Introduction
Welcome to the third in my series of Sunday Self-Care posts. Each Sunday for the next few weeks there’ll be a new blog post about a different aspect of self-care. I’ll be using the hashtag #sundayselfcare on Twitter and Instagram and would love it if you’d join me.

If you missed them, here’s where you can find the previous posts:
The seven components of self-care, part one: sleep
The seven components of self-care, part two: support

Photo by Marc

Photo by Marc

Sports
I say ‘sports’ because it alliterates with the previous topics and I’m in to that kind of thing. By it I mean exercise in general, not necessarily of the organised variety. My exercise of choice is a mix of walking and swimming. I do not run. I tried a ‘couch to 5K’ running programme once and got stuck at week three, which hurt both my knees and my lungs. I decided there had to be a better way, because I certainly wasn’t experiencing the ‘runner’s high’ I’d been promised.

I have friends who have fallen in love with running and now take part in distance-running events for fun. I’m not in that place, and I definitely speak as a bumbling numpty with no great athletic ambitions. If you’re not currently doing any exercise, please know that I get it. I’m not a lycra-clad gym enthusiast. I’m a bit of a fatty who finds that a swim or a walk with my husband help me manage the stress of adoptive parenting. That’s it. No preaching here.

I have come to my current schedule of a couple of half-hour swims a week and the occasional weekend walk through a concerted effort to prioritise my own self-care. I’m overweight and it is impacting on my health, so I have set myself the target of losing 4 stone by the end of the year. (For international readers, that’s 56lbs or just over 25kg.) But I’m not just exercising for weight-loss purposes. I have discovered for myself the stress-relieving power of exercise. And those are words I didn’t imagine I’d be writing.

Why it matters
It’s widely recognised that exercise reduces stress. Getting your heart rate up releases endorphins, also called ‘happy hormones’, helping to lift your mood. In  ‘The Total Destress Plan’, Beth MacEoin says:

‘When we exercise rhythmically and aerobically for a sustained period, naturally occurring, feelgood chemicals are secreted into the bloodstream. They are called endorphins. It is widely believed that these endorphins are responsible for the sense of elation that is known to follow a stint of aerobic walking, swimming or cycling. Endorphins are believed to be naturally occurring antidepressants with a calming, sedative effect.’

She also discusses the long-term benefits of exercise in counteracting stress:

‘Enjoyable, regular exercise is a strong ally in any struggle for effective stress-busting ­­– for two very different reasons. Firstly, vigorous, rhythmic physical movement gives our bodies a chance to ‘burn off’ excess adrenaline and any additional stress hormones that may be circulating in our systems as part of the fight-or-flight response.

‘Secondly, exercise will help to reduce the tension and stiffness that builds up in muscles, particularly in the muscles of the face, neck and shoulders if our lifestyle is overloaded with negative stress and pressure. If this tension were allowed to become established, the stage would be set for the frequent and regular appearance of stress-related tension headaches and other such debilitating chronic complaints.’

How? When? Where?
For a long time I argued that I was so exhausted and had so little spare time that the idea of using my precious lie-in time to Actually Move About really didn’t appeal at all. It wasn’t until my weight hit an all-time high that I decided things were getting out of hand and ordered a new, enormous swimming costume and dragged myself off to the pool. And you know what? Without children in tow it is a really enjoyable experience. I have time to think. I feel in control of this aspect of my life, even if things on the domestic front are still at the mercy of my children’s behaviour. And the combination of these things feels really quite good.

I fit in my swimming first thing in the morning, leaving the house to be at the pool soon after it opens. Leaving a nice warm bed at 6.15 is not my favourite part of the experience but after a few weeks it is getting easier, especially as the mornings get lighter. I come back home just as the rest of my family are eating breakfast and can carry on with my day with that feeling of having accomplished something for myself.

I use our local council-run sports centre, but have friends who’ve poshed it up and join private gyms. When I lived in London I did this too, but now I’m out in the sticks the council’s one does me fine, even it doesn’t have the free towels and shower gel and all that business. I also haven’t bothered with membership. I know from previous experience that if I pay upfront I waste my money. Some part of me seems to think that paying is half the work, and I slack off. So I’m a pay-as-I-go non-member, with none of the frills of Swimtag or any of that stuff. I just look at the clock and get out after half an hour. Done. The time out from childcare is benefit enough.

The walking does normally feature the children – we’ll try to fit in a walk in a local park or the woods most weekends. They benefit from the opportunity to run about and shriek; me and Pete benefit from them having somewhere other than the house to do that. I have a Fitbit (bought in the sales) which syncs with the Weight Watchers app on my phone, and basically converts exercise into more food. Works for me. So while they are poking mud with sticks and building dens, we get some exercise on the sly, while also having the opportunity for a conversation during daylight hours. Win-win.

I am still a bit baffled by people to whom exercise comes naturally. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach a stage where I voluntarily wear lycra or go to exercise classes for fun rather than watch Bake Off... but what I’m doing is working for me right now and it genuinely is making me a bit less stressed than I would otherwise be. And that has to be good for the whole family.

P.S. Next week I’ll be writing about food (though for the sake of the alliteration of this series I’ll be calling it sustenance, naturally…). I can promise there will be chocolate.

Also, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend this 90-second video as motivation to find a form of exercise you enjoy. I love it.

http://youtu.be/aN7lt0CYwHg

Have a great week.

Further reading
Weight Watchers
The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner (about self-care in general)

What are your thoughts on the importance of exercise to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling to get enough of? Do you have strategies or schedules that work well for you? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #sundayselfcare hashtag.

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Welcome to the third post a weekly series that I’m calling Thankful Thursday.

'Be Thankful' by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

‘Be Thankful’ by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

This week, I have enjoyed…

Reading
Responses to that KFC ad.
Rhik Samadder on the rebranding of Lent in Wednesday’s Guardian.

Writing
This article for Parentdish about the new KFC advert.
A blog post about self-care and exercise and adoptive parenting (coming on Sunday).

Watching
The Great Comic Relief Bake Off (fabulous television).
Minuscule (a very silly animation about insects which Joanna and Charlotte guffawed all the way through).
The Duchess of Cambridge talking about children’s mental health.

Listening to
Podcasts from Willow Creek Community Church on the theme of restarting. Good stuff.

Eating
Too much coffee ice cream.
Pancakes with Nutella (vote for your favourite topping here).

…and I’m also thankful for
the wonderful Twitter community;
people like Parentdish who pay me to write;
our lovely wood-burning stove;
my parents and their willingness to look after the children for a day of half term;
the DVD player and its calming effect on the children;
my slippers (showing my age a bit but they are toasty and I love them).

IMG_3173

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Twitter nearly came to a standstill today in a debate even greater than the rights and wrongs of the KFC ad. It’s time to settle the argument. Please cast your vote (you can choose more than one)…

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KFC, adoption, adoptive, parenting, families, family, children, adopted, fostered, fostering

In case you missed me tweeting the life out of it yesterday, I wrote an article for Parentdish about reactions to KFC’s latest TV ad, which features an adoptive family.

In the article, I quoted a few disgrunted tweets from people who thought the ad was exploitative and/or oversimplified in its treatment of the issue of adoption and the effects of trauma. Some people thought it suggested KFC was a cure for early trauma. I don’t think it suggests that. You can read my full article here, including responses from KFC and Barnardo’s to the comments raised.

When I wrote my article (on Friday), I scoured social media in search of an adoption or fostering agency who had anything negative to say about the ad. I didn’t find any. Everyone seemed either to be very vocally in favour, or cautiously asking their followers ‘What you think?’.

Since then, BAAF have added their view on Facebook. They say:

‘We were pleased to see the profile of fostering raised, however thought the representation of looked after children was insensitive. The help needed goes far beyond “the ‘hands on’ experience of sharing a bucket.”’

I’d like to read more about the reasoning behind the ‘insensitive’ comment. I think it was a great portrayal of an adoptive family nervously welcoming their son into their home and celebrating his achievements above all the behaviour implied by the summons to the headteacher’s office.

I am not a fan of their chicken, but I will defend this ad’s portrayal of adoption to all comers. If you’re trying to present a reasoned argument, you can’t just say it was ‘insensitive’ or ‘exploitative’ without saying what you would have liked them to do differently. Should they have used their 60 seconds to show the parents pacing the floor, hoping for a CAMHS appointment that never comes? Or replaced the first kiss scene with a bit of self-harm? I think that might raise more complaints during an episode of Corrie… and I’m not convinced it would have the same tear-jerking, pass-the-phone-I-want-to-apply-to-adopt effect on viewers. If that emotional response means more people coming forward to adopt or foster, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? For this reason, among others, I don’t think replacing the adoptive family with another bland stereotyped birth family is the answer.

Another issue raised is that the ad is ‘profiteering’. If by that people mean that KFC intends to make a profit from sales resulting from the advert, I can’t disagree. That is how our economy works. If you choose to watch television stations funded by advertising, you are participating in the process. But a nuance of this argument which some have expressed is that KFC should give money to support looked-after and/or adopted children.

It does.

Since 2011, KFC has given financial support to Barnardo’s. From Barnardo’s website:

‘Our partnership with KFC UK and Ireland was launched in 2011. Since then KFC has become one of our largest and most committed supporters, donating £350,000 to fund our employability work and the introduction of a national work placement programme with Barnardo’s. The work placement programme aims to provide over 100 disadvantaged young people the opportunity to gain experience of the world of work by the end of 2013. In 2012, KFC also sponsored the development of a newly accredited pre-employability skills qualification called “Skills for Life, Living and Employment” with OCR. The Skills for Life, Living and Employment qualification is specifically designed to support disadvantaged young people across Barnardo’s services develop the necessary skills needed in the workplace.’

So although I’m not rushing out to buy a KFC any time soon, I’m a bit more of a fan than I was this time last week, and to be honest, I’m still a bit baffled about what there is to dislike about the ad. KFC might win me round yet.

Your comments are welcome…

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In Weekend in focus I review the weekend and look at our therapeutic parenting successes and failures, with the aim of learning something each time.

On Saturday Pete the wonderhusband decided he was going to take the girls out for the morning to give me some peace and quiet. Every now and then he takes them to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, where they all fill up on porridge and a full English and all the croissants and muffins they can put away. Everyone’s happy.

Given the gift of a morning to myself, I listened to a podcast, did the laundry, had a lovely long shower and generally took things at a leisurely pace. I thrive on peace and quiet and time to be in my own head, so time on my own is a treat.

Then at lunchtime I heard them returning. To be specific, I heard Joanna coming when she was still several doors away. And so, I suspect, did most of the neighbours. The sound of wailing, toddler-style, getting louder (very much louder) as they reached the front door. I opened the door and was greeted by a beaming Charlotte, a sobbing Joanna, and a harrassed-looking Pete. He gave me the ‘here we go again’ look. Joanna had taken exception to Pete telling her to stop running around at the railway station and had decided to Get Cross. Cross for Joanna often also means violent, and so he had been hit and kicked, and by the time they arrived home it was time for him to have a quiet lie down while I worked through our repertoire of calming down techniques with Joanna: cuddles, rocking, deep breaths… and then iPods. It took a while but we got there in the end, enough for me to be able to leave the girls on the sofa with their iPods while I had lunch (they were still full from breakfast).

I was soon presented with Valentine’s chocolates the girls had chosen ‘for me’, and ten minutes later was asked if I would be sharing them. (We don’t really do Valentine’s Day, but given an opportunity to buy chocolate in pink wrappers Charlotte was a triumph of pester-power.) I was also handed some used tissues at the same time. I know. Spoilt.

Every mother's dream

Every mother’s dream

We then worked through our jobs (we like to have a ‘Saturday house-cleaning hour’ where each of us contributes something, like hoovering (J) or filling up bird feeders (C) or laundry (me) or putting out the bins (P). That was great. I really like the feeling when all of us are working together as a family to look after our home. I won’t pretend it’s always harmonious, but generally the girls thrive on being given a specific task or two to do. Joanna especially likes cleaning the bathroom with wet wipes and Charlotte thinks hoovering is the most fun it’s possible to have, and I’m not about to discourage them.

Alas the calm didn’t last for long. More waves of big emotions crashed in. I’m not sure how much was the anticipation of a week off school in different routines. That’s a big anxiety trigger for Joanna. But the rest of the afternoon was filled with the girls’ bickering, in and out of each other’s bedrooms, complaints of what one of them did to the other, and vice versa, until we got to ‘She did something I didn’t like and so I bit her.’ At that point we asked them to play quietly in their respective rooms for a bit (we don’t do time out as a punishment but do use it as a calming down strategy when they are too angry to be physically contained).

A little bit later, Charlotte, out of the blue, asked to look at the things in her memory box. She wanted to go through every item and talk about it. I try to say yes to life story work whenever possible, so we talked through her certificate and teddy from the judge who made the adoption order, the t-shirt she was wearing in the first picture we saw of her, the photo book from her time in foster care, the introductions book we made her, and other bits and pieces of significance.

Pete took care of dinner and bedtime. The children shouted a lot. Dinner and bedtime are often difficult around here, as Charlotte is a picky and slow eater, and both of them are tired and potentially grumpy/emotional by 5.00. They are expert procrastinators and like to drag out the goodnights as long as possible with requests for drinks and hot water bottles and more cuddles and talking about birth family and ‘I wish I had grown in your tummy’, and anything else they can think of. I indulge a bit of this to help them feel secure, and I’m happy to talk about their birth family, but equally I know when they’re trying it on. We strike a balance; sometimes they scream at us to let us know they feel they haven’t had their quota of attention for the day, but I give as much as I can and then it is time for me to spend some time with my husband. (Also some coffee ice cream.)

On Sunday, I dragged myself out for a swim at 8.00 while the girls watched CBeebies and Pete had a well-earned lie-in. I returned at 9.30 to a scene of relative harmony, they were all breakfasted and the girls were supposed to be getting dressed – though a completely starkers Charlotte appeared on the stairs to greet me.  After asking her about five times she managed to put her clothes on and leap into the living room, arms outstretched, with a ‘ta-da!’

Church next, and it was a family service – i.e. the children stay in the room with the adults during the sermon instead of going out to their groups as usual. I was braced for a fidget-fest. Thankfully the under-sevens had an activity table at the back, and members of the fabulous children’s team managed to keep them quiet (how do they do this?). Well done, church.

After lunch the girls made blanket dens in Charlotte’s room. This inexplicably involved a huge amount of jumping and clattering and general destuction of anything that could be used in den-construction. Once calmed and tidied, we produced colouring books for them. Joanna had been looking forward to The New Colouring Book and pestering me about when she could have it. She spent about 20 minutes using it before declaring the faces ‘too scary’ (I really can’t see it but she sometimes finds ‘neutral’ faces threatening – this is apparently not unusual in children who’ve been neglected). It’s one of her favourite cartoons, too.  And it came with a set of pens and wasn’t cheap. Bother.

Pete made the girls’ dinner while I worked. I then did the bedtime routine, by which time I think most of the silliness was out of their system, as it went unusually smoothly. They were in bed at 5.30. 5.30! I think, ladies and gentlemen, we will call that a win. And then we lit the fire and all was quiet and Pete cooked a fabulous lentil and halloumi concoction for us (I love this man) and that was the weekend, over. Now to negotiate half term.

Summary

Successes:

  • tag-teaming for a few hours’ peace and quiet
  • iPods
  • family house-cleaning hour

Failures:

  • the ‘too scary’ colouring book
  • not having a schedule for the week ready to present to the girls (now remedied!)

Next time:

  • we’ll try adding in some more one-to-one time
  • we’ll try to build in either outside activity or screen time on Sunday afternoon – both are good for helping the girls regulate
  • I’ll try to have a schedule ready earlier (I have done this for previous holidays and it works well for all of us)

Do you have any half-term tips to share? Or are things better for your family during the holidays? I’d love to hear your comments.

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