Life moves on – a new chapter

There’s lots happening over here right now. “There always is”, I hear you cry! Well, yes, I guess.

Right now I’m changing the shape of the business to meet demands I hadn’t foreseen & using technology that didn’t exist a few months ago. I’m getting ready to step up to new challenges in the Bra Lady business by opening up training to anyone who wants to be a bra fitter and / or set up their own lingerie business. It’s all very exciting!

Ben-DaffodilDoddle14-smToday though could be a big step for my eldest son. As some of you know he’s very sporty and as a gifted and talented child in his first year at secondary school, we’ve got some decisions to make to support his next steps. We know life is full of paths and decisions which ones to take, but as a 12 year old, how do we help them make the ‘right’ decisions?

No. 1 has been offered an opportunity to be part of a coaching structure which we, as parents who’ve done quite a bit of research, believe will support his development in sport. It’s a big step though. His biggest fear, I think, is not knowing anyone. The decision is his to make, and if this opportunity isn’t right, we’ll search for something else that is.

I’d be interested to hear how you have helped your children make some of the ‘big decisions’ in their life.

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Assessing priorities

Octopus-juggling-licensedcartoonSince I started my business almost 10 years ago, I’ve been juggling priorities. My youngest child was 5 months old when I met my first customer, and bras4mums has grown, developed, changed and supported thousands of pregnant and breastfeeding women since.

During those 10 years, some of you will know, my Mum’s ovarian cancer returned, and she died in 2009. Despite the credit crunch starting the month after I’d taken on business premises, my focus was on spending time with Mum, as her prognosis in that same month was expected to be 2 years. She died 9 months later. I’m not saying my own family weren’t important during this time, but we ensured we all spent as much time with my parents as we could. But, if there was a call from my parents, or a hospital appointment, I would often drop everything to be available to talk, advise, support, or visit Mum. The 250 mile journey wasn’t always easy, and took its toll on my business.

Over the last 5 years, I know I put my business first at some points, which was right for me at the time. I’ve talked about business issues that took all my focus previously. My children were young, and I could spend time sorting things out, but I did make sacrifices.

The last 18 months I’ve switched. My priorities have changed. My focus is now children first, husband second, family and friends next, then my business. You may think that to grow a business through the worst recession since world war 2 that my priority should be business, business, business. In my experience, being more relaxed and happy means that when I spend time in and on my business I’m more focused and achieve more.

My eldest started secondary school last September, and both boys are very active. Evenings are not my own any more. I used to do a couple of hours work in the evenings after the boys were in bed. That’s no longer possible. I also don’t want it! I enjoy supporting my boys in all their activities. I also volunteer for the boy’s athletic & triathlon club, which I feel is important. I enjoy it. Without volunteers children wouldn’t be able to take part in so many things.

I’ve also realised that, if I’m not happy, my family aren’t either! It doesn’t matter to them if my business does well. They want me to smile, to enjoy my own interests and stay healthy. Worry isn’t a health booster is it?

I’m enjoying my 44th year. We’re all relaxed yet working and playing hard. My change of priorities has given us all a new start.

Have you changed your focus recently?

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It hits you when you least expect it

Today would have been my Mum’s 70th birthday, had she been alive.

Mum June 2008 - a year before she died

Mum June 2008 – a year before she died

Surprisingly, I’ve been OK today. It was last week that it hit me that we were reaching a landmark birthday, and not celebrating it with her, here, with us. I guess it’s also as my birthday is a few days before hers, that I’m reminded that my Mum wouldn’t be wishing me a Happy Birthday in person.

Why do things hit us when we least expect them to? It can be anything, not just those we miss, can’t it? Sometimes children or friends do things which tug at our heart strings and we ‘go to pieces’ don’t we?

This day last year I wrote about life being too short, whatever age people live to. I then went quiet on you for about 9 months! I found 2013 tough. Really tough. Not just the bereavement of a close friend, or the heartache loved ones had caused us, but just the general, everyday stuff. I was struggling to keep going through my life, and really couldn’t share the experiences with anyone else apart from my family and close friends.

It does help though. To share. And to cry. To just say, “Yep, today is tough, but I’m going to get through it”, or “I really miss x, but they wouldn’t want me to be sad”. Little steps are better than no steps at all, aren’t they?

So, whilst I’m sorry we aren’t celebrating as a family group, Mum’s 70th birthday, I know that like me, many friends are thinking about her today, and all she brought to us in her 65 years she was on this earth. I still love you as much as ever Mum.

I don’t know why ‘it’ does it, but I’m sure it does us good.

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For my teenage daughter and her friends

This was shared by a Mum I know with teenage daughters. I feel it’s relevant to any parent & child relationship. What do you think? Thanks to Lynne, @HonieBUK, who’s a busy Mum & blogs here.

FOR MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER AND HER FRIENDS:

You ARE beautiful – you don’t need a ‘like for looks’ to hear this
You ARE bright – even if some of your decisions are a bit misguided
You DO have my back – even when you do your best to cover up
You WILL make mistakes – just be sure to be with those you trust when you do

Yes, I have made mistakes, I have felt the way you do, I have lied to my parents and thought I knew best, I did think enough of myself to do the things I thought best for me……

I had some pretty bad friends and some that weren’t looking out for me.

But, I was very lucky to have good friends who were there to share these experiences with me and yes, they did watch my back…..

More importantly, there came a time when I realised that my parents, no matter how annoying, were right to nag me, right to keep on at me, to tell me the answers to my flippant “What the worst that could happen” and only now do I realise how unbelievably terrifying it is to ‘allow’ your Daughter to make mistakes and pray that she will have the same insight I did and the good friends I had to get me through my teenage years of thinking ‘I knew best’.

YOUR MUM IS NOT PERFECT – She has had years to experience, years to make mistakes, years to get over them, years to put things behind her, years to make the best of what she has, years to make things the best she can.

She also had her parents there to watch her do all of this and I’m grateful they were there.

YOU ARE YOUR OWN PERSON – BUT YOU ARE ALSO MY DAUGHTER – I’LL ALWAYS BE YOUR MUM – AND I’LL ALWAYS LOVE AND SUPPORT YOU xXx

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Getting into the swing of things

ben-sep13Yes, 2014 is already a week old, so I’m not talking about this year. I think we’re finally getting into no.1 son being at secondary school!

I’m not sure who’s had the steepest learning curve – the child or the parents. My guess is, from how we’ve all coped with it, that it’s us, the parents that have had more to adjust to than my son!

When no.1 left primary school, we knew he was ready for his next challenge. He’s a bright, talented boy, and as you know, very sporty. We were all pleased with the school he attends, and the transition arrangements seemed to be all set up to support the pupil to get started into secondary school life very quickly. What could go wrong?

What about the rest of the family though in this major change? It’s not that we didn’t want him to move on to the next phase of his life. We just wanted to ensure, as we’ve always done for the past 11+ years, that he was safe, happy, knew what was going on around him, and knew where to get support from if he wasn’t.

We found that, the communication channels between school and home were loose. We were told that the website would be a major channel for messages, and the school used twitter as well. As I use twitter I thought this would save me from looking on the website each day to see if football training had been cancelled. But, hey-ho, that’s not what they were meaning!

School meant that, from day 1, the pupil was responsible for knowing what was going on, and getting to and from school safely. The pupil is responsible for communicating any necessary message to parents. This assumes that each child has the means of communicating with parents, which my son doesn’t. Yes, he may well be in the minority of not having a mobile phone, but maybe that’s a discussion for another time.

After a few fraught weeks, we finally reached an understanding that the school twitter feeds were not for every group or class, but for general messages. If a message was put out about sport training, then it didn’t necessarily mean that other groups weren’t on – it was just that one teacher was using twitter, and communicating with their group.

On the education side, no.1 seemed to be bringing books home, but had very little homework. Some of the girls I knew in his class seemed to be spending longer on work at home than he was. Was it a boy thing? Or was he not engaging with the work? At a meeting with his form teacher at the end of the first half term, we discovered that he was doing ‘OK’, and teachers hadn’t reported any issues about him or his work. Is that a good thing? Just getting by?

The second half-term seemed to fly by, but I think my son realised that to maintain his place in the set he’s in, that he did actually need to do some work! I showed him one of his books from year 6 to show him his lovely handwriting, and we compared it to his year 7 work. The penny was finally dropping! The homework still hasn’t come thick and fast, but we now know that it’s going to be like that.

My eldest has learnt lots of lessons in his first 13 weeks at secondary school. He knows that his education is important, but found it difficult to put effort in when he was being recognised for his sporting achievements at school, not his educational ones. We’ve had the conversation that, “wouldn’t it be great to be recognised for work as well as sport?”, and it looks like he’s finally understanding. He’s starting to see that there may well be a reason for this education lark, and not just to meet girls! We’ve started talking about careers, (another discussion for another day), and he seems a little more focused this week.

Going from a school of 200, to being in a year group of the same number is quite a challenge. It sounds like my son is popular amongst his peers, and is known by teachers and his House for his sporting achievements. But the popularity brings challenges too. Again, another topic for another day.

Finally though, I think we’re all getting into the swing of secondary school. He’s found some freedom and has made lots of new friends and acquaintances. He’ll come home to an empty house now, which is something neither my husband nor I did at his age. We’ve learnt that school are there to support him educationally, but also give him lots of exciting opportunities to get involved with, and they’ll encourage the all-round development of my young man, along with the 199 other pupils in his year.

I can honestly say now though, that the pattern for secondary school life, is that there is no pattern! 2014 is a new start for us all, and getting into the swing of life with a year 7 is exciting for us all, and we’re looking forward to supporting him this year.

Is this the right way to look at it?

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My little man

My eldest is 12 years old today. He’s charming & intelligent, incredibly fit & sporty, and usually fun to be around. We have reached the stage of moods & anger, but overall, he’s lovely.

Ben Hughes

Ben Hughes

The memory of labouring, giving birth and those excited and scary first days, weeks and months are still so clear, 12 years on. And parenting is still scary! However, bright and well rounded you think your child is, whatever their interests, they still do things to surprise you don’t they?

They challenge, push boundaries and ask “why” constantly. As a parent, I’ve found since he’s started going to secondary school, I’ve felt out of control. I don’t know what’s going on in his life in the same way. Some of it has been to do with communication from school, and learning how we can best support him. But didn’t we do the same at his age?

When I look back, I might not have been going on and on about getting a mobile phone, or Facebook account, or interested in “a relationship”, but I put pressure on my parents to do things they didn’t ever do at the age of 12. I know as time moves we’re all challenged by technology, or progress, or simply change.

When no.1 was born 12 years ago I had no idea I would ever set up my own business and be a self employed Mum of 2. I always felt that my family came first, but the life challenges that have come my way these last 5 years have shown me that I had mixed priorities. This year I’ve re-focused on my family and whilst this is still work in progress, I’m hoping that both my little men appreciate what we do for them.

As hard as being a parent is, I think it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done. The challenge of supporting this 12 year old young man to develop and grow and understand himself and the world around him will go on, and on.

Today is about celebrating him growing up and moving into a world I’m unfamiliar with, with our support, and recognising there will be more challenges ahead, for all of us. We’re all constantly learning about ourselves, and growing older with children is no exception.

I wonder what the next 12 years will bring?

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Getting back in the saddle

It’s been a while since I’ve been around. A lot has happened over the past year. I’ll share some of it, the rest is very personal and may well be shared through my learning experiences and comments. I’m not sure I’m wiser. I’ve just got 10 months more life experience!

Getting back on your bike

Getting back on your bike

Getting back in the saddle isn’t easy though is it? We get out of habits, we lose focus, and we can’t always see how we can do what we used to. So, with all my good intentions since the new school year, it’s only now, that I feel ready and able to get back on my bike and start the next part of my journey.

A lot of change has happened this year, which has been very tiring. I’ve also had flu which knocked me out for a few months. We all have reasons for not doing what we’d planned at the start of the year. Some of us make excuses out of the slightest knock or bump that crosses our path. I’m not saying I haven’t made some little excuses, I’m just holding my hand up and saying it’s been tough. Really tough.

A brief update of 2013:

  • We’ve moved house.
  • I think I’ve finally grieved for a person I care about
  • My eldest son has started secondary school
  • I’ve accepted I can’t affect lots of things in my life and business
  • I’ve learnt not to take on too much contract work whilst running and developing a small business

So, this week, I’m back in the saddle. Picking up the route map where I left off, and adjusting it for external factors before moving off again. I’m going to concentrate my efforts on the things in life and business I can affect. It’s going to take time in this new planning phase, but it’s always well worth spending time at this phase of a project isn’t it?

It’s good to be back. I’ve missed not sharing with you, but sometimes even the cathartic nature of writing has been too much for my emotions to cope with.

Anyone else getting back in the saddle with a project, interest or idea? Any advice you can give me to smooth my pathway?

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Life will always be too short

Last week we went to the funeral of OH’s 47 year old university friend. It wasn’t the easiest of days, or weeks leading up to it.

Red tulipsCompared to a year ago when I was sad at the passing of my 97 year old Nan, this January we felt that Gordon was too young to leave us and his family behind. We felt that his 12 and 9 year old had been robbed of time with their Dad; and his wife, a partner to grow old with.

We’d never been to a humanist service before. The celebrant got it spot on and reassured us all that this is just how it is. The ONLY certainty in life, is death.

Humanists, “want a world where everyone lives cooperatively on the basis of shared human values, respect for human rights, and concern for future generations.

We want non-religious people to be confident in living ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity.”

She told us that it was right to be sad at Gordon’s passing, but that we’d had Gordon in our lives and we should be thankful for that. I know that all of us agree that having shared his life, love and laughter we wouldn’t want it any other way. He’ll be remembered with affection at what he brought to our lives.

We never know what’s around the corner for any of us. An accident, an illness, war – we’ll never know what’ll ‘get us’ in the end. Whether we live to be a grand old age and not be in great health, we just can’t plan can that last bit can we?

From someone who’s lived with a Mum who defied cancer for 10 years and watched her live every day to it’s fullest until she died aged 65, I know that it’s a shame when someone is taken from us so young of age. But that celebrant was right. Life would have been less colourful without Gordon, and we’re pleased that he was part of our lives.

A friend is currently living with the knowledge that her 2 month old baby won’t live for long. But the joy this baby is bringing to his family and friends and the love they are all sharing together is beautiful.

Please live for the day. Don’t bear grudges. And live your dreams. Don’t put off today what needs to be done or said. You may not get another chance to hug that person who needs it. Cliches maybe, but I’m going to live an ethical and fulfilling life, starting today.

Will you?

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2013 – here we go!

I know it’s the 19th January, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s only just getting going with 2013 ‘stuff’?

Diary

Not my diary – it’s got things already written in it!

I got all my diarys and planners ready early January, but they’re not yet completed. Are yours? I have spoken to the majority of the Bra Lady franchisees about their goals and plans for the year ahead, and I’ve thought about it. I just haven’t put pen to paper. Have you?

As you know, 2012 was a tough year, and some aspects of my weekly routines didn’t get done. I’ve spent the last few weeks getting up to date, so finally, today, I’m feeling like I’m ready to start & get going. Even the snow isn’t dampening my spirit!

This week we’ve accepted an offer on our house, seen somewhere we want to move to, and got the accounts up to date. The VAT return will be completed tomorrow, 10 days ahead of schedule. The boys have had a great start to the year with their athletic events. And, we’ve caught up with some family and friends we hadn’t seen for ages. Not bad for the first 19 days!

The smugness will be gone again once I start to write my plans down though! My head is working overtime with all the things I want to achieve this year – personal and business. It’s good though isn’t it? To feel so positive that you can put pen to paper and commit your ideas so that others may support, or question you? Being challenged is one of the most difficult things we face isn’t it? And when others challenge your goals and plans, how does that make you feel? Threatened? Pleased they’ve taken an interest?

Well, here’s my broad plan for Support4Women this year. I know I neglected it last year, but I’m in a better place for supporting you, so I hope you’ll join in & encourage others to support each other. I’m not looking at monthly themes, but themes that will run throughout the year with some guest posts from you. Yes YOU!

2013 Support4Women themes:

Getting & staying active – I really like the She Moves campaign that’s just started to encourage more women to get and stay active. I’ve had a personal journey to stay active, and this is continuing to help me with get fit & stay sane amongst all the ups and downs of life. I’d like to hear about your own experience of getting & staying active this year. If you’d like to share a monthly diary with us, let me know.

Transgender support – through my Bra Lady work, I’m increasingly meeting and supporting biological men become women, and all that entails. It’s bad enough learning about changing bodies when we’re born female with a mother or aunt to support us. How much more difficult it must be when a person is trapped in a male form and doesn’t have that basic support. If you’re going through the change, or are/have supported someone through this change, and are willing to share your experiences, please get in touch.

Small business support – over the year’s I’ve personally supported a lot of small businesses, and growing business through coaching, action learning sets and through the franchise business. This small business support, this year, will be further developed through regular articles for small businesses. If you’ve got ideas to share with those thinking about becoming self employed, or developing a small business, your views and ideas are most welcome.

Parenting – being a Mum of 2 very active boys, 1 of whom suffered at the hands of bullies last year, I’d like to share more parenting ideas and issues. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I always like to promote discussion. If we’re not prepared to look at issues from different angles, I’m not sure we can learn as individuals, or as parents. If you have parenting issues you’d like to share, please get in touch.

I think that’s enough, don’t you? There’ll be posts on cancer, community, volunteering, breastfeeding and maybe some about bras during the year. I’ve been asked to do some reviews, so they’ll fall into place somewhere along the way. I’m looking forward to sharing an eclectic mix of views, news and discussions to support you and your family during 2013.

Ours has started well, I hope yours has too? Please get in touch if you’ve got ideas, posts, reviews or discussions you’d like to share with others. You can also give me a nudge on twitter, or Facebook if those are your preferred ways to chat.

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Guest post – Can the online community help?

Today I’ve got a guest blog from Liz Weston, who I’ve known for a number of years as she’s evolved from being someone who knew that they wanted to start a business of their own, but wasn’t sure what to do, into running her own social media and PR agency and being a publisher for NHS Maternity Units. 

I wrote a blog post documenting my journey to getting control of my website and re couping some of tens of thousands of pounds Bras4Mums has lost – some of which has now been recovered. Liz suggested in a comment on that blog post that I could take a fresh approach to promoting Bras4Mums and offered to write a guest post on it, so here it is….
I saw TJ’s post a few days ago and part of me felt guilty that I’d not been there more for her – physically and practically, particularly in the last 12 months when she’d been re evaluating the Bras4Mums business. I’m so pleased that the issues have now been resolved and that she’s still standing. My suggestion for her to make the most of 2013 and in particular, the start of it, is to “reach out” (to use a term that really annoys most people in PR and social media) and ask people for help, because she’s helped so many people over the last few years herself.
The idea comes from the experience of Nick Sarillo who in September 2011, sent an email to his customers and anyone and everyone that he knew, to ask them for help. In short, if he didn’t get more customers into his pizzeria, and quickly, he was going to lose his business. It’s a proper phoenix from the ashes and in fact, he’s just had his book published about the whole experience.
So my suggestion to TJ is that she does this herself. And being TJ, she’s a bit, well, shy to say that she’d like some help. So I’m doing it for her! As a community, we can come together, and help Bras4Mums. Here’s a few of the easiest ways that you can support Bras4Mums in 2013…
You can commit to tweet or post on Facebook – on your personal and business page once a month, for every month of 2013. With buffer, hootsuite and all sorts of other scheduling opportunities available to us all, the least we can do is tweet once a month, telling people that Bras4Mums helps women of all shapes and sizes, at whatever stage they are at in pregnancy or breastfeeding. T-J and the Bra Lady team help women throughout their lives
Or if like me, you’ve had a bra from T-J and Bras4Mums, you could tell people about it in a blog post – you could explain if you had to return a bra that wasn’t the right size, about their free returns and their great over the phone bra fitting service – I’ve used it! And I spoke to T-J – long before I actually knew her personally!!
Or perhaps you could put a badge, or link to Bras4Mums on your Facebook page or blog, or somewhere that you have a presence online?
If you own a business, can you write a post about how T-J’s sharing has made you feel – confident of where you’re at / scared that other people can have such an effect upon your business / realising that you need to strengthen your networks / grateful for the networks that you do have / in need of growing your online community. In fact, even if you think T-J was too trusting, she won’t be offended if you write that you think she should have intervened at the point where she realised her website had been sub-contracted.
And finally, you could look for opportunities for other people you know to take guest blog posts from T-J on her experiences and look for opportunities to share stats, stories and news from Bras4Mums.
And I forgot – the most obvious one – to make sure you are signed up to the Bras4Mums newsletter – make your life easy – you’ll get strong content for your online platforms!
So, that’s a few of my initial ideas on how we can all come together and share the fact that Bras4Mums is still very much here and in need of support from the community to be able to continue and thrive. How you choose to do it, is up to you. Please leave a comment below on what you will do so we can comment, tweet and reply to your support of Bras4Mums.
And finally, (really this is the last thing, promise)… please leave comments with ideas on how we can all do more than this – I’m just scratching the surface with these suggestions. As a whole, we are so much stronger than our individual parts, so please join me in showing T-J how much we want Bras4Mums to have a great 2013….
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