Today on the Capacity Blog, we meet Ani Tuna. I know Ani through her role as Founder of MumLife Australia (www.mumlifeaustralia.com), Australia’s first and only parent-led resource helping mums find their confidence and joy in motherhood. She is also the mother to two young daughters, aged 18 months and 3 years, and wholeheartedly shares stories and pictures of the inevitable ups and downs of this developmental period.
Firstly Ani, I’m aware that there are a lot of different emotions that accompany talking to a professional, such as fear of the unknown, guilt, shame, and doubt... for anyone who hasn’t met me, could you share a bit about my approach and personality?
One thing (and there are many) that I’ve always loved about your approach is that you are balanced and realistic. You really do acknowledge the challenges and the reality - for both parents and children. And because of this, your guidance is not only practical but effective (and completely non-judgemental). It’s so obvious, just from the way you talk about relationships and behaviour that you’re so passionate about helping parents and children thrive. Plus, you do all of this while being friendly, compassionate and kind.
Well thanks! That's so nice of you to say. What kind of learning or advice (of mine or others) has benefitted your parenting practice the most?
I remember one of the very first times we spoke; you told me that - and gosh I do hope I don’t get this wrong repeating it back to you like this! - you need to put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to understand what is causing the behaviour. This is something that I have thought about a LOT since then. I’m the first to admit that I lack patience. In the past, I’ve definitely reacted unreasonably because I haven’t really considered the situation from my child’s perspective - so for example, I’d lose my temper in the supermarket if they refused to sit in the trolley - not at all acknowledging the fact that they’ve been seated in either the car or the trolley for nearly 2 hours and are probably (and understandably) restless. It seems so obvious right - but when you’re busy, tired or having a bad day, it’s something that can be easily forgotten.
You have openly admitted to me and your MLA community that early in the piece you struggled with the adjustment to parenthood. What was it in particular that you found challenging?
The reality of parenthood, particularly in those early days, is so far from what you often hear people talk about and what you see on social media. Like many first-time-mums, I went into motherhood expecting something entirely different than what I experienced. And to add to that, I really had no idea what to do once we brought our first baby home.
So the unrealistic expectations and all the questions I had swimming in my head, just made that period of my life incredibly challenging, overwhelming and, if I’m completely honest, not very enjoyable.
So, what’s life like now? Describe your typical day-to-day, given you play “Mum” and “small business owner” simultaneously. Do you miss your life pre-kiddos?
So much has changed in the three years since I began my journey into parenthood (including the addition of a surprise second baby!). Not only have I become a lot more comfortable (and realistic) in my role as a mother, but I’ve also taken on another role as founder of MumLife Australia. In reality though, I’m not any different to all the other mums out there trying to juggle 93 different things at a time, while never actually making it to the bottom of the laundry basket!
I don’t have a ‘typical’ day as such but I can say this - I have a lot of help, and if I need more, I’m not afraid to ask for it. Both of my girls have been in daycare since they were both very young and at first this made me feel really guilty. My heart would sink everytime I’d see mums out walking their young babies in prams as I drove past in my car on the way to the office. But that guilt faded as I saw how happy my girls were (and how happy I was because I was getting the balance that I missed so much when I was home full-time).
So my typical day really does depend on who is where doing what. Except Fridays. Fridays are fun-day with my girls. It’s the only day of the entire 7 day week where I devote my (almost) undivided attention to the my girls. We go on playdates, we drink babycinos and we let the dishes stack up on the bench. It’s fun to have that one day blocked out of every week to just reconnect and have fun.
You and I have had the privilege of talking all things relating to children’s behaviour and wellbeing on many occasions. How did you come to have the confidence or courage (or some other trait) to speak openly about needing some guidance with this?
I wasn’t always so open. In fact, that was one of the difficulties I had in the very early days. So much of what I expected motherhood to be was a reflection of what I’d see in movies or on TV. In fact, even many of the mums I knew never really spoke very openly about any of the challenges.
So in those early days when I was really struggling, I couldn’t and didn’t tell anyone. Friends would come over to visit, and I’d hide in my bedroom pretending to be asleep because I couldn’t actually face having to talk about it. Eventually the pressure to be perfect-mum became too much and I had to rip off the mask.
One day I remember sitting on my couch with a friend who’d had a baby at a similar time, and we both began to cry as we shared stories of all the challenges we were facing. It was a relief to finally get it all out in the open (and realise that I wasn’t alone and that what I was feeling and experiencing was normal). After she left that day, I promised myself that I would never hide behind the mask of perfect-mum again. And I haven’t looked back.
So I don’t actually think of it as being courageous. I just have nothing to hide. And yes, that means that sometimes I am judged and even shamed - but I’m okay with that. Because at the day of the day, we ALL have our challenges, some of us are just better at hiding it than others.
For any parent who may be having a tough time understanding their child’s behaviour or moods or holds concerns about their child’s social and emotional wellbeing, what advice would you give them for reaching out for some professional support?
It takes a village to raise a child, and as parents, it is our role to build that village. If you’re struggling or you have a concern - reach out and get help. We often wait until things have reached breaking point before we seek support which is a shame because sometimes a lot of those struggles or concerns can be addressed more effectively the sooner they’re addressed. You know your child best - if something doesn’t feel right to you - get help and get it now.