All The Changes

IMG_7561For better or for worse (and we are really hoping it’s the former!) change has been the one constant in our lives over the past few weeks and, as for many families, our biggest change has involved our Sweet Pea starting “big school” this year.

I knew this would be a big step for all of us, especially for her,  but as with most aspects of this parenting caper I didn’t really know just how big it was really going to be until it was upon us. The lead up to the big day has been happening for months, preparation at day care, orientation with teachers and buddies, choosing a school bag and lunch box, buying a uniform, trying on shoes, practicing writing her name – there was seemingly no end to the amount of things that needed to be done, purchased and labelled. The girl herself remained significantly nonplussed by all of this. She would respond in the affirmative when countless people asked her if she was looking forward to starting school but the reality of her new 5 day a week job appeared to be very much in the background for her – she would deal with it when it happened! For me however her first day seemed to be looming with equal amounts of trepidation, pride, excitement and deep sadness – the familiar lament of so many parents at this time of year, “where has the time gone?”, following me through my days.

Sweet Pea is now about to finish her second week of kindergarten. For her it has been a mixture of joyful learning, connections with beautiful friends, turbo charged boosts of imagination and activity and heart wrenching goodbyes at drop off time. For me it has been chaotic mornings, shortened days full of longing for her sweet face and cheeky chatter and heart wrenching goodbyes at drop off time. We are slowly getting the hang of this new world we have entered.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the past few weeks and the following 5 things are the ones that I feel have helped us get through this turbulent, emotional time with a reasonable amount of sanity intact!!

  1. Gather Your Tribe – My best friends have been (as always) a phone call or text away during the past few weeks. Friends who have older children and who are well versed in the primary school world have been incredibly helpful – sharing their knowledge, experience and tips for survival. I knew I would need them over the past couple of weeks and I have been keeping in touch and reaching out when I needed them – they haven’t let me down. As with any aspect of parenting – if I am well supported I know I am going to have the energy to support my girl as she needs it.
  2. Take Time – I have been really lucky to be able to take time off work while Sweet Pea has started school. I know this is not an option for everyone but by god it has helped us! It has been so good being able to spend time with her helping her to settle in in the mornings and not having to worry about being at work on time or being late for appointments. It’s also meant I’ve had a little bit of time to myself to decompress before the afternoon pickups.
  3. Vent! I have vented my little heart out over these past couple of weeks!! My partner and I have been able to talk about how we see the changes impacting on Sweet Pea and talk about how they are impacting on us as well. I have cried more than a few times and sent SOS text messages when it was all becoming a little too much. I have resisted keeping up the “brave face” – when I have been struggling I have let it be known.
  4. Don’t Compare – Seeing your child placed into a class with 20 other children is an easy trigger for the comparison game to start. When Sweet Pea seemed to be the only one struggling at drop off time I could feel myself dropping into the “bad place” and questioning what I was doing wrong, why was my child so upset when others seemed to be so happy and content?? I know I was doing nothing wrong, and neither was she – starting school is different for every child and every parent – you need to stay focussed on what you and your child need – not get caught up in what might be happening, or not happening, around you. Bloody hard to do but so important!
  5. Connect – My partner and friends, as well as my new fellow kindergarten parent friends have been people I can talk with, laugh with and share my fears with. I tend to be someone who likes to keep to herself but I think connection with others at this time is so important – I have had my thoughts and feelings listened to and normalised. I can see my little girl putting herself out there to make new friends and connections in her new world and I want to be able to take a leaf from her book – we are not in this alone!

I hope if you have a little one starting kindergarten this year, or for anyone going through a period of change, these tips can be useful for you too. Do you have any others to add to my list??

More talk about changes to come…

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Seeing the Good

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As a mental health social worker the word ‘strengths’ is one that comes up a lot in my work. One of my main aims in working with my clients is to help them view whatever issues they have come to see me about through a different lens to the one that might be currently dominating their thoughts, feelings and actions. It’s not about dismissing the crappy stuff or minimising real issues – but it is about being able to step back, look inwards and see what traits, knowledge and skills have helped you through in the past and therefore might be able to support you again. It’s about seeing that there are strengths and positives in each of us – however small and diminished they may feel at times. It’s about knowing ourselves and who we really are – despite the internal and external messages that might be thrown at us from other sources. It’s not always an easy process, and for some it is definitely harder than others – but it lies at the core of my work and I think I do an ok job of translating it for my clients, most of the time.

So, it came as a bit of a shock to me a few weeks ago when, in an initial speech therapy appointment for my almost 5 year old, that I was initially thrown by the therapist asking me what my daughter’s strengths were. I’m ashamed to say my first thought was complete blankness! Me, the person always trying to highlight and expose other people’s positives, the counsellor aiming to facilitate hope and resilience in her clients was shamelessly empty when it came to the skills of her own child. Yep – one of those proud mummy moments – NOT!! You’ll be glad to hear that I did pull myself together and was able to mention and list the various and variable strengths my girl has in her possession (for she does indeed have many!). But I had to make a conscious effort to turn my mind to these positives, I was firmly in a deficit state of mind. My life had been so chaotic, muddled and overscheduled that I had taken on a “glass half empty” world view – all I could see were the things that weren’t working, the things that felt hard and painful. I couldn’t see the brightness in my girl and I definitely couldn’t see it in myself. I was talking the talk but I certainly wasn’t walking the walk.

Focussing on what we do well, what we excel at, what we enjoy is not always easy. It often feels like “tooting our own horn” or loving ourselves too much (what’s actually wrong with that I might ask??). It seems we are hell bent on looking at ourselves, our accomplishments and our wins as something less than, not good enough, nothing to write home about. I find women are especially guilty of this.

I am totally crap at a LOT of things (cooking meat, gardening, running, maths and being patient to name a few) but I also carry more than a few strengths around with me such as self-reflection, cooking cakes, organising myself and anyone else within a 50 km radius, remembering names and birthdays, listening to sad people, listening to happy people, perfectionism (it’s a strength – trust me!) making gin cocktails, reading stories to my daughter, making my daughter feel safe, wrapping presents and laughing.

I think I might have a look at this list more often – maybe I’ll even write it up in big, bold letters and put it somewhere where I can see it all the time. Maybe I’ll write one for my daughter too – and put it up for her to look at – and know that I see her and all her positives. And maybe I’ll try and focus on these a little more rather than the negative talk that drops by – it might even turn into a strength…

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