A little while ago we did a TEDx talk in Lausanne, Switzerland. And because the folk at TED are a refreshingly fastidious bunch who fact-check everything (a rare treat on today’s Internet), the video has taken a while to go up. But here it is, in full – How to be a Happy Chicken…
On 17 October last year, I chaired a table on flexible working and zero hour contracts at The Equality & Human Rights Commission. Invited to that table was Lourdes Walsh, a mother and shift worker in the retail sector. Lourdes brought to life the reality and human cost of shift work and drove home the fact that flexible working is not simply about breaking down the 9-5. This is her story. Please feel free to share and amplify her voice in your own organisation.
My name is Lourdes Walsh and I have been shift working in the retail sector for the last three years. Before my current job I worked multiple zero-hour contracts in the Arts whilst raising my son and maintaining our home.
When we refer to shift work, we tend to mean work hours scheduled outside the usual working day. Often shift work starts early in the morning or late at night.
The night buses and tube services are often worked by parents. Doctors and nurses, many of those parents. Those working in adult social care, hospitality, in late night restaurants and dawn opening supermarkets.
These parents often work through the night, parent through the day, through nursery drop off and school pick up, through spelling tests and spaghetti dinners, and back to work. Through the night. Most may grab a few hours sleep, some won’t. Some will go to work, exhaustion overhanging from the previous nights, behind a wheel, measuring medicine, caring for the sick and vulnerable.
I’m quite fortunate in that my current shift pattern allows me to bring my child to school – but it never allows me to collect him. My working day finishes at 7pm meaning that childcare is the single, most stressful bane of my life. The expensive, over subscribed childcare options available for a school age child finish at 6pm. I am regularly beholden to the kindness of others, reliant on the stretched patience of other late arriving parents, those not quite as late as me. My conversations with my child’s teacher do not consist of praise worthy anecdotes, but logistics of pick-up passwords and familiar faces at the gate. Shift work is often minimum wage, my job is. I have been priced out of the nanny, childminder market.
The anxiety this induces in my child, quite honestly, is something I don’t, I cannot afford to, think about.
I’ve previously worked zero-hour contracts. It was the worst period of employment in my working life. I was engulfed in debt. Staying permanently contracted is my number one priority. I’ve been known to come in early, leave late, work extra days. I worked weekends for two years for fear that saying no, even to spend that time with my child, would lead to losing my job. This fear has left me completely iced out of any conversations on or around flexible working.
I have spoken to my manager about needing to leave early, change days, the need for allowances for summer holidays and sickness. I end up retreating at the detriment of my family, our life and its quality. We are overdue dental check-ups and eye tests; his swimming instructor spends more quality time with my son than I. It’s difficult to get any time together in which I’m not planning my next move, an infinitely stressful game of chess, always trying to remain two steps ahead. Just two days ahead.
This Summer I asked my manager if I could work more flexibly. Less weekends, a 5pm finish. It would mean that I could collect my child from Summer camp. It was refused. They don’t do split shifts. I work alone, I don’t have a lunch break, I don’t sit down. I am tired and irritable, stressed and resentful. Anxiety is rising. Morale is down.
This refusal, this lack of understanding, has meant that sometimes, I’ve had to bring my child into work. Hidden him in a back office, barely bigger than a cupboard.
It was the last thing I wanted to do. If he could have been anywhere else, he would have been. If it could have worked any other way I would have made sure it did. I don’t want my child at work with me. No-one wants their child at work with them. But all mothers, all parents, want what’s best for their child and that means providing financially. That means working.
I was reported for bringing my kid to work. I wasn’t asked what could be done so it didn’t ever need to happen, I wasn’t called in to discuss why or find resolutions. The response was *shrug* don’t bring your kid to work.
Just to reiterate, it was the last thing I wanted to do. If he could have been anywhere else, he would have been. If it could have worked any other way I would have made sure it did. No-one wants their child at work with them. Being listened to, being included, having me in the room, would have made it so the situation never would have arisen. I felt humiliated, weak. I feel vulnerable and embarrassed. I feel like less of a parent.
In all honesty, without flexible working I have to seriously consider on a weekly basis, whether work, the impact it is having on my mental health, my quality of life, and increasingly on my child, is worth it.
Working flexibly in retail, working flexibly in a shift work environment, can be as easy as listening to your employees, your team, those on the front line of business and being open to a conversation. ‘How can we make it so that you work best for us’ is the question employers should be asking. Job security, job positivity is great for business, for productivity, for profit.
Flexible working cultivates a productive, loyal workforce, employee retention and development is good for business. It is this adaption of skills and inclusivity that creates an active economy.
The demographics of the workforce are changing, we now work until we are older than ever before and it is not just the children we care for that we must think about. With working later, comes living longer. Raising children gives way to caring for elderly parents and relatives.
I am entering this conversation as a single parent of one, but I look at society and can recognise flexible working is not just important to me and my family, but that flexibility at work is vitally important for all workers, at whatever age and at all levels of income.
What began as just a grumbling at ground level has led to a conversation in this room. It’s important it doesn’t stop here. Flexible working that works for parents, parents like me and like you, works for everyone.
Amsterdam daily Het Parool recently ran a feature on flex appeal, and how we’re trying to bring a little Dutch touch to working lives in the UK. Here’s the translation (thanks, Google Translate)…
Oh, those lazy Dutch: they really don’t care about their work. Anna Whitehouse (37) often thought this when she saw her colleagues in Amsterdam go home to eat with their families at five o’clock.
“Why don’t they sit at their desk until nine in the evening, like good employees?” But after returning to work in England, she thought: well, why do we do that? “It is not that we produce more. You can’t work hard 12 hours a day”, she says.
Anna Whitehouse has a Dutch mother and an English father. It is mid December, and she’s visiting family in the Netherlands. Her sister lives in Amsterdam, her cousins in Eindhoven. We meet in the De Balie cafe, and her daughter Eve (1) plays with the wires of her mother’s iPhone and a leaking cup of apple juice on the floor.
Whitehouse worked in Amsterdam for six years, as a journalist for Time Out and a copywriter for the magazine of Supertrash, the now closed fashion brand of Olcay Gulsen. Her husband was at that time editor Holland Herald, the in-flight magazine of KLM. When their eldest daughter Mae was born, they decided to move back to London, to be closer to their family, where Whitehouse got a job at the l’Oreal Group. When her office was moved half-an-hour further away, she asked if she could start and finish her day 15 minutes earlier to be able to collect her daughter from the crèche. But the answer was no: they felt that would open the doors for anyone who wanted to work flexibly.
It came to a crunch one afternoon when Whitehouse was on the way from work to the crèche. A man got his briefcase stuck between the Tube door, which stopped the train. Whitehouse was 12 minutes late to the crèche.
“My daughter looked at me with those big Bambi eyes: why am I the last one?” The crèche charged a pound for every minute a child was picked up after 6 pm. And Whitehouse received a sermon from the manager: that this should never happen again.
“I didn’t have such stress here. I cycled everywhere in Amsterdam. I knew it would take five minutes to get from a to b. In London it can take hours. You do not just jump on the bike there: the traffic is always fixed and the metro system is outdated. ”
She decided to quit her job and start working for herself. She now runs Mother Pukka, a platform for people who happen to be parents. She also wrote a book, Parenting the Shit Out of Life, and presents a radio program about the struggles of family life – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Via her own site and Instagram, she runs the Flex Appeal campaign for more flexible working in the United Kingdom. What makes her an expert? “I am not an expert! I am just a very, very angry woman who has been forced out of a regular job, simply because I had a child.
Originally she wanted to call her brand Motherfucker, she was so angry. She turned it into the more friendly Mother Pukka because she wanted people to see more than just her anger. And, let’s face it, Whitehouse does not look like an angry woman. She drinks her cold oatmeal cappuccino in a good mood while she wipes the apple juice from the floor with her other hand. And at the same time she tells the story with which she has become the face of the struggle for more flexible working in the United Kingdom. “54,000 women a year lose their jobs in the UK because they have children. Most of them stop because their work has become too inflexible, or simply because of discrimination.” She rolls with her eyes: “Oh god, we have a mother here! In England women take off their wedding ring when they go to interviews, to prevent an employer from thinking that they will want to start having children soon.”
It was her time in Amsterdam that showed her things could be done differently, she says: that you do not have to be ashamed work part-time, and that it is not ridiculously sentimental to want to take care of your child when it is sick.
Maternity leave in England can last up to 12 months, but when you come back you often have to start working full-time again.
“While you have experienced something very big. You have been biologically altered, your world is turned upside down, you have scars, you may have had a postnatal depression, you still have leaking breasts. But in England they refuse to see the person behind the employee. In the Netherlands you have shorter leave, but then there is a papadag, a mamadag concept to give people one day off a fortnight to be with their child,” she says.
“The whole view on family life here is different. We eat a sandwich behind our desk ¬– in the Netherlands you have lunch in the cafeteria and you talk about your private life.”
But there are British companies that are doing well. Take Pursuit Marketing, in Glasgow. They decided a few years ago to go to a four-day work week with their employees on the same salary.
“Their productivity has increased by 30 percent, their turnover has doubled! Because their staff are happier and healthier, see their family and work harder in four days because they get that fifth day. They feel that they are trusted.” Because that’s what it’s all about: trust.
“Employers say: but they will all be sitting at home in their underwear watching The Kardashians! But the person who would do that, if she were in the office, might waste her time stalking her ex on Facebook. Then it’s not flexibility that’s a problem, but with your recruitment. Employers say: what if I can not see my people. We say: do not look at where they are, see what they do!”
It is not a bonus to manage your own time, but a profitable principle. Employers are starting to see that very slowly now, she says: that it is good for your company to give people space.
“Ask your employee what he wants, what’s bothering him: is it your child, do you have a sick mother? And ask him how you can help him so he can perform better for the company. It’s about money. ”
The irony is her campaign for a better division between work and life eats up at least 55 hours per week.
“It is seven days a week. Everything is digital and continues throughout the day. Mae is in school, Eve three or four days at the crèche. If she is ill, one of us can pick her up, everything is much more natural, but my fight for flexibility totally exhausts me. That is the ridiculous thing: giving people independence the risk is not that they do too little, but that they do not stop working!”
Whitehouse finds the Swedish approach inspiring. “The costs for childcare are limited at a maximum €135 a week. I paid £1,350 pounds a month for three days nursery: that meant that I earned £50 pounds a week after taxes and childcare. That is almost paying to go to work: you’re saying hey, give me £50 so that I can not see my children anymore! That’s what it comes down to.”
A while ago she was with an American colleague from The New York Post in Sweden. “She said to me: what are all these male nannies doing here everywhere? It’s so weird. The Swedish woman with us said: they are not nannies, that are fathers who take care of their children! ‘Latte dads’ they are called them. Then I realized how far the Swedes are ahead of us.”
This is a translation of an article that originally appeared in Het Parool.
I remember the first passive aggressive muttering about my tidiness. We’d been together for three weeks and Matt stepped on a hairbrush that had been nestling under my ‘floordrobe’ – the mountain of clothes that have never quite made it into their receptacles. I say muttering and passive aggressiveness but it’s was a clear message: “why are the things not where the things should be?” With a subtext of: Why is my foot suffering at the hand of your slovenliness?
Fast-forward 12 years, two children, one flatulent beagle and a relentless mortgage and the floordrobe well and truly thrives. Although now it’s peppered with miniature clothes and rogue socks from the small humans. Matt is delighted with his life choices.
And that’s no word of a lie because if he squints a little and ignores the fashion eyesore in the bedroom, his attention fully lands on the cupboard of doom and it’s contents. Within that bulging cupboard of discarded – and never-to-see-the-light-of-day-again-items – lies the answer to general kitchen-based messy floor issues. We’re talking a one-year-old taking on a Petit Filou yoghurt with intense hunger and without a spoon. It’s not pretty and the collateral damage after every meal is hard to palate.
Cue the Karcher FC Hard Floor Cleaner. Yes, those are words I never imagined uttering or writing in relation to our relationship but once you’ve taken that weapon into sullied floor battle, your life will be changed. I’m not sure what delights Matt more – the fact it sucks up bits (think discarded peas and mangled baked beans) while washing the floor or the fact that it dries in 2 minutes. Perhaps the latter because no one enjoys the sensation of a sodden sock and repeatedly telling a five-year-old to “not step on the kitchen floor” wears into the marital soul.
Multitasking often gets strapped to female shoulders – “women are such good multitaskers”. But while I am a dab hand at preparing a lunch box, while breastfeeding and answering the door to the postman, Matt is a dab hand too. (Wo)man power indeed.
Here are the hard facts that make Matt excited about delving into the cupboard of doom and retrieving the Karcher FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner:
- It uses SmartRoller technology to vacuum light debris and wash the floor in one motion, making it easy and effortless to clean hard floors
- Leaves hard floors dry in just two minutes
- The microfibre rollers effortlessly pick up dirt to leave your hard floors sparkling, right up to the edges.
- Using the FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner saves up to 85% of water compared to a mop and bucket
- Suitable for all sealed hard floors, including laminate, stone, vinyl, waxed and sealed wood
- The SmartRollers are detachable and suitable for machine washing, allowing you to keep them as good as new
- Detergents available which remove run marks for streak-free results. With moisture protection to guard against swelling of the floors and with a lemon scent.
- The Karcher FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner is available now for £199.99 at www.karcher.co.uk
This blog post was written in partnership with Karcher
Writer Lourdes Walsh shares her initial skepticism about #flexappeal
My first impression of Flex Appeal – a kaleidoscopic bombardment of lycra-clad women on my social media feeds – was not the most positive. A bunch of middle class, mostly white women with the privilege of career. Most, if not all, seemed to be living in their own homes, or at least with home security.
We are not of the same tribe.
They wanted to be able to collect their kids from school two afternoons a week, I wanted to be able to feed my kid two afternoons a week.
Calling for flexible working is all well and good. It’s a cause primarily benefiting women, as we are still the majority care-givers within every society. As a feminist, I’m all for that.
And yet, flexible working seemed to serve only a very small demographic of working women; the educated, those with five-year plans, life goals and a voice of agency.
I have been in employment for my child’s entire life. I was self-employed through my pregnancy and went back to work when he was six weeks old, having graduated from art school at 37 weeks pregnant. As a single parent I was never judged or berated for this. If anything, I was pressured to return. Single parents are demonised and I felt the constant need to prove my worth. That meant paying my way.
As a single parent, self-employment was not working. I needed stability and financial guarantees. I needed to pay London rent amid a housing crisis. As a single parent you are often pigeon-holed a ‘scrounger’. We are to work in anything, accept everything, no matter the detriment. I was a roach sifting through the scraps of job listings.
I said yes to whatever I could. I worked shifts in a pub, my colleagues taking turns to build Lego with my son at a corner table hidden from the boozer’s patrons. I was fortunate enough to have a manager who listened when I said I HAVE to work a certain number of hours. Inevitably though, I couldn’t have all the day shifts. Others had responsibilities too: relationships, auditions, degrees and second jobs.
I created a WhatsApp group among friends to farm my kid out when I worked late shifts. With one friend, I would drop my son off to at 5pm, then collect him after midnight, pulling him from the warm nest he shared with her own son, carrying him over my shoulder home in his pyjamas and out through the cold.
It leaves a constant pit in your stomach, a piercing headache of logistics. There’s hair loss and acne, there’s weight fluctuations and bouts of insomnia. Stress. Anxiety. Fatigue.
I did find another job, though. A job I was over-qualified for and passionate about. It was a rung on the ‘career ladder’. I felt inspired and hopeful and for the first time in too long I could let my shoulders drop and take a breath. I was working for London’s leading children’s theatre and from the very beginning I was honest about my ‘situation’ – that I have sole physical, emotional and financial responsibility for a child.
My working pattern was flexible, a few 9am starts and 4pm finishes. I hesitate to call it the dream – a working life that works with the needs of, you know, life – but initially it worked. Before long this was stretched: 4pm finishes became later, then a Saturday afternoon, then every Sunday morning. And then, suddenly, a change: everyone who had started within the last six months was put on a zero-hour contract.
Zero-hour contracts are the Wild West of the job market. Your boss is under no obligation to give you any work. People are ‘in work’, but no shifts means no money. Often people are only informed days before their shift, sometimes the morning of it. The number of single parents having to take on zero-hours has increased exponentially in the last decade. A recent study confirmed an increase of 58% in which single parents entered zero hour contracts and precarious self-employment status.
For women like me, this means paying for childcare you may not use. That’s bad business in anyone’s eyes and bad business leads to debt, sped along by the complexities of claiming tax credits or housing benefits, and the spiral into poverty is swift and devastating.
My ‘employment’ meant I was no longer entitled to housing benefit. But my contract meant I had no guarantee of work. I had no money coming in and I was still haemorrhaging cash for childcare and heat and food.
Within a month I was in arrears that it has taken me years to clear.
Working life doesn’t always work. And when it does, it doesn’t work well enough.
My current employment status is marginally better. I am forced into any entry-level job, a minimum wage, no progression. I work long hours, alone, without a break. I have too much to lose if I speak up, never mind suggest flexible working. Never was my lack of autonomy more evident than this summer.
I had spoken to my manager about needing to leave early, change days, make allowances for summer holidays, always aware of my desperate need to stay contracted. I end up retreating, appeasing the boss to the detriment of my family.
When you work into the evening and all the childcare clubs finish at 6pm, there have been more days than I should admit to that my child has sat cramped and confined in a back office with nothing but Horrible Histories for company.
This summer I was reported for bringing my kid to work. By another woman: one with the power of flexible working and no child, working in head office. The news was ‘cascaded’ to me: “Don’t bring your kid to work.”
School starts back, with the 3.15pm finishes and the four hours of childcare to cover. After-school club is over-subscribed, childminders are already catering to those who can pay more. And so we’re back to the scrappy ‘who can?’ negotiations, payment in kind, too often indebted to the flexible workers in the playground.
Single parents are left out of every decision-making process in society, so of course they would be left out of the debate on flexible working. I wasn’t invited by a manager into an office to discuss anything. There was nowhere I could go to explain my situation in a way that dignified me as a human, as a parent, as a capable adult.
But it got me thinking. If people without children can work flexibly, then why can’t I?
I’ve said Flex Appeal – the initial conversation – wasn’t mine. I stand by that. But this Flex Appeal call is different. If all women are invited to the table, all working patterns and all salary status’, it can, it will, open the doors for everyone. We’ve said it’s not our fight, and they listened, questioned and listened again. It sounds different. If I’m being invited to the table, it’s definitely going to feel different. This feels like an evolution of the original.
I’m warming to it, this some-seen utopian dream of employers of compassion – where family life is celebrated in all its nonconventional forms. One that’s flexible enough that we can all win at this parenting malarkey. We can all be the parents we want to be without the fear of losing out, losing time, losing our homes, losing our dignity.
Lourdes Walsh is a writer and designer.
Flexible working is not solely for parents, it’s not something only for ‘mummies that want to see more of their babies’. It’s about a fundamental shift in how we work. It’s about giving humans – all humans – the flexibility to do the job they need to in a way that works for both employer and employee. Here, Sally Darby, founder of Mums Like Us talks about flexibility and disability.
According to government statistics there are over 11 million disabled people living in the UK. 16% of working age adults live with disability. There is a 30% difference between the percentages of disabled and non disabled adults in employment. Meaning that you are significantly less likely to be in gainful employment if you are disabled. It is also the case, that households containing a disabled person are substantially more likely to be living in poverty than households with no disabled member.
It is my feeling, since becoming disabled through MS ten years ago, that disabled people are a minority group who continue to face daily persecution, prejudice and discrimination. This is happening online, on our streets, in education and in the workplace. This huge section of our society is being under represented, under heard, and under valued. We are making a huge moral and economic mistake by not valuing disabled people and making our world work for them.
I am a mother of two young children. I have a severe visual impairment and significant mobility difficulties. For a very long time, I felt like the only person in the world that was parenting, working and living with disability. It was extremely isolating.
I created Mums Like Us – a network for disabled mothers. The aim of this group was to create community for other mums who were living with disability. I wanted to create a group where these women felt they could discuss the highs and lows of their unique experiences without fear of judgement. The Facebook group, exclusively for disabled mums, is a safe space for such discussion.
Last year I created the website and the Instagram account in the hope of widening the audience beyond disabled mums and encouraging others to consider the issues we face.
There is, as we know, enormous pressure on mums. We face a societal expectation that we should be all things to all people. We should be nurturing at home and ambitious at work. We should be vulnerable yet strong. We should practice self care whilst nurturing the needs of our children. We should be powerful and brave, a good role model, a strong leader and we should do all this while continuing to be judged on our physical appearance.
Disabled mums are juggling all this with additional pressures. They battle the contrasting media images of the disabled person as victim and as superhuman Paralympian. The vast majority of us of course, identify with neither.
For those of us who are mothers, the decision (should we be privileged enough to feel we have a choice) to work or not to work is much the same as it is for able bodied mothers. Approximately three quarters of mothers are in full or part time work.
Juggling work and motherhood is difficult. For the majority of working mothers, expensive childcare is unavoidable, maternal guilt is likely, judgement from others is almost inevitable. On a practical level, school runs, class assemblies, appointments etc make the demands of the nine to five difficult to manage.
When you combine these with the challenges faced by disabled mums, the traditional working model can feel incompatible with family life. These challenges are, for example , the need to accessible working conditions, periods of illness or pain and endless medical appointments.
Employers who embrace flexible working are able to accommodate the needs of a disabled mum. If her hours can be set by her schedule, she has the potential of any other person. She has already proved she has resilience, determination and courage by the bucket load. She can be a valuable employeee.
Time and time again, however, disabled mums have had no choice but to leave employment because it is assumed that no more can be done to create an environment that meets their requirements. Mums like us members repeatedly point out that working from home would have allowed them to meet their personal needs whilst meeting those of the organisation.
I want to make it clear that many mums like us members report supportive employers who have treated them with equality and dignity whilst making necessary adjustments to accommodate their employees. The good practice is a hundred percent out there.
There is no doubt however, that Disabled mums have experienced prejudice at all stages of gaining employment and working life. They have been forced from the workplace and they have felt they had no choice. The changes that need to be made are, more often than not, simple but resisted.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that I worked as a teacher. I was supported, encourage, respected consistently throughout my twelve years in the profession. All reasonable adjustments were made to keep me in work. Teaching, however, requires the teacher to be there, in the classroom, at the same time as the children.. the decision to leave was mine. I was not pressured or pushed. I felt I could no longer do my job with the integrity that I wanted to. This was a desperately difficult decision. I would love to see as few as possible disabled mothers have to make this decision.
Back in the day, when I was a youth, I would never even have considered edging into a wedding in specs. In 1999 (feeling old), glasses essentially equalled a work-like aesthetic with no room for words like: sass, fun, edgy (not sure that’s ‘cool’), playful and stylish.
Then one day I decided it was time to get a job and dress up ‘like an adult’ – I invested in a badly-tailored suit on my travels to Bangkok and went with a pair of specs. It was 2000 and I hit the new millennium with glasses planted firmly on my chops. Seeing truly was believing.
A decade passed and I didn’t feel myself without them on. Then I launched Mother Pukka and my logo shows me wearing specs with a slick of red lippy. Instead of being something I had to wear, they became something I wanted to wear – so much so they are centre stage of my working life – and yes, I wore them to weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs and any other social occasion that required sight. And some good looking frames. We were as one.
But like my wardrobe, I don’t just have one frock for all occasions and I’ve gathered a few pairs for any eventuality. I love the new Kylie Minogue range at Specsavers for taking you seamlessly from day to night. I have the ‘ombre’ pair for posh events – like my sister’s wedding where I needed clear vision for getting on a boat after a few glasses of fizz – and the dark ones for day-to-day office-based slogging.
A pair of prescription sunnies is also a good idea for summer shindigs. I’m a big fan of Karen Millen frames for giving that St Tropez, just stepped-off a yacht vibe without needing a sturdy vessel or the South of France.
This post was written in partnership with Specsavers
Kids going off the walls? As part of our #pukkafreestuff series, Susie Lodge, founder of Wikiplacesforkids.com unveils the top FREE attractions for your full clan
What happened to the heatwave? The problem with rain is it can close the door on fun, especially when you’ve got used to having free range kids, smugly watching them from a safe distance as they romp about a park or forest. As I type this in the cinema café at 10am on a rainy Sunday while my partner takes the kids to Movies for Juniors, I’m as clear as anyone that rain means spending money to keep them busy… but does it have to? If rain has stopped play for a bit or you’re feeling the pinch after the summer hols, then here’s a raft of suggestions that won’t cost a thing. I’ve searched top to bottom of my brilliant parent recommended “Wiki List” to give you some amazing FREE days out across the UK… come rain or shine.
If you’re a Harry fan, (wizard, I mean), you’re family will love the Potter Trail in Edinburgh, a guided tour of the magical locations that inspired the character’s and scenes for the famous JK Rowling, visit the places she wrote the books and learn a few spells while you’re there. Muggles welcome!
Other brilliant options in Edinburgh are, the National Gallery of Scotland, the National Museum Scotland, The Royal Botanic Garden and Holyrood Park!
The Discovery Museum, Angel of the North, Quayside and Newcastle City Parks are fab places to visit in Newcastle, or if you want to visit the coast the gorgeous Whitley Bay is a must!
If you love rock pooling, then one awesome spot is Robin Hoods Bay, near Bradford, where you’ll also find loads of incredible fossils on the beach. Or for something indoors, you can’t go wrong with the hugely recommended National Science and Media Museum.
If you’re in the Blackpool area, then visit the wonderful Penny Farm Ponies, a great day out and supporting a great cause!
The Tate Liverpool, fab for all visitors also has a dedicated area for little ones to romp about and provides activity packs for the kids to explore as they go around and specific children’s workshops all year round, all free.
For an outdoors option in Liverpool, Sefton Park comes highly recommended too!
Who doesn’t love a Miniature Railway? Also home to a wicked adventure playground, the one at Worden Park near Leyland, Lancs is a great suggestion.
Nottingham’s Sherwood Forest sounds incredible, and this year’s Robin Good festival has a huge line up of amazing crafts, entertainment, music, re-enactments… the lot!
The Tolkien Trail in Birmingham is an amazing opportunity to walk the steps of JRR Tolkien, spot familiar place names – Shire Lane – and absorb the surroundings of an incredible woodland landscape that inspired Middle Earth and the Lord of the Rings stories!!
Tring National History Museum! A mecca of incredible taxidermy (it’s not as scary as it sounds), this place is feast for the eyes, with plenty of space for excitable kids you’ll see all sorts from dogs to hippos, crocodiles and lions!
One of the best recommended splash parks on the list is the Embankment in Wellingborough, although these get super busy on hot days they are great and the kids love it, and this one’s brilliant for a free day!
Irchester Country Park has a huge outdoor play park with areas for all ages, there is also a short walk to discover dinosaur bones and eggs!! Plus the woodland itself is great.
Another great suggestion is Ferry Meadows at Nene Park for a great run around for kids – and pets!
N. Ireland is stunning, and The Giants Causeway is one of the most breath taking natural coastlines on the planet, despite being National Trust it’s free and families with all ages will love exploring these awesome stones!
There’s soooo much to choose from in London, but here’s a few of my picks…
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London is the home of the 2012 Olympics and the London stadium, and it’s now filled with play parks, cafes, parkland and waterways. A great day out in an iconic location.
Visit Vauxhall City Farm for a bit of the countryside in the city, lots of animals, events and horse riding on offer (at a small cost).
Corams Field in London is ace, with playgrounds tailored to all ages, a small area holding goats on the left, and a big pool with fountains in the summer… and a basketball/ 5 aside pitch at the back!!
Margam Country Park, near Port Talbot, Wales, has a stunning Castle, Deer, a narrow gauge train, fairy tail village and adventure playground!
Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Meig, sounds awesome, a Giants lair among the woodland trails where you can spot fairy houses and even Dragons!!
On a rainy day the National Showcaves Centre in Swansea looks totally epic!
There’s so much amazing stuff to do in Cornwall, but I’ve had to pick and love the sound of Heartlands in Redruth, an amazing visitor attraction, with botanical gardens, interactive exhibitions, and kids play park set on the grounds of the old mining landscape.
Roskilly’s Farm in Cornwall sounds ace, it’s the home of an award winning ice cream brand, as well as lots of wonderful animals. This working farm has meadows to stroll about, milking to observe and events each week (some have a small charge).
My pick of the south, among loads of recommendations is Bedgebury Pinetum – An incredible adventure playground, set in the heart of a stunning arboretum, ideal for walking, cycling and all sorts of outdoor recreation!
If in Norfolk, where to start, there’s tonnes to choose from
on the site, but all the beaches are EPIC, miles of sand and stunning scenery.
See the site for a few great suggestions from other parents.
In Essex, near Braintree, the Great Notley Country Park, looks epic, with a 1.2 KM play trail giant seesaw, tyre swings, huge sandpit and climbing forest.
You can go crabbing in loads of great places, but we love Brightlingsea where you can find loads of the little nippers all ready and willing to take the bait!
So, deep breaths, as from this massive edit, you can literally fill up your calendar with free days out, but for loads of other ideas, take a look at wikiplacesforkids.com – brilliant days out all recommended by people, with kids, who’ve actually been.
The last time I visited The Connaught was in 2008 for a feature in Grazia Magazine. The piece was: ‘where would Carrie Bradshaw stay in London’. A light Google and The Connaught with all its 5-star gilding is a clear number one. Nestled in Mayfair – close to Oxford Street but far enough away for some privacy – this is the top of the hotelier tree. Don’t read on, though, if you’re looking for a bargain pit stop. This is sheer luxury from the moment you waft into the lobby to the second you’re waved off – by the requisite white-gloved hand – on exiting the resplendent red brick building.
While Sarah Jessica Parker hasn’t been spotted there as yet, when we visited recently, Gerard Butler was casually perusing the bar menu. It was tough to play it cool, even tougher to look up from the succulent sea bass delivered to that crisp white linen-swathed table. Other A-list fans include Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Oh and the entire Instagram community.
Swanky Mayfair is on your doorstep here with Christian Laboutin, Purdey & Sons, Vivienne Westwood standing tall, along with grandiose lunches at Scott’s and photogenic sarnies at the Mount Street Deli. Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Park Lane, Piccadilly Circus and Connaught sister hotels Claridge’s and The Berkeley are a horse and carriage, taxi ride or short walk away.
While many top-tier hotels ooze pomp, The Connaught is all for friendly, comfortable luxury with no request a hassle, no query left unanswered. Any starchiness is exchanged for a truly polished service with a coat hanger smile at every turn.
The rooms are where Carrie Bradshaw and Big would unite. Traditional mahogany furnishings unite with feminine touches – the dressing table complete with Dyson hairdryer is the stuff of boudoir dreams. It’s the epitome of home-from-home but with a wholesome dollop of palatial detail, which is exactly what you’d expect from London’s Grande Dame.
Oh and if you are looking for a knock out cocktail for date night, the Connaught bar is everything you could hope for and more. Classic whiskey cocktails in old school British surrounds is just what the (love) doctor ordered. Oh, and Gerard Butler. Not that we were stalking.
This post was written in exchange for a one-night stay at The Connaught. To book go here
I got to fulfil two small dreams recently: firstly, meeting Michael Moore and secondly, doing that serious nodding face that film journalists do when conducting interviews.
I had about five minutes in a small hotel room, my slot wedged between Adam Boulton from Sky News and a reporter from Reuters, neither of whom seemed entirely clear what a Mother Pukka was, and why one would be there.
But we’re getting to a stage now where Mae occasionally sees the news and starts asking questions, so I asked Moore how he thinks we can explain the world’s ills to small children.
He was in London to promote his new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, which I found to be equally tragic, rage-inducing and depressing but also uplifting a tiny bit hopeful and worth the time of anyone interested in the state of America. It considers how Trump got to power, how the Democrats were complicit, and what can be done next.
You can watch the trailer at www.fahrenheit119.com.
We’re working with McDonald’s to try and get the flexible working message out to more people. Here, we explain why…
Why are you talking about flexible working at all?
In December 2015, Anna left journalism to take a copywriting job for a big beauty brand. It was a wrench, and the idea of joining the corporate world was a bit daunting, but we had a mortgage, were thinking about a second kid, and it seemed best for the family.
In January 2016, that brand announced they were moving her office from somewhere 45 minutes away to somewhere 90 minutes away. It meant she would see Mae asleep and at weekends and I would have to cut back my hours. She asked for 15 minutes flex on her start and leave times. They said no, because ‘they’d have to do it for everybody’. So she quit, and Mother Pukka was born. We started Mother Pukka to try and make earning a living and raising children a bit more compatible for us. #flexappeal is our effort to make it more compatible for everybody else too.
Flexible working helps people improve work-life balance, be healthier and happier in their relationships, and better able to provide for themselves and their families.
But it’s good for employers too – it boosts productivity, helps attract and retain talent and can save on site costs – and society in general, by tackling the gender pay gap, addressing the issue of 54,000 new mothers being forced out of work each year, and keeping more taxes and skills in the economy.
It’s not solely an issue for mothers: it can benefit anyone who works or wants to work. But it does disproportionately affect women. And, ultimately, schmaltzy as this may sound, we don’t want our daughters to have to decide between earning money and raising kids.
Why are you working with McDonald’s?
When we started #flexappeal, we had two very simple goals – make people aware of the right to request flex, and encourage employers to trial it. And that was it – parp the trumpet and hope someone listens.
The first #flexappeal flash mob was in early 2016 and we’ve been running it, mostly alone, ever since. We’ve had some help – all those thousands who’ve attended flash mobs across the country, experts offering free advice on workitout.org.uk and the Let’s Talk About Flex Facebook page.
We’ve had a few hundred encouraging messages from people who were emboldened to make (mostly successful) flex requests, partly in response to #flexappeal. We’ve given talks at a few companies, trying to excite them about the business benefits of flex.
But now we feel a responsibility to take it further. We get lots of questions from people asking how they can get flex, and we can’t always give an answer. We can talk in general terms, but people need specific answers. We recently trialled an event called Soft Play, Hard Talk, which brought together 50 parents in a soft play area so the mums and dads could quiz three volunteer advisers (one recruiter who specialises in flex roles, one self-employed mum and an employment lawyer) while the kids played. Now, we want to take that further. McDonald’s has restaurants all across the country, and wants to help people have these conversations.
What specifically will happen?
We’re trialling an event called Let’s Talk About Flex. There will be one each in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, the first event is taking place on Wednesday 19th September. Three or four flex experts will be on hand to give specific advice about individual circumstances. There will be about 30 places (first come, first served) and people can bring their kids if they need to. We get lots of very specific questions, which we can’t always answer, and think that 10 minutes one on one with someone more qualified could make a big difference.
What about McDonald’s record on flexible working?
Like anything, it’s not 100% perfect, but from our conversations and research it does seem to be good, and they too have been banging the drum for years. One of Matt’s first pieces in journalism was for a trade mag called Human Resources magazine in 2005, where he interviewed the HR boss of McDonald’s UK (who now runs HR for the firm globally). Even back then, they were talking their flex credentials and the benefits it gives them as a business. Anecdotally, McDonald’s employees have also told us good things, and we know they have policies in place that back up the stories we’ve heard. It seems to us that their advocacy to flexible working is genuine.
What about the zero-hours contracts?
Flexible working should be about mutual benefit. Our view is that zero-hours contracts usually put all the expectations for flex on the employee, with the employer giving no commitment in return. They also tend to be imposed on staff, rather than giving them a choice.
In the UK and Ireland, from day one in the job all McDonald’s staff can choose between flexible contracts and fixed-hour contracts. While the flexible contracts don’t guarantee a set number of hours each week, they still come with the same benefits as fixed-hour contracts, including holiday pay and health insurance. People get their schedule in advance and there’s no exclusivity clause stopping them working for other companies.
Of their 120,000 staff in the UK, about 90% chose flexible contracts when given the option of flex or fixed-hours. It’s that element of choice – along with hundreds of messages we’ve had from serving or former McDonald’s staff – that convinced us this partnership could work. The official company line can be found here.
What about the food, though?
We both eat there a few times a year, have done since childhood and remain suckers for an occasional Big Mac. We’ve taken our eldest a few times as part of an effort to introduce her to as many different food types as possible, but wouldn’t take her every day. Everyone needs a balanced diet, and kids in particular. But how you get a healthy balance it is up to you, and McDonald’s seem pretty open about what’s in their food and where it comes from.
This editorially-independent post was created in partnership with McDonald’s.
It took my three go’s to pass my driving test. The first test I had to pull a U-turn back to the test centre because I was deemed ‘a concern’ – left and right has always been a struggle. And then throw Matt, my husband into the mix who, at 42, doesn’t have a driving license (“I’m urban,” he says) and you’ve got quite the line-up for an advertising campaign promoting the new Renault Scenic family set of wheels.
In my mind car advertising was all pencil skirts, dramatic mountainscapes and a deep George Clooney-esque voice penetrating mind and (presumably) wallet. So when we got the call that Renault would like to work with us – the automobile equivalent of The Flintstones but with a less daring wardrobe and more passive aggressiveness – we had a few questions.
Followers, engagement, algorithms and all that aside, Renault wanted to exchange the suited and booted brooding couple for a pair like us who were generally hollering things like, “Matt have you got the wet wipes? We NEED the wet wipes” in yoghurt-embellished threads against a backdrop of Peppa Pig. With the campaign titled ‘Behind Car Doors’, they wanted the audience to get into the car and sit with us as we navigated the open road with the full team and all their relentless needs.
And what needs there were. The first video we shot was when I was 35 weeks pregnant. I remember driving my eldest to nursery as Braxton Hicks contractions – false contractions ahead of birth – kicked in and I edited the video to take my mind off the whole uterine palaver. The next video we shot, we had at 1-week-old baby strapped into the back as we were fielding questions from our eldest that went thus: “why can’t I dress the baby as a dinosaur and keep it in my pencil case?”
From endlessly long journeys and relentless requests for ‘iPad now’ to my eldest communicating solely in canine language, it’s, indeed, been a journey. While many find the advertising on Instagram uncomfortable at times – I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, no one wants to be a slipped a Wall’s sausage on the sly – I truly believe Renault got it right here. They were the first brand that let me tag a huge ‘AD’ at the beginning of the caption along with geo tagging to ensure it was clear this was an advert and wasn’t going to leave a bad taste in your mouth as you realised halfway through viewing.
They were also one of the first brands we’ve worked with who gave us carte blanche to create what we wanted around our lives. This meant it wasn’t uncomfortable viewing where we had to say things like, “oooh the gear stick on this Renault Scenic is divine” as we drove to school.
More than anything, the car is spot on for the family. I don’t own any pencil skirts and I haven’t tried it on a dramatic mountain road but it has wipe-clean seats, a massage function on the chairs (perfect when waiting at the school gates with an eye twitch), a huge sunroof for the kids to say things like “that cloud looks like Papa’s bottom”, USB portals for the iPad and a really great steering wheel. And according to Matt my driving throughout the campaign was not ‘a concern’. That said, he’s never had a driving lesson.
This blog post was written in association with Renault. AD
We are at the beginning of the school summer holidays. We are feeling relatively fresh and full of a few entertainment ideas. We are excited about this precious time outside of the shackles of the curriculum. Once that inevitably passes, you will need some ideas for entertaining the troops that won’t break the bank. As part of our #pukkafreestuff series, the brilliant Sally Webb, founder of Milk at the Museum (a blog that gets you out of the house and doing fun things with the kids) shares her top London spots that will keep them schtum and won’t leave you penniless
Tate Britain: Become an Artist
Let your child run free round the main gallery and get drawn into art and make believe as modern art and kings and queens surround you. The 1840 display is my absolute favourite where you can find an easel, pen and paper for your child to get creative and let their imaginations run wild. In addition to that, go on the hunt for Anthea Hamilton’s The Squash, a solo performer dressed in a squash like costume. This is running until 7th October and I can guarantee it will have the kids in a total trance giving you that all important 5 minutes to breathe.
Horniman: Head to the Farm
Want a bit of farm action with a stuffed walrus, child friendly exhibitions and picnic areas to boot. Well head on over to the Horniman Museum and Gardens and check out their Animal Walk where you can catch up with Alpacas, Goats, Sheep, Guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens to name a few.
Museum of Childhood: Baby Sensory
The Museum of Childhood is basically free baby sensory with a stack load of retro toys thrown in for good measure. You have the sensory pod with colour changing lights to mesmerize the little ones, the gated baby area with flowers that light up, rocking horses, fancy dress, games, dolls houses and a sandpit! Not to mention the free storytelling and arts and crafts sessions on daily. A total winner!
V&A: Splash pool
Who wants a leisure centre when you’ve got the lush V&A paddling pool with the most stunning surroundings in the courtyard garden. I know where I would rather be. While you’re there head on over to one of the most breathtaking cafes just past the paddling pool and nip to the ladies loos, you will feel like a Queen for at least 10 minutes. The most pleasant child friendly toilets I have ever seen!
National Maritime Museum: Become an Explorer
There is nothing like a mahoosive Great Map to keep your little ones entertained for half an hour. This giant atlas, located on the first floor, allows your kiddies to go exploring on seas and land. Watch their imaginations come alive as they become pirates, sailors and mermaids. Also very conveniently located next to the café for our tired legs! While you’re there check out the All Hands interactive gallery. This is aimed at 6 to 12 year olds but my toddlers loved it, and the Childrens Gallery for 0-7’s.
Check out milkatthemuseum.com for more brilliant free activity ideas.
Just before I get stuck in, I want to preface this with a dollop of transparency: we asked for a media rate for this holiday. So I don’t have to write what the brand want; we got a discount on the holiday in exchange for sharing our honest review here.
Last time I went to Greece was with a boyfriend and we booked an £89 holiday that included flights and a daily Greek buffet. Oh Teletext holidays, where are you now?
Anyhow, I was riddled with food poisoning throughout and can never hear the words ‘taramasalata’ uttered again. So when my mate Cerys suggested Skiathos as an ideal spot to park up the fam for a week, the cod roe sweats descended. A light Google of the island – it’s part of the Sporades group in the north-west Aegean Sea – and the cynical eyebrow softened a little.
Thanks to hefty protection measures, Skiathos is the least built-up of the Greek islands. There are no Prince William pubs or heaving nightclubs – complete with this year’s Love Island cast offs and vats of Sex on the Beach. It’s a bona fide place of beauty with 60 golden beaches to boot. (With soft sand over pebbles; an essential tick for those herding 11-month-old crawlers with a penchant for choking hazards.)
In a nutshell it’s a ‘fly-and-flop’ destination. Roman remains and architectural history are exchanged for crystal clear waters and balmy sunsets. We went at the end of May and the weather was a steady – and manageable with the kids – 26 degrees Celsius throughout. Just enough sun to nail the tan (I’m eternally wedded to the old adage, ‘if you can’t tone it, tan it’), while ensuring noone is perspiring over their Greek salad.
After deciding on the location, we approached the Skiathos Princess Hotel after TripAdvisor chucked it up as one of the best kid (and more importantly, parent)-friendly spots on the island. Just 20 minutes away from the airport, it’s got the three big wins: an immaculate, jaw-dropping beach, a kiddie pool the size of a tennis court and a knock-out kid’s club. If you’re looking to cement the ‘flop’ bit of a family holiday, those have become our essential components for dropping the cash on a destination.
The hotel itself eschews any pomp and ceremony for something that could be described as rustic luxury, perhaps. That’s a completely made-up concept but swirly foam on plates (the swank benchmark) is exchanged for hearty, heaving platters of fresh sea bass and coat-hanger smiles from the kind-eyed (my eldest still talks of the waiter Giorgio who made her a paper aeroplane) staff. It’s the best bits of the Dirty Dancing complex mixed in with traditional Greek architecture – think bougainvilleas enveloping white walls and red clay roof tiles. In short, it’s somewhere that doesn’t make you feel rubbish about releasing a weaning 11-month-old who gets roughly 1/3 of food offered in her cakehole. Equally, it’s a place that makes you feel tended to, without any need for cold towelette frippery and Relais Chateaux stationery.
The breakfast buffet is a thing of beauty. Jugs of freshly-squeezed orange juice await your bleary-eyed arrival, with a pancake station (allowing our eldest to order hers every morning was at least five minutes of peace parent-side) centre stage. It can feel a little like the world descends in the breakfast room because it’s a large hotel but everyone seems to disperse to various nooks and crannies throughout the day, ensuring it’s peaceful – even with an excitable 4-year-old and a baby desperately seeking out sharp edges and deep ends.
The key bit: childcare. The Little Seals Kid’s Club isn’t the biggest of centres but it packs a fair punch in the entertainment stakes. This isn’t just a colouring-in outpost; crafting is serious within these brightly-hued walls. Every day our eldest emerged from the fun house, I had another piece of plastic jewellery strapped to my person. There’s also 17 shades of plasticine – which they replenish daily – ready to go at any one time. I had forgotten how alluring and cathartic it is kneading, rolling and making a self-portrait out of soft rubber. (I stayed for the first hour but once my daughter was in the crafting zone, it was easy to slip away.)
For our youngest, it was the under-4 nursery, which is €10 an hour and manned by the genned-up staff who won over my youngest in a record 5 minutes. It’s a worthwhile cost when you can escape to the sun, overlooking the Aegean Sea with your life lobster. The kids were generally ensconced in their kiddie receptacles for two hours a day – to beat the midday sun. (Or that’s how we justified it.) Either way, the kids were alright and my husband, Matt and I had a conversation that went beyond, “can you pass the wet wipes.” I read two books (How To Stop Time and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), which is a holiday record.
When it comes to that mid-way point in the break where you’re getting slight cabin fever, it’s easy to escape to a suitably child-friendly spot. Skiathos town itself is peppered with traditional Greek trattorias where a knock-out Greek salad is yours for under €3. The main coast road is stunning and the buses that weave around the meandering roads are regular and cheap. To be honest the hotel itself offered up enough fodder and entertainment, we fully embraced the ‘flop’ side of things.
Perhaps one of the biggest pulls for young couples (without an entourage) is the aptly-named Banana Beach where folks sunbathe nude, while overlooking the stunning Skiathos harbour. We steered well clear for fear of any loud questioning from our eldest. Noone wants to have to answer the questions that might arise from clapping eyes on a nudist beach.
While this is undoubtedly the best holiday we’ve been on with the team, the hotel décor and furnishings let it down a bit. I loved a turquoise net curtain as much as the next person in the 90s but it doesn’t quite work here. Instead of looking Mediterranean chic, it just feels a tad dated. Also the beds could do with having a little more give, although that being said, I slept like a log and my back feels suitably ironed out.
But when it comes to the core pillars: sun, sea, sand AND childcare, the Skiathos Princess Hotel is, indeed, kid (and parent)-friendly royalty. It’s the sort of place where you know you’ll return because everything just works and you find yourself chirping at each other, “I actually feel relaxed, how is this so?”. Oh, and they do a knock-out taramaslata.
Things to do in Skiathos
Akkiton Open-Air Cinema
Skiathos’ open-air cinema can be found in Papadiamantis Street, and shows English films with Greek subtitles. There are films shown every day of the week, with normally two back-to-back showings in the late evenings.
Cost: c. £6 per ticket
The cruise will take you past the Blue Caves, to the beaches of Lalaria and Kastro, before docking in mainland Greece for lunch in a fishing village under Mount Pelion. You can then relax on the beach, with time for a swim at the uninhabited island of Tsougria before returning back to Skiathos.
Cost: £42.50 for adults, £24.99 for children (ages 2-12)
The Kastro is a fortification overlooking the sea at the northern tip of the island. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but the kids will be interested in the fact the Kastro was used to protect the people of Skiathos from pirate raids. The fort actually became the island’s capital for a period in the 14th Century, when the raids became so bad that Kastro became the only inhabited town on the island.
Make a Dog’s Day
If you’re a fan of our canine friends, this is an interesting treat for the kids and yourself. After visiting the famous dog shelter near Troulos and taking one of the dogs there for a walk with a tour guide thorough the hills, you visit a local, Maria, who will treat you to lunch and teach you some traditional Greek cooking.
Cost: £42.50 per adult, children go free
Megali Ammos Beach
At the beach, just 5 minutes away from Skiathos town by car, you can rent waterskiis, jet-skiis, pedalos and banana rides; a great way to spend time at the beach!
For a bit of exercise while taking in the scenery, your family can rent mountain bikes and tour one of two routes (one of 25km, the other of 14km). This might be one if you have older kids, with the harder tours being for those aged 16 and over.
Cost: various depending upon equipment rented
The Planes at Skiathos Airport
Many a traveller has found an odd pleasure in watching planes land at Skiathos Airport. The airport and runway are fairly small, and there is something strangely mesmeric about lying back and having a picnic while take-offs and landings abound in the near-distance.
Riding Centre in Koukounaries
For keen riders of those who want to learn, the Skiathos Riding Centre is based in Koukounaries in the south-west of the island. There are various things to do, from beginner riding lessons to being able to rent a horse for the day and tour the island by yourself on horsepack. For even younger family members, there’s a small petting zoo and donkey rides available.
Shop in Skiathos Town
It’s very easy to spend an afternoon ambling through Skiathos Town, particularly in the shopping street Papadiamanti. Shops stay open until 10pm, with many specialising in traditional Greek fashions, jewellery, ceramics and linens.
Olympic Holidays is offering 7 nights at the 5-star Skiathos Princess, Skiathos from £1,549 per person based on two adults and two children travelling. The package includes 7 nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation in a family room garden view, and return flights from Gatwick. Departures are available on 21/08/18. The package is subject to availability. For bookings call 0208 492 6868or visit www.olympicholidays.com.
I’ve just uploaded a photo of myself nuzzling my 10-month-old daughter to Instagram where I have 159,000 followers. In terms of cracking open a discussion on child online safety – and later, teenage online safety – I’m not coming to the digital party from a position of strength. It’s on par with The Cookie Monster analysing the negative impact of sugar in our diets.
This is certainly no self-flagellation exercise, though. It’s more an opportunity to lift the slightly sticky lid on the cookie jar; to rifle around among the crumbs lurking at the bottom and see what we are, in fact, doing here. On the Internet, online, uploading the good, bad and increasingly ugly (and not-so-ugly if you follow @symmetrybreakfast) elements of our existence. And to see how this digital drive is impacting – or might impact in the future – those we are nuzzling.
I don’t have the answers. But I’ve been digging deep for some guidance in a pixellated world that has been described as the ‘Wild West’; a world where the surface is seemingly peony-embellished and the underbelly a murky wasteland of uncertainty, confusion and muddy digital footprints.
To sharent or not to sharent?
“There are two things to be careful about,” says Victoria Nash, acting director of the Oxford Internet Institute when it comes to uploading an image of your kids. “One is the amount of information that you give away, which might include things like date of birth, place of birth, the child’s full name, or tagging of any photographs with a geographical location – anything that could be used by somebody who wanted to steal your child’s identity.
“The second issue is more around consent. What type of information would children want to see about themselves online at a later date?”
Regardless of whether you privately have 32 followers or publicly have 320,000, Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, and an expert on children and the Internet urges us to take a moment to consider the nature of what we are about to foghorn to the world. “I think we should start with the question of cost – if you post a picture of your child with the mark of the devil on their arm, or in a temper tantrum, perhaps that will have a future cost. It’s not all pictures, but certain pictures that are problematic.”
It’s the equivalent of posting something juvenile and abrasive as a teen on Twitter and then – on becoming a fan-girled member of One Direction – that childish 140-character blurb defines who you are as it’s amplified on the front page of The Sun.
One friend (we shall call her Hyacinth for suitably protective purposes) uses a pet name for her daughter online instead of her real name. This is one simple step we can all adopt to reduce our children’s digital footprint. “Unless you literally post nothing at all, there is no perfect protection. But most parents probably find a happy medium, which is posting pictures or stories about their young children either without using their real name or without tagging them in pictures,” adds Livingstone.
By using a pet name, Hyacinth has also offered up some protection against those lurking companies or individuals who might be interested in her daughter’s personal data; even if Hyacinth’s privacy settings let her down, a search for her real name would not bring up any of her posts – at least for now.
From a personal perspective, we started out using ‘The Urchin’ when I launched Mother Pukka, then moved towards ‘Squidge’ when ‘The Urchin’ seemed a little Dickensian – and, perhaps, something that she would not have looked back on fondly – and have thrown in ‘Stevie’ for good measure. But this process has not been watertight and our daughter’s names are known, so we’ve started using emojis to represent them (to eradicate any searchable terms) or, rather perfunctorily, ‘my eldest’ and ‘my youngest’. Again, this is not a ‘you should do this exercise’; more a ‘this is where we are at’ gathering of words.
“It is increasingly difficult to secure anonymity online,” says Amy Webb, a futurist and CEO of digital strategy firm Webb.
Privacy settings are simple and, yet, not watertight. Unless you don’t touch the Internet, your footprint – regardless of whether you have tapped ‘private’ or not on Instagram – will be embedded there. Even Webb (who uploaded nothing of her children and has a private account) found herself caught out; in the process of trying to integrate her many social network and digital accounts, a couple of baby photos that she had edited using Instagram’s mobile editing tool somehow became public.
She never would have known, except that after writing about digital anonymity in Slate, several readers delved deep and found those photos with a subtext of “we’ve got you”.
(So not to scaremonger but even my Aunty June who has a hint of moral superiority in her tone when speaking about THE INTERNET – because she has her privacy settings locked down – is not fully ‘safe’ here.)
I think that’s a relevant point to highlight, though: it’s one thing expressing a concern about someone’s online security (“If I was you I’d be worried that your family could be found by a loon because you’ve posted X, Y and Z”) and a whole different moral ballgame posting the address to prove a point. (“Well look, I’ve found you [published on a public forum with 12 million visitors] so others can.”) In these increasingly murky realms with little or no policing, there has to be an unwritten moral code of conduct not to endanger further – regardless of personal gripes with a person. Vindictive is never a go-to state online or offline.
Back to the cost element – that cost of calling your child a ‘twat’ for not eating their broccoli, perhaps or detailing the contents of their nappy for the world to laugh at. Or, on a less obvious level, penning something personal about miscarriage (which I write extensively on) in the hope of making people suffering feel less alone. What should we be considering? What will it mean for our relationships with those we are currently waving a Fisher Price BeatBop toy at?
“Ten years from now, almost all the next generation of teenagers will all have baby photos on social media; it’s not going to be something that stigmatises them,” says Nash.
“My guess is that it will magnify whatever relationship they already have with their parents. If they have a great relationship, they may look back on those photos and say, ‘Wow, I can appreciate what my mum went through.’ However, if they are upset with their parents they may view such posts as this infringement of their privacy, and use them as fuel to the fire.”
Whenever I’ve been asked what my steps are in protecting ‘Squidge’ and ‘Stevie’ online, I cannot say they are watertight. And that possibly makes me a bad person and open to significant judgment. But these are our current personal – and I still believe like with the majority of parenting choices it is personal – online safety measures:
- Never using their names (this has been since November 2016)
- Never revealing school address or uniform
- Considering how they would feel reading the caption and seeing the image in ten years time
- Considering what others – potential bullies – might see as ammunition in the image and caption
- Restricting images of them to 1 in 5 (hence the many graphic-led, less engagement-worthy tiles on my feed)
- Ensuring as much as possible their faces are not in full view
- Ensuring no bathtime or swimming suit or naked images are used
- Using a black and white filter where possible – according to the NSPCC, predators seek clear colour images
- Ensuring images uploaded of them have no space behind them to superimpose anything or anyone
- Ensuring I have a ‘content’ structure and some control over what I’m uploading day-to-day so I’m not taking photos ‘in the moment’ for fear of ‘missing the moment’. Hence why I work with the photographer Charlotte Emily Gray – so we have one day a month where we take images, meaning the rest of the month isn’t spent with my phone in their grill. From a purely brand perspective, it’s not good for engagement to not be posting ‘in the moment’ but it’s one step towards controlling this all-consuming business – and business it is. Plus I am a shambolic photographer
- To realise the above needs constant adjustment and those discussions need to include the whole family. My eldest is now in school and so it doesn’t feel right including her in videos or on my feed any more. If she is there, it’s an arm around my neck here or an obscured photo there
- Not to judge or scaremonger anyone else, just to inform
- To keep up-to-date on online child safety developments on the NSPCC website
One thing that truly hit home for me, though, was when Mark Zuckerberg was recently asked by the Supreme Court this simple question: “What hotel are you staying at?” Zuckerberg laughed and replied: “I’m not telling you. I can’t see how that is relevant”. And, yet, he has built a billion dollar business on encouraging us to tell everyone else where we are, what we are doing – and, perhaps, more worryingly, where our children are and what they are doing. Even if it seems irrelevant.
Regardless of how much I love social media and see the positives of uniting on a mass scale, this ever-changing realm shouldn’t go unquestioned.
Of 159,000 people following me, how do I know who is actually out there? What proportion of people wish me well? What about the – hopefully small – segment who are hate following? Those who seek to translate the hate into something more sinister offline? Who knows? And is that vagueness a significant concern as a parent?
Food – specifically cookies – for thought, indeed.
Text, sext and what’s next?
One of the main things that sparked this blog post was the health secretary Jeremy Hunt lampooning social media companies last week for “turning a blind eye” to emotional problems and mental health damage suffered by children who have free reign of the Internet. While I am not about to give the man a bosomy hug – and certainly don’t want to align myself with his political viewpoint, the man does – regardless of his often shady intentions – raise a solid point.
My own deep-rooted fear of my daughters running this pixellated gauntlet stems from an explicit message I received from a 14-year-old boy last year. The police were involved and his parents informed – but a lurking queasiness and innate fear of the accessibility of this newfound platfrom has remained with me ever since. Speaking to safeguarding expert Victoria Leather, who has worked in safeguarding in the public sector her whole life, it became clear that I could have also been charged had I responded in any way. While I don’t want this to be a scaremongering exercise, the consequences of our/my actions – however well meaning – are there to be used against us at any given moment.
“There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things,” said Hunt last week. “For example, I ask myself the simple question as to why you can’t prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18, if that’s a lock that parents choose to put on a mobile phone contract.” He added: “There is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent [them] being transmitted.”
Hunt’s letter (to giants like Apple and Zuckerberg) continued: “I fear that you are collectively turning a blind eye to a whole generation of children being exposed to the harmful emotional side-effects of social media prematurely; this is both morally wrong and deeply unfair on parents, who are faced with the invidious choice of allowing children to use platforms they are too young to access, or excluding them from social interaction that often the majority of their peers are engaging in. It is unacceptable and irresponsible for you to put parents in this position.”
Rates of stress, anxiety and depression were rising particularly sharply among teenage girls. NHS data showed that the number of times a girl aged 17 or under has been admitted to hospital in England because of self-harm had jumped from 10,500 to more than 17,500 a year over the previous decade – a rise of 68%. The rise among boys was much lower at 26%.
He also said at the time that technology should be used to tackle cyberbullying automatically, using “word-pattern recognition”. There were many areas “where social media companies could put options in their software that could reduce the risks associated with social media”, he added.
But in the interim – an interim where we/I have not got a answers in this ever-shape-shifting world – here are a few varying thoughts from those a little more in the know:
‘Start discussing online safety at an early age’
David Emm, senior security researcher at internet security company Kaspersky Lab
“I think one of the key things is to start the process of discussing online safety with your children at an early age, when they start to do anything that involves the Internet.
They might still be using the computer with you, rather than independently and this offers an opportunity to highlight the fact that the online world parallels the real world and that there are both safe and unsafe things out there. It also enables you to discuss the things that are there to protect us, e.g. Internet security protection, passwords, etc.
As they get older and begin to do things independently, widen the circle. For example, if you let them start an account with Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters, help them create a sensible password and explain why they should use different passwords for each account and the possible consequences of not doing so.”
‘If you wouldn’t do it face to face – Don’t do it online’
Shelagh McManus, online safety advocate for security software Norton by Symantec
“The advice I give my own family and friends is encapsulated in: “If you wouldn’t do it face to face – Don’t do it online” For example, would you go up to a complete stranger and start a conversation? Would you be abusive to friends or strangers in a pub or bar?
Just because you feel protected by the apparent distance a screen gives between you and the person you’re talking to, you must remember that online is still the real world.
Mid to late teens need to remember that everything they do over the web is captured forever and could come back to haunt them. Many employers and university admissions offices look at social media profiles when researching candidates.
My husband and I actually used to ask random questions based on what the younger family members had put online just to remind them that they should lock down their profiles! If they didn’t want their dad, uncles and aunts or future employers asking about exactly what was in that fifteenth drink on Saturday night, they needed to check their privacy settings!”
‘At least I don’t feel like a spy…’
Paul Vlissidis, technical director at cyber security firm NCC Group
“My view is very non-PC I’m afraid (no pun intended). I have no filtering of any kind on my kids internet, no snooping and no time limits. I have of course spoken to each of them about the perils of the internet and they know that it’s an unsafe place unless they stay on the mainstream sites.
They do have AV [antivirus software] and I do scan their machines regularly for malware and ensure they remain fully patched but that’s it. Basically I trust them.
They have approached me several times where something odd has happened or where they had concerns (one Google search my daughter did for Barbie and Ken certainly produced some interesting results I recall). Of course they may yet turn out to be axe murderers, but only time will tell and at least I don’t feel like a spy.”
‘Teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts’
Amichai Shulman, CTO of network security firm Imperva
“Being a parent (four children), paranoid and a vendor I can shed some light on this. My basic belief is that adults have proven once and again vulnerable to cyber attacks and therefore we cannot expect children to be any better – especially given that their sense of curiosity is far more developed and their sense of caution far less mature.
I do not expect my children to behave online much different than in the real world and therefore I explain to them about hackers being a type of criminal that breaks into your house through the computer rather than through the window. It’s easy for them to understand it.
I also teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts much like they should in the physical world. For example, I don’t allow my children to open a mail package if they don’t KNOW who sent it (or got my permission to do so) – much the same way, I don’t allow them to open unsolicited email attachments.
Could they fall prey to someone who took over their friend’s account and sent out malware? Yes, but so would most adults. Could they fall prey to a targeted attack on our family? They probably will – like almost all adults.”
‘Once you’ve written something you can’t delete it’
David Robinson, chief security officer at Fujitsu UK & Ireland
“The Internet is a fantastic place, but you have to be careful what you do and say when you are there. Don’t say things which you wouldn’t talk about in conversations with your family, think about what you do and say, you may well regret what you do by hurting someone or being hurt yourself.
Remember once you’ve written something you can’t delete it, despite what Google are doing in Europe, the right to be forgotten doesn’t apply everywhere! If what you do or say is controversial it will be copied many times and will always come back and bite you, even in later life when you apply to go to college, university or even a job.
How you connect is important too, the gadgets you use, smart phones, tablets even old fashioned computers all need to be protected as well. But that’s only one part of it, those applications and services you use need to be protected, you don’t want others seeing your information. Use sensible passwords and protection, it’s a little price to pay for the security of your information and intimate details.
Don’t be frightened to ask for help either, there’s lots of places and people who can show you what to do and how to behave such as Get Safe On-line, friends and teachers.”
‘Never, under any circumstances, browse unaccompanied’
Dave King, chief executive of online reputation management company Digitalis
“The first and most fundamental principle is that my children never, under any circumstances, browse unaccompanied. They both have iPad Mini devices at which they are more adept than most adults I know. But both devices are set to forget the wifi access code so that they cannot get online without either my wife or I present.
Ditto the computers in the house and the main screen for the computers to which they have access is in our living space (not bedrooms) so that any activity is plain to see.
We talk to the children about the risks because the time will come that they have access outside the safety of our home. We make a point of being open about the concept of inappropriate content and the existence of bad people. In the same way that a generation ago we were told to shout loud when approached by a stranger, we tell the girls to tell us immediately of any approach online.
We talk about trolling as we talk about bullying and we talk about paedophiles in the virtual and real world. Ultimately we want to retain their innocence but where we used to want street-wise kids we now need web-wise children.”
‘Try and be vigilant and monitor what you can’
Chase Cunningham, lead threat intelligence agent for cloud security company Firehost – and creator of educational comic The Cynja
“For my kids I have already set them up with their own personal private clouds through the Respect Network and I have set up all the devices that they can or could access the internet with has a passcode that only I know and each device has blocks on sites that I consider risky.
I also have set up monitoring on their credit reports (yes they are only three and five but kids credit thievery happens all the time) and I am with them when they are using the internet.
I tried to explain to them about the nasty side of the internet but it kind of fell on deaf ears, but I was able to educate them about the dangers of the internet through my comic The Cynja.
They didn’t understand what I meant when I talked about malware and botnets as a tech geek dad but they understood that bad things are out there in cyberspace when they read the comic and saw the images.
For me, and quite a few other parents recently, that was a real connection point for the kids was when they had a comic character to relate to who is literally telling them about being safe online and protecting their digital selves, they understood the story and were getting the message of being safe online all at the same time.”
The Cynja is a comic that teaches children about cybersecurity.
‘Educate early and often’
Samantha Humphries-Swift, product manager at cybersecurity firm McAfee Labs
“Get involved – I speak with my daughter regularly about which sites she is using, and given her age, I personally vet all app downloads. This way, I can keep an eye on security settings and make a judgement on whether I think it’s safe and appropriate for her to use.
Educate early and often – I warned my daughter about the dangers of the internet as soon as she started browsing, and remind her of safe online behaviour regularly – don’t accept friendship requests from people you don’t know, verify requests if they look to be coming from someone you do know, never agree to a private chat with a stranger, never post your mobile phone number or home address online for all to see.
Communication is key – I like to be open, approachable and understanding about what my daughter is getting up to online. This way it makes it easier for her to come to me with any problems she’s experiencing online, and she’s happy to ask for advice.
On a more general note, talk to your kids about how they use their computers and smartphones and ask about any concerns they might have. Be prepared to field any questions they may ask – there are plenty of online resources available to help support you in answering tough and delicate questions.”
‘Not just to tell them the rules but also to spend the time’
Jesper Kråkhede, senior information security consultant at IT security company Sentor
“My first observation on keeping your kids safe online is not just to tell them the rules but also to spend the time to show them that you’re the most trustworthy when it comes to the internet. In brief, a good line of communication with your kids, where they can talk to you and you to them is THE starting point for the best online protection.
When it comes to passwords I tell them to use long sentences. Easy for them to remember and hard for others to crack. I teach them how to check that the virus protection is updated and how to answer requests. The bottom line we’ve agreed is that if they are unsure they should ask me.
My kids use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc and I have asked them to be-friend me on all their apps. The next piece of advice I’ve given them is if they are posting a picture or a comment and they think they wouldn’t want me as their Dad to see it, then it doesn’t belong in the public domain at all.”
‘Become friends and contacts in your child’s social media’
Tracy Hulver, senior identity specialist for telco firm Verizon
“Make sure your children ONLY message and accept friend and contact requests from people they know. A lot of times the number of contacts of friends you have become a “popularity contest”. People that do not have appropriate of good intentions realize that and will try and contact kids by masking as people they are not and “infiltrating” the child’s “inner circle”.
Make sure YOU as a parent, become friends and contacts within your child’s social media circles and ensure you monitor posts. Your children may resist but tell them that is one of the conditions for you to allow them access.
Ask to see their child mobile devices periodically. Some children, especially the older they get, will not want Mom and Dad looking at their messages to their friends and that’s OK if the parent doesn’t want to do that.
But if nothing else, look to see what apps are installed, take a mental inventory, and if the parent is not familiar with the app, go online and do investigation. That way you at least know the types of social media services your child is using and to the point earlier, you should at least sign up for that service to see what it’s all about.”
‘Imagine a responsible adult standing behind them’
Kevin Gourlay, head of technical assurance at Platinum Squared, and head of the (ISC)2 Safe and Secure Online cybersafety initiative
“My general rule is If they can imagine a responsible adult standing behind them, and watching what they are doing on the Internet, and they would be happy with being watched by them, then what they are doing is ok.
If they are on Twitter for example, or Facebook, commenting or replying to posts, If they think that I would be OK with them doing what they are doing, then it’s ok. They need to be helped to apply common sense, rather than told what to do, and this can be easy for children once you help them to understand the risks.
My two children are 9 and 14 years old, so I have two different sets of rules and advice for them. For my youngest, I’ll teach her about the websites that are likely to be safe online: .co.uk, .edu, .org, etc., and I have a whitelist in place to make sure she only stays on those sites.
However, as they get older, learn more and become more mature, that list grows out and it becomes more of a blacklist with just certain websites blocked. It’s about giving them more freedom as they get more mature.”
‘It’s about them understanding simple safety rules’
Lucy Woodward, director at Disney’s Club Penguin virtual world for children
“This is the crunch generation – so it’s vital that we get it right, and kids and parents learn internet safety skills for themselves. My kids are still very young so for me it’s about them understanding simple safety rules at this stage and keeping it fun – for example understanding what a password is and keeping it secret (kids love secrets!).
At school my daughter has an Internet reading program where she has an individual password and I have found this a good way in to talking about the issue. My children like many will be straight on the internet at any given opportunity so I also encourage them to tell me if they click on something that they don’t like the look of so they get in to an early routine of doing this and always knowing they can talk to us.”
Talk the talk
Speaking further to Victoria Leather, she recommends parents stay up-to-date on how to keep their children safe, with the help of the NSPCC website (link below). “Safe, stable and nurturing relationships between parents and children are the starting points for protecting children offline and online,” she says. “These foundations make it easier to talk about difficult topics in age appropriate ways throughout childhood. Informed parents who keep up to date with the challenges faced by their children, whatever their age, are better placed to make informed, proportionate responses to risk.” CEOP and ThinkUKnow are also great sources of information in supporting parents and children by delivering online education and raising awareness of online child sexual exploitation. They also have information for supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities.
Here are some useful links if you would like to get fully genned up:
Note: If you would like to comment on this blog post or kick-start a discussion, please use my latest Instagram post. I would be keen to see where you are at and what I might be missing. We are, after all, in this together. From one Cookie Monster to, perhaps, another.
Growing up, I was always vaguely aware that my sister and I were not alone. I remember one bedtime after mum had finished reading my favourite story, The Curly Cobbler, she explained to a seven-year-old me that if everything had worked out, they’d never have had me or my sister. So I don’t remember her story being a sad or traumatic one. Though of course it was.
Today, aged 65, my mother Lucia – or ‘Mutti’ as we call her because it seemed to fit her chirpy disposition – is a powerhouse of relentless positivity. It is entwined in everything she does; from warming our towels on the radiator when we’ve just showered to her catchphrase when we say we can’t do something: “just snap the ‘t’ off and you can”.
‘You happened when I had almost given up,’ she told me hopefully on one of the darker days following my fifth miscarriage.
While comments from friends, saying ‘at least you can get pregnant’ felt isolating and often (and never intentionally) insensitive, my mum’s positive outlook offered genuine solace. Perhaps it was because I knew she was bearing the scars of loss beneath that positive veneer – the same armour that would get me through the painful emptiness of losing a child.
I can’t truly remember if her sunshine-drenched outlook was always present – though sometimes I suspect not when I leave sodden towels on the bathroom floor. But the mum I know now is encouraging to the point of cheerleading in everything my sister and I do. My lunchboxes always had a little extra surprise from her – a little poem here or a good luck note ahead of a netball game there. Looking back after my own experience of miscarriage I think she perhaps held us tighter because she knew what it was to lose.
It was on holiday in Menorca in 2016 as I was eating a fairly limp salad when I felt the familiar blood between my thighs. I was seven weeks pregnant and having been through miscarriage four times previously, I knew the warm, dark, wet sensation of loss. I knew despite wild denial that it was happening again – I was losing a child.
Mutti was with me, along with my Dad, husband and three-year-old daughter. While we’d had a relatively close relationship throughout my life, I’d lived abroad for ten years in Dubai and Amsterdam so geographically we’d been separated. The first four miscarriages I went through, I only had her on speed dial and those aches for a bosomy maternal hug were never sated because of a continent or the English Channel between us. On that overcast Menorcan day, pierced with occasional squeals from giddy children in a nearby swimming pool, I calmly uttered the words to my mother that every pregnant woman fears articulating: ‘I’m bleeding’.
I think it was in that moment of silence that I realized for the first time I wasn’t alone in navigating this well-worn path of emotionally ricocheting violently between faux positivity – Googling all possible positive outcomes when bleeding – and crippling fear.
The truth is that however supportive my husband, friends and sister were, you don’t understand the searing pain of losing a child unless you’ve been there.
A name has been imagined, that foetus is a person, a member of the family – “the newest recruit” as my husband would say.
When someone loses a limb, you don’t say ‘at least it was a clean cut’ and so those seemingly supportive comments of ‘at least you can get pregnant’ or ‘at least you have a child’ felt empty and ultimately painful.
If you know what it is to love someone, you know what it is to lose someone.
My coping mechanism has always been curling up in a ball for a week and then writing about my experience. I posted a blog post entitled ‘miscarriage of (in)justice’ detailing the raw, physicality of losing a baby. The 1,345 comments was overwhelming; the connection to other mothers deeply cathartic.
There in my mother’s eyes was the exact same fear that was coursing through my own – only hers was masked by a protective maternal calmness. “We will take every day as it comes,” she responded in a voice I hadn’t heard since I was a child. It was a delicate mixture of fierce protection and innate calm. I felt that wing swoop over me and I instantly reverted to a childlike demeanour; foetal position helped both cramps and emotions.
Few words were spoken during the days that followed but our communication would manifest itself more physically – a gentle arm squeeze here, a furtive, protective glance when I’d returned from the toilet there. My mum knew from her own experience of loss that no words can placate the ebb and flow of the numbing fear and potential lost dreams. There was no pacifier or bedtime story that could take away the emptiness that was about to descend as the final thread of hope was flushed down the toilet.
My mum knew to sit in the dark hole with me.
On our return from that holiday she decided to stay one more night at our London home. I think she knew from her own experience that I hadn’t hit rock bottom – that I was still in no man’s land unable to accept reality. She was right. In an attempt to push my feelings away, I irrationally decided to retile the kitchen floor at 4pm. My husband protested and that’s when my Mum intervened: “we’ll do it together; it will be OK” before she set off to B&Q with the frenzied determination of a starved mosquito.
We sweated away until the early hours, mildly sunburnt from holiday and both determined to finish the somewhat daunting DIY task in front of us. Somewhere between unearthing a damp, mouldy 1976 Waltham Forest Echo that had been used as insulation on the floor and asking Mutti to pass me a chisel, I broke down. It was a deep-seated grief for all the four children I had lost without her soft lily of the valley scent and warmth to shield me from the devastation. She held me in a vice-like grip until I couldn’t cry anymore and I knew something had shifted. I was no longer alone in the maternal emptiness as we mourned both our losses as mother and daughter; one woman holding another.
The haunting sense of those children lost will never disperse because they are a part of me – they are part of our family. All I know going forward is that, whatever happens, I’ll look to my mum and know that I can snap the ‘t’ off and then, together, we can.
An edited version of this extract was published in Marie Claire Magazine.
I read something the other day that said the way parents are forced to work – whether that’s on a pitch or penning a shopping list – is using ‘splinters of time’. Those fragments inbetween naps, polite requests for “CHIPS NOW”, nappy changes, face/bum wiping and play date madness.
In those fragments, everything can be achieved – even if the eye twitch is pneumatic and the adrenalin coursing through your being. But while I’ve been working from home with the girls in tow, it’s been necessary to try and extend those fragments so I can make some headway with the inbox of doom and – if the gods are with me – sip a cup of tea that isn’t lukewarm. Here’s a few ways we’ve made those fragments into, well, shards, of time to celebrate Frankie & Benny’s Parenting Awards:
Despite a truckload of primary-hued toys being scattered about the house, my youngest refuses to engage with toys. I have about one minute at the most with Sophie La Giraf before she’s tossed aside and the meltdown ensues. For reasons I can’t fully explain, she’s been enamoured with non-toy toys. That includes keys, old trainers, dirty washing, discarded toilet rolls, plastic Tupperware lids and books – specifically those not meant for children, including ‘Parenting The Shit Out of Life’.
Skip the golden arches and any of the other fast-food spots and whip out the picnic basket instead. Load it up with a few sandwiches, drinks, and healthy snacks and spread out in your lounge. You’ll have a meal and play area in one, and combing the two makes for a double win.
Paint the town
Well, maybe not the town but the house. And before you get The Fear, no paint is involved. Just arm them with a bucket of water and a paint brush and get them ‘painting’ the outside of your humble abode with water. As one patch dries, it opens up another area that they’ve ‘missed’. I’ve managed to secure a solid 27 minutes straight out of this activity. I can’t take credit, though, it was my mum’s idea – I have fond memories of ‘painting’ for days in the summer of 1986 and I turned out OK.
At the point where everyone is going off the walls and you are about to enlist the services of the digital nanny (iPad), give it one last throw of the dice with a dance off. We tend to go with Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off because it somehow crosses all generations with its natty beat. The ‘winner’ gets a plate of food at the end. This is exercise and entertainment uniting in one song – forget Zumba, it’s all about Mum-ba.
Frankie & Benny’s is celebrating parents and their ability to keep the brood shtum while you manage a cuppa. If you fancy winning a trip to Disney World, enter the Parent Win Awards competition on Twitter, Instagram or on the F&B Facebook page by April 20. Enter using #Fbparentswin
Very excited to announce the launch of our first FREE non-panel, non-networking event. This event is not about mingling, hob nobbing, working the room or sealing the deal. It’s about talking and building on that conversation. Being held on 20 April from 9-12pm at soft play centre @kb02venue in North London, this is the first in our ‘Soft Play, Hard Talk’ series that centres on two things: 1) providing a space to let the kids run free (= no childcare needed) 2) providing a space where you can talk to professionals about everything from flexible working requests to the realities of setting up a new business. There will be @seedlipdrinks cocktails, @angesdesucre cupcakes, @parentapparel goodie bags and myself, @timewise_uk @steph_dontbuyherflowers and the Equality and Human Rights Commission on-hand to chat informally to anyone who has specific career questions. The aim of this event (which will hopefully be rolled out across the U.K. if successful/ if we find ambassadors willing to help) is to get offline and start finding a way through the quagmire of inflexibility; to help empower the 54,000 women every year who are made redundant on maternity leave or are denied any flexibility. It’s equally to empower the men seeking flexible working only to be told it’s something ‘mothers get’. We fully believe flexible working should be available for everyone but there is no denying that the door is firmly being shut in female faces the minute the swimmers run free. To bag one of 50 adult spaces (no restriction on children) at this launch event please comment on Instagram with why you would like to attend; what questions you would like answered or any frustrations in the workplace you have faced or are facing. Individuals will be selected at random this Friday at 12pm. (You can tag a friend, too if you don’t fancy coming alone). The event will also be available on Instagram Live where you will be able to ask your questions as we go #flexappeal #flexibleworking #maternitydiscrimination #softplayhardtalk #motherpukka
The one question that keeps coming up here is, ‘what’s Matt [my husband] doing?’ From my social media pages it seems like – despite my bid to push for flexible working in the workforce for one and all – I’m still shouldering the burden of childcare as he heads out into the 9-5 (or 8-6, more realistically). And to a certain extent that’s right – my current job/career/Sellotaping words together means I’m entirely flexible so I’ve ended up in a world of galloping to school with Bat Girl (World Book Day?) in tow and scrabbling around trying to work with a baby on boob and Incy Wincy Spider on Spotify.
But that’s about to change. Matt works at a content agency and is taking up Shared Parental Leave so I can scramble back onto the editorial horse/donkey. While I understand our current positions are not reflective of everyone out there, Shared Parental Leave is an option for around 285,000 eligible couples every year.
These couples – possibly you? – can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after having a baby. In it’s simplest form, this means you can take time off separately or be at home together for up to 6 months. While I live for snuffles on Eve’s teeny tiny little head, I am definitely ready to edge away from trying to write to the beat of The Wheels On The Bus. Equally, Matt is keen to tackle those code red nappy situations in the cheese aisle of Tesco with full jazz hands.
But our set-up is currently fairly rare. As it stands, the take up of Shared Parental Leave is as low as 2% and around half of the general public haven’t the foggiest that it even exists for parents.
But why does it exist? (I mean, other than to edge away from that frustrating phrase ‘Daddy Daycare’ – he’s parenting folks and it’s an ongoing task that he actually – truly – enjoys at times. Who’d have thought?)
“This government is determined to tackle and ultimately close the gender pay gap. To do this, we need to support women to fulfil their potential in the workplace – and giving women the choice to share childcare with their partners is crucial to that effort,” said minister for women, Victoria Atkins.
Sure, it won’t be for everyone and sure, some mammaries won’t allow separation earlier than 12 months. There are many reasons why it wouldn’t be taken up – but choice is essential here. To give a woman the choice of going back to work earlier, knowing her partner can officially swoop in with that equally expansive paternal wing.
And there it is. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s campaign ‘Share the joy’ is simply about that – choice and sharing, well, the joy. Business Minister Andrew Griffiths says: Shared Parental Leave gives choice to families. Dads and partners don’t have to miss out on their baby’s first step, word or giggle.
But this isn’t solely about offering up the parental unit an equal division of snuffles. Employers can cash-in the benefits, too. If I know anything, it’s that flexibility in work equals happier, more loyal and more productive employees. (From my experience flexibility makes people work harder and stopping employees from working – encouraging them to switch off – is the bigger issue).
That said, I’ve not yet ventured into sharing the burden of childcare; sharing those precious moments when I ask my eldest daughter, “how was your day?” to get a mumble of “I don’t remember, Can I have some Wotsits?” (I’m exaggerating; of course, because the gushing night-before-Christmas excitement I get at school pick-up is less easy to palate on page.)
But time will tell if it’s for us. One thing’s for sure, it’s a choice. One we made together. Matt reckons, “it’s fairly simple, really. I’m one half of the procreation equation so I should be able to enjoy (or endure occasionally) those first few months. I’m looking forward to some QT with both girls.”
I can’t wait to see Matt’s glazed eyes at 6.30pm every night as the Paw Patrol theme tune drills into his soul as he project manages demands for “the green spoon”, while Eve uses his index finger as a chew toy.
Let us know what you think. Are you sharing leave? Have you considered it but ducked out at the last? Let us know your thoughts.
Share the joy
Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015 to offer choice to eligible parents when it comes to childcare, and allow mothers to return to work sooner if they wish to. The policy benefits employers who can retain talent in their workforce and can contribute to closing their gender pay gap. Employment rights have been placed firmly at the centre of government policy, with Greg Clark, Business Secretary, taking responsibility for promoting the delivery of better quality jobs as part of a drive to boost productivity in the modern Industrial Strategy. As part of the campaign, parents who have taken Shared Parental Leave have shared their experience of how the policy has benefitted their families.
Yesterday my eldest daughter said, “Why did you walk past that man asking for money?” I literally stopped in my tracks because I hadn’t seen anyone and I was amazed that a 4-year-old had the emotional intelligence to question me on it. I didn’t have an answer other than “answering emails on my phone”, which made me feel relatively rubbish on both a parental and humanitarian level.
Whatever your beliefs are about giving money to buskers, there is no denying, the act of giving is, well, a good – nay essential – element of living. Whether that’s giving your seat to an elderly lady, giving your time to someone lost without Google maps or giving money to a charity that lights up your mind/knackered eyes.
But since having two kids, I barely get beyond the brashly-decorated Star Chart on our fridge when it comes to ‘doing good’. Doing good as a knackered mum is mainly focused on what my kids have done that’s ‘good’. A ‘please’ here, a ‘thank you’ there and a clean plate with only a solitary pea remaining.
And so any chance to do good, while doing everything else gets a huge jazz hands emoji from my side.
One of the reasons we switched to TPO (The People’s Operator) Mobile was, to be frank, because we are working with them on a paid basis. But the reason we entered into this partnership wasn’t simply ‘take the job, pay the bills’; this company gives back 10% of your monthly bill to your chosen charity.
So every time I speak to my mum about her pesky bunion, money is going towards Gingerbread – a charity that supports single parents. I can do good without even thinking, which is a magical thing, indeed.
This is not a sim
TPO is super flexible and is priced the same as any other network provider. Ultimately it’s a brand with a purpose – giving people a new, easy way to help fund the causes they care about. This is thoughtless thoughtfulness at its best. Just pick up the phone and fix big issues while fixing small issues: win-win. To check out the largest sim deals, go here. All Mother Pukka followers will get a £5 one-off charity payment to cause chosen by customer if they sign up using this link.
There are a few questions we regularly get asked about #flexappeal, so Papa Pukka sat down to be interviewed by his sceptical alter ego.
SAE: What the chuff is a Flex Appeal then?
PP: Flex Appeal is us parping on about flexible working, and why it’s a good thing: for businesses and for anyone who works or is looking for work. While it becomes a crunch issue when you become a parent – and disproportionately affects mothers – it’s just as valuable to anyone from first jobbers to CEOs.
Sounds like a load of InstaSPAM to me.
There’s no need to be like that. Our goal is simple and twofold:
ONE: Convince businesses to trial flexible working (properly) and be more open to requests.
TWO: Make people aware of their rights and encourage them to make the case for flexible working.
How’s twatting about in a leotard going to help?
We do #flexappeal flash mobs to raise awareness about flexible working and hopefully encourage people to ask what it is and why it matters. These involve us pitching up in town centres, dressed in brightly coloured athleisure, singing a song called ‘Let’s Talk About Flex’, to the tune of Salt n Peppa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’. Everyone is welcome to join, and if the numbers are high enough (we usually get a few hundred) that gets attention from local press and even occasionally TV. We’ve been to Trafalgar Square in London, to Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Bristol and want to do more, including Parliament Square. In a very juvenile way, the fact that ‘flex’ rhymes with ‘sex’ helps to get people’s attention.
How much are they paying you?
There is no mysterious ‘they’, beyond conspiracy theory websites. Most of what we do for flexappeal is done for nowt (other than the belief that it’s one practical way that life in the UK can be improved and the hope that working practices might be better by the time our nippers start work). In 2017 we had a three-month sponsorship deal with Regus, which seemed a good fit as they offer flexible working spaces and – from what we could tell when speaking to their staff – are very open to flexible working themselves. The money helped to cover things like travel, overnight stays, permits, insurance, hiring a cameraman, and a few hundred T-shirts for flash-mobbers. In return, they got to put their logo on some T-Shirts and at the end of any videos we made. The contract stipulates that we can’t talk numbers but, while we won’t be retiring off the back of it, it covered our flexappeal costs for that period. Generally, doing it costs us money.
Sounds a bit worthy. Why the chuff are you bothering?
Thanks, we think it is worthwhile. The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs across Britain every year – almost twice the number identified in 2005. That removes skills from the economy and taxes from the exchequer. Lack of flexibility – and the idea that mums are a hassle to employ – is the main problem. Motherhood is a significant driver of the gender pay gap, as women tend to have babies in their late 20s and early 30s, just as they’re approaching their career peak, and find that employer inflexibility limits their options. We have some of the lowest rates of productivity in the developed world, and flexible working is a proven catalyst for higher productivity. Also: we like working that way.
Meh. Nothing’s going to change though, is it?
Any big shift in public opinion tends to go through a period of outright resistance, followed by scepticism, followed by consideration, acceptance and then advocacy. People resisted the idea of weekends, paid holiday and votes for women. Trying to deny them now seems pretty barbaric.
Consider gay marriage. As a kid in the late 80s I probably thought the idea was a bit weird, largely influenced by the grown-ups around me. As a teen in the late 90s I was pretty ambivalent. By the early 00s I got to, ’well, there’s no reason why not’, before settling on, ‘seems pretty daft that’s not allowed, why’s it taking so long?’ That probably matches broader UK public opinion.
There’s a quote we tend to overuse by the writer Douglas Coupland: “The nine to five is barbaric. I think one day we will look back at nine-to-five employment in a similar way to how we see child labour in the 19th century.” As more people get to the advocacy stage, they can nudge more out of the resistance stage.
Ooh, look at you, giving it all the virtue signalling and the writer-quoting. You’re just doing this to get followers you shallow-faced ball-bags.
Oh dear, things are descending. We’re mostly doing it because we’re a bit stubborn. With childcare costs and commuting times, we found it impossible to both be in full time work. But we both needed to be in full time work to do mundane things like feed our children and pay the mortgage, so both went freelance and started Mother Pukka on the side. It got us fired up, and Anna in particular. If people follow us to hear more about it, all the better. The more people that are involved in the conversation, the more people are likely to push for flexible working. And, schmaltzy as this may sound, we don’t want our daughters to have to decide between earning money and raising kids.
Oh, think of the children! I bet you’re one of those types with three kinds of decanted olive oil, aren’t you?
I’ve got some Bertoli from the corner shop.
More on flexappeal
We’ve created a Facebook group for people to share stories of Flexible Working (good and bad). It’s a closed group that you can join here.
Advice for staff on their rights and making the case:
Advice for employers on how flex can help productivity and profits:
When did I quit my career? I think it was possibly sooner than I imagined; it was at the point where I thought, “I won’t continue with my law degree because I want to become a mother at some point. Instead I’ll turn to journalism because, well, you can at least freelance.” My career choice – while it has served me well and I wouldn’t change anything – was founded on looming inequality in the workforce. As a 22-year-old woman (with a mild hangover, a Greggs sausage roll in-hand and little ability to see beyond the weekend), I could see becoming a mother and continuing as a barrister would not go hand-in-hand. So I became a journalist, then a mother and here I am Sellotaping words together between boob feeds and hollers for “the red spoon, NOT the blue spoon”.
But brightly-hued cutlery and weaning concerns aside, why am I uniting with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) for their Broken Windows Campaign? (A campaign to tackle the smaller, discriminatory and often unintentional behaviours that contribute to gender inequality in the workforce) Is this not another bandwagon to jump on for International Women’s Day? Is this not just another company wheeling me out in the hope that they’ll look more gender-focused in their agenda? For one day?
I thought it might be. My cynical side had a – fairly unkempt – eyebrow raised. But what this organisation is trying to do is at the heart of what I’m trying to change with our Flex Appeal campaign – a campaign to push for flexible working for one and all in a bid to tackle the gender pay gap. The missing pieces of my jigsaw lie with them. I have the glaring lack of equality in front of me – from every message I receive of another pregnant mother made redundant on maternity leave to headlines shouting “why are there so few women at the top?” but they have the mechanic to pool that frustration and transform it into change.
Here’s a little intro from their side on what they are trying to do:
In the wake of 2017’s #MeToo movement and the introduction of compulsory gender pay gap reporting in the UK – professional women have never been more aware, or more engaged, in gender inequality than right now.
But while the papers and social media are full of examples of large-scale behaviours that contribute to gender inequality, women at work still need help challenging everyday discrimination that contributes to gender inequality. These small yet very common behaviours are otherwise known as ‘Broken Windows’. These behaviours can include women being talked over in meetings, comments about flexible working, or being described as pushy or shrill when they are being decisive or firm.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, the CMI has released a satirical ‘Inequality: a how-to guide’ video as part of its Broken Windows campaign, which aims to tackle smaller, discriminatory and often unintentional behaviours that contribute to gender inequality in the workplace.
If you don’t see how the above works, take a look at this video of comedienne Stevie Martin and actor Thom Tuck showing what it’s all about. Also for anyone looking for positive ways to navigate the broken windows in front of them, check out the new CMI Women Facebook Group, a new online community launched to give professional women and men a platform to rapidly crowdsource solutions to address the smaller behaviours which contribute to the wider gender issues at work.
If you want to hear more from me on this matter or have your voice heard, join me at 8pm on International Women’s Day (8th March) for a Facebook Live that will be broadcast on the CMI Facebook page. I will be joining Stevie Martin along with Randall Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, Haleema Baker-Mir and Reetu Kansal, both members of the CMI Women Committee and a representative from the Government Equalities Office to discuss issues of gender inequality in the workplace and how to tackle it!
This isn’t about making ‘sexism sexy’, it’s not about leaving men out in the cold and while this is happening around International Women’s Day, it’s not about one day. It’s about giving myself, at 22, the tools to follow my chosen career without the fear of a huge oaken door being slammed in my face the minute the swimmers run free. A career that could have led to me fighting in court for those who have, perhaps, faced discrimination instead of writing about it.
To find out more information, join the CMI Women Facebook Live broadcast on 8th March 2018 at 8pm or join the new CMI Women Facebook Group, a new online community launched to give professional women and men a platform to rapidly crowdsource solutions to address the smaller behaviours which contribute to wider gender issues at work.
This blog post was written in association with CMI.
I can’t remember what a holiday was like without kids. I have a vague sense of luxuriating by a swimming pool reading more than one page at a time without cries of “Mama, I need the toilet, NOW”. I vaguely remember waking up to the sound of lapping waves and not the sound of “Mama, I need milk, NOW”. I have a vague sense of needing to only think of myself and not the 1,458 things other people in my 100m radius need.
But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I would, however, change how we get some R&R. Infinity pools, glass coffee tables and silent spas are not where it is at for a family of four – including one pre-schooler who happens to holler things like, “Mama why does that man look like Shrek?”
So, for our first holiday in nearly two years, we’re climbing aboard the new Royal Caribbean ship, Symphony of the Seas in April and gliding out into the Mediterranean Sea. While this is a paid collaboration, there is nothing that brings more happiness to my/ a parent’s lugholes than these words: “There’s a huge slide in the swimming pool and a cocktail bar inside.” Job done.
(Plus, the concept of ‘containing’ the brood without fear they’ll end up on a pedalo heading towards the UK is a thing of relief. Containment with the right entertainment is a very merry match for a parental soul.)
Along with plush 5-star accommodation that borders the line between posh and playful, I can’t wait for Mae to clap eyes on the great open seas before hitting the sack. The incredible ship has a glow-in the-dark laser tag arena and Puzzle Break where teams race against the clock to escape the submarine-themed room.
With private balconies, this also means that when the kids are conked out, Matt and I can start repairing our relationship while lapping up the sound of waves against the deck below. Oh, and they do a knockout fish taco in El Loco Fresh.
Symphony of the Seas, indeed.
On 1 February I’ll be scooting along to an exclusive, on-land previewof Symphony of the Seas in London, called Symphony of the Senses. While advance tickets sold out in record time, FREE walk-in spaces are available on Saturday 3 February if you fancy a sneak peak. More info here: https://www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/symphony-of-the-senses/
And, if you’re keen to try out a holiday with Royal Caribbean, there are some great deals on! Until 5 March guests can snap up a buy one get one free offer with a further 25% off for the third and fourth guest for 6 nights or more departing between 1 April and 31 December 2018. These fares will include the All Inclusive Deluxe Beverage package for first and second guests on selected sailings to Europe, the Caribbean and on sailings from Southampton. A free of charge Refreshment Beverage Package will also be available for third and fourth passengers on selected Caribbean holidays.* The offer even applies to sailings on board the Symphony of the Seas, which is set to offer the most family-friendly and relaxing holiday experience a knackered parental unit could ask for.*Visit www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/terms-and-conditions/ for full terms and conditions
This blog post was written in partnership with Royal Caribbean
My folks brought me up to ‘go for it’. Whether it was an intense netball game, a job interview or a game of competitive Christmas Monopoly, I was raised to make the best of the cards in front of me.
Well, that worked out well for me until I had kids. I felt pretty successful as an editor on a magazine; I had a ‘nice chap’ as a boyfriend and despite some relentless hangovers, I felt like I’d ‘gone for it’ and maybe had it.
Cue Mae, my first daughter, who turned my life upside down in the best possible way. It was at that point that I realised the working world was not set up for mothers. I’d call it ‘running the gauntlet’ as I galloped home across London at 5pm to pick her up from nursery.
Things started slipping: mind, health, sock drawer (it was a catastrophe; although I’m yet to meet someone who has that nailed) and eating habits. My mum used to cook us a homemade dinner every night. We had meat one night, fish a couple of nights and then veggie the rest. I didn’t realise the extraordinary effort she went to over my eating life (that equates to roughly 26,567 dinners cooked) but she knew to ‘go for it’ there needed to be food in the tank.
By contrast, as both working parents, my husband and I were barely getting through the day – we were lucky if it wasn’t a cheese and pickle sandwich on repeat.
I think it was mainly down to time – how to get food in us all, bathtime done, work emails picked up and some semblance of happiness among it all.
So when Fish is the Dish* approached us with their Fish 2 a week health campaign – which encourages the UK to add seafood to their menu twice a week as part of a healthy, balanced diet that can prevent health problems such as Alzheimer’s and coronary heart disease – I was IN.
While I was focused on just getting food in us, I’d overlooked the simple things that were staring us in the face – quite literally once when getting the eye from a halibut in the seafood section of Tesco.
Apparently I’m not alone, though. A YouGov survey conducted by Fish is the Dish has revealed that two thirds (66%) of adults in the UK aren’t eating enough fish, missing targets set to help protect our heart health, and 82% of females aged 35-44 are not aware of the recommended consumptions levels.
So where did we begin? With the simple stuff. Mae loves a fish finger. I love a fish finger. Matt loves a fish finger. So we decided to create our own fish fingers on a Sunday with breadcrumbs and freeze them for those nights when we couldn’t see through the eye twitch. It was simple and Mae loved making fish fingers – she was less enthralled by my attempt at homemade Ketchup. We made a point of including fish twice a week for a whole 28 days and with the help of easy, tasty recipes from Masterchef winner, Jane Devonshire, it was easy as her incredible, creamy mash-embellished fish pie.
The stress of being a parent won’t really ease but if we are telling them to ‘go for it’, the least we can do – following my mum’s impeccable nutritional example – is to make sure there’s enough brain food in the tank to get them there. Wherever ‘there’ is.
#my2aWeek #AD #FishistheDish
*part of Seafish, the governing body that takes care of the UK fishing industry and those who work in it, and those who eats its fish too.
This is an extract from the Sunday Times Bestselling book Parenting the shit out of Life for Smallish Magazine where author, Anna Whitehouse details her preconceptions about having kids, and her experience of miscarriage.
Parenting, eh. It’s a word that deeply concerned me until I was about 28. It was associated with grim, bulging nappies in public toilets and Mars-bar-smattered kids flicking bogeys at your hungover head. It didn’t look like a happy place. Those parents didn’t look like happy people – not like the faux ones in John Lewis picture frames.
I took my contraceptive pill with military scheduling.
I aspired to have perfectly manicured nails at every waking moment, but was often looking down at Biro-stained stubs. I would never have my Oyster card ready at the tube barrier, to the overwhelming irk of The People of London, and was quietly delighted by terrible advertising puns like ‘gimme, gimme, gimme a naan after midnight’. I was someone who cultivated a world of sodden receipts at the bottom of my bag – from bars, restaurants and all manner of confectionery extravagances – but would never delve too deep for fear of what lies beneath.
The first time we got pregnant wasn’t a life choice I’d made; it happened. As an excitable youth living a carefree life of abandon in London, I’d accidentally got pregnant at 24 in the ‘honeymoon period’ of mine and Matt’s relationship – oxytocin, you intoxicating mistress. Having spent the majority of my life successfully not getting up the duff, this was a traumatic turn of events. We were both reporters on ‘esteemed’ B2B publications (him, Human Resources; me, Horticulture Week) at the time and felt this was a massive roadblock on our respective journalistic career paths.
I think that was the point I knew we were in this for the long-haul. After 49 days. For all the frippery of our wedding day five years later, this was the point that our lives locked together without even a whisper of “I do” or a hint of crisp white linen. This was the messy, raw point of no return, and through a deeply traumatic, sickening sequence of events, we realised we never wanted to lose a little part of us again. We knew we wanted to grow up and grow old together.
We were going to need all the strength we could muster. This would be the first of five miscarriages we would navigate in our relationship. The first of five little lives we would grieve. The physicality of passing that lifeless embryo sac is something that will remain with me throughout my life. As will the realisation that Mother Nature is the one who calls the shots and that it’s not anyone’s fault.
Having mourned three miscarriages before we had our daughter Mae, and another two before our daughter Eve, I know what it is to feel like a pariah in the maternal world. A nappy ad on the tube once left me sobbing uncontrollably, while friendships with mothers became punctuated with irrational jealousy from my side and an inability to know what to say from theirs. A weekly email from babycentre.com showing the size of my now inviable foetus would leave me numb. It was, undoubtedly, the loneliest period of my life.
And, yet, somehow along the way we would surface with two little girls – Mae and Eve. Two sisters who will hopefully have each other to hold onto in those moments when life doesn’t go to plan.
5 Things to Say
‘I know how much you wanted that baby.’ Acknowledge that something huge has been lost, and open a door to talk more.
‘I’m so sorry about your miscarriage.’ These simple words mean a lot, especially if you allow your mate to talk further, or even not to talk, as they wish.
‘Can I call you back next week to see how you are doing?’ Often people are sympathetic at the time, then never mention miscarriage again. It is reassuring to show your support is ongoing.
‘I was wondering how you are feeling about your miscarriage now?’ It’s nice for them to have the chance to talk about their miscarriage, even if it is a long time later and after a successful pregnancy. Parents do not forget a miscarriage.
‘I don’t really know what to say.’ The good thing about this is that it is honest. The fact that you are available to listen is what’s really important. If in doubt, say something – anything – and be prepared to listen. Possibly the hardest thing is when people say nothing at all.
ONE IN SIX
One in six known pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with about 75 per cent of those coming in the first trimester.
According to pregnancy research organisation Tommy’s, one in five UK women who miscarry have anxiety levels similar to people using psychiatric outpatient services. A third of women in the UK who receive specialist miscarriage aftercare are clinically depressed.
Recent research by Imperial College London suggests that four in 10 women who miscarry suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Extracted from Parenting the Sh*t Out Of Life by Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson (£16.99, Hodder & Stoughton)
I saw a reflection of myself last week in the window of Eve’s nursery. I was hovering over her, changing her nappy, gurning like a spangled party-goer with my mouth wide open. She was just casually doing her thing of grabbing her toes and gurgling to my sheer delight. I looked happy but unhinged.
But here I am with my second – most likely last – baby and I’m staring at her like an excitable Golden Retriever would the treat jar. In many ways it’s down to the fact we had such a tough time having Evie. After five miscarriages, I think you just go to a place of exultation once they are born – regardless of what they do. She covered me in baby porridge before a big interview last week and, while my former self might have gone to a bad place, I found myself saying, “what a poppet, you naughty little poppet, you little poppet. Who’s a poppet? Evie is a poppet.” Times have, indeed, changed.
Even my mum has noticed how I’m lapping up this precious time with her. With Mae, who was my first, I spent much of those first few months simply existing and keeping her alive. I once found myself looking in the mirror to see if anyone had noticed my raging eye twitch. Another time I found myself just standing in Tesco holding a pineapple unsure how to proceed.
But this time round, it’s been full-on touch, play, eye contact, snuggles and snuffles. And changing her nappy is a great time to cash that mama-baby time in. It’s one-on-one and despite the nappy contents, I love that we have our own language around this time. (Well, I say ‘our’; again it’s mainly me gurning and singing like an idiot). It’s a chance to clean her up with gentle Huggies Pure Wipes (they are made from 99% water and natural absorbent fibres* and leave her peaches soft and smooth) and look her in the eye and say, ‘wind the bobbin UP’.
My mum used to sing Dutch songs to me when I was little and having my nappy changed and I’ve picked up where she left off. I don’t remember much about being a child but I remember her touch; I remember her presence and I remember feeling very loved. It might not be quantifiable but I’m fairly sure it left me feeling confident to take on the world as best I could.
Even if she was left resembling an overenthusiastic meerkat.
Unlike some wipes, Huggies Pure Wipes are made with natural* (absorbent) fibres and 99% pure water. They are pure and gentle for sensitive skin, while gently cleaning and protecting for naturally healthy skin. They are also safe from day one and don’t contain any phenoxyethanol, parabens and perfume for gentle, natural care.
It’s only since having my own kids that I’ve truly realised what my sister and I put my mum through. From relentless squabbles over My Little Pony and tantrums that resembled toy Armageddon to the darkness of the teen years where my parents ended up hanging outside a dodgy club called Ritzy making sure I got home safely. Needless to say the minute Mae was born I said a long overdue sorry. “Mum I am SO sorry for The Stuff. Please tell me it gets easier?” [tumbleweed]
But my overriding feelings of growing up were akin to walking around with an invisible flumpy duvet wrapped around my shoulders. My mum’s Bambi-esque caring eyes were always there, ensuring I was OK. More than OK actually; reassured at every wobbly step and scooped up when the chips were down.
So since Sorry Gate, we’ve been chatting more about how she raised us and what she went through in the early years – ‘the newborn trenches’ as we now refer to them. Back in the 80s my mum used cotton wool and boiled water to wipe my bottom – not particularly handy when dealing with a code red nappy situation in the tinned goods aisle of your local supermarket.
Fast-forward a few years and the next best thing for us is from Huggies. Unlike many wipes, these ones are made with natural fibres* that are soft and gentle on Evie’s soft and peachy derriere. These wipes gently clean and protect for healthy, happy skin.
The key for me is choosing something natural. Unlike some wipes, Huggies Pure Wipes are made with natural* (absorbent) fibres and 99% pure water. It’s as close as you can get to my mum’s cotton wool balls and boiled water. I did a simple test when deciding on what to use on Evie – The Mascara Test. It’s not science based in any way and you should not try this at home but, you’d be surprised how many baby wipes out there sting your own face when removing something simple like mascara. Huggies Pure Wipes were the only ones not to leave me mildly wincing – and that’s because they don’t contain phenoxyethanol, parabens and perfume. In my mind if it stings my leathery chops that have seen me through a few seasons in Ibiza, then it’s going to have some impact on Eve’s tush.
And I can report on one particularly explosive nappy situation, these gentle, caring wipes not only cleaned up but left her cheeks as soft as the day she was born.
My face, however, has aged by about 20 years since the day she was born. But perhaps, one day, she’ll be saying sorry at some point too. Not before I’ve hung outside some dodgy gaffe called Ritzy at 2am, of course.
‘Tis the season to be jolly. Or simply very stressed about everything there is to do and everyone there is to feed. And everyone there is to fill with joy and jolliness with the right present.
We’ve had a long-standing love affair with Amazon. Not only do they stock our book Parenting the Shit out of Life (thanks for all the reviews while I’m here), they also help you fix the ‘joy’ bit in the click of a button. But there are some people in every family that have EVERYTHING or you know will deliver the standard ‘it’s lovely’, while inwardly wincing and wondering how little you know them.
(A particular low was an electric pair of scissors I bought my Uncle Les a few years back. Electric scissors are just a bad idea altogether.)
But that’s where Amazon Shop the Future ramps things up a notch. This is your one-stop-shop for all your innovative tech needs; we’re not talking about things Uncle Les might want now but things he might want in the future. Here expect all the good technologically amazing stuff but with a quirky twist. So I picked up a levitating plant post from Sweden for my sister who is hugely into design and, quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind being disappointed with floating foliage.
Instead of the usual primary-coloured tat, we went for a building game for Mae that is set to test mind, little hands and possibly her patience. Either way it’s a winner.
Then it’s me. I tend to buy my own presents. There’s no need for a violin, I’m just less interested in returning things in the greyness of the January sales. This time round I went function over jazzy excitement and got a never-ending phone battery to calm my furrowed brow and stop me swearing in public every time my phone dies.
And there we are. No longer present tense. You are welcome.