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  • The gym: a surprising place to reflect on parenting.

    Finding moments to move from manager to coach in parenting. I go to the gym, and whilst I am there I can’t help but notice the personal trainers working with their clients. They have mastered the skill of supporting their clients through the pain of improving their health and fitness. They do an excellent job of guiding their clients, working out what their zone of tolerance is for different exercises so that they are doing work that is just hard enough to be challenging, but not so hard that they get injured or give up. They provide encouragement and support. Pay attention to what their client is doing and give valuable feedback, positively. The personal trainer is not doing his or her own workout at the same time. But they take their health very seriously, with workouts in their own protected time. They want to represent good role models to their clients. They don’t shout at their clients or berate them for how slow or weak they are. They encourage and motivate them, pushing them just hard enough. They up-regulate them: “Come on you can do this – just a bit faster” or if things are getting too much, they slow things down and down-regulate them: “Let’s take a break, let you get your breath back and do some stretching”. They also notice and validate how their client is feeling “Gosh, I can see this is hurting, but you are doing amazing; you are putting so much effort into this.” They are essentially the client’s guide and cheerleader. They are supporting them to tolerate the stress on their own body so that they can learn, build stronger muscles and grow in confidence. The more the client attends their sessions and participates, the stronger their health, muscles, confidence and skills will grow. Eventually, they won’t need their personal trainer anymore. They will have learned enough to workout on their own, and use the skills and positive self-talk they have experienced with their personal trainer. I imagined a personal trainer who didn’t pay attention, perhaps got preoccupied with doing their own workout, who got cross with me when I wasn’t doing as well as they thought I should be, made me do exercises which were outside of my comfort zone and perhaps meant I injured a muscle. I would not progress and I would likely give up. This analogy struck me because as parents we often forgot our role as coaches to our children. We may find ourselves getting stuck in the trap of disgruntled managers (organising family life, planning and keeping things on track). As I sat there sweating on the exercise bike, I reflected how often when my children are struggling with something, I am the terrible personal trainer – preoccupied, not paying attention, focused on what they are not getting right – telling them off. Typically, this happens because I am trying to juggle a million things, which means focusing on their needs at that moment becomes impossible. Sadly, it is likely in precisely these moments of high distress or emotion, my children actually need my help most, my availability most; they need me as guide and cheerleader to help them tolerate their distress and get back in a zone where they can feel more contained. Unlike a personal trainer, the challenge as a parent is the 24/7 nature of the role. We don’t get to spend an hour with a motivated client who has turned up at the gym to ‘improve’. And if we did, when they come to the session, the role is very clear and protected (unlike parenting where we essentially have to do the job of personal trainer whilst running the gym, doing a workout, cleaning the equipment, breaking up a fight over gym equipment, and running the café!) So, rather compassionately, as I walked towards the water station to refill my bottle, I figured if I focus on giving my child my full undivided (personal trainer/coach) attention – at key important points for them – this might really help give my child the experience of feeling my full support with facing the things they find difficult and celebrating their success (no matter how small the goal). I find the manager role hard as a parent. Finding more time to step out of manager role and into coach role, especially with my teenagers, could improve my experience of being a parent, as well as my children’s experience of me. I am going to try it when I get home.

  • The day was amazing and one of the best of my life

    When I was a child my dad used to read me Winnie-the-Pooh. There is a poem with the repeated line: “They’re changing the guard at Buckingham Palace Christoper Robin went down with Alice”. Never did I imagine that I would get an invitation to go to Buckingham Palace – and when I did – this is the line that popped into my head! Being nominated for an award like an MBE (Member of the British Empire) is strange. You immediately think it is a mistake, that someone has got it wrong. Then when it starts to sink in that this is not a mistake, it is real, you then move to guilt: “but what about all of the other people who have been part of what I have been doing which lead to this award?” Essentially, you don’t feel worthy. However, in the moment of collecting my MBE award for my job (which was considered an outstanding contribution to improving mental heath and wellbeing among young people) I was filled with a huge sense of pride and gratitude to be in this honoured position. The day of collecting my award was exciting. I drove down to Buckingham Palace with my three children in the car. My main anxiety would a road closure prevent us from getting there! My daughter was going to come with me into Buckingham Palace. My mum was meeting me outside so that my sons could go with her for a wander until the event was over. We then planned to meet with the rest of my family for afternoon tea to celebrate this occasion together. Driving to Buckingham Palace, rather than past Buckingham Palace was such a surreal moment. Parking my car outside the great black gates on the pink road whilst the Police checked it over, again felt special and added to the importance of the occasion. Strangely I felt excited that my car was getting the experience of driving into the grounds of Buckingham Palace and would get to park in the Royal Quadrangle. As my daughter and I walked across the gravel into the entrance we have seen on the news, in films and on The Crown, I had to keep pinching myself to check it was all real. Waiting for the award, amongst other people who had all done remarkable things, my daughter and I took it all in: the grandeur, the smaller more normal details (like the fact that there was Andrex toilet roll in the toilets!) The Duke of Cambridge was presenting the awards in the Throne room. We waited our turn. My daughter went and stood next to a member of the royal household, whilst I stepped forward to collect my award. What Prince William said, what I said, I simply cannot remember. But I was struck by how tall and handsome he was, the kindness in his face and the genuine interest in the work I had completed which had led to this moment. It was a long-short 2-minutes of my life and one I will not forget. As my daughter and I left the room and walked down the main gallery with my medal on my jacket I felt that slightly sinking feeling when something you have been looking forward to ends. We collected the box and visited the Buckingham Palace toilets (for what might be the last time as guests in our lives) and headed out for photographs. That afternoon I met with my family and we had an incredible afternoon tea at the Dorchester. It felt so wonderful to be around the people who have supported and loved me whilst I have been so preoccupied with my work. I cherished every moment and if I could do it all again I would. That night as I fell asleep, I hoped this achievement, the recognition and the special day would remind my children, that anything is possible. Follow your heart. Do what you are passionate about, and in doing so if you are able to help others and make a difference all the better.

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