11 Questions with… Andrea Tomkins
05 Nov 2018
Welcome to “11 Questions with…”. This edition’s guest is Andrea Tomkins.
I was at an influencer event in early 2016, and one of the people at the same event looked so familiar. Andrea eventually came over and talked to me, probably realizing that I wasn’t moving from my seat (as I am a bit of an introvert when it comes to meeting new people). We quickly realized we went to high school together. Such a small world!
This is Andrea’s contribution to “11 Questions with…”.
11 Questions with… Andrea Tomkins
1. Elevator pitch… tell us about yourself.
My name is Andrea Tomkins. I am originally from the Toronto area but I have been living in Ottawa since 1991. I work from home as a writer, editor, and sometime photographer. I’m also a longtime blogger. I’ve occupied my little corner of the WWW since 1999. I like to joke that this either makes me a dinosaur or a veteran of the Canadian blogging scene. I’m not sure which one is the most accurate. It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing here for this long, but I really enjoy blogging and the connections I’ve made over the years.
I mostly work as the managing editor of a community newspaper here in Ottawa – and I love it – but I also do a variety of writing for different clients.
2. Your spouse… tell us about him.
I really lucked out in the husband department. My husband Mark is my best friend. I don’t know where I’d be without him. He’s been such a wonderful father and a great role model as well. One of the things I’m most looking forward to when he retires is being able to travel. (As for myself, I don’t think I’ll ever retire!)
3. Your kids… tell us about them.
When our eldest daughter was born I was told me to really appreciate the time we had together. They’re only babies once, after all (and toddlers, and Santa-believers etc.)! It’s tough advice to take when you’re a sleep-deprived milk machine who can’t remember the last time she had a peaceful soak in the bath. What’s that saying? The days are long, but the years are short. It’s very true.
Our eldest, Emma, is in university now. It really hit me when we started doing the university tour. I can hardly believe that my baby is leaving home and that our days as parents with kids at home are numbered. Our youngest is Sarah. I don’t write a lot about them out of respect for their privacy, but I will say that both of them are amazing – so funny, thoughtful, creative and smart – and I’m not just saying that because I’m their mother.
4. Do you have any pets? Tell us about them.
When the girls were younger we had budgies. They are very fun little creatures and they were a real joy to have around the house. We are bird nerds around here for sure, but seven years ago we welcomed Piper, a wire-haired fox terrier into our family. She is such a sweet little thing. It’s not an exaggeration to say that she makes us laugh every day. We love her to bits and adopting her was the best decision we ever made. She has her own Instagram account too!
5. What have been your biggest challenges as a parent?
This is a tough question. Every stage of childhood has its own special challenges, whether it’s toilet training, giving up naptime, picky eating, walking to school alone for the first time. Each can seem pretty overwhelming and worrisome when you’re in the middle of it, but looking back, I think the biggest challenge to date has been balancing technology: how much screen time, appropriate use, how many selfies is too many etc. I hate being a nag, and it kills me because in terms of technology I’ve always been an early adopter and social media has played a major role in my life as a blogger. That being said, I believe that smartphones and tablets are changing our lives – and rewiring our brains – in a way that isn’t really even clearly understood yet.
6. If you could pick any career in the world for yourself, what would it be, and why?
I’ve wanted to work in journalism since eighth grade. In fact, I still have my career printout from that time:
What I’m doing right now, it’s my dream job. I enjoy the freedom, the learning, and the challenge that comes with freelance writing, and I love the community connections and stories we tell in our community newspaper.
I am also writing a book about a family project we call the Shopping Embargo. Basically, we went on a massive shopping diet and restricted our purchases to things that were absolutely necessary ¬– food, fuel, medication – for a full year. For more information, and to get on the list and be notified when it’s ready, sign up right here.
7. Growing up, who inspired you the most?
I think I’d have to say, my parents inspired me the most when I was growing up. They came to Canada – from what was then communist Czechoslovakia – with nothing but a few suitcases. They literally started with nothing. They worked hard, bought a house, raised me, built a business, and sent me to university. I’d say they’re a great example of a very Canadian success story. So much of our country is built by immigrants. I wish people remembered that.
8. How do you balance work life and family life?
Personally, I don’t think there is such a thing as work-life balance! I often joke that the person who invented that phrase deserves a swift kick in the pants because we collectively put too much importance on achieving work-life balance and I think it’s ultimately damaging to our mental health. Unless you are supermom or superdad, the perfect balance of work and life will always be elusive.
Life has an ebb and flow and there will always be busy times, and less busy times, but in my experience, there are a couple of things we can do when life starts to pile on:
a) Take care of ourselves just as well as we take care of our children. We make sure our kids sleep well, eat well and are properly hydrated, don’t watch too much TV and get outside and play. Why don’t we do the same for ourselves with the same kind of dedication? If we took better care of ourselves we’d be in a better position to handle those curveballs that life throws at us sometimes.
b) Make time for your family and make sure it’s focused and without distractions. Family dinners (or breakfasts!), walking the dog, going to the park, or playing a board game are all great things to do. Just make sure you’re not checking your work email while you’re doing it.
I’ve been trying to be better at organizing my time. My job doesn’t fall neatly within traditional work hours so it’s easy for me to slide into work mode at odd hours. I use a paper agenda to make daily to-do lists for both work and home life. It goes a long way to alleviate my anxiety and I’m less likely to rush over to my computer and dive back into work.
9. What advice would your “current self” give to your “just about to have my first child” self?
Ha. Good question. When Emma was born I was very vigilant and concerned… about everything. I would tell that earlier version of me not to worry so much. I also would tell my earlier self that baby swim lessons are a waste of time and money.
10. Has there been a piece of advice you were given about parenting that really stuck with you?
Definitely! Hug tighter, for longer. It hasn’t failed me yet.
11. What advice would you give to new parents?
This is going to be a very unpopular opinion, but I would advise parents to hold off on letting kids use smartphones and tablets as long as they possibly can. I think mobile devices are harming our collective capacity to focus and be patient. For kids, it’s replacing valuable playtime, hampering problem solving and affecting relationships with people around them. It’s really important for kids, for all of us, to be bored sometimes. It’s good for our brains and it’s when the best creative thinking happens!
I recently spoke to a high school teacher who has been working in the school system for over a decade. She told me that when she first started she’d walk into chaotic classrooms and it’d take ages for the kids to settle down. Today, her classrooms are silent, because every single person is on their phone. On one hand, a quiet classroom is great, but at what cost? The devices become a crutch in other situations as well; parents hand their kids an iPad while they’re in a restaurant or turn on a cartoon for the ten-minute drive home from daycare.
To that effect, I recommend watching this video. It’s probably the most depressing thing you’ll see today, but I promise it will make you think long and hard about the prominence of iDevices in our lives:
My other bit of advice for new parents: it’s ok to say no. YOU are the boss.
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Thanks for reading!
“11 Questions with…” is an on-going feature. I will be interviewing parents with the same 11 questions, who like me, live in the digital world. The goal is to examine different perspectives, advice, challenges, and experiences from how people parent their children, and live a successful work / life / online balance.
With all the challenges of parenting these days, we could all use stories from fellow parents, who may have already gone through a similar experience, or were offered advice that you could use.
If you would like to be interviewed for an upcoming edition, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.