I’m on the red-eye shift as I cradle my nine-week-old son with one arm as he sleepily gulps his warm milk, pausing at times to make appreciative sighs before hungrily going back for more. With his ravenous appetite sated (for at least two hours I hope), he melts back into my now aching arm, drifting off to a satisfying slumber. I gaze in a trance-like state at his pink, perfect face, happy that he’s content before realising that I need to burp him. I gently sit my squirming baby on my lap with his back as straight as he’ll allow and proceed to rub and pat until I hear the glorious sound of a burp. He grimaces and squeals, deeply irritated at not being able to allowed to remain asleep. But he’s totally reliant on me to help him with his bodily functions until he’s old enough to burp and fart for himself.
I wrote this almost a year to the day ago. It seems crazy, starting a blog when your baby is just nine-weeks-old and yet, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I spent most of my twenties and thirties aimless, wanting more but not doing more. It’s the definition of madness to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Life gets in the way, you think, you get a job that pays the bills but it’s soul-destroying. You’re terrified of change. I’ve always wanted to start a blog and a long time ago I did. I published my first blog, excited to put my voice out there. I’ve always loved writing and I knew I was good at it. I got a horrible message straight away. I have my suspicions who it was but it was enough to knock me off course. Why would anyone want to read about what I had to say? I had no self- belief, my self-esteem had been battered by jobs, by men. I kept getting the same results.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. It’s beautifully simple. Life is simple, it is us that makes it complicated. Losing my job earlier this year has been the best thing to ever happen me. Once I got over the initial terror of not having a monthly income, I quite liked having days to myself – especially as a first-time mum – and no, they’re not really days to yourself. Getting to grips with being a new parent is tough. Your life is flipped upside down. You are exhausted, thrilled, frustrated, hopeless, happy, sad. It’s utterly life-changing and you know your life has changed for the better. Becoming a mum has changed me, from my core. I don’t sweat the small stuff, I hate drama and negativity. I spend my days enjoying life, enjoying Sonny’s many expressions, his funny sounds, holding him tight, kissing his soft pink cheek (that smells so good). Yes, he is annoying too. My living room constantly looks like I’ve been ransacked. Sonny delights in emptying drawers, cupboards, the bins. He screams and cries and it’s so, so hard. But there are also moments when you think your heart will burst.
Blogging for me is therapy. It’s a chance to sit down when Sonny is in bed and write about how I’m feeling. It has also opened up my world so much. I’ve been so lucky to meet some incredible, energetic and positive people. I’ve met blogger, author of Mumboss and beautiful mamma of two boys, Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum. I’ve worked with some amazing baby brands such as Baby & More, Babease, Beaux Baby Boutique, and Kate & Moon. I got to experience the new Center Parcs in Longford with my family. I’ve blogged about first aid, sleep training and lately, meditation and self-care. So many opportunities are still coming my way and it’s all thanks to my blog.
Becoming a mum is undoubtedly the best thing to ever happen me. It’s so fulfilling, shaping a new life. It’s so joyful, seeing your son collapse in giggles because of you. If you are still reading, I am so happy for your company and I hope you will continue to follow my journey as my baby becomes a little boy. Maybe I can even inspire you to start writing or to think outside the box that you have created. Life is short, why would you want to spend it pleasing people, or working for the cash machine? I’m so grateful and lucky that I’m where I’m at. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. No, life is not perfect, I am not perfect – I’m human after all. But, it’s pretty close.
It’s about 7.30pm and I’m sitting with professional blogger and mum-of-two Vicki Psarias before she goes on stage to a full house of creative women to promote her empowering book Mumboss at The Black Box in Belfast. Since hitting the shelves last year, it’s become a No. 1 Amazon bestseller and has been noted in the top ten business books written by women in The Independent. In it, she encourages readers to embrace her mumboss manifesto, explaining how we can balance our work, our passions and, our parenting. Despite sounding a little hoarse (no doubt down to her hectic schedule), effervescent Vicki cuts a striking figure and fizzles with excited energy. She is chatty, confident, honest, funny and just really, really nice. She’s the kind of person that makes you feel better, just by being in her company. Conversation flowed, and I even shared some anecdotes from my short tenure as a mother myself to which she smiled warmly and nodded. She offered me vegan pizza and garlic bread, which I accepted having just come from work, resulting in tomato sauce splashing all over my notes. There’s a first time for everything. This will definitely go down as one of my most fun interviews to date.
The beauty of being a writer is the people that you are lucky enough to meet. I do believe that everyone crosses your path for a reason. As a relative newcomer to the blogging world, it’s taking every ounce of my self-confidence to put my voice out there. I started blogging when Sonny was just nine weeks old. When I think back on those bleary-eyed days, struggling to string a sentence together, I wonder how I even got a chance to sit down at my laptop. But in truth, it was cathartic. It was my therapy. I’ve put myself off starting a blog for many years, for many reasons. Motherhood offers so much content, that people can relate to and I’ve really enjoyed sharing my story as a first-time mum on the cusp of turning 40. Meeting Vicki has come at a time of big change in my life. It’s very serendipitous. So often I doubt myself, I’m a procrastinator, I can be listless at times. But sometimes, you meet someone and you just know what you’re supposed to do. For me, that person is Vicki.
Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum has a two million reach each month on her blog and social channels. She is a multi award-winning screenwriter, director, filmmaker, best-selling author, professional blogger and mum to two young, gorgeous children Oliver (9) and Alexander (6). You will most likely have seen her commenting on parenting issues on the likes of Good Morning Britain (most recently debating whether parents should drink alcohol) as well as Lorraine, BBC Breakfast and Sky News. Vicki has also featured in Vogue, The Guardian and written for Grazia and Closer to name but a few.
The importance of being honest.
Vicki says her mum, husband and closest pals are honest with her. “It’s the only way to be with the ones you love. Considerate but candid.”
How does this entrepreneurial mum juggle work and family life? “My kids are both at school so I work when they’re there, and stop at pick-up where I run around like a headless chicken getting them to and from lessons like swimming and helping them with homework (bloody love it to be honest) and then if I’m on deadline, I work for a while again when they sleep. My husband and I share the load but having a freelance career gives me flexibility. It’s why I left directing and I feel grateful I can be so hands-on, my kids are my life.”
Being a mum defines me but it doesn’t limit me. It makes me better at my job. Through weakness, you discover your strength.
“We all have important stories to tell. Sharing what matters to you. Like a painter with strokes of a paintbrush.”
Vicki started writing her blog in 2010 when her son Oliver was ten months (incidentally the same age as Sonny now). “I had a traumatic birth and I wasn’t being honest about how I felt. I was under a black cloud and was pretending to be strong.” Her blog was light-hearted to begin with. “I wasn’t strong enough to write about it.” Then, at Christmas, she spoke to her parents about how she felt and moved to Leeds and started CBT. “With my blog and being close to my parents, I was able to start healing.” Nine years on and her family live in Windsor.
Being honest is in Vicki’s DNA. She says: “I’m tactful, or I try to be. I’m thick-skinned. It’s the Greek Cypriot in me, we’re culturally honest – and I’m also a Yorkshire girl. It’s not about keeping up appearances.
Therapy helps you unlearn negativity. It is such a gift.
Being honest isn’t always easy though. “It took five years before I could write about my traumatic birth and five months before I could talk about my thyroid operation.” The latter, she describes as the most painful experience she has suffered to date, despite enduring a crash c-section (in part) because of her high pain threshold.
When you’re not well, you need a village.
Talking about those who try to take her down, she says: “I don’t engage with trolls. I’ll maintain a dignified silence. There was an incident in which I wish I had spoken up but I didn’t have the strength as I’d lost my young aunt Zak at the time and was overwhelmed with grief. You have to pick your battles anyway. Therapy teaches you to take a moment before reacting.”
Vicki hates the notion that women need to be ‘ruthless’ or ‘difficult’ to thrive. “Successful women are so often painted as being ruthless or tough to work with, which is for the most part, complete and utter sexist nonsense. That doesn’t mean that some successful women aren’t difficult or ruthless, the same applies to men, but this stereotype, for the most part, is untrue and massively unhelpful. The majority of successful women I know are incredibly generous and sisterly. We are living and working in a limiting, unequal society and workplace where these dated, biased preconceptions need to change – and thankfully, are.”
As women, we have definitely drawn the short straw when it comes to the workforce. We need to unlearn what society has taught us.
“As a film director, I had a meeting with top producers and they assumed I was an actress auditioning for a part. While there’s nothing wrong with acting of course, I was a director. As a woman, you’re expected to be a certain way and look a certain way. When I went to a locum GP about my anxiety, I was told, “you look fine”. “I’ve perfected looking fine,” she quips. “Oprah said that being undermined led to her becoming wealthy and strong.”
Being honest is a key to success.
So why should we buy Mumboss? “Writing Mumboss was like having another child and it was a big relief to get it published. I wish I had had it when I started my blog. Money was never a driving force. I always wanted to work in a caring profession and used to teach. It covers everything from the imposter syndrome, finding your voice, purpose, juggling and self-care. Know your story matters and that everything takes a little time. I remember when I had 200 followers on Twitter and I was blown away. That’s as many people that were at my wedding. The followers I’ve had from day one are still with me today. It is a gift and a privilege to do what I do.”
Vicki is only human, so how does she deal with self-doubt and procrastination? “I talk my worries through with my husband and therapist. I’m learning to trust myself more and to be more compassionate with myself. I don’t really procrastinate that much. I like to be busy! She says she has had writer’s block a few times but she describes herself as a “doer”. “I’ve spent most of my life being creative and being consistent about that creativity.
On a personal level, I find myself hot-wired to catastrophize but Vicki doesn’t believe this is a universal trait of women. “I’m not sure we are built that way to be honest. Many women I know are incredibly calm. I worry less about worst case scenarios these days.”
Vicki says that her family keeps her motivated and doing what she loves. “My family and friends are my roots. My mantra ‘don’t believe the hype, don’t believe the shite’ bodes well. I believe in equality. We’re all human and equal. I hate hierarchy or those driven by ego.
Vicki’s advice to someone wanting to begin a blog but not knowing where to start is to buy Mumboss. “It’s a bit cheeky but I’ve shared everything I know about blogging in it. It’s easier than ever to set up a blog now. You simply need the confidence to start. To trust that your voice matters. Twice a week is ideal when it comes to SEO and building your brand. Also, around 600-800 words minimum per post. Don’t forget to share on social media too.”
So, can wo(men) have it all? “I think men or men have to compromise whatever they do, because that’s life but I do think it’s possible to have a family and a career. You just have to be realistic about your expectations and know that things take time. So, lower your standards when it comes to the home being perfect and share the school run/childcare with your partner and friends and don’t spread yourself too thinly.”
The day you plant the seed, is not the day you eat the fruit.
Vicki likes to relax by practicing yoga, eating dark chocolate and watching reality TV. “I also love getting outdoors with my family as much as possible.”
“Motherhood is a heady mix of joy, unconditional love and frustration,” she smiles. “The most difficult thing is ‘the juggle’. My blog creates experiences but we have a super normal life.”
You don’t need to be a writer. You just need to be brave.
Vicki says: “Unfollow people that don’t make you feel good. I’m lucky that my mum always champions me. Protect your space.”
You need to know that seeking others’ approval will never make you happy.
“I accidentally created this job. But ask yourself, are you having fun? My brilliant manager Jack Freud was the first to ask me to use that question as a barometer, to ask myself if I’m happy doing x, y, z. It’s important to say no to things too.
“The best thing about this job is the creativity. You have to live life to write about your life. It’s not always easy. Just work smarter.
“I do let TV babysit where I have a pressing deadline here and there. Guilt is futile. Cut yourself some slack. Self-care is so important. Go on a night out and enjoy some guilt-free fun with your pals.”
I think we’re bloody superheroes. We have peripheral vision. Our maternal instinct is strong.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help and accept help. It is a job and you’re not going to be great straight away,” she grins. “Kids are really pure joy.”
The future is bright for Vicki but she likes not knowing what’s around the corner. “That’s the beauty of what I do, it keeps me on my toes. Every day, something new pops into my inbox but it’s not magic, it’s the product of hard, hard graft.”
Although I only met Vicki for a short time, she’s left a lasting impression on me – and given me a much-need confidence boost.
I’ll leave you with this quote Vicki has posted on her blog.
By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.
Quick fire round!
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Wine or Gin? Wine
Cat or dog? Both
Night out or night in? In mostly but love a night out. I’m rubbish at this game!
Heels or flats? Flats but I prefer how my legs look in heels.
Sweet or savoury? Sweet
Primark or Prada? Neither, can I have Zara please?
Morning lark or night owl? Night owl but in training to be a morning bird.