She worked behind the scenes for years to produce compelling, high-quality books, but in recent times editor Sally Collings has also turned her hand to writing. Her best-selling first book, Sophie’s Journey, conveyed the harrowing, heartening story of Sophie Delezio. She’s followed it up with two more books, Positive and The World According to Kids, and now divides her time between writing, editing, running her own publishing company, offering her services as a guest speaker and consultant, and raising two young children. It’s fitting, then, that Collings’ busy lifestyle inspired her latest book, Parenting with Soul …
How would you explain Parenting with Soul?
It’s always hard to sum up a book, especially if it’s yours! But I’d say that Parenting with Soul is designed to help parents find something they might have lost in their lives: meaning, direction, peace. It’s also about refreshing the joy in being a parent by exploring things like mindfulness, being present, and slowing down.
How did you come up with the idea for it?
This book has had a long gestation period: the ideas have been swimming around in my head for about eight years, since my first child was born. It’s a book that I needed when I became a parent: I obsessively read a pile of books about babies and parenting, but most of them were about the physical aspects of the subject. What I really wanted was something that touched on the spiritual and emotional side. That’s what this book sets out to do.
You’ve now written a couple of books around the theme of children (I’m thinking specifically of The World According to Kids and Sophie’s Journey). Is it an area you feel particularly drawn to/about which you feel you have something to say?
Starting to write in this area came about more by accident rather than design: I was invited to write Sophie’s Journey, which was a real gift and put me on a different path in my life. Previously I’d edited and published other people’s books, and it was quite a shift to be the one writing the words. But it’s an area that is very much part of my identity right now, having young children myself.
How does Parenting with Soul differ from other parenting books?
This is a very personal book. I’m not writing as an expert but out of my own experiences and those of people I spoke to along the way. It’s also a bit of a crossover book, covering both parenting and spirituality.
In Australia we are more comfortable talking about sex than spirituality—except for a dedicated minority, most of us get embarrassed by the whole spirituality thing. That’s partly why I called the book Parenting with Soul—I figured I could sneak it in under the radar, and people might think it was about soul music or soul food.
You juggle parenthood with a busy career as a writer and editor, run your own publishing company, and still find the time to give guest lectures at university and industry writing courses. How do you fit it all in? Is the book, in part, your own way of coming up with a way to stay zen while juggling so many responsibilities?
Sometimes I feel a bit like Vegemite—spread very thin! Years of working as a book editor have taught me how to juggle very effectively; I’m used to working with a dozen or more authors and projects at once, and that forces you to be very clear about priorities, schedules and delegating.
For the second part—yes, I do think the book has served the purpose of solving my dilemmas as well as other people’s … I have to keep reminding myself of the key messages in Parenting with Soul, like slowing down, being present, and finding joy in the small things.
We’ve recently seen a kind of peeling back of the mantra that women can have it all. Is Parenting with Soul part of that emerging conversation? That it’s ok not to be perfect and we all need a little help now and then?
I didn’t set out to join that conversation but that is certainly a major direction that the book follows. In fact, for a while I toyed with the idea of calling this book The Perfect Parent, but I decided that people might not get the joke … I think as parents and as humans we need to re-assess our notion of what ‘perfection’ is all about, and embrace our differences, our failings and our brokenness. Those things don’t stop us from being perfect; they are part of our perfection.
Do you feel that spirituality is the oft-forgotten part of parenting? If so, how?
I think it’s an oft-forgotten part of society more generally. Even if you have an active spiritual life, once you become a parent it’s very easy for that to be one of the first things to ‘give’ as your days fill with feeds, naps, nappies, bottles, teething, tantrums … Spirituality can feel like a luxury rather than a necessity, but I think we need to turn that around in order to give our days meaning, direction and a sense of purpose.
You note that parents are already stretched thin and make it clear that your book offers opportunities to incorporate spirituality rather than a checklist to work through. Can you tell us a little more about this?
I wanted to talk about spirituality as part of the fabric of parenting rather than an added extra. There are plenty of books about spirituality that ask you to take just 10 minutes a day to pray, or retreat to a mountain top to meditate. As a parent with young children I’m lucky if I get out the door some days, let alone to the top of a mountain!
To me, spirituality isn’t a task to add to your day. Parenting is a spiritual practice in its own right. So I think people will read this book and be delighted to find that they are already doing quite a lot of ‘parenting with soul’. Every time they appreciate the gift of their children, or stop to breathe for a moment, or say a word of thanks for the day—that’s soul. Hopefully too, parents will find in this book some new ideas so that they can experience more soul in their lives.
What sort of response have you received so far from other busy parents?
In the course of writing Parenting with Soul I talked to lots of parents in different situations: single parents, co-parenting couples, post-career mums, young mums, full-time parents, juggling parents. Overwhelmingly, when I explained what the book was about, people would say, ‘I need that!’ or ‘I need to buy that for my [sister/daughter/cousin]!’
I’ve been really pleased that people connect so readily with the concept; I thought it would be harder to convey what Parenting with Soul is about, but there seems to be an instant recognition of what it is and that there really isn’t anything quite like it.
Massively important. For me personally, seeing the funny side of parenting is essential and a real lifesaver. It’s the best way to defuse explosive situations. When a five-year-old farts in your ear, you just have to laugh—it’s so much more fun than losing your temper.
Juggling writing with family responsibilities can be challenging. How and when do you write?
Mostly I write when my children are at school. Early mornings I need to exercise to keep myself sweet and sane, and by the evening my brain is about a quarter of its usual size and I struggle to string a sentence together. Occasionally I run away from home: I go to the library to write. In the course of writing a book I also try to get away by myself for a few days—what I call a ‘writing retreat’, but not in the formal sense of the term, usually involving the cheapest hotel deal I can find within a two-hour drive of home.
What’s next for you? Is there another book in the works or a well-earned writing rest?
One of the things I really enjoy is collaborating with other writers. Right now, I’m co-writing a book with Antonia Kidman about sustainable living and rediscovering the simpler pleasures with your family. After that—who knows? I have some visions but they’re not set in concrete. Now that you mention it, a writing rest might rather lovely …