Strengths and Weaknesses

I have always been a ‘strong person’.

I have always seen this as a positive quality.

Recently I find myself questioning what this actually means. Am I really that strong? Is it really such a positive trait?

Physically, I am definitely strong. I ride a cargo bike, often loaded with two not-so-small children and all the stuff which seems to be required when leaving the house with two children. Not to mention that the three year old is currently refusing to go anywhere on the bike unless she is carrying several stones from the driveway.

But physical strength is not really what I mean by a strong person.

I have a strong character. I have a good idea of what I am and what I am not. On the whole, I am happy with who I am. The things I do, I do for myself and my family. I don’t do things ‘for show’. My husband has a similar outlook which made for a wonderful wedding day. We kept all the bits of a wedding which we liked and skipped all the bits that we didn’t. It was very much ‘our day’ and we both loved it.

But strength of character isn’t entirely it either.

I am a strong person because I am balanced and stable and not easily overwhelmed by emotions and that means I can be emotionally strong for others.

I think that is a big part of what people mean when they describe me as ‘strong’.

But it’s not true.

But it’s not real.

But I am not even sure it is possible.

The same as everyone, I am balanced and stable sometimes and unbalanced and chaotic others. I do get overwhelmed by emotions. I get overwhelmed by my emotions. I get overwhelmed by the emotions of others that I love, especially my children.

But I don’t often show it.

I have mentioned my parents’ divorce before.  It was a time of huge emotions. Huge emotions for me. Huge emotions for the people I loved the most. The kind of huge emotions which can leave you struggling to see anything positive in life.

It was the time when I learned to be emotionally strong for others.

It was the time when I learnt to detach myself from my own emotions in order to deal with other peoples’.

More than twenty years later, I am realising that this is not a positive quality.

More than twenty years later, I am realising that I still have not re-connected with my own emotions.

I realise that I have not just detached myself from the emotions I felt more than twenty years ago. I have perfected the art of squashing any emotions which threaten to overwhelm me.

I think about this now because I think about my children.

I think about their emotional life.

Young childrens’ emotions are so out in the open. They haven’t yet learnt to worry about how their displays of emotion impact on others. They feel extremes of emotions over the most seemingly trivial issues. They display every emotion they have.

As a stay at home mum I deal with my childrens’ emotions all the time. As frustrating as that can be, I love that they wear their hearts on their sleeves. It means that I can know every part of them. It means that I can really connect with them.

But can they really connect with me?

Should I show my emotions to them like they show their emotions to me?

My immediate answer is no. I know how it feels to see your mum crying and trust me, it feels horrible.

But does that mean I should never cry in front of my children? If so then I have failed.

Like any mother, I do not want to see my children in distress. But we cannot protect our children from everything and they will inevitably feel distress in their lives. So I want them to learn how to cope through distress.

I want my children to know that it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling. I want them to know that they do not have to control their emotions, they just have to control how they act on those feelings. I want them to know that I will do what I can to help them when they do not like how they are feeling.

I tell them this now. Usually along the lines of “It is ok to feel angry, it is not ok to hit your sister/brother”. I show them by accepting their anger and giving them a cuddle (on the days when I get it right).

So maybe it is ok to cry in front of our children. To cry and to tell them “I feel sad”. To show them that the world doesn’t end when we feel sad. To show them what a difference they can make to somebody who feels sad with the healing power of a cuddle.

Do you want to build a snowman?

It was a standing joke in my family when I was younger. How my Dad sulked the year it snowed and none of us would come out and build a snowman with him. I can’t remember how old my siblings and I were but we considered ourselves too old for such pastimes. My Dad must have considered himself to old for such pastimes too – unless he had his children with him to give him the excuse.

Two events in my life have made me think about this recently.

Firstly, My son turned five. My daughter is about to turn three.

I am loving the age my children are at now. They are that bit more independent so I get at least one cup of coffee a day that I don’t have to reheat. They are not at school yet and as a stay at home mum I get plenty of time with them. The youngest is out of nappies. Most nights, when we go to bed, we sleep until at least 6am without interruption.

I loved my children as babies but I don’t miss the days of night-feeds and explosive nappies and tiny people who can’t tell you just what it is they want.

Still, sometimes I think I am still just coming to terms with being a parent while they are growing so fast. There are some things that are over and I will never have them again. No more cots, no more baby sensory, no more spoon feeding, no more jumperoo taking up half the living room.

There will come a point when there will be no more cargo bike. The children are getting so big and heavy and Danny can pedal his own bike now. The plan is to move on to a tandem type bike. I am really excited about a tandem, but I think I will cry the day we sell the cargo bike.

The second event that made me think, was a family week in the sunshine. A brilliant week and the kids had a ball. We spent the mornings at the beach and the afternoons at the pool.

This was the first holiday when hubby and I got a fair bit of time relaxing. At the pool, the kids played happily in the shallow pool with armbands on while we sat and watched them. We did play with them some of the time, but they didn’t always want us to. They were quite happy.

I’m not complaining about any of this. Like I said, I am loving the age my children are at now.

But it makes me think.

Did I make the most of it?

Will I one day look back with regret?

Sometimes I worry that I will look back and wonder if I spent my children’s early years trying to ‘get stuff done’. If I was impatient and grumpy. If I should have left the laundry in the basket and gone to blow bubbles in the garden. If I should have ignored the mess and gone to build lego. If I should have skipped the cycle ride and gone swimming as a family.

I don’t subscribe to the ‘cherish every moment’ approach to parenting. It would be hard for anyone to cherish the moment on our recent holiday when both children lay on the floor screaming blue murder because they both wanted to go out of the lift first.

But still. Did I make the most of it?

What will my children remember when they look back on their childhoods?

What will they think of me?

Sometimes motherhood feels like one guilt trip after another.

I really don’t think I will look back with regret.

I do blow bubbles in the garden. I love nothing better than watching them leap around trying to catch them all. Sometimes I think our house must be identifiable for miles around by the veritable cloud of bubbles drifting above it.

I do build lego. I had forgotten just how much fun lego can be. The three of us have collaborated on some amazing fantastical creations and I couldn’t say who had the most fun.

I do take them swimming sometimes. True, not very often and hubby takes them most weekends while I cycle. Hubby lets them splash him and pretend to dunk him under the water. Hubby does tricks and lets them ride on his back while he swims. Hubby is great fun to go swimming with. Hubby is brilliant with them and they love their time with him… without me there. And I am a better Mummy after my cycle.

I am sometimes impatient and grumpy. I do sometimes fob them off because I have jobs that need to be done. I am human and life is busy.

I do my best and that is the best I can do.

I wonder if my Dad thinks the same.

I wonder how he felt that day we all refused to build a snowman with him.

 

Good Enough?

This weekend has not been great. In fact it’s been awful. My 4 year old pushed me to breaking point and beyond.

I go through occasional phases of reading parenting books. I take them with a pinch of salt but there is usually something useful in them.

My reading this time took me into the realms of emotional intelligence. I totally agree with the principles. We should talk to our children about emotions. We should acknowledge their feelings and help them to accept them and to act appropriately on them.

So I bought some books to read with the children. ‘The Big Bag of Worries’ and ‘How are you Feeling Today’. Both great books.

The books arrived on Friday and we read them through the day and at bedtime. 4 year old and 2 year old both enjoyed them and kept asking for them.

Go me. Great parenting.

Then we reached bedtime.

4 year old announced that he was scared of his bedroom. He did not know what was scaring him and he did not know what we could do do help him with this. Over the next two hours, he whined, shouted, cried, clung and made no sense whatsoever. I really didn’t think he was scared. He didn’t look scared. He didn’t sound scared. But still he said he was scared.

At the same time, 2 year old sang at the top of her voice while running around her bedroom throwing toys and repeatedly taking her nappy off.

I wish I was a more patient person. I wish I could say that I hung in there and talked 4 year old through his feelings. I wish I could say that I calmly explained to 2 year old that it was bedtime and she must go back to bed until she accepted it.

I did not.

I hung in there and stayed calm for as long as I could. This was nowhere near long enough. It was not really very long at all.

I yelled, I swore. In the end I curled up in a ball on the landing and sobbed for an hour.

Not so great parenting.

It didn’t end there. 4 year old then repeated the “I’m scared” performance every 20 minutes from midnight to 4am. 2 year old got up at 6:30am as usual.

This was followed by a day full of the kind of behaviour you would expect from an exhausted 4 year old with two exhausted parents.

This was followed by the exact same bedtime performance.

Not a good weekend.

I wanted to be there for my children. I wanted to support them through their difficulties. I wanted to understand how they were feeling and how I could help them.

I really wanted to know if this was real or if he was just taking the mickey.

I really really wanted to just get on my bike and ride off into the sunset.

I didn’t achieve any of those things.

It was one of those weekends which reminded me just how hard it is to be a parent and to be human and to be yourself.

I think everyone wishes they were a better person to some degree. Is that insecurity or just being human?

I realise that I am able to accept my limits in most areas of my life.

When I am at work, I am a good teacher. I am not a great teacher because I am not that exceptional. But I will do the best I can for the children in my class because I care about them.

When I time trialled, I was a good time triallist. I won a few races. I was not a great time triallist – I could look at a start list and name the women who would definitely beat me. I will never ride at the olympics. But I enjoyed doing the best that I could; beating my times and occasionally getting placed.

Now I am a parent, I am a good parent. I do my best for my children. But I so often feel that my best isn’t good enough, that I am failing. I say the wrong things. I shout. I am impatient. I worry that I am scarring my children for life. It is just not good enough that I am not a great parent. It is not good enough to be good enough.

In all other aspects of my life, I can accept that I am not perfect but I am doing my very best and that is good enough.

Parenting is hard.

 

Manners Maketh Mummy

I was brought up to have manners and to treat others with respect. Please and thank you were drummed into me from an early age.

I like to think that I cycle courteously. I like to think that I respect other users of the roads and paths as I would like them to respect me.

But it’s just not that simple.

See, when others give way to me, I thank them. When I give way to someone, I expect thanks. It’s basic manners.

I appreciate that the cargo bike is fairly big (albeit smaller than even the smallest car) and very slow. I don’t like it when cars squeeze past me so I pull in to let them pass if they are going to be stuck for any distance. When I do so, I expect thanks. It’s basic manners.

I appreciate that cycle paths are shared spaces and every other user has a right to be on them. When people allow me space to pass, I thank them. I wait when other people need time to move their children or dogs or whatever to one side to allow space for me to pass. When I do so, I expect thanks. It’s basic manners.

I’m sure you get the idea.

It depresses me that in the majority of these situations, I do not get any thanks. I don’t want a medal, just a simple wave or smile is fine.

What depresses me more is that I am gradually responding to this lack of courtesy by becoming discourteous. I don’t bother to let cars pass before a narrow stretch. I don’t thank others for giving way when it’s my right of way.

I am becoming just like the people who annoy me.

I am becoming the kind of person I do not want my children to be.

I am teaching my children to be rude and inconsiderate because I am being rude and inconsiderate.

Oh no, yet more mummy guilt.

If my 4 year old told me that he was rude to someone at nursery because they were rude to him, what would I say to him?

I would tell him that I understood why he reacted like that.

I would tell him that he must try to be the better person.

I would tell him that he has to create the kind of world he wants to live in. If he wants to live in a world where people are polite and kind and thoughtful then he has to be polite and kind and thoughtful. Even when others around him are anything but. Even when he feels angry about that.

Sometimes, I don’t realise just how much I am asking of my children when I give them advice.

Sometimes, I forget to practice what I preach.

 

 

How failing to cycle might make me a better mummy

It’s become a bit of a family tradition that we go away for a long weekend for my birthday and for my husband’s birthday. Nothing too complicated. A caravan and a swimming pool and the kids are over the moon.

We are just back from my birthday weekend. We all had a great time but for me there was also a tough reminder about empathy for my children.

Here’s the thing – I wanted to cycle to where we were staying. I really really wanted to cycle there. It wan’t too far. The weather forecast was fantastic. The others could drive and I’d meet them there.

It wasn’t to be.

I went in the car.

The bike stayed at home.

I was disappointed. I was actually more disappointed than I have been about anything in ages. (I think the last time I felt this disappointed was when I realized that breast feeding just wasn’t working out.) I cried. I struggled to let it go. Every time I saw a bike on the road it set me off again. Every time I thought about how perfect the weather was it set me off again.

In the absence of any other form of solitude and exercise over the weekend, I took to walking. This gave me the space I needed to think this one through.

What a realisation I came to.

I realised that this is how my 4 year old feels.

When he sees something he really wants and I tell him he can’t have it, this is exactly how he feels.

I know that the toy is cheap rubbish that will fall apart before we get home. I know that it’s going dark and the dinner needs cooked so we can’t go to the playpark right now.

But all my 4 year old knows is that he really really wanted it and he’s disappointed. It doesn’t actually matter how absurd what he wanted was. He’s disappointed. He can’t help feeling disappointed any more than I could.

I try my hardest to be a patient parent, but I really find it hard to deal with the crying and whining that 4 year olds can produce when they really want something ridiculous. My patience really wears thin when I think we’ve moved on and he starts all over again, sometimes hours later.

As a parent, I often deal with my 4 year old’s disappointment in the following ways:

  • Distract him
  • Explain (again) why the answer is no
  • Get cross and tell him to stop whining

When I felt disappointed, would any of these approaches have helped me?

  • Distraction – the disappointment would still be there. It just kept coming back no matter how much I disliked it.
  • Explaining – I already knew all the reasons why. They were the reasons I felt disappointed in the first place.
  • Anger – That would just make me angry as well as disappointed.

Oh no, I’m a horrible parent. Bring on the mummy guilt.

It took a fair bit of walking to work out what could of helped me when I felt like this. Nothing could make me feel less disappointed. I think that all I really needed was for someone who loved me to tell me that they understood and to give me a big hug. I would still feel disappointed but I would also feel loved and acknowledged.

So, I need to rethink how I deal with my children when they feel disappointed.

They feel how they feel and it doesn’t matter if it seems ridiculous to me, it’s serious to them.

Sounds simple.

If only they didn’t feel that way quite so often because I still really really find whining hard to deal with.

But if I can just remember how I felt this weekend, then maybe failing to cycle this once, might make me a better mummy.

Finding the time to train

For me, this has been one of the biggest challenges to getting back on the bike since I had children. It’s the reason why I kept getting back into running. Running is quick and simple – straight out of the door and a half hour run 3 or 4 times a week is not too tricky. Cycling takes more time.

But there is time. For me, there is always time. I just have to find it. I really don’t have much truck with “I don’t have time to….” .

Before I enrage anyone, I should add that I am talking about me and my life. I am not working just now – my days are hectic but I can get the cooking, some shopping and the endless laundry done during the day. My children are 2 and 4 now, things are getting easier. Most days have gaps when they play really well together with no need for input from me. I am also very fortunate to have a supportive husband who understands that cycling is a need, not a want for me (because he is also a cyclist). He also wants to spend as much time with his children as he can. His work allows him to start and finish relatively early so he is always home by 5:30pm.

If you have a very young baby, if you are a single parent, if you have other dependent family members, if you or your partner work long hours, or if you have any of the other challenges in life which massively restrict your available time and energy, then you probably don’t have the time to…. and I would never presume to tell you that you do.

So for me, it has been a challenge to find the time, but it has not been an insurmountable challenge. Finding the time has come down to 2 elements:

  1. Manage my time
  2. Manage my expectations

This has had to be counterbalanced by another big issue:

  1. Don’t be a selfish dick.

1. Manage my time:

Or in other words – don’t fanny about. I’ve always had a tendency to be organised to the point of fault. Working as a primary school teacher forced me to get even more organised.

I have a pretty good idea at the start of each day what we are doing for the day, what chores need done and when they can be fitted in. My aim is always to have everything done by the time I come downstairs once the children are in bed.

My children are at an age where they need 12 hours sleep a night. It doesn’t really matter which 12 hours these are. We are an early bed and early rise family because this is what works for us. This means that the evening is free from around 6:30pm but I have to be out of bed by 6:30am (often earlier, if the 2 year old has anything to do with it!).

The weekends are (over)organised too. Because my husband and I both want to train, one of us gets the early slot (on the bike around 7:30am) the other gets the late afternoon slot (about 3pm) . We each get an hour. This still leaves plenty of time to spend together as a family. When you get an hour, you use it. Doesn’t matter what the weather is doing (if you’re only going out for an hour, does it matter if it’s raining or windy?), doesn’t matter if you’re not sure if you can really be bothered, just go. Don’t fanny about!

  1. Manage my expectations.

Before I had children, I would rarely bother going out for just an hour. Maybe midweek I would, but weekends were for long rides. I can’t do that anymore. But what’s wrong with cycling for just an hour, if that is all you have. I would love to do more long rides. I would love to do more coffee stop rides. But more than I want those things, I just want to ride. An hour is all I have and I would rather use it than waste it and moan that I can’t do more.

I ride for transport and I ride to train. My training aims vary. At the moment I am gearing myself up for time trialling. But essentially the aim is always to ride better, faster, stronger. So, if I am riding for training, I always need to be pushing myself. Personally, I think an hour pushing myself is greater value than 4 hours cruising along (don’t get me wrong, I love cruising along).

This is part of the reason that I switch to the turbo around this time of year. With limited light, low sunshine, icy roads and wet leaves everywhere I find I have to ride quite cautiously on the road which doesn’t really allow me to push myself. The turbo gives me a well used hour on the bike.

Riding for transport is a fantastic thing. I have said it many times…I love my cargo bike.  It allows me to burn calories and be active throughout the day which gives me the base fitness that enables me to push myself training.

I also have to be realistic about what I can expect of myself. Life with children is exhausting, regardless of whether you are also juggling a paid job. Some days, I am just so exhausted or exasperated that I just cannot bring myself to get off the sofa and I have to accept that this is perfectly acceptable.

Right now, my aim is to do 3 quality sessions a week, plus cycling for transport on the cargo bike. If I can manage 4 that’s great but it’s not essential. Doing less is ok as long as what I am doing is quality. Essentially, the junk miles have had to go.

I had a reminder recently about expectations. I was joining a coaching day with my club and, in my wisdom, decided to cycle to the venue and back. This would clock up around 75 miles. In the past this would have been no problem. I’d be tired after it, but it could be done. Apparently, it can no longer be done. 75 miles was too far. Suffice to say, the bike nearly ended up in a ditch when I ground to a halt and had to call for a lift home.

  1. Don’t be a selfish dick

I love cycling. I love training and seeing improvements in myself. But also love my children and they are not going to be children for long. Already, they are becoming more independent and needing me less. My greatest fear is that I might look back and regret missing parts of their childhood.

Given I’m not also juggling paid work at the moment, I am very lucky (most days) to be able to spend lots of time with my children. However, Martin wants to train too and we still want to have time together as a family. I don’t want to spend the weekends passing the children between us while we each rush out to spend hours training.

It’s hard because cycling is an obsessive sport. It’s all too easy to start trying to find ways to get more time on the bike. I constantly have to remind myself what really is important.

Cycling also has the ability to break me like running just doesn’t do. I’m talking lying on the sofa unable to move or think kind of broken. This means that, although there would be time in the summer for me to head out really early and cycle 3 hours yet still be ready for a family day out by 10am, I can’t do it. I would be tired and lacking the patience to deal with small children and that’s just not fair.

The hardest thing for me is often the evenings. As I said, our children are in bed early so there is time to train in the evening. But sometimes that just doesn’t work out. Flexibility is not my strong point and the evenings when I have my mind set on training but one or other child is refusing to go to bed without major delaying tactics are really tough. It all comes down to fairness. It’s not fair that they are stopping me from having the time to myself that I desperately need. But it’s even less fair to shout at them because they’re overtired and overwrought and they actually need patience and calm from their mum to help them settle. I need to keep working on this one.

In conclusion, there is time. But time is by no means the only consideration. And if you get the balance wrong, mummy guilt is never far away.

Priorities, Identity and Mummy Guilt

When we decided to have children, I was happy to put cycling aside for a while. I had ridden in the Alps, Lanzarote and Majorca. I had ridden the Raid Alpine, Lands End to John O’ Groats and Vatternrunden. I had surprised myself with my achievements in time trialling.  I had organised my life around cycling (or occasionally running) and training for years.

Time for a new phase. I was going to be a mother. We were going to be a family. This was huge. I was huge. This was a whole new kind of identity waiting to be discovered.

Identity is a funny thing. I remember talking to a friend about personality and how we change over the years. I was in my 30s at the time and felt like a completely different person to who I had been in my early 20s. So much had happened, how could I possibly be the same person? Elspeth argued that we have a fundamental personality which actually never changes. She believes that it’s the little things about us that change. We remain the same self we have always been. I think she is maybe right. I’ve always been stubborn and determined (just ask my mum). I’ve always had a keen sense of justice and fairness. And I’ve always been physically active in some way.

So, now I was a mum. I was still stubborn and determined (just ask my husband). I still have a keen sense of justice and fairness. And now I walked for physical activity. I walked everywhere I could. Pushing a buggy.

It wasn’t enough. I felt like a part of me was missing. I felt fat (actually, I was pretty fat – turns out pregnancy is not a license to drink chocolate milkshake with impunity). I started to resent my husband going out running or cycling to work because I felt like I couldn’t do anthing and that I hadn’t been able to do so for 9 months already. It wasn’t that my new identity wasn’t what I wanted. It was. But Elspeth was right and there was a fundamental missing.

I have gradually got this part of my identity back. It’s different to how it was. I no longer procrastinate on a Sunday morning, watching ‘Sunday Brunch’ wearing lycra and having “just one more cup of tea and then I’ll get going”. I no longer follow this with a 4 hour bike ride with my husband. No more lying on the sofa recovering after either. But I am back cycling. I feel like a cyclist again. I’m no longer fat, more ‘chunky’.

But then comes the mummy guilt. If you have children you will be familiar with this. It’s the feeling that you are not doing enough, not doing well enough, you shouted when you shouldn’t have, you were impatient, you couldn’t find the teeny tiny little toy that they simply could not continue their day without, you weren’t sympathetic when they lay on the floor screaming because their biscuit broke in half. It’s the feeling that I read the bedtime story quicker than I should have because I wanted to get out on the bike once they were asleep. The feeling like I’m tired after a ride and I really don’t want to build a train track right now. The feeling like I’ve missed a day out as a family because I went out for a ride with the bike club and left the children to go out with their dad. It’s the  feeling that  you’re not putting the children first and you should be because that’s your job.

Mummy guilt is awful And it’s a spiral. Once you start focussing on all the things you do wrong every day (and we all do things wrong for our children every day because being the perfect mother is just impossible) you notice more and more and more things you do wrong. And the truth is, most of those things are absolute nonsense.

Every day I fight the battle between guilt and identity. My children and my husband are my priority, but so is my self. Here’s my conclusion:

  • I have to cycle in some way to feel like me.
  • I have to feel like me to be me.
  • I have to be me to be the best (imperfect) mummy I can be.

When I write this down it all makes sense.

I should probably read it back more often because the guilt is still there.

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