Category Archives: Features

Robot's hand types on keyboard

A glimpse into the future

I was glad to see the back of last week, one of the worst I have had in a long time.

It felt like everyone was out to get me and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.work automation

Just when I thought it might get better I ended up cradling my head in my hands out of pure frustration.

What else can go wrong now I thought?

Friends have said that I am lucky to be a business owner, ‘look at you’ they say ‘you can leave when you want, take holidays that fit around the kids, take the odd day off to go shopping.’

When the reality is…

Holidays spent working in the morning and then if I’m lucky getting some beach time in the afternoon, thankfully I tan easily.

Worrying about work related problems

Always anxious

Will I win that customer, then, after three painstakingly years of hard work, receive an email saying thanks for your help we’ve decided to go with an another supplier but will include you when we next come to tender.

Gee, thanks a lot!

A manager who verbally agreed to give us the work only to find out on Monday morning she’s left and it’s the Director you are are now talking too who wants all the background information you’ve already supplied? And so the process starts over, again.

To be told we do have other priorities you know when they’ve promised to call you back close of business Tuesday and it’s now Friday.

It’s not all rose tinted windows and long leisurely afternoon teas. It is a one stop rollercoaster ride and one I’d very much like to get off of.

Running your own business is hard work there are changes in business regulations, legislation and taxation all of which need to be understood to ensure  you are on the right side of the law.

It takes a resilient person to be able to manage all these aspects and at the same time having to generate business to pay the bills at the end of the month.

When I established my company twenty years ago the economic and business landscape were completely different.

Friendlier to start with, building relationships were key, service and value always at the top of the list and then some way down came the price factor.

People really did buy people, they bought your integrity, ingenuity and intelligence, your willingness to help them they respected you for your knowledge asked you for advice, yes, advice and paid for the privilege.

Robot's hand types on keyboard2018 and the landscape couldn’t be more different.

People are in jobs for a year maybe longer and as the above example illustrates you can be given the order one week only to find out the next it’s all change and you have to start the sales process all over again. 

The technology revolution continues to transform our daily lives – 3D printing, driverless cars (almost) A.I. and V.I all of their origins from the internet.

The arrival of the internet changed everything but with the it came automation and robotics on a grand scale and if the current trend continues many jobs will disappear.

Airports are undergoing automation; baggage drop off areas where you weigh your bags and the tickets are printed for you to apply to your baggage.

If you booked in online all you have to do is turn up at the departure gate.

What has happened to the assistant who would weigh your luggage, attach your baggage labels and wish you a safe journey?

Look at the increasing use of check out free supermarkets, scan your shopping pay and go.

Or better still order online and have the supermarket deliver your weekly groceries direct to your door at a time that suits.

It all seems great and we all benefit from choosing when we want to do our shopping online and then decide when to have it delivered but there are challenges ahead.

The future?

In a digitally transforming world the greatest challenge surely is creating economic and social value for those whose jobs have been eliminated because of automation.

Jobs that are automated become extinct. AI (artificial intelligence) concept.

Automation results in lower paid menial jobs being removed from the work place altogether but what happens to the people who are no longer employed?

This transformation in the workplace usually means a need for experienced and knowledge based workers but in my experience many businesses who want or need skills simply research the internet and buy freelance services cheaply.

Digitalisation has changed the nature of how, why and where we work, we probably wouldn’t recognise the offices we use to work in twenty years ago.

How we bank, book holidays, order goods online is unrecognisable to how we did it ten years ago when the internet really got going.

And in another ten years how will this increased automation and digitalisation affect the workforce?

Our way of life is changing, transforming and we have to change with it but into what?

As more and more jobs become obsolete what happens to those who can’t find work or who have been employed in lower skilled lowly paid jobs?

Will we ultimately become disposable where those who are highly skilled and are trained in a given profession will become the elite whilst the rest of us are left behind, unemployed?

Sound extreme?

Surely digitalisation will lead to more innovative, creative and imaginative jobs in the workplace?

The only question is will we fit in?

 

midlife crisis

My midlife crisis

I hit the ground running in January and decided that I could not face another year of the same old routine, doing the same thing day after day and thinking is this it is this the best it’s ever going to be?midlife crisis

Is this what my life has amounted to and, should I be doing something different?

By the time of December 31st I would scratch my head wondering what the hell happened.

I have been trying to find the old me the one that use to be daring, adventurous game for a laugh instead of the boring, predictable, safe person I have slipped into.

I left as a latent teenager came back a young woman, wiser and ready to take on University.

Am I going through a midlife crisis? Or, a crisis of confidence?

Working life began and with a low paid job, any thoughts of travelling and adventure were confined to dreams.

Forever sensible, as the years passed I became more home orientated and when I married for the second time and found my true soulmate I lost the real me.

I love being a mother, wife, worker and whatever anybody else needs of me and yet somehow I lost my self, my sense of identity, the daily routine had become a permanent fixture of me and unwittingly I slipped into comfortable.

As each year rolled by, New Year’s Day dawned and I would ask myself what had I really achieved, what had I actually done for myself that was important to me, for me.

Menopause written on a diagnosis form.I have these great ideas to do stuff like learn italian, improve my spanish, master german so I can converse with my son and my husband’s german family, compete in a triathlon, write a book, learn yoga, work on my flexibility so I can do the leg splits again, befriend an elderly person who is living on their own.

And so the list went on; hardly mind blowing I know and certainly not life changing but a desire to do new things, discover another world outside of the four walls of my home was burning in my belly, partly bucket list stuff, partly to prove to myself that I am not settled in to middle age just yet. 

Desperate not to become middle aged too soon and wanting to have more fun before I am literally too old to try new things, I started this year with a positive, lets learn something different attitude.

I had accepted life assuming it would always be this way. 

My position in life had become too comfortable and I was accepting my life as it is rather than stepping out of the comfort zone and doing something with it

I was stagnating whilst everyone around me seemed to be having fun and embracing life, I was holding myself back convinced that my existence consisted of working, looking after the children, husband, household chores; slowly but surely the old me had disappeared, like a tortoise that hibernates in its shell, so had I.

Desperate to have more excitement in my life and determined to change and not be the safe pair of hands I’d become.

My va va voom had all but disappeared, spontaneity gone and the fly by the seat of my pants kinda gal I once was, she’d left the room for good.

When January 2018 started I knew I had to make seismic shifts in my life pattern at least for my sanity.

I continue to do my drawing classes and after twenty years I picked up skiing again and was fortunate to have a five day break in Austria which has reinforced my desire to continue so I never have to feel the fear of starting over again.

I’ve been into London to see two shows with my husband and have enjoyed two concerts at the O2 and I am determined to continue this journey of cultural self-discovery and reinvention by putting myself to the test instead of shrugging my shoulders and accepting the status quo.

My friends and female aquaintenances also express the same frustration citing never having time or too busy working.

I get that, but with a bit of juggling we can make changes that have a seismic impact and enhance our very being and make us more fulfilled.

Midlife crisis? No, just wanting to do more of the things I want to do.

I realised that all of the above was founded on fear, fear of financial insecurity, fear of my children leaving home for good, fear of my business failing, fear of getting to sixty and looking back wondering what had happened.

Some people want it to happen

Some wish it would happen  

Others make it happen

© Michael Jordan

I definitely want to be the one that can look back on my life and say ‘I made it happen’ what about you?

 

Businesswoman relaxing doing yoga at office

Why I don’t fit into my generation?

I am a generational misfit, I never fitted in with my generation, not then or now. Girlfriends Friendship Party Happiness Summer Concept

I squeezed into the generation the media refer to as the ‘baby boomers’ and I never fitted into that age group either.

I have younger and older friends and few the same age as me.

I don’t behave like someone of my age and I certainly don’t dress like a fifty something,

I am an antisocial extrovert.

I was more mature than most of my peers because I had friends that were at least four years older.

I preferred the company of older people and ended up wise beyond my years.

I was ‘Auntie Caz’ taking the last taxi home after clubbing, holding friends hair back whilst they threw up under the excess of alcohol and made sure they got home safely. 

Friends Friendship Relationship Buddy ConceptI was asked for advice on anything from relationships to careers and everything else in between and it was a status I delighted in.

As a teenager, I was continually in a state of angst I was heavily involved in my gymnastics spending what spare time I had training at the gym club.

This meant that I never really forged close friendships at school but did so at the gym.

When I entered my teens I began to get involved with my age group because I felt I was missing out; the old adage, seen but not heard rang true and so I tried really hard to get accepted into my peer group.

Although I was always welcomed I never felt comfortable, never felt I was the right fit and whilst I was willing to bide my time I was always just on the cusp of being accepted.

I wasn’t bullied and my peers certainly weren’t nasty I suppose I felt inept at being part of the teen culture that I did not fit into at the time.

Is it harder to make friends the older you get?

Our working lives consist of long days, busy weekends and then repeat leaving little time for much else.

Friendships are instrumental to good health and we need friends people whom we can talk to and share our problems with, after all, it is comforting and reassuring to have that ‘friend’.

Friends give us support and help when we need it and true friends stick with you through thick and thin.

When we were children it was so much easier making friends because there were no formal rules to follow.

You would find someone you thought you would like and ask them to play, friendships bloomed and then you were introduced to others in the play group.Group Of Elementary School Pupils Running In Playground

Enter adulthood and all this changes.  It becomes a challenge to make new friends.

When my children started school there was familiarity with other mothers.

We would stand outside in the playground and talk waiting for our children to rush out of the classroom.

Over time these groups became cliques, you knew which ones made you feel welcome and other mothers that made you feel like you were a spare part.

As a working mother that was difficult.

I had two priorities and with kids at different schools there was never any real time to stand and have a chat.

And so the friendships I encountered were more acquaintances than real friendships.

Whilst lunch dates were set up and enjoyed no real long term alliances endured.

the internet of thingsFacebook acted as the go between but sharing your daily diary on Facebook isn’t quite the same as having a coffee or lunch with someone face to face.

We have less free time and our obligations are based around our kids needs as they grow so our friendships shift and change.

It was easier making friends when we were kids because we consistently saw the same friends at school day after day but with adulthood and working lives comes change as other priorities take over.

When I sit and talk with my children I can understand why sometimes they too feel like they don’t ‘fit in’.

Both love hip hop music, clothes and the PS4 and like most kids their age have quirks that drive most parents mad.

They are mature above their years and have found friends who are two – three years older than themselves.

Like all kids they worry about what others think of them and I point out that they haven’t found ‘their people’ yet; a group of friends that ‘get them’ and who want to know them on a deeper level, who have the same interests and immerse themselves in the same way they do.

Neither are introverted or shy and can hold a conversation with anyone of any age they connect easily on snapchat and are great fun without taking themselves too seriously.

Communication is done largely online and so we have a generation that doesn’t really know how to talk to each other in the way we did.

My children have not been pampered or cosseted like some of their generation but, their  lives are easier because they are digitally aware and tech savvy.

They don’t know a life without social media or the internet and, like many kids of their age they are technological whizz kids.

They can multitask but are impatient requiring instant gratification because they are familiar with having information at their fingertips.

Their generation is characterised as being narcissistic and entitled, yet they are smart, creative and ambitious, they want things now not later and the lives and friendships have been shaped by technology and social networks.

Now, friendships are more transient than when we were young where communication was face to face or via a telephone because we didn’t have the wonder that is modern technology.

Making friends takes emotional and physical commitment and it can be hard to make friends at whatever stage of life we are at.

There are obstacles such as work, family and spousal commitments but it doesn’t make us failures.

As we get older we become cynical, more reserved when it comes to meeting and making new friends.

Life dishes out a whole host of knocks and setbacks so we stand back when it comes to friendships rather than just accepting the relationship for what it is it is.

The biggest challenge we face as we get older is accepting that fostering and communicating with friends will largely be on a social media platform and I find that disheartening because there is nothing like sitting in a tea room or coffee house having a good natter with a mate.

Taking comfort in the surroundings and listening to your friend share her news, I prefer that any day, don’t you?

 

DeathtoStock_Clementine2

Why ‘superwoman’ doesn’t exist.

My week did not go to plan.

As it was half term week, I had it all mapped out, concert Monday night with my boys, Tuesday train in the gym, Wednesday draw and write all mapped out.

Did I get any of it done?

NO, and not because I am incapable of organising but everything went out of kilter.

Realising I am a self confessed control freak and because I hadn’t planned as I should have done nothing got done.

By the end of week I felt frustrated at not having accomplished anything.

So what.

The thing is I can not relax, kick back my heels and watch television without a nagging voice in my brain that says things like, the dryer needs unloading, you need to finish reading that book, phone your mother, email that customer.

I use violent tactics with my family the moment I see socks and pants strewn across my landing and threaten to leave the laundry until it becomes a mountain for all the thanks I get.

Businesswoman relaxing doing yoga at officeAnd, there is always work to be done even if I take a back seat for a few days from the business it doesn’t happen.

I cannot go through a day without a list of things that need to get done it is not in my psyche.

I am incapable of ‘letting go’ of the mundane tasks and allowing myself to chill out instead.

This morning was a classic example we have a two drawer dishwasher the upper had been on wash cycle and the lower was empty.

I came down to a sink full of dirty pots and plates cue ‘me going mental’ but as the kids were still sleeping I stomped around the kitchen bitching, and moaning, why hadn’t anyone bothered to check to see if the lower drawer was empty?

What I should have done is left the whole damn lot and gone back to bed but instead I emptied the top drawer and loaded the lower draw.

What was I thinking?

Am I actually enjoying my life or, am I inflicting a harsh regime on myself that can’t ever be achieved?iStock_000010338713Small

It is a need to achieve, not in the success kind of way but the desire to feel like I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day, to justify my existence.

It doesn’t matter if it is cleaning, exercising, working or writing, I need to climb into bed knowing I’ve completed something worthwhile.

What I should do is relax, enjoy life a bit more and let things go occasionally, which, would be far more beneficial than trying to do it all.

A man’s response is to tell us to learn the art of delegation rather than screaming at the family when there are two bags of ironing at the bottom of the stairs; instead of climbing over them, take them upstairs.

A woman’s response: ‘isn’t it obvious what needs to be done, do I really need to write it in great big letters?’

In 2001, I set up my business, post baby 1999, then, I started and completed a business degree, I grew the business to just over  £750,000 in less than three years and then had a second baby in 2003.

I look back and wonder how I managed it all?

Women have greater opportunities than our grandmothers ever had – career, educational and spousal choices some of which is causing women more angst, frustration and fear that maybe they aren’t achieving all they had hoped.

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_9Feminism has enabled women to achieve and believe that anything is possible with so much choice this makes us feel like we have to do and try everything it’s become exhausting.

I feel guilty if I sit down for five minutes and inevitably it boils down to the work-life balance which in my experience doesn’t exist at all.

Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz in her book ‘Superwoman Syndrome’ first published in 1984 talks about the role of the western woman who works hard to manage multiple roles – worker, mother, wife, homemaker, volunteer and student.

With today’s hectic lifestyle I am one of many women caught up in the superwoman syndrome who are constantly striving to accomplish everything possible whilst not looking after themselves.

Trying to make time for ourselves only serves to make us feel more guilt ridden because we are not making better use of our time.

Self worth is measured by productivity and time; if we aren’t making the best use of our time we feel failures, at least I do, because things aren’t finished.

This adds to the syndrome by making us feel more stressed consequently losing out on the true joys of life.

Do men complain they have too much to do or put themselves through the rigours of self criticism the way we do?

I think not, no, they can watch that game of football, go to the pub and not feel guilty that the lawn hasn’t been mowed or the spare bedroom that was promised to be painted two months ago is still unfinished.DeathtoStock_Clementine2

Women carry the burden of expectation by setting impossibly high standards.

By demanding equality and feminism we’ve pushed ourselves to to the point of feeling guilt and failure if we don’t quite measure up to societal pressure that is the perfect woman.

And I blame the media, celebrities and high profile women for making us believe that we can all achieve greatness, we can’t, not all of us are built and made for greatness and yet somehow we end up feeling bad about ourselves.

Women are continually having to prove how good they really are and in the time I have been on this planet that has never changed and, as for women’s equality?

We are still so far removed from ever being equal with our male counterparts that it will probably be another century before women can really stand up and be counted.

Women make the world turn and without us where would men really be?

When they finally see that, only then will equality come to pass but that is down to education.

If we teach our children that women are as great as men from an early age we can hopefully impart equality and change society’s thinking but it’s going to be a long job.

As Alicia Keys so eloquently sings in her song ‘Superwoman”

Everywhere I’m turning,

Nothing seems complete

I stand up and I’m searching

For the better part of me

I hang my head from sorrow

State of humanity

I wear it on my shoulder

Gotta find the strength in me.

©Alicia Keys

 

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Progress, what progress?

I’ve just finished the fourth season of Peaky Blinders and what a brilliant series.

I am biased because I’m from Birmingham and Peaky Blinders is based in the heartlands.

Since watching the series I find myself slipping back into the brummie slang and even dreaming with a brummie accent.

As the series moved through the years following the first world war, 1918 – 1925 we watched spellbound over the change in dress, the introduction of cars and I couldn’t help marvel at how far technology has progressed.

Look at us now, smartphone in tow with more power than my first and second laptop ever had. cellphones

We believe that progress and time are the same thing, if it is newer it has to be better, right?

Which means that time must equal progress but does that mean it is better for us?

In the future there will be a cure for cancer, energy will be cleaner and free no one will ever need to work because machines will take over and money won’t exist only in the form of cryptocurrencies.

Has technology resulted in the betterment of the human race?

In many respects I believe it has.

Think about how the car can transport us with GPS to navigate how we get there’ from floppy discs to cloud based solutions, we’ve migrated from laptops/PC’s to smartphones and tablets.

The exponential growth of the internet meant that search engines were developed to sift through the information we take for granted; life support machines designed for premature babies, and medication for the common cold.

The list is endless.

Newer technology is not necessarily a sign of progress

Smart cars, smart phones and smart homes; technology styles our lives and we have become dependent on it, fusing the physical with the virtual world.Mobile devices

Progress has resulted in a dramatic increase in  life expectancy.

Our world is overpopulated because of the progress being made in the medical sciences and the eradication of diseases has served only to deplete our world of the resources which are becoming scarce.

By 2020 Gartner estimates that there will be 26 billion connected devices, from your smartphone to your washing machine, to turning on your central heating in your home when you are fifteen miles away to being diagnosed by a virtual doctor.

There’s an app for that

Technology is born out of necessity; a need to develop newer and better things, moving us forward.

If it hasn’t been thought of yet you can guarantee that someone somewhere will be working on an app.

We are no longer autonomous from technology, with A.I. and machines now capable of making decisions we have become enmeshed in technology and we don’t even think about how much it pervades our everyday lives.

New inventions, newer technologies designed to make life easier, to give us more time.

Yet in spite of progress, what is the one thing we now have much less of, more so, than at any other time in history?

What I've learnt since reaching my 50sTIME

New technology needs to be relevant, how can it help us?  

Can it add value to our lives?  

How can it best serve our needs rather than subvert our survival as humans.

Self service tills designed to speed the payment process will ultimately make humans redundant when technology is improved.

There will be less need for humans so where does that leave us in another decade or so let alone our children?

Technology in principle, should also mean social progress not wealth but well being and satisfaction and yet the way we live now is unsatisfying, depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels and mental health problems are the largest contributor to sick days in the workplace.

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) reported in 2016/17 over Stuck in a time warp526,000 workers were suffering from work related stress, anxiety and depression, equivalent to 12.5 million days lost due to the above mental health issues.

The temerity that being able to work long hours with lack of sleep to demonstrate commitment and loyalty is ingrained in organisational psychology.

The rise of social media has also seen a meteoric rise in mental health problems but technology can’t be solely blamed for all of the above can it?

After all, there is an OFF button!

We know more about mental health because we have access to acres of information than we ever did twenty years ago when depression was something you talked about in a low whisper because to admit you were depressed was not the done thing.

Technology has given us access to communication 24/7, your best friend who lives in Japan is accessible from whatsapp to facetime to skype.

We spend on average 8.4 hours a day in front of some form of electronic communications device.

iStock_000013887814SmallDuring our waking hours we spend more time in a relationship with a device than we do actually thinking, talking and reading?

What have we really gained from technological progress aside of futile distraction and social narcissism?

What did we do twenty years ago?

Chat with a neighbour, mum collected you from school, making dinner rather than microwaving a ready made meal, read a good book, children playing outside after school rather than sitting in front of an XBox.

Wherever technology leads we need humans in the chain, to make the right decisions for the good of the whole.

Like Peaky Blinders, a little bit of the past isn’t a bad thing as long as we don’t blunder into the future with our eyes closed.

 

Happy New Year Text with Gold Fireworks in Night Sky

I quit and it’s only January

Is it really another year, gone, just like that?Diary of a sugar addict

It’s January not that you need reminding and I all I can think about is that it will be another year before I have to plan when the christmas decorations go up, make sure christmas cards are sent out on time, yes I still send christmas cards, and presents for family and friends are sorted.

On top of which my birthday falls on the 3rd January.

I am at the age where christmas and my birthday come around way to quick for my liking and so I want to make the most of the time.

I refuse to celebrate new years I’d rather pull up a cozy chair and hunker down with a glass of something fizzy and watch the fireworks in London.

I can’t see the point in starting the new year with an almighty hangover and I know I don’t have the discipline to resist the temptation of one.

I am feeling strangely optimistic even though there’s a hurricane blowing outside and we have what looks like three feet of water, with the threat of snow on the way.

Monday 15th is blue Monday the day when we are most likely to feel depressed and blue.

Happy New Year Text with Gold Fireworks in Night Sky

The harsh reality is the arrival of those bills you’ve been dreading and the ‘did I really spend that much on christmas’ moment hits you like a hammer over the head? A big gulp followed by a rapid heartbeat and then panic when you have to work out how you are going to pay THAT credit card bill.

Each year our christmas spending would probably feed a small country.

I love christmas or rather the lead up to the big day, christmas songs on the radio, decorations everywhere, children finishing school. I love the whole thing but, I’m glad when christmas is put away in the box for another year.

Then it’s time to get on and face the future without looking back.

I don’t believe in resolutions, a waste of time and by day four most of us have kicked them into touch or forgotten about them once the ‘dreadmill’ starts up again.

I do however set myself goals or rather things I want to get done from personal to business.

I should add I haven’t sat down and even thought about goals and objectives.

Except I decided that ‘Dry January’ should be my main goal for the start of the year.

I got to Saturday 6th and downed two bourbons for medicinal purposes of course, my hands and feet were so cold and bourbon has warming properties, apparently.

In my defence, my eldest went back to University and I felt sad again so go figure.

But as each year rolls around I question the whole point of my existence; to look after my family, to keep my head above water, pay the bills and if I’m lucky, make enough to go on a couple of holidays.

I also find myself playing the lottery more diligently in January I’m sure it’s something to do with my personal tax bill due 31st, VAT and credit card payments that ensures my interest is peaked.

Fingers crossed next time you read this I might be on a sandy beach somewhere with a large Mojito.

Realistically, more likely to be stuck in my office dreamily looking out of the window wishing for good things.

I have a love/hate relationship with January it was the month I was born, my dad apologised for this oversight recently when I suggested that I am at the age where I shall declare a second birthday in June. No one needs to know do they?

January means I am a year older and I am not enjoying the ageing process, it is lovely when someone says you look great then they finish the sentence with ‘for your age’.

I think June birthdays have to be the best, smack bang in the middle of the year with christmas or easter long gone. Lovely.

I am left wondering what I should do with this expanse of time until the next birthday.

I have this compelling desire to make sure I make the best use of all my time, like learn something new, (again!) travel (still waiting for the lottery win), read more books (did that one last year) learn a language (yawn)

Truthfully, I’d prefer to  binge watch on ‘Scandal’, a far better prospect than learning or doing something different, it’s my age you see.


What’s wrong with just ‘being’? And then if I decide to learn swahili or visit Bosnia well good for me.

For what it’s worth I came up with what I think definitely should not be on your new year’s resolution list:

  1. Forget about dieting if you haven’t lost weight you never will so what’s the point in giving yourself a hard time
  2. Decide to walk for 3 miles instead, say 3 times a week or swim and walk twice a week far better for you and you are more likely to want to do it than visit a slimming class only to be told your overweight for the hundredth time
  3. Keep a food diary – do this and I guarantee it will change your life especially when you read what you’ve eaten, you’ll want to get healthy
  4. Maintain a positive attitude – if I had a quid for every time I heard that. Since last week I’ve been walking around with a fake smile that says ‘yea everything is fab’ when actually all I want to do is crawl back into bed. Truth is if I start to feel negative then everything else turns to s**t so keep your head up and smile.

I’m done, until next time and thank you if you’ve made it to the bottom of this page.

Upset young woman and senior mother having bad argue indoor

Sometimes you just can’t get on with your parents.

Young man and woman togetherRelationships with parents can be complicated.

There are many siblings who have no contact with their parents and in the same vein, many parents have been alienated from their children because of a son or daughter-in-law.

On the one hand you have a mother and daughter who are inextricably linked at the hip and at the other end of the spectrum there is the son and father who haven’t spoken since last Christmas and even then, it was a few brief words.

What makes family dynamics so very different and, at the same time so undeniably complex?

Funny moments with dadI have been reflecting on my family relationships.

It’s the Christmas season and it is also a time of the year that makes us fretful, frustrated and embittered especially where family are concerned.

Who’s turn is it this year to host dinner, who will be the first to start a quarrel at the dinner table before the Christmas pudding is served and can you make it through to tea time without unleashing hell.

Feelings of regret, remorse and sadness mixed with happiness, joy and unerring love plus the excitement of Christmas looms ahead.

Simple biology explains why we are here, we are the by products of our parents.

Our mannerisms, behaviour and personality have been finely tuned by genetics.

How often do you hear he’s so like his dad or doesn’t she look like her mother?

That’s because we are made from the same genetic constitution and through adulthood we adopt and internalise many of our parents widely held beliefs.

Our parents shape our ideals, our thinking, beliefs and value system influencing how we think and behave.

This time of the year is difficult because the relationship I have with my parents is non existent.

My father is a difficult man.

Throughout childhood and into adulthood I endeavoured to be the idyllic and dutiful daughter. I wanted his acceptance, praise, love and respect but I failed on all counts.

My mother follows and supports my father’s every need and wants, I believe that she has lived her life through her husband’s eyes never reaching her potential.

Very much a part of their generation and how they were bought up.

I have seen it first hand with other parents too who have admitted quite openly “this is what we do, we look after our husbands and children”.

My husband also had a tumultuous relationship with his parents, he didn’t agree with his father’s morality and the way he behaved because it was so at odds with his own belief system.

 

Love or hateWhatever our childhood circumstances were, ultimately our mothers birthed and raised us and our fathers supported us.

My own childhood was characterised by a feeling of never truly fitting in; that something was and has always been missing.

I can define this feeling as a sense of loss; someone who has no real identity or sense of belonging.

Often I was made to feel odd, or abnormal that was the key phrase frequently used to describe me and one I remember from my childhood years.

I didn’t choose to be awkward but my father in particular believed that because I didn’t conform with ‘his way’ I was somehow different or odd.

Looking back on that time, I was clearly wanting to be independent by asserting my own thoughts, ideas and expression.

The way a daughter feels about her father can determine the partner she chooses to be with.

My father was distant and showed little affection oftentimes I felt like an outsider. 

Having a conversation with him was terribly difficult, often jilted it was hard for me to share thoughts and ideas without feeling I was being ridiculed.

In hindsight I think he just couldn’t cope with a teenage daughter and was ill equipped or unable to show love easily.

And that is hard for a teenager to understand especially when she wants the love and support of her father.

The relationship I had with my father didn’t affect the choice of my husband but the love and affection I found so lacking in my parental relationship made me believe that I am unlovable and not worthy of being loved.

I tend to withdraw when I am shown affection, my husband is naturally demonstrative and loving but even now I find I pull away and that’s after twenty odd years of a very happy marriage.

I have to make sure that I show as much love and care to my children and not allow my lack of parental love get in the way of the relationship I have with them, but it is challenging.

The parental relationship is the first and most important relationship you form often shaping your view on relationships and love.

It also determines how we respond to love and relationships from childhood to adulthood.

I have a brother who had the same upbringing as me, we aren’t even close and never have been in fact he dislikes me as much as I dislike him.

Made in the mould of my father and living under the same roof these two overtly strong personalities were difficult not just for me but for my mother and I recall many times fighting to be heard, to have my opinion valued and listened too.

There were many times when I felt isolated and alone.

But with age, I have accepted the fact that you can’t get on with everyone and sometimes no matter how hard you try you cannot find a common ground with parents and as Stephen Covey describes “you have to agree to disagree” it is as simple as that.

Trying to find a common connection with parents is difficult when you are far away from them and I envy relationships where the parents and siblings are close to each other and share walks, shopping and lunch, I am convinced that distance has a bearing on the sibling-parent relationship.

In spite of the attempts I feel I have made over the years nothing seems to bring us close the best analogy I can use is two tectonic plates sometimes hitting but usually missing each other, moving up and down and away from each other.

This time of the year makes me grieve for the loss of my parents and whilst it may sound flippant to compare a broken parental-sibling relationship to the loss of a loved one that is exactly what it feels like.

A child needs love, encouragement and support if that is missing then that child goes through life searching for that ‘missing thing’, it can’t be put into words nor can it be replaced, it remains a longing for something that never was or can never be.

I may be unable to effect change with my parental relationship, but, with perseverance I might just be able to ensure the future relationship with my boys is one borne out of utmost love and respect for each other.

 

tips for well being on napkin

I want a bit of self care and mindfulness, do you?

I’ve been keeping busy and adjusting to life with just the three of us.Pensive girl thinking in winter

Menopausal or not, I have been analysing life for what it is rather than what I think it should be.

Have you noticed the the number of self-help books, meditation, mindfulness apps and specialists claiming that practising self awareness will help us find personal happiness, calmness and meditation?

Phrased as ‘mindfulness’, feeling good, how to be happy, much has been written on the subject.

We know and understand the importance of making time for ourselves but have forgotten how to practice the art of being happy because we are so consumed with our busy lives.

Most of it is common sense with occasional wisdom and guidance thrown in designed to help our inner selves and to make us more centered, calm and productive.

But hang on a minute isn’t happiness largely down to us?

Aren’t we responsible for our own destiny and happiness?

Shouldn’t we be the ones capable of managing our own lives rather than reading it from a manual or worse, being dictated how we should live our lives by work bosses and organisations with poor managers?

We are blaming the internet, work, jobs and life for how we feel and, rightly so, but I also believe we’ve forgotten how to really live.

Mindfulness being centered and calm is about living in the moment, it is self awareness and is designed to help us alleviate the stress and anxiety, now a by product of 21st century living.

Christmas late busy business woman running against timeGiven our hectic lifestyles which in turn have only served to increase our stress and anxiety levels is it any wonder living in the moment is beyond many of us?

With deadlines looming ever larger, people doing the work of 2 or 3 people and every spare minute filled with work tasks, we don’t have time for ourselves, time to think or reflect on what and who we are, life for many has become an exhausting routine of mundaneness and familiarity.

Technology bares the brunt of our angst as it has undoubtedly increased anxiety and  working hours.

Designed to promote speed and productivity and to help identify and solve problems by making light work of tasks.

Instead, we have become servants to technology and are compliant because we rely on its very existence.

This technology age has hard coded our brains to ‘always being on’.

We are overloaded with too much information to the point that we can no longer process it.

What then happens is panic, anxiety and fear because life has become one long roller coaster.

It is like being in a relationship where you’re the only one that is giving.

We spend vast amounts of time in front of a screen whether it is a smartphone or computer screen, we seek answers to questions, we check social media to reassure ourselves that our lives are valuable and worthy. Mobile devices

The busier we become the less time there is for meeting and talking with people.

Our smartphones are our link and lifeline to the outside world.

What is the answer?

I have no idea!

I have read a good few books on the subject because I am at the age where I feel that if I make one small perceptible change to my life that shift could potentially have an impact on me and others around me.

Most of what has been written is common sense the reality is that we know what we need to do we’ve just forgotten how to.

Making the time for ourselves and family, taking that long walk or having brunch.

tips for well being on napkin

It all boils down to time and we have less spare time than we did ten years ago.

There are still the same number of hours each day but somehow it is squandered by the ties that hold us down.

The media and by that I mean books, social media, blogs and channels all try to perpetuate a myth that if we just make time and be ‘mindful’, everything will be alright.

Making the most of our life, reminders to be more self aware and to live in the moment add more pressure to our already pressured life.

Low job security and long working hours make it difficult to think about finding time to press the pause button.

The narcissistic nature of social media where many ‘big’ themselves up makes us even more  insecure and worthless.

I don’t see mindfulness as the antidote to all of society’s ill.

Until the work place changes and offers more flexibility regarding working hours and organisations empower their employees to make decisions that are right for the company they work for, nothing will change.

Stress and anxiety will remain commonplace in our lives and this will manifest itself in our children.

And so the myth that is the perfect work-life balance alludes us even more.

Businesswoman relaxing doing yoga at officeFinding happiness is about being at one with yourself finding your place in the world and being comfortable with where you are at.

I am certain that we are mindful; we’ve forgotten how to look meaningfully and really take in what is around us.

The old woman with her shopping bags wearing a colourful hat, the young couple kissing lovingly, the cloud formation in the sky.

Mindfulness is about making the time to be more in tune with our lives and those around us.

But, talking about it and actually doing it requires a massive shift.

Even if we find ten minutes a day to stare out of the office window or walk around the park with a sandwich in hand and take in the beauty of what is around us surely that’s good enough.

 

role models for teenagers

I can let go now

Here I am, picking up the emotional debris strewn before me when we dropped off our eldest son at Warwick University last Saturday.empty nest syndrome

I have read about this so called ‘loss syndrome’, I have even written about it, but absolutely nothing prepared me for the emotional upheaval I felt as we said our goodbyes last Saturday to our beloved son.

I was warned by friends, each of whom have experienced what has become known as the empty nest syndrome.

I even laughed when one of them in the first few weeks made weekly trips up to the University to drop off supplies and much needed food, ‘you need to let them go’, I rebuked.

I regret even suggesting let alone saying those words, now that I understand the pain and feelings of loss she was going through, and that was over three years ago.

The eldest has now graduated and is working in London the younger daughter headed off to Bristol and she is experiencing the same bitter sweet pain of loss.

‘I now have two empty bedrooms’, she told me.

empty nest syndromeI was not prepared for the visceral wrench the ripping out of the heart and stamp on it feeling.

The wave of complete and utter loss and desolation, I am bereft as the leaves that whisk past me as I walk through the car park.

The feelings I am experiencing of pain and sorrow are akin to grief.

If this is what grief feels like then I am ill prepared to face it.

The past three weeks have been a mixture of frustration, anxiety and ‘can’t wait for him to leave’ such was the buildup of tension, excitement and emotional turmoil.

It felt like there was so much more time to spend with him and yet I find myself wondering did I really do enough?

We should have gone to London like we talked about, and, taken a walk together, mother and son.

And I can’t have that time back again.

He wants independence and the freedom to move on and learn new things. It is not my son’s problem to cope with what I am feeling.

Whilst we unpacked and I sorted the food cupboard and bathroom, my younger son and my husband set about doing the practical stuff.

All the while I was slowly losing a bit of him to his new found independence.

I find it difficult to reconcile that I won’t get a call from him when he’s leaving the athletics track on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, ‘Hi Mum just ringing to let you know I’m leaving for home now’.Mother With Teenage Son Sitting On Sofa At Home

I miss the banter in the car when I pick up the boys from school and how he would tell me about his day.

I don’t know the details of when he goes out, whom he is going with and where he is going.

We have grown use to him sharing with us what he is doing, where he is going and who he is with but now that will change.

He is independent, it is his time, he has no need to tell us his every move unless he wants too and we are of course excited to know what he has been up to.

But I know I have to let go of him.

empty nest syndromeThe letting go is like someone taking a knife and pushing it right through the very heart and soul of me.

I am left bare and at a complete loss.

I am emotional when I wash his remaining clothes, I cry when I put his freshly ironed jeans and sweatshirts in his wardrobe.

lie down on his bed when the feelings of loss sweep over me and clutch his PJ’s to my chest, burying my head the smell of him still lingers.

It is a feeling of indescribable wretchedness that envelopes me bringing a lump to my throat and as I write this; if feels like utter dejection, loss and sadness rolled into one.

Like being ‘chucked’ by your first love, that one pain free milli-second  when you stir in the morning with no thoughts then suddenly it surfaces and you feel nothing but heartache.

As the week draws to a close, the feeling of pain has eased.

I was fortunate enough to have a meeting on Monday within half an hour’s drive of the University which allowed me to drop a box of things he still needed.

I wondered with trepidation if this was the right thing to do?

Seeing him again after only two days, how would I react?

Would it set me back, would the angst resurface like a gnawing toothache felt in the pit of my stomach.

But, as it turned out it was wonderful, we chatted and he showed me his reorganised room, he told me about the various clubs and societies he is thinking of joining and the new friends he has met.

As he walked me to the car my spirit lifted, I knew he was safe and well and most importantly taking care of himself.

We hugged and said our goodbyes as I drew out of the car park I waved back and my heart and stomach lurched again but, I am grateful for seeing him, it has reassured me that he is going to be okay.

As I drove out of the car park, I realised that the last eighteen years have been about this very moment, letting go of my first born as he asserts his independence.

But the loss a parent feels, I feel, is so overwhelming.

It is akin to being suffocated.

A mother’s love is wide as it is deep, it never errs or falters and it can never be diminished or demeaned, it is an never ending love and one that is not easily put into words.

Just being a mum is a joy and a privilege and the only thing I need to know is that he is happy and safe.

He is a much loved son and I know that with time I can let go.

More Reading

When 4 becomes 3. The empty nest syndrome

That thing you do called ‘motherhood’

Just being Mum

happy family jumping together on the beach

Have I been a good enough Mum?

What does it take to be a good mum? Mother With Teenage Son Sitting On Sofa At Home

Who decides if you are a good or bad mother?

Am I doing a good enough job raising my boys and how will I know if I succeed?

All the above and more have been hurriedly circling my brain since last Thursday when we got the great news that our eldest secured his place at Warwick University.

From the moment he walked into our room at a little after 6:15 in the morning with a mooted expression I got 2 A* and a B. Great yes but!

He needed an A in German as part of the condition of entry, would these results be good enough? Surely yes, said my inner me but the vocal me couldn’t help but say why the hell do you have to make it complicated.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity for UCAS to confirm his offer of acceptance and in that time I went through every single conceivable emotion, elation, worry, anxiety and relief.

When I heard shouting, ‘yes, get in there’ I didn’t register what this meant.

happy family jumping together on the beachI ran up the stairs, two at a time into the bathroom, where my son sat proudly on the throne he showed me his phone and there was the offer of acceptance.

How I wept with joy I ran up and down the stairs, hyperventilating with excitement and sheer bloody relief.

It was at that moment I realised that I had been carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders for the last six months probably longer.

Worrying, supporting, caring, managing my eldest to ensure that everything was right for him for these most important exams.

Why worry so much?

It is hardly the end of the world if a kid misses the mark, they can re-sit, re-do, take a year out, no one ever died because they didn’t get the grades.

And yet here I was relieved that all had come to pass. That the last two years were all about this moment, this one moment that can change the path of a person’s future.

After deep breaths and a quiet moment later I reflected on the last eighteen years and asked myself have I been good enough?

A huge A+ with a red circle on a paper

Did I get it right?

Often critical and tough, very much the way I was brought up I hope that my children have learnt the important lessons of life.

For each parent they may well be different ideals but for me it has always been:

  • Never giving up
  • Listening and understanding
  • Be gracious even when you believe it should have been you
  • Thankfulness and politeness
  • Be steadfast in your decisions

Being a mother has been a job and challenge borne out of love and tenderness. Just when you think you’ve nailed it the tide shifts and you feel out of control with only the prevailing wind keeping you on course.

Parents Helping Children With Homework At Kitchen TableBut parenting skills are not learn’t overnight, it takes time and experience and gut instinct to ensure you are getting it right and even the most hardy of mothers can find her teen very testy to say the least.

 

His idea of timekeeping is usually at least 40 minutes after the designated time. He spends more time in the bathroom than I do and he has an answer for ‘everything’. 

Am I describing anything new?

No, of course not, because all teens go through this phase.

I call it the proving to the world I’m here and I want to be seen and heard phase.

My eldest has become the best ‘how to get out of doing something’ expert, he could right a book on listing excuses on how to get out of doing jobs around the house.

But deep down I know he cares and this is his way of forging his own views and developing independence.

His forthrightness and his ability to stand up for himself are proof that he has strength of character.

Like most teenagers who are solely into themselves, I wondered whether he really cares about anything at all?

Does he love his parents, his brother, will he miss any of us when he goes off to University?

When we left school on Thursday morning, A level results day, congratulatory celebrations in the air, we walked to the car.

He took my hand and said thank you for everything mum, for your love, support, I do love you, you know.

And with tears in my eyes I looked at him, a young man in his prime, a new chapter about to begin, pride and love swelled in my heart, tears in my eyes.

“Yes, I do believe I have done a good job”.

Enough said.