Sarah Turner’s honest, often startling, blog about raising her two sons, has resulted in a generation of parents religiously following her glamour-free escapades.
It’s clear that Sarah, 29, who grew up in Launceston and moved to Exeter for university, passionately believes a rose-tinted image of parenting is damaging to new parents.
“It’s really harmful because, when you’re feeling low, and you’re thinking: I’m not doing anything right! My child is broken! Why won’t they sleep? Why do they hate me? and so on.
“You’re knackered and you’re scrolling online for stuff that might make you laugh or feel better, but it made me feel ten times worse. It was all: You may be struggling, but don’t forget to cherish this moment, because you won’t get it again!
“If you’re feeling any level of guilt or inadequacy it’s just heightened by wall-to-wall images of moment-cherishing where you think: Oh, I’m really screwed in comparison to this!”
She enthusiastically explains how, after her eldest son, Henry, now five, was born, she became frustrated by the representations of parenting online.
“None of it resonated with me at all. It was either really jokey or it was just the glossy edit. The Instagram version – too aspirational. That’s what I thought parenting would look like. But it just didn’t.”
These frustrations proved a catalyst for Sarah: “I thought: I’m just going to write something myself.”
True to her word, Sarah began to write and The Unmumsy Mum was born. Yet her ambitions were initially far smaller than the phenomenon it has become.
“I never had any need for anyone else to read it. It was more like an online diary, just for me. I can remember being amazed that 50 people had read it, thinking: Isn’t that amazing – 50 people that I don’t know have read my experience of labour. I felt better. It was just like therapy.”
The Unmumsy Mum blog has since proved therapeutic for thousands of parents who find comfort in its honest take on having children.
“The No 1 feedback is: We follow because it’s just like my life. Because it is,” says Sarah. “We all have our differences but we are fundamentally the same. It’s just the normal stuff that I document.”
Understanding how her writing helps her followers gave Sarah a new perspective: “I’ll have a disastrous day out and be in tears but there is a little bit of me that thinks: I can write about this. I know there’s someone else going through this and I can document it in a way that makes them say: ‘Thank God, it isn’t just me.’”
At the time of writing, The Unmumsy Mum has more than 531,000 followers on Facebook and Sarah’s book The Unmumsy Mum has been a Sunday Times No 1 bestseller.
Sarah, whose husband James, 33, is a civil servant, has no intention of going back to her pre-children career as alumni relations manager at Exeter University.
Does she feel like a star?
“I certainly don’t feel like a celebrity in any way, shape or form. But when you go to events it is odd. At the Jersey Festival of Words there were 300 mums there to see me. I felt like the Beyonce of motherhood.”
The antics of Sarah’s sons, Henry and Jude, two, are central to The Unmumsy Mum’s popularity. But neither boy is particularly aware of his new-found celebrity status.
“Jude has no idea whatsoever, none. Henry knows I write books and they’re loosely about him and that he’s named in them.
“Last year they had a big poster up of me and Henry in Waterstones for my book launch. My dad took Henry up to town, to do a bit of a reveal, thinking this was incredible, but Henry was just so casual about it, saying ‘Yes, my mum’s done a book.’”
Sarah’s enthusiasm is palpable as she talks about her sons: “(Henry) does funny stuff all the time and its so real. He’s hilarious.”
Yet she’s mindful that, as he gets older, she doesn’t want to rely on Henry as a source of comic material: “I feel like I’ve got to a bit of crossroads now that Henry’s in school. I’m kind of unsure now on where I will go on documenting what he does and says. People will comment: ‘We love Henry, we love Henry-isms’ and I think, yeah, but he is also just my son.”
Does she worry about sharing too much of her life?
“At first, I thought can I include this? Is this too personal? Then I thought, ultimately why am I writing? I kept thinking: would I have benefited from reading about another mum arguing about this with her husband, or what happened with her body, or whatever it might be. So I didn’t backtrack on anything.”
Although she’s now a bestselling author, with a second book The Unmumsy Mum Diary out now, much of Sarah’s family life remains unaltered.
“It’s weird, because in some ways my life has changed so much in the last two or three years, but it some ways it really hasn’t changed at all. The four of us are still at home on a Sunday arguing over who’s going to make the tea and who’s going to tidy up the toys. It’s just nice because my work is writing about my life.”
Sarah’s philosophy is one of complete honesty and not being afraid of talking about the downsides of parenting.
And hers is a positive message: only by seeing how normal the low points are can parents really enjoy the high points of the child-raising journey.
“I do know how short life is, and I would cherish each moment if I could, but it’s really hard. Life’s too short to whinge, but it’s also too short to sit at home worrying that you’re whinging and you’re doing the wrong thing.”
Wise words from Sarah Turner, The Unmumsy Mum:
On soft play: Don’t wear low rise jeans. You will end up crawling through the Mega Maze to collect your crying child with half your knickers on show.
On being a new mum: I once stood in the shower with my fingers in my ears, crying, trying to drown out the sound of the nursery rhyme CD which in turn was drowning out the sound of a screaming baby.
On expectations: Not so very long ago, somebody asked me whether life as a parent was “everything I imagined it would be” and I laughed so hard that food came out of my nose.
The Unmumsy Mum Diary, £12.99 Bantam Press