Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One door closes...

I don’t do ends of eras well.

My baby finishes primary school today. Not the new baby who is gurgling in the pram beside me as I write this, but his twelve-year-old sister – who was his age yesterday and is now a gangly pre-teen who fills me with joy and frustration in almost equal measure.

I’ve had about six cups of tea today and they haven’t taken the edge off the train smash that I am at the thought of flying past this milestone. I fuel my instability with a tortuous glance at her kindergarten photo – the one we took on her first day, of me crouching down at her level, holding her hands, staring lovingly into her anxious little face and willing her to be confident.

Whatever I did that day, it worked. Not immediately, mind – she was barnacled to my ankle at every morning drop-off for the first five weeks and, at the time, I thought it would never end.

Now it’s me – barnacled to her ankle, as I watch her race past me and clatter the front door behind her, despite my telling her every morning not to slam it. Racing past me full stop.

She’s clutching an old school polo shirt and a heap of textas for everyone to graffiti their names on it today. The music she’s listening to is awful. She looks at me like I came down last week in the Queanbeyan flood. The bathroom reeks of way too much hair-removal cream, after I let her use it for the first time for tonight’s farewell disco, despite her being far too young (ie. exactly the same age that I was when I first shaved my legs, but that was different! I felt much older than she looks!)

I thought it would never end, and now it has.

‘I can’t believe it’s her last day of primary school,’ I sob, when my husband asks me what’s wrong.

‘Oh well,’ he replies. ‘She’ll start high school next year.’

I look at him incredulously – carrying our seven-week-old baby, who he’s just changed, fed and burped, as well as cup of tea that he’s made for me – and wonder how he could have gone so far wrong with that comment.

It occurs to me that this was perhaps not, in hindsight, the best week to choose to wean the baby. That particular horse has, however, well and truly bolted, and there must be a way of riding this roller-coaster without re-lactating.

I have a flashback to my own final day of primary school. The big party we had at Anna Green’s house. The kissing competition...

Right! That’s it! I need a distraction, and I need one fast. It’s times like this that you need the soothing fluffiness of ABBA, and what could be more harmless than watching Mamma Mia on DVD?

An hour later, I’m submerged in a swamp of used tissues and empty chocolate wrappers, with Meryl Streep’s Slipping Through my Fingers on continuous loop.

I realise I have precisely an hour and fifteen minutes to pull myself together before my daughter gets home, takes one look at me and accuses me of being a weirdo/freak/loser etc before instructing me not to be embarrassing at the presentation evening (at which, I kid you not, they are showing a slide-show of their school journey, set to music).

I rifle through the letter box, hoping to find a Round Robin Christmas letter but finding instead a letter from the high school she’s going to. Dare I open it?

It’s addressed to the 2011 Year Seven parents and outlines what will happen in the first week of school. As I read through it, I find it strangely comforting. The list of stationery requirements includes coloured pencils. Sounds positively kindergartenish. It says they’ll take all students to the buses on the first day, whether they’re catching the bus that day or not, just so they become familiar with their bus. How reassuringly hand-holding-ish.

By the time she gets home I realise she’s still a little fish - about to be thrown into a big pond, and the journey is far from over. We’re only half way there...

Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning, waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile... I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter, that funny little girl.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday survival plan!

With six weeks of holidays looming, I suggested to my daughters (who are 12 and 10) that we not spend the entire period hunched over the TV and glued to various varieties of social networking.

We're developing a plan together, involving a mix of activities and a set budget. The plan includes:

• A small range of daily chores

• A daily walk

• Two planned 'outings' each week (one must be free)

• One friend over (or vice versa) each week

• Re-joining the local library and visiting each week

• Visiting the craft superstore and each starting a long-term project

• Working our way through the Junior MasterChef cookbook

We might not stick to it without fail, and there will be daily screen time, too, but we're looking forward to giving it a go.

It has been a pleasure getting to know many of you this year. We're taking a break until 4 January and will return with fresh ideas on how to 'have it all' in 2011.

In the meantime, if you're in the mood to overhaul the way you do things next year, feel free to check out our downloadable self-paced 'Life Balance Program'. Between now and 4 January, we've reduced the price of the eBook from $39.95 to just $16.95 as a New Year Special.

Wishing you all the best for a beautiful Christmas and a happy and balanced year ahead.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Do I walk my talk?

I was asked this week whether I feel under pressure to live up to my own advice, and thought it was a really useful question to answer.

I do feel responsible for 'walking the talk', but this is certainly not the same as saying that I get it right all the time.

I've got the perfect excuse to create balance in my life, because it's my business 'brand'. A friend of mine runs a fitness business, and I remember her saying that she has to be seen by others to be staying fit and eating well. In my case, thankfully I don't have this pressure, and can eat all the chocolate I want! :-)

What I need to be seen to be doing is making 'me time' and 'family and friend' time outside work, to balance my commitments and to reduce stress in my life so that I can make the most of each aspect of it. It's an enjoyable 'brand' to strive for.

Are things blissful all the time? Of course not!

Working from home with kids of all ages (my husband's children are 20 and 17, my two are 12 and 10 and our baby is nearly 6 weeks old), I've got the perfect family to make running a business a huge challenge! There are moments when it all comes crashing down and I feel like out-classing a toddler in the tanty department, times when I cry and times when I feel like a failure. When this happens, I sometimes ask myself whether I'm in the right game...

What leads me to think that I am, is that these 'falling in a heap' moments happen much less frequently than they used to. A few years ago, I regularly over-committed myself and was often at wits' end (a situation that led to my book, Wits' End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum')

I used to be the cause of most of my problems in this area and I'm now the cause of most of my success. I know my own limits, and rarely exceed them. I know the lifestyle I want (in terms of how the time is divided), and I carve it out thoughtfully. I know when to say 'no', how to say it and who to say it to, whether this means knocking back a work demand, a cool opportunity or a child.

If I've learned a lot about 'having it all' (and I'm still learning) , it hasn't been from self-help books or 'gurus' but through making a lot of mistakes. I had too much on my plate, dropped it, lost it and gradually found it again.

I'm very careful, these days, with the things that matter most to me, and I see my role as providing others with the short cuts I wish I'd known earlier.

So, in answer to the question - yes, there is some pressure to live up to my own advice, but the rewards are great when I do!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Resilience under pressure

Watching as last week's Pike's River mining tragedy unfolded, I felt deeply saddened for so many of the people involved. The lost miners themselves and their families in particular, and also for those in charge of the rescue effort.

The urging to send in a rescue team was extreme, and came from many angles, including the eyes of the world through the media. Those responsible believed it wasn't safe, and stood by their decision not to send rescuers in despite significant pressure to do so and criticism when they wouldn't. When the second blast occurred, their decision was vindicated.

Start today

Most of us, from time to time, are subjected to pressure from others about how best to do our jobs. Sometimes, the other person is right and we can learn something from their wisdom.

Other times, we are right, and we know it. Standing firm in the face of criticism or opposition isn't easy, but sometimes it's essential.

When you know your job well, it becomes easier to tell when advice from others is warranted - and when it is unnecessary, unhelpful or, in the Pike's River example, dangerous. Invest as much time and effort as you can into becoming your own 'subject matter expert' you'll instinctively know the difference.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Living the E-life

I was on my couch with the laptop the other evening when I received an email that read, 'Tuck me in now.' It was sent by my ten-year-old, from bed.

My other daughter, who's twelve, sometimes Skypes me from the other end of the house to ask what's for dinner and whether I can buy her a mobile phone for Christmas. If I do, we'll open another avenue for electronic communication - which is, of course, both a blessing and a curse.

While it's a bit of fun for the kids, many of us have fallen into a habit of reverting to electronic communication by default. We have lost the art of assessing the best way to get our points across.

Sometimes a conversation on the phone or a face-to-face meeting is far preferable to sending an SMS, email, facebook message or tweet - yet we've lapsed into a mentality where we hit 'send' first and ask questions later - like 'why haven't they replied yet?' (two minutes after we sent the message).

Communicating electronically has revolutionised the way we work and socialise, and I love it. That said, it's important not to let it overtake opportunities for old-fashioned, techno-free personal interaction.

Start today

Before hitting that 'send' button, pause and ask yourself if there's a better way to make your point. Are you hiding behind a screen to avoid a phone or face-to-face conversation? Are you missing an opportunity to build rapport with someone, to re-establish an old connection or to brainstorm solutions to a problem in person?

Is your reliance on e-communication eating up time you would otherwise spend laughing in person over shared experiences, being outside in the 'real world' and 'having a life'?

Re-assess and, if necessary, broaden your communication styles for more balanced interactions with others.

Say 'no' boldly

The first of the Christmas party invitations arrived this week and I said 'no'. When I dropped my daughter at her ballet rehearsal and asked if I could be a back-stage helper for the concert I said 'no'. Sales people and market researchers keep phoning (despite our 'do not call' registration) and I say 'no'.

I've got a good excuse, of course, with a newborn baby in the house, but I haven't been using it. I've just been saying 'no' firmly because I know I can't do everything, and finding it easy and empowering. People aren't batting an eyelid, even without knowledge of my reasons and it gets easier every time.

I've learnt that there's nearly always no need to explain yourself when you turn people down - just to be certain in your approach.

Start today

With the 'silly season' almost upon us, we have an opportunity to shape how we experience the last few weeks of this year.

Do you want to reach 2011 wrung out and gasping for oxygen, or relaxed and optimistic?

Decide now what you will and won't take on, what you'll accept, how much running around you'll do, and what corners you can cut and make a plan to enjoy the end of this year.

Say 'no' with no excuses and carve yourself some time.

Asking for help

My three best friends came over on the weekend, armed with spinach pie, chocolate cheesecake and a non-pushy approach to breastfeeding.

Where midwives, lactation consultants and nurses had all failed, my school friends and I eventually lured Sebastian on properly with a mix of hilarity, patience and Lindt chocolate (for us, not him).

It may be the third time I've done this, but Seb is a first-time baby, and I'm all for asking for help instead of battling on for appearances.

Start today

We often face situations where we assume we ought to be able to manage a task because we're experienced or qualified, and expectations are high. We choose to flounder, because we're afraid of how it will look to ask for advice when we 'ought to know how to do this'.

Life is too short to struggle on behind the scenes, and most people are happy to help when they're approached.

The senior managers I have most admired in my career are the ones who openly ask questions and seek clarification when they don't understand something, no matter how it looks. Asking for assistance is a common trait amongst people who do their jobs very well. It saves a lot of time and leads to earlier proficiency in difficult tasks.

It takes strength to show your vulnerability. Ask for help and you'll fly over hurdles rather than tripping over them.

Il dolce far niente - 'the sweetness of doing nothing'

While I haven't read the book, I saw the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat, Pray, Love' this week.

I loved the advice given to the frantic and unhappy American by her new Italian friends - who advocate and appreciate 'the sweetness of doing nothing'.

This is a learned art for many of us, who rarely sit still and just 'be'.

I took my daughters to a fete yesterday and decided that - for once - I didn't care how long we stayed. We ambled around, tasted different foods, then sat on the ground and watched a friend's little one queue for 45 minutes for her first pony ride, while we just talked, and picked blades of grass off the oval. I didn't look at my watch and, in the end, we were at the fete for nearly four hours - far longer than I would usually stay, when thoughts would race through my mind of 'everything I need to do at home'.

The result? A wonderful sense of relaxation and another happy memory to chalk up together, rather than a car-ride home with complaints of 'Why couldn't we stay longer? Why are we always in a rush?'

Start today

If you're in the habit of always being busy - if you 'can't relax' and you are constantly armed with a 'to do' list a mile long - give 'the sweetness of doing nothing' a go. It might feel uncomfortable at first to be still with your own thoughts, but it's an effective and inexpensive 'treatment' for the stress of modern life.

Get creative

With a week and a bit to go before Baby Bliss arrives, I've reached the point where it's difficult to focus on anything but the impending task of safely delivering this baby (and cleaning out cupboards). I'm boring myself and everyone around me, but during this 'waiting' phase - where every twinge might 'be the start of something' (but nine times out of ten, isn't) - it's hard to think of other things.

I had great intentions of using this time to work on my almost finished novel (a 'vampire-free' teen sci-fi romance). I got as far as opening the file the other day, and adding page numbers ... before I drifted onto another pregnancy website searching for ways to induce your own labour, poured another cup of raspberry tea, ate some fresh pineapple and de-cluttered the DVDs.

While I've loved sharing my body with the little person I can't wait to meet, part of me can't wait to get 'me' back - and that goes for my body and mind.

I met a mum-of-three this week who has moved through this pregnancy-obsessed phase and re-immersed herself in her creativity. Juliette, of Parer Photography, is the great niece of the famous World-War Two photographer, Damien Parer. Her uncle is a natural history film producer, and she is launching her exhibition, called 'Home' at the end of this month. She was a great reminder to me that there is 'life after baby' - with personal goals to meet and dreams to fulfill.

Start today

In the frantic dash between work and family, it's easy to lose sight of who you are as an individual.

Is there a creative part of you that you long to nurture? Is it your health and fitness that you'd like to focus on? Do you just crave some space?

This week, make a point of picking up a 'piece' of you that has been pushed to the side because of 'more important' priorities. Dust it off and enjoy the feeling of being 'you' again.

Be decisive

I hosted a 'shoe party' today, at which guests could select from a multitude of colours, styles, fabrics and trims to design their own pair of shoes.

I'm Libran and, whether there's anything in astrology or not, Librans are renowned for being able to balance both sides of any argument. This is great when it comes to diplomacy and not so great when it comes to making a decision.

The shoe choices seemed totally overwhelming. In the end, I let two of my friends design my shoes for me.

It got me thinking how often I use the excuse that 'I'm Libran' to avoid making a decision. I'll often choose the same dish over and over again at our favourite restaurant, just to avoid having to choose from the menu. I'll toss up between two items, then go home with nothing because it's easier.

What else am I missing out on by being indecisive? Worse, what messages are my two Libran daughters picking up?

Start today

We all make excuses that hold us back. 'I'm blonde', 'I'm not good at maths', 'I'm not coordinated', 'I'm not a people person', 'I can't speak in public'...

After a while, if we tell ourselves often enough (or if we hear this a lot in our family) the excuse becomes part of our identity and an easy way out of situations that challenge us.

It probably would have been fun to design my own shoes today. Next time I'll just jump in.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mid 30's Crisis

A study released last week declared that the 30s are the new 40s when it comes to having a mid-life crisis.

If you haven't made good headway to the top of your chosen career by your mid-30s, it seems you're unlikely to get there. When you mix that sense of not having a 'brilliant career' with a cocktail of demanding (yet lovable) kids (or an unmet desire for them), large mortgages, ageing parents and time-poor relationships - it's no wonder so many people are quietly wishing there was 'more to life'...

Start today

Feelings of disappointment, depression and helplessness often stem from a sense of lack of choice. It's common to feel trapped by the decisions we made in our twenties, and to feel that we have 'made our bed, now we have to lie in it'.

If you're feeling the pressure of 'mid life' (at any age) it's time, not for a crisis, but for a 'review'.

What choices do you have, even if they are difficult choices to make? Most things are not set in stone - we just perceive them to be.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Romance versus football

Someone I know is getting married next Saturday in Canberra, at 2.30pm.

The wedding clashes with the AFL Grand Final in Melbourne - serving up a challenge of priorities for many of the guests, no doubt.

Perhaps no one will struggle more with this than the minister who is officiating at the wedding of his long-term family friends. He is also Chaplain to the Collingwood football team.

I might be a hopeless romantic without a flicker of interest in football of any description (it's all I can do to pay attention during my own daughter's soccer matches), but even I can see the quandary here.

Start today

Often, when two priorities clash, we try to find a way to meet both expectations at least partially.

Sometimes, though, we're faced with what feels like an impossible choice. We simply can't be in two places at once, and must let someone down.

When this happens, it's a good idea to choose to be at the event you would later regret missing the most.

Once you've made your decision, throw yourself into being there 100%. Anything less, and you might as well have missed both occasions - which doesn't do justice to either.

Be a dream-maker

One of my best friends is leaving for a whirlwind tour of Europe late tonight.

She's been talking about this trip and pouring over travel brochures since we were fourteen years old. Travelling has been her dream all this time, but one thing or another always seemed to get in the way of turning this into reality.

Or did it? All the reasons not to go are still there: kids, money, hectic job. Instead of getting on that long-haul flight tonight, she could still be thinking about it wistfully.

What changed this year was her choice not to dream any longer but to take action, march into a travel agent and book a date. This happened months ago, with plenty of time to ask for leave, re-arrange her schedule, have her children cared for and save the money. Now, here she is - ticket in hand, world at her feet.

Start today

What are you still dreaming about, when you could be enjoying the reality?

Enjoy the feeling of getting out of the passenger's seat and into the driver's seat in your life.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Celebrating your quiet achievements

I was recently involved in the panel for some job interviews, and the final question asked applicants to describe a work achievement of which they are particularly proud.

The expected array of big, sparkling achievements was rolled out by various applicants. Some of them were quite impressive.

The answer that stood out, though, was a simple admission from a woman who became quite emotional when she said that she had reached a point in her career where she knows what she's doing. When people ask her for help, or when they need information, she instinctively knows the answer. It's a point that, earlier in the job when she was floundering in the role, she couldn't imagine herself ever reaching.

Start today

If we feel like we're getting nowhere, it's often because we're overlooking our little victories. We're so busy striving for flashy results, or comparing ourselves against other people's neon-lit milestones that we don't notice the small steps we're taking each day that add up over time to significant progress.

Big results don't always arrive wrapped in glamorous packages. Give credit to your 'quiet achievements'. If you're lucky, you'll develop a perspective like the woman we interviewed.

Incidentally, she got the job. So, having stepped up to the next level, she might start floundering again at first.

This time she knows she can hurdle it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What exactly are you doing?

I was diagnosed with a touch of gestational diabetes this week, which involves taking blood-sugar readings several times and day and keeping a detailed food diary. I also had a meeting with my accountant, who wants me to 'diarise' the entire family's use of the telephone and internet for a month, plus the car usage.

While it's an inconvenience to do these tasks, I'm amazed at the wake-up call it has given me. There's no hiding those extra chocolates, or time spent face-booking, when it's written down in black-and-white.

Start today

If you're wondering where the time goes, or where the kilos are creeping up from, keep a diary for a week and the answer will present itself. It's one week of effort to create an empowering and informed starting point for making positive changes in your life.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Glass half full

So, here we are, hanging, Government-less, while a handful of men decide who should be in charge of the nation.

I took my daughters with me to vote on Saturday. Sophie, (nine), gave me advice on who to support: 'Vote for Mike Kelly, Mummy - he's tall, and when he comes to our school for a visit we get out of school work. He doesn't look like he's in labour, though - he's not that fat!'

Glad to have some sensible advice, I forged my way through the throng of party faithful as they lavished attention like a swarm of paparazzi, shook my hand and said hi to the children.

It's so easy to get annoyed by it all. The campaign, the hype, the media frenzy, the daily letterbox drops, the inconvenience of finding a car park and queuing to vote - the lack of an outcome.

One of my best friends had a different view. She wrote, 'We are so lucky to live in a country where all we have to battle through are the spruikers handing out how-to-vote cards, and not Defence personnel with guns keeping us safe, while we wonder if we'll disappear in the next day or two, just for turning up.'

Start today

We can easily get side-tracked by the minor inconveniences in our lives, losing sight of the bigger, and often more positive, picture.

This week, if you find yourself focusing on the empty half of the glass - not just as we watch our politicians battle it out to form a Government, but in any of your personal situations - flip the picture on its head and look at the positive side.

Life seems so much brighter when we learn to do this, and problems start to shrink in importance.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The 25-hour day: how to find seven extra hours each week

When you’re asked: ‘How are you?’ do you answer:
a) busy

b) flat out, or

c) frantic

There are other options, but it’s been so long since I’ve heard any of them that I can’t remember what they are.

If you’re stuck on treadmill set to ‘max’ with an ever-increasing incline, pushing yourself to keep going, hoping you won’t be flung off the end of the machine – you’re not alone!

The Australian Work and Life Index found that working mums are more harried and pressed for time than ever before. We know we need more ‘me time’, but how can we fit another thing into the twenty-four hours we’ve already crammed full of work, family, friends, study, multiplying loads of washing, supervising school projects, the taxi service we provide for our kids and crawling into bed after the day is done, thinking, ‘I just need one more hour in the day...’

It can be easier to find that extra hour than you think! Try working through this ten-minute exercise:

How will you spend your extra ‘me time’?

When you’re given a pay rise, it can be easy to expand into the added income unless you have a goal in mind – like saving for a particular holiday. It’s the same with our time. We fritter it away if we don’t have a plan in mind for how we want to spend it.

If you had an extra hour each day to spend on yourself, and you weren’t allowed to use it for work or housework, how would you fill it? Make a mini ‘bucket list’ of all the things you’d love to do, the activities you used to enjoy and the experiences you long to try.

Pick the one that excites you most and write this at the top of a fresh page, with two columns drawn underneath.

Stack on the pleasure

If you found time for this activity, what would it give you? What are the positive spin-offs? Would you feel calmer if you found time for this? More stimulated, centred, rewarded, patient, interesting or happy?

If you felt these things, how would this affect those around you? What impact would it have on your work? What would your family notice about you?

Jot these points in the right-hand column.

What’s the cost of not doing this?

On the left, write down what’s going to happen if you don’t make time for this activity. How will this affect you? How will you feel if things stay the same as they are now? What will your mood be like? How will you interact with others? What will your concentration levels be?

If you don’t give yourself time for this activity and keep plugging on at the pace you are now, what is it going to cost you in the short, medium and long term?

How have you been spending your spare time?

Draw a large outline of a human eye, with the pupil in the centre and a smaller circle to one side, representing a ‘blind spot’.

Think of the last seven days. What have you been focussing on in your spare time? Favourite TV programs? Facebook? Surfing the internet? Jot down these activities in the centre of your ‘eye’.

Now, think of the activity you ‘don’t have time for’. Is it in your focus at all, or in your blind spot?

Look at what’s been consuming your attention. Compare the benefits of these activities to those you’ve identified for the new activity. Which is a better use of your time?

Cut the cake a different way

Recognise that you can allocate your spare time in several different ways. Shift some of the less important time-wasters out of your near focus and into your blind spot, freeing up extra time.

Bring your desired activity front and centre in your focus. Take your diary and block out set times for this over the next seven days.

Tell your partner and kids about it and get them on board by encouraging them to do the same thing for an activity of their choice. Balance your individual desires as a family.

Be 100% present

When it’s time for you to enjoy your extra hour of ‘me time’, absorb yourself in it 100%

Set aside all thoughts of ‘what else I should be doing’ and truly enjoy this gift to yourself.

By learning to live ‘deep’ - not ‘fast’ – we’re setting our treadmill at a comfortable pace.

The Mummy Wars

A report released this week on the impact on children of having a working mum, tipped fresh fuel over the smouldering ‘Mummy Wars’ debate.

Working mums have ‘higher maternal sensitivity’ than their stay-at-home counterparts, according to the University of Columbia’s report: First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First Seven Years. They ‘seek higher-quality childcare and can return to work within a year of giving birth without harming their babies’ development’.

‘Queue all the screaming and bitter stay-at-home mums!’ one online poster commented in response to the story. ‘You breed them, you feed them!’ retorted another. Another described a ‘generation of disconnected kids with mental problems’ (presumably the children of mums who work), amidst a barrage of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ proponents.

Breakfast television, drive-time radio and online media were inundated with impassioned talk-back from parents who have chosen one path but feel compelled to stomp and trample on the other – not unlike the behaviour of tantruming two-year-olds (something you see, incidentally, in both private homes and childcare centres across the country).

I can’t help wondering who was looking after the children while the grown-ups slogged it out on the front line, ripping apart each other’s choices and grasping at snippets of scholarly data and anecdotal evidence that might be used for the dual purpose of piling more guilt on the other side, while building a protective fortress around their own decisions. As with the Breast versus Bottle debate that plagues new mums, it was all about Doing The Right Thing, as if a black-and-white solution exists.

I’ve been a parent for nearly twelve years and, as far as work goes, I’ve tried it all. I’ve stayed at home full time. I’ve worked full time. I’ve worked part time. I’ve job-shared. I’ve worked from home.

If my kids are ‘happy and well-adjusted’ (the Holy Grail over which Mummy-War armies fight unnecessarily, not realising that there’s plenty of this to go around), it will have little to do with my work and parenting patterns and everything to do with a much bigger picture. Parenting is not about clocking on. It’s about switching on. And then holding on for dear life.

We all have days when we’re ‘in the zone’ as parents, just as we have days that we fervently wish we could re-wind and start over. The key is to work out what puts us ‘in the zone’ as switched-on mums most often (we’ll never get it right all the time).

For some women, this means staying at home full time, without the distraction of paid employment. Others find they’re more effective as parents if they combine parenting with a career. Some stay at home and make a hash of it. Others work and make a hash of that. Good parenting is not as simple as which room you’re in.

The parents who seem to do it well are the ones who are most ‘present’ for their children when they’re together – the most ‘switched on’, engaged and focussed (which is not to be confused with smothering and spoiling). They spend time together with their kids and time apart. They hold out a hand when it’s needed and they know when to hang back and let their children work it out for themselves. They’ve nailed ‘tough love’, yet they sit in the dark, holding back tears during the school play.

They’re often fulfilled by more than just their parenting, and this fulfilment is not necessarily derived from paid work, though it can be. They value themselves. Their children have the same sense of ‘wholeness’, opportunity and possibility. They’re flexible, resilient and able to cope well with change.

Or maybe they’re not. Sometimes parents do everything ‘right’ and their kids go off the rails regardless. Parenting is about what we do, what we don’t do, our triumphs, the mistakes we make and how we learn from them. A large part of it is about who we are parenting, the choices they make - and the luck of the draw.

How we reach that Holy Grail - happy and well-adjusted kids - is not important. How the parent-next-door gets there is not important either. All we can do is have our hearts in the right place, our heads on our shoulders, take a deep breath, plunge in and learn to swim.

And if a parent in the next lane appears to be swimming a different stroke – we can resist the temptation to push them under. Our kids are watching us, after all.
Emma Grey is the Director of WorkLifeBliss and author of Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (Lothian, 2005).

Controlling your boundaries

I was involved in some job interviews last week, and watched with interest as the candidates raised the question of work-life balance in this particular organisation.

The chair of the panel explained that the provisions exist for good work-life balance, but it's up to the individual to take advantage of this.

Start today

Work-life balance might seem a little 'airy fairy' but it requires tenacity and a strong sense of purpose to pull it off. Once you've worked out your top priorities, you must erect boundaries around these, then fiercely protect them.

This includes managing your top priorities at work. How often do you reach the end of the day with a longer 'to do' list than the one you started with? You know what work you must do, but you allow your own work to be trampled upon and moved further down the list by other people's demands and interruptions.

Create fences around what must be accomplished today. Learn to say things like 'no', 'not right now', 'later', 'I'm working on a major priority today, let me get back to you tomorrow..' Buy yourself the time and space you need to complete your work and get out the door at the end of the day with a sense of achievement.

If you struggle to manage your time this way, ask yourself what you're worried might happen if you say 'no' to others. What is behind this? Is it a fear of not being liked, or taken seriously? How valid is your concern, really?

Observe those who do this well, see how much work they plough through and how well-respected they are for managing themselves well. Model their behaviour and see how much easier your day becomes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Are you sabotaging Monday mornings?

Do you have mornings where getting to work is like struggling through a medieval gauntlet? Starting with the unwelcome blast of your beside alarm, you navigate through bickering kids, unironed clothes, bad hair, no fresh bread for the sandwiches and a school project that someone forgot is due back NOW.

At every turn, it's as though something is against your smooth exit from the house, only for you to hit morning traffic, at which point your pulse rate climbs and you think it's all Monday's fault!
Start today

Monday has nothing to do with it.

What can you change about your Sunday night routine that will ensure a more peaceful and positive start to the week?

Laying out everyone's clothes and uniforms? Making lunches? Ensuring there's a full tank of petrol in the car? Checking everyone's diaries? Setting the alarm ten minutes earlier? Getting an early night?

If you expect a tough morning, you'll have one. Design your ideal start to the week and take responsibility for the aspects over which you have control. Reduce the impact of Monday-itis by removing the self-inflicted causes, replacing them with simple steps that bring you calm.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Building relationships

I've been asked to provide executive coaching for a manager who is dealing with some difficult staff. I happened to be babysitting my three-year-old niece when the email came through, so I asked her opinion.

'What do you do at pre-school when someone is being difficult or mean, Abbey?'

'Well!' she began, 'First, I take them out into the playground away from everyone else, then I give them a big hug, then I say "let's play something else", like twisting or spinning, then they're happy again!'

Start today

There's merit in Abbey's pre-school approach - in fact, it's an approach that was shared by Abraham Lincoln, who said 'I don't like that man - I must get to know him better'.

Are you dealing with someone difficult, or experiencing a 'personality clash'? Who is going to make the first move?

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Like millions of others, I was glued to the MasterChef finale, and have watched most of the series. That's about eight hours of air time per week, for fourteen weeks.

I chose to fill a big chunk of my spare time with MasterChef, and I've enjoyed it with my daughters.

As a consequence, I can't complain that there's 'no time' for other things, like writing my novel, exercising, spring cleaning, taking a long bath, having a massage, cleaning out the garage, updating my website or any of the other things on my list.

Start today

Many of us love to run the 'I don't have time' story. Being 'flat out' has become part of modern Australian culture.

Be honest and recognise that you DO have spare time - you're using it to focus on certain priorities.

We can carve up our time however we like. I'm going to replace my MasterChef time with novel writing - so there's eight spare hours a week (or an entire working day) that I've just gained!

How could you find some extra time this week?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Feel the fear and do it anyway

I've just attended a four-day intensive, exhausting and rewarding public speaking and presentations skills course in Melbourne.

I was inspired by a handful of the particpants who came to the course not as experienced trainers wanting to lift their game, but as beginners wanting to conquer an acute fear of public speaking - something that had held them back in their careers for years (a fear that many people share).

At the beginning of Day One, these people had doubts about even entering the training room, couldn't look the audience in the eye, shook violently during the one-minute exercise and certainly couldn't utter a cohesive sentence.

By Day Four, the same people stood up in front of a group and gave a twenty-minute presentation, without any notes.

The transformation was startling.

Start today

Do you have a fear that is holding you back in your career or personal life?

Fear of flying, fear of commitment, fear of the unknown, fear of the impact of children on your career, fear of rejection, fear of stepping up into a management role ...

Imagine the possibilities that might open up for you if you conquered that fear... if you let yourself feel afraid, but did whatever it is anyway.

What's really the worst that could happen?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happens to the best of us...

My husband and I are just back from our gorgeous babymoon in Italy, where they really seem to 'get' life balance.

Afternoon siesta is a fabulous notion. Evenings don't seem to be spent catching up on work on lap tops in front of Master Chef - they're spent becoming master chefs and enjoying long meals with family and friends, or taking 'passaggiata' (evening strolls around the town after work).

It all seems so meaningful and relaxed (granted, we were on holiday, so everything appears relaxed!)

One thing that surprised me during our visit were the flaws in Michelangelo's masterpiece - the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The panels with which he kicked off the project are far more detailed than the rest of the painting. They looked good up close but the detail is lost from the floor, so he had to modify the style for the rest - which meant bigger images, less intricate detail and more space.

He despised being ordered to paint the ceiling and ran away from Rome several times during the process, much preferring his sculpture work (and don't we all identify with those feelings, on our own scale, from time to time).

Start today

When you doubt yourself, your work or your ability to achieve a certain standard, think of Michelangelo - slaving for years over a project he hated and mucked up at first, which permanently damaged his eyesight (nevertheless becoming one of the most famous masterpieces of the Western world).

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by someone else's apparent genius, success or happiness. Rest assured that the full story behind what appears to be perfect at first glance is rarely the fairytale you assume it to be, we are always more critical of ourselves than we are of others, and even Ninja Turtles have their moments!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How long will it take?

I read about a real estate agent who bought some nice framed prints to decorate the walls of the sales office, but thought it would take a day to hang all the prints, so kept putting it off.

The prints sat on the floor of the sales room for over a year, until once day he got sick of it and thought 'I'll just put one of these up this lunch time'.

Thirty-six minutes later, he had ALL of the prints up on the walls and the office looked great!

Inaccurately estimating the time it will take to do something can tempt us to procrastinate. We assume the task is much bigger and more harrowing than it will really be. We then spend many more hours and mental energy thinking about the task than it would take us to complete it.

Start today

Look at your 'to-do' list and make an estimate beside each item of how long it would realistically take you to complete it.

Bunch the quick and easy tasks together and add up the total time it will take to get these things done.

Find slots in your diary and schedule the tasks in, along with a reward for getting through them.

You might be surprised at how much easier and faster some things are to accomplish than you anticipated.

Out with the old...

Wintry long weekends are fabulous for de-cluttering.

We've spent most of ours sorting through wardrobes and making space by putting together 'hand-me-down' parcels for my sister, only to have her do the same thing in reverse for us, so I'm not sure how much space we're creating but it certainly feels therapeutic to sort things out.

We also had a leisurely afternoon tea at a gorgeous tea house called 'Adore Tea'. Watching the steam rise out of the glass teapot, (heated over a tealight candle), hearing the soft chinks of china cups and breathing the aroma of 'cafe latte' flavoured tea was unexpectedly relaxing.

Start today

De-cluttering gives you a sense of power, control and orderliness. Chunk down the task and attack one area each day, even if you've only got time to do the cutlery drawer at home and the pencil jar at work. Getting your workspace and home under control will make it so much easier to make the most of your time in both places.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Staying on track with complex tasks

Are you a big picture or details person?

The key to staying on track with complex tasks lies in being able to move easily between the two perspectives.

Start today

Once you decide on your goal and create an action list, ask yourself if there is an easier way of achieving this.

When you're bogged down in detail, remind yourself of the big picture. What is the purpose of this task? If what you're doing does not fit in with your core purpose, stop doing it.

When you're focussed on the big picture, remind yourself of the steps you need to take to reach your goal.

Operate at each of these levels and perspectives and move between them often to manage complex tasks well.

Think of yourself as a master painter with a big picture in mind, painting intricate details and standing back for perspective to check that you're on track.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Are you above schoolyard politics?

On the way home from our relaxing weekend in the Snowy Mountains, my husband and I stopped off to share a delicious, hot, Dutch apple crepe in a tiny country town.

Two women - both quilters - were sitting nearby, having an animated discussion, and I amused myself eavesdropping, (as usual).

I only caught snippets of what they were gossiping about, but the snippets went something like this:

'Of course we all supported her - after all, she was a member of the Guild...'

Hushed whispers...

'... the Dalgety Show incident...'

More hushed whispers...

'...obviously machine-done...'

'Oh, I know... I know!' (a la Sybil Fawlty, with much 'tut-tutting' and head-shaking).

Whatever the drama was about, it was clearly ridiculous, as so many of these things are in the grand scheme of things.

It got me thinking about human beings - how banal our petty politics can be, how trivial the content usually is and how badly it reflects on those involved.

Start today

'Schoolyard' politics arise anywhere where a group of people congregate, and offices can be a breeding ground for what I like to call, 'whispering huddle syndrome'.

It can be tempting to get involved - unless, as is desirable, you left this sort of thing behind in primary school along with Sunnyboys and Space Food Sticks.

Be the professional you want others to see you as, and not just when there's a chance someone might be eavesdropping...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Stick with it

• Told by a music teacher that 'as a composer he is hopeless'? Beethoven

• Rejected by 12 publishers and 16 literary agents? John Grisham

• Told by a recording company, 'we don't like their sound and guitar music is on the way out'? The Beatles

• Fired from a newspaper because he 'lacked imagination and had no original ideas'? Walt Disney

• Cut from the high school basketball team? Michael Jordan

• Auditioned for All My Children and rejected? Julia Roberts

Start today

Do you give up after a set-back, or do you persevere like the successful people in the list above?

Think how disappointing it would be if it wasn't your talent that was letting you down, but your level of persistence...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A lesson in self-belief

I have to confess that, seven months ago, I was one of the Jessica Watson doubters. I thought it was sheer madness for a sixteen-year-old girl to set out on a solo around-the-world sailing trip in her little pink boat, and had visions of her ending up on the front pages for all the wrong reasons.

Of course, as the months went by, I gained a growing respect for what she was doing. On Saturday, I was glued to the TV for hours, cheering her on and getting teary when she stumbled off the boat and into her parents' arms. What spirit!

Start today

Self-belief is your most powerful asset. You will weather the storms with it, reach lofty goals and battle through, even when others give up on you.

How would you rate your self-belief, out of ten?

Think of times in your life when you sailed through something challenging. For many women, it's getting through childbirth. For others, it's surviving grief, or divorce, or a difficult job.

Make a list of these examples of your personal strength, and think of this as a bucket of courage for your to dip into when you need it next.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our reach should exceed our grasp

The girls and I, my sister and one of my best friends have taken to entering the Mother's Day Classic fun run as an annual tradition.

The girls like to run in honour of their paternal grandmother and great-grandmother - both of whom are breast cancer survivors.

This year, my eleven-year-old decided she would run the 10km. This is double the longest distance she has ever run, and a bit of a tall order, I thought (given lack of training, other than last week's school cross country carnival where they ran about 4km).

Watching her set off, I was reminded of the time she insisted on entering the 100m open freestyle in the swimming carnival in Year 2 and came last. It was heart-wrenching.

An hour later, she was calling me from the finish line (our 5km walk had begun by this stage), sounding jubilant and energised - she and Auntie ran the whole way without stopping.

Start today

Growth is one of our six 'core needs' - without it we feel stagnant and unfulfilled.

It was Robert Browning who said our 'reach should exceed our grasp', and he was right. There is nothing more motivating than striving for something that may be just out of reach, and nothing more rewarding than realising it wasn't out of reach, after all.

Think about your career. Are you really stretching yourself, or just coasting? Do you feel like you're moving forward, or like you're stuck?

What is the first thing you need to do to propel yourself in the direction you want to go?

Carpe Diem

This week, I've caught up with the news from two old school friends - neither of whom I've seen since the Year 12 formal nearly twenty years ago.

Friend A is tossing up whether or not to have a major career change into something she's extremely passionate about and has always wanted to do. She's worried about timing and finances, and this has been holding her back from making the decision.

Friend B is battling cancer. I can't help wondering what her advice would be to Friend A.

It doesn't seem long since we all had schoolgirl crushes on Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets' Society and were quoting 'Carpe Diem' and sprouting big dreams as though we were invincible.

Start today

So many of our adult choices are based on what might happen in a future we like to think is much more certain than it really is. We fear imaginary consequences, focus on worst-case scenarios and try to keep ourselves as 'safe' as possible.

Could it be that the worst-case scenario is actually playing it too safe and not taking the chances that might ultimately make our lives complete?

Ask yourself which dreams you've swept under the carpet. Are you trapping yourself in a rut, or a comfort zone, falsely thinking you're safe here?

When you think of my Friend B, choose one of your old dreams to focus on. 'Try it on' in your mind and see how you feel when you imagine doing it. You can turn this into reality if you like - or not.

It's your life.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Baby Bliss

We've been working on something special here and want to share it with you. Baby Bliss is due in November. While we each have much-adored children from previous marriages, this will be our first (and only) child together, and we are over the moon. :-)

So, reasoning that it would be a few years before I could easily take the girls to the Dawn Service, I dragged myself out of bed yesterday at 5ish and rugged up.

Allejandro (as the girls have nicknamed the baby, after the hero of one of Lady GaGa's songs) had other ideas though, and we had to ditch ANZAC Day for a dash to the local hospital with a threatened miscarriage (at 12 weeks). All appears to have settled down today, and we have further tests this week.

Something like this shifts your priorities sharply into perspective. Social events were cancelled, my assignments put on hold, the girls farmed out to my long-suffering parents and sister and our long weekend completely cleared.

At times like this, we instinctively know 'what matters'. Other things that seemed important suddenly aren't. We're so certain of what to do, we don't have to think about our next move.

Start today

Don't wait for a wake-up call to be thankful for what you have. Always protect the things that matter to you most, above all else.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

No such thing as 'can't'

I took the girls to the Great Moscow Circus last week, and we were thoroughly entertained.

During the ribbon dancer's high-flying performance, Sophie (nine) nudged me in the ribs and said, 'you know - that lady couldn't always do that...'

It was a motivating observation, compared with what I'd just been thinking: 'wow - I could never do that!'

Put most adults at the foot of two scraps of material and ask us to climb up to the top and perform tricks without a harness and we'd probably say, 'I can't'.

Children tend to think: 'I can't yet'.

Start today

Thomas Edison said, 'many of life's failures are people who didn't realise how close they were to success when they gave up.'

Real success is rarely an overnight phenomenon, but the result of hard work, persistence and self-belief.

When you compare yourself to others who do something amazingly well, remind yourself, like Sophie did, that 'they couldn't always do that...'

One day, if you keep working at it, someone might say the same about you.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Shrink the task

My husband bought me a great book this week called, 'Switch: How to change things, when change is hard'.

One of the chapters is all about 'shrinking the change'. It's about taking something overwhelming and unpleasant (cleaning the whole house, for example) and 'shrinking' the task into a palatable slice.

The online domestic guru, 'FlyLady', is great at this. She advocates setting a kitchen timer for five minutes and attacking the worst room in the house, then stopping after five minutes with a clear conscience.

The idea is that, once you start, you'll probably keep going. It's about setting in motion a 'virtuous circle' of action by first shrinking the unattractive task to a manageable size.

Start today

What tasks can you shrink at work and at home?

Take anything that you have been procrastinating about because the task seems overwhelming, and 'shrink the change'.

• Piles of filing to do? Set yourself a 5-minute deadline.

• Mountain of washing to fold? Just fold the sheets and towels.

• Should do an hour's exercise? Just walk around the block.

Chances are, once you start, you'll keep going.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Too much of a good thing?

How are you feeling about chocolate right now?

I have to tell you I'm feeling not so fussed about it.

Temporarily over it, in fact! Could I have had too much of a good thing?

Start today

Balance is all about doing lots of things in moderation - working, playing, doing housework, eating, drinking, socialising, exercising, learning...

If we have too much of any of these - even good things - we're out of kilter.

Learn to adopt a mindset of 'all things in moderation', and try it out this week. Look for the areas of your life that you are 'overdoing' and reel these in. Look for areas that are missing out, and crank these up.

Enjoy the difference it makes in your life.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

As young as you feel

I met a fabulous woman named Audrey this week.

She is 82, with hot-pink streaks in her 'punk rocker' hair, she goes to the gym for an hour most days of the week and she recently scored her first High Distinction at uni.

In her time, she has overcome alcoholism and depression, and has been sober and anti-depressant-free now for 39 years. She is just starting a new business now, at 82, and is looking forward to graduating from uni.

When I asked her what the secret was to her amazing vitality, she said it was simple. When she was about 78, she told herself to 'get out of this chair, Audrey, and GO DO SOMETHING!'

Start today

Is there anything you've been putting off? Losing weight, having a healthy lifestyle, picking up a course of study, starting a new business?

Think of Audrey, get out of your chair and go do something!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Work hard, relax hard

On Friday afternoon, I was given an urgent job from one of my corporate clients, just after I'd accepted a major task for another organisation. Both roles are on a mutual trajectory over the next three weeks, and I knew I should get a start on the work this weekend - even though, after a big week, I needed a rest.

First thing Saturday we went shopping. It was my husband's birthday, and I wanted to buy him some books and music in Borders.

I'd almost escaped the store without succumbing to any personal purchases, until I noticed the latest release by one of my favourite 'chick-lit' authors - Catherine Alliott. Five hundred delicious new pages of scandal, wit and humour!

I was beside myself with anticipation!

I couldn't get home fast enough! I put my feet up, started reading, and have only stopped to compose this email.

I feel great! Relaxed, refreshed, and ready for the challenges of the week.

Start today

The harder you work, the harder you need to relax. As elite athletes know, our bodies perform best when we allow time for recovery. Pushing yourself to work without a break can result in sub-standard outputs that take twice as long to deliver.

If you're feeling stressed by all that you have to do, you've been working hard and you want your tired brain to produce something really professional - grab a good novel and put your feet up for half an hour, go for a walk or have a chatty phone call with a friend, then notice the creativity flowing again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mothers are burning out - is anyone listening?

Journalist Jennifer Sexton has organised a public forum this Thursday evening on the topic of burnt-out mums.  I was invited to speak with my 'WorkLifeBliss' hat on, as a 'reformed frazzled mum' from my Wits' End days.  All are very welcome to attend - it's being held at St Thomas More, Campbell, ACT from 7.30pm.   Here's a radio interview that a couple of us did today.

For further details about the forum, click here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Down the rabbit hole

How nice to see a Canberra girl playing the role of Alice opposite Johnny Depp. She's the sister of my step-son's friend, which the girls like to think makes us practically famous.

The movie has such a great message for young (and not so young) girls. Make your own decisions. Stand up for what is right. It's better to be loved than feared.

It also shows how distracting it is to go down rabbit holes.

Start today

Confuscious says 'if you chase two rabbits, you catch none'.

Which rabbit holes are tempting you today, and how far off track are they likely to take you?

Before jumping down the rabbit hole of 'just checking email quickly' or accepting a colleague's 'have you got five-minutes?' interruption, ask yourself which rabbit you're supposed to be chasing right now and don't let it get away.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Taking a leap of faith

In my daughters' school assembly last week, one class performed the outrageous Australian classic, 'The Wombat Wobble'.

The song involves an array of ridiculous actions, which had the 500-strong audience of kids in stitches.

One little boy in the class performing the item is blind. He threw himself into the actions - the audience laughing along with the song - and it occurred to me how brave he is.

From his position on stage he would have had no idea what he looked like, whether he was doing the silly actions right, whether he was in time with his classmates, or whether the audience was laughing at the class as a whole, or at him individually. None of these thoughts seemed to cross his mind - so why did they cross mine?

Start today

How often do you hold yourself back from your best performance because you're afraid of what people might think. If this boy can close his eyes and do the Wombat Wobble in front of a laughing audience, what excuses can we possibly make for being self-conscious?

Think of something you've been holding back from because you're not sure of yourself. Get out of your own way - and shine!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sinking the black

My 16-year-old step-son is a bit of a pool shark. That said, occasionally he sinks all the coloured balls in quick succession, only to push the black around the table fruitlessly while I try (in vain) to catch up.

Have you ever been gung-ho about a project - sinking your coloured balls easily and quickly - only to sabotage the completion of the project by pushing the black ball all over the pool table instead of just sinking the thing? Someone I know has her business website ready to go live. All the content is written - she just needs to push that button and publish the site. Instead, she's pushing the website all over the pool table, anywhere but in the pocket.

People fail to complete things for any number of reasons. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Perfectionism. Fear of not being good enough. Reluctance to 'let go'. Concern about what others will think when we 'go live' with something.

Start today

Make a list of all the black balls you're yet to sink. Projects you've almost finished that would take a relatively small amount of effort to complete. From this list, pick the easiest task or project first - the one that is closest to being finished or simplest to complete - and sink that black.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Are you faking it?

Do you secretly fear that it's only a matter of time before people work out you're not as competent as you pretend to be?

If you feel like you're just keeping your head above water - striving to look like a person who knows what you're doing, even when you don't - then join the club.

The fear of not being good enough, and of being found out, is almost universal.

Often, this fear is rooted in childhood, particularly in early school experiences. We get caught out in a spelling bee, or a teacher draws everyone's attention to our poor mark on the maths test (thanks for that, Mrs Van Leest!) and we decide, in that moment, that we're not good enough.

Must try harder. Could do better.

Start today

Drift back into your childhood. Ask yourself what happened, the first time you decided that you weren't good enough.

Have another look at this event, using your adult perspective. What meaning did you give the event as a child? Is this valid now?

Re-frame your fear. Not only is it normal to feel out of your depth every so often - it's great! Whenever you feel unsure of yourself, you're about to grow.

Learn to embrace these feelings and you'll find that - rather than feel anxious - you'll feel excited.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Got your pink umbrella?

A friend and I took our daughters to Sydney on the weekend for their first real pop concert. We'd been looking forward to it since Christmas - Sophie, who's nine, hadn't seen Sydney since she was a baby, and she really wanted to experience the gorgeousness of the harbour in summer.

We'd planned a ferry ride to Manly, then fish and chips and ice-creams on the beach.

Unfortunately, it bucketed with rain for the entire weekend. This meant no sparkling harbour views, ferry ride or beach. We could make out the bridge and Opera House when the rain eased slightly, but it was anything but spectacular.

Not that the girls cared. We'd purchased $10 pink umbrellas from a souvenir shop and they danced through the Quay, laughing, splashing and making up 'singing in the rain'-inspired dance routines.

Start today

When the weather closes in on you in the form of challenges in your life, do you feel like a victim of what's happened?

Or do you find your 'pink umbrella' and make something of the situation?

This week, find some new ways of looking at life 'bright side up'.

Start immediately, by asking yourself what frame of mind you are in for the very next task that you are about to do...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Life on Planet Mother - a chapter from Wits' End Before Breakfast

Four months after Ellie's birth, it had just gone three

o'clock one morning when it occurred to me that I

was hooked on the latest in mechanical breast expres-

sion equipment. I mean literally — I was plugged into

this machine like a prize cow on a rotalactor ...

But nothing much was coming out. Hardly a drop,

in fact. 'What's wrong with this thing?' I fumed. I

reread the instruction booklet and leaned forward a bit

to see if gravity would do the trick — but nothing.

Total yield from both sides? Less than ten millilitres.

Pain level on a scale of one to ten? A conservative


The machine sucked — in every sense of the word.

It also made alarming noises, emitting a hybrid 'moo-

honk' with every agonising pulse. At the best of times,

it's disconcerting to watch your nipple being vacuumed

into an unforgiving plastic funnel — much worse when

there's almost nothing to show for it.

I consulted the 228-page manual on the simplicity

of breastfeeding. You're meant to look at the baby to

stimulate the let-down reflex, so I tried that. Ellie was

red-faced and screaming with hunger in the rocker

and I thought, 'Yes, I do feel a trifle let down ...'

Not by her, of course. By myself. She hadn't put on

any weight in three weeks. The Nipple Nazis from the

baby clinic told me to hang in there and forbade me

to complement her feeds with formula because it

would 'ruin the milk supply'. Could this be a case of

shutting the proverbial gate, I wondered, after the

horse had well and truly bolted?

As a new mum (albeit second time around) I took

the nurses' advice. I'd breastfed Matilda for twelve

months quite happily — surely I could manage a

repeat performance? Breast is — (as we all know ...

say the mantra with me) — BEST. I'd experienced it

like that, too: flourishing infant guzzling softly, milk

over-flowing from the corners of her satisfied little

mouth, little fingers grasping mine, tiny eyelids blink-

ing in contentment ...

But the reality is that the experience can also be

difficult bordering on impossible sometimes, despite

the best of intentions — and it messes with your com-

mon sense. (Not that there are any posters to this

effect displayed in maternity wards or early-childhood


Apparently the more stimulation you get, the more

milk you make. This didn't say much for the program

on offer in the dark, mastitis-afflicted months of

Elbe's troubled infancy, when our days went some-

thing like this: Five o'clock in the morning Ellie

wakes, crying for food. I give her all I have (which is

never enough). She continues crying — screaming,

actually — for the next fourteen hours. Nothing

placates her. I try to express some milk. Matilda sits

beside me, engrossed in the process but not so inter-

ested that she forgets her request for help with the

Cookie Monster jigsaw puzzle. At this point it's

beyond me. And by that I mean everything is beyond

me, not just the puzzle ...

On one such morning I switched the pump off to

answer the phone. It was the clinic sister attempting

to wax lyrical (and repetitive) on the subject of 'breast

is best' over the competing screams of a starving baby.

She told me in no uncertain terms not to resort to

'artificial feeding'. I glanced around the room at the

array of electrical cords, plastic tubes and bottles in

various degrees of sterilisation, and wondered how

much more artificial this process could get. She then

offered the services of a mobile lactation consultant. I

accepted graciously, hung up, and hooked myself up

to the pump again. Matilda glanced from the contrap-

tion to my breast and said, 'Right Mummy, where

were we up to?' It was like having a two-year-old life


Delivering another half a drop of milk into the

bottle, I pressed the pause button when the phone

rang again. It was Mum, wanting to know whether

that poor child was still crying and asking why on

earth I didn't just give her some formula. Rachel and

I were partly raised on the stuff and, according to

Mum, we 'turned out okay'. I started to think that

maybe she was right ...

But before I could organise things, the lactation

consultant arrived and embarked on half an hour of

note taking and manhandling, after which Ellie was

still ravenous and I was drinking a witch's brew of

molasses and fenugreek. The mention of formula was

about as taboo as the idea of settling the baby to sleep

on her stomach. I was firmly convinced, again, that

breastfeeding was the right thing to do.

No sooner was the mammary evangelist down the

driveway than Mum arrived bearing a large tin of

S26 and a microwavable steam steriliser. Ellie was

bawling. I was bawling. Matilda was bawling. Five

minutes in our company and Mum was also bawling.

There was nothing for it but to phone the local

family-care hospital and turn myself in.

Pretty soon I was beamed into the Mother Ship. It

was refreshing to find that all the other inmates

required about as much help as I did — for sleep dep-

rivation, post-natal depression, feeding problems or a

demoralising combination of them all.

The rooms were sunny and the babies were gor-

geous. No one had enjoyed a wink of decent sleep in

several months and yet we sat together drinking hot

toddies and talking long after the babies were settled,

into the early hours of the morning.

As individuals, the only thing we had in com-

mon was a mutual feeling of desperation. One of

the women was a softly-spoken grandmother with

custody of her two young granddaughters. She did

shift work to support the family and was exhausted.

Another was a drug addict whose baby had foetal

alcohol syndrome. There was also a young woman

whose soldier-husband had been on operations for

months while she battled something equally tough

and arguably more isolating.

And then there was me. In all probability I will

never see those women again, but I'll never forget

their friendship during a handful of days when our

difficult paths crossed at rock bottom.

The paediatrician who saw Ellie during our stay

had said, 'The nurses push breastfeeding but you have

a choice. Do you want a healthy child or don't you?

If this continues much longer it will damage her

organs.' Ellie emerged from the experience 250 grams

heavier and I was a full bottle on formula feeding.

Ill-advice from the experts notwithstanding, I

thought if that was the calibre of mistake I was

capable of making while consciously trying to do the

best thing by my child, I was scared to think of the

accidental havoc I could wreak when I wasn't paying

attention. I can no longer hear a newborn crying

without my heart sinking.

I continued to breastfeed Ellie after that, but only

as a comfort thing — after I'd properly nourished

her first. She thrived from that point onwards and

bloomed into the kind of chuckling, smiley-faced

angel who stops the blue-rinse traffic in bank queues

and supermarket checkouts. Looking at her, no one

could guess that her first few months were worse than

miserable for all concerned. As far as she knew, she'd

simply arrived in the world and that was all there was

to it.

It took a little longer to turn myself around.

Wits' End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum was published in 2005.  An e-Book version is available on our website.

Are you paying attention?

Author Winifred Gallagher claims that there are two distinct types of attention.

'Bottom-up' attention is evolutionary (we notice bad smells or loud noises and get distracted easily).

'Top-down' attention is what we choose to focus on (including work and pleasure). This controls the quality of our lives and the progress we make on tasks.

The sense of being pulled in many directions at once gives us a lack of focus. We're easily distracted by 'bottom-up' demands, including technological distractions.

We sit down to work and the phone rings, or pings a new SMS, someone tweets, facebook emails an update, someone asks us to have a coffee (or we just smell coffee), and suddenly we've developed a series of little rituals.

'I'll just have a coffee, check email, check my phone, then get started on this project...' (Or, 'I'll just put a load of washing on, stack the dishwasher, have a coffee, check email, then get started on my tax return...'

Start today

Take a minute or two to list your biggest 'bottom-up' distractions. What causes you to glance up from the task at hand and go off on a tangent? What little rituals have you created that take your focus away from what you set out to achieve?

Scientists have identified that the human brain has an optimum focus time of 90 minutes for one task.

Isolate one 90-minute block of time when you will eliminate your favourite distractions (including the distractions of easier work tasks) and give the priority task some 'top-down' focus.

Measure how much more you accomplish this way - and how much better you feel because of this - and you will start building your attention 'muscle'.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Where's the passion gone?

Think of a time when you felt totally loved.

What convinced you of it?

Was it a certain look you were given? A particular touch? Was it that you were taken out to special restaurants or spoilt with gifts?

Were you told you were loved in words? Did the other person do things to help you? Did they listen to you in a certain way during conversations?

We all have our own 'love strategy' - the blueprint that 'works' for us and convinces us that we are loved.

Early in a relationship, all of the possible 'love strategies' are usually firing off at once. Special looks, frequent touches, hugs, beautiful 'dates', long conversations, gifts, attention and more. It's no wonder we're swept off our feet!

When a relationship deepens and becomes more comfortable, many couples drop the dating pattern and each partner settles into using just a few of these strategies to show their partner they love them. But are they matching the blueprint?

If you're 'touchy feely' and your partner stops hugging you, how do you feel? What if your partner likes hearing you say 'I love you' and you stop doing that? People ask where the passion goes. Sometimes it's as simple as one or both partners having dropped the key actions that connect them deeply with the other person.

Start today

Work out specifically what causes you to feel loved and articulate this to your partner when you can. Find out what convinces your partner that you love them and deliver a lot of that.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Feeling overwhelmed? Stop it!

Here's a 5-minute exercise to help you deal well with pressure as we move into the swing of 2010.

Step one:

Think of times when you have felt really stressed and haven't handled it well.

Step two:

When you're really under pressure, what does your typical response look like?

Do you cry, scream, run away, flap around, get angry, depressed, sick or fearful? Do you head for the refrigerator? Do you not eat? Do you panic, freeze, stick your head in the sand, or blow your stack?

Take a few seconds to create a list of words that describe your existing 'stress antics'.

Step three:

Look at the words you've written down and be honest. How is this strategy working for you?

Is it successfully reducing your stress levels? Is it putting you in the best frame of mind to overcome your challenges? Or is it making problems worse?

Step four:

What can you choose to do in the future that will serve you better? Think of a time when you handled pressure well. What did you do differently then?

For each of your 'stress antics', come up with a 'stress fix'. Head straight for food? Go for a walk. Run away? Chunk the problem into baby steps. Flap? Breathe!

Start today

We all have a choice in how we respond to the challenges in our lives.

Next time something happens, stop for a few seconds and ask yourself: 'what simple next step can I take, right now, that is going to move me away from this stress?'

What's happening this week at WorkLifeBliss?

• We're putting together a series of brand new courses for 2010
• We're providing 18-page reports in response to our Life Balance Survey (see what the reports include here).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back to after-school activities - how much is too much?

Are you about to complicate your life and/or overwhelm your children with too many extra-curricular activities?  With a bit of planning, you can strike exactly the right balance so that everybody is happy and stimulated.  Here are our top tips:

• If your child is starting school for the first time, let them settle in to their changed routine before taking on extra activities.

• Find something they’re passionate about – don’t ‘flog a dead horse’ if they’re really not keen on practising that instrument or learning those Irish Dancing steps.

• Choose activities you can maintain as they get older – it’s cute to enrol a five-year-old in ballet, but make sure you’re comfortable with the increasing expenses and time commitment for upper levels to avoid disappointment later.

• Buy equipment and uniforms second-hand until you’re sure they’re going to stick at it. Young children like having a go at a variety of activities.

• Try to find a balance between physical activity and musical, artistic or dramatic or other pursuits.

• Be led by your child’s interests – avoid the temptation to re-live your childhood, or to assume that they’ll love something, just because their older sibling is great at it.

• Adopt a ‘fun’ mindset from the start and remove pressure to perform – remember that their prowess or otherwise is not a reflection on you, but your performance on the sidelines will reflect on them.

• Look carefully at the proposed schedule for the week. Does it work? Can you afford it? Is there plenty of ‘down-time’ for the children to rest, play and fit in homework? Is there space in the schedule for you and your interests? Families thrive when everyone is catered for.

For more tips on balancing work and family, including a free report on the ‘Top 5 mistakes women make when balancing work and family’, visit