Chantelle Ellem is the uber blogger behind Fat Mum Slim. Her down-to-earth, honest and accessible posts make blogging seem easy, but her consistent style and ability to tap into her demographic are second to none in the Australian blogoshere. She’s also the creator of the phenomenal Photo A Day challenge, which I loved playing along with in it’s very first month when my daughter was a newborn. Over three years later it’s still going strong with more than 20 million photos shared to date! We asked Chantelle a few questions about her life as a creative mother. This is what she told us.
The moment I became a mother and sweet baby Lacey was placed on my chest, I felt a shift. I was different. I was forevermore a mother, and I was softer, more vulnerable, and forever altered. To be a mother is to have your heart walking outside your body, so I feel that everyday since birthing Lacey. In more practical terms, since becoming a mum I’m more time-poor, a little more crazy, more selfish and selfless at the same time, and a whole lot more frazzled. I’m also much more obsessed with sleep and/or lack of sleep!
Before I had Lacey, I was a nanny…so I was pretty much living a mum life, only I got paid, still got beautiful sleep at night, and didn’t have the stresses that come with being a mum. I got to jump on in, have fun, love on them and then go and live my own life. I nannied for 12 years, and for the last eight of those years I was a nanny for the most beautiful family with four kids. I actually took Lacey back to work with me when she was just six weeks, and she became part of their family, too. A normal day was getting up early at around 5am, going for a walk down at Bondi Beach, heading back home and getting ready for work where I started at 7am. I spent the day doing nanny things, taking the big kids to school, playing with the little kids, cooking dinner and clocking off at 5pm. It was fun!
I had an idea in my head of what I thought being a mum was going to be like. The mother of the kids I nannied warned me that I was in for a bit of a shock. She knew that what I was doing as a nanny would feel like what a mum would do, but the reality would be so different. I just don’t think you can imagine the emotional side of things, the guilt that lingers, the choices you have to make, or how hard the hard moments can be.
Loving my husband is one thing, but the love I have for my kids is so fierce and consuming. That love can’t be imagined.
To be really honest, I don’t have easy kids. They cry a lot in that first year, and they just want to be stuck to me constantly. They also hate sleep, so the first year is a whole lot of stress, and love all mixed together.
Two things have surprised me about becoming a mum: how hard getting babies and children to sleep is, and the emotional, second-guessing side of parenting.
Sleep is so deliciously good that I can’t wrap my head around why so many children (my children!) hate it so much. My first daughter wouldn’t sleep for more than 40 minutes at a time, even overnight, so I was a walking zombie for the first 14 months. It was crazy, and I should have asked for help from people. I was trying to be a hero. With my second daughter, I got help with a sleep expert. I needed to teach her how to sleep in a really gentle, loving way, and I’m so glad I did. It was the biggest parenting lesson for me: get help and get sleep!
The second-guessing thing is something I do often. With any big decision I make for my kids (schools, health, childcare, everything!) a little bit of doubt comes in, and I wonder if I’m doing the best things for my kids. I’ve learned to let it go as much as I can, because we’re all doing the best we can.
What I wish I’d known before I was pregnant was that the cake, fried foods and other delicious treats won’t disappear in the birthing suite. They hang around long after pregnancy, so nurture your body with good foods and the occasional treats (not the other way around!).
Sleep, support from my husband, and kicking the self-doubt to the curb help me parent well. Also, if my kids behave perfectly, that always helps too.
I don’t know who said this to me, and I wish I’d paid attention earlier, but the best parenting advice I received was; there isn’t one way to parent, there’s just YOUR way. Follow your gut and parent the best way you can.
I started working as a creative when my daughter was three months old. I was craving a space for myself, so I started a blog and fell in love with blogging. At first it was just going to be a private space for me to journal, but it ended up becoming this very public place for me to share stories and connect with communities.
I think because blogging was so new seven years ago, I just happened upon it at the right time and hopefully I offer something unique that really connects with people.
I can’t not be creative, it’s just who I am. If I wasn’t blogging and writing, I’d be doing something else. I guess it’s driven by happiness, if I wasn’t creating, I’d be a pretty sad human being.
My children inspire me, especially with storytelling, but also with arts and crafts and getting dirty in the creative process. I love seeing the world how they see it – that’s pretty inspiring.
My husband isn’t creative at all, so I’m sure when we first got together he probably thought I was a little bit wacky. Now he knows that if I scream for him to stop when we’re driving around because I’ve seen something that needs to be photographed, he just has to do it. It makes me happy, and I love that I have his support.
The best creative advice I’ve been given is the same as the parenting advice really, that there’s not one way to do things. Just do it your own way.
I think we live in the most beautiful part of the world, and there are so many wonderful, talented, creative people in our country. Once you open that door, which for me was my blog and starting my photo-a-day challenges, it allows you to connect to other creative people. I’ve met and been inspired by so many talented Australian creative souls.
This year I’ve definitely found my groove a little bit more with balancing everything. Blogging is my job, and I was really struggling with juggling parenting full-time and working full-time. It didn’t feel great that nothing was thriving and I constantly felt burnt-out. My schedule is a bit more structured – as structured as a creative person can be – and I also have a babysitter/nanny come over once or twice a fortnight so I can plough through my workload. It’s really made a difference and released a lot of stress.
My advice to other mums is to start small and explore different platforms. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be something, or to achieve anything. Just have fun. Also, find a community to be part of. My photo-a-day group is a great place to connect with other photo-takers, and there’s a great 52 Week Illustration Group on Facebook that encourages people to create small artworks each week around a given theme. It’s really awesome.
Chantelle is one of six inspiring Australian women featured in the August 2015 issue of CHILD Mags. Pick up your copy to read advice on being a creative mother from Chantelle Ellem, Anna Walker, Christine Pobke, Beci Orpin and Amy Harris.
35-year-old Chantelle Ellem is an Australian blogger who lives in NSW with her husband, Shane, and her two girls, Lacey, 7, and Luella, 2. Visit her blog Fat Mum Slim, follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest and like her on Facebook.