Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Out of control? Never...

Have you been convinced that if you tried a little harder, you could make things better?

Wanting to be in control seems to be a universal feminine desire. I have not met a single woman who didn't show signs of this trait. Whether it is keeping her house just "so", fighting those pesky wrinkles appearing around the eyes, being on time, trying to get her kids to behave they way they ought. I am sure there are exceptions to my generalisation, but I do believe that control is something women have struggled with since the dawn of time.

When Eve saw the fruit on the tree she saw it "was good for food, and pleasing to the eyes, and could fill the desire of making one wise. So she took of its fruit and ate." Let me paraphrase in the style of a self-help marketer - "Try this new method of gaining all the insight and understanding you need to live a prosperous life! And it tastes fantastic! Plus it looks great, and will complement any fruit basket!"

It sounds to me like the ultimate self-help offering. And I am sure I still struggle with the same thought processes as Eve. As soon as life gets difficult my first thought is..."I can fix it!! I know I can!! If I just think hard enough and work hard enough at it, I can make things better!" Unfortunately, trying to fix things often means trying to get other people to do the things you want them to do, or to be the way you want them to be. This is where the difficulty of the theory comes in. People (especially husbands and children) can be notoriously difficult at fitting the mould we have for them in our minds. They don't LIKE to fit into our mould. They want to fit into THEIR mould.

This is why being in control so often breaks down into manipulation and blackmail. Because ultimately the idea that we can be in control is a lie. There are two major things in life that we can never control. Other people, and life circumstances. I've already discussed why we can't control other people - because unless they choose to do what we want them to do with their own free will, the life-giving positive relationship breaks down. Kris Vallotton says we can only influence people as much as they have value for us. After that we have to manipulate and "muscle" them to influence them. 

Moving away from people, there are things in life that we can never control, and we all know it. Death, aging, economic climate, weather, accidents, illness. The list goes on. Of course most people in the world spend their lives making variously successful attempts to control these things (how many vitamins do you take in one day?). However, ultimately we cannot be completely protected. So what is the way forward?

What encourages me greatly is that Eve was looking at the apple in her perfect state. She had not yet fallen. This means that the impulse to make things better, to improve things, was part of her original design. She was MEANT to be like that. What she did with that impulse was her tripping point. But I would like to argue that the desire to be in control is an expression of something good that is built into women's nature, and that thing is responsibility.

It is what drives us to make sacrifices for our children, to follow our husbands to new places in search of careers, to cook and clean a house when we are ill, to buy another pair of school shoes instead of a new dress. A woman's nurturing instinct is accepted generally as a part of her makeup, although it is expressed uniquely in each woman.

So how should Eve have stewarded her impulse? - in the beneficial and life-giving form that control was designed to take - self-control. Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, writes a simple equation which brings tremendous freedom from the burden of controlling external factors:

Event + Response = Outcome

We can never be completely in control of events (or people) but we can be completely in control of our response. And that means we can ultimately be in control of every outcome. Of course the real battle is to have a positive response to every event, and that is where self-control comes in. I believe we can build up our self-control with exercise, just like a muscle. In fact, self-control is something our parents have built into us to varying degrees in our upbringing. How many of us remember our mother's reply to our request for a sweet treat at 5'o'clock - "Wait until after your supper". Self-control is a quality that is taken for granted in many areas of adult life, and is forsaken in many other areas to an increasing degree (credit card debt is a fairly modern phenomenon!).  

I am preaching to myself here, I assure you. I have been very lazy in many areas and am only now learning that self-control is a healthy, positive and constructive way to express my natural desire to make things better without manipulating others or living in fear of catastrophe! Every small positive response I make to the situations life brings me will give me an accumulated experience of positive outcomes. It's not easy, but I know it will free me from the bondage of trying to be in control, and that will be worth it.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

How to be the perfect housewife

Yes, I've read the book. Haven't we all? For some reason, women desire to be the perfect everything. And if we don't desire it consciously and strategically as some of us do, somewhere in our subconscious there is a voice that talks quietly to us in those moments of angst (should I blow-dry my hair this morning if I'm staying in all day? Should I? What if someone knocks at the door? What if I have to pop down to the shop for milk? What if someone saw me with...unstyled hair!).

My voice comes from my mother. It was planted deep in my mind at a young age as I used to watch her prepare for her days, at an age when I asked questions of everything. "Mommy, why do you wear make-up?". "Mommy, why don't you wear your pink shoes with your red dress?".

The voice was then fertilised and cultivated during my early teenage years when I started making my own efforts at perfection. This time the questions were asked of me: "You're not really going out looking like that are you?". "What happened to your eyes? You look like you've been in a car accident."

I also watched how my mother kept house; how she looked at (and commented on) other women's houses; and then later I watched my friends and saw how they all had the same thoughts, even though they acted on them in different ways.

During the last few years I have thought long and hard about what perfection is, and I have decided that it is different for every woman. I have found some great books by women who have been through this process. India Knight writes beautifully on women's themes. Try to steer clear of the books that imply everything can be perfect all the time. By all means read them as a foray into  fantasy, and escape from reality if you like. But what is key is to find what perfection is for you. It is the state of things that satisfies the inner voice. I have had to learn to shut down certain thoughts and phrases, to filter out input from sources that feed my angst, and allow in words that bolster my enthusiasm and confidence. Perfection for me is calm, peace and beauty. That is what I work towards every day and it is a joy when I see glimpses of it in my home. I expect it will be a lifetime of trying.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Top tips for getting great Christmas gifts for your kids

No matter how hard we try to make it less "materialistic", the giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas is always one of the biggest joys for families. My children start building up in their excitement just after my daughter's birthday in September. Her's is the last birthday of the year in our family unit and so now when we're standing in the store trying to pry little hands away from toys of desire, we use the promise "maybe you can have it for Christmas" as our scapegoat. This, of course, builds expectation and soon the kids are watching the adverts between kids programmes with lascivious and drooling concentration. "Come and see mummy, quick!! I want THAT one for Christmas".

This is why most parents cannot stand the way children's TV plays on the basic instinct of children to desire what they don't have. It puts so much pressure on us to perform.

Despite this, I must admit that one of my keenest memories of childhood Christmases is the delight at opening my gift to see that, yes! Mummy had been paying attention! There in my hands was the very toy that I had fantasized over for so many weeks. Oh the deep satisfaction of owning the very make and model that I had seen over and over on the television! And the disappointment if my parents had only bought something like the one I had seen, perhaps a slightly cheaper doll with one or two fewer gadgets.

So as a parent I remember the Wow Factor of giving a gift that the child has seen on TV. It really packs a punch of gift-giving satisfaction!! Unfortunately, there is one drawback to this. The toys and games advertised on TV are most often the most desired universally among children in your nation. So they are either exorbitantly expensive, or perpetually out of stock.

Over the last few years I have found a way of bypassing this problem. I call it "Buy Early - Buy Late".

Buy Early-Buy Late
Firstly, decide on one or two gifts that you know your children will like, whether or not they have seen them on TV. These are gifts you know, from experience, will last the test of time. They may be a doll's house, or a video game. It may be Lego, or a Bicycle. Choose these carefully and wisely for their "permanency" factor, or "cost-per-play". In other words, you know your child will play with this item consistently throughout the year and therefore plan to spend a little more on it.

This is the item you need to buy early. Do your research several months in advance. Keep an eye for the item whenever you go shopping, to compare prices and features. Make your decision at least eight weeks before Christmas and stick to it. Then find your supplier and order well in advance for early delivery, or purchase and hide away safely.

This prevents the out-of-time rush when you are trying to buy something of decent and lasting quality.

Secondly, listen carefully to your children when they are crying out with glee at items on the television. You will soon have them burned in your memory!

Now, go shopping very close to Christmas, in fact Christmas Eve is a good idea, first thing in the morning. It is usually dead quiet at the shops, and the shelves are looking chaotic and pretty empty. Large supermarkets are good for this technique, such as Tesco or Asda. You will find that because of the heavy advertising campaigns, they have overstocked on several toy items that you will remember from your children's mad squeals, and they will be marking down crazily to get rid of excess before Christmas is over. Choose one or two sale items that you remember your children have noticed.

Christmas Day Success
With this buying technique, when the big day comes your children will have both the excitement of holding in their hands, in three dimensions, the very item they saw every day for a month on television. Their sighs of ecstasy over this will make your day. And on top of it all you will know that when the novelty of the TV toy wears off (or it breaks, very often by the end of the day), you have spent most of your money on a well-planned and lasting item that will become a fixture in your children's lives. Enjoy!

10 Perennial Favourite Toys

Are you struggling to think of something to get your child? These gifts have stood the test of time. Please leave more suggestions in the comments!

  • Lego Block Set
  • Bicycle & Helmet
  • Baby Doll with some outfits and a bottle
  • Dolls House with figurines and furniture
  • Tonka Trucks
  • Matchbox cars
  • Barbie doll
  • Mr Potatohead
  • Chemistry set
  • Meccano

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The life women long to live

Are you a Yummy Mummy? Are you a Footballer's Wife, or a Sexy in the City Chick?

I have to admit I have moments of desire to have certain aspects of each of these women's lives. Who wouldn't want to live in New York if you had loads of cash?

Around Christmas time the part of my 1950's perfect housewife DNA come floating up to the surface and I start buying homemaking magazines with their too-perfect photographs of homes decked in the ultimate festive decor - everything handmade, organic, local, and TIDY. Every year I have a deep-seated feeling that this Christmas will be the ONE when everything is perfect. The funny thing is that I am never disappointed, because the joy the that comes from hanging two slightly mangled looking handknitted Christmas decorations on the tree is immensely out of proportion to reality.

This blog is about living the life every woman wants to live. We are all slightly schizo when it comes to our dreams and desires. We all want to have a fabulously interesting life filled with top-of-the-charts careers, gorgeous happy talented kids, a husband who adores us and is constantly in awe of how well we do everything, beautiful healthy bodies with a wardrobe to match, and plenty of time to float around happily thinking about how great our life is.

It's time to start celebrating the little glimpses that we have of the life we dream of living. Come back tomorrow and have a peek...

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