Advice versus Instinct: 2013 365 Challenge #164

My little man growing up

My little man growing up

Yesterday’s post on private versus state education sparked an interesting discussion, and it got me thinking about parenting and advice. It is natural to ask others for advice when you’re unsure, or facing a major decision in your life. I, especially, like to seek a myriad of opinions before forming my own.

Maybe it’s the academic in me: I tend to ‘research’ things. Maybe it the Libran in me (if you follow star signs) – forever sitting on the fence. I can’t buy a vacuum cleaner or book a hotel without reading ALL the reviews, until I can’t reconcile between the one-stars and the five-stars and I no longer have any idea what my own opinion is.

Well, that’s okay. If it’s a rubbish vacuum cleaner or a crappy holiday, learn and move on.

The problem with parenting is that the need for advice is HUGE and there are many many people to ask for guidance. But, unlike a vacuum cleaner, the product isn’t the same for them as for me. Their children are not my children, their lives are not my lives. Their upbringings, local areas, houses, family, careers, husbands, wives, great-aunt Noras are not mine.

Living in a box

This is normal, right?

And so, while their advice is helpful, it can be only that. Which is fine, when you are rested, and calm and in control of your own sanity.

There have been times, though, when I haven’t trusted my own judgement, and I have taken other people’s advice too much to heart. Forgetting, of course, that their kids are not my kids, and so on…

It has taken me five years and much heartache to get to a point where I trust myself, my knowledge of my children and my values, to make parenting decisions by myself rather than by committee.

The education debate is a classic example. Don’t get me wrong: I love the discussion it generated and I genuinely value every response. But it didn’t make my decision any easier, because every single situation is different. I have access to a fee-paying non-(overtly)-religious co-ed school. My state schools are amazing (in this ten-square-mile area I am blessed to call home) and so on. The best piece of advice was provided by Miss Fanny P, and is applicable to all parenting decisions:

i) as a parent you always get it wrong 😉
ii) however hard you try they will get to 13/14 and tell you they are in the wrong school and it’s all your fault
iii) they all do get there in the end.

These are things to remember in every situation. Add, ‘Remember to smile’, and you’re done. 🙂

And of course there’s a difference between solicited and unsolicited advice. As a new parent, I had equal amounts of both! Sometimes I wanted sympathy without solutions, but it is human nature to fix. I do it myself, ALL THE TIME. I hate myself. When a mother is having problems with sleep or feeding, I wade in: even though I never solved those things myself.

My beautiful, stubborn, boy

My beautiful, stubborn, boy

The same is true now with potty training. I had a whinge on Facebook a while back (I may even have asked for advice, which was silly) and the comment list was endless. Including someone who recommended I take my child out of nursery for two weeks and put him on the toilet every half hour. Goodness me. Just thinking of taking my child out of childcare for that long gives me the shivers, never mind battling him on to the toilet like that.

This evening he had the screaming heebies because I tried to carry him to the toilet when he declared he was ‘having a poo’ sitting on our beautifully embroidered piano stool.

Thankfully he seems to have more or less taken to potty training by himself, despite my huge reservations when nursery put him in pants against my wishes. We had a few more accidents than with my eldest, but then I think nursery started him a few weeks too early. I had to go with it and now I’m glad I did, but I have to admit they did most of the hard work on the two days a week that he’s with them. And that’s because he doesn’t fight them the way he fights me!

I had a clear idea for this post (I asked hubbie for a topic and he said ‘potty training’) but it seems to have turned into a random ramble. Apologies. It’s been a long day. But one without any potty training ‘accidents’. Hurrah! Long may it continue. If only choosing a school and knowing we’ve made the right choice were that easy! 🙂 Thanks again for all your views.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“So, the eco lodge it is.”

Claire sighed and sipped at her second latte. Her side-trip to the Motorway Services to buy coffee had made her next destination inevitable. Although, with nothing to fill her day except getting to her next location and finding an activity, there was no real reason to go to the nearest hostel.

I could be in Scotland by tea-time if I wanted to. But she knew her brief was to travel as a visitor might, and that meant hopping from hostel to hostel, with one eye on the petrol-gauge and the other on the budget.

The National Forest hostel held little appeal. Any place that sought to reduce the effect of her stay on the environment screamed lack of creature comforts in too loud a voice. It ticked another one off the list, though, and that meant she was one step nearer freedom.


Claire looked at the building ahead of her through tired eyes. It wasn’t what she was expecting. Where were the trees, for a start. This is the National Forest. I expected a building hidden by dark pines, with no sight of the sky. Not this blank-faced brick pile on the edge of a field.

The building itself looked like a Travelodge. It was so far the other end of the scale from Stratford-Upon-Avon’s Georgian mansion it made her soul ache. Well, Claire, this is what you get for letting gin rule your life. If you’d kept your clothes on you would still be surrounded by historic grandeur.

With a heavy heart, Claire swung her car into the driveway. At least it’s new and clean, I guess. Not the straw-bale and lime building I expected an eco hostel to be.

Claire’s expectations were further stretched as she parked and entered the building. Modern furnishings, bright décor and clean lines spread out around her. It wasn’t dissimilar to the interior of Stratford. I guess that’s the YHA brand. Bland and clean. 

In her room the bunks had drawers underneath for belongings, and there was an ensuite wet room. No hole in the ground or shack out back with cold showers.

You’d think by now I would learn not to give in to expectations.

The manager had let her leave her bag in the room but, as it was only 10am, she needed to vacate for the day. His recommendation was that she go llama trekking. Claire managed to swallow her immediate response and nod, as if that might be the perfect way to spend the day after waking at dawn with a strange man in her bed.

Locating the rather small self-catering kitchen, Claire made herself a mug of earl grey and curled up on the sofa, prepared to spend her day with Katniss. She didn’t want time to think.

“Claire! It is Claire, isn’t it?”

With a thudding heart, Claire looked up at the sound of the voice. Memories of the night before intruded without permission and her stomach tightened. She didn’t recognise the woman approaching her across the room, but the smile on her face was encouraging.

“Don’t you remember me? It’s Maggie.”

Claire recalled the woman who had tramped with her to buy gingerbread, and felt her face respond in a mirroring grin.


Hurrah for the web!

Sometimes all you need is a nudge in the right direction.

After panicking and dreading the writing of my synopsis, and after writing a couple of terrible, long-winded drafts that broke every rule in terms of length, style, content and readability, all I really needed was a nice step by step guide. And I found it here.

Following each step described here, I now have a basic synopsis that just needs tightening and shortening slightly.

The same website has also yielded some great advice on titles –  – causing me to change mine from the boring/abstract Pictures of Love to the more specific (if still a bit predictable) Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes.

Now I just need to work on my first chapter. I am certain it wouldn’t pass Miss Snark’s Crap-o-meter, discovered at another great (and sadly discontinued) blog:

Miss Snark has also done a Crap-o-meter on synopsis writing, so I can check the quality of mine against an agent’s idea of excellent (or crap!).

Finally I found some lovely words of advice and encouragement on Billie Jo’s blog, here:

Hurrah for the web.