3 Unexpected Reasons I Love Having My Daughter In Centre Care

It feels like it was a lot longer than six months ago that I was a first-time mum navigating the new daycare-drop-off-then-get-to-work-on-time routine.

When I was researching my options it was easy to dwell on all of the things that both her and I would be missing out on by not having the time together that was traded for her in care while I was at work. It was easy to worry about the worst case scenario – that she might be mistreated without my knowledge, or that she wouldn’t receive the level of care and attention that I could provide her one-on-one at home.

What I didn’t imagine, of course, were all of the positive things that come out of her being in the care of others and around other kids who are developmentally at a very similar stage. The top three reasons I love her being in centre care are:

1. Her confidence has soared

Being away from us during working hours on weekdays has meant she has learned how to build trusting relationships with other adults. She knows that mum and dad are off to work and that we will be back to collect her after a fun day with her teachers and friends.

Being around other kids, she observes social behaviour and picks up language and skills that I would struggle to provide the opportunity for her to develop at the pace she has being at daycare. At her centre, her days are filled with an abundance of activities, including lots and lots of messy play – paint, glitter, sand, more paint – all of the things that I quietly prefer she does away from the living room carpet and her bedroom walls!

2. They are just as aware of her needs and development as I am

Early childhood educators are special people – imagine wrangling 10 or more energetic toddlers on the days you least feel like socialising. Children climbing on you and spitting half eaten bread into your palms multiple times a day is all a regular day at work. This is their world, and it never ceases to amaze me how extraordinarily aware of every child’s individual needs they are.

In an instant, they can tell me how much sleep she’s had and the reasons they suspect that perhaps she’s not been quite herself that day. They’ll identify the new skills she is mastering and where we need to provide additional support. They are just as aware of her needs and development as we are, sometimes even more so. I love them for that.

3. I have a network of experience to learn from too

You never really have this parenting thing nailed, and just when you think you do, it all changes again in a heartbeat. Having a group of people who know my child almost as well as I know her has proven invaluable. When we were struggling with sleep routine, we had someone to suggest ideas that were actually relevant to our daughter. When possessiveness ruled and sharing was a non-event, we were gently guided with how to manage this challenging behaviour. It’s never unsolicited advice, and always with ours and her interests at heart.

For all of the self-doubt, mum-guilt and worry I experienced in those early months, it has certainly been outweighed by the positive experience that centre care has been for our family. She loves daycare, so much so that as we pull up we hear an enthusiastic “yay” from the backseat as we wait to take our place in the carpark at the beginning of each day.

Our family has gained so much from being part of the Kindercare community, and we are extremely grateful for the early childhood educators and team there for being part of our village.

Samantha Howarth is mum to almost 2 year old Everly, and the Customer Experience Manager for My Kids Village, a website set up to help parents connect with their village. Start your childcare search and find your village at My Kids Village.

Outsourcing the Safety of a Piece of your Heart

Can you remember the moment you brought your baby home for the very first time?

In the thick of that glorious, sleep deprived, rollercoaster of emotions, everything hurts newborn bubble – I distinctly remember sitting on the couch, staring adoringly at the teeny tiny little bundle of deliciousness whose entire length of her outstretched body only extended from my knees to my postpartum tummy and thinking to myself –

“so this is what it feels like to have your heart exist on the outside of your body.”

Once the months of breastfeeding angst, monitoring the colour of poop and adjusting to our new normal had settled enough, the mothers in my antenatal group, my Plunket playgroup and other friends with babies were all starting to think and talk about the same thing – what are my options for returning to work? Who am I going to trust with the safety of my baby in order to enable me to be a confident working parent?

I remember making a point of sitting down one afternoon to look at childcare options while Everly was napping, and being a puddle of tears. I welled up at the thought of handing her off to be cared by someone else for 8 hours. What if I miss her first words? Or her first steps? What if she doesn’t get the attention she needs because she is around so many other kids?

It was hard. Being a first time mother, I had no idea what I didn’t know. What questions do I ask and what do I look for? How can I tell if my child will thrive here or not?

I spent so long researching the options in my area, trying to get a feel for what other parents experiences were. Do I go with an in home service or a centre? What are the pros and cons of both? I navigated my way through pages of information, the websites of private and government subsidised services and Education Review Reports – just to try and help me make sense of it all.

The experiences of the other parents I knew echoed mine.

“I finally shortlisted some options, and I went to visit them, and they had no space for 6 months, 8 months, until next year so it was back to the drawing board.”

Parents of kids under the age of 14 everywhere, everyday need to make decisions about childcare. Whether it’s early childhood, after school or before school care, and for school holidays. If a family is relocating for work or a change of lifestyle, decisions need to be made about what’s going to happen with the kids while mum and dad are at work.

There are over 800,000 parents in New Zealand and there has to be a better way to help them navigate their options, answer the questions they don’t know they should be asking, and start that evaluation process from the comfort of their own home for the care of the little people most precious to them.

What if there was a single place online that could help educate us about what our needs are in addition to what we think they are, and narrow down our options based on the criteria unique to our individual families? What if we could request to be contacted by multiple providers or make appointments using a form from one place rather than 20 different websites – some of which don’t even work or give us zero confidence that the enquiry got through.

Helping parents everywhere to answer these questions and solve these challenges is the goal of My Kids Village, a social enterprise founded by parents, for parents. We are only just getting started and over the next few months we will be endeavouring to help parents answer these all too familiar questions and assisting them to connect with their circle of people that makes up their kids village.

If this sounds like something that would be helpful to you, or someone you know, head on over to My Kids Village and register for free as a parent to receive helpful content and updates as we release them. 

6 Ways to be on Holiday at Home

As my golden island holiday tan fades as quickly as the burden of the responsibilities of real life return, I’m clinging on to the memories of relaxed, schedule-free days spent meandering to the buffet breakfast and lounging poolside under the warmth of the Fiji sun.

The stresses, rushing and busyness of daily life were left behind in exchange for slowing down and being nothing other than present. How can we recreate and weave these moments into the tapestry of our every day lives back at home? Here are 6 ways to do exactly that.

1. Rise early and eat breakfast like a queen

There’s something about being on holiday that inspires me to be up at the crack of dawn. The call of a buffet breakfast with everything you can imagine on offer certainly helps. But why wait to be on holiday to devour a three-course breakfast? Fruit and yoghurt, chased by a cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon or an omelette with all the trimmings and finished with a pastry – cinnamon rolls if you’re as obsessed as me! All complemented perfectly of course by a strong cup of coffee and/or multiple cups of fancier than usual tea. Now that’s the way to start every day!

2. Enjoy tropic-inspired mocktails on a weeknight

Pour yourself a mid-week, tropical holiday inspired mocktail, close your eyes and be whisked away right back to the waters edge, you can almost feel the sand between your toes. Our go-to mocktails were a Watermelon Mint Cooler and the virgin version of a Pina Colada, the Coco Colada.

3. Belly laugh

A ridiculous game of “would you rather?” can have you laughing so hard it hurts (and may even make you pee a little, so I’m told…). If you haven’t played it before, I suggest you start here and the rest of the game will take on a life of it’s own. Giggles guaranteed.

4. Get dexterous

Time away from a screen and keyboard and much less time than usual on my phone and social media encouraged me to read an actual book AND to take to pen and paper. To me it feels like there is much more freedom for creativity doing it the “old way.”

Treat yourself to some fancy new stationery and a beautiful pen and take time out for just you, your mind, and pen and paper without the influence of the internet.

5. Tour your home city

Tourists who have spent less than a week in Wellington have most likely seen and experienced more than I have in the years that I have lived here. Going away and returning is a great reminder to take stock and try and see our beautiful city through the eyes of visitors, instead of taking what Wellington has to offer for granted. Start building your itinerary here.

6. Install a unicorn rain shower

OK so this one is definitely more of a wishlist item but bear with me. You know when you’re on holiday and the showers have those giant flat shower heads that feel like magical unicorn rain trickling over your entire body? I want that, in my house. You should have one too. I found one here.

That’s my round up of 6 ways to bring meaningful moments from your holiday home, and incorporate them into your everyday life. What do you enjoy doing at home that reminds you of being away somewhere exotic and carefree? Would you add any others to the list?

Reflecting on 2018

Instead of writing my goals down, I adopted the concept of a vision board for 2018 and I still really love the idea!

Samantha Vision Board 2018I’m laughing looking at a few of the things I didn’t think would be quite as ambitious as they were at the time I included them here – notably reading books, sleeping and meditation – they all tend to fall under the “time to myself” category – which as most mothers would know is few and far between with a little one!

In hindsight, 2018 was very much a year of adjusting to our new normal with an energetic toddler. And I didn’t anticipate how often she would be ill from being in daycare once I returned to work a few more days a week. At times I questioned whether trying to mother/wife/work all at the same time was worth it, but towards the end of the year, although exhausted and in desperate need of this break, we had both adjusted and I’m glad we stuck it out.

As a result of all of the above, not as much time was made for date night, and friends and family as I would have liked but I love that this year I have rekindled friendships with old friends, made new mum friends and have had the opportunity to bond with some of my closest pals as we both navigate this parenting thing. For my yet-to-be-parent besties, thanks for being patient with me this year. I’ve loved living vicariously through you as you embrace life as the one big adventure that it is!

I was stoked beyond measure to sneak my first triathlon since having Everly in before 2018 was up. I tried not to get too hung up on how unfit and how much slower I was than I used to be and just go out and enjoy it. It was great to reconnect and was just the right amount of challenge and the boost I needed to kickstart my training for some more ambitious 2019 event goals.

One of the highlights of my year, albeit with the childcare challenges, was returning to Storbie in a more senior position. I’m fortunate to love where I work and the people I work with, and taking on a role that opened my eyes to alot of the “behind the scenes” activities that keep a business ticking along has been huge for my personal growth and my career development. Very excited about what’s on the horizon in 2019 on that front!

I’m still figuring out the uni-tasking thing – as I sit here with my phone beside me making plans with a friend for tomorrow, my diary with a half scrawled weekly training plan, and a cup of tea. Sigh. But maybe it doesn’t matter if all of the things I am trying to do at once, are things that I really enjoy! I kept a gratitude diary for about the first month of 2018 and it’s a habit I shouldn’t have let slip. Although, I feel that my morning coffee-to-go during my peaceful half hour commute to work was an opportunity I often used for daily reflection.

When it comes to waste-free, I’m glad to be on the reusable cup and reusable bag bandwagon, as well as donating a lot of pre-loved items to the opportunity shops over the course of the year. I’m keen to give a capsule wardrobe a go this year, as well as try my hardest to waste less food. Seems a big task with a little one whose dinner ends up on the floor most nights but small changes can have a big impact – like not letting food go past it’s use by in the fridge!

We didn’t get to Rarotonga this year like I dreamed about, but we did book a trip to head to Fiji in the next couple of months so I’ll take that as a win!

A couple of things that I didn’t plan for this year was rekindling my love for the High Tea Honeys, giving the brand a bit of a facelift and injecting some new energy into it. Looking forward to giving that some more attention over the course of the new year. I also got involved in My Kids Village, a social enterprise that helps parents discover their local childcare options – after finding the process a nightmare myself, I figured there must be a better way and teamed up with the wonderful Gillian who had the same idea a couple of years ago. We have experienced some growth over the course of the last few months and looking forward to keeping up that momentum in 2019.

One of the biggest things I have learned about myself this year is how much I value and therefore need to prioritise time for creativity. Creative freedom ignites my passion and my energy and it’s how I am able to pour all of myself into things over and over. Whether it’s strategy and planning or designing solutions and preparing presentations at work, mucking around with branding, collaborations and event planning for the High Tea Honeys, writing speeches for Toastmasters or posts for my blog – it all exercises my creative muscle that brings me a lot of satisfaction and joy and I’m planning on doing more of it next year!

I am immensely grateful for the life that I am blessed to lead. Of course, like any couple, we have our moments but more often than not, I still pinch myself that I am married to such a doting and loving man that I adore. Seeing him embrace, and grow into his role as a father to Everly has fostered my love for him to a level that I struggle to put into words. Our daughter is just the right mix of sassy and hilarious to balance out the relentlessness that tests us as parents. Most of all, my little family is surrounded by a network of supportive, loving, caring, positive and genuine people. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Let’s go 2019!

 

 

Prioritising Happiness in a Culture that Glorifies Busyness

“I haven’t seen you in SO long! It must have been, what, six months since we said we should catch up?”

“I know, I’ve been sooo busy. You know, juggling the kids, work is insane and, don’t even get me started on the housework.”

“How do you do it all? You. Are. Amazing!”

Sound familiar? It’s the story of our modern society, full of pressure to have it all, do it all, be it all. Success is defined by what we do and what we have. It’s like how full our schedule is, is an indication of how fulfilled our lives are.

Like many families, our household income reduced by half with the arrival of our beautiful daughter. We were still getting by financially and I was surprised that, generally I felt as happy, if not happier than before. The time at home with Everly forced me to re-prioritise my schedule.

Everly needs days where we have no plans, and where we can nap all afternoon together. We take walks around our own garden, noticing the textures of the leaves and literally stopping to smell the roses. I assume the role of chief bubble blower and transform our living room into a rodeo for piggy back rides. She points and declares “moon, moon” marching down the hall toward the window, as if the moon is the most wonderful thing she has ever seen.

At what point do we lose this sense of wonder and amazement at the world? When is it that we trade noticing and giggling at a plump wood pigeon weighing down a branch of a kowhai tree to rushing through life? Where deadlines and start times are what drives our schedules? And where being busy is glorified? We sign up for activities and we say yes to things that aren’t in pursuit of what sets our souls alight. We work to level up in our careers, for more money, and more responsibility – just to become busier.

Money gives people options and there is an amount we need at a minimum to cover our basic needs, I get that. However what I am suggesting, and what I found is there is a point where any increase in money has a negligible impact on our happiness and contentment. Pursuing wealth and power, does not come without a cost.

Take Elon Musk for example, an intellectual genius, and billionaire serial entrepreneur. For 15 years, he worked 100 hours per week? Do the math on how much time is left for sleeping. Where do you fit time in to nurture relationships with people you love and care about on that?

At a more relatable level, I have seen more than one example of people celebrating promotions to top level leadership positions, and their relationships and health deteriorate as quickly as the extra pressure and responsibility was loaded on. The lifestyle is not always sustainable, and what’s the cost of not being able to work for a year to recover from burnout, or the cost of divorce?

Is it really worth it?  What if we start to redefine the measures of success?

Arianna Huffington is the founder of Huffington Post. She is wealthy, and powerful, but in 2007 she suffered a fall that resulted in her waking up in a pool of her own blood in her office. The diagnosis? Sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

In her book “Thrive”, Arianna talks about the power of well-being, our physical and mental health. She talks about wisdom and wonder, the creativity and gratitude inspired by marvelling at art, nature and the activity going on around us. She talks about giving being the ‘shortcut to happiness’.

What would be the impact on our happiness if we prioritised time for more meaningful experiences and deeper connections with people and our surroundings? How can we change?

There are two ways I think we can start to change the conversation.

The first is with ourselves. Look objectively at what you do (including what you chase your kids around doing) and how you spend a typical week. Ask yourself, how can I be less busy? How can I declutter my schedule? Can I reduce and replace some of my living costs so I can spend less time at work and more time on the important things? How can I be less stressed and distracted, be more present and well – both physically and mentally?

We need to change our conversations with others too.

Instead of supporting and encouraging busyness with “Oh I don’t know how you do it all. You. Are Amazing.”  Try “I’m sorry, you sound really overwhelmed. Is there something I can do to help you be less busy? Are all of the things you are doing really necessary?”

Rushing through life, with a jam packed schedule, working 100 hours per week and juggling the pressures of pursuing wealth and power, is not the recipe for happiness. I don’t think it should take having a child to force us into re-prioritising how we spend our time. Let’s change the conversation firstly with ourselves, and then others, and push back on busyness being worn as a badge of honour.

Image credit: Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

How Toastmasters Helped Me Overcome My Anxiety to Perform Better at Work

Early one Wednesday morning in 2011, I found myself walking up the stairs of St Andrews church to a Capital Chatterers Toastmasters meeting. I had not long started a very high-touch, customer facing job – one that I had no idea how I landed if I am completely honest! Perhaps driven by a deep rooted fear of failure, combined with stomach churning anxiety, I was led to search for mentoring and training to make at least some of that pressure go away.

I had heard of Toastmasters through the grapevine but assumed it was for highly experienced speakers who could already present well in public and people only went there to show off their skills. I also assumed that it was just for “old people”, whatever that means now!

When Toastmasters was one of Google’s suggested solutions to my problem, I thought it was worth a visit. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Peter Scholtens, one of the most enthusiastic Toastmasters I have ever met! After being made to feel beyond welcome, and after listening to a handful of speeches – some from less experienced Toastmasters than others, I felt like this was something I could do and there was no turning back.

I was surprised to learn that Toastmasters wasn’t all about speaking either. Throughout my time as a member, I have not only sharpened up the way I present, but I have learned how to give and receive constructive feedback, how to run meetings effectively and how to handle public speaking opportunities – unprepared. I have entered speaking contests and facilitated workplace presentation and leadership courses – all under the umbrella of Toastmasters.

I have attended on and off throughout the years since that first meeting, changing clubs that run to different schedules to suit my personal circumstances. Life happens, but the beauty of the programme is that it is self-paced, so I have been able to work through the series of projects in my own time. Finally, after seven years, I completed my first Toastmasters communication qualification – it’s never too late right?!

I now notice the difference within myself when I haven’t attended a meeting in a while, my anxiety before meetings and presentations increases and that all too familiar stomach churning returns. The nerves never really completely go away but they are certainly more manageable when I am practising the skills I get to exercise regularly at Toastmasters meetings.

Have you tried Toastmasters? What did you think?

If you’re interested in visiting a club near you, find a local club that suits your schedule here.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Experiment

My thighs are too wobbly, and my stomach jiggles. My forehead is too big for the rest of my face. My moles are unsightly and my butt is too flat.

My body is disgusting. Disgusting.

What do you feel when you look in the mirror?

Life will be better and we will all be happy when we are thinner and have less wrinkles, right?

Let’s reminisce about the time I entered a bikini competition.

Who wouldn’t want to look like a fitness model? Imagine how happy I would feel if I had a figure like that girl on Instagram, toned and smiling. Or her, her life looks magnificent and she just makes it look so easy. All it will take is some self-discipline in the kitchen and a few extra sessions at the gym and that could be me.

There I was. You would find me in the gym 5.30 every morning busting out my weights programme. I’d get home and methodically prepare my prescribed oats, blueberries and protein powder for breakfast. At morning tea, I’d inhale a couple of rice crackers with a smear of peanut butter and decline the raspberry buns on offer in the staff room yet again. I’d clock watch until it was lunch time to demolish the chicken, kumara and vegetables I had carefully measured out that morning and so the rest of my day would go until it was time to head back to the gym to complete my prescribed treadmill session.

For 12 weeks, the process consumed me, I became obsessive about calories, macros and my physical appearance. My mindset and attitude was dictated by my body fat percentage and I became socially isolated as I turned down invitation after invitation, too anxious about what I’d be able to eat if I went out.

I was increasingly uncomfortable with what I was slowly learning was required to be stage ready too. It wasn’t just a few nips and tucks on the diet and exercise. Thermogenic supplements used to increase the heat in the body and in turn affect the body’s metabolism were recommended to me without any potential side effect risks being explained. As stage day drew closer I would be required to take a form of laxative and other dehydrators to rid my body of fluid to achieve that ripped look under the lights and for the cameras.

If that was just the beginning, it sounded like a slippery slope to a very dark world in pursuit of the elusive perfect body.

I had overhauled my diet and my exercise regime and I was the leanest I had ever been. I took a few progress photos and I remember feeling deflated. My tummy was starting to show some definition but it needed to be better, I still had fat to drop and muscle to build.

Looking at that image 5 years on, 8 months after having a child, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I want to wind back the clock and shake my 23 year old self and tell her it wasn’t worth it.

It wasn’t worth it because of what I don’t think when I look at this photo.

Despite being lean, it doesn’t ignite memories of contentment and happiness. My relationship with my body was worse off as I scrutinised things I had never considered before. My relationships with the people around me suffered as I became isolated and my career, quite frankly, remained unaffected.

Have you worked out why I was no happier yet?

Kindness, love, intelligence, passion, creativity and determination, strength and capability, these important happiness attributes are not influenced by the way we look.

When is it that we learn that our bodies are imperfect and need to be fixed? When do we make that connection between our appearance and our self-worth?

It makes no difference to my 8 month old daughter how big my forehead is or how wobbly my tummy is.

From the time we can comprehend our surroundings, advertising preys on self-doubt, encouraging us to perceive a problem with our body size, skin tone or dress sense and then gratifyingly provides the weight loss and muscle toning or anti-aging solution. Malls, department stores, television and social media – they are all insecurity dens.

The thing is, I am no longer that susceptible girl I was. My body is not disgusting. It is an amazing machine that carried and birthed a child, that can race in triathlons and can keep up with the daily demands of life.

I wish more people understood the cost of achieving the physique of a fitness model and I wish that it wasn’t so glamourised. I wish my teenage sisters could scroll through their social pages and be inspired by the capability of women all shapes and sizes. I hope and pray that I manage to model positive behaviours, and raise Everly to have a healthy relationship with her body.

Let’s start the change within ourselves

Stop thinking that one day, when I’m thin enough, or less wrinkly, I’ll be happy. Don’t wait until you have lost weight to swim with your kids at the beach, to be in photos or to be intimate with your partner.

Choose now to live, choose now to be happy. Choose now to be strong and capable, passionate, creative, loving and determined. Your body deserves love and respect, just the way it is.