“My sister, Rebecca, and I are extremely close...
We must speak to each other about five times a day. She has four children as well and her boys are a few years older than Henry. She is my best friend, my go-to for just about everything, and sometimes I feel like she’s the only one who truly gets it all,” says Sydney-based mother of four Louise Manning on her bond with her sister. She grew up in a busy household, and a big family of her own was something she always dreamed of.
Louise studied fashion design and went on to work for Eva Galambos at Parlour X throughout her early 20’s. She studied interior design before her son Henry arrived. “I knew that, if it were possible, I wanted to be at home with my children, so I feel lucky that I’m able to do that. My family is my work and I’m extremely proud of them. I don’t take it for granted that I can stay at home. I still love interiors and fashion and I will pursue something in that space down the track but at this moment I’m so happy and grateful to be doing what I am doing,” she says.
We visited Louise well before COVID-19 when her newborn Lola was just born and watched the magic of a busy household unfold. Here, we talk to her about style, motherhood – the ups and downs – and what a typical day looks like in her household.
Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo
What was your own childhood like?
I grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney in a big family with my mum, stepfather, sister, brother and step sister. My father also has two daughters with his second wife so I have two half-sisters as well. It was happy and busy and sometimes complex but I wouldn’t change it. I’m really grateful for all of my siblings and parents. My sister, Rebecca, and I are extremely close. We must speak to each other about five times a day. She has four children as well and her boys are a few years older than Henry. She is my best friend, my go-to for just about everything, and sometimes I feel like she’s the only one who truly gets it all. I felt very prepared when I had my first child and I have her to thank for that. Because of the age difference with our boys, if I ever have a question about something it’s very likely she’s worked it out a couple of years earlier. My sister, Jennayah, has three girls too so there are 11 cousins in our big and blended family so far. Getting together with everyone can be hard to coordinate with all of us but we try and get back to my parents’ house that we grew up in as much as we possibly can. When everyone is there together it’s really special and we feel like it keeps us grounded and connected.
Did you always want to be a mother?
Always. I never dreamed of doing anything else. I knew I wanted to be a mother and I always hoped for a big family. I’ve known James since high school and we got married when we were 26. Henry was born a year after that and Lola our fourth child last year. Having children was always my priority and today, I feel so lucky to be doing this.
What did life look like for you before becoming a parent?
I studied fashion design briefly and realised I loved fashion but designing was not the path for me. After that, I was lucky enough to get a job working for Eva Galambos at Parlour X, which was like a family. I worked there through my early 20’s, had so much fun and learnt so much about the various parts of the industry. I worked in fashion for a few years after leaving Parlour X and then studied interior design just before I had Henry.
Did becoming a mother change the way you viewed your career or your ambitions?
Not really. I knew that, if it were possible, I wanted to be at home with my children, so I feel lucky that I’m able to do that. My family is my work and I’m extremely proud of them. I don’t take it for granted that I can stay at home. I still love interiors and fashion and I will pursue something in that space down the track but at this moment I’m so happy and grateful to be doing what I am doing.
What do you remember about the early newborn days?
The early days are my most treasured. They are pretty magic. I could do the first 6 weeks over and over again. Breastfeeding has never come naturally to me. I breastfed Henry for a year and each subsequent child got less and less until Lola who only got three weeks! I find it the most challenging part of having a new baby. The pain (and bleeding nipples) is real. For me it’s also a really beautiful way to bond so it was sad to stop feeding Lola so early. It was the best decision for us though. I made up for it with loads of skin to skin and I wore her in a wrap or carrier as much as possible. There’s nothing quite like having your baby that close to you while they sleep.
What surprised you most about motherhood?
I knew the love would be there. I understood how enormous that feeling would be. What I wasn’t expecting was the anxiety that came along with it. It’s one of the hardest parts for me. Watching my big kids grow up and become more independent is at once beautiful and terrifying. I’m so proud of who they are becoming and I want them to experience everything this life has to offer but at the same time I would like to keep them safe at home with me for the rest of our days. It’s a tricky one to navigate. It also took me a long time to accept that I wasn’t going to love every minute of being a mother. Like all other aspects of life, there are good days and bad. Parts of the job we love and parts that aren’t so fun. Parenting is no different. Once I realised no one loves every single aspect of their work I found a great deal more confidence in my role as a mother.
What does a typical day look like for you today?
My boy wakes up at 5am every morning and potters about the house playing LEGO or drawing before anyone else is up. Listening to him have the house to himself is the best way to wake up. I can hear him downstairs making his own breakfast and lately he’s been trying out the new piano. I love the idea of him being downstairs with no interruptions, just being himself. In a family like ours being on your own is rare so hearing him like that every morning is joy. I get up soon after him and get the day going. James leaves for the office at about 6.30 and then I leave with the kids at 7.30 to start the school run. We have some glorious slow mornings with cuddles in bed, cooked eggs for breakfast, everyone’s teeth brushed without asking and time to stop for a coffee on the way to school. We also have some pretty hectic ones where breakfast is a piece of fruit eaten in the car and one of the big kids giving Lola her first bottle of the day while I silently curse Sydney traffic. One thing we always do is have songs on in the car. I turn the music up and take requests from the kids. No matter how stressful getting out the door was it puts everyone in a good mood by the time we get to school.
How do you approach dressing each morning? Do you subscribe to a uniform?
Yes. Simplicity is key for me. Pippa Holt Kaftans and jumpsuits and Lucy Folk boiler suits have saved me recently. They keep me cool in the summer months and are quick and chic with my limited time in the morning. I tend to dress very casually so I love Golden Goose or Chanel sneakers to keep things fun. In winter, I will most definitely go back to my WARDROBE.NYC staples. Everything in their edits are black or white and work back with everything else in my closet. I live in their zip front leggings and have three of the same pair. I don’t wear jeans often so these are my staples with a white shirt or T-shirt and a black merino sweater. This season I might pair them with combat boots to keep it current but I’m pretty straightforward when it comes to winter dressing.
What about beauty and skincare?
I’ve been using Rationale for about four years. It’s the first time I’ve ever used anything religiously as It was only once I was in my 30’s that I started to think about skincare. I also have a facial with Lowry at All Saints Skin Clinic in Double Bay every six weeks or so. I get my brows done at Kristin Fisher eyebrows in Double Bay and my cut and colour by Ash Croker at The Salon in Clovelly. I walk outdoors every single day so I use Ultraviolette sunscreen on my face and I always try to remember to wear a cap.
Do you feel mother’s guilt? If so, how do you work through it?
Of course! Guilt is a normal if not entirely useful part of the human condition. I’m not a perfect mother. I’m not always as calm as I should be and often I feel stretched between these four little people and their needs. How to work through it? I just keep it in perspective and look at the big picture. When I watch my children and speak to my children, they are happy, they are kind and they feel safe. As long as we’ve got that going, I know I’m doing my job well. In other words, I don’t sweat the small stuff!
What do you do to make time for yourself?
I walk every day. It’s my version of meditation. I have three kids at school and one baby who is an excellent sleeper so at the moment there is some downtime in school hours. What I find harder but so important is finding time for James and I. It’s so easy for that to come second when we have work and babies to think about but I always want to feel excited to go on a date with my husband! If we’re lucky in life and health we’ll get to grow old together but it takes work so I make our relationship a priority. We usually leave the big kids with a babysitter on Sunday afternoons so we can have a meal together or just walk the dog and chat.
What type of mother do you aspire to be?
I hope that my children look back at their childhood and feel they were loved unconditionally, that they were heard and respected, encouraged to work hard and guided through challenging times. So, I work on being a gentle, compassionate person with the tools to be firm and kind when they need it. I try and parent together with James as much as possible. When we are on the same page it’s so much easier for the kids.
What does a typical dinner look like in your house?
James tries to get home for dinner a couple of nights a week and these nights are my favourite. We all sit down together (even Lola joins us in the bouncer at the end of the table) and talk about our day. What was the best/funniest/yuckiest thing that happened today? It’s amazing how much you can get out of them with a few simple questions like that. I love cooking and I generally cook one meal for the adults and a simplified version for the children. Friday night is usually pizza on the couch and a family movie.
How do you stay organised and on top of things? Do you have any mum hacks?
Lunchboxes completely packed the night before. Uniforms laid out. All the various sports bags packed on a Sunday night. Proper schedules for each child. It keeps me in control when I can glance and know exactly where each child needs to be that afternoon. The biggest ‘mum hack’ I have is saying yes to the genuine offers of help. I’m still learning to let go and let other people help out but it’s lovely to know we are part of a network of friends so willing to help each other. And obviously the most important thing is knowing the best laid plans can fall apart and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.
What’s currently on your list of loves?
A PJohnson Femme suit. I ordered one in dark red silk.
The Snoo – the most high tech baby bassinet on the market. It rocks all night to encourage sleep. I was sceptical but it has proven itself the MVP baby item in our house. I wish I’d had it for all my babies.
My Artipoppe baby carrier – Like an ergo but chic!
Home cooking – currently I’m using all the recipes from Stephanie Conley’s cookbook ‘At home with The Hostess’. Yummy simple to make dishes. I love to cook but baking is a skill I’m still perfecting so I’m happy to report all of the baking recipes from this book have been a success for me so far!
Centennial park – during the week I love to walk there with Lola and our dog Wolf. On the weekends there are so many different areas to explore with the big kids.
My two favourite restaurants in Sydney are Bert’s in Newport and Bistro Boulevard in Avalon. I dream about moving back to the northern beaches full time but visiting as much as we can keeps it a really special place for our family.
Magazines. Real paper magazines. Architectural Digest, World of Interiors, Habitus, Elle decor, Vogue Living and Belle are my favourites but I love them all.
Succession – James and I love a good television series. This does not disappoint.
Monogrammed items. Pouches from Cub and Scout and towels from The Monogram Mode are scattered throughout my home and keep it feeling chic and organised.
My new iPhone 11 – for photos of my children, staying connected to friends and news. I love Instagram, I mainly follow my close friends, interior design accounts and news publications.
Bottega Veneta or The Row combat boots – these are high on my winter Wishlist and hopefully my next purchase.