Stress less Christmas: establishing your Christmas values

Stress less Christmas week 1It’s started already. The familiar avalanche of junk mail crammed into our modest mail box. Colourful catalogues telling us how many weeks of buying days left, what to buy for who, what to cook, what to wear and what else we might need to buy.

In addition to the retail bombardment is the avalanche of pre-Christmas events and catch ups, sometimes with people we haven’t seen all year, leaving our calendars also bursting at the seams.

Is it any wonder we feel a bit overwhelmed?

It’s the season to be merry, but is this merrymaking coming at a cost to our own sanity and peace? Are we doing certain things because we feel we ‘should’, or are we living our own Christmas values – focusing our energy, support and spend towards the things most important to us?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering lately as I aim to have a simple Christmas that’s focused on celebration without all the stress, preparation and obligation.

Last night I was flicking through a catalogue and looking at the array of Christmas pyjamas for kids that were advertised. It struck me as a product that, although cute for present opening photos, is inherently wasteful – they won’t fit the child next year, so unless there’s a younger sibling or a friend or family member to pass them onto, it’s a bit pricey, when a new pair of non-festive pyjamas will garner countless wears for the same price. When those thoughts were running through my head I realised that excess consumption in the name of Christmas doesn’t sit particularly well with me. I had hit on one of my Christmas values.

Like so many other ‘traditions’ it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the hype and feel you need to buy and do certain things to make the day special and make lasting memories. But I want to encourage you to get back in touch with what you really value, not so much about what society at large values, which let’s face it seems to ramp up every year.

How to set your personal Christmas values

So, this week have a think about what you want Christmas to mean to you and your family. You might love the social aspect of Christmas and love a full diary, or you might find being so busy completely suffocating. You might love to go crazy with present buying or you might like to keep the present buying simple. You might feel energised about the thought of extended family gatherings or you might be filled with dread. Be honest with yourself! It’s okay to have these feelings.

Think of how you want to feel during the festive season and how you can make that possible. If you feel like it, jot a few notes down about what’s most important to you. What makes you uncomfortable about Christmas – is it the financial pressure, the coordinating of family members, food preparation? What changes could you make to help you feel more comfortable?

I’m still working on my values list, but I really value having relaxation and downtime around Christmas, I want to buy presents that support smaller businesses and gifts for the boys that encourage outdoor activity, I want to keep our Christmas budget modest and enjoy food that is simple, fresh and tasty.

I’d love to hear what your personal Christmas values are. Let me know in the comments below.

Next week, we’re going to put these values in action with our #stresslessxmas to do list!

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A return to stressing less and the Bupa Health influencer blog awards

stressless-christmas

Can you believe November is here already? It’s the point where the silly season starts to hit full steam, but I’ve decided that this year will be different. So next Wednesday, I’d love you to come and join in the Save Mum’s Sanity #stresslessxmas.

I think as mothers we sometimes bear the brunt of the silliness of this time of year – organising the social gatherings, buying the gifts, endless food prep and we can easily start feeling the stress building in a time of year that should be enjoyable and about sharing love with our family.

I personally put alot of pressure on myself to provide the perfect christmas experience and it always leaves me feeling strung out. I figure what my family really needs at Christmas is not a strung out, hung up mother, but a peaceful, relaxed and happy one who’s not worrying about the details so much as the time spent together.

So that’s my aim this year, and I’d love if it was yours too!

Next Wednesday’s post will have some details about how to get involved and what to expect – I promise not to bombard you with lots of Christmas Stress Less posts, as it will kind of defeat the purpose! I’m aiming for once a week with some social media check ins to see how everything is going. I’m planning on ressurrecting Save Mum’s Sanity Weekly, which will be full of #stresslessxmas tips so if you’re not signed up, you can do so on the side bar.

The other exciting news I’d like to share is that Save Mum’s Sanity has been announced as a finalist in the Bupa Health Influencer Blog Awards 2014. I was so shocked to be a finalist I danced around my house saying ‘OMG’ for about an hour. I’m a finalist in the Family Time category, so feel free to pop over and put in a vote for me and have a look at all the other wonderful finalists.

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It’s really heartening to be recognised as a blog aiming to change to the way we think about health and wellbeing. I’m really passionate about mothers looking after their own needs as a priority, rather than sticking their goals, dreams, sanity and wellbeing on the shelf in the sake of their family. It’s not what your family want or need from you – there’s no such thing as a perfect mother, but lots of amazing, different ways to be a perfectly good one. This is what I want to celebrate and what I want for you.

Thanks so much for reading and being here. Feel free to tell your friends, so we can stress less and save our sanity together. Much love x

My boy with the crooked smile – Part II

It’s hard to believe my beautiful J Boy is five today. But here he is, all long limbed and boisterous, about to head off to school next year. I’ve learnt that’s it inevitable that I get a bit emotional and reflective around this time of year, as it also marks the anniversary of my birth as a mother.

This first born boy of mine has taught me so much – lessons too many to list. I’ve been thinking about my boy with the crooked smile post a lot lately and thinking it was time for an update. Reading it still makes me cry as I remember the raw emotion of what I felt then, and all the hundreds of comments from around the world that helped me feel less alone, but my feelings and emotions have stretched and molded with time.

Lately, J has become aware of his different smile. I talk to him about being different and that everyone is different in their own way. I tell him he has facial palsy and that his smile makes him unique and special. Usually he wouldn’t say much during these chats, but one night when we were talking about how special his smile was he piped up and said ‘not anymore’ and he was smiling a closed-lip straight smile and pulling up the corner of the right-side of his lip to make it even straighter. I felt that pang in my heart, the one I felt back then.

Keen not to overreact, I told him that I love his smile but I understand that he also just wants to be like everyone else too. All the while worrying that someone had made him feel self-conscious about his smile, or that I’ve talked about it too much and given him a complex. He doesn’t give anything away, but I realise that it’s inevitable that he’ll try and perfect a more symmetrical smile and that just like anyone, he’ll often hate the thing that makes him different. The thing that I most love about him.

As much as the past five years have had their difficulties, that I’ve sat in waiting rooms I never imagined sitting, doing therapy I never knew existed and googled names of conditions I had never heard of, there’s not much I would change.

My boy with the crooked smile has taught me to look past the physical, to persist when I would normally give up, to feel the true joy and heartbreak of unconditional love and the honour of being gifted such a life to guide. Our love is one of fierce protectiveness – and just as I would go into battle for him, I know he’d do the same for me. We’ve each made each other stronger just by being and that’s a pretty hard bond to break.

I wrote then that I knew we’d be okay, my boy with the crooked smile and me. I felt it then, even when I was not okay, when I worried so much about how he’d fit in, if he’d grow confident in his skin and if he’d find love and support from his peers. This year I’ve watched him blossom and form strong friendships, develop his own interests and a love of learning, show tenacity in therapy and now I really believe he will be okay. And I’m okay with letting him go as I watch him take that big step into school, even though it scares me half to death some days.

I’m scared that the world will make him want to change his smile, the smile we all adore, the joy that erupts from just one corner of his mouth. But something tells me deep in my heart that he will change the world with that smile, just like he’s changed mine.

Happy Birthday J Boy! xx

Photograph: Alicia Summer Photography

Baking with kids and meltdowns

Baking-with-kidsI hate baking with my kids. There I said it. I also hate doing craft with my kids. Two strikes on the ‘bad mummy’ list for me, I guess. But it’s true, whether by nature or by nurture, such activities strike the greatest amount of internal (and sometimes external) groaning on my behalf.

But despite this, I see the value in these activities for my boys so I ‘woman up’ and do them anyway. In doing so, I find that just as they encourage skill building in my boys, they allow me to practise skills that I’m trying to hone like patience, calm and deep breathing! And let’s face it I need a lot of help in those areas. The things we dread often have a lot to teach us.

For the last week I’ve been home with Jarvis while he’s had the chicken pox, it wasn’t a bad dose thankfully but the isolation was starting to drive us both a bit batty. One of the days I was also working from home, J proclaimed that he wanted to make a cake.

After a day where my focus had to be on work as well as him, I thought the least I could do was dedicate some time to do something he really wanted. It was getting towards dinner time, but I thought we could quickly make a cake and get it in the oven at the same time.

I made a cake I hadn’t made before and halfway through I was really struggling. Jarvis was being a little too ‘enthusiastic’ with his taste testing and I was trying not to say ‘don’t do that’ all the time. The butter wouldn’t cream properly and when we navigated past that issue, the mix almost overflowed the bowl. It turned out I wasn’t the only one struggling to cope, as my cheap hand-held beater stifled a mechanical moan, buried deep into the thick chocolate sludge. I talked myself through it until Jarvis sat on the bench, happily chocolate smeared as his tongue stuck through the holes in the beaters. It may sound silly to say such a thing felt intensely stressful to me, but it did. And in those moments, it’s not just my baking skills I call into question but my mothering skills in general. And that’s what’s really silly.

Because you know what, despite my struggle over that cake and the fact that it almost overflowed its tin in the oven and that I had to hastily cut the almost burning top off so that the inside would cook, when it was finished it tasted pretty darn good. We slopped some icing over the top and some dinosaur sprinkles and from the outside no-one would know of the struggle that made that cake.

And I could have left it that way, but sometimes the struggle is worth sharing to let others know that they’re not alone in feeling a certain way. That it’s okay to hate craft and baking and to secretly wish for some time for yourself as a mother. It’s okay to do something just for you and to hell with what motherhood is supposed to look like. Standing in your truth feels kind of powerful, so I invite you to do the same! What aspects of motherhood do you kind of suck at but you do anyway?

If you can relate to this post, I invite you to share! I’d love us to all embrace our imperfections together.

The benefits of the cry it out method

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‘Crying it out’ was never something I was comfortable with trying with my children, but when it comes to myself and my own sanity – it seems I have unwittingly reached my own ‘cry it out’ phase.

I never realised I had so many emotions bottled up inside me, until a routine visit to my kinesiologist took a turn for the teary. In searching for what emotions I was storing up in my body, the big one was fear. It was languishing in my right kidney apparently, and although this sounds weird  – I was pretty sure I didn’t want it taking up residency there any longer. Upon releasing it using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), she set about finding the source event that lead to so much fear camping out inside me. It’s here when the waterworks started flowing unabated. My own inner-wisdom knew straight away what it was … and through tears I explained to her everything I felt when we found out Jarvis had facial palsy. How in those moments of fierce love for my baby, I had so many fears of what life would hold for him and so many unanswered questions and I guess I did what any mother does – pushed these all deep down and set about being the best mum I could be to my son. Fast forward four or so years and all this feeling swallowing was doing me some damage. This year in particular, with the countdown to primary school, all the fears and unanswered questions were looming ever larger than before.

It’s been about six months since this first attack of the ‘cry it outs’ and there have been quite a few public displays since, and I must tell you that though embarrassing,  they have all been therapeutic and on reflection have let me know that I’m on the right track with decisions we’re making regarding Jarvis’s therapy and schooling. My latest struggle to keep the tears in was at a Prep info night at our chosen school last week. There were quite a few times when I was on the verge of tears as the Principal and other staff talked with pride about their school and what they believe education should look like.

The one that had the waterworks silently flowing was when the prep transition officer said that she was often asked if a certain child is ready for Prep. She said that she didn’t want to hear that question anymore, what she’d like to hear asked is ‘Is your school ready for my child?’ and answering her own question she said ‘we are’.

This question and its answer hit me in a lot of soft spots. The place that still holds residual anger about words a family member said, that got back to me, to the effect of ‘there’s no way that kid will be ready for school next year’ (among some other choice ‘observations’), the words of our pediatrician warning that he may need to go to special school (despite not knowing the results of an IQ test) and that part of me that has held fear since the day he was born. There’s still a little way to go but my heart is telling me that we’ve found our school and that my little boy will be one of many splashed over Facebook next year in his too-big school uniform heading off to big school. Although the tears flow sometimes when I think about my boy, and the challenges he faces,  I know that he is strong and capable and that many surprises lie ahead of us. I am happy to fight alongside him and make sure he gets the additional help he needs and though I may cry it out in public, that I too am strong.

So although ‘cry it out’ is not something I advocate for babies – I definitely advocate it for parents … particularly when the fear threatens to overwhelm and you don’t know what your next step will be. So tell me, when have you had to ‘cry it out’?

Motherhood moments: the second son

second sonWe have called him Hugo Bear since he was a baby, but he’s lately started to retort ‘I’m a boy’ when he hears it with a two-year old attitude and precociousness that astounds me most days.

He’s taken to telling me to ‘go away’ as his bottom lip drops to indicate displeasure that is gone as quickly as it came and he is soon tugging at my hand once more to lead me onto his next adventure, of which I must be a participant (willing, or otherwise). ‘Come’ he cries as he pulls me towards the sandpit, where he instructs to me to sit forcing a miniature garden fork into my hand. The Hugo-getter was my other nickname for him as a baby, as his happy-go-lucky nature belied a hefty determination to reach his next milestone as soon as he possibly could.

He is still like that now, a cuddly, strong, bull-at-a-gate with a mop of blonde hair that is getting darker just like his brother’s, cherubic cheeks and a cheeky smile that charms everyone. He sings a lot, mastering words to nursery rhymes and if he hears music he particularly likes, he’ll grab the small electric guitar in the corner and rock out.

I can already feel the closeness between him and his brother and love to watch them playing and chatting to each other, especially when they don’t know I’m there. They are both fiercely protective of each other and I feel my heart expand in my chest every time they hug and kiss each other goodbye and goodnight. I hope they continue to be the closest of friends as they grow.

On the weekends when his father is home, I can’t even do up his seat belt without him yelling ‘No! Daddy Do it!’ … like he relishes the time with his dad so much that he wants to milk every moment, but then by Monday it’s back to ‘Mummy do it’ and I’m secretly pleased to still be needed by this independent little guy.

Mondays and Tuesdays are Hugo and Mummy days after we drop Jarvis at kindy and he loves this one-on-one attention and as the weeks go by I realise how quickly he’s growing up. When we talk about J going to school next year, he pipes up ‘me too’ and I can half imagine him in his toddler bravado walking through the gates and wanting to stay. I have to whisper to him, don’t grow up too quickly my son, and he just smiles and laughs and it feels like in that moment that if I blink my eyes, he’ll have grown too big for my arms.

And so, I linger a little longer when he’s fallen asleep with his chubby hand up to his face, his breath deep and slow. These days, though long, are short. He is growing right before my eyes, so I try and go slow and enjoy each crazy toddler moment with this precious second son of mine.

How to start a daily meditation practice

meditation practice

Have you thought about starting a daily meditation practice and have no idea where to begin? You’ve come to the right place. I rediscovered meditation in December 2012, when I was going through a troubled time in my marriage and life. I was in a lot of emotional pain and at that time, doing a daily meditation with my YogaGlo subscription nursed me through some tough emotions and helped me get them out and eventually heal a little bit at a time.

When I started meditation, I had the same thoughts a lot of people have that meditation is all about sitting serious and upright and emptying your mind of all thoughts. What I found was something profoundly different. The first revelation was you are allowed to have thoughts and the second was that you’re allowed to have fun! My meditation varies significantly depending on my mood and the different meditations I’ve done in YogaGlo have taught me how to work with difficult thoughts and emotions and sit with how they feel in my body.

I personally like a guided meditation, that is someone talking me through my breathing and what sensations to tune into. However, with some practice I’m able to use these techniques at challenging times in my everyday life – a few deep breaths to calm me down after a difficult conversation or when the kids are driving me around the bend. What I love so much about meditation is that it’s so accessible and the techniques can be easily applied for instant stress relief.

So, if you’re looking to start a daily practice I’d recommend finding an app or audio that you enjoy (you may need to try a few until you find the one you like). Below are a few resources to try and as you’ll see, many are only short – so having no time to meditate is definitely not an excuse. I’d ideally like to get up first thing in the morning and meditate but with boys who enjoy getting up at 5am, it’s not a reality for me right now. So instead I meditate at night once they’re in bed or on the days I’m home with just my littlest one while he’s having a nap.

It’s a good idea to have a favourite spot where you enjoy to meditate – a favourite chair, a comfy cushion on the floor or propped up in bed. Sometimes you may even like to lie down. Light a candle or burn an essential oil to set the mood for serenity.

I like to choose a meditation that suits where I’m at that day – often the guided meditations are geared towards a particular purpose, so I like to pick something relevant if I need it or something nice like gratefulness or happiness if I’m looking for a more general feel-good meditation.

Have a look below and see if there’s something that resonates with you and be sure to report back on how you’re going in your meditation practice.

YogaGlo: This is a subscription-based service but there is a free trial. I find it very cost effective as I can do at-home yoga and meditation and there’s thousands of classes by world-renowned teachers. My meditation favourite is David Harshada Wagner – I totally recommend his meditations.

Deepak Chopra: Oprah favourite and pioneer of bringing chakra-based meditations to the West, Deepak’s style is soothing and relaxing. He has a number of free meditations here, and also runs regular free meditation experiences with Ms O herself. I did the 21-day Find your Flow challenge last month and really enjoyed it.

Tara Brach: I haven’t tried any of these yet, but I was drawn to the themes of the various free meditations on Tara’s site. Her background is in clinical psychology and she blends this with eastern philosophy – writing books and founding her own meditation school.

Fragrant Heart: Another great free resource with an extensive list of meditations for all occasions, broken up into categories such as Love Meditations, Meditations for Relaxation and Stress Relief and Meditations for Self Esteem. Meditations start at just one minute long with most around  7 to 15 minute in length. 

Do you meditate? What techniques do you find helpful? How does it help you in your everyday life?