Today our Family columist Emma Eldridge chats to Jeremy Wortsman, founder and director of The Jacky Winter Group, and hands-on Dad to Winifred (3 yrs) and Jeronimo (3 months), together with his partner Lorelei Vashti.
We love Jeremy’s insights into parenting ‘imposter’ syndrome, his favourite children’s apps, and the man-to-man vs. zone defence approach to child rearing!
Our newest photographer, Sarah Collins of Work + Co, recently visited the family at home in the leafy Dandenong Ranges.
Today we check-in with Jeremy on his transition from father of one to two, his theories for pursuing harmony between work, life and family, his top tips for kid tech, and more.
You’ve just hit the three-month mark as a father of two, a massive milestone. How’s it all going? Can you tell us a bit about how you prepared for Jeronimo’s arrival?
I think we’re all pretty relieved the ‘fourth trimester’ is over. Such an interesting idea, that humans are born too early compared to other creatures, so those first three months of life involve a huge transition – for baby and family alike. We’re still finding our feet in many ways.
That said, I think having children close together makes that preparation phase easier. You have most of the stuff, you have much more confidence. You also know how many parenting cliches are true – particularly the one that says you can’t ever fully prepare, you just have to jump in and do it. After Winifred was born, I realised how futile my tendency to over-prepare really was, and I’ve accepted more chaos into my life.
Quite a few of my Dad friends reported feeling helpless in those heady first weeks of life with a newborn. How have you found your place as a father? Have things been different second time around?
I was discussing this with my barber a few months back. He has two children and when I told him we were expecting our second, he used a basketball metaphor to explain how our lives as parents would change – from a zone defence to pure man-to-man. With one child, you and your partner can work the zone; whether it’s the household, extracurricular activities, or your career, you can navigate around it. Once you add that second kid, it becomes more complex, and you find yourself having to focus on one child at a time, so it creates a totally different dynamic. To that end, I definitely felt more useful when Jeronimo was born, and I’ve developed a stronger bond with Winifred as that’s what the situation has dictated.
You wanted to become a father from a young age. What do you think shaped this, and how does the reality of parenthood compare with what you envisaged?
I can be a bit of an obsessive personality who loves ticking off boxes, and from a young age I was in a huge hurry to be a ‘grown up’ – becoming a parent seemed to me the ultimate sign that you were a mature and productive member of society, and had somehow made it. As I got older (and got a dog), a deeper instinct started to rise around how helping and looking after others gave way to a much healthier sense of purpose and happiness.
There are definitely moments when imposter syndrome kicks in, when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing and someone is going to find out you are a terrible parent and judge you harshly (my greatest fear!) There’s also this weird sense that it hasn’t really started yet, like you’re waiting for yourself to grow up and be a real parent like the ones you see on TV. But on the whole it’s been like riding a bike for the first time, with that sense of wonder you have that you’re actually doing it.
Both you and Lorelei are supremely productive creatives with families that live faraway. How do you share parenting – and do you possess some sort of secret for divining energy for this type of work in among the daily kid chaos?
This reminds me of a bit in the short story ‘Hey, Kookaburra’ by David Sedaris, where he talks about the four burners theory, which asks you to imagine that your life is represented by a stove with four burners on it. One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work. The gist is that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners – and in order to be very successful you have to cut off two.
While it may seem a cynical approach, I have definitely found this to be true on many occasions as a parent – there’s no secret, just a matter of priorities and compromise, trying to find that sweet spot. We’re hacking it together in many ways and finding the solutions that work for us; it’s still such early days, and there are definitely moments where we feel like our only goal is to get to the end of the day and make it to the next one.
Personally, I’ve found my social life has taken the biggest back seat. For Lorelei, it’s been the opposite – her social group has provided her with the most support. We’ve really benefited from moving to the hills (Belgrave area) in terms of access to social services – council day care has been a massive game changer, and Lorelei was incredibly lucky with her mother’s group, forging some very strong relationships and creating a true sense of community.
Has your approach to work changed since becoming a Dad? As something of a tech obsessive, have you found a way to harness this for the greater good of your family?
Going through the process of putting our wills together and sorting various insurance policies was a major turning point for me. While I’ve always tried to find ways to make positive contributions to the world, I’ve definitely been thinking more and more about what I will leave behind for my children and their generation, and how I can use my work as a vehicle for that.
While there is a part of me that feels I should be taking fewer risks and being more careful with my time, the instinct remains to do the opposite and keep pushing myself professionally, as this has always brought the most surprising results.
Harnessing technology has always been a huge part of my professional life, but apart from lots of late nights on forums trying to find the perfect swaddle or utensil set, it’s been a pretty low tech affair. There are some amazing hybrid toys that tie into coding apps like Osmo that I look forward to getting stuck into with Winifred, but that’s still a few years away.
Can you give us a glimpse into how your day starts and ends with Winifred and Jeronimo?
This is where living in a more remote area has its downsides, as there is a relatively long commute to and from our studio in Collingwood; there are some periods where I leave the house before anyone is awake, and come back after they’re asleep. Typically, I tend to have enough time in the morning to get things in motion and help Lorelei prepare Winifred for her day, and then get home in time to look after her evening routine.
Operating The Jacky Winter Group is an all-consuming, 24/7 role. On top of that, I’m a strong believer in the airplane oxygen mask theory where you can only help others put on their masks after you have one on yourself – I need to ensure my own physical and mental health are looked after so I can continue to run the business and contribute to our household.
Moving across time, what kind of adults might you like Winifred and Jeronimo to grow into? How would you like then to remember you to their own families?
After a lifetime of therapy and self-help, our generation is I think much more sensitised to how the entire spectrum of childhood experiences – no matter how trivial – has shaped us into the adults we are today, for better or worse.
While I’m sure we will continue to exhibit and pass down some negative behaviours from our parents and their parents before them, my sincere hope is that Lorelei and I will be mindful enough to treat ourselves, our children and community with kindness, curiosity and compassion. If Winifred and Jeronimo can demonstrate these qualities in their own lives and work to cultivate them further – and remember us equally for the same – then I think our work has been done!
Clothing store: Definitely asking the wrong person here; both clothes and Tupperware seem to randomly manifest in our home… Bonds Online gets a good workout, I think.
Nursery item: Apart from our own Nestling range, I’d have to say our Motorola MBP36 baby monitor – it lets us control room temperature remotely, but also spy on our kids. They do really weird stuff when you’re not looking, like sing their favourite songs from The Sound of Music to their teddies. You can also talk to your kid from the monitoring station via speaker, but that definitely freaked Winifred out.
Activity or outing: Feeding the cockatoos, rosellas and parrots at Grant’s Picnic Ground. A somewhat painful, yet always cheap and entertaining local excursion.
Dinner destination: Family dinner is a pretty rare occasion, but for breakfast you absolutely cannot beat the Emerald General Food Store.
Bedtime story: Lorelei usually does story time before I takeover and bust out the apps, which is our favourite bonding activity. Winifred is currently loving this obscure Sesame Street one called Breathe, Think, Do that teaches skills such as persistence and self-control. We also love the Endless Alphabet and Numbers games by Originator Inc.