Monday 23 October 2017

There is no 'right way' to parent

Novelist and blogger Giovanna Fletcher's new book chronicles her experiences of motherhood - with no holds barred - and she wants to spread a message of positivity, she tells Claire O'Mahony

Giovanna Fletcher Photo: Colin Bell
Giovanna Fletcher Photo: Colin Bell
Giovanna with her husband, Tom Fletcher from McFly, and their sons, Buzz (2) and Buddy (1) Main photo: Colin Bell

Claire O'Mahony

On paper, Giovanna Fletcher has a somewhat perfect life. Mother to two sons, Buzz (almost three), and Buddy, who has just turned one, she is married to Tom Fletcher of successful British pop-rock band McFly. She herself is a best-selling novelist with six books under her belt; she acts and she has an extensive social media following, with over 10 million views on YouTube (Giovannasworld) and 800,000 followers on Instagram (@mrsgifletcher). Now she has made her first foray into the world of non-fiction with Happy Mum, Happy Baby, an account of her adventures in motherhood.

The not-unnatural assumption is that her experiences, or those of any celebrity, would fail to resonate with real-life mothers. But part of Fletcher's charm, and certainly one reason why so many click to see glimpses of her family life online, is that by her own accounts she is "winging" parenthood. And not in the "I'm so sleep- deprived (but actually I have three nannies)" kind of way. Happy Mum, Happy Baby pulls no punches - from her struggles to get pregnant (she suffered from polycystic ovarian syndrome) to her labour stories, crying fits in the early days (her, not just the baby), leaking breasts and dealing with her post-baby "squidgy" body. In short, these are the experiences of many mothers, shared in Fletcher's engaging, often funny style. She is keen to emphasise that this is not an advice book; the message she hopes to convey is that there are many ways to parent, and that if mum is confident in what she is doing, baby will also be content.

"There are lots of books out there that are tips and advice, and they're great. There is so many that I don't think I need to add anything to the mix," the 32-year-old says. "And especially because everyone has opinion on parenting. For me you can feel judged, you feel that there's a right way to parent and if you're not doing it, you feel like a failure so I didn't want add to that. If anything, I wanted to be the voice of reason and give people the confidence to believe in whatever they have decided works for them." She insists that she hasn't left anything out or glossed over less-pleasant aspects of her experience of motherhood. "I just felt that if I was writing a book that was meant to be open and honest, then I had to share everything completely. You either write a book like this, or you don't," she says.

She did, however, run some of it by husband Tom. "There were some bits I shared - the first few thousand words - just so he knew where I was heading with it and that I was being very open. He had a good cry and he loved it. But there were some funnier sections that made him laugh."

Fletcher breastfed both babies but admits that she initially sat on the breastfeeding fence for a little while. In the end, the 'breast is best' adage tallied with her desire to be "the best mummy that ever existed".

"I wanted to capture the fact that I didn't know what route to take. I did stick with it, even though I was in a lot of pain and didn't find it that easy. Then I went longer than I thought I would because all of sudden it became something completely different and easier," she explains. "I could have quit in the first few weeks very happily but some mother guilt in me stopped me from doing that. And I know so many women experience it… and I think it's such a shame.

"It really doesn't matter if my next-door neighbour is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding; it has no effect on me and my child, and that's the opinion we all need to start taking. They've got a newborn and there are so many other emotions they are going through, so making somebody feel judged isn't the right way to go about it."

There are lots of sleepless nights for her at the moment, and on a typical day she's up at 6.30m. After she has breakfast with the boys, getting them dressed and having them for a few hours, Buzz and Buddy will either go to their nan's, Tom's mum, or her parents will come over. She'll try and get some writing done until 3pm, and then it's dinner with the boys, playtime, baths, then back to her writing from 7pm through to midnight. It's not a very 'celeb' lifestyle, as a recent post showing her celebrating her birthday with beans on toast, plus champagne, indicates. "My social life is cut down to the bare minimum with my family," she says. "My 'me' time is time with Tom and the boys. I don't feel like I need time on my own. I have started actually reading books again! I am on my fifth book this year, which is quite an achievement. I think I read less than that in the whole of last year. Tom and I will watch a series on Netflix - at the moment we're watching Westworld and it's brilliant."

After she had Buzz, she inadvertently became the poster woman for post-birth bodies and what she calls "jelly bellies". Eleven days after giving birth, she was in the park with Tom when a stranger asked for his photograph. The woman then pointed at Giovanna and said, "Oh look, Mummy's still got her tummy." When the new mum declined to be in the picture, the woman smiled and said, "Maybe next time when your face has slimmed down…" The writer was gobsmacked and shared her experience on social media, where she got an astounding response from women who had gone through similar scenarios. (As a side note, the actor Ashton Kutcher shared a link to her post on Facebook, stating, "These types of comments are not acceptable" - Fletcher says she "totally fangirled" at that.)

The experience made her re-evaluate her relationship with her body. "I've been somebody who has been bashing my body for decades, since I was a teenager. I used to want to be like that girl because she was thinner, or that girl because she had bigger boobs, and now I look at photos from back then and think, 'What were you moaning about? You had a killer body,'" she says. "Now I look at my body and think, 'I've got stretch marks and bits in places that weren't there before but you've got these two boys and that's absolutely incredible.' Obviously, there are times when you're going to dip; you do feel deflated and you look in the mirror and that little sigh - you know that sigh? - comes out, but hopefully you have those days when you feel good about yourself as well."

Colouring books, Ewan the Dream Sheep, rice cakes and white noise are some of her parenting saviours. At the moment, Buzz is a whirlwind who adores music, runs around reciting lines he's learned from films, and he loves playing with cars. Younger brother Buddy will sit and observe, then later on try and do what Buzz has been doing. "He's not even one yet - to see him doing that is so sweet," his proud mother says. "They're both so loving and so kind and, at the moment, they've got a really special bond. Buzz pushes him around, but Buddy is learning to fight back. I think it's going to be a very interesting house for the next few years."

Being in the public eye and on social media can mean occasionally dealing with trolls and critics. There have been a couple of comments that have stopped her in her tracks and made her question herself as to why she's doing this. "But then you see the hundreds of other comments saying the opposite of that and you realise, 'That's why I'm doing it.' For me, I want to be part of this community of mums and parents who really support each other and encourage each other and, in general I think, to realise that because other people do things you don't necessarily agree with doesn't mean that they're wrong," she says.

"As long as they are not harming others, it's about creating a world that's accepting, so it's kind of ironic that then these people come along and bash me a bit. You have to take it with a pinch of salt. And you never know what that person saying those things has experienced. Hopefully, they would never say anything negative to my face, and certainly I'm not harming anyone by spreading a little bit of positivity."

Happy Mum, Happy Baby by Giovanna Fletcher is out now, published by Coronet, €23.79. Giovanna will be signing copies of the book at Eason, Dundrum, Co Dublin, on Friday March 31 at 1pm. For more information, visit giovannasworld.com/events

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