The happiest time of your life [eye roll]

No Mummy-blog would be complete without a post about how to deal with the existential conundrum that is the tension between simultaneously loving your children/baby but also feeling you want to press the ejector seat and zoom up and out of your life sometimes. As the wise and wonderful Cheryl Strayed says, “Two things can both be true”.

Why are people compelled to tell new parents ad infinitum “They grow up too fast” and it’s variations: “Enjoy every second”, “It’s the happiest time of your life”. In my own experience I find that it’s especially people whose children have grown up that say these things.

One possible reason they say it is that it’s all true. Or at least it was true for them.

Another potential reason is that, looking back, they wish they had enjoyed more of their children’s early life.

Or that they weren’t as maxed-out as our generation are with information, technology, work, communication, inner and outer expectations and debt.

Writing the phrase

They grow up too fast

makes me simultaneously roll my eyes, wince, feel a lump in my throat and a swell of love, sorrow, reminiscence and regret.

Being just six years into being a parent, I can see why everyone loves to tell new parents this, because they do grow up so fast. But I hated hearing it when I was in the thick of first-time parenting and feeling overwhelmed, traumatiseddepressed, inadequate, lonely. My days felt unbearably long, every phase throwing up new challenges before I’d caught my breath from the last.

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An opening from our book ‘You’re Doing Great, Baby‘ talking about those intense first months with a new baby

Second time around I have been able to savour a lot more, but my added experience and confidence doesn’t change the fact that having little children is in-tense.

Our two are 19 months and 6 years old now, and I can rattle off a list of my favourite things about these ages:
19 months: Beginnings of talking, learning to run, loves his soft toys Grover and Baby, bright-eyed and always ready to interact and say hello or good bye, his baby curls.
6 years old: Thoughtful, funny, curious about the world, fun to read with, great to play games with, loves his little brother, always ready to have a laugh.

But I can also summon up a list of the things that I find difficult: all the stuff I have to take everywhere, can’t nip to the shops, hard to go out at night, house a permanent mess, washing piled high, night waking, endless negotiations about screen-time, finding healthy food they’ll eat… Writing that list and looking at it alongside the list of the things I love about these ages, the list of complaints look trivial. But they create real frustrations at times, and it’s those times that if you told me to enjoy every moment, I might want to wallop you over the head with poor old Grover.

One of the reasons we so badly need a village to raise a child is that the pure intensity of rearing children is instantly more enjoyable once it feels like more of a shared responsibility, or at least something done in the company of other adults.

I find that time flies by happily when we’re outside. Even faster when there are other adults and children there too. The kids play and the parents chat, while playing with/feeding the smaller ones.

Maybe someone should only be allowed to say “Enjoy every second/They grow up too fast” etc. to a new parent if they’ve also done something to show support for them and all the hard work they’re doing.

An understanding look when their toddler is throwing a tantrum, for example. Or offering to help them load load groceries onto the check-out as they struggle to do it whilst also holding their baby. Or sharing that they themselves didn’t manage to enjoy every second but that in retrospect they see the sacred beauty of that early, intense time.

For more on this subject, read the seminal ‘Don’t Carpe Diem‘ by Glennon Doyle Melton, Andi Fox’s ‘Complaining About Motherhood‘, ‘Savour it Anyway‘ by Alicia from the Magical Childhood blog and Mia Freedman’s piece ‘My son is leaving school and I’m in pieces‘.

Learning to look after myself

Leo went back to school today, so the Christmas holidays are officially over.

We had a lot of fun. It was nice to have both boys at home together and not be always hurrying to get out the door for school or waking Clem up from his nap to pick Leo up in the afternoon. I am looking forward to having more time to blog and show our book to a few bookshops.

Over the holidays I started to read Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Daily Lives. It gave me a lot to think about and spurred me on to think about habits I’d like to keep, lose and begin in my life. But I felt a hopeless about implementing her suggestions into my life, to be honest. It sounded like a lot of work and I didn’t have the energy. Clem had just been really sick and I was tired and run-down from the frenetic lead-up to Christmas.

Then! In January I went to the dentist and he told me that I have been grinding my teeth in my sleep. I have never ground my teeth before, so I felt really freaked out to have started. What was it all about?!

With Gretchen’s words fresh in my mind, I decided that I needed to assess my life and ask myself some questions. Things needed to change.

I want to share the questions with you, because answering them has been very clarifying for me.

  1. What I need to do to look after myself
  2. Why do I need to look after myself? What’s at stake?
  3. What if? Then… (if I fall off the wagon this is a plan for how to get back on)
  4. Potential excuses and responses to them
  5. Why do I find it hard to look after myself?
  6. What’s not on the self-care plan i.e. not important
  7. Who can I check in with?
  8. Why can’t I get off the hook?
  9. Resources
  10. Treats that are good for me

Answering these questions I learnt that I totally do know how to look after myself, but I just don’t put it into action sometimes. I know all of my excuses and how to counteract them, but I choose not to.

After writing up all my answers with pen and paper, I made a one pager that I can stick up on the fridge and remind me what my mission is. Writing up this plan feels like I have a mission in life and everything else flows from here.

self care plan

It’s all about fitting your oxygen mask before fitting anyone else’s.

Women especially are taught to look after others before themselves, and I definitely struggle with that. If I’m depleted myself I am terrible at looking after others, and yet I’ve done it all the time. Both before and after having children (I used to always be the friend who looked after everyone in high school for example).

When we were writing You’re Doing Great, Baby we had a line in there that we eventually took out, but it’s very relevant here:

I have all these parenting books on the shelf,
But sometimes it’s hard to look after myself.

The things on my list of things I need to do to look after myself are things I already did to varying degrees, but now it feels more binding. It’s powerful to have recommitted to why I want/need to look after myself.

It takes the element of decision making out of when to do yoga, for example, because I’ve written down the potential days and times I have each week and set myself a minimum number of times a week to get on my mat.

I’ve discovered there’s a great strength and self confidence that comes from choosing rules and then sticking to them. It’s not going to be perfect, and it will evolve over time, but I get excited every time I look at my one-pager. It’s all my favourite stuff (that it’s easy not to make time for).

Since committing to this self care plan things have felt like they’re falling into place. I am excited for the year ahead.

Wishing all of you a healthy and happy 2016. Have faith that you are where you need to be right now. You’re doing great.

Tired, re-wired and inspired: a talk in Sydney

Creative Mama talk

I am giving a talk in Sydney on October 13 at the Lord Dudley Hotel in Woollahra.

It’s part of the great line up of talks and masterclasses organised by Mama Creatives.

It would be wonderful to see you there! You can purchase tickets here.


More about the talk:
Enjoy an inspiring, informative and passionate talk by artist, filmmaker, photographer and writer Beth Taylor, who will be sharing her story, body of work and discussing You’re Doing Great, Baby – a book she has co-written and illustrated with her husband – over dinner and drinks in the company of other creative mamas!

“Motherhood has profoundly altered my perception of myself and the world, and changed everything about my art practice. It’s taught me about love, compassion and struggle.”

A look at Beth’s diverse range of work – from photography to writing and illustration, infused with personal stories of the heart-bursting highs and gut-wrenching lows of being both a mother and an artist, and what she learnt from her experience of having postnatal depression and mild postnatal psychosis after the births of her two boys.

There will also be a raffle on the night to raise funds for PANDA.


Getting ready for the talk has prompted me to update my portfolio on our main website – hooray for deadlines. Check it out!

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Detail from Home exhibition
Facebook Breadtag World
Breadtag World, 2011

Children’s books

Thanks Leo, those shelves needed unpackingOne of the best things about having kids is that you get to read a lot of kids books.

And you don’t just get to read story books. There are a lot of great baby books, maze books, searching books, educational books, sticker books, activity books, puzzle books, animal & dinosaur books, joke books, pop-out mask books, paint-with-water books, colour-by-number books and puzzle books. You get to help with all these too.

We don’t so much think of You’re Doing Great, Baby as a children’s book, but it still kind of is. Kids can read it. It’s certainly been shaped by all the books we’ve read over the last five years of bedtimes.

In honour of Children’s Book Week, here are some of the books we’ve loved.

Do you have any favourites? Any recommendations? Please let us know in the comments.

Beth’s favourites

Jeff’s favourites

Leo’s favourites

Clem’s favourites (we think)

Clem grabbing a quiet moment with a book

Parenting vs. the creative process

This is a post about finding ways to keep creating things when you’re a parent (other than breakfasts, lunches, dinners and clean laundry). And the joys and frustrations of being a parent who needs to create.

After a rocky start, becoming a Mum was the best thing that ever happened to me, both personally and creatively. I had always known that creative work was important to me, but there’s nothing like suddenly having a lot less time to make you stop procrastinating and just do something.

I trained as a documentary writer/director but I wasn’t confident enough about my work to pursue my ideas or apply for grants after I finished film school. I found a full-time permanent job that was related to film, and then pretty soon after that I got pregnant.

Once Leo was born and I had recovered from the shock of it all I was drawn to creative practice I could fit into nap-time and didn’t require other people, big budgets or expensive equipment. I had also grown up a lot and cared less about what other people thought of my work.

I had my first exhibition, Breadtag World, when Leo was 18 months old, and then another called Home when he was three.

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Parenting is a hugely creative thing to be engaged in. You are constantly adapting to suit your child/ren’s needs and playing imaginative games, playing with language, song, paint, dance and all sorts of different media (ATM my youngest, Clem, is into wood-chips and banana, and Leo is into pastels and mask making). But it’s not enough for me to just facilitate their creative expression – I want a turn too!

There’s lots of time to daydream but not very much time to actually put pen to paper, brush to canvas or fingers to keyboard.

“I had to learn to be fast, faster than I’d ever been, for every second counts with a child. I had to teach myself to commit phrases and words to memory when I did not have a pen, to scribble notes to myself on the backs of envelopes … I learnt to compose everything in my head rather than on the page, to have whole paragraphs, whole chapters, completely worked out before I even sat down.
… I write this book in my dreams, in buses, in the quiet moments before I go to sleep, in the ink of my blood. I have learnt to write in air.”

– Susan Johnson, A Better Woman: A Memoir

Continue reading Parenting vs. the creative process

Grateful for: Stephanie Snyder

Insta Stephanie

Stephanie Snyder

My dear friend Tabitha put me onto Stephanie Snyder’s classes on Yogaglo a few years back.

Although I’ve never met Stephanie, or even been in the same room as her, she is my yoga teacher. It’s amazing how much wisdom she can impart while also giving your body, mind and heart a good workout.

The key to our freedom is through service … To serve love and serve each other.

 

Yoga Stephanie
Washing to put away but do some yoga first

I am filled with gratitude to be able to take a class with her whenever I get the chance. There is always washing to hang out or put away, and a meal that needs to be cooked, but any time I can get on my mat and do some yoga gives back to me ten-fold. Yoga is the perfect practice for pregnancy, postnatal aches and pains, and life in general.

I am inspired by how honest she is about her own struggles and failings, and how generous she is with her love and support. She is all about giving yourself permission to feel overwhelmed in early motherhood. I hope that this same spirit is echoed in our book.

Learn more about Stephanie.

 

Grateful for: Avalon Darnesh

Avalon Darnesh
Avalon Darnesh

Avalon Darnesh is a sharmanic birthkeeper and mother, who is on a mission to support women so they can awaken their full potential.

Have you ever read a simple idea and been so struck by it that it stays with you forever? That’s how I feel about a lot of things that Avalon Darnesh says.

I am so grateful for her work, and it’s inspired me as we have been working on our picture book for new parents You’re Doing Great, Baby.

The two biggest things I have learnt from her are:

Instead of putting your ‘parenting’ hat on, try just being yourself. It’s much more real and less energy.

If I’m in a funk or feeling angry, I visualise what my parenting hat looks like (e.g. stiff red velvet with a small brim), and visualise me putting on a totally silly beautiful hat instead (e.g. a floppy, felted purple hat with felted flowers on it).

Let nature be another parent to your child.

Continue reading Grateful for: Avalon Darnesh

Grateful for: Brené Brown

I am naturally drawn to women’s wisdom. Most of what I read is non-fiction written by women, and I have too many heroines to name. I have written about women who’s work has in some way inspired our book, including: Cheryl Strayed, Pinky McKay, Gretchen Rubin and Stephanie Snyder.

Brene BrownThe quote in the picture above is from Brené Brown – a Texan researcher and academic in the field of social work, who writes about vulnerability, love, shame and wholeheartedness. I discovered her through her TED talks and have read all her books. I am a major fan of her work.

I was re-reading the chapter on ‘Wholehearted Parenting’ in Brené’s book Daring Greatly, and I basically wanted to transcribe it all into this post because it is all so spot-on. In fact all of her books have nuggets of wisdom that are useful for parents. All of her ideas are based on interviews with hundreds (if not thousands) of people about their lives, their struggles and what is important to them. She distills what she has learnt into her wonderful books. I highly recommend seeking them out.

Below is a quote from Daring Greatly that I hope is echoed in our book. If I keep this in mind during those harder days, I find I’m kinder to both myself and my kids.

If we want our children to love and Continue reading Grateful for: Brené Brown

A safety net made of love

Cheryl StrayedCheryl Strayed is a writer from Portland, Oregon. She has written fiction, a famous memoir called Wild, and an advice column called Dear Sugar. Her writing as Sugar spawned the incredible book Tiny Beautiful Things.

Pretty much every time I listen to Cheryl’s Dear Sugar Radio podcast, which she does with Steve Almond, I am struck hard by the truth of something she says. She manages to articulate things that my body/heart knows but my mind didn’t. I am so inspired by her writing and her honest, compassionate advice.

In an episode entitled ‘The Wounded Child Within’, the Sugars address a letter writer grappling with the question: “Are we ever able to fully let go of our past?”

In answering the question Cheryl touches on her own past (which included the all-encompassing love of her mother, an absent and abusive father, and the death of her mother when Cheryl was in her early twenties). After her mothers’ death, Cheryl became self-destructive as a way of coping with her grief. (She chronicles this period of her life in her memoir Wild.) In reflecting on how it is that she managed to survive that period of her life she said:

I had been loved too well to ruin my life.

This idea feels familiar to me, and yet I had never thought of it like that before. I want to put it in bold with rainbows behind it, because I think it is true and amazing.

I have been loved to well to ruin my

Mum, Dad and me
Mum, Dad and me

My parents loved/love me in a way that makes me want a good life for myself and my own family. Their love is present in me like a cell that has divided again and again and is the blue print for my love for myself and my loved ones.

Their parenting wasn’t perfect (just as I am not a perfect parent). Can we just agree there’s no such thing as a perfect parent?

They did their best and there is something about their love which keeps me on a loving path with myself. It’s my safety net. I have had tough times in my life. I have made bad decisions. But ultimately I know how to love myself because of how they loved me.

But what if we weren’t loved by our parents in a way that nourishes us? My Mum had a troubled relationship with her own parents, and she felt saved by the love of her maternal grandmother. Her Gran’s love is present in her love for me.

Surely giving our children this love safety net is one of the greatest things we can do for them.

I find it very comforting to visualise an imperfect but beautiful safety net made of the love of all of my ancestors, present inside of me and my children.

I hope this gift of love is present in our book.

 

Grateful for: Pinky McKay

Pinky McKay is a lactation consultant who writes about parenting. Her catch- cry is:

Be as gentle to yourself and your beloved as you are to your little one(s).

She talks honestly about mummy self-doubt, how overwhelming new motherhood can be, and how parenthood changes relationships with partners, friends and family. I found what she has to say about the wide range of ‘normal’ when it comes to baby sleep very comforting.

She feels like a kindly aunt rather than a parenting expert and every time I receive one of her newsletters there’s something useful in there. Her own children are grown up, but she still manages to remember what those early times felt like and her compassion and non-judgemental attitude towards new parents is very inspiring. Leo’s favourite muffin recipe is even based on her oatmeal muffins (I add choc chips and raspberries).

She was kind enough to write a lovely endorsement of our book.

Pinky YDGB praise

It was through Pinky’s Parenting by Heart program that I found the work of Naomi Stadlen who wrote the great book What Mothers Do – Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. Naomi uses the voices and experiences of real mums to explore the unseen work of mothers and their incredible bond with their children.

Thank you Pinky for everything you do for new parents.