What does modern family life look like? Is it very different from how it was just a few years ago?

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Matalan have recently launched a new TV ad, featuring real life families and conducted national research to explore how family life is changing in the modern era. 

Matalan say “the definition of ‘family’ in the 21st century is not straightforward; as the Facebook status might suggest, “it’s complicated”. This doesn’t mean that the idea of family has become any less important however, it simply means we are seeing that family today comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms. Matalan research revealed some interesting and surprising insights about modern family life.

• The New Nuclear: the idea of the nuclear family, that being mum, dad and two-point something kids living together, is being stretched and redrawn.

When I was at school, the vast majority of my peers lived with their married parents and full siblings. I remember two single fathers and imagine they felt very isolated back then. Nowadays, my children report all sorts of family dynamics amongst their friendship groups.

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• Beyond Kin: more and more, people’s definition of family extends beyond kin to include kith, i.e. non-blood relatives, friends and even pets.

I was brought up in a very close community so kith was always important bonded by strong church and school links. I think that both myself and my family miss out on that having moved away. However, I have formed my own kith largely through my blogging and social media. Those are the people I tend to reach out to in a crisis along with school, college and work friends. I feel that lack of a strong neighbourly community means we have to work even harder to ensure that our immediate family gives security to my children. Pets apparently add a lot to mental well being and are certainly important members of our family.

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• The Waiting Game: the number of older mums and older dads is on the rise, as are ‘klingons’; post-teens not flying the nest as they did in previous generations.

I guess I was an older mum 14 years ago but less so know with people choosing to wait until their forties or later to start a family. My husband is 11 years older than me and has children born from 1983 to 2005. Older parents are nothing new to me as my Mum and Dad adopted me when in their forties. They were very youthful in outlook and also had so many stories to share with me. There are certainly benefits to having older parents including the main breadwinners perhaps being able to be more available to the children time wise.

Right now, the thought of my children leaving home terrifies me but I imagine that might change in the future. I will want time and space for my own interests in the future. I also want them to experience life away from the family to develop as individuals and to make their own unique contributions to the world.

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• Blended Families: increasingly family means ‘blended’ arrangements that see multiple connections, multiple parental figures and multiple home locations. This is in addition to well-documented changes such as the rise of single and LGBT parents.

I am not a fan of the term blended family. I think it simplifies family dynamics that can be both joyful and challenging. Big changes in any arena need a lot of support and I think many families are picking their way through challenges without enough support. Our own family includes step-children, LGBT parents and carers, adoption and other issues. A business with multiple staff members, multiple outlets and multiple authority figures would be tricky to manage. I think families are the same and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

• Staying Connected: families are finding new ways of using technologies to connect more frequently and on an emotional level, both when they live nearby or far way”.

I love that families can use new technologies to keep in touch. I have never loved telephone calls so email suits me better. I get real joy when I hear of families who live overseas being able to keep in touch and see each other regularly even if on a computer screen. I remember that people who emigrated in the past really felt they were leaving the family behind and ICT now means families can keep those connections going in a much easier way

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Matalan say, “Since we first opened our doors 30 years ago, we’ve always focused on providing outstanding value and quality for families. We take the time to listen, understand and evolve, to ensure our products are the right fit for modern, happy homes. Our latest campaign, Made for Modern Families, is a celebration of family life today, in all its shapes and sizes.”

I particularly enjoyed the behind the scenes footage.

Here is our family portrait

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I am sure your are proud of your own family so I would encourage you to celebrate it by sharing you family portrait http://www.matalan.co.uk/madeformodernfamilies and then tweet it to @Matalan on #MatalanModernFamilies

I am blogging about this issue for Mumsnet and encourage you to read the other blog posts on the linky about this campaign.

Thinking Slimmer for 12 weeks has transformed my life.

That sounds a bit over the top so I want to explain how.

When I agreed to take part in the Thinking Slimmer Focus group, I had a long history of losing weight and putting it back on again. I was a classic comfort eater so if I had a bad day I would self-medicate with wine or fatty/sugary foods. I could still lose weight well until a major life crisis like bereavement or redundancy hit in which case comfort eating became the norm for months on end.

I have always known instinctively that your mind needs to be in the right place for effective weight loss to take place if you are an emotional eater. However, what can help when the inevitable troubles of life strike?

Thinking Slimmer works for me. It is so powerful and so simple to get started. You simply listen to some very short recordings on the issues that trouble you most – weight loss, taking exercise or relaxation. I love taking that time out for myself and my family respect that this time and process is precious.

I nearly backed out of the focus group in week one when people far slimmer than myself posted photographs of themselves. They were attractive and beautiful. I was daunted. I had the sense to stick with it and even to publish a photograph of myself warts and all in a Thinking Slimmer private Facebook group. I found a group of women who knew how I felt and could empathise whatever their size, bigger or smaller than myself.

So what has changed in 12 weeks?

I lost 1 stone and 5 pounds over the 12 week period.

I lost so many inches including a massive 10 inches from my tummy. I must point out that this is by the liposuction by tape measure method but it works for me!

Far more importantly than either of these things I now know that I have a beauty all of my own. People have commented positively on my waist, arms and legs in particular. I smile more and my posture is better as my confidence increases daily. After years of hating how I looked, I now experiment with fashion and colour. I check labels not quite believing that I can get into such smaller sizes. I have a long way to go on the weight loss journey but I KNOW I will be slim by Christmas.

Here is what 12 weeks can do!

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January 2015

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Gone are the days of being terrified to acknowledge what I look like. I posted a picture of myself on my public Facebook page and on my blog this week. I am OK and the future is bright. A large part of that is due to Thinking Slimmer.

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Reasons to smile this week are wonderful.

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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.

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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.

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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.