A Mothering Spirit

A Mothering Spirit

Christy has long admired the fierce spirit of Courtney Adamo, a woman whose accomplishments we could list - but you might be here all day reading them! First and foremost she calls herself a mother; she and her husband and their five children live in Byron Bay, Australia. We caught up with Courtney on a rare break, eager to hear her thoughts on being a mom, a traveler, and a business owner.

November 30, 2019

Courtney Adamo always knew she wanted to be a mother. She grew up the eldest of five children, in a house where she was usually surrounded by cousins and siblings and family. Now, with five children of her own, she runs a wildly popular Instagram centering around motherhood and family, she co-runs the motherhood lifestyle site, Babyccino Kids, and she has just created In The Loop, a 5-week online e-course centering around five main themes: Family, Home, Food, Travel and Lifestyle. She is an avid traveler, a surfer, and a pioneer for Mother Earth.

You recently came back from a five week trip, and we talked a little bit about the joys of disconnecting — it started a bit accidentally for you (no good WiFi service!) but how did that happy accident end up working out for you?

We flew to the US in July for my youngest brother’s wedding. He got married in the backyard of our childhood home and it was such a beautiful, intimate wedding. We then spent 10 days in the San Juan Islands with my parents and all my siblings and their children. The wifi isn’t usually very good there, but it was especially slow during that week. So we just embraced the fact we were disconnected and enjoyed the time together. We played cards, went for walks every day, swam in the sea, stayed in our pyjamas, cooked meals, read books, etc. It felt like my childhood! Work had been extra busy for me in the weeks leading up to our trip, so it felt especially nice to switch off like that.

From there we flew to Europe to spend a week in London and then a couple of weeks in Italy. I don’t know why, but we never managed to get a good wifi connection during our entire time away, so I was able to completely switch off for nearly five whole weeks. It felt weird and wonderful at the same time. I definitely dreaded checking my emails when I got home!

What is it like traveling with five children? A happy circus? An exhausting adventure? How do your priorities shift from when you’re traveling without them?

We’ve traveled with our children since our first baby was 3 weeks old, so I can’t really even remember what it’s like to travel without children! We lived in London for 12 years and it’s so easy to travel around Europe, so we really did take advantage of it. Also, having family in the US has meant that we are often on a long-haul flight to visit our families, so it’s become quite normal for us to deal with long flights and jet lag. Yes, a happy circus, and yes, definitely exhausting on the travel days. But always worth it. And because the kids have travelled so much, they are quite good at it and have become so flexible. Our kids will sleep anywhere, often together, eat anything (even spicy Sri Lankan curries!), and really do love it as much as we do. Michael and I really do think it’s even better travelling with children — it almost forces you to slow down and enjoy the normal moments of family life in a new place. Plus, it’s such a joy to experience a new place through your children’s eyes and to see the way they connect to different spots on our planet.

Let’s go way, way back. Where did you grow up? How did you end up in London, then all the way across the world in Byron Bay, Australia?

I grew up halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC. My father was (still is) a tulip farmer, so I grew up in a house surrounded by farmland. In the springtime, the fields surrounding our house would bloom into colour. We had both the mountains and the sea on our doorstep. We spent our summers on a little island in the San Juans, playing on rocky beaches and swimming in the freezing sea. I’m the eldest of five kids, so my siblings and I were always adventuring together. It was pretty idyllic, really.

I met Michael in Los Angeles in 2003 right after I graduated from college. I had a crush on him the minute I met him and managed to convince him to like me back at a Cinco de Mayo party after too many Margaritas. : ) Two months later, while travelling together in Europe, he was offered a job in London, and again I managed to convince him to let me come with him. We had no idea we’d end up staying in London for 12 years and would go on to have four babies there!

In 2015, we decided to sell our newly renovated house, take the kids out of school and travel together on what the Brits call a ‘gap year’. We ended up spending 18 months travelling around the world together. It was incredible and beautiful and honestly the best year of our lives. During that year, we spent two months in Australia, one month of it in Byron Bay. We fell in love with this little surf town immediately and knew we wanted to move here at the end of our travels. We’ve now been here for three years and still love it just as much.

You have five children - do you have any siblings yourself? Does your relationship with your own siblings mirror their relationship with each other?

I’m the eldest of five kids and I’ve always loved coming from a big, crazy family. My dad is one of ten kids, so not only did I have my four siblings, but I grew up surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles. (I had four cousins in my graduating class in high school. We had lots of fun together!)

I’m still really close with all of my siblings and feel so thankful for my relationship with them. I guess I always knew I wanted to have a big family, but I would never have guessed I’d have five! But then again, it does feel so normal. Even the chaotic moments feel normal. Michael also grew up in a big family, so it’s normal for him too.

I guess the fact that I cherish my siblings so much makes me so happy that my children have each other. I read somewhere, years ago, that it is our siblings who shape who we become more than any other person or influence in our lives. I love the thought that, while Michael and I can love and nurture and teach our children, that they are actually teaching and shaping each other into the humans they will become. It’s such a beautiful thought.

Did you always want to be a mother, or was it something that grew within you over time? How did your vision of the kind of mother you would be evolve and change from what it was before you had children, to after?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to be a mother. Because I’m the eldest sibling in my family, I feel like I’ve been mothering my entire life. Even though I was quite young when I became pregnant with our first baby at 23, I didn’t find it scary or unsettling; it actually felt strangely normal and instinctive. I suppose I didn’t even have time to think about what type of mother I would be — I just dove straight in and have been figuring it out ever since. Motherhood is a journey of constant growth and learning. Each child is different and each phase of their development is different. Wilkie, our fifth baby, challenges us in ways we’ve never been challenged before, which has stretched me to find new levels of patience and awareness. And now that we have teenage boys, it’s completely new territory again and I’m learning how to step up and step back all at the same time. So far, I’m surprisingly loving the teenage phase, which is funny because I remember dreading it so much when all the kids were younger. It’s a reminder to embrace each phase — I remember feeling so sad at each birthday as my kids turned a year older, mourning the loss of their baby-hood. But I’ve learned to embrace each age and celebrate them as they grow into individuals. It really is a joy and privilege to watch these little people grow up.

Motherhood is a  journey of constant growth and learning.

What’s one word you would use to sum up your journey of motherhood?

Joyful!

How do you define success as a parent? Does it change from day-to-day?

That’s such a big question to answer! I suppose my ‘success’ would be defined by how close we are as a family. Spending time together is something we place a lot of value on in our family. I think it can be so easy to fall into the habit of over-scheduling our lives, signing our kids up for heaps of after-school activities, supporting and encouraging every hobby and interest our children have, that we forget to just be together. It can also be easy to get wrapped up in busy careers and to feel the pressures of work and obligations (we’ve certainly been there!). Michael and I have consciously made it a priority to slow down and shift the focus to our family. This is one of the reasons we chose to leave London. While we loved that city and many aspects of our lifestyle there, it was becoming more and more demanding, stressful and expensive. Michael and I were both working long days, we had a nanny who was watching our children three days a week, and even when I was with my kids, I was distracted with the stress of work and deadlines. At some point, it just didn’t feel like that was the life we wanted for our family. I really feel like we have managed to find a wonderful balance now, and it’s something I’m really proud of.

I read a quote the other day that said, “Children don’t need a perfect mother. They need a happy one.” This resonated with me so much. I think we can easily get caught up in the stress of trying to achieve so much as a mother — to make healthy meals, pack perfect school lunches, plan the best birthday parties, to spend enough time with each child, to read enough books to them, play enough games, etc. etc. In the end, what they need most is a happy mother. And I do really feel like my kids have that.

One of your most recent endeavors (don’t you ever get tired!!) is a 5-week Collaborative Community e-course centered around Family Lifestyle. You discuss many topics—family, home, travel, food, lifestyle—and mention that the idea was born from a lack of space on Instagram. You can only delve so deeply into certain topics via social media. Can you share a bit about the evolution of this idea?

I’ve been blogging in the family lifestyle arena for more than 12 years now, and I’ve been on Instagram for the last 8 years (feels strange to say that out loud!), so I feel like I’ve gotten such a good feeling for the types of conversations and connections parents are craving. I’ve been lucky to connect with parents from all over the world through these platforms; it’s been an incredible way to share and receive ideas on parenting, travel, food, style and so many other topics. But… you can only go so deep through these channels, and it can be difficult to interact in a really meaningful, authentic way. I receive a lot of really beautiful, heartfelt questions as direct messages on Instagram, and there is really just no way to answer them as thoroughly as I’d like.

I guess the idea for the e-course stemmed from that frustration and the desire to want to create a space for a like-minded community to gather online — a place where we could raise topics, share tips and experiences, be vulnerable with each other and connect more deeply.

I decided to divide the course up into five different topics: Family, Home, Food, Travel and Lifestyle. We spend a week exploring each topic and sharing our collective experiences. Not only do I share the lessons I’ve learned and my tips on each topic, but I share interviews with experts, share links to relevant podcasts and articles, and I encourage a bigger conversation amongst everyone in the community. It’s been such a fun way to connect with people from all over the world in this more intimate way. I have loved facilitating these courses and really hope to do more of them next year, focusing on different topics and initiating new conversations.

Together with two close friends, you started Babyccino, what you describe as an international lifestyle website for modern mums. It began as a blog, and later evolved into a curated directory of boutiques for babies and kids. I especially love the kid-friendly city guides you offer - so much incredible info! What is the most exciting thing about Babyccino now? Did you ever anticipate it would grow into what it is today?

Babyccino started as an online diary between friends back in 2007 — before we even knew what a parenting blog was! We would write to each other to share our favourite finds, trusty recipes, cute craft ideas, parenting articles, etc. Gradually, other mums started reading it, we started receiving comments from people all over the world, and before we knew it, we had a ‘mummy blog’ as they are called in the UK. We’ve never had a business plan or even a plan at all — it’s grown organically over time, and we just responded to demand. In 2010, we created the shopping portal, which was really a way for us to provide more advertising space for the independent shops we were working with, and a way to create a curated shopping directory for all of our readers who were seeking out those independent brands. A few years later, again in response to demand from our readers and brands, we launched the ShopUp events, which is a live shopping event that brings a collection of our brands into one space. Over the last 12 years, we’ve continued the daily blog, we’ve created city guides in all of our cities, and launched seasonal shopping guides as well. It’s crazy to think that it all evolved from a little blog between new mama friends. I’ve learned so much in the last 12 years and am so thankful for it all.

A big part of your journey has been Instagram - you’ve amassed a following of 265K humans who gather to see shots of your children, your fashion choices, your home decor, and much, much more! How has your relationship with social media changed over the years? How have you changed, through using it? How does social media affect parenting and family life - if at all?

I had never been on social media before I got an Instagram account. So when I first started on Instagram, back in 2011, I thought it was a way to put pretty filters on my photos and share them with my family who live far away. I had no idea it would become anything more than that! It’s funny because, while I now have a big following, I still really think about my family when I share a post — I often think of my sister when I write my captions and try not to think of the many thousands of strangers on the other end. I think the fact that I have my sister in mind as I’m sharing, keeps me honest and as authentic as possible.

I love Instagram because it’s a quick way to document happy moments I want to remember. It was also a wonderful tool while we were travelling, as we were able to connect with so many local families in each spot, receive wonderful travel tips, and share and document our adventures. We often look back through my Instagram account reminded of the happy memories and milestones we have documented.

I’m also so thankful for Instagram because I’ve met some of my closest friends through this app. I actually met my best friend on Instagram when she sent me a message four years ago saying she’d love to meet up with us when we got to Byron Bay! I love that we can connect as mothers and women with so many people from around the world and see and discover different ways of living. Not to mention, I love that it gives me the opportunity to support my friends and their businesses, and to share my own projects too.

What is your next adventure?

I’ve just wrapped up a 5-week e-course, so I’m really excited for some down time with my family. Summer holidays are coming up, so I’m really looking forward to spending lots of time with my children, going on daily adventures in our beautiful area. We’ll probably go on a few camping tips over summer — hopefully somewhere near a beach with good surf!

How do you Honor Mother Earth?

We are so lucky to live in this beautiful corner of our planet. Not a day goes by that I’m not incredibly thankful we get to call this place home and fiercely protective of preserving its natural beauty. We are a family of surfers, so we are in the ocean almost every day, observing and honouring the tides, the swells, and the power and magic of Mother Earth. Nowhere do I feel more deeply connected to nature than when I’m in the ocean.

As I type, there are bushfires nearby up and down the coast from us — we’re experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent years and a period of high winds. It’s a reminder that our earth’s climate is changing and proof of the urgent need for change. As a family we try to reduce our impact on our planet in as many ways as we can. Little by little, we can make a difference. We are vegetarians for environmental reasons, we grow our own vegetables and herbs in our garden, we shop at our local farmers markets, buy our food in bulk, and try to buy only what we need. We avoid all single-use plastics, even if this means driving back home when we’ve forgotten our shopping totes or stainless steel water bottles. We also just invested in having solar panels installed on our roof, which will provide more than 2/3 of our energy and hot water for our home, and we just installed a water tank that will collect rain water from our roof, which we can use to water our garden. None of us are perfect, but we have to start somewhere, making conscious decisions and educating our children along the way.

Follow Courtney @Courtneyadamo

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