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The Unmumsy Mum’s Guide to (sort of) surviving lockdown

Writing your first novel while home-schooling three kids (and you thought you had it bad!). Muddy meets the Sunday Times best-selling author and Devon blogger, Sarah Turner.

Pic credit Rosie Parsons Photography

Say hello to Sarah Turner, the uber-witty Exeter author and Devon’s best known mum-blogger, who has over 400k Instagram followers and three hit parenting books to her name, including the Sunday Times bestseller, The Unmumsy Mum (Bantam Press, 2016).

Muddy adores Sarah because her witty writing is a million miles away from the glossy perfect-parenting manuals. Instead, she honestly and self-depreciatingly tells it like it is, and what we secretly would all rather hear, the warts and all truth about how hard it is being a good parent to her three boys, Henry (8), Jude (6) and Wilf (3).

Knowing how much spare time she has on her hands *not* Muddy tracked her down to find out how she’s coping in lockdown while writing book number four and home-schooling three kids. (And you thought you had it tough.)

Here’s what she had to share about life, lockdown and good intentions.

Hi Sarah! What was your first thought when Boris announced lockdown 3?

Oh god, here we go again.

Tell us about the new book.

Book 4 is my first novel and is by far my greatest challenge to date. It doesn’t yet have a title and I can’t give too much away but it follows the story of a woman who has a habit of quitting until she is thrown in the deep end with something it’s not quite so easy to give up on.

How the hell are you writing a book with three young kids at home?

HA (nervous laughter). A lot of very late nights typing furiously. 

Sarah telling it like it is on Instagram.

Describe the average lockdown weekday in the Unmumsy household.

I wake up with the very best of intentions, start the homeschooling day positively and then something resembling a circus unfolds. By lunchtime, I have lowered the bar on what can be expected from the day and by teatime I have lowered it some more. We’ve have some great lockdown days but we have also had days when I have wanted to run away!

How do you divide the childcare? Is husband James hands-on?

James and I have always divided the childcare pretty equally between us and he has been part-time since Wilf was born, which I am definitely very grateful for right now. He is a civil servant and has been going out to work, as normal, three days a week, since March. I am thankful it is not five days because I don’t think I would meet my book deadline.

Did you learn anything in lockdown 1 and 2 which you’re doing in 3?

Tricky one, as I found it much easier when the weather was better. Giving the kids a break from ‘lessons’ to have an ice lolly outside made me more popular than dragging them out for a windy walk. I suppose the only mantra I have found useful is ‘one day at a time.’ 

Any home schooling tips you can share (please!?)

Crikey, most days I feel as though I need tips. I try to give the kids something to look forward to i.e. us all watching a film together later or them being allowed to play on their video games when they’ve finished. Something to keep them going and boost morale. 

How do you cope with two home schooling and one younger who’s not?

To be honest, this has been the greatest difficulty throughout and it’s not Wilf’s fault but he does make homeschooling the bigger two hard work. In the first lockdown we were also potty training and between that and phonics and Year 3 maths, I started to lose the plot a bit!

What’s your home schooling set up?

We generally all work around the dining table as this means I can keep an eye on them when I’m also supervising their brother. Jude is in year 1 and I would say needs someone sat with him pretty much the whole time. Henry is in Year 4 now and requires less one-on-one attention but still needs my help.  

Do you follow the school day or do something different?

We try to do around 3 hours a day, which is in line with the work the school sets. We don’t always manage this but it’s the aim for each day so we maintain a bit of structure. 

How do they let off steam?

Play-fighting with each other, kicking a football around, doing online dance or exercise videos. 

How do you let off steam?

I go running on a Sunday morning which definitely feels like a bit of a mental reset. Otherwise, there isn’t really a time when I can let off steam.

I’ve got three kids and before I had my third someone helpfully told me the extra one feels like a lot more. Is three the magic number? 

Three is definitely our magic number, however I think the dynamics depend an awful lot on the children as individuals. We found having one extremely hard, two not quite so hard and three, well – three is just chaos, in the best sense, of course! Sometimes, the ‘extra one’ feels like an extra ten but maybe that’s just because we’ve all been locked down together. 

How do you manage to be funny even when you’re tired, and up to your ears in work and kids? Who makes you laugh?

I enjoy sharing lighthearted content because I think laughter is often all we’ve got (and if we didn’t laugh, we would cry, though sometimes I do both!) Behind the scenes however it’s not always funny and there have been some quite dark days where I’ve felt as though I am drowning. There are loads of amazing accounts that keep my spirits up but Sophie McCartney (@tiredandtested) is a recent fave.

What tips you over the edge?

Whingeing. When the kids whinge for hours and hours on end it starts to make me want to claw my eyes out.

And what keeps you sane?

Fresh air and gardening.

Worst lockdown family fails?

All the times I tried to do too much and ended up frazzled. Crafts never work out great for us, usually they just end in mess and disappointment,

And best highlights?

The days when the sun shone and we got the paddling pool out at midday on what should have been a school day, because we could.

What’s your go-to family meal when you can’t be bothered?

Pesto pasta or anything from the freezer (‘freezer tapas’ we like to call it).

Dry Jan or not to do dry Jan – are you bothering with the resolutions this year?

I have done Dry January in the past but didn’t even attempt it this year. My resolutions are to drink more water and keep up with my running rather than giving anything up. 

What makes you feel guilty or should we mums cut ourselves plenty of slack?

I feel guilty about everything but if anything, feeling guilty shows you care. We ought to cut ourselves some slack generally as parents and to be honest when you add a pandemic into the mix there is even more slack-cutting to be done!

Do you still not put limits on screen time for the kids when you’re busy and need to get on? Tell us why that’s okay in your book.

Hmmm, I probably can’t justify it as OK because I do understand why hour upon hour of screen time is not recommended. However, sometimes those screens are what affords me peace to work and work is what pays our bills so it’s not something I dwell on too much.

Any fave lockdown Exeter walks or places?

Yes, we live in St Thomas and have done for the last eight years. I’m not a big fan of takeaway coffees but will always big up Apple Blossom Cafe on Cowick Street for housing many of my book-writing hours pre-pandemic. Our favourite walk is to join the Exeter Green Circle route and either head towards Ide or Barley Valley Nature Reserve, both of which are walkable from our house.

Fave beach or woodland or moor walks?

Budleigh for beach and Belstone or Meldon Reservoir (near Okehampton) for moorland walks, when travelling a bit further is allowed again. We have family that way.

The first place/restaurant/shop/etc you will go post lockdown?

I don’t care where we go as long as there is good food and good wine and (hopefully) we’re allowed to get a babysitter.

Any family friendly Devon event in 2021 you will go to if you can?

Not an event as such but we had tickets for Bear Town that sadly got cancelled due to covid so we’re still yet to visit but have heard great things. 

What’s next for you? The Unmumsy Mum: The Movie?

Haha, I don’t imagine it would be a very interesting watch. I’m going to keep my head down and get this book finished (while trying to stay sane at homeschool). I’ve also recently become an ambassador for UK Reads, a World Literacy Foundation initiative, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some work with them. 

Want more, more, more from The Unmumsy Mum?

Sarah’s first novel is due in 2022, but why wait that long? If you need a laugh, follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or catch up with her Unmumsy Mum blog here.

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