The Interview: Sarah Turner of The Unmumsy Mum

Author, blogger and mum of two Sarah Turner, is known to millions of mums as ‘The Unmumsy Mum’. Her irreverent, deeply honest and hilarious blog was started three years ago as a way for her to share her less than perfect experiences of motherhood. On the same week that her book reached the No. 1 spot on the Sunday Times bestsellers chart, we caught up with her to discuss the highs and lows of motherhood and coping with her kids in the ‘witching hour’.

First a blog, then a Sunday Time no. 1 bestselling book – tell us how the Unmumsy Mum came about.

It started three years ago when I ‘just had the one’ – a phrase that used to really annoy me at the time. I remember feeling quite disillusioned with a lot of parenting literature. It was either very factual, like ‘this is how you wean a child following X, Y, Z steps’. Or overly glossy, showing these perfect catalogue families. I looked at it and thought ‘well my home doesn’t look like that, I certainly don’t look like that and my family isn’t smiling quite as much as theirs is either’. I developed a niggly feeling that there must be other people who found things a struggle like I did. So I made the decision to start writing something and promised myself that if nothing else it would be honest. That was how the blog was born. I didn’t have any expectations that anybody would want to read it. It was a pour-it-out-there-and-see-what-happens kind of thing. I'm so glad I did!

You’re one of the few bloggers and writers who are brave enough to write candidly about motherhood. Why are people so reticent to share the grittier stuff?

We all have a fear of being judged – it’s human nature. If you throw out the fact that you’re not having a particularly good day, then what does that say about you? Are you not coping? There’s a real worry that if people have a window into your real parenting soul, they might not like what they find. There’s also a pressure to appreciate how lucky we are as parents to have been blessed with children. That’s true, of course, we are extremely lucky but worry over my inability to enjoy every moment has eaten me up at times and I actually think it’s really unhealthy to bottle things up. We’re increasingly encouraged to talk about our mental health more generally, but parenting seems to be the last taboo. I think the blog has resonated with people because they think ‘Oh thank god, it’s not just me who’s finding today a challenge!'

What have your kids taught you about motherhood?

They’ve taught me so much. One key lesson is that you can’t always plan how things are going to turn out, and that’s ok. Sometimes not having a plan is fine. Likewise, dramatically veering off the plan you wanted to follow isn’t always the end of the world either. You just have to go with it. Now I’m four years into the parenting adventure I’m more likely to just shrug and say ‘oh well, tomorrow’s a new day’.

What’s the most challenging part of your daily routine? How do you get through it?

I think – in line with parents everywhere – it’s the 5pm-7pm pre-bedtime chaos that’s the greatest challenge. We call it the ‘witching hour’. The children are over-tired, it’s the end of the day and the house usually looks as though a toy tornado has hit. I cope ok when my husband and I are together because it’s a division of childcare labour - we take one child each! If it’s just me, I resort to copious amounts of Nick Junior or Cbeebies. Sometimes the kids lull me into a false sense of security as they both sit there angelically drinking their warm milk and I think ‘oh this is blissful!’ Then the next night it’s total carnage again.

If you could give your pregnant self some words of wisdom, what would they be?

I think it would be ‘take everything you see and read with a pinch of salt’ and realise that whatever anybody is offering up in terms of advice or anecdotes, they’re giving you a selectively edited account of what’s happened to them. So don’t look at the lives of celebrities or friends on social media and take that as the gospel truth. Nine times out of 10 that’s not the story behind the scenes.

In the spirit of honesty. What’s the most ridiculous thing to have happened to you in the last 48 hours?

Ha. In the spirit of honesty, my youngest who’s 19 months - and copying everything his four year old brother and his mum and dad do - has taken to coming to the loo with me and trying to get involved by helpfully (or not) unravelling the loo roll to assist. There are lots of things I never thought I'd hear myself say as a parent and, ‘No, Mummy doesn’t need help wiping her bottom, thank you,’ is one of them.

Aside from your kids – on a daily basis it seems – who or what makes you laugh the most?

Probably my husband, but perhaps that’s cheating because usually we find ourselves laughing at the kids together. He does make me giggle a lot. Sometimes I laugh at him which is really unfair. I’ll laugh at the pain etched on his face because the kids are screaming and he’s got a headache. I hear him say, ‘Enough, I can’t take any more!’ and there’s a little bit of me that feels sorry for him, but it’s a comfort too because it’s clearly not just me at the end of my tether.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being a mum and what’s the most rewarding thing about being the Unmumsy Mum?

The most rewarding thing about being a mum is the look my boys give me if I’ve returned home from somewhere or if they’re unsure of themselves in a certain situation. They’ll momentarily look worried as their eyes scan the room and finally settle on me with a look of total relief that ‘mum’s there’. It fills me with real pride. It makes me think ‘wow, how lucky am I to be wanted and needed like that?’ It’s reciprocal, of course. The best thing about being the Unmumsy Mum is the feedback I’ve had from mums who have been feeling lonely and like they’re not coping. They feel like there’s something wrong with them because they're finding it all so hard. When they write an email or Facebook message that says ‘thanks so much, you've really helped me out of a dark time,' I feel so proud. It’s a sense of solidarity. We’re in it together.

Which other creative women inspire you?

I’ve found - particularly through Instagram - a kind of love for women who are doing their own thing. Not long after I’d started the blog I started following Steph Douglas who owns ‘Don’t Buy Her Flowers.' After being inundated with bunches of flowers after her baby was born she started a new business venture creating care packages for people to gift to new mums as an alternative to flowers. Starting a brand new business as a new mum can't have been easy but she had the vision and the drive to do it, and those are the kind of stories I find most inspiring. I feel amazed by the women out there juggling children and business.

How do you unwind/do you ever get the time to unwind?

I’ve learned that unwinding means turning my phone off and stepping away from the social media realm for an hour or two. Even though what I’m doing on social media is very pleasant and entertaining, it does mean that I never switch off. In terms of unwinding, my husband and I are actually really boring. We’re happiest just snuggled on the sofa in front of a box-set with a glass of wine. Or more often than not, a cup of tea and too many biscuits. That’s when I feel most relaxed.

You can buy Sarah's book, The Unmumsy Mum at Amazon, Waterstones or plenty of other great booksellers.