"It's a Hard Slog, This Baby Thing, But God, It's a Rewarding One"
“I’ll never stop being surprised by how deeply and intensely you love these little people,” says Kate Heppell co-founder of Australian soft furnishings brand Kip & Co and a mum of three boys: Zig (6), Fern (2), and Viv (5 months). “The way your heart almost bursts out of your chest with love is an intensity of emotion that I never knew I had in me, and it develops your appreciation and respect for your own mum in ways that astound you. Mums are amazing. That’s all there is to it.” And this love literally jumps off the screen from first glance inside their vibrant, pattern-packed home in Sydney.
Varying textures meld with diverse materials and interesting surfaces. Warm wood flooring fuses with moody concrete walls and brightly painted walls, even ceilings. It’s a fresh, eclectic mashup that sounds unbelievable on paper but visually translates into a creative and cool home that even this black duck wants to live in. Not to mention Heppell designed and decorated the entire home herself, all while running a successful business and after three busy boys.
As a parent, I know that’s no mean feat, but Heppell embraces the chaos. After several early and very late-term miscarriages in between, she is grateful for every moment, even the challenging ones. “I’ve had a pretty hard time getting my three boys here, but the famous saying of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ rings true to me,” she says. “The miscarriages shaped my journey pretty dramatically, but the mum I am today and the compassion I have for mothers is intense and real. It’s a hard slog, this baby thing, but god, it’s a rewarding one.”
Thankfully, Heppell has had help. She runs the business with her sister and her best friend and cites it as “the best idea I ever had,” adding, “With them supporting me (and my crazy-amazing husband), nothing has ever felt too hard. The three of us have always carried one another when we’ve needed it, and family is (and has always been) the number one priority, so helping each other balance this thing means so much to each us while still enjoying this incredible adventure.”
But that doesn’t mean the transition was a simple one; it was just a little easier. Her mantra, “you can do it,” helped her to stay the course. “Be gentle with yourself in the process,” she insists. “You are still the same intelligent force that you were before kids. Things are just a bit more hectic now, and while your brain might be mush some days, that’s okay because not all aspects of your job require you to fire on all cylinders. So when you have the capacity to fire, do, and when you are feeling foggy and tired, just knock through the menial bits. And always remember there is nothing that a little cuddle with your babes won’t fix. This can sometimes be the best use of your time on those days when tired eyes are unavoidable.” Hear, hear.
But when the going does get tough, Heppell’s “little wildlings” keep her going. “[They] have the most incredible spirit for life and adventure, and we have certainly learned at Kip&Co to be reactive, grab opportunities, and embrace the thrills that this life (both work and family) throw our way,” she says. “All of the Kip kids ensure we don’t take ourselves and our work life too seriously. Because without the fun and adventures with them, well this work thing would all be worth nothing anyway.”
That, and not thinking about work/life balance as something to strive for. “I just live how I like to live and it turns out that this way has a pretty good mix of being the mum, wife, and friend that I want to be while still giving to Kip&Co what the business requires,” she admits. “Admittedly I do work pretty late into the night Monday to Thursday, but I love my job, and if working at night means that I spend my days chock-full of fun with my children and hubby, I am okay with that. My kids won’t be little and at home forever, so this is my stage right now, and once they head to school, I am sure I will find more daylight hours to work within.”
Her idea of self-care right now is spending quality time with her sons, and breastfeeding has been especially rewarding. “I have breastfed each of my sons for over a year, and I think, in a way, this was as much for me as it was for them,” she says. “I have always gotten so much out of the experience, and with the work/family juggle (which is often hectic and occasionally stressful), I have cherished this time with my beautiful boys as a quiet time to shut my eyes or just be with them. I think like yoga and meditation are for others, these quiet times are windows of mindfulness for me, and the time where I just sit and cuddle these little souls and think about how grateful I am for the life and home that my husband and I have built around the five of us.” It really is the simple things, and practicing gratitude has been the key to happiness for Heppell and her family.
Most of all, though, Heppell says it pays to “be super gentle” with yourself, especially as a new mum. “I think we are most vulnerable in the six months following the arrival of a new baby, and not only are our hormones bouncing and tired days are unexpected (and many), but a lot of us throw work in the mix, and this can tip you over the edge some days,” she says. “So the best thing I think we can all do is be tender and gentle on ourselves. Looking after yourself needs to start with you. Because don’t forget your partner is in the first year of a new bub as well, and they too are facing work each day. Just remember that you are a lot tougher and stronger than you probably give yourself credit for. You did grow a baby in your tummy and somehow get it out. So you are pretty amazing, yeah? Don’t forget it.”
For many parents reading this, having three children may sound like a full-time career in itself—and you’d be right. It is. And as each new addition has come along, Heppell admits she has called for a bit more help.
“I now have a cleaner fortnightly, and a local girl comes and helps with the kids and house two days a week,” she says. “I do lots of online shopping, from food to clothes to dog food. A real marker for me with being the mum and homemaker that I want to be is the nourishing food that I cook and feed the family. But making kimchi has slipped (and that’s okay as there are incredible store-bought options), and admittedly, a Thermomix was purchased.”
A super-important lesson that her kids have taught her is to not sweat the small things. “While wholesome food is a priority to me, how it gets onto the plates is less important right now,” she laughs.
Since she often works from home, Heppell says it’s important to find a place in your home that has great natural light and set up your phone and laptop charger there permanently. “If the space is clear and clean, I find my productivity is exponential,” she says.
To maintain a healthy eating schedule, Heppell cooks eggs from her own chickens, so eggs are in constant supply. “I literally do eggs (scrambled, fried, poached, or boiled) every morning,” she says. “I make a real effort with breakfast, and we talk a lot about brain food and breakfast being the most important start to the day. Particularly for Zig, as he started school last year. He not only needs his energy, but breakfast at the table with Fern, Viv, and me has become a real chance to sit and talk about absolutely anything.”
Rituals are also really important for Heppell and her children. “For us, sitting and having eggs in the morning (just the kids and I, as Mal heads to work at about 6 a.m.) is really special and important for keeping the communication lines open,” she says. “Zig cracks the eggs, Fern sets the table, we always put Viv in the bouncer or on my lap. It really is a special morning ritual for us and a good hearty start to our days.”
The other important ritual they do six out of seven nights a week is run a bath in their enormous tub, and all five of them jump in. “A bath is the best way to end the day in a warm and clean way before you snuggle between clean sheets and rest little weary eyes,” she says. “To calm the wild ones and just regroup over a funny little school story from Zig or a gabble of 2-year-old jibber from Fern as Mal and I talk about our days while we take in turns of holding Viv is truly the best part of all of our days.”
When the weekends arrive, Heppell and family try to do everything together. “So no ‘divide and conquer’ for us. We (all five of us) pretty much do every activity together, and this makes us happiest and connects us all in the strongest and most special way,” she says. “Right now, the kids are in fact what keeps our relationship fulfilling and passion filled. We both just bask in their rays of adventure and overflowing personalities. I’m sure in time we will connect again over adult-only dinners and getting back into lots of live music and things that don’t include the children, but right now there is nothing that keeps us more in love than all squeezing into the bath at night and wiggling around while zig tries to snorkel around us and Fern plays cars on the edge. Seeing these little beings that we created together makes us love our lives and one another more than anything else right now.”
But, of course, like life itself, being a parent isn’t a smooth ride all the time. It’s a roller coaster of ups and downs and learning from our mistakes along the way. “With children, your life changes the second the first one arrives,” says Heppell. “The life that you previously lived will never be the same again. Instead, your life is turned upside down, but in the coolest, fun, and the most heartwarming way you can imagine.”
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