How do I deal with potty training?

I was once on a train from London to Brighton; in the seats across from me was a small family, looked like a mother, father, grandmother and the cutest, wide eyed little girl. It looked like they were on a day trip, they were surrounded by back packs and shopping bags. They spoke in a language foreign to me but the tone and rhythm of family chatter was instantly recognisable as was the sense of urgency as without warning they began changing seats and clawing through their bags. Eventually the father let out an exclamation of triumph and held a potty aloft, within seconds the girl was stripped and seated and her carers clapped as she relieved herself in the aisle. It was a bit gross but also very impressive, the commitment to her training but also her ability to perform under pressure. This is the kind of mindset that get’s toilet training completed swiftly, to prioritise poop above all else.

But not all of us have time to dedicate to the ones and twos even though it’s high on a lot of parental agendas. Research suggests that children are now getting toilet trained almost two years later than they were fifty years ago. Don’t listen to your elders, this is not because parents today are too indulgent it’s because parents across the ages have opted for the easy life. Fifty years ago, nappies meant leaks, washing, drying and discomfort for all parties, now nappies are so hi tech it’s sometimes hard to tell if anything has happened. Additionally, the increase in working mothers (Yay!) means that there is often less time to dedicate to training and time is really all you need. So you need to work out how you prefer to spend your time.

Are you a hincher? Do you like to clean little and often, do you enjoy dedicating a particular night to your favourite hobby? Is your Christmas shopping finished by November? You are a slow and steady trainer. Introduce the potty gently, leave it in the bathroom, real casual and start some conversations about how cool potty time is. Offer your child frequent opportunities to sit on the pot and throw a parade if anything, anything at all happens in there. Hope that the kid catches on that nappy poops are a lot less fun.

Do you prefer to wait until your house resembles a jumble sale before deep cleaning? Did you binge watch the latest season of Orange is the New Black? Do you end up buying birthday presents because you forgot to post a card? You need the potty boot camp. Three to four days with a free bottom and a lot of disinfectant is generally enough to get your child down with the programme.
Summer is the season for washing soiled clothes, so choose your weapon wisely. Remember the vast majority of children are potty trained by four – all you need is time.

How do I get my kid to eat more veg?

I have this theory that parents have no choice but to have anxiety about their children. Like, the moment you become responsible for another human you’re awarded a substantial anxiety retainer which must be allocated to something at any given moment. If things are generally good – your child is healthy, your home is secure – the anxiety allocation is still available to be distributed and it makes sense that you might land on eating. Food is a basic need, failing to feed your child feels like flunking out of introductory parenting; at the same time, it’s an arena that’s difficult to control. You can take the mountain to Mohammed but if Mohammed looks at said mound and says, Urgh, yucky!’ whatcha gonna do? 

What I’m trying to say it that veg is good, veg is great, lets all aim for the five, seven, nine or whatever number of portions the government reckon we should be consuming each day but veg is not love; veg is not freedom, a life without veg is a life worth living. There are many children with severe eating issues, issues that result in malnutrition and growth problems but the vast majority of parents that worry about peas do not have these children, they have healthy, energetic, strong willed kids that don’t eat peas. In summary, if you are worried about vegetables but you have access to fresh veg and the finances to purchase it, you don’t have much to worry about at all. Not only this but your stress will create a bigger problem because your child will begin to associate green beans with angst and carrots with conflict and end up having nightmares about kale chasing them down the street. 

What to do? Buy a multivitamin, Bassets chewables are like sweets, and then give up. Focus on all the other issues that come along with being a parent in this scary, dark society we’ve all played a part in creating. I’m not saying to abandon the idea of veg, keep them in rotation, by all means eat plenty yourself, goodness knows you’ll need the energy. If you have the patience for it sneak them into sauces and smoothies but don’t beat yourself up about it if you can’t. Those other parents with happy eaters – their time will come. When my son started solids he ate anything, any darn thing. I was so smug about his ultra-mature palate; so eager to shout about all the olives and mushrooms and asparagus he was mainlining. These days, if it ain’t beige, it ain’t safe and I’ve steeled myself for many more protests. This is the start of a litany of battles, when your child complains, tell them to pick out the sweetcorn and then change the subject, when they learn that their eating habits are no longer getting under your skin, they’ll move onto something else.  Children are only happy when they’re tormenting you – don’t make it easy for them.

How to stop kids from ruining your holiday

Remember last summer when Kirstie Allsopp caused a furore by admitting that she sticks her kids in economy whilst living it up in business class? The internet was up in arms – what if they need to be disciplined? What if they’re kidnapped? The tutting coul be heard throughout the land. Kirstie was steadfast - why waste the money on the ungrateful little tykes? Should they desire extra leg room, let them save their pocket money. Truth be told, I backed Kirstie (not that she needed it because the woman sweats confidence.) She explained that having her children with her in business class was a ‘waste of money’ and I couldn’t agree more. No one under the age of eighteen appreciates real cutlery or a warm flannel. Of course, there are some who might say she should have sat with her kids in the back but I know if there’s one thing that ruins a holiday, it’s kids. I think a vacation with children is like a bath without water – you’re going through the motions but, ultimately, it’s pointless. I love spending time with my son but our interests don’t always align – he enjoys running about and climbing on things and water slides; I like those things too but I like them more with alcohol. The one thing he isn’t into is sleeping and sadly that’s my primary motivation for booking a break, in short we aren’t the best vacay buddies. I’m lucky, I have a very equitable co parenting set up and have the time to plan a solo trip as well as one geared towards my son but if you don't have the luxury of divorce, here are my tips to stop a holiday with the kids feeling like work.  

Plan your route  In the past I’ve fallen at the first hurdle and forced my child to endure a journey so epic that the aftereffects lasted the rest of the holiday. You don’t have to pull a Kirstie to have a successful flight with children but there are things you can do to ease the pain. I think flying is better when they’re small, everyone fears the crying baby on a plane but at least a baby can be contained. For a good sleeper a night flight is perfect – travel in pyjamas and start bedtime stories immediately after take off. When Roscoe was tiny, we would give chocolate to surrounding passengers, an apology in advance for any disturbance. It seemed to work, it’s much harder to voice complaints with a mouth full of Toblerone. Whenever possible reserve seating when taking trains, sadly you can’t always rely on the kindness of commuting strangers. Most of all remember that the holiday starts at home, pack games and snacks for the trip and teach your kids that delays aren’t challenges but part of the adventure.

Stick it to the schedule After a holiday throughout which I spent every evening lying in a dark hotel room, I made the decision to stick it to the schedule. Sleep and meal times went out the window, so we could all bed down at the same time each night. This can work really well with a time difference that allows your child to naturally stay awake later. You will be screwed when you get home but this is about the holiday – no pain, no gain.

Forget about nutrition Let them eat cake! A week without fibre will do no harm. Often eating habits change when away from home and it will only add to your stress levels to try and force five a day into your child. You want to be making memories and what’s more memorable than ice cream for lunch? No matter where you roam, everyone has potatoes and that means everyone has chips but don’t assume you know anything about your child’s palate, you might find that a kid that exists on sandwiches at home is suddenly happy to chew on a sheep’s eyeball. Holidays are a chance for everyone to relax about mealtimes.

Take a break If you’re lucky enough to have another adult on hand, book in some time for yourself during your break. When a parent, me time is at a premium and an hour alone with a book can be as rejuvenating as a week-long retreat. A lot of people think kids’ clubs are things of great evil and holidays should be spent ‘as a faaaaamily’. I accept that some of you might want to be with your children but do they want to be with you? I love my parents but some of my favourite holiday memories involve joining a ragtag gang of sunburned marauders, determined to terrorise the resort staff. You can all be together at home, when it’s raining – holidays are about sharing time but not necessarily space.

Where is the best place to find a new partner?

A question - do you want one? I mean do you really, really want one. Do you want one like you want deep fried carbs after six glasses of cheap white? Do you want one like you wanted Joey to end up with Pacey at the end of Dawson's Creek? I mean really, truly want it; wake up in the morning wanting it, go to sleep at night needing it, stumble through life barely able to function for the partner shaped hole in your existence because unless this is the case you might want to consider not worrying your lovely head about the best place to find a partner because finding one is W.E.R.K and having one is A.N.N.O.Y.I.N.G. 

You could channel all the positive energy you would put into your hunt towards work or art or online shopping and the pay offs would probably be much bigger. Don't tell me I'm bitter; don't tell me I'm cynical; don't ask me if I have PMT (I DO NOT. I AM FINE. I JUST HAPPEN TO BE STARTING MY PERIOD IN TWO DAYS. AND WHAT?) because you know that whenever you go for a catch up with the girls at least sixty percent of drinking time is dedicated to how haaaaaard it is to get a relationship or keep a relationship or end a relationship or manage a relationship that has recently ended and isn't being a grown up difficult enough already? 

And OK I'm a hypocrite because I have a partner right now but let me say this, I don't think I found him by looking in the right or wrong places; I think he found me when I became ready for a partner. Finished heaving? Yes, that was majorly smug but you must admit you hear it all the time -  love shows up when you're not looking for it. This doesn't mean hide in your house for long enough and Channing Tatum will knock at the door (for one he's with Jessie J, so you can let that one go now), it means someone will rock up right when you're in the middle of LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE®. And that means doing stuff you genuinely love, things that light you up; make you giggle to yourself in checkout queues, and also, when you're doing that stuff you give off all these good vibes and good vibes are hella sexy. Don't complain that there's no one to date on your darts team or in your knitting circle  or whatever it is that gets you off the sofa because the people you meet doing those things - they have cousins, they throw parties - you could be one one casual acquaintance away from the love of your life. 

If for whatever reason you are prevented from indulging in your favourite pastimes, let's say you have some pesky, selfish kids that require supervision, I think the most practical way to meet people is online. The internet isn't always the most romantic place to hang out (unless you find unsolicited penis pictures swoonworthy) but it saves a lot of time - you can tell people what you want and assess what they're offering without even showering. I've shared my experience of online dating before and the only thing I would add is to write a list of what you would like in a partner and make it very short, include only the core values you require on your Team Romance. It's useful to know what you want, it's even more useful to ensure it exists. I learned the hard way about unrealistic expectations when dating. Learned so much, in fact, that I wrote a book about it. The Reinvention of Martha Ross is launching in paperback as 'The Single Mum's Wish List' and is a Kindle Daily Deal on Thursday 21st February so if you do decide to jack in the finding a partner thing, you could read that instead. 

You’re already good enough: How mums can practice self love

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Here’s a secret most of us tend to forget: We’re enough. Unsurprisingly, one community that suffers perhaps the most from this type of short term memory loss is the mum community. The majority of mums nowadays possess one defining, and ironic characteristic that is in many ways a barrier to self love, and it is: selflessness. Mums are constantly putting their children before themselves. The only problem with this is that they neglect their own needs and personal time. So how does this cycle change? Certainly not by putting your child on the back burner, but by making yourself one of the responsibilities you're juggling. A mum’s practice of self love is at first glance paradoxical, but not impossible. Hopefully these simple practices can offer some help:

Journaling Incorporating the habit of regular journaling into a mum’s overwhelming timetable can appear to be daunting at first. However, over time, this practice can be one that is both educational and fulfilling. Keeping a journal can allow mums a platform to express all their feelings on a day to day or weekly basis. It can even be a great way to remember a mum’s favorite moments with her children. Most importantly, journaling offers a way to measure personal growth and individual accomplishments. Did you get promoted this week? Journal how that made you feel. Did your child express to you how much they love and appreciate you at random? Journal your reaction, document that memory. While most of us like to believe we remember everything, specific emotions in moments like these are often forgotten and deserve to be cherished. Even something as simple as documenting the things you dream of doing and becoming can have a radical impact on how you view yourself. Using a journal to reminisce on successful times, and even to work through tougher times will swing the door to self love wide open.

Keep things comfortable Almost every mum has had a moment where she compares herself to other mums. The truth is, there will always be a mum who dresses better than you, a mum who cooks a better casserole, or a mum who just seems all around cooler than you are. Being able to love yourself means letting go of these comparisons. As difficult as this may seem, it’s a little bit easier to swallow when looked at through the lens of feeling comfortable. Self love begins and ends with feeling comfortable in your own skin, because you truly are already good enough. When you wake up in the morning, what you wear matters just as much as your overall mindset for the day. In every aspect of life you should attempt to maintain comfort, even in areas that seem trivial, like your wardrobe. Whether it’s feeling secure enough in your friendships to share what’s on your mind, or simply putting on the right bra in the morning that keeps you feeling cozy all day, keeping comfortable is crucial to happiness.

Break the routine Most people tend to lose sight of themselves and their own confidence when they’re trapped in the monotonous. While having a schedule and staying organised is a necessity for most mums, bear in mind that it’s okay to break the routine every once in a while. Life isn’t meant to be spelled out in a planner every single day. Life is meant to be lived. There are few things more freeing than waking up to a day with no schedule, and if you haven’t felt this kind of freedom, that’s a sign that you may be too organized. Pick at least one day each month and do something out of character for you. Treat yourself to some freedom! Be sure to make some time for romance as well, a break in your routine that allows for some quality one on one time with your partner is almost never something you’ll regret . Simply start to practice more spontaneity, a mum who is able to let go of things more is more likely to love who she is.

Though the words selfish and mum are rarely used in the same sentence, these simple self love steps hopefully make it easier for mums to think about themselves more mindfully throughout the day. Most mums hide under a facade that she can do it all and stay positive about herself, but in most cases, what’s under the surface is far from optimistic. If you’re a mum reading this and feeling as though you cannot possibly incorporate all of these suggestions into your schedule, just choose one to start with. Even one of these suggestions could make all the difference on your voyage to accepting that you’re already good enough!

Do relationships have a best before date?

I'm very cynical about supermarkets - the bright lights that blind us from the ridiculous profit margins and the manipulative displays that lead us to a trolley full of three for twos; that's why I am totally cavalier about sell by dates. You may want me to buy it by the fifth Mr Sainsbury but that will not dictate when I eat it. I'd rather trust my eyes, my nose and my taste buds. Aside from an unfortunate incident with a sausage sandwich circa 1999, this methodology has seen me well and saved me many pennies; also each time I flout the rules I enjoy the sense of rebellion. Here's the thing, best before dates are more of an art than a science - one woman's spoiled meat is another's slow roasted stew and the same is true for relationships. Recognising the end of a relationship is as much about the individual as the state of the relationship. I love Gretchen Rubin and her wonderful categorisation system of personality types. She suggests that an upholder accepts rules and is the sort of person who keeps New Years resolutions; a questioner questions rules and accepts them only if they make sense; a rebel flouts rules and resists control and an obliger accepts outside rules. How can an individual personality type effect a relationship? Simply put, have you ever tried to complete a Rubix Cube? Did you toil away until you had that sucker completed or did you chuck it in a corner the minute things got difficult? Neither option is correct, the right choice is the one that brings you the most peace. 

There are a few key times when you must end a relationship - if experiencing abuse or neglect or repeated betrayals but outside of those situations when is the right time to call time? A quick survey of my mates didn't make things any clearer. 

'When things feel bad more often than they feel good.'

'When I'm no longer learning about myself or the other person.' 

'When I start noticing other people in a sexual way.' 

'I have no idea. I always let the other person end it.' 

That being said none of the people questioned regretted the time they spent with previous partners, there was always something to learn about themselves and about the world, things that made their next relationship far better. In short, aside from those rare unperishable unions, most relationships have a best before date because we change and our needs change and that's a lot to put on one person for a life time. If you're asking yourself this question your relationship best before date may be fast approaching and if the contents of that relationship are putrid and slimy, if you wouldn't serve it to a friend or loved one, please throw it away but if it's just a bit tired or wilted, add some spice, make a stir fry and enjoy what you have while you can.

The mums who intimidate me at the school gates

I'm about to start my second term as a school mum. I've gotta say the boy has adapted far better than me. A lot has changed, unlike nursery you're supposed to get to school on time, if possible before it starts. If you have a late night or a craving for pancakes you can't dawdle until you feel like leaving the house. And another thing, although I'm grateful for the free childcare, school finishes mid afternoon and there are all these days they call 'holidays', when they won't take him. There's been a lot of adjustments but the biggest has been the jungle known as the playground. Twice a day I find myself hovering in the shadows of the climbing frame, eyes darting around behind my sunglasses, not knowing where to put myself. The playground is divided into tribes, through careful observation I think I have catergorised each one and they all scare me.

Career Mums - Not women who work, women who make mothering their job. They arrive early and have morning meetings by the gates, I overhear them chatting confidently about charity events and the parent teacher association - things I meant to put in my diary. When they leave I assume it's to check on stew in the slow cooker or stock up on crafting supplies.

Professional Mums - These mums are working and also werkin' it. They race to the gates in make up and heels. Their energy communicates much business and importance. Often they are on their phones, I confess that I am intimidated by people who take phone calls before lunch, it reminds me that the early bird catches the worm and I haven't had a worm in a while. 

Young Mums - So bouncy, so full of life. So young.

Sporty Mums - Have either completed or are about to begin a session of something energetic. I try not to get to close because the endorphins can be overpowering. Even in cold weather I can sense the Lycra under her heavy coat. These women have so many gifts - time, energy, waistlines - I'm not sure what we would have in common. 

DGAF Mums - Don't really fit into any of the above groups and therefore categorised as not giving a toss about assimilation. They sometimes wear leather, tend to have red painted lips and sunglasses, you just know they were the cool girls at school. Their kids have hip names and confident mini swaggers, whatever they're doing in between school hours is nobody's damn business. 

And there are dads of course but they don't fall prey to my assessments. Maybe because I find it harder to compare myself to men, probably because I have accepted societal prejudices that any man doing any childcare gets to do so without scrutiny. 

I spoke to my friend about my uncomfortable drop off experience and she asked me which of the groups I fell into. 

'Well obviously, I'm in none of them. I'm the weird loner Mum.' She thought about this for a minute and pointed out that I often wear leggings (because comfort) and I mostly wear sunglasses (because eye bags) and sometimes I'm rushing off to a meeting (because bills) and from time to time I collar another parent to ask about the Harvest Festival or the next Parents Evening (because I never, ever put anything in my diary). And really, to another mum I could look like any of the mothers I've listed and the mothers I've listed could be feeling exactly like me. This doesn't mean I've got over my playground fear but I'm taking steps to conquer it. I'm gonna look up more this term, make eye contact, maybe bust out a smile or two and give me five or six years and I might feel completely at home. 

Top tips: