Online groups are awesome

If you’ve noticed that my Social Media has been quieter than usual recently it’s not because I’m not online, it’s because I have joined a host of new online (mainly Facebook) groups. Other than my magic (to me) online group, which I’ve been a member of for years, which has become a place where a load of us chat daily, I have resisted joining online groups and platforms with the same willpower as a toddler who has been told to put their shoes on because we’re in a rush. Basically it’s a giant ‘no’ from me.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m not really sociable on anything greater than a 1-2-1 level. Can I blame being a twin? Having always had my bro on hand so didn’t need loads of other friends? Probably not, he’d be horrified to read that as he is as social as they come. I’m just not a fan of group interactions. In the last 2 weeks I have worried I’ve had a personality transplant. Previously having been the sort that when added to a WhatsApp group, I leave it before the admin has time to write a welcome message, I’ve surprised myself by joining 2 new Facebook groups. They’re private groups (which means you need to have a membership to their product to be accepted into the group), one is to do with marketing and the other is to do with parenting. Joining these groups has surprised me as in both areas I tend to just do my thing, it either works or it doesn’t and I move on. So looking for somewhere that gives support in both these areas was an interesting experience.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. My only experience of being an active member of a group was when I had my first child and spent most of my pregnancy and his early life on BabyCentre. I enjoyed it until it became an out and out slanging match about parenting choices. I can’t really remember much of it now but think my non-obsessive parenting style didn’t really suit other members of the group. So it was with a lot of trepidation that I joined these two groups this week and what a game changer it has turned out to be. Maybe people have become nicer in the past 8/9 years. Maybe I was just in the wrong groups before now. What I’ve encountered are supportive, encouraging, helpful people who are happy to listen, share advice and support you whether it’s business related or personal. I’m not going to beat myself up for having missed out on these sorts of groups over the years but I am going to be a little less trigger happy when seeing my name added to a WhatsApp group and take the time to find out what the group is about first.

No-one likes it when the class toy comes home

When my (now) 5 year old was in Nursery the class toy came home with him for the weekend and I immediately went into a blind panic. He was in a private Nursery at the time (bonus of working for the group who owned it) and when the dreaded toy came home with it’s ‘diary’ to be filled in by parents who undoubtedly cancelled their plans of a lazy weekend at home, so they could take the stuffed toy on all sorts of adventures and write it up in the diary, ready for show and tell on Monday, I felt the fear.

I refused to change the weekend plans to something that cost a fortune, the best part of my sanity and set the kids up for thinking that every weekend would include a theme park/visit to the cinema/outdoor adventure and carried on with normal life. The toy came to a playground, took a ride in the shopping trolley and watched some tv with J. All photographed and documented in such sarcastic tones that the teacher never sent the toy home with us again.

It’s now 2 years later, the boys are in a new school and luckily expectations are much, much lower. Not too low though as at the end of the first week I went to pick up my little one only to be greeted by the class toy and it’s diary. I tried to argue with the teacher that it shouldn’t come home because it hadn’t been a full week but she was surprisingly firm and said she looked forward to the filled in diary on Monday. Damn. Then I remembered that it was my ex-husband’s weekend with the kids and this was no longer my problem. I sent him a quick warning text (with a lot of laughing, crying emojis), warned him not to be too sarcastic in the write up, wished him ‘God speed’ and dropped the boys off with him for the weekend.

So far, so good. and even better, he had planned a trip to Legoland to celebrate our 9 year old’s birthday. All went to plan. I had a nice relaxing weekend with no thought or mention of ‘Fluffy’ and it’s diary. My ex husband filled out the diary and on Monday we returned Fluffy with her diary and promptly forgot all about it.

It was the following Friday when I went to pick up the boys as usual and found myself (practically) lynched by the other mums in the class. ‘We hear J*** took fluffy to Legoland’ accused one wild eyed mother. I (correctly) identified her as the one who had just found herself dumped with Fluffy and her blimming diary for the weekend. Being the giving sort, I dropped my ex-husband in it, explained that if Fluffy had spent the weekend with me the solitary photo would have been of the inside of my son’s book bag and I wouldn’t even be sorry.

I think I got away with it and still have mum friends in the school playground but it was reassuring to learn that it’s not just me who dreads, pretty much anything school related during after school and weekend time. Unless it’s when the school hosts a sleepover and we get rid of the little darlings for a whole night. School then get their own back by giving the kids the following day off, wrecking our work and nursing a hangover from having celebrated too much the night before plans. Perhaps we should team up and start a petition for all school resources to be kept at school at all times. I’m sure I can find a group of mums who value their weekend plans who will sign it.

Even the experts need help sometimes

Back in the day I was not just a website designer, I was also a Social Media Consultant. Having been involved in Social Media from the beginning, I worked across the country running workshops and advising companies and individuals in using Social Media to promote their business. This continued for a few years, I published online training courses and was always up to date on Social Media trends. At the same time I was developing a WordPress web design business and along the line I decided to drop Social Media consultancy as a service I offered. This helped me to focus on my business, streamline what I was offering and saved a lot of time because I didn’t have to keep up to date with the ever changing trends of Social Media. For example since stopping Social Media consultancy Instagram TV has launched, Vero almost became a thing and Facebook Groups became a lot more comprehensive.

Whilst this was the right decision for me I realised I had lost my way with my own Social Media. With my finger firmly off the pulse I wasn’t quite sure how to put my message across in the most effective way. This led to me losing confidence, not posting anywhere much and hiding out in old fashioned, paper books. Not long after, one of my favourite bloggers and entrepreneurs, Molly Gunn of Selfish Mother and The FMLY Store launched a series of courses including ‘Social Media Supercharge’. Not sure what I was feeling, after all, I used to be the person creating these courses, I signed up to the course and waited for it to hit my inbox.

I’m still feeling a bit of a rubbish student because I’ve only completed one module. This has been down to a not managing my time aspect, rather than a reflection of the course which is inspiring and even the one module I’ve completed has been mega useful. I am now trying to be strict with myself and finish the course as I’m a member of the Selfish Mother Masterclasses Facebook Group (can’t link to it as it’s a private group) which you are granted access to upon signing up to the courses and the other members are way ahead of me.

I have high hopes that next week I’ll finish the course, stop feeling overwhelmed and be inspired all over again with my Social Media. I’m glad I recognised that I’m far from an expert and to swallow any pride I may have had and sign up to a course written by someone I greatly admire and hopefully my Social Media posts will have more consistency from now on.

Overwhelm is a real thing

If I had time I would count how many lists I’ve written since starting Five Things in January and in how many of them I’ve written about feeling overwhelmed. The reality is I haven’t had time to count, which also means I don’t know how many weeks into the year we are. The memes currently circulating Facebook telling me it’s only so many days/Mondays/insert marker here, until Christmas don’t do anything other than leave me with a persistent eye twitch. I tend to mark the year in family birthdays. How many cakes I’ve still to bake at midnight, how many Amazon parcels  are due to arrive. Currently I know that there are my Nana, nephew, step-daughter, bestie & her son (luckily they share the same birthday) and my Dad’s birthday between now and the end of the year. This system works for me, even if it does leave my partner feeling a little bewildered at times.

The reason for me sometimes not even knowing what day of the week it is (thankfully I remembered just in time to pick the kids up from school after having thought it was the weekend), is that I’m a single mum with a lot of spinning plates. I run my own business, I co-run a Child Contact Centre, my partner is hideously disorganised, we have 3 kids, minimal family support and a crazy dog who sucks every last bit of attention from my brain cells at the end of the day.

Most of the time this feels manageable but in the last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling the strain. School started 3 weeks ago and whilst it’s a joy to have 6 hours to work uninterrupted each day, the school have expected parents to be there to help out at least once a week, the kids have new timetables so remembering everything they need can be challenging and then there’s life, work & Contact Centre admin on top.

I’m not great at handling overwhelm, it makes me feel unappreciated, unloved and unhappy. I moan about this to my partner and hope that a miracle will happen. This week it did. I find it hard to hand over any form of responsibility or running of the home/kids but this week it’s had to be up for discussion. Talking about it was difficult but feeling supported and that I’m not on my own with it has helped enormously. My partner pointed out overwhelm only has to be a thing if I let it. If I reach out before feeling at max exasperation, it will make for a happier time for everyone. I guess I’m still learning but I’m going to try to communicate more and hope to feel taken for granted, less from now on.

Girls can do anything boys can do

Last year I was listening to a podcast of a Ted Talk called ‘To raise brave girls, encourage adventure’. In the talk it says that we tend to caution girls when they’re physically challenging themselves. In the same situation parents often encourage boys rather than caution them. I’m guessing my experience of growing up is slightly skewed because I grew up with a twin brother, I was a Tom Boy and the whole ‘girly’ experience came a lot later. I’ve also noticed that my friends who have girls are raising them as ‘mighty’ girls in a more gender neutral way than the wall to wall pink of our childhoods.

There is still a lot of work to be done. The gender pay gap is something that sadly exists, women still seem to be responsible for the Household Load (the emotional and organisational running of the home) and in just about everyone but my partner’s case, if a child falls ill/has an appointment during working hours, it’s left to the mother to arrange time off work and deal with it.

Yesterday my lovely friend, Miri sent me a photo of her husband working on the flat roof of their extension with their almost 4 year old assisting him. That’s right, a 3 year old on a roof. She was (hopefully) a great help and more importantly, from the off she is being taught that girls can do anything boys can. There are no such things as ‘boy jobs’ and ‘girl jobs’ or to use a phrase I’m not at all keen on ‘blue jobs’ and ‘pink jobs’. In having her assist him, Miri and her husband assessed for safety, showed their daughter what that meant, what markers they were looking for and how to keep herself safe. In the same Ted Talk the speaker says if we teach children autonomy and encourage them to be brave, it’s their courage which will tell them whether something is too risky, rather than a sense of caution.

My stepdaughter has been raised as a mighty girl. I love it. She gets involved in everything whether it’s climbing trees, playing football, baking, dressing up. You name it and she’ll give it a go. She may spend a little more time than the boys quietly decorating something or arranging things so they look pretty but it’s clear that in her mind, there are no ‘pink and blue’ differences. Also her parents don’t fall into the traditional role of the mother doing all the running round/father not being as available. Knowing that my friends who have girls are also raising their children in the same way, to be adventurous, courageous and to eliminate the gender gap (we are all teaching this to our boys too), I hope that our children will have a different experience of adulthood to us, where many of us suffer the type of overwhelm I mention above and feel they’re failing if they’re not being all things to all people.

*You may also like this Ted Talk: Teach girls bravery, not perfection.