I am delighted to be sharing this interview series with you, where I will be talking to a different woman every fortnight about parenting, motherhood, their daily rhythm and what makes a beautiful childhood. So without further ado, let’s meet the mother…
This week, I’d like to welcome project leader, activist, writer, and all-round champion Mel Wiggins to Frida be Mighty. Fun fact about Mel you might not know: she has an MBE, awarded to her when she was just 32 for the vitally important work she does on trafficking. Creative, authentic, and full of passion, I find Mel so inspiring, and I’m sure you will enjoy reading her answers as much as I do…
Can you introduce yourself and your family?
Hello! I’m Mel, I’m a mother of 2 (Levi who is 6 and Ada who is almost 2) and wife of 10 years to Dave. I have lived for extended periods in both Canada and London but returned back to Northern Ireland to get married in 2007. We live in the best street with the best neighbours in our hometown of Portadown in Northern Ireland. We both work in the charity sector and I do freelance writing and run events for creative women in Northern Ireland on the side.
Do you have a daily rhythm? What do your days look like?
Daily rhythms mostly always start with waking up and realising what bed you have ended up in throughout the night (so much bed hopping with our kiddos)! Then it’s breakfast, school run, and grandparents arriving to take care of the baby while Dave and I go off to work (Dave works from our home office but is out and about a lot and I work three days from my office about a mile away). After work it’s homework, dinner, play time, books and bed. When the kids go to bed we tend to eat all the snacks that we don’t want to share with the kids and watch a boxset together or work on something writing/blogging/events related which I also find really relaxing.
Are there any philosophies or books which have influenced your approach to parenting?
I’d say we are pretty tuned into attachment, respectful parenting and try to see our kids as people with the same rights and deserving of the same respect and dignity that we would offer each other or anyone else. My friend Lucy (Lucy Aitken-Read of the brilliant Lulastic blog – keep your eyes peeled for an interview with her on these pages soon! Eloise x) is a great source of wisdom and challenge on these topics and has some great resources on her ‘Parent Allies’ website. I also love Dr. Laura Markham and other writers who promote a simple, paired down way of doing family life.
I was so inspired to hear about the activism work you do, and very impressed to hear that you started up the charity you work for with a new baby by your side. Can you tell me about how Freedom Acts came to be?
Freedom Acts came out of a long time interest in the issue of human trafficking. A friend and I had done some travelling separately and had come across the issue and decided to do some research into it in Northern Ireland. We found out that it was an issue effecting every town and city here and that there was very little being done to raise awareness, so we formed a voluntary group with Stop the Traffik (a global anti-trafficking charity). I was just about to have our first child when we started and things quickly spiralled because so many people, both general public and government bodies were interested in the issue.
We were spending all our time plugging away and were really starting to see progress on lots of levels so we decided to apply for funding to create a local project here in our town that would see us employed to do the work. We got funding and have been running the project now for 6 years – with a main focus on preventing exploitation. We train statutory agencies, health professionals, run workshops and signposting for migrant workers and refugees to understand and exercise their rights and we create resources for general public awareness. It’s a running joke that Freedom Acts is my third child as, just like having kids, it has been the most challenging and rewarding work I’ve ever done.
Do you think that activism and motherhood are natural bedfellows?
I think my activism ramped up when I became a mother. I think there’s a natural turning point in this journey when you realise that we are shaping the future for our kids. For me, it’s about modelling out a way of living that is outward focused – that leans into the tough things in the world and believes there is hope for those situations or people and that everyday people like us can be part of that story of hope.
I want my kids to grow up believing that so we try to live with that in mind in how we parent, how we spend our money and time, who we support and how we talk about big issues with them. I think parents can be incredible activists and raise children that are tuned into the world around them. I created my first online course called ‘Eco Family Living’ last year and had a full cohort of people join in for a month of exploring how to be more mindful of the planet and of others in our family life. It was so encouraging to connect with lots of like-minded mothers wanting to do life differently.
Which aspects of parenting bring you the most joy?
The mundane parts of parenting are often the least savoured but bring me the most contentment – the slow Saturday mornings, in our jammies in the kitchen. I want to see the magic in the dinner time chaos as much as the out and about adventuring. Our home and my little crew is my safe place; a retreat from the challenges of my work and being there brings me the most joy.
Which parts of motherhood do you find challenging?
There is a delicate dance that we are always doing to make sure that everyones’ needs are met in our family life – not just the kids but us as parents too. I find that when I don’t have some space for things that make me come alive (writing, being creative, having time with my close female friends etc) I’m more likely to be on edge and impatient with everyone around me. The balance almost never happens perfectly but it’s worth pursuing so that we all feel a bit more in tune with ourselves and can offer the best of ourselves to each other.
How do you make time for self-care, and what does that look like for you?
For me, self-care comes in increments. It’s savouring a quiet cup of coffee when the baby is having her morning sleep (long live nap time) or taking an hour after the kids are in bed to have a bath or read or get some thoughts down on the laptop. We are getting better at planning time away as a couple and I also find that my creative pursuits – writing or running Assembly Gatherings (creative gatherings for women here in Northern Ireland) is a time of self-care for me. It nurtures part of me that can easily be neglected with the demands of motherhood and small kids.
What do you think makes for a beautiful childhood?
To me, a beautiful childhood is less about going to exciting places or having cool stuff and more about being present with your family on the daily – showing up and giving your best. I am keen to also present an authentic version of myself to my kids – not hiding emotions or struggles from them but letting them see how human we are, and welcoming them to be themselves as well. A beautiful childhood is one where kids feel free to be themselves without fear.
If you could share one insight or piece of advice with other mothers, what would it be?
My only advice would be to find a way to make space for what lights you up and ask or accept help when you need it. Mothers who are able to pursue the things that bring them life (outside of family life) are much better placed to parent from a place of joy rather than resentment. My friend Aly and I started a hashtag (#motherhoodalive) on instagram to inspire mothers to share those moments online. It’s a beautiful collection of ways that mothers are taking back the things that spark them.
Finally, what is your favourite children’s book?
We are big Oliver Jeffers fans in this house and love all of his stories. They are whimsical, beautiful and fun to read together.
Thank you so much Mel! You can find Mel on Instagram here, and read her beautiful blog here. You can also find out more about her charity Freedom Acts here.