VIP mum Tracey Spicer

 

Carla Grossetti discovers the real woman (and mum) behind the well know TV presenter and journalist.

Tracey Spicer presented Network Ten’s national weekend news and mid-week 11am news for a decade.

Tracey is now forging a new career path in the print media as editor of the family travel magazine, Out and About with Kids, as well as working as an international anchor with SKY News, a media trainer, keynote speaker and radio broadcaster.

The 40-year-old is also an Ambassador for World Vision, a Patron of the NSW Cancer Council, and the face of the Garvan Institute's research into pancreatic cancer. Tracey is married to cameraman Jason Thompson, 37, and the couple have two children: Taj, 3, and 2 year-old Grace.

Tracey, your role as a newsreader has made you a household name. Though you still have a very high profile as a journalist, you are no longer in the full glare of the media spotlight. Has this been a good thing?

I still work shifts as a newsreader with Sky, so from that aspect, it hasn’t changed that much. One thing that has changed though is I gain an extra hour and a half on the days when I’m working for the magazine by not having to put a full face of make-up on every day. So that’s fantastic.

As a working mother-of-two and editor of Out and About with Kids, you must be familiar with the logistics involved in planning a relaxing family holiday. What is your idea of the dream family holiday?

Do you know what? We just had what was close to being the full dream family holiday recently. We went up to Barrington Tops and stayed in a cabin and fed wallabies and fed the kookaburras and we didn’t rush around everywhere. It was fantastic. We played games and just got back to nature without the distractions of a big city. It was a wonderful bonding experience for our family.

You are an accomplished journalist. So what has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The highlight of my career was documentary making. It was the two docos I made in Kenya and Bangladesh with World Vision. That was grassroots journalism and so wonderful to go there and help people in dire need.

You are in high demand as a keynote speaker, and one of your popular topics includes Fat, Forty and Fired. Underlying the humour in this presentation is the fact that you were fired when you returned to work from maternity leave. What do you think governments need to do to better support women who want to have both children and a career?

They could do so much. One way would be to give tax breaks for companies to put childcare in the office building so that parents know that their children are being looked after. The more important debate is: there is a skills shortage. The reason I started doing these speeches was because I was inundated with people who had lost their jobs saying, ‘Why aren’t things changing?’ A lot of women don’t have a voice and they are banging their heads against a brick wall. I inject humour into these speeches as the most effective message is delivered with humour.

With winter upon us, the options for entertaining kids are more limited. What is your hottest idea for a winter’s day spent chilling out with the kids?

I have a great one for those cold and inclement days! I went to see the new dinosaur exhibition at the Australian Museum in Sydney. It was unbelievable. There is a sound and light show and it really is an incredible spectacle for both adults and children.

You are a mum to two children under three and you are still in constant demand as a journalist. Is it possible to have it all?

I don’t believe in the superwoman myth. There is always something that falls apart and in the case of women, it’s usually your mental health and sleep. But we have to plug away and we have to work twice as hard as a man. And even when you think you have it all, it can still be a hard slog. My combo looks perfect on paper. I work for a magazine I’m passionate about and I spend a lot of time with my children, but I still miss out on sleep. However I do feel that ever since my baby Grace turned 18 months the kids have become more independent, which has made life a bit easier.

Do you think your children would prefer you spent more time with them?

That is a good question. My husband and I have always juggled the parenting so our children are accustomed to one of us being with them. They are used to the juggling act. They are used to being with me, our nanny Vicky or Jason. There is the odd day when they get upset but I personally feel it’s better for them to be accustomed to being independent rather than suffering from separation anxiety if you are apart.

What's your top tip!

My routine. We are known as routine Nazis. We are strict with their food and their boundaries and their routine. With all the travelling we do, this is very important. The bath, book and bed ritual is very important. Wherever they are in the world, routine is god.

Can you tell us about a really good giggle inspired by something that one of your children has said or done recently?

We were in the Philippines recently. Taj has very long hair and everyone – I mean, everyone – thought he was a girl. He said: ‘I have a penis you know’. The Filipinos are very proper and they really didn’t know what to do.

If there was something you would change if you had your time over – what would it be?

I’m not good at regret, I just move on. There is nothing I’d change. You make your decisions and learn from them. I consider myself very lucky. I have incredibly healthy children and a supportive husband. I can’t think of anything I’d regret.

If you had just one wish (no matter how fanciful) to change something in Australia to better support being a 21st century parent, what would that be?

There are so many discussions that need to be had. Equal rights! Let me tell you, they are not equal. As a more specific statement I would say we deserve cheaper access to quality childcare so parents feel their children are being cared for and cared for well. I’m a big fan of the support Scandinavian parents receive. There is one-year paid maternity/paternity leave [at 90 per cent of your salary]. We are so backward in Australia. That is what we need here.

How do you and your husband keep the romance alive?

We always promised that we would have a date night once a month. But we have done it twice in two years. Our last attempt was at the Moonlight Cinema [in summer] and it bucketed down with rain and we were home and in bed by 9.15pm. We are very hip! [Laughs] You make these promises to justify the cost and it’s also hard to justify the time when you are working parents as you are usually completely exhausted from work functions, meetings and parenting. It’s all DVDs and blankets at our house. We are lucky because I love cooking so we usually feed the kids and then we sit down and have a nice dinner together.

What chore do you simply despise?

I am lucky. I can’t bear ironing so because I do all the cooking, Jason does all the housework. He has obsessive compulsive disorder. Housework is his life. He can’t relax until the house is spotless.

What is that you love most about being a mum?

I love everything about being a mum and I did not think that I would. I didn’t want to have them until I turned 33 and then, oh my goodness, that hormonal thing kicked in. I love every bit of being a mum. I love how they make me laugh. I love that overwhelming feeling of being in love with them. I am crazy about them. I also really love watching them learn.

How do you handle it when your children behave in a way that is challenging or inappropriate?

It’s really difficulty, isn’t it? At home, giving them time out works a treat. I put them in the corner and if they are still at it, they calm down. But in public it’s so difficult. You feel embarrassed and they feel how tense you are and you feed off each other. I have learnt not to care and I just give them time out in the corner of a café and since I have been consistent with that, I feel their behaviour has improved.

Do you find it easy to ask for practical support from family and friends?

Not at all. I don’t ask for any help. I am a martyr. I will cook minestrone for my friends and do everything for them, but I am very pigheaded about asking for help. My daughter is the same. She thinks she can do anything. I never ask for help unless we are desperate. I know Jason’s mum would help us out at any time. It’s something I have to work at. I have to try and stop being a martyr and trying to do everything.

What has been your greatest personal sacrifice since becoming a mum?

It probably would be sleep. And do you know what? Inadvertently, it might be my career too. I’ve always been very ambitious and I’ve had to work at pulling that back. There were some jobs that I was offered and would have loved to do but I said ‘no’ to them because I knew it would have an adverse impact on my family life. I am very proud of myself for forgoing a lot of that ambition. It makes me happy being a mum so that is now my No. 1 priority.

How often do you take time out for yourself?

I am a better mother for it when I take time out. If I don’t have a long walk and a yoga class I feel I am not as patient and tolerant. Over the week, it’s probably about five hours, mentally and physically, that I give myself. I even write it in my diary and say, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do that. I have a yoga appointment’.

How has the experience of motherhood changed you?

I am infinitely more patient. I have always had low tolerance levels even since childhood. But I have the patience of Jobe now. Kids teach you empathy. I have always had a lot of compassion but now I have more empathy. Having children connects you to the community. It helps you imagine being in someone else’s shoes. It makes you a better person by default. I am a much better humanist. Before you have kids you get distracted with so much shallow stuff that is not important. They really do give meaning to your life.
 
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