Why slowing down is so important for your well-being when you have young children. Read more about my thoughts on balancing and juggling motherhood, babies and careers and cultivating patience as you pass through each stage.
I am writing this as a little reminder to myself, because it's everything I need to hear right now and I'm guessing it's something some of you will want to hear too. I'm writing this so that maybe together we can feel renewed, inspired and committed to putting ourselves first even if it's just for a tiny moment or two. We are deserving of it.
Sometimes I feel so guilty for making time for myself as a mother whether it's to do something creatively productive or simply for me. This week, I finally had my first haircut in over a year since my youngest was born - something I was wildly excited about even though I had barely half a centimetre taken off. It wasn't about the hair, of course. It was about a tube journey, alone, to read. About an uninterrupted few hours with a good book and green tea while someone nice made me feel good about my appearance. About not having to give anyone else any attention.
Although my husband plays no part in this guilt, although he absolutely waves me out the door on these rare occasions that I go out alone to do something entirely for myself, I still find myself asking him if he's sure it's okay for me to go. It's not because he can't look after the children himself. It's not because I need his permission in any antiquated way. It's so that I can quieten the unreasonable and unrealistic voice in my head that tells me that I should be with my kids all the time, that I'm selfish for not being there for their every single waking moment. So that's why I ask my husband if it's okay if I go do something. And I need him to say yes, so that I don't have to feel as guilty as I do about simply taking some time for me.
So imagine the guilt that's involved when you have a creative sideline, simply a pursuit or a passion or a fire inside you, that you just want to explore. It seems so indulgent to take time out and prioritise this sort of creative pursuit when you've also got little ones to take care of. Take writing this long read, for instance. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I've been housebound looking after a poorly ones with chicken pox. But I still wanted to write this. Is that wrong of me? I did write some of it with him and his little brother wroung - while they were napping or when they'd both perked up enough to play together. And yet a small part of me still feels guilty for spending my time on this while they've been unwell (my desk is in the family room, so it's not as if I've left them).
I've realised though, that if you take guilt out of it, it's really all just about time. With enough time, I can do both - be with the children and do the things you want to do for yourself.
When I started Our Story Time eight months ago, I kept avoiding writing my blog for as long as I could. I had told my coach that my past career as an author and journalist was behind me; that I was drawing a line and starting afresh. "I'm not the person I used to be," I remember telling her. "It's not about writing."
And yet, truly, it is so much about the writing. Starting my blog here and writing these weekly long reads has become one of my favourite parts of Our Story Time - even more so than the joy in discovering something rare and wonderful for the shop. For me, it feels like each week I can talk to you through my long reads. It feels like I'm getting to know you. Like you're getting to know me. It feels like a real connection, a real spark, something special happening in this big deep sea of vastness and the unknown. That's what happens when you speak your truth with words. You reach out, empathise, connect, form friendships with strangers from far-off lands.
I haven't really told you all that much about my being a writer, my relationship with writing. It's a huge part of me. I make reference to it here and there, but I have always tended to shy away from talking about it. It's a bit like having a beautiful dress that you're too scared to wear. Instead of putting it on, you just look at it, marvel at it, from time to time. Then you fold it up carefully and put it back in a box on a shelf in a cupboard somewhere. You tell yourself you don't deserve something so beautiful. You have nowhere to wear it too anyway. Yes, it's a bit like that - writing and me.
From time to time, people respond to my Instagram captions; they ask if I'm a writer, they tell me I express myself beautifully. And it fills my heart with joy, more so than likes and follows. Because that's what means the most to me. Honest-to-god, hands-down. Writing feels most natural to me and when people respond to it; well, it's thrilling.
My youngest little boy is nine-months-old now. He is still my baby, oh but my goodness he is, but he is also bittersweetly long out of that curled-up newborn phase. As he embraces the world on unsteady legs, dazzling strangers everywhere with milky smiles, fluffy blonde hair and sweet gazes from his chocolatey eyes, so too do I feel ready to re-embrace my direction. I have come far with Our Story Time, but I also feel like I'm at a crossroads with which direction I'm going to take next, how to move my journey along. I feel a real need to focus myself not just with Our Story Time, but inside of me. So lately I've been asking myself: what do I care about the most? What do I love the most?
I'll start this by saying - I'm not talking about caring and loving my family, my husband and children. They are fiercely a part of me and I don't even need to question that. No; what I am talking about is asking myself what I care about the most for me. I'm asking myself what my purpose is separate from motherhood. It may sound selfish to do this, but I don't think it is - it's so important to take time out and figure out your very own essence which is independent of the people you love so dearly. Motherhood doesn't define me alone, I know I won't be alone in feeling this. But I also know firsthand that it's easy to lose sight of you, the real you, the heart and soul of you, while you're raising little people whose needs are still so dependent on you.
While all of this has been in my head, I came across the Japanese notion of Ikagai, a concept of how you live, through Beth Kirby. She writes that Ikagai is translated as: "a reason for being. When doing what you love and what you’re good at meet what the world needs and what they’re willing to pay you for, you’ve found your one thing." When I read this, it felt like the sun turned a little brighter towards me in the sky. It made total sense that this is what I have needed to find.
Last week, it was half-term in our household as it was for so many of you. We day-tripped, picnicking amongst the daisies. We escaped London and watched geese from a boat ride along the most beautiful stretch of the River Thames out in Berkshire, the sunlight dappling across the water. My boys sat in the stern, all golden and sun-kissed and smelling sweet like the ice cream they'd just eaten, little adventurers mesmerised by the thrill of being on the water.
Another day, we rode a tractor, petted horses, made pizzas in the shape of guinea pigs. We watched the thunderstorms from under the skylight, covering our ears with the palms of our hands, wide-eyed as only a four and (nearly) three-year-old can be. We grazed one knee, bumped one elbow, spun a little too fast on the playground roundabout in the park. We played cricket, baked a chocolate cake, watched movies and read books repeatedly on consecutive rainy afternoons.
It sounds idyllic, and truly, we had such a carefree week. It is always such a delight to not have the pressure of time bearing down on us. But I was, and still am, exhausted. It's not just because of the school holidays (I genuinely love the freedom the holidays bring and having the boys home) but because I took on far too much. A story that will be so familiar to so many of us juggling motherhood with work, always so much to do.
The passing of time. It still catches me by surprise, even though it's what makes us. Sometimes the rawness of life, the growing pains of my four-year-old's legs or the changes in my toddler as he is becoming such a little boy now, startles me to the point that I just need a second to take it all in. And now, just like that, it's my thirty-seventh birthday next week. Thirty-seven! So much has happened in the last twelve months, I have felt a need to catch my breath, slow down and take stock.
Since my last birthday, I had my third baby, who is now eight months, and I also created this little world that you're in right now, Our Story Time. I took it from an idea of a beautiful world full of imaginative creations, an idea floating in my head, and managed to make it real. Our Story Time is only six months old itself and is still just beginning but I'm quietly astonished at the way it is unfolding, at the promises it hides. Our Story Time is a place to come to to be inspired, to escape your every day, and this blog is a huge part of that. I never dreamt that I could be brave enough to start my own creative business. And so I thought I'd share my journey with you, a journey I am still on but am so excited about taking.
So settle in. Gather near. This is the story of how I began again, and how if you want to, you can too.