I’m learning

I’m sat here in a café in Australia, whilst my beautiful sister takes care of my son, Jenson, for the day.

Ahead of me is a wonderful day of celebration as one of my closest friends gets married and I celebrate the solstice where in Australia we have the longest day and in the UK we have the shortest day. A moment from which we will fall into greater darkness as the nights draw in or greater lightness as the days get longer.

It’s a day that is so special to me, pairing up both a celebration of love with the wedding and the celebration of the changing seasons of Mother Earth.

All the while being in Australia on holiday, how fantastic!

But over the past few days I recognised that I’ve not been my best self on holiday.

Because I haven’t put in place the measures needed for me to take full care of myself.

The first two weeks were spent in action. Working up to the wire, taking the plane over to Australia, dealing with jetlag, visiting Brisbane and having days full of fun based around my son and his needs. I’m so lucky that my family were happy to go with his flow, but it meant that we didn’t go with the flow of anyone else.

And my flow very much requires time alone to slow down, listen to myself, decompress and reenergise.

But instead of doing that I just kept on pushing, kept on going, kept on surrounding myself with people.

This was to the detriment of myself, other people and the detriment of my experience here on holiday.

I attended a solstice yoga session yesterday and it felt so good to be doing a practice that was so physical, releasing the anger and frustration I feel at myself for not having listened to my needs, for still being on this journey where I find myself again and again pushed beyond my means.

But as I said here, I realise this is a learning process.

Finding myself after the fact not having done what I needed.

And one day this will shift and I will find myself in the moment thinking “hang on a second Amy, you need time by yourself.”.

And then it will become natural, and I won’t even think twice about taking time for myself and finding moments of quiet to re-centre and the balance myself.

So with kindness I remind myself that I have not waited until after the fact, after the holiday when I feel battered and bruised, metaphorically lying on the floor a broken person, to take action. I started my journey earlier than before. I reached out and asked my sister for help and support.

I’m learning.

Almost a year

It’s been almost a year since I became a mum. Where has that time gone by?!

And as Jenson’s birthday approaches, I wanted to take some time to reflect on how these 11 and a half months have been for me…

Sleep

Ha, the first thing I think about because it’s the thing lacking the most in my life with Jenson on the scene!

How I wish I knew how easy I had it before Jenson came on the scene. Eight hours of interrupted sleep each night – on the weekends, I’d be well into the double digits of hours slept. Even when pregnant and I’d find myself waking at 3 or 4am, I’d have the time to myself to do whatever I wished. And the ability to snooze the evening away after work.

I go to bed most nights at 9pm and in truth I’m mostly in bed by 8:30pm, because otherwise I just don’t feel at my best.

But despite the early wake-ups, I can’t help but have a smile on my face when I see my cheeky chap beam at me first thing as if to say ‘good morning!’. He really makes the wake ups worthwhile.

But I’d love a few more hours of rest!

My worldview

I didn’t know that parenthood would change me so much. Sure, I thought that my priorities would change, but I didn’t think that it would change my whole worldview and leave me feeling adrift with the uncertainty of how I fitted into the world.

Hungry to do more and have more of an impact but not knowing how. Something I’m still pondering on now.

But things are more important than they were before Jenson came on the scene.

What we’re doing to our planet – the path we’re on which could ramp up to global annihilation.

The pain we’re inflicting on other living creatures through our drive for cheap and tasty food – dairy, meat, fish and eggs.

Our education system which doesn’t allow everyone to thrive.

Our social security net which is getting smaller and smaller with so many people left behind.

All the things I wrote about when Jenson was 8 months old (in this post here) is still true today.

Work

Before having Jenson, I wanted to climb the ladder, have a greater impact and (let’s be honest) get paid more money. I wanted a role such as Head of Organisational Development or perhaps was open to even moving sideways into another area and had started to believe that I could become the head of an organisation at some stage.

But this has changed for me since J-dog came on the scene.

With everything so stretched in my life right now, I can’t think of anything less appealing than taking on more responsibility.

I don’t mean that I want to do interesting work or stay in my role as it is forever. In fact, if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed with my relationship to work, it’s needing to be constantly challenged and to have the opportunity to do new and stretching things.

What I’m talking about is not wanting the greater volume of stuff to process. Huge volumes of emails, days spent in meetings and therefore having the pressure of working in the evening and at weekends.

That has no appeal to me.

I want to live.

I want to have a balanced life where I’m able to come home and forget work so I can be fully present with my family.

And maybe I’m doing myself a disservice by thinking that the two things are impossible, but I sort-of think that a greater workload comes with the territory when you move into a senior leadership role.

So, for the moment at least, my focus is on enabling myself to have opportunities for interesting scope within my role. Stretching myself and putting myself in the way of fascinating people and interesting possibilities.

And other things have changed with my relationship to work too – the hours and days I work. Before having Jenson, I thought that I’d be happy to go back to work full-time, but that hasn’t been the case.

I want more time with him.

Additional time where I don’t have to worry about doing the laundry or making food for the week.

Just time where we can be together, meet up with some friends who have babies the same age as Jenson and enjoy each other.

I’m lucky that I’m going to be able to compress my hours and return to work four days a week in the New Year. With my husband doing the same, we’ll be able to have a day each with our main man, Jenson, and significantly reduce the astoundingly high nursery bill.

Stepping into myself

Becoming a mum has propelled me forward in ways that I didn’t expect.

Some ways, I was expecting – like the desire to get my shit in order. Dropping the people pleasing so he doesn’t learn any of that. Embracing who I am and loving myself fully so he knows it’s ok to be happy and confident in yourself. Showing how I feel so that he learns that it’s ok to express a variety of emotions in a healthy way.

But I just didn’t expect how much further it would go.

I feel like I’m on the precipice of something amazing within.

Learning to accept and embrace all that I am. Stepping fully into my power and expressing myself without fear. Embracing conflict instead of shying away from it. All whilst simultaneously letting go of my notion of ‘self’ a little bit.

I don’t really have words for it. But I feel that something is coming.

Conflict

Up until now I hadn’t felt conflict in caring for my son. I’d adopted a mantra ‘family first’ to prioritise what I did in life and how I decided what to do.

I said ‘no’ to opportunities at work because it would mean cutting a family holiday short.

I let invitations pass me by when it wasn’t at the right time for Jenson.

I supported Gregg coming home late each Wednesday so he could have the release he needed in playing football with friends.

Gregg supported me in continuing to coach people because it was important for me to do something I loved so much.

But this nursery thing – leaving Jenson crying and bereft – has me conflicted. It’s the first time that it feels like family isn’t first.

What is first is my desire to have enough money to be able to have holidays, to have mental stimulation from my role, the ability to be able to eat out and have some spending money, to attend one of my closest friends wedding in Australia when it takes place – all things that would be stretched thin if we went down to one salary.

I know that Jenson would be fine without all those things – all he needs is Gregg and I to be present and to shower him with love.

But I want more and, even though I’m part of the family, it feels like everyone’s needs aren’t being put first.

I’m finding it hard currently to be at peace with these conflicting needs – of wanting to put family first but also wanting to have a life that I want.

And I think there will be a lot more juxtaposing needs and beliefs in the future – this is just a sign of things to come…

So it’s been wonderful, challenging, heart-warming, tough, brilliant, crazy, centring. It’s been the out-of-this-world best and most difficult year of my life.

And I wonder at this moment what the second year of Jenson’s life will bring…

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My ‘why’

I recently wrote about how I’ve been questioning and feeling in a state of uncertainty about so much in my life. I’ve been thinking about this and exploring it over the last few weeks and feel like I’ve made some headway in understanding what it’s all about.

This partly explains the reduction in my posts but now that I’m starting to form my thoughts, I’d like to share my them with you, dear friend, if that’s ok.

When I returned to work, I felt like something profound had changed in me. And, as I’ve shared in a previous post, nothing seemed to fit right. The work I was doing didn’t seem to suit me, the goals I was working to didn’t resonate anymore. It was hard to feel this way because, pre-maternity leave, I loved my role so very much and (although I was glad to step back the pace a bit before having my son) I was happy at the prospect of returning to my role six months later.

I asked myself why I felt so detached from work and I realised that it was because I wanted more. Not in a ‘I want more money/excitement/power’ way, but it suddenly was important for me to make a more profound mark on society.

To leave this world in a better state for Jenson.

I’m aware of so many things that seem to be broken in this world – our healthcare, education system, political system, the patriarchal framework of society – and I want him to grow up in a world with less inequality and more hope. I want to contribute to more.

And then I started reading a book during my morning commute to work and something shifted inside me – I started understanding what this ‘more’ might look like. The book is called ‘Presence‘ and talks about about how to bring around profound change in people, organisations and society. A topic that is so important to me. If I’m honest, reading this book has been deeply inspirational and profoundly encouraging, bringing together all that I discovered in my time at work before going on maternity leave and calling me into a new future, a new reality.

It has blown my mind and, having just finished it, I’m about to launch back in to read it for a second time and get some more wisdom and insight from its contents.

Instead of being a traditional ‘change’ book with models, frameworks, processes, talking about stakeholder engagement and communications, it talks about deepening our ability to be still to see what is truly happening, to bring about change not just using our head but also our hearts – using our full self. It goes so much further, becoming so aware of what’s going on that we can bring forward our highest Self (whether you call that God, the universe, your most wise self) to create the best possible future.

It sounds a bit ‘woo woo’ and I might have been more skeptical if not for having experienced moments with my highest Self in the past. When this has happened, I’ve sensed the right thing to do in that moment as if someone other than me was showing me the possible or I’ve just known what to say as if I’ve been tapped into the moment with acute clarity. Time has seemed to slow down in these moments. Do you know what I mean?

Since reading this book, I know that my work is all the tasks and objectives that I want to get done, but it’s so much more. It’s calling people into a place of stillness and reflection to be able to integrate the different parts of themselves. It’s about working on myself so I find a greater sense of stillness and an ability to see what is truly going on in any given situation. It’s about finding opportunities to give people a glimpse of what is possible.

And so while my work might draw me into the world of education, healthcare, feminism or something else in the future, I have found a contentment where I am. Giving myself permission to call people into stillness, finding a more regular connection with my higher Self, showing those I meet that we have such greater capacity to create the world anew if we would only stop, listen, and be truly present.

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Intuition

I’ve not been great at trusting my intuition, instead I’ve always tended to trust people in positions of authority. I think our education system, culture and my personality has meant that I tend to trust others and this has often manifested as trusting others more than I trust myself.

This is a tricky one to untangle but I think the crux of me trusting others more than my own intuition is this:

  1. I make assumptions about small things in life – where a restaurant is, what time a party starts, how long it will take me to get somewhere – but for the big things in life where others are depending on me being right (things at work, finances, facts), I will make sure I’m 100% certain that I’m right before offering my thoughts. So when someone else puts their opinion forward with conviction, I assume that their view is right (I mean surely they wouldn’t put their views forward if they weren’t 100% certain they were right?!). But I’ve become aware that this might not always be the case – they may not be right.
  2. I also used to think in absolutes – that there was a ‘right’ answer to everything. But my thinking has changed and I know that there are multiple answers to everything and I believe that one person’s right might be another person’s wrong.
  3. I’ve never liked confrontation very much or disagreeing with other people. As a coping mechanism – to not have to disagree with anyone – I’ve tended to let go of my opinions in favour of other people’s views. But I know that this isn’t how I want to live.

And so I know that I need to start listening to my own intuition more. And now is exactly the right time as a mother navigating the many and varied polarised views about parenting. There’s so much that I need to form an opinion on at the moment – feeding, whether to use a dummy or not, sleeping, how much stimulation he needs, the types of nappies we use, weaning, nurseries… So many decisions that need to be made and so many people weighing in with their opinions about what is best.

In order to trust my intuition about these things, I know that I need to address some of what I’ve explored above – getting better at confrontation, reminding myself that there are very few absolutes in life and practice living by the very eloquent words of the hiphop artist Chipmunk (is he still around?!) in the song Champion:

“opinions aren’t facts take them in and let them go”

And I also know that I need to trust my intuition about how to start trusting my intuition – I hope that makes sense! There are so many books, blogs, videos and people who have their own opinions about so many things. They can drown out my own instincts about what is best for me and my family. So I’m going to have a hiatus from reading, watching, following all these things in order to get some quiet and space to understand what is right for me.

One of my coaching clients made a really great point when we last spoke – how it’s better to start making small incremental changes instead of going for 100% perfection. And so I’m also going to take her very wise advice and work on trusting my instincts with trying to get my son, Jenson, to fall asleep by himself in the daytime.

And that’s what I did yesterday.

I put Jenson down in his bed when his eyes were red-rimmed and he was milk-drunk tired. He is used to sleeping on me and let me know he didn’t like this new arrangement by crying. I set my timer to 5 minutes – a time I was comfortable leaving him to grizzle (as long as it wasn’t the distressed cry that I recognise and would always respond to). But before the timer was up he stopped crying for a few moments and sat peacefully by himself before starting to grizzle again. And on this went for about 15 minutes until he went to sleep and had a 30 minute nap.

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I’d felt nervous about trying this but it showed me that I could set my own parameters – only leaving him when he was grizzling – and that my intuition that he was able to sleep alone was right.

And oh the things I did in those 30 minutes (I wonder how I spent my time before he came along!) – made and ate lunch, hung out the washing, wrote most of this, responded to some e-mails, sat in quiet for a moment. It was totally worth trusting my intuition for me to find some alone time in the day and for Jenson to learn to soothe himself – a skill I think is really important for him.

I know that this approach is not for everyone – some of my mum friends aren’t even considering leaving their little one to self-settle if it involves them crying until they are much older. But that’s what intuition is about, right? Knowing that we are individuals who will have different views, opinions, needs. And trusting ourselves that we will make the right judgement call…and that it’s ok if once in a while we get the call wrong.

It’s all about learning.

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