Staying Mum: What Your Mum Forgot To Tell You And Your Best Friends Never Dared

Widely considered to be one of Australia’s favourite parenting experts, Mara Lee is a journalist, author and TV personality, wife, mother of two and the editor of popular parenting magazine, Practical Parenting. Her book tells it like it is – the good, the bad and the ugly – and is packed with practical tips and tricks to help new mums stay on track and remain sane.

How is this book different to other mothering books?

For starters this is no “how to” manual. There are heaps of books written by experts, telling you how to raise your baby, but to my knowledge no-one has written a book that acknowledges the really tricky aspects of that first year of motherhood.

I’m talking about learning to breastfeed with boobs that feel like they are about to explode, surviving on broken sleep for months on end, being scared stiff that formula is going to poison your baby (trust me, it won’t!) and the fact that some days you just wish you could bury yourself under your doona and not be responsible for anyone other than yourself. My aim was to talk openly and honestly about my own struggles as a new mum, so that other mums would be prepared for if and when they have a similar experience. But most importantly I wanted other new mums to know that they are not the only ones who don’t always feel like they have this motherhood gig under control. The book reads like a novel and is also peppered with
seriously useful information that I have since learnt as editor of Practical Parenting.

Reading the book brought back some great memories for me personally, have you received positive feedback from your readers?

It’s funny, after I finished the book I worried that I had exposed myself and my daughter too much. I thought people might think that, by being so open about the yucky bits of that first year, I didn’t love or want my daughter – both so not true. But the opposite has happened, and mostly I get thanked for making other mums feel normal, and not failures, for bumbling their way through. I also love that people have found and related to the wry humor in my recounts of things going haywire. You’ve got to laugh…

You had children around 10 years ago, do you think it’s easier for women to go back to work now or are the issues still the same? Has the pressure on women increased or decreased?

I think the issues are still the same as when I had Jaybird (aka my now 11-year-old daughter Jayna). How to hold down the job you need in order to pay your bills, run your household, spend time with you partner AND still feel you are being the best mum you can be? Oh, and all without drowning in exhaustion, self-doubt or guilt. Finding a balance of all those things is the holy grail of any working mum and can take years and years of practice and experimenting with different arrangements of work and child care. I only feel like my family and I have found that balance in the last few years, once both my kids reached school age and I returned to work at the magazine that lets me be a mum first – Practical Parenting.

Mara with her children Cooper and Jayna

Have you written a fictional book or are you looking back at your memories and the experiences you faced?

The book is semi-autobiographical, definitely. The amniotic fluid-leaking laps around the hospital grounds, the confidence-crippling breastfeeding episodes with the baby who simply couldn’t get the hang of my boobs (pardon the pun), and the dramatic showdown in the formula aisle of the supermarket all happened to me. It goes without saying that the warm and fuzzy moments are mine too. Well, mine, Jaybird’s and her gorgeous daddy’s.

Why do you think women don’t tell each other the truth about their negative experiences and problems with motherhood?

I think there are two reasons. Mums with much older kids (or whose kids are now adults) are so far removed from those intense early years of parenting that they forget what it feels like when you are in the thick of it. They think, “we survived all that and so shall you”. They are right of course, but that doesn’t help to hear that when you are up to your seventh month of broken nights! And mums going through a tough time are loathe to say so, out of pride and out of fear they are the only ones feeling
this way. We’ve been told we can have it all – homes, hubbies, careers, kids – so we think we should be able to do it all. And competently at that. So we shut up and persevere with the job of managing all those things without asking for help when the going gets tough. I hope this book helps change that.

I enjoyed that your book reads like a novel, are you planning any more novels? Maybe one about teenagers?

There was always a possibility about a sequel that dealt with the toddler years, so my answer is a cagey maybe. But that’s a great idea about teenagers. My daughter is now on the cusp of teens-ville so I should have plenty of fodder in about, oh, a year or so. And I raised enough hell with my own parents to be considered something of an expert on the subject of rebellious teenaged behaviour. Stay tuned…

Buy Staying Mum here!