Going without for a year

Throughout Australia, a nominated parent is entitled to receive $719.35 per week before tax for up to 18 weeks, as part of the Parental Leave Pay scheme. Money is transferred to your current employer and the parent receives the payment at the time they would normally expect to be paid.

For more information on the Parental Leave Pay scheme, refer to the following: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/parental-leave-pay/payment-rates/how-much-you-can-receive

In addition to the amount provided, some (not all), employers can pay their staff a wage during their parental leave.

I was not one of the fortunate ones to receive any additional income. It would have been lovely, but to me, as I am sure to many others, the additional money wasn’t important. What was important was being able to take time off to bond with my baby.

When I learned I was pregnant, despite having just come to terms with never being able to have another child (a story for another day), I knew that I would desperately want to have the first year off of work with my baby. I knew I would only receive the Parenting Leave Pay, so I saved as much as I possibly could until she was born.

My budget for the year included bills that I had to pay each month. I had to make sure that no matter what, I had enough to cover things I absolutely had to pay. These were the most important items. I then budgeted an allowance each month. I knew I would still want to do things with my girls and to take them places, so I set aside money to be able to do this.

While on leave I had the support of my partner, who was back to work after a short time off. Regardless, I wanted my own independence. Budgeting and having my own money throughout the year was good for my self esteem.

Ways that I managed to stretch my savings further, to allow for more time off, to spend with my girls, included:

Annual memberships

Taking out annual memberships to places like zoos or national parks, is a great way to be able to go numerous times throughout the year at a significantly reduced cost.

While on leave, I took out memberships to the Adelaide Zoo and also to Urimbirra, a wildlife park. We have gone to the zoo once, so far this year. I have lost count of the times we have been to the wildlife park.

A lot of annual memberships are free for children under a certain age. In most cases, you only need to purchase memberships for any adults that will likely visit regularly. Usually, just by going twice, the membership has paid for itself! Bargain!

The memberships provided absolutely perfect days out, while on leave. Regardless how many times we visit, it always felt like a grand day out.

Libraries  

Not every place requires money. Two of my daughters favorite places are free to go to; playgrounds and libraries. There are several libraries close by that I could take the girls to. Each offering something special and slightly different from one another.

Libraries often have events like ‘Baby time’, or ‘toddler time’ for example, where many other parents are able to take their children for a free session involving nursery rhymes and stories.

While on leave, I frequented the local libraries regularly. My girls loved going, and I loved socializing with all the other parents and librarians. Libraries also teach children, not only to appreciate books, which is brilliant in its own right, but they teach children to share and to take care of other people’s property.

Buy less 

This probably seems obvious, but, in the course of the 12 months, I really had to decide whether or not I really needed something. I love a good sale, but if it meant spending more time with my girls, I had to first decide whether any item was really needed.

I would love to decorate my house more than it currently is, but it wasn’t necessary. Buying things for the house, I decided, could wait until I was back at work.

I would love new boots and more outfits, but really, I have enough already.

The only items I really needed over the year was mainly clothes for the girls. Unlike in the past, where I would just buy whatever looked cute, I actually worked out what was needed and went from there.

Buy in bulk 

Sometimes you do have to buy stuff. I wear contact lenses. As part of my contact lenses, I need to purchase a specific solution. Right before going on leave, I stocked up on the solution, which just happened to be on sale. I didn’t have to buy it again throughout the year. This was a bargain for me and something I was glad to have taken care of from the start.

Second opinions 

Approximately a week before delivering my baby, I took my car to a dealership to get a service. The car had always driven well. I couldn’t believe it when I was told that everything was wrong with my car, well, except the tyres. The tyres were still good. The quote was in the thousands! I was so shocked! It was heartbreaking. I hadn’t budgeted for anything that bad while on leave.

Getting a second opinion was the best thing I did. It turned out, I didn’t need half the things I was originally quoted for and what did need to be fixed, could be done significantly cheaper.

Even when I return to work, I will stick with the mechanic that came to my rescue. The dealership definitely lost a customer after that!

Make the most of what I already have 

So often, we are lead to believe that we need to continuously consume. If it’s not one thing, it’s another: birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Fathers Day, Valentines Day, Christmas. It’s never ending.

Sometimes it is good to finally sit down and read that book, or watch that movie that you have never gotten around to.

That is what I did while on leave. I read books that had been gifted to me, but had never had time to read, and watched movies that I had never gotten around to watching.

Sell unused items

Finally, with all the extra time off, it made me aware of certain items in the house that were just getting in the way, and no longer needed. For those items, I was able to sell. The money I made, went straight towards my daughters birthday celebration. She had a fantastic party and it didn’t cost me anything! If anything, I gained space in the house.

What about you? Have you taken time off work? Were you able to stick to a budget? What worked or didn’t work for you?

I learned a lot while on leave. I learned that I don’t need to spend and that the most precious moments in life are free. Time is the most valuable resource.

I hope when I return to work that I remember what I learned while on leave. You never know what your future holds. Being able to budget and to save are good skills to keep hold of.

 

 

Life is not all that it appears on social media

I remember when my first was born. She cried a lot at night. I remember at the time, thinking she was broken as all the posts I had ever seen online from my friends and family, had always shown pictures of happy babies, having a great time. I seriously started to doubt my parenting abilities.

I recall, when the eldest was still a baby, asking a friend, rather shyly, if her baby ever cried. Her response took me by surprise. Of course he cried. He cried all the time. I was shocked. I had only ever seen happy pictures, and whenever I saw him, he was happy.

I have since learned as a parent, that taking your child anywhere, that feeding them first and trying to get them to rest, helps them to be settled and calm when out and about. Of course, it also depends on the mood and temperament of the child too.

I also learned that babies do cry. When they’re tiny, it’s how they communicate. Knowing that, helped a lot.

As my girls have grown, I have noticed that I too, only post the happy, cheery pictures. Not every moment in parenting is sunshine and light. Sometimes parenting can have it’s terrible moments. Tantrums for example are the worst. Meltdowns are draining and babies cry! They cry a lot if tired, hungry, over stimulated, teething, grumpy, developing new skills or not developing skills fast enough.

I have decided not to post, or even take photos of the dark side of parenting, but to focus my attention and memory on the happy bits. Photos are posted, because, I want to look back and remember, fondly, good things that happened. I also choose not to post unpleasant photos, because I don’t want to embarrass my children. I don’t want them to grow up and have photos of them, losing it in public or at home, all over the Internet.

Of course, the decision not to post unpleasant photos, is my choice and each person is free to do whatever they like. I just want anyone to know that if they see pictures of me and my family online, and we are all happy, that there is probably a whole story behind that photo. Chances are, everyone was happy at the time, or it could have been taken before or after everything turned sour. Usually before. I don’t tend to take photos after.

Is it therefore fake, that photos are posted and it doesn’t show the whole picture? Maybe.

I think with anything posted online, that it’s important to realize that the image displayed is only a snapshot in time and that it isn’t how things are always. The photo could also be completely staged to get a particular reaction from the intended audience. Never judge your parenting from what you see online. Know yourself and be confident in who you are. Everyone has bad days or even bad moments most days. You’re not alone.

Attending my first and possibly last school excursion

Today I joined my eldest daughter on her first ever kindergarten excursion. I joined several other parents as they managed to take breaks from their daily routines to join their child. It was so nice to actually see so many fathers come along. There is possibly still a stereotype that mothers take part in activities, so much so, that every time a dad popped his head into the classroom, people assumed the father was actually Gary, the bus driver!

Prior to going on the excursion, I had always imagined how wonderful it would be to take my children on an excursion one day. It’s something I had always thought would be a lovely thing to do. Knowing that I will be back at work soon, and quickly running out of available days to attend, I jumped at the chance to tag along.

Before the big day, I (and I assume the other parents also), had to sign forms stating that we wouldn’t take photos of other children. There were a bunch of other rules too, mostly common sense. Normally I would love to photograph and document everything, but today, I wanted to be a good role model to the children, and do as I was told.

The excursion was to a local theater to see a stage adaptation of the children’s book “The Cranky Bear”. Most children in the audience possibly wouldn’t have previously seen a stage performance before. The reaction from the children to the performance was quite amusing. Firstly, the actors sung the entire book in the first few minutes. The children (and some of us parents), thought it was going to be a rather short performance! Thankfully, there was more to the show than just one song. Possibly, something that was disappointing to the children, was the lack of decent costumes. This week in Australia, it’s Book Week. Children everywhere are encouraged to wear costumes to promote books that they have read and love. The children on the excursion possibly thought some of their costumes at home were better than the ones the actors wore.

Still, it was a lovely trip.

It was a short trip, only a few hours in duration, with most time being spent getting children on and off the bus and to and from the theatre.

I’m so glad that I was able to go on the excursion, even if the performance wasn’t really to my liking. We all had a great time. I loved spending time with my daughter and her classmates. I don’t know if I will get the opportunity to go on another excursion, due to work commitments, so I am so glad that I was able to go today.

One thing that excursions teach parents that tag along, is how tiring their day really is. The teachers do a fantastic job. It’s incredibly tiring to imagine doing it every day and then going home to your own family. It certainly made me appreciate, going home afterwards and resting while my baby napped, and that when I return to work, I will be sitting down at a computer.

Surviving the first drop-offs at childcare

Surviving the first drop-offs at childcare is tough for both baby and parents. Everyone seems to tell me it is the parent that feels the pain of separation more. As babies can’t really talk at this stage, I guess we will never know who feels the separation the hardest. According to the carers, they will usually say that a few minutes after the parents have left that their baby has started to enjoy themselves and has found something to take their minds off of the fact that their parents are no longer with them.

What can we as parents do while our children are in care? The following list delves into a few options to help keep you busy and your mind off of your baby until you are once again reunited.

Work

This one may not be by choice, but it should, hopefully, help keep your mind off of your little one. That said, I haven’t yet returned back to work. I imagine I will be thinking of my baby girl while I am at work, but the busier I am, I know, the less chance I will have to miss her. Keeping busy will definitely be key.

Go shopping

A word of caution, retail therapy may not be the most ideal thing to do after dropping off your baby in childcare for the first time. Taken from experience, it is too easy to overspend in an attempt to feel better and distract yourself from missing your little one. Sure, it may make you feel great temporarily, but soon after, you will possibly miss your baby again and be back where you started, only with less money in your bank account.

Shopping for an actual purpose, your new outfit for when you return to work, for example is possibly the safest way to shop. If you’re like me, I ended up in the toy department, buying even more toys for my daughter’s upcoming birthday. Toys she possibly didn’t need. I didn’t mean to, but her sad little face when I dropped her off had me thinking more about her, and less about what I needed when I arrived at the shops.

Do housework

Ok, this one probably doesn’t sound like fun, but it is amazing how rewarding it is to tidy the house without having little helpers slowing you down. Starting with the toughest job, like mopping the floors, will be the most rewarding once it’s done. Mopping the floors with a crawling baby is usually rather difficult, as the sight of a bucket of water is very attractive to her, as is anything wet or clean.

Get some exercise

Exercise has been known to release and produce serotonin levels. Don’t just take my word for it, the following blog explains this perfectly: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201111/boosting-your-serotonin-activity

For me, my favorite type of exercise is exercise you do, without realizing that you are really exercising. Walking along the beach, taking in the beautiful scenery and getting some fresh air, not only is a great thing to do, but it is really relaxing. It is so much easier walking when you’re not pushing a pram up and down hills.

Dancing is also a great way to exercise. Dancing is fun, it boosts your mood and you can do it anywhere. If you’re really making the most of multi-tasking, you can do as I do, and combine housework with dancing. It’s definitely the most fun way to tidy a house!

Grab a coffee

Depending on how your week or day is going, you might find that having some quiet ‘me time’ is a perfect time to reflect and relax. Sometimes parenting can be so crazy, that drinking a coffee in its entirety, while it’s still hot and without gulping, can be an accomplishment. Taking some time out and drinking a coffee can seem like such a perfect thing to do. While you’re at it, why not grab yourself a treat to eat too. At least you won’t have to share it.

Meet up with a friend

It can often be difficult to catch up with friends, without having to plan it around the children. Often, my children tag along with me when I catch up with anyone. Meeting up with friends without children around can be a great way for you to have an adult conversation without worrying what the children are up to. That said, when you are sad and going through the first stages of missing your little one, you may find that all conversations revolve around your child, and how you miss them so much and can’t wait to see them again. A good friend will understand this and will no doubt try to take your mind off of your separation.

Pamper yourself

It is amazing how relaxing it can be to have someone take care of your needs for a change. Relax, get a massage, a facial, manicure, pedicure, hairstyle, whatever. Enjoy the time off and remind yourself that you deserve this. Whatever you do, try not to fall asleep. You don’t want to waste the precious time by sleeping.

Listen to music

It’s amazing how strange it can feel, coming home to a quiet home the first few times. Putting on some music, that isn’t targeted for children, can instantly be a boost and lift the mood. Music has an amazing way though of forcing you to remember events and periods of your life. Choose your music carefully, or else you could end up playing music that makes you think of your baby and before you know it, you’re missing them terribly and wanting to cuddle them again.

The happier the music, the better.

There you have it, a list of things to do help you survive the first few drop-offs. I hope you are able to cope with the separation and that when you are reunited with your child that they are so happy to see you and that you both share the best cuddle ever.

Enjoy your time. Try not to be too sad. Good luck.

Letting go of perfection

All my life, I have wanted everything I do to be perfect. If it wasn’t, I was never really satisfied. When it came to my work, I wouldn’t care if I had to spend longer working on something, just so long as when I submitted the piece for review, that the work was of a very high standard. If it wasn’t exactly perfect, I knew that within a few tweaks, it soon would be.

Perfectionism also featured in my hobbies. It didn’t matter what it was, if I didn’t feel that I had nailed what I was trying to achieve, I wouldn’t let anyone see.

Since having children, I have learned that it is impossible to be a perfectionist. Aiming for perfection only leads to disappointment.

Prior to having had children, I would make plans for the day, and would know that I would be able to get everything done. I wouldn’t rest until I had achieved everything I had set out to do. Since having had children, I have realised that it is near impossible to get everything I want to do, done in a day. It could be that I still have a long to-do list. I might have to modify that so that it is more realistic. I’m always learning.

My biggest learning has been from prioritizing what is the most important in my life. Things that matter the most, I aim to do as best as I can. Things that don’t matter as much, I have decided, that I have to let go even more, of the high standards that I previously had.

What are some examples of things that are the most important to me? The most important thing to me is my family. I want to have quality time with the people I love. It is especially important as I face going back to work in the next few weeks. I want my girls to grow up and have happy memories of fun things we do together. As much as I would love to do everything in a day, and get everything done,  creating memories is what brings me the most joy.

Even parenting in general, I have had to let go of the idea of being perfect. Some days are tough. Some days are tiring and some days feel like they never end. For the toughest days, I have had to learn that it is OK to not do everything with my children that I would have liked to do. It is OK, if every once and a while we have a day off, just to do things around the house, with no plans made or intended activities and that we all just unwind and relax together.

When my first was born, I would feel guilty if I hadn’t danced with her, read her books, sung to her or played enough with her. I was worried that my sleep deprivation would get in the way of her development. I now realise I had nothing to worry about, and that she probably didn’t even notice. It probably made it more fun to have a break from everything once in a while.

For me, possibly the biggest source of frustration is the state of my house. I would love everything to be perfect and in its place at all times. It once was, before my eldest was mobile. I have had to let go of my desire to have a perfect house while the children are small. Sure, I love it when everything is tidy and put away. It unfortunately doesn’t stay that way for long.

Realizing what matters the most has helped me to determine where my energy is better spent. When I am with my family, they get most of my attention and energy. Having fun, and creating memories is more important to me than vacuuming or doing the dishes. Sure, housework does get done. I just prefer to do it whenever there are breaks in the day, or at night when the children are asleep.

As for my hobbies, I have definitely stopped being a perfectionist in this aspect of my life too. I don’t have time to make everything perfect. Even this blog, I have decided that near enough is good enough. If I waited until it was perfect, I might not ever publish a post, or the blog itself probably would never exist.

Letting go of perfection has meant that I have had to accept my standards are not as high as they once were. I can live with that. The benefits of letting go, for me has included lower stress and lower guilt (hooray for less guilt) levels. Like most things though, it is a work in progress. It is hard to change overnight. I still get frustrated, and when I do, I remember what’s really important in my life and my perspective slowly shifts back to my new norm.

Transitioning back to my work life

With less than a  month to go before I head back to work, I thought the best thing to do with my youngest, would be to transition her into childcare. For the next four weeks I am going to ease her into care, before the shock of me being back at work hits her and becomes the new norm for us all.

Today is her first day in care.

Dropping her off was filled with mixed emotions. The carers at the centre are extremely lovely, and my baby girl was in a good mood. From that point of view, everything was pleasant. For me though, it felt like such a loss. It’s the end of the beautiful time we have had together, where I have been her main caregiver every day of the week. Now, other people get the pleasure of spending time with my precious girl.

Support and well wishes from friends and family has certainly helped. I know that the long term benefits will be so positive for us all. I will no doubt write a future blog post on all the positives of childcare, based on my own experiences and of people I know. I’m sure there will be plenty of positive experiences to fill a page or three.

But today is tough.

I miss my girl. I am sure she will be fine and that she is having a wonderful time with her new friends, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t staring at the clock, or wishing time would hurry up so that I could see her and hug her again.

What about you? How were you when you dropped your child off for the first time? Did you find it tough too? What did you do to cope?

I have a facial appointment booked this morning. A treatment I had actually booked and paid for 2 years ago, but have never been able to go until now. I will make myself enjoy it. I will relax, but not too much. I don’t want to fall asleep, and when I pick up my girl, I will give her a cuddle and tell her all about my day.

Fingers crossed she hasn’t nailed walking.