Hollywood actress Teresa Palmer sits in a parked car in the Adelaide Hills, listening to a true crime podcast and sipping a kombucha as she waits for an Uber Eats delivery of Lord Of The Fries…
It may seem like something of a paradox for the earth mother. Palmer is the co-founder (along with friend Sarah Wright Olsen) of holistic parenting website Your Zen Mama, and mother to Bodhi, Forest, Poet, and stepson Isaac. But it’s perhaps the perfect summary of the life she’s carved out for herself and her family – half LA, fast-living and full of action, and half Adelaide, slow and soulful, leaning into her ‘village’. She and her husband Mark Webber split their work lives into six-month blocks. Palmer will shoot 70-hour weeks on the set of her TV show, A Discovery Of Witches, while Webber takes the lead with the children, and then she’ll take six months off to be at home and hands-on with her brood.
“I do like the children getting to experience an array of life’s colours”, she explains. “We think it’s good for them. The change of pace can come with its challenges, and there’s always a period of adjustment, but we also find it exciting, and the kids love the adventures.”
Palmer became a mother at 27. She has a youthful and playful quality – part of her disarming charm – but her wisdom belies her years. When we ask her about the current state of the world, she’s philosophically hopeful. “It’s a very challenging time right now globally”, she agrees. “There is, of course, the silver lining, which is the connection gained among all of us, and seeing how the everyday choices that we make are for the greater good of the community. There are so many opportunities to be selfless, caring, and helpful. Pressing pause on the intricacies of our own lives, and opening our eyes to what it feels like to be a collective unit. I think it helps reset us in many ways, and that’s not to diminish the unimaginable loss, fear, and anxiety that’s rippling amongst so many.”
And while her glittering career is testament to what she describes as her “very ambitious” younger years, her future very much belongs to her children. “I’m currently feeling very motivated to drive certain business endeavours forward that will mean spending more time with my children, and less time on film sets”, she explains. Thus was born her nutritional supplement brand, Lovewell.
But even now, in what she calls her “loosely ambitious” years, Palmer has plenty to juggle, not least of all, her passion projects. Her book Zen Mamas, co-authored with Sarah Wright Olsen, was written during breaks on the set of A Discovery Of Witches – often with daughter Poet attached to her breast. “Once I had kids I realised I didn’t want to be in the tornado of irregularity”, she tells us. “I didn’t want that for myself or for them. I wanted to find a semblance of normality. Although our life is still far from normal, there’s more of a predictability about it that feels right.”
Above all, that seems to be her litmus test for everything from work to parenting: it has to feel right.
We spoke to the ultimate earth mother about everything from welcoming her first daughter, to living plant-based, parenting in a pandemic, and raising kids across continents.
Photography: Gemma Peanut
Teresa Palmer with her children Bodhi, Forest and Poet
The Palmer/Webber clan has expanded significantly since we last spoke! Tell us about life with three young children and a stepson in the mix…
Well, it’s certainly busier! There’s a whole lot less sleep and definitely more chaos and mess, but of course it means my heart has expanded! There are more laughs, adventures and everyone’s just loving the addition of Poet. She adds such a wonderful flavour to our family dynamic. She is loud and proud! We call her boss baby or “the queen”. She’s very involved in whatever the boys are doing, she’s already firmly inserted herself into their gang. They’re always laughing at her because she wants what she wants, and tends to get it!
Blake Lively recently said that going from two to three was like going from two to 3000. What was the transition like for you?
There have been times when it has really felt like that, dependent on what is going on with the family and the ages of the kids. Right now it feels BUSY. Poet is on the move, she just started walking, yet she’s still putting things in her mouth so we are having to be super watchful over her at all times. With the current climate, the boys are home from school and preschool so it is pandemonium right now. The juggle is real! Sometimes you’ll get in flow and are able to meet everyone’s needs, other days the only moment you’ve been able to sit down is when you get into bed to sleep at the end of the day!
You’ve now welcomed a girl into your family full of boys. Has the dynamic shifted?
Yes, things have certainly shifted but I don’t think it relates to her gender. Perhaps that will change, but right now she’s just like my boys when they were little, especially Bodhi. She’s very boisterous and wants to be involved in everything. The boys call her “destroyer baby” because she’ll often knock down their forts or try and take their toys mid-play! They’ve now been folding her into their world which has been really lovely to watch.
As such a conscious parent, have you approached the parenting of Poet differently to Bodhi and Forest? Or has it changed the way you parent on a whole?
I haven’t switched my parenting up in any specific way, but as the years roll on, I’m more confident in trusting my maternal instincts. I think I grow softer and less rigid in my ideas, the older I get. I still wholeheartedly feel as though meeting my children from a place of love and compassion, first and foremost, is always the best approach with them. Practicing gentle discipline and utilising effective and clear communication with them has been really fruitful.
Many of us have really set ideas about the type of parent we’ll be (or hope to be), but it’s not until our children actually arrive that we are forced into reality. Has this been the case for you? Has there been anything that has surprised you?
I remember listening to the way my Nana parented her eight children. It seemed to me that she would have a loose plan for the day, which typically involved seeing another friend with children, immersing themselves in nature, and letting the kids run free. She used to talk about that time in her life so wistfully, that sense of raising children in a community. I always hoped I could experience that with my own kids. Things always shift moment to moment and sometimes I’ll find myself more tired than usual, not as present or connected as I had hoped, or maybe my patience has run thin. In those moments I’ll just check in with myself, take a breath and try to land closer to the parent I want to be.
What about accommodating the different personalities of your children? Do you feel you have to adjust your style to suit each child?
Yes, absolutely! Bodhi for instance is really sensitive and caring yet totally cheeky and playful. He does really well with boundaries and likes to have them in place. Forest loves having affection, yet he is very independent and doesn’t want or need as many boundaries, as he is somewhat self-directed. Poet wants mama at all times and I’m trying to show her how to use her voice gently, as well as in a strong way, so she can see that we will all respond to her no matter how loud her voice is.
Your life must differ dramatically depending on your work - whether it’s having your children with you on set while in the US, or being at home with them in South Australia … Do you find this challenging? Or does it keep life really interesting?
We definitely oscillate between living the quiet life in the Adelaide Hills with the children in nature, and then the chaotic big city work-life of LA. My preference is quite evident (the quiet life), but I do like the children getting to experience an array of life’s colours, we think it’s good for them. The change of pace can come with its challenges, and there’s always a period of adjustment, but we also find it exciting, and the kids love the adventures.
How do you approach schooling and childcare when you are required to be in different cities or countries for your work?
In Los Angeles and Wales we do distance learning utilising the curriculum from Bodhi’s Australian school. Forest attends a Montessori home school in Wales and a Montessori school in Adelaide, to keep the consistency. We also try to do tons of activities in the community – mummy and me, sports, art classes. In terms of childcare when I work, my mum usually comes with us and it’s a team effort between all of us. Mark and I take turns to work so we can swap out with the kids. We also use a babysitter to bridge any gaps. This year for the third season of A Discovery Of Witches I’m lucky enough to have our best mate Cass come to Wales to help out with the kids, so that my mum can have a break.
Tell us about your support network. How do you make the juggle work when you have such a demanding career? Do you subscribe to the notion of “the village”?
Since booking A Discovery Of Witches we are in a work/life pattern of filming in Wales for 6 months, and then taking 6 months off in Australia & LA. So when I’m working 70 hour weeks we make it work by having the infrastructure and support in place when we need it. That’ll mean Mark, my mum and a babysitter juggle the hours when I’m at work. I take over before and after work. My industry is very flexible in terms of allowing a working person to have their kids around set, so I still get to see them throughout the day. Poet comes every day to work and the boys visit after school. I’m grateful for the flexibility.
The other six months I’m a stay at home mama and my village is really in the form of other mum friends of mine. We’ll spend long lazy days together, our kids playing and making memories, the adults getting to connect and enjoying each other’s company. We parent one another’s kids. We are in it together. My Nana who raised eight children always described days like these, and before she passed away they were the stories she’d always tell me about fondly; her happiest memories.
How has becoming a mother shifted the way you think about your career?
I certainly think my perspective has changed. I once thought performing was the be-all and end-all. I was just so in the flow of fighting for a job, booking (or not booking) it, and then once a job was finished, jumping straight back in the rat race again. It was this never ending pattern of highs and lows.
Once I had kids I realised I didn’t want to be in the tornado of irregularity. I didn’t want that for myself or for them. I wanted to find a semblance of normality. Although our life is still far from normal, there’s more of a predictability about it that feels right. I’m in the process of carving out business opportunities outside of the film industry, so I can continue to provide an environment for the kids that feels stabilising. I’d like to get to the place where I can take years off filming if that’s what feels right, and then jump back in again if it feels easy and doable for the family. Watch this space! Ha.
Do you consider yourself to be ambitious? Do you set career goals or put pressure on yourself? If so, how do you reconcile that with the realities of motherhood?
I was very ambitious in my younger years, now I’m loosely ambitious! I am very accepting of whether or not I get a job, I don’t have the same kind of disappointment or despair if an audition doesn’t go my way. I’m now in the school of “if it’s meant to be it’ll be”. That’s not to say that I don’t give it my all, but I have eggs in a number of baskets which has taken the pressure off. I’m currently feeling very motivated to drive certain business endeavours forward that will mean spending more time with my children, and less time on film sets.
We’re living in quite a scary, strange time. Do you feel anxiety about the world? How do you deal with it?
Yes, these are unprecedented days. It’s a very challenging time right now globally. There is of course the silver lining, which is the connection gained among all of us, and seeing how the everyday choices that we make are for the greater good of the community. There are so many opportunities to be selfless, caring and helpful. Pressing pause on the intricacies of our own lives, and opening our eyes to what it feels like to be a collective unit. I think it helps reset us in many ways, and that’s not to diminish the unimaginable loss, fear and anxiety that’s rippling amongst so many.
How we are dealing with it? Lots of conversations about it. Talking about why we now do “mummy school” and why they can’t spend time with their friends. The days are long and often wild and chaotic in nature, but also a lot has been gained in terms of uninterrupted family time.
As someone who exists so beautifully and consciously in the world - particularly as a mother - how do you speak to your children about the world and the environment?
We have really honest conversations about it. We have also said that we won’t lie to the children if they query things like “where does meat come from?” or “why are people sleeping on the street?” etc. We try and ensure they have a clear notion that they were born into a privileged position but that life doesn’t look like that for everyone. It seems as though they’ve grown into such compassionate, empathetic and understanding kids. We are always here to be a sounding board for them and really hope that they feel as though they can ask us anything.
What tips do you have for mothers who might be looking to make some small changes to be more conscious in their parenting, or simply in the way they exist in the world?
I would say that for me, it started with self reflection. Getting beneath what my own triggers are, and understanding my own user manual. It helped me parent through a lens of compassion. I can quickly recognise if I’m triggered, and it helps me to not be as reactionary with the children. I find that it really is about being in tune and tapped into your own behavioural patterns. I’m always parenting in the kindest and most in-tune way when I’ve separated my own shit from what’s happening in the moment. I find that it not only assists me to investigate the emotional needs of my child in the moment, but that it serves me in all my interactions out in the world. I love the book The Conscious Parent by Dr Shefali Tsabary.
Who do you look up to in life - as a mother or as a woman generally?
I’ve surrounded myself with inspiring women. My group of girlfriends are all such incredible mothers, business owners, friends and partners. I’m constantly learning from them. My mother is absolutely unwavering in her kindness and her gentle way of being. It’s remarkable and I look up to her the most of everyone.
What world do you hope that your children will enter into as adults?
A world that will welcome them, no matter who they are, with open arms. A world with a deep moral compass. A compassionate, thriving, thoughtful, loving world, rich with experiences and much much less suffering to people, animals and the environment.
Tell us about your media diet - what do you consume when it comes to podcasts and Instagram accounts?
Oh boy! Well for podcasts I’m loving Mamamia’s true crime podcast right now. I also love Casefile, Lore, and the Australian true crime podcasts. And Australian Birth Stories, Krista Tippet’s On Being, and Small Town Murder.
Instagram accounts I love include @gemma_peanut, @_dimity_, @bodyimagemovement, @elsas_wholesomelife, @loveyourzenlife – this last one is the Instagram for the website I run with my husband and our friend Daniel Ahearn. Daniel runs our Instagram and he is the most incredible meditation & mindfulness teacher. He posts a bunch of incredibly inspiring interviews and free meditations that I have been consuming.
Then websites I am constantly perusing are Mamamia & ohsheglows.com.
What does a typical dinner look like in your home?
Mark is the master chef of our family. I used to cook a lot more but since he has ramped up his cooking I’ve very happily let him take on that role in the family. He’ll cook anything from a vegan cheese risotto made from broccoli to Beyond burgers, a balsamic fig salad to a delectable stir fry. We are a plant-based family so he often finds a more traditional meal and cooks it with a vegan flair.
How much sleep are you getting at the moment? And how do you deal with sleep deprivation?
Poet sleeps with us and wakes about 2-3 times during the night to nurse. I’m usually asleep by 10:30/10:45 and awake by 6:30/7. It’s not too brutal as Poet only nurses for about 5 minutes, and I get to just roll over and tend to her and fall straight back to sleep. Sometimes, if it’s been a rough night, Mark will get up with the kids. I find that the idea of getting out of bed is harder than actually just springing to my feet and doing it. I’ve been finding myself dipping post midday, so that’s when I’ll have a Lovewell smoothie which has a natural form of caffeine in it. I don’t drink coffee so I get my pick me up from Lovewell instead.
Do you have any vices?
My husband told me to say – ordering Uber Eats Lord Of the Fries to a random address and driving down the hill to pick it up, because Uber won’t deliver to the Hills. I just sit in the car out the front of the house, listening to a true crime podcast and drinking a kombucha waiting for the delivery to pull up. Thanks to the folk on Glebe Ave, Glen Osmond for not calling the cops on me!
What does ‘self care’ look like for you?
A bath, with a locked door and a podcast on, and the rare sleep in.
Teresa Palmer with Sarah Wright Olsen
Zen Mamas: Finding Your Path Through Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond by Sarah Wright Olsen and Teresa Palmer
What is currently on your list of loves?
- Mindful Life baby products
- Embrace documentary
- Mamamia True Crime Conversations podcast
- Lovewell adding banana, almond milk, ice, cinnamon, almond butter, raspberries and mesquite powder (caramel taste!) if you have some handy. You can warm it and have as a before bed hot chocolate too.
- Honour Apparel clothing
- Poppy’s Little Treasures rattan furniture
- The Small Folk whimsical kids toys
- Winter – Dasein perfume
- A pocket full of hand crafted felt dolls
- Nikki Reid’s Bayou up-cycled jewellery