Beth was interviewed by Shevonne Hunt for the awesome Kinderling radio show Kinderling Conversation, all about kids, health and relationships.
Podcasts are the only thing I feel relatively up to date with so I’m going to revel in that for a minute and tell you what my absolute favourite podcasts have been this year.
I’ve mentioned podcasts quite a bit in this blog because they’re a simple thing I can do to make my life better. You can listen to them while you do nothing, or the chores, or get a baby to sleep or commute.
Curious beyond belief
- Darkode – Radiolab
- Entanglement – Invisibilia
- This proves Everything – Reply all
- Source Code – Mystery Show
Tell me a story
- Belt buckle – Mystery Show
- Analiese Gregory – Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry podcast
- Murder in a small town – Earshot
- The search for tiny libraries in New Zealand – Radiotonic
- Diversity report – Start up podcast
- Christopher Thé – Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry podcast
- Terry Gross – WTF with Mark Maron
Matters of the heart
- The weight of love – Dear Sugar radio
- Mr Fixit 16bit 44k V2 (4) by Sophie Townsend
- Remembering Oliver Sacks – Radiolab
- Meeting Laverne – How to be a Girl
- My father the assassin: Magda Szubanski – Conversations with Richard Fidler
- Moms who hate motherhood – Dear Sugar radio
- Fear and Insecurity in Las Vegas – First Day Back
- Accidental Gay Parents – Longest Shortest Time
- Four tendencies series about Upholders, Obligers, Rebels and Questioners – Happier with Gretchen Rubin
- Cheryl Strayed – Longform
Penny Johnson from ABC’s great Babytalk podcast interviewed Beth about You’re Doing Great, Baby.
You’re Doing Great Baby! Is a picture book for babies but it has a subtle message .. parent’s you’re doing just great too! The book was born (like a lot of parenting projects) when a young couple realised that having a baby was a lot harder than they expected… and they really wanted a way of expressing this to friends and families while giving them support and encouragement as they went. So ‘You’re Doing Great Baby!’ was born, a picture book that when read out loud gives parents a beautiful affirmation that they are doing just fine too!
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.
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
Cheryl 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.
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.
There are many levels of loneliness. The loneliness where you’re alone and wish you weren’t. Then there’s loneliness in the presence of others – where you don’t have much in common with someone or can’t communicate with them. Finally there is a kind of loneliness of the soul. A feeling you are a stranger from yourself. I think that is the worst kind of loneliness.
I remember being shocked by how lonely I could feel in my precious baby’s company.
I have a distinct memory of sitting down and telling Leo (my first child) about myself much in the way you’d introduce yourself to a stranger in a bar. “My name is Beth and I was born in New Zealand…” I had no idea how to talk to my beautiful boy.
Of course this got better with time. I honed my non-verbal communication, and baby Leo learnt to talk with body language and later with words.
Another source of loneliness was that I wasn’t working for the first time in my adult life. You don’t realise how social work is until you’re not there anymore. No incidental chats in the hallway or catch ups at lunchtime. I found it hard to get out to socialise with friends (especially those without kids). It was easier to stay home that fitting in around sleeping and feeding times, plus I felt so exhausted I wasn’t a great conversationalist and didn’t feel like I had any news when asked what I had been up to. What on Earth did I do all day anyway?!
I met other mums out and about, but our conversations were fleeting and sometimes you didn’t have anything in common except that you both had a child. When I was a new mum I wanted desperately to meet my doppelgänger – someone who I had a lot in common with who also parented like me. I burned with the desire to mother alongside other mothers (much like we would have done in earlier human history). I think that this impulse was also to do with me feeling like I’d lost touch with who I was since becoming a Mum.
There is an opening in You’re Doing Great, Baby that shows the mum sitting on the couch holding her sleeping baby and staring out the window forlornly at passersby (I’m working on the painting in the top image). I remember doing this myself – feeling trapped inside stuck in a cycle of feed, play, sleep (repeat).
Jeff was away at work from eight in the morning until six or seven o’clock each night and I was desperate for his company and envious of his freedom.
Mothers groups and playgroups are great for meeting new people. It can also be very comforting (and make you feel less alone) to talk to mothers of similar aged babies who may be going through similar phases with their sleeping, feeding etc. I was lucky with my mothers’ group and have made some lasting friendships. It’s so cool to think that the kids have known each other from when they were tiny. We had moved to our area right before having Leo and I didn’t know anyone at first, so it was awesome to see familiar faces walking the streets. I’ve written more about this in my post on community.
I didn’t have a smart phone when Leo was little, but I remember what a revelation it was when I got an Ipod and could check my Facebook or email if I was sat holding him while he napped. This simultaneously made me feel more and less lonely.
Second time around with baby Clem I found it much easier to adjust to having a friend who used crying as his main form of communication. From the start I felt like we understood one another.
I’ve also become a lot happier in my own company in recent years and don’t feel the need to leave the house for lots of social input. However I was happily telling my friend Tamie this and she laughed because she pointed out that I’ve made my own company so I’m never alone – Leo is amazing company and we can happily have a day at home playing boardgames and chatting. Clem and I sing nursery rhymes (he claps along) and sit out in the garden or sort the laundry together.
What were your experiences of loneliness in parenthood? Please leave a comment below, and subscribe to our newsletter so we can keep you in the loop with the project.