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Spontaneous, colourful and full of life, Claire Alexander-Johnson is one rad mama. You still find this born and bred Londoner, together with husband Rich, globetrotting - these days with three little ones in tow - but Claire has found herself completely at home in Byron Bay. With her honest and often completely hilarious depiction of life as it really is, she has amassed a huge following on Instagram as @jetsetmama.
Claire is a long-time friend of Children of the Tribe, and we’ve always loved the way she tells stories through her Instagram captions, so a morning spent with her and her brood - Atlas, 5, Sochi, 3 and Zephyr, 10 months, at the family’s beautiful heritage home in the Byron hinterland town of Bangalow, was always going to be fun.
We spoke with Claire about the challenges of chronicling family life on social media, finding joy in the little moments and and how living in Byron has redefined her priorities in life.
You've lived in London, Bali, Sydney and now Byron - how much do you find how environment sets our pace? Has inner and outer life been quite different for you in each place?
Your environment absolutely determines how you live. As a young couple, the frenetic energy of London and Sydney was incredible. The concrete jungle, with its ambition and pace, was exactly what we needed. It pushed us and drove us. We weren't looking for the great outdoors (we were mostly just chasing a payday and living for the wild weekends. ha ha) but then we moved to Bali for ten years, a tropical island with so many colourful characters and new experiences, and our lifestyle had a much needed shift, and deeper, profound changes happened.
Bali challenges you, it takes you to your edge, and shows you what you're made of. It can make you braver and bolder and it can spit you out. As entrepreneurs, and lifestyle junkies, we couldn't have landed in a better place. Surrounded by like-minded, entrepreneurial world-travellers, all trying to maintain that elusive work/life balance, surfing the web, and the ocean in equal measure. But then we had kids, and although Bali is so beautiful, and such a magical island, we knew we wanted a much easier, and gentler pace, and a significantly more "free-range" and outdoorsy lifestyle for our kids!
So we moved to Byron Bay, Australia, a place I thought was HORRIBLY boring when I was younger, but suddenly ticked all our parenting ideals. I even considered moving to a farm! Which is QUITE the lifestyle leap for this born and bred Londoner! And we love it here now, it forces me to be outdoors with the kids all day. Spending the whole winter on the beach, going to 'Farm School'. Clean air, clean water, we really don't require much else! So in short, as the seasons of our life have changed and evolved, I've definitely found my priorities for lifestyle have shifted and evolved too.
Do you think it can be depicted idealistically? What's been the greatest challenge that might not get as much Instagram airtime?
The greatest challenge for me is finding peace and contentment wherever I am at at that moment. Finding joy in the small mundane things, as well as the shiny and brilliant parts of life and where we are living. I know that social media, picture taking and spending hours in front of the screen doesn't not make me a particularly good mother. So there are many days where I turn off my phone completely to refocus. Life with or without kids can be hectic, but I'm working really hard to not always be chasing the carrot. I want to be able to really ground down into the moment. Shiny and brilliant, or otherwise (now I'm sounding terribly ‘Byron Bay’ aren't I, haha).
How important do you feel it is to demystify that perfection illusion?
I was just talking about this yesterday! I think it's wonderful how instagram and Facebook can give mothers an outlet to be creative, create some beautiful content, document special moments and have this fabulous ‘highlights reel’ of life. And while I think the intention has never been to make others feel crap or inadequate... unfortunately, we are all human and we just love to compare, compete and self-sabotage, especially mothers!
So while I don't think we need to do away with pretty pictures and just start photographing our dirty laundry for eternity, I think we can all work harder to bring some balance to our online spaces. I, too, sometimes judge people too harshly who curate a perfect life online, but perhaps that says more about how I'm feeling about myself that day, than about them! We need to take control of our own sense of self. Our own inner peace. And of course, switch off regularly and go have a cup of tea with your bestie, and have them wipe the snot off your shoulder "IRL", as the internets would say.
In what ways do you think your children are benefitting from growing up in this part of the world?
Byron Bay, well, the whole Northern Rivers in general, is utterly magical to me. The fact that my children get to play barefoot outside for most of the year. The fresh air. That everyone is so healthy, so conscious, growing their own, trying to eat organically and even making their own medicinal tinctures, it blows my mind! Fun fact, people here are so tuned into their own healthcare, that two out of three GPs went broke in this town and had to move out! Haha, have you ever heard of such a thing?!) Obviously sacrifices have been made, rural living isn't exactly lucrative! So most people have taken a huge leap of faith to move here (and also a giant pay cut). Mothers juggling their kids and small businesses. Some single parent, while the other does "fly in fly out" to the city. Some have accepted that they will never own their own home. But in my opinion, it's still worth it!
One thing you're missing from a more urban life?
Even though it's hectic with kids, I still love the city! I grew up in central London and I love the buzz and energy of it all. I'm such a theatre geek, so I really miss seeing all the new shows. And obviously having a massive choice of exceptional restaurants. Sydney especially, is such an incredible city, you have the beaches right there. But I'm not sure I could ever live in London again... this Australian weather has completely ruined me! Haha.
Something you could no longer live without?
Fresh air. And I not trying to be clever, honestly! After living all over Asia, I have just realised that I literally can not deal without clean air. You know, the kind where you can smell the sea salt, the pine trees, and the red dirt! Oh for goodness sake! Somewhere along the way I've became such a county bumpkin! Who da thunk it!
What are your non-negotiables when it comes to chronicling your family life on social media?
Oh that's easy. I have a few rules. Never photograph them crying. Always look in their eyes when I'm taking a picture, not the phone. Don't post about a place until I've left it. And no bribery for smiles. If my kids ever say "no" or are having a bad day, I switch my phone off. I will never force this upon them. If one day they turn around and tell me to stop, I will. Immediately. Because a lot of this is for them; my online diary, so that when they're older they can read about how they were, how I felt, and all the little things that made them, them. As soon as it becomes anything else, I'm out! It's as simple as that!