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The chaos is normal for us

Courtney Adamo in her favourite role: Mom and wife. Photo: Amelia Fullarton

Blogger, style icon, co-founder of Babyccino and fivetime Mom Courtney Adamo are talking with us about her family life.

How do you reward your kids? Do you have some kind of ritual? Any special treats?

We try not to parent our children by rewarding them with treats or threatening them with ultimatums. We hope that our children will try their best in school, not because we reward them for a good school report, but because they genuinely enjoy learning and want to do their personal best. It’s the same with hobbies — we want our children to draw (or surf or dance) because they love to do it, not because we reward them with praise. Of course I do comment sometimes when my children have done something really kind or when they have done something really well. I let them know that I have noticed it and I am proud of them, but I try not to offer too many rewards for good behavior because I want them to think it is a normal thing, not something to be praised.

But of course we give our children treats! We often give the kids an ice cream or an ice lolly after a day at the beach. Or we enjoy dark chocolate after dinner. 

How do you mediate fights?

Nothing bothers me more than when my children fight! It’s the worst offence in our house. I explain to my children all the time that they are so incredibly lucky to have siblings — best friends for life — and that it is not acceptable for them to treat each other without love and respect. Thankfully, our children are generally quite close, and they play together really well. But… of course they do flight! When it does happen, we try to separate the children, listen to each of them explain their side, and then we try to encourage them to see the other side of the argument and then ultimately apologise to each other.  In extreme cases, we will ask our children to write a letter to their sibling to explain why they are sorry.

What does a typical day out with the family look like? / What’s most occupying your quality time?

Michael and I both work from home now. We take turns doing the school drop-off and pick-up, we make each other lunch, we take turns watching and playing with the baby, all the while trying to squeeze in the work. Some days are more stressful than others, depending on our workload, but for the most part it works. Michael is finished with work by 4pm, so we are often at the beach after the kids get out of school. The best kind of after-school activity if you ask me! 🙂

Weekends are mostly spent at the beach. We always start our Saturdays and Sundays with pancakes — on Saturdays we usually make ‘skinny pancakes’ (crepes) and on Sundays we make ‘fat pancakes’ (American-style fluffy ones). This is a family tradition we’ve always kept — since our early family days in London (you should have seen us trying to make fluffy American pancakes from a campervan in New Zealand… but we always managed!). After breakfast, we pack our beach bag and head to the beach. It’s nice that we all really enjoy surfing because it gives us a focus for our weekends, and keeps us all doing the same thing. I know that some parents end up spending a lot of their time driving children in different directions for various sports and activities, so I actually feel really thankful that we’re all in to surfing and it somehow keeps us together, doing the same thing. For now anyway!

Does every one of your children have a special favorite toy they feel personally attached to? If so – what are they?

Not really. When we sold our house in London and packed our bags for our big travel adventure, I was actually surprised by how easy it was for our kids to part with their belongings. They went an entire year without any toys, and nobody missed a thing. Our kids are pretty resilient — they will sleep wherever, eat whatever, and aren’t too fussy or particular about ‘things’. Of course we have toys that the children really love. We have a basket of Schleich animals that the children play with every day. And a box of wooden blocks that they always play with. And the girls really love their basket of dress-up tutus. But none of them have a toy they can’t sleep without, for example.

Have you always wanted a big family?

I’ve always liked the idea of a big family.  Michael and I are both from big families — he’s the eldest of seven kids and I am the eldest of five!  I think it just felt normal to have a big family of our own. The chaos and craziness and juggling that comes with having a big family is all very normal to us.

I always said I wanted to have four kids. I liked the even number and the idea that each child always had a pair.  Wilkie was a surprise baby, but obviously we feel so incredibly lucky to have him. We thought Marlow was our last, so everything with Wilkie just feels like a bonus — giving birth one more time, having a newborn in the house, breastfeeding, etc. — it all just feels extra special. And I guess, having come from a family of five myself, it feels very familiar to have five of my own.

How easy is it to combine work and family? How do you manage?

Ha! The million dollar question. 🙂 I wish I had all the answers. I just take it all one step at a time. I try not to do too many things at once – I’ve found I’m much more productive (and sane!) when I focus on one task at a time. When I’m with the kids, I try not to think about work, not to check my phone. When I’m working, I try to ensure I’ve got a couple hours of uninterrupted time to devote to it and I stay as focused as I can.

Also, I honestly don’t think I could have survived this long without Michael!  He’s such a hands-on dad and so involved in every aspect of our family. From the minute we wake up, we are equally co-parenting and juggling. He makes the coffee and I make the breakfast. While he’s making the school lunches, I’m usually getting the girls dressed and doing their hair. He tidies the kitchen while I make sure the kids have done their homework. And that’s just the morning! Together, we make a pretty good team.

Also, our big kids are now old enough to be helpful. They all have their daily chores (making beds, washing lunch boxes, doing the dishes after dinner, etc.), but we also delegate bigger tasks to them. Quin is super helpful in the kitchen, Easton helps out with the laundry, and just tonight Ivy set the table while Marlow unloaded the dishwasher all on her own. Here’s a post I’ve written recently about the importance of chores in our family:

Can you remember the time before having a family? Do you sometimes think about it?

In many ways, my mothering journey began long before I actually became a mother. I am the eldest of five children, so I grew up taking care of my younger siblings and helping my mother at home.

I was 23 when I became pregnant with our first baby, so I was quite young when I became a mother, so I never really experienced carefree ‘single life’ that many women experience in their twenties and early thirties.  I don’t really look back at the time before I started a family with any sense of longing. I really feel like life has only gotten better and better since having children, and the path I’m on in my motherhood journey is exactly where I am supposed to be.

What would be your first advice to new parents?

To stop seeking advice! 🙂 I really believe that in so many areas of life, we are the most capable and qualified if we trust our intuition and stop paying too close attention to all the noise out there.  I get asked all the time for my favourite parenting books, or people will write to me to ask my advice about getting their baby to sleep, or how to wean their baby from breastfeeding. So often my advice is to trust their gut, listen to their baby, do what works for them — not what someone else says to do. More often than not, if we focus on all the different (and often conflicting) advice, it can leave us more confused and less confident.

When you think back – what is the one thing about having a family that is totally not what you had expected it to be?

Having come from a big family, I must say I haven’t encountered very many surprises. But I have been so pleasantly surprised by how life seems to only get better and better.  You know how when you have a tiny baby, you have this urge to freeze time so that your baby never grows up? But then… the reality is that as they grow, your heart expands more and more and you somehow love them even more as they grow. It’s the same with parenting. It just keeps getting better.  Somehow your heart expands beyond measure, you continue to learn and grow as a parent, and you can find joy in each phase. Our eldest is about to become a teenager, and I remember when he was little, I dreaded that he would one day become a teenager… but here we are! And it’s an exciting new phase for our family. I have lots of learning still to do to make it through these teenage years. 🙂

Some siblings seem to totally love each other from day one – others don’t. Can parents influence this at all?

I’m sure there are circumstances which are more difficult to control, but I do really believe that parents have a huge influence over their children and it’s up to us as parents to encourage good relationships amongst our children.  My mom always said that her biggest goal as a mother was to raise five kids who liked each other. She made it such a priority to encourage love and respect in our family. She avoided pitting her children against each other. For example, at the dinner table — she never said ‘Please eat your dinner — look how well your sister has eaten.’ She never asked ‘why can’t you be more like your brother?’. Those types of questions are so poisonous in a family. I have learned from my own mother and really try hard to create loving relationships between my children and prevent sibling rivalry wherever possible. Here’s a post I’ve written on Babyccino about preventing sibling rivalry:

Did or do you have some special tricks to create good relationships amongst the kids?

See the blog post I mentioned above. 🙂

Find the german translation of this interview here.

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