"Attend to that which needs you most first, be it a child, work, your family, your friends, or yourself. Don’t always try and multi-task, you will be beating yourself up for being sub-standard at everything. This includes making time for yourself and making sure you get enough sleep".
Rex (14), Niamh (12), Remy (11), Caitlin (10), Ava (4), Marlowe and Olivia (18 months) - the names may sound like a line-up for a soccer team, but they’re actually all siblings.
Sydney lawyer Bridie Nolan, 43, is raising her five daughters and two step-sons with husband David Cameron, who works as a science teacher and school rowing coach.
“The girls are my daughters. Rex and Remy are my husband’s sons. We have had the three little girls together,” she explains to kidspot.com.au.
Bridie works as a barrister and arbitrator, which regularly sees her travelling interstate and overseas, and she told kidspot.com.au she was careful to factor kids into her long-term career plan.
“I was called to the bar 12 years ago when Niamh was born. My ‘plan’, if you can call it that, was that the children and my practice were to be commenced together so that they would naturally find an equilibrium, rather than one intruding upon the other,” she says.
She sounds like superwoman, but she’s very upfront about the fact that it takes a lot of help and a fair degree of micromanagement to keep track of everyone and run their busy household.
“Don’t buy the ‘I am a better mother because I do it all for my children’ nonsense we are drip-fed by the media and our peers,” she says, frankly.
“Your children will not remember the lifts to school and the homemade cupcakes for the cake stall. They will remember the bedtime stories, and the time you spend just chatting before bed or on Sunday mornings over breakfast - time you have because someone else has folded the washing.”
Bridie is passionate about encouraging women to ask for the help they need, and is very matter-of-fact about flexible care options she’s used for each of her children.
“I have an angel of an (executive assistant) who organises every aspect of my work which is not fee-earning. I call her my mum,” she jokes.
“We have an au pair and a nanny to the twins who assist with household chores. I have a cleaner who comes two days a week, who cleans and changes the linen. I do the shopping once a week and draw attention to myself with the obscenely overloaded trolley.
“Appointments we manage through the team of parents: my elder girls’ dad, his lovely wife and my husband all assist with getting the children to their commitments.”
Her three eldest daughters had nannies from when they were born, started childcare when they were six months old, and went to preschool five days a week from the age of three.
“The twins have a nanny as it is simply easier with two to kiss them goodbye at the door in the morning, rather than get them both ready and out the door for daycare,” Bridie explains.
Even then, she often has to make the most of seemingly innocuous pockets of downtime - such as the time she spends commuting on the bus or travelling for work - to actually get her own work done.
“When others are watching Offspring, I am working on the next big thing,” she admits.
She says parenting simply comes down to prioritising and communication.
“Attend to that which needs you most first, be it a child, work, your family, your friends, or yourself. Don’t always try and multi-task, you will be beating yourself up for being sub-standard at everything. This includes making time for yourself and making sure you get enough sleep,” she says.
“We have a family schedule on the fridge which is a mainstay. Everyone knows what they are meant to be doing. We have group emails flying between the households keeping everyone on the same page.”
The only thing that sometimes can’t be scheduled to perfection is her relationship with her husband, but she tells kidspot.com.au she knows the dynamic will change once the children are grown.
“My husband and I have always had a profound connection. All my husband has to do is look at me and I know we will be holding hands when we are old,” she confides.
“We try and get out and have a date night when we can, but we love nothing more than snuggling up and watching a mindless action film, or just walking the dogs, together.”
She says relationships, like cacti, can survive in the desert by having strong roots and storing water - and that one day, when the children leave, “the rain will fall again on our relationship”.
In the meantime, she says they’re focusing on the little things they can do to keep the spark alive, like laughing together, holding hands, and “sneaking passionate kisses whenever we can”.
“We love our beautiful big family and that keeps us strong together.”