I’m feeling as though it’s the perfect time for this book to come out. We hope that it provides comfort and solace as a source of support for women.
Make no bones about it—motherhood is not only beautiful and life-affirming but messy, even under the best of circumstances. Mothering in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and fear has got to be that much more challenging. Teresa Palmer and Sarah Wright Olsen are here to help.
Matriarchs with six kids between them, successful entrepreneurs and fellow actresses, Palmer and Olsen are the voices behind Your Zen Mama, a hugely popular blog where mothers can take refuge and bundle up in reassuring and empowering advice on every step of their parenting journey. Now they have released Zen Mamas: Finding Your Path Through Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, a book the friends co-authored, which chronicles their experiences from “the trenches of motherhood,” building on the foundations of their online destination. From preparing for pregnancy to birth and labor and everything that follows, as well as the challenges faced along the way such as pregnancy loss, fertility issues and postpartum depression, Zen Mamas covers the whole gamut of motherhood. Importantly, what Palmer and Olsen dispense are nonjudgmental advice, always coming from a sincere place and to champion mothers’ intuition above all else—there is no “right” way to raise your child—all the while illuminating a path for readers to staying as zen as possible.
To celebrate Zen Mamas, Anthem reached out to Palmer, 34, in Adelaide, Australia, where she’s currently riding out the global crisis with her family, to discuss, among other things, this new book.
Palmer is, of course, most widely recognized for her work as an actress, having starred in Jonathan Levin’s Warm Bodies, David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, to name a few. The Aussie also runs the nutritional supplement brand Lovewell, as well as the conscious living community Your Zen Life alongside meditation counselor Daniel Ahearn and her actor-director husband Mark Webber. If that weren’t enough, she’s about to launch a movement called ConnectFor just in time for Earth Day, which we’ll get into in the conversation that follows.
How are things going over there in Adelaide?
They’re going! We’re definitely in the house with all the kids. We’re just making it work. Each day is different.
I’m so happy that Zen Mamas came on my radar. I had spoken to my editor-in-chief about how to best pivot Anthem’s content to spotlight what feels really important and relevant right now. The brunt of the hardships we’re facing have fallen on mothers—there’s no denying that. How did this book come about in the first place?
We were approached by Penguin Random House Australia about two and a half years ago. I was so flattered by their enthusiasm, and we felt pretty shocked that we were asked to write a book! We probably didn’t take it that seriously at the time because we both had kids and we were working actresses. We thought, how could we make this work? Then finally we decided this is one of those things on your bucket list and we wanted to have a crack at it. When we engaged in this process with the publisher, we were quite vocal about wanting to make sure that the book is really supportive of women, no matter what choices they make or how they do things. We didn’t want to make it a how-to guide. We wanted it to be almost a memoir of sorts, talking about our own experiences with first-time motherhood, and navigating postpartum and birth and pregnancy and fertility and infertility and pregnancy loss. We wanted the readers to take what works for them and leave what doesn’t, with the overarching theme being, trust your maternal instincts. It was a long process! A crazy process. It was pretty mental. Halfway through, I said to them, “Could we have another year?” [laughs] I was shooting A Discovery of Witches, working 65 hours a week on that show. I just had another baby. I had just launched a business as well—my nutritional supplement company. There was just so much going on. I felt so exhausted and overwhelmed, and I didn’t think I would be able to get it to them on time. But our publisher said, “Nope! This is the date!” She put a fire under our butts and we just made it work. It’s quite surreal that now it’s coming out and found this release date in a really interesting time in history. But I’m feeling as though it’s the perfect time for this book to come out. We hope that it provides comfort and solace as a source of support for women.
I understand you wanted to write a book that you wish you’d had when you were pregnant with your first child as well. What’s something you wish you had known then?
That your intuition as a parent is real and something to be listened to. You understand and know your baby better than anyone else. No book or no expert is going to know more about how to be with your baby than you will. Obviously, I was brand new to the world of mothering and had read so many books. Each of them told me to do it in a different way. When I had my little newborn, I downloaded an app and it reminded me that every three hours on the dot he had to be breastfed and then I have to burp him and then after burping him I could bathe him. It just gave me a breakdown of what my day should look like. I didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t need any of that. I just had to listen to my baby’s cues and be in my own organic flow with my baby. But because I was a young new mother, I needed someone to tell me what to do. I really hope this book is empowering to women, to say, just follow those instincts! Check up from a book as a source if you feel like you wanna have a little bit more information, and if it works for you, great, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. Find a different way of doing things.
I think that reassurance is what draws you in immediately. What you offer is nonjudgmental advice and suggestions pulled from your own experiences. Perhaps one of the greatest downfalls is in believing that there is this picture perfect image of motherhood. That clearly doesn’t exist. It’s illusory. Every mother is on their own journey.
Their own—that’s right. You envision how you would be as a parent, and then when you’re actually in the trenches with them, you adapt to the changes. Each child needs something different from you, too. So it’s always in flow how you are with your children and the kind of parent that you are. It’s actually quite unpredictable until you’re there in the moment and just being present with them. We have no idea what that’s going to look like. It looks completely different when you get there.
I love how you call it “the trenches.” These are hard-won realizations. What about self-care for mothers? What does your self-care look like nowadays?
I try every day to show up for myself in some way. The communication that I have with my husband, Mark [Webber], is really open and beautiful. He knows that if I’ve been breastfeeding throughout the night, something that really is helpful for me is if he wakes up at 6 AM with the baby and does that first hour of parenting with our children for the day so that I’m getting a bit more of a lie in, and then I’m in the trenches with him as soon as I’m awake. I know that Mark likes to go workout and he wants to have his time to do his thing, and that’s showing up for his self. It’s a dance, really, and just about finding those moments, even if it’s for 20 minutes. Shut the door in your bedroom and listen to a guided meditation or do a few yoga poses. Jump in the bath. Have a glass of wine. Whatever it looks like for you, cultivate self-care, because only then are we able to be our best selves. You cannot pull from an empty cup.
How have your children—Bodhi, Forest, Poet, and Isaac—adjusted to their changed routines in these strange times?
Well, it’s really hard because Isaac is in America. [Isaac is Palmer’s stepson, who she lovingly refers to as her “bonus kid.”] With Izzy, it’s devastating that we can’t get to him and that’s been really hard emotionally for everyone. But one of the ways we try to combat this feeling is just by meeting him where he’s at. Right now, Izzy is really big into Minecraft and building his specific world. So he’ll jump on the laptop in L.A., and Mark and I will sit here next to each other on our phones and join his Minecraft world. He’s kind of our leader in that and we let him figure out what the goal for the game is. We’re showing up for him in that way because that’s his need right now. He wants to feel sane and wants to participate, even though we’re physically apart. With our little kids, it’s a big transition also. Some days we’re all playing a board game. One of the big things we’ve been doing is playing Monopoly. They’ve been learning about counting and strategy. We’ll do Scrabble. Bodhi is working on his reading and spelling. There’s Cluedo and so many other games. We’ve been playing a really fun game called Exploding Kittens, which is all about strategy and teamwork. We also go out to be on the land. We’ve been riding some four wheelers. We work in the garden. We cook. It’s just about making every day fun and trying to use our kids’ passions to build a structure around what they really care about.
The book, Your Zen Mama, Your Zen Life, and Lovewell co-exist under the umbrella of community outreach and conscious living. What is the overarching mantra behind these endeavors would you say?
It’s about using our platforms to affect positive change. That’s always been my thing over the past however many years I’ve been doing this. How can I use the reach that I have in my communities to be of service and to be helpful? With our nutritional supplements through Lovewell, the impact that it’s been making on families has been beautiful and the feedback that we’ve been hearing has been absolutely encouraging. It keeps us inspired to keep doing that. Obviously, the book is a passion project and we really hope that it’s a source of comfort for many women. Your Zen Life is great. We’ve been working with Daniel Ahearn, who’s such a soulful person and a healer. He has dedicated his life to service. He meditates with people who are incarcerated—murderers, rapists, and people who have committed horrendous crimes. He sits and meditates with them, helping them through all the unspeakable stuff and the guilt they probably sit with. Daniel has just taken Your Zen Life and turned it into something beautiful, to be of service. In fact, we’re partnering up Your Zen Life with Lovewell currently. With Earth Day approaching on April 22nd, we’re starting a movement called ConnectFor. We’re asking people, what do you connect for? We have four modalities of interest, including mindful eating. It’s about plant-based, conscious eating and really being mindful of the foods we’re putting in our body. There’s mindful nutrition. There’s motivation. What is your motivation? Are you motivated by service? Are you motivated to have goals and set those goals and work towards what they are? How can you utilize this time to walk down the path that you want to be walking down? There’s obviously movement—moving your body every day and meditating every day. We’re asking people to focus on and show up for these four modalities every single day for four weeks starting on April 22nd. We’re hoping to get a little movement going for people who are practicing self-care every day.
What do you think is the best way to rewire our thinking to go with the ebbs and flows of life every day and to just be when it feels really hard to do that?
Yeah! We all deal with the peaks and valleys of life, and I think it’s about perspective. How do you embrace all your experiences and not just the good ones? How can you learn from some of the more challenging moments in your life? What is the gift in the darkness? My world kind of blossomed once I understood that I need to have some suffering sometimes in order to grow and be self-reflective and learn—it’s the human condition. I think that being in a place of acceptance and understanding is really important. That’s what I try to cultivate in my own life.
How has writing Zen Mamas, and coming into motherhood in general, enriched your relationship with your own mother? I think it’s natural that we all grow up to appreciate our parents more and more, but it has to be that much more profound to become a parent yourself and totally understand what that is, what it requires, and the sacrifices you make.
I have such deep respect for my mother. Now knowing what it’s like to be a mom, it’s just intoxicating how much you love your children. It’s boundless love. You care for them and want to give them everything. You strive every day to meet their needs and ensure that they’re not suffering. I know my mom did the same thing for me, and my mom didn’t have it easy. She was a single mother and had a lot of crosses to carry. She dedicated her life to service as well and to being the best mom she could be to me. I really value her and I’m so grateful to her for that. Now to watch her be that way with my children—she lives with us here on the property—and just to see how nurturing and loving and selfless she is, it’s beautiful! It’s a reminder that my mom was this way with me, too. She took care of me in this way and it’s made me love her even more.
This is a question you ask of other inspirational mothers featured at Your Zen Mama: What do you wish for your children to learn about the world? I would like to ask you that same thing. What is the foundation and at the core of your teachings, going beyond the fundamentals of academia and schooling?
That’s a really good question! I want them to understand their self worth and who they are and that the way they are is perfectly beautiful. I want them to understand the complexities of being raised in an environment of privilege. I want them to understand that dreams work and that anything they put their minds to is not too big for them to achieve. I really hope that they continue to be compassionate, conscious-minded, and community-caring little people because I’m already seeing that from them. I think that children, and rightly so, are always so focused on themselves and their world and what their world looks like, but I’m noticing that there’s such empathy in my boys. There’s an empathy and a great deal of wanting to ensure that other people are okay. I love that they’re already understanding the necessity of service, and that by helping other people they’re also helping themselves. So that’s what I hope. But wherever they land, I’m happy. Wherever they land, as long as they feel good about themselves, I’m happy with that.