I want to teach my kids resilience

key life skills to teach kids: resilience


I’ve had mental health on my mind a lot this season. My previous post highlighted some personal stuff from the last year and a half, and I also went through a period of burn-out in the late noughties that was only resolved when I had to take a break with maternity leave. Commuting to London for work did not agree with me! These seasons of life have taught me a lot about my own mental health and the need for a balanced life, one that works for me. We all have different levels of stamina both mental and physical, and the modern behaviour of publicising our best selves on social media has emphasised the struggle with comparison and what makes ‘a good life well lived’ ten-fold. Having children heightened that need for me to listen to what my body tells me, if only because I’m an introvert who gets frazzled after hours of being talked at but also because it has made the weight of responsibility to ‘raise my children well’ more, well, weighty.

And it is. As parents we are well aware of the multitude of skills that our children need to learn to grow into well-rounded adults. Many of these skills they will just pick up by observation of their peers and the adults in their life, whereas others need more careful teaching and modelling. I asked myself what key life skill I want and need to teach my children, and it is obvious to me now that this skill is resilience.

Resilience means that when bad things happen, we have mechanisms in place to help us cope, and important things like sleep and eating well are prioritised. Resilience means learning to ask for help. It means knowing that hard things are not necessarily bad things, and  knowing how to handle disappointment and stress. Resilience means knowing that mistakes are not failures and that learning from them without beating yourself up is important. Resilience means being able to spot the circumstances and situations that affect our mental balance for the good and the bad and to have a plan to manage our well-being so we are not caught short. Resilience means not being tossed around by every wind of life but developing a thick enough skin to not constantly live offended or hurt. It means not hiding away from difficult conversations about what life is really like; showing them that their value does not lie in perfection or in trying to be someone they are not but in knowing who they are; teaching them to be prepared to work to achieve what they want and how to manage their emotions.

Resilience means moving on, learning from the bad, embracing the new, and learning to be adaptable and flexible. It is a huge skill to hone over a lifetime and I have barely scratched the surface, but I would rather my kids already had a good grounding to work from. It’s a daunting task to be honest, and really, it does bear the question ‘what the hell was I thinking wanting to have kids in the first place?!!’ Thankfully, it is hard but also fun and interesting and you learn as much from your kids as they learn from you, and thank goodness for that!


A Year of Sour Lemons

citrus lemon and lime

It’s kind of interesting how different people cope (or not) with the same thing in different ways. Everybody has a different trigger point, a different level of resilience. What one person will sail through, another will struggle with as if through sinking sands. Some people have incredible levels of energy that allow them to always be on the go, moving from one activity to another, engaging with people all day and still finding reserves for socialising in the evenings, and loving their life. Others, not so much!

I’ve been suffering with a fluctuating mental health this last year, specifically anxiety, and it has made me realise, amongst other things, that I shouldn’t try to compare my resilience levels with others. I’ve found a lot of people online for whom blogging through their mental health problems like depression and anxiety was helpful and empowering, a form of therapy, whereas my well of motivation dried up like an old prune. The mental exertion of dwelling in deeper thoughts was leaving me feeling more tired and anxious. I haven’t been able to write, despite loving and missing it. Part of my coping regimen, such as it is, has been to relax through reading superficial material (e.g. trashy novels!).

After a year of barely keeping my head above water, I am pushing myself out to be proactive again, in part because winter is especially hard for me and I have to be prepared. I am using whatever reserves of energy I have to plan things I enjoy, that are restful rather than draining. And I would love to be up to blogging again.

I’ve not suffered from noticeable mental health issues before, if you discount a short time in my late teens when I had psychosomatic symptoms from stress. A one-time intervention from a psychologist pretty much purged a whole lot of unhelpful expectations I had put on myself and I never suffered from that type of pain ever again – one of the biggest light-bulb moments of my life. Counselling is so helpful and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Anxiety strikes us in different ways. Some people are well acquainted with it and have had to learn coping techniques early on, with or without medication. Others, like me, find that their personal circumstances change and compound to a level where the body and mind no longer react to events in the way they used to.

These last 18 months have just been a bucket full of shit for us as a family, and I found that things that I would have coped with fine on their own, piled up in such a way that I no longer could. It was unexpected, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. If you want an idea of the things that led to this crisis, they are, in no particular order, the Brexit vote and its implications for me and my family both as an EU citizen and as someone who loves the UK, by extension the relentless bad news on TV, the fall out from the death of a close relative in late 2016, a phobia of sickness and Luciole’s long term bout of sickness – think one sick bug after another from end of November 2016 to late February 2017 – that landed her in hospital two days before Christmas. I did finish my business course with flying colours, but that’s about the only majorly positive thing that’s happened in a year and a half. All of these things conspired to turn me from a well-adjusted adult (so says I, you may disagree 😃) to a very anxious person suffering from all manners of physical symptoms, not sleeping or eating well and generally feeling completely unable to get control of my body or mind’s reactions.

Having got to the point where the anxiety was affecting my daily life, I decided that enough was enough and took myself to the doctor who gave me medication along with a look of  ‘I’m not surprised you’re stressed’ when I explained the last year (the acknowledgement was reassuring). She sent me to counselling via the NHS Time To Talk service, which I am doing for the next little while in the form of self-guided telephone support with a trained counselor. I am also planning activities to enjoy over the winter. Obviously winter itself is a bit of a trigger for anxiety and fear around my sickness phobia, and I get a bit down at this time of year with S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Syndrome) and struggle with the dark afternoons and general lack of light. Planning ahead is therefore key to my success in not taking it lying down.

This said, I’m doing stuff, but not too much; ‘doing’ always tires me out if overdone. I’m also doing some mindfulness and breathing exercises and generally taking each day as they come. So I may blog, or I may not, but my absence is not for lack of desire. Thinking positive thoughts and cutting short negative thoughts is pretty much a full-time job.

But you know what? I’m much more aware of the fact that you literally cannot tell what’s around the corner, you cannot plan for an unknown future and you cannot control everything. The most important is to be present in all things, to listen to your body and your mind, to take note of what they are telling you and to take care of yourself. And not to expect your healing and self-care to look like everyone else’s.

Being a French national in the UK in 2017


I’m a French citizen, an EU citizen, and soon to be a really shitty bargaining chip and statistic in the Brexit negotiations, my entire life, relationships and work activity reduced to a label, supposedly so that UK citizens can get a better deal in what must be the most staggeringly fast descent into drunken decision-making by a supposedly sober UK government. Cheers for that, makes me feel really welcome.

Brexit taking its toll

The whole of last year has been met with increasing disbelief, anxiety and anger in our house, and I don’t suppose it is going to get any easier. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ll remember this last year as ‘the easy one’ compared to what’s about to go down for UK citizens, British citizens abroad and EU citizens (and their often British families) in the UK. I’d be delighted to be proved wrong but I suspect otherwise, as I don’t live in La La Land.

But honestly, I feel slightly ill, like, all the time now. I had a whole period last month of complete indigestion and feeling awful that was entirely related to stress. I’ve never been ill with stress and anxiety before but it wasn’t difficult to identify the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the constant tiredness. It’s not a mental state you have any control over, and I was almost bed-ridden with it. My husband noted I behaved really out of character and withdrew completely, and he was right. The feelings of alienation, dismay, anxiety, and just, utter sadness over what could happen to this country I love and to us EU citizens, are overwhelming.  The sheer paucity of experience that is looming for future UK generations, is just staggering to me.

It’s all been said before, and I’m no political expert but no one cares about experts anymore, and no one’s listening to us anyway, so I’ll add my voice to the silent millions. I can’t get over the government’s rhetoric on Brexit, the sheer deluded optimism, the hypocrisy, the willingness to throw themselves under the (red) bus with a half-assed plan because ‘the people said so’, and the willingness to leave millions of British families in limbo across Europe and the UK without guarantees in order to, what, achieve ‘as good a deal’ as if the UK was still in the EU. You don’t need much expertise or common sense to know how unlikely that scenario is, I mean, come on! As good a deal? Why on earth would the EU do that? I suspect that the UK’s posturing is going to cause the good will of the EU countries to disappear all the quicker. More recently I can’t help but wonder at the amount of cognitive dissonance the government must go through to be using the exact same Remain arguments to keep Scotland in the Union whilst pursuing the hardest Brexit imaginable. How do you do that? The sheer hypocrisy is just staggering, and again, MPS are not batting an eyelid at this and dissenting voices are few (but much appreciated, special mentions should go to Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine, John Major and the LibDems).

Living in the UK before Brexit

I came to the UK in 1998. I was 18, and the first thing I did was to register for National Insurance, so that I could pay my taxes in the UK, and after my first month adjusting to people’s accents, I started work. Apart from a couple of months of unemployment in early 1999, I have worked consistently in the UK ever since. I took a career break in 2012 to look after the kids, and rejoined the workforce in 2015.

In all of this time, the UK government has shown no interest in my status as an EU citizen. There was no ‘welcome to the UK’ paperwork to be filled so they would have a record of who I was, no checking that I still lived here over the years, no telling me of any special requirements to get insurance if I stopped work. Nothing. People complain about EU citizens coming into the UK to steal jobs, but your government doesn’t even keep a record of who comes in, which they are within their right to do under EU Law, they just chose not to. Now I am applying for Permanent Residency (PR) to secure my acquired rights of residence ‘just in case’, but because I was on break with the kids in the last 5 years and I didn’t have Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (because the government didn’t tell anyone about it), I can’t use the last 5 years to apply but must go back to 2007 and prove not only work activities for 2007-2012 but proof of residence and absences from the country for the whole period up to now. Do you remember when you went on that weekend break to Bruges back in 2009? Do you still have your council tax letter from 2007? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

I guess I’m just grieving at the moment. Being part of the EU has added so much to my life. I have visited places I never would have done otherwise, simply because I could and it was convenient and fun, without having to jump through the hurdles of Visa applications. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be a part of an organisation that, for all its faults, and they are many, enables you to travel, live, study and work in 27 other countries freely, no questions asked. I’m not a big globetrotter and if the EU hadn’t opened the doors for me, I likely would never have come to England, made my life here, met my British husband and had my British children. I would have just gone down the traditional French route of local university and work without second thoughts. Instead, I asked ‘why not England?’ and gave it a try.

I have never worked in France. I don’t have a French social security number or a Carte Vitale. I have never paid taxes in France or lived there as an adult; I don’t know the first thing about working or living in France. I love living in England; it is, quite simply, home. I love speaking English and engaging with the culture and I have worked hard to assimilate because I loved it. I always thought Britain was particularly special and wonderful for its multiculturalism, liberal values and openness to the world. That changed last year, which was a terrible shock made worst for these views being embedded by the government with little challenge and causing all EU citizens to feel unwelcome and second-rate at best, and unsafe at worst.

British Citizenship then? Why not?

I understand when people ask me why I have not taken up British Citizenship before. Aside from the fact that I am not so well off that I have £1.5k lying about for such a purpose, the whole point is that I’ve never needed to. In my earlier years, I wouldn’t have done it because I didn’t feel British, I didn’t have the money -and I didn’t need to-, and later on, when I felt more settled, and I guess, more British, yes I can’t vote, which has been frustrating but not a game changer for me personally, but I still didn’t have the money, AND I DIDN’T NEED TO. That is the beauty of being an EU citizen, the flexibility, experience, opportunity and rights that it affords, not just to members of other European countries but to Brits too. As an EU citizen, aside from voting, there is no added benefit to having a British passport, and once we leaves the EU, there will be even less so. I can’t help but feel that my EU citizenship is ingrained in my identity, a fact I didn’t know until it was threatened.

There is no doubt in my mind that this path that the UK is on, is one that is making the country smaller, not bigger. So I am not rejoicing in any feeling of superiority for believing I am on the right side of the argument; I don’t wish to tell Cornwall and Wales to ‘suck it up’ and I won’t be laughing when their funding disappears and poverty rises (the least surprising outcome of this whole debacle as far as I can see, and again, those who are surprised/shocked/disappointed, what on earth were you expecting?).

We are ALL going to lose and suffer from this outcome. I am grieving the fact that so many on this island feels so insecure in its identity that they would rather blame others for their problems than take a good look at themselves (and I mean ‘they’ the government primarily, for failing to address the issues emphasised by Brexit).

Britain is not going to be Great Again. It was already Great, and it doesn’t even know it, because it thinks that being the top dog is what being Great is about. I still think that the vote was in part dictated by misplaced nostalgia about the olden days of its Empire, and just yesterday I saw an interview with Indian politician and historian Shashi Tharoor highlighting the problems of Empire thinking and not learning from the past. There is no Empire without crushing the little people, and there lies the path to protectionism, alienation, isolation, racism and war. When your foreigners and your poor are the first to suffer, you should know you are on a dangerous path. There has been little talk about the fact that since the birth of the EU, European countries have been at peace with each other, and that is the European Union’s greatest achievement. That we know so little of our history, to take this for granted, and could squander it away on the hope of a stronger economy that the government had every power to work on whilst in the EU but did not out of self-interest, is frightening indeed.

The media has gone quiet and is offering little in way of challenge. Objections to Brexit are being described as unpatriotic and grieving Remainers told to ‘shut up and put up’. Remainers love their country as passionately as their Leave counterparts, and yet are vilified for expressing dissent, or simple concern over the process. Without criticism, there is no real democracy and shutting down dialogue is destructive. I am convinced that many Leave voters are also concerned about the path the government is taking, but where are their voices? You are allowed to want to be measured, you are allowed to hold more than one opinion on the subject; you are entitled to disagree with the government whilst still believing in the reason you voted Leave. The world is not black and white, and this is too complex an issue to be reduced to Deal or No Deal slogans and jumping off the cliff without a net. How confident are you in your government?

That’s probably enough from me. I suspect that in the end, EU citizens already in the UK will be allowed to stay. The public outcry and practicalities of trying to expel 3 million people and break up British families, make it nearly unthinkable. Not impossible, mind you. After last year, anything is possible. But will we want to stay? In this climate where we are being blamed for the state of the UK, when racism and abuse are on the rise, our fears are very real. The government refuses to extend the hand of friendship to us, as would be the decent moral thing to do, and instead dangles us in front of the EU for a reciprocal agreement, which the EU would have no reason to reject, but cannot confirm until Britain starts the Article 50 process. The ball is in Britain’s court but it is behaving as if it expects the EU to treat people badly, which says more about the UK than it does about the EU. It makes me mad, and sad, and uncertain about the future.

The 2nd language problem that doesn’t get easier with time

language problem

You would think that after 18+ years in England, I would have pretty much faced all the language issues I ever would and I’d be able to draw a line under ‘English language skills’. I dare say my skills are pretty advanced at this stage (apart from ‘mysterious accent that comes up from time to time’) and yet, I still regularly face this one particular language problem, thanks to the most confounding aspects of language-learning, how to pronounce people’s names. There’s nothing worse than getting someone’s name wrong and having to ask them to repeat it not once but several times over, and yet the pitfalls appear to be endless.

One of my early challenges was when I started to work in a bank’s back office taking calls about account problems, part of my grand plan to tackle big language hurdles in a gradual way. The first stage was ‘learn to understand people face to face’. This stage at the bank was the ‘talk to people on the phone’ (ie when you can’t see their face and body language to guess what they might be saying) and stop getting scared that they’re going to be Scottish and you won’t understand a word. I had to call someone called Thompson, and, you guessed it, made a real hash of it and must have sounded like a complete moron. How was I supposed to know you didn’t pronounce it ‘thump-son’?

At my next job, I had a colleague called Siobhan, who I avoided talking to for ages because I didn’t even know where to begin to try working it out!

Nowadays, you would think I wouldn’t have this struggle any more. Not true. I currently work for a lovely lady called Paula. She’s Dutch. Her name’s pronounced Paola, and I still occasionally forget this. And then there’s this other person that I mostly email but occasionally need to call and her name is Grainne. I can’t remember how to say it from one week to the next, and I’m positive I am actually going to have to make myself a phonetics note to keep for such occasions that I need to speak to her, lest I embarrass myself once again.

I guess the moral of this story is that you never stop learning, neither should you expect to or settle in thinking you have seen it all!

Internet Dating Tips for Sceptics

Internet Dating Tips

I’m never quite sure how people will react when I tell them that Badgerman and I met through ‘a mutual friend’ a.k.a. the Internet but there’s often an element of surprise and a look that says ‘Really? Internet dating?’ as if it were a really strange thing to do. If I were to take a guess, ‘The Look’ most often appears due to one of the following beliefs about internet dating:

  • Internet dating is full of weird people
  • Internet dating isn’t safe
  • Internet dating doesn’t work
  • Internet dating is for hook-ups, not for serious relationships
  • Internet dating is not as good as good old-fashioned real-life meetings with people

Obviously, having done internet dating (be it a long time ago now) and eventually married the last internet date I went on, I disagree with all of these and here’s why:

1. Internet dating is full of weird people

I’m not going to disagree; I had a couple of close encounters with strange fellows in my time. Still, it’s a bit of a moot point imo, the world is full of strange people full stop. It all depends what people mean by weirdness anyway. There’s no shame in having a special interest (the first version of my dating profile was written under the influence of a large glass of Pinot Grigio and included something about ‘I love cheese’ that was swiftly removed once the dust had settled… Thankfully you can be a nerd or a geek these days without embarrassment so you don’t have to pretend not to like sci-fi and fantasy).

Does the internet attract more than its fair share of weirdness? Possibly but that’s what vetting systems are for, not just for the type of person you are looking for, but who you respond to, and every sensible person online should think through the safety systems they want to put around them to act as alarm bells when weirdness happens.

2. Internet dating isn’t safe

I guess the misconception that internet dating isn’t safe comes from the fact that when you meet a new person at a bar, pub or club, it takes place in a social setting and you may already be out with friends when it happens. Internet dating is by nature a lot more intentional, so that your first physical meeting with the person will be in the context of a date, alone with someone you have never met before.

The key to ensuring your internet dating experience is as safe as possible is to set a few rules for yourself. As for me, I chose to:

  • Only interact a few times via email. Avoid long written conversations that go on for weeks. It’s very easy to be open about yourself on paper, and it is likely that you wouldn’t divulge a great number of personal info this quickly to the person if you met them face-to-face.
  • If after a few emails you find the person interesting enough, you might want to chat on the phone a handful of times before meeting up for a date, or go straight for the date. I’m an introvert and talking on the phone is always a particular kind of awkward, but it helped as a sort of vetting system: from a couple of telephone conversations, I was able to tell that I would have no chemistry with one particular guy, and another bloke was one of the weird ones (as in, he told he thought French people were weird, and wanted to meet me at my house. Er, no.)

Then when you meet with people, use common sense and:

  • Make sure that someone knows where you’re going
  • Have your phone on you.
  • Don’t have a first date at night or for dinner, go for coffee in a public place during the daytime; this way, you don’t have to endure a long dinner and large expense if it doesn’t work out, and you don’t have to invent an excuse. If it goes well, you’ll get to the dinner date eventually.

3. Internet dating doesn’t work

Actually, it works for a lot of people, or there would be no market for it. Even accounting for inflated advertisement statements about the % of people who find love, there is still a large number of people with great long-term success stories. Apart from my own self, I know a few other couples, both family and friends who have found long-term, lifelong partners* after meeting on the internet.

Just like any kind of dating, success depends in part on what you want and where you’re at. Happiness may be found in romantic entanglements but it should not be its sole source. More simply, you can’t love anyone else in a healthy way unless you love yourself first. If you hate your life, sort that out first and be happy with who you are, rather than hoping to find fulfillment in another flawed human being. You can’t give what you don’t have! It doesn’t have to be perfect, but self-loathing individuals are unlikely to attract well-rounded others. If your sense of worth is closely linked to your romantic relationship (or lack thereof), it will come across in how you relate to your dates and may well put them off.

4. Internet dating is for hook-ups not serious relationships

Look, Tinder is for hook-ups. Free dating sites are more likely to attract people looking for hook-ups but their profiles will likely be telling, and their photos even more so. If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff even further, register with a paying site, you are more likely to find people with similar outlooks on life there. There’ll still be trolls, but like I said before, the world is full of strange folks, and liars too, just be realistic and use discernment by exchanging a few emails and phone conversations, and if you feel uncomfortable at any point, run for the hills. Life’s too short to waste on rubbish dates that could have been avoided if people paid more attention to the warning signs. And don’t beat yourself up if you fall for it; we all make mistakes!

5. Internet dating is not as good as good old-fashioned real-life meetings with people

Meeting with people in real life is definitely more helpful if you actually want to be in a relationship ;-). This is why I think it’s important to move on from the initial online contact to a meeting in person without too much delay. It’s better to set expectations low and be pleasantly surprised, than to build a mental picture of a person through emails and suffer the disappointment of a complete lack of chemistry. You just can’t tell who you’ll fancy.

It’s also very well to want to meet people in bars and clubs, but sometimes your neighbourhood can feel small and uninspiring, and the ocean of little fishes feel like a dirty pond. Internet dating is, in my opinion, as good an option as any in order to meet a wide range of new people and have fun, casual dates that broaden your horizon and help you know better the kind of person you are looking for (and the kind you are not!).

* Obviously, I don’t have a magic ball, so I can’t tell you whether it will last til death do them part but that is certainly the kind of commitment they are displaying.