Keeping It Together: Looking After Your Relationship In The Midst of Chaos

It can be difficult to find the time and energy to care for your relationship once you have kids. In the exhaustion that comes with having and raising three children under the age of four, we have had our fair share of challenges.

The most difficult thing has been balancing the ever-increasing needs and wants of our children with our needs and wants as a couple, and as individuals. The question of how to ensure the wellbeing of one another, ourselves, and the children, all at once, is not always easy to answer. It’s always a bit of a juggling act and we both have trouble keeping all our balls in the air from time to time: We get tired, tempers fray, balls are dropped, or fly off at unexpected trajectories, sometimes landing on our dear one’s toes. In extreme moments, we may propel them in the direction of our other half on purpose. We’re only human after all.

However, we have developed a weekly practice which helps us to acquit ourselves with grace (or at least equanimity) in the circus arena that is our lives. I thought I would share this idea because it has been very helpful.

It is very simple. We have two meetings a week:

On a Sunday night, we have our Planning Meeting: We spend half an hour going through our plans for the week ahead and decide who will do what and when. For instance, we decide who will be responsible for the creche/nursery run on the relevant days. We discuss plans for the following weekend. We announce ambitions like trying to sort out the kid’s toy collection and so on. We don’t always do everything according to The Plan, but the process of making it give us a structure for the week and sets up basic expectations.

On a Wednesday morning, we have our Reflection Meeting: We begin by talking about things which we think are going well in our lives, then discuss any problems that we have noticed, and anything which is bothering us. We decide how we will attempt to solve issues and resolve whatever is bugging us that week. We will evaluate attempts we have already made and refine our strategies.

We have our planning meeting at home, but have found that it is better to have the Reflection Meeting in a local cafe. For a start, it is pleasant to spend time together away from the house, and this also has a distraction-busting effect because we have no other agenda in this place. We do it at a time when we are not going to be rushed, and we are reasonably fresh. This means that we can broach difficult subjects when they arise, with the best possible chance of responding to each other in a constructive way. We can also dedicate time to celebrating our triumphs and being supportive of one another’s ambitions.

Incidentally, we take baby Evie with us, and she either snoozes in the sling or exchanges gummy grins with the regulars while we talk.

Our Reflection Meeting came about after we saw a video on TED, which features a father describing how his family make use of meetings, and why. Follow this link to watch Bruce Feiler tell you how Agile Programming can help you create balance and harmony in the family household.

As the children grow, I expect our meetings will evolve too. I would like to begin having family meetings with the kids when they are a little older, where we can discuss their successes, their troubles, their wishes, how we should expect one another to behave and what the consequences should be for not doing so. I just read a nice blog post about this. Here it is.

These weekly rituals have been really beneficial for us. Knowing that there is time set aside each week for us to really listen to each other is a reassuring harbour in the tempest of our family life and reaffirms our love of one another. I recommend it.

I would love to hear about more useful ideas for keeping a healthy relationship within the context of raising a family. Please feel free to share thoughts xx


Why People Are Like Whiskies…


Whisky is ‘the water of life’, and miraculous it is too. Forget smoke and mirrors, this is the magic of smoke and grain. Each bottle is the product of a dance between nature and nurture. It floods the senses with its colour, smell, and taste: the result of raw ingredients, and the fermentation, distillation, and containment they have undergone.

There are two main phases in the whisky’s development which define its character:

First, there is the journey of water and grain to become spirit: Barley is soaked in water and thus begins to germinate. Germination  turns the starch in the barley to sugar. Distillers heat the barley sprouts in an oven which halts germination. Sometimes, the oven is wood or peat-fired, and the smoke blows over the grain as it heats. The dried barley is ground and mixed with hot water, then fermented. The resulting ‘wort’ is combined with yeast and left again to ferment further. It is distilled in copper stills, then divided into three cuts: the head, the heart, and the tail. The ‘heart’ is the spirit which will eventually become whisky, known as ‘New Spirit’.

Second, there is the road from Spirit to Whisky:  The ‘New Spirit’ is put into casks and stored in a warehouse for a minimum of three years. It is then an official Whisky, but of course, many are matured much longer than this initial period. The length of maturation, the wood of the cask (usually old bourbon or sherry barrels made of oak), and the size of the cask have a huge influence on the final product.

In this second phase, the New Spirit is turned into an ‘Expression’ of a Whisky. Each expression is a blend of the New Spirit base, and some unique characteristics from the environment it matured in. For example, expressions of Laphroaig Whisky include Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Laphroaig Triple Wood, Laphroaig 10 year old, and Laphroaig 18 year old. You always know you are drinking a Laphroaig, but the product varies depending on the Expression you have.

People are like whiskies because, at the core of our being, we have lots of wonderful potential abilities  which come from our genetic inheritance, natural talents, and personal preferences. This potential is constant, no matter where we are in our lives. Our ‘New Spirit’ if you will. When we enter different phases in our lives we play out our potential through our activities, which vary depending on what is happening to us and where we are. We are each an ‘Expression’ of ourselves within a particular set of circumstances, at a certain time. When our world changes, we can return to our core and begin to express our potential in new ways, so our ‘Expression’ changes too.

Experiences like having a baby, committing to or losing an important relationship, can shake us to our core, and prompt a change of our Expression. When we find it impossible at point b) to operate as we are accustomed to at point a), we have to look inwards, then move outwards, expressing our potential anew. I am not talking about gradual change, but the times when you can see the line between before and after, and wonder at how you are not now as you once were.

One of the challenges and joys of becoming a parent, for the first time and subsequent times, is growing into a new ‘Expression’. I had been hurtling through nine months of being an ever rounder pregnant version of Alexis the Mother of 2, and trying to imagine how life would change. I never gave a great deal of thought to how I might change.

To give a little background, my lifetime as a parent thus far had also been a phase where I was working towards a MSc in Educational Research. I was going to do a PhD as soon as possible. I pictured myself working in a university and giving lectures. Being a realist, I imagined that these would end with rapt applause. I felt a huge amount of conviction about Intercultural Communication, and the topics I had been working on and I really enjoyed conducting and writing up my research. Playing with words and ideas has always done it for me, and this was Word and Idea Palooza.  This future Expression, let’s call her Alexis the Academic, would spend her days dressed in stylish clothes, write fascinating articles about said research, emerge to conduct interviews and give dynamic presentations, and somehow still manage to be a mother.

My current Expression, Alexis the Mother of 2 Masters Graduate, was dishevelled, wrote during nap times, and emerged to look after infants, cook, and make half-hearted attempts to clean stuff off the floor.  I struggled to balance my studies and my family. However, I propelled myself forwards with great effort. Then I got pregnant again. After making half-assed attempts at PhD proposals, I sank into a self-imposed ‘maternity leave’ from academia at 34 weeks. I told myself I would wait six months then return to the task. My reluctance to study was probably just hormones and fear. I was surprised at the extent of my relief to let go of Alexis the Academic, but I decided I would defer judgement.

I had Evie, and my world flew into a spin adjusting to having a newborn in the family. Husband and I agreed that we had underestimated the impact of our leap from a family of four to a family of five (Nope. Not easier than one to two). Now the six months of my ‘maternity leave’ from study has passed, but Alexis the Mother of 3 turns out to prefer that her academic side be dormant for now. Much of my time is given to mothering, but I also have an unquenchable urge to be creative by other means. I want to play with language and ideas through writing blogs and reading, and to enjoy these activities for their own sake. I have my eye on a new career too, but I’ll save that for another post.

Besides, I cannot know in advance how the events of our lives will open or close doors to opportunity. However, I can get myself in sync with what is happening in our lives right now. I can forge a new path, and execute new steps, as far as the situation allows. I can work outwards from my New Spirit and see where its potential leads me this time. I can go with the flow, knowing that one day I will  be shaken into another new Expression. I cannot know the future, but I hope I can be sure of my ability to use my potential within it, even if I am not certain how I will be called to do so.

No harm in a wee dram and a daydream from time to time, though.

Cheers xxx