Is it big enough to overcome a dent in your Good Enough?
This week, my Good Enough has taken a battering. I don’t say that because I want pity or lots of ‘woohoo you’re great, don’t be down’ comments. I say that because that is what I have learnt this week. This mum studies and this recent bout of studying has opened my eyes to a subject I have left untouched for a while. Me.
Learning about life
I am learning more about myself every day and I am finding you have to be pretty brave to go on a journey of self discovery. I have really been trying to notice my own thoughts and explore my reactions. Some of the time it brings things to the fore I would rather not think about or acknowledge, but hey, it’s all learning.
This week has reinforced to me that I do need recognition and it does matter to me what other people think.
This isn’t new to me. It is something I have known my entire life and something I have already written about (Blog post: Getting the bit of paper (or studying with the OU). I have always been eager to please. Why does that feel like such a bad thing to admit? Anyway, this year I have been exploring why I have this need and whether I am able to find a way to improve my self belief and be satisfied with my own approval. I’m not sure I’m there yet.
I get knocked down…
As if to prove the point a situation this week tested me. Without warning my self-belief crumbled and my Good Enough smashed into pieces on the floor and I stood there with my mouth open and tears streaming down my face.
I thought I had the situation. I thought I knew where it was going. I thought my self-belief was about to be rewarded. Instead it was shaken and my whole being defaulted to the ‘not good enough’ state. I am glad I was able to recognise it.
…and I get up again
But more than that, I was able to think about what I needed to do to get myself back in a good place before the real low hit. I needed to take control and I did. I took action. I stepped out of my comfort zone and made a bold move. And then, with the help of some bright yellow tights, a new green scarf bought from a favourite charity shop, a touch-up of my pink hair, some red lippy (and my sister), I stepped out and faced the world with more strength than I knew I had. The tear-stained echoes of the night before lost in the noise of my rainbow splashed nails.
And I reminded myself…
So, what am I studying at the moment? I am studying computer networks. I am studying Google Analytics. Most importantly I am studying me.
I am a woman who seeks others approval.
I am a woman who is working on her self-belief.
I am a woman who works fiercely towards a goal.
I am a woman who needs others to recognise my work.
I am a woman who is reliable, loyal and honest.
I am a woman who feels deeply.
I am a woman who takes criticism badly.
I am a woman who reflects what I am feeling to others; both good and bad.
I am a woman who is finding her creativity at a depth she didn’t realise was possible and loving it.
I am a woman who likes to be in control.
I am a woman who is determined.
I am a woman with more resilience than I know or understand.
I am a woman who will keep trying.
I am a woman who perfectly imperfect.
We are all different. This is me. I am no longer a woman who will apologise for that.
Show me how big your Brave is…
This has been one of my favourite songs for years. I can only listen to it really, REALLY loud. Often I end up shouting it and more than once it has moved me to tears. I have needed my Brave for a long time and I have really been testing it this last year or so. Changing long-held beliefs is hard and takes courage. How big is your Brave?
The further I delve into the world of web design and development, the more I realise that coding really has a lot in common with parenting.
For starters, the tantrum the console throws up if you miss off a semi-colon is tantamount to the four-year-old’s melt-down over the wrong juice in the wrong-coloured cup.
Who would have thought a simple capital letter could throw hours of work into disarray. It is cannily similar to the mess made by the children in their bedroom in the two minutes you have your back to them as you sort the wardrobe.
And while we are on the subject of tidying and order, the mere-ist hint of code popped in the wrong place renders your project useless. Not unlike the loss of a favourite toy, that was definitely put on the kitchen table and nowhere else, with an added refusal for the day to remain on hold until it is found.
Then there’s the database that refuses to log the data. You have been through that code with a fine-toothed comb. Even your tutor can’t find a error. But it refuses to listen to you and will not do as it is told. Strikingly similar to the small child who refuses to hear, that’s if he listens at all.
Little Mr Matching
Meanwhile, trying to choose the correct shade of blue for a header and match it with the right font, for just the right look, is reminiscent of Mini Cooper 2’s inability to leave the house without his hat matching his shoes.
Art is in the detail
I love coding for its detail. I love how powerful a simple line of code can be. But in the same breath the frustration and relentless refreshing gets repetitive and tiresome pretty quickly. I love every bit of every child. I love the way they each see the world in a different way. But in the same thought I could sometimes do with 10 minutes where I am not answering a question, listening to a whiny complaint and, dare I say, a couple of hours uninterrupted sleep.
Learning as you go along
No one said learning would be easy. No one said parenting would be easy. Joining the two together seems like craziness. Welcome to my mad, Mad world.
What does going to school have in common with Leysdown seafront? The idea that points win prizes it would seem. I say this as the mum of a child with 1130 house points accumulated in just five weeks. No, I am not proud. I am angry.
Let me take you back to the 80s when I attended primary school. There were four houses; York, Balmoral, Richmond and Gloucester. I was in York. I was proud to be in York. I might get one house point every couple of weeks. Maybe I had opened a door for a teacher without being asked or had really excelled in a piece of work. There were extra opportunities for earning house points on occasions such as sports day or by being a teacher’s helper at lunchtime. Getting a house point felt like owning a piece of gold and I would colour in the square on the sheet in the classroom with pride as I watched my house points accumulate alongside others.
At the end of the term the house with the most points throughout the school was awarded four points, the third, three, the second, two and those in last place, one house point. These were added to the main chart in the hall for all to see. At the end of the year the house with the most points won the house point trophy and the house captain went up to receive it in assembly on behalf of their house. I am hoping this sounds familiar to some of you.
21st Century house points
Scoot back to 2017 and now it’s all about how many house points you need in exchange for a building set, cinema ticket or afternoon tea with the head teacher. And we are talking big numbers. Hundreds and hundreds of house points needed. But that’s ok, because just doing your homework will earn you 20 points. Putting your hand up in class, five points.
It makes me wonder where the time is to teach the children if the teachers are dishing out house points every time a pupil breathes in or out successfully.
Beyond the points, there seem to be countless other motivational incentives. In a world where we can’t have winners or losers at sports day, it is beyond me why we can dish out pupil of the week, top table, stars in their eyes, spelling star and a prize for the kid at the top of maths mountain. Don’t even get me started on 100% attendance (No don’t, I tried to include that here…it has taken on a life of its own for another post!).
Then there’s carrots on sticks. And this is where the materialistic nature of these incentives has taken an astounding turn. Currently, my son informs me, if he gets all his spellings right this term, he will be put into a prize draw with other children from local schools to win…. a digital reading device akin to a Kindle. That’s right people. A couple of hundred pounds worth of tech that to be quite honest I would rather my son didn’t own. This is wrong for several reasons…
The odds of Mini Cooper 1 winning are slim considering how many kids will be in the ballot.
He doesn’t understand this.
He believes he will win.
When he doesn’t win – he still wants a tablet.
We aren’t going to buy him one.
If he has a tablet at the tender age of 7, the four year old is going to start on about when does he get one and slowly but surely the screen-free buffer zone becomes less. I may as well buy 10 month old Mini Cooper 3 her own iPhone now.
While I am on the subject of screens, these house points have to be banked. Not by picking up the nearest half decent yellow felt tipped pen as in my day, oh no. This is the era of online reward points. There is a website dedicated to storing the house points.
The kids log in, they tap in the 16 digit code on the house point voucher that has been screwed up in their pocket all day and it adds the points to their total. They are supposed to put in the reason why they were given the points. Mini Cooper 1 can never remember (so clearly there’s an incentive working right there yeah?!) They can check how many they have against their classmates. There are class leaderboards, year leaderboards, school leaderboards (no gold medals at sports day remember). It’s a joke.
My son sits for 20 minutes trying to remember his password, then I sit for 20 minutes reading out digits on slips of paper for points he doesn’t even remember why he was given. Meanwhile Mini Cooper 2 could do with some help with his reading book (an actual book) and Mini Cooper 3 has given up learning to clap and gone to sleep
I will admit I have been of the parenting camp against reward charts. I did not want the children to do something just because they would get a reward. I will also admit that when it came to trying to get a decent night’s sleep, we relented and created our own sleep charts complete with stickers chosen by the boys. I will also say, they worked… for a while. I say that, because after a few nights of getting stickers for staying in bed Mini Cooper 1 decided he would fill the chart with stickers for just about any reason he could think of. Suffice to say, the reward/response link didn’t really work for him there.
So, who are all these incentives really for? Let’s face it the schools are going to a lot of effort to put these systems in place, build them up and sustain them. When we boil it down it’s all about educational targets. Getting the children to achieve so the school isn’t seen to be failing by the all-seeing eye of Ofsted. The children don’t care about Ofsted. The children care about which little toy they might get if their name is called for top table on Friday. The children care about why they weren’t Star of the Week when they tried so hard with their reading. The children care about what they will be given in return for doing something. Our target-driven educational system is promoting the 21st Century materialistic lifestyle. It isn’t promoting the idea that you might want to learn something purely for the love of learning.
And while these incentive schemes are building up schools and Ofsted, are they actually building up our little ones? If this is all being done to please The Powers That Be, where are our children learning to please themselves? How do they work out their own threshold for having done well? We live in a world of people who don’t feel ‘good enough’. It’s something to do with expectations and the bar we set for ourselves. Should the system really be motivating children to reach blanket-all targets or would realistic individualised goals be more beneficial? Rewarding achievements that mean something to that one child. Shouldn’t we be focussing on the rewards of self awareness, self motivation, self confidence and self esteem? The effect of any one of which on a young person is certain to last far beyond the plastic stationery set my son can get in exchange for 600 points.
Badge of honour
So, while I am giving these rewards a hard time, I realise there is a place for them in learning. As a student myself I am guilty of chasing the reward (Read more here: “Getting the Bit of Paper“). When I first logged on to the dashboard of the web design course I am currently studying with LearnDirect, I was met with an achievement pie chart and a league table. Further investigation revealed various digital award badges for different achievements; number of days you consecutively log in, number of hours you have studied, number of assignments in on time. Logging in three times in a row before 7am gets you the cutest little early bird icon on your profile, while logging in after 11pm three days on a row wins you the night owl (squeeee!).
Who needs those?
After scoffing to DH ‘who do they think they’re kidding, we are adults, I don’t need these silly little games,’ I of course got totally and utterly sucked in and had to earn as many of these digital badges as I possibly could. I currently sit top of the leaderboard (although there’s no explanation as to what I am the leader of; students in the region, country, on my course, the last five people to log in….who knows). That’s not the point, the point is the motivational rewards here have helped me to scoot through the course at the pace I have wanted and, I will admit, have given me little confidence boosts along the way.
So what am I moaning about then? Well, the difference is, I am an adult. I know I am being persuaded and manipulated to get my work done. I understand what incentives are and I already had the self-motivation and the self-confidence needed to learn. My fear is that a child knows none of this and they are being lulled into a short-lived land of bribery and materialism that merely promotes a ‘what are going to give me for that then?’ attitude. It’s education not a seaside sideshow.
Right, I am off to check Mini Cooper 1’s pockets before popping his uniform in the wash. It is no longer the paper hankie that I fear. It is the house point. Those tatty slips of paper turn to reward confetti in the twinkle of an eye. I wonder how many I would need to get a new washing machine or tumble drier?
*Thanks to the mums I have quoted along the way here. Read more about what mums think about primary school reward schemes here.
Believe me there’s a heap of stuff out there. Here is just a selection of the stuff I have read this week while preparing this blog post…
Since I have been back at the books I have tried to create pockets of time for study. While Mini Cooper 3 was in the teeny newborn stage, there seemed to be several opportunities for this. Studying while feeding, studying while she naps, studying as she sits in the bouncy chair. Now she is 9 months old and that’s a game changer…
While she hasn’t quite cracked crawling, she is shuffling her way around in that lightning quick way that they do. I put her in one place and a second later she is somehow across the room. This has changed my study spots somewhat for no sooner have I popped her down with her toys and grabbed the laptop, she is pulling at the fireguard or pulling herself up to stand by the sofa, needing me to come and ‘Reset’ her.
Time for change
So study times have changed. As I knew they would. It means a change in expectations from me as I struggle to complete the next course unit. It seems that along with less time to study, motivation is also on a dip (read more here: This is the Wall). Not a great combination when I was trying to stick to such a tight schedule and complete this course by January.
I am now trying to create some extra time (wouldn’t we all like to do that!). By that I mean I am using Mummy Multi-Tasking to give me those precious extra moments. Suddenly by creating them, it seems only right I use them as they were intended, so they have a double use as they are helping to focus me on the task in hand.
Bye bye bland
Enter, my secret weapon, my slow-cooker. I have had the slow-cooker for about five years. Every Autumn I blow the dust off it and pop it on the side. I might make two or three lack-lustre dinners in it and then back in the cupboard it goes. Not this year. This year it needs to earn its place on the kitchen side.
Over the last few weeks I have tried to inject some flavour into the meals and last week I cracked it. Now this is going on the menu once a week giving me an extra hour of study time between the school run landing and dinner time. Now that is gold. The recipe is below.
Slowly does it
While I am at it I have put together this quick cheat sheet. Every time I bung ingredients in the slow cooker I find myself scouring the internet (and ultimately texting my slow cooker guru sister) to ask how long to cook it for. This time when I found the info I decided I would not lose it again . So here that is too (and it’s Pin-able! Follow me on Pinterest and I’m on Instagram too)
Is the slow cooker your friend? If you want to share any slow-cooker secrets or recipes then please do so in the comments.
Slow Cooker Beef and Onion Stew
500g diced beef
3 small onions (red or white or a mix)
1 medium carrot
1 medium parsnip
1tbsp of tomato puree
A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley and fresh coriander
Brown the meat (optional)
Chop all vegetables (potatoes may need cutting in half to ensure they cook through – use as many as will fit!)
Add tomato puree
Add vegetable stock and bouquet garnis
Stir to mix
Pop on low for 8 hours
Serve with fresh herbs to taste
Enjoy with fresh crusty bread
*Made using a 3.5L slow cooker like this one…
(Please note I am now signed up to the Amazon Affiliates scheme which means I may benefit from anything you buy through this link)
The silence is deafening here. We are in the middle of a power cut. The lightbulb popped as it went out. The pitch black is now only interrupted by the glow of two laptop screens as me and DH race against the battery power to get things done.
Yet, somehow it’s quite soothing sat here without the background buzz and whine of every electrical item in the house. Sometimes it takes outside forces to make you stop. It feels a bit like the world is on hold in the darkness, as though someone has pressed pause somewhere. It is a haven, a little pocket of breathing space.
The whirlwind of change is continuing at its usual pace. There is a new rhythm to our week as DH strides out each morning for a long day of learning, while I tackle the quite frankly raving mad school run, before debating whether I have the energy to do people or places while waiting for school pick-up.
Something has struck me powerfully this week and while it isn’t rocket science, it is yet an idea that has shifted my thinking. It is this…
How simple is that? I choose what to do with my time. The seconds, minutes and hours that I live, are mine. I am able to choose how I live them. I am able to decide where to put my energy in any given moment. It is a lightbulb moment for me. Particularly as I quite often do not have much energy to spare, owing to the 45 minute sleep cycle my children like to keep until they are at least 3 years old.
And if you are now sat there thinking ‘that’s all very well, but my time is not my own… I am governed by an over-demanding miniature version of me’ then I hear you. But there are still those golden moments. Maybe its 30 seconds while they are happy playing, maybe its half an hour as they nap; those moments are yours. Eat chocolate, read a book, have an uninterrupted wee. Claim that time. It is yours.
The world wakes
The doorbell is ringing, the printer has woken up and the monitors have kicked back in. The power is back. The world is awake again. Those precious darkened moments feel like stolen time. I am grateful for them and the choice I made to spend them mindfully, writing in the dark. I choose now to go into the light and inspire others as these women have inspired me.
Why all this studying? There is a very important reason why and we are hoping it will be the key to changing our lifestyle completely.
Here’s the vision; both me and DH working equally to support our family in jobs where we are still able to be there for the school run and whatever else parenting throws at us.
Some days I think about that statement and I think it is unrealistic. Isn’t that just asking for it all? We don’t live in a culture where work works around life. Instead life must fit around work and work must be done to finance life. It seems an ever-decreasing circle.
Making a change
It’s a year since DH decided he needed a change from Never Ending Work. The relentlessness of working a crazy number of hours, crawling into bed at 2am and living off junk food seemed like a one-way road stretching into the future. And while he was the one travelling to town every day and living on six hours broken sleep, it wasn’t exactly a bed of roses juggling school and nursery runs, dinner, bath and bedtime alone here either.
When it came to fears that DH may fall asleep at the wheel or actually drive himself mad working in an environment that drained him on a daily basis, we knew we needed to make a drastic change. While the salary he was on may have meant he could retire early in 10 years time, it seemed like a hard price to pay. After all, our children are 7, 4 and 8 months old. They want us here now. We aren’t sure they will want us hanging about quite so much when they are 17, 14 and 10.
Learning about yourself
So he handed his notice in and we decided we would both train in web design and see where it took us. It might not take us anywhere. It might lead to things we haven’t yet thought of. What we do know is that this is change. It may not be easy, but it will be different and certainly every stage will present opportunities and experiences we would not otherwise have had.
At the end of my LearnDirect course in web design, I will start studying with Digital Mums to become a social media manager. I am hoping this will be my key to flexible working. Where my work will fit around our family and not the other way round. This is something Digital Mums is striving to make more commonplace. Flexible working. After all, us mums still have working brains you know!
The Digital Mums campaign around flexible working is making waves. It’s made the national papers and it’s causing a stir on social media. The Clean Up The F-Word campaign hopes to highlight the benefits of flexible working, both for employee and employer, to those that can make a difference; the government. To get a response from the government their petition needs 10,000 signatures. To get a debate in Parliament, it needs 100,000. This is a subject that should be brought to the fore.
Flexible working taboo
“Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, eg having flexible start and finish times, or working from home…. All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers.”
We have the right to, but how many of us would? I know I didn’t. There didn’t seem much point as I couldn’t see any way I could return to my job on a flexible basis; as a newsreader, you sorta have to be behind the microphone at the time the news is needed, and I knew that when I started thinking about having a family.
But flexible working shouldn’t be a taboo. As mums returning to work we should not be afraid to put forward a flexible option. So why does it feel like we are asking for something that is wrong, a cop-out, an easy option? It’s not like we want to be paid for doing nothing. Rather that we get paid for being productive during the hours that we able to put in 100%.
A different world
For us Coopers, flexible working will mean we can support our family by working in a way that provides for the Mini Coopers in more than just monetary terms. We can be the ones that see them through the school gates and pick them up at the end of the day, but we’ll also be able to pay for the day trips to London and ice cream in the holidays.
Click here to read the Digital Mums blog post about the #CleanUpTheFWord campaign
To sign the Digital Mums petition at Change.org and show your support for more flexible working options, click here.
(Which is a shame as it is trying to be a nice friendly wall, look, it’s even saying hello)
I don’t want to study. I don’t want to do it (cue child-like tantrum). I want it completed and gone. I have to do it. But I don’t want to do it. I am in that love it but hate it space.
Every time I sit at the computer I find 200 other things to do rather than log in to my course. I think I am on study burn out. Half of me wants to log in, plough through and get it done. The other half says it’s sunny outside, the house is a mess, leave it all behind and go and walk through the trees.
This is it. This is the wall.
I have been here before, several times. GCSEs, A-Levels, degree 1 (I actually have no idea how I got through that) and definitely degree 2 (I thought I never wanted to see a book, pen or laptop ever again).
The trouble is I have studied every day since I signed up for this web design course. I have logged on Every.Single.Day. and done something. Reading, assignment question, watch a video. I reaped the benefits in the early days and sped through the course. Now it feels like if don’t log in every day I won’t get it done. I want to keep uptake momentum but I am running out of steam.
Getting ahead of myself
Learndirect called me the other day. Voicemail: “We can see you are on unit 16. That is due in one the err… on the… 1st of September (pause) 2018…. we would like you to email us to confirm you will make this deadline.”
Well, yes, I am pretty sure that with 345 days to go I am going to make it – thanks.
Or am I. This is the wall.
One of the motivational tools used on the Learndirect dashboard is badge system. For every so many hours of study, you get a badge on your profile. For every early morning study, a badge on your profile. For consecutive day of study… a badge on your profile.
I have the badge for 150 days straight. Here it is…
A (digital) Bit of Paper I had to have. And now I have it. I don’t think there is one for total, loony, crazy lady who is continuing to log on every day and work even though she needs a break. (If there is though – can I have it?)
This is the wall. I better start climbing it before it crushes me.
So the schools are back in full force this week and I am trying to find a little more structure to my studying/parenting day. As I tackle the books once more it strikes me that I may not have been the only person to have thought the following things over the last week.
Here are five things that have run through my mind this week about studying.
1. I love this
I can take on the world. This is amazing. I have successfully made information leap from a database onto a web page. I pressed the buttons and now it works. I can do this. I can do anything. I love learning. Every part of the process is experience, even if it isn’t successful.
2. I hate this
The world hates me. I can’t bear this. Will it ever end. Why won’t my html file talk to my php file and do lovely things on the web page. I have spent hours reading about it. I have made notes on it. I have Googled it. I am highly likely to chuck my laptop at the wall if I render this page and it doesn’t work for the 4 millionth time. Learning is too hard. Why am I doing this? When can I stop?
3. The oven needs cleaning
The garden needs weeding, small pieces of dirt need removing with a cocktail stick and toothbrush from somewhere no-one will ever see. You get the idea. Suddenly anything and everything is way more interesting and important than studying. While usually the thought of cutting all three Mini Cooper’s toenails would be the stuff of nightmares, I suddenly find myself lining them up, giving them the drill and hoping it will take longer than necessary just so that I don’t have to sit back down in front of a list of assignment questions. With blank answers. With word counts. That need diagrams. With writer’s block.
4. He thinks I’m on Facebook again
Or Twitter (@minicoopersmum). When you are studying remotely, the lure of social media is ever present. Particularly now I am blogging too and linking my posts here and there. That said, I do spend a lot of time staring at my screen and actually doing my work (while thinking that DH is thinking that I am just sat there fiddling on Facebook.) I do a lot of projecting. It’s something I am trying to stop. DH is actually incredibly supportive and without him I would probably have already thrown the lap top at the wall.
5. What happens if I get to the end?
After the initial ‘will this ever end’ phase, comes the fears of what happens when it does. Is all of this time, effort and energy worth it? Will I really see the rewards? Are we dreaming too big? After all, this time round I am hoping my studying will lead to something and it has to be something that will pay the bills. While getting the bit of paper (or studying with the OU) was difficult, it was also a pleasure. I chose to study as a hobby. This time around it is about re-training and while I have picked a subject I absolutely love, the what-ifs are ever present.
So there you have it. A journey through the mind of this study addict over the last week, and a glimpse into how I am quite likely to feel in the coming week. I am basically rolling through these thoughts and feelings on a daily basis at the moment. Right, now do I continue with Unit 16 or clean the oven?
We interrupt this Saturday morning because I need a hug.
I have just spent a snatched hour between Wake Up and Breakfast completing the next assignment question. (I would like to thank Ninjago, Mr Biscuits and DH for this brief study period)
Having completed 250 words of the 300 target, Mini Cooper 3 gave me a yell. I picked her up and popped her on my lap, guiltily returning my attention to the screen. But not, it would seem, to what I was doing.
In need of further research, I googled the topic I was writing about. As soon as I did it I knew I had lost everything. Sure enough the back arrow confirmed my worst fears. My extra hour of work was gone. Lost in that place where unsaved work disappears to.
It’s not always easy.
I hugged Mini Cooper 3, put my head in my hands and cried. Then spent the next hour re-doing the work (with thanks to Shimmer and Shine, DH’s toast and cuddles and Mini Cooper 1’s swimming lesson)
I’m Suze and this is my blog charting the highs and lows of studying with children. There are three mini Coopers in our house and two students; me and my husband. This blog will follow our journey as we work towards changing careers and changing our lifestyle.
I am currently studying Level 3 (QCF) Web design and Development with LearnDirect. I am also studying a Google Analytics course online and will be working on the #DigitalMums Associate Programme in 2018 to learn how to become a social media manager.
thismumstudies is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk