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ALRIGHT FOR SOME


This week I have been reflecting on how some people seem to have it all, while others seem to have such bad luck. It made me think about how our perspective can influence which category we fall into. While some believe that you can make lemonade if life hands you lemons, others believe that they can only be happy if they get strawberries. I am not disputing that some people have an easier start in life, or more desirable background factors, such as beauty, wealth, intelligence, connections and charisma. I think that whatever our starting point or current situation is, we can choose to make something good out of it. This obviously means that the journey will be different for everyone, but we can all be happy and successful, if we are willing to work with what we have and stop comparing ourselves to others.


Have you ever seen a model that you thought was not the most beautiful woman you have ever seen? I wonder how much harder she would have had to work to get the same jobs as the ‘naturally beautiful’ ones! If she let a few negative comments and tough times put her off, she would not be the top model we see today. As sure as we are all born different, people will react differently to who or what we are. It is worth thinking seriously about what you have to offer the world and going where it will be best appreciated. There are people who make successful careers out of physical features, mental strengths and talents that other people said was ‘weird’. The funny thing is that the same people who teased them in the past later want to associate with their success, when the ‘dwarf’ becomes a famous movie star, or the ‘geek’ becomes a millionaire!


Thinking about everyday life brings many examples to mind. Some people think that other people have a better marriage, job, children, business or house than them. It is true that at every stage in life, some will be doing better than others in certain areas, but this does not mean that their lot is better than yours. Instead of thinking that by some sort of luck or chance distribution, they have ended up with the best babies, husbands, wives, employees, bosses, investments or houses, why don’t you try to find out how they make their relationships, business etc work, so that you can implement some good ideas and make yours successful too?


You will be surprised to learn that the amazing relationship you admire takes more time and effort to maintain, than you imagined. Even if it is true that her husband is a ‘better man’, she must have been a certain kind of woman to have attracted such a good man – why don’t you improve yourself and see if you will not be treated like a queen too. Even if it is true that his wife is a ‘better woman’, why don’t you show more love to the one you married and see if she won’t become a better woman. Even if it is true that their little children were born with ‘perfect’ temperament and intelligence, why don’t you put in time and effort to train your own children and see if they will not do well too?


No one sees the ‘behind the scenes’ work people put into maintaining a great image, home, career, business or job, so we like to believe that it is ‘alright for some’, as the British say. I have learned in life that people who do not work for what they have often cannot maintain it, so the fact that that admirable body, home, marriage, business or career is not just ‘here today and gone tomorrow’, tells me that someone has put in good foundations to keep it standing and is probably still working hard to keep it going. If you have an attitude of blaming ‘luck and chance’, you just might mess things up, even if someone gave you the exact same ingredients to work with! Do you think that a size 20 person could maintain a size 10 body if they miraculously got slimmer today? The same way a careless spender will be back in debt, soon after winning the lottery - that is how that weight will pile back on when healthy lifestyle habits have not been learned.


Success for me is defined by me, and what I know and accept as best for my life and loved ones. I personally believe that success comes through hard work and by God’s grace, because He gives us life in the first place. When we learn to take responsibility for our own lives, take everyday choices more seriously, realise that ‘wishes are not horses’, and decide what we really want, rather than complaining about what we would like to have but can’t be bothered to work for, we will start to see positive change and realise that life can be good. It might take longer, it might mean hard work, but there is nothing that cannot be achieved with humility to learn, perseverance through change and a good appreciation of what is realistic and satisfying for us as individuals.


WILL YOU MARRY ME?

With the high rates of divorce these days, I wonder why people are still excited about getting married. As a man, you have to promise to love this one woman every single day until either of you die! You cannot even look at another woman without feeling guilty. Touching another woman is completely unacceptable for married men in so many cultures, and even those cultures that allow you to marry a second wife do not tell you that you are getting into more woman trouble when you do that. For the sake of peace, you often have to do what she wants. Not to mention the complete change to your interior décor that they call the ‘woman’s touch’! You have to listen to all her talking and appear interested in her hobbies, just to get the title of ‘good husband’. Even her annoying friends become your friends, or else they say you are controlling and don’t want her to have a social life.


Having children is a completely different ball game. Although the children can be cute at times - as her husband, you have to try and be a good father. The days of lounging on a Saturday morning or staying out late soon fly out the window, because you have to help give them breakfast and put them to bed. When she is on maternity leave and you still have to go to work, you don’t get enough sleep because you have to show concern when the child cries at night. The worst part is that women think differently about money, yet you have to discuss and even share your money with her. If she has no source of income, she feels no guilt in spending yours as the ‘provider’, yet you do not get to put your feet up after work for fear of being called an unhelpful husband. Her family become your family, no matter how needy or difficult they are. You have to care about her dreams and need for reassurance, as if you haven’t got enough things to do! Even in sickness and old age when she is not much to look at, you still have to be there for her and probably do things you never imagined you would do for another human being.


As a woman, you start by taking a ring that was probably not your first choice, but you have to pretend to like because he chose it ‘carefully’. If he manages to do a proper marriage proposal, you hope that it is more romantic than embarrassing. You promise to love and honour him above all others, even though you know at least two men who are more sensible than he is. You have to listen to all his insecurities and make him feel like he is doing well, even when you know he could do so much better. You move into his house and have all the work of making it a home. After which you have to try to get rid of the useless friends and encourage the good friendships, because he thinks everyone is his friend. If you are lucky enough to buy a house together, you probably have to do most of the organising, prompting and cleaning, because he does not see any problem with the way things are.


His mind works so differently to yours, yet you have to find a way to enjoy being intimate with him and avoid lusting after other men. Sleeping with another man is completely unacceptable, for the rest of your life, even if the man is your ex or your teen crush from TV. When you finally have children with this husband, all the house work seems to fall on you as the mother, because he does not always see what needs to be done. The children make you so happy, but can drive you up the wall on the days that they want only Mummy to do things like changing nappies and feeding, which means that you get no rest, but have to smile and be hospitable when his mother visits. His family becomes your family, no matter how needy or difficult they are. His surname becomes your name, unless you have a secure husband who does not mind being different. You have to remind him to call his own mother because he is so engrossed in his new life, which you do not want to be blamed for. No one sees the effort you put in to keep him happy, functional and successful, but if he ever gets depressed, unfaithful or poor, blame comes to the wife. The clean house and well trained children are yours both, but a messy house and unruly children seem to be your fault, as the wife.


Why then does anyone still get married after considering all this? Could it be that it is better to have someone to share life with, even if it means not having things go your way all the time? It must feel good to have someone who makes your happiness their priority and finds fulfilment in building a family with you, forsaking all others. No one knows the future, but you are willing to stick with this one through thick and thin, hoping that he/she does not turn you into a divorcee. It cannot be about the ‘in love’ feeling, because that comes and goes. There is something truly beautiful about the unconditional love in a good marriage that makes a spouse make sure the crying babies do not disturb the other’s sleep, so they can rest well before work. The kind of love that makes a tired spouse clean the house because it is their home together, and not just one person’s responsibility. The kind of love that makes you control your desires, tongue and emotions, so you can treat them right. The kind of love that makes the spouse a priority over parents, friends, children and siblings; and gives money, time and attention to the spouse freely, without resentment. There is no guarantee that your spouse will continue to give this kind of love, so it is best only to get into marriage when you yourself are ready to commit to giving this kind of unconditional love to your partner, for life, for better or worse.



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?




WHEN WILL IT END?


A struggling student looks at the empty fridge and turns to the unpaid bills on the table. His weekend job does not even cover half the bills. He is hoping his parents can afford to send him some money this month. He wants to do more paid work, but the demands of the course won’t let him. He is determined to complete the course, so his labour so far will not be in vain. It has been four years and some who started with him have already graduated. He has taken time off twice for lack of tuition fees, but he is glad to still be in university. Other options fill him with dread, as he cannot see himself working as anything but an engineer. His uncle suggests dropping out, his mother suggests hanging on. His friends feel sorry for him, his heart is on fire and he sometimes asks himself, ‘When will it end?’


A young wife looks around her beautiful home, awaiting the return of her handsome husband. She thinks of what a wonderful husband he has been for the past five years - holding her hand through fertility treatments, miscarriages and depression. All she wants is a baby to love. She fills her time with a job she neither loves nor hates. Her husband reassures her that his love for her has nothing to do with having children. Her friends suggest adoption, her doctor suggests IVF. She had always seen herself as a mother at this age, but she never imagined it would be this hard. She hears young mothers complaining about how hard it is looking after their children. She imagines it could never be as hard as wanting children, and having none. It takes so much self-control not to cry when she sees children at work. The pain is sometimes unbearable. She often asks herself, ‘When will it end?’


A man in a suit sitting on his own, in a cafe with a cold cup of coffee. He is too deep in thought to care. In his briefcase he has the business plan and prototype for his latest invention. He believes so much in its potential to change the world, if only it got in the right hands with the right connections. He is struggling to find capital to invest, and not many people would put their money where their mouth is. If he had a penny for every one that said it was a great idea, he would not be worrying about next month’s bills right now. He has had a few business triumphs, but not enough to produce the kind of income he believes this can bring. His friends are suggesting going back to paid employment, his wife is suggesting a business loan to get things moving. So many decisions to make, so many disappointments to consider. So many lives affected, so many years already put in. He did not come this far to give up now, but he doesn’t know if he will have the strength to handle another bad day in business. He asks himself, ‘When will it end?’.


A time for planting and a time for harvesting. If only we always know when exactly each will be. It would be a shame to have given up a day before your dreams came true. It would be a waste to have tried one less time than the number of times it takes to win. There is no real overnight success. Most people toil unseen for years, before we finally hear the big success stories. It is true that wisdom is knowing when to quit, but how do you quit when the desire for success remains strong within you? Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result is madness. As long as we are constantly reviewing and thinking of ways to improve our chances of success, making the most of our opportunities and taking steps in the right direction, we can be excused for having a few down days and getting back on track. It is even tougher to stay on track when we are surrounded by other voices asking us, ‘When will it end?’. If I knew when it would end, I would probably have started a day before! Since I don’t know when exactly all my hard work will produce the expected harvest, I will keep going and try to have a good attitude. Ignore the jokers, have faith, take good advice and review things regularly. As long as you have the passion and drive for success, it will end when it is done.



MORE BLESSED TO GIVE


Most people would describe themselves as being generous and kind. No one likes to be called stingy. It makes me wonder whether we sometimes give out of compulsion, just to keep up appearances. If so, is there really blessing in that kind of giving? In the Western world, people often donate to charities with causes they believe in. With the recent news about cases of misconduct by charity workers, people are not sure which charities to trust. It makes us really question who and why we give.


Giving to charities is a great way to reach needy people you would otherwise not have a chance to help. This means that we are trusting the charities to do the good work they tell us they need the money for. When I started charity work ten years ago, I remember people telling me that they were tired of charities that were here today and gone tomorrow. Some of the African people I contacted for donations told me that they do not give to charity organisations because they already give to needy family members. As someone who grew up in Africa, I completely understand what they mean. It is difficult to give money to poor people thousands of miles away when you have relatives and friends nearby that cannot afford food to eat. By the time you pay your own bills and help a few families, there is nothing left to donate to charities. Not to mention saving properly or making investments for the future.


It seems also that in such communities,  those that ask often, get more. The poor widow with five children who does a menial job to maintain her dignity, look after her children and avoid begging does not often get people coming over to offer her money; but the unemployed graduate who spends all his time on the internet messaging friends and relatives for financial help often gets the money. As an employed or self-employed person, if you have enough money to cover all your bills and maintain a decent lifestyle, you are considered rich. There is an unspoken expectation that you will be able to supply the needs of people who reach out to you, even if your salary is just enough to pay your rent. This is where giving out of compulsion becomes a temptation, so much so that people get into debt and financial stress just because they are unable to say no to such requests. Giving is good, and I strongly commend a culture of sharing, but since resources are limited, how do we decide who to give and when?


Some people are very careful with their money and budget how much to give every month, while others ‘spend as they get’. Whichever group you belong to, there will come a point where you do not have anything to give, or you might have to choose just one person or cause to give to. How do we decide at such times? Do we give to the one who calls/writes us the most to ask for money, or the one who really needs it based on what we know of their circumstances? Do we decide based on what we are told  the money will be used for, or based on what favour or thanks we hope to get in exchange for the money given? I have found that, sometimes, what people really need is more than just money. Is it sometimes better to volunteer time and expertise to charities, instead of cash? Is it better to take time out to speak to people, and show them how to fish, instead of giving them 'fish' every time? I imagine that might be seen by some as a ‘stingy’ thing to do, and may even be taken as an insult by people who just like to take, take, take.


However people view your motives for giving, or not giving money, the most important thing is to have a peaceful conscience and give out of love, not compulsion. Whether we are giving time, money, advice or connections, we need to be aware that resources are limited and it is foolish to give in a way that leaves you in debt or trouble. Sacrificial giving is honourable, but giving what you don’t have is foolish. We would like to think that anyone receiving a gift would care enough to know that you are not stealing, borrowing or killing yourself for their sake, but unfortunately people do not always care, as long as they get what they want. It is a shame that people today can take advantage of kindness, abuse generosity and betray trust. We must never let the bad in some, destroy the good in us. It is still more blessed to give than to receive.


SO YOU WANT TO READ?

I have had several people ask me how I manage to fit reading into my full days as a mother of two small children, a practising medical doctor and entrepreneur. I have to admit that the #NikisMonthlyChallenge I started this year is helping me to read more of the books I want to read. The challenge is to plan one new experience and read one new book every month in 2018, which has been interesting so far. I am learning a lot and developing in other areas of my life through reading. If you are making time to read this article, that is a good start. Here are a few tips for squeezing whole books into your busy life.


Choose a book that will be interesting and/or useful to you - Most people give up on books if they find the topic boring or irrelevant. Start with a book or ebook you really want to read. Remember that what we read, see and hear makes us, so choose something good.


Set a deadline to finish it - Having the monthly deadlines has helped me to appropriately prioritise my reading. You might find it more reasonable to allow two to three months for your book, depending on your book size, commitments and motivation. “He who does not read has no advantage over he who cannot read” is a quote that motivates me sometimes.


Wake up or go to bed earlier than usual - This does not have to be everyday. You will be amazed how much you can read if you allowed one extra hour for reading just three times a week. Stop making excuses, if you really want to improve yourself. Lunchtime reading might be an option for some. Having a book to finish can also motivate a parent to ensure little children get into a routine of going to bed at decent times, which is good for their health and development.


Reflect and review - Non-fiction books on money, relationships, time management etc usually have useful tips you need to start implementing to see a change in your life. Don’t try to read your book in one sitting because you are busy. Allow time to reflect while reading it. Even fiction books have themes that can be reflected on, especially if it is a topic that affects you or your loved ones. It is also worth reviewing your deadline after some time to see if it is still feasible. Life happens! You can reset your deadline if necessary to allow you to enjoy reading, as well as enjoying life.


Finish and celebrate - If you have finished a book and reflected on the content, thereby adding to your knowledge, experience or personality, it is a good thing. Talk about it, tell your friends/family, share a link and/or write a review. This helps to give you a feeling of achievement and motivation to go for the next one. Many of us read for work or study, but having time to read whatever you want is great!


MIND YOUR LANGUAGE, I'M STRETCHED!

This year I paid attention to World Down’s Syndrome day, for many reasons. I am sure that a lot was put into promoting it, but being a mother and doctor also contributed to my interest in this campaign. I recently heard a speaker share her experience of being told that her son had Down’s Syndrome, and what life is like for her family now. It was also interesting to be reminded of how doctors’ choice of words when communicating test results can leave patients feeling empowered or hopeless. I also got to hear how parents of children with Down’s Syndrome have pointed out that antenatal screening test results should be described as a baby’s ‘chance’ (not ‘risk’) of having the condition, because the word ‘risk’ makes Down’s Syndrome sound like a hazard to be avoided or aborted. I do not imagine that there are many doctors out there that purposely want to break news in a way that leaves the patient or parent feeling more upset than expected, but I agree that it is important to choose our words and timing wisely for difficult conversations.


Good communication is a skill that applies in all areas of life. People’s perception of our words and actions is greatly influenced by their state of mind at the time, so we need to be sensitive and understanding. They might be offended by simple words just because they were stressed or angry at the time of hearing. People may also be more easily persuaded when feeling happy or insecure. When we understand that effective speaking and listening can be affected by our mental/emotional state, we will be more careful to choose our timing for important conversations or meetings, if possible. We may not always be able to control when we speak or hear about certain things, but an awareness of our emotional state will help us to handle our reactions better. How many times have you felt differently about a situation after a good night’s sleep and thoughtful reflection? I sometimes find it helpful to take the information being given, and act on it or respond when I am feeling calmer, or just state at the time that my tiredness or frustration might be affecting my response.


In a world where information is being thrown at us in all directions, we need to have mental sieves to help us cope. As careful as people can be about using appropriate and politically-correct language, there will still be times when we will feel hurt by someone’s choice of words. We cannot control how other people speak or what they choose to say, but we can control our reactions, so that even what was meant to break us can become a building block for us. We can learn to ignore the destructive and use the constructive for our progress, just like many people are doing with comments about their disabilities or challenges. The real problem arises when we use our own mouths to say destructive words to or about our own selves. This is why I am careful about the words I say to small children especially, because they soon become their own words to themselves and to each other. Most people are kind and polite to others, but may have no hesitation in calling themselves ‘stupid’ or ‘useless’ when they make mistakes. These words soon start to affect our image of ourselves and our outlook on life. There is so much negativity in the world, we should speak positive words to our own selves - it is not pride or flattery, it is called being kind to yourself.


I have found that even my description of circumstances can affect my ability to deal with them. It does not matter if everyone else is saying how depressing or stressful a situation is - once I start to say it too, I begin to feel stressed or depressed. You may have seen my recent social media status about not being stressed, but stretched. Some difficult circumstances make us feel uncomfortable because we are being stretched out of our comfort zone or forced to work harder mentally, emotionally and/or physically. Some of these situations could be good things like work, caring for loved ones, travelling or moving house, but a negative perspective sucks the joy out of anything. I laughed so hard when a friend of mine described himself as also being in a ‘stretching (not stressful) period’ after I told him I was stretched and not stressed. Even the simple idea of describing my time as being tight, instead of saying that I am busy, helps me to feel more in control. There are times when hard truths need to be said, but we should try to speak more kindly, positively and sensitively to others, because we do not know exactly how stressed they already are. We can also choose to speak a bit more positively to and about ourselves and our situations, as a way of choosing happiness over stress.


LESSONS FROM MAMA KAGORO

After recently celebrating mothers’ day in the UK, I have spent some time thinking about my maternal grandmother, who sadly passed away when I was only eight years old. She lived with her husband in a town called Kagoro, in Kaduna State of Nigeria, which is why we used to call her ‘Mama Kagoro’. I remember my mother telling me about her happy childhood with parents who valued faith, family, education and hard work. Mama Kagoro did not get much education herself in those days, but her husband was a teacher who worked closely with the English missionaries. I was surprised to hear that they tried for about nineteen years of their marriage before having children of their own. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for a woman like her, in the days when having children was thought to be the main aim of marriage and womanhood. My mother told me how her parents selflessly cared for ‘adopted’ children, until God blessed them with seven children of their own. I say seven, because that is how many I know of. There were sadly many stillbirths and child deaths in those days, due to complications and  infections we avoid or treat so easily today. I would be surprised if Mama did not lose any babies herself, and even though they belonged to a royal clan, I do not imagine that there would have been formal counselling available to women in those days. You just had to choose to be strong and hopeful, even in tough times.

These days when I use satellite navigation to drive, pick up my children from nursery and use my nice electric cooker to make dinner, I wonder how much harder parenting must have been without dishwashers, washing machines and easy internet access. I know there are people who live without ‘basic’ amenities today, but thinking about Mama Kagoro makes me remember to be grateful and make the most of what I have, because one day, my own grandchildren will wonder how we survived without their latest technology, and hopefully appreciate us for what we accomplished. Even though things change, we can always pass on timeless values and wisdom to future generations. A precious memory I have is of Mama Kagoro letting me ‘teach’ her English alphabets. Now I know that she only pretended not to know the alphabets, so that I would feel confident in my own knowledge and ability as a child. She believed very much in the younger generations, and I can testify to how much that positive nature has been passed on as encouragement to me through relatives throughout my childhood, giving me the confidence to pursue my dreams.


Visiting my grandparents’ house was always exciting, because my grandparents loved nature and knew how to relax. We would often hear African tales or go for long walks to the hills. Mama had well-cared-for plants and animals in her house. There was always healthy, tasty food, even if it was nothing fancy. She encouraged us to eat fruits and vegetables, long before we knew about ‘5-a-day’. My mother and aunties always talk about how hardworking and resourceful Mama was. She did not believe in “being idle”, even when other women felt that being wives and/or mothers was enough work for them. Looking back now, I think of how little they had, compared to us, and how well she managed her home and resources. It makes me realise that perspective and principles are important in any setting. If we choose to be contented and grateful, whether in a small village or a big city, we can find happiness in managing our resources properly and doing our best with the opportunities we have. The same principles of investment, saving, giving, sowing and reaping also apply everywhere. I remember how my mother’s eldest sister bought all the grandchildren gifts from Mama’s little savings after she died. Mine was a small purse, which I can still see in my mind’s eye, to remind me that she did not just leave a legacy of good values and a good name, but was able to save from the little she had to leave an inheritance for her grandchildren, no matter how small.


I recently heard that Professor Stephen Hawking, who was told that he had only two years to live, after a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease (MND), was motivated to do all the amazing work he did for science because of his realisation that he might not have long to live. He ended up living for another 52 years and achieving more than anyone expected, despite his physical disabilities. Mama Kagoro was in her sixties when she died, and despite all the medical and social advances giving us  longer life expectancy today, no one knows for sure how long they will live. Mama’s life has taught me that we must do our best everyday with whatever we have, to contribute to society and make a lasting difference. I am grateful to have a mother and mother-in-law who also appreciate and exemplify the value of hard work, virtue and the important role of women in shaping the future. Whether we are rich, educated, glamorous, skilled, royal or not, we can choose to start wherever we are and develop habits, virtues and principles that will touch lives long after we are gone.


NO PRESSURE


I have been thinking a lot about motherhood recently, especially because of my lovely mother’s birthday this month. I often joke about being on the list when it comes to “bad parenting”, especially when I remember the number of times I have given in to whining and let my children have a sweet, or when I refuse to get wet and dirty with them because I was too worried about my hair, or when I have put them to bed early because I was too tired from work to deal with any tantrums. The most recent one was at the park where I decided to be adventurous in the spirit of summer and go on the zip wire, even though I was wearing a lovely dress and feeling tired. Most people that know me would be surprised that I even wanted to do that, since I am normally the one that holds the bags for others to go on fast rides in theme parks, or the one who sits out with children while adults check out the scary attractions.


My husband encouraged me to try the zip wire, as he has always been more adventurous than I am, but he could not believe his eyes when I soon lost control and fell off! My protective two year old boy started screaming at the thought of mummy being hurt, my daughter could not believe her eyes, and my husband was just glad that I did not get seriously hurt. After that, my son cried whenever I went on the swing, probably because he was worried something bad would happen to me. Bless him! I thought for a moment that I ought to get back on that zip wire and do it properly so that my children would not be traumatised and hate zip wires. I’m sure a “better parent” might have done that, but I will confess that I often drop out of the race for ‘Best Mum Award’ when I find an easier option that does not damage my children. So, yes, we reassured them that mummy was okay and continued to have a nice time elsewhere in the park.


It is often in the moments when we are tired, rushing or hungry that we judge ourselves harshly for not being perfect parents. We imagine that we must always be patient, selfless and calm to be good parents, so we suffer with guilt if we do not live up to expectation all the time. Some people, like me, settle for average when we realise that we cannot always be ‘good’. Between marriage, work and raising children, I have learned to accept that I may not always be able to do the textbook best for my children , but I can surely do mybest for them, even if it means, for example, having just two enjoyable hours a day with them, instead of ten hours of a frustrated and tired mummy. I take comfort in the fact that God knew exactly who I am before he gave them to me. We often see children taking after their parents in character, either by nature or nurture, so I hope that good aspects of my character will be passed on in the same way that I carry some of my mother’s good traits. I do not claim to have had a perfect childhood, and will not deceive myself with the thought that I can give that to my children, but we can try and do our best daily for them.

Circumstances may be different when we think of the parenting issues we face compared to what our parents faced, but I believe that the principles of love do not change. The most important thing for children is to feel loved and secure – whether their parents are professionals or unemployed, adventurous or cautious, educated or not, rich or poor. We all have different ways of raising our children, which depends a lot on how we were raised, how we see the world and what resources and values we have. I think that whatever choices we make, we should also consider the fact that actions speak louder than words. Children will copy what they see, and it is healthy for them to learn from us how to handle mistakes, responsibilities, bad days, everyday challenges and personal weaknesses.

Parenting is not just about doing things for/with children, it is also about being a role model for them. Children will not always be children. They will soon begin to understand the world for themselves, and will be able to tell us what they really think of our parenting and personalities. There will be times when they hate our rules and complain about all they did not get, but there will also hopefully come a time when they will realise that you did your best with what you had and have been a good parent by setting helpful boundaries. What made my day recently was my daughter telling me that she wanted to be like me. I was very happy when she explained how she admired my work and dress sense (A bit shallow, but I choose to see the compliment!). I could let this make me feel more pressure for perfection since little eyes are watching, but I choose to use this as motivation to improve myself in areas of weakness and continue to build on my strengths, as an example for them. I love my job and enjoy being able to have time away from home using my skills, but I sometimes wonder if my children will resent that. It was nice to hear that she saw me, among others, as someone she would want to be like when she grows up.


Maybe I will dress appropriately another day and learn to do the zip wire properly in the park, so my children can learn about courage and perseverance. Children are learning a lot about the world through their teachers, friends and other experiences, so we do not have to feel pressured to personally do everything for or with them. We can guide them using values and principles we believe in, provide learning opportunities/experiences where possible, and maintain an atmosphere of love and openness in the home to foster confidence and growth. It is also important to make time frequently to give children our full attention and make them feel valued. We will never stop being parents to our children, so it is wise to get comfortable with doing parenting as part of a bigger life we live. I may not always get things right as a parent, but showing my children love and modelling a good life to them might be the best thing I can do for them. This will mean making wise choices and improvements to my own life, so that my children become adults I can be proud of, even if they somehow turn out to be just like me!



FAMILY WE CHOOSE

Most people would describe themselves as good, caring friends. We like to think that we would be there for our loved ones whenever they need us, and that we make positive contributions to people’s  lives around us. The truth is that you cannot really certify yourself a good friend - this is something other people have to feel about you. Being a good friend is not just about doing or saying the right things, but mostly about the way we make people feel. Real friendship involves making ourselves vulnerable to hurt, criticism and betrayal, as well as opening our hearts to receive love, companionship and care. Friendships can be made or broken even within families. Shared genetics does not always guarantee that we will be friends. Being related does not always mean we like each other, so friendship is something that needs to be cultivated even among relatives. We invest time, love and care to reap good relationships. There is a saying that ‘friends are the family we choose for ourselves’. When we invest time, understanding and love into relationships, I have found that they can be even stronger than biological relations. It is also pleasant to see true friendship within families - such as spouses understanding each other, siblings choosing to spend time together or adult children enjoying the company of their parents. This involves compromise, time and effort from all parties involved. Whether we are thinking of friendships or good family relationships, having these three things in mind can help us build better, more satisfying relationships.


Trust - Good friendships thrive when people feel loved and trusted. It should not be about trying to gain approval or acceptance. When people know that you think well of them, they can be more relaxed and not have to keep up appearances around you. They can trust that you will speak the truth to them in love and your love for them will not cease just because your opinions or lifestyles differ. When someone knows you are on their side, they will be be more open and trusting too. It is important to use our words to reassure and compliment loved ones often, so they know how much we value them. There will be times when difficult conversations need to be had, but creating an atmosphere of trust, selfless love and understanding makes it easier to speak the truth without causing offence when things need to be said. I still remember a good friend calling me years ago to ask directly about a rumour she heard. I was impressed that she was not happy to just gossip behind me, make assumptions or snoop around me for information, but asked me directly when she suspected there was something going on. This definitely helped to build trust in our relationship, when I realised she was my friend no matter what. Trust takes time to build or regain, but is worth doing if we are to have good friendships.


Communication - Friendship is about connection. Even when we are busy, there will always be a way to maintain communication, if we really value a relationship. The frequency and mode of communication may determine the closeness of the relationship, but having no communication is the quickest way to end a friendship. A friendship may linger if just one person continues to make effort in this area, but it will eventually die if we continue to make excuses for not being able to meet up, do not reply messages or do not phone them back. Making time for communicating in ways our friends or family can respond to makes them feel valued and loved. There is no point in leaving fifty missed calls during the day on my friend’s phone if he has explained that he cannot answer his phone at work! A good friend will make compromises and adapt to ensure that communication continues. If I sometimes find time to call or visit friends, our relationship will grow if they also sometimes make effort to text or email instead of phoning at odd times. I have friends and family whose messages I appreciate so much more now, because I understand that typing messages is a big effort for them. If we want to build strong friendships, it is important to have quality conversations when we finally find time to talk, rather than having just surface chat or small talk. How many times have you left a meeting with friends and realised you never discussed important and current issues, after laughing about silly jokes? You do not have to talk everyday to someone be good friends - talking honestly about real issues makes us closer. We also cannot be close friends with everyone because time is limited, so let us choose the right friendships and make them work.


Growth - Friendship is not about being the same and liking the same things. A good friendship allows each person to grow and change for the better. Good friends can advise each other when needed, but the life of the friendship does not depend on whether the advice is followed. We all tend to like people who are similar to us anyway, but we will have different personalities and goals. Friends should be able to encourage each other to be the best they can be. Good friends see the strengths you do not see in yourself. We should aim to be friends that cheer others on and support progress in our friends’ lives, even if it means that we may see less of them because of it. Most people can sense selfishness, intimidation and jealousy. We should be aware of, regularly check and rid ourselves of these, if we want to build real friendships. I am always so happy to hear of my friends/family doing well in other countries and professions. It might be easier if they all stayed close to me and became doctors so we could see each other every week, but that will not be the best for their own lives, strengths and ambitions. I know that friends who have appreciated our differences, openly shared their own views (so I can learn and maybe reconsider mine), while supporting my sometimes crazy dreams are the ones that make me feel loved and accepted. Friendships may only last for seasons of our lives, so we should appreciate them while they last and try to make people feel loved. Although we cannot be responsible for other people’s happiness, we can find happiness in choosing to be a light in the lives of the people who choose us.




IT'S NOT FAIR

Anyone who has more than one child will be familiar with that deep desire to try to show love equally to your children. As human beings, it is natural to prefer people who are more like us and make us happy. At some point, we will have to realise that our children have their own personalities, which may sometimes be different from ours. We can try to raise them to be like us, or even ‘better’ than us, but there will be aspects of their personality that will have nothing to do with how we have trained them. The difficult job of a parent is learning how to work with those differences to achieve the same result of raising strong, confident, happy and responsible adults. This often involves treating them as individuals, not one-size-fits-all. We might hear children say ‘It is not fair’ when we give something to or do something for their sibling. As a parent, I have tried to respond positively to such remarks, but a recent parenting talk I heard made me realise that my personal understanding of fairness can affect my parenting and how I feel about these comments.


Is it fair to give apples to my son and daughter, if I know that my daughter prefers oranges, and both are fruits? Is it fair to send them both to piano lessons if I know that my son is more interested in drums? Sometimes doing the right thing means that people will get treated differently, for their own good. In public health, the concept of equity versus equality shows how it is better to provide services where they are most needed, rather than offering the same things to everyone. It will widen inequalities if the same amount of money is allocated for primary school education to areas where children make up 10% and 50% of the population. This is also relevant for the amount of attention we are able to give to our children at different stages of their lives, in these busy times. Realising that time and emotional energy is limited will help us to feel less guilty when we prioritise the needs of each child in relation to the others, so that the ones that need us more are able to get that time and attention when it is needed the most. Taking some time to explain our reasoning to the other child or children, who feel that ‘it is not fair’ will help them to understand that we are all working together as a family to help whoever needs it the most, and it might be their turn tomorrow.


I have found this liberating also for my finances. I do not have to buy a useless expensive gadget for my son today to make up for the fact that I just spent a lot of money buying something very useful that my daughter needed. Supporting my children to reach their highest potential also involves understanding and building on their talents. We cannot question why some are naturally more intelligent or talented than others, but we can support children to improve on their weaknesses and/or build on their strengths. A more ‘academic’ child might need less help with homework everyday but more money for tuition to push them further academically, while a ‘less academic’ child might need more help with school work and probably more money/time for other interests. It is important to understand each child, to be able to bring out the best in them through training and encouragement.


I sometimes think about how some people work so hard in poor countries with seemingly nothing to show for it, while others seem to have an easy life that just keeps getting better everyday. In reality, everyone has their own challenges, even if it seems like a luxurious life to someone else. The Good Book says that, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected”. I believe this relates to every aspect of life and our talents, not just money. It all makes me glad that I am not God, because sometimes, what appears to be unfair or difficult can turn out to be the best thing for that person in the long term. There is so much divine planning that goes into maintaining a balance in the big picture, so I just choose to do what is right with what I have, because fairness will never be the same for everyone. It is natural to feel that the option that suits you best and makes you look good is the fairest. When time and money is limited, and I cannot do all I want to do for my children/family/friends, I remind myself that it will all balance out if I keep doing my best and do what I believe is right everyday. We all want to see justice prevail in our world, but it is more important to stop getting stressed out looking for ‘fairness’ and choose to have a heart of love, contentment, gratitude and service.


DOWN TO YOU

We have all had bad days. The sort of days where you cannot wait to get into bed and start again the next day, if only you could just get through it. Some even start off as good days, until something major happens that turns your day completely upside down. Most of us are able to persevere through the shock, fear, pain, anxiety, shame, anger or stress, get back to our safe zone, de-stress, get some sleep and get ready for another day. We all have our coping mechanisms for the small balls life throws at us. It may be a cup of coffee, tub of ice-cream, glass of wine, computer games, listening to music or going to the gym to help us unwind and feel better after we have had to deal with a stressful situation or low mood. You generally feel better after a few minutes or hours, and are able to get back to full functioning, hopefully learning from any mistakes that may have been made.

What happens when it is not so easy? When you have had a glass of wine, cup of coffee or hour at the gym and the problem is still staring you in the face. You can’t seem to get back to your normal self even after doing the usual things? You might talk it through with colleagues, friends or family, and feel a bit better. They remind you that you are not stupid, lazy or selfish. They tell you that it could have happened to anyone, and everything will be okay. They remind you of how much you have overcome to get this far, and how strong you really are. It is just what you needed to hear, and you start to feel more like yourself again. You start to see things more clearly, and come up with solutions or plans to move on. What you thought was the end of your world turns out to be an opportunity or a significant life lesson. What felt like the start of clinical depression begins to look like just a small glitch in the bigger picture of your beautiful life.


Wouldn’t it be nice if the problems of life always give us time to recover from one before the next one comes, so we never had to deal with too many things at a time? Someone who could get excellent results in Mathematics, English and Biology examinations written on different days, would struggle to do so well if they had to write all the exams at once, in the same time period. That is what it feels like when we deal with difficult situations simultaneously at home, at work and in other areas of life. The usual cup of tea and a chat does not seem to help as much, when there are so many things going on that you even start to question your identity and worry about your sanity.


We sometimes push bad news and emotional issues to the backs of our minds, because we feel we have to keep going and cannot afford to take a break right now. ‘Strong people’ may decide to keep busy after a break up, funeral or difficult conversation because it is easier to keep moving than to take time to face the difficult emotions that come with it. We hate to feel lonely, sad, disappointed, overwhelmed or used, so we carry on, hoping that ignoring the feeling will make it go away. Unfinished emotional business can sometimes pop up in the most unexpected places with tears, anger or even resentment. Having unresolved issues in the background can even make other 'small problems' seem worse than they really are. As important as it is to have good daily coping mechanisms (which are also healthy, rather than destructive in the long term), it is also important to realise that taking quality time out can be a useful coping strategy too.


When that quick cup of tea or phone call is not enough, it might just be that we need a good cry, a longer chat or a proper rest. As a doctor, I am learning that instead of waiting until I get the ‘fed up’ or ‘burnt out’ feeling, when chatting with my friends, colleagues or husband may not help, it is better to plan those quiet times in advance, so that I can reflect on issues and deal with them before they begin to harm my mental health. Reflecting may also help me to recognise which issues need to be discussed further, and with whom. It is good to talk, but talking is better when we know what we want to say. Some issues cannot be resolved externally - you have to speak to yourself first, which is why counsellors rarely suggest solutions to your emotional problems. As a Christian, I have found it helpful to be able to pray and remind myself of my identity in God too. There is a lot of support available, but understanding yourself, where/why it hurts and how best to move forward emotionally is often down to you.

NOT THE D WORD

Every married couple will go through rough patches and have days when they do not feel in love with each other. We decided very early in our marriage that divorce was not an option for us. I am sure that people marry for different reasons, but common reasons include stability and security. It is not good when a spouse always threatens to leave whenever there are problems. Using such threats will chip slowly at the foundation of any marriage, leaving it more likely to crumble. No matter how hurt or angry we feel, we should be careful to choose only helpful words, even when talking about difficult issues. Words are powerful, and can make or break relationships. Even in marriages where divorce is not usually mentioned in arguments, there will still be times when the thought crosses your mind. Here are a few things to consider in those moments, before you take further action.


Consequences - What will divorce really mean for you and your loved ones? After building a life together, is it really worth tearing it all down now? Will it mean less social and financial support for you? What about the home and friends you share? We all know the negative effects of broken homes on children, but what will it really mean, now and years later, for your own son or daughter, if you have any? In the heat of anger, it is easy to convince ourselves that there is no price too high to pay for peace of mind, but have you considered that this might just be a temporary problem that you might look back on together in twenty years and smile? What is a few months/years of struggle compared to the rest of your life, if you are able to hang in there and work through the issues for the sake of your vows? We don’t throw out a baby because he cries. Every marriage will have challenges. Is divorce more sensible than forgiveness?


Reflection - It is important to remember that you are not perfect. No matter what your spouse does or does not do, there will be things that you can do better. When was the last time you made your spouse feel special, loved and appreciated above all others? Have you really been listening to him/her? Have you been a real partner, supporter and asset, or a liability, boss and/or critic to him/her? Are you showing love in ways that suit you, not your spouse? Marriage is not a 50/50 relationship. Both partners should be giving 100% to make the marriage work, and sacrificial love like that does not keep asking what they will get in return. Focusing on being the best person and lover you can be stops you from worrying about what the other is doing and allows them to change in their own time, if necessary.


Integrity – Even if you come to the conclusion that you are perfect or too good for your spouse, what about your promise to spend the rest of your life with them? What were your vows and who holds you accountable for them? God or man? You could have just lived together like many others do, but you chose to get married and make vows before God and loved ones, probably in a church. There are honourable men who stay true to their vows to a wife after she had an affair or dementia diagnosis (even when she has lost awareness of her surroundings), just because they truly meant their vows to God concerning staying faithful to and cherishing her for life. Marriage is not about having an ‘in love’ feeling everyday, it is about choosing to love and be there for that person no matter what. If we can stick to other commitments like mortgages, business partnerships and professional oaths in tough times, for fear of the consequences of breaking contract, we should be taking marriage oaths more seriously. This is why marriage is for men and women, not boys and girls. Children change their minds all the time, but responsible adults make decisions more carefully and keep to their word.


Look around - Are there outside factors contributing to your marital problems? The man or woman you fancy leaving your spouse for may not be all you imagined them to be once they have you all to themselves. Are there relatives or friends that are having too much influence on your home? Is the local community and dominant culture being unhelpful for your relationship? Is it possible to reset boundaries and create a different culture for your own home? Some people are best loved from a distance. If moving away from parents, siblings or temptations could help your marriage, would you try that before mentioning divorce? Do you value your marriage enough to relocate or change jobs to save it from those negative influences? Your marriage is only as valuable as you make it. It is wise to have boundaries and define other relationships clearly before they become a problem for your marriage. Counselling is sometimes helpful in identifying the sources of marital problems.


Separation - If after considering all these, you still think that your marriage cannot work, it might be worth considering separation as a step towards saving the marriage. This may mean having separate bedrooms for a short period, or even living apart for a defined period. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Take some time out to remember why you loved and married your spouse in the first place. It may mean starting again with new rules and boundaries, building better communication and earning/giving trust and respect which may have been lost. It will take time, humility and willingness to date each other again, but this can keep a pulse on your marriage and build it back into an enjoyable relationship where love and forgiveness abound. 


Forget about keeping up appearances, you can decide for yourselves that yours will not be part of the divorce statistics, and that you will both enjoy, not endure, marriage. It can be hard growing, changing and sharing one life with a totally different human being, but it can be done. Whether your marriage is struggling right now, needing resuscitation or enjoying bliss, you can choose to hang in there and enjoy the ride, with its ups and downs, till death not divorce. No one knows tomorrow, but we can trust the Originator of marriage to make it work when we refuse to give up on each other.


LIMITS AND STANDARDS

If I had a pound for every ‘why?’ I hear these days, I would be dancing to the bank! My children are currently in that interesting phase where they ask reasons for everything you tell them. As much as you try as a parent not to kill their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, it can be hard to have an answer for every ‘why’ they ask. Although, they have made me reflect a lot on why we do what we do. Some things we do because we think we have to, because we have always done so, or because we have been told to do so. As intelligent adults, it is sometimes helpful to step back and reflect on how we choose to live our lives, so that we can improve where there is room to do so, and even do what we really want to do and live happier lives.


For example, why do you wear a seat belt when you drive? Is it because the law says so, or because you understand the safety reasons for doing so? Would you wear a seatbelt if you lived in a country where this is not enforced? Would you wear a seatbelt if you lived in a country where it is illegal not to do so? Public health teams put so much effort into researching the advice they give to encourage us to be safe and healthy. We are advised to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, have less than 14 units of alcohol a week (that is seven pints of 4% lager or seven 175ml glasses of 12% wine), avoid binge drinking, avoid driving while intoxicated etc. Do you eat more or less than ‘five a day’? What would you do if the advice changes to ‘3 a day’ or ‘10 a day’? How much exercise do you currently get? Is it an intentional lifestyle choice, the best you can actually do, or the bare minimum because of doctors’ advice? Would you drink and drive if it was legal? Is your relationship with alcohol something intentional or is it out of control? Would you drink more than 14 units if told it was safe? Would you stop drinking completely if alcohol was made illegal? Advice and laws should help guide our decisions, but we are all different. The legal limits may be safe for most people but unhelpful for you individually. Why do we do what we do?


I often hear people talk about having three or six month ‘holidays’ with their relatives because that is all their visiting visas will allow. Would your visiting parents want to live in your matrimonial home for that long if you lived in the same country? Would you stay in your child’s house for a whole year if the visa allows it? Do the immigration laws, air fares, childcare needs, outside temperature, work commitments, social functions or people involved determine the length of international travel? Have you considered real options for being permanently together if both sides really want to live together? Is it really a ‘holiday’ or are people living in cultural bondage because of laws and visas that were meant to encourage freedom and family life? Would you push yourself to do a professional job if it was not relevant for your immigration status? Would you study that course if it was not on the list of courses sponsored by the government? What do you really want to do? Why do we do what we do? Even as professionals, we can reflect on this. Am I kind and empathetic towards patients because it is part of my job or because it is the right thing to do? Would you double-check things and follow guidelines/ethics, if there was no professional body to monitor your practice? How many hours would you work each week, if you were your own boss? Why do we do what we do?


We can easily get sucked into financial problems when we take up the maximum mortgage or loan the bank will lend us, or use a credit card to its maximum limit. Are we really letting the banks decide how much debt we get into, or is it something we decide on intentionally? Would you borrow more if the banks let you? Would you pay back less than the minimum monthly repayment if there was no minimum? Would you pay back your student loan, if they lost track of your record? Why do we do what we do? Is debt a way of life or something we can choose to intentionally live without? No one knows or understands you or your situation better than you do. Our personalities and choices are affected by several factors, which is why reflecting on our lifestyle choices periodically can help us to understand ourselves better and improve. Some people see laws and standards as their limits, while others use them as a guide to help them be safe, healthy, good, socially acceptable and successful. When we know ourselves and live intentionally, we can set our own personal limits/standards, obviously within the law and with appreciation of good advice, to help us achieve more than the bare minimum, live better than the average life and choose happiness over stress.