A FRIEND IN THE DARK
Author and blogger Emily Writes on parenting
Kiwi blogger Emily Writes is making a name for herself in the stay-at-home-mum circuit. She’s honest, she’s raw, she’s fun, she’s tired, she’s, well, a mum. Her blog, Mama Said, turned her into an overnight internet sensation after a post called “**** off, I’m grateful” – aimed at people telling her to relish the early years of parenthood – received more than one million hits. Many of her blogs since then have been just as controversial – if not more – but they seem to strike a chord with mums worldwide.
Having recently published a book, Rants in the Dark, she talks to us about making sense of her newfound fame, finding the time to write and her everyday life as a mum.
The ‘honesty movement’ really seems to have taken off in the parenting sphere recently. Why do you think that is? I think mothers have started to see the power of sharing experiences. We see how other people parent and we see that there are so many different ways to be a mother. Being a good mum is loving your children. It’s keeping them safe. It’s trying every day to do your best and accepting that it’s okay to sometimes not be at your best. My hope is that talking honestly about our experiences shows us that it’s okay that we all have different approaches to parenting – but we’re all the same in loving our children.
The early years of motherhood is a tiring and often stressful time. Where did you find the time and energy to write a book? I don’t know really. Writing helps me understand how I’m feeling so it doesn’t feel like work. I write at 4am because that’s when I feel lonely – writing connects me with other mothers and that connection is life-saving. Writing humbles me. It makes me realise my story is just one tiny story in a world of different stories. Rants in the Dark is little slices of life, so I just pulled together all of the little things that I thought might make mums feel less alone or feel stronger or feel solidarity. I feel a big responsibility to be careful about the words I put out into the world so even though I write in bursts, I always go back and make sure what I said won’t hurt anyone or won’t be taken the wrong way. Parenting is so hard, I don’t want my words to make anything harder. It’s about being a friend in the dark. So much of media these days is about what mothers are doing wrong. I’m trying to work against that.
What have been your most popular parenting blog posts? My most popular posts are about sleep. I think because, while we talk a lot about sleep, it’s in a really competitive way. From the day our babies are born we’re asked, “Are they sleeping through?” Mothers of six-week-old babies are being told they need sleep consultants. The measure of success in parenting babies has somehow become how many hours in a row they sleep. I don’t know how we got here but I think it’s awful.
My babies don’t sleep, and I’ve learned over the last four years that sleeping is like walking – you can get soft shoes, encourage them, make a clear space for them on soft carpet and coax them to come to you – but ultimately, no child is going to walk until they’re able to. Sleep is the same. Some babies sleep early, some don’t. It’s no measure of the type of parent you are. And it makes me so sad that mothers feel so bullied about sleep. I definitely did – and all of my posts about sleep are just me expressing that – the frustration, the sadness, the hope, the despair, and even the little joys that you find in amongst it, like night-time cuddles and kisses. It’s also a no-judgement, no-advice approach because no advice truly works – if there was a single way to get kids to sleep, we’d all be doing it. I’m just an exhausted mum reaching out to exhausted mums.
How do you deal with unsolicited parenting advice? I bitch about them on my blog! No, really I try to remember they’re just trying to help. But I find unsolicited advice very difficult because most of the time parents are just trying to connect with others or just vent, yet when they do every man and his dog jumps in with, “Have you tried this? You need to do this!” It’s like as soon as you open your mouth you’re told what you’re doing wrong and they assume you haven’t heard this exact crap piece of advice 800 million times. Like they’re the first person to say, “Have you tried a swaddle/dummy/ babywearing?” Of course I have!
As a parent, what do you struggle with the most? How lonely it can feel sometimes. The best thing about doing this work is that I meet so many mothers who remind me that I’m not alone in feeling lost sometimes. I’m not alone in not knowing the answers, in feeling like I’m not a good mum some days. Mothering can be so very isolating and there’s so much pressure to do it right. You love your baby more than anything. You know it’s the most important job ever – you want them to be happy and safe and you want to protect them and do everything right. And it’s so important to remember that you’re not alone, that other mums are going through the same thing.
What do you love the most about being a parent? Becoming a mother has been the best, most wonderful, awe-inspiring thing I’ve ever done. I love my children so much. I have to pinch myself daily because I can’t believe how lucky I am to have two such beautiful, hilarious, clever, totally delightful little sausages. Even when I’m tired to my bones and feel like I can’t take another step, or I’m crying in the shower or thinking it’s all too hard – I look at my kids and think, ‘How am I so blessed to have these two?’ Even when they poo in the shower, I’m like awww come here and give me a cuddle.
You founded a charity, Ballet is for Everyone. What is it and how did you come up with it? My baby boy had a difficult start to life. He had a serious respiratory condition that required a lot of surgery and treatment. He once caught a cold and his trachea collapsed and he almost died. So we couldn’t let him do classes because it was too risky. Playdates were very careful – everyone had to be fully immunised, no snot, no tummy bugs, lots of hand sanitiser. I met other parents with medically fragile kids and I wanted a class for them. I had a look at ballet classes but most were so expensive – totally out of reach for low income families like us. Also, many would let girls wear tutus but not boys. So I realised we needed free ballet classes, that were safe for all kids, where kids could wear whatever they wanted. So I wrote a post and Sarah Wood came on board. She’s amazing – an ex-ballet dancer. She really made it happen. We fundraised, got tutus and ballet shoes donated, and some volunteer teachers. We’ve been running every Sunday for about a year and a half now. I don’t do much. It’s all Sarah and Louise Harris, they teach every weekend – they’re literal saints. It’s a beautiful community.
‘THE BEST THING ABOUT DOING THIS WORK IS THAT I MEET SO MANY MOTHERS WHO REMIND ME THAT I'M NOT ALONE IN FEELING LOST SOMETIMES’
Emily Writes’ frank take on motherhood is the stuff of her new book, Rants in the Dark.