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Women founders continue to come up against common challenges and biases

Written by Kelly Devine, Division President UK & Ireland, Mastercard

Starting a business may have historically been perceived as a man’s game, but this couldn’t be further from reality. Research shows women are actually more likely than men to actively choose to start their own business – often motivated by the desire to be their own boss or to have a better work-life balance and spend more time with their family.

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woman between two childrens sitting on brown wooden bench during daytime

Some time ago, I met my lovely friend for a drink, straight off the train from London. She told me about a very intense performance review she had at work recently, which, although scary, was incredibly useful; it gave her a general sense of how she was doing and areas to work on.

And it struck me we don't get this feedback as parents. Am I doing a good job? I have no idea.

I'm not expecting a formal meeting to discuss my parenting expertise (who would even run that meeting? The health visitor? My partner?) but the only sense I ever get of how I'm doing as a mum is from my internal perspective. And I veer wildly from thinking I'm doing alright to admonishing myself for being a terrible mother.

Usually, I feel that way when I've made a mistake or when one (or both) of my kids behave exceptionally bad in public. Nothing makes you question your parenting skills more than having to physically remove a screaming toddler from a busy soft play or losing your temper doing homework with your five-year-old.

I tried asking my children for feedback, but I was left disappointed if I expected them to say anything productive or profound. Truthfully I was hoping they'd say something adorable about me being a great mum and that just being myself was everything they needed, but I didn't get that. I asked – "what makes a good parent?" Frank, who is five years old, said, "giving their kids sweets and letting them do whatever they want all the time."

Ever the opportunist. And when I asked Bill, who is three years old, "what makes a good mama?" he said – "fierce, good at hunting, and a really loud roar." And then I remembered I was supposed to be pretending to be a lion with him. We never circled back to it. And if I'm honest with myself, my roar is mediocre at best, and my hunting skills are also lacking.

Evaluating yourself is hard. It's even harder when attempting to assess your parenting because there's no set guide and nothing to count, measure, or quantify.

There's no clear way to tell if you're making the right decisions or doing a good job. I've always been bad at taking criticism, and nothing is more personal and more likely to sting than pointing out your failings as a mum. And there are no targets to hit essentially, except one end goal – simply molding them into half-decent adults.

So let's review. Am I patient enough? Fun? Do I spend enough time playing with them? Is it bad that I need a break from them sometimes, or that I occasionally hide really well during a game of hide and seek so I can have a minute to myself? Are they safe, are they happy, are they healthy? What do I do well? What can I do better?

Shall we measure our success as mums by how tidy our house is, how well behaved our kids are, or whether they're wearing matching socks and mittens or not? We're all just stumbling around in the dark, aren't we? A bit of soul searching can be helpful, but ultimately, getting through to bedtime most days is an achievement.

I've given myself two mini targets – less shouting (deep breaths, guys), and to put my phone away a bit more.

Parenting can be boring, and it's tempting to scroll through Twitter or tackle today's wordle, but if I put my phone out of reach for a while, I find myself picking up on things I would have missed, and I'm more present. I'll keep assessing myself and trundling along as best I can, and maybe I'll get some proper feedback from my tiny little bosses one day.

How much should they know about a war going on right now?

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I've always talked openly to the boys about most things; it wasn't a conscious decision so much as an instinctive one.

When they got to the age where they could ask questions, I started answering as honestly as I could whilst keeping their age and level of understanding in mind.

So when Frank asks me about soldiers and battles when we visit castle ruins, or when Bill finds a tampon and asks me what it is, or if they ask me if I believe in God – I answer honestly and simply omit a few details that they probably aren't ready for yet.

I didn't need to bring up the Russian invasion of Ukraine; they have heard about it on the radio, they've overheard grown-ups talking, and as all parents can attest – children's minds are sponge-like, and they are way more aware than we give them credit for.

Bill is three and Frank five. So what should they know, or not know, about a war happening right now?

Bill asked me out of the blue if Weymouth was in Ukraine, possibly, I think, because we have family who lives there. And when we drive over, it seems like a long drive for him, enough for a three-year-old to consider that it may be in a different country.

I assured him it was not and that Ukraine was much further away.

I asked him if he had any more questions and was worried. He said he wasn't afraid, but he did ask many geographical questions, which I was happy to answer.

Frank is really interested in tanks and military history, especially World War I, so naturally, when bombing and troops were mentioned on the radio, I was accosted with a flurry of questions.

For him, it's very much related to his interest in history and war generally. I don't think he has any concept of the true horror of war, past or present.

He once told a shocked volunteer at Corfe Castle that war was his "favourite". I explained that he means he enjoys finding out about soldiers and castles. He doesn't fully understand the human cost (of course, he doesn't – he's five!).

Can any of us truly understand the horror of war without experiencing it firsthand?

When I read about the sheer numbers of lost lives in any conflict, I struggle to properly grasp the level of terror and loss. My mind simply can't fathom it.

As Stalin said, "the death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic".

With Frank almost venerating war in some ways, I think it's important that I explain to him how awful it is. This week we've talked about families packing up and leaving their homes. We've spoken of bomb shelters, babies being born in hospital basements, the concept of refugees, and how we can help.

Its easy for a little boy to want to focus on the heroism of soldiers, which is fine, and there's certainly a lot of inspiration to be found from the Ukrainian resistors.

But I want him to have some understanding of the fact that war isn't glorious; it's terrifying, it's barbaric, and as always, it's the disadvantaged people that suffer most. I'm talking about the Russian soldiers too. Young men sent to fight a war they very likely do not agree with, while the children of Russian oligarchs enjoy their lavish life in London. Frank is aware, too, that the invasion of Ukraine is not the only war going on right now.

I disagree with the idea that discussing war, poverty, famine, racism, or inequality with children as young as mine is in any way inappropriate. I'm creating a foundation that I hope to build on as they grow and mature. I think it would be more damaging to keep them in ignorance, lie, or neglect to answer questions properly.

And ultimately, they are going to hear about big world events, and I'd rather they came to me with questions than worry about it privately. I don't show them any distressing images or videos, and they have no concept of long-range or nuclear missiles.

For them, conflict is far away in different countries, so they feel safe. They feel empathy for Ukrainian people, especially the children, which sometimes makes them feel sad, and I am OK with that.

They should. It is sad. That is an appropriate response.

And they have a sense of how lucky they are to be safe, not to have to flee their homes or worry about war personally. We talked about what toys they would pick if they did have to leave home and seek refuge, and I had a lump in my throat discussing that with them.

For the boys, it was a completely hypothetical scenario, though, and they happily bickered about which teddy would be chosen.

I understand the impulse to want to shield children from bad news, from stories of war or terrorism, but it is possible to engage with them about these horrific topics without traumatising them.

You know your kid; you know what they can understand and how sensitive they might be to the subject matter.

But ignoring what is happening is futile. And my God – how fortunate are we to have the luxury to control when and how our kids find out what war is. A privilege denied to so many parents the world over.

For this, I will never stop feeling incredibly lucky and so very, very sad.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

There’s a lot of parenting advice out there. Some good, some bad, and some very unwelcome. There’s hundreds of books and blogs and contradictory opinions floating around. Or not so much floating as being rammed into our faces. Here’s five times that nuggets of parenting advice didn’t go so well for me.

1. Give your kid choices

The logic is sound; give your child the illusion of choice and they feel like they have some autonomy even with things that are non-negotiable. For example you could say; “would you like to tidy up before we read a story, or after”? The tidying is happening regardless, but this way they feel like they’ve got a choice in the matter. I’ve used this tactic a few times successfully but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Example – I was doing the school run with Bill and we needed to cross the road. He didn’t want to hold my hand because he’s three and way too cool for that. I asked him; “would you like to hold my hand really tight, or soft?” He looked at me square in the face with those green eyes and just said – “I don’t want to hold your hand AT ALL”. Ah. This is where it gets tricky. Because he has to hold my hand; especially navigating the chaos of school run traffic with parents parking over double yellows, mounting curbs, and basically just acting like school pick up is a motor version of the hunger games. Equally, if I were to ask Frank if he would like to tidy his Lego before or after a snack I am confident his response would be to not tidy at all. I can frame it as a choice as much as I like, it’s just not going to work if its something they really don’t want to do. Maybe it worked better when they were younger. But as soon as Bill could say “no” he realised opting out of these quaint little fake-choice set ups was an option. Also – I am incredibly indecisive so if someone were to offer me endless choices all day I’d likely go insane.

2. Sleep when the baby sleeps

Ah yes, this one is a classic. Usually brought out when your baby is a newborn and you’re wading in a fog of exhaustion. There’s a couple of problems with this one though; it assumes that you only have the one kid. So the idea is that when your newborn is sleeping you can power down too…unless you’ve got a toddler/older child running around that needs supervision and then its impossible. And even if you don’t have a toddler to contend with it’s still a massive luxury to be able to nap when your newborn naps. Because there’s also other stuff to do – washing, eating, expressing milk, showering, cooking (possibly). And just general adult stuff. As they get older you hope they will sleep in the night like most humans but often don’t, and then it becomes almost a reverse of this advice nugget. More like – try and sleep when your child allows you to. Often in a broken, dysfunctional way that leaves you zombie-like for work, a shell of your former sleep-fuelled self. Sleep when the baby sleeps? What about if your baby is two and not sleeping in the night at all but you have work in the morning? It just doesn’t work.

3. Verbalise their feelings

This is quite a decent piece of advice actually but I think I get it wrong sometimes. The basic premise is that when they’re young it’s hard for them to say what’s bothering them and that giving names to their feelings can be really useful and (hopefully) stop any lashing out. Example – Bill is mad that Frank is playing with his favourite T-Rex and goes to smack his brother in the head with a Triceratops. I say “I can see that you’re cross about Frank playing with the toy you want, that must be really frustrating. Lets see if we can take turns with the T-Rex”. Sometimes it helps diffuse the situation. Other times it doesn’t work so well. For example we rocked up to a soft play that was full and had to go home. Bill started kicking off and I said “you must be really disappointed that we can’t go in and play”. Yeah – no shit, Mama. The fact I’ve “verbalised his feeling” doesn’t mean that he’s going to handle this particular situation any better. I imagine its the equivalent of me turning up to the pub and it being closed, and honestly? I’d be stamping my foot and crying too. Once I was trying to calm Frank down and said “OK I know you’re cross” and he screamed back “I’M NOT CROSS I’M REALLY REALLY MAD”. Fair enough. In that moment I had the feeling that me ‘getting down to his level’ (as per parenting advice) and calmly telling him how he he felt was actually kind of patronising, and really unwelcome. If I was mad and someone did the same I think it would make me feel worse. So yes, sure – verbalise their feelings. But it won’t always be helpful.

4. Let your kid take the lead

I read this somewhere once and its just not my parenting style. I wouldn’t let my two decide when its time for bed, or what to do with an afternoon, or what to have for dinner because the answers would be never, play computer games, and pizza. Every night. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes ask what they fancy eating, especially if we take them out, or sometimes I might ask if they have ideas for something to do in half term (tank museum, anyone?) But they can’t just take the lead because simply – they make bad decisions. They would stay up too late. They would eat rubbish non stop. They wouldn’t do homework or make their beds. And of course that’s normal – they’re kids. I wouldn’t expect them to be responsible and that’s why I don’t let them be in charge. Plus they might find being in charge exhausting; I find making tough decisions and being an adult pretty tiring. Maybe its better to let them be kids and we can be the grown ups and put in a healthy routine for them. To each their own though.

5. Cherish every moment

There are plenty of moments to cherish, but every moment? No – I don’t think so. Poo explosions in the under 1s group. Screaming in the supermarket (the baby, not me. I saved it for the car ride home). Masisitis. C section scars. Tantrums. Freezing your tits off in the park whilst making awkward small talk with another mum by the swings. There’s a lot of moments that are un-cherisable; but that doesn’t mean you don’t cherish them. And although I would have given anyone who gave me this advice in the midst of the four month sleep regression a withering look, the years when our kids are young really do fly by. I could do with cherishing a bit more really. Its a blink of an eye and suddenly they’re crawling, walking, and then running into nursery without a second glance back at you. The cherish-able moments are often ones that hit you on a rainy Sunday when they snuggle up to watch a movie, when they put their arms all the way around you for a hug, or when they say something so funny and grown up it takes your breath away a little. Do we enjoy every moment? Of course not, no. Those moments? Definitely. They sustain us through the 3am night feeds and supermarket tantrums.

In the end we have to forge our own path and do what’s best for our families; advice is something we can listen to and happily ignore if it's not for us, or try and later abandon if needed. And there’s some really decent tips out there too. Just pick and choose the helpful bits like a parenting pick n mix, and do what you can to make it to bedtime.

person sitting on top of gray rock overlooking mountain during daytime
Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Mental strength is not about being tough.

It is about having the ability to live authentically and cope with what life throws at you. The following 14 suggestions can help you strengthen your mindset and your motivation.

1) Know where you are going: Define your "Rich and Meaningful Life"

Some call it self-actualization. You get a sense of pride, contentment and even security when you achieve your goals. When you remain stuck and floundering, it often negatively impacts your mood and self-esteem. It feels like nothing will ever change.

2) Act with purpose

You only have so much time and energy. Just like you would not take every exit off the highway, you do not want to get side-tracked and waylaid by acting impulsively. Knowing what a rich and meaningful life looks like to you provides the destination. Before acting, or when you find yourself reacting, stop and beta test: take a breath, evaluate the situation, think about the best response to get you closer to your goals, and Act tentatively.

3) See the big picture

Notice the gifts and the challenges. Reflect on which parts are and are not within your control. Commit to using your energy to address the things within your control.

4) Take care of yourself

This can be done by physical health, sleep, nutrition, hydration, pain management and self-compassion.

5) Cooperate instead of compete

Embrace your strengths and minimize the impact of your weaknesses. How can you mitigate your weaknesses? What resources or people have your weaknesses as strengths? How can you synergize?

6) Be better today than yesterday

Stop comparing yourself to other people. You do not know their story or what they are sacrificing. What is one thing you can do today to make it better than yesterday?

7) Use emotions as catalysts

Emotions are like smoke alarms designed to tell you that something might need to be done. Dwelling on distress only drains your energy. Change the situation. Change your response to the situation. Let it go or choose to stay miserable.

8) Take back your power with forgiveness

Make a list of your guilts and regrets. Make a list of your resentments. Recall the event. Explore what will happen if you let go of the anger. Learn from it to create safety and positive self-talk. Make amends if needed—separate behaviors from the person. Adjust your expectations. Empathize without minimizing. Forgive smaller things first. Write a letter and share your feelings and release past hurt.

9) Embrace change

Things are constantly changing. Every experience has the ability to change you. Practice radical acceptance– It is what it is. When change knocks, view it as an opportunity to create a win-win. How can I make this work for me? What changes in your life can you embrace?

10) Learn from, don’t dwell on the past

Just like resisting change is like spinning your wheels in the mud, dwelling on the past means you are consistently stealing energy from your present and giving it to your past. Mistakes are a part of life. Learn from them, so you do not repeat them. Make amends when necessary. What regrets, resentments, unpleasant memories do you continue to dump energy into? How could you learn from or process those situations, so they did not steal energy from your present?

11) Focus on what you can control

Virtually nothing is 100 per cent within your control. Emotions are triggered. How you cope is in your control—health changes. How you respond is in your control. People act from their own reality. How you react to them is in your control. The world may be in upheaval. How you react is in your control. What things in your life are good? What aspects can you control? What challenges are you facing? What aspects can you control?

12) Celebrate other people’s successes

This improves connection with them and increases oxytocin, your bonding hormone. It also increases the chances of celebrating and supporting you and reinforces the notion of abundance. Who do you envy? How can you celebrate their success? How can you reframe their success as a both/and? What are some of your successes that contribute to your rich and meaningful life?

13) Practice mindfulness

Being aware of your thoughts wants, needs and vulnerabilities in the present can help you prevent or at least mitigate distress. At each meal and whenever you are feeling triggered. What am I feeling physically? Why? What do I need? What are my feelings and thoughts in this situation? Are they based on the facts of the current context? What do I need to improve the next moment? What is going on around me? Is it helping me feel safe or stressing me out? What do I need? What is my impact on others? How are others impacting me? What do I need from me? From others?

14) Be patient: Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither were your habits and problems

Patience is a virtue that most of us lack in the microwave, satellite, digital age. Stop expecting to always get it right the first time—progress, not perfection. Stop expecting instant results. Set micro-goals, but realize the finale will take time. What things in your life are you impatient about right now? How could you set micro-goals to help yourself wait? What else could you do?


Check out Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes' PowerPoint presentation below detailing the points below:

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Fatherhood

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I am stood in the kitchen experiencing a jangling combination of exhilaration, because my infant daughter has gone to sleep, and dread, because in just four hours she will wake up again.


“I’m just so tired” I say (for the 1000th time) knowing full well that tired does nothing convey the bone-crunching exhaustion I am feeling. I look at the father of my child. He has come back from work and he seems, well, he actually seems completely fine. But is he?


Most new parents are fine: tired, stressed and uncertain, but able to navigate the joys and challenges of their reconfigured life. I was fortunate that I did not experience serious mental health difficulties during my early life as a parent, but I also have first-hand experience of working with parents who struggle with their mental health. One thing I that is worrying clear is that while the mental health needs of mothers have thankfully gained more prominence over the last few years there has not been corresponding identification of, and support for, fathers who are struggling. This needs to change.


Full disclosure, as a psychologist working with and exploring the experience of parents, the vast majority of my work has involved mothers. This is typical, most of the mental health research which is about ‘parents’ is actually focused on mothers. But, in my current work at the Parenting with Anxiety Project we are committed to involving fathers for the following reasons.


Men experience Post-Natal Depression Too

As Simon, a 42-year-old web developer from Sussex described, in becoming a father he entered into a role for which he had “no experience, no training and very little support”. Soon after the birth of his daughter, Simon found himself facing a lot of stress a work, coupled with the demands of new parenthood. “Life doesn’t start to allow you to become a parent, I work long hours,” Simon told me, explaining how he began to struggle with depression and has continued to experience periods of poor mental health ever since. His story is not unusual: it is thought that one in ten men might experience post-natal depression, which is similar to the levels found in new mothers.


The years of fatherhood are a time of real vulnerability

Men continue be vulnerable across the years of fatherhood. Research into men and women’s experience of ‘parental burnout’, a type of annihilating exhaustion caused by high parenting stress, revealed that while it is more common among women its effects are often more destructive for men. What is more, during their 20s and 30s, when men are most likely to become a father and be involved in the care of a young family, they are also at greatest risk of suicidal thoughts, heavy drinking and drug abuse. Tragically, suicide continues to be the largest killer of men aged under 50.


Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away

Despite this, people rarely talk or think about the mental health of fathers. Sam, an arts professional has worked on a number of projects focussed on supporting male mental health, yet he had never heard it discussed in the context of fatherhood. Yet for Sam, the challenges around his mental health are intertwined with his identity as a father and he is now worried about the impact of his mental health on his children. And the pandemic has only made it worse.

“If I’m having a bad time and it's affecting my mood, then it's also affecting the family life. I find myself thinking: if I was a fully functioning, properly mentally stable human being, would that mean my kids would be less upset in this current situation?”

For fathers, the negative associations related to mental health may be coupled with the common societal views around fatherhood which are focused on capability and strength. A father who is struggling with his mental health may feel he is failing to deliver on these expectations and this can stop him seeking support, even when he is concerned about the impact of his mental health on his family.


If we don’t include fathers how do we know it works for them or their families?

We know more and more about the experience and needs of mothers with mental health challenges and are developing support tailored to them and their children. However, many of these ‘parenting’ interventions were designed and tested with women in mind. We don’t know if they would work in the same way for fathers. Given the perfect storm many fathers are now facing in terms of their mental health, it is essential that research is done to understand how to help them.

The Parenting with Anxiety Project is testing a new online course developed for mothers and fathers who experience anxiety with children aged 2-11. We are committed to including fathers as well as mothers in this work, and hope that the flexibility and accessibility of web-based support will enable more fathers to join us. If you are a parent with anxiety please find out more at parentingwithanxiety.com