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.

Moving from a Childminder to a Nursery

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In the new year, I was fortunate enough to start a new job that I love. With the new job came some pretty big moves for our family too, one of those being Olivia moving from a childminder to a nursery.

Olivia started going to a childminder in September 2017, when I started studying for my BPTC in London. I was commuting 4 days a week from Aldershot, while my husband was working through the week too. She was only 16 months old then, and this was her first formal childcare setting as I’d had a year of maternity leave while I finished my undergrad, and then the summer waiting for my BPTC to start.

She started off with a maximum of 28 hours a week, though because of Jamie’s job it was flexible which worked well with our childminder.

Come April 2018, she had a lot more hours in tandem with Jamie’s deployment, and in June it went to full time with the childminder when I started working in Reading.

Olivia was really settled with her childminder and had lots of friends. The childminder worked in a group with 2 other childminders, so although the setting Olivia went to was small, with only 3 children, she was constantly with a group of more children and engaged in lots of activities.

So what are the Pros and Cons of using a childminder as opposed to a nursery?

Childminder

+ The approach is really personal. Your childminder only has a handful of children compared to those at a nursery, and they get to know you and your child really well.

+ It’s a lot more flexible. If you have a part-time space, you may be able to add extra hours on as and when they’re needed.

+ Childminders usually have a wider age range of children in their setting.

+ They will normally take your children to local baby/toddler groups to socialise with other children and widen their own friendship groups and experiences.

+ Depending on the spaces they have, you can end up with your child having one-to-one time with the childminder, although this might not be the case everywhere.

+ The costs are usually much lower than nurseries!

+ Must be Ofsted registered.

– The one-to-one time can be a bit boring for your child, but they wouldn’t normally be on their own in the setting if the childminder’s spaces are full.

– You are at the mercy of when your childminder wants time off! If you work throughout half term, you may have to find cover, but hopefully you would be informed of their planned holidays well in advance.

– Your childminder might not accept government funding schemes such as tax-free childcare or childcare vouchers – it’s best to check! I was fortunate that mine did.

Nursery

+ The setting really prepares children for school as it is much more formal than a childminder.

+ There are a lot more children! Your child can learn to socialise with a class size full of kids, preparing them well for school class sizes.

+ You have the option of either term time or full time places.

+ There is no risk of your childminder being sick and having no back up childcare, as nurseries are staffed by a group of people rather than just one.

+ Your child is usually assigned a key worker, who they will have one-to-one or small group time with during the days that they are at nursery.

+ The children can get involved in school-like activities, such as sponsorships and show and tell.

+ Nurseries sometimes offer hot cooked meals on site, a much better option than a packed lunch!

+ Nurseries should always accept government funding schemes.

+ Must be Ofsted registered.

– Depending on the nursery, they may charge more or not accept younger children (under 1 year or under 6 months), so if you want to go back to work sooner rather than later, they might not be the best option.

– Nurseries do tend to be more expensive to cover staff and building costs.

I honestly can’t praise the childcare Olivia had from her childminder enough, and was really sad to have to move her, but with the new job I began working in a new location, down in Portsmouth, and on full-time hours it would have been impossible to try and keep her in the same place because drop offs and pick ups simply weren’t feasible. Plus with Jamie on ceremonial duties and due to go away again later this year, there were no guarantees that even he would have been around to collect her!

I was of course filled with anxiety and trepidation on her behalf at the thought of her moving to a nursery, worrying whether she would make new friends or not… But my little munchkin settled so well, which is a massive relief!

So, what are my tips for coping with this move, as a parent, and for helping your child prepare for it?

  1. Firstly, and most importantly, go and see the new setting before your child goes for their first day. It’s a good opportunity for you to see the layout, what their routine will be, and who will be working with them.
  2. Ask questions – as many as possible, so that you feel 100% comfortable with the setting.
  3. Check the Ofsted report. Even if somewhere has a grade of Outstanding, it’s important to look at when the grade was given, as Ofsted inspections can be once every 3 years. The reports tell you a lot about the setting regardless of the grade, including parents’ comments.
  4. Take advantage of “settling-in sessions” to ease your little one into the new setting.
  5. And finally, try to prepare your child for the change by talking about it. This can be difficult if your child is still quite young, but I spoke to Olivia for about a month about going to a new playgroup and seeing lots of little boys and girls, and making new friends.

Have you made a similar change with your child? Has anything else helped you to make the transition?

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Living away from your partner during pregnancy

My pregnancy was spent largely alone – the unexpected nature of my expectant motherhood meant that things had to continue as planned as far as possible. I stayed at university to complete my law degree until I could go on maternity leave, but that also meant living over 100 miles away from Jamie for virtually the entire pregnancy.

It was my housemate, Shannon, that helped me through the morning sickness. It was my housemate, Elliot, who covered for me when I had a UTI. It was Shannon, again, who would accompany me to the first doctors appointment, and the midwife appointments, especially when I absolutely hated that first midwife in Southampton! So, I suppose I wasn’t really alone alone – but it’s something quite different from doing those things with your partner.

Everyone jokes about pregnancy hormones making you over-emotional, and yes, there are times when the hormones are slightly ridiculous… but usually, the feelings underneath the exacerbated crying fits are totally genuine. Spending my pregnancy apart from Jamie was really tough, and with those hormones to make things worse I did feel like an emotional wreck 24/7… which, of course, is when I needed him the most to cheer me up (which he did, but it’s not as easy over the phone!).

I accept that my pregnancy wasn’t a normal kind of situation… I don’t know anybody else who stayed at university living a fairly long distance away from their fiancé at the same time as being pregnant! But some of the things I experienced may be similar for other mums or mums to be. Single mums to be have to go through this all the time with no reprieve, so a big shout out to you girls! You’re doing amazingly. Army wife mums to be also may have to deal with this – one of my lovely friends up here is expecting, and her husband is deployed in Iraq… Jamie’s deployment in Afghanistan has been taxing enough without the added pressure of me having another baby! I don’t know how I would cope, so a big load of respect goes to the army wife/mum community, too. Particularly with army wives, it’s highly likely that they may even have to move house while they’re pregnant, and possibly even while their husbands/wives are still deployed! Although not the same situation, I had to move during pregnancy, when my maternity leave finally started!

Moving house is stressful at the best of times, but when you’re 7 months pregnant it can be a bit of a nightmare!

Because I had been studying at university and was about to go on maternity leave, meaning I had to move my entire life back from Southampton to Dover, Kent to prepare for giving birth and becoming a mother – how daunting is that? It was for me, anyway…
The hardest part was that I had no help whatsoever in packing up all of my belongings in preparation for this big move. Jamie was already living in Dover, so I had done the majority of the pregnancy alone in Southampton (though he made trips down on the train/coach for scans and appointments when he could). I got everything ready to move and waited for Jamie to come and pick me and my belongings up a week into our Easter break. I’d finished my coursework and at that stage was preparing to do my exams in the August of the same year (though due to PND I took a whole year’s maternity leave in the end), so I’d tied up all of my loose ends and was ready to get home and start nesting.
Being home, however, didn’t mean that Jamie was around all of the time. He did shift work in London, so would stay with his mum in Essex for 4, 5, or 7 days/nights at a time to save time and money. He would have been too exhausted to drive all the way back home in between shifts. But this was slightly more manageable. I had help when he was around, and when he wasn’t I had time to do things for me – I volunteered at my local Magistrates’ Court one day a week and started preparing our home for having Olivia. It felt more relaxing being in a normal routine, so even though some days were still spent living apart, it didn’t feel that we were because I was in our home instead of my uni room.
However, the next stressful thing was moving between NHS trusts… Southampton General Hospital and Buckland Hospital have completely different sets of maternity notes. Buckland couldn’t make sense of my notes from Southampton, and so I ended up spending a whole day with the midwives so that they could redo my notes into their neat folders. Before they took time to do that, it made appointments longer, and it was frustrating having to repeat things over and over again because they couldn’t find notes in my folder due to the different layouts. Something to bear in mind if you’ll be moving back to live with your partner towards the end of your pregnancy!
All of that being said, I don’t think I would change how it all worked out. I finished my degree, and had 1 year old Olivia at my graduation ceremony. Unbeknownst to me then, I’d also had some pretty good practice for life as an army wife coping with deployment! The only difference is now I have a child to look after as well as myself and definitely no pregnant belly!!!
It can be stressful, and it can be emotionally difficult to go through pregnancy alone, but it is possible, and sometimes it can be worth it. It made me determined and motivated to do the best I could for my baby girl, and it has probably actually made me more mentally resilient in the long run.

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Moving in with the in-laws.

This last week has been very busy. Me and my partner decided to leave our first home and move in with his parents. Now, I can already hear many of you shouting WHHHHHY at your screens, but we obviously had our reasons.

We have never been what you call ‘responsible with money’ and unfortunately we found ourselves in a hole that would’ve taken a miracle to get out of whilst renting. So, in order to get our finances sorted, we packed up and moved into the in-law’s house so we can firstly, pay off what we owe and secondly, save up for a deposit for a house that we could really call a home.
It’s only been five days but honestly, I feel happier already. No, our finances aren’t sorted but there is now a chance for them to be in the future. The idea that in a couple of years, we could have no debt and possibly saved enough for a deposit on a house, makes me so excited for the future. I’ve also found that me and my partner are happier together. There isn’t this constant worry hanging over us about whether we could afford to pay a certain bill or tension because one of us bought something we didn’t have the money for. We are enjoying time with each other without nagging or bickering and it feels amazing.
Obviously, living with the in-laws does have it’s disadvantages as well…
(Cynthia and Tony, if you’re reading this, I’d stop now)
We are sharing a bedroom with our 2 year old daughter at the moment, so we don’t really have the space to relax and spend time with each other as a couple. Which was to be expected and will make the time we spend together in our next home even more worthwhile, so it’s not that big of a deal.
The other downside to sharing a room with our daughter (and this is why I asked you to stop reading Cynthia and Tony) is that romance is slightly tricky when you have a toddler sleeping at the end of your bed. So as much as we’re happier as a couple, there is a little less us time than what we are used to.I’m not going to say that this will work for everyone, I’ve been lucky that I get on with my in-laws and we are lucky enough to have this as an option. But as I said, it’s only been five days so it’s still early days. I will be sure to keep you updated on how things are going and how well we are saving.

Have you ever moved in with your in-laws to save money or maybe you couldn’t think of anything worse, let us know in the comments!

Becoming a self-employed mum.

I was quite excited about returning to work after 9 months on maternity leave. At the time I felt a bit guilty to feel that way. I’d really enjoyed the time I’d spent with my daughter, adjusting to parenthood, but I also felt I needed some ‘me’ time. Time to do something that wasn’t baby related and a chance to talk to people about things that weren’t parent related!
My daughter had been on the waiting list for nursery and we were looking forward to her getting the experience of developing new skills with new friends.
Our first hiccup was that the nursery didn’t have any spaces available by the time I was due to go back to work, and changing nursery wasn’t really an option, for other reasons. We made some plans and our daughter was going to stay with friends and family on the days I was working. Getting our little one to places and making it to work on time, for my 10 hour shifts, however, was proving a bit of a mission but my partner and I managed it. We were so grateful for the support we got at that time.
My daughter eventually started nursery and we felt that things would get a bit easier but of course, as everyone warned us, she started picking up all the bugs. My work didn’t offer carer’s leave, so it proved to be a bit challenging to sort out child care. Nevertheless we dealt with it, like every other parent does I’m sure!
Like many other parents, we don’t have the option of our daughter staying with family on a regular basis for months on end, so we relied on her being able to attend nursery so we could go to work.
By the time my first days off work arrived in the week, I felt exhausted. I’d been looking forward to the time with my daughter and when it arrived I felt completely incapable of doing anything, especially the house work! I kept thinking thank goodness she’s occupied at nursery because I didn’t have the energy to be much of a ‘fun’ mum.
Of course every job has its challenges but I felt that my job was quite mentally draining, due to the nature of the work I was doing. The workload as well meant that I didn’t have that ‘me’ time at all that I’d been looking forward to having after my maternity leave. I thought I’d wanted conversations about non-baby related things, but that is my life now! My colleagues didn’t have babies and I realised that actually, I quite like talking about toddlers and parenthood and that it’s not such a bad thing at all!

I began thinking about my situation. I’d always thought, before I’d had a baby, that I wanted a family but also a career. Having a baby changed all that. I no longer felt the same way towards my job and what I felt I needed from it. My focus had changed. Putting my daughter in nursery full time as well was also not something we could afford, and not something I really wanted to do. I know for a lot of parents there might not be the option either way and I totally respect parents for the choices they make, which are best for them. My partner’s work hours altered as well, which meant child care was a problem again, so after lots of chatting and deliberating, we decided that I’d leave my job. Yes we’d be financially worse off but we would make it work.
So now I’ve been doing some online business studies courses and I’ve put a lot of thought into work I can do from home. My daughter is still attending nursery, but for less time each week, which gives me some time to treat this as my new part-time job.
I think the important thing is finding a balance that works for you and your family. It’s ok if you don’t want to focus on a career at this moment in time, to spend time being a full-time mum or if you have had a change of heart on what you want to do after having children. If you’re a career focused mum and you get that much needed ‘you’ time from your job then that’s fantastic! Everybody’s situation is different and I am in awe of all parents, you do an amazing job!
When people have asked me why I left my job, I’ve told them that there were a number of reasons because there are! I do still want to work though and I can understand better now why other mums become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses from home or do other work from home, because it allows more flexibility. I realise now how difficult it is for parents to juggle their time, I really don’t think there is enough help to support working parents.I have this renewed sense of confidence and feeling of self-worth with it too, which is a bonus. I’m excited to do something that I enjoy for that ‘me’ time I was looking for, but also something that fits around my family and gives us flexibility around my partner’s work shifts.

Do whatever works for you. You are the parent of your child, not those other people, who may or may not have an opinion. For me I’m seeing this as an opportunity to try something I wouldn’t have even thought to do before. I feel a little apprehensive to make it work but we’ll see what happens. It’s a new year, so what better time to try something new?!
If you left your job to be self-employed, how has it worked for you? I’d love to hear your stories.

Mum guilt: I can’t live with or without you

Definitely not a tribute to U2’s famous classic, but definitely how I feel about this whole parenting thing sometimes… okay, more often than not.

I recently started university again full-time, and it’s incredibly full on. I barely have time to think about anything that’s not law-related. Except, when I’m there, everything I think about is baby-related.

Our recent settling in sessions with the childminder have been great, Olivia has enjoyed them and is always happy as anything when we pick her up, but it doesn’t make the guilt of leaving her any easier.

The guilt eats at you all day.  Some days since re-starting my education I have only seen her for 20 minutes in the morning, and it’s been Daddy picking her up from the childminder because I have so much work to do and can’t afford the distraction of coming home to try and study. As disciplined as I am and as good at time-management as I am, my baby is a distraction. Normally in a good way, in that I just want to spend as much time cuddling her as possible to make up for the time I’ve missed with her.

BUT

The screaming fits are a worse distraction. Far worse.

Does anyone else have a 16 month old who already is the worst behaved little screaming diva? Come on, she’s not 2 yet, those terrible twos should be at least 8 months away!

For the most part, her screaming is a normal part of our daily life now, and it’s something you become somewhat immune/deaf to. Or maybe she’s just reached a pitch that only dogs can hear (if so, I apologise to my neighbours and half of my street).

But it’s one of those awful situations where you’ve missed them so much, you come home and no angelic little sweetheart is waiting for you. Oh no, it’s your darling devil child coming to play, kicking and screeching and really making you wish you’d stayed at work/uni longer, whatever the case may be.

Then you see them snoring away peacefully, and back comes the guilt. Why didn’t I just hug her when she was crying and what am I doing wrong for her to scream like this? The truth is you didn’t hug her because she’d been screaming at you and started kicking/scratching/smacking you and that’s not okay, you had a short fuse because your brain is fried and what your child is doing should be classed as some sort of inhumane treatment, right? And secondly, you’re not doing anything wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a game she plays to make me feel guilty as hell. They know what they’re doing, don’t be fooled!

So, I’m no longer a stay at home mum – to be honest, I was never home all of the time anyway. She would always have the odd day here or there without me, but never as often as this right now. It’s a huge adjustment for the both of us. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the guilt may always be there in the back of my mind even when it no longer bothers me.

For now though, every day is a struggle to be away from her and keep my sanity or to be with her and keep my sanity. And so, babies, this is our dilemma. Please understand and spare us mummies and daddies one night of respite, let us sleep it off and start afresh tomorrow.

Perhaps all parents are destined to be insane, just a little bit…

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