The fall of Supermum

The fall of Supermum

It was a typical morning. The rush of getting myself ready for work, “discussing” getting dressed with the Munchkin, “discussing” eating breakfast, “discussing” cleaning teeth, “discussing” putting on shoes. Running late… again! Knowing the boss would give me one of “those” looks as I turned up at my desk – never saying anything, just looking. Over one arm, I threw my handbag, my laptop bag and Munchkin’s daycare bag. Under the other arm, I hoisted a kicking, screaming 2 year old – and headed out the door.

Halfway down the front stairs my heel caught. Bags, Munchkin and I went A over T down 10 stairs. Fortunately, nobody was hurt (no more than a massive bruise on my leg anyway), but as I sat on a step, tears pouring, the Munchkin cuddling up to me trying to comfort me, it hit me. This whole Supermum thing was a myth, and I had fallen for it.

I had been so sure I could pull off Supermum – after all, I’d always been able to do anything I set my mind to.

It happened like this…

My dream promotion came up at work the same week I fell pregnant. My much hoped for pregnancy took second priority to job interviews, an interstate transfer, buying a new home, settling into an exciting new role. Three months’ maternity leave seemed like plenty – especially at the time. I hated being home. I was bored and lonely and absolutely determined not to watch ANY daytime TV. I just wanted to go back to work – it was only 4 days a week. By the Munchkin’s first birthday, I was back full-time+ in a big corporate marketing job. Six months later I returned to part-time study as well.

Looking back, I can see how I ended up as a “fallen” Supermum, but like a frog boiling slowly to death, I didn’t realise it at the time. My work was suffering, my marriage was full of narkiness, my child’s behaviour was out of control and I was falling asleep over my textbooks.

Something… no, EVERYTHING had to change!

That day on the stairs, I cried out to God, The Universe and whoever else was listening, “I can’t do this any more!”

It worked surprisingly quickly! In less than 12 months, my studies were complete, I had a generous redundancy payout in my bank account and my new business was underway.  For the first time in his little life, I had time to really get to know my Munchkin – we played, we laughed, we shared stories, we went on adventures together. He still went to daycare and my Mum’s so I could get some work done, but it was for fewer days and shorter hours. Life slowed down… and it was good!

Of course, I’m not telling you this so that you will quit your job and start your own business (although if that’s what you’d really love to do, I’ll wholeheartedly support you)!

What I really want to talk about is “slowing down”.

It is my belief that we cannot possibly invest the kind of time and energy our kids need to really thrive if we are always busy and stressed. (Note: “thriving” is not the same as “surviving” – kids are pretty resilient and will adapt to cope with most types of “normal”, even the most horrific of circumstances. Of course, this can create other problems in the future.)

All kids can read emotional undercurrents… sensitive kids especially so. What they can’t do so well is process them. Hence the multiple “discussions” the Munchkin and I were having every morning while I was working my corporate job.

Over time, I have come to understand that it is a sure sign that life is getting a bit out of control if the Munchkin’s behaviour starts going “off” – things like aggression, rudeness or temper tantrums creep back into our life (in our house it is unlikely that food additives and sleep deprivation are the problem, but these may also be triggers for such behaviours – more on that later).

Of course, slowing down is not just good for your kids’ emotional lives. It also leaves them with more time to play and just be.

It’s good for you too!

Here are some easy-to-implement suggestions for both mums and dads. I’ll look at some longer term “slow” options in the next post:

How to slow down your life right now!

  1. Put in some systems that help you have a calmer start to the day.
    If they’re old enough, teach your kids how to make their own breakfast, so you can shower and get ready in peace. Better still, teach them how to make their own lunches too! If you think a morning routine visual chart will help, use one. Make sure you have a place for shoes, bags etc and that even if you have to do the picking up yourself at night, you’ll know where they are every morning. Ban TV in the mornings and put on an audio book or music instead – works like a charm in our house!
  2. Take your full allocation of lunch break – every day!
    Go for a walk in a nearby park, meet a friend you don’t normally see, sit in your car and meditate or read a book. By not taking your lunch break, you are either telling your workplace that you are so dedicated to your job that you can be loaded up with even more work, or that you are not very efficient. Neither are impressions you want to make!
  3. Put in a request for flexible working arrangements.
    You’ll need to word it so it makes for a good business case, but having the option to work at home one day a week, or doing shorter days in the office (and working in the evening) could make a huge difference to your family life. Companies are obliged by law to consider a reasonable request (they don’t have to grant it though), so it’s definitely worth looking into. Check out the book Career Mums by Allison Tait and Kate Sykes, for some down-to-earth advice on negotiating flexible working agreements.
  4. Get a cleaner and/or a gardener.
    They’re worth their weight in gold, and it’s really not that much gold for how much better you’ll feel.
  5. Look at home delivery options for your weekly basics.
    It may be just an organic fruit and veg box, or it could be your whole supermarket shop, but it will help free up your weekends to spend time with the family.
  6. Schedule your “me” time.
    Do that yoga class, get your nails done (OK, dads might not be so into this one!), have a massage, soak in a bath, read a book. Pop it in your calendar and treat it like any other appointment.
  7. Have regular date nights.
    Kids are hard on marriages, and you need time together to reconnect. Find a good, reliable sitter that you can call on regularly, or send them to grandparents or friends for a sleep over.

Paving a new way to parent

Paving a new way to parent.

Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that today’s parents are breaking new ground in the whole parenting thing?

After all, parents have been parenting for as long as humans have been raising kids, and that’s a mighty long time! However, for the millennia of human parents before us, they had the advantage of knowing at least a reasonable amount about their kids’ futures.

  • What was going to keep them alive.
  • What their place in society would be.
  • What skills would be needed by their community when they grew up.

And until the last 150 years or so, they raised kids as a village.

For the first time in humanity, we can honestly say that we have absolutely no idea what is going to happen in the next 5 years, let alone in the next 20! How do we prepare our kids for a world in which we are unable to predict the future?

We can’t just teach them what our parents taught us, because that’s not going to work.

Our kids need a new skill set – one that gives them the skills to innovate, experiment, explore, create and adapt. They need to be able to cope with setbacks, take charge of their own destinies, develop their own special gift that they have for the world.

And there is no parenting precedent for this. We’re making it up as we go along. (I think this is why there is so much conflicting advice going around! Tiger Mums v. Free Range Kids anyone???)

So why am I taking it upon myself to share ideas and information about nurturing kids’ sparks. After all, I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know if what Hubby and I are doing to raise the Munchkin is going to work out for him in the end. I’m just listening to my gut, and doing the best I can. I’m guessing you are too.

Mostly, it’s because I strongly believe that someone has to, and it might as well be me! As a designer, an entrepreneur and a generally all-round creative type person, I believe I know a thing or two about creativity. I’m also intensely curious about psychology and childhood development, even though I’ve never formally studied them.

Plus I have one of those completely “out-of-the-box” kids. He’s the type who, when you ask an adult who knows him well, the best description they can come up with is, “He’s just ‘The Munchkin!’ ” (OK, they use his real name, but you get the idea.) There really is no other way to describe him.

He may be an absolutely delightful 8 year old (most of the time), but he is NOT an easy child to parent (or teach for that matter!) He is so bright, sensitive, spirited, imaginative and active – and that’s just for starters. He picks up on every detail, he feels things intensely, he thinks about things deeply, he has his own ideas about EVERYTHING and his energy is boundless (until he crashes at the end the of the day).

He is also seriously affected by poor sleep, certain food additives, environmental stress and too much digital stimulation. So badly it’s almost like a Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde thing! And he doesn’t like me talking about him… (There may have to be a few “a friend’s child” stories!!!)

In short, we simply can’t parent him on auto pilot! We’ve had to learn better ways to handle every parenting situation, from diet to discipline, media exposure to choosing a school.

Not all the ideas I share here will work for you and your child. After all, each child is his/her own unique self, as are you.

However, I believe that we don’t need to do this parenting thing alone. Through online and real life communities, we can share our knowledge, our ideas, our discoveries. We can be creative in our parenting and hopefully, be more fulfilled in our own lives too.

I’ll share my findings. You share yours. We’ll learn from each other.

Together we can raise great kids for the global village that is our connected world.

This is The Kid Spark Project.

Start small and start at the beginning

Welcome to Kid Spark

“Start small and start at the beginning.”

These wise words from my lovely friend, Kelly Exeter, came through late the other night, after I shared with her my post about Robin Williams that she had inadvertently inspired. These little words of encouragement helped me gather that extra bit of wobbly courage I needed to get this ball rolling. No more dilly-dallying around the edges… it’s time to get serious!

TaDa!!!! At last, The Kid Spark Project!

So I find myself asking the question, exactly what was the beginning of Kid Spark?

There were many possible beginnings, but I think it was the day I first watched Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk and cried myself silly… (I still tear up every time I watch it – even between the laughs!)

You can watch it here…

It was like coming face-to-face with my unique parenting journey, my personal history and my life purpose all at once. And it was terrifying and exciting, and completely overwhelming!

I realised, not for the first time, that for my highly intelligent, creative, sensitive, passionate, energiser bunny of a child, life was going to be mighty hard, and I wanted to not only help him survive, but thrive.

So I started researching and reading, planning and trialling, and from this research we’ve slowly been paving a new way to parent, one that honours his unique personality and nurtures his many gifts, while still allowing us all to live a relatively calm, productive and happy life.

Through this process, I also learned a lot about myself – about my own experience as a highly creative, intelligent and (fortunately for my mum) less energetic child, and how that has played out throughout my adolescence and adult life. I reflected on how my parents had raised me, how school had played a part in my development, the “big” experiences that had shaped me, and all the crazy interactions I had had with my peers. Much of this was positive (after all, I’ve turned out all right!), but there were also things that had eaten away at my confidence and taken my life in directions away from my dreams.

I longed to share my learnings with other parents on the same journey, to ease their way, and inspire them to try new things. To help them to raise healthy, happy, creative kids. Not just the ones who would go onto lead lives as a fully-fledged “Creative” with a capital “C”, but ALL kids – for every child has their own “spark”, their own special gift to the world.

Much of my research underpinned the products I created at Leaf. The greatest pain I felt with closing Leaf was that my journey was over before it had really begun. But there were also many, many other things that could not be contained within a little journal business – and I wanted to explore those too!

Especially Spark.

The concept of “spark” is not my own. It comes from the work of Professor Peter Benson, a world leader in developmental psychology, who described “sparks” as the following:

SPARKS are the hidden flames in your kids that light their proverbial fire, get them excited, tap into their true passions.

SPARKS come from the gut. They motivate and inspire. They’re authentic passions, talents, assets, skills and dreams.

SPARKS can be musical, athletic, intellectual, academic, relational – anything from playing the violin to enjoying working with kids or senior citizens.

SPARKS get kids going on a positive path, steering them into making a difference in the world and away from self-defeating or dangerous paths.

SPARKS, when they are known, and acted, on, help youth come to the life-changing insight that “my life has a purpose.”

(Source: Benson, P.L., Sparks. How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers.)

Professor Benson did some great work with pre-teens and teenagers before his passing in 2011, but despite his own research, in which he discovered that the majority (52%) of sparks appeared in children under 10, he did not work with younger children.

Personally, I believe that delaying such important work to the pre-teen years is leaving it too late.

From what I’ve witnessed, it is between the ages of 5 and 10 that many kids stop believing that they are imaginative, creative beings. Sure, our education system, with its focus on standardised testing and defined curriculum, is partly to blame, but there are many other things that happen during that time too. We make a random comment, we encourage one extra-curricular activity over another, we get busy and look for the “easy” solutions rather than the “best” ones. Sometimes we unknowingly snuff out a spark before we even know it was there.

The Kid Spark Project is about sharing and exchanging ideas about how to recognise and nurture those tiny, baby sparks into flames that can last a lifetime (or even longer – think Shakespeare!) While it will have a particular focus on our most creative kids, it aims to help all parents nurture every type of spark their children may have.

Why creative kids? Because they are so sensitive and passionate and intense, which makes them very vulnerable to being broken. Because they are the ones for whom our current school system doesn’t work as well. Because they are often the ones who slip through the cracks, and find themselves caught up in addiction and/or mental illness – a long, long way from their childhood dreams. And more importantly, because in his research, Professor Benson discovered that the Creative Arts were in fact the most common sparks (43% of boys and 65% of girls – I wonder if this figure would have been higher in younger boys… but I digress!)

Through my research and the significant changes we have implemented into our lifestyle, we have certainly gained a lot of insight and experience, which I hope to share. However, I am just one mum, with only one child, so there will be many more discoveries and ideas from other parents, teachers and professionals on the same journey. I also hope to bring on board some wonderful creativity and childhood development specialists who can share their expertise with us. I’d like The Kid Spark Project to grow into more than just a resource… more like a community.

I do not know where Kid Spark will eventually lead or what form it will finally take, but for now, it has a home – here on the Tiny Moments blog.

My dreams for this project are BIG, which is probably why it is so darn scary! But as Kelly suggested, and like the sparks themselves, I have at least started at the beginning, and I am starting small.

Welcome to Kid Spark!

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Hi, I’m Cath

Cath Connell

Creating my amazing life one tiny moment at a time. Bringing the Hubby, a Munchkin and about a dozen tomato plants along for the ride.

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