TV personality Nadia Sawalha chats about life with her two girls, aged five and ten, and how she's already bracing herself for the day they leave home
Did you always plan on being a mum?
Yes, I always had a really strong maternal instinct. I come from a big Anglo-Arab family and there were lots of babies. Actually, I was surprised I ended up becoming a mum quite late – I had my first daughter at 38. I am a stepmother as well, though. I have two stepdaughters who are 13 and 18.
Describe birth in one word.
Favourite thing about being a mum?
How much they make me laugh. I think people can be quite ‘doom and gloom’ –you know, when you get pregnant, people groan and say, ‘You don’t know how much your life is going to change!’ and so on. No one ever tells you how much you’ll laugh.
Who’s your biggest parenting influence?
I guess my mum. I think you learn as much from what your own mother did right as what she did wrong. My mum was very supportive, and she was very kind, but she couldn’t be physically affectionate at all when we were growing up, she found that really hard – and I’m the complete opposite, really tactile and cuddly.
Maddie and Kiki-Bee are fabulous names. How did you choose them?
I settled on Maddie because I sort of liked the American-ness of it. And when I was pregnant the second time, she was a real kicker, Maddie said one day: ‘You should call her Kiki’ – and I loved it! I think Maddie naming her little sister had an amazing effect on their relationship. She was never jealous.
Perfect day with your family?
Recently we stayed in a beach hut in Mudeford. It was freezing and we got up early, looked at the sea, and had hot chocolate and biscuits for breakfast. Then we went for a three-hour walk by the sea, and in the forest. There was no TV or radio, so Mark read The Hobbit to everyone, it was lovely.
Do you cook with the girls?
They can already cook! Well, sort of. Maddie can make bolognese and rock cakes, and Kiki can do pancakes. On Saturdays it’s really nice as I let them do breakfast – pancakes and then scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate – and all of us sit and eat together. It’s important, weekend breakfasts are precious family mealtimes.
Do you have any advice for new mums?
It’s something someone said to me a long time ago. Think of your baby as a guest – they are essentially a stranger, and you have to give yourself a chance to get to know them. Even as they grow up, you have to continue to get to know them, and that means listening.
What have you had to give up?
Gin. All-night parties. Lying on the sofa, eating chocolate. Reading a book whenever I want to. Swearing randomly for no reason. My curly hair (it went frizzy after breastfeeding)… The list is endless.
Biggest challenges you have faced?
With Maddie, it was breastfeeding – it was really, really difficult. But I didn’t confide in anyone and then I got stressed, and got covered in eczema. It was horrendous.
Most embarrassing moments?
I was on a flight back from Spain with Maddie when she was little, and I’d given her a white chocolate bar, full of sugar, which she had a massive hyper reaction to. So we’d landed and everyone was waiting to get off, and she had this crazy tantrum – she got into such a state she actually puked into my hair. I had a full audience. Awful!
What makes them laugh?
Farts do it every time. They like any sort of slapstick too, but then my sister and I used to do things like put a plug in the middle of the floor and then call someone, and roll about laughing at their pain when they stepped on it. So they get that from me.
If your daughters were fictional characters who would they be?
Maddie would be Snow White. She can just put her hand out and a bird will land on it, or she’ll kneel down in the park and all the dogs come to her. She’s also incredibly sweet. If I say so-and-so is an old bag, she’ll say: ‘But mummy…’ and then list all the reasons why they are a good person. Kiki would be Lavagirl (from the film The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl). She has lava running through her veins! She’s fearless.
What does Mark do better than you?
Homework. Maddie will sometimes come down and say: ‘Er, what time is Daddy back?’. And I’ll say: ‘I don’t know. Why?’ And she’ll say: ‘Er… nothing.’ And I push her, and it’s because she’s got homework to do!
Kiki is five. Does she like reading and what’s her favourite book?
Her favourite author is Julia Donaldson. She used to have a problem with reading books and then one day Mark realised she really liked rhyme. The next day he came in with all the Julia Donaldson stories. She loves them.
What’s the one thing you’d like to pass on to your children?
There are two things I want my girls to be: kind and brave. I think if you have those two qualities, you’re probably going to be alright.
What have they taught you?
They’ve taught me how impatient I am, how unfocused I am and what a workaholic I am! They’ve also taught me to be a better friend. You see the loyalty children have for their friends and it makes you realise you’re really caught up with your life, and you need to pay your own friends more attention. Children show you all that’s good and bad about you.
What do mums have to accept?
That it’s not our job to teach our children to stay close to us, it’s our job to teach them how to be without us. It’s hard but right from the start, we are preparing our children for a time they’ll eventually leave us.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
My Sky+ box on which I have The Real Housewives of New York and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I like nothing more than to just lie on the sofa on my own, empty my brain, and watch other people’s dreadful lives! Of course, if anyone comes in, I switch it off and pick up a Hilary Mantel novel.
What would you invent for new mums?
A capsule you could just swallow that would make you feel like you’d had ten hours sleep. You couldn’t take them all the time, because then it would become meaningless. You’d have, say, ten you could use over the course of a year. There’s not been a day since I had my first daughter when I haven’t been tired!
Nadia was chatting to Pip Jones. She was supporting Farmhouse Breakfast Week (20-26 January). See shakeupyourwakeup.com