It’s enough to drive you crazy, if you let it

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Having children is the happiest time of your life. Or having children is the biggest blessing you’ll ever have. Or having children will make you a better person. Or being a father will be the best thing you will ever do.

They’re all true. All the platitudes and cliches around parenthood and fatherhood have at least some grain of truth in them. But listen to them. Isn’t that a lot of pressure to put on one change in your life? Isn’t it asking a lot of one tiny little soul?

What if it doesn’t feel that way? Everyone’s telling you you should be happy, what happens when things don’t quite live up to those high expectations?

Everything’s wonderful on that initial wave of excitement that happens on day one. No, it’s not always plain sailing – it can be quite traumatic for both Mam and/or Dad. But that wave of excitement, those voices telling you it’s the happiest day of your life, the pressure to “grow up man, it’s nothing compared to what she’s going through” all serve to undermine the normal process of dealing with our emotions. You’re traumatised? “You don’t know how lucky you are – think how much worse it is for her, and for other couples in much worse circumstances”. No wonder we ignore that little voice inside saying that something doesn’t feel right.

Move on down the road a week, two weeks, a month, a year. Then the shine really starts to wear off. Maybe it’s the tiredness you both feel. Maybe it’s the friction that puts on your relationship. Maybe it’s the pressure of a thousand tonnes coming down on you now you have to be an adult. How are you going to pay the credit card bills? How much will your utility bills go up now you’re constantly washing or drying clothes? What about all the nappies? How will you pay for them? And that’s before little one even needs solid food. Not only is the biggest blessing of your life keeping you awake at night, but now the little voice in your head is too.

The thing they don’t tell us, and this goes for both parents, is that it’s bloody hard. We judge ourselves, it’s not just society. But it IS hard. Imagine dealing with all that pressure on a full nights sleep. Factor in the lack of sleep, the pressures of work and day to day life all on top of the fact you have this little person for whom you are now entirely accountable. It isn’t going to feel like the happiest time of your life. Not for 24 hours of every day at least.

Why don’t we talk about this? As I write this there is a parent somewhere struggling. Mentally they just don’t feel able to cope. Maybe they’re just having a bad day. Maybe its more than that, it’s that pressure that’s been building for so long. We don’t feel able to talk to anyone about it. It’s like an admission that we’re not good enough maybe? It’s the pressure again that we put on ourselves to provide for our family. Maybe society plays a part too – after all this should be the happiest time of our life! Why am I not happy!?

The fact is though, it isn’t just you. We really are all in this together. Every father, every mother every parent has those same worries. That same pressure. It’s not just you. The fact we don’t talk about it makes the problem worse, we really do believe “it’s just me”. I don’t know what the solution is. There are so many reasons we don’t talk about it. Mainstream media plays its part I’m sure, I’m certain that social media does. But if you’re reading this and you’re feeling that pressure, weighing down on you, please know that you’re not alone. You’re not going to fail in your role as a parent.

Above all, your family loves you and they are truly blessed to have you. If you’re at breaking point, talk about it. It will help you, it might help someone else too. You’d be surprised how many other people are or have been where you are. It’s very hard, but keep on fighting on – it’s so worth it.

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I’ll be there

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After a long break from posting owing to us moving house then having our third daughter born three weeks later, I have finally gotten​ round to writing a post. So here’s one for father’s day…

 Depending on what you read and who you speak to, fatherhood means a very wide range of different things.  There’s the age old view of fathers that TV, the media and some people I’ve encountered seem to portray of us: the inept, bumbling fool who forgets birthdays, won’t lift a finger around the house and is basically clueless about the fundamental needs of a child.  Then of course there’s the self-proclaimed antithesis of this, the expert at being a perfect father. This one’s always posting on Facebook about how all men and fathers should be just like him. He usually includes a selfy of him the day he once changed a nappy (“come on dad’s, look I’ve changed this nappy, why can’t you all be like me?”) What a hero!
We’re under pressure not just from the media (social or otherwise) though. At home there’s pressure to be a good husband/partner without letting the fatherly duties slide. To be a breadwinner, to be a good employee at work. To earn enough to fulfill as many of your childrens’ wishes and dreams as possible. The demands are endless. There’s also the internal pressure we put on ourselves, if we slip up on a single one of these demands we beat ourselves up and the way we see it, we’re​ essentially the bumbling idiot ‘TV father’ that society tells us we are. (I’d like mothers to know that deep down we worry as much as they do!)
But the way I see it, none of this matters. The only thing that matters is your children. All these internal and external pressures are imagined. To me the meaning of fatherhood can be summed up in two words: Being There. I mean that both figuratively and literally. Being there for our children. When we’re with them for the small stuff, they’ll learn that we’re there when they need us for the big stuff. We can’t physically be there 100% of the time but its making the best of when we are. It’s not letting​ our minds​ be preoccupied or distracted with work or money or any of the other demands placed on us. Listening​ to them, talking​ to them, showing them we’re really truly present and we are happy to be there!  It’s not easy, and no one’s ever perfect. Sometimes the pressure gets us, we prioritise something else. Our minds wander, that’s OK. But if our children know that no matter what, we are always there when they need us, truly there, they will reach up high without fear. They’ll reach high knowing that whether they succeed or fail, we will be there to help and encourage them. Encouraging them either to reach again when they fall or to reach higher when they do touch the stars. Fatherhood to me is truly being there with them when we can, because we only get this one chance. Everything else can wait. 

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world

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To my Mam, to my beautiful wife, and to any mother (and indeed any single father) who happens to be reading this.

The one thing I seem to hear mothers talking about most often is worry. Whether as a son, a husband, a teacher, a friend or just a casual observer, I notice Mams expressing worry more than just about anything else. Not just worry about their children, though they’re often doing that too, but worry about whether they are doing a good enough job as a mother.

Whether every decision, no matter how big or small, was the right one. Whether that bit of advice or the answer to that question was the best thing to say. Whether the nagging feeling that something is wrong is true mother’s intuition or just paranoia. Whether they are doing enough to prepare their little ones for life in the real world (or help them through it if their little ones are not so little any more). Whether their little ones truly know just how much they are loved. Their worry and self-doubt never seems to stop. It’s corrosive, eating away inside and making the hole worry leaves in your confidence bigger and bigger.

This Mother’s Day I want to take the opportunity to say to you that you are amazing. There is nothing at all you could possibly change that would make you a better Mam:

“There ought to be a hall of fame for mamas / Creation’s most unique and precious pearl / And heaven help us always to remember / That the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” —Glen Campbell

Love you loads Mam and Vickie, you need to read this every single day. I can’t mention mothers without mentioning my Gran, I wish I had said this to my Gran 20 years ago when it might have meant something to her.

Enjoy your day Mams everywhere xxx

This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you

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The good die young. Heaven always takes the best ones. The brightest stars burn out the fastest.

All trying to say the same thing, but none of them really sufficient to express just how tragic and painful the loss of such a warm and kind young person is. Nothing can numb this feeling.

You were my best friend. You were like a brother. We had some amazing, fun, happy times together and you were there for me through the darker times. You were often like a well travelled guide on this journey of life, always ready to give advice on how to get round an obstacle or point out some different way of seeing things until life made sense once again.

Right here, right now, is a dark part of that journey again. Even without you here to guide me I can still hear your voice in my head, telling me the way and reassuring me.

The fact is that the saying is true – the brightest stars do burn out the fastest. But when we look out into the night sky at the stars, the light we see can travel for many years before it reaches us. That light continues on its journey, long after the star has gone out. Your light continues to shine on through our lives in the hearts and minds of everyone who was blessed enough to know you.

You light up my life

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When we hurt ourselves there’s usually something we can do to help. Maybe it’s cleaning up a wound, running cold water on a burn, or sometimes there’s nothing to see and maybe we just need to rub it better.   Unfortunately it’s not so simple when it comes to our mental health. A touch of anxiety or a full blown panic attack are going to need different approaches but the response is also different from person to person or even from day to day for the same person. What works one day might not the next.  Sometimes we might not even know what is wrong in the first place, let alone how to feel better.

That situation is made all the more difficult when it’s someone else we care about who’s hurting. Imagine how difficult it is when that person’s also a child, not only are their needs different but they also can’t communicate as effectively what’s wrong in the first place.  Again, if they hurt themselves it’s a matter of getting them calmed and reassuring them, having a look then cleaning their wound etc, a quick hug then send them on their way.  With anxiety or panic however it’s not as straightforward as that. Just trying to establish what the problem is can make everything ten times worse, without even beginning trying to solve it.

So sometimes, just like when they hurt something and just need us to rub it better, we simply have to give them a cuddle and show them we care. To show them that they are genuinely the most important thing in the world to us at that moment. That’s all we can do sometimes.

Dealing with anxiety, depression and panic attacks in ourselves is difficult, but helping my daughter through it is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to try to do.  I want so much to take it away from you but can’t.  I have to try hard not to tell you that though – you have to learn that it’s OK to be scared and not something we have to hide. Just like its OK to hurt, and just like that hurt will soon pass, so too will this fear, this anxiety.

In the meantime all I can do is show you how amazing you truly are, that I know you CAN cope with this and that you mean more to me than anything else in the world. You light up my life – just keep on shining like the star you are and you’ll see the way through this.

Daddy x

Lovely day

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If, at 8am this morning, I could have cancelled today I would have done.  It’s been a tough day on many different levels.  My first blog post documented my eldest daughter’s first day at school.  Today marked my youngest daughter’s first full day of school and what a quiet day it has been in this house.

This has stirred up many feelings and emotions both for myself and my wife.  It’s difficult to describe the exact feelings but as anyone who has ever suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and depression will know there are usually some precursors to an attack. Those precursors were flying around today that’s for sure.

This evening though after getting both daughters to bed and all the dust settling I’m able to put things into perspective once more. It’s certainly an anxiety inducing event for any parent but as always there’s another side to the coin. It’s your first day and also your first step towards becoming what your whole childhood is leading up to.  Maybe you’ll explore the world in your future role, maybe you’ll be a home bird. Whatever it is you want to do though, that journey began today. I can’t say my vision was totally clear, but nonetheless I was lucky enough to be here to see where it all started.

Managing our anxiety is all about managing our perspective.  Even someone who doesn’t suffer any undue anxiety or panic attacks or depression will encounter these things perhaps as temporary emotions. Then their perspective shifts, maybe only a little, but enough to see that there is a bigger picture after all. What to one person is a sad and terrifying day, is in fact the start of an amazing and inspiring journey for someone else. May the tears I’ve shed today give nourishment to the roots of your lifelong learning adventure.

Daddy x

It’s time to start all over, make a new beginning

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At the start of my last post, I mentioned that I intend one day for my young daughters, when they’re grown up, to read my blog.  It got me thinking that I never really introduced myself or set out the objectives of my blog when I made my first ever post, I just launched straight into it.

I suppose that was probably the primary purpose when I started writing that first post; just getting the thoughts out of my head and into words at what was for me a fairly emotional time. As I have added more posts though, I realise now that they have all been fairly disparate and fractured in theme and content.  As part of the blogging course I have begun, I intend to set out here the objectives of my blog.

Although all directed at my daughters, my posts lack a common theme, purpose or thread.  Partly that’s because I didn’t set out to have a theme or purpose, partly that’s probably just how my mind works – zeroing in and obsessing on one particular facet of a much bigger picture then leaving that and jumping to another.  I also wasn’t sure if or how long I would continue posting.

Henceforth, in writing my blog, I will (loosely!) aim to:

  • Continue to write for my daughters’ benefit
  • Include more content on our family’s daily life, with more of a diary or journal style of writing
  • Use the blog as both a personal record of life to look back on as well as a way of getting feelings and thoughts out of my head
  • Help with my own mental health issues by incorporating and discussing some personal feelings & emotions

With these general aims in mind, I hope to provide an enlightening read for my daughters in years to come, help myself to process my own thoughts and feelings and perhaps provide an entertaining but trivial diversion for the casual reader.

In case anyone reading hadn’t already realised, I intend that the title of each post be (or at least include) lyrics from a song.

That’s that – my blog objectives.  Subject, like our moods of course, to permanent and constant change…

Make your own kind of music, even if nobody else sings along

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With only two weeks of the school year left, it’s becoming a fairly reflective time for me. I intended this blog of mine to one day be read by my children. Whether it gives them a source of wisdom, inspiration, amusement or just fodder for my own ridicule will be largely out of my hands. Still, times like this – the end of one daughter’s first school year and the other’s year at nursery – provide an opportunity to convey just how these milestones appear from outside their viewpoint. That’s the intention anyway. If I can give them some advice along the way and perhaps provide the casual reader with a few minutes of entertainment or diversion into the bargain, all the better.

As a teacher myself (private tuition that is, not in a school), I have a view some might find a bit skewed. It’s my opinion that in the teaching transaction both parties continuously gain knowledge. I don’t believe there is anyone in the world so learned that they are capable of imparting knowledge onto another person without somewhere in the process learning something new. It’s like a journey: I’ve travelled the same routes to the same places many times over in my lifetime but one journey along the same roads with my daughters opens my eyes to a completely different view of the same surroundings. Likewise, a question I’d never thought of from one of my students sheds a totally new light on something I felt sure I knew inside out previously.

Parenthood, I believe, has the same effect. While on the face of it we are expected to teach, encourage and impart knowledge on our children, they are definitely not the only ones learning. This year my girls have come so far on their journeys it’s difficult to put into words just how proud they make me. But by the same token, I have learned a few things from them in the past year. Here are just a small selection:

  • They’ve shown me that 3 year olds are both physically and mentally stronger than I previously gave them credit for in very traumatic situations
  • That adults, me included, really are stupid when it comes to prioritising
  • That the everyday, the mundane and uninteresting can sometimes be more memorable in their absence than those other times and occasions we label as ‘special’; if we do something every single day week in week out then it must be pretty special surely?
  • I’m more prone to having tears in my eyes than I ever thought I was, sometimes even in public places
  • Part of me is very selfish.

The last one, which I’m sure also applies to many other people, has become very much more evident in the last few days. Here we are reaching the end of the school year and all I want is time to slow down a bit. My girls are growing up too fast, their childhood disappearing into the cracks between the individual days. To them the mundane, routine days truly are momentous and special – an adventure. To me, they only seem that way because the pervading sense of finality right now reminds me that they’re limited. The first year’s boring, routine days have almost gone and now I want them back.

Yes, my girls are growing up fast and the selfish, sad part of me wants to hold on to the here and now. These are their memories though, their childhoods and this is their journey. I have to realise it’s not coming to an end, they are just beginning to take more control over the direction that journey takes.

Enjoy this journey my little ones – it belongs to you. Take it wherever you want it to go!

Your hopelessly devoted Daddy x

This is it…

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Wherever we look at this time of year we’re generally faced with propaganda about how we need to make a concerted effort to change this or start that. Maybe its the government telling us we’re drinking too much or not eating the right foods. Could be an acquaintance bragging about how long they’re spending in the gym or maybe a new skill or language they’re learning or plan to start. Even adverts on TV etc try to prey on our sense of guilt and shame, no wonder January is billed as a depressing month! Literally two minutes past midnight I saw an ad on TV for a well known diet company. Talk about kicking us while we’re down.

The new year we’re told is supposedly the time for taking stock and setting new goals. Most of us probably get three months or so in and chances are we’ve given up though. Not through some innate laziness or resistance to change but more likely because once we’re outside the idealistic context of the Christmas holidays and firmly back into daily life, our noble ideas seem less relevant. The daily grind has us worn down.

Trying to explain the concept of new year to a four year old though is a great way to illuminate just how meaningless these spur of the moment ‘resolutions’ can be. What matters most surely isn’t what were conned into believing is important in the midst of the holiday season, but what we’re dealing with every day.

Every day I’m bringing up my children; I’m feeding them, dressing them and teaching them about the world around them. Every day I’m being a husband to my wife; I’m honouring and respecting her (I think that’s how the vows went!), caring for her and doing my best to support her in all she does to bring up our girls. I’m working every day to support my family; going out to earn a living, coming into contact with many different people, playing my part in fulfilling their particular expectations of me. What matters most is all of this. Thinking of some irrelevant goal from a drink-fuelled night in the Christmas holidays isn’t going to help me here. Certainly not going to make me better at any of these things.

My resolution then is this: stop. Each day in each role we take on, just stop for a moment and take it in. What you’re doing in these moments, right now. This is what’s important. Next time you find yourself split into three at work and feeling stressed and one more person comes along to ask more of you, just stop. Next time you have somewhere to be, you have to get everyone ready and your child decides it’s a great time to investigate what’s under the soil around your houseplants, just stop. These are the moments that make up our lives, whether we plan it that way or (more likely) not. I’m not saying stop and throw in the towel and run screaming for the hills. Just take one moment to remember that the person in front of you is another person. Not another task to be completed; not another resolution to set and forget.

When we’re gone, no one’s going to remember what our new years resolution was in x or y year. They might just remember though how we were every day, in those moments that make up this life. Our life.

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

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As we grow older it feels like the magic of childhood Christmases fades. Maybe adulthood gives us more things to worry about and we don’t have the mental space for magic any more. Maybe we focus more on the time off work and the everyday details than on the celebrations themselves. Or maybe our minds mature and we simply find the whole thing less engaging as we once did.

The fact is though, nothing has changed. The world still celebrates in the same way as it did. People around us still do the same things; tradition remains just that. Children of today still feel the magic we once did, but we’ve changed into adults.

It’s like looking at clouds from below. They take on all kinds of wonderful shapes and forms. Fly up into them in a plane though and they’re all the same grey fog. Look at Christmas from a child’s height and it’s still just as magical as it’s always been. Once you get into it as an adult it’s easy to get lost in the fog, missing all the magic. Christmas hasn’t changed though; only our perspective has.

Whatever you get from this time of year, whatever it means to you, the same thing applies. Whether you celebrate the story of Jesus, a visit from Santa, the winter Solstice or just the opportunity to stop and show your appreciation to your friends and family. The magic comes from you.

If you’re lucky enough to spend Christmas with children, you’ll see for yourself: they bring the magic themselves. It’s not the gifts or the weather or the bible stories or the amount of money we spend. It’s in each of us just waiting for the chance to emerge.

When you find yourself seeing the clouds from the inside, remember how you might once have studied the same clouds from below as a child. Then remember that you still can.

Thank you little ones for sharing your magic and making this Christmas as magical as it was when I was your age. I hope your children will one day do the same for you.

Merry Christmas and may every day of the year be filled with your love and laughter.