Interview | Lucy AitkenRead
Motherhood, Children’s rights, Yurt living and Writing
These are just a few words to describe Lucy from the ever growing blog Lulastic and the Hippshake. She’s an advocator of children’s rights; attachment and gentle parenting, feminist awareness, eco responsibility and all things important in the world. Her blog and message is always full of hope and is unavoidably infectious. Any first time parent with wobbly thoughts should be pointed in the direction of her blog and allow that positivity to seep through. Her blog is one of the most influential, authentic reads I have happened across online and couldn’t go without sharing it with you. Lucy was kind enough to spare me some time to answer a few questions on parenting style, writing and what is important to her and her family.
Whilst many young couples struggle to become homeowners, you threw away the shackles, sold your home in overpriced London and pursued, in reverse a nomadic style! How did you and your husband, with two children come to decide to travel Europe in your campervan and end up living on an organic farm in New Zealand in a Yurt no less?
It seems like a cliché but in the depths of winter, both working hard in an office, slogging away at a mortgage we just began dreaming of another way. We would pound the streets, Ramona asleep in the sling, imagining a life where we had more freedom and more time to spend together. Our neighbours then told us about the easy process of putting their house on the market, and we looked at each other and went “Sod it, let’s go.” We literally called the estate agent that afternoon.
You are what I would call a pioneer in children’s rights, why do you think people, with all the psychological research and studies we now have, still insist on treating children as though they are non-entities who ought to accept their inferior status and fall into a mouldable place?
It takes an incredibly long time for change to happen. Actually, historically, our treatment of children is MILES better than it ever has been. We are getting there, it is just a slow process. I believe those of us who treat our children with respect are the vanguard of a children’s liberation movement, one very similar to womens libs, and the civil rights movement. The idea that all humans are equal, no matter their gender, status, race – and age.
Juno is no doubt having a slightly different upbringing to Ramona, she’s been on the road from a young age and growing up with mud under her feet, have you noticed a great difference between your two girls?
They are entirely different. A lot of it is personality. It is hard to say how much of it has been our nomadic lifestyle. I put a bit of weight on some of the different parenting principles I practiced with Juno. Ramona’s early months were all about keeping her close, nurturing attachment. I still did this with Juno but I had read a lot about unschooling and trusting our children and I practiced this from day one with Juno. So we try not to interrupt her when she is busy with something, we haven’t helped her do physical things – like sit-, we have spoken to her as an equal, we have respected her wishes to walk places and lead us. Shamefully, we sort of treated Ramona as just an extension of ourselves a bit, I think.
Do you find yourself in a mentally happier place now that you have limited internet supply? I always find myself so much happier when I have been cut off from instagram, twitter, facebook and my emails which I used to obsessively check every 10 mins!
Absolutely. It has probably been the biggest change and the one we are most thankful for. I go up to 45 days at a time without even looking at a screen. It is amazing. When we are within internet range there is a little voice in my head, all the time going, OOOh, I wonder how that little photo of that vintage crockery went down on Instagram? So sad!
The downside is that I am so rarely able to Skype my family and friends. I really find that hard.
What does a typical day look like for you and the family?
We wake up around 8, wander up to check the chicken eggs and bring them back and fry them for breakfast. Tim brings home the jar of milk courtesy of the cow and make coffees and fluffies. I leave the girls with Tim and drive to the library to do 3 hours work – blogging, writing and communications stuff. Then I come back and hang out with the girls and the other family on the farm for the afternoon while Tim works in the veggie garden. The girls and I might bake, play Mr Potato Head, walk down to the neighbouring horses. We pick some veggies and cook up some dinner, often sharing a meal with others on the farm.
Do you still share half the time with the kids with your husband Tim as you did back in London when you both worked 2 ½ days each?
I bring home the bacon for half the week and Tim works two days a week on the farm in lieu of rent. So we work slightly less hard, and in more flexible arrangements. Some days we just go “Arggghhh, lets swim all day in the river….”
Being a first time parent is terrifying, in fact when getting ready to leave the hospital with a newborn , I said to myself, “ I can’t believe they’re letting me keep her” ! When we got home, we quickly discovered that our daughter would not sleep anywhere other than our chests and all the literature seemed to indicate that they all slept in their cots. We knew nothing and had read nothing about cosleeping but there we were doing it and it scared me, even though my parent’s had done it with both myself and my sister. It was in the first weeks of my baby’s life that I started reading your blog whilst she slept on my chest. It was your voice on the other side, reassuring me that I know what’s right for my baby, that cosleeping is ok and having her sleep on me all day was perfectly normal. And that I would be so much happier when I became relaxed about sleep routines. What kind of support did you have as a new mum and where did you seek similar comfort?
I used to absolutely HOUND the Green Parent Forums! I don’t even know how I found them but they introduced me to all the attachment parenting concepts out there and they reassured me everything I felt instinctively was normal. Without them it is possible I would have been racked my guilt and worry much more.
I don’t like saying that being a parent is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done as I don’t like seeing it as a job, but it’s something I’m aware that I need to get right! I want a strong willed child who will be able to stand up for their own rights as well as others in turn, I have a rather feisty toddler who is rather headstrong who challenges me and teaches me something new through each conflict we happen upon, what are your thoughts on this? Do you have the same experience?
Oh yes! I think feistiness is a GREAT sign! It is a reflection of fantastic parenting – you are allowing their will and autonomy to flourish! And it is something we value in adults- so why not in youngsters? (Because it is bloody hard to deal with sometimes, that is why! I have days where I tear my hair out too!)
You recently said your least favourite post was Could the concept of adultism transform parent-child relationships? Because you felt as though people saw you as an “accuser” but in fact, I felt it to be one of the most important posts you had written, why do you think people where so uncomfortable with it?
It is one of the most important concepts I have floated, I think. However, I didn’t do it in a way that inspired hope and that provided steps to get there. I followed that post up the very next day with an outline of what a typical day in the life of a adultist-challenging family looked like and people sort of went “PHEW! We are not so far away from that!” –without the accompanying real life illustration the first post seemed to alienate. And I really don’t think parents need any more of that!
As well as a pioneer for children’s rights, you are also an eco warrior and queen of thrift which you write about in your second blog “Wonderthrift” which you had Victoria from The Owl and Accordion blog team up with. Do you think more and more people are becoming more aware of the way we treat our planet?
I think that often people become parents and wake up to the realisation that they want to care for the planet they will leave. It all becomes a little bit more in your face “I am leaving this world for my children and my grandchildren- will I leave it in a better or worse state for them?”
I am thankful for writers such as George Monbiot and Naomi Klein who keep writing stuff to keep me focused on the urgency with which we need to care for the planet.
I’ve always found myself happier when close to nature, be it pottering in my own garden getting mud under my nails growing veg or jumping on a train to be immersed in the rolling hills of the Susssex countryside but something else is happening as I get older, I’m becoming a minimalist in my old age; shedding away consumerism and materialism and I’ve noticed how much happier I am, have you noted the same experience on your travels and as you get older?
Ah, yeah. Crazily so. In fact, when we stay with Tim’s folks in the city I find myself winding up in a tight coil- on edge, unable to sleep, grumpy and pressured! And it is just for the weekend. We spent around 80% of our conscious day in the outdoors and I think it has a lot to contribute.
On happiness though … we have been surprised at how we can swing from ecstasy to sadness within a day, shocked that melancholy is still a part of our lives. We have discovered that freeing up time leaves a lot of space for your mind to settle on questions and concerns. Are we doing the right thing? What is the meaning of life?! We realise that being busy doesn’t often leave much space for depression to get a grip… it has been an interesting discovery.
You recently discovered that you are a writer; of course, I could have told you that with the amount of writing you’ve put into your blog and the beauty and positivity you see in the world. The question is, how do you find the time to write with two small children and farm work?!
Well, I don’t do much on the farm. It is one too may roles for me. Mothering and writing are the hats I am wearing at the moment- I find myself getting stressed when I try and shove more hats on! I am slowly becoming aware of the need to not do things. I am fortunate to make a living from writing so it is easy to carve out time in the week for that. And then I carry my notepad everywhere with me and scrawl poetry out whenever is rockets into my mind.
Does writing make you happier as a mother as well as for yourself? I don’t feel complete as a person or mother if I don’t write or review!
Oh yes! It is a constant itch to scratch. Funnily enough though, I need to be quite relaxed to write anything very creative. When we are on a little trip in our bus, words just foam out of my mind.
What does your writing environment look like?
The library! I am so thankful for my local library. I often sit there with a friend or two – it breaks the isolation. We speak rarely as we are all so protective of child-free moments in which to get things done. But every so often one of us will ask a question “What’s the difference between a metaphor and a simile?” or share an anecdote from the kids. I pound on the keyboard while the business of community life happens around me.
I write madness in the middle of the night, too. As if lying there with insomnia unlocks a part of my brain and then I just pour things into my notepad.
Where do you see yourself and your family in 5 years?
Perhaps on a communal farm that we own a bit of, next to a river. Putting on festivals for children, with music and making. Holding camps to support unschooling families. Organising days in the bush. Probably still travelling a lot.
It is hard to say.
We are trying to live our dreams whilst still trying to pin them down!
You can find Lucy at http://lulastic.co.uk/ and here http://wonderthrift.com/