Parishioners at the Reverend Josie Yarham’s church are used to seeing a young child attached to her leg during services. As an Anglican priest, her home and work lives are entwined.
The mum of two technically works four days a week, but the demands of the job – writing and delivering services, pastoral care, baptisms, funerals, weddings, visits and even baking for families in need – mean her hours are often long and irregular. Children Abigail, 7, and William, 3, are used to sharing her with the parish (even if her young son isn’t always thrilled about it!) – and vice versa.
“There’s always the feeling I’m not balancing it properly,” she says. “I couldn’t do it without (my husband) and without the support of the parish. They understand sometimes I’ll do a service with a child clinging to my leg.”
And Josie wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love people,” she says, “and I get to be involved in their lives all the way from the beginning right to the end, from birth to death.”
We talk to Josie, from Albany Creek in northern Brisbane, about striking a balance as priest and mum, PND, the “7 o’clock train” and the secret to getting out of the house quickly in the morning.
What’s your morning routine?
My kids aren’t allowed out of bed until 7am (one can read the clock, one has a sleep/awake alarm) at which point they jump into bed with me for a snuggle and a breastfeed for the littlest one. Then we all get up and I get them breakfast while they play. Breakfast is always toast for my daughter and porridge (winter) or yoghurt and muesli (summer) for my son. While they eat breakfast I get lunches and clothes out for everyone and if we don’t have to be at school early have a shower. Then we all get dressed, pack our bags (my husband makes lunches for us the night before) and off we go!
We get out of the house at about 7.40am on our early days, and 8.15am on our later ones. Somewhere in there I will have eaten my breakfast, which is a home-baked muffin of some sort stuck in the microwave from the freezer. The biggest thing for me is no TV before school or kindy. This has been the rule from day dot and it just makes everything move a little more smoothly. We all like knowing exactly how the morning is going to go as well. I like to think of it a structured chaos.
What do you wish you’d been told before having kids?
I wish I’d been told that it’s OK not to bond with your baby straight away. It took me weeks with my first and months with my second (although I did have PND the second time). I also wish we had been told that dads can get PND as well – we had no idea when our first came along and it took us months to figure out what was going on.
What’s the best advice you were given about having kids?
I read in a book somewhere about the 7 o’clock train – that children and babies have a sleep window about 7pm that encourages their sleep cycles to finish about 7am the next day, and if you miss the train you might go off the rails! Our oldest is a great sleeper, our youngest not so much, but we’ve always tried to catch the 7 o’clock train and have never regretted it.
What advice would you give to parents-to-be?
I don’t really like to give advice – I think most people know the answers already if they look inside themselves. Having said that, although motherhood can be really hard it shouldn’t be hard all the time – if you aren’t coping physically or mentally or emotionally there is no shame in asking for help. We weren’t made to do this on our own.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
Badly. If I’m working a lot I worry that my family is missing out, when I’m at home I worry that I’m slacking off at work. I tend to think we have about 200 litres in our engine and three tanks – work, family and home. We can only have two of these tanks full at a time, or we can fill two tanks and completely neglect the other one. I’m doing pretty well with family and work, so we live in circumstances I call “lived in” and my mother calls “squalor”. That’s my balance.
What’s your approach to discipline?
Biblically, a disciple is someone who is there to learn. I try to treat my kids like Jesus did his disciples – encouraging them to think beyond themselves into how their actions affect others and occasionally losing it with them. When they are having problems with tantrums or whining or defiance, I try to figure out why they are behaving that way and how it can be treated rather than just punishing them. We also use time-outs and natural consequences.
How do you keep your adult relationships and social life going?
Lots of phone calls. My nights are often busy with church meetings or visits, and I work every weekend, so finding time to spend with my family is always the top priority. I try to grab lunches with my mates when I can, and I rely a lot on texting and phone calls in between!
What is your best parenting moment so far?
My little girl is in grade two, which is when a lot of the mean girl stuff starts to kick in. There was one child who had been bullying her and her friends for a long time. When the school made moves to do something about this, one of the consequences was that the child had no one to play with at lunchtimes. So Abby went and sat with this girl and said, “I will be your friend but you can’t be mean or tell me what to do, OK?”. I was so proud.
With my son, I have to admit that I love the bond we still share when he breastfeeds. He is starting to wean now, which has it’s good and bad points, of course. But that connection is like nothing else.
And your worst?
Do I have to choose one? Maybe yelling at my daughter when she doesn’t love the things I love? That was a low point. Or the time when I ended up at the doctor with a perfectly healthy and happy six-month-old boy insisting that there was nothing wrong with me, but that if he didn’t start sleeping soon I was going to put him in foster care? No, no worst points over here.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve done when sleep-deprived?
I don’t know if it’s funny, but I left the house with the oven on, and the front door unlocked and open. Twice. I have also been known to freak out about losing the baby at the shops when I didn’t bring one with me.
What parenting super power would you like to have?
Wouldn’t we all like to live on less sleep?
What has surprised you most about parenthood?
How much the hurts of my kids, physical or emotional, hurt me. They are much more resilient than I am on their behalf.
What are your family’s favourite things to do together?
We love to play games like hide and seek or chasey – anything that involves running around and wrestling. We also like board games – we’re a little competitive and this family and everyone plays to win!
If you had more time in your life, what would you like to do for your kids?
I wish we could really get to know the neighbours to the point where all the kids could run around and play outside together and we could keep a communal eye on them.
Is your parenting style similar to your parents’?
I parent very much the way I was parented. My parents now think I am too free range – they forget that I the same experiences when I was a kid that stress them out now! The only real modifications are to do with media literacy – media is a much bigger influence on my kids than it was on me.
Where or who do you get support from?
My husband. As a non-Christian, he loves and supports me in something that is not even his own faith system. He is a brilliant parent and my biggest supporter. My family are great, we are all very close and I talk to my mum every day. My church community have been brilliant – I am so lucky that my kids have so many “aunts”, “uncles” and “grandparents” in their lives, We are surrounded by love – it doesn’t get much better than that.
And chocolate. Chocolate is a great support.
We’d love to hear about your life as a mum – let us know your details by filling out the General Enquiries form on our contact page with the subject line “Secret Lives of Mums”.