It was more than six years ago when I first contacted Courtney Adamo to see if she’d be interviewed for a story on The Grace Tales – and while it feels like a lifetime ago, it also feels like that photo shoot was just yesterday. At the time, she was travelling around Australia on holidays. It was on that trip that she decided Byron Bay was where she wanted to call home and not long after, she began the process of making the move to Australia a permanent one...
If you’re one of Courtney Adamo’s followers on Instagram, you’ll know she became a “parenting influencer” long before anyone had even heard of the term. But given she’s the mother to five children ranging from toddler to teen, it’s no wonder she’s built a hugely successful career doing what’s most important to her: being a mother.
Here, we visit Courtney at home to talk about her career journey, raising teens, and building her dream home by the beach.
When we first interviewed you for The Grace Tales, it was 2016 which feels like a lifetime ago. How have you changed over the last 6 years? And how has living in Australia changed your life?
In many ways, because our life here in Australia is such a contrast from our life in London, we see our life in chapters, where London was the previous chapter and Byron Bay is the current one. It does feel like a lifetime ago that we lived in London! We had a much more traditional working arrangement in London, where we both worked long hours in an office, we had a nanny who watched our kids 3 days a week, and we looked forward all week to the weekends together as a family.
Here in Australia, Michael and I both work from home and have much more flexible working hours. We both finish work by 4pm each day, which means we spend way more time as a family, we eat dinner together every night (Michael doing all the cooking, which is amazing!), and our schedule is much more relaxed. Of course the weather is so much better here, so that allows us to spend more time outside and in nature. The pace of our lives feels much slower and less stressful, and things generally feel easier. Of course we miss the busy-ness of London some times, and we definitely miss the culture and diversity and all the many offerings of city life, but this is the compromise. We still feel really happy we moved here and can’t imagine living anywhere else now that we are settled here.
You parent children of all ages – we know the early days of motherhood are challenging. How would you say those challenges differ to parenting teenagers?
Gosh, parenting babies and toddlers is hard work! It’s exhausting and physically demanding, and the work doesn’t stop until you put them to bed at night. I look back on those years so fondly and I did really love those years, but truthfully it was a blurry, busy time, and I’m sure I mostly only remember the highlights.
I remember dreading the teenage years — I really feared my kids would suddenly turn into snarky, sullen teens who would be extra challenging and make our lives difficult and change our family dynamic. The dynamic of our family has definitely changed with teenagers (it’s inevitable!), and of course we have challenging moments, but in general, I really, really enjoy the teenagers. This stage of parenting is less demanding and exhausting, which allows for more patience and compassion (and believe me, you need lots of patience and compassion when you have teenagers!!). They’re also really fun to be around when they’re in the mood to engage, and it’s a joy to watch them grow into individuals with their own thoughts and interests and passions.
The challenges are different, I guess. They can be moody and sensitive and unpredictable. They stay up late, so there’s no switching off from parenting. They eat constantly, so the kitchen always feels messy. They use my moisturiser, constantly steal the phone charger, and I swear my tweezers are never where I left them! They have lots of opinions, which can feel overwhelming in a big family like ours. Dinnertime can either be incredibly wonderful, or it can be a complete disastrous mess with sibling bickering and cranky kids and lots of noise.
Getting kids to do chores can be hard – and often parents just give up and do the chore themselves because it’s easier than nagging our kids. How do you navigate chores in your household and what tips do you have?
I grew up in a big family, and chores were just part of our lives from a young age. We grew up on a farm, and we all had to contribute to helping around the garden and the house. Sometimes I think my parents even made up chores for us because they believed so strongly in instilling a good work ethic in their children! I guess, because of this, I’ve always believed in the importance of chores. And even, like you said, when kids are young and their help is actually not that helpful. I think it’s important for kids to understand how much work is involved in running a house and raising a family, and kids always do feel a sense of accomplishment when they contribute. Also, when you start with chores when they’re young, they don’t question it so much when they’re older.
Saying this, of course I still have to regularly remind and sometimes even nag, and the kids still have arguments over who’s turn it is to do the dishes, etc. This is part of family life, I guess. One tip I have for teens is to keep reminders friendly and to give them a time frame. I often say to my kids, “before dinner, can you please … xxx”, so that they feel you are respecting their schedule and allowing them to feel they have autonomy over the timing of when they do the chore. Also, sometimes I write down all the chores that need to happen and let the kids choose which ones they want to do. Kids, especially teens, like to feel they have a choice, and if they’ve chosen something, they’re generally more inclined to do the chore without a grumble.
You run courses on parenting teens – what are the most common concerns of the parents in your community?
Definitely screen time is a big one. I think any parent of tweens or teens feels confused over how to navigate this constantly changing digital world. We all have concerns over how much is too much, what sort of boundaries to put in place, and how to find a bit more balance for our kids. Another big one is mental health and self-esteem. It’s really normal for kids to struggle with self-confidence, especially in the early years of adolescence as their brains and bodies are changing. I really enjoy running these courses. Each session of the course I interview experts from around the world who offer tips and insights on adolescence, so I continue to learn and refresh my knowledge, which of course is incredibly helpful and relevant for our own family.
How have you personally navigated any challenges you’ve faced raising teens?
Like I said, it has been so helpful for me to study adolescence. I think it is really valuable to understand what’s going on for teenagers, because it helps to have more patience when they’re being highly emotional or angry. I often just picture in my head the adolescent brain and the changes that are taking place: the difference in growth and development between the prefrontal cortex (the part responsible for thinking, reasoning and logic) and the amygdala (responsible for emotions like happiness, anger and sadness). Just knowing that teens have a difficult time controlling emotions and impulses allows me to take things less personally and be more patient with our children.
It’s also really helpful to have friends you can chat with about the challenges you’re going through. We’re all going through something, and just talking about it can make you feel heard and less alone. (This is another benefit of the courses I run — it’s wonderful to hear from other parents who have similar joys and struggles!).
Community is so important – tell me about the community you’ve found in Byron Bay?
We feel so lucky to live in an area where community is so valued; it’s one of the biggest reasons for moving here. We live in Bangalow, which is 10 minutes inland from Byron, so it’s an even smaller local community where everyone has a familiar face, people look after each other, kids are safe to run around, the dog gets returned if she manages to sneak out, and neighbours drop off extra fruit from their trees and extra veggies from their garden if they have a surplus, etc.
We also love the creative and entrepreneurial people in the Byron community — it’s really inspiring to meet people and hear what they’re doing. There are so many great new ideas! And people are really supportive of local businesses, which is beautiful to see. Earlier this year when the floods happened, it was incredible to watch how the community came together to help and support each other. It made me really proud to be a part of this community.
Navigating marriage and kids can be hard – how do you and Michael make time for one another?
This is definitely a benefit of having teenagers in the house. We always have a babysitter on hand, so we can be more spontaneous in spending time together. We can sneak out for an afternoon surf and leave the kids at home, or we can do yoga together in the living room and ask the big kids to play outside with the little ones. Last year we started going for walks around our neighbourhood after dinner, it was such a nice time to connect and reflect on our day, and if we were lucky, we’d come home to clean dishes and kids in pyjamas ready for bed. When we lived in London, we had to intentionally carve out time for date nights and schedule way in advance with a babysitter, and it all had to be really organised. I much prefer the more relaxed way of spending time together (thank you teens!).
What’s the slowest day in your household and how do you spend it?
Saturdays and Sundays are the slowest — basically any day we don’t have to make five lunchboxes and get kids on the school bus by 8am! We love going to the beach together, surfing, picking up lunch in town, eating dinner with friends, etc.
Talk me through the morning rush in your household and how you make it go as smoothly as possible?
Michael and I make a great team in the mornings. We usually wake about 30 minutes before the kids get up, which gives us a head start to the day. I often start a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, grind the coffee beans, make coffee and then make breakfast. Michael does the lunchboxes — he takes the job very seriously (lucky kids!). We usually eat our breakfast after the kids have left the house. It’s always such a contrast of energy before and after the kids leave: one minute the kids are shouting about lost shoes and dirty water bottles and ‘hurry up it’s nearly 8am!’, and they’re running in and out of the house… and then the next minute, it’s calm and quiet and I’m sitting on a stool drinking my coffee and eating my porridge.
How would you describe living with simplicity and how do you bring simplicity to your life?
I think it really helps to live in a small house without closets! Honestly, we can’t bring anything into our home that we don’t love and use regularly, there’s just no space for it. I’m a minimalist by nature, but even still I was shocked when it came time to leave London and box up our things to see how much stuff we had accumulated over the 12 years we lived there. I often think back to that time and use it as a reminder when considering whether we should buy something new. Usually we really don’t need something, or we can borrow it from friends.
I also think I’m conscious of not having too much to do in terms of our schedule. The kids don’t really have a lot of after school commitments, which keeps things from getting too busy. I try not to commit to things on weekends, as that is precious family time, so really things do feel quite simple most of the time. As I said above, it helps that Michael and I have short workdays, don’t have a long commute, and we’re able to go at a slower pace.
You’re currently building a house by the sea – what are your renovation tips?
Oh my gosh, I’ve learned so much from this project! First of all, I’d advise not building a home in the middle of a pandemic and during the rainiest year on record! Jokes aside, it really has been a huge dream come true to build this little beach house. We feel incredibly lucky, even with all the challenges, and we’re super excited for it all to be finished. Soon! My biggest tip is that you can’t be too organised. You have to get good at spreadsheets and managing schedules and staying on top of every detail. It’s a massive job and even project managers have to be managed. If you’re hoping to minimise your environmental impact, it’s important to do research as there are eco options available, but they’re not usually the go-to for most builders. I’d also suggest being really clear on what you want and to create mood boards and Pinterest boards. I’m a visual person, so I constantly need visual references on hand for decision making.
In terms of interiors, how would you describe your style and are there any resources you’ve turned to that you could share?
I’ve always been drawn to simple, natural materials. I love mixing different natural textures to add more depth and character to a space. Lately I’ve been drawn to more colour, which has been fun. And for this new house we are building, we have a lot of timber elements that add a lot of warmth to the house. The beach house we are building is really different to our home in Bangalow, and we designed this intentionally. We thought it would be fun to create a very different space. I was also inspired by my family’s mid-century beach house in the San Juan Islands in the US, where I spent my childhood summers. It has been helpful to have that inspiration to come back to when making design and style decisions. I think Pinterest can be a really helpful tool, but it can also be a really confusing thing too, as you’re bombarded with beautiful images of different styles, and it’s then hard to know which direction is best.
Finally, can you share any tips you have for dealing with overwhelm?
We all feel overwhelmed from time to time. The best first step is just acknowledging that you’re feeling overwhelmed and being mindful of the need to make simple changes in your life. We often think we need to make big changes, and that alone can feel overwhelming and defeating. Start small with little moments of mindfulness. You could try waking 10 minutes earlier to sit and focus on your breath while doing gentle stretches. Or, if you have to run an errand, try walking without your phone, so you can feel really present and turn your awareness to the sounds and sights around you. It’s amazing what a 10-minute walk can do in terms of reducing stress, especially if we don’t have the distraction of our phones in our hands! While grinding coffee beans every morning, I try to stand firm with both feet on the floor and I pay attention to my body and my breath. It’s just a 2-minute exercise of mindfulness that doesn’t take any additional time out of my day. I often do the same thing in the shower — I check in with my thoughts and acknowledge them as just thoughts, and then try to start fresh. It sounds silly, but these little moments throughout my day help me to be more intentional with other aspects of my day too. I listened to a podcast interview the other day with the author Elizabeth Gilbert, and she was talking about the importance of checking in with our inner compass and saying no to things that don’t feel right. This is something I’m really working on — listening to that gut instinct to know when something doesn’t feel right. Being able to say no to things is important, especially if we are feeling overwhelmed.