Sunday, 31 December 2017

New Year's Resolution - To Do Less

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come. 

As 2017 draws to a close, it's time to reflect on the year behind us and look forward to the year ahead.

2017 has been a brilliant year in many ways. Little S arrived safe and sound and has been a joyful addition to our family. We've attended close friends' weddings and spent time with friends and family that we love.

But it has been an exhausting year. I am currently taking my next round of antibiotics, having come down with tonsillitis on Christmas Eve. It definitely feels like a bit of a hint from those in charge that I have tried to cram too much into the year.

I've been feeling it since about September, when Little S caught cold after cold after cold, basically leading up to Christmas Eve, when I finally went down with tonsillitis in complete defeat.

We struggled through Christmas presents opening (Gary and Little S were also down with a stomach bug) and then took it in turns sleeping/child handling. Christmas Dinner was delayed for two days and we are still nowhere near back to fighting fit.

I like to plan, and I like to see people. I love having things to do and people to see. So I plan as much in as I can, and this year, I planned too much.

I have basically, single handedly, run us all into the ground.

For all the talk back in July and August about taking care of my mental and physical health, I've done nothing but put pressure on all of us, and leave no room to breathe. It's left me a shell of myself and, worse, it's left the kids with the worst version of me. I have no patience and I have no time to play properly with them. That has to change.

We are a family, and families require maintenance to make them run smoothly. It's taken me getting sick to realise exactly how much has to change, and how difficult it is to change a mindset.

So here goes, my New Year's Resolution for 2018 is To Do Less.

Doing less is going to need to include the following:

Kids Logistics: 

Gary's work logistics are so complex that updating his calendar is literally a full time job. He, quite frankly, does not have the time to get involved in the logistics of the kids and their various activities and social lives.

It falls to me, which is fine, until I get a bit over excited and schedule in too much. I have spent the year in a frenzy of playdates and structured activities and school logistics and just more and more stuff.

We ended up just not going to some of the Christmas activities I had planned (and paid for) because we were just all too tired to actually benefit from it.

Thankfully we have already sorted the main stressor, having the kids at nursery/after school clubs. It just was not working. Gary already works in various places/abroad and long hours and along side my 3 hour round trip into Birmingham each working day, it was just not manageable.

I was ducking out of work at 5pm exactly and racing for the train, racing for the car and racing (well, crawling in heavy traffic) towards the nursery/after school clubs for the 6pm closing time.

Then we were getting the kids bundled in the car, home and then there was a frenzied hour of food, bath and bed. There are no time to play, there was no time to just be.

We had already had our amazing nanny work one day a week with us, which massively took the pressure off for us. When we got home, they are in the their pyjamas, they have been fed and bathed and they are ready for an hour or so of quiet quality time. It changed the whole dynamic of the day.

It also meant that if my train was cancelled or I needed to work late (and Gary couldn't get home for 6pm) that there was someone with them, who could put them to be if necessary. The relief that this gave me was massive. It was a huge weight off my shoulders.

So we have increased her hours for when I go back to work from maternity leave. This should give us a lot more flexibility and a lot less stress, firstly because she's incredible and secondly because I don't have to clock watch constantly from 4pm to make sure my work is done and I can be out of the door.

Here are the changes that I'm planning to implement in the New Year for the kids activities/logistics:

  • Our nanny has kindly agreed to do some of the kids washing while I am at work (which makes me have a vague hope that the mountain of washing will become more like a big hill!); she will also do some reading with the kids after school (which will help a lot as we'll have two infant school children come September) and take them to swimming straight from school (so we don't have to do it on a Saturday!); 
  • Reduce their activities to swimming plus one other. Miss S wants to do literally everything, and I've spent the last term ferrying her to and from no less that six separate activities. I am exhausted, mentally, and she is exhausted physically. There is plenty of time to add in more activities as they get older, but for now, I have to accept that four activities is enough for me to logistically manage (in terms of paying fees and organising clothing each week etc) and for us to have to shuttle the kids to and from. It's also enough for the other kids to have to stand round and watch! 
  • One playdate each a month. That is whether they go to someone's house or come to our house. I try to keep them on the same day each time, so that in one hit I've done both kids playdates. Otherwise one of the days per week that we have no activities, I'm constantly in and out of the house trying to drop off or pick up, or entertaining other children at my house. It has just become too much. 
  • Parties. Hmmmm. This one is more tricky. I want to reduce the amount of parties that my kids go to, but I'm not sure of the best way to go about it. Obviously it's rude to drop out of one party in favour of another, but currently we spend at least 3 or 4 days a month ferrying the two older kids to birthday parties, and that is only going to increase when Little S joins the birthday party ranks. I think we are going to accept the invitations from children who I know our children play with, rather than just accepting every invitation which arrives. Otherwise the first three months of 2018 may be a repeat of 2017, when we went to a party a week for 12 weeks! 

Social Life Logistics:

This is the hard one. I already feel like I barely see some of my longest and closest friends. There doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day/days in the week as it is, and so I've been really reluctant to scale any of our social life back. 

But the reality is, I'm not 21 anymore. There isn't just me and Gary to think of, to take time for. We have three kids who need a lot of time. Much more time than I thought. 

Even though Miss S and Master L aren't babies anymore, they need more quality time with us than ever before. They need interaction and space to play and to return to us. This has to fit in around the inevitable life admin that needs to be done, plus carving out some time for me and Gary (together and separately). 

It was much easier when we lived in Dubai. Most of my local friends didn't work, so we used to meet up during the daytime. My international friends and family were regularly called and skyped, which tided us over until the next visit, which was inevitably months apart.

Our weekends were our own to potter about and do family things with no pressure.

For some reason, the telephone calls and skyping stopped as soon as we got back to the UK. As if we were suddenly around the corner and telephone calls were now redundant. We booked in more face to face time, just because the travel was less.

I went back to work, which moved most of my socialising to evenings and weekends, further cutting into family time.

So I've been taking an honest look at my calendar for the last few months, and have had to make some difficult choices in order to keep us all from getting run down and sick. I'm definitely going to begin scheduling in telephone calls again, and making sure I can maintain my relationships even when it's not possible to physically be in the same room.

Social life adjustments:

  • To have family/friends stay over a maximum of once a month. Due to my overzealous scheduling, we had family and friends to stay over three consecutive weekends in November. It was fabulous, but we fell behind on the washing and homework and stayed up late, and drank too much, and ate too much. I'm definitely getting too old for that much excitement! 
  • To use one weeknight a week to catch up with friends by telephone. 
  • To schedule one date night a month with Gary, so we get some time to ourselves. 
  • To go out with mutual friends once every 6 weeks or so.
  • For me to reduce my nights out to 1 or 2 a month. 
  • To go to the gym during the week, but not at weekends, keeping them clear. 

Work Life Logistics

I'm not going to lie, my first year back at work was a bit of a disaster. Trying to navigate work and the logistics of the kids and drop offs and pick ups and late nights and working away was much harder than I thought. Neither Gary nor I work a standard 9-5 job, overtime is expected and necessary, and as is some travel (Gary more than me).

The set up we had was just not working and I was the one feeling the strain, because the responsibility of all childcare essentially fell to me. Gary is the higher earner and we need him to be doing his job properly or the mortgage doesn't get paid!

My job, whilst I love it and I don't want to stop working, doesn't bring much additional income at all once we have paid for the childcare we need and for my travel into Birmingham. Obviously our childcare costs should decrease over time, and hopefully my wages will rise, but it still means that me going to work is essentially an optional extra, which sometimes we cannot afford because of the time pressures it places on our family.

Now that we have our nanny providing childcare three days per week, that should take a lot of pressure off me. If any of the kids are sick, then our nanny will be there to look after them. If it's the school holidays, the costs don't increase because we are already paying our nanny. If the trains are running late, the kids will still be fed, bathed and, if necessary, in bed at the usual time.

So that's the majority of the childcare related stressors taken care of, but what about work itself? My ability to complete my work to the best of my ability was always compromised by my need to clock watch. I had to pick and choose what work I would complete when, and there wasn't a great deal of wriggle room, when something urgent came up.

Again, most of that should now have been resolved, but I still need to build in a little more of a contingency plan. A little more dedicated time, so I know I can put more into my work.

  • Plan to work late one night a week. This means that our nanny knows I'm coming home late. So she can work towards bedtime, in case Gary doesn't get home before then. It also means that I can stay and, even if I'm not overrun with work, I can get a little ahead, building in some time for when the inevitable emergency crops up. 
  • Not having to dive out of the door at 5pm on the dot. Previously I was having to get one the first train, to make allowances for traffic, or so that if it was cancelled, I had a chance of getting on the second one and being at nursery for 6pm. Now I can stay and just finish off what I'm doing, knowing that if I don't get home until 6:10pm, the kids are fine and taken care of. 

Phew, that is a MASSIVE post. It took writing it out to realise exactly how much pressure I had been placing on everyone in the family by jam-packing our schedule in every direction with stuff. 

For those of you who will be in bed before midnight, I hope 2018 brings you a lie in! 

For those of you who will still be partying this New Year's Eve, I hope the hangover is short and that 2018 starts with a bang. 

Much love xx