She gets up at 5am to make breakfast and dinner, sometimes puts her kids to bed in their clothes for the next day and refuses to insert a gift in every layer of Pass the Parcel.
But as well as being the most organised – and sensible – mother ever, Madeleine West has tips from the coalface of ‘extreme parenting’ that could help any family, whether you’ve got two kids or 20!
The actress is currently appearing as TV anchor Erica Jones in The Wrong Girl. She juggles her career with raising six children – Phoenix, 10, Hendrix, eight, Xascha, six, Xanthe, four, and twins Xalia and Margaux, who turn two next month – with her chef partner Shannon Bennett. ‘I love it,’ she says. ‘All our kids need is for us to give generously of ourselves so we can raise them to be happy, healthy and respectful citizens.’
The 36-year-old says she suffers many symptoms of ‘maternis extremis’, or extreme motherhood, including eating Froot Loops straight from the box and suffering palpitations at 2am when she realises she has no bread for lunchboxes.
Here are her tips for surviving and thriving as a parent...
DITCH THE SIBLING GIFT
Instead of giving older siblings a gift ‘from the baby’, Madeleine advocates empowering them by talking about how they now have the very important job of teaching the new family member how things are done. ‘The older sibling will feel obliged to model these behaviours – win win!’
BREASTFEED YOUR WAY
‘The only expectations you need abide by are your own. Don’t waste time doing what you think you ought to be doing,’ she says.
LEARN TO CRY WITHOUT ANYONE KNOWING
Sometimes you need a weep, but kids can become frightened or confused by your tears. Learn to deliver a quick response if caught having a mini blub: ‘My eyes wanted to have a swim!’
ADOPT THE ‘KISS’ PRINCIPLE WITH BIRTHDAY PARTIES
Keep It Simple, Stupid. While she’s done both the modest at-home party with just family and the nutty whole class extravaganza, Madeleine advises neutering your ambitions when it comes to parties. ‘Your day may not rival the Oscars, but the kids will have a ball and you will be relaxed enough to enjoy it.
ALLOW ONE ACTIVITY A TERM
Madeleine allows her brood to each choose one activity a term. If they want to do more, they’re encouraged to organise getting there themselves. We want to raise kids who find solutions rather than say ‘I want, I want!’.
STAGGER THEIR SLEEP
The only way to put six kids to bed is to accept it takes time. Madeleine staggers her kids’ sleep times so she can spend one-on-one time with each before bed. As for babies, she recommends cluster-feeding them from 8pm, which means giving them periodic feeds over a few hours. She’s found that, by then putting them down about 10pm, they’ll sleep until 4-5am.
DO YOUR SHOPPING ONLINE
Food, clothes, gifts, everything. Set up paper stations round the house where you can write down lists of things you’ve run out of.
SERVE A STIR-FRY SURPRISE
With six kids, it’s difficult to get one-on-one time with each child, but one way Madeleine’s learnt to make each child feel like an individual is with regular stir-fry nights. She cuts up two types of meat, supplies sauces and gets the kids to choose a vegetable to cut up. They then select their own combination of ingredients and she stir-fries it individually. ‘Having the freedom of choice – ha, ha the fools! – you will be amazed at how quickly they scoff their handiwork.’
CONNECT WITH YOUR PARTNER
Take 10 to 15 minutes every night to ask them how they are.
BE A ROLE MODEL
‘Don’t make excuses, make it happen,’ is Madeleine’s personal motto and one she’s trying to teach her children. Yet in encouraging them to be self-motivated, she says it’s important to really listen to your children. Rather than simply saying ‘Uh-huh’, encourage them to elaborate and use you as a sounding board in working out their own solutions.