Archive for May, 2015

What if the buck stops with you?

shutterstock_42362977At dinner with friends recently, I realised everyone there was struggling with something. It’s hard being an adult sometimes! If it wasn’t illness, it was relationship stress. If it wasn’t that, it was problems at work or with the kids.

We’re lucky because, when things are tough, we have each other to lean on for support and practical help. Not everyone feels that sense of ‘village’ quite as intensely.

At a recent workshop, I was asked the question: “What happens when you’re the only ‘adult’ in the picture?” In this case, all of the other adults in the extended family were ill, either with serious physical illnesses or mental illness. For others, the lack of village is due to displacement from family—living interstate or overseas.

When the buck stops with you and you feel isolated and weighed down by responsibility, ironically it’s even more important to have ‘me time’. It’s vital to take time out, replenish your energy and look after your health first, before helping others (a la the oxygen mask analogy).

Another irony is that the less support you have, the more important it is to ask for help. You might think that, with responsibilities coming out of your ears, and people leaning on you from everywhere, there’s nobody left who you can call upon.

At the workshop, I asked the room (filled with the woman’s colleagues) if anyone would be prepared to respond to a call for help from her, either day or night.

Guess how many people put their hands up?

EVERYONE. Every. Single. Person. (Which was about forty people.)

Every day in social media groups, I see calls for help from single mums who feel they have no support and are isolated. Every day I see these comment threads swamped by the kindness of strangers offering to meet up or help out.

Recently, when friends needed to arrange for some fresh water and rice to be transported into a remote, cyclone-ravaged island in Vanuatu, the task seemed impossible. That is, until I posted the question on Facebook. Within minutes, it was sorted. We’d had no idea that a stranger would come forward with exactly the transportation needed, because he happened to be involved with a coconut plantation on that very island.

I do not accept that there is ‘no-one to ask’. I do not accept that we have to ‘do it alone’.

People WILL help us, if needed. We DO have a support network around us, even when it seems invisible.

Nine times out of ten, it’s not that nobody is prepared to help. It’s that we’re not prepared to ask.

We create walls that shut out the village that exists around us, always.

The buck doesn’t stop with us unless we let it.

Time to quit?

shutterstock_94764160Every so often, a child says or does something that makes me think they’re actually listening!

This week it was my four-year-old: “My mum never gives up. We don’t give up, do we? If we can’t do it, we try again. If that doesn’t work, we ask for help or try another way.”

I felt like signing him up as a junior coach for WorkLifeBliss, and was reminded just how ‘malleable’ they are in the early years. How much they take in when we don’t realise we’re modelling something. (Just to be clear: he’s also taking in a whole lot of imperfection as we go, and the teens never want me talking about that ‘work stuff’ when I try to provide advice, so if you’re picturing us skipping through family life like the Von Trapps—stop!)

This idea of persistence, though—of work-arounds and pressing on and forging through and finding a way, is something I value highly. As an author, I have to. It can take years of hard work and rejection to reach a goal, and if all authors gave up at the first ‘no thanks’, a lot of the world’s most loved fiction wouldn’t exist.

It’s something that gets me through running a business, and through parenting and through my marriage and through all kinds of hard moments where I just want to stop or run away or admit defeat. The reason I don’t is because these things really matter.

But what about the times when giving up is sensible?

How do you know when to quit? Where’s the happy medium between laziness or giving in too easily and stubbornness? Between ‘meh’ and ‘flogging a dead horse’?

A friend sent me a thought-provoking quote during the week:

“A well-executed quit is its own reward.”

Think of this: in Australia, we commemorate the sacrifice of our service people each April in a national day based around one of the most well-executed withdrawals in military history. Gallipoli was a disaster for us. A defeat in which we lost over eight thousand precious young lives. Some argue that our boats landed in the wrong place, and the campaign progressed in a negative direction from there.

And isn’t that what happens in our lives, too (thankfully without loss of life in most cases)? Sometimes we land in the wrong place. Sometimes it’s the wrong job or the wrong course of study or the wrong relationship. There comes a time when it costs us more to stay than it does to leave.

There’s the school of thought that there are ‘no mistakes’ and that ‘nothing is ever wasted’ and, to some extent, that’s true. We can learn and grow from nearly every experience.

But sticking doggedly at something JUST for the sake of ‘never giving up’ could mean this:

  • You’re missing a better or more suitable opportunity
  • You’re ignoring the true purpose and relevance of the exercise (you’ve made it all about ‘sticking at it’ rather than the ‘why’)
  • You’re wasting time and energy
  • You’re miserable

Psychologists have observed that we have an innate desire to ‘complete’. We’re uncomfortable with unfinished business. (Putting down a half-read novel you’re not enjoying can bring disproportionate distress after the hard work you put in getting that far into it!)

But if your time was limited (and shhh, it is) would you really fill it doing what you’re doing right now? Ask yourself honestly, hand on heart, are the rewards worth it?

A few years ago, I quit my Masters at Grad Cert level. That’s two-thirds through the course. I was doing too much, and wanted to spend more time with my kids on weekends and get my first book finished. My daughter, then seven, burst into tears and said “Mummy! You can’t give up on your dreams!”

And you know what? I never will. But sometimes the best decision is to bow out gracefully now. Sometimes it’s to chase a more important dream.

Behind closed doors…

IMG_3949Yesterday, I went for a walk around Canberra’s beautiful lake with my nieces. It was a crisp, sunny morning and we stopped to photograph swans and rabbits and hot air balloons. We drank in the view of the mountains, the quietness, the clean air. Then, on the way back to the car, one of the little girls asked why there was a person sleeping on a cardboard box in the picnic shelter…

Last week, our city was named for the second time as the best place to live in the world. An OECD report ranked 362 regions against nine measures of well-being, including safety, housing, access to services, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment, income and health—and we came out top.

In the same week, another report explained that homelessness here has increased by 70% in the last twelve months. Hundreds are turned away from shelters every night. One night last week we had the coldest minimum temperature in Australia (even colder than the top of Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains). It was minus 5, with an apparent temperature of minus 7.6. And hundreds sleeping rough.

Four Canberra women have been murdered in domestic violence situations so far this year. Domestic violence crisis centres and hotlines are being crushed under the weight of increased demand.

So, when you peel back the layers behind our glossy OECD image, there is much more to the story.

There always is.

I remember having a conversation a few years ago with a woman whose life I idolised. She was stunning, with a pigeon pair of beautiful children. They lived in an exquisite house and she had a rewarding career and bountiful time to volunteer. She was also studying, and threw parties the likes of which I’ve never experienced before or since, because she was a fabulous entertainer. Her clothes were glamorous, her car was amazing and, no matter what time of the day I bumped into her, she appeared flawless.

I asked her once how she had time to do it all (and to do it all so seemingly well) and her answer floored me:

“I’m so miserably married, I have to fill every waking moment.”

 

That was the day I learnt to stop comparing my ‘behind the scenes’ with others’ stage performances. It’s when I realised that we never truly know what’s going on in someone’s life, no matter how things look from the outside.

Like Canberra, each of us might measure up well against certain ‘ratings’ in our lives: we have a roof over our heads and a job and a family—but what’s really going on for us?

There’s no neon sign above our heads proclaiming to the world that we’re struggling with a mental illness, or we hate our work, or we suffer abuse at the hands of the partner everyone else admires. There’s nothing to explain that the breezy smiles and fake “I’m fines” are the armour we wear against crumbling.

Nobody can hear our secret thoughts. Nobody knows how unqualified we feel in certain situations. How nervous we are or how fearful. Nobody can tell how much we’re privately berating ourselves for yelling at the kids until our throats hurt, or mucking up that presentation at work.

Because there’s ‘public us’ and ‘private us’. Even the most communicative and open amongst us have some deep and private thoughts or fears or guilt or embarrassment that we worry we couldn’t even admit to our closest friends.

One of the most powerful things we can know is this: “It’s not just me.”

If you’re feeling like a “freak”—as if everyone else has their lives together and you don’t. As if you’re not far enough ahead, or not a nice enough person… If you’re feeling judgemental and short-fused and disappointed… and if you’re comparing yourself to someone who appears to the world as though they don’t struggle with any of these things, then take a deep breath.

The official rating is only part of the story. How we rise against the challenges we’re all facing underneath our glossy exterior lives is what really makes us who we are.

We can and should celebrate the things that go right and pat ourselves on the back when we do well. But it’s realistic to remember, too, that every single one of us is struggling with something. xx

Here are some resources and helplines

Lifeline: 13 11 14 – www.lifeline.org.au

1800Respect (Domestic Violence): 1800 737 732 – https://www.1800respect.org.au

Kids Helpline (KHL): 1800 55 1800 – https://www.kidshelp.com.au

Mensline: 1300 78 99 78 – https://www.mensline.org.au

Parentline:  state-based service – for a listing of the services:  http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/hotlines.html

Suicide Callback Service:  1300 659 467 – https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

Mumma said there’d be days like this

IMG_3819On Mother’s Day, I spent three hours in Accident & Emergency with my fourteen-year-old, having x-rays on a suspected broken arm. From there, we went to the warehouse to pick up 3,000 pamphlets that she was due to fold and deliver that afternoon, which of course she couldn’t do due to her injury and the rain, so we’ll sort that out over the next few days.

We came home, and my other daughter was about twelve hours into a fourteen-hour specialist maths assignment the likes of which I’ve never encountered in my entire education. She hadn’t left her bedroom all weekend, other than when I dragged her to Pitch Perfect 2 as an escape. Then my four-year-old said ‘Mummy – would you like to wrap up your present?’

He meant the pair of Wonder Woman pyjamas I’d bought from K-mart the day before. The gift I’d actually requested for Mother’s Day was something he couldn’t see—a donation to the Send Hope appeal (for emergency obstetric support in Vanuatu).

He then had some sort of tantrum over the exercise bike which, truth be told, began at my sister’s place during afternoon tea with mum, where he ripped a door off its hinges and was basically rude, cranky and badly mannered the entire time. Back home, our oven element went…

Needless to say, my day resembled the opposite of the expectation, particularly if I went by the myriad images in the piles of pamphlets that have been clogging our house all week, depicting smiling mums—perfect hair, sparkling eyes, delightful children…

On the surface of it, my experience was not glossy-brochure beautiful. You really had to dig around in it, searching for the good stuff. And I found some:

  • Gorgeous conversations with my daughter while waiting in casualty
  • The plastic necklace my son made at childcare
  • Out-loud laughing during Pitch Perfect—maths assignment temporarily forgotten (thank you Rebel Wilson!)
  • My sister’s coconut choc mud cake
  • The way my brother-in-law gave some much-needed advice to my sixteen-year-old about Year 11 and 12
  • Reminiscing at old photos
  • The delicious dinner my husband made, oven-challenges notwithstanding
  • The sound of my kids preparing a ‘show’ together in the other room

It would have been so easy to descend into self-pity and write the day off and feel de-valued: (“It’s MOTHER’S DAY! A day for ME!”), except that I have friends who were avoiding their Facebook feeds because seeing images of happy mums was too painful. I have other friends for whom this Mother’s Day was the first without their mums, or possibly the last with their families intact.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful to have children to nurture when they’re sick or sore or stressed out by complex calculus. I’d love not to have to deal with poor behaviour from a pre-schooler, but understand it’s part of the gig. I’m immensely glad to still have a mum, particularly when she’s turning 83 later this month, and despite the challenges brought by her being that age.

And I think I’ll book in a massage soon… 😉

ps. I didn’t really make her lug the pamphlets herself. The pic was for dramatic effect. 🙂