Wonderful Women: Raising Children in Germany

This week’s Wonderful Women Wednesday is featuring Sarah, a full time working mum and army wife who has lived abroad for … years and is now adjusting to life back in the UK with her three kids!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for a living.

My name is Sarah and I am 44 . I have changed jobs recently during to moving back from Germany after 7 years away. I now work selling animal feed, garden bits and the boots department is my bit.

It’s good to be working with people, but hard work to start at my age .

2. You’re a mum of three kids, how old are they and what are they doing?

I have Taylor who has just turned 18 and graduated from boarding school. It’s good to have her home. Shes a little emotional right now as failed medical for Army and didn’t quite get the great results she needed or was hoping for from her IB exams.

Blake-Louise is 8 and just last week was diagnosed with autism. She struggles with emotional and social situations, and she is also being assessed for a bleeding disorder as she suffers from prolonged nosebleeds quite regularly. She’s holding her own at school and tries to make friends.

Then theres little Paolo who is 5 – he is the sweetest of the bunch. He suffers with allergies, and he carries an epi-pen as he’s had two episodes of anaphylaxis. He also spent his first years in and out of hospital with bronchitis.

Both the youngest only really know Germany so it’s taken time for them to get used to the UK.

3. Did you find it difficult having such an age gap between your eldest and the next two?

Oh boy yes did I!

It was like starting over again and I had to ask my sister things as I’d forgotten some bits! I felt old with the other two and my energy levels now are awful.

Taylor doesn’t (and hasn’t for a while) come on days out with us as a family, as she’s not interested in the same things and often finds it boring.

4. Which stage is harder: toddler or teenager?

Toddler is so much easier I think. As a parent of a toddler you get to have fun, take photos and be a kid yourself again. Don’t always worry about a tidy house , just make memories.

I share quite a bit of stuff about kids on social media and I do think we need to remember in this day and age that they are little and learning all the time.

Teenagers are another ball game! You have a younger adult there who is trying to find their way with your rules. I have brought Taylor up to stand up for herself and now she’s doing it with us.

5. Your husband worked with the PWRR and was posted in Germany for quite a while! What was it like bringing the children up in a different country and how have you found it coming back to England after such a long time?

When we first moved to Germany, I was in a bad place.

My father has passed away in the March 2011 and we were due to move in the July with a 7 month old and a 10 year old. Neither my eldest daughter or myself had been to Germany before.

I felt so down and practically cried on and off for the first 4 months. My husband started work and had the car so that left me to walk everywhere with a pushchair and my 10 year old daughter in tow.

Thank goodness the German people are so kind! Many helped with speaking English when we went shopping. It took a while to make friends as all I did was stand at the bus stop, but I met a lovely lady who came from the Isle of Wight like myself. We remain friends now 8 years on!

Our first winter in Germany was a bit of a shock – the temperature dropped to -21 degrees! Christmas in Germany is amanzing and the culture there is very family orientated.

I soon settled and went to a singing group with the baby, Blake, in the end I was running it for 5 years.

The healthcare in Germany is amazing, too, and they have a separate hospital for children. I had another baby while in Germany and it was the best of all my C-Sections. We spent so many months on and off in hospital with my little boy as he has allergies.

My husband did a tour of Afghanistan while we were in Germany which I found very hard, especially not having any family near. But the friends I made helped me get through it.

Coming back to the UK after such a long time was a wrench. Germany was our home and all my youngest children knew.

My eldest came back early to go to boarding school, so she was used to living back in the UK by the time we came back!

6. Being a mum of three and an army wife must be difficult – do you spend long periods of time managing yourself, the kids, and your job on your own? What have you found helps you to cope with all of that by yourself?

Short tours away I think are harder as you don’t get used to them being away. 8 months with him away with a 4 month old, 3 year old, and 13 year old was tough and I really struggled at times. My husband’s mum and sister came to visit, as the Army paid for them to come to Germany.

No-one, and I mean, NO-ONE, understands how it feels and what it’s like unless you are an army wife, and I stand by that. My sister who has been an army wife gave me great advice…

Count the weeks, not the days. Have one thing to look forward to each week, whether it be treats, or a nice day out. Don’t panic if you miss a call from your man, he will call again. You can’t run your life waiting by the phone.

Claire, Army Wife

Chocolate helps, too, girls!

7. What do you find most rewarding about having three wonderful children?

Hahahahahaha

8. And the most challenging?

Everything is challenging!

Paolo, the youngest, has allergies and we carry an epipen. I have had to use it and it was frightening. I have done a paediatric first aid course, but seeing him have a seizure was heartbreaking. He has spent a lot of time in and out of hospital in his first 3 years of life.

Blake, the middle one, has bleeding issues and we are still trying to get answers. Taylor is my wing woman, so to speak, as it was just us two, butte has been through it, and we have both had mental health issues.

They are all lovely kids, though (when asleep)!

9. You’re also currently going through the motions of getting an ASD diagnosis for one of the kids – how do you manage her additional needs?

Miss B is 8 and a half now and we have had thoughts there’s something not quite right for a while. We started by speaking with our GP as B, after our two pet cats passed away, became obsessed with cats, said she wanted to be a cat and said she wanted to die so she could be with her brothers (the cats).

When speaking with CAMHS and the doctor it became apparent that there were other emotional problems. She also liked to collect things – from a young age she carried around batteries, eggs, and tomatoes. I seem to cope better than my husband does as he is far more short-tempered than I am.

She does not like surprises and so we need to make sure she knows what’s going on at all times. We have, since being in the UK, got her Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) done and are due to get paperwork confirming her diagnosis, which, even though we expected it, came as a shock, as none of our family thought there was an issue. They said she was just naughty, or rude, or it was just a phase.

10. Is there anybody else you’d like to nominate for our wonderful women feature? Anyone who inspires you?

My sister. Even though sometimes I’d like to kick her up the butt, or shake her and say “get a grip”, she has come through so much. Army wife, break up, and her husband had PTSD. She is a fighter – even though she wants to give up, she doesn’t.

Wonderful Women: Mum of three, ASD and Faith

This Wednesday we have a great feature from Caroline. She has three children, and has been a mum for the last 23 years, but has been caring for little people for a lot longer!

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I am one of three children. I was born in 1960 – At the time you don’t think you are in an iconic decade! I went to Chichester to do my Teaching Degree. At that time I had no idea I was being equipped to raise my future children. I taught for 13.5 years before this privilege came to pass.

  • One of your sons is diagnosed with ASD. Can you tell us what the process of getting his diagnosis was like? Did you know much about ASD before he was diagnosed?

As a parent, you are very aware if there is anything not quite right with your child’s development. James was a very active child, with little concentration. Although he started to talk, he didn’t start with the classic words; Dad and Mum etc, but stared at bright things. His first word was “star.” He went from eating everything until he turned 2 years old, then became very fussy and certain foods made him hyperactive.

 He went to playgroups and nursery but he played how he wanted to. He found it difficult to do school type activities and wouldn’t draw or write anything until he was 5 years old. He loved energetic play. Once on a trampoline it was difficult to get him off. His fine motor skills were not so good. James didn’t sleep well he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2 and a half. I asked for James to be seen by a professional on starting school. 

From his medical exam, anomalies were present and he went to the hospital for tests. They thought him too young to be given the label ‘autistic’. He also saw the Nutritionist at the hospital as he ate so little.

 His Special Needs Coordinator who came from London when J. was in Yr 3, verbally spoke of his behaviour being ASD. It was only when he refused to go to school in Yr 5 that the school paid more attention. James did not disrupt the class as his hyperactivity had become anxiety. He couldn’t cope any longer being in a school setting and was referred again to the Child Development Team by the school. Still nothing for another year. Even though we pushed, nothing happened until he was properly assessed before going to Secondary School.

 His test results were classic scores. His language scores were very low. He got a Statement of Education. Very frustrating! Six years waiting, but we were so pleased with his diagnosis. He wouldn’t manage without extra support. He had some specialist language tuition as well to try and catch up. Bullying was ongoing in some form and James was only safe if he didn’t go on the playground. 

From the age of 5 onwards I learnt everything I could about Autism. Watching programmes, You Tube videos, Autism charity pages etc. and being a teacher helped, as you learn a lot about child development.

  • Do you have any advice for families going through the diagnostic process?

Don’t give up! Keep pushing. See your GP. We went along the educational route and it took longer. In many ways you are teaching teachers about Autism because it isn’t always on the Teacher Training Syllabus and unless they have someone they know with it, they don’t know what to do.This May have changed now.

  • How are you helping your son transition from being a teenager to being an adult?

Liaising with the College. Each student is unique with their own needs. James has a Health and Education Plan with set things the College needs to put in place for him. Our role is making sure tutors know these. Exam support is vital as he has his exams in a room by himself or small group, with more time. James uses a computer or laptop. At home we make sure we give opportunities for him to express where he is having difficulty and how we can help with hygiene, eating properly, the importance of sleep, finishing college work on time and not handing it in late, the need for social input and relieving sensory issues. Etc. We also make sure we communicate any issues to the college immediately so J. Doesn’t become stressed.

  • Have you had to face any stigmas since your son was diagnosed with ASD? What were they and how do you respond?

Yes, we have been seen as over protective. People who don’t understand Autism would see you as doing too much for your child.

The alternative is to watch your child vegetate as they don’t want to do anything that they are not comfy with.Fear of going to school, fear of going out, fear of going to a friends party, fear of crowds and being fearful of loud noises – James’s sensory difficulties only exasperated these situations. James’s carefree hyperactivity turned into anxiety from the age of 8 years. Before that he was seen as naughty and unable to access and participate in the more academic areas of school. Only certain members of staff could settle him if he was upset.

I am very sensitive to the comments made by people. Having the diagnosis changed that. I went from a back foot position to making those around us aware of his difficulties and making sure he got what he needed from his teachers and support staff. I have always explained his difficulties but with the diagnosis you speak with more conviction and authority.

  • it can be challenging enough to care for someone with additional needs, but you’ve also spent time caring for your husband at the same time. What motivates you on a difficult day?

My faith motivates me on a challenging day! Love and forgiveness. Only God sees all you do when no one is around. He helps me daily to do what I need to do and gives me the wisdom to do it. This is true today too. This is not easy though, but perseverance and discipline of the mind is important.

Prayer is so important. Philipians 4 v5-7 continue to be with me daily.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:5-7 ESV

I just love being a mum. All aspects. When you do something you love for people you love you go the extra mile.

  • You work with an amazing group called TLG. Can you tell us what they’re all about and why you decided to get involved?

TLG stands for Transforming Lives for Good. It is a Christian Charity. My children are grown up now but the joy of working with children is still just as strong. This is a way to help a child and have the joy of helping them.

As a coach I get to support one child, once a week for one year. The child may have a difficult home situation or a difficulty in school. We come alongside the child and support them through it.

  • What are your favourite pastimes and hobbies?

My hobbies are jewellery making, crochet and various arts and crafts. I also love to sing and dance and do Pilates.

  • If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?

Take one day at a time. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Enjoy each day and focus on the good. Put your relationships first.

  • Is there anyone who inspires you that you’d like to nominate for our wonderful women feature?

I’d like to nominate my friend Diane. She is a wonderful mum to 6 children, she runs a children’s group for the church and has lots of students stay with her over the summer!

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Wonderful Women: Being a mum of a disabled adult

How to raise a disabled child

Today’s Wonderful Women feature is an interview with Sharon, a nanny of three (almost four) and mummy to Lauren, who suffers with cerebral palsy.

Sharon was nominated for this feature because her whole life has been full of sacrifices as a parent of a disabled child. She gave up her career to be Lauren’s full time carer and has been in that role for nearly 27 years now! She also raised her two older boys into adulthood as a single mum… Let’s give it up for Sharon!

1) Tell us a bit about yourself…

My name is Sharon, I’m 56, I live in Ashford, Kent and I have 3 grown up children. The youngest is Lauren who is 26 and is severely disabled so she still lives at home with me. Before I had Lauren I worked as a dental nurse and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

2) Your children are all grown up now, do you have any advice for new mums/mums of teenagers?

Yes, my children are all grown up now, but really the only advice I can think to give for teenagers is to keep your boundaries. They seem to want you as another friend but you’re not, you’re their parent and they have to abide by your rules.

For babies, just do your best and make the most of it because before long they’ve turned into horrible teenagers!

3) You’re a full time carer to Lauren who suffers with athetoid cerebral palsy, can you tell us about that?

Lauren was almost a year old when she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, although I had an idea before then that was what the problem was. Athetoid cerebral palsy affects all four limbs and causes severe spasticity in those limbs.

4) How has it impacted on your life having a child with a severe disability?

Having a child with a disability has had a great impact on my life in many ways, but I think the main one is taking away my ability to go to work and earn my own money… So I’m completely dependent on the state.

5) You probably never expected to still be a full time parent when your children had grown up, is it tough to carry on that role for longer than you expected?

It’s very tough to still be caring for your child once they’ve grown up, especially as I’m getting older myself! Our bodies were not equipped to care for our children’s physical needs once they become adults and, of course, I often wonder what she’d be doing in her life if she’d been born able-bodied. What sort of person would she be? etc…

6) Do you have any advice for mums with disabled children?

It can be a long slog but don’t give up. Make sure you’re getting everything you can because once they become adults it’s like they’re suddenly cured!

It is also very rewarding when your child achieves something you were told they’d never do.

7) Is there a lot of support for children with cerebral palsy?

There is a lot of support for children with cerebral palsy but unfortunate that stops when they become adults.

8) How much of an impact did Lauren’s health have on your other children growing up?

Lauren’s health had a big impact on my other two children growing up. Simple things like going somewhere for a family day out isn’t as simple anymore when you have a disabled child.

My two boys became my little helpers once I had Lauren and had a big role in helping me to care for her. They went from two little boys into two men overnight.

9) You have grandchildren now, and Lauren is an Auntie, how are the grandchildren around Auntie Lauren?

I have 3 grandchildren and they are all very mindful of Lauren’s disabilities. The girls are especially and Lauren has a lovely relationship with them and loves them coming over.

10) Finally, do you have anybody else you’d like to nominate for our wonderful women feature? Anyone who inspires you?

Sarah, you inspire me. Your drive and determination is unreal – the way you start things and see them through, even when life wants to chuck more shit your way you do all this off your own back. You had no guidance, no nurturing and, I suspect, no encouragement!

I’d also like to nominate all the women out there that get up and do their bit, juggling jobs / childcare / running a home and everything else life wants to throw their way! I don’t think you realise how hard motherhood is until you have a child.

Thank you so much to Sharon for being part of this series celebrating wonderful women everywhere! If you have anyone to nominate please get in touch!

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Wonderful Women: Mum of three, brain surgery & ASD

  • Although we are ‘Mummykind’, put being a ‘Mummy’ aside for a second and tell us about you!

Hello, I’m Rachel. I’m currently not working because I’m recovering from brain surgery. I’ve been working on some minor home improvements as I let my standards slip a little bit when I was poorly! I enjoy gardening, spending time outside, looking after my small menagerie of animals and enjoying the company of my beautiful granddaughter!

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  • How about your children? How old are they, what are they up to?

My youngest is 13 and in Key Stage three at school. Then we have my 20-year-old son who is off to University in September, where he will study Urban Planning. My eldest is nearly 24 and a Mummy to my Granddaughter, she enjoys writing and promoting Mental Health awareness.

  • What are your favourite and least favourite parts of being a parent?

My favourite part of being a parent is seeing my children genuinely happy and succeeding. I love the relationship my children and I have. When all else fails, I know I can depend on my little family and they know they can depend on me. They all have a fantastic sense of humour and there is honestly never a dull moment when any of us are spending time together! My least favourite part is when my children are ill, especially when I nearly lost my daughter when she was giving birth and also when my youngest had severe viral encephalitis. It has also been awful seeing my children being bullied to the extent it has impacted their mental health.

  • When did you first consider that your youngest child was different?

When he had just turned two, he suffered multiple convulsions that lead to a prolonged period of him not being able to breathe. After this period of ill health, his character and behaviour completely changed. He was still our little boy, but he wasn’t quite the same anymore. The specialist said that the period in which is brain was shutting down could have well have led to cognitive changes, causing ASD.

He started to stare at the washing machine as it spun around. If he was ever in a small space, he only ever wanted to escape – he’d run into walls and try to climb out of windows. He was sensitive to sound, touch, to having too many people around. We’d have to cut the tags out of his clothes, including his pants and socks. He was withdrawn and easily overwhelmed.

  • How difficult has it been to get him the help and support he needs?

It has been virtually impossible to get him the help he deserves. Despite showing typical signs of ASD and related disorders, he wasn’t diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder until he was nearly seven years old.

Getting that diagnosis took continual visits to the GP, countless visits to our local specialist, support from his primary school and other trusted people’s supportive documents. He has been declined 5 times for a Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) as he isn’t “Autistic enough” despite being “too autistic” for mainstream school, according to his specialist provision at school. He has many struggles with not only ASD, but ADHD, APD and even some aspects of Tourette’s (to name a few!) – but he is high functioning, which hasn’t helped at all with his EHCP.

  • Describe a typical day to us? What are your biggest daily struggles? What are the highlights?

Mornings are so stressful – we have a minute by minute system of what we need to do to get him out of the house on time. It has taken 18 months of almost literal blood, sweat and tears for us to find a routine that works for him. We face multiple difficulties like him struggling with shoelaces and his tie because he doesn’t like how it feels. His anxiety levels are so high that he can’t get the bus to school, so he must be driven. He is almost done with his second year and still not doing a full school day.

He has started doing more mainstream lessons as he prepares for his GCSEs. The highlights are when he comes home happy, when he has learnt something new that he’s excited about. He does so well academically despite his difficulties that in most subjects he’s on the same level as his neurotypical peers. He is really interested in Physics and has a keen interest in space… hearing him talking about something he is passionate about makes me so proud.

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  • How has the past year been for your family?

It has not been the easiest of years! This time last year my brain condition was affecting how I thought, how I walked, how I talked – I was using a stick and wheelchair. I wasn’t myself at all. I had surgery for this at Kings in December and I’ve been recovering well since! I am so thankful that I had that surgery done when I did, it’s been life changing.

My husband had a DVT which lead to a life-threatening DVT pulmonary embolism, causing permanent lung damage – he’s been placed on medications for this and since then he’s been much better.

My son’s specialist unit at school has closed, so we’ve been in lots of meetings regarding a new smaller provision that is being piloted. We’re hoping this works well for him and helps him feel secure enough to continue to achieve.

There have been so many mishaps and incidents – I’m just thankful to have my family and my dogs by my side!

  • How have you managed to cope? What do you do to unwind and relax?

My family inspire me to keep going, as I said before, when all else fails, I still have them, and they have me. We try to get away on holidays whenever we can. I love a good soak in the bath, or a cup of tea and a chat. You can’t go wrong with either of those!

  • What hopes do you hold not only for your youngest child, but for your whole family?

Understandably my youngest causes me the most concern, above all I just want him to be happy on whatever path he chooses to take. School, work, college? If he’s happy and fulfilling his potential, I couldn’t be happier! I hope my eldest son does well at university and enjoys his chosen career. I hope that my daughter finds an answer to her many medical problems, so that she can live a happy and healthy life with her little girl. After all, I believe the most important job in the world is brining up happy and healthy children.

  •  Do you have anybody you’d like to nominate for our Wonderful Women Wednesdays?

I’d like to make a couple of nominations, if that’s okay? Firstly, Maria of Mummykind – I admire her fight to save the world for future generations. She is an excellent influence and recently won an award for her green thinking! I’d also like to nominate my Mother, Angela for a different perspective on parenting and to incorporate and include ladies from a further range of backgrounds.

Do you have anyone you’d like to nominate for our Wonderful Women feature? Let us know!

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