Comparisons hurt…. and they can do lasting damage

I chose to walk away from a group chat earlier today because people were comparing what their children could and couldn’t do. I find this really hard on so many levels. I feel like I’m having to justify why I feel like this.

In know society is full of comparisons and oneupmanship but that doesn’t mean I think we need to bring this on to our children. It is one thing saying you are concerned about your child’s development. It it’s another entirely when you feel you have to prove your child is as good as the next one or better. Each child will develop in their own time. Some will speak, some will walk. Some will write, some will perform. Some will love science, some will love music. Some will be all rounders. Some will have a very specific skill. Some will need help to get their development happening. Others will do it an looking time before their orders. All are perfect the way they are.

I’m also aware that maybe I’ve been blessed by my friend circles in the past or maybe just attitudes have changed more recently, but there seems to be less around celebrating the milestone, big or small, that your child has achieved, and more about have they done this thing by this date.

As a parent of two children with very different sets of additional needs I’m even more aware of the damage that comparing can also do to the mum. For a mum to hear than another child’s doing more and better than theirs it can be so painful and destructive to their confidence. The stress it can add to the parenting journey is huge.

As a parent, when your child is the one that’s not hitting the same achievements as other children the same age it is hard.  You start to doubt yourself, your parenting, your instincts. One thing I had to learn was that they do it when it’s right for them.

I was very blessed that the nct group’s I was part of with both of the pregnancies with my boys were incredibly supportive. Both groups celebrated the achievements if each child and joined one another in support rather than it being a big competition. In fact with my second son, they were all as keen as I was to set my son achieve the next weight gain! They cheered us both along.

Yes there are concerns that your child has “problems” and that that need help. But there are also people around to help identify that. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. You know your child. You know if they are happy. You know them and who they are. You are also the one that needs to champion them. You need to celebrate them and every little thing they achieve. Let them know that being them it’s very definitely enough. Being the best of themselves is all I ask of all my children.

I will always struggle hearing others comparing their children, because it highlights where I have a child who is different. I would much rather celebrate one child’s achievement, rather than the minute i hear “xxx can do this” i know that it will be followed by “well yyy can do this and this”. I’ve been told that it’s natural and i have up accept it will happen. Yes it will happen but that doesn’t mean i have to like it , agree with it, or participate in it.

Looking after me so I can be there for them

One of the things that I have realised over the last few weeks is that as much as I focus on keeping my mind healthy i’ve not been keeping my body healthy. I’ve used far too many excuses to cover the quantity of chocolate I can consume in an hour. I’ve had days of eating in secret, binging when I feel out of control and then hating the weight creeping up and the waistbands getting tighter. I knew that the only time I would ever actually make an effort to stop the bad habits was when I was ready and I wanted to do it for the right reasons.

It’s like any life change, you can only make them when you are fully in the right head space and fully motivated for the right reasons. In the last year I have seen people I have known many years, and very close to me in age, lose their battles against horrid illness. This has spurred me on to make sure that the time I have with the family is the best possible, and also to be the best mum and wife that I can be. To be this I have to take care of my body. So I have started a journey. It will not be a short one, it needs to be a life changing permanent journey.

I know from past experience that it will be a journey where I will deviate at times. I know it will be a journey where I struggle to put one foot in from of the other on some days. I know on other days I will be running down the road calling everyone to come and join me. It is a life journey. But I also know for me that this is also a faith journey. It’s me trusting God that He will be with me in the lows and celebrating in the highs.

In the last few weeks there have been some big waves rocking the boat that is “life” and instead of looking to God and my faith, I went to chocolate, slovenly behaviour and blaming others. I have to remember that there is a bigger plan and a bigger person that knows and cares and loves me. He loves me no matter what, but I know that I hold a responsibility to. And that responsibility starts with loving myself in a healthy way. I will be the best of me and my Heavenly Father is in that with me.

If only it was that simple to stop your mind comparing…

One of the things you always hear as a parent, and something I try my hardest to follow, is ‘Don’t compare your child to others.’ And when you have a child with additional needs, this is even more important. Their milestones are their milestones, and they reach them when they get there. But that doesn’t stop human nature.

You will always get the comments comparing siblings or friends’. You will get the well meaning person who says “they’re not that far behind” or the other person who says “well they are special”. But you also always have the little voice in your head, that triggers emotions when you see children of the same age doing tasks that you know you child is not capable of and won’t be for a long time.

The last 8 weeks that have been “lockdown” have highlighted some of those differences, and it really can be so hard. No my son isn’t creating crafts or exploring the world more. He’s struggling to understand why there it’s nothing different in his days, why he can’t see the people he wants to like normal, why he can’t visit the zoo, play in the playground. He doesn’t understand the concept of people being sick or the chance or being sick.

One of the recent things that have got me as a mum is the “chocolate challenge”. (For anyone who hasn’t seen it, you leave a child with a bowl of chocolate or sweets and tell them not to eat them till you’re back, and leave your phone filming them to see what they do. ) I see children the same age happily understanding what is asked of them and choosing not to eat the sweets. But I know that there is no way my son would understand the instructions enough to follow them. He still has very minimal concept of time and delays in time. He will use the word tomorrow, but then expects it five minute later. Life is still very much in the immediate.

It feels strange to be celebrating my son at 3 and a half finally trying to sing a nursery rhyme. My eighteen month old is almost at the same stage. Where there should be a two year gap, much of the time it feels a lot lot less. But then I stop and remember that other parents would be happy if their child was even halfway to this point. And then I tell myself to stop comparing. But it’s never that simple. You do keep comparing even though you try not to, because society pushes us that way.

This is a journey. Parenting is a journey, but boy it’s out tough at times.

One piece of paper makes such a difference

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One of the things I have tried to highlight is how lonely the parenting journey can be when you have a child with “special needs”. I have been so grateful that I have had a couple of amazingly supportive friends who have been on similar journeys. It is a minefield and having friends who have had to walk some of the path before you is a real blessing.

Today we got a piece of paper that I never thought I would be happy to receive. We got the confirmation of our son’s Early Support panel hearing and that he is entitled to support. This will make a difference to his life and ours, both in what is available to him from professionals, but also when he starts school the support that the school will be providing. It also will help when we move. It shows that he’s already been assessed and is in the “system”. It means we don’t have to go through the lengthy referrals process for this part again.

I never thought I would be happy in having it confirmed that my child needs additional help from a young age, and that he has “significant and complex additional needs” but today I felt a degree of relief that my mummy instincts haven’t been wrong, and that my happy boy needed more support.

The next steps, when they are able to happen, will involve a lot more appointments, and time but it will be worth it.

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A start of a long journey

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Today was an interesting day. It was a day where we started to get some answers, but at the same time threw up a million more questions. It’s also been a day that has, for me, thrown up lots of different emotions, which I am still processing.

So today it was confirmed that our fabulous 3 year old boy has significant developmental delays. And keeping in with the honesty of my blogging about parenting over the last three years, I am going to keep sharing in here as we navigate the next few days, weeks, months and now we know years. For me one of the key things that people should take away from this is that our son is our beautiful, loving, caring son who brings us  so much joy. Also these posts won’t be for sympathy or pity but they are my way of processing, plus hopefully something I write might help and inspire other parents on a similar journey.

So where are we at…..

Today the tests showed that our son is 12-18 months delayed in most areas of his development, although one area he is 24 months delayed. This means we have a very frustrated little boy at times, who wants to be able to do the same as his friends, but finds it hard or at times impossible. Today also was a reality check in that there is no quick fix. There are various therapies that can support different parts of his development, but this isn’t going to be a case of a bit of treatment and he will be achieving the goals for a child of 3 years and 2 months. Some therapies will have a bigger impact than others. Some things that are tried may not make any difference.

Do we know the cause?

In a quick answer….No. But there are some suspicions or theories that need to be investigated and will be looked into over the coming months. We do know that my placenta failed before he was born and that the impact of this would not be known until he started (or failed) to reach milestones. But nothing can be confirmed or eliminated as a cause. It might be one of those permanently unanswered questions in life!

Whats next?

Appointments, appointments and more appointments! Juggling work, life, parenting and appointments is going to be my new challenge. But it will all work out. Making sure our daughter gets the time she needs too will also be key. We will just have to switch priorities if needed.

If you’ve got this far, then thank you. If you’ve got questions, ask, and we’ll answer if we can. And just keep being normal with us! He is our amazing boy and we will help him be the best he can be at being him!

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Asking for help is totally ok!

Yesterday evening I read the sad news that Caroline Flack, a 40 year old TV presenter has taken her own life. While she made mistakes in life, the press and society seemed to make more out of her troubles than try to help her. And how many of us read the stories or saw the pictures of her falling around drunk?

But more than this…. why as society do we make it so hard for people to ask for help? She should have had everything to live for, but she also obviously felt like it wasn’t enough. It’s so hard to hold your hands up and say you struggle. I know that from personal experience. No, today I’m not suicidal, but 24 years ago I was. I was at that lowest point. And I didn’t know that I could ask for help. Society didn’t talk about mental health. In fact I was made to feel ashamed about taking an overdose. I was made to feel like I was the problem. It took another 20 years to be cold enough to start talking about my battles with anxiety and depression.

Being there at the lowest point, feeling like you have no other option, is a dark lonely isolated place. Unless you’ve been there it is hard to understand. People look at the life you project outwardly, and assume that that is the whole picture. They love the rose tinted perspective they see. Today it’s like the social media portrayal that people put out. Only show the best and the positive or the humorous bits.

But life isn’t like that in reality. Really isn’t black and white. It’s blue, green, pink, grey, yellow and many more colours. And while for you, yellow might be positive, for the person next to you it might be negative. Rather than assuming that they see what you see, take the time to stop and to smile and to ask how they are and what they see! Those words our actions might be the thing that changes their day from a negative to a positive!

And if today you’re the person who is feeling that the world is black, hard and pointless, then please also remember you are not alone and there are people to help. Life is a hard road to travel, but there are some amazing highlights even on the darkest days.

12 months gone in a flash

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12 months ago I entered hospital knowing within the next few days I was going to become a mummy again for the last time. I knew I was going to meet my little girl. But I also knew I could be looking at another long induction, I knew there were risks, I knew so much, but I also knew nothing. I knew nothing of this little girl that had been growing inside me for 38 weeks. I had struggled to bond with her during pregnancy as i’d felt minimal movement all the way through. I had hated the pregnancy. I wanted that part to be over. But I was also excited. I was excited to meet this little person.

In the end, she decided that she was going to make a quick arrival into the world. So quick the midwife didn’t have time to make any notes or observations! My daughter’s birth set the pace of the last 12 months.

Nicknamed “small but mighty” she fought every battle she came up against in those early weeks and months, and let the world know she was a fighter. She has ruled the roost at home and made it very clear who is the boss to her brothers!

The year has been one full of bittersweet moments for me. I have adored every moment as she has grown and developed from a tiny tiny baby, to a dinky toddler (and I can call her that as she’s now walking!) But i’ve also had this sadness knowing that I won’t have another baby going through these milestones again. I’ve been battling with this, as it seems so selfish. I know there are so many out there who would love just one child of their own, and I have 3. But I also know I had a desire to have 3. I know how much I love being a mum and how at times I feel I miss out on things because I am a working mum.

This year I have carried guilt at feeling like I’m wishing days away while I was looking forward to returning to work. Then feeling guilty for being at work. I’ve had days when I just want those moments to keep going and never stop. I’ve tried to capture them in words, pictures and in my heart. The time seems  like it has slipped past without me noticing.

In these 12 months I’ve also become the parent of an adult! And now when I look back I feel that there are many moments of my son’s life I have missed. I feel like there are memories I am already forgetting. It’s reminded me how time with my children is so precious whatever stage they are at. I want to value and hold each second and cherish it. But I also want all my children to reach their potential at every stage of their lives and fly high in whatever way that is.

Parenting 3 is something I resolutely vowed I would never do, but actually I think it’s working ok. I’m not always getting it right, and I am always feeling mum guilt over one or other of my children. People ask is 3 easier than 2, harder than 2? Honestly…..3 is different to 2. Some days it is easier, some days it is harder. But every day is a memory I hold on to.

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Commitment…as a wife, parent, friend, colleague

I’ve been thinking about commitment a lot over the last couple of weeks, as my eldest child turned 18. I made a commitment to him from the moment he was born that he would always come first. And I really hope that I’ve always kept that promise. That promise didn’t mean he always got what he wanted, or that he liked everything I said or did, but I meant that he was always a the forefront of my choices and plans.

And now that he’s turned 18, that commitment doesn’t end. And because he has 2 siblings that commitment doesn’t change. I have to change to adapt to putting my children and their individual needs first, and work out the compromises that need to be made. Within that, I also have my commitment to my husband. He is my best friend and my partner for life. He will be along side me long after all our children have flown the nest. My commitment to him is to keep investing in us through the tough times as well as the great times.

Anyone who truly knows me, will know that I give my 100% commitment to everything that I do. Be it friendship, work, hobbies, faith, life. That is a core part of who I am. As a result I don’t have a huge circle of friends, but those I have I give everything to. A lunch or coffee date will take priority as I give them my time. I know how much someone giving their time to me like that matters to me, so I value it when I give it to others too. Yes this can set me up for hurt, but it is a core part of me.

My commitment to my younger children means commitment to the menial tasks like making meals, sterilising bottles, providing them with a safe home environment, feeding them, clothing them. But it also means a commitment to being there forever. You can’t turn off being a parent just because they reach a certain milestone, but you can change how you relate and behave.

So take your commitments seriously. Especially to other people. You are probably unaware of how much others value it.

Allergies take 3! (and more!!)

Check out KFA's _22 Things We With You Could Understand About Food Allergies__

People asked when I was pregnant, what was the chance of the baby having the same allergies as my toddler. It really was 50/50. 2 weeks in, and we already had the first bit of the answer….3 out of 3 children had CMPA. A dairy allergy. In a space of 6 hours I watched my contented baby turn into a miserable, writhing in pain little girl, producing nappies that were not “normal”.

I was so grateful that I had a supportive Health Visitor, who straight away put  my daughter on to the NHS allergy pathway, with a referral to the dietitian, and we made an instant appointment with the GP.

But one thing we didn’t know was how severe her allergy to cows milk protein was, or whether it would be her only allergy. What we did know was that this meant that weaning was going to have to be the allergy led method again. Following on from dietitian advice, we started with our son’s known “safe” foods, trying to build up a base of foods, before testing some of his allergens.

I’ll never forget the day I went for the first of his known allergens. I was nervous. Knowing that this could cause my daughter pain or worse, was not a great feeling. But I had to do it. We were lucky. The first one we tried was apple, and all was ok! Phew! And we tried that because it is added to so much that it was a bonus if she could have it. Maybe I then thought it wouldn’t be so bad or my mind just thought lets go for it, but I then tried another allergen. This time it was one where my son was allergic to  a whole food “family”. The first time seemed ok, so we went on for attempt 2. That night, we did not get much sleep. She was so unhappy. In pain, drawing her legs up, crying, unsettled. We thought it was the sweet potato, but to be sure, we had to try again a week or so later. And yes, it happened again. One little girl, very unhappy. And so her allergen list started.

What we have found is that when she has gut based reactions, they are generally more severe than her brother’s. For example, she can’t tolerate even medical grade coconut products, but her brother can. She can’t tolerate any fish we have tried, her brother can tolerate white fish but not oily fish. She can’t even cope with peppercorns or ground pepper from the nightshade family, he can cope with a little.

But we’ve also got a little girl that doesn’t like to have lumps in her food. After 3 months of introducing food, she will finally have a bit of texture, but this has been an additional challenge. The dietitian recommended focusing on textures over new foods, as this was more important, so the introduction of new foods has gone on hold. We’ve got many more things to try.

So it’s actually been trickier this time round. We don’t have all the answers for our daughter yet and we don’t know if it will be worse than our son or better. But we know it’s currently a very similar path. If we go away, even for 1 night, we take 2 bottles of antihistamines, 2 inhalers, snacks and milk for both children, probiotics to help their guts. The list goes on. Currently there is no epi pen in the kit, but that doesn’t mean their won’t ever be. I’m just grateful that neither has had a reaction that needs one.

So, life as an allergy mum continues. And the one thing I am grateful for is the fact that if nothing else I can be a support to others who are journey some of a similar path.

Check out KFA's _22 Things We With You Could Understand About Food Allergies__ (1)

Making choices cos they are right for us all

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While we were on holiday my husband and I managed 2 date nights! It was fabulous having a slow dinner out, walking, talking and just spending time together. We made time to have conversations that went beyond what was for dinner, or how the children had been. We stopped and chatted about us, about what we wanted for ourselves and each other.

We discovered that we need to talk more, as there had been something we had both been thinking about, but not talking about because we thought that the other would object. Instead we both agreed. We chatted with our teenager, who also agreed, and so, as a family of 5 with 2 under 3, we are going to move!

Chatting it through with friends while we were away also helped. It helped us see if we were being rational or if we were in a holiday bubble. It also gave us space to make some calls and see where everything is at.

We need more space….mainly bedrooms, as we have discovered that the toddler and the baby can’t happily share. He can take a while to settle, but is then is a very deep sleeper. But while he’s settling he makes a racket! She is the opposite. Falls asleep very quickly, but is then quite a light sleeper. Having your big brother playing loudly round you is not conducive to a good sleep!

But it’s more than that. We need a home that works for us both now and in the future. We need a place we know we are planning on being our forever home (at least we really hope it will be!!) The ties to where we are now have gone, and we are free to go where we feel we should be.

How long will it take? We don’t know. Where will we be? Royston we hope.

But we are journeying this next adventure together and all our family will have fun!