Embracing snowday chaos

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There’s something about snowdays – they’re a bit like a zombie apocalypse but marginally easier to survive.

The roads in my village were deserted this morning after another heavy dusting overnight and (shock horror) the village first school was shut.

Here in Northumberland the attitude generally is that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing… until today! Our hard-as-nails headmistress reluctantly conceded defeat for what is probably the first time in a decade.

So there was no mad panic to get ready – no last minute rush for World Book Day props (silent prayer of thanks) – no way I was going to hit any of my deadlines.

Instead it was a slummy mummy morning. The girls watched TV, I drank tea and made peace with the fact that I was going to get very little done other than mop up puddles of melted snow, dry successive rounds of soggy splash pants and woollens while constantly dishing out snacks and hot drinks.

It’s not always easy working from home when childcare duties are suddenly thrust upon you from left field (well okay – we did know the Beast from the East was coming). But it still requires lots of juggling, a helpful ex spouse, forgiving clients and a child’s ability to watch endless episodes of Peppa Pig.

It also requires an ability to let go. The deadlines for the most part can wait – the memories will not.

The deadlines for the most part can wait – the memories will not

My New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to do less, prioritise more and stop all the crazy multitasking. Little things, like eating a meal without looking at my phone.

I’ll admit there’s still a long way to go, but I’m determined because I’m convinced it will make me a happier, calmer person and a better mum.

The world we live in is so full of distraction and so very very busy. We’re all guilty, to a greater or lesser extent of spending too much time on social media, trying to do too much all at once and wasting time on things that aren’t important.

It’s about doing one thing at a time and giving that task all my focus. There’s a Japanese word for this: “ichigyo-zammai”, which means giving your full concentration to a single act.

We’re all guilty of spending too much time on social media and wasting time on things that aren’t important

I read an article a few years ago now – which I now can’t find – on this practice and its relevance in a hyperconnected, modern world. The author was visiting Japan and had noticed that even at supermarket checkouts there was a certain ceremony, both hands were used to exchange credit cards with little bows of respect.

Japanese shoppers are not yelling into their phones while dragging small children off each other, chucking items into bulging carrier bags and flinging plastic across the checkout. Well some of them probably are. But certainly I know which image I find more calming.

In his book the Beginner’s Mind, Sunryu Suzuki describes the practice as being fully in the moment.

“We just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment,” he wrote. “When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”

So what does this have to do with a snowday I hear you ask? I guess it’s the ability to be adaptable when there is a sudden change of plans that throws off work and home schedules, but also that (still for me) elusive ability to drop everything else for a little while.

It’s not often children are able to play in the snow in this country, coming home to hot chocolate with happy flushed cheeks, fighting over who gets the best sledge, arranging to meet their friends on the slopes the next day, sleeping deeply after a day of fresh air and excitement.

So today I fought with myself, as I’m sure many working mothers do in these circumstances. What could wait? What could I wing so I could enjoy this unique day of fun and enjoyment?

I’ve ignored plenty of jobs, and it has been worth it. School is closed tomorrow and I am planning more of the same, with a brief respite when my ex arrives to take the girls out sledging.

Next week I will knuckle down, get the jobs done, hit those deadlines and maintain my gainful employment.

Until then it’s all about collecting icicles for the freezer (does anyone else’s children do this?), making snowmen, drinking our bodyweight in hot chocolate and sticking a pizza in the oven for tea.

Our weekend has started early and (while I’m aware of the wider travel chaos this cold snap as wrought across the country) I do find myself hoping the snow stays for a bit longer. Well until Sunday evening perhaps. God, please let school be open on Monday!

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For a blogging newbie I’m feeling extremely flattered and excited at my nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award. A massive thank you to blog Cooking With Kids (move over Annabel Karmel!) for the recognition! I will thank you properly in my next post, answer your 11 questions and nominate my 11 favourite bloggers. Watch this space!

Such a nasty woman… and other ways women are minimised

Donald Trump Such A Nasty Woman GIF by Election 2016

When Donald Trump attacked Hilary Clinton in the final debate of the last US election, calling her a “nasty woman”, it became an infamous nickname and took on a whole new meaning for women everywhere.

It is associated with “gaslighting”, otherwise known as all attempts to silence and minimise women by depicting them as unhinged and angry when they refuse to toe the line.

It happens when women speak up about sexual harassment and domestic violence, when they express feminist views and call for gender equality, and in the workplace when they strive to rise up through the ranks.

It happens when they dare to do the things women have been conditioned not to do in polite society – to express emotion, opinion, to be tough and unapologetic.

Go on Twitter any day of the week and you’ll see the anti-feminist trolls out in full force, bullying and abusing women who shout too loud.

The notion that women who are not compliant are insane is one that’s been used to silence women for generations

“The notion that women who are not compliant are insane is one that’s been used to silence women for generations,” writes Jennifer Wright in Harpers Bazaar.

“Being told you’re acting insane if you are feeling upset is an absolutely surefire way to make you say something pleasant, even if you may be feeling angry. Which only makes women seem crazier.”

The mad woman in the attic

When women express anger with a situation they find unreasonable, too often they are described as crazy, aggressive and/or ugly.

I received these labels constantly when I left my ex.

Last January I collected my children from school on a day that he was due to pick them up. I had strong evidence he had been drinking.

At the time he was receiving legal help from a lawyer friend. He sent my solicitor an email saying my concerns about his inebriation were due to my “heightened imagination”, “irrational fears and prejudices” and “instability”. In short, that I was unhinged*.

He claimed my concerns were due to my “heightened imagination”, “irrational fears and prejudices” and “instability”… then asked if I was still taking my medication

The email went on to ask for assurances that I was continuing to take my medication (I take Sertraline for anxiety).

In the courts, as in every other corner of life, those trying to silence and minimise non-compliant women do everything to portray them as Charlotte Bronte’s mad woman in the attic. To dismiss them, diminish them and make them question their own sanity.

How #MeToo was a seachange

It happens in the workplace as well. While male executives who speak more often than their peers are deemed more competent in the boardroom, female executives who speak up are not welcomed, according to research from Cornell University.

“We’ve both seen it happen again and again,” wrote Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant in the New York Times. “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.”

And yes, there is a time and place for emotion in the workplace. But being assertive in getting your message across is not the same thing as aggression.

When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive

Things are slowly changing. Partly as a backlash to the result of the last US election and partly due to the #MeToo campaign.

It is becoming less taboo to be an outspoken and emotional woman.

And there is a growing recognition that men also stand to benefit from embracing their emotional side.

Societal pressure to suppress emotions and “man up” is one reason why suicide has reached crisis proportions for men between the ages of 20 and 49.

Why it is a bigger killer than cancer, heart disease or road traffic accidents for men in that demographic. And why so many heterosexual men find it difficult to know how to respond to displays of emotion from their partners. Why there are so many “crazy girlfriend” jokes.

Certainly since #MeToo it feels like a societal correction is taking place with women able to talk about what is happening to them. They are being believed and not as easily dismissed.

So here’s to nasty women everywhere! I’m with you all.

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Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your views on gaslighting, whether it is something that has affected you and how you have dealt with it.

*There is a special place in hell for this “lawyer friend” of my ex’s. He recently pulled out of his own divorce mediation citing his soon-to-be ex wife’s “fragile state”!

In sickness and mental health

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I was reminded today of the role that mental illness (and addictive behaviour) played in the breakdown of my marriage and the stressful, protracted and expensive divorce process that ensued.

As I mentioned in my last post, the divorce rate for marriages where the wife is the main breadwinner is 1 in 2. And all too often mental health plays a part.

Men who make less money than their wives are more likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental health issues

Men who make less money than their wives are more likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental health issues, according to a study from Rutgers University.

Certainly poor mental health, anger and addiction were all present in my marriage… and divorce.

My ex turned up this morning to take my youngest to her swimming lesson but stank of alcohol. I knew from WhatsApp that he hadn’t gone to bed until 2.30am. So at 10.30am I was not happy about him driving, and certainly not about letting him drive anywhere with our child in the car.

He wasn’t happy with my decision and slammed the door on his way out. But I had to put the safety of my child ahead of what he wanted.

How the legal process fuels resentment and anger

I knew divorce for us was never going to be easy. Some couples split and remain friends. They go through mediation and spend as little as £550 after amicably working through how best to split their assets and raise their children.

For the rest of us, mental health issues, addictions, personality disorders or just good old-fashioned anger and hurt make this impossible. And increasingly, the family courts exploit this.

As I wrote in my previous post, the average cost of a divorce in the UK is £70,000. And that’s excluding London, where it is nearly double that amount (an eye-watering £134, 525), according to legal firm Seddons.

Much of this (>£50k) is in lost assets (eg splitting property and pensions), but next is legal bills with divorcing couples typically spending between £17,000 and £30,000.

In my case, and we’re not done yet, the costs have already exceeded that amount. But I had little choice.

It is impossible to mediate when one or both divorcing partners are behaving unreasonably and/or lack a fundamental grip on reality. My ex walked out of mediation after less than an hour.

Why the ‘at fault’ process leads to conflict

When married couples decide to divorce “unreasonable behaviour” is usually cited, behaviour that is often linked to mental health issues and addiction.

However, the legal need to prove a spouse’s unreasonable behaviour fuels bad feeling between a couple, according to research by the Nuffield Foundation on behalf of National Family Mediation (NFM).

“Outdated laws that mean someone has to be proved at fault creates a bidding war which then often escalates to a full-blown courtroom battle,” says Jane Robey, NFM’s chief executive.

“This is a huge issue,” she continues. “Over 100,000 couples divorce each year. For each and every adult involved, let alone the children, the stress, time and expense involved is staggering.”

It is when mediation is clearly not an option that the costs really begin to stack up.

In my experience, solicitors fan the flames of discord and anger, sending messages back and forth that are designed to keep you warring (and paying).

In my experience, solicitors fan the flames of discord and anger

During our child arrangements battle the onus was on me to prove that my ex was an alcoholic, despite plenty of evidence – including his own admission to doctors – that he had been a heavy drinker for years.

This necessitated blood and hair strand tests and eventually, the fitting of a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM) bracelet. All costing thousands of pounds, with each set of evidence minimised and picked apart in court by my ex’s legal team.

In an effort to protect my children I fought for a Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) Section 7 safeguarding report (more on this another time), which again, added significant cost and prolonged the stressful and divisive legal process.

But it was all ultimately in vain. This is what I realise now, looking back. And I hear similar stories from other women (and some men) who have been through similar ordeals.

The fact is that unless your ex is a complete deadbeat the courts will push for a shared care arrangement every time. Under the Children Act the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

Failing children, failing mental health sufferers

The court services are also extremely stretched. Once they’ve ticked the necessary boxes, they just want to arrive at a non-contentious verdict and put the case to bed.

Which does nothing to resolve the underlying problems, to protect children who need protecting or force addicts and individuals suffering from depression and poor mental health to confront their demons and seek help.

I await the usual exchange of heated emails between divorce lawyers… followed by yet another extortionate close-out invoice

 

I’ve emailed my solicitor letting her know of my actions today and explaining that my children also smelt alcohol on their father’s breath. (It is testament to how badly they have been let down that I needed to explain to my 8-year-old that she must NEVER get into a car with her father if he smells like that).

I would contact Cafcass if I thought it would do any good. It won’t (more on this another time).

Beyond that there is little I can do. So I await the usual exchange of heated emails between divorce lawyers… followed by yet another extortionate close-out invoice at the end of the month.