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ANN MARIE BRADSTREET

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More than four years on, and the conflict in Syria shows no signs of ending. Over 16 million Syrians need help urgently. Many are seeking shelter from the fighting and the cold in damaged buildings, while others have become refugees in neighbouring countries.

Arriving at LaGuardia Airport in New York in early 1998 my proudly tattered sweat-stained passport was disdainfully perused by a humourless immigration officer. A page documenting my visit to Syria the previous summer prompted a brief yet terse interrogation. Why had I gone to Syria? What was the purpose of my visit? I replied honestly, “….Just having a look around”. The Official looked at me as if I were deranged and challenged the unlikely response. “It’s a beautiful country, I had a lovely time.” I felt, by his blatant expression, showing equal parts of derision and surprise the decision had been made that he was faced with a harmless idiot and the matter was let to rest. I sailed through customs and onto my next adventure.

Travelling in Syria was a less perplexing notion, however, to the steady throng of 90’s Backpackers and other World Adventurers, whom like me, trailed through the Middle East from Greece, Turkey and down into Egypt and onward. To us, a Syrian sojourn seemed perfectly natural. I regularly bumped shoulders with plenty of other interlopers treading the same route, a large propensity being Australian and New Zealanders. Given that most of us had attended the Anzac Day ceremonies in Turkey, the path to Egypt felt, in many ways like a rite of passage.

Syria was an unexpected jewel in a trip that proved transformative for me. It served as a mysterious back-drop to the evolution of some significant friendships that took shape as an intimate travelling posse drew softly together. Relationships formed in which I grew, changed and became better.

I was a chrysalis, coated with the charm of grand colonial buildings, rooms with soaring ebony French Doors and crisp white sheets, elegantly serving as basic accommodation. Haunting morning calls to prayer befuddled our youthful habit of sleeping-in. Hot arid days were soothed with rich tangy lemon sorbet from roadside vendors, their fruits hanging like garlands from carts ready to whip up a fresh juice quicker than you could say Boost Juice. Creamy chickpea paste patted and plucked by nimble expert fingers from large vats, plied and fried into delicious falafel balls, blanketed in plump flat bread and tabouleh, we had our fill.

Sticky windows of baklava and endless malls of lingerie shops lined Damascus streets. Lacy satin garments sometimes glinted through the seams of black burqas as women leaned in to scoop up a fussy child or reach for market wares. Genteel hostel staff dispensed herbal remedies for upset tummies and gently guided our upcoming adventures. Musicians masqueraded as backgammon playing coffee scoffers before breaking open their circle to invite us into their erupting party. Courteous gentlemen escorted us through city parks practising English in earnest.

My heart wrenches for the Syrian people fleeing with their babies in their arms, bloodied and desperate, being refused entry at freshly barbed-wired border crossings.

The majestic golden ruins of Palmyra, accentuated by the colourful rich hues of Bedouin nomads and their decorated camels, emanated ancient stories and Persian poetry, whispering with the desert wind. Studs in denim lapped up their youth from rooftop rooms with a ceiling of stars and an oasis their carpet. Gum trees were everywhere, Aussie arbols content and flourishing, as were we in the intoxicating gracefulness that was Syria.

A Syria that is, heart –breakingly, no more.

My memories no doubt read something like an Oriental Romance but they embody the essence of my experience of Syria. I was a carefree 20 Something, blissfully ignorant and unaffected by any political situation or social fracture. Had I been less naïve, I might have paid attention to the fact that Syria was still ruled under Emergency Law, its citizens stripped of their democratic rights since 1963 when The Ba’athist Party had taken control of the country after a succession of shaky post war governance.

Perhaps I would have noticed some disharmony, taking into account that the key figures of the Ba’athist Party were of the Alawite minority and that seventy percent of the population were Sunni Muslims. Maybe the musicians in Damascus and I would have talked politics and they would have told me of the harsh censorship to their craft, but there was no such talk, instead they tried to teach me how to play a little tablah drum. I was not impeded by any political unrest and my safe and happy interactions with the Syrian people remain fond memories of a genteel folk, impeccably mannered in their sophisticated cities and hypnotic deserts.

The borders of modern day Syria had been fashioned together after the First World War and ruled under French Mandate until 1945. After Syria had joined the United Nations, a war-weakened France relented to Syrian Independence. A period of political instability followed until The Ba’athists gained a formidable foothold in a 1963 military coup. In 1970 Hafez al-Assad headed the government until his death in 2000, after which his son, current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, assumed rule winning an election in which he ran unopposed. Optimistic hopes for reform on his appointment were dashed and by 2004 there were obvious stirrings of civil unrest.

During the Arab Spring of March 2011, The Free Syrian Army, a rebel force supposedly fighting for a free secular Syria, staged an uprising against the Assad government and civil war broke out. Most commentators agree that the current situation in Syria is complex and hard to decipher. The Free Syrian Army, reputedly backed by the Obama government has since collapsed and ISIS has filled the void in the conflict with a more brutal agenda. The United States have begun air strikes with Australian support over the country in a bid to subdue ISIS, which now control key strongholds throughout the country.

ISIS cannot be disassociated with the events of 2003, when The United States and their allies, including Australia, invaded Iraq under the dupe of Weapons of Mass Destruction and deposed Saddam Hussein; what followed is a well-known if confusing tale of hollow victory, chaos and decimation culminating in a frightening brand of terrorism. A teetering imbalance between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims and a rage against global invasion led to a combustion of conflict and its embers lit up the dry tense tinderbox of The Middle East. Syria has not been spared.

In 2001 I met an Iraqi journalist called Hani who had fled the Hussein regime. He was working as a trolley collector for Woolworths. In 2007 he travelled to Syria to visit family who had sought refuge there, like so many other Iraqis fleeing the war. I haven’t seen him since and I fear for his family and for him, in case he decided to stay. The images of Syrian cities razed and ancient ruins bombed and looted sadden me beyond words but it is the faces of the people carrying their children desperate for a safe place to go that I can’t erase from my mind.
My heart wrenches for the Syrian people fleeing with their babies in their arms, bloodied and desperate, being refused entry at freshly barbed-wired border crossings. Hungary has shut its borders and The Croatian Serbian border has also closed. Europe’s generosity has run out. Neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon are filled to the brim.

Saudi Arabia along with the United States and Russia seem agreeable to supplying weapons which sustain the devastation, yet are far less willing to give safe haven to the throngs of common people whose viability for peace has been wrested from them. These people have nowhere to go and I can’t reconcile to the concept that it has nothing to do with me. I’m a mother, a parent, a human being.

The image of the little boy who washed up drowned on the Turkish beach was a picture I never wanted to see, the familiar curve of his darling innocent little head dredged up the love I feel for my 18 month old when I watch him sleep. The anguish embedded in empathy I felt for his parents was confronting.

A refugee is someone fleeing life-threatening circumstances and yet so often they are treated with suspicion and fear. Rejected and turned away, the choices become more desperate, the risks become perils. The suffering closes in and hope becomes vague and they begin to change. The old give up and turn inward and the young get angry. Rejection, fear and greedy opposition is not what the decent people of Syria deserve. At this moment they deserve compassion, respite, healing and an understanding of the political undertakings which have brought innocent people to this desperate point. And they need somewhere to go.    

To donate:

The Red Cross

On average, Red Cross Red Crescent is helping a staggering 3.5 million people in Syria every month in practical, life-saving ways:

  • providing food parcels and baking bread
  • supplying hygiene kits with toothpaste, toilet paper, soap and other essentials
  • providing blankets to keep out the cold
  • providing clean water and restoring sanitation systems
  • providing first aid and medical care, including vaccinations for children

To donate to the Australian Red Cross Syria Crisis Appeal go to www.redcross.org.au/syriacrisis  

UNICEF

You can support UNICEF’s work for Syria’s children:

    1. Donate directly at www.unicef.org.au
    2. Buy a UNICEF Inspired Gift at www.unicef.org.au/gift The gifts most needed are those that prevent the spread of disease. Choose from categories like ‘disease prevention’ or ‘clean water and sanitation’.  
    3. Challenge themselves and bring people together to raise money. We’ve had extraordinary physical challenges, trekking and even simple bake sales and workplace morning teas to raise money for children. Visit www.unicef.org.au/donate/fundraising to learn more. For example, one team is doing a clean out of their wardrobes and organising a wardrobe sale to support UNICEF’s work for children in Syria and the surrounding countries taking refugees.

Oxfam

To support Oxfam’s humanitarian response the public can donate to Oxfam Australia’s Syria Crisis Appeal by calling 1800 034 034 or visiting www.oxfam.org.au

Oxfam program information

Oxfam has reached more than 250,000 vulnerable people in Lebanon. Their response has included:

  • Providing 3,200 hygiene kits (accompanied by hygiene promotion and awareness sessions), toilet cleaning kits, and 840 environmental cleaning kits, and distributing household, communal and municipal waste bins.
  • Building and repairing over 1,100 toilets, ensuring that each is shared by no more than 20 people.
  • Installing over 720 water tanks in communal areas.
  • Delivering 10 million litres of water through water trucking, providing refugees with clean water for drinking, cooking and washing.
  • Constructing or repairing 70 shared bathing facilities, and providing families with jerry cans and water storage containers.

As parents, it can be challenging to find ways to support children experiencing fears about the future of the planet while managing our own worries about an uncertain future. Psychologist, author and broadcaster Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, a specialist in parenting and child/adolescent mental health, in conjunction with SchoolTV, guides parents on how to best respond to a child experiencing eco-anxiety, irrespective of varying personal views on the climate change debate.

The Australian Curriculum on Sustainability addresses the ongoing capacity of Earth to maintain all life.

Primary schools are immersed in school gardens and recycling initiatives. Teenagers across the globe are striking from school in protest to leader inaction on mitigating the effects of climate change.

Extreme weather events such as drought, fire and flood regularly dominate news reports and popular media revels in polarising debate.

Our children are more environmentally aware than ever and with this awareness can come fear and anxiety as children grapple with notions of disaster, with some experiencing it directly amid bushfires and drought stricken rural areas.

The World Health Organisation regard climate change as the greatest threat to global health in the 21st Century, due to results of extreme weather events and a recent survey by YouGovGalaxy for UNICEF Australia reveals that children are most worried, on a world level, about the environment.

What is Eco-Anxiety?

Eco-Anxiety refers to the fear felt about the threat of ecological disaster, leading to feelings of disempowerment, helplessness and apathy.

A brief report by Millennium Kids through the University of Western Australia, found 60 per cent of children surveyed believed the Australian Government does not adequately acknowledge climate change as a serious problem and is not committed to tackling the issue.

They also felt their personal actions to mitigate climate change were inadequate.

How to Respond

Finding ways as a parent to allay a child’s fear on the issue without being disingenuous can be confusing, particularly when a child is very young.

However, Dr Carr-Gregg believes early intervention is critical when addressing the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing issues which are now impacting our children at a much younger age.

In a recent special report with SchoolTV, a resource used to support schools and parents in addressing the modern day issues affecting today’s children, Dr Carr-Gregg outlines ways to best respond to a child’s eco-anxiety.

Building Hope

Dr Carr-Gregg believes, as adults, we have a responsibility to give hope and must be careful not to terrify children into a state of hopelessness, fear and panic.

He encourages instilling faith that our society has the capacity to solve big problems, and by working together, taking positive action and maintaining honesty, positive change can happen.

Parents are then best positioned to respond to the fear experienced by our children about climate change and the sustainability of the planet. How to

Protecting Innocence

 

Under 5’s

This is a tender developmental stage and children need to believe the world is a safe and secure place.

However, Dr Carr-Gregg recommends answering questions, if they are raised, in honest, yet gentle terms such as, “The earth does face some challenges but many people, our schools and leaders are working to solve them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg explains, cocooning Pre-Schoolers from catastrophic thinking about the fate of the planet is very important and if they seek further reassurance, it can be helpful to focus on the environmentally friendly practices of the family.

He says, “Help them learn to appreciate and care for their environment.”

Positive Action

 

Primary school aged

Dr Carr-Gregg suggests being guided by your child’s curiosity at this age, to answer questions honestly, in accordance to your beliefs, being mindful to not focus solely on problems.

Instead, emphasise positive initiatives being implemented worldwide. He says, “Talk about renewables, emission reduction and that human beings do have a history of being able to solve, what has often been seen in the past, as intractable problems.”

He encourages involving your primary aged children in Community Gardens, Recycling Programs and other initiatives which can give them agency over their future.

Deep Fears

For children experiencing extreme anxiety, Dr Carr-Gregg explains this can be diffused by encouraging them to talk.

He says, “Gradually introduce them to known facts. Then ask them how they feel, before acknowledging that the ultimate outcome is uncertain.

Finally, parents should agree to practical steps to make a difference such as cutting down on non-recyclable waste and by choosing food with a better climate footprint.

Working Together

 

Adolescents

Older children are perhaps, more well-versed on the effects of climate change than their parents and views may vary, however, Dr Carr-Gregg recommends dissuading narratives of doom.

He encourages parents to welcome conversations around the issue but to keep reminding teenagers that many people are working together to help solve the problem.

He says, “Big problems have been solved in the past by people working together.”

Solution Based Thinking

Dr Carr-Gregg says, “The most important thing a parent can do to allay eco-anxiety, while still encouraging realism is to tell children that solutions do exist and if we implement changes now. In the future, more people will be living in cleaner cities, eating healthier diets and working in resilient, buoyant economies. When a child sees a parent acting to make things better it shines an entirely different light on the problem. Young people see their parents as Superheroes and our actions speak louder than words.”

“We can work to find solutions to serious problems without giving way to despair and impotence.”

Keeping the Faith

Dr Carr-Gregg’s special report on SchoolTV asks parents to look to practical and positive responses to their children’s fears about climate change and to implement positive action whilst acknowledging the positive actions of others.

Hope is an essential component to not only assuaging anxiety but also in overcoming the problems faced by the world.

Albert Wiggan, a Bardi-Kija-Nyul Nyual man from the Kimberley and Conservationist of the Year at the 2019 Australian Geographic Society said, in his acceptance speech in November, it was time Australia and the world looked to Indigenous cultures for the answers on how to sustain the earth.

He said, “I still have a lot of belief that we can turn things around in this great country. And we will turn things around. And we are going to instil the strength in our children who are out there fighting for their future and every single one of us, who are accepting these awards, are doing it for you. And we are doing it for you so you can maintain your vigorous conviction. And you maintain your faith in your future. And you maintain the faith of who we are as human beings.”

Kristin Neff PhD, Associate Professor at the University of Texas and global expert on the academic study of Self Compassion, discusses the antidote to harsh self-talk and how a swathe of worldwide study is proving the benefits of befriending yourself.

Do you have a nickname for yourself? Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way writes about her inner critic she calls Nigel, “He looks down on the rest of me. Nothing is ever good enough for Nigel.” As a child I heard my mum call herself, Stupid, hyphenated with Idiot. She called me Darling, like I do with my kids.

Dr Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas thinks I should start calling myself Darling instead of Stupid-Idiot; as a breadth of research indicates I could have better physical health, happier relationships, more motivation, less anxiety and depression and a stronger resilience for coping with stress and trauma.

But where would we be without Nigel?!” asks the stiff upper lip of our collective Western psyche. “People have false beliefs about Self Compassion. They think it’s going to make them weak, undermine motivation, make them complacent or self-indulgent but once you have the research it shows, well actually, it’s just the opposite. It helps people say, ‘Well, maybe I’ll give it go,’’’ says Neff, an academic pioneer of the subject who, in 2003, developed a ground-breaking research tool called The Self Compassion Scale.

Designed to evaluate trait levels of Self Compassion within an individual’s thoughts, behaviours and emotions, the scale has since been used in over 2000 studies with the concept continuing to gain mainstream interest.

What is Self Compassion?

“It’s a very simple idea,” says Neff, “It’s a common sense idea, it’s not actually radical. You just ask people to think about how they treat their friends’ struggles or a loved one and the type of things they say to help them in difficult times.”

Our self-dialogue is commonly very severe, full of admonishment and criticism which questions self-worth and often leads to feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression.

Neff has found, being harsh and critical doesn’t motivate but rather undermines motivation. She says, “It just makes sense that you’d want to encourage and support yourself and let the voice inside your head be a friendly and supportive one as opposed to a hostile aggressive one. Once people get that, they make the switch for themselves.”

Neff made the switch during her last year of Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. She was completing her PhD in the examination of children’s moral reasoning when she became interested in Buddhism.

It was a difficult time, as she was suffering the break-down of her first marriage and had begun questioning her prospects and self-worth.

Through Buddhism, she found relief and noticed that Self Compassion, a central construct of Buddhist Psychology, had never been examined empirically and thus began her passionate devotion both personally and professionally to the practice and study of Self Compassion.

Neff explains that you don’t have to be a Buddhist or spend hours meditating to practice Self Compassion to gain the benefits but there are three components that all need to be practised in order for the concept of Self Compassion to be complete.

The Three Components of Self Compassion

MINDFULNESS Firstly, you must be willing to acknowledge that you are going through difficulty.  Often, during hard times, people are caught up in the narrative and don’t identify their own suffering.

“We can get so lost in the struggle, the storyline, that we have no perspective, we’re trying to fix it, trying to problem solve, we’re sometimes trying to shove it under the rug, we don’t even look because it’s too hard. And, it actually doesn’t make sense to be supportive of ourselves if we don’t know we’re struggling,” explains Neff. So, the first step in practising Self Compassion is voicing what is going wrong and how that feels so we notice our own suffering.

SELF KINDNESS means responding to yourself during imperfect times with a kind, internal voice such as, ‘I know you’re feeling scared and overwhelmed right now and this is a difficult time but I’m here for you.’

Placing a hand over the part of your body that is feeling stressed, stroking your arm or giving yourself an endearing name can soothe the emotions experienced, not with the intention of overcoming them immediately, but rather responding with love and support so the problem becomes less overwhelming and easier to bear.

COMMON HUMANITY “Is what distinguishes the practice between Self Compassion and Self Pity.” By acknowledging everyone has flaws and bad experiences, it allows not only an extension of compassion to oneself but also others, leading to less feelings of isolation.

“The problem, overall, is most people know logically we are all imperfect, but emotionally, when a person makes a mistake or something difficult happens, they react as if something has gone wrong. As if this is not supposed to be happening, if it’s not perfect then something is terribly amiss, which isn’t true,” says Neff, who believes that within our inherent connectedness, “That all people struggle, all people make mistakes, everyone is imperfect,” we are able to accept and cope better with our own failings and be less critical of others.

The Best Way to Foster Self Compassion in Children

MODELLING “Is the best way to foster compassion in your children. Model it out loud. A lot of parents are really careful of what they say to their kids but what they’re modelling is, ‘What??!! I’m so stupid, I lost my car keys.’ Children pick up those messages and think, oh that’s the way you’re supposed to be,” says Neff.

MIRROR NEURONS The Mirror Neuron System is somewhat debated in the field of Neuroscience. Mirror Neurons, special brain cells, which are activated both through action and observance are said by some neuroscientists to represent, among other things, the capacity for human empathy. Others have challenged the strength of this claim. However, Neff says, “We’re designed to feel each other’s messages. A huge proportion of the brain’s real estate is evolved for feeling others’ emotions.”

Neff believes humans do this at a primeval level and thinks what happens internally is just as critical as outward behaviour, in terms of what children are capable of picking up on. “We aren’t silos,” she says, “What we cultivate inside impacts others outside.”

“Children pick up those messages and think, oh that’s the way you’re supposed to be,” says Neff.

SELFISH COMPASSION, Neff believes, is of benefit to our children She explains, a lot of parents think, “‘Oh it’s selfish, I shouldn’t be focussing on myself,’ But what I tell them is, ‘Who do you want your children to interact with, someone who’s full of compassion, kindness and calm, so they get that through their mirror neurons? Or do you want them to interact with someone who’s frustrated and angry?

“My son’s autistic and I talk a lot about him and what a huge difference we’ve made. If he was in a space where he was really anxious and I felt really frustrated and anxious myself, I wouldn’t even say anything but he would ramp up, he would feel my tension. If then, I could just say (and I don’t say it out loud in this case, just to myself), ‘You know, this is really hard for me, I’m feeling really overwhelmed and I just don’t know what to do.’

“I then try to be kind supportive and say (to myself), ‘It’s Okay. I’m here for you.’ As soon as I’d changed my internal mind-state he would almost always calm down. So, those messages were received. That’s why I think Self Compassion is one of the biggest gifts we can give children. But we have to be willing to say that it’s hard to be a parent, it is hard, not always, it’s also joyous, but sometimes it’s really hard.”

“So, it’s at those worst of times,” says Neff, “That if we can acknowledge the pain and just give ourselves kindness and support, then the pain won’t overwhelm us. It’ll be more temperate, it won’t last as long, and then we actually learn to cultivate calm, kindness and connectedness in the midst of the worst of times and it helps everyone, yourself and your kids. ”

“Self Compassion is common sense, you know, but for some reason our culture doesn’t encourage it.”

Self Compassion vs Self Esteem

Western Culture has become reliant on Self Esteem gauging self-worth. Boosting a child’s Self Esteem requires the child be special or above average, placing others below them. The hierarchal demands of high Self Esteem create a risky, cut-throat validation system which fluctuates at the mercy of achievement. Self Compassion, on the other hand, shows up amid failure and encompasses compassion for others, who also fail, which provides a more constant guard of self-worth, leading to better outcomes for overall wellbeing.

High Self Esteem can also lead to an overestimation of one’s abilities and reduce the motivation to improve. A 2012 study conducted at University of California, Berkeley, involved students sitting a difficult test they were designed to fail. Two groups were formed, the first being told not to feel alone as others had also found the test hard and they’d do better next time. The second group was told not to worry because they’d got into Berkeley and so, must be really smart. Students were then provided notes with unlimited time to study before taking a second test. Students from the first group, who were encouraged to be Self Compassionate, spent more time studying than the group who had been boosted and were more realistic about what was required to improve.

“You don’t want to hate yourself, you want good Self Esteem, but we can’t always get it right, we can’t always be the better than others. Be a compassionate mess instead,” says Neff. 

RESOURCES Kristin Neff shares many free resources on her website selfcompassion.org and has developed an 8-week program to teach Self Compassion skills with colleague Chris Germer. She has also published a book, Self-Compassion.

Darling of the Musicals, Sweetheart of the Screen, hardworking mum and all round Good Witch, Lucy Durack, shows the value in seeking the support of family, friends and the odd stranger on social media.

When Lucy Durack got her childhood dog, her outnumbered dad, on learning it was a girl had one demand a tough name. Born and raised in an unashamedly girly girl house in Perth with her two sisters and a bitch named Bandit, this Fairy Princess was, as every good tale goes, destined for the stage.

With a wicked talent and spellbinding mix of resilience and charm, Lucy chats to Offspring from her home in Melbourne about family and her magically crafted career on both stage and screen.

“Polly wants to be The Fairy Queen of the Theater when she grows up,” Lucy laughs of her daughter. Clearly keen to follow in Mum’s footsteps, Polly must have been taking note of Lucy’s Glinda during last year’s GFO’s production of The Wizard of Oz, her four year old being no stranger to The Good Witch.

Polly, imbued in show business from the womb, (she was in utero during her mother’s reprisal of a fleshed out Glinda, in the smash hit musical, Wicked) will likely be understudying in the wings in January when Lucy treads the boards as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical.

Although Lucy held similar childhood dreams, hankering for the lead in school musicals, she’s mindful not to narrow down her daughter’s choices and says,

“Polly is very keen on singing and dancing, and she’s got a smart little brain, so I want her to see what other things are out there.”

Lucy, a Helpmann Award winning actress, (she won the coveted theater prize playing Elle Woods in the Australian season of Legally Blonde) has broadened her own horizons.

Not confining her talents to the stage, she has a growing number of screen credits, including cop, Tugger, on popular Nine Network series Doctor Doctor, and wayward, Roxy, in Network Ten drama Sisters.

She’ll soon return to Sydney to resume filming, as a judge on Seven’s revival of family hit, Australia’s Got Talent (AGT). Mercifully, without hyperemesis gravidarum, the debilitating morning sickness that plagued her in early production.

She’s expecting her second child, a baby boy in October and describes her recovery as a “Miracle,” after suffering from the condition throughout her entire pregnancy with Polly which she says, “Was really hard,” a believable sentiment when considering the first five months were spent on stage.

Relieved the symptoms subsided much earlier this pregnancy and grateful for the solace she sought in a Facebook group of fellow sufferers she says, “It was a really useful group to just connect with complete strangers that were also going through this really terrible time.”

“Just having people who are going through exactly the same thing is really useful. I found having a Mothers’ Group really helped. I remember once we finished our four weeks, or whatever you do with the nurse, she was like, “Right it’s now up to you girls to meet on your own”, so I started up a WhatsApp Group, but I started it in the middle of the night when I was up feeding Polly.”

“Polly was born in June, so it was winter, and it was dark and cold, that isolating time when you feel like, you’re the only one in the world awake feeding your baby,” Lucy laughs. “And so, I thought I’ll just add the mums and when they wake up in the morning, they can join, but at around 2am I kept getting this ‘ding ding’.

All the mums were up feeding their babies, it was so heartening and it still gives me warm fuzzy feelings to think about, because it was just this moment where I thought,

‘Oh my God, I’m not alone, and we’re all just trying to figure this out in the middle of the night.’”

When Polly was six weeks old, Lucy auditioned for the role of Sophie in Alison Bell and Sarah Scheller creation, The Let Down, screened on ABC & Netflix. Now in its second series and steadily gaining cult status, the wry triumph peels back child rearing to its bare bones.

Lucy, in a fluster before the audition when the babysitter called in sick, had no choice but to take her newborn with her. Luckily, the role of Sophie called for a shiny new mum, who almost has it together when encountering an eclectic mix of characters at Mothers’ Group.

Polly, not only welcome at the audition, scored her first screen credit starring as Sophie’s baby in the pilot episode. Lucy’s agent called saying, “Well, if ever there was an audition where it’s appropriate to bring your baby, this was it.”

Childcare, a tricky balance to strike for most working parents is no different for Lucy and her theater director/choreographer husband, Chris Horsey, who face their own specific challenges piecing together the irregular shapes of their showbiz schedules.

Sitting down, at least monthly, with their calendars they nut out the gaps, Lucy says, “As long as we’ve kind of organised the next month or two, and I know in my heart that Polly’s looked after in the best possible way, then I can keep going.”

Lucy says it couldn’t work without Chris and his hands-on approach to fatherhood, “Chris is absolutely brilliant, such an excellent husband and dad. We don’t live the traditional roles of how we grew up, where our mothers were the main carer. Chris and I split it pretty evenly.” At times, that means either one stepping up to care for Polly while the other works.

When schedules collide, they arrange day care, a nanny or call on family. Once, when Chris was choreographing in Paris while Lucy filmed Sisters, they got a live-in au pair. Lucy’s mum is booked in for August. “Mum’s super helpful. She flies in and saves the day multiple times a year. She’s brilliant.” Lucy says.

With the long-term future often difficult to predict, Lucy relies on her and Chris talking things through, “Chris and I try to keep really open about communicating how we’re feeling because we’ve both had stints as the main carer.”

“It’s great because we both know how isolating that can be and so we can be a little more open about that. It’s constant negotiation, a jigsaw puzzle that we’re trying to sort out.”

Connecting industry parents who share tips and contacts for juggling parenthood and career through Facebook Group Actor/Singer/Dancer/Mother also helps Lucy piece the puzzle together.

“It has been an invaluable source, very, very useful. It’s a really great support network and for those really specific questions that come with being a mum, that are coupled with the uncertainty of performing life.

“That Facebook Group, on a weekly basis, gives me such help and support, and just makes me feel happy that we’re all there looking after each other.

“Oh, The worst thing that is going to happen is, I’m not going to do a very good job, but I’m not going to die”

Being open to support and asking for help has perhaps enhanced the bold and brave life of Lucy Durack. Suffering stage fright while studying Musical Theatre at WAAPA (Western Australian Academy for Performing Arts), she sought guidance from teachers and read books on the fight or flight response.

On realising her worst fears would not result in being eaten by a wildebeest, she overcame the anxiety. Laughing, she remembers, “Once I discovered ‘Oh, the worst thing that is going to happen is, I’m not going to do a very good job, but I’m not going to die.’ That really helped me.”

Accepting the possibility that, not doing a very good job, needn’t equal disaster has undoubtedly allowed Lucy’s talents to flourish and fostered her connections with others through the admirable mix of humility and optimism. 

Discussing the bravery of vulnerability, Lucy says, “Even to just reach out and say, ‘I feel like I’m failing,’ and everyone says, ‘Yep, we all do. Don’t worry,’ can help to know you’re not the only one.

I don’t think anyone escapes that feeling, at some point. I love Brene Brown, and I read a quote from her the other day where she says, ‘If we all operate from the perspective that we’re all trying our hardest, then everyone’s life’s better.’

“You know, it’s true. Everyone is trying their hardest, it’s just sometimes things are hard.

“Even to just reach out and say, ‘I feel like I’m failing,’ and everyone says,‘Yep, we all do. Don’t worry,’ can help to know you’re not the only one.”

Moments of vulnerability abound in the current season of AGT. Judging for the first time, Lucy has found the experience more emotionally fulfilling than expected and explains, “You’re watching people bare their souls and try things they, maybe, don’t do in their normal lives. It’s their big chance in the spotlight. It can be emotionally draining because you want to give them all your attention, but it’s also emotionally fulfilling and beautiful to watch.”

“Every single filming day, probably because I’m pregnant as well, I cried at least once at something beautiful that happened on stage. Some of the acts are heart wrenching, some hilarious and others are just ridiculous. So you have this roller coaster of emotions throughout your filming day. I’m really enjoying it and I’ve learnt a lot.”

Lucy’s next big act will be welcoming her son and brother for Polly in October.

She says, “Polly is super girly. Everything has to be pink and purple, rainbow and sparkles. I think having a boy will be really good for our household, to balance us all out. It will be interesting to see what personality this little guy will have and who he’ll take after.”

The little guy will be around four weeks old when Lucy starts rehearsals for Shrek the Musical, opening at Sydney Lyric Theatre in January 2020.

She says, “Knowing that Shrek is coming up, and we as a family will be in Sydney for a few months with a newborn baby, we’ve got some beautiful nanny contacts from when we lived there, so I’ve put them in place. I’m pretty excited because I love Shrek.”

“Now my life is so much about my family, a whole new part of my career that is really family-friendly, that I can bring my family to, has all of sudden become such a high priority. Knowing that can happen with Shrek, I’m looking forward to it. It’s a really funny, well-written show.”

Another well-written show, however, comes first. Lucy needs to prepare for Bonnie Lythgoe’s panto spectacular, Jack and the Beanstalk, and this Fairy Princess doesn’t fit into any of her clothes.

She’s off to buy maternity leggings from Westfield, she’ll probably drive. But perhaps, with a click of the heel or a wave of a wand, she might just fly in a pair of glittering wings, making every day fairy tales (like only Lucy Durack can) come true.

Irreverently passionate writer, singer, comedian and “former” radio host, Em Rusciano talks renovation, rage and who should bring in the bloody washing.

Em Rusciano will never work in breakfast radio again and she wants it in print as a reminder that Sydney’s 2DayFM hosting role that she resigned from in September 2018 is permanently behind her.

“It’s been good, I’ve been very grateful for my time but I will never step back in that arena, never,” Rusciano says from the renovation site of her Melbourne home. Because, renovating “is what you should do when you’re heavily pregnant,” she jokes; and explains she is always biting off more than she can chew, just to see what happens.

Rusciano’s renovation is but one of her projects. She is currently writing her first fiction novel with Harper Collins, working on a stage show which includes a musical collaboration with Kate Miller Heidke and expecting her third child, a son in January, with husband Scott, whom she has two daughters Marchella, 17 and Odette, 11. This workload is Rusciano’s version of paring back and having some downtime, which she says is helped by being true to her creative self.

“Well it is all relative,” she explains, “I’ve only got the few projects and that’s me being sensible. I really am so happy at the moment, I get up every day and I write my book and then I go and work on my show with my team.

“I’ve got a line of merchandise that I’m working on and I get to pick my girls up from school, and every day I’m thinking to myself, ‘you’re so lucky that you’re able to pursue the things that are really in your heart.’ I think that’s when you make your best stuff and you’re at your most creative. I’m just a happier, more fulfilled person. I was angry, I was really angry for a while and I couldn’t figure out why and then I realised I’d strayed too far from my creative essence.”

“I was angry, I was really angry for a while and I couldn’t figure out why and then I realised I’d strayed too far from my creative essence.”

It was Rusciano’s creative needs both as a mother and artist that was the driving force behind her decision to get out of radio. Her second child was born while she continued working on Perth’s 92.9 Breakfast Show, Em, Sam and Wippa, so, on discovering her pregnancy this time she knew she was going to do things differently. “With Odette, I went back to work five weeks after a caesarean and I was still breastfeeding every couple of hours. It was a nightmare, so I was determined when I found out I was pregnant this time that there was no way I was going to try and tackle that again, it nearly killed me.”

After leaving Perth radio and working on her own projects she was lured back to breakfast radio at 2DayFM.

“I felt I had some unfinished business [in radio] and I love broadcasting, but I quickly realised once I was back that while I was grateful for the opportunity it was probably not the best place for me creatively. I did my very best and sometimes that was a good thing and sometimes I was smashed in the media.

“Definitely, everything happens for a reason and getting pregnant has given me an opportunity to step away in a really nice way; a lot people get sacked from breakfast radio, I got to leave on my terms.”

Having her career on her own terms is something that Rusciano is quite suited to and familiar with, having spent the best part of a decade creating her own brand of celebrity/artistry. She put together her own team and developed a series of stand-up/ cabaret style concerts full of her raw, unapologetic humour, polished musical production and the voice which earned her the fame she has doggedly capitalised on since becoming a finalist as Marcia Hines’ pet on the second season of Australian Idol.

Rusciano is a go-getter and recognising she is not a conventionally marketable personality she has gone out and created her own brand and pursued her own audience. She has a successful social media presence with a healthy following for her blog, emrusciano.com, which is popular with mums. She’s published a memoir called Try Hard, Tales from the Life of a Needy Over Achiever and sold out the Sydney Opera House this year with her cabaret show Evil Queen, which toured nationally.

Rusciano’s new stage show, which she plans to tour later next year, will be about embracing feminine rage, an emotion Rusciano became consumed by during the gruelling hours of breakfast radio and is now inspired to channel in more positive and transformative ways.

“I spent six months of this year angry and I couldn’t understand why, and it started showing up in weird ways,” she reveals. “I’m reading a book at the moment called Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly. It’s incredible and I encourage every woman to read it.

“My stand-up stage show next year is about embracing female rage and how everyone is so terrified of women expressing that they’re unhappy, not realising that’s just making them more unhappy. We hide [our rage], we don’t acknowledge it and it weakens us.

“I came out of radio feeling so much rage, there’s this rising tide of women going, ‘Why do I feel so itchy and cross all the time?’ We’re all becoming more awakened to the little inadequacies and little inequalities toward women and if you’ve got daughters, I’m especially conscious of the little things that work against my kids just because they have vaginas and oh my god, it makes me so mad and it makes me mad for my daughters. So, you know, what do you do with that rage? You can’t stew on it, you can’t form a lynch mob, you’ve got to channel it.”

“I’m especially conscious of the little things that work against my kids just because they have vaginas and oh my god, it makes me so mad and it makes me mad for my daughters.”

Rusciano is doing what she does best and what makes her most happy, channelling her experiences into creative projects and hoping it’s of value to her audience.

“I’ve just become so aware of so many things over the past couple of years and it’s going to come out in this book and in this stage show, and I hope that it helps other women navigate their lives and feel a little less angry and a little less ripped off and be better communicators.

“I really love doing that kind of thing, I want to be able to help women. Because I have been helpless and angry and crying and not really knowing which direction to turn and I’d like to be someone people can look to and say, ‘Okay, well how did she do it?’ And, maybe they could adopt some of the stuff that I did too. That’s the primary reason for it all.”

Rusciano’s adaptations include shifting the enduring trend of women doing the greater percentage of the domestic work load in the home and she believes this is harming relationships.

“Especially if women allow themselves to do a hundred percent of the domestic loading and I think that’s a real problem, and I think that’s on us, we need to put the boundaries in and we need to say to our husbands ‘I’m not just at home with the kids doing nothing, I’m with our kids’.

“When our husband does the washing, you don’t thank him for helping you, that’s not helping, he’s doing his job as your partner and as the father of the children. Father’s don’t babysit their kids, that is their job in life but they get thanked, you don’t get thanked every day for the loads of washing you do.

“This whole notion of, if a dad helps, then he gets thanked and if a mum does the same thing then that’s just her job. I just think it’s bullshit and I think that’s where there is a lot of problems in marriages, when a woman just feels so taken advantage of and so over worked and bogged down with crap and the husband’s just like ‘Well, oh well I’ll help you out’ and I’m like ‘no fucker!’

“I just think it’s bullshit and I think that’s where there is a lot of problems in marriages, when a woman just feels so taken advantage of and so over worked and bogged down with crap and the husband’s just like ‘Well, oh well I’ll help you out’.”

“Even last week [Scott] said to me, ‘Oh that washing needs to come in, it’s gonna rain’. I checked him, and I said, ‘Hey fucker, feel free, pointing it out doesn’t make it so’. All the men that I know that are in happy relationships do a division of the domestic labour and it’s a fucking happy relationship.”

A happy relationship is something that Rusciano, 39, and her husband Scott, who she met when she was 19, have worked very hard to create. She explains, it hasn’t come easy, having separated on two previous occasions, they have now reached a happy, less volatile place in their relationship.

“We’re a team, we’re a genuine team and we work so fucking hard at being a team. I can’t even think how hard we’ve worked on our marriage, so much work has been put in, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of, my relationship with Scott.”

“I can’t even think how hard we’ve worked on our marriage, so much work has been put in, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of, my relationship with Scott.”

“And, it’s not perfect and we still clash but we’re much better at handling the situation at hand rather than piling it all up and making it a huge thing and ‘oh everything’s terrible’.

“For me, it’s finding that middle place rather than trying to be right, that has solved most of our problems and really listening. You’ve got to really respect what they’re passionate about and you can’t shit on it.

“It’s so easy inside a marriage to get bogged down and it just becomes about surviving and functioning rather than growing and it’s really hard when you’ve got young kids, especially when that’s the time where you’ve gotta band together and not go into corners and throw shit at each other. That’s what generally tends to happen and what certainly happened to us.”

With a totally renovated relationship and on the precipice of turning 40, Rusciano quickly refutes the need to reshape next year’s goals in the event her new baby happens to be a non-sleeping barnacle.

“Nuh, No! Why? No! I am a better mother and a better human when I am doing that shit. I am a better mother when I’m working on stuff I love so, I am a person first and a mother second and I’m a good mother because that’s my ethos.

“I am a better mother when I’m working on stuff I love so, I am a person first and a mother second and I’m a good mother because that’s my ethos.”

“I think if you let being a mother consume you then you end up a bit unhappy, and then a lesser person, and then you know, not as good a mother as you can be. I always encourage women to interpret who they were before children and nourish that person and then they’re going to be a fucking excellent mother and more fulfilled. And never give up, my daughters see me doing that every day, I’ll never stop.”

And, what of birth plans?

“My birth plan is to give birth, fucking birth plan, I think if you want to have a birth plan then, fool you, if you try to plan anything in life like that. I just want my baby out and healthy and my obstetrician is the most incredible man, I trust him wholeheartedly, so, nah, I just want the baby here and I don’t care how I have it.”

“And never give up, my daughters see me doing that every day, I’ll never stop.”

Do you ever leave just a sliver of wine in the bottle you’ve just drunk to yourself before you and your lopsided grin shuffle off to bed? Just so you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’d drunk the whole thing, again? Or is that just me?

As it happens Morning Me just rolls her eyes at Wino Mum’s clumsy veil of deception, knowing full well that she drinks too much and too often and if Wino Mum is honest with herself, she knows it too.

The thing is, until recently I didn’t think it was much of a problem. My life is far from unravelling and most people I know wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off a bottle to themselves and let’s face it, medicating the stresses of work/family life and any other gremlins lurking in the depths of your soul is essentially, a National Pastime.

There’s just been one thing not buying it though, a worried little voice that wakes in my head at two am and cries “This isn’t fun”.

As the National Healthy Drinking Guidelines begin to penetrate and I begin to contemplate the health risks of my habit, I discover that a bottle of wine is between eight and nine standard drinks instead of what I believed to be four and decide it’s time to rein in it.

Depending on which study you happen upon, Australian drinking trends have been cast in varied shades leaving us wondering do we have a problem or don’t we? Imagine an easy Sunday afternoon, dappled sunlight filtering through the trees of a beer garden as children play and mothers’ laughter tinkle against glasses of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and the situation seems bright, if we are to consider a recent study released in August 2017 by DrinkWise revealing Australians are drinking more responsibly than they did 10 years ago.

According to DrinkWise, an independent charity funded by the alcohol industry, our cultural attitude toward drinking practices is maturing and evolving. While their research tells us the number of Australians drinking to excess is decreasing and Moderate Drinkers, Abstainers and mercifully, Adolescents delaying their first drink are rising, it also details why we drink.

DrinkWise report Younger Families with children under 13 years are drinking smaller amounts than in 2007, using alcohol to relax, unwind and cope with the pressures of parenthood. (Taking an elementary guess I shall confidently deduce that Sherlock was not called upon to tease out this motive.)

Older Families, with children above 13 years are said to be rediscovering their identity and freedom as the responsibility of parenthood tapers. For those drinking at risky levels, they are returning to pre-parenthood drinking habits, whatever that means, if they’re referring to me then I’m stage diving off a Santorini Bar and letting my alarm clock bleep away for two hours before waking up in a haze of ouzo with my sneakers still on. Shikes, that’s not such good news.

“Up until recently I was drinking approximately four times a week,” she says, “mid-week, I’d drink a few glasses of wine at night and on weekends, if there was a social function, I’d drink one or two bottles of wine.”

This carefully optimistic data, however, is supported in premise, by other research such as the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which shows a reduction in alcohol consumption except, notably, for a rise in women between the ages of 50 – 59 but we’ve all got an Aunty Joy, so no surprises there.

The survey does acknowledge, however, that the consumption of alcohol is widespread in Australia and entwined in many social and cultural activities which poses the question, is the decline meaningful enough to claim we’re half French or are we just a goon pillow away from half cut?

Leah, a 33 year old working mother of two recently decided to moderate her drinking habits after her husband asked her to cut down. “Up until recently I was drinking approximately four times a week,” she says, “mid-week, I’d drink a few glasses of wine at night and on weekends, if there was a social function, I’d drink one or two bottles of wine. A special occasion would call for cocktails, champagne and perhaps even shots if I was trying to be really fun.”

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After three years of sobriety while pregnant and breastfeeding Leah began to have an occasional glass of wine but began to drink more heavily after moving to a street populated with mostly stay at home mums.

“After each Groundhog Day we’d meet out the front of our houses while the kids played, waiting for our husbands to come home from work,” she says. “It was very Stepford Wives. We’d done our chores, tended to the children and finally showered so we could meet up on the lawn and wind down over a glass of wine. It all felt quite civilised until it got to the point that dinner was being made later with the drinking starting earlier.”

 

Friday after work drinks is an ingrained ritual embedded within our cultural landscape, yet in the strained world of parenthood where working hours blur like an indiscriminate crayon smear on a cream suede couch, a long week can easily be traded for a long day and before you can shout “Get your bottom out of your brother’s face!” There’s seems a legitimate reason for Wine O’clock, even though it’s only Monday.

Sally, 44 and mother to four, whose three glasses of wine each night can easily escalate as she toys with the “once the bottle is open scenario” admits that “Wine time” can easily get out of hand, “I definitely use alcohol to wind down after a day with the kids. I have a few habits that I need to address this year,” she confesses.

It is easier to drink, an immediate hit to your reward centre, when your life feels everything but your own, but is it really helping? Is it sustainable?

A study released in June 2017 by The Centre for Alcohol and Policy Research, found that although there had been a reduction in parent drinking from 2001, parents in 2013 were less likely to be abstainers than non-parents. And, let’s face it, it’s easier to knock back a glass of red and watch Married at First Sight (my personal research findings reveal reality TV is completely shit sober) than it is to make a yoga class, leaving your husband to “put the kids to bed” and “do the dishes”.

It is easier to drink, an immediate hit to your reward centre, when your life feels everything but your own, but is it really helping? Is it sustainable? And, what are the long term ramifications to physical and mental wellbeing? We all have a pretty good idea of the answers but they can be scary to contemplate.

Hannah, a 43 year old mother of one says, “I drink two glasses of red wine every night after my daughter is in bed. I definitely associate wine with winding down and having some “me” time. That said, I do have concerns about the health implications of habitual drinking. If I’m honest, it’s something I would like to change but find difficult to do.”

As the sun begins to seep on the Sunday session, deepening the shade over the beer garden and the kids start to whine while couples bicker over who was meant to drive, we may take a more sober view of an in-depth seven year study investigating alcohol dependence in Australian women aged between 35 to 59.

Conducted by Dr Janice Withnall, from the University of Western Sydney, the study, Researching with Women in Recovery, identified 16 per cent of the group were alcohol dependent and the healthcare required to meet their needs, was inadequate. The study highlighted a lack of acknowledgement of Alcohol Use Disorders within the demographic who often suffered from misdiagnosis or, “preferable diagnosis”, having symptoms treated instead for PMT, anxiety, depression, PTSD or menopause related.

“I thought drinking gave me a sense of wellbeing, eased the stress but it actually increases my guilt and anxiety. Motherhood and married life made me feel like I’d lost myself and drinking seemed to bring me closer to my old self but I’d gotten to the point where I just felt lost.”

Leah, who now makes a point not to drink through the week says, “I thought drinking gave me a sense of wellbeing, eased the stress but it actually increases my guilt and anxiety. Motherhood and married life made me feel like I’d lost myself and drinking seemed to bring me closer to my old self but I’d gotten to the point where I just felt lost.”

If you, or someone you know have concerns about alcohol misuse, numbers to call are Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) within your state or territory (numbers differ), Alcoholics Anonymous Helpline (AA) 1300 222 222, Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 or contact your local GP.

Names have been changed in this story for the sake of privacy.      

Zoe Foster Blake is a fast-paced modern take on the Renaissance Woman. The beauty aficionado and Go-To Skin Care founder also writes books, overlords a formidable online universe through Instagram, and expels, at an overwhelming rate, a variety of products for our consumption pleasure. 

Zoe Foster Blake has her hand in a lot of pies; indeed, she is purported to be a champion of their consumption. Pie Eating Champion is one of the more outlandish claims made on her profile at www.zotheysay.com. The former beauty editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and successful author of eight books with Penguin Random House, launched her Go-To Skincare line a month before the birth of her first child, Sonny, aged three. Since then she has been busy with motherhood and micro projects, managing a burgeoning Instagram page, producing lip balm, blog posts, apps, books, oh and a daughter, Rudy, just shy of four months. Reports that Foster Blake 37, was raised in rural NSW without a television could explain the enigma of this rampant productivity. Research, albeit dubious, indicates that while the rest of us were being brainwashed by Bert Newton through morning television that our lives would lose meaning without a steam cleaner, Foster Blake was busy ticking off life goals.

Motherhood has not slowed Foster Blake, it may have redirected her creative energy somewhat but has not thwarted it. Becoming a parent for most usually means collapsing into a milk-stained heap in front of the television while it offers you soothing advice on how to get your life insurance in order.

“Everything changes when you’re a mother doesn’t it? The identity crisis is real, and certainly the professional.”

For Foster Blake it has meant slightly adapting her trajectory of over achievement (she published her first novel at 27). If you know Foster Blake through her Instagram platform, Zoe Foster Blake (@zoyousay), you may be forgiven for falling under the illusion that she is mere mortal. You might think of her as an online friend. Someone who makes you snort when you laugh and lets you feel good about beauty products and sponge cake, and most pertinently that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be a gas (she has also just ripped out a kid’s book about farts?)

You may wonder what’s so superhuman about farts, cheeky Instagram posts, cute kids and a husband with food in his teeth. A possible answer is that Foster Blake’s ability to create an accessible, humorous arena for her 619 000 followers is a superb and masterful marketing feat, and no accident.

Foster Blake came to the phone after a sleepless night breastfeeding her daughter Rudy, who at 16 weeks is teething already, getting things done, much like her mother. She apologised for being tired and explained how she procrastinates, when asked if she’d ever tried it.

“Of course I have. Most things actually, like daily things. All the clothes are at the end of my bed on that nice ottoman thing you buy that just becomes a place for clothes. I left the house this morning and there was just mess everywhere. So the boring day to day tasks, they don’t get done but the big projects, they do tend to get done which is a strange habit, but of course I procrastinate….”

 

“Know your super powers. Do the things that you’re good at.”

Foster Blake appears to have escaped Bert Newton’s mind control and, being untethered to notions of domestic aspiration and invisible germs (housework be damned), is creating an empire instead. Describing the practice of positive procrastination, marinating ideas and pulling all-nighters she is clearly a person attune to doing the things she loves. When congratulated on avoiding the mundane she offers, “Know your super powers. Do the things that you’re good at.”

Brace yourselves for the condensed summary of the things Foster Blake is good at. As a magazine journalist with over ten years of experience, Foster Blake worked both as a beauty editor and relationship columnist for numerous publications, including Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Baazar. She has published four chick-lit novels, her most recent, The Wrong Girl being adapted into a successful Network Ten series of the same name, starring Jessica Marais and Rob Collins. She has also published several non-fiction books including beauty manual Amazinger Face and Textbook Romance, a dating guide co-written with then “friend” and “to be” husband, Hamish Blake, and is about to release her first children’s picture book called No-one Likes a Fart with illustrator Adam Nickel. She has released an app for broken-hearted singles called Break-Up Boss with plans to release it in book form next year and has collaborated on a clothing line currently flying hot off the racks with fashion brand Skin and Threads. As CEO of her rapidly expanding company Go-To Skincare she oversees its day-to-day operations whilst keeping us abreast of all this through funny posts on Instagram.

Perhaps, more is at play here than a TV-free childhood, and that’s okay tired mums and dads because this just means ABC Kids can stay on while Zoe Foster Blake hoards all the super powers. But she needs them because she is one busy mother. She explains that once she has an idea she is driven to expel it, “I think you throw everything at a project and then it’s done. It’s almost like I have to get it out of my head to feel like I can move forward onto the next thing.”

These ideas which often bubble around in her mind for a while, some longer than others (Break-Up Boss took six years to manifest), are usually born from a desire or need for something she can’t find. Cleaning her ottoman may have saved her some time and effort but perhaps the world can never have too many lobster jumpers and Foster Blake likes making things.

These ideas which often bubble around in her mind for a while … are usually born from a desire or need for something she can’t find.

“Most of the time I make things that I wished I had. With the skincare I thought, ‘Aw, I wish that existed, I’ll bloody make it myself’, and certainly with some of the non-fiction books that was the same and then with this children’s book it was not because there weren’t stunning children’s books already out there but it was just an idea that I had, that I wanted to, that I had to ‘get out’ as it were, there are just so many bad fart jokes.”

And so, Foster Blake’s latest offering No-one Likes a Fart, collaborated with illustrator Adam Nickel which she credits for his mid-century style (think Mr Men), was released by Penguin Random House Australia in November. It is a fart book with a message. She didn’t mean for it to have a moral tale but explained that, although not a fan of earnestness, she felt a certain responsibility writing a children’s book, recognising the perils of peer groups as a relevant subject for young readers. She explains, the message formed organically and felt it should be there.

“I think it’s mostly a funny book but then there’s a nice message that even if people are being mean to you or calling you names, there will always be someone who loves you and there will always be good people.”

“I think you throw everything at a project and then it’s done. It’s almost like I have to get it out of my head to feel like I can move forward onto the next thing.”

Foster Blake is a writer at heart and as she speaks of her craft her speech slows and her voice catches at times, with vulnerability creating some room in the conversation. “Writing is inherently selfish. You are by yourself. You don’t have a boss. Now I see it for the indulgence that it is. If the kids are out of the house, which is just never because I am tethered by breastfeeding at the moment, but if I do get the house to myself I just want to write. I don’t want to go shopping or get my hair done, for me writing is a real joy and something that I miss deeply.” When noted she hadn’t written a novel since the birth of her son Sonny in 2014 she laughed, “Shhh, I’d hoped no-one noticed. Thankfully the T.V show’s kept it going a bit longer.” She explains this is more an adjustment of her creative process since becoming a mother.

“I don’t want to go shopping or get my hair done, for me writing is a real joy and something that I miss deeply.”

“So, that’s probably why I’m working on smaller projects because I have a shorter attention span, I can’t quite bang out the 100,000 words I used to … So yeah, everything changes when you’re a mother doesn’t it? The identity crisis is real, and certainly the professional. I have changed a lot how I do things and it probably seems a bit more scattered but I think it’s because my energy bursts are shorter and I can do different little shorter projects rather than one long book project.”

And thus, Foster Blake reveals resilience in attitude and quotes sensible advice from her mother that the chaos of life with small children will soon pass. “Look, I know it’s a moment in time and I don’t fret about it at all. It’ll come back and I’ll have plenty of years to write more fiction and so, I sort of enjoy the different projects and I think it makes me more efficient in some ways because you’ve got such a small window to do the work. You have to produce quality work in a smaller amount of time. The old me before kids would just sit at my computer for eight hours and I reckon I’d spend six of that just pissing about and now I’m like, you’ve got two hours, you’d better write.”

With less time for the introspective task of novel writing she has utilised her well-honed skills as a commercial writer in an impressive turn at mumpreneurship and, dare it be said, capitalised on the shared humour and wit of her high profile relationship with Hamish Blake to catapult Zoe Foster Blake into an emerging brand.

 

“I have changed a lot how I do things and it probably seems a bit more scattered but I think it’s because my energy bursts are shorter and I can do different little shorter projects rather than one long book project.”

“As a beauty journalist for a long time, I was in the business of ‘recommending’ anyway and Instagram is just a natural progression of that. I can do captions because I’m a professional writer and I enjoy it, and it’s a way for me to have a mouth piece,” she explains. Her mouthpiece is funny and light, her wit sharp and when discussing how she gets away with swearing and risqué jokes she says, “The beauty of Instagram is you are who you are and everyone uses it for different purposes. Mine is to just have fun, be a bit cheeky and also, I guess to some extent have an advertisement for my writing.”

Foster Blake appears to navigate the pitfalls of online backlash with a phrase she often coins in Instagram posts as a “special brand of arrogance”, but perhaps this wily twist of humility can be attributed to a magic elixir of understanding how to reach an audience and a personality essentially grounded in principles. Foster Blake explains her principles for Go-To Skincare, “You have to earn permission from people to sell them things and I don’t take that lightly, it’s just got to be perfect or we just won’t launch it. We always come up with the best possible product with the best possible ingredients and it’s a real team thing.”

When pressed on broader principles she says, “I’m actually reading a book called Principles at the moment and I’m sort of getting my head around it…Look, I think my family and my husband and I are pretty aligned in that we love fun and surprise and delight, and we love generosity and gratitude. So I think that it’s working in the realm of making people’s days a bit happier, maybe.”

And so, perhaps this is why Zoe Foster Blake can suggest a night nurse in a blog as a solution for sleepless nights with a newborn without a cacophony of cruel online claws calling for her eyes to be scratched out. Principles go a long way, just be wary if she starts spruiking steam cleaners.

Ann Marie Bradstreet, paddling in the shallows of investigative journalism casts light on a shadow of male vulnerability, as a school dad is labelled ‘suspicious’.

A friend was parked outside our local primary school recently waiting to pick up his kids as he does every school day. He arrived at his regular bay nice and early, unlike me who generally shows up after the bell, ducking and weaving corridors against the exiting tide, jostled by excited emancipated kids and harried parents stuffing errant objects into forgotten school bags, as I claw my way to my son’s classroom and his teacher’s inevitable disapproval. This dad, however, is a good time-keeper, it’s a noble trait.

On this particular afternoon as the punctual parent population idled up the footpath for school pick up, past my friend’s car, he caught sight of a police officer in his rear view mirror. Shortly after, his driver’s side window was tapped and he found his car surrounded by three more officers.

After being prompted for identification and asked to justify his presence he questioned, in understandable panic, what was going on? He was told a member of the public had alerted them to a suspicious person outside a primary school and his number plate had been given. The suspicious person was him!

After a relatively reasonable yet humiliating exchange the matter was resolved and he left to collect his sons, albeit shaken and confused.

When he told me this story he was emphatic for anyone who may have seen or heard about the incident to be aware of his innocence. My response was to laugh, heartily; I even cackled until I saw his face sink and mutter indecipherable disappointment. It didn’t take long, thankfully (empathy intact: check!), to realise he was devastated.

A member of the public had alerted them to a suspicious person outside a primary school and his number plate had been given, the suspicious person was him!

I’d laughed because it was him! Let’s call him – Rhett. It was ridiculous to me that he’d been considered suspicious. His wife works long hours and even though he balks at the “Stay at Home Dad” tag because he has a job and is half-hearted with housework (I keep good company on that point), he does a large portion of the child care. He’s at school in that park – on time, every day, except weekends – that would be weird.

I’m angling toward an argument of comparison, bear with me. Rhett’s duties mirror mine, he makes the lunches, performs the minor miracle each morning of having his kids dressed – with shoes on even, prying them from the Lego pile and depositing them to class on time. Long before me, I might add, who feels it necessary to get creative at the front office with my excuses, “Why was your child late this morning?” the clerk enquires with minimal interest, poised over her keyboard ready to enter “Overslept” into the system and get on with her day before I foil her with, “There was a philosophical difference within the family about whether or not the knobbly seam of a particular pair of socks was or was not a bearable cross to endure,”  or “My son took a toilet break like an octogenarian with a newspaper just as we were about to leave the house.” I think she’s sick of me.

Rhett doesn’t need to sign in late at the office, he’s a better parent than I in that regard but then,  I’ve never courted the steely eye of the law at school pick up so I must be doing something right… right? Or is it, shock horror, that he just had the audacity to turn up too early and too male (whoops, I mean suspicious) for school that day?

It proved a curious question for me and an anxious one for Rhett, as to why his presence warranted not one but four police officers to investigate.

“Do I look dodgy? Maybe my car looks dodgy, does my car look dodgy?”

“Do I look dodgy? Maybe my car looks dodgy, does my car look dodgy? Maybe someone dodgy owned my car before I bought it, do you reckon?” he questioned.

I didn’t have a clue about his last query, nor did I relish considering the unjust prejudices that people endure based solely upon some aspect of their appearance, but Rhett just looks like Rhett to me, a decent looking forty year old with a Mazda and a penchant for boardies and T-shirts, who, like the rest of us at school drop off, can often be seen clutching a morning coffee with the reverent tenderness you may normally bestow on a newborn puppy – nothing dodgy there.

These questions continued to fuel Rhett’s anxiety, however, so in the spirit of hard hitting journalism I sought some answers. After some thorough probing on my part a police spokesperson provided the following statement.

“Police take all reports of suspicious persons seriously and investigate appropriately.”

Phew! Thank goodness I cleared that up, we can now rest easy knowing that it’s appropriate to be accosted by no less than four officers on the odd chance a person reports you as suspicious. I don’t make light of children’s safety or dubious activity around schools but I think it’s sensible to recognise that a dad waiting to pick up their kids is not an emergency.

To be fair, though, after some off the record chit chat with my new contacts in Blue it was clear they were only doing their job and I concede innocent dads are not regularly targeted by police, not in my world at least – but there’s another story.

What it did reveal, however, on further discussion with Rhett and other dads, including my husband, was a common fear of being perceived as a threat or a perpetrator. On one occasion, at an indoor play centre Rhett saw a child fall over and start crying and despite wanting to help her, he didn’t. He was worried that his actions could be misinterpreted. Rhett felt conflicted at not going to the child’s aid but said he often found himself in similar situations and his sentiments were reiterated in the anecdotes given by the other men I spoke with. They relayed encouraging their kids to call them Dad loud enough for others to hear and thus, hopefully, find them less threatening.

A 2013 report on Personal Safety by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed 95 per cent of all victims of violence in Australia report a male perpetrator. I dare to suggest that such statistics hold a place within our cultural psyche that gives weight to the vulnerability described by Rhett. I admit to being that mother eyeing the man hanging at the fringes of the playground, relinquishing my vigilance only when some doughy little toddler calls out for Dad.

“At first I was embarrassed and then angry that it’d happened and now walking through the school I’m really anxious about people thinking – there’s the guy.”

I considered the heavy stigma being carried by nurturing non-violent gentlemen and potentially, in future by my three caring sons. As a woman and a victim of violence, I’m not unfamiliar with strategies used to avert, avoid and survive (too many times in vain) the level of violence within our society. It is sobering, however, to understand that it’s not only women and girls who must brace against it.

When someone within Rhett’s community felt strongly enough to call the police while he waited for his children, it wasn’t funny. A deep fear had been realised, one that he’d combatted against. He’d been deemed a threat, thought of as a perpetrator, someone who might cause harm. It was distressing and humiliating and he worried that mud would stick.               

“At first I was embarrassed and then angry that it’d happened and now walking through the school I’m really anxious about people thinking – there’s the guy.” He explains.

When Rhett says, “There’s the guy”, I ask for a slight exertion in imagination to consider a rumour mill in overdrive after an unmarked police car with four officers spring into action at the school gate. “There’s the guy” could mean any number of embellished assumptions. I believe rumours become more colourful in direct correlation with the gossip’s need to boost their ego by how much they know and are willing to share. I heard unsubstantiated claims of “known paedophiles” being on school grounds. With that in mind I empathise with Rhett’s anxiety.

“It was how it looked that bothers me. All these things are going through my head as to who called, why they called? There are people out there who’ll say ‘toughen up mate’ but it affects you,” Rhett shares.

I suggest we aren’t in need of more tough guys. Good (punctual) Guys like Rhett, though, they’re in high demand!

All names have been changed in the article to protect privacy.

 

Australian national Darling, Kate Ritchie, whose roots in Home and Away, have lead to a high-profile career in Radio and Writing, chats with Ann Marie Bradstreet about managing the Spotlight and being Mum to her precious daughter, Mae.

Most Australians feel like they own a little share in the life of Kate Ritchie. For 20 years, the nation watched her grow up in a record-breaking stint as the beloved character, Sally Fletcher, in the popular soap Home and Away. One moment she was an eight year old with an imaginary friend called Milco, the next a grown woman with her own family, and the country was with her, every step of the way.

An adaptable stalwart of the entertainment industry, from child star to AFI nominated actress and with a cache of Logies, two of them Gold, she currently makes up one third of Nova’s highly successful National Drive Show.

Recently, Kate added the feather of author to her bow releasing her first children’s book I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You. Although Kate has thrived in the spotlight, she reveals it’s not always been easy basking in it, yet continues to manage a lifetime’s attention with perennial grace. Sharing the story of her new book and strong bond with daughter Mae a discerning depth emerges from her endearing affability.   

Nervous and fearing I may sound lobotomised conducting my interview with Kate Ritchie off the back of a horror night’s sleep spent writhing with my three year old, I start by asking how she copes with work after a rough night. With a degree of tongue-in-cheek, she points out that her radio gig at Nova isn’t exactly rocket science and sleep deprivation probably aids the desired headspace for the studio’s afternoon antics.

“It’s probably the perfect job for it. An awful sleep is not such a bad thing and a hard night with Mae (her daughter turns three in August) is nothing on dealing with Tim and Marty and their childlike behaviour,” she says with a chuckle.

“All I want is for her to be brave, I don’t want her to be crippled by feelings of low confidence or fear, right now she has no fear, you see that when she jumps from the dining table into my arms or struts around the supermarket with my lipstick on without a care. It’s a good reminder of who we should be, I want to protect that.”

My mind drifts, she had me at “afternoon” and I yearn, longingly for Kate’s charmed life, where being drunk with fatigue is considered a strength. The myth is slightly dispelled as she lets on that it’s not so great on a photo shoot as the face of QV Skincare: “I’m sure they don’t want me coming in with bags under my eyes,” she says.

I take a quick glance at the state of myself and piously offer thanks that school drop-off was my only public appearance for the day, no amount of airbrushing could rescue this, I decide as Kate quietly concedes, Mae is, “a pretty good sleeper most of the time.” She is reticent to expound on the attribute for fear of tempting fate or driving those of us less fortunate over the brink. I note down “Sensible” as a useful adjective to describe her later, I’m running on an hour and a half’s shut eye and have already cut my finger making lunches. Having concluded that sleep is not essential job criteria at Nova and parenting skills are deemed an asset, in light of her colleagues, Kate admits it’s hard to write when she ‘s tired, with that I can concur – where’s the coffee?!

Scribblings on scraps of paper evolved into a letter to her unborn child as a way to quell the anxiety and excitement she was feeling in anticipation of the birth.

The recently published children’s book I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You, released by Penguin Random House Australia, is Kate’s first public offering as a writer. She tells me she has always filled notebooks and exercise pads with various tales in the hope of one day being published. She has been asked to write things in the past, fending off several requests for her memoirs, wondering if she should be offended and quite certain she’d need at least another 20 to 30 years rustling up enough grit for a worthy one, we both chuckle that it would be prudent to check out soon after dishing the dirt and Kate Ritchie states she’s not going anywhere yet.

Kate began writing while pregnant with daughter Mae Webb, born in August 2014. Scribblings on scraps of paper evolved into a letter to her unborn child as a way to quell the anxiety and excitement she was feeling in anticipation of the birth. “It was a way to write down my feelings, I had a good pregnancy generally, physically good but it was a challenge mentally and there was fear attached. I was writing to silence that.”

“Kate before Mae belonged to lots of people in some way and I wouldn’t change that for the world, for the lady at the supermarket to tell me she feels like my grandmother and is proud of me.”

Wondering if others felt the same, she decided to share her writing and, with the guidance of her publishers at Penguin, was partnered with illustrator, Hannah Sommerville, who captured all the tenderness of Kate’s words to create I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You. The collaboration resulted in a beautiful book about pregnancy, birth and a mother’s connection to her unborn child. Kids love hearing about their birth and the time spent in their mummies’ tummies and the book provides an opportunity for precious discussions. But Kate also wrote the book for expectant mothers who may be processing similar emotions to what she experienced.

Through book signings Kate has connected with a range of people and says, “You don’t know what people are going through, what their individual story is and I have been so overwhelmed by the response. Everyone has been so warm and lovely, which has been important because the book came from a good place within me.”

Kate describes being moved by a woman sharing her IVF story who bought the book in hope of reading it to her child one day. A nurse revealed she’d used the book as a resource, guiding young teenage mothers struggling to bond with their babies. “I’m really proud of the book and it makes me feel this is the way I was meant to be published,” Kate says.

Further collaboration with Sommerville hasn’t been ruled out and Kate is being inspired by the books she’s reading to Mae. “I’m learning so much from the beautiful books I’m reading to her and she is teaching me so much, I see what’s she’s feeling and what the story means to her and I’m responding to that in my writing.”

When asked about Kate’s bond with daughter Mae, with husband Stuart Webb, she becomes pensive: “I do think that we are the parents and are meant to teach and guide her but Mae has equally if not more been a teacher to me. She’s made me more me than I’ve ever been.”

When asked to elaborate, Kate reveals a sensitive insight into the realities of a lifetime devoid of anonymity.    

“Being a parent is a great leveller, everyone’s lives and stories are so different but as parents we are all on the same team or at least we should be.”

“I’m thinking of taking her somewhere tomorrow – just the two of us. Stuart will be at work, it’ll just be us. Years ago, going out in public by myself and buying tickets to somewhere and exposing myself in that way, well, my anxiety levels just couldn’t have handled it but since Mae has arrived, I just get on with it. Being a parent is a great leveller, everyone’s lives and stories are so different but as parents we are all on the same team or at least we should be.”

I read something Kate wrote about Mae being the only person to come into her life that has no preconceived idea about who she is; When Kate discusses this she is emotional, generous, open and apologetic.

“Kate before Mae belonged to lots of people in some way and I wouldn’t change that for the world, for the lady at the supermarket to tell me she feels like my grandmother and is proud of me, I wouldn’t change that, but to Mae I am just Mummy and she adores me purely because I’m her mummy, for all the right reasons, everything about her is so true and good, nothing is tainted, she has no agenda.”

“Mae and I are a team. I have my extended team, Stuart, parents, siblings but sometimes when she’s giving me a hard time I’m like ‘we’re doing this together, it’s ok, we’re in the same boat’,” she laughs, “one of my favourite parts of the book is the line ‘although sometimes you challenge me, I know we will be okay’. And she does challenge me, it’s meant to be challenging but hopefully, we come out the other side.”

Kate’s writing aspirations reach beyond children’s literature and she tells me, “I’m working toward writing for young teens. I want to write fiction that makes young girls feel great, body confident, willing to try anything.”  She states self-effacingly that she has a lot to offer in this genre and I wonder from what inspiration she will draw.

Perhaps this will be the case for her daughter, Mae Webb, who shares her birthday and name with Mae West, a fearless woman also willing to try anything. When asked how she would feel if Mae wanted to be an actress, Kate says, “All I want is for her to be brave, I don’t want her to be crippled by feelings of low confidence or fear, right now she has no fear, you see that when she jumps from the dining table into my arms or struts around the supermarket with my lipstick on without a care. It’s a good reminder of who we should be, I want to protect that.”

“Mae and I are a team. I have my extended team, Stuart, parents, siblings but sometimes when she’s giving me a hard time I’m like ‘we’re doing this together, it’s ok, we’re in the same boat’.”

I add “Fierce” and “Passionate” to my list of descriptors and ask Kate what are her important family values. “I have very fond childhood memories. My brother and sisters (Kate has three younger siblings) are all such great friends and I would love to have more children,” she offers. “I don’t think I’d make it to four though!” she laughs, “unless I to get a hurry–on.

“I am very grateful for everything my mum and dad gave me and it wasn’t everything we wanted or big holidays, it was simple things: Christmases together, a loving childhood. We all have our moments but we turned out ok. So, as a result of how I was brought up, I think simple things are best.

“When I was pregnant I just couldn’t wait to meet Mae and when she was born Stuart and I just couldn’t wait until she was on her own two feet and could climb up into to bed with us. So, the most important things are the simple things, when Mae climbs into bed with us and says, ‘Mummy I want a snuggle.’”

    

Let’s talk about Sex baby! Or, alternately let’s talk about the lack of sex parenthood seems to inspire. Let’s examine the factors creating such a dismal correlation. I’ll go first  – with my full and diverse life filled with nappy changes, school runs, regular incidences of one of my three children vomiting or urinating in my bed at midnight, and amusing myself each day with an enduring mountain of washing, could it be related that I find my libido is a wasteland? Cue tumble weeds and a haunting whistling wind.

Aside from clearing my spam folder every now and then, and driving past SexyLand en route to the supermarket (Yes – That is the real name of the adult shop in my town), I’ve been completely estranged from my sexual self. I have relegated sex to another chore on my to-do list, hardly a rousing aphrodisiac. Suffice to say, my husband of 10 years is tearing his hair out, grasping at straws and other metaphorical behaviours I shan’t elaborate on. Understandably, he is becoming less enamoured with the pity shag of predictable narrative that is allocated a two-minute window on my domestic schedule every blue moon, in the conscious pursuit of staving off extramarital affairs – just joking, well, sort of, I’m a little bit serious.

Let’s just conclude that my sex life is scant at best and for the public record (I’d also like to avoid divorce) IS NOT DUE TO MY HUSBAND’S LACK OF TRYING. His dedicated campaign of trying, however, has had a disappointing run of counterproductive results. It is a conundrum in need of urgent resolution – the answer, however, seems to continually elude our fatigue-addled brains.

“We usually put on a two-hour long movie and spend that time pleasuring each other, the actual intercourse is only minutes but that’s not necessarily the fun part.

So, I decided to put a whole lot of fatigue-addled brains together to see if I could find an answer by consulting my online secret mother’s group. The response and suggestions I received from this cherished community, where all and nothing is sacred, were as varied as the spectrum of sexual appetites in a vintage Dutch porn movie. Help was at hand!

Previously unbeknown to me, open relationships appear to play a key role in keeping the sex lives of some couples robust. As someone whose relationship values rely heavily on loyalty and fidelity, and the fact I am struggling to rally enough enthusiasm to have sex with just one person, I can’t see it working for me, but am fascinated enough to ask a lot of questions.

Kara, who is in a long term open partnership writes, “My libido does die down when things become stagnant, which can be attributed to motherhood, but things get spiced up again when one of us takes on a new sexual experience; sometimes a kiss is all it takes from somebody new.”

On querying which rules applied to keep the relationship intact, I was surprised to find there were none and learned the relationship relied on open, honest, communication. 

“Nothing is hidden and nothing is judged, we just communicate and respect each other’s ever-changing boundaries. Just because we have no limits doesn’t mean we reach them, it just means we never feel trapped by each other. My partner is bisexual and we’ve always had an open relationship but since having kids he’s only been with a few guys and I’ve had a few drunken make-outs.

“I used to think it meant I didn’t love my partner when I desired another but I discovered when I spend time with someone and drown in their pheromones I come home and my partner’s pheromones are brand new again. I feel like we have a perfect partnership and wouldn’t have it any other way. Everyone is different though, it works for me because freedom is the most important thing to me in a relationship.”

Even though an open relationship is not for me, I envy the intimacy and safety that exists in the way Kara and her partner communicate, and despite having the same pressures of family life, they make a conscious effort to spend time together.    

Polyamorous blogger, Angie Becker Stevens, writes about her lifestyle choice and explains that she is equally committed to, and deeply in love with, both her husband of seventeen years and her boyfriend of two and a half years.

“We usually put on a two-hour long movie and spend that time pleasuring each other, the actual intercourse is only minutes but that’s not necessarily the fun part. We do this about twice a week and take advantage of time when the kids are tired and fed, it’s rarely uninterrupted and that’s generally why it takes the whole movie.”

Kara does admit that her sex life has improved since she stopped working full-time, and prior to that there were times she was just too tired to bother. It is somewhat comforting to find that fatigue snatches the romance from even the most sexually dedicated.

Lucinda practised an open relationship with her husband Sam in the past with varying success, and admits that jealousy got in the way. However, she is currently interested in the idea of polyamory, which on a quick Google search I discovered can be described as, rather than having casual sexual encounters outside of a traditional partnership, a polyamorist engages in loving committed relationships with more than one partner and sometimes even a network of people, all respectful and aware of the situation.

Lucinda writes, “Sam and I still haven’t found something we are totally happy with. At the beginning of motherhood, I was so not into sex and so I encouraged him to welcome any advances at gigs that he played. When he told me about it I actually found him more attractive, zero jealousy. He came home to me and I relished that somebody took interest. When Sam thought we could do ‘open’ I felt really free and happy although I didn’t sleep with anyone. But he changed his mind and said he couldn’t do jealousy.

Many described how intimacy on all levels erodes when a kiss is deflected or a massage declined in case it is misconstrued as an invitation for sex.

“Now I am beginning to believe in polyamory, in that every relationship is consensual and meaningful and not just about sex. I want someone in particular and the chemistry took me by surprise. It’s not about avoiding or fixing anything in the relationship as Sam and I are probably happier than we’ve ever been right now but I feel I want something to do with this other person as well. Sam and I chat about it and it’s a work in progress to me. We have books to try and understand how it works for others and a jealousy workbook. Anyway, I don’t really have answers as far as an outcome goes – it’s definitely a work in progress.”

Polyamory doesn’t stand out as a solution in sprucing up my sex life, but nor do I think it is meant to. Polyamorous blogger, Angie Becker Stevens, writes about her lifestyle choice and explains that she is equally committed to and deeply in love with both her husband of seventeen years and her boyfriend of two and a half years.

I have no judgement in consenting adults structuring a love life that brings no harm to others, but it does seem an increase in workload in my view. It may be a stretch to split my two minute blue moon shag between multiple slots, pardoning any unintentional puns, especially if I have to make everyone dinner and listen to their problems.       

The forum did reveal many mums with very young kids and babies, or with children who had special needs, found themselves too tired for sex with their partner. Many described how intimacy on all levels erodes when a kiss is deflected or a massage declined in case it is misconstrued as an invitation for sex.

Mums with older children and others whose younger kids sleep well did offer hope that things can get better. Two key points kept arising from those that were getting some. Communication, openness, honesty, and prioritising time for each other to allow intimacy to grow, whether it’s a date night (that can be attempted at home with the kids in bed with a nice meal if babysitting or finances are obstacles), sending a sexy text message or email to your partner at work and allowing something to simmer and build over several days, or allowing the sensual kiss to happen without feeling pressure to go further – whatever it is that sparks the romance.

“I’ve let myself succumb to his sexual desire of me and we have been rocketed to a new depth of passion.”

Sexually-fulfilled Casey sums it up best when she writes, “It goes to show that what may work for one won’t work for another, but communication is the most important factor. Sex is extremely important to my relationship with my husband. We rarely go a week without it, excluding post birth and my cycle. We have a very strong chemistry but we have had to work on it. Talking honestly is important as is my husband’s patience and understanding.”

“I struggled (sex) drive wise after my second and third child and there have been periods when being touched has left me feeling annoyed because he was only doing it to get some head and I found that selfish but post-bub number four I’ve been open about these issues and we’ve found a new spark.”

“I’ve let myself succumb to his sexual desire of me and we have been rocketed to a new depth of passion. Our youngest is 13 months and we just try to grab each other when we can. Foreplay is generally a build up over a couple of days and I guess this keeps things exciting….”

If communication is the most important factor, then – Let’s Talk About Sex Baby! You owe it to yourself and the one you love, or ones if you happen to be polyamorous.

Footnote….it appears that communication is the remedy, my husband and I are back in the sack, let a conversation take you all the way to SexyLand!  *all names in article have been changed to protect privacy.