Jacinta Tynan: Motherhood sounds a lot better already
AS I write this in the wee hours of the morning, I am struck by wonder at the enveloping stillness. The sun has yet to trouble the night sky, possums with tummies filled with stolen passionfruit have taken to their beds, even the crows that often beat the kookaburras to the dawn are silent. Nothing moves in the inky blackness.
Except me, that is.
In this house the past few hours have brought a hive of activity. My little girl has been tossing and turning since midnight, the bad dreams screaming for attention in her head are too scrambled to articulate, bringing a real terror. Reassurance is no speedy affair and involves much hugging and brow soothing before she can be tempted to rest her head on her pillow once more.
As I sit on her bed in the silhouette of her night light, my mind on the work that awaits, this piece in particular, I think how funny it is when life imitates art.
"I never complain about having to wake up in the middle of the night," says author Jacinta Tynan. "When your child cries, or when they need help, you just go to them.
"If we go to them when they cry or fall over or when they are having a tantrum and say, 'I'm here, I love you, I know you are distressed', that will teach them empathy and that's one of the best things you can teach a child.
"Even in the middle of the night it's okay to have the only light on in the street."
An actress, journalist and news presenter, Jacinta certainly knows her own mind. A mum to two loving and gregarious boys aged five and three, she revels in the joys of motherhood and has used her space in the media and publishing to present it as a picture of positivity.
Her new book, Mother Zen, is an uplifting read about embracing change, accepting your limitations and challenging expectations. It is about ensuring the time you spend with your children is given wholeheartedly, about enjoying your life as it is instead of longing for how it once was, and urging women who have come to motherhood easily and those who have struggled to share their experiences.
It all sounds wonderful and balanced, doesn't it. Quite Zen in fact. But the road to this book had the bumpiest of starts for the ambitious young woman who grew up in Yowie Bay, in Sydney's Sutherland Shire.
When her first child was 10 months old, Jacinta penned an article for Sunday Life magazine in which she put forward the idea that motherhood was much less difficult than she had been told.
"There is one thing nobody warned me about when I became a mother: what a breeze it would be," was her opening line, adding she didn't see what all the fuss was about and that motherhood was "a cinch".
The Big Easy, as that article was entitled, caused a backlash for which Jacinta was unprepared. Thousands of upset mothers expressed their distaste both online and in print. But there was support, too, from women who enjoyed mothering and felt guilty to tell their struggling friends so.
So, why go there again?
"While it felt I was under attack and a lot of women were having a go at me, really in the end when the dust settled I realised most of them were actually saying thank you for saying it," she says.
"Mothers were saying they tell lies in mothers' groups and pretend they are finding it hard. I thought, what is going on here? That's why it became a book, because I wanted to explore it further and find out why so many women were struggling with motherhood and why we are so afraid to say if we are not. Of course I am worried about criticism of the book because no matter how tough you think you are, those kind of things always hurt. Also, I don't want to offend anybody and it hurt with the original story that I did hurt people.
"The book is part memoir about my fledgling journey as a new mother, but it also weaves in interviews with parenting experts and other parents. It is also a look at an alternative way of being - to be present and grateful - as we negotiate the often overwhelming new role we find ourselves in being responsible for the life of another, and so often without the 'village' we were promised it would take to raise our child."
"I've been a mother for longer now," she says. "When I wrote that article my first baby was only 10 months old. A few people said to me, you are game, didn't you know you are not supposed to say those things? And I didn't know that and that was probably good because it made me write the piece. I probably would not write a piece like that now.
"I was very careful with the book. I kept checking myself to make sure I was not upsetting anyone, because that was not the intention. The intention was to say to women, 'hey this is great, why can't we talk about this more?'
"If you are struggling, we need to share and get the help we need and if we are not struggling we need to share that joy too and perhaps those who are struggling can hear those stories and learn from that."
Much of the criticism following the first article pointed to the fact Jacinta lived in circumstances that made for a pleasant mothering experience. She was a successful professional with money and an understanding boss, living in a home in an affluent neighbourhood with a supportive wealthy partner, and a nanny at her beck and call.
It is a different story for a sleep-deprived mum of four with sick kids, high childcare fees, little or no support and a struggle to pay the bills.
But Jacinta is of the opinion that it is choice rather than circumstance that governs the enjoyment of motherhood.
"For those that are really enjoying their motherhood experiences, it seems to not be about circumstance but about their attitude," she says. "Of course that is not including women with post-natal depression - that is a whole other conversation and having had depression myself I have the greatest empathy for them. But it doesn't seem to be about how many children you have or whether your husband is around or whether you have money or not … it just seems that the women who are loving it are deciding, 'this is important to me and I don't want to miss out'."
Of course it is not all rainbows and fairies at Jacinta's house either. She, too, struggles to reconcile the commitments of being a mum with those of being a good partner and accomplished professional. Mother Zen puts great emphasis on adapting to change, to surrendering to it.
"Those people who expect life to just go on as it was, to still be able to do everything they were doing and not have a messy house and be able to get to an event on time and look good and get their exercise in and eat well and sleep well," she says, "if you are expecting that it's going to get you down. We have to learn to change our expectations and you have to give stuff up.
"As I've said in the book, I have given a lot up. I am sleep-deprived like so many other mums, but guess what, that's what we are signing up for. This is what motherhood is - it is not a big surprise. I don't get to exercise or do yoga, I don't get to see my friends as much or do as much, but it is a choice. You have to give stuff up to get the good stuff."
Like most medical professionals and social commentators, Jacinta stresses the importance of having time out, for mothers to do something just for themselves to help ensure their sanity.
"For me, absolutely without doubt, meditation has been my saviour," she admits. "I learnt to meditate when I was five months pregnant because I was so scared and worried about how I would cope with being a mother and thought I had better get some tools in place here. I thought it was going to be hell because that's all anyone tells you, and of course I had had depression before and I thought I would be a prime candidate for post-natal depression.
"I am not saying you have to meditate or you will be lost, or you can't be a good mother unless you do. Not at all. But you have to find something."
Jacinta's energy is catching and her enthusiasm and enjoyment of motherhood certainly prompts mothers, this one included, to run their own race.
For me, motherhood is filled with good days and bad, laughter and tears, hopes and struggles. There are enormous challenges, days when you feel on top of the world, days when you are quite obviously faking your way through. Most days I love it, some days not so much. But every day I am grateful.
Perhaps the true north lies somewhere between Jacinta's beautiful starry skies and the storm clouds circling those women for whom motherhood is a constant struggle.
It is for me. Especially at two in the morning when I sit on the side of the bed with a little hand in mine.
Mother Zen by Jacinta Tynan (Harlequin Australia) is available for purchase from May1 for RRP $29.99 at http://www.harlequinbooks.com.au or in all good book stores nationally.
Share your best and worst parenting experiences
for your chance to win one of two copies of Jacinta Tynan's Mother Zen.
Entries close Tuesday, June 2.