Family

Pippa Wetzell: 'There's no such thing as a perfect mum'

Pippa gets candid about parenting, letting go of perfection and the part she plays for Bellyful, which sees mothers giving other mums a helping hand.

By Sarah Lang
Modern motherhood isn't easy. In the changing landscape of today's world, many new mums don't have family members in the same town, and can feel isolated and under pressure to be perfect, while at the same time getting to grips with breastfeeding (or not), and interrupted nights. Plus we're surrounded by curated Instagram posts of perfectly put-together women and cutely dressed babies, as opposed to piles of washing, and food ground into the kitchen floor.
Pippa Wetzell, who has daughters Brodie, 12, and Cameron, 10, and son Taj, eight, with husband Torrin, knows the challenges of becoming a mother first-hand – and believes we shouldn't buy into the notion of the perfect mother, something heightened by the rise of social media.
"I think some mothers have feelings of inadequacy when they see some social media posts, like, 'Oh no, I don't have the perfect nursery'," says Pippa, while chatting over a cuppa. "But I think there's a bit of a social media backlash now, where more people are posting about the shit bits – the slightly more dishevelled version. Because that's real. Maybe we should redefine what a great mother is, and if it's good enough I think that's great."
Pippa feels that some women put too much pressure on themselves to be supermums, and that often these are high-achieving career women. "I'm not calling myself a high achiever, but I look back and think, 'Why did I get so caught up in certain things?' There's a great TV comedy about new motherhood called The Letdown and the main character Audrey goes through a series of difficult but funny things.
Like, she gets so caught up in trying to pull off this perfect party for her daughter's first birthday, but actually a one-year-old doesn't care. I made Torrin watch some of the show, and I said 'That was me!' or 'That was us!'"
Pippa identifies with Audrey and her partner sitting slumped with exhaustion in the hallway for sleep training, counting the minutes until they could go back in. "That was so me."

Getting a helping hand

One thing that new mothers often struggle with is asking for help if they need it – and yet it's often small things that make a big difference. That's why, for the last eight years, Pippa has been an ambassador for the charity Bellyful.
Bellyful's 650 volunteers across 23 branches nationwide make meals for new mums, and for families with young children who are struggling with illness, and have little or no family or social support. In the last 10 years, the charity has delivered 120,000 meals to 22,000 families. You can request help for yourself or another family, donate, or volunteer.
As ambassador, Pippa gives her time to speak at fundraisers, go to volunteer events, and attend 'Cookathons' (where volunteers cook, package and freeze meals), among other things. "I'm not at the coal face making macaroni cheese. There's no comparison between the little bit I do, and the amazing work these volunteers do," she says.
"Prior to having children, I would probably have just thought, 'Oh that's nice, Bellyful delivers meals', but as a mum I realised that, actually, it's so much more than that. It's also about mums showing other mums they care, and taking just a bit of the weight."
Bellyful is a shining example of the old adage 'it takes a village to raise a child' and is perhaps more important now than ever.
"A generation or two ago, your parents and family members probably lived closer to you. Now, many families don't have any support they can call on when it gets too much. That's where Bellyful comes in. It helps people who don't have a network within their community for whatever reason – perhaps they've moved some-where, but haven't put down roots yet."

Becoming a mum is a shock to the system

Recalling her own early days as a mum, Pippa says that going from one child to two children was a whole new world, juggling a needy newborn with a territorial toddler.
"I had children before most of my friends, and I did feel a little bit isolated. I realised I needed some structure, because my whole life I'd had a place to be at a certain time. I remember going to kindy once and telling one mum, 'I've literally walked over Weet-Bix on the floor to get out the door'. She shared a similar story, which was heartwarming."
Mopping the floor just had to wait.
Has Pippa, who works part time as a host for Fair Go, ever felt any 'mum guilt'? "All the time, and still now! The guilt is probably the hardest thing about motherhood. The other day my son had something on, and I felt bad that I couldn't be there. The other really difficult thing is those moments of physical or emotional exhaustion and frustration with kids, especially when they're going through phases."
Pippa doesn't give expectant parents advice. "When you're pregnant, people say things like 'make the most of the sleep while you can'. I've stopped saying anything like that because, no matter how many times you hear how hard it will be, I don't think anyone can be fully prepared for parenthood."

Getting support from family

With Torrin, who Pippa describes as a great father, often working long hours as a lawyer, who has she called on for support in difficult times? "I've been very fortunate to have help from my mother, father, in-laws, sister, sister-in-law and my husband's aunt, who live nearby. Both sets of grandparents are fairly young and healthy, and have been really involved in helping with the kids.
"I had lots of support so I thought 'Gosh, how would you manage if you had an illness, or a challenging baby, or maybe both, without all of that around you? Imagine if you didn't have a mother who came and folded your washing, and a mother-in-law who brought meals.' I was lucky like that. Sometimes a girlfriend would drop off dinner."
But despite not needing to call on them herself, becoming Bellyful's ambassador almost felt pre-ordained. In 2011, when Pippa had three children under the age of five, she made a smoked fish pie for her sister-in-law, who had just had her first baby.
"I put the pie in the oven, then looked at my emails. There was one from Jacqui Ritchie, Bellyful's founder, asking if I'd be its ambassador." Talk about timing.
Knowing how lucky she was to have great support from her family and friends, Pippa was quick to say yes.
Jacqui says Pippa is "a treasure. I don't think it's possible to have a more genuine, kind, and compassionate person to be the face of any organisation. Pippa gives so freely of her time, and is always available to meet volunteers and offer encouragement, as one mum to another. Pippa is testament to the fact that whether you're a busy TV celebrity, or an at-home mum, having a new baby is tough for everyone."

Pippa's family of five

Nowadays, three children is considered a big family and for Pippa it's just right.
"I just always thought three was our number. I have two full siblings, and some half-siblings and in lots of ways I'd love more kids, because I just love all the dynamics. But some friends have four kids, and I decided three is it! Basically, I just love being a mum. I mean, it obviously has its moments, but I enjoy picking them up from school, taking them to their activities, chatting about their days.
"Tonight, when I walk in after work, my son will run to me as though he hasn't seen me for weeks. Nothing beats that feeling."
Pippa has worked part-time ever since her eldest, Brodie, was born. In 2007, when Brodie was seven months old, Pippa took the job as co-host of TVNZ's morning show Breakfast (having previously filled in on the show), because it was a great career opportunity.
It was five days a week, and Pippa would finish mid-morning.
"That was great because I got to spend the rest of the day with Brodie, then both girls – albeit feeling a bit groggy. I tried to nap when they did."
Getting up at 3am was hard, but going to bed early was harder.
"You feel your day's been a little bit robbed; there was no time to read or talk much to Torrin. Sometimes I went to bed later, just to have that sliver of time to myself, and then I just got tired."
She left the show after three years when she had her youngest, Taj. Those hours had got too hard.
In January 2013, when Taj was a toddler, Pippa took the co-host job on consumer-rights show Fair Go. She's been there more than seven years, and works 9-5, Mondays and Tuesdays.
"Fair Go is 42 years old – my age! It's a privilege to work on a show that actually makes a difference to people's lives. I work on smaller consumer-information type pieces, as opposed to the complainant stories. I've done a story about scams, and one about tenancy rights."
Before they turned five, the kids went to daycare for a bit, but mostly went to kindergarten for morning or afternoon sessions. "And we had a nanny for a while."
Now, on Pippa's workdays, the children's grandparents, or aunt and uncle, do school pick-ups and after-school care.
"I really like that my children see that I work, and for them to know that [if they become parents] they can choose to stay at home, do paid work, or both. I know lots of families where both parents work part-time or flexible hours." She also knows not everyone has that option. "I feel blessed to work the hours I do."
It's not like she's lounging around on the other weekdays.
"My husband said to me on a Tuesday night, 'Is it nice to have your work week finished?'"
Pippa had to give him 'that look'. "And he goes, 'Whoops, I mean your paid-work week.'"
On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, there are plenty of household tasks in between school drop-offs and pick-ups.
"And at their ages, the kids are busy with sports, activities, friendships, and I'm basically their chauffeur. This week, my son has a dance competition on Wednesday and the same day I'm at school to help judge a speech competition. On Thursday two of my kids have rugby. I coach and manage sports teams for each of the kids, and I often help out with school trips and school activities. Sometimes I juggle my week, such as working a bit on a Thursday, to free up a Tuesday afternoon. I do the life admin, because I have the time, but sometimes Torrin says to me, 'Tell me where I need to be when.'"
What's the key to a successful marriage?
"I don't know!" laughs Pippa. "We're not organised enough to have date nights. Look, we still just have fun. Torrin makes me laugh. Certainly, with children, you sometimes don't focus as much on your marriage as you could, because you're so busy."

Taking time to take a breath

A few months ago, Pippa made a conscious effort to slow down a bit.
"I'm more conscious of saying no to things, though my husband might disagree with that statement!" she says.
"Look, I'd got sick of saying how busy I was, and hated feeling like I was too busy to actually enjoy anything. If you're not stopping to take a breath, you're probably not doing it right. A friend once told me I had too many tabs open in my brain, and I thought that was a great description. Recently she asked me 'Are you busy?', and I was pleased I could genuinely say 'No, I'm not too busy'.
"You do have those days where you're flustered, trying to get this and that done, but if I got a phonecall saying something was seriously wrong with one of my children, none of those other things would matter even a tiny bit.
When my son was six months old, he had three nights in Starship hospital. I felt blessed that it wasn't anything major, because I was conscioius that many people don't have that luxury of knowing they're at Starship short-term. It was one of those moments in life where you realise that as long as you and your family are okay, nothing else matters."