The Batts family: heartfelt wisdom on finding balance
Emma Batts, of Heartfelt Kitchen, opens her heart and home to Pippa Henderson with the inside story of nourishing her own growing family.
Many women find the transition to motherhood a challenge. It’s such a complete change of scene, change of pace, change of focus. It can be even harder still when you’re not expecting it. This was the case for primary school teacher Emma Batts and her husband Nathan, a lawyer. In 2014, the buoyant young Kiwi couple were living and working in London, and travelling the world, when a surprise pregnancy threw a spanner in the works. They really wanted to have their baby in New Zealand, but weren’t yet ready to return to their home town of Auckland, so Nathan found a job in Tauranga as a crown prosecutor and they quickly embarked on a new life in the Bay of Plenty. But the drastic change was a lot for Emma to get her head around. “In January I was sight-seeing in Rome”, she recalls, “and by April I was sitting in a small living room with a crying baby, in an unfamiliar town. I felt like my life had ended, and in a way, it had. My life until then had been all about me, and now I had the greatest responsibility in the world before me. It was overwhelming. I grew up in a hurry.” Emma had easily found new friends, a church, and other mums to connect with, but it was still a struggle to adjust to having baby Emilia as her sole focus. “Don’t get me wrong, I was head over heels for my precious baby girl. But I think I needed something as a hobby, something that would give me joy and purpose other than looking after my little angel. Something to ease the transition.”
So began heartfeltkitchen.com, an outlet that combined Emma’s love of nutritious food, beautiful imagery and writing, all in one space. Picture the prolific young foodie Julie from the movie Julie & Julia, but with a baby in the mix. “It brought me many hours of joy as Emilia slept. I worked on recipes, cooked up a storm, styled photoshoots at home and wrote little articles. It was fun and therapeutic. The audience grew and I ran a few workshops in Tauranga, and one in Auckland.”
Emma’s heart and vision behind Heartfelt Kitchen has always simply been food and family, equipping families to make nutritious meals and snacks for their children and themselves, in order to thrive during this busy time of life. And there’s obviously a healthy appetite out there for her recipes, tips and stories from the heart. Fans from far and wide enjoy her honest, down-to-earth blog celebrating whole food and hospitality, drawing inspiration and encouragement from her sincere reflections and wholehearted appreciation of the simple pleasures in life. Scrolling through her site it’s hard not to share her passion for supporting women to take care of their health and the health of their families, and want to learn more about the way food can nourish the body, mind and soul.
Emma’s success with Heartfelt Kitchen led her to study nutrition at the Institute of Holistic Performance Nutrition. She’s now a level one qualified nutrition coach, and works occasionally in this capacity. But as the number of Emma’s followers grew, so did her little family – Noah was born mid 2017.
Emma’s heart may be in her kitchen, but she also wears it on her sleeve. She’s disarmingly open about the personal cost as her Heartfelt Kitchen commitments grew. “When I was very driven in my work, I found that my anxiety increased and my relationships were suffering. Emilia needed more of me, I couldn’t keep on top of things at home, and I was consumed with creating social media content, tracking likes and comments, networking, etc.” So, late last year Emma pressed pause on the busyness, and did some honest reflecting on where she was actually at. “I took a good look at my work and what it was ‘giving’ our family. It wasn’t much, financially or otherwise, and with two small children, I decided to give up chasing dreams for a slower pace of life. My dreams are still there, but I’m okay with being patient and waiting to see how they unfold in good time.”
Many women in Emma’s position find it difficult to commit to a change of tack, often second-guessing they’re making the right decision. For Emma, it was a matter of determining what was life-giving, and what wasn’t. “The constant pressure to create content was sapping energy from my already-stretched reserves. I have still been taking on some work through my website, but I haven’t been actively pursuing clients, creating content or using social media. And it has been very restful. I suddenly reclaimed so much mental space.”
As well as pulling back on her online commitments, Emma also changed her daughter’s childcare routine. “Emilia was in daycare for two mornings a week when she was two. However, she kept telling me she wanted to stay with me and Noah, and our relationship wasn’t at its best. I took Emilia out of care in January this year and our relationship improved.” Since having children, Emma has worked as a recipe developer, blogger, nutrition coach and relief teacher, but now she’s mostly a full-time mum. “It’s both wonderfully rich and completely exhausting!”, she says of her new role. “Perhaps one day I’ll continue my nutrition studies to become a clinical nutritionist, or perhaps I’ll combine my love of education and children with nutrition. I see Heartfelt Kitchen as part of the tapestry of my life.”
Finding a new groove
The Batts family recently relocated back to Auckland, and Nathan began working for a specialist litigation firm in the city. Although they’re still finding their groove in the big smoke, they’re happy to be back in a city with so many family and friends. “Our days are busy; activities change daily but we tend to do an outing in the morning, nap time/quiet time at home around the middle of the day, and then meet friends somewhere in the afternoons.”
Emma finds that friends make her journey as a mother of small children so much more enjoyable, and is keen to remind others that it often really is a case of the-more-the-merrier. “Find some mum friends who are doing the same ‘job’ as you, and spend time with them! Do life together. The sometimes mundane/difficult times of day, eg dinner and bathtime, can be made crazy and fun when done with friends. Invite a friend and her kids over for an early dinner and bath, and alternate hosts. At bedtime, pop the kids into the car clean, fed and ready for bed.”
On the weekends you’ll find the Batts drinking long blacks with cream, getting outside with the kids, and making sourdough loaves for the week ahead. Emma confesses Nathan is the real bread baker of the family. “He’s so good in the kitchen! Probably better than me!”
Passing on the Batts’ baton
I asked Emma a little about her and Nathan’s childhoods, and what they’d like to carry over to the next generation. “We were both blessed with wonderful childhoods. We were free to roam and explore, encouraged to be the best that we could be, and taught important values and habits. Our families were great at going on adventures, and we’d love to give our kids those same opportunities. There’s nothing like spending time in the outdoors, getting a bit uncomfortable, making an effort and creating awesome experiences. We learn life skills that aren’t picked up in a classroom.” Emma and Nathan also love reading and are keenly aware of the distracting appeal of screens and social media. “We hope to instil a love for reading in our children, and truly resting – without the need for entertainment.”
Their Christian faith is very important to Emma and Nathan, and something they’ve been thinking about is how to share that with their own children. “We say bedtime prayers and share about the wonder of Creation, but beyond that, it’s not something you can technically ‘instil’ in your children. At some point they’ll have to make their own decisions. But certainly out of that faith, there are values such as kindness, generosity, forgiveness, compassion and hospitality, which we hope to pass on.”
Just like their parents before them, Emma and Nathan have a strong culture of hospitality. “We love a good party!” concludes Emma. “Growing up, visitors were always welcome. No matter whose friend it was, or how distant a connection, all were welcome to eat at our table. This created a wonderful flow of people in our home, an openness that I was proud of. I think this approach to hospitality planted a spirit of generosity in us kids, and a curiosity about people’s lives.”
A few final words from Emma
“On my journey as a mother, I’ve been challenged to find balance. Balance between my desire to work/achieve and my kids’ desires to be with me. Balance between getting stuff done and being slow and peaceful. Balance between being child-led and looking after my own needs. Balance between working more for more money, or working less and making do. Privacy is also difficult to protect in this day and age – it’s hard to find a balance between sharing and not sharing.
As women today, we have the freedom to be whoever we choose, to achieve what we set our minds to, to use our skills and talents in society. And that is great freedom. I’m so grateful for how far humanity has come in terms of gender equality. Yet, as women, most of us also have an innate desire to have babies. Some of us also have an innate desire to raise our children and run a household. I’m not sure about others, but I sense a pressure to ‘do it all’. To have children, raise them, run a household, cook healthy food, garden, and have a successful career on the side. Posting daily on social media only adds to this load. Some women (I’m not sure I know of any?) may be able to do all of this. Go, them! That’s so great! But not me. Something has to give.
Every mother, every child, every family is different. We all know this. Normal looks different for everyone! I think the key is to find a balance that works for your family, and to be aware of the pressures that we are susceptible to. Pressures to do it all, and to do it all now, before anyone else does it. Patience is underrated. We don’t have to do it all now. The days are long but the years fly by!”
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 42 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW