I recently read an article that quizzed Dr. Michele Borba (author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me-World) on how to teach children empathy; number three on her list was creating a ‘family mantra’ (I texted my husband to workshop this and he unsurprisingly did not respond).
It may not extend to her family, but the mantra of media-slashie Yumi Stynes is definitely ‘zero f*cks’.
Today we talk with the straight-shooting mum of four about multi-tasking, podcasting, making the most of maternity leave, and more.
You’ve said you had never wanted to become a Mum but experienced an incredible biological impulse to get pregnant at age 25, and that your first-born Anouk saved your life. Three kids on, you present, podcast and write in amongst managing your family’s mental load – Yumi, are you Australia’s most masterful multi-tasker? Apart from having an incredibly supportive partner, how do you do it? Have you kept your pledge to do less at home? Is it even possible to give up gatekeeping?
Thank you for that flattering question, ha! A couple of truths I’d like to underline – yes, my partner is a ridiculously competent and enthusiastic participant in parenting and its accompanying daily domestic drudgery. My life would not be possible without this help. I do multi-task like a juggling octopus, but I think most parents do – we keep the balls in the air, because we have to.
For the most part I’ve kept my pledge to do less at home… but to be honest, most of that ‘less’ involves hands-on caring for the children. I still do all the cooking and management of our social calendars, but my partner does most of the bedtime reading, bathing and other stuff he loves to do but I find quite boring. Quitting gatekeeping of domestic chores is easier when you realise you actually have zero fucks left to give.
Every parent has survived at least one incident of shaming, but my postmistress telling me off for bottle feeding in no way compares with the public outcry you experienced after ‘Paddington Bear’ (it was summer in Sydney and Yumi brought then-baby Mercy along to the premiere in a nappy). Why do you think it is that mothers tend to tear each other down instead of boosting each other up – when we’re all in the same bonkers boat? What would you say about parenting in the public eye to those so quick to judge?
I’m not sure if it was other mothers having a go at me, it felt more like a bunch of people who found me annoying and thought it was a fair opportunity to give me a kicking. I was shocked and tipped off-balance when it happened as I’d been on maternity leave of sorts for a year and was not in fight mode – I was definitely not match-fit. On reflection, the whole thing was a giant heap of bullshit; I can’t believe anyone wasted their energy arguing about whether it was right to bring a baby out wearing nothing but a nappy on a hot day. Those people can just fuck off.
As for parenting in public or private, I don’t know anyone who isn’t just doing their best. Judgement happens, but I think all you can do is brush it off your shoulder – like the insignificant fluff it is.
I’m a big fan of Ladies We Need To Talk (it’s my must-listen along with The New Normal for all things Mum), and have found myself increasingly turning to podcasts (not sure if this can be attributed to the pursuit of quality over quantity content, or being time poor). How does the experience of working on the series compare with your current and past presenting, and have you any other favourite podcasts you’d like to share?
Working on Ladies We Need To Talk.has been an unbelievable experience, and we’re only halfway through season two! Allow me to answer your question in three parts.
First of all, when I started working on Ladies I was really struck with how ethical and diligent the team were. We approach every new topic with a very keen sense of responsibility to our listeners – to research thoroughly and speak truthfully. I love that so much.
Then there is the audience, who are so enthusiastic every time a new episode drops, and who clamour to share it with their friends. I’ve never had something I’ve worked on be so shared through word-of-mouth. It’s insane.
And then there’s my own personal experience, acquiring actual life-changing knowledge with each episode. I started out Season One thinking I knew everything and was this totally empowered woman, but I’ve still so much to learn. I feel different, I am different, because of this podcast.
The podcasts I love tend to be music-related, like Song Exploder and Switch on Pop – there’s nothing more delightful to me than nerdy dissection of popular music. This year, I’ve deeply loved a podcast about research into Isis called Caliphate; I also listen to my own radio show, The 3pm Pick-up, on podcast because I like to make sure I don’t sound like an asshole!
Growing up you wanted to be a chef but were put off by the industry’s aggressive energy – what was it that inspired you to finally pursue a culinary path with the Zero F*cks Cookbook, conjured while on maternity leave? Can you also share your go-to weeknight recipe from the book, and tell us a bit about the sequel due this summer – plus the non-food related publication you’re currently working on?
Yeah, I wanted to be a chef when I was a kid. My sisters tell me I loved squelching things together – that visceral blobbing of wet and dry ingredients, and the magic of adding heat. I never became a chef, but my oldest child is 16, so I’ve been cooking for a family for nearly two decades.
I mentioned maternity leave before, but when you freelance and take time off to have a baby, there’s not necessarily a job waiting for you when you’re ready to start back. I’d had a chunk of time off after my third kid and was desperate to get out amongst it, but I had to make my own opportunities. Making easy, health food was so native to me, the book wrote itself – like when musicians wake up with a perfect pop song written in their heads! Taking the cookbook to market was a joy because it was all so clear to me; rejection meant nothing because the idea was bullet-proof.
I knew Zero F*cks would be a hit because I am the exact kind of person who needs such a book: I am busy, I love food, I cook. I started writing the follow-up before the first one had even been printed, so I was ready to pull the trigger on that quick smart. The Zero F*cks Sequel should be out in time for Christmas and it’s bigger, funnier and swearier than the first.
As for the non-food project I’m working on, it’s still a bit top secret. It’s more in the vein of the work I do on Ladies, and I’m so excited about it that I get blinding surges of pleasure whenever I think about it!
How do your days start and end with Anouk, Dee Dee, Mercy and ‘Man Baby’? You’ve said you work hard on being honest, but do you have any other tips and traditions for raising four kids – particularly ones a generation apart?
My days start when I wake up at 6.30am, after which I pretty much run from the time the babies wake until around 11pm, when my partner and I lie side-by-side in bed, shell shocked and staring into our phones.
Raising four kids is total madness but it almost balances itself out with the great big gap. There’s 10 years between the first batch of kids (Anouk and Dee Dee) and the second (Mercy and Manbaby). The older ones thrill their younger siblings just by existing – they don’t have to do anything, they’re just hero-worshipped and magnificent and heavenly goddesses. The younger ones are bonkers and poo their pants and run around doing irrational shit like trying to stab each other with spoons, and somewhere among it all they’re learning to be decent humans with a basic sense of respect and humour.
One of the things we do is eat together every evening. We never have incidental TV watching – it’s either on because we’re watching something and engaged with it, or it’s off. And finally, I think the kids learn a lot by observing how I treat my own mother. She is an imperfect and wonderful human being, and I love her thoroughly. I very much hope that they will view me similarly when I’m an old lady.
Moving across time, what kind of adults might you like your foursome to grow into? How would you like them to remember you to their own families?
I don’t really mind what my children become so long as their laughter muscle is well exercised! I hope they have fun and treat their bodies like some people treat their cars (lots of attention and maintenance) and treat their friends and families as their greatest treasures.