Family Life & parenting

The ‘mothership’ category. This is where I place the majority of my blog posts that focus on parenting, family life and many lifestyle issues.

Silent Sunday 7/7/2013

2 Washing basket

Children; they grow up so fast

That first day at school is practically on the horizon. As is the driving test, apparently.

That first day at school is practically on the horizon. As is the driving test, apparently. One minute you’re changing their nappy, the next they’re taking perfect pictures using the Photo Booth app on daddy’s iPad. That’s my experience anyway.

It’s a cliche, but children grow up so fast, don’t you think? Two things have happened this week to make this point clear to me. The first was a couple of days ago when I accompanied Helen, our eldest daughter, to her school. Helen doesn’t start until September so this was an introductory session that allowed her to spend an hour meeting her classmates and teacher while I mingled with the other parents.

While I did some mingling it was a bit awkward. Our youngest daughter was with me and she was in a demanding mood. She was quite happy to be carried round the school hall looking at the pictures pinned on the display boards, but if I sat still for too long she would lunge at my fingers and try to take chunks out of them with her seven teeth and immensely powerful jaws.

Apparently Helen was a little shy but otherwise her session went well. It certainly took us long enough to leave the school as she explored every inch of the playground on the way out, the promise of ice cream doing little to entice her from the premises.

So that was the first thing to make me appreciate how quickly my daughters are growing up. The second was extraordinarily mundane. I was looking for tights for our youngest. She’s almost eight months old but the only tights I could find were sized for a 0-6 month old. This was never going to do. She’s just had a growth spurt and needs tights for a nine month old. Although I found some in the end, I had immense trouble locating the correct size.

In the greater scheme of things this was not a disaster; “Father can’t find correct sized tights” is never going to knock NHS reform off the news agenda. In my own little world, however, it was a big event. It was a sign that my second child is developing at a terrifyingly fast rate, just like her older sister. I’m resigned to the fact it won’t be that long until I’m taking the baby to an introductory session at school.

Thinking about it reminds me of when my younger brother passed his driving test. He wanted to show off his new driving skills and insisted on taking me out for a drive with our other brother.

We bundled into his little Volkswagen Golf and he carefully reversed out of the courtyard. Standing outside the house was my stepfather watching the three of us as we headed off for an adventure.

Almost 15 years later I can still picture my stepfather’s face as we drove off together. It wasn’t sad or negative in anyway but it was obvious he realised his boys were growing up and becoming increasingly independent.

Okay, so my children are a long way off passing their driving test but it’s going to come round soon enough. I don’t know what expression was on my face when Helen walked off to join her classmates the other day, but I suspect I looked very similar to my stepdad the day we disappeared off in that old Volkswagen.  

Like this? Well why not read one or two of my earlier posts.

In Dad’s Shoes – raising the profile of lone fathers

Single Fathers

One of the images from Dad’s House’s earlier exhibition (photo: Natalie Naccahe)

I met William Mcgranaghan a couple of months back. Billy is not only one of the tallest people on the planet but he’s the founder of Dad’s House, an organisation that provides help and support to lone dads.

One of the most striking facts I’ve learned from Billy is the huge number of lone dads in the UK. I’d have put the figure in the low tens-of-thousands but Dads House claims there are 200,000.

Put into context, there almost ten times as many lone mums. Although there are many more lone mothers, Billy believes lone dads are at a disadvantage because there is much less support for them. He speaks from first-hand experience having becoming a lone dad some years ago and you can read his story here.

Dad’s House run a number of projects including free cookery classes, life coaching and social events such as football matches and pub nights. Most of these take place in London but it’s now branching out with a UK-wide photographic exhibition.

Building on the success of a similar project with renowned photo journalist Natalie Naccache, Dad’s House is to tour the UK with an exhibition of images of lone dads called In Dad’s Shoes. The images were taken by Harry Borden who has over 90 pieces hanging in the National Portrait Gallery and has taken photographs of, amongst others, Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher.


Billy said: “We want to champion the cause of the lone father by celebrating parental love, a notion which is not gender specific. By doing so we want to show that fathers are a relevant and much needed part of the family equation.


“The exhibition will also raise awareness of the kind of support available to lone and single fathers, so that they can access that support more easily.”


You can see the exhibition at the Builder’s Arms Pub, Kensigton Court Place, London W8 5BJ. Information about future venues will be placed on the Dads House website.  

Dad’s House is also looking for sponsors to support this important project. If you are happy to do so then email 

Pensions and the stay at home dad

To many people pensions are not particularly sexy. I, however, find pensions fascinating.

Going back a decade or so I worked for two organisations that were at the forefront of alleviating pensioner poverty. I was privy to all manner of information showing that we’re on the verge of a pensions apocalypse in the UK.

One of the major issues I used to deal with was female pensioner poverty. This tends to be a bigger issue for women because mums, as opposed to dads, often take five years out of the workforce when they become mothers and frequently return to part time work once their children are at school.

I think this chap retired with a good pension. I worry I may not be so fortunate.

I think this chap retired with a good pension. I worry I may not be so fortunate.

To be blunt women often pay less into personal pensions than men and miss-out on all important National Insurance contributions that would guarantee a full state pension. Divorce, widowhood and poor health frequently complicate matters.

But what of us stay at home dads? We may be a relatively small population but we face identical issues when it comes to retirement income.

Since I gave up full time work to look after the kids I’ve often wondered about my own pension. With my background it’s something I actually lose sleep over because I know that I’m making all the classic mistakes that have led to generations of stay at home mothers seeing out their later years eeking out an existence on a tiny pension.

The other week I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the savings and pensions specialist Standard Life. I’ll paraphrase but essentially the email said; “John, have you thought about writing a blog about stay at home dads and their pensions?”

Knowing that I’m personally making every pensions mistake in the book I had indeed given plenty of thought to writing just such a blog piece. Standard Life’s email has basically spurred me on to write it.

As regards state pensions, the goal posts are about to move for everybody. In 2016 the Government will introduce a new single-tier state pension. In theory it will be more equitable and easier to administer but there are elements to it that all stay at home parents need to be aware of.  

At present you need to pay 30 years’ worth of National insurance contributions to qualify for a full state pension. This will shortly increase to 35 years.

The state pension age will also increase in 2020 to 66 years of age, rising again to 67 shortly afterwards. The age will be reviewed every five years so further increases are likely within your lifetime.

Julie Russell from Standard Life provided me with the following advice for stay at home dads (although it applies equally to mums): “Finding the time to sit and review all your plans will be the challenge, but its importance cannot be overstated. Office for National Statistics data shows that we’re living longer; more than a third (36 per cent) of people in 2013 will live to be 100. Retirement can now last for decades, which is a long time to fund your lifestyle

and family without a household salary.

“Making sure you save the right amount of money at the right time in the right place is vitally important, as is ensuring you’re able to maximise your tax free saving and State benefits, such as the single-tier pension.” 

On that note I’m off to sell all my personal possessions on Ebay. All profits will be poured into the pension fund.    

For further help with planning your finances and for your retirement visit

Promoting positive body image – what do you do?

Clip Art didn't have any images of "plus size model" so here's an image of a "confident child".

Clip Art didn’t have any images of a “plus size model” so here’s an image of a “confident child”.

I was at a thought provoking round table discussion the other day. The discussion was about fathers and what they can do to promote healthy body image.

The event was hosted by the Equalities Minister Jo Swinson and I found myself in incredibly impressive company. In addition to the Minister there was a Cambridge professor and the founders and chief executives of several charities.

The nature of the discussion dictated that, with one exception, the participants were all male and most of us fathers. I won’t go into detail about what was said during the discussion but I picked up on something very quickly. Almost as soon as the conversation got underway, several of us dads admitted we hadn’t given much thought to body image issues. I’m afraid to say I was one of them.

My thoughts had been limited to the misogyny my two daughters will face. I believe there’s an insidious and creeping misogyny in the media and I’m very concerned about the increasingly sexualised images that my children will inevitably face as they grow up.

There’s an important point to be made here. I only have daughters but body image issues are increasingly affecting men and boys and we musn’t forget this. Indeed, one of the participants was from an organisation representing men with eating disorders.  

I came away from the meeting full of questions:

·         What can I do as a father to ensure my children are confident with their bodies?

·         What can I do as a father to ensure my daughters lead a healthy life?

·         Should my wife and I shield our children from misogynistic advertising and music videos?

·         At what age should we start speaking to them about these things?

·         Should we be speaking to our eldest already (she’s four)?

The point was rammed home to me yesterday when I drove past a primary school. Walking along the road was a young girl of around eight years of age in school uniform. She was being followed a few paces behind by a woman, presumably her mother, pushing a toddler in a pushchair.

To my amazement the young girl had a Playboy-branded satchel over her shoulder. I tried not to be judgemental but I found it desperately sad that a child so young could open to the influence of a brand that promotes sex and perfect bodies.

So tell me mums and dads, what do you do with your children to promote positive body image? Do you do anything? I’d be interested to hear.