How Richard Branson made me appreciate parenting (sort of)

Screw it, let’s do it! That was the name of the book which changed my life. Well, briefly…and rather superficially.

8 years ago I moved to London. After a brief stint living in what was essentially a shoe box with a window, I moved into the flat which was to be the scene of some of the happiest moments of my ventures into true adulthood. Living with two friends from university, I spent the subsequent year partying, staying up late chatting and watching the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice on a permanent loop. Getting to bed before 5am on a Saturday was a rare treat and if you didn’t wake up to discover at least two people crashed out in the living room, you knew it had been a boring evening.

Yet, despite all this fun, my housemates and I weren’t as happy as we hoped. We’d moved to London as graduates do, determined to find our vocation and forge our career paths in the big wide world. We’d all sought out and successfully gained positions in the jobs we wanted, only to discover they were crap!

One housemate came home regularly soaked in other people’s urine while my life was blighted by an ageing socialite charity trustee who, rather than helping me raise funds would instead tell me off if she thought my hairdo didn’t match my outfit or my voice was slightly too high that day. As for the other girl, there were days we thought she’d moved out we saw her so little during the week.

Then one day, clearing out a cupboard, we discovered a book by multimillionaire Richard Branson. As a group of young women committed to working in the charity sector, this was a strange source of inspiration. In this tiny book, Branson set out his key values which allowed him to storm ahead and make his fortune, all the while smiling and pausing regularly to jaunt of round the world on his latest adventure. The main key? Set yourself a challenge every day. Not every month or week or every so often, but every day.

So our new life began. Every day we set ourselves a new challenge to make our lives better. Since everything else was fine, basically the challenge was ‘don’t moan about work’.

It worked. Every time a negative phrase formed on our lips, someone would shout ‘what would Branson do?’ Every time one of us was having a tough times, we’d wisely advise ‘Set yourself a Branson challenge!’ Faced with a moment of uncertainty we’d chant ‘Screw it. Let’s do it!’

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Fast forward several years and we’ve all moved on: new and better jobs, new homes, new babies. Life is less manic and definitely involves less partying, but I’ve certainly been lucky enough to find happiness at work and at home. Still, the last few weeks have been tough for me: a family bereavement, illness (the dreaded chicken pox) and stints of parenting alone as the other half jetted around reporting on various dull-sounding conferences. I found myself more and more annoyed. I seemed perpetually stuck at home with no social life, thinking I back on the days when an could jet off at a moment’s notice and do whatever I wanted. More and more, my husband and I seemed to be saying ‘You know what I miss about before we had a kid…’ and discussions with childless friends always seemed to end with: ‘Probably not. I don’t know if we could find a babysitter.’

Gradually it dawned on me that to an outsider, it might sound like we don’t like being parents at all. Worse than that, I was dangerously close to convincing myself that life was better pre-parenthood.

So I set myself a Branson challenge: for one whole week I would not moan about parenthood. No matter what happened, I would be relentlessly positive. I did not complain about being tired at work when I’d been up since 4.30am. I’ve cheerfully accepted the fact that my head is now freezing on the cycle to work since I can’t get peace long enough to dry my hair in the morning. Even when I had to miss out on staff drinks after Ofsted (and if a glass of wine isn’t deserved then, it never is!) so I could get to the childminders in time, I just smiled and shrugged it off.

It worked!

The truth is, like so many things in life, it’s the idea of stress or the idea of missing out that’s the worst thing. As soon as I stopped thinking about it, it stopped being an issue. Who cares that I couldn’t go to the pub? In truth, I probably had a lot more fun playing with the little one than I would have had in the pub: guzzling down wine, moaning about work and ending up having to face the next day’s teaching with a hangover. Plus, getting up at 4.30am was quite useful when I had Ofsted prep to do!

There seems to be something about parenthood that lends itself to moaning: tiredness, loneliness, boredom, stress, all the things you have to give up. Sometimes you wonder why the hell anyone is doing it. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the internet, where lonely parents go to vent!

So this is my advice to you: turn off the computer, cheer up, go out and enjoy being a parent. Not because it’s beautiful or magical or a privilege or some other annoying and unhelpful cliche. Certainly not because it’s something that you ‘should’ do. Just because, actually – as I’ve thankfully remembered is week- it’s really fun!

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