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How do you manage limited time? Minimalism.

A lot of people ask me how I manage to balance writing, fitness, professional learning, and parenthood. While I wish I had wonderful self-help tips endorsed by Carol Dweck, I simply don’t.

What I can offer is my understanding that nobody has a lot of time – but more importantly, our energy is also limited. To-do lists, reminders, and plans will only get you so far in managing it.

The more limited your time is or the bigger your goal is, the more contentious the management strategy needs to be.

How do I suggest managing time?

You have to be a minimalist. Have to. Set limits and boundaries around everything.

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You need to Marie Kondo the bejeezus out of your life. I am not talking about your material items – though reducing physical clutter helps. I am talking about activities that clutter your schedule.

Set limits on it. All of it.

Television and idle social media scrolling. Too much of it is a waste of time. Married at First Sight? Nope. Cat videos? Funny, but let’s not get carried away. I occasionally watch a Netflix series with my wife as a form of self-care, but it is not four hours a night. I can recommend Schitt’s Creek, but save it for after you’ve kicked some goals!

The offloading of drama. I don’t have deep and meaningfuls with people I haven’t seen in years. I don’t allow people to call me on my own time to talk about their woes if we aren’t close. I don’t do small talk, if I can help it.

Look, you seem nice, but your drama will take both my time and energy.

Likewise, people I don’t know well who try to press-gang me into polite conversations about nothing. Ten minutes on the bus while my baby is passed out is better spent with professional reading than listening to your life story, Mr-Random-Stranger.

Relationships. I don’t make time for people who bring massive amounts of unnecessary complexity or negativity without adding much joy.  Or people who I have little in common with. I don’t invest time around people who bring all negativity and no joy, even if I have known that person for years and there is a history.

Once it becomes toxic or I start feeling bad about myself, I’m out.

It’s great to have lots of surface-level friends but it depends on how much time you can give – is it worth not getting your assignment done so you can meet for coffee, for the umpteenth time with someone you met on a Facebook group, to talk about the weather? Hmm.

Make time for at least one hobby. Running, reading, gardening, whatever you like. That shit is important. It makes you feel good. Life cannot be all work and no play, lest you become a dull boy.

Unless you cut out the time-wasters, though, you won’t get to the fun stuff.

Some people don’t like my approach and they call me anti-social, a bitch or tell me to ‘live a little.’

Small potatoes.

My ‘living a little’ is committing to what needs to be done, to achieve the things that I see as important, then using my free time on the activities and relationships that really spark joy within me.

It doesn’t matter if people see your goals as modest or unimportant, if it is your goal, it is worth your time.

Let me say that again.

IF IT IS YOUR GOAL, IT IS WORTH YOUR TIME.

If you want to achieve anything, you have to prioritise it. Sometimes that means watching a bit less TV and pissing a few people off.

When you are holding your doctorate, bachelor’s degree, finished manuscript, or walking into the job you’ve hustled for your entire career, those energy-draining people who call you a bitch won’t be there anyway – or if they are, they won’t be cheering for you.

Success comes at a price – sometimes, that means limiting people or activities that used to be big in your life because they no longer spark joy in you or encourage you.

Only you can decide if it’s worth it.

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United we stand, divided we fall – why we should all try to stand together in the LGBTIQ+ community.

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon amongst people.

In my observation, when one group of people begins to gain more freedom and privilege, they step on the groups they perceive as just below them. I’ve seen migrants do it to refugees, the poor-turned-financially-secure do it to the strugglers, and even people in my own community do it to others elsewhere in the LGBTIQ+ alphabet.

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It’s one thing to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, but quite another to cut others off at the knee.

It takes me back to the time I travelled to a continent that had much division between rich and poor, black and white, man and woman.

My wife and I – as white, middle-class citizens – were pretty high in the social food-chain in this particular context. If anyone knew we were together, we would’ve been bumped a couple of rungs, but it wasn’t obvious.

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On a plane ride from one place to another, we were sitting across from a white family. Next to us was a lady who told us she was an immigrant from an Eastern culture. Behind us were three teenagers of colour.

Not long after departure, food was served and I recall being disappointed by the offering – two dry vegetables and egg slammed between dry bread with no butter.

I accidentally dropped it beneath the seat, and was unable to recover it. Not because I lack etiquette, but because it’s near impossible in cattle class. I eventually fell asleep and forgot about it.

As the flight wore on, the discarded sandwich started to emit a smell. A stench, actually. The lady next to us assumed someone had forgotten their manners and woke abruptly. The family across the aisle shot her a rude look. She was very quick to say, “It wasn’t me, it was them!”

She pointed to the three teenagers behind us. What happened next was interesting. They started apologising profusely.

“Sorry. Sorry. I’m so sorry.”

It was clear that they didn’t actually know what they were apologising for, just that someone had been slighted and they should make it right – even if they weren’t responsible.

After the lady next to us ripped into them, the lady across the aisle chimed in and added, “And for God’s sake, wash your hair.”

“Sorry. Sorry.”

I was so confronted by this pack aggression that I didn’t claim responsibility. I quietly informed the air hostess who dug what she could of the fallen sandwich from under the seat and the flight wore on, tensions thick.

What this demonstrated to me was that when the chips are down (or even when they aren’t), people will turn on one another, quite shamelessly.

I have seen the same thing happen in the LGBTIQ+ community.

“I don’t get why we need to include the ‘I’ – those people aren’t diverse, they have a birth condition.”

Or…. “Mardi Gras was good, until the lesbians joined in.”

Or…. “Bisexuality? Pfft, that doesn’t exist.”

Or…. Perhaps most commonly….

“I don’t want to be lumped in with them.

Usually referring to transgender, intersex, or queer individuals.

I am not sure why this is necessary. We all have battles and I think that when you weigh everything up, we are all more alike than different.

Who does it help to criticise someone else’s lived experience, and then exclude them from a sense of belonging?

The LGBTIQ+ acronym and its community is meant to unite, not exclude, and when we’re all fighting amongst ourselves, it makes the lot of us look bad.

Kind of like when two parents can’t agree on parenting principles, and then form a power struggle in front of their child.

The only person who gains power in that situation is the person who shouldn’t.

Battles are only fought and won when people stand together – sometimes that means making an effort to understand someone else’s life.

And for God’s sake, keep your sandwich intact.

 

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It doesn’t matter who carried or whose egg was used.

Whenever I mentioned my wife and I planned to have children, the first question was, ‘Who’s going to carry?’

‘Me.’

‘Will your wife carry the next one?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

Because this is the choice we have made? Because Y is a crooked letter, and Z is no better? Because her parental status in our family is not determined by giving birth?

The ‘who is going to carry’ question carries the very weighted assumption that biology = parent and I believe that is inaccurate. It is also an inappropriate conversation to have in passing.

Worse when people call our anonymous donor ‘the daddy.’ He gave us the gift of life — screaming, furious life — but he wouldn’t recognise our child in the street.

You don’t need a biological link to a child to be their parent. Biological relationship is inconsequential if you are changing nappies, kissing boo-boos, placating moods, and putting dinner on the table.

I love watching my wife parent our son. Although we are similar (way too similar sometimes) in personality type, she makes up funnier songs, enjoys the bath-time routine more than I do, and immerses him in her home language – Afrikaans.

It doesn’t need to be ‘her egg’ and she didn’t need to give birth to him to be his parent, or to be equal with me in the equation. 

Biology aside, parenting is hard. We’ve navigated sleepless nights, and struggled at times to keep the house organised. It took some time for us to figure out how to fold and unfold his pram. We nearly lost our minds over that thing. We yelled and swore at the stupid contraption in many a shopping centre carpark while our sweet babe looked on from his car seat.

Nothing ever stretched our relationship quite like that pram – and we once washed all our clothes in a Parisian laundromat with everything labelled in French. Merde!

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I had the experience of growing the baby inside me. My wife stroked my belly as it grew — and read to the bump every night. Now that he’s Earth-side, she doesn’t waste a second in loving him or meeting his needs.

We both get the same implicit sense of joy and challenge from this parenting thing. Biology doesn’t diminish the joy, nor ease the challenges.

Instead of asking who carried the baby, we should be asking who carries the responsibility of the child — and in our family, there are two of us.

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Just because it’s chaotic, doesn’t mean it isn’t amazing.

Before we had S, Natalie and I both said that our child would fit into our lives, as much as possible.

For us, that means dinners out, running events, furthering our respective careers, and travelling.

Pre-baby, my style of travel was haphazard. I have run away from a crazy driver in India, walked 5km up and down cobbled roads in Armenia with 20kg of luggage, and partied with strangers in Las Vegas.

We are NOT this haphazard with a baby. A simple weekend takes a lot of planning, but it is a LOT of fun. With a bunch of checklists, an excellent time can be had.

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Family holidays are fun. 

At times, though, you just mess it up. Monumentally. 

For Easter, we decided to cocoon ourselves as a family. Recovering from birth has been a rough ride and the idea of some time in a peaceful place appealed – so we booked a BnB not far from Brisbane, but away from the hustle and bustle.

Our little boy was yet to meet a farm animal. So…. being in a secluded area… we thought we would take him to a farm.

We found a ‘farm rescue’ online and booked 3 x tickets – one ‘unemployed’ (yes, that’s the baby ticket) and two ‘student tickets.’ Let’s not talk about why we have student cards.

Anyway!

Once we got there, the conversation went something like this.

“Does the baby have closed in shoes?”

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“…. he doesn’t walk, but yes.”

“But you’re wearing thongs.”

So, my wife, in her infinite wisdom, had turned up to a farm, in thongs.

No thongs, no entry. No worries! Mate…

So…. I started the farm tour, baby in tow, sans wife. She went back to the BnB to get shoes (an hours’ round trip)…….

Far from being a tame petting farm as I thought it may be, it was a bit of a bush walk.

Bush walks are just fine, but I can admit that carrying a 9kg child with some incline gets old pretty fast.

As a side note, a sanded stump is actually a great place to breastfeed a baby. Nice and stable. Better than the seats in some of the parenting rooms I have used in shopping centres.

Fortunately, he is the chillest babe you will ever meet, so none of this bothered him.

When Natalie got back, she told me she’d bogged the car in the parking lot. When I finished rolling my eyes, I passed S to her so my arms could have a break. I thought that having a sit would be a great idea.

WRONG!

I got bitten by ants. So many ants.

After that, we decided to bail, because the hill to the sheep enclosure was beyond us by this point.

All was not wasted, though. He saw animals. We told him great stories about what we were looking at. The cuddles were great, and the smiles. He loved our commentary.

And like always, he was just pleased to be there. Such a happy baby. 

As we drove back to the accommodation, we realised that I had failed to book the whole weekend and we were meant to be checking out.

Thank goodness for gracious hosts who let us stay the extra night at a discounted rate.

As we walked up the stairs to our room, we laughed and laughed. We messed up, we under-estimated the activity, one of us arrived in thongs, and I screwed up our booking.

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But you know what? It was all completely okay.

If our holiday had been perfect from start to finish, we wouldn’t be sitting here laughing right now. S would still be yet to see a cow, a pig, a chicken, a duck….

We had fun, we made memories, we did something new…. but most importantly… we laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed and swore, and then laughed again.

I am SO glad we did it. And I am thankful for the recommendation.

There is a lesson in all of this.

Chaos is more fun than perfection. You can do anything with children if you accept that. If you really want something, you’ll go up and down the hills, through the mud, under the fence…. whatever it takes. 

This is a lesson I needed, as I approach my first big deadline with a tiny human.

I hope that as our little boy grows in this crazy adventure called life, he maintains our sense of fun and resilience.

 

 

 

 

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LGBTIQ+ Inclusion – The Power of Conversation

Conversation is both powerful and simple. It allows us to share ideas. In the workplace, almost everything rests upon it – not just talking about work, but sharing workplace banter and building personable relationships.

I feel like part of living and thriving in this modern world is just about how to have better conversations. 

I’ve worked in a lot of places – schools, universities, community organisations – and one of the easiest ways for me to determine my longevity in a workplace is for me to listen to the staffroom conversations. That is usually a perfect metric for the culture of the whole place – set from the top.

“Well you’re there to work anyway, why does it matter? Just don’t talk about your personal life while you’re there.”

Whether people agree or not, people do bring their personal lives into work. I have lost count of the amount of wedding video snippets I’ve had to sit through at work meetings, or the conversations I’ve been privy to about people’s married lives.

Many of us don’t want to air that, but it would be nice to be able to say ‘my wife’ without fearing discrimination, or risking professional limitations. You can choose to share less, but it is hard to sit in the staffroom and be completely private when everyone is having rich, fun conversations about what they know and who they know.

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“But what about the anti-discrimination act? You can’t do that nowadays!” That is the usual response I hear when I express that we have far to go. 

While there may be protective laws, imagine how limited they are in short-term contracts. Your job is not secure and someone above you will decide if your employment becomes permanent. If they have a bias towards the LGBTIQ+ community and they know you identify, they can simply say you are no longer required.

This fear can lead some people to lower their participation in aspects of workplace life in case it accidentally leads to coming out. So – less banter, conversation, or after work drinks. It can be hard, especially because people like to get to know new employees.

This really limits the benefits of organic, collaborative relationship building.

I remember when I first started teaching and people would constantly ask me about my engagement ring, which became relentless questions about my partner, asking to see photos of ‘him’, and then the intervention that followed when I said ‘she.’

Always having to watch what you say can also lead many people to experience stress and anxiety. The cumulative impact of this can lead to lower performance and a higher likelihood of moving on. This can be bad for business. High turnover is expensive and it looks bad.

The way some large organisations are addressing this is through LGBTIQ+ inclusion and diversity training. The idea behind this is to help workplace teams become more informed about gender and sexual diversity. This often includes describing lived experiences, terminology, and how to have more appropriate conversations with others. Most importantly, how to be an ally at work.

You’d be surprised at how much more comfortable it can feel when you see a rainbow lanyard or sticker sitting on somebody’s desk – you know that if you were to mention a same-sex partner or provide your preferred pronouns, you’d be safe.

Through doing this, the idea is to foster inclusive workplace cultures, where awkward conversations and assumptions will become less common. Sometime, it’s not the outright homophobia that people struggle with, but the low-level awkward conversations.

I can’t tell you how many times I have started a job to get to the lull in conversation that is punctuated with, “So…. do you have a boyfriend?”

You then get put into a checkmate situation where you need to lie by omission, create a story, or take the risk of coming out, knowing people may avoid you, treat you differently, or make your working life difficult.

LGBTIQ+ inclusion programs address some of this by showing workplace teams how to use appropriate, inclusive language. It is useful when this rests upon a good working understanding of lived experiences in the community and a rich discussion on the various identities – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer – and how people may relate to them.

We can all benefit from learning more – even if we’re all over this inclusion thing. 

Trying to do less of ‘that’s so gay’, assuming someone has an opposite sex partner, or using an inappropriate pronoun once a preferred one has been expressed, can help the whole workplace to thrive. When one group can feel more included, we can all thrive.

The Week sign on building at daytime

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One year anniversary – why write a book?

It’s been a little over a year since I published my book and released it into the wider world.

Writing a book before the age of 30 was a pretty major life achievement for me. It was one of my bucket-list goals.

I just never thought my first book would be a childhood sex education resource! But it was such a worthwhile undertaking.

At the start of my teaching career, I felt held back from anything other than teaching. I felt pressured into giving 100% of my energy, 100% of the time and I burnt out. I didn’t feel any sense of encouragement for taking on anything outside of school – in fact, it was actively discouraged on many occasions.

In fact, I think releasing a book on the topic of conception in lesbian families could have cost me my job or at the least, gotten me into a lot of trouble. The environments I was in early in my career were very conservative with a lot of religious freedom to discriminate. The fear and anxiety were real.

Before I left that environment, I spoke to someone who had donor-conceived children, but she hadn’t told them. There was fear about it ‘getting out’ and what her children may experience if others knew about it.

I understood the concern, but I think this approach only protects the parents. The psychological outcomes for those children when they eventually find out (and they will), have the potential to be dire and distressing.

That was when I knew I had to write my book. I wanted my son’s story to be filled with pride and openness. Even if he never shares that part of his life with others, I wanted him to know.

After all – donor conception is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor is infertility, IVF conception, or having two mums. Some people choose not to talk about their fertility journey to others because they feel it is highly personal – and that is okay. An individual’s choice to keep it private still doesn’t mean they are ashamed or that they should be. 

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I wanted to write a book about my future child’s life and conception, even if it made people uncomfortable. I knew my child would deserve to know his story, whether people liked it or not.

I changed jobs at the end of Term 2, 2017 – but I had the two week holiday period to fill, so I realised that was my time to create.

The first draft was terrible. God-awful. Too many words, not enough story. Too much awkwardness.

So I went back to the drawing board and thought about what it was I was trying to do, and why? What would I want from a book like this, if I were purchasing it myself?

I wanted:

  • A narrative – to connect with a child at their level
  • A scientifically accurate explanation – no pet names or silliness around body parts and sex
  • Inclusivity – to see various reproductive situations represented, including insemination, and IVF
  • Cute illustrations…. of course

The thing is, I am not an illustrator – I just like writing. So I contacted Anil Tortop at Tadaa Book who illustrates in a range of styles, and once I had a draft I was happy with, we got started on bringing it to life.

I will spare you the experience of looking at any of my drafts, but understand that by the time the book went to publication, it was on version 18. Thank goodness for patient publishers.

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When I looked back and stared at my creation for the very first time, I realised that I had achieved what I needed to.

It represents my child’s experience. Children benefit when they see themselves or people like them in books and other forms of media. Knowing their life is important enough to be represented bridges that divide between child and world – through that, they know they are not alone. The research in this area is preliminary, but ask any teacher to give you an anecdotal experience and I almost guarantee you they will have more than one. Children can’t be what they can’t see.

It normalises the idea of IVF, donor conception, and living in a same-sex family. If you try to teach a child about sex education but their conception has to be explained as an add-end, it sends a message that their differences can’t be talked about, or that it makes people uncomfortable. If it is seen as ‘just another method’ or ‘just another way to bring children into loving families’, this creates a sense of normal. Which is great, because I feel our lives are pretty standard, even with all the differences.

It casts my wife as a main character in the story of our child’s life. I want my wife to experience equality in all ways as a parent and if she is not a main character in the story of our child’s conception, then she becomes less important – she is as capable of raising our son as I am and gets the same sense of joy and challenge from him as I do.

It works towards making us ‘just another Australian family.’ I know we’ve got a long way to go with this one, but casting our life stories on the periphery (which they have been for a long time), makes us seem vastly different to other families. The more we are seen on the bookshelf, the more conversations we can start and the more we will become ‘just another character in the story of Australian public life in 2019.’

I do feel that Australia is mostly inclusive, with some exceptions. I am fortunate enough to live in a very progressive postcode and for the last year and a half, have worked in secular, progressive environments that have included me for all I am.

However, when I introduce the fact that I am in a same-sex relationship in conversations with new people, that part of my identity can sometimes take over. So I am no longer the friend, the colleague, the parent, the new acquaintance. Once I’ve dropped ‘wife’ into the conversation, I then get to field silly questions like, ‘Who is the man? How did you make a child? When did you tell your parents you were gay? How’s that weather…. etc.’

My vision is that when I introduce this part of my life, it doesn’t become my persona.

Yeah, we have a long way to go, but when I look at how far we’ve come, I have great hope. In order to get there, we need to start more conversations, write more stories, and spray those into the world like cans of Fanta that have been shaken too hard.

Even if people don’t like it.

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Our first little family holiday!

Before we started our family, I absolutely lived for travel and also for my career. We are yet to venture overseas, but we did get passport photos for Master S this week, so that will be on the horizon this Christmas.

As for my career, my approach has changed as I am taking a break from the full-time teaching workforce. I now work from home as a writer. This gives me flexibility, but also some fairly unique opportunities. I enjoy it.

A few months ago, a professional in the area of fertility psychology contacted me to see if I wanted to share some of my own journey at a conference – to tell my story about why I wrote a book, both from an academic perspective and a personal one.

Clinical professionals benefit from hearing about lived experiences intertwined with interdisciplinary research, so I jumped at the chance to provide this.

So, we committed to the just-over-an-hour schlep to the Gold Coast, knowing we’d have a three-and-a-half-month in tow.

And we decided to make a weekend of it.

This is how it all went down….

The week before the conference was scheduled, I organised Granny-Care – my mother – to come over and help with Master S while I packed, ran errands, and organised our food for the weekend. Going anywhere with an infant is certainly an exercise in organisation!

I made list upon list upon list. I cooked and created snacks and meals, packed in an insulated bag. I realised that the car would be so full…….. and the bags would be heavy. But it was worth it, because we had a nice dinner when we stopped en-route for a breastfeed.

We arrived at the Gold Coast at about 8pm on the Friday night. It all went well. Master S even slept in a strange cot, in a strange room, in a strange place…..UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21f2.jpg

When I arrived at the conference on Saturday, I was included in the whole event. I was able to spend time in conversation with fertility psychologists and other professionals in the field from around Australia. This included many rich conversations with others about resilience, early disclosure for donor-conceived children, and ideas around donor anonymity. I also had the privilege of hearing a presentation by a donor-conceived adult – it was fascinating to hear of her journey.

All of these conversations reinforced the importance of what I advocate for – early disclosure for donor-conceived children, with a range of resources to suit unique family needs and structures. It also enabled me to tell my family’s story of life, and I have so much pride in that.

On Sunday, we spent time as a family – my favourite part of the whole experience. 

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Before I had Master S, people loved to tell me about how my life would change so much. They seemed smug about it, how I would feel limited – how I may even fail to achieve my dreams. 

I have found the opposite is true.

I manage my time better because I’m completing tasks around a tiny human’s napping schedule – I have mastered the art of writing 100 words in 12 minutes (yeah… cat naps happen) and also the art of accepting that some days are more limited on productivity than others because once he’s awake, I am present with him.

The real ‘fire-cracker under my butt’ in using my time wisely is my baby boy.

I keep on going, because I want to contribute to the world he is going to inhabit. I want to be a role model for this child who is watching my every move in this world.

Most of all, I want to model pride, passion, and the pursuit of dreams.

I think that’s worth working for. Even if I get distracted a lot.

Anyway, play time is fun. 

Until next time…. I hope to tell you more about the journey of writing my book!

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Workplace wellness – it’s not about scented candlesj

I wish workplace mental health initiatives were more about helping people to understand the psychology of burnout and less about getting people to do yoga. The benefits of therapeutic lifestyle activities cannot be dismissed but bear with me here.

Like all modern careers, mine has had ebbs and flows of stress – some at reasonable levels, but sometimes, well beyond that and for prolonged periods of time. Some of the most serious stressful times have been influenced by the environments I have been in and their response to my identity.

Now, at risk of setting myself apart as a special snowflake, I do want to emphasise that I have seen all sorts of people suffer in highly toxic workplaces.

I have watched people work through lunch hours, compete dog-eat-dog style with colleagues for permanency, become attached to their devices 24/7, and give up weekends with their family for extra-curricular activities. I have watched some of the best and brightest people burn out in my midst.

It sucks. I know, I used to be there myself.

Exhibit A: 

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One workplace I was a part of hired a ‘wellness guru’ for a day of professional development. As part of the activities, we were asked where we would rate our wellbeing on a scale.

When he saw my minus number, he stopped and said, “Yeah… I can’t really help with that. You should see someone.” It was an awkward exchange.

I was a minus four, not just because of the weirdness towards my identity, but because I was also giving my whole self to my job with no breaks. I was working within an environment where everyone had to have their needs met, to the highest standard, with no let-up.

Demands had to be met, no matter how unreasonable or time-sensitive. 

Sometimes, the comment would be, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t do so much’ but it would always be followed with another expectation involving weekend time to complete it or another exercise in reinventing the wheel, to maintain the marketing pitch.

We’re innovative here. Look at our employees go. #GrowthMindset! 

Vomit.

You see, some leaders tick the wellbeing box by outsourcing to gurus with buzz words and platitudes. They arrive with their Pinterest boards about scented candles, mindfulness, and trail mix.

But none of that shit works if your whole working life is out of whack. I have seen many people suffer under unrealistic workloads and toxic culture. No amount of wellness Band Aids will heal your mind if you cannot take five after a long day.

The whole idea of wellness is in creating a life that you don’t have to escape from. 

I wish someone had explained that some jobs just won’t improve your standard of life, even if they provide you a living. It is not a backwards career step to cut free from a negative, unsuitable environment as an act of self-care.

Fostering an inclusive and healthy workplace culture is much more important than wellness days. It is really all about fostering a workplace where you’re not shamed for setting boundaries. It is about tempering the expectations of excellence to a place where you can achieve it without burnout. It is about feeling supported to set boundaries with demanding clients so the expectations don’t get out of hand.

Finally, it is about knowing that you are valued for who you are and what you bring.

These tones come from the top and they are what matters when it comes to employee retention. But – unlike the Pinterest boards and wellness guru days (which always seem to be catered by Subway) – these measures take hard work and strategy.

Maybe it is about time we start holding our leaders accountable for it.

Leaving wellness and inclusion to chance runs the risk of burning out some of our best and brightest – gay, straight, or otherwise.

In my experience, many people are fairly coachable when it comes to matters of wellness and they take responsibility for it – but the environment they work in needs to support that, too.

As for toxic workplaces – Namaste? Nah, I’ma go. And I’m taking a free box of paperclips with me.

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You can’t dress a boy in pink! My thoughts on gender and parenting…

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Before I begin….

Sex = Biological assignment of male/female/intersex – made up of characteristics such as genitals, hormones, and chromosomes

Gender = Social identity and expression with relation to masculine/feminine/other tastes or interests… in other words, how a person feels themselves to be (man/woman), and how they show that to the world

Despite how much progress has been made in society’s understanding of everything, gender formation – or the development of the intrinsic experience of how a person feels and expresses themselves in relation to boy/girl/other is still a bit of a mystery.

I very much consider myself a cis-gendered woman, but growing up, I felt like a very boyish girl. That is how I related with my gender identity. See above.

When I was pregnant with my son, there was a theory that we knew the sex of our baby. The clothing items I posted to Facebook didn’t help.

Pink cat socks? Must be a girl! A toddler soccer kit? You didn’t tell me you were having a boy? Actually, we were still placing bets the day before we met our baby – whose sex seems to be a delightful XY variety – time will tell how he relates to that with his gender.

I have never bought into the value of rigid gender stereotyping. I find it limiting that if a child presents as a female at birth, she should be press-ganged into a world of image-conscious dolls and shirts that say ‘I Hate My Thighs!’

I have an even lower opinion of make-up sets for little girls who are still losing milk teeth. I cannot help but wonder if all of this image-conscious advertising contributes to the toxic ‘mean girls’ trend that I keep seeing in my teaching career.

Likewise, I cry a little bit inside whenever I see boys steered away from performing arts in favour of plastic guns and shunning their emotions. ‘Boys will be boys’ has become tangled up with unsavoury attitudes that are not too far separated from these stereotypes and expectations.

It should be no surprise that we don’t limit ourselves to pink or blue.

We certainly get raised eyebrows when our son wears his light pink swaddle or purple tie-dyed t-shirt. More so when we show people his doll’s house (which sits beside his toy car.)

Still, I don’t buy into the idea that his gender identity is so fragile that it could be confused by a t-shirt colour or a toy. Whatever he becomes will always be okay by us and I believe it is our job to model acceptance and openness towards a range of interests.

“It’s just the way it’s always been done, that’s the way we’ll always do it.”

Back in 1995, I was not allowed a Batman cake for my fifth birthday. My mother was worried about what my party guests might think, and so I was given a princess cake. I was squeezed into an uncomfortable dress. I ripped that sucker off as soon as I’d blown out the candles.

I don’t blame my parents – it’s hard to buck traditions, lest you be labelled as ‘confusing the children’ or ‘pushing an agenda.’

It is also easy to think that one scantily-clad doll or toy gun is not going to rattle any child’s cage, but when our young are inundated with media and peer influence, there is no way out – unless a wider range of options are encouraged. Freedom to explore starts at home.

I would love for my child to do ballet lessons AND sports – or for his birthday cake to be anything he likes, superheroes or magical pink unicorns. His toybox is filled with puzzles, trucks, dress-ups, dolls, and LEGO. I don’t automatically reach for the bluest of blues in the clothing aisle, either.

In light of not having a default, people have applauded us for subscribing to ‘gender neutral parenting.’ The occasional person accuses us of ‘turning him gay’ – if that were possible, the opposite – conversion therapy – would have more credibility.

What we espouse is far from neutral – and I do not believe it is an unreasonably radical statement, either. It isn’t about raising a child free from these influences, but with the encouragement to explore in the safe love of two open-minded parents.

After all, I believe that it doesn’t really matter how much you push or police gender expectations either way – children will adopt whatever they feel as comfortable to their identity, and exposing them to a range of interests and tastes sends the message that any of it is fine by us. Conversely, discouraging a child from being their truest self can inflict harm from which they may never completely recover.

He can be whoever he wants to be – free from conditions, assumptions, and toxic limitations.

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Plus, he looks adorable in pink.

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Body shame and pregnancy.

Despite our highly enlightened modern world, body-shaming is a common experience for many people.

You would think that having the power to connect and inform would reduce this somewhat, but the shaming comment remains a popular way for people to bring out the worst in each other and themselves.

An easy-to-reach, low-hanging fruit is a person’s self-image. Body shame is something I noticed before falling pregnant, during my pregnancy, and immediately after.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the elusive pregnancy glow I was exhibiting was just frustration!

Prior to falling pregnant, I was a vegetarian marathon runner and triathlete. I played soccer and did weekly Park Runs. This lifestyle left me with a 12-year-old boy body, so the novelty of bouncing breasts was something I looked forward to.

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Note, this wore off very quickly the first time I tried to do Park Run with an underwire bra.

Prior to pregnancy, people would make comments about my body with great frequency.

“You should eat more. Vegetarianism is making you weak.”

I found myself perplexed. I could squat more than I weighed, my best 5km time was under 23 minutes, and I was in the Brisbane female top 20 for goal-score counts in the 2014 season of soccer. I also completed a marathon in under 4 hours.

Weak? Only when the potato chips were in arm’s reach.

When I started IVF treatments, I took steroids to aid with implantation. These tablets forced me to visit the drive-thru as soon as work finished each day.

The worst part about working in a small community is that the whole postcode knows you caved in and had junk food by 8am the next school day.

“Hey Miss, saw you at the KFC. Did you get fries with that?”

Cravings aside, steroids also have a positive impact on helping a woman get pregnant on an assisted reproductive cycle.

Yeah, I got pregnant.

You know what else I got? Fat. I got fat.

Actually, these are not my own words. I harboured a tiny bump up until I was induced, 4 days overdue. I got a job at 23 weeks pregnant and nobody I worked with (except for my boss) knew until I was 30 weeks along.

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40 weeks + 3 days

It was my midwife who told me at my 36 week appointment.

“You’ve gained 20kg. This puts you in the upper percentile – so yeah, you are overweight. You should watch what you eat.”

Daaaaaaaamn.

This got me thinking. I knew that my weight was fine. You can’t use a BMI scale when a person is carrying a baby, extra blood, and fluid.

However – what if I had been more vulnerable? What if I struggled with body image?

Imagine the consequences for a child in utero when a Mum starts cutting her calories out of fear of being “fat.”

Sure, there are risks when you have a significant weight problem, and I’m not suggesting that medical practitioners should dance around this.

What I am concerned about is where the threshold is – whether it’s worth it to add stress to a person who is growing a tiny human if they’re just a bit above par with their weight gain.

The moment I left the hospital, most of the weight dropped off very rapidly, which I was expecting, given my body type and the percentage of fluid retention.

Now, the “concerned” comments have come back.

“Are you sure you should be breastfeeding? Just give yourself a break and a chance to recover. Fed is best.”

I am sure that if I had an inappropriate fat percentage in relation to my individual body, then my milk supply would have dried up.

Au contraire. My son is a beast – wearing size 00 at the ripe old age of 5 weeks old.

They say that pregnancy helps you to embrace your body because you see what it is capable of. Absolutely, that is the truth. But do you know what else you learn to embrace?

The fact that you just can’t win, no matter what your size is.  

We should all be more considered with our words – if we can’t fight against the media saturation and the advertising, the least we can do is support one another as women.

And yeah, I’ll have fries with that.

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