I’m really aware that we’ve been rushing about a lot lately, despite our best intentions. With two road trips in two weekends, recently we really needed to put some thought into slowing down and creating opportunities to quietly connect, preferably outdoors where nature absorbs any excess.
Weekend before last we were up in Bristol all doing things separately: a friend’s hen party, a farming workshop and recording another episode of my launching soon podcast. So it made sense to replace a service station stop or bombing down the motorway in one go with a family walk somewhere.
It worked out brilliantly because Organix had invited us to take their tasty Gruffalo biscuits on a Gruffalo picnic to our nearest Forestry England woodland, Haldon Forest Exeter that has a Gruffalo sculpture. Phew, that’s a whole lot of Gruffalo. It turned out to be a brilliant place to break up the journey as it’s literally about half way between Bristol and Cornwall. We’ll definitely be back with bikes next time.
I couldn’t believe how excited my three year old was to spot the Gruffalo but then with a book so well-loved, I shouldn’t really have been surprised. She pointed out the poisonous wart at the end of his nose, his black tongue and wanted to check all the purple prickles on his back. And it certainly added to the magic of their meeting, sitting with a Gruffalo snack.
She was especially delighted that the biscuits came in Gruffalo and mouse shapes and called them “chocolatey” – a definite hit and fuel for her sense of wonder. I reckon if this weren’t just a pit stop, we could have gone all out and brought our Gruffalo books and made some other Gruffalo themed snacks to go with it.
For my part, I appreciated having a simple organic snack we could slip in the bag and crack out as needed. They’re not particularly sweet, with no added salt or artificial colours or flavours, in keeping with Organix’s No Junk Promise, which in my opinion all lead to fewer grumps on the road or anytime between meals, really.
We’ve since cut out pictures from the packaging for some Gruffalo collaging too. We’re on a journey to use less packaging but I do sometimes opt for something convenient and I appreciate that one of Organix’s claims is working towards sustainability. There are so many things you could grab in a hurry that are full of junk so I’m glad this is on the shelves as a healthier option with the added bonus of sparking a small child’s sense of wonder. You’ll find them in Sainsburys and online at Ocado.
[image description: Adele sits in an arm chair, holding a mug]
When my first child was a baby, someone close to me asked whether I thought attachment parenting was hard on mothers. I couldn’t deny that keeping our baby close and mothering her responsively was demanding.
At times I felt like more of me was being wrung out than not. The question put me on the defensive if I’m honest. Was I really making life harder for myself by choosing to do the things that felt so instinctive in this new relationship with this person my body, soul and mind had grown?
I muddled through a tired response but inarticulately landed on something I still hold true today. The problem isn’t with babies and children’s evolutionary needs or with our attempts to meet rather than mould them.
Parenting today, however we do it, is hard because so many of us no longer have the village to hold us as we go through one of life’s monumental and therefore exposing transitions. It’s not just that we don’t get to babymoon in bed while someone else cleans the house and looks after the older children.
We’ve lost many of the spaces and activities where we might naturally meet the people who will safely hold onto us or with whom we could lock eyes over day-to-day living.
The loss of the village is an idea frequently applied to conversations around family life but mothers and parents are not the only ones who suffer its effects. Becoming a parent is just one major life event that cracks you open and maybe slows you down enough to notice that there is void where something we evolved to expect is no longer.
That thing is the village, the kind of community where our needs are seen and met – where we are seen and met – and where we draw life from living alongside others.
The life event, whether it’s diagnosis, failure, accident, grief or menopause, isn’t the thing that causes the void or prompts the need. It only unearths what was already there.
So why are we so ready to talk about nature connection but hesitant to frankly discuss our dearth of human connection?
It’s embarrassing to admit when you’re lonely. I say that as someone who has experienced profound loneliness, hasn’t naturally initiated friendships in the past and can still be socially anxious and sometimes socially awkward. There is a taboo around loneliness that is obstructing cultures from gathering intimate or even just practical communities.
I also say it as someone who has been and continues to be on a real journey with this. We need to apply that conversation we’ve had around rewilding to this.
It’s time for us to actively and collectively seek ways of revillaging. For ourselves and others.
All of it is scary. Revillaging could be as immersive as moving into an intentional community or it could be as simple as making the first move to exchange numbers.
We also all have varying levels of access to community just as we all have varying levels of access to nature, depending on any number of factors.
But unless we start having conversations about how we rediscover ways of living together, we can’t do anything about any of it, even though our isolationist set up is literally driving everything from ill health to social unrest to climate change.
It’s not enough to allow the phrase “we no longer have the village” to trail off into an ellipsis. In a small attempt to open up the conversation, I’m going to start committing to revillaging as a theme of my work here on the blog, over on Instagram and Facebook and in my newsletter, which is about to become more regular.
I’m also in the process of developing a podcast dedicated to revillaging, which I’m hoping will go live next month. I’m having lots of conversations around community as a force for social healing and personal wellbeing with thinkers, activists, artists and people with real if, at times, unusual, experiences with it.
I’d love to hear from you about where you’re finding life-giving connections, what obstacles have or are getting in the way of finding community and just whether you feel this deep longing too, that this is something we need to talk and do more about. Meet me in the comments or on any of my social channels. I really look forward to chatting with you.
[image description: Adele and her youngest child sit in the greenhouse, looking at the camera]
You may have noticed that I’ve changed this website’s name and URL to my own: Adele Jarrett-Kerr.
When I started this blog nine years ago, it was called Circus Queen, bringing the chaotic and performative together as I blogged about new motherhood. In the last few years it’s seen a re-incarnation as Beautiful Tribe, which was meant to denote bringing likeminded people together in an online space but I just haven’t had the energy to really bring that to fruition.
It’s been what it’s been and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to keep writing online and that people do keep reading and interacting.
But it’s time to put my own name on it, partly because I also use this website when I’m pitching for work and partly because I’m ready to show up as myself.
Sometimes the naming of a thing is subconsciously about separating yourself from the thing you’re creating. It feels a little bit safer.
If people didn’t like what I was putting out there, it meant they didn’t like Beautiful Tribe not that they didn’t like me. But, actually, as I grow more into myself, I’m ready to really own what I’m saying, putting my hands up and admitting that I’m just trying stuff, working things out like anyone else and sometimes I’ll get it wrong.
Names can also be about defining a niche, which I never really did all that well. So the rebrand also feels like finally admitting that I flow in lots of different directions as so many of us do.
I’ll continue to write about parenting, home education and family life because that’s where I’m at right now and it’s so important. I’m going to keep diving into how we can love ourselves and each other well. But I also want to really push into how we journey together not just with the people in our immediate households, but also in our wider community contexts.
So this is the experimental stage. I’m not totally sure where it’s all going but I have a few ideas and I’m excited to hopefully take you with me.
Last night we had the fun of speaking at a Stranger Collective Firelight at an off grid escape in North Cornwall called Kudhva. We were invited to tell the story of what we’re doing, setting up a farm so we can share the parenting, home educating and paid work more equally.
The farm’s been going for a good while now and I haven’t explained much about what we’ve been up to on the blog so I thought I’d stick the vague script on here. I say “vague” because this is just what we discussed beforehand – we didn’t necessarily keep to it word for word.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this family/work/life setup stuff – whatever yours looks like. How are you seeking balance? Where is it not possible? What do you think needs to shift societally to support parents, especially mothers, to be able to both be with their children and work outside of the family? There’s radical work to be done around how we share it all.
[Image description: View from Kudhva. The sun is low in the sky, reflecting on the horizon. An old quarry engine house stands out amongst the heath]
Having it all is often talked about as if it’s a woman’s pursuit. Mothers are often expected to be the ones who have to find a way to fit a career around childcare or whatever arrangements are made for the children. That somehow passes as “having it all”, regardless of the pressure it piles on personally or professionally.
When we made the decision to home educate our first child Talitha, sitting there, when she was a baby, we found ourselves making this very unconventional choice to home educate within the constraints of the conventions of who does what and a 9-5 understanding of work. Laurence went to work full time and I stayed at home, fitting in very part time freelance work in stolen hours at nap time, night time, weekends and limited childcare.
Neither of us felt like this was our forever thing.
For a start it didn’t recognise that he had a version of “having it all” too and it included looking after our children. I remember at a breastfeeding group a volunteer with teenage children told me that her ex was going through the baby stage again with his second marriage and he was now either retired or simply working less. He wished he’d been there more when his older children were little. I told Laurence about this when home later and it struck a chord with both of us. It seemed back to front that you should work so hard and be away so long while your children are small and want to be with you. Then when they’re grown, and perhaps less keen, that’s when you have the time.
Our “having it all” began to more like finding a way for both of us to find work that was meaningful and would earn enough, while allowing us to both be with our children. We’d both decided to home educate, after all. Not just me.
[Image description: Adele and her daughter sit on a hay bale at the Stranger Firelight event at Khudva]
At the same time as having all these conversations about how to radically shake up our work life balance, I was also thinking that I didn’t want to be chained to a desk anymore. At first we looked into WWOOFing as a way of enabling us to travel for a few months, maybe longer. For any who don’t know, WWOOFing involves volunteering on organic farms in exchange for food and board. It seemed ideal because we could keep costs low and I really wanted time working outdoors rurally.
I was making the most of the time away from work growing things in our back garden and got way more seriously into it than I’d expected. I’d started taking a few courses and daydreamed a lot about farming but at the time I didn’t think you could make any money from it. A short stint WWOOFing in Cornwall convinced both of us that we wanted a farm in our future. We both recognised a strong need to be outdoors, probably me first before Adele. We wanted this for our kids and it was clear that doing this work lit a fire for me.
But could we support our family with it?
After a stint with Charles Dowding, no dig gardening guru, I started to see that one could make a living from market gardening. Certainly he does. But it was when I started studying small farming leading lights Elliot Coleman and Jean Martin Fortier, I really began to realise that a living can be made.
It’s been a tough first year. This has been a “test the marke”t phase and working out whether to do veg boxes/Community Supported Agriculture or to concentrate on restaurants. At the moment, I’m doing both. I’ve mainly concentrated on salad as you might have tasted earlier. I’m really trying to concentrate on a richly flavoured and multi-dimensional mix.
I’m working in a walled garden in Flushing, bringing it back to life. It’s a walled garden that has been a field, mainly with sheep in it for a few decades. There is an old glass house that I suspect was there to grow tropical fruit, which of course we now take for granted. The glass house was damaged by shrapnel in the second world war and not really used since. It’s not been used for market gardening since the war and the greenhouse was bombed out. It’s an acre and a half. But I have 15m2 in no dig beds plus a greenhouse.
I have a goal of growing the tastiest and freshest food. While building soil. No ploughs, no tractors. All hand tools. While making a meagre income for our family and sharing the home education so Adele can share the work more evenly. And, of course, so I get to spend more time with our kids.
[Laurence and the children walk away from Kudhva in the fading sunset]
Currently, our set up is that Laurence still works part time at the design agency he was working at full time before we made this move. On his farm days he starts work very early in the morning so he can come home in the early afternoon and that’s when my freelance day begins. We also spend a lot of weekends on the farm and I often take my work to the greenhouse as the children tend to be highly engaged doing their own thing in the walled garden.
It’s by no means a well-oiled machine and it’s not a set up that’s going to make us financially rich any time soon, if at all, but it has enabled both of us to feel we’re getting more out of life. We’re getting more of the things we wanted for our children when we chose to home educate them. We wanted them to have freedom and deep, high quality connection with family and other people in their wider community.
We’re discovering this for ourselves as well. In a way, home education set us on a path to be able to consider doing this. As I said before, we were doing this unconventional thing within the constraints of convention and I really think choosing life without school for them helped us to think about how else our own lives could look if we let it, if we went there.
In some ways, it’s also enabled a massive return to a vision we had of our lives before we had children. We’re both dreamers by nature. We basically spent our entire honeymoon ten years ago hatching plans for what we were going to do together. A farm never came to it but we knew that we wanted to do something that genuinely made a difference, to have some sort of joint mission. Small farming is the future. The food industry cannot carry on as it is. We must return to regenerative farming practices and hyperlocal food production. With the climate crisis, it’s impossible for us to consider a version of “having it all” that does not in some way address this.
Even the name Soul Farm reflects the vision not just for the farm but for our family. We don’t separate morals, feelings and actions from the rest of our lives so why should our business? The aim is to do the things that keep us human, that respect how complex the soil is and how complex we are too.
We don’t always follow the school terms because we generally don’t need the respite of holidays. But I burned out in a big way this last year, trying to do too many things at once. We started the farm and I upped my freelancing, I also simultaneously increased my volunteering as a breastfeeding counsellor and wrote and performed a collection of poems at a literary festival. All amazing things but a lot to take on all at once. We also had the busiest year in terms of activities the kids were doing outside the home. It’s meant a lot of frustration because we’ve not had enough time home together doing the things we’d like to do that take a little more space and planning.
So we’ve taken a break over the summer. I didn’t run a breastfeeding group in August, the kids activities mostly paused over the summer (swimming has continued) and my mother came to stay a few weeks. And it’s been brilliant having the space to dream together, for me not to feel like there’s something we want to be doing that I’m not getting around to sorting and not having to get to as many places by a certain time. I’m also loving just being able to catch up with people outside of groups.
I don’t usually feel like I need to do “back to school” – in fact, I’ve actively resisted it in the past. But it’s been so good to have this change of pace that I’m enjoying gradually preparing to bring a new energy to our life together in the latter part of the year. This is what I’ve been up to.
It seems almost silly to call this a big part of the home education plan but I find when I’m feeling that life is too busy, quite often my surroundings are too. So many areas of our home had inadvertently become dumping grounds and I was feeling oppressed by the visual clutter. I also kept feeling like I needed more, more, more which is always a sign that I need less. I see this as the big work of my role as a home educating parent: helping to curate a space that everyone can rest, play and be productive in without becoming overwhelmed.
So I’ve been on a huge drive to pass on everything we own that we’re not using while also taking a look at whether we could repurpose or mend some things. Not only has it meant reclaiming space but I’ve been able to look at our home in a new way and it’s helped me feel grateful for what we have and excited about what we’re doing as a family. The kids feel it too and have been helping me work out where things go and what we can let go of.
Much in line with decluttering, I’ve been taking a good look at our calendar and all the things we could do, talking with the kids about what we’ll say no to so we don’t put too much pressure on our time and finances. So I’m carving out good chunks of time to be home and thinking about how we can drive less. When considering new resources I’m trying to use what we already have, limit spending, avoid re-cluttering our home and be realistic about what we’ll actually get around to doing.
Simplifying has also meant thinking about how we can make more space for learning to happen in the everyday life things that need to happen. So often I’d rather do things after the kids are in bed or when they’re otherwise engaged so I can get them done quickly without having to deal with little hands that want to help. That means that a lot that needs to get done, doesn’t.
So I’m thinking about how we can be less busy so we have more time to do things together like cooking, repairing, building, baking, cleaning and gardening without me getting frustrated that it’s not happening at the speed I’d like it to. We also need to spend more time as a family on the farm, which is only going to happen if we reduce some of our other commitments.
I’ve found it really helpful to take time to reflect and write about how I’ve found the last few months and what I’ve noticed in our family and myself. I’m not at all a consistent journal writer but just grabbing a bit of paper and getting some thoughts and feelings out has given me enough of a picture of where I’ve been and where I want to go in terms of holding space for my children’s learning.
Since Laurence and I very much home educate together, this break has been a time of talking about what we want to offer our children in these short years that they are home with us. Simply, we’ve been chatting about what we want to do more of as a family, what we want to let go of and, in practical terms, about how it’s going to work as we continue to juggle time with the children, our work and everything else. It’s been helpful to chat about where each of us is feeling pressure, what needs accepting, what needs releasing and what needs a mighty shift.
We’ve also been planning with the children, asking them what they’d like to learn or do. Sewing and knitting have come up, as has snail keeping (!!) and learning more about the human body. I’ve been mentioning my ideas about what we could do, like delve into the Middle Ages and bring more maths and science into our weeks. We’ve been working out together how we could fit things in like what nights would be best if Talitha wants to cook, what would make violin practice easiest and what supplies need to be out and on hand for any creating they want to do.
This is an ongoing process. A group decision in August isn’t a binding agreement on a Wednesday in October but having an idea of what we all want to do and how we can make what’s needed available means we’re better prepared to have more satisfying conversations about it when plans need to change.
This is the time of year when a lot people are weighing up whether home education is for them so I’ve made a video with Laurence where we answer questions people sent us on Instagram about how we made the decision together and how it works for us. Take a look and please do subscribe to my channel. I have more home education videos planned. Do pop me a comment if there’s anything you’d like to chat more about.
“What’s wrong with the baby?” a child asked at a music event when my youngest was a few weeks old. The question innocently reminded me that the intense rash all over her face and body was unmissable. I kept telling myself it would go on its own. I hoped it would.
I also hoped her bubbly poo would settle down. It was the right colour so I was confused about what it could be and I wondered whether the two symptoms might be connected, along with the colicky evenings.
By then, I’d been a breastfeeding peer supporter for four and half years and a newly minted breastfeeding counsellor for a few months. I felt as though I should be able to connect the dots on my own but when you’re postpartum, it can sometimes be hard to see the wood for the trees.
Eventually, a friend who’s also a breastfeeding counsellor and an IBCLC (lactation consultant) offered the possibility that she might be reacting to something in my diet, possibly cow’s milk. She was right. With elimination, Delilah’s intense eczema, fussiness and bubbly poo all settled down. Every time I reintroduced them, they started up again. Even now, she can only tolerate some cow’s milk in her diet before things go awry.
But I don’t write about this because I think the details of the breastfeeding problem particularly matter. What stands out for me is that I was third baby in, valued breastfeeding support enough to be involved in it and it still took me ages to open up and reach out for help.
The village was there but it couldn’t hold me unless I was willing to make myself vulnerable.
I think of this with my first baby. I was desperate and willing to seek help. I talked to midwives, health visitors, the GP. I kept texting peer supporters who kept asking me to come to the local breastfeeding support group but it took me ages to go. The thought of being in a room full of women who, in my imagination, probably all had breastfeeding sorted was too daunting.
When it turned out that my low milk production didn’t have a quick fix, I stopped going to that group. It hurt to see others exclusively breastfeeding with what appeared to be ease when I was struggling to keep any of it going. I only returned once things were finally on track.
On reflection, I was repeating a common pattern of mine, isolating myself because I didn’t feel sorted. I withdrew at a time when I needed community, partly because I worried about what others would think of me.
And I wonder how many others who breastfeed do this. How many of us avoid seeking help because we can’t shake the myth that if something is biologically “natural”, it should be easy? Have we been sold a lie that parents are readymade rather than born and grown?
The community that so many of us crave, the village so many of us know in our bones that we need, requires us to be vulnerable – to show others where it hurts. But we can only do that if we know it’s safe enough to do so.
We can only tell our birth stories in ways that heal us if we know others will really listen without speaking over us and prescribing how we should feel. We can only seek and keep seeking breastfeeding information that helps if we know that others won’t jump to conclusions or inadvertently shame us.
Societally, we need to address the pressure we put on parents at all stages. It starts with asking “How can I help?” rather than “Is he a good baby?” It involves creating safe places where we can listen well and hold others in high esteem, trusting them by refusing to judge them and encouraging them to trust themselves by withholding unsolicited opinions.
There are many volunteers who are giving so much of themselves to create spaces where parents can receive evidence-based information and open up safely. As it’s Breastfeeding Celebration Week, I wanted to share two videos by mother-to-mother, parent-to-parent breastfeeding support charity La Leche League Great Britain that I think really highlights the value of finding a place where you can journey together.
My very nearly eight-year-old played Flounder in an amateur kids’ production of The Little Mermaid musical this weekend. I expected to be emotional (lots of welling up and wiping away tears: check!), proud (heart wildly drumming seeing her so confident and happy on stage: check!) and tired (check: it’s been months leading up to this, four performances in one weekend and I wasn’t even the one that involved!).
What I didn’t expect was to be revisited by my lifelong frenemy, perfectionism.
Perfectionism snuck up on me as I found myself assessing her and weighing up whether I felt this was something worth encouraging her to invest her time and energy in, in the future (I do think it is). I could justify going through this process by saying that our shared resources are limited so it makes sense to think about where her natural gifts lie and funnel into those.
But in so doing, I caught myself viewing not only her but all my children as less than my equal. I suspect I’m not the only parent who falls into the trap of treating their children as products to be invested in rather than full-blooded people with the right to pursue things simply because they bring them joy. When Laurence tells me he wants to do something, I don’t interrogate whether he’s likely to be the best at it. I just want him to be happy.
But I struggle to do this with my kids and I wonder whether it’s because I struggle to do it with myself. I have a lifetime of avoiding the possibility of failure. If I suspect I won’t be good at something instantly then I’m likely to either not try it at all or procrastinate until fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To complicate it further, success for me is very much in the eye of an external beholder. So it’s not just a case of avoiding trying something because I’m afraid I won’t live up to my own standards but because I’m constantly self-assessing based on the feedback I feel I’m getting from others. This is all pretty toxic territory for me to make camp in myself let alone invite my kids into, even if unwittingly.
It’s not all black and white. Perfectionism has helped motivate me to fine tune things, to push myself further, to increase my knowledge and even my empathy. But it has also been a stick to beat myself with.
When I break down, feeling that I just can’t manage being a mother, it’s usually because I despair at finding putting principles into practice terribly hard. I find it difficult to mobilise out of feeling overwhelmed so I can turn mistakes and shortcomings into learning.
I disconnect from others when I imagine they don’t see what I want them to see. This is not a healthy way to be human. I don’t want it for myself and I certainly don’t want to model it for anyone else, especially the little people I love most.
I have been trying to tackle this. I’m also very good at becoming perfectionist about not being perfectionist, which is unsurprisingly unhelpful. And even as I began to wallow in annoyance at myself for struggling this way, my almost eight year old showed me the way out.
When we debriefed the experience of being in this play, she talked about it only in the terms of community and the way it made her feel. She was telling me that thing had value because it was fun. The only way to start shifting out of the endless cycle of self-assessment is to take risks by learning to play.
In a sense, every time I write something here or elsewhere, I am risking not saying something in the way I want it heard and maybe even risking you not liking what I’ve said. But it’s still a bit of a comfort zone because I’ve had a fair bit of practice.
When I stepped back this weekend and saw what I was doing with my little-not-so-little girl at a time when I should have simply been enjoying what she was enjoying, I realised that I must take bigger steps to rip up my own straitjacket. And actually, taking the stage myself will probably be a start.
Over the past months I’ve been writing a collection of poetry, Dreamworlds: Everywhere at Once, about how moving countries and transitionary experiences can change us. I’ll be sharing poems from this collection at Penzance Literary Festival next month and hopefully popping up a booklet here too.
This experience taps into all my triggers around perfectionism, self-assessment and being enough. It has been and continues to be an insistent invitation to stop hand wringing and learn to play.
I know it’s only a start and that prising free of perfectionism is likely to be a life’s work but… I’m not about to get perfectionist about that either.