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TEN REASONS WHY YOU CAN LET A STRANGER BABYSIT YOUR CHILD

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is ‘Be Bold for Change’. So many parents are being held back from amazing things they could be doing because of lack of reliable childcare. As a working mother, I am sharing ten reasons for thinking outside the box and freeing yourself when it comes to organising childcare. Most people think of their parents, siblings or friends when they need a babysitter. In today’s world, you can actually book a babysitter easily on your phone just at the same moment that you decide you want to go for that night out or late meeting, and be sorted within minutes. This option is great especially when you do not have to pay any monthly membership fees for such a convenient service. Many parents are already doing it, but why should you trust someone you have never met before?


  1. Because your friends were once strangers - If you have old friends, it may be very hard to imagine a time when they were strangers, but there definitely was a time when you had to introduce yourself, get to know them, build trust and become as close as you are today. Trust is built over time, but there would have had to be leaps of faith which ended well, proving that the person was worth trusting. The first time you visited them alone, lent them money, let them sleepover, are all examples of leaps of faith in friendship that could have ended badly, but they didn’t - and now you have a great friend! When it comes to children, your priceless treasure, you do the best you can to keep them safe and make good decisions. At some point, you will have to trust a stranger that could turn out to be the best carer your child ever had.
  2. Because you cannot always be there - As much as we all want to be there for every special moment in our children’s lives, there will be times when work, other commitments and life can make that impossible. Even as a stay-at-home parent, you might miss special moments because you have to see to another child, go to a medical appointment or look after yourself. Considering how differently children’s minds work, we might even be missing special moments we did not know existed. As a mother, I would want to take time off work to be at my child’s first ballet show, but in her little head, she might consider her first ‘poo in a potty’ a more special moment! I am thankful for caring staff at schools and nurseries that are there to celebrate those ‘small victories’ with my child when I cannot be there. I am sure that you will agree that it is better to have a kind stranger there for them, if I and other significant others cannot be there, than for them to have no one at all.
  3. Because family is not always available - In recent times, the major contribution of grandparents to childcare, which helps reduce costs for working parents, cannot be appreciated enough. Some parents who have no family nearby have had to give up their jobs or careers because they cannot afford nursery fees. The fortunate parents, who get Grandma to babysit every Tuesday and Thursday will tell you how they could not cope financially otherwise. Even if you use family and friends for just occasional unpaid evening babysitting, you will agree that there comes a time when you feel that you have asked too many times and would not like to bother them again. It is a shame to have to miss having social time out without the children simply because of lack of childcare. Paying a trustworthy stranger to babysit surely seems wise when you realise that time out is good for your mental health and makes you a better parent in the long run. Sometimes, parents prefer to pay a stranger to babysit simply to avoid having to tell Grandma and Grandpa where they are going!
  4. Because the stranger is trained and insured - The thought of having a stranger babysit is justifiably a scary thought if the stranger was really just a man off the street. I am definitely not advocating leaving your precious children in the care of random people that offer to watch them for you. I, personally, would like to know that the person I am paying to babysit my child has had some training and experience. There are currently no qualifications required to babysit children for a few hours at home, but knowing they have at least basic childcare training and experience would make me feel more comfortable leaving my children in their care. Having insurance also means that they or the childcare agency would have had to meet important requirements to be accepted by the insurers. We all want the best for our children, and that includes quality childcare. Recruiting, training, insuring, police-checking and managing staff costs money, so if I were to trust a stranger to care for my child outside office hours, I would not go for the cheapest, but the best. I would expect to pay a decent amount of money for a reliable, caring, trained and insured babysitter to care for my children in my own home.
  5. Because teachers and childminders are actually strangers too - Not many people get to meet their child’s teacher before the child starts school. Even if a two-hour meeting was arranged, you cannot truly know the teacher who will be massively influencing your child’s life for the next year within that time. Parents generally make more effort when it comes to checking out childminders for pre-schoolers, but it is still the same issue of trust. You have to just decide to trust them with your child when you book the sessions, either because you like the childminder, or she is the most convenient. For parents that have left arranging childcare till the last minute and do not have many childminder options, they just have to tell themselves that OFSTED have checked the childminder and leave their child in the lady’s home all day hoping they do well. I think it takes just as much, or more courage, to leave a child, especially one that cannot speak well, in such care, as it does to have a babysitter from an agency come and babysit the child in the child’s home environment for a few hours.
  6. Because they have good references -  It is amazing how much value parents place on  Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, formerly called Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks in the UK. I believe all respectable childcare agencies should ensure that babysitters have a satisfactory DBS report before sending them out to care for children, but a clean DBS is not the evidence of a good and reliable babysitter. I personally feel that in addition to that, recent references say more about the person’s attitude, ability and reliability. It is also reassuring for parents to know that a babysitter has been interviewed face-to-face by the agency before being allowed to work. Some parents may not have time to screen or interview the babysitter themselves before they need to use them for a few hours, but knowing that parents and children who know this babysitter gave good feedback puts one’s mind at ease. Anyone can have one or two clients that never liked them, but being unable to produce at least two good references after working for years is never a good sign. Positive feedback from other parents about the babysitter or childcare agency is definitely something to look out for before trusting them with your child.
  7. Because children are usually abused by someone in their immediate family circle - This is now a well-known fact. Most abused children or their families were familiar with the perpetrator of abuse. It is not usually the stranger or one-off babysitter that takes advantage of children. In fact, letting children know that it is okay for them to be cared for by people outside their family can help them to open up and ask for help if such a terrible thing ever happened. Trained childcare staff are usually aware of signs of child abuse that family members may be unconsciously ignoring. They are also trained to respect confidentiality and raise their concerns with only the appropriate person, who will then raise safeguarding concerns and refer, if necessary. There is hardly any media attention for the millions of good, kind babysitters out there, but the few terrible ones have made the news and planted fear in people’s minds, which sometimes holds parents back from taking advantage of the benefits of technology to be able to book evening and weekend childcare easily online.
  8. Because you can lock away anything you really don’t want to be seen or lost - Whether you live in a mansion or a small flat, there will be things that are very private and valuable to you, which you will not want a stranger to see, or steal, in the worst case scenario. The thing about using a babysitter is that you are leaving the person in your home with your children while you go out. If you have small children, or children who might be sleeping when you go out, your property is practically at the mercy of the stranger while you are out. This is part of the reason why I would not want to let a real stranger babysit. Using a babysitter from a reliable agency means that the babysitter has been screened and had their identity verified. They also have the reputation of their agency to consider before doing anything to or in your home. As comforting as that is, I also like the fact that I can lock away my personal things and valuables before going out, so that the babysitter can care for my children without bumping into anything awkward or expensive, intentionally or not!
  9. Because a good child-care agency is like a hospital - When you go into the Accident and Emergency department of a hospital, you do not ask to see the doctor’s medical degree and references before letting him treat your child. You trust that the hospital has checked all this before employing him or her. The doctor uses their time with you to build rapport, provide the service and earn your respect, if possible. Despite their degrees, training and experience, there will be some doctors that you do not like and some that you love. I believe good babysitters also have to provide good childcare, while building a good rapport with parents and children. Some people will just not click with you, but you can still expect professionalism and good childcare from the babysitter, if you have used a reputable agency. When an agency provides a good babysitter that gets on well with the child and parents, it is just great. The parents will be happy to have that babysitter back anytime they need childcare and the child will be comfortable when they know who to expect whenever babysitting is required. The other advantage of using a childcare agency is that a substitute can be quickly arranged if the usual babysitter is ever unavailable, so the parents never have to cancel their plans for lack of childcare.
  10. Because you have parental instincts - This is something that mothers often talk about, but I feel that both men and women have parental instincts when it comes to the children they love so much. We have all met people that immediately made us feel comfortable like we had known them for years. In fact, I have had some people look after my daughter that even I felt like they were doing a better job with my child than I am! I am not sure if it was because of their years of childcare experience, patience, training or personality, but my daughter loved them and I just felt so comfortable leaving my child with them. A good babysitter will usually arrive at least a few minutes before you have to leave to get some instructions about what is required or allowed for the child. Those are usually valuable minutes to ask any questions you may have and get a general feel for the person before you decide whether or not to walk out of the door, leaving your house and child in their care. In my opinion, this parental instinct does not necessarily come with experience, because I have met new mothers that have the greatest instincts when it comes to their children. We just need to trust ourselves more to make the decision to trust others with our children, so that lack of reliable childcare becomes a thing of the past. Let us be bold for change.

THREE SECRET STRUGGLES OF SUPERMUMS

Supermums are the amazing women that juggle motherhood with jobs, careers, business, marriage or all of these! There is the popular argument that being a stay-at-home mum should be the highest paid job because of all it involves, and I am not disputing that in anyway, because it is hard work, and I know that it is certainly something that not every woman can do and enjoy. We must also not deny the fact that mothers who work outside the home do not necessarily have less responsibilities at home because of their paid jobs.  In fact, getting a cleaner, nanny, babysitter, ironing lady, personal shopper etc (which only few can afford) can reduce the house jobs and cover for absences, but there are definitely still times that only Mummy will do! Some mothers work outside the home because they have to, and others because they want to. Whatever the reason, these are the mental battles most of us have fought at one time or another.

  1. Being in two places at once:  A supermum, like any other woman, will want to spend quality time with her children when she can. The problem is that small children mostly find fun in silly and repetitive activities, which most intelligent women will find mind-numbing. Even ironing and hoovering can seem like brain-death for a highly-skilled person. After talking science, law, economics or management all week, it might be just a bit harder to concentrate on and enjoy playing peek-a-boo all afternoon. Wisdom and love makes mothers want to do it, but their clever brain would rather be doing something about that bright idea they just had in the kitchen. This does not mean that they do not love or want their children, it just means that they have to work harder to be there in body and mind, enjoying the moments when they spend time with their family, because a good supermum knows that family is more important than work.
  2. Jack of all trades: There is that tendency to feel inadequate in all areas when you juggle so many balls. A supermum will worry that she is not being the best mum, especially when she sees how well a stay-at-home mum manages her home and children. She might also worry that she is not giving her best at work because she sometimes has to put her children first. She might wonder how much better her business might be doing if she could put in more time, or how much higher up the career ladder she might be if she put in as much hours as her colleagues. She always has to remind herself that she is still only human, she is doing the best that she can (wherever she is) with the time that she has, that life is not a competition and that her family love her anyway.
  3. Frequent hat switching: Imagine how difficult it would be to write an exam where the questions were in different subjects, with no categorisation and sometimes in different languages! That’s what supermums sometimes have to deal with. You could be having an important conversation at toddler level one moment with your sweet mum hat on, and doing a webinar with top level consultants using your business woman hat the next. Going from playful mummy to boss lady to sexy wife to compassionate friend everyday can be tough. Forget the guilt of not being there for the children all the time - all this hat switching several times a day is exhausting. When supermum needs a break, supermum should get a break!

FOR THE LOVE OF FACEBOOK

People often make remarks about how social media users share only their good and happy times but never the bad times. This has even been blamed for making readers feel depressed about their own lives, because of the illusion that others are doing better all the time. I have seen funny comments saying that people should tell us (their social media friends/followers) when they break up, if they have spent time sharing photos of a happy relationship, so that we too can have closure! I have to admit that I did find that funny, because it is true that some people excessively share information about their happy romantic life on social media. As a social media user, I know that I too will only share nice pictures of myself and my family – you will not find me sharing photos of a tired husband, messy house or crying child, although I might make a comment or two about them on my status. I also find social media great for promoting events and business.


The thing about sharing the bad stuff in life on social media is that you will often forget to share again to say that the problem is now resolved, so people are left with a lasting bad impression of your life, partner or child, which no one wants. A few moments after the ‘useless father’ comment, there might be a great dad moment, which you won’t even have time to share on social media because you were thoroughly enjoying it! There are people who will write a strongly worded negative comment on their status about their partner, family or friends when they have a rough patch, and although I do not personally agree with handling things that way, I understand that there are motives for it, which some people use as a coping mechanism. For example, someone may write about their ‘friends’ being jealous of them or their boss being ‘mean’, so that they can get sympathetic comments from others to make them feel better about themselves. In my opinion, you could just talk it through directly with the person you have problems with, deal with it maturely or delete them from your account, if you are that upset. I have never heard of a friendship or relationship that got better because someone wrote a nasty comment about it online!


I am aware that social media is an outlet for many people, especially in these busy times when meeting up with friends/family can take months to organize. That, in itself, is a topic for another day – social media should not be a replacement for a real social life and true friendships. It has slowly become a culture of our time to judge how good a thing is by the amount of responses it gets on social media. I think it is sad when adults think this way, and even worse when teenagers begin to measure their self-worth by the popularity of their images and posts on social media! It is absolutely normal to want to share your best moments with the world, but we must not give social media responses too much importance and influence on the way we feel about ourselves.


People will not normally hang out dirty laundry, until they are washed and clean, so why should we be expected to always share our bad/sad moments with the world? Saying that, I have sometimes shared sad moments in my life to encourage others in similar situations and create a realistic picture of life for one’s ‘admirers’. I am all for sharing your successes and happy moments, but we should also try to avoid living for the media. Social media gives everyone a chance to feel like a celebrity in their own circles through glamorous photos and shared posts that people will read daily. If people are ignorant enough to feel that one’s social media image is real life all the time, then that should not be blamed on the person sharing the photos. I know people who are very good at portraying a fabulous life online, which is a far cry from what their lives really are. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good life and image, but I think you should actually create it, rather than wasting time faking it!


We should educate people that let the happy social media photos get them down. I understand that sometimes people can be going through difficult times that make it hard for them to see everyone else’s happy moments on social media. Instead of expecting everyone else to stop sharing their happy moments for their sake, why can’t we make people understand that it is okay to log off and not look. You can delete the app, avoid the website or even delete your account, if you have to. All social media users should also regularly check that they are happy with their privacy settings and friends list. Technology is there to serve us, not the other way round. More importantly though, we should learn to deal with our emotions so we can be genuinely happy for others on social media and real life, rather than judging and being self-centred when others share their joy and successes.


THE GIFT OF TIME

Time is something most of us feel we need more of. Babysitting gift vouchers are now available to buy for friends and family, allowing parents to have time for other activities without worrying about childcare. The vouchers offer at least three hours of pre-paid evening babysitting to the recipient, so people no longer have to feel guilty about being unable to babysit for family or friends! The ‘gift of time’ is a thoughtful present parents will appreciate on special occasions and all year round. These vouchers are also a great way to appreciate your hard working staff, allowing them to attend evening work events or parties without worrying about childcare.


Most entrepreneurs will agree that childcare is a big cause for concern in today’s society, especially where both parents work. Building a strong, successful business requires lots of time and commitment, leaving little spare time to interview for and find home help. Evasitters’ staff are all interviewed face-to-face, screened thoroughly and paid by EvaSitters, so parents do not have to worry about all that. All good parents will agree that their children are their most valuable possessions, so they cannot afford to be careless about childcare. EvaSitters provides police-checked, trained, experienced and caring babysitters to homes in Coventry, Warwickshire, Birmingham, Solihull, Leicester and surrounding areas, even at short notice, with no membership, booking or registration fees.


Any sensible person will agree that good, reliable childcare is priceless. Having a babysitter or nanny that really gets your children and ensures that they are safe and happy allows you to get on with life without guilt or worry. Although, parents will be willing to pay anything for such a reliable and necessary service, EvaSitters charges the same affordable hourly rate for any day of the week, and parents can get a discount with multiple bookings. For parents on the go, there is also an Evasitters phone app, available for free download from www.evasitters.co.uk


Evasitters was set up to provide an easy-to-book online babysitting service which allows parents, like me, to have time away from home when required, while also providing flexible well-paid work for eligible applicants. Having no membership, booking or registration fees, allows parents to use our service regularly or occasionally without penalty. Because of the large amount of daytime childcare providers, such as nurseries and childminders, Evasitters specialises in providing childcare after 6pm, but can also help parents with before and after school childcare.


IT'S OUR CULTURE

Being a Nigerian who has now spent half of my life in the UK, I sometimes have moments of reflection when I compare Western and African traditions. I have learned that neither culture is better or superior, but they each have pros and cons. In order to maintain my sanity, I have concluded that it is best to pick the best from both worlds, as I see it, and live the best life I can, while staying true to my maker and myself. No one can be blamed for doing things a certain way if they do not know any better, but when we gain exposure and see other ways of doing things, surely, it is common sense to try to understand the reasoning behind each method and make a conscious decision about how to live our lives, rather than just following blindly because ‘it is our culture’. As a woman in an ‘intercultural marriage’, I am even more aware of the need to understand different cultures, without ignoring the need for unity in our home and marriage. We have open discussions in our home about our upbringing, perspectives and cultures, and will usually make a conscious decision about what to teach our children, after comparing the pros, cons and possible reasons for different traditions.


The most recent issue that I have been reflecting on is the relationship between parents and their adult children. Most Africans take pride in the idea that there is more ‘respect’ and ‘sense of community’ in African families. It is considered ‘rudeness’ when children speak freely to their parents, and ‘wickedness’ when elderly relatives live in a care home, for example. The common  idea is that parents should be able to say whatever they want to their children with no consideration for the children’s feelings, and good children should bring their parents to live with them in their old age. I have seen many British people that live with their elderly parents or even visit them daily to check on them. I have also seen British people who have not been able to accommodate their elderly parents in their own home, for different reasons, and have found good quality care homes for them, where they are happy and well supported. On the other hand, I have heard of people who use care homes as a means of getting rid of elderly relatives and never bother to visit them. I have also heard of people who live with their parents or parents-in-law, and resent them and the fact that they had no choice in the matter - where is the blessing in that?


People sometimes use the analogy that parents spent sleepless nights raising their children, so children should be willing to inconvenience themselves to the maximum to care for them in old age. My problem with that analogy is that parents usually choose to have children and will (quite rightly) make decisions for those children as it suits the parents. Dealing with a parent is different because they have their own way of doing things, can make their own decisions as adults and they are not like a baby that you planned to have and made preparation for. I believe it is right to support and care for elderly parents, but nothing can ever change the fact that the parent is your parent and not your child. This becomes even more difficult when you have young children of your own and need to prioritise. Is it right to constantly ignore the needs of your young family or job to care for an elderly parent, or will it be acceptable to use a paid carer or home in this case? It is obvious that having no provision for basic needs and care for elderly parents is not right, but does it have to be the children themselves that provide that practical help because their parents cared for them when they were babies? Even as a parent, I use good quality nurseries and babysitters to care for my children, when  needed. I make decisions and only make sacrifices I am happy with, so that I will not blame my children for anything in the future.


A more concerning aspect of this parent-child relationship is finances. I have heard of women who have kept secrets from their husbands and started wars in their homes in the name of gathering resources from their matrimonial homes to build houses and make life more comfortable for their parents/siblings. Some women will independently choose to give all their income to their parents, leaving their husband to shoulder all the bills in their marriage. Some housewives will even expect their husband to provide for their children, as well as the woman’s parents and siblings, from his limited resources. If he has elderly parents who expect the same too, we are talking about one man catering for three homes! Is it right to put so much pressure on young people who are just beginning to build their careers and families? It is no wonder the higher risk of mental illness and suicide among young men and immigrants.


Most African parents will be quick to say that they love their children no matter what and do not expect any money from them, but the reality is that many educated African children are seen as an investment for the future. I can understand that way of thinking if elderly parents have no education, no pension and probably only small businesses that crumble when the owner is too old to work. In today’s world where people can invest wisely, start companies and get pensions, is it right to expect young professionals to cater for three homes from their salaries? As a grandparent, would I be happy to live in comfort at the expense of my grandchildren? Only a selfish and foolish person would choose ‘keeping up appearances as a pampered parent’ over the basic needs of their children and grandchildren. The problem is that many people silently sacrifice much to meet their parents’ unrealistic expectations, because ‘it is our culture’. Yes, there are men living with their families in shabby London flats and building mansions for their parents in Nigeria.


I once overheard a young woman telling her baby that he would buy her a car when he is older. I was amazed that this kind of thinking is in our generation. If my son buys me a car, I would want it to be a gift from his heart and out of the abundance he has, not because I expect it and have made him to feel that he is a failure if he does not do so. If I want a car, I will work hard now and buy it for myself, so that I can even be the one buying gifts for my grandchildren. I strongly believe that perceptions and expectations can affect our outcomes in life. If parents continue to expect that their comfort in old age is dependent on their children, then their attitude to life and work will never improve. I know that sometimes life does not work out as planned, but if that happens, I pray that I will have the wisdom and contentment to accept my fate and appreciate any money my children give me as a gift, not a repayment. They would still be my children whether I educate them or not, and it is my decision to send them to university, so I should not use their education/job as a reason to milk them when they settle down. Besides, not every one that goes to school becomes successful, so it will be great if people stop taking the glory for someone’s education. The successful people we see today used the opportunities and support provided by their families to make themselves a success. There are many that did not!


The funniest analogy I have heard for this is that children should be a ‘biblical Joseph’ to their family to bring ‘financial breakthrough’. This is based on the story of Joseph in the Bible. When Joseph was reunited with his family, he brought his father and brothers to Egypt and shared his wealth with them. First of all, Joseph was a prince in Egypt when he did this, so he was not in slavery or prison when it happened. Some people are in the prison of debt (loans, credit cards etc) and slavery of abusive relationships (e.g. prostitution and loveless marriages) just to meet their parents’ expectations of giving them money whenever they want it. We should remember that Joseph’s father thought he was dead and was not expecting Joseph to come and give him money - he actually had income of his own before the famine.


As children become adults, what they need most from parents is emotional support, but I have seen parents who still give financial gifts and practical help to their adult children and grandchildren. This helps their children to have a better starting point in life compared to the ones who are being expected to not only fend for themselves, but also for their parents/siblings. I believe that caring for parents is about ensuring their wellbeing as much as we can, within our means, not about building big houses and buying fancy cars for them to make up for the money they spent on our upbringing. Obviously, every family has different circumstances and challenges, but the important thing is love. The love, acceptance and value we place on our children, siblings and parents should not be dependent on how much money they can give us - that is not ‘our culture’! If one’s child or sibling turns out to be a ‘Joseph’ that has wealth to share, it should be accepted as a gift, not a right.


THIS MAZE CALLED LIFE

If you have lived anything more than eighteen years on this planet, you will know from experience that life is full of decisions and choices. Transition into adulthood gives us the freedom to come out of the shelter of protective parents/guardians and make our own decisions about life. Whether it is about university, jobs, careers, relationships, marriage, having children, raising children, where to live, whether to buy, whether to invest or how to save - there are so many choices with so many different outcomes. As with a man at the start of a maze, our vision is limited. We can do our best to learn more and make informed choices, but there is only so much information we can have at the time of making a decision. There is always more knowledge with hindsight.


It seems to me that a higher perspective will be very beneficial for doing well in this maze. If only we knew someone who knows the end from the beginning, if only we knew someone who knew all the possible outcomes, if only there was an all-knowing guide to walk us through this maze...


How many decisions have you taken and regretted after seeing the outcome? How many more will we make and regret? Is it all about trial and error? I guess some might choose the easy way and just stand still in the maze to avoid any disappointment or failure. That's not really my style. I want to forge ahead, better and better every day. Surely this means that there will be wrong turns, rough roads and even times that feel like I am having to go back to square one! Is it worth the risk? That's a very personal one, isn't it? If the prize or goal is worth it, surely we can find a better way to navigate this maze more safely.


Common sense tells me that someone looking down from above will be the best person to guide me through. He can see the dead ends and shortcuts from that view, when all I see standing in the maze are walls and doorways. If I am very clever, I could find a way to sit on one of the walls and see a bit more of the layout than my fellow maze navigator, but that will definitely not be as good as having direction from someone who sees it all. If there really was someone who sees it all and is able to guide me through this maze, I would trust Him completely and follow every instruction He gives, even when it does not make sense, because I know He can see the full picture and is leading me safely out to glory.

CELEBRATE YOURSELF


I was recently surprised by the variety of emotions that came flooding back as I remembered my student days, while walking with a friend. It is nice to make new friends, but the true value of old friendships is appreciated when we look back at all we have been through with good old friends. I have managed to keep in touch with a few friends from university, and feel so blessed to have been friends with my husband as well since our undergraduate days. Today, I remember what a great friend he was to me at university, as we celebrate our wedding anniversary this week. I know people have different ideas about friendship and dating, but I cannot deny that being friends before dating worked well to strengthen my relationship with my husband, who understands me better than anyone else.


Men usually get awards and recognition for climbing mountains, inventing technology and breaking records, but I believe the men who choose to love and cherish their wife everyday deserve more than mere medals. No one knows how hard it really is for him to apologise when he is not sure what he has done wrong, or how hard it can sometimes be to come home to the same imperfect woman everyday, or how hard it is to put her happiness first when making decisions. We expect husbands to be there and love faithfully, but there is no award to win when they do so. This applies also to many other roles in life.


There will not always be awards and recognition for the things we do well. We need to learn to celebrate ourselves and appreciate that we are doing well, if we are - even when no one says so. I remember how sad I felt when I was unable to attend my university graduation ceremony after completing my first degree. My excellent grades and hard work seemed to mean nothing without a cap and gown. I had no money to register for the graduation ceremony and my supportive parents could not afford to travel there, after struggling to pay my steep international student tuition fees. I comforted myself with the hope of being able to graduate again as a doctor some day, if I ever got to do the course I really wanted to do. My friends were all very sensitive and supportive, but there was nothing anyone could say to take away the seeming unfairness of the fact that I had done better than many of the celebrated graduands, without a chance to celebrate with them. I had to learn to be happy for others and celebrate my own success privately, without a formal graduation photo.


Thankfully, I was able to attend the graduation ceremony after my second degree, and enjoyed celebrating with my family and friends. It was the end of a long journey many would never understand. If I had allowed myself to have a bad attitude because I felt demoralised and unrecognised after my earlier achievements, there would be nothing more to celebrate today. Sometimes life can seem unfair and all our hard work can seem to go unnoticed, but if we carry on and find motivation in the fact that the best reward is the personal satisfaction of a job well done, we would eventually get the recognition we deserve. We can choose to continue to be good, honest, faithful, hardworking and kind. You can choose to celebrate and motivate yourself, even when the world does not care, because what really matters is what you think of yourself.


PEACE AND ORDER

It is puzzling sometimes how the words ‘order’ and ‘authority’ have somehow managed to gain negative connotations in our society today. No one likes to be under authority these days, and the idea of ‘order’ or ‘routine’ quickly gets knocked down by the more exciting ‘open-minded’ and 'free-spirited' culture of doing whatever we want, when we want to. Even children these days need to be given an explanation for their parents’ instructions before they decide whether or not to obey. This attitude then carries on into educational settings, where they then find it hard to do as they are told, because teachers no longer have ‘authority’. We then wonder why some people struggle to keep a job or make progress in life.


Before this starts to sound like an advert for dictatorship and the loss of basic human rights, I should say that, as a woman, I am completely in support of and have even enjoyed the benefits of freedom of speech, equal rights and social justice. I believe that everyone has a right to express their opinion considerately and for it to be respected. The opinions of children, employees and citizens are not worth less than those of their parents, employers or national leaders.


I am just amazed at how negative attitudes to authority can be at times. The mere mention of authority can make people feel uncomfortable, and sometimes even provokes a desire to rebel. The idea of order and hierarchy quickly meets with opposition or reluctant conformity. We all know organisations where order and hierarchy are extremely important to their functioning, and I am not suggesting that we all live like army recruits. My aim is to just to find the balance, if possible.


If you believe in creation, you will know that God created the sky before creating the birds. He also created the sea before creating fish. Man was then given authority over the animals. That way, there was order and a home for every creature made. These days, we want to have children before we have a stable home for them to come into. We want to have wealth and status before gaining wisdom and experience. We want to answer to no one, and still have someone to blame if things go wrong!


One of the few places I know where order works well is in a good hospital, where different professionals (doctors, nurses, pharmacists etc) have responsibility for different aspects of patient care. Hospital staff often insist on only working within their own area of competence to avoid taking responsibility ‘beyond their pay grade’ or risk losing their license to practise. The routines, hierarchy and hospital management systems exist to help ensure that patients get the right treatment promptly and safely. I wonder if things would work better in our homes if everyone knew and valued their different roles, so that parents are not avoiding responsibility and constantly trying to become best friends with their small children, wives are not trying to steer the ship independently and men are not trying to be 'looked after' by their wife-turned-mother.


There are sadly several examples of situations where people have trusted authority which was later abused, but those incidences do not make authority a bad thing in itself. There is peace and stability in order, especially where people in authority are accountable, systems are reviewed regularly to ensure that they are still contributing to the well-being of everyone involved, and people are willing to change, if necessary, for the greater good. Children actually thrive better with boundaries and routine. In the words of Jesus Christ, "the greatest must be the servant of all". If we truly understand how much service and responsibility authority really entails, we will not crave it so much for ourselves, but rather, appreciate our leaders more. I am sure that most people give way to emergency vehicles, pay taxes, respect traffic rules, respect their bosses etc, but it is our attitude towards authority, law and order that really matters. Just a thought!


WHAT I REALLY WANT

I now know exactly what I would like for Christmas this year. My kind husband is never sure of what to get me, so he usually asks me what I would like. As a good wife that I like to think that I am, I used to tell him that I would be happy with whatever present he gives me. Over the years, as our marriage has grown, I have given up on leaving him hints or hoping he chooses something nice, so I now just tell him what I want and what I need. Yes, what I want is sometimes not practical or helpful, so I will be honest and say that I don’t usually get what I want as a Christmas present. I am glad though that he does not always book flights to Tobago whenever I say I want a holiday!


This year, I have decided that what I want is a “digital shoe sorter”. This is the name I have given to the gift I desire. I am not sure if it exists, but you will agree after my explanation that it should. This amazing Christmas present should come with a complementary pair of pretty shoes and have the capacity to hold at least sixty pairs of shoes. There should be one opening for putting shoes into it after a long day, and the shoe sorter should automatically ‘file’ them in the right place at the touch of a button. Most importantly, the shoe sorter should be able to search for shoes by colour and type, so that people do not have to look for the second one after they have made up their minds which pair they want to wear.


As I write this, I wonder how many people are thinking that I just need a well organised walk-in closet instead. It is not the same thing – I tell you. A walk-in closet will require for me to return the shoes in the right place every day and come back to that same place to pick them up next time I want them. When I was single, that worked. Now, with a family of four, I still remember to put my shoes away neatly, but not everyone else does so. What then happens is that “other people’s” shoes get thrown in with my shoes and the closet becomes a mess for when you want to find those red shoes you definitely remember buying, but have not worn in a while. My amazing shoe sorter should be able to bring up an image of all red shoes and narrow down the search to ‘women’s low heels’, if needed. Wouldn’t that be great?!


On a more serious note though, I did imagine this amazing gadget while looking for my shoe one day, but immediately remembered that it is such a blessing just to have more than one pair of shoes. It is an even bigger blessing to have feet that can move and places to go to. And I feel very blessed to have a family that can make a mess for me to sort out. We are always looking for ways to make life easier and better for ourselves and our families, but I think that what we really need is contentment and a grateful heart in any stage of life. If we are not happy with two pairs of shoes, we will not be happy even with one hundred pairs and a ‘shoe sorter’. If we cannot make a peaceful home in a small flat, a mansion will not make it any better. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do better and have more, but our possessions (or lack of them) should not define us. Joy comes from within and happiness can come from the most unexpected places.


My friend once shared how her mother used to tell her to look up and out, whenever she felt down. I think that is one of the best things anyone can do to help themselves feel better in tough times. When we stop focusing on ourselves and what we want or are going through, we can see the needs of others and derive joy from being there for them too. As the good book says, 'it is more blessed to give than to receive'. Looking up and out helps me see solutions to problems, or to realise that things could be worse, life is not that bad and it is not all about me. I expect good things, aim higher and try to do better daily, but what I really want is to also be content and grateful always.


Excuse Me, Doctor

I recently enjoyed the company of some recently retired doctors at a dinner near Birmingham, and it made me think about how interesting it is that life has so many phases, and that time flies so quickly between them. The older doctors were exiting General Practice, just as I get ready to enter it as a speciality. Others are becoming junior doctors, just as we prepare to leave that phase. Even more exciting to think of, are the students who have just started medical school, with all their training years, life and career choices ahead of them. Whether it is about medicine, other disciplines or life in general, the phases do come and go, so this one is for the young professionals just starting out in the big wide world.


I will start by saying thank you for not giving up on your medical career despite all the challenges of medical school and some negativity in the media. There would have been one less doctor on the team if you gave up, and I am not sure that there would have been arrangements to cover for that to avoid added strain on our very busy teams. It is true that the stresses of life and the challenges we face in medical practice can sometimes make us wonder why we chose this path, but I like to remind myself that becoming a doctor was once only a dream and a prayer. There are doctors who struggle to remember how eager they were to get accepted into medical school years ago or how excited they were to pass their final exams, so I want to congratulate you on this achievement and beg you to never forget that this life is a privilege some will only ever dream of.


 You might feel like you are not contributing much, or you might be very confident and feel that your team could not function without you. Wherever you stand on the scale, please remember that no condition is permanent. Stay humble, remain willing to learn and focused on doing the best for your patients. Never lose your smile and empathy. There will be days when you feel like a superhero and want to spend your whole life in hospital. There will be other days when you will feel so down and tired that you consider leaving the profession altogether. Please do not make such decisions in a hurry.


 Thankfully, there are so many career options in medicine. If you do not naturally like a speciality, be grateful that the rotation is only for a few months - do your best, learn what you can and feel free to tick it off your list of speciality options for the future, if you still hate it at the end. There might be a speciality around the corner, next year, or even not on your scheduled rotations, that you were made for. Take time to think about what you want out of life and medicine before choosing a speciality after foundation training, if you do. You might need to endure some tough seasons to get to what you really want, but there will be light at the end of the tunnel if you thread wisely and have a good attitude.


There is more to life than medicine and work. Please, do not lose the priceless things in life while building a career. Love, peace and joy cannot be bought. Good health is more than just the absence of disease - look after your mental health. Make time for your family as much as you can and do other things that make you happy. Don’t lose your friends, don’t lose your faith, seize opportunities to make new friends, laugh often, and remember that you are not defined by your achievements or the opinions of others. Look out for your colleagues - you will be surprised to find out that the other clever junior doctor, your ward manager, your Registrar and even your consultant also have problems that you might be able to help them with, just by listening. Your kind response to a struggling colleague might actually make the difference between a suicide and a good come-back!


I have only been practising medicine for a few years, but I know that we all have bad days. We need to recognise and handle them well to keep going. Try to learn from your mistakes and don’t let them hold you back. We all learn from experience and even the best surgeon was once new to medical practice. Ask for help when you need it, use the resources and support available, keep working hard but do not overlook your need for breaks or holidays. That way, you will last long and well in the profession, and hopefully have a good work-life balance. We are all rooting for you, even though we sometimes forget to be encouraging and thank you for being here. Keep your head up - the people need you.


WHO IS LOOKING AFTER YOUR DOCTOR'S FAMILY?

Nurses, doctors, pharmacists, opticians, radiographers etc are seen as people in the 'caring profession' - healthcare providers who make a difference and save lives everyday. Many have made great sacrifices to be in their profession, while others have chosen their careers as a safe option in today's world of massive unemployment. Some are still making sacrifices to reach greater heights in their careers, while others remain in their profession because they feel it would be a waste of time and money invested if they leave at this stage. Patients can be grateful, disappointed, angry, rude, but most are indifferent to healthcare staff as long as they get an acceptable level of care and professionalism.

While professionals pride themselves in providing good medical care for patients, making improvements to healthcare services and sometimes even contributing to better public health, how do these same professionals rank when it comes to the care given to those closest to them? Yes, the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters often deserted at home for a weekend shift. I mean the husbands, brothers, boyfriends, fathers and sons that hardly ever get their full attention. The medical profession has been accommodating in providing 'Less Than Full Time' postgraduate training options for doctors, but in reality, how does it feel to be a “part-time doctor”? What are the real consequences of choosing family over full time work?

As expected, some careers and specialties are better than others in providing working hours that suit family life. It can be argued that professionals should choose specialties or jobs that suit their family life, instead of complaining about shift patterns and rotas. On the other hand, should people be expected to choose specialties they do not like just because they want to have a social life too? People who do not have children might even feel that enough is already being done to accommodate family life for colleagues who are parents, especially if they themselves have sacrificed the option of having children in order to advance their careers. Indeed, it may seem a sensible option, especially as a doctor, to leave childbearing until specialty training is complete, to avoid childcare issues and career gaps, but this option is not for everyone.

Working in healthcare professions is a privilege and requires commitment, but does it mean that professionals' families should continue to pay the price until Daddy and/or Mummy retire? There was an interesting article in the British Medical Journal about the rate of divorce among doctors. The reactions to this topic range from a sad acceptance of life as people who are destined to have little time for their families, to a strong rebellion that leads committed professionals in full time training/jobs to consider staff grade and locuming positions as a way to take back control of their time. Even though the latter options may be stigmatised in some professions, this is the price some are willing to pay to build a good relationship with their families before it is too late.

Family life seems to be dwindling because professionals are spending most of their waking hours at work, becoming great at what they do and strangers to their own family. When they are not working, they are preparing something for work or feeling stressed out. The work-life balance has been reduced to meaning an occasional day out with family/friends away from hospital, paperwork and journals, expensive holidays once or twice a year and having 1000 friends on Facebook who never get a phone call. The most concerning part of it is that children grow up feeling that the little attention they get from Mum and Dad is normal and they end up with all sorts of psychological reactions and coping strategies. Children of many professionals are now being brought up by nurseries, childminders and babysitters. Some spend most of their time with grandparents and close relatives or friends, who one would hope have the same values as the parents to pass on to the children. Fortunately, or unfortunately, some spouses willingly sacrifice their own careers to stay at home with the kids because their professional spouse works all hours.

It is very unlikely that a patient coming into hospital at 8pm will even spare a moment to think, 'Who is looking after your children while you are here, doctor?'. Why should they? It is the responsibility of the parent to care about that. Thankfully, we have babysitting agencies, nannies, au pairs and childminders who can care for children outside normal office hours, when nurseries are closed. Some professionals are blessed to have spouses and relatives that can help, but what about the professionals themselves? Are they missing out on great and memorable years? No amount of money can compensate for that.

Are professionals and business people driving miles to work to find the satisfaction they can find at home if they put more effort into their relationships? Is this really the life they want or do they feel trapped in a profession, company or shift pattern they hate? Can people not be professionals while their children are in school, and relaxed parents at home when they are not? That is just wishful thinking, of course! We need people 24 hours a day in the emergency department, wards and laboratories. Not to mention the police officers, firemen, journalists and people of other professions who work round the clock to keep our country safe and strong. Business must go on. So next time you see someone working after 5pm, please show some appreciation, because they have probably left a beautiful family at home to come out and serve you.


INDEPENDENCE

This week, I specially remembered the country of my birth because of Nigeria’s independence day - Oct 1. This is a time when many reflect on political issues and the expectations of citizens, but it also reminded me of my personal ‘independence day’. As a young girl going to study thousands of miles away from my parents, I was free to do whatever I wanted. It was time to find out who I really was and what I really believed. As a parent now, I understand what a big decision it was for my parents to let me study abroad on my own from the age of 16, so I am grateful and glad that it all worked out.


Independence is not just about doing whatever we want, when we want to. It is also about responsibility. With freewill comes much responsibility. There was no one to make sure that I studied, chose good friends, wore decent clothes or went to church, so I had to make up my own mind whether those were things I actually wanted to do, even when no one seemed to be watching. There was no one to blame when I made stupid decisions. Even though my parents and teachers were there for support, it was really my life to live and the consequences of my decisions were all mine to deal with.


Whether we talk of countries, organisations or individuals, independence is a good thing when we realise the responsibility that comes with it. Many are still only dreaming of freedom from all sorts of constraints in life. Although, sometimes, the thing we see as lack of freedom is actually a blessing when we have the right attitude. I am referring to the boy who cannot wait to leave his parents’ house, the woman who resents having to consider her husband and children when making decisions, the apprentice who has to do things how the boss wants it or the businessman/professional who has to follow strict government policies to keep his license. The guidance, love, unity, support, wisdom, high standards and order maintained or received through these relationships are worth more than the chaos when everyone is allowed to do whatever they want, all the time.


For those of us who are actually enjoying freedom in whatever way today, the question now is, what are we doing with this independence? So many decisions to make in a world where generally ‘anything goes’. Is freewill really a gift or a test? What really guides our decisions and how much we care about the effect of our decisions on others? Is it possible to be free to lead but choose to serve? How do we choose who/what to follow or live by? As they say, if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything. I realised that this year, I will have lived longer in the UK than I did in Nigeria. I try to learn from both cultures and let the exposure that life brings me help me to make better decisions and leave a good legacy. We should do our best wherever we find ourselves, and realise that there is more to life than what we wear, where we live or what jobs we do. It would be a shame to have missed out on the essence of life because we did not realise the responsibility that comes with freewill. What will you choose to do with yours today?