How do I explain the last 10 years of my life since becoming a mother? I feel a bit like I’ve been squished into a spin cycle, wondering what will come out the other end. I do know, however, that my work is inspired by the lessons of parenting and the delicious depths it has carved into me, slowly and surely.
I didn’t think through what motherhood would be like prior to becoming a mum – can you really know what climbing Everest is like unless you scale it? I didn’t have many mothers around me at that time, so my only reference was my own mum and my mother-in-law, Heather, who assured me that of all her accomplishments, having her boys was the best thing she had ever done.
I find motherhood hard for so many reasons. It’s hard to love someone so deeply each day that it can feel like a physical hurt.
From the moment I wake up to the moment I try to fall asleep, I worry about my children’s happiness and sense of self, and if life will ‘turn out’ for them, when I know that life is filled with great joy and also sorrow. I love my family so intensely; they’re my foundation and my safe place.
When I saw my first child, my beautiful son Harrison, resembling a furiously jumping jellybean on an eight-week pregnancy scan, I couldn’t comprehend the life force that was walloping its way towards me. At four years old he was diagnosed with a gifted IQ, and at eight they added ADHD. I always knew Harrison was different, and as many mums raising a child with a difference would know, the ostracism, overwhelm and guilt can lead you to some very dark places. I never knew I could feel so much anger. Living with someone with an asynchronous, high IQ and a brain disorder is like raising a cyborg in a wind tunnel – exhausting and exceptional. Goodness knows what it’s like for him.
Harrison is the inspiration behind my second book, The Real Baby Book You Need at 3am. He’s shown me that life is actually very grey and considerably fuzzy, not so much the narrow black and white I once presumed it was. Fortunately I look fabulous in charcoal grey.
Having a best friend who is also my husband to raise our children with helps me parent well. We’ve grown as people and as a couple since we first met nearly 20 years ago. We have developed a wonderful ability to make each other laugh, which sustains us through our parenting struggles. I have the deepest admiration and respect for him and feel a profound gratitude and delight every time I see him.
On my wedding day, my aunt-in-law Donna gave me some simple and powerful advice when I asked her how to love someone for a lifetime. She said, “Create a life together by honouring your commitment one day at a time”. I realised that our relationships are upheld through the words and actions we choose each day. I’ve carried her advice into my parenting.
My creative work started young. I regularly refused a day sleep at Mrs Mac’s Kindy (poor lady). While the other kids slept, I talked the ear off my teachers (poor teachers) sitting on the kitchen floor cutting and pasting my own artistic creations from the pages of magazines. My first professional gig out of university was in the world of PR – I fantasised that I would spend my time planning fabulous parties and events, rather than the ironic reality of cutting and pasting media clips into client reports.
I realised I was a good writer when a journo on a teen mag I had supplied several of my press releases to, ran my copy word for word in the mag and put her name at the top. My first reaction was ‘not fair’, but then I realised she’d done me a favour and promptly jumped the media fence over to journalism for women’s magazines.
The immortal words of George Bernard Shaw sum up how I feel about my work, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live”. I strive to live a life of invented purpose and I dance daily with possibility.
I’m constantly driven to promote beauty in all its forms and bring light to important issues that help us see ourselves in a new way.
I got my first paid freelance feature for a now defunct beauty mag called ME. The publisher knew me from my PR days and gave me the opportunity to write for her new mag – thank you Snezna! I also worked for free at a big magazine to build up my portfolio – after a year I was freelancing full-time as a paid journalist.
I see beauty everywhere, which constantly feeds me and propels me into action – people, places, nature, architecture, interior design, typography, fashion, colour and light. I’m also a total magazine addict.
Motherhood has honed my ability to meet my deadlines and get projects delivered under water while tap dancing. I can focus regardless of what’s going on around me.
I involve my children in my work a lot, especially since joining the CHILD Mags team. They’re the inspiration for many stories and editor’s letters. Scarlett has been on our cover, and parenting Harrison has given me an empathy and gratitude for diversity. Everywhere I go, there they are.
I often feel like I fail when it comes to switching from ‘work mode’ into mumma mode, which is a constant source of self-reproach – I worry that I’m letting my children down. I wonder a lot if other creative people have an ‘off’ button, when creativity can be so fulfilling and all consuming.
It’s complicated and it’s a dance. I couldn’t imagine my life without my family and I wouldn’t want to change my creative drive. When I’ve been in the position of having to choose between career or children, my children came first. For me that was an innate, biological instinct I could surrender to. That’s definitely the mumma bear in me.
Karen Miles is the Editor at CHILD and is responsible for the multi award-winning redesign of CHILD Magazines and the creation of this blog. She’s authored/designed two books, presented on TV and Kinderling radio and is mum to Harrison, nine, and Scarlett, seven. Follow her on Instagram.
Interview + Photographs: Bron Bates