Sustainable living can require a bit more effort than conventional living, especially when learning the ropes, as instead of grabbing the items of convenience we may instead choose to make our own household products and foods from scratch.
If we’re not careful this can lead to overwhelm, burnout, resentment and chucking it all in or giving up entirely on creating a sustainable home.
But it doesn’t need to be that way at all!
It is possible to live sustainably, have time for work, friends, family, and yourself, and today I have a very special guest who’s going to explain why we need to put ourselves first in order to be able to create a sustainable home, and indeed a happy family.
Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is the Happy Mama.
She’s on a mission to help every new Mama she can feel connected to that strong, powerful, intuitive woman she glimpsed when she first became a Mama, but is now too tired and run off her feet to remember. She’s here to give you permission to put yourself first, to demand a happier life, to feel good about yourself, and to be a better Mama.
This episode is especially for the mums listening today, but if you’re a stay-at-home dad or even just a father who would love to support the mother of your children a bit better, then there’s plenty of gold here for you too.
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Can you share your story of how you came to focus 100% on your family, your self-care, and your Happy Mama tribe?
It all started when my first daughter was born nearly 9 years ago. Before I fell pregnant, I was very a driven, success-orientated, and ambitious young woman. I worked with the ABC straight out of University and was very involved with my career. I had the goal of being Foreign Correspondent and other huge goals in my life. I worked with the ABC for 14 years, only leaving at the end of last year, so it was a big part of my life.
At 30 I was married, and that wonderful biological clock started ticking in my ear. Questions started coming up about whether this is really what I wanted my life to look like. Little did I know where those early questions would lead me.
When my first child arrived I was totally overwhelmed with motherhood at first, it was the first time in my life that I felt completely out of control. As a producer and researcher for so many years, there was never anything I couldn’t do, just by asking the right person.
Then I had a baby who was quite unwell at birth, she had grown a funny way inside me. Her neck was distorted and her foot pushed up towards her shin. Physically she was a very uncomfortable baby and therefore was not a very happy baby. Her and I, we just struggled through those first few months. Unbeknownst to me at the time I also had an undiagnosed thyroid disease, which I developed after her birth.
So I was working through an absolute fog of overwhelm. She was finally healed with daily physiotherapy and I was healed with the right medication, but when I came up to catch a breath on the other side of that, something had significantly changed within me.
I had really had been cracked open to look at what I knew about myself and who I really was. There wasn’t a lot of grace in those months, I really just struggled through. Then I started looking around to talk about how much I had changed and how much I was struggling without my work every day and that my sense of self had completely disappeared. I didn’t even really know if I wanted to do this motherhood thing any more. It was all a bit scary and no one was really talking about it. 9 years ago the mummy blogging world was very new and most of them were making fun about it. There wasn’t the deep questioning that I was looking for.
I started writing about it myself and then over the coming years I had another child. Each time I went back into my work, that was still where my sense of self was, it was still my driving force.
We moved from Adelaide to Sydney and I thought that I might do something different. Within three weeks of arriving in Sydney the ABC producers heard that I’d moved here and offered me an amazing job in breakfast radio. Of course I said yes and that was it. So I dived into full-time work in a big city with an 18-month-old and a 3-year-old.
I was getting up at 3:30 am every day and the children had a nanny and were in childcare. I look back at that part of my life now and get chest pains thinking about it.
Then we surprisingly fell pregnant a third time (which was not planned!) He has been the greatest catalyst for all of those lessons that had whispered at me for all those years that I hadn’t listened to. I had spent so much time being addicted to that superwoman and my ego loved hearing people say “I don’t know how you do it.” It was my driving force to be that woman.
My third pregnancy totally floored me. I was still getting up at 3:30 am, 5 days per week, then coming home to squeeze in a yoga class and write my blog and articles for freelance magazines before picking up my kids. It was a crazy life.
At 28 weeks I went into early labour with contractions coming every 3 minutes. It was all happening. We were having briefings with neonatal specialists talking about how small he was and how dangerous this was. Thanks to Western medicine they were able to stop the labour but I was hospitalised for five days. The doctors who spoke with me were very clear – there was nothing medically wrong with me, it was my lifestyle that had caused this to happen.
For those five days I sat on my hospital bed thinking why haven’t I learnt my lesson? Why am I so determined to be so busy? I spent time writing in my journal, listening to my first proper meditations, and asking myself these big questions.
For the next ten weeks I couldn’t leave my couch, which is such a struggle for a woman like me. It was a time in my life where I had to sit and contemplate who I was, and why I was here. Literally every time I walked up the road to get milk, the contractions would start.
That was my moment; my fork in the road. My son turns three soon and it’s not to say I haven’t glimpsed that superwoman again in that time, she is very much in my DNA. I have to practice what I preach on a daily basis. I’m still learning how to say no but it is coming a lot easier now.
So what I do on my website and write about it in my books, programs, meditations, and podcasts is this whole idea about women redefining what success is when we become a mum. We have to still do things that fill us up. I don’t want to ever give up on my dream of writing and putting beautiful content out in the world, and all the things that inspire me. But I also want to be a present and happy mama and look after myself so I don’t get so sick ever again.
What is self-care and how do you practice self-care?
Ironically my blog that I had been writing for years talked about self-care for mums. We do this a lot in our lives, know what we need to do but we don’t really put into practice. I think the experience that I learnt through blogging about self-care but not actually looking after myself was that I was doing self-care like a checklist.
It was all there on paper but in me energetically, there wasn’t much filling of my cup. So many women try to get this idea of self-care into their lives, but what’s most important is how you treat yourself and how you speak to yourself.
Self-care can be congratulating yourself for getting the kids to bed without losing your mind! After school drop-off, light a candle and make a cup of tea, take a breath and say “wow you did a good job this morning.” That to me is what self-care has evolved into.
Meditation is a massive part of my life now, but 20 minutes on my mat doesn’t happen every day. I wish it did but I have three little kids, and the reality is that sometimes they are up all night or awake by five am, and sleep is my self-care. So I turn off the alarm and say “No. Today my body needs sleep.” This is self-care.
Meditation and mindfulness are my absolute foundation. Constantly through the day connecting with my breath, letting go of stress, lowering my shoulders, being kind to myself, and asking myself “what do I need right now?” Just being mindful of me and what I need rather than focusing on everybody else around me. That’s how it looks for me now.
Why do you feel that self-care is so important?
I wrote an article for Wellbeing Magazine earlier this year called Oxygen Mask Parenting. When you’re on a plane and being given the safety warning you are told when the safety masks drop, fit your own oxygen mask before attending to anyone else. When you think that through, it’s because if you can’t breathe, you can’t do anything for anyone.
This is what self-care for parents really comes down to. It we don’t allow ourselves to breathe, or give ourselves something, there’s nothing left to give to anyone else. It shows up in our lives through yelling, short tempers, being distracted all the time. If you find yourself picking up your phone and looking at social media all day, it’s because you need to do something for yourself.
If we’re not filling that cup, we can’t fill anyone else’s. We aren’t the present people that we want to be. It’s at the very core of how we can show up in our lives most, we have to prioritise ourselves.
Do you feel that Dads experience similar burnout issues?
Hell yes! Earlier in the year at my book launch, my dad put his hand up at the end and said “what about a happy dada book?”
It is so true and I see it in my husband all the time. He works very long hours and then comes home and tries to be present for all of us and there is nothing left over for him.
We need to be mindful of our partners as much as possible as well. If you’re needing one hour a week, so do they. The men of this generation are going into a new way of living, trying to be great fathers and husbands that they may have not seen from their own dads. But also having so much traditional pressure on their shoulders to be the breadwinners.
There is such a great need for us to support them in looking after themselves as well.
As for the stay-at-home dads, I can’t see any difference between what a mum would need and what he would need. It’s not about what role we play, it’s the fact that as human beings we can’t give and give and give without receiving.
We have to be able to take in something and generally we have to do it for ourselves. That is where the challenge is. If we want it, we have to prioritise it.
And it’s not just partners, I think the best thing to do is to model this will all of our family members. If you notice that your partner isn’t looking after themselves and you can see they are not in that balance, the very best thing for us to do is to make sure we’re doing it for ourselves too. Making sure that within that family, it is still a priority.
Also to show our children that the most important thing is that you are looking after yourself first. It’s one of the greatest lessons we can give them.
How do you feel self-care and sustainability go together?
The more I dive into this deep self-care, learning to nourish myself, and accepting what my body is capable of on a daily basis, the more I honour that and prioritise sleep etc. The more priorities I have in my life, the more a sustainable lifestyle comes up for me.
I think where they marry is this idea of stepping off that unconscious treadmill that so many of us are on. One of my driving passions in living a conscious life is to never just go through the motions.
I always want to be asking myself questions like “is this the way I want my life to look like?” Once you start asking these questions, you ask it about everything around you.
“Is what I’m feeding my family doing them any good?”
“What am I doing to the planet?”
“Is there a better way?”
“Can I save money?”
“Do I really have to spend so much on crap we just throw out?”
All of that comes when you start saying no and begin focusing on new priorities.
Whether you come to it first from sustainability and then self-care, or the other way around, I think they meet in the middle beautifully.
How do you balance creating a sustainable home against the demands of modern living?
We live in the inner Western suburbs of Sydney in a terraced home right up against our neighbour’s wall. My husband and I are very conscious of trying to balance that with lots of weekend trips away.
We’re fortunate that my parents live in Darwin and we try to go once a year. My husband’s parents are in Adelaide and they have an enormous, beautiful garden and big backyard, and we want our children to feel like they have three homes to counterbalance this crazy life we have in Sydney.
I really want our children to feel like our home is a safe haven from that chaos outside our front door. That means connecting with a different energy and pace, and spending days just hanging around the kitchen table doing things together.
We are very fortunate that we have amazing markets surrounding where we live. Every Saturday morning, we go to the Eveleigh Markets. It’s straight from the farmers and the growers, and we speak with them a lot about all of that.
Food at the moment is probably our strongest focus just because of the size of the place that we live in. We do have pots out the back with herbs. I’m desperately trying to declutter our house. Sustainability for me right now is ensuring that my children don’t get on that treadmill that we spoke about earlier.
Where can we find you online?
My website is happymama.com.au where you will find links to my podcast and all my social media. If you sign up on my website, you will get a free end-of-day meditation, which is still by far the most popular thing I’ve ever done.
It’s a 10-minute meditation especially for mamas, to help them slow that busy mind at the end of the night, remind themselves that they’ve done a great job, and connect to those priorities that we’ve been talking about.
My Reconnect Program is a 40-day practice based on the yoga principle that if you do something for 40 days, it becomes habit. It embeds ideas of simple meditation, being kind to yourself, valuing who you are as a mum and parent, re-prioritising your life, and really staying calm in that chaos. The program’s just about to kick off again on the 30th of October 2016. You can find more details on my website.
Amy is coming into the Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs community as a guest expert next month to help our members re-shift their priorities, reclaim their time, and put themselves first. If you’re not yet a member, you have until 31st October to take advantage of the launch special and test out the first 3 modules for just $1!! Go to selfsufficiencyinthesuburbs.com today to join this new, amazing online club that provides you with the tools, and the support, to create your own self-sufficient home in the suburbs!!!
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