The HR Juggler

Posts Tagged ‘Family

We don’t talk about old people very much. We don’t always take the time to listen to them or to understand about their lives and what they have experienced. We are sometimes slow to appreciate them as individuals, and what we can learn from them.

My Nan passed away at the beginning of this month and her funeral is on Friday. She was a very old, much-loved lady and lived a full and happy life. I am unbelievably lucky to have had her in my life so long, to have known her as an adult, for her to have seen me grow up, fall in love and get married; for her to have held my newborn babies in her arms and watch them develop into the fun, independent, loving children they have become. So for me, this post is not so much about sadness, as a celebration of the many happy memories and a recognition of what I have learned from her.

Living less than a mile from our family home, my Nan was constantly around when I was growing up and was an integral part of our family life. Whenever I visited her home as a child, she always had lemonade and biscuits in her pantry, a garden to run around in, endless patience for playing board games and jobs for me to help with, whether it was drying the dishes whilst she washed up, or, when I was older, mowing her lawn. She was essentially very humble, easy to be around, almost impossible to offend, appreciative of being surrounded by her family and being part of our lives.

As a teenager, my Nan never judged or told me what to do. When I had boyfriend trouble, she gently and wisely pointed out that “whatever is meant to be will be,” providing me with great comfort and reassurance. When I finally passed my driving test, it was to her house that I drove first. She was as delighted as I was, although as I drove away, I wondered why she was waving quite so frantically…until I realised that I was driving in the dark without my headlights on!

Family Christmases were always fun and always shared with my Nan. She played every game with great enthusiasm until she was well into her 80s and even her 90s…spin the plate, murder in the dark…she would try anything and had a tremendous sense of fun. Her ability to laugh at herself, to enjoy banter with others and to have fun was undimmed until the very end of her life. She was always interested in people and delighted in getting to know my friends, who also called her Nanny, as I did. At my brother’s wedding, she gamely danced with my brothers’ friends and let herself be twirled around the dance floor…undoubtedly dining out on the experience for many years to come! My Nan was generous and always wanted to contribute. Home-made marmalade and chutney, taking my whole extended family out for Sunday lunch, expanding the invitation as the size of our family grew; lending her car to her grandchildren before any of us could afford vehicles of our own.

My Nan was consistently keen to learn new things, to challenge herself and try different experiences. She learnt to drive when she was 60 and continued for nearly thirty years until her sight started to fail her. She loved doing crossword puzzles and writing verse and even took up the local library’s offer of internet lessons in her 80s. She never felt that anything was beyond her and was willing to give anything a try. She was physically tough and cheated serious accidents so many times: in her 80s she slipped whilst getting off a train and became trapped between the train and the platform, yet emerged unhurt with barely any bruises. Widowed whilst still in her late 60s, she learned to become strongly independent and enjoyed a very happy old age, making new friends as well as treasuring existing relationships. She lived on her own until she was almost 95, when she broke her hip and was no longer able to look after herself.

The staff at the residential home where my Nan lived for the last three and a half years of her life not only provided her with excellent care, they also loved her. Right until the end of her life, she retained the ability to be interested in people, a vulnerability that endeared her to those around her and an appreciation of everything that she had, especially her family. One of the memories I treasure most is how much my children loved their Great Nanny Mo and how they clambered on her lap to hug and kiss her, even when she had become very frail. She was extraordinary and yet, in many ways, also very ordinary, a beloved Nan who was hugely appreciative of the good things that she had been blessed with. She was my Nan and a wonderful one at that.

There may be a few tears on Friday, but above all else there will be happiness of memories recalled, bonds of love and family that endure and a celebration of a life well lived. I think she’d be pretty delighted with that.


Ah…holidays. The opportunity to have a week or two off from work, to stay at home or to travel somewhere for a break. The potential to achieve a completely relaxed state of mind, to refresh one’s batteries and take time to pause and breathe.

I love the fact that my children have six week holidays from school. I remember well as a child myself the seemingly endless stretch of time, lazy sunny (and rainy!) days, fun at home or on holiday with my family. My Mum is a firm believer that adults should not be required to provide entertainment for children, rather that children be allowed the time and space to create their own games and enjoyable past-times. Simplicity seems to rule in our house too during the holidays…the kids are happy going blackberry picking, reading, drawing, inventing their own games and scenarios.

We have just returned from two weeks camping in Germany. Before we went, I wondered whether I might have fallen out of love with camping a little, but found to my relief and pleasure that I still enjoy it as much as I ever have. Fresh air, simplicity, the freedom and independence for children within a safe environment, a break from the blaring demands of our muti-media lives. On the ferry on the outward journey, I read a quote to the effect that “the greatest expression of love is time.” It really struck a chord with me and sums up what holidays are really about for me, the chance to spend time with the people I love.

I wonder sometimes whether our wish to be entertained and to fill our days with structured activities, either at home or at work, can sometimes entirely distract us from the things that really matter, the reasons why we chose to do what we do in the first place, what we want to achieve and what our true strengths are. Common sense and experience tells me that maintaining the current relaxed frame of mind I am enjoying, will be next to impossible once I return to work…but…but!…I am going to try. And my challenge to myself is to bring some simplicity and fresh thinking to what I do there too.

How were your holidays? What are you reflecting about? I’d love to know!


Today’s post was going to be all about the Unconference.  And there definitely will be a post about that soon, once I have reflected a little more on it.

Today though, something else happened which really made me think.

I am very lucky in that I don’t feel guilty about being a working mum. I don’t judge anyone for their working arrangements, as life is more than tough enough already balancing home, work, life and children. It struck me today though how precarious the guilt-free state is and how it can quite easily be wobbled by very minor things.

Until my children went to school, I worked three days a week.  Once they had completed their first term and my role at work increased, I started doing four days during term-time, in effect when they are at school.  From a purely selfish point of view it would be easier for me to have four full days at work and one day completely off, but I like the fact that my extra hours don’t really affect my children and that they don’t notice I am now working more. They would most certainly mind if I started doing four full days, so the current arrangement works well and enables me to balance both, albeit that I have to do a quick switch from one ‘mode’ to the other when I dash out to pick them up at home time.

Two things have come up today that have shaken my belief in my convenient working pattern and my guilt-free balancing act. Firstly the fact that due to the various bank holidays, I dropped my children off this morning for the first time in over a week and because of the Easter holidays, its only the second time in about a month. Many of the mums who don’t work were delighted to see me, but also made it clear that we hadn’t seen each other  for ages, because I hadn’t been around. Ouch – that was a pang of guilt you just heard, however illogical I know it to be.

The second thing that is testing my lack of working mums’ guilt is a school trip that has come up: one of my daughters is going on Monday next week, the other on Friday and they are after quite a lot of parent helpers. I have previously helped (pre-Christmas) in my Friday daughter’s class, so if I went with either of them, it ought to be on the Monday.  But I am working then, so I have said as it currently stands that I can’t help.  And I feel bad.

None of this matters much at the end of the day. I’ll assuage the temporary pang of guilt by asking at the end of today whether the Monday trip has sufficient parent helpers: if they don’t then I’ll take the day off and do my bit. But it has reminded me that all working mums and perhaps all working parents who have the main duty of childcare are very prone to an attack of working parent guilt, usually when we least expect it. 

Flexible working, balancing home, work, life and kids is not easy. I’d love to hear about your experiences and how and whether you keep those pangs of guilt at bay, or if you just learn to live with them ;).

When I was born, my Mum was 30. Given that my Dad was a police officer and worked shifts, she was often on her own with three children under 5. And, of course, she did everything for me. I don’t think it is until you become a parent yourself that you ever realise or fully appreciate the enormity of commitment, hard work and unselfish, unstinting love that is required in looking after small people.

When I was 5, my Mum still did pretty much everything for me, although in that time she had taught me to start to become independent. She used to invent brilliant, funny children’s stories, which my brothers and I would listen to in rapt wonderment, particularly on car journeys.  When my paternal grandfather died, my Mum gave my Nan a roast lunch with our family, every Sunday from that point on, without fail for the next 28 years.

By the time I was 10, I was starting to be argumentative with my brothers. My Mum instilled some golden rules for our family, amongst which that we were never to go to bed without resolving an argument. We had to share and agree – the single television in our house got locked away for a month once to teach us how to work together, play properly and argue less. My Mum had a temper too – on one memorable occasion she threw the music book repeatedly up in the air at sheer frustration that we would not practice our clarinets. I think she may have regretted it when she had to explain its sellotaped, battered state to the school ;).

At 15, my Mum tolerated my teenage moodiness and angst, stopped me going out to nightclubs when all my friends were allowed to and tried to allow me a little lee-way (not that it felt like that at the time!). Hospitality was another golden rule – if I was at home with friends, they were included in family meal-times, there was never an opt out. She also helped me to cope when my best friend’s mum died, which was devastating.

By the time I was 20, my Mum was starting to let me go: to Zimbabwe on my gap year after school, to University, to make my own choices and decisions. Still supporting me financially, keeping the lines of communication open, she started to become my friend – a companion on shopping trips, a listening ear.

On my 25th birthday, I got engaged to Mr C and my Mum was there to share all of my joy, excitement and delight. She came wedding dress shopping with me, cried tears of joy and defended me wholeheartedly against her own Mum who was outraged that I had decided to live with Mr C before we were married. She also helped me navigate and understand my relationship with my mother-in-law, which became so much more complicated and unpredictable after my brother-in-law’s death. My Mum had also taken on a caring role for all three of my grandparents by this point.

When I was 30, I gave birth to my beautiful twin girls. Although they were not due until February my Mum wrote all of her Christmas cards by the end of October that year, just in case she was needed to be on hand early. Once they were born, my Mum came to my house every single day for the first eight weeks, cleaning, cooking, changing nappies, feeding…anything I asked her for and with an insistence that she would do all the grottiest jobs possible to make life easier for me. She also insisted I slept during the day time, usually whilst she hoovered or emptied the dishwasher or sterilised the bottles.

I’m very nearly 35 now. My Mum looks after my daughters 2 days a week while I work; if I am late she comes back to my house and gives them a bath. She also looks after her other 3 grandchildren and has all 5 of them together once a week. Her parents have passed away now, but she still cares for her 97-year-old mother-in-law, visiting her in the residential home at least once a week, always having her over at Christmas and other family occasions, even though my grandmother’s state of health makes that difficult now.

My Mum is a star – an absolute rock – and for me Mother’s Day will always be more about her and all that she has done and continues to do for me, rather than my own much shorter experience of being a Mum. She’s all the clichés really: my best friend, a dependable and honest counsellor, my inspiration and the woman who has loved and accepted me unconditionally all of my life. I know that she is tremendously proud of me and what I have become….I hope that she also knows how hugely proud I am of her.

I am very lucky and for that, on Mother’s Day, I thank you xxx

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