the continuing satisfaction of the long distance swimmer

I have just two weeks left before I complete my 5k swim for Cancer Research.

I am doing the swim in memory of my Mother-in-Law, who passed away last August. I hope to raise a £1000, but I’m a way off my target as yet. Since I first wrote about the swim, I have added an extra layer of difficulty, aiming to do the swim now in under three hours, rather than the four I originally planned for. I completed my longest training swim yet today, and while I don’t in anyway expect it to be easy, I do have faith in my willpower carrying me to the end when my arms and legs have inwardly given up!

I have a lot of personal goals that I don’t always achieve. I have picked up my ukulele twice so far this year. I haven’t been able to carve out a single evening on my book writing. Finding the motivation to rise early and meditate? Don’t make me laugh. These things frustrate me, of course they do. But I am long enough in the tooth to know the answer to a question that a friend often asks: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ Everything will be achieved. Just not all today, this week or this month.

As an INTJ there’s no doubt that having a specific end-date helps to focus my mind. Having the motivation of carrying on my Mother-In-Law’s good work drives me forward; over the course of twenty years, between her first and second cancer diagnoses, she helped to raise thousands of pounds for Cancer Research. As I swim, I often picture our last conversation together. She in her hospital bed, me in a posh outfit, having left a family wedding early so I could spend some time with her. I don’t know if she knew how truly poorly she was. I’m glad I didn’t know it would be the last time we would chat, as we had week in, week out, for a decade. What I know now is how much I miss her, and the memory of her courage, fortitude and good grace in the face of all helps me to keep ploughing up and down the lane.

In these frugal times I am watching my pennies. I expect everyone reading this feels much the same. But if you can find a fiver that you can push my way, to help me reach my goal and honour her memory, I would really appreciate it.

 

what I know about British kids

This month sees me feeling a little pride. It is twelve months since I changed my job description to ‘freelance writer’. As regular readers will know, I am genuinely preoccupied by elements of children’s experience as a writing topic. I now make a modest sum each month producing hopefully well-informed content on parenting, childcare and primary education. This means I read a lot of stuff about British kids. It is rarely cheery or uplifting. More often it is a depressing catalogue of how much we are getting wrong. So besides the pride, I’m feeling a wee bit despairing about what follows:

  • UNICEF has carried out extensive comparative research into the childhoods of thousands of children across the developed and developing world. They find UK children living unhappy lives, trapped in an over-materialistic culture and craving quality time with their families.
  • The OECD collates statistics about the educational attainment of children and young adults around the globe. We are persistently middling in the tables. This doesn’t necessarily matter, in the sense that their is always a story behind the stats. What is a problem is our government’s response to it.
  • The Cambridge Primary Review, a meta study that collated the research findings of over 4000 studies from around the world, reported in 2009. In essence, it concluded that the children of this fair nation enter formal education at far too young an age, and that some suffer negative consequences to their neuro-psychological development as a result.
  • The NSPCC has report just this week that  cuts to , and shortcomings in our social services are costing our most vulnerable children very dearly. To quote from their report directly; ‘One child dies at the hands of another person every week. Levels of child neglect have barely shifted [in 30 years]. As many as one child in six is exposed to violence in the home. In this social media age children face new threats of online grooming and cyber bullying. Perhaps most strikingly, more children than ever before are expressing their own anguish and distress through inflicting pain on themselves by self-harming.’
  • Young MINDs have established that nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression, and over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression.
  • The Sutton Trust carries out research into educational attainment and social mobility. They have established that by the age of 5 there is a 19 month gap between the most advantaged and most disadvantaged children in our society.
  • The Child Poverty Action Group look at social mobility from a slightly different perspective. They know that there are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 27 per cent of children, or more than one in four. There are even more serious concentrations of child poverty at a local level: in 100 local wards, for example, between 50 and 70 per cent of children are growing up in poverty.
  • A fine group of academics and practitioners wrote to The Telegraph last autumn deeply concerned about overtly formal expectations of our primary schooling system. They are dismissed by the DfE as a ‘Marxist Blob’.
  • Back in 2006 another fine group of academics wrote to The Telegraph asking for government to halt what they described as ‘the erosion of childhood’. They were particularly concerned about our culture of materialism and over-exposure to screen media.
  • Project Wild Thing’s David Bond has found that children’s roaming area has decreased by 90% in two generations. He believes our children are suffering from nature deficit disorder, and that screen time is utterly out of control.

There are days when I wonder what a true definition of a civilised society could possibly be, if this is the best we can manage for our children. There is no correlation, as far as I can tell, between the challenges that our children and young people face, (as evidenced by this startling variety of heavyweight reports), and the supposed action taken by central or local government. The response of policy makers is entirely disproportionate; researchers describe a metaphoric sinking ship, and the politicians filibuster and tinker, stuffing the gaping hole in the bowels of the vessel with tissue paper and overlaying with sticky tape.

They think schools can solve a nation’s social ills. They think the way to narrow the gap is to insist on 2 year olds sitting down and learning to count. They exponentially raise the cost of living in social housing, by shifting the tax goalposts, and then wonder why food bank use is increasing at a similar rate. They scratch away at the professional pride of teachers, nurses, social workers, and others, and then wonder why there is no-one left to help children and their families when crisis hits. Genuinely sick and disabled people are deprived of support on the judgement of an outsourced agency who cannot do their job properly, and are wasting public funds; they allow this to take place.They strip the heart out of our of the welfare state, while at the same time failing to do anything about creating an economy that can sustain a living wage. Beveridge and Bevan must be looking down, feeling rather confused.

There are things I truly love about being British. We have great comedy, fabulous musical heritage, and are generally liberal and welcoming of cultural diversity. We have been pioneers, engineers, and our artists and scientists contribute to the greater good world over. I even love that no other country has an organisation quite like the National Trust – we have a sense of history, and we endeavour to honour it. And I even love some aspects of our political history – we have been capable of admirable campaigning, against slavery and extremism worldwide. At the same time, we’re long enough in the tooth to have  developed healthy levels of cynicism and a strong sense of irony.

But I’m starting to feel a bit embarrassed about who we have become – and who we let govern us. I’m starting to agree with Russell Brand; maybe many of us really are now effectively disenfranchised. There is no political party that I trust to actually take care of us. I’m middle class, self-employed, a home-owner, degree educated – all the things that would naturally make me about as typical a British citizen as you can get, a true representative of Middle England. I felt that for the sake of balance, the significant political changes we saw in both 1997 and 2010 were, both, moves in the right direction. Any one party stays too long and they appear to become complacent. But now, no-one in Westminster is speaking my language, and I am shocked that they are, collectively, letting such appalling inequalities continue into the next generation and beyond. I’m shocked that their ideas about how to fix things are so way, way off the mark. I’m shocked that they appear to care so little.

I started my day listening to Michael Wilshaw’s ridiculous pronouncements about how much early years settings are getting wrong, how much they are failing to prepare our youngest children for school and for life. The man made my blood boil – so much ignorance, so much ideological nuance, so little attention to the research and the evidence. He has no mandate to say the things he says. He is a civil servant charged with delivering regulation as laid down by statute – no more, no less. No-one voted for him, no-one gave him a green light to start peddling his agenda. I watched my twitter feed light up with indignation at his comments. Clear thinking people, people who have dedicated their working lives to understanding how best to promote children’s welfare and developmental progress, were shouting loudly from every corner of the country. Here is one such incredibly passionate and dignified response to it all. In the year or so since I started to earn a living from my writing about parenting and education I have seen a hundred days such as today. And I couldn’t quite help but lose my usual optimism. They keep on spitting all this nonsensical bile out, and we keep fighting back – but to what end? - came the thought.

If your assessment of this post is ‘bleak’ – I can’t argue. There is a pattern to my writing that usually ends with an upward swing. My automatic inclination is to pull a nugget of hope or possibility out from pretty much any on-the-surface negative situation. I am, by nature, a resolutely half-full glass.  But today? Well, the glass is drained dry and the tap isn’t working.

 

 

 

when I am not here I am somewhere else

There are only so many hours in a week. I would love to write posts for NDBI more often, but the pull of earning money and doing all the other things that must be done, takes precedence. Great ideas for posts do come and go, and the lack of time means they don’t all make it into digital print.

This doesn’t mean I’m not actually blogging though. I am. It’s just that I am doing it for other organisations or sites – and often they get my best ideas. I mentioned this a few weeks ago , but as yet I have failed to be more systematic about telling my readers where to find me, as it were.

In the last few weeks, for example, I have written about e-safety for our children, the benefits of outdoor play and the fight to keep it as part of our children’s experience, and International Women’s Day. I’ve also written about Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats, and what they mean to me as a mum who is busy-busy-busy. And just this week I’ve written a substantial piece about the challenges of managing a pre-school, and the sizeable threats to early years education in this country. It’s had a lot of reads and I am quite proud of it, even if I do say so myself.

So, don’t go thinking that when I’m not here I am nowhere. Quite the reverse, I am always somewhere, even if where I really want to be is here.

be a signpost, not a weathercock

Politically, I have never sat quite as far left as Anthony Wedgewood Benn. But boy did I admire him. His eloquence, his honesty, and his refusal to promote policies that, however popular/populist, meant a compromise to his dearly-held principles. I heard him speak at a literary festival a few years ago and I was utterly transfixed by his capacity to draw out the interconnections between so much in society, politics and global finance, and more besides. Now that he has passed, after a long life full of significance, obituaries abound in the weekend papers; commentators are having a field day, depending on where they stand on the political spectrum. But, I’m guessing, from wherever he is sitting right now (with his pipe and a mug of tea in hand) I imagine Tony is having a right good giggle at all the copy in his honour. 

Tony once said “there are two types of politician, the weathercock and the signpost”. Like so many things he said, this has clarity of thought, wit, and truth woven all the way through it. The best obituary I have read, from The Independent, has a little rolling slide show to accompany it, and each image is matched with a quote from this great man. Definitely worth you taking a look; his integrity and wisdom stand out (probably because, let’s face it, finding a current member of the House about whom you might use those words would be incredibly difficult).

Now when a chum of mine posted the above quote on facebook, it instantly became my favourite, and my blog-imagination went into overdrive. I can see a parenting lesson in pretty much anything, and this statement is no exception.

Parenting is a constant careful treading through a mass of moral mazes. It is incredibly easy to get blown about by the weather under your family roof. Stand too long at the school gate, read Mumsnet for more than fifteen minutes, watch too many episodes of Supernanny – and you’ll feel a little windswept. Referee between fighting siblings for 20 mins. Tell you teenage daughter she can’t go to a nightclub while under 18, no matter that her friends are going. Refuse to purchase 200 quid trainers for your 11 year old son. You get the picture – and the strong breeze blowing at your back. Wave after wave of low pressure clouds and swirling storms circle round your humble head. You inch your way forward, feeling in the semi-darkness. There are easy ways out, paths of least resistance. But – and here’s the thing – they leave you swinging this way and that, and give your kids a less than consistent picture. They make you a weathercock.

Being a parent-signpost takes guts. It requires you to take the long view, to know that however much flak you’re getting, one day, your decision will be shown as the right one. It will mean, as it did for Tony, that you will spend time on the margins, nay, the wilderness even. But it will also mean that your kids respect you for your consistency, your integrity, and your independence of thought and spirit. Sometimes, when a debate between our girl and myself is reaching epic proportions, I say “Mummy’s job is to help you grow up to be the best person you can be, and that is why I am saying you must do x, or y, or z”. It always feels like my last best defence – like I’ve got nothing left in the tanks. From now on though, thanks to Tony, I’m going to feel rather better about using that line.

I don’t suppose for one moment that our children will agree with my world-view in it’s entirety. If I can throw in a little humour and humility, as I tread the path, that won’t matter much. But I will want to always be to them a signpost; a parent on whom they can rely for some steady guidance and an idea of which way to go. Thanks for showing me the way, Mr Benn…

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motto of my week #5

You have reached your destination – any annoying satellite navigation system

or

Be where you’re at – Buddhism, oversimplified

We write lists, make our way through tasks, assuming that once goals are achieved there will be a permanent change for the better. But this is not how life is. Is it? Not mine at any rate. I tempt myself into thinking that next month, if I can just finish the things on my current plate, life will have more room in it; more room for picking up my Ukulele, for meditating, for playing with the kids, for making a start on any of the three book ideas that roll around my head almost constantly. But it never does work out quite in this fashion. Something else, something newly Important or Urgent pops up in my real-life inbox screaming for attention. This last couple of weeks hasn’t been any different – a voluntary role I have has taken up an unexpected and unprecedented amount of time, on top of the usual caring, writing, cooking, and moving-piles-of-stuff-around that passes for keeping this place superficially tidy. My emotions have run deep, high, strong and stretched. Sleep has been interrupted, temper has been short. All those things that I am really hoping to get round to will all have to wait, just that little bit longer. It is all a bit irritating, really.

Before I had kids, I went to a fair few Buddhist meditation classes. I loved the peace, the seeing life from a fresh perspective, and the general decency of the people who attend such things. Since the kids arrived, the discipline of sitting on a cushion has almost entirely left me, despite the fact that the word ‘meditate’ frequently occurs on lists I write for the next week, month or year. But, my time spent in Buddhist meditation classes was not entirely in vain. I was paying attention when the tutors frequently reiterated the simple notion that we cause our own suffering in life, and we can free ourselves from this cycle through developing our own awareness.

I know the hurly-burly I live within is self-created – even if it doesn’t always seem that way. So I can resent and resist the tough moments, rant my way through them. Or – I can find a space in which to smile sweetly at the degree to which it is all self-inflicted, and remember another oversimplified Buddhist principle, that everything changes. Buddhism would say ‘Feeling frustrated with seemingly unobtainable goals? Let it go, in the here and now, you have reached your destination.’ ‘Don’t like where you are? Don’t fight it, be where you are at – this too shall pass’.

Today, the sun shone, and our little corner of Devon stopped feeling as if it were at the mercy of a mid-Atlantic Storm-Cat. With the hubby having to work, the kids and I headed down to the beach with a packed lunch made for kicking sand into, and my as-yet-untested Christmas-gift Storm Kettle. The kids found little sticks and twigs, I got the fire going, and sandwiches were munched while we waited for water to warm. When it did, we drank hot apple juice and melted marshmallows in the embers. Lush, as the modern vernacular has it. For the first time in more than a fortnight, I didn’t think about what was next on the list, or even mull over what had already been achieved. We just sat in the sunshine, being where we were at – our destination.

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motto of my week #4

It’s nice when you travelling at the same speed as your kids, isn’t it? – Dina, a chum of mine.

A few days ago I wrote about how, for this half term, there would be NO plan. I have been by and large true to my word. A couple of days have necessitated me being busy elsewhere for part of the day, but the pace has definitely been slower.

Yesterday was especially lovely. My daughter seemed a little bit under the weather and there was a boiler man to wait in for. So, no rush was made to get out of pyjamas, and the morning was a gentle plod through toys, puzzles and toast. We followed this up – once it had been established that the boiler man wasn’t coming – with a stroll through a neighbouring field and green lane. Reaching a soggy pond, the kids waded, made a birds nest, and did that thing kids do with unstructured time – Be.

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After lunch, our little boy indicated his preference for a nap in the car (!) so I chose, (rather than battle to get him to sleep in his cot as I had done the day before, and failed), to oblige. I had an ulterior motive; not far from where I live is a coffee shop where it is safe to leave said sleeping child in the car while you drink coffee and just check every few moments. Once he’d gone off, we pulled up, and the girl and I savoured Rocky Road and hot drinks. And then, just for the hell of it, I had another Latte. Just because we were chatting as she did colouring in; because there was nowhere else to be; because there was time. And then she asked, somewhat unusually, for a cup of tea – so we had one, because we could. He slept and slept, and she and I just, well, Be-d – if you get my ungrammatical meaning.

Home again, and mud pies and pulling their little carts up and down the drive in search of random objects to collect was the order of the late afternoon.

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On Monday this week, David Whitebread, a professor at Cambridge University, encouraged parents to let go of their need to plan the be-jesus out of every school holiday. David is part of a wider movement who are shouting as loud as they can, on behalf of children, to have the value of play better recognised in British society. He and his esteemed colleagues at the Save Childhood Movement have influenced me so much in the last few months; they’ve inspired me to be better at just rolling with my kids and their intrinsic agendas.

I’d like more days like this one. Days where I am not thinking about how long it is going to take to get them in the car, or when I can squeeze in checking my emails, or what work awaits me in the evening. While it is hard to admit it, I can hear how my anxious desire to get to the end of my list places unnecessary limits on the quality of our time together; it makes me more demanding, less tolerant, more shouty.  Buddha says Life is suffering – but that we create our own suffering, and we can free ourselves any time we choose, by being aware of what we are doing. I’m thinking he has a point. I’m thinking that choosing to travel at childspeed more often would make me a more contented mummy.

And then, after she was supposedly tucked up in bed, our girl sneaked upstairs to find me and say ‘Thank you for everything we’ve done today Mummy’. Cue – tears….

the plan is, there is no plan

Who is that hiding in the shadows turning the screws? The last week of a half term over, and I am done. I’m exhausted, our kids are exhausted. Enough already. For the next week, I am not playing the push-me-pull-me game, not for anything or anyone.

Now you know me, I like to plan. I’m not a natural sit-on-the-kitchen-floor player. I’m not so good at letting hours pass by, following their lead. Last summer I put The Play Agenda out there, giving the  holidays some structure. As much for me as for them, it allowed me to feel that I was making the most of time with them, not wasting it. Time with your kids; its precious, however you use it, however your inclined, play-wise. And now we’re into that intense rhythm of school, holiday, school, holiday. Long-time readers will know I have wrestled with this, too. For work reasons, the little man is now at pre-school two mornings a week, too. I know I am going to blink – and he’ll be starting school too.

So, respecting our energy levels, I’m going to plan. Plan to not make a plan.

There are things we’ve been invited to, things we can attend – and no doubt will make it to some of them. And we have friends to catch up with; jolly afternoons where kids up-end the dressing up bag and mummies drink coffee. Fun will be had, pyjamas will be worn late into the morning. Dry weather (a rare commodity in the South-West at present) will be taken advantage of. If I’m going to succeed in properly kick-starting potty training with the boy, this would be the week, the week of a slower pace, to crack on. Meal times have also become a rather fractious affair of late and I’m hoping to achieve a little balance in this area too.

Our kids feel the intensity of the pace life seems to set on our behalf. They hang on to our coat tails, and their protests are not always easily spotted. A melt down here, a tantrum there; these things we don’t ascribe to what we are expecting of them, rather we often right them off as their ‘littleness’ no more no less.

I know there are consequences for our children which result from the competing priorities of my life. This week, we’ll be holding them at bay. Join me at the end of it for a look back at the unplanned fun.

 

 

Today you will find me elsewhere…

… Writing a guest post for my blogging chum Suzanne for her week long series on Marriage. Thanks for the invite Suzanne, it was great fun to write!

A question for you, Michael

How do you sleep at night?

There is footage of John Lennon asking this question, while jamming in a studio with George Harrison during the early 70s. The question is aimed at Paul McCartney; the acrimonious Beatles split is still raw, and Paul’s marriage into the family of the lawyer who handled his side in the debacle obviously stings. John is angry, and he ends the question with an expletive that it’s probably best not to type; ‘How do you sleep at night, you ****’. Indeed.

There are many elements of life that are prophecies of self-fulfilment. I follow people on twitter who despise Michael Gove, (or at the least wear themselves thin trying to understand where he is coming from) and thus I read a tremendous amount of anti-Gove writing, serious, humorous and otherwise. My chums on facebook know it is one of my favoured discussion topics, so they share links on my timeline that are Gove-related. So, I grant you, that my Gove-despairing lenses are on pretty much all the time. But, after a week of ridiculously counter-productive announcement after radically backward-looking policy statement, my whole online life has been dominated by one man. You’re just a politician – not even anything so important as a nurse, or a social worker, or a teacher – and yet your maniacal pronouncements, and people’s response to them, are just everywhere.

There are serious pieces, like this one from Sophie, who, as the product of a private education but also a teacher who is passionate about the state system, despairs at Gove’s attempts to make every school a public-school replica. Or Head in Book, who takes an eloquent look at the un-level playing field. Sue Cowley is Orwellian-esque in her survey of the productive units. Ray Wilcockson is his usual sublime self with an allegorical tale of how education could be. My chum Jax wonders where the heck a 45 week year will take us. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Blog after blog filled with disbelief, anger, intense fury and utter common sense. Really Michael, we know you read some blogs – not these ones though? Just the ones that agree with you?

There are brilliant skits and fabulous slices of wit, out there too, Michael – though I wouldn’t want to be on the end of them.   This is just a flavour of the things I asked twitter peeps and facebook  friends to send through to me on Friday. And again the same question arises for me. Doesn’t it sting a bit to be turned into a light pull, or a metaphorically empty notebook, or to be compared to a tortoise on a pole? Is your skin so thick that it doesn’t make you wince to be the butt of a million likes on youtube as you fall on your arse when you think no-one is watching? While I am laughing my proverbial off aren’t you just a teensy weensy bit bothered that someone has turned you into a pincushion and is making good money from it? Even the serious newspapers join in; here’s a policy generator from The Guardian earlier this week that gave me a good giggle. And my favourite, this take on Michael (he doesn’t think much of you either) Rosen’s most famous children’s book, ‘We’re Going on a Gove hunt’. Sublime.

I’ve blogged about you plenty before too Michael – so much so that I may have lost the odd reader here and there. But blogging starts with the ‘I’. I have tried always to find original angles, starting with camels and quarts, through lists of the things I don’t know, right through to my wondering whether Brunel and Worsdworth did SATs (I’m thinking not, and they did just fine.)

I am truly fascinated by your psyche. Someone once said to me, ‘sometimes you have to put your principles to one side and do the right thing’. From where I sit, the one thing I am certain of the older I get is that nothing is an absolute. Life is best lived with a little bend and flex. But you appear to know nothing of this concept. Nor can I imagine being so publicly, thoroughly, enormously disliked. Surely it’s unpleasant? Surely it leaves one internally questioning the wisdom of one’s decisions?

I don’t know how you sleep, Michael. I ask this question without any rhetorical intention. Doesn’t it hurt to be so loathed, hated and blamed? Aren’t you worried that you’re going to go down in history as the most despised Secretary of State for Education in the history of British politics? Is it really possible for any human being to be so determinedly blinkered and not have any moments of self-doubt? As an amateur psychologist I am genuinely curious. I don’t get how anyone can be that resistant to alternative arguments. Are psychology students up and down the land clamouring to interview you for their research paper on how far blind adherence to ideology can take you?

It is clear that many, many people want you gone. It is clear you are not taking education in the direction many would wish. But you resist, Michael, you resist. And what to do in the face of this wall of resistance? Mr Lennon might assist us again, here. ‘Whatever gets you through the night – is alright’. Of course, we need to qualify this to ensure basic moral codes are adhered to. But, what I get from John’s words is, that if the only way I can hold back the worry I feel, in response to your plans for the schooling system our children are passing through, is to hammer away with wit, cynicism, loud criticism and riotous humour – then that is what I will do. I marched against the poll tax, but that now seems as nothing in the face of this tidal wave of dangerous poison that seeps out of the DfE on an almost daily basis. Be under no illusion readers. If he succeeds in turning the DfE into an accountants’ office, and his vision of educational rigour is allowed to prevail, we are in the deepest trouble as a nation. This stuff is real, and is happening right now.

Laugh by all means. God knows I do. If the glorious legacy of British comedy from That was the Week that Was, Beyond the Fringe, Monty Python, through to Have I Got News For You means anything, it means we Brits are very good at using laughter to take the power out of someone’s argument. The wind out of their sails. The meat out of their sandwich. So keep laughing, good folk of Britain. Keep ranting, writing, raging. Something has to get through, doesn’t it Michael? I wonder if we are keeping you up…

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unleashing the introvert

The source of this post, as with many on my blog, is the conversations I have had with others in the last few days. Interesting ideas pop up in passing, connections are made between seemingly unrelated discussions.

The weekend saw me enjoy a very rare thing indeed, time completely on my own for a couple of nights. My hubby took the kids away to their grandfather’s so I could get some work done, and he could go and watch rugby. As the weekend approached one friend, whose work regularly necessitates her being away from her kids overnight, mentioned that she would feel bereft if she couldn’t be with her kids at the weekend. Another joked that she would try not to be jealous of me. And in another conversation, I mulled over my ultimately introverted nature (that means my batteries are best recharged in solitude) and my Myers Briggs psychometric test result, INTJ. I for introvert, N to describe a reliance on intuition to a large degree, T for thinking through problems with a hefty dose of rationalism, as opposed to feeling a way through, and J for judging, or more accurately, deciding, as oppose to keeping options open and looking to avoid decisions.

Most people have come across Myers Briggs in one context or another. In researching this post I have learnt to my pleasure that two female psychologists, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, devised the test based on a theory by Jung. They did it in order to enable women who were entering the workplace for the first time during WWII, to best identify their skills and inclinations so as to choose the job for which they had a strong aptitude. I like the feminist slant behind one of the most enduring psychological models of the 20th century. I did the test about a decade ago, and found myself with a profile of INTJ – when everyone else in the room had a profile that started with E for extrovert. In the end, this proved not to be a job for me, and perhaps I should’ve taken this moment as a sign…

I’ve also learnt this evening that of the 16 personality types Myers Briggs can classify us all into, INTJ is one of the rarest, especially for women. The description on this site is very accurate, and highlights the things I struggle with as well as the things I am good at. It even has a section on INTJ parents; their good and not so good points. I am a thinker, and I love strategy, big pictures and putting theories into practice. I am not good at the minutiae, the everyday and the up and down emotion of small children. This much I knew, but to read myself on the screen so accurately described is quite refreshing and comforting.

Coming back to this definition of myself, with a weekend-full of space to think, has been helpful.

Some mums are ‘fed’ by time with their children. Being with them gives them energy rather than taking it away; these mums have an E at the front of their Myers Briggs type, I’m guessing. But as an introvert, by bath time and story time I am craving peace and I have to dig deep to get through that last half hour. Friends marvel at how promptly my kids go to bed every night, but the truth is it is just as much for my sanity as it is for their good health. I don’t always respond with complete sympathy to the pain my kids feel when a toy is lost or broken, or it is time to go home, or for the TV to go off. I admire mothers who can share the preparation of most meals with their children, not minding the slow speed or higgledy-piggledy results. I have learnt to butt out of ‘correcting’ bits of their play, but it isn’t natural or easy for me. I agonise and intellectualise rather than feeling my way through and ‘being in the moment’.

I’ve shared before how in relation to our daughter in particular I am sometimes at a loss to deal with what she throws at me, and the intensity of our connection – well, it wears me out, is the most honest way I can describe it. I have worried so much that my nature, my INTJ-ness, which seems so much at odds with who she is, will deny us true friendship as mother and daughter, that she will not be as attached to me as it ultimately desirable for her own development. Yet, in the peace and quiet of my weekend, I could see that there’s no need to give myself such a hard time. I am more self-aware than I think – I know I need space and I find ways to get it. Writing, swimming, and walking. These things recharge me so that tomorrow morning I can be a good mum all over again. Modelling to our children that we are all different, and should respect ourselves, and meet our own needs, is no bad thing.

I really, really love both our kids. And I know I am not perfect. My being an INTJ will mean that I am great at some things (helping them become independent, with their homework, with tough life choices) and less good at others. But, as Winnicott, the British psychoanalyst and paediatrician said, children don’t need their parents to be perfect, just ‘good enough’. Having some time out helped me remember that I am just that.