is a woman and a mum who highlights the need for support.

In conclusion, I am not a big fan of the parenting police particularly when there is still a woeful lack of support for some women who are trying to be the best mum they can be.

Are you a fan of cats?

We had a lovely day out at the Cats’ Protection headquarters in Sussex at the weekend. Everyone enjoyed visiting the cats and learning more about cat care, rehoming and sponsorship.

The thing I noticed about the centre was that it was so attractive and clean. Parking was plentiful and there was clear signage to the various parts including the toilets, the shop and the café. As readers know, these little things can make all the difference.

I fell in love with so many of the cats and a white playful one in particular. I was reminded by staff that everyone finds cats like that attractive but that other cats were equally deserving of a loving home. They also told me how tough they find it to rehome black cats.

My son fell in love with Maypole and you could sponsor Maypole’s pen for just £6 per month.

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We learned how the centre has its own vets and how cats and kittens often arrive in quite a bad state so need to go into an isolation wing to prevent the spread of disease.

My daughter got very excited at meeting the real cats and also the rather large one in the well-equipped play area adjacent to the shop.

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We had a lovely lunch in the café which had some gorgeous cakes, sandwiches and hot meals.

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I was really impressed by how much more affordable the pet products in the Cats Protection shop were in comparison with other outlets. I also liked that there were tiny prices and bigger ones so something for every budget.

There was everything you need for cats there including amazing play equipment, litter and toys.

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There was also a very wide range of giftware – scarves, clothing, jewellery, bags and toys.

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You can even have a fun children’s party and as we left a group of excited girls were arriving for a birthday. My son was rather keen to return too.

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Admission to Cats Protection is free.

If you are interested in rehoming or sponsoring a cat, this is the place for you.

My son will point you in the right direction.

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Visit the Cats Protection website today to search for your purrfect cat, to check out some pawsome content for kids and to learn more about cat welfare.

Christmas is a time to think of loved ones and to miss those who are no longer with us.

I lost my Mum in 2009 and my Dad in 2012. I seem to have moved to that stage of grief where you enjoy the memories so much that the pain is almost cancelled out.

Christmas at home. I miss it. I was the baby of the family by 16 years and for many of my childhood years my two brothers lived elsewhere as young adults.

I loved the magic of Christmas and coming down and finding all the presents. There was always a huge pile. Weirdly I remember very few of them – the doll’s house my Dad’s friends made and a doll that tumbled after hours of Dad trying to get it to work. I got to open my presents first as we always did it in age order. The gifts were piled on chairs rather than under the tree.

The tree was the same one every year with decorations going back to the start of Mum and Dad’s marriage in 1950. It was a green and silver affair that always went up on my birthday with me seeing it as the treat of year to decorate it. It was also my job to put up the Christmas cards. I took both of these tasks incredibly seriously. Things had to be just so – an example would be some system that meant a Nativity Scene was followed by a robin was followed by a snowman and so on. I am sure nobody else card but I did.

My uncle bought me this marvellous Nativity set in a lovely pale wood. I loved arranging the figures and that Jesus was not put in his manger but miraculously appeared by Christmas morning.

Church was a huge part of Christmas whether Midnight or morning mass. Mum dressed me up as if I was a doll and I once famously caught fire when I got too near the candles in my fur coat.

I got used to waiting for a knock of the door on Christmas Eve. Often there would be a family drama with someone turning up in a crisis that my Mum and Dad would sort out. You just hoped that two warring family members would not both turn up with their tales of woe at the same time.

My brothers would come for Christmas although my oldest did not always do so and this broke Mum’s heart. It is always strange how the one who absents themselves seems the most loved of all. My Uncle would arrive in his sheepskin coat with presents wrapped in gold, silver, red and green shiny paper. His were always the best wrapped and the most unusual as he lived in London and travelled overseas a lot too.

Drink would flow. My family always had a drinks cabinet with a whole host of stuff in it including gin, dark rum, brandy and Dimple. Dad was well respected in the business world so used to arrive with bottles from organisations throughout December. My parents were not really wine drinkers till later in life. Sherry was the first tipple of the day and as I got older I liked the tradition of trying it in a special glass whilst not really enjoying the taste.

Mum spent most of her time running in and out of the kitchen. As a cook by trade, she loved showing just what she could do at this special time of year. If I am honest I think we were guilty of leaving her to it. Several years later, she downed tools so that she too could enjoy Christmas and we started dining out on Christmas Day. I have always admired her for that.

What do I actually remember of the lunch? I always had Heinz tomato soup as a starter by request. I can’t remember much of the main course apart from sprouts which I loved then and now. I was never a fan of real carrots, bread sauce or Christmas pudding all of which you had to eat at Christmas.

In the afternoon, there would be lots of playing with cards and draughts, sometimes chess. I remember getting Operation and that causing a lot of hilarity.

I think it is interesting to reflect on what I miss about Christmas at home.

1. The things that were the same every year from the brown soup bowls to the oval plates and the pink and white tureens filled with vegetables.

2. My plastic stocking with pictures of Christmas trees on it. This came out every year and there was always a coin at the bottom of it. I went mad when Mum did not put it up the year I started university.

3. I miss how Mum would go wild spray painting Honesty gold and silver as decorations.

4. I really miss that feeling of a community where generations had lived for years so people knew not only each other but also family histories. There was a sense that people knew where they fit. I think we lose that when we leave our home towns. I often question whether I might have been happier staying put. For us the community revolved around the Irish Nash Club, the Parochial Hall, church and the school.

5. I liked how I would be teased in little ways like when my brothers and uncle convinced me that the lemonade they gave me was actually a gin and tonic.

6. I miss the table and its white tablecloth with patterns in embroidered by my Mum.

7. I miss standing together in church as a family and how my Mum loved the carol “In the Bleak Mid Winter” and how we both loved “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”

8. I miss how daft Mum and Dad could be so we had so much laughter and fun interspersed with the odd drama to keep things interesting.

9. I miss how Mum always banned us watching the Queen’s speech.

10. I miss the days around Christmas. Boxing Day often found us at the coast with biscuit tins full of sausage rolls and Mum bringing a bottle of brandy out of her handbag to add to our coffees to warm us up. I miss going to see Auntie Margaret, Uncle Cyril and Sean and how Mum used to secretly enjoy how Margaret never could do the kitchen stuff anywhere near as good as Mum.

I find it enlightening that I do not remember the presents really but rather the time put into making them. I miss the people, the love and the laughter. How quickly it is gone. How naïve we are about that which is why it is so important to make great memories and ongoing traditions. And let’s look after Mums at Christmas who usually drive themselves into the ground to make it just as perfect they can.

I was such a lucky girl. And I realise as I write this that one day one of my children will also be remembering our Christmases and how the best things of all were the things we did every year or the things that cost nothing.

I will round this off with a little conversation between me and Him Indoors on Christmas Day.

Me “You are daft you are”

Him “So are you – that is why it works!”