My father’s gift

Having written just a month ago about grief, I am devestated to say that my father passed away this week.

He has been ill for many months so it wasn’t a surprise. He went quietly as he would have wanted to: fell asleep holding my mum’s hand and slipped silently from this world during the night. We had a lot of time during his illness to share our love and our feelings with him, so he went having ensured that we weren’t left with ‘things unsaid’ – those things which can become toxic after someone’s passing.

A rainbow, picture taken by my daughter the day my father passed away. “Look,” she said “a little gift from pa.”

But it is still unimaginable to me that this world continnues to exist without him in it. I believe that he is with God, and that his spirit will live on – those that we have loved never truly leave us. So I thought I would use this post to celebrate that spirit and his life, and share some of the lessons he has given me over the years which I will take with me and keep sharing with my children.

  • There are some areas where you shouldn’t try to save money. Namely: books, wine, cheese. Books are something I try not to keep buying, partly so my home doesn’t end up with teetering stacks of books in every corner and partly so I can give up on a book I’m not enjoying rather than feeling the need to see it through ‘since I paid for it’. But I am prepared to rethink this one to pay respects to my dad.
  • Making people feel loved means seeing who they are and what they need. He came into my life at 14, becoming my step-dad. I call him my dad out of love and respect – and because that is who he really was for me. From the day we first met, he was someone who created a feeling of love and respect with such a simple grace, largely by really trying to understand who I was, how I felt and what I needed. And that effort and level of care was always the bedrock of our relationship, and meant that I could talk to him and rely on him for anything.
  • Then you show them that love. As a man born in 1939, my dad was maybe not an obvious candidate for showing emotions. But my kids and I have always felt supported on a kind of cloud of love and affection. When we were living overseas he sent a weekly package of cuttings from the newspaper (often with speech bubbles or other commentary so it was clear where he stood), letters, and little notes he had taken about things we’d be interested in. I find little cuttings, notes and letters, throughout my house: tucked into recipe books, or mixed in with the kids’ stuff. And I love to see them.
  • Poetry is not a luxury. He really loved poetry and is one person who consistently gave me books of poetry as gifts. It’s not something I do for myself, but every few weeks I pick up one of these books, let it fall open, and just enjoy the small, beautifully written treat within. I added this activity – poetry i-Ching if you will – into a list of ‘5 minute treats’ recently and I love it.
  • Love hard. It’s worth it. My parents got married after messy divorces on both sides. They learned to trust each other, and built a successful life and family. That’s a lesson worth learning.
  • Unconditional love is rarer than you think. My dad was the only person who cried with joy when I finished my PhD (apart from me but I cried with relief) and I gave them a bound version which referenced them in the acknowledgements. For my mum, it was too tied up in needing to compare my achievements with my siblings. But for my dad, it was much more simple: “You did a great thing. And I couldn’t be prouder.”
  • Cycling drunkenly into a hedge is a family thing. Don’t sweat it. (Just gonna leave that one there without an explanation!)

Grief is hard. Loss is hard. Relationships with our parents and family can be hard. Parenting and trying to get it right can be hard. But it’s not all hard, or not always. It’s a beautiful, tight hug from someone who really knows and loves you, whatever your flaws. A hug that you can still feel long after they have gone.

Thanks for being here with me at this difficult time. This blog is about all the things that make up a life, and grief and love are part of that. Now go and give someone a hug, or a call, and tell them you love them.

Frugal School Holidays #2

Carrying on from last week’s posts about the cost of school holidays and what I ended up spending, I wanted to share a bit more on what we actually did. I also shared activities and ideas throughout the holidays on this blog’s Instagram account: come and join us!

There was a big shift in my thinking this year for a couple of reasons. One of these is just the age of kids – a lot of my suggestions don’t work if you have younger kids who need a lot more supervision. I would say though that ages about 4-8 are the best for frugal holidays as long as you can take time off work to hang out with them (and that’s a big, big if). Now mine are 9 and 13, they have different needs and opportunities.

The other thing that changed for me was taking an active decision to let my kids get bored.

I have always been clear with them that their boredom is not my responsibility. But there is also tremendous pressure to fill our kids’ time with endless opportunity and stimulation. So much of the insistence that we have our children do so much outside of school is a concern that they will get left behind: without all the extra tutoring, music, sports blahdy blah they will somehow be less rounded, less competitive and overall less successful. If you are in a country where yours it not the majority culture, there might also be language or religious classes or community events which are important in making sure your kids feel their roots. That’s a lot of expectations we’re putting on our kids, and they are exhausted. And so are we.

An article in Psychology Today is clear that parental expectations, and a zombie apocolypse view of the world where missing out on the right college means Your Life Is Over is pushing parents to put too much pressure on their kids. As the article notes, whilst extra-curricular pursuits were a hobby or a chance to try new things,“each activity is now one more area for social comparison and thus one more possible source of stress and anxiety“. Another article sounded the alarm for the impact of this on children in terms of squeezing out valuable family time. A survey in the UK found that 90% of children went to after school activities 4-5 times per week often getting home as late as 8 or 9pm, meaning chances of meaningful family conversation, or a relaxed dinner where you chat through the day, are slim.

Internet suggestion for a photo of borderom 😀 Photo by Tony Tran on Unsplash

Aside from the existentialist question as to the future of Higher Education (which is a whoooole other conversation), cramming in so much to our kids’ days is putting huge pressure on them, but also onto us as parents emotionally, financially and in terms logistics and organisational skills. Especially when there is only one parent and no family around. I don’t want to spend all my weekends watching football or basketball matches (as a side note – don’t attend U11 basketball matches with a hangover. The noise will make you wish you were dead) or schlepping children across town for various activities. Often both of my kids will need me to take them somewhere, attend or support them or whatever, at the same time. And I just can’t.

So with all this in mind, I decided that we all needed a break over the summer. And this meant cancelling a long held plan to go to Kenya for four weeks (there were other reasons for this but actually it was something of a relief in terms of money and having to organise All The Things) and then sitting down with the kids to talk about what a more relaxed and frugal summer meant. I also had to work all but two weeks of the holiday, and travelled for work for parts of three weeks.

So this is what we did:

Getting the most of what we already own

Use holiday clubs when you have to. In previous years I used clubs to keep the kids entertained and busy. This year I only used them for when I was travelling, since they will have a nanny around to keep them safe and fed, but they need more in terms of things to do. My daughter did three clubs which were actually great – explorers, where they went out every day on the train and poked about Copenhagen; analogue photography where they learned to use cameras and to take and develop their own pictures and had an exhibition; and, more randomly, badminton and origami. She loved them, made some friends who then came to play at the weekend, and got out of the house. But the three weeks were definitely enough.

Take a chance to use what you already have. I feel like in spite of general frugality, we have a LOT of stuff. We got out a bunch of things which have been sitting around since we moved, putting up gymnastics rings and a ladder into a convenient tree, and finding badminton and tennis racquets for games in the garden. I threw all our ‘sand toys’ into the back of the car so they would always be on hand. We also spent a few days of my holidays going through all the stuff in my daughter’s room to get rid of clothes, books and toys which she has grown out of. This all went on Freecycle so other families will get to enjoy them, whislt she has a clearer view of things she actually likes. I also encouraged her to get out things she hasn’t used for a while or made time to play with: sticker and activity books, craft kits and so on, many of which were good fun over the holidays.

And doing the garden means saving money buying flowers!

Help them think of projects. We also sat down and came up with ideas of things they can work on when I am not there, using what’s around. We thought about things they can do when bored (reading, drawing, small craft things), and projects where I did buy some additional bits and pieces. My son worked his way through some focused phsyics and maths work (yeah, no idea where he gets it from), worked out how to set up a telescope he had for Christmas and spent evenings star gazing and looking up astronomy facts, and practiced his clarinet. My daughter learnt how to use our sewing machine and made clothes for her Barbies, looked after the vegetable patch in the garden, and researched and made bee and insect houses.

Think of stuff to do as a family. We did a lot this summer, but most of it free and none of it ‘thrilling’. We went to the beach many many times. Whilst we used to go for an hour or so we got in the habit of packing a picnic, rugs and books and making a whole morning of it. We walked in forests, around lakes, and all through the centre of Copenhagen which is a great place to explore. I have a couple of memberships we buy annually (to the Danish Architecture Museum which is super cheap and gives you free coffee and to an amusement park which is super expensive but definitely exciting) and we made use of them. We researched and cooked recipes which we hadn’t made before – I recommend doing this with one kid at a time if they are like mine – played boardgames, watched all the Marvel films we hadn’t seen before, and got into a podcast about political systems. It’s all individual, but my point here is that fun doesn’t have to be novel, or fresh or expensive. Treats and time together can be pretty simple.

But sometimes spending on a treat is totally worth it

Spend on things that do make a difference. Brunch or dinner out; a book or a two-month subscription; decent coffee – whatever it is that you will appreciate, do it. The flipside of recognising that throwing money at problems doesn’t solve them is realising that when you do spend mindfully, on things that make a difference to you, it feels that much sweeter.

That was our summer! We had a lot of fun, and saw a lot more of our city. The kids got bored, and got creative. I think we read about 20 books each (either from the local library where we visited weekly, or things which had sat on shelves unread for a while. We cooked, baked, gardened, sewed and played games. And saved a ton of money.

Commitment #1

I just missed a week. A whole week over on my Insta and a week of posting here.

I thought about both, over and over. But I was too busy, too tired, too focused on a whole load of other issues in my life and in my head.

It was disappointing because I had a made a commitment to post – to write out my feelings and my journey, give myself time and space to think, and be there to support others. I made a commitment to just show up, and keep showing up.

These past few weeks and months have made me think a lot about commitment. As it’s such a critical part of our life journeys – financially, spiritually, at work, and in relationships – I want to write a few posts about it. They might feel a bit different to how I ususally post so I am grateful for your being with me whilst I think this stuff through.

Or should you? Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

My first question is – when do I need to choose between commitment and self care?

There is real value in committing to something, and even more in being consistent. But are there times when it is better to waver, and to just look after myself? Is it better to honour my word, or to give that time inwards to rest and recover? Does it matter how I approach that in terms of messaging, or preparation? I know plenty of people who just change their mind and their plans at the last minute, sometimes for good reasons. Am I ok to be one of them?

This is a forked stick I come to often. This post is absolutely not about this blog, but it’s a good personal example of things that I am committed to but I don’t have to do it. I tend to write my blog on Sunday mornings, when I could be doing a myriad of other meaningful things, many of which fall under the heading of ‘self care’. I mean, often it’s getting some extra sleep after a beer or two over the odds the night before (which raises entirely different questions about how I view self care issues against areas of life which are a challenge vs over the easy, but equally impactful, decisions on going out for a drink…). But it might be getting ready for the week, taking it easy, or going for a walk with the kids. So there are a whole load of ways I can talk myself out of sitting down to write, and can validate those feelings.

So – here comes a stinger, for me anyway – a blog is such a strange creature. I know it gets read, but not so much whether anyone cares if I show up week after week. I believe and hope it adds some value, but if I stopped writing, the waves of the internet would soon wash over any castle built on this sand. Nothing would really happen if I don’t show up.

The waves will wash it all away. But what remains? Photo by Sean Oulashin on Unsplash

Which means that the most important thing about the commitment I made to writing this blog, is the commitment I made to myself.

And keeping these promises, without external accountability, are the hardest ones.

Whether I tell you I will meet you for lunch, water your plants, call you on Wednesday, or love you forever – unless something completedly unexpected happens, which it rarely does – I will do it. There are many people not like this (again, a whole other post) but for me, if I say it, I mean it. If I have said the words, you can expect the action.

But I don’t give myself the same kind of respect. If I tell myself I will wake up at 5, stop smoking, get fitter, or love myself forever – these are all totally negotiable.

Which leads me back to the question on how to make decisions between commitment and self care. And over the past few weeks I have concluded this: making and keeping commitments to myself are an act of radical self care.

I am not sure why this feels like news. I mean – this is the basis of a financial independence journey, right? Committing to a vision for a future and regular acts which will create that, are exactly in this space. Nobody else cares if I do it or not. Nobody is impressed if I succeed. Nobody goes hungry (sorry, kids, you will have to get yourselves through college though) if I don’t. But I have such devotion to the belief that God made me to live and contribute through my best life on this earth, and faith in that plan, that I do it anyway.

What is confusing for me is why I struggle with this message in other parts of my life when the core remains absolutely the same. When I have made an agreement as well as a commitment – whether that is to go to work and do my best, or how I try and act as a mum – I can stay in the zone. When it comes to things which feel more optional, especially good habits and high expectations around health and relationships, I find it much harder to be so consistent. I don’t know if it’s a need for results, or a need for reciprocation (or, frankly, whether I need therapy) but everything else feels more fuzzy. More optional. Perhaps I have less faith in how things will turn out. And that is defining how, and if, I show up.

Foundation stones, and building up. Or give up and throw them in the waves? Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

Happy Father’s Day

Caveat: bit of a controversial post. Consider yourself warned.

Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there. To all those who miss their dads; all those who never knew them; all those for whom ill health, distance, or social norms have made relationships difficult. Basically all the same things I say on Mothering Sunday. All parents matter.

Today I have been thinking about the ‘bitter single mums’ trope which is particularly active on social media on Father’s Day (seriously – why do you have the time? Shouldn’t you actually be hanging out with your kids?) and about a series of conversations I’ve had on toxic masculinity and how men are so undervalued by society that their only possible reaction is violence and disrespect. I am not a psychologist or a social scientist so I am perhaps even less qualified than usual to write this blog, but these are things on my mind so I share them with you, with these caveats in place.

Add your own definition. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The FIRE movement has a lot of great parenting role models. On a personal level I find the amount of people who reach FIRE based on spending one partner’s income tedious and irrelevant, but I get that for many folk it’s a new way of thinking about family spending. Lots of FIRE people got on this path in order to spend more time with their kids, and to be better parents, and that is something to celebrate. Mr Money Mustache has a lot to say on parenting his son, including since he and his wife divorced. Brad and Jonathan in Choose FI are always talking about their kids and how their FIRE pathway has focused on being with their children, and on leaving a legacy.

In fact there are lots of brilliant dads out there, of course there are. My own father, and the father of my children, don’t fall into this category but I don’t hate them for it – my children have never heard a bad word from my mouth about their father. The issue is that I have to make up for it, financially, emotionally, in terms of time spent and choices made and so on. And that’s not ideal but it’s ok. I am very lucky though in that I have an amazing step-father, fathers of friends (two of whom I have been really close to and sadly passed away this year), uncles and all. And I have friends, family and colleagues where I have so much respect for the way the father shows up, that it really inspires me on a daily basis. So I salute all those fabulous men: we see you. You’re doing great.

A Palestinian father bathing his daughter and neice, giving them as much of a normal happy childhood as he can in spite of the chaos all around. Credit: Wissam Nasser

There is, though, an increase in the number of women having to parent alone. There is plenty of blame around this, and there are multiple sides to every story, but the truth is that men are now allowed to absent themselves in a way that society permits. In my personal experience, this lack of involvement doesn’t stop them loudly complaining about how their ex will not facilitate the kind of contact they want with their children. The kind of people who complain in this way are, again in my experience, the same who want contact on a whim, when it’s convenient for them, and will change those times at the drop of a bar bill.

In Kenya, the outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta has even made the issue of single parents as one of his key concerns. Globally Kenya is one of the countries where women are most likely to become a single parent, with almost 60% of women likely to be single by the time they are 45, whether or not they have children. Kenyatta’s concern was with the rise in the percentage of single parent households from 25% in 2009 to 38% today. I am not Kenyan but I lived there for a long time and intend to return for the RE aspect of FIRE (watch this space for posts on that thought process, white privilege and colonialist mindset – I’m here for self critique and growth as well, of course). It is one of the places where I find being a single parent the hardest, since even though there are so many of us, it is seen through a lens of shame and ‘burdenhood’ which basically makes me a social pariah. This kind of nonsense article, which paints women as insatiably greedy and self-centred, character developing then abandoning poor, defenceless Kenyan guys, just fills me with rage.

It’s also ironic when – look, I’m just going to say this and take the flack – Kenyan men are seemingly happy to pay for a whole lot of whatever when it comes to relationships. And I mean prepared to pay rent/transport/salon for your side chick (girlfriend) for years, but you think that I, as someone who earns 10 times more than you, is going to be a financial burden? Kthxbye.

There is also a growing narrative around the issues of toxic masulinity, and how men feeling undervalued, undermined and unable to navigate the changes in society mean that they are struggling to find ways to act as men, husbands and fathers in this brave new world. Masculinity itself isn’t toxic, that much should be obvious. So challenges men are facing are absolutely something which we need as a society to deal with in order to create a world that works for everyone. But at the same time this cannot be an excuse for gender-based violence or refusing to look after your own children. And it will bleed into the next generation. If you as a man are struggling with masculinity and shifts in social expectations, it should be obvious that if you have children – and not just sons – they will need you are a role model to work through those challenges with.

The seed never falls far from the tree. Photo by Bibhash Banerjee on Unsplash

In short, we could all do better. This world is not binary: most parents are both good and bad depending on the day. I might be doing it alone but it doesn’t mean I am any good at it, just that I don’t have the luxury of deciding to step out for years at a time.

And I am all for putting in the work to create a world where men feel appreciated, valued and heard. Where they can grow into their power in a way which doesn’t involve crushing (either physically, emotionally or financially) the women and children in their lives. That’s something that we can all believe in. Happy Father’s Day.

A home of one’s own

With apologies in advance that this blog isn’t the jolliest place to be, I do want to tangle with some critical topics as well as being here for encouragement on these journeys. There is so much content out there about how easy financial independence is – just get out there and do it!! – but it doesn’t ring true for me. It is absolutely not impossible, but if the system is stacked against you, you will feel the burn a hell of a lot more. And for me, I am comfortable in both looking at my own journey and how it’s working, and what is going on out there which is impacting others – and what some of this means for equality.

I’ve written a lot about specific elements of the system and how it works either for or against particular minorities (check out posts on how racialised the financial systems are plus the financial constraints and stacked barriers for single mothers. I also want to say up front that I recognise the privileges that I come with so I am not saying this to ‘own’ or appropriate these issues, but to talk openly about areas where and how I am tangling with them personally. In my view, refusing to acknowledge how systemic power structures work is part of institutionalising privilege in order to extend it’s power, so calling it out has to be part of how we can meaningfully respond. I also find it both essential to understand in terms of why things feel like they move so slowly for me.

A room of one’s own? Not for you, soz. Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg on Unsplash

This week’s post was kicked off for me by reading an article about why single women in the UK cannot afford to buy a home based on an excellent 2019 report with the same title as this blog post. House prices in the UK are unaffordable for so many that those on median wages – which includes nurses and frontline health care workers – will not be able to access a mortgage in more than three-quarters of the country. This has greater implications for women, because women are more likely to be in low paid jobs and are also more likely to work part time due to caring responsibilities.

The impact on being able to buy is significant. Women need over 12 times their annual salaries to buy a home in England: a whacking 50% more than men, who need eight times. In London and the South East, which are both the most expensive areas of the UK and the two where the gender pay gap is largest, women need 18 times their annual earnings. Given that the very most British mortgage companies are likely to lend a maximum of five times annual earnings – an amount which is anticipated to reduce as inflation bites – it means that these women will never be able to buy a home without external support.

Or maybe this is more like it? Photo by Reba Spike on Unsplash

There were two other statistics which felt like a slap in the face. Firstly, there is no region in England where private rented housing is affordable on a woman’s median earnings. This is not true for men, where this is only the case in London. Secondly, single mothers are two-thirds of all statutory homeless families with children (i.e. the groups of people for whom the State has to take some responsibility), a figure which is striking when they are only one-quarter of all families with dependent children.

Basically there is zero chance to single women on median incomes and don’t have any additional financial support to either buy or rent in the majority of the UK. That feels pretty terrifying to me. I earn a (significantly) above average salary and managed to get on the housing ladder early. But under these socio-economic shifts my mum as a frontline worker and single parent would not have been able to buy a house, something which would have seriously impacted on our security growing up; how well she will manage in her old age; and what generational wealth looks like. And what does it mean for my daughter and how I should help her plan for her future?

I’m obsessed by this house I can’t afford so sharing it just because why not

So what is the point of this post? I am not on a median income, and I own both a home we live in and a rental. I haven’t been able to get to the point where I can leverage them into any kind of real estate empire though which seems to be some magic formula for at least those in the US working on FIRE but I am unbelievably blessed to even just have a foot on the ladder. Some days I need to both recognise the luck that I have had in the draw, and how things are looking for others. And why this should matter for all of us: we never journey alone.

Quick reminder to come and join me (and the FIRE community) on Instagram @brilliantladiesmoney I am probably more fun there 😀

Staying strong

I’ve had lots of topics in my head this week to write about – the possible impact of inflation in investments; how to get started with real estate; my tax return (I am SO MUCH FUN at parties). But sitting here this Sunday morning I just feel – crappy. It’s been a busy few weeks but it has felt sort of like a deflating balloon: handing off at the end of my temporary promotion (after almost nine months of working my ass off); hitting some financial walls that I wasn’t expecting; finding it hard to get the enthusiasm together to plan for the summer, which should be exciting but I. Just. Can’t.

I mean, really. Consider how many people in your life ask this question becuase they care about the answer. Credit Finn /Unsplash

I feel lonely. And that’s a difficult spot to be in and stay motivated. There is something about having to constantly be my own cheerleader, my own auditor, commentator, coach, tiger mom or whatever else is just exhausting. Right now, nothing is motivating me enough to play all these roles and keep myself on track. I want to just lie down in a dark room – and unless I can pull myself out of it and get back to a place of peace, that is exactly what I will end up doing.

It is also hard to accept that when you start growing into your self, you leave people behind. The simplest antidote to loneliness feels like it’s company. So we go and hang out with those friends at the bar, take someone home for the night, get into social media scrolling. But all those things feel so empty that they can make the loneliness feel worse – make you feel like you are creating white noise instead of real connection, to distract yourself from doing the hard things.

Somewhere between these two things is where I am spending a lot of my time at the moment. I’m struggling with my own judgement about what matters, who to trust, and how to voice my needs. Honestly, I am scared that the depth of my need for closeness means that I am prepared to overlook a lot of small things which are flags that there are people who aren’t really that bothered about me after all. And I just don’t know where to go with that at the moment.

I wrote a post in January about loneliness, how it is more common than even, and the impact it has on our well-being. In that post I focused on three strategies for mitigating the feelings of loneliness and finding the kind of peace which acts as a foundation when things get rough. The first was building a stronger community, whether with family or friends, all the other Sunderland supporters you can find (good luck with that) or the girls you play Roller Derby with. My second strategy is around focusing on the calendar. Having rituals or activities which mark the passing of the seasons – from new year’s resolutions, spring cleaning, or The First BBQ of the Summer – makes me feel more like an active participant in something positive. Finally perhaps it’s about learning to listen, and to be heard. Building meaningful connections can take time and can be challenging – especially if you are feeling low – but it’s really worth it.

The JFK quote above though is also a reminder that finding peace, which is the first step to pretty much everything else really, is a transformational process even at personal level. It means taking down walls, building up new boundaries, reframing pathways and just keeping on going with the constant shift. This article about the habits that people give up on the road to peace was insightful and is helping me think about my own reactions. It talks about moving away from toxic people, from comfort, from the pursuit of perfection or impressing others, or from holding grudges (this is my own personal favourite).

But even though it sounds obvious, transformation is hard. Growth is painful. Moving away from people, and having that level of certainty in yourself and your pathway, can be lonely and exhausting. Thinking about where you will be in five years might be the right approach when you’re struggling to keep going, but if you’re doing that whilst watching people you have moved on from have The Best Party Ever on IG then it can feel like a fictitious bargain made only in your mind. I have days like today when I forget how these feelings and challenges show up, but I know that I always get through them, however crappy I feel for a little while. It’s ok. We got this.

And if it gets on top, go somewhere that reminds you of the powerful certainties of this world, and get it back into perspective. Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Mothering Sunday: the financial impact version

Aw, happy Mothering Sunday! This week I am full of exhausted rage, and wanted just to focus a little on what it feels like to be a single mum, and why generalised negativity from society, the media and government policy is harming this generation of children.

First though I want to recognise that Mothering Sunday is a day which can set off lots of different emotions depending on your own particular track and relationships, but either way, it’s getting warmer and hopefully you’ll have something nice on this weekend.

Being a mother is a privilege and a joy, let me say that first off.

But it is also bloody hard. It’s hard for everyone, even those who have a partner. As we have moved away from traditional societies (and in fairness all the rubbish things that they required), the safety nets of support have been removed.

The invisible workload of mothering (yes, mothering rather than parenting, unless you are a single dad – recognising it and owning it as gendered is a feminist position) is exhausting. There is a great post from 2018 called ‘the invisible workload of motherhood is killing me‘ which, of course, I only just found time to read because I am too damn busy. Its is an accurate and helpful portrayal of what parenting looks like – and it’s just the day to day of parenting, not what it looks like to be trying to reach FIRE, or date, or anything else at the same time.

Motherhood is in any case fraught with issues. There have been a host of articles about how fatherhood has changed during the pandemic and how dads are starting to appreciate the ‘whole’ of parenting. But this is against a background in which women are expected to take the domestic burden (unless someone chooses to step in), and in which those dads have been able to refuse to engage until they were locke at home as well. Women are expected to work as well, though by the time a woman’s oldest child is 12 she is likely to be paid one-third less than male counterparts. These days, with the cost of living crisis and lack of affordable childcare, so many low income families are struggling.

Triple chocolate brownies, the Mothering Sunday gift my 12 year old son made me ❤

The cost of living crisis disproportionately impacts women. Women consistently earn less than men across their career, which also impacts their pension and retirement years.

On my FIRE journey, earning less, and being responsible for each and every cost in the home, has a significant impact on the timeline, and likelihood of becoming financially independent. It’s not like there aren’t exceptions of course. But the system is stacked against single mothers, and in my experience, also has no sympathy for us. The impact of these collective issues on generational wealth cannot be ignored and it’s likely that our children will also struggle, however hard we try.

I was particularly triggered this month by an article about the failings of the Child Maintenance System which is a UK body aiming to ensure that children’s costs are fairly shared after divorce or seperation, and that any alimony is paid in a timely way. To quote the article – 90% of single parents are women… Half of single parents and their children are consigned to life below the poverty line, a penury that 60% of them would escape if fathers paid the maintenance due. The comments on the article went in to the predictable bun fight about access and custody arrangements, as well as not really understanding that maintenance is for the children, not the ex-spouse.

So in addition to the structural arrangements in which I earn less and have more responsibility, I am also supposed to do it alone since the legal system really doesn’t give a shit about holding both parents to account for the financial side.

I would be furious, if I wasn’t so tired.

I have been hyper-aware this week of why I am overwhelmed. And it’s two things – first, the sheer magnitude of All The Things. Work (so, so much work), kids, feeding everyone, administration of the home, family and friends, and anything I need. Secondly, it’s the constant mental engagement – the ‘invisible workload’. Planning, organizing, working around, being in communication, trying to soothe, calm, engage, nourish and play. I have been dating someone who does not have children, and whilst he very loving and caring, he cannot even begin to fathom what responsibility and busyness looks like in my world. That makes me just try to hide it all so he isn’t bored or put off: and that becomes something else I have to be responsible for.

But you know what – parenting absolutely remains a joy and a privelige. I would just enjoy it more if I wasn’t expected to run on empty all the time. Big up all my single mamas this Mothering Sunday. I see you.

2021 Inspiration List: books, podcasts and more

As this is the last Sunday of 2021 I thought I’d focus this blog on the things which inspired and kept me going during this year. As I said in 2020, I read a lot – and with the never-ending loop of lockdowns we probably all read a lot more – and whilst I carried on with real commitment to my regular schedule of 1930s murder mysteries and books about politics, I got through a lot of new things as well.

And it’s almost done. Photo by Nadin Mario on Unsplash

This was also the year I pretty much quit watching things. There are a couple of notable exceptions (and the family 30 minutes down time after dinner would not be the same without The Simpsons) but it just stopped being something I do on my own. I listened to a *lot* more music, and unlike 2020 spent more time hanging out with people: dating, going to a twice-weekly exercise class, watching the Euros and the World Cup Qualifiers in the pub with friends, at workshops, and back out on a travel schedule.

So it feels like its been a nice mix, and I hope some of these ideas spark some new thoughts with you too. Do let me know what has been inspiring you this year, I’d love to know!

Books

Mostly I read on my Kindle or get things out from the English section of the fabulous library here in Copenhagen, but I do love a Proper Book. Even though this was also the year that I aged disgracefully enough to need reading glasses, I still read every night before I go to sleep. Just these days I have to stay awake long enough to take my glasses off and not crush them.

All the links below are to independent bookshops, but these are available in most formats and places.

Atomic Habits: James Clear

This came out two years ago and I listened to a lot of podcasts and discussions about its content, but reading it genuinely changed my life. There is something simple but compelling about his messages: sort out the things that matter to you, whatever they are; be aware of the time-sinks, infinity pools and dross that this corporate world is sending you and block them out where you can; and find the minimum viable action then just do it. It’s a great antidote to overwhelm.

Four Thousand Weeks: Oliver Burkeman

I wrote about this recently but this was also a game changer for me. Burkeman posits that since the average life expectancy is four thousand weeks, we should find ways to focus on what we really care about. He presents a history of time management and also why it doesn’t really work. Linking this to our collective FOMO, Burkeman talks through why reclaiming your time can’t be done by reorganising your diary but needs to be done by rethinking priorities.

Untamed: Glennon Doyle

Ah the great feminist call to action. I loved this book so much that I read it three times this year. Doyle focuses on naming the ties that bind us as women moving in this world, and talks through how, in her own life, she has untethered herself. It is very clear as to why this makes the world a freer, fairer and better place for all of us – so if you are even vaguely interested in the concept of allyship, read this one.

Podcasts

I remained very much a creature of habit this year and will include those here for anyone new to this journey, but there were one or two notable exceptions:

Rice At Home: This is one of the new additions to my listening and I cannot recommend it highly enough – especially if ‘there’s rice at home’ is something you heard regularly as a child! The team had a few months off in early 2021 and came back strong, looking at black-owned business, entrepreneurship and financial independence from the perspective of peer learning and support.

Afford Anything: the inimitable Paula Pant continued to bring weekly wisdom this year, talking through the choices that we have to make with our money, focus and energy in order to make a life which suits us and where we really move.

Journey to Launch: I listened to this more in 2021 as she is some steps ahead of me. Getting into thinking about side hustles, passive income streams and the ‘what next’ of a financial independence journey is where I’m at, and her passion, personal story and diverse range of speakers is really inspiring.

Choose FI: this was another staple during 2021, though a lot of it starts to feel like conversations we’ve had before. It remains a really good basic resource (though I didn’t think much of their book…) and a great community for when you need dusting off and putting back on the path.

Blogs

I read many fewer blogs this year. I don’t know if people stopped writing after being so productive in 2020 or if I just ran out of bandwith. Lots of old blog friends also moved well past where I’m at and whilst I am super proud of them, I don’t find reading about post-FI useful. The one I did keep going back to was Our Next Life. I love their thoughtful reflections on life then and now, and also on the FIRE community and where we might collectively be going.

Music

Not strictly relevant, but this is where I got a lot of joy and energy from in 2022. So sharing just one, in case it’s something you need to hear.

Gangsta: Kojey Radical : perhaps not what you expect from the title but it’s a track about being raised by a single mum and growing into an amazing adult. Love everything about this especially the lyric: I wonder what the answer is / my mama said forgiveness is/ go handle your businesses. Big up all the single mums out there. We got this.

For some beautiful photos of Kojey and his mum you can read this full article.

Hope the last mile of 2021 is treating you well – I can’t tell you what a pleasure it has been sharing this year with you. See you on the flip side!

Courage!

Blimey, what a week. Not much to say other than O. M. G. It just keeps coming – too much work, issues going on with my parents’ health, ALL the world disasters. Things feel slippery and twisting and I can’t quite get a grip on any of them.

I’ve written before about overwhelm and whilst I still go there, mostly at the moment I’m just knackered. Trying to keep all the plates spinning seems increasingly unlikely. I am definitely making some crappy choices – staying up a bit too late, eating a bit too little, drinking a bit too much. None of this to the extent where it’s really damaging, but cumulatively it’s not really helping.

Slippery when wet/tired/gumpy. Photo by Itay Peer on Unsplash

In her amazing book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, reflects on the most common things that people realise toward the end of their lives. The one which struck me wasn’t ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’ but ‘I wish I had let myself be happier‘. Ware says:

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Bonnie Ware on what holds us back from happiness

This week I also read Alexandra Fuller’s ‘Leaving Before the Rains Come‘ about the lengthy unravelling of her twenty year marriage which had some similar reflections. The comfort in habits and ruts, however destructive they are, can feel like the only thing holding us together. There are lots of other truths here – what it means to collapse a life that you have actively participated in creating and the impact that has on others – and realising that change means loss.

Without meaning to sound like a crappy instagram meme: change is terrifying. But refusing to grow, and regretting what you might have missed out on, is much, much scarier.

That light wants to shine on ME? Hell no! Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Sometimes I recognise that I am afraid to want things – afraid that wanting ‘too much’ or getting out of my lane will just end in ignominy and heartbreak. I get in the way of my own happiness. Which is ridiculous (and frustrating) but also feels like just an ass-hat way of being ungrateful. As well as all the slippery uncertainties in my life at the moment there are some amazing things: things I have prayed for and worked for and believed in. It’s taking daily work just to try and live in those moments, to not hold on too tightly and not so loosely that I drop them. Phew. No wonder I’m knackered.

So, on we go. Back out into the world and the new week with courage and gratitude. It will all work out.

Indeed. Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

The tail end

I’ve glibly borrowed the title for this post from the brilliant Wait But Why since I’ve been thinking a lot about how time passes. I spend a lot of energy thinking about what to fill that time with – how to make each moment a meaningful contribution of myself to the world.

In reality, I spend a lot more time making a meaningful contribution to emptying a packet of biscuits, or being Just A Little Bit Annoyed.

But this week a few things have aligned to make me remember that our time really is short. Not just short, but not guaranteed. I’ve lost a number of friends in my life and I am reminded that their time was cut short whilst I am frittering mine away.

Time to do…. what?. Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Paula Pant had a great episode recently with Oliver Burkeman who has written a book called Four Thousand Weeks. Burkeman, who is ostensibly writing abour time management, has recognised that a lot of works about optimising our time – whether that means living mindfully, or getting through your to-do list – don’t recognise the basic fact that time is limited.

My mum always says – you can have everything, but not at the same time. It’s similar to Paula Pant’s ‘you can have anything, but not everything’ mantra. Some things are a finite resource, and time is one of those. Energy is another one: so it’s the number of shits I have to give (as it were).

Burkeman’s point is exactly that. Our average life span is 4,000 weeks which suddenly seems like it just won’t be enough. And he has some great advice about how to live with that in mind, knowing that we will have to miss out on some things, and how not to get crushed by FOMO.

Even if you are immortalised on a building wall, your time is finite. Photo by Mark Neal on Unsplash

There is something about having children which also makes you notice the passing of time, sometimes wishing for certain phases to be over, sometimes desperately clutching on to others which seem to have passed all too soon. It reminds me of Jonathan Fanning‘s poem about parenting: about all the last times we have of doing things, and how oftern we don’t even know it’s signalling the end of something:

The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times. And even then, it will take you a while to realize.

So while you are living in these times, remember there are only so many of them and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them.
For one last time.

So – this week I have been trying to live from that place. I stopped work at lunch time and made a bowl of steaming, spicy noodles, sparkling with chillis. I texted a boy I like who made me laugh. I quit the French classes I have taken for five years with the aim of getting a quaification I don’t need for a job I don’t want. I swam in the sea and felt the air turning to autumn. I lay in bed with my kids and listened to the rain. I lived. And I loved it.

You really are. Live from there. Photo by Bethany Stephens on Unsplash