What I know now - Susie O'Brien

Dr. Susie O'Brien's face will be familiar - you may recognise her from newspapers and on the telly in her role as commentator and journalist. She also parents five children with her partner and has a PhD in Children's education.

Now, I need a nap just thinking about that and I am sure Susie would support me popping Bluey on whilst I did that.

Susie has just released one of the very best books I've seen on the market - The Secret of Half-Arsed Parenting. And let me tell you, in this world of compare and contrast parenting via social media - Susie's writing is a breath of fresh air we all need as parents of the 2020s.

The wonderful premise of Susie's book is that there is such joy in parenting when we let go of expectations to be perfect. Without a doubt, some of the lowest times in my parenting have been when I've failed to meet my own expectations of what I'd be like as a parent. I am just too exhausted to be the parent I thought I would be, but my boys are loved and happy and I'm learning to ditch the guilt. Susie's writing is going a long way to help me with that!

So before I go and cook the boys some packaged fish fingers (not the homemade, GF version I used to take three hours to make and then watch them sit uneaten on the plate, congealing like my disappointment ) I wanted to share Susie's "What I know now".


Having a newborn can be an isolating time, who did you turn to for support?

I was born in Tamworth, grew up in Adelaide, met my husband in Brisbane and moved to Melbourne just before I had my first son. The only friends I had were from work and they spent their time getting smashed in city laneway bars. It was a world away from my life as a stay-at-home mum in suburbia with milk on my top and vomit on my shoulder. So, it was tough! I spent a lot of time by myself, wishing I had other mummy friends to chat to about why my nipples were the size of saucers and which Kmart had the best nursery decorations.

I joined a mother’s group through our council and we met once a week. The girls were great but it took nearly a year for us to get to the stage of popping in to each other’s houses and chatting openly about our fears and failings. I wish I’d let down my guard sooner and stopped trying to be the ‘perfect’ mum I desperately wanted to be. I should have known perfection is not possible on four hours sleep a night! Or at all, actually.  

Funnily enough, the idea that I should be a perfect parent was replaced with a much more pragmatic “she’ll be right” attitude for child two, and “lucky no one saw me do that” with child three.

If you were talking to you, pre-baby, pre-birth - what would your pep talk be? 

When you’re pregnant you feel like the baby is taking over your body, like something out of the movie Alien. You’re 35 weeks and you’ve got a heat rash that would fry an egg, varicose veins in unmentionable places, and your favourite comfy jeans no longer fit. I’ve got three kids and I remember those days well! 

You have to be kind to yourself and your body. Order takeaway, let the housework slide, have lots of naps and ignore friends who’ve had their babies and who say “you don’t know what you’re in for” and “Just you wait!!” Of course, you don’t what lies ahead– how could you? 

And ignore pregnant celebrities like actor Eva Longoria who was recently talking about how blessed she felt for her body for creating life.  “You have to have gratitude towards your body,” she said. Epecting gratitude from a pregnant woman who hasn’t seen her private parts without a mirror for eight months, and whose bikini line is threatening to cross state borders unaccompanied, may be expecting a bit much. 

Things do get better. Two days after giving birth, I was still high on drugs and ringing everyone 20 times telling them I’d just had a baby. Four weeks later, I managed to brush my hair and my teeth before I left the house. That’s when I knew I was probably going to make it.

What do you remember most from the newborn phase Susie?

I was struck by the fact that most of us are more concerned about the birth than the much bigger job of parenting.  We worry about how we are going to pass a basketball through our lady bits and don’t think much what the next 20 years of parenting will hold. No one (including me) thinks much about what happens after you walk out those hospital doors with the baby.  I remember being amazed that they seemed willing to trust me with my own newborn son.

Then again, it’s probably a good thing you’re not ready to consider the moment, 17 years later, when your child thrusts “dem pits” in their face and asks you to inhale like my son did to me last night!

Becoming a parent takes us to unfamiliar places. What are your top tips to make becoming a parent feel less daunting?

We need to remember how hard it is to be a parent the first time around. Not only are you trying to work out how to get a onesie done up without the baby rolling off the change table, but also how to block out annoying relatives who say things like, “Oh, you’re going back to work? I thought you loved your baby.”  Yes, I had a friend who was told that!

Just remember that the mums who are trying the hardest to impress everyone else are the ones who are probably struggling the most.  Don’t be fooled by appearances - just because they’ve got a thigh gap and designer athletic wear, it doesn’t mean they’ve got it together. They’ve probably been wearing those leggings for three days straight and got them out of the dirty clothes basket. 

It also helps to accept that broken sleep is part of the deal. For me, this worked much better than trying to teach my first baby to sleep through the night when he clearly wasn’t ready to do so. I am happy to claim success in this area. He’s now a teenager and I have trouble waking him up. 

Get through, get by, ignore advice that doesn’t feel right and don’t try to be a hero. After the birth, you need someone to pop over, put on a load of washing, unpack the dishwasher and tell you it’s going to be okay. It’s also a good idea to watch Bridgerton or Melrose Place reruns at 3 am rather than check your social media feed. When you’ve got a newborn who won’t sleep, the last thing you needs are friends on Insta boasting about how their baby is already sleeping through and they’re back in their size zero jeans! Block anyone who makes you feel worse about how you’re doing because chances are you’re doing a great job!

As I write in my new book The Secret of Half-arsed Parenting, the key is to know your limits and set the bar low enough so you succeed. If your friends judge you for not making all the baby food from scratch or wearing slippers past front gate, get new friends (and slippers that look like shoes).

All the best, take care and good luck!!