BLAZE YOUR OWN TRAIL

Introduction

There is no right way of parenting. All parents will find out what works best for them.

 

Parenting styles vary widely across the globe and within countries. Practices are generally influenced by cultural, philosophical and psychological factors. This website will look at some books which communicate certain values and convictions, yet does not condemn other ideas.

 

“There is no such thing as a generally applicable blueprint for perfect parenting”  – Christina Hardyment

 

As an expatriate without any family in the UK and first one among my friends to get pregnant, I jumped into motherhood with my instincts and socio-cultural background as only sources of reliability. After the blur that qualifies the first couple of months with a newborn, I started reflecting on the kind of mother I wanted to be and the values I wanted to teach my daughter in this fast-paced, crazy world of ours. I looked back at my own education and evaluated what I wanted to replicate and what I wanted to steer away from. I spent a yearlong maternity leave devouring parenting books with a great zeal to poach ideas and create my own parenting style.

 

I realised that, overtime, there has been a swinging pendulum in parenting theories from the need of strict discipline and schedules to a more permissive approach, up to the point of child-led developmental stages.

 

British writer Christina Hardyment reviewed in the early 1980s more than 650 parenting books and manuals, some dating to the mid-1700s when advice pamphlets started to be distributed in hospitals. She found out that the ideas in parenting books typically draw from former theories and reflected the authors’ opinions more than being based on pure scientific studies.

 

Although I don’t particularly like attaching labels to parenting methods, values and philosophies that belong to the “gentle discipline” and “attachment parenting” theories  resonated well with me as they were close to my natural instincts and personal beliefs.

 

The curated selection of books reviewed on the website will inevitably reflect my personal inclination toward these schools of thought, but the aim of the Meanders of Motherhood is to push boundaries and explore new horizons with an open mind. My hope is that this website serves as a platform where we can exchange our views or personal experiences and learn from each other.

 

Ultimately, it is about widening the parenting lens so that each one of us can confidently blaze her own trail.

 

Banner Picture by Pablo & TheMeandersOfMotherhood

BACK TO BASICS

Reads

If you have not heard of Kim John Payne before, you likely will thank me for introducing his stellar work here. The Australian family consultant and author of the best seller Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids among other books (*), has extensively researched the roots and antidotes to social difficulties, behavioural issues and emotional obstacles.

 

The premise of the book is that overstimulation, as a slow, insidious drip of heightened stressors, creates an effect similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Children’s schedules, activities, meals, clothes, books and toys – all the over-committed, over-burdened ways we have stretched their lives – deplete our little ones’ inner resources.

 

I had my doubts about this book but it is not at all the preachy, cult-like manual I thought it might be. Wise, gentle and beautifully written, Simplicity Parenting is full of practical tips and sensible observations drawn from real-life stories from Payne’s 24-year-long consulting practise.

 

Nowadays, parenting has become a competitive sport; society has normalised the anxious pursuit to “childhood enrichment” with learning activities (“so children discover their talents early and develop them fast”), teaching verbiage and educational toys. Payne’s gives you the permission to step out of this rat race and relax, by showing you how children benefit from fewer toys and carefully chosen books as well as blank spaces on the daily calendar and predictable routines.

 

Well versed in the Waldorf principles, Kim John Payne suggests that children can develop their innate capacities for creativity when we make space and time for free play, self-discovery and connection.

 

Highly inspiring, this book makes you pause and evaluate the home environment you create for your children. As the architects of our family’s daily lives, we can establish a safe, warm and secure family base camp from which children will launch out into the world with resilience.

 

“A protected childhood allows for the slow development of identity, wellbeing and resiliency.” – Kim John Payne

 

Simplicity Parenting is a true springboard for ideas on how to slow down and to restore a calmer home life for your children, away from the bustle of the outside world and the pressures of our fast-paced, consumerist culture.

 

Even if not all of the advice works for you, Payne insists small changes make big differences so you are free to pick whatever bits are doable in your family. The consultant noticed that, the most common first step families are willing to take is clearing out the excess of “stuff” (see infographics “Environment” below) in their children’s bedroom!

 

I’ll admit it was really therapeutic and liberating for me to de-clutter our physical space, but what struck me the most was the “filtering out the adult world” chapter. Gaining awareness of what we talk about in front of or over the kids when they are around is a notion I haven’t come across in other readings related to parenting. Many books emphasise the need to extensively talk to children about their feelings, yet Simplicity Parenting advocates a limited but more meaningful use of our words, while following your instincts and the child’s cues. Payne also suggests we ponder before speaking and ask ourselves if what we want to say is true, kind and necessary. Another very relevant element of this chapter is the “hovering / helicopter parenting” which I can a lot see around me and that I yield to at times myself. It is such a relief to read that stepping back and trusting more is actually positive for children.

 

The ideas for setting up a daily predictable routine and creating rituals were lovely, I noted down some of them here below:

“Favourite things”: Family gathering, for example at dinnertime, with each member explaining something that stood out from the day – parents can take this opportunity to acknowledge and encourage their children’s positive actions.

Dinnertime: Family eating dinner together. Children involved in meal preparation. A few moments of silence observed before dinner (whether religious or secular). Candlelit dinner. Clean up together after dinner.

Menu plan with daily dinner staples: for example, Monday pasta, Tuesday oriental, Wednesday soup. Variations can obviously be made within each staple.

Rituals: after-school snack together, Saturday morning pancakes, waking up song, evening walk in summer, candlelit breakfast in winter, scarecrow of child’s next-day outfit on a hanger.

Dependable activities: washing hands before dinner. Brushing teeth after dinner. Stories before bedtime, instrument practice after breakfast, free play in the park after school.

Advance notices to ease transitions.

Preview of the day: Parent and child sit together at a casual, unhurried time to walk the child through what he can expect (for example at breakfast time).

Politeness as a form of predictability.

 

“Rhythm calms and secures children, grounding them in the earth of family so they can branch out and grow” – Kim John Payne

 

In addition to creating islands of consistency within an intentional, slow lifestyle at home, Payne’s cautions against screen media and packed schedules. I understand why many parenting authors put forward the need for children to play with their parents, but it is refreshing to read that I don’t have to be a clown and entertain my daughter all day or cram her every waking hour with some form of stimulation. Boredom is valuable and children need time between activities to process what happens around them (see infographics “Schedules” below). They thrive when they have opportunities to spend unstructured time to tune in to themselves or engage in deep play.

 

Overall, the book shakes up some accepted norms of modern parenting and reframes parenting to its primary goals. It made me acutely aware of where it could all start to go wrong, as my daughter gets older. While Payne lays out various attainable ways of simplifying and balancing family life to allow children to flourish in the critical period of childhood, I believe some lessons are widely transferable to other areas of our adult life: it taught me to speak less and in a more meaningful way; to unplug and direct my attention to the necessary when stress and anxiety are creeping in; and to go further in de-cluttering my physical and mental space.

 

 

(*) Kim John Payne also authored The Games Children Play, (1996 Hawthorn Press), The Soul of Discipline (2015 Random House/Penguin), and co-authored Whole Child Sport, How to Navigate Child & Youth Sports and Being At Your best When Your Kids Are At Their Worst (2017 Shambhala Press)

 

If you want to further explore the ideas of balance & simplicity, you can sign up to the Simplicity Starter Kit on Kim John Payne’s website, or listen to his Simplicity Diary which consists in a series of brief records inspired by his daily life and travels.

Picture by Pablo – Infographics by TheMeandersOfMotherhood

 

 

OUTDOORSY CHILDREN: 5 ADDRESSES IN NORTH WEST LONDON

Parenting

Are you tired of taking your children to the same playground with rusty swings over and over again? Are you craving a different sight than the one of your local park? With a little a bit of research, I found out that the city provides many unsuspected opportunities for outdoor activities all year long. Here are my top 5 original ventures in some secluded and green corners of North West London.

 

 

 

1 – Mapesbury Dell Park

 

Pictures by Pablo

 

London harbours many lovely parks, which undoubtedly contribute to the city’s charm. Mapesbury Dell is a magical garden tucked away behind a row of residential houses, a carefully guarded secret by local residents. It is a rather small park that has everything to please the nature-loving crowds: beautiful gardens with a variety of flowers and wildlife, a wooden playground, a pond and some picnic tables. The park hosts free admission to annual events such as the popular Wild Day in the summer, a Midsummer Open Air Opera Evening, a Back to School children’s party in September, festive fun and carol-singing at Christmas, as well as a regular Gardening Club.

 

Address: 10-12 Hoveden Rd, NW2 3XD

Website

 

2 – Kensal Green Cemetery

 

Pictures by Pablo

 

Inspired by the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Kensal Green Cemetery was founded as the “General Cemetery of All Souls” by barrister George Frederick Carden. It is recognised as one of England’s oldest and most beautiful public burial grounds. Kensal Green Cemetery opened in 1833 as one of the world’s first garden cemeteries and doyen of London’s Magnificent Seven. Its Gothic character made it the ideal setting of several scenes in movies, notably in Theatre of Blood. The cemetery is a conservation area and it is home to at least 33 species of birds and other wildlife.

 

My suggestion to bring children to a cemetery may make some of you startle; it goes without saying the location demands a certain degree of respect but children’s imaginary worlds are vastly enriched when they explore uncommon surroundings with mystical ambience.

 

Address: Harrow Rd, W10 4RA

 

3 – Fenton House

 

Pictures by Pablo, commons.wikimedia.org & geograph.org.uk

 

This 17th-century house sitting in Hampstead will give to its small visitors a sense of wonderment. Fenton House is owned by the National Trust. Curious objects and collections of early musical instruments and ceramics can be found inside the house and, from the balcony at the top the house, you can see far-reaching views across the City of London. But the main attraction is assuredly its 300-year-old walled garden, which brims with colourful flora and constitutes one of the most charming locations for a stroll in nature. Family based activities are organised throughout the year, including the Easter Egg Trail, the Apple Weekend and musical performances.

 

Address: Hampstead Grove, Hampstead, NW3 6SP

Website

 

4 – Meanwhile Gardens

 

Pictures by Pablo & geograph.org.uk

 

Meanwhile Gardens is a beautiful community-run landscaped garden playtrail near London’s Westbourne Park underground station. It is a tranquil hideaway that allows people to peacefully sit, read or reflect, despite it being two blocks from busy streets in a densely populated part of North Kensington.

 

Also known for his arty maze of bridges, stepping stones, optical illusions, tree ladders and tunnels in Haldon Forest, Devon (named the “The Beginner’s Way”) Jamie McCullough is the sculptor who sought to have this then-derelict wasteland used as a communal garden. Westminster Council, the local authority at the time, gave temporary permission – which gave rise to the name ‘Meanwhile’.

 

The Gardens now fall under the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s jurisdiction and have undergone many landscape developments since its creation in 1976. The four-acre site provides a wildlife garden project run by Kensington & Chelsea Mind, which works with adults who have mental health difficulties, using horticultural training and social enterprise to help with recovery and social integration. At one end of the Gardens, the renovated scented courtyard offers space for quiet contemplation; at the other end, a free skate pit draws hundreds of skateboarding enthusiasts all year round.

 

There is also a purpose built play centre for children under 6 called the Playhut. This area offers to the little ones a large outdoor space for play, a paddling pool in summer, a sand pit, arts and crafts and other activities that stimulate play and learning.

 

The Gardens themselves provide opportunities for volunteering and educational schemes; some youth offenders carry out their reparation orders under gardeners’ supervision.

 

Overall, local residents – the Meanwhile Gardens Community Association – work hard to perpetuate Jamie McCullough’s vision of a lush garden that brings joy and reflection to people in their everyday environment.

 

Address: 156 – 158 Kensal Road W10 5BN

Website

 

5 – Queens Park Vegetable Allotments

 

Pictures by Pablo

 

Allotments have gained hype these past years, brought by the increase of popularity in healthy eating, the media coverage of organics and the rampant culture of ‘growing your own’. Your little ones will be delighted to dig in the mud while participating in a common family project and learning about where their food comes from. It is beneficial for Londoners who don’t own a garden to get an experience of working the land and grow fresh vegetables and fruits which are part of a healthy lifestyle. Food growing can also bring people together from all parts of the community through a shared interest. Most of the people interested in these allotments are in their 20s and 30s with young families. As there is a high demand and an endless waiting list, Robin Bower, secretary of Queen’s Park Allotments, suggests putting your name down as soon as possible.

 

Address: Kingswood Avenue, NW6 6SG

Website

 

Banner Picture by Pablo

 

 

 

LET THE CHILDREN PLAY

Parenting

Picture children climbing in the trees, building sand castles or mucking around at the creek, immersed in their fantasy game. Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College, and author of Free to Learn and Psychology was invited this year to the Online Positive Parenting Conference hosted by Sumitha Bhandarkar, to speak about the need for children to have open, self-directed play. This form of play means children initiate the game themselves and make their own rules.

 

Unlike children activities structured by adults in which competition is often instilled, self-directed play allows children to explore freely their environment and try new things without being afraid to fail. There is no trophy on the line and no adult judgment, so the children are free to take risks and immerse themselves in whatever experiment they are carrying out.

 

“Play is never random or unstructured,” claims Peter Gray, “it is structured by the kids.” When children make their own play rules, they learn to negotiate, assert their own needs and practise problem solving. How to get along with other people and how to control their own emotions constitute valuable lessons, which will also serve them well in their future.

 

In addition, through the use of imagination to create their own activities, children develop a sense of identity and discover their own passions and interests.

 

 

Peter Gray mourns the simplicity of old times where children of a same neighbourhood were playing together in the streets – with (almost) no adult interference – in lieu of after-school scheduled activities.

 

In all honesty I was beguiled by the evolutionary psychologist’s case in favour of free play but it turned out to be an introductory argument to the eulogy of un-schooling. I dont particularly embrace this alternative approach to mainstream education and although some of his allegations were absolutely valid, I was disappointed to see the interview unfolding into a praise of this system rather than offering practical tips to enable safe self-directed play to happen in busy cities like London.

 

For more information about un-schooling and self-directed education, you can check Peter Gray’s website self-directed.org

 

Banner Picture by Pablo

CONNECTION AT THE CORE OF PARENTING

Reads

“It is easier to walk a beaten path than it is to break a new trail.”

 

After a few pages into my reading of Connection Parenting: Parenting through Connection instead of Coercion, through Love instead of Fear, I came across this sentence which captures so beautifully the essence of the Meanders of Motherhood What the author Pam Leo means is that, it takes courage to heal the wounds from our childhood and replace the old parenting tapes programmed in our brain with a new set of parenting skills.

 

Pam Leo studied child development, psychology, sociology, and anthropology while experiencing first hand child rearing with her two daughters and through her job as a childcare provider. She put together in 1989 a series called Meeting the Needs of Children, which supports parents in learning how to relate to children in a positive way. She also shared her connection tools and strategies through a column in the Parent & Family paper from Maine.

 

“Children need at least one person in their life who thinks the sun rises and sets on them, someone who delights in their existence and love them unconditionally” – Pam Leo

 

The book is widely based on the classes she teaches; each of the seven chapters relates to one session theme. At the end of each chapter, Pam Leo encourages us to deepen our consciousness of our own parenting journey with targeted exercises drawn from her classes. Quotes and lively metaphors are sprinkled around the text as Pam Leo unfolds her argument. It goes something like this: What children want and need the most is to be with us, but in our modern lifestyle – where stress and busyness are inevitable compounds – connection and time spent together are eroded. The loss of family support, the boisterous invasion of screens in our homes and the Western cultural tendency to separate adults’ and children’s worlds have further depleted the child-parent bond.

 

pablo-41

Children’s acting-out behaviour is (literally) a cry for a hidden hurt or an unmet need, either physical or emotional. Pam Leo propounds compassionate ways to adapt our current lifestyle and create optimal conditions for our children to get the connection they need and thrive.

 

Connection Parenting supports us to parent with influence built through love and respect rather than resorting to coercion. The author pinpoints that using physical size to assert our authority on children – as commonly used one generation ago – is a form of bullying that children will internalise and replicate. Parenting influence measures in the strength of the parent-child connection, but Pam Leo warns us: this parenting approach is not a quick fix, it takes time and commitment. No parent is perfect and the good news is that even if you do lose your temper and do not respond in the way you intended to, you can make amendments with the reconnection tools: Rewind, Repair & Replay.

 

“The level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents” – Pam Leo

 

While the approach rings true with my instincts, I will admit there was so much I needed to learn that I read with a red pen in hand and will refer back frequently to check I am on the right track. My endeavour not to miss a tip is perhaps the reason why the infographics below are so condensed. I found the book very empowering and was particularly interested in the lessons from Chapter Two: “Respect” and Chapter Six: “Decoding the language of behaviour”. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

 

 

 

Banner Picture by Pablo – Infographics by TheMeandersOfMotherhood

WHAT EVERY PARENT NEEDS TO KNOW

Reads

If you are not going to read any parenting book and decided to solely rely on your instincts or listen to your mom, I still advise you to skim and scan What every parent needs to know by Margot Sunderland. It is a practical guide that enables new parents to make informed decisions on child-rearing, using the most up-to-date scientific research in neuroscience and psychology.

 

Scientific studies show that childhood experience with parents dramatically affects children’s developing brain and has long-term consequences on their physical and mental health.

 

Margot Sunderland is a psychotherapist and Director of Education and Training in the Centre for Child Mental Health based in London but also a mother who can relate to the everyday struggles that parents face. She collaborates with Jaak Panksepp, an American expert in neuroscience for the second and most recent edition of the book (2016).

 

Parents will find evidence-based recommendations across eleven chapters covering different angles of child-rearing, including sleep, play and discipline. These recommendations aim at optimizing neural-chemistries in children’s brain and widely  contrast with the commonly accepted practices you will hear from older generations.

 

Although a lot of scientific information is present in the book, arguments remain accessible to a wide audience. Plenty of images and case studies support the explanatory text, which allow for a pleasant reading pace.

 

Margot Sunderland challenges us to ask ourselves how our parenting choices affect our children’s affective and cognitive abilities which will in turn impact their long-term wellbeing.

 

 

WHAT EVERY PARENT NEEDS TO KNOW

 

At the end of the book, there is a 22-page-long section on physically and emotionally looking after yourself, which I initially regarded as far less important than the other chapters. But motherhood taught me it is key to regulate my own emotions, sleep enough and have breaks that invigorate my mind, so do not make the same mistake of overlooking this final chapter!

 

Banner Picture by Pablo – Infographics by TheMeandersOfMotherhood

ABC FOR NEW MUMS IN LONDON

Parenting

If you see these women in sporty leggings and Nike trainers vigorously walking in London parks, pushing from one hand their Bugaboo buggy and holding in the other hand a takeaway Starbucks coffee, you have come across the new generation of mums. Don’t be fooled by their laid-back contemporary style (wild hair bun, sunglasses, chunky scarf), these girls are quick-witted on planning their new life with baby.

 

As I joined the tribe of expectant mothers in the British capital, I was hit by an endless list of do’s and don’ts conveyed by midwifes, acquaintances and marketing slogans. Personal parenting practices are judged from day one and often rely on out-dated child-rearing practices and cultural beliefs rather than scientific research.

 

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With less than 3 weeks to go, we have invited the mums who have booked into the June retreat to a complimentary one hour post natal body check with @sixphysio so they can give their bodies some TLC and address any issues they may have. We have also given them one years free subscription to niix, an on demand Pilates service, so they can build their core strength in the run up to the retreat and carry on the good work after 💪🏼 niix has kindly offered 5 x  three month subscriptions to anybody who fancies it. Just like this photo, comment below and follow @niix.fit A winner will be chosen at random before midnight on Monday! #sixphysio #niix #pilates #physio #corestrength #jointheniixresistance #mummytribe #niixfit #fitmum #fitmom

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Building a network of new and expectant mothers seemed no less essential than a lifeline and was especially relevant in my case: an expatriate with all family abroad. I gladly discovered that connecting with peers in London was fairly easy, whether it was by attending the expensive NCT antenatal courses or some prenatal yoga classes.

 

The NCT clans are grouped together by postcode and pregnancy stage. The soon-to-be mothers share their common experience through meet-ups at local cafes and Whatsapp group discussions. Husbands are not excluded from this social orchestration and also have gatherings of their own – after all, entering parenthood can be a tribulation encountered by all. With an aberrant price of £327 for a 19-hour-long NCT Signature course for two, I chose to rely on NHS to get the information I missed about birth technicalities. My friends openly claim they joined NCT with the intent to “build a network” rather than getting relevant information. Although I regretted in the early, postpartum days not having this web of contacts, I quickly made my way through building peer-relationships.

 

Once baby is born, the big city offers many baby activities centred on stimulation and wellbeing, which also enable parents to mingle with peers and create friendships. Massage, yoga, swimming, music, messy play, movie screening are some of the countless and fussy businesses that take advantage of the parental worry to provide nothing but the best for our cherubs. Note, it is also possible to attend free activities like ‘stay & play’ drop-ins and weekly story/rhyme times at local public libraries.

 

“No matter how precious and magical the moments with a newborn are, strong coffee and social interactions are paramount for sleep-deprived parents.”

 

Once a mum has established her network, she will meet her new pack at a local cafe, which preferably offers comfy leather couches and well-assorted cake counter. Young parents craving an energising breath in the outer world undoubtedly benefit from the ever-ending propagation of cafes in the capital. No matter how precious and magical the moments with a newborn are, strong coffee and social interactions are paramount for sleep-deprived parents.

 

pablo-36Cakes and coffee are your new best friends

 

Conversation topics between mothers range from branded products review and baby routine specifics to rants about the hubby who struggles to find his place in this new dynamic. Early-years commodities have a prominent place in the trade of titbits by mothers, who assess with a scientific rigour and an unconscious gullibility (exploited by advertising) the quality of baby carriers, toys and milk bottles.

 

In the food department, the current debate about baby-led weaning (i.e., no purees, only ‘finger foods’) can take substantial proportions, to the point of buying books and seeking advice from professionals. Everything ought to be organic though.

 

The hottest topic in town is almost certainly the concern of sleep that, associated with the risks of sudden infant death syndrome “SIDS”, grows into psychosis for young parents facing an army of books, doctors and sleep consultants. (I choose not to get into this conversation, it is discussed at great length on a myriad of blogs and opinion-based books)

 

Once the infant becomes toddler, conversation topics move to ranking competitive nurseries on their curriculum (read children’s activities), fancy themed-birthday parties and “how many words can he say yet?”.

 

pablo-32Finally some non-baby talk, but where are the babies??

 

The digital sphere brings its own toolbox of apps to millennial parents: Wonder Weeks to track baby’s first year mental leaps; Hoop to find out all available children’s activities in the area filtered by mile distance, age group and time; Squeezy to remind mothers to do their pelvic floor exercises. Whether you need some hairdryer white noise to make your baby fall asleep or a way to track his feeds, naps and every move, be sure there is an app out there that will do the job. In terms of networking, mothers also have an equivalent to Tinder in the well-advertised apps Peanut and Mush, which algorithmically match mothers’ profile according to categories – like baby age, interests and neighbourhood. ‘Outdoorsy’, ‘Fashionista’ and ‘Coffee addict’ are some of the cliché filters that one can select in the interests category. It would take ages to list all the apps nowadays designed to help (overwhelm?) new parents, so I will just mention two more examples: whatever your consumerist desires are (nursery decor, clothing & accessories, party gifts), you can make a board of prototypes on Pinterest and purchase your tailored handmade model on Etsy.

 

 

pablo-34Parenting hacks at your fingertips

 

Through this non-exhaustive, but rather exhausting inventory, it feels that marketing is an important element of parents’ everyday decisions. Advertising has pervaded a sizeable market with the brand-conscious millennial generation now entering the parenthood phase. Using young parents’ vulnerability to sell extravagant products and services that will only be used for a tiny fraction of life can seem appalling. My best advice to all the new mums living in London is to beware peer pressure and branding hidden agendas. FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS.

 

All Pictures by Pablo

THE EXPAT DIARIES: FAMILY POLITICS

Parenting

 

Expat is a common lifestyle choice among young adults of the millennial generation. But no matter how thrilling it is to discover a new culture and establish yourself in a new country, “coming home” always feels so comforting… When a child comes into the picture though, things can get a little messy, if not completely hectic. Family reunions then become a delicate balancing act where mastering the skill of diplomacy gets inescapable.

 

The one who wanted to see two dozens of people in 3 days. When our baby girl arrived, we saw in our parents’s puppy face the desire to see their granddaughter as often as it was possible. And so began the great saga of trips to Italy and Belgium, zigzagging across the European map. After taking countless of flights and train rides with a squirmy baby who turned into a restless toddler, we have become well versed in the ‘travelling with kids’ gig. If you don’t believe me, try running after a 18-month-old through the coaches of a Eurostar for two hours.

 

Once we arrive in the homeland, our itinerary records a succession of visits to relatives, Uni pals and our parents’ friends (grandparents want to show-off). The odyssey is further lengthened when parents are divorced, like in my case. We generally have a busy schedule of dinners and drinks, and go through this social agenda like chickens roaming around in the farmyard. It’s a giant happy mess. Family reunions can leave us craving for extra holiday to unwind.

 

The one who was travelling with a semi-trailer. When we visit, our families always spoil the darling child with oodles of presents that come in all forms and shapes. This is great for our girl who jumps of excitement like a bunny on amphetamine, but daunting for us, parents, when it is time to pack. We regularly face puzzling situations of finding innovative packing strategies for our suitcases overflowed with toys, clothes and whatnot. We are yet to hone our persuasion skills and rechannel our relatives’ demonstration of love in Amazon vouchers and memberships to gratifying activities (zoo, ballet class, swimming lessons)…!

 

I personally love the Montessori spirit of neutral colours and natural materials, so bringing back flashy, plasticky, electronic toys or barbie-pink outfits can be as irritating as a ringing phone you can’t find but, of course I follow the etiquette and warmly thank for the gift.

 

Clutter is threatening every nook and corner of our tiny apartment in London, but what wouldn’t we do to make a (little) girl smile, right?

 

The one who was learning from Buddhist monks. If you were cornered by a nosy relative enquiring about your life choices / parenting practices or got a passive jab during a family dinner, how would you react? When questions become uneasy and controversial, and you can see drama ahead of you, boosting your self-control is a lifeline. (If you cannot regulate your emotions so well, it is worthwhile to prepare for confrontations in advance and rehearse how to respond to tricky situations.) Don’t forget humour: a good old trick to derive a subject to more pleasant and peaceful shores.

 

It goes without saying we thoroughly enjoy seeing our loved ones, and family visits are always flooded affection and generous care. Although we still experience the same warm-hearted welcome we have always known, this article focuses on peculiar aspects of the expatriate life, when there is a new (wonderful) addition to the family.

 

Banner Picture by Pablo