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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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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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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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Have yourself a critically-thinking Christmas – or, why I bat for Team Santa

As an adult, my excitement towards Christmas has been limited to one of two activities:

1. Teaching my students how to make crafts for loved ones

and

2. Pressing all of the toys at Kmart and then walking away, creating an annoying canon of Christmas carols

I also work with my loved ones (my parents and my wife) to throw together some donation baskets for various animal rescues and family charities. Other than that, I tend to leave the country, so I miss a lot of the Christmas hype. Being grown-ass adults, we also don’t bother with gifts.

Santa Claus riding snowboard

As a child, I had a few short, sweet years where I believed there was a Santa Claus. I eventually had doubts – after all, why would an altruistic flying dude with a sack fail to address world hunger if he could deliver a bunch of stuff to kids every year?

I also questioned the plausibility of the physics, but it was good fun while it lasted. One of my best memories was when my brother and I received a game to share – Key to the Kingdom. Best 1990s board game, ever. Also, when we received a Yo-Ho Diablo, also to share. I can never remember having as much fun with a toy as when we took that bad boy into primary school and showed off all our tricks.

Santa must have known how much we wanted those particular toys…. right?

Now that we are about to give birth, I am noticing that there are two distinct teams – Team Santa and Team Critical ThinkingThe former love to take their children through the Santa stories, leaving carrots out for the reindeer. They’ll claim that at least one of the presents beneath the tree has been delivered by Santa. The latter consider themselves to be critical thinkers and shun the idea of propagating any ‘lies’ with their children because they want to foster intellect in their progeny.

Excuse me while I vomit. 

While these types wish to endow their child with thinking prowess, they fail to acknowledge one vital caveat; there has been limited research to support their assertion. That is to say, their rejection of Santa Claus on the basis of it disrupting critical thought development is mostly anecdotal conjecture. To which I give a resounding…. citation required. 

You would think that the first place a critical thinking parent would go to form their views would be research, but peer-reviewed articles to support the Anti-Santa viewpoint largely do not exist – like Santa himself.

What does exist is a significant body of research on development that points to the unequivocal benefits of pretend play and imagination. Children who engage in this form of play by themselves and with others develop a greater capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity.

Busting the Santa Myth using burgeoning critical reasoning skills actually paves the way for cognitive development that will later be beneficial for persuasion, problem-solving, and innovative activities (like robotics!)

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It is generally a short-lived myth, but while children believe, it can provide magic and positivity – from the sharing of stories, the anticipation of writing letters to Santa, and the excitement of receiving a gift. I personally draw the line at using Santa to control behaviour – be good or you won’t get anything from Santa! After all, managing behaviour is the job of parents – but there are no clauses in the handbook that say you need to use Santa in that way, and it probably won’t do any lasting harm.

Once the child begins to work through the myth themselves, that is when the real magic begins, because you can then appoint them as Santa’s Helper – a child who has figured it all out themselves, but who has a special role in protecting it for younger siblings and friends. Children who have lived Santa’s magic might relate to keeping it alive for others, but children who have always heard the Santa myth shunned will likely struggle to develop this empathy.

I have met many families who squash the Santa myth before their child is ever able to believe. Far from developing critical thought, what tends to happen is an uncomfortable sense of intellectual and moral superiority from the mouths of babes.

“Only BABIES believe in Santa Claus. You must be STUPID.” 

You can imagine how pleasant these children are.

I received the short-lived joy of Santa as a child. I am critically rigorous of any viewpoint as an adult, to the point where it annoys the people who love me because I won’t accept any poppycock at face value. That is to say – yep, I’m not fun at parties!

Yes, that is an anecdote with a sample size of 1, but I think you’ll find the rigour of figuring Santa out is more beneficial for a child than begrudging them the experience in the name of ‘critical thinking.’

Ooh-la-la.

Let them eat cake – and leave some out for the big guy, too. 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever you relate to! May this season be a time of safety and love for you and yours.

shallow focus photo of Merry Xmas LED signage