Not being the breadwinner

prevention.com

I live in a house I could never have dreamt I’d live in, I drive a car I’d never be able to afford. Recently I had one of those moments I occasionally have thinking about my previous life. And I felt slightly odd, almost like I didn’t deserve to be in my current situation. Is this because I’m a man? Then I thought, why on earth am I thinking like this, perhaps it’s guilt? Or perhaps I just occasionally think, had I not met my wife, things for me would be very different.

I only met my wife 6 years ago, had you asked before then where I might be living and what I would be doing in 6 years time, it certainly wouldn’t be what I’m doing now. “Imposter Syndrome” my wife calls it.

I’m a stay at home Dad. So by definition I’m not going to be the breadwinner in our family. It’s a decision me and my wife took together and I have no doubt that it was the best decision we ever made. I get to spend time with my two little girls and be actively involved in their early years, something a lot of men (with older kids) tell me they wish they had experienced.

These days, in over a third of UK couples the female is the breadwinner. Slightly above the European average of 31.1%. So it is not at all unusual for me to be in this position. Yet in 2017 the number of men out of the workplace specifically looking after children or the home fell to a 3 year low; 232,000 down from 241,000 the year before. Is the “novelty” of being a stay at home Dad wearing off? Do men feel that they are only valued for their work role?

Well for me neither is true. I really enjoy being at home looking after the girls and running the house. I did not attach a great value to my previous career as a management accountant. So for me, as the girls get older, I’m starting to get concerned about what I’m going to do when I do decide to return to the workplace.

I still find it hard to get out of the mindset of worrying about not contributing to the family financially. But I remind myself that, being at home, looking after the house and the girls, my contribution is just as important as paying for it all. As always, my amazing wife is tremendously supportive. Not only does she have a stellar career and is an amazing mum, but she is also my biggest supporter. That’s so important.

So whenever I have these “imposter” thoughts, I just think about my amazing wife and family and think how lucky I am.

An Occasional Post

It’s been a while, when I changed the blog’s name to the “Occasional Blog” I really wasn’t fibbing was I. So here is an occasional post, what have I been up to?

Well it’s been a busy few months at the Occasional blog HQ (when is it not?). Once again i’m in awe of the bloggers who manage to get content out there regularly while still looking after a family! The girls have been keeping me busy as usual. Little m has been growing up rapidly and recently celebrated her 2nd birthday. She’s spending a lot of time copying her big sister as well as practicing her “terrible twos”. There have been a few tantrums but nothing out of the ordinary, thankfully. She recently started doing 3 days at week at the same nursery school as big M. Which is great as the school is on a farm and incorporates a Forest School, both girls love going there.

It’s also great from my perspective as I get two days a week now where both girls are at school. Can I finally address my expanding waistline and get fit again on the bike? No, there’s housework to do. To be fair I have still managed to get on the road and do some training as well as get the housework done. And look, today I’ve even enough time to write a blog post! Go me.

We also recently found out where M is going to go to “big school” in September. School places are allocated by the county council, you can request up to four schools in order of preference. We got our first choice which is great as we had heard of some parents not getting any of their choices. It appears in some areas where there are a high density of children all vying for one or two good local schools, people will lose out.

Now we have to start the marketing campaign to get her used to the idea of the change to big school. M really doesn’t like change and is so settled at her nursery we’re worried she will struggle going to a new setting. Especially as we seem to have picked a school where none of her friends are going. But let’s face it, you remember your primary school days and the friends you make there very fondly. At least that’s what we’re telling ourselves!

It was quite emotional for me and my wife, the realisation that our little girl is growing up and starting school. That’s one inevitability I’ve recognised since being a parent; however long you feel certain stages of their lives are going, before you know it, time flies by and you’re left wondering “how did that happen?”

Talking of which….time has flown and it’s almost time to go and pick them up from nursery. Back to the grindstone!

My first Zwift experience

Zwift workout mode

Zwhat you may ask? As indoor trainers have gotten smarter, you can now access apps or training programs that add a bit of variety to your workout. You can ride a structured workout to actual video of professional cycle races (thesufferfest.com). Or you can join a virtual world and ride with other cyclists from around the world, Zwift. Your smart trainer will adjust the resistance according to the profile of the route in front of you. Certainly makes a change from sitting in the shed churning out the Watts to your favourite tunes.

Wahoo KICKR Core Smart trainer

I thought I’d have a go, I don’t get many chances to do much cycling these days. But I do have evenings where I can get on the rollers and do some exercise.

Getting Set up

Now to get the most from Zwift, you need the aforementioned smart trainer. The trainer links to the app and the resistance is adjusted to the profile of the course you’re riding. A smart trainer will also give an accurate Watts reading (the power you produce cycling) enabling you to race accurately against the other riders using the app.

However at the very basic level, i.e. my level, you just need an indoor trainer an ANT+/Bluetooth device, such as a speed sensor and a laptop. I have rollers, and my Garmin speed and Cadence sensor. I needed to get an ANT+ dongle which I could plug into my laptop so it could read the sensor and I was set to go.

Bike rollers

I signed up for the 7 day free trial and off I went.

The ride

WOW! you can certainly see why these online apps are so popular! I decided to join an event around the 2018 Worlds Road Race course in Innsbruck, Austria. Riding on rollers there’s no resistance so when the course goes uphill it adjusts your speed in the app accordingly. In the shed I was riding full gas, 40km/hr on the rollers but uphill in the app my avatar was barely making 12km/hr. So actually my heart rate was probably what it would have been riding uphill on that course!

It was addictive, I found I was riding hard to overtake riders in front of me. I was then drafting others and pacing alongside them. I managed to complete a lap of the circuit and realised I had been riding for 40mins on the rollers averaging 40km/hr for a good chunk of it. I’d never be able to do that normally! I was so motivated I’m desperate to get back into the shed to do another ride. I was buzzing when I came back from the shed.

Change the way you train indoors

You can also do structured workouts and join group rides. By using the mobile app as well, you can give kudos to fellow riders and also instant message them.

Conclusion

I can definitely see why these sort of training apps are so popular. After the free trial is up, Zwift costs £12.99 a month. Now that’s cheaper than a gym membership and I would definitely get a LOT more exercise using Zwift that’s for sure. Having said that I will probably wait until after the summer as I will save up for a smart trainer and then start back on Zwift. Riding rollers is hard work as you can’t change your position on the bike that easily. A trainer will enable me to sit up and ease my back for example.

Obviously nothing beats getting out on the open road and the benefits of training thereof. However if the weather is rubbish or, like me, you don’t have the time to get out there then it’s certainly worth the extra motivation to get on an indoor trainer.


Dealing with morning meltdown

I’m sure we’ve all been there. Trying to get the kids ready for school, be it nursery or reception class. I’ve got m ready, she’s not yet two so is still relatively easy to get into clothes whether she likes it or not. But M who’s recently turned four is a different prospect and sometimes it ends in a meltdown (for both of you).

You start telling her it’s time to get dressed. She comes in from playing with her toys, takes off her PJ bottoms, puts pants on then spends the next 20mins running around carrying her vest not making any actual progress in getting dressed. In the meantime I’ve got the bags ready, m is ready, we’re all ready to go:

“Will you please put your clothes on!”

“But I need heeeellpppp”

“Ok, here, I’ll help”

“NO, I can do it myself!”

“Will you please get dressed!!, Ok we’ll see you in the car”

“NOOOO DADDY STAY HERE”

“Will you please get dressed!”

And so on, until one of you (usually me) loses the plot.

So how do you avoid this escalation?

Well I borrowed the following from this book “Divas & Dictators, the secrets to having a much better behaved child“, it has proven itself on a number of occasions.

So how could I have avoided the confrontation around the morning routine:

Make a plan

Sit down the night before or when you finally have a moment and think about the problem. Think about the following things:

  • What is the behaviour I want to stop? – Be specific, if there are lots of things, start with the one you think is easiest to change.
  • How much of the behaviour can I safely ignore? – Often simply ignoring the behaviour will make it disappear.
  • What would I like to see instead? – Be precise and more importantly, realistic.
  • Look at other factors that might be contributing to the problem? – Are they tired, hungry or thirsty?
  • What reward could I use when I see the right behaviour? – don’t confuse a bribe with a reward (for clarity a reward is something that is given when the child does something positive that was agreed on in advance).
  • What sanction could I use if things go wrong?

So I took some time to think about the above and how I could get M dressed so we can get out the door on time. Then when I had made my plan it was time to teach it to M.

The following morning after we had got up and I had given the girls their breakfast. I got down to M’s level and asked her to listen to me. I told her calmly and carefully:

“Ok darling, we don’t want to have another morning like yesterday when Daddy got angry”

“No Daddy”

“So while I get yours and m’s things ready, you can play but as soon as I say it’s time to get dressed, you must come to me start getting dressed”

“Yes Daddy”

“If you get dressed on time and we are ready before 8:15” (this is my notional cut off point for both girls to be dressed and ready) “you’ll get lots of ticks on the reward chart, and there will be more pocket money at the end of the week. But if you mess around and are not ready on time, no ticks, no pocket money”

“Yes Daddy, I want to get lots of ticks”

“Great, now off you go”

It worked. I was calm and when I had all their things ready, I asked M to come and get dressed and she did. I praised her along the way (this is important) that she was getting ready really well and helping Daddy lots while he gets m ready.

Then she came with me to the kitchen while I put lots of ticks on her reward chart. PHEW!

I’m certain we shall no doubt have more days when things go wrong, but hey, that’s parenting.

How do you manage bad behaviour/achieve your desired result with your children? I’d love to hear.

UPDATE

Since writing this post I’ve tried a different approach to the morning routine. We spoke to M and suggested that we get her dressed after she gets up and before breakfast. This gave her responsibility for the decision and she was up for it.

Four days into the new routine and mornings have transformed. With M already dressed before breakfast then there’s less stress for me to get her in her clothes and off to nursery. She now has time to have a little play after breakfast while I finish getting things ready, all of us are happy. In fact, this week we have consistently got out of the house at least 10-15 mins earlier than normal. Result!

The downside is the risk of getting porridge on her clothes, but it’s a small price to pay for my sanity and no meltdowns.

My Dad and Dementia

(c) OccasionalBlog.net

Just recently my Dad went for a MRI scan. It was two years since his last one and it showed significant deterioration in his brain function. It confirmed that he is suffering from Alzheimers disease.

We all suffer with memory loss as we get older but for some, it’s a little more serious than that.  For my Dad it’s slowly been creeping up on him over a number of years.

Early Signs

At first he would be aware that his memory wasn’t the best. He would always start conversations “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t remember you too well, my memory is crap nowadays”. It was all a bit lighthearted to begin with but then it started to affect his moods.

He would get really angry with himself if he forgot the simplest thing, like a pint of milk he’d asked to pick up as he was passing the corner shop. I think he was scared that he would end up like his own mother who suffered with Dementia and passed away not recognising any of her children.

To begin with my Mum also found it frustrating, they would visit places they’d been to before and he would say how he’d never been there.  Mum would tell him, exasperatedly, that they had. My parents like going on cruises. After their 4th or 5th cruise holiday, Dad told me what a fantastic holiday it was, he’d never been on a cruise before. He would meet acquaintances who would greet him warmly and he’d have no idea of who they were.

Acceptance

Gradually they started to accept that this was becoming the new normal and Mum would devise ways to help him deal with it. They began to keep photo diaries of their holidays so she could show Dad the places they’d been and remind him of what happened.

Dad has also slowly accepted his failing memory and tries to not get angry about forgetting things. However this has also been helped by the antidepressants that are now part of his daily pill intake. My sister, who is a doctor and lives close to them, has been a great help and support (to my mum in particular). Providing sound advice and making sure when they go to their memory consultations that they know what’s happening.

However he has his good days and bad days. He still gets very confused, for example he recently tried to use a loyalty card instead of his debit card in a shop. He was convinced it was his debit card and got very agitated when Mum tried to explain that it wasn’t.

How do I feel?

While we all knew that some form of Dementia was going to be the diagnosis, to have it confirmed was a hammer blow. I’ve found it really hard, a bit of research online tells you that Alzheimers is a life limiting condition. My sister thinks we have about 5 years until he’s a shell of his former self.

As you can see from the picture at the beginning of this post, me and my Dad are (were) keen cyclists.  We enjoyed a number of cycling holidays together to Mallorca. Of course, he doesn’t really remember them. I’m beginning to feel I’m beginning to lose the Dad I used to ride with around those stunning mountain roads.

We live near London, a three and half hour (minimum) drive from them. It is so difficult as you get older and you realise that your parents are beginning to increasingly need your support. This is made doubly difficult when you have a young family who equally require 100% of your attention.

So what next?

We’ll be making sure we go and visit as often as we can. I want my girls to spend as much time as they can with their Grandpa which will hopefully help him as well. Now we have a formal diagnosis, my parents can get the support they require. This will be doubly important for my Mum who will also get the support she needs, Dad is ok at the moment but I can see the day when he will need more and more care.

Has someone in your family been affected by Dementia?

Useful Links

DementiaUK

Alzheimer’s Research UK

Alzheimer’s Society

NHS

Mental Health Foundation

What’s planned for the vegetable patch in 2019

I was very pleased to finally get round to make raised beds in our vegetable patch last year. You can read about my project here. I managed to get them finished in early summer and we got some vegetables in there. We had some limited success. The plants grew like wildfire but this is not ideal for veg as they put all their energy into growing leaves and not enough into growing the actual vegetable. We put this down to the soil being too rich in nitrogen due to mainly being compost.

So to combat this I’m topping up the beds with some plain topsoil which will hopefully tone down the nitrogen. We can only hope.

This is my wife’s plan for the beds,

You’ve got 3 raised beds from left to right and a section of old vegetable patch at the end. We’ve got some crop rotation going on…the carrots for example were in the 1st bed last year.

What’s changed this year is that we’ve actually got some of the seeds planted early and slowly germinating in the loft in the house:

We are also taking the advice of my wife’s father who recommends that root vegetable should be sown directly into the patch…i.e. carrots for example should be sown as seed directly into the patch. We’ve not done this the last couple of years having bought tiny seedlings from the garden centre and transplanting them. We’ve yet to get a successful crop.

What did do well were the courgettes and potatoes. Looking forward to some more of the same this year.

So fingers crossed for the 2019 vegetable patch.

How’s your planning for 2019’s growing season going?

A Day in the Life by Mumma in Training

I recently had the honour and pleasure to be asked to do a “day in the life” Q&A by Steph at Mumma in Training. Steph writes and excellent blog about her experiences as a mum. There are some really useful tips, hacks and observations on the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

You can read my interview here.

Party Politics

No, not of the Brexit variety. I’m talking about the minefield that can be 4yr old birthday parties.

This was brought home to me at earlier this week when I picked up a little envelope from my daughter’s drawer at pre-school. This was at picking up time and there followed an embarrassing situation.

We opened the envelope and I read the contents to her, it was a birthday party invite from one of the other girls in the class. M was so overexcited she skipped out and off to the car we went. We were leaving at the same time as one of her little friends.

She excitedly asked her “are you coming to the party?”

Little friend; “Yes”

Little friend’s mother; “NO, you’ve not been invited!”

I was silently chastising myself for mentioning the envelope, I should have waited until we were in the car before we opened it.

We have got to know each other through our girls friendship at pre-school and I felt immediately embarrassed. It’s quite something isn’t it when you worry about mentioning if your child has got an invite to so-and-so’s party in case the child of the person you’re talking to hasn’t. Not everyone decides to hire a space that can cope with the 30+ children in M’s room at pre-school.

Worrying about party invites when your child is only 4yrs old! I fear there is more of this to come! But that is what happens isn’t it, despite your best intentions, you worry if your child is going to be well liked among their peers.

I try not to worry, after experiencing the chaos that is a party in a soft play last weekend I can happily never experience that again. But you want the best for your children and if going to a birthday party is what they want then along you go!

However another dilemma is soon to raise its head. It’s M’s birthday next month and we are organising a party for her (it’s all a 4yr old wants afterall) in the local village hall. We’ve booked an “ice-princess” entertainer (you can guess who). They are expensive and as soon as you have more than 25 kids you need to pay for another entertainer to support them. So now we have to decide who gets invited and who doesn’t from her pre-school. M doesn’t care as long as Elsa is at her party so as ever it’s left to us parents to navigate the minefield that is children’s birthday parties.

Help!

Potty training – THE TRUTH

This post was originally published in my previous blog in May 2018

My wife and I have not been mentioning this for fear of jinxing it. It’s been six days now and I feel I can now share with you all.

We have finally cracked toilet training with M! There, I’ve said it.

Last Thursday she came home from nursery school having managed to actually do a poo on the toilet there and not soil her pants. Every day since then when she’s sat on the toilet in the morning she’s managed to do a poo. We had a long weekend when for the first time in, well it feels like forever, we’ve not had any accidents to clean up.

The Truth

So here’s the truth about potty/toilet training. IT’S HARD, end of. I don’t want to sugar coat it for you, we’ve had a real rollercoaster with M. It has been a year (yes a year) since we started the process. I’ve written about it as we’ve progressed along the journey, see my Potty Training section. When you do a bit of research online you see many books on the subject such as “How to potty train in 3 days”. Bullsh*t!

When I’ve been told by other parents “oh Daisy was hard to potty train, it took two weeks”, I politely smile and stifle the urge to scream. We started this saga with M in May 2017, like I say, potty training is hard. To be clear, we’ve not been at it non-stop since then. There have been breaks, the latest period of training started just after Christmas and she’s finally got it 5 months later!

What’s worked

I feel now that my wife and I are experts on the matter, so to help you get through it here are my tips on what’s worked for us.

  1. Reading Material – for you. Like I said there are hundreds of books out there on the subject. I’ve read loads and have taken snippets from each. However the one that really seemed to make sense was Oh Crap! Potty Training, by Jamie Glowacki. Recommended.
  2. Reading Material – for your little one. What’s been a great success for M is leaving a number of her books in the toilet. She loves reading and her successes have come when she’s been on the loo initially for a wee, but then she grabs a book and sits there for 10 minutes more and voila! Poo in the loo….woohoo! This tip also covers you sitting there and reading to them, although M got wise to this and used it as an excuse just to get read to; “Daddy can you read me a book on the loo, then maybe I can do a poo”.
  3. Going Commando – no not for you. A suggestion from Jamie’s book is giving your child time running around bare bummed. This seemed to really work for M. Having a bare bum made her realise when she needed to go and usually resulted in a successful visit to the toilet. Having said that, she was running around the garden once bare bummed and dropped a massive turd on the lawn, so you can’t win all the time!
  4. Rewards. One thing that Jamie Glowacki discourages in her book (see point 1) is rewards for successful visits to the toilet/potty. Whether it be a sweet or marble. She suggests that this creates a reward obsessed monster and has the potential for battles. We’ve not found this. We give M a marble for every successful poo on the loo and when the marble jar is full she gets a prize or her choice. We also reward her with a chocolate button. This has not been the source of any battles and has worked really well. But each child is different.
  5. Pant Liners. This is a relatively recent thing for us, but I was put onto this by a friend and they have helped. Also Jude and Di at  Dry Like Me have been super helpful in being a sounding board for our toilet training woes. The liners go into the pants and make it easier to clean the pants when an accident happens. You end up not throwing away the soiled pants. This is more for your sanity than anything else.
  6. Poo goes to Poo Land. Yes an app about going to the toilet. It has helped, firstly Galla gets to use the iPad, her favourite treat. And the app has reinforced with her that poos go to poo land down the toilet.
  7. Positive Reinforcement. An obvious one this one. Even when you are at the end of your tether and your little one has a success then do the poo poo dance, whoop with joy, high 5s all round. Make them feel that they’ve really achieved something. We’ve even phoned Grandma and Grandpa to report the success. It gives your little one confidence to repeat that success.
  8. Negative Reinforcement. Let me be clear, this is not direct punishment per se, and we’ve had limited success with it. But it can sometimes work. When your little one is engrossed playing with a particular toy and she was too busy to bother going to the potty/toilet then has an accident. I’ve taken said toy away and said it will come back when she has a success. I said it sometimes works, because it did get to the point when M was having so many accidents she was just handing me whatever she was playing with at the time and said “you can take this away Daddy”. Having said that, we took away M’s dress up dresses (the Elsa dress being a huge favourite) and explained to her this was because they are difficult to clean. After a long period without them she has got her dress up stuff back and is so happy and excited she feels like she really has achieved something.
  9. Fancy pants. You can spend lots of money on pants with their favourite cartoon characters on. But for M watching Skye going into the bin didn’t seem to prove a big enough deterrent.
  10. Peer pressure. When your little one attends a nursery or day care setting potty training can be hard. We’ve found that M has had some successes when she has gone to the loo with her friends. Indeed we’ve even got the nursery staff to suggest to her friends to go to the loo to encourage M to go as well. The nursery staff also have a marble jar for her there which once she fills it she gets a reward. Apparently her latest reward is to bake a cake….can’t wait.

In the end

In the end I have got heartily sick of people telling me “she will get it”. When you have a bucket in the laundry overflowing with shitty pants and Vanish powder and your little darling has just wet the floor again, it feels like she will just never get it. I was convinced that I would still be changing her soiled pants when she was 10.

We don’t know what just clicked last week, nothing has changed in the way we parent her. M obviously just got it and decided that each morning she always does a poo on the loo.

Do you have any top tips for potty/toilet training. Let me know.

Potty Training – The Saga Continues

This post was originally published in my previous blog in April 2018

Long ago in a galaxy far far away…..

There was a little girl who knew when to go to the toilet and took herself off there without any problems at all.

And the link between those two sentences, one is science fiction, the other is just pure fiction.

The story so far

(c) popsugar.com

As regular readers will know we’ve had our fair share of issues potty training M. We started this latest session of training just after Christmas, M also turned three recently so this is it, there’s definitely no going back. She has been doing really well. She prefers to use the toilet and can normally get herself there to do a wee. It’s the poos that are the issue. Everyone says “she’ll get there” which is great, but when you’ve been trying to potty train for almost a year, it’s not much consolation.

The lowest ebb

The thing is, there really is no rhyme or reason to when they will get it. We encourage her, we act disappointed when appropriate, we praise exuberantly when needed. You feel like you’re just not getting through sometimes. This all came to a head the other week at nursery school.

I got a call from the room leader explaining that M had had a big poo accident. She’d cleaned her up as best she could but perhaps I should come and pick her up in case she does it again. Now, to be fair to nursery, the accident was quite (hope you’re not eating) “liquid” and they were concerned that she was unwell. When I came to pick her up I had a long conversation with the room leader about “what can I do”. She suggested that we don’t make a big fuss and just keep on as we were, perhaps use marbles in a jar as an incentive for example. Excuse me, “don’t make a big fuss”?! How is calling her Dad to pick her up early when she soils herself, not making a fuss???

When we thought about it, both me and my wife were quite annoyed. Especially as the next day at nursery, M refused to eat her lunch. She knows that food leads to poos, perhaps she didn’t want to eat in case she had a poo and I was called to bring her home early?

The only way is up

Moving on from that incident I feel she’s definitely become more aware of going to the toilet. Also an upside is there is more focus from her key worker and room leader at nursery on supporting her with her toilet training. It’s about time!

A breakthrough?

This last week we’ve had a couple of amazing breakthroughs. On one day she managed to go to the loo to do a wee and at the same time did a poo, this happened twice in one day! Then a day later she came into kitchen in the morning and said “I think I need a poo”, took herself off and did it on the loo!! AMAZING! Me and my wife were so giddy with success, we even opened a bottle of bubbles at the end of the day.

Of course that was four days ago and since then she’s reverted and hasn’t managed to make it to the loo for a no.2. Sigh, kids giveth then taketh away!

I am taking the two glorious days we had of success. Hope it’ll happen again soon.

Sorry about all the toilet talk but as a parent I never thought I’d become quite so obsessed with my daughter’s bodily functions. What do you think?