Benefits of being an ICT Consultant

Being a consultant is never boring, well, if it is, it isn’t boring for long! I have been a consultant for the last 8 years, within the IT industry. The work has mostly been challenging and rewarding and has often pushed me to do more in order to achieve great results.

For me, the benefits of being an ICT consultant include:

Working with the latest technology

Sometimes when you work for an organisation, you can be forced to use whatever proprietary software the organisation has developed, in order to get your job done. Leaving the organisation eventually, becomes somewhat tricky, as the skills gained while employed may not be transferable to the next place of employment. Being a consultant, the skills gained are typically around a range of software that is marketable. The more you can work for a variety of customers, the better.

Organisations can often have long delays before rolling out to the latest piece of software. Working as a consultant often means that the software that you get to work with is the latest version. As a consultant, you are expected to know a lot about the latest and greatest in regards to technology. Having access to the latest versions definitely makes working more interesting as you get to play with new things before most people get the chance to.

Working in different environments, often

Every new client requires a new induction process of some kind. Being a consultant is like starting fresh each time you get to work with someone new. Instead of working somewhere for years and years, consultancy work can take you to many different clients within a short space of time. Work duration can be for a long period (months or years) or a short period (days or weeks). Working in different locations and the change that comes with it can be very exciting. Change is like a holiday after all. Working as a consultant also means that if you happen to work in an environment that isn’t to your liking, that the chances are, that you won’t be there for long.

Working on different projects

The busier you are as a consultant, the better. The whole point of being a consultant is being able to be billable and marketable within the industry. The more in demand your skills are, the more likely you are to be able to work for a variety of clients, on numerous projects. Project sizes can vary greatly from short pieces, that can be completed quickly, to large projects, involving many people, including both clients and other consultants, that can take a long time to complete.

Constantly learning

In order to keep up with the latest in technology and to keep skills up to date, it is important to continually learn, either on the job, or in your own time. Learning is such a positive thing to do. It not only leads to more opportunities, but it also provides confidence and knowledge in a particular field.

Going outside of your comfort zone

Sometimes, working as a consultant, you have to take on work, just to be billable, even if it isn’t what you are completely interested in. Sometimes, it is this particular type of work that can push you to go outside of your comfort zone. Perhaps you are requested to run a workshop to a large number of clients, or you have to meet with somebody that you would otherwise feel intimated to talk to. Being a consultant means that you have to take on any work that comes your way. Sometimes, it is these pieces of work that challenge you the most and that can actually force you to grow more as a consultant.

Improving soft skills: communication, documentation, presenting

At the heart of consultant work is communication. Regardless of what role you have, from developer to project manager, communication is integral to everything you do. Every step along the way, the client needs to be updated on progress, whether it is from an email, a presentation or a meeting. Written skills in the form of documentation is important to have, as the client always needs to know what changes have come along with the project.

Being an expert in your field

The longer you are able to consult, the more that you are able grow as a consultant. The more you learn, the more you will grow in your knowledge. The more you work with clients and have successful relationships with them, the more you will be seen as an expert in your field.

Meeting and working with amazing people

Probably the best and most rewarding part of being a consultant is all the amazing people you get to work with, whether the people you work with are other consultants or clients at a client site. The people side to consultancy allows you to work with  a greater number of people than if you were to work for the same organisation for  many years. Friendships can be formed, which can also lead to more work in the future.

 

What makes a good team?

I have worked in many team environments throughout my career. Working in a consulting role, I have regularly worked with different teams, both internally and externally to my employer. Some teams I have worked with for a very short time (days), and other teams, I have worked with for longer periods (years).

Throughout my career, several teams have stood out. For those teams, it was the same factors that were present in all of them that enabled us to work together in a manner that allowed us to bring out the best of our abilities and to be successful.

What were those attributes? In a nutshell, the attributes that proved themselves time and again were the following:

  1. Passion
  2. Ability to have fun yet work hard
  3. Reliability
  4. Communication
  5. Helpful
  6. Knowledge
  7. Empathy
  8. Motivated

In more detail, the attributes included:

Passion

Passionate people tend to love what they do and take pride in their work. Passionate people don’t mind change and are always happy to grow and develop their skills and knowledge.

Working with people that had a similar passionate mindset always came with a very positive attitude to the team. Everyone on the team being passionate about what they were doing always paved ways for great things to happen.

Ability to have fun yet work hard

Some projects can have incredibly tough deadlines. The pressure and the stress involved in some projects can be immense, which is why having the ability to have fun yet work hard is so important. To this day, I still cherish a project team that I worked with (for over a  year and a half). At times we were fueled mostly by coffee. We worked incredibly hard, but there was also times where we could laugh and have fun. The fun moments made everything else enjoyable. Working incredibly hard was totally fine because you were working with people you really liked and had fun with. Of all the teams I have worked with, this particular team, let’s call them ‘Team Fun’, will probably always be my favourite.

 Reliability

Working with people you know will be there when you need them is paramount to your success. Being able to rely on your team members reduces stress, as you don’t have to take on more work, or work blindly while they are not available. Thankfully, most of the teams I have been on, I worked with people I could rely on to be there whenever needed. The teams I have worked on that have had people I couldn’t rely on, led to more stress and delays in delivering work. Reliability is a must for team performance and successful outcomes.

Communication

It has never been so easy to be able to communicate with everyone. The way people communicate is always improving, whether it is in person, email, phone, or chatting. Communicating regularly with your team is a fantastic way of keeping up to date with any regular updates or changes that might be going on.

Helpful

I read recently in an article (I forget which one) that being helpful isn’t a good trait to have. I beg to differ. You can have a team member that is passionate, fun to work with, reliable and communicates well, but lacks the knowledge needed to get the job done. Having someone on the team (or having a team of helpful people), will ensure that the knowledge is shared among everyone.

Knowledge

When I first started as a consultant, I was blown away by how incredibly smart everyone was that I worked with. The information that my workmates knew on any particular topic was immense. At first it was almost overwhelming to be around such brilliant people, and then I became inspired by it. Acquiring knowledge isn’t a race, it’s a marathon. I have learnt that learning consistently over time is better than investing time and effort into short intense bursts. Working with people that know a lot is inspirational. It reminds me daily that you can never learn too much or that you are never too old to learn new things. Technology is always changing, and with that comes the need to learn, in order to keep up.

Empathy

Sometimes bad things happen. Working for a long time on a project, or within a team, chances are that someone (or several people) will have bad things happen personally, that could affect their daily work. Being empathetic means being able to understand what the person is going through, or if not understanding, allowing them the chance for them to find their feet when they need help the most. Being in a great team, means that sometimes other team members may have to work harder in order to help someone through their rough patch. Additionally, people starting in a new environment may feel nervous or shy. Being empathetic means understanding what they are going through and allowing them time to adjust so that they too can fit in and feel relaxed and comfortable in their environment.

Motivated

Motivation affects so many aspects of a team, and is what drives a person to do well. Great teams that I have had the pleasure to work with, have all been motivated to be successful, this has definitely been the case since working as a consultant. Motivation, like passion, has its own level of energy that allows people to get things done. Motivated people want to come to work in the morning and they want to get things done.

 

All of the above traits are not only linked to a specific team, but can also be found (if you’re lucky enough), within a company culture. Working with positive people is incredibly inspiring. We are at work for a significant time of our days. Being around people that inspire and cultivate success is a rewarding way to spend your time. I have been fortunate to work with amazing people. Hopefully as you are reading this article, you are working within a positive team too. What makes a great team for you? Were the attributes the same for you? Or were there other attributes within your team that were not listed? If there were, let me know. I would love to hear them. I would also love to hear from you about successful teams you have had the pleasure to work with.

 

Image courtesy of Brock Sperryn

Miscarriage sadness

15 October is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

Miscarriage, an often taboo subject, is something that has touched me very deeply. In the pursuit of having a family, the only problem I imagined I would have, was actually falling pregnant. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

My first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. The day I found out I was pregnant, I was so incredibly happy. I was aware that people didn’t typically tell people they were pregnant until the end of the first trimester, but I was so deliriously joyful. I felt like all my dreams were coming true. From the start, I thought about my baby growing in me, all day, every day. I was going to have a baby with the love of my life. How could I be anything other than deliriously happy? Everything was good in life. I was over the moon.

Then the doubts started to surface in my mind. I didn’t have morning sickness. I felt kind of normal, except for a desire to eat more fruit and drink less coffee. I tried not to worry, but I couldn’t help it. I started searching on google for reasons why I wasn’t experiencing morning sickness and if it were normal.

And then it became obvious things were turning bad. It was a Saturday night and I started to notice blood. I googled like a crazy person. My partner kept telling me to think positive thoughts and maybe it would turn out alright. I went to my doctor on the Monday, and had scans to confirm my worst fears. I was pregnant, but now, I no longer was. My heart broke. I cried. I sobbed. I continued to cry until no tears came out.

I remember at the time, thinking it was just me. Everyone else seemed to be having babies, yet I couldn’t. I felt like my body let me down in the biggest, saddest way.

Not only did I feel like my body let me down, but I felt like I had let everyone down. My partner was so excited and then, it was taken away. My family and friends were also so happy. I felt horrible when I had to give them the bad news. Each time I had to say it, it hurt so bad. I realized why people were encouraged not to say anything until after the first trimester. I wanted to be pregnant so badly, and it was all taken away.

I desperately tried to get pregnant as soon as I was able. I was told that I would need at least a month to wait before trying.

Again, another miscarriage. The second time was so quick. I barely tested positive before it became a negative again. I cried, but not as much as the first time.

By now, I started to wonder if I would ever fall pregnant.

My next pregnancy resulted in a baby. At the scan, when I was told “good news! There’s a heartbeat”, I cried tears of relief. In fact, I cried at every appointment. I couldn’t believe I really would have a baby.

Following the birth of my baby girl, I had four more miscarriages. Each sad in their own way. Each sad because, each time, each pregnancy was wanted so badly.

Strangely, the last miscarriage was the toughest to deal with. While pregnant, I had every symptom that you would consider normal for a pregnancy. I had morning sickness every morning. My chest hurt. I felt pregnant. At the 8 week scan, we were so excited, that my partner and daughter were there to see the little heartbeat on the screen. It came as a complete and utter shock when I was told that it wasn’t a viable pregnancy and that a miscarriage was in the process of happening. Instead of meeting my little baby, I had to organize a trip to the hospital to have a procedure performed to remove everything. I was so shocked. I couldn’t believe it was happening again and that I couldn’t tell it wasn’t viable. I felt like I got everyone’s hopes up for nothing.

I truly felt like I had let down two people I love with all my heart. I felt completely broken.

The last pregnancy was my last attempt at falling pregnant before I gave up. It had taken a toll on me, and mentally, I couldn’t go through it again. My doctor even advised to give up and travel instead as they had done everything they could.

I grieved. I had to accept that my daughter would never have a sibling. I had to get on with my life and learn to appreciate what I had.

And so I did. For the first time in 2 years, I stopped being so obsessed with trying to get pregnant and knowing what day in the cycle it was. I stopped tracking symptoms. I gave up. I shifted my focus to my family. It was Christmas, so it was easy to do. I was so busy. After Christmas, I decided I would tackle some projects around the house that I had been delaying. I also started to plan that holiday I had always wanted to go on, but never could because I was saving up for when the baby arrived.

It was during this time, that I actually discovered I was pregnant again. This time round, I didn’t even want to tell my partner. I couldn’t do it to him again. I was so scared it would end in disappointment. It really didn’t take him long to guess though. He knows me too well, much to my frustration at the time. I was trying to protect him. At the 8 week scan, I went on my own. I couldn’t repeat what had previously happened. A heartbeat was pulsing on the screen. I was so relieved. I was warned not to get too excited until I was further along in the pregnancy.

Every test, and every scan showed positive results. The baby was healthy.

The previous miscarriages scarred me though. I had lost pregnancies so many times previously, that, this final time, I was scared I would lose it too.

The pregnancy did result in a beautiful baby girl. I still can’t believe she is in our lives. Our little miracle baby.

Why, have I gone on to tell all of this? I have written this out and have shared it, because I truly hope that what I have gone through can help someone.

Miscarriage is not often talked about, and sadly for the couple going through it, it can feel like they are all alone. You are not alone. Believe me. I know what you are going through. I know the pain, the powerless feeling you have, when no matter how much you want the pregnancy, you can’t stop nature. If you are going through this now, I wish you strength to get through your sadness and I hope that your future has a happy ending too. If you know someone who has gone through this, just let them talk and cry it out. Any loss deserves some level of grief. Be there for them and support them, even if you don’t know what to say, just listen.

Ways to cope with separation from your child

Sometimes, the thought of returning to work, or having any prolonged time apart from your child, can cause you to have feelings of separation anxiety.

What is separation anxiety?  

According to BlackDogInstitute, separation anxiety is characterised by irrational fears of separation and abandonment by close attachment figures such as parents, partners and even pets.

What if separation anxiety is triggered by the thought of leaving your child in the care of someone else? What are some ways to cope with feelings of anxiety?

Support network

Having friends or family that you can share your concerns with, can help to rationalize your fears. If you are feeling stressed and sad at the thought of leaving your child, talking it out may or may not help, but it will at least, let those who care about you the most, know that you are troubled.

Chances are your friends or family that you speak to, have been through similar experiences themselves and they can pass on their learning from their past.

Focus on positives 

For most people, going to work is not a matter of choice, but a necessity. Instead of focusing on time apart, try to shift your thoughts to positive ones, such as all that you will be able to achieve and do together as a family now that you have returned to work.

Coming up with a list of positive affirmations, that you tell yourself regularly, can help you shift your thoughts to be more positive.

Examples could be:

  • By returning to work, I want to be a positive role model for my children
  • I will make every effort to make my time with them count
  • It’s important for me to have a focus in life that is separate from my family
  • Time apart from my family will only help me appreciate them more
  • By returning to work, I will be able to provide for my children, allowing them to have opportunities to grow and develop throughout their childhood and beyond

Carry photos of your loved ones 

It has never been so easy to be able to carry photos of your loved ones. Smart phones can store thousands of photos and videos. Wherever you go, you can always have access to pictures of your children. If possible, having photos of your children on display can also help, as no matter what you are doing, you are able to look up and look at their photos and be reminded of what you have to look forward to, when you return home.

Request updates throughout the day

Often, childcare centers, family daycare, or family that are looking after your children, can send updates to let you know how your child is coping in your absence. Often, just hearing that your child is settled, has napped or has eaten, can be enough to help you settle, and focus on whatever you need to until you are once again reunited.

Make your time together count

Creating special moments together becomes even more important when you return to work. Special moments can occur in the morning and the night. It could be as simple as a special hug together, a bath, or a bedtime book.

Get into a routine  

The sooner you are able to get into a routine, the easier it will feel for yourself and your child to accept the change. It will be tough, but over time, it will get better and easier for you to accept.

Reach out 

Remember, if at any time that you need the help of a professional , you can reach out to a number of services.

In Australia, numerous parenting helpline numbers are available. Refer to the following link. (https://raisingchildren.net.au/grown-ups/services-support/about-services-support/helplines)

Most of the numbers listed are answered by registered nurses, who can provide help and advice.

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to work after a prolonged absence

This week has been my first week back to work after having had a year off on maternity leave. The first week, especially the first day back, is always the toughest. It is tough because it means the end of a period of your life, that if like me, you especially treasured. I loved my time off to bond with my baby and also appreciated the extra time I had with my eldest before she starts school next year.

I don’t know whether it is the personality of my second born, or whether having an older sister that wasn’t stressed, helped, but my baby girl was actually upbeat and happy the first and second morning that I had to return to work.

Normally a baby that loves to sleep in, she must have sensed something was up on my first morning, as she was awake about one minute before my alarm went off. I have no idea how she knew, but once she was awake, there was no getting her back to sleep again. I allowed extra time in the morning to  feed her and cuddle both girls. Even though she was awake, I was actually glad for it. I even got a happy wave from both girls before I left. The morning was so peaceful and lovely. It actually came as a pleasant surprise.

With my first born, it was a different story. My first day back, she too woke as my alarm went off (how do they know?), only she wasn’t happy, she was devastated. She knew something was up and that possibly we wouldn’t be together. She spent the whole time I was getting ready, sobbing great, big tears. I believe I cried all the way into work. What a great look that would have been as I walked back in to the office!

It is with relief, that the second time around has gone off almost smoothly. I say almost smoothly, as today, being my second morning, would have been perfect, had my baby girl not hit her face, from a fall, trying to wave goodbye to me. She is just learning to walk, and has reached a clumsy phase of step-step-fall.

Things that I have been grateful the second time around, returning to work, has been:

Grandparents

Having access to grandparents that genuinely love my girls is an absolute relief. The times that the girls are with them, I know in my heart that they are well looked after and are loved. Grandparents are also brilliant at sending regular updates throughout the day. I love that I am able to check my mobile, and see videos or photos of my girls playing and having fun. It really helps me to settle in at work and not feel any distress.

Transitioned my baby into childcare 

As mentioned in a previous post, I transitioned my baby girl into childcare, a month prior to going on leave. Doing so was great not only for my baby girl, but also for me. I actually wonder if parents feel separation anxiety more than their babies. Sure, babies definitely hate being away from their parents, but it surprised me, that I too, hated being away from my girls. I think it is because, as a parent, you worry about anything happening to your child when you are not around to protect them, or that they might need you and you are not there to comfort them. Having time to transition my baby girl, gave us both time to learn to be away from each other, and to realise that other people can care for them too.

Great place to work

Returning to a workplace that you know, and feel welcome, can make a huge difference when returning from a long absence of leave. I have been lucky in that aspect, as I have always liked where I work. I’m passionate by nature, so only ever want to work where I am happy. As much as going back to work was a shock to the system, at least going back to somewhere that I actually enjoy, was something to embrace, rather than be stressed out about.

One of the loveliest things about returning to work, has definitely been all the new toys I was greeted with. Working in technology, I always love playing with new things. I loved that I was able to use things that had never been used by anyone else. It actually felt like a fresh start.

Having a year off, it seems that change is inevitable. Working with technology, I understand that change happens regularly. Software applications are always changing, and new features are forever being rolled out. I am used to change in the workplace, so have been prepared for it, but I haven’t been prepared for all the changes on the way to the workplace. Simple things, like train ticket machines at my local train station have recently been implemented. A passenger must swipe their ticket before entering the platform. A simple change, but for someone, like me, that is always running for a train, and only ever barely making it, this is a significant change. Train timetables also were different since I last boarded a train. Once again, not a big problem, but if you are also like me, and you calculate exactly what train you need to be on, to ensure that you get where you need to at exactly the right amount of time, this can actually come as a shock.

If you are heading back to work after a prolonged absence, then my advice to you is:

  • Check and double-check any changes that might have happened on your route back to work. Roadworks could delay your trip in, as could newly altered train timetables.
  • Get up earlier than you need the first couple of weeks until a routine forms. As difficult as it might be to wake up early, it will be a lot more enjoyable, getting ready when you are relaxed, then when you are stressed and trying to get out of the door as fast as possible.
  • Try to get enough sleep. Sleeping, the night before going back to work, was near impossible for me. I think a mix of adrenaline and not wanting my leave to end, were keeping me awake up all night. I felt tired on my first day. A better sleep the next night, and I felt so much better the next day.
  • Keep positive. If you have small children that you are leaving to go to work, the more positive you are the better. I don’t know how they do it, but children seem to be able to pick up on a nervous vibe. If you are stressed, they will be too and it will just make leaving all the more harder.
  • Prepare everything the night before. I have found already that having everything prepared the night before really makes it so much more quicker and easier to get ready in the morning. I would rather be reaching for my second coffee, or cuddling my girls for the fiftieth time, than deciding which outfit I should wear.
  • If you are catching transport, than make the most of your ‘me time’ and do what you want to do: read a book, play a game on your mobile, learn a language, or write a post for your blog.

Returning to work is tough. Over time it will settle down and you will feel like you are back in control. The best thing you can do is be kind to yourself.

You’ve got this!

 

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.