‘I’m held together by coffee, Spanx and concealer’

 

AS A parent, there have been many failings.

The time she did three-and-a-half hours of live television, emceed an event and then came home and fed her children Weet-Bix for dinner.

The time she dressed the boys in their clothes the night before to try to speed up the morning routine and then her youngest, Harry, had a nappy explosion all over them.

The time she watched episodes of Super Nanny to try to work out how to get her kids to eat their veggies, and then gave up and realised plain pasta and packets of Jatz were the solution.

The time she read only the first sentence of every page of her son's book to try to speed up bedtime - and told him he just wasn't listening when he said the story didn't make sense.

Sarah Harris readily concedes that she is far from perfect on the mothering front.

But the failing that sticks with her the most, and still makes her wince recalling the memory, is the day she forgot father's day at daycare.

It wasn't until she turned up to pick up her almost four-year-old son Paul, and saw all the other kids sitting around doing activities with their dads, that she realised her mistake.

"I completely missed the note," the Studio 10 co-host recalls.

"All these kids are there with their dads, and Paul is just sitting there with these random people.

"It broke my heart, I was so upset and I just thought - I am completely failing as a mother, I am not nailing this."

 

Studio 10 presenter Sarah Harris with her boys in Sydney. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Studio 10 presenter Sarah Harris with her boys in Sydney. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Harris, 38, tells this story not to make herself feel bad, but to make other mums feel better.

The way she describes it: some days as a working mum, you nail it; other days you fail so spectacularly that you feel like completely chucking in the towel.

That father's day was a towel day.

"Some days you win that mental battle, and other days you feel like you are drowning," she says.

"I am constantly feeling guilty I'm not being the very best mother to my kids.

"If you ask my husband or my kids they would say I'm doing fine, and ask my bosses and they would probably say the same thing - but we try so hard to be everything to everyone and the guilt can become a little overwhelming."

Harris is not alone in feeling like the work/life

juggle can be all a bit too much sometimes.

A recent study of 6000 parents - the National Working Families Report - found two in three working parents were too drained when they got home to put effort into family life.

The study found half of all women who were parents or caring were under "a lot or a great deal of stress" when juggling work and family.

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says the report "lays bare the extreme failure of work/life balance for so many parents", and has said parenting should not be an exercise in "martyrdom".

Sarah Harris readily concedes that she is far from perfect on the mothering front. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Sarah Harris readily concedes that she is far from perfect on the mothering front. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

People who look at today's cover would probably be thinking Harris has it all together. (As well as wondering how she keeps three crisp white shirts free from grass stains and dribble and little chocolate-smeared fingers.) Harris and her sons Paul and Harry, who turns two this month, are a glamorous little family unit (husband Tom Ward, 41, isn't pictured).

But behind the scenes, there was a tantrum over bindii prickles (Harry), attempts to climb mum's gorgeous silk skirt (Paul) and some energetic tree climbing between shots (Paul again).

"You cannot think that kind of Instagram picture-perfect family is real life, because it's not," Harris says.

Harris concedes she rocks into Ten every morning looking like a "hot mess". She is held together, she jokes, by coffee, Spanx and concealer.

"There are going to be really messy days, but life is messy and fun - and the joy is in the messiness of it all."

She has been very honest about the reality of parenting to her Studio 10 audience and her 100,000-plus social media followers - talking about the corners she cuts, the witching-hour battle and what she allows her "stinky, squirmy boys" to get away with.

She says she is not the parent she thought she would be ("I thought I was going to run my house with military-style precision") but they are surviving.

"You're always an excellent parent before you have your own kids," she jokes.

"I remember pre-marriage and pre-children, internally rolling my eyes at parents who say their kids were still up at 9pm, or their kid still climbs into their bed with them.

"Now we have a little person in our bed five nights out of seven; Harry is still up two to three times a night; the house is a mess; and there are 15 loads of washing. But the kids are happy and pretty well-rounded."

She is also upfront about the crazy mad overwhelming love she feels for her two little "ratbags", saying a recent week away spent in Melbourne covering the racing for Ten made her feel like she was "missing an arm or a leg".

Harris was able to FaceTime with Paul, who pleaded with her to get on a plane and "come back to me".

"They're high-intensity kids - it's like living with two cattle dogs - but at the same time as being off-the-charts energetic, they are super sensitive and really quite needy and beautiful," she says.

"When you're in the thick of it, it can feel like such a grind, especially that dinner/book/bath routine, but when I was away I realised just how calming and fulfilling it is, it fills up my cup and puts things in perspective."

 

Studio 10 Brisbane Sarah Harris on the work-life balance and why it’s so difficult for mothers to cope. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Studio 10 Brisbane Sarah Harris on the work-life balance and why it’s so difficult for mothers to cope. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Harris says a good partner is essential to making the crazy juggle work and describes Ward as an "exceptional dad", who has reservoirs of patience that she wishes she could tap into. Because he works late, he is often the one tasked with getting young Harry back to sleep.

The couple's childcare arrangements are complicated, but they make it work because they both want to be in the workforce, she says.

Harris says the best advice she received about how to manage work and kids was from Vogue Australia editor-in-chief and mother-of-twins Edwina McCann.

"She told me that if you want to keep working, you need to spend money on childcare," Harris says.

"You may not feel like it's an investment, but it is - because it's an investment in your superannuation, it's an investment in your career.

"If you take five years off to raise kids, then you have to break back into your career and that can be hard in television because it moves pretty quickly. There are going to be times when I'm behind, and it feels like a zero sum game, but in the end you will be glad you have spent that money to keep your foot in the door."

Harris took her advice. To do three-and-a-half hours of live television every weekday on Studio 10 requires a "finely balanced juggling act" and an assortment of childcare arrangements.

She is in the car on the way to the studio by 6am, handing over to a carer who helps get the boys up and take them to the park when Ward, who runs his own IT business, heads to work. That woman hands over to another carer later in the day who comes in and feeds the boys lunch. Harris gets off air at noon, does a few meetings and then heads home to take over for the afternoon and evening. Next year, the boys will both do a couple of days of child care, adding drop-offs and pick-ups to the mix.

 

 

Pictured is Kerri-Anne Kennerley on the set of Studio 10, with the cast (L-R) Natarsha Belling, Sarah Harris, Kerri-Anne, Denise Drysdale, Angela Bishop and Joe Hildebrand. Picture: Tim Hunter
Pictured is Kerri-Anne Kennerley on the set of Studio 10, with the cast (L-R) Natarsha Belling, Sarah Harris, Kerri-Anne, Denise Drysdale, Angela Bishop and Joe Hildebrand. Picture: Tim Hunter

When it all goes haywire or when the kids get another daycare bug (my interview with Harris is delayed a few days after she is floored by the latest bout of germs), family step in.

"I have to pay a lot of money to make sure I can get to work, but I really like what I do and I think it's good for me to go to work," Harris says.

"It's been a part of me, working in television, for such a long time, and it makes me happy - but it's certainly a juggle and you have got to spend a lot.

"It's also good for my boys to see that women work too, and that women contribute in a whole bunch of ways."

She doesn't like the term work/life balance, saying it's a "lofty ideal but something I am barely able to achieve week to week".

Women need to lower their standards about how much they can achieve, she says.

"I read this great quote recently that people expect working parents to parent like they don't have a job, and work like they don't have kids - you feel like you are constantly being pulled in so many different directions," she says.

"After I've had a huge day, and emceed an event and done three-and-a-half hours of live television, yes I do sometimes tell my kids it's Weet-Bix for dinner again.

"And then I'm up in the night with Harry and I come in brain-fried and I can barely get sentences out, and I feel like I'm not really nailing this work thing either. The pressure we put on ourselves is too much, we're all just doing our best."

Harris, who grew up on Bribie Island and studied at Caboolture State High School ("those teachers were just the making of me") says she's in a good place professionally.

She's been on air with Studio 10 for six years and is still having a blast. In an interview soon after Harry was born, she was asked about speculation that she could replace Lisa Wilkinson on the Today showand talked about a return to breakfast TV at some point in the future.

But for now, she's happy.

"What has been really good for me with the kids is I used to live a really long time in the future," she says.

"I find that I've now just got to focus day-to-day. If something came up, I would look at it and we would talk about how to make it work, but the kids are so little for such a short amount of time so I don't know.

"Being a mum has made me more efficient, I feel like I get things done so much quicker - I don't really have time to stuff around. You've just got to get it done, you're better at making those gut decisions."

And her advice for other mums who, like her, are trying to make it all work? Be kind to yourself.

"Women need to make sure they get some time on their own and they need to accept help when people offer it," she says.

"We can be martyrs as women. If someone says to you 'how can I help', then think of a way they can help. Say you can sit here for an hour with the child while I go to Westfield or go get a coffee on my own. Do a lap round the block, get out of your head and out of the house.

"The reality is, the fact you are even wondering about whether or not you're a good mum probably means that you are."


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