VIP mum Noni Hazlehurst

Noni Hazlehurst has played many characters in her decades-long stage and screen career. But the role closest to her heart is that of mother to Charlie, 19 and William, 13.

The Aussie mum admits feelings of guilt at returning to her career when her boys were young and says she is constantly apologising for not being a perfect mum.

Her down to earth approach to mothering made her the perfect ambassador for the Barnados Mother Of The Year Awards, a post she has held for four years now. On the professional front, her career is a stellar portfolio of stage and screen achievements. On television Noni's diverse roles have seen her work on Play School, Better Homes and Gardens and more recently cop show, City Homicide. While on the big screen she has won four Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards including best supporting actress for her role in Little Fish alongside Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett. Noni lives in Queensland with her sons and partner Ian Marden.

What is it that you love most about being a mum?

The challenge! Being a mum reminds you that you're human but it also makes you feel part of this special club. When I had Charlie I understood that I had become part of a chain that goes back to the start of time and I will never be alone.

You have a very busy schedule. Between long shoots with City Homicide, your work on screen and stage, charity work for Barnados and public speaking commitments, how well do you juggle your work/life balance?

Not terribly well. I'm always riddled with guilt and I find it a terribly difficult task at times - some days you get it right but most days you get it wrong. And it's so easy to get caught up and find the years whizz by. One minute they're nine and all of a sudden they're 16. I'm always apologising to them for all my short-comings. When I became an ambassador for Barnados Mother Of The Year the boys were horrified!

There must be times you have to spend away from your sons Charlie and William for work, how do you manage this time away and do you think they would prefer you spent more time with them?

Like any job there have been advantages and disadvantages. On one level they suffered and on the other they have had great privaleges like the time Charlie was 13 and I took him to the Logies where he made himself very popular with Elle Macpherson. They are very lucky I was not out of the house from 7am until 7pm every day like some mums are and I always tried not to be away more than three to four nights in a row - a rule I was generally able to maintain. But my job has also taught them to be independent. Having said that I remember once things weren't going as planned at home so I jumped on the next plane and came home.

Your boys are now teenagers. How has parenting changed for you over the years. What new challenges do teenage children present.

Technology has been the biggest change for me as a parent and it would have to be my greatest worry also. With teens it's so hard to control things like their exposure to computers and the Internet in the same way you can control a five-year-old and the potential for all kinds of things is just enormous. At best computers are a terrible time waster, at worst, it defies thinking about. With all the best of intentions no parent has control over this and I just find the whole thing such a worry.

Working for a charity like Barnados you must hear such heart-wrenching stories involving children. How do you stay objective and why did you become involved with it?

You don't stay objective at all, and if I did I wouldn't do it. The fact that people stay objective and distance themselves from the things that happen to children is why it happens in the first place. I'm notoriously emotional about things involving children but hearing the great 'Mother Of The Year' stories is also wonderfully inspiring. Actually before Barnados, Play School really opened my eyes. I didn't really understand how dis-enfranchised children could be. For too many children the people on Play School are the nicest adults in their world and this is sad. On a positive note Play School provided them with a peaceful world where everything was predictable and consistent, even if it was through a precarious medium such as the television.

Who does most of the domestic chores at home? Is your partner Ian 'hands-on' around the house?

Me! I do all of it. It never ceases to amaze me what people don't see. Ian is great but certain things just don't occur to him. We have family meetings where I take quite a few deep breaths and try to present things in an adult manner because I feel you generally get a better response that way. But it doesn't change my workload around the home much.

What chore do you simply despise?

Vacuuming, it's endless in a house with a German Shepherd and three cats!

Life with children can be fairly chaotic, how do you and Ian keep the romance alive?

We talk a lot about running away! Now that the kids sleep through the night, it's a little easier.

What has been your greatest personal sacrifice since becoming a mum? How has motherhood changed you?

Friendships and a different type of career. I was 34 when I had Charlie and I had won quite a lot of awards already. My career could have gone a different way if I had not had kids at that stage. I probably would not have spent 10 years on a lifestyle program, for instance. But choosing the path I did was a very conscious decision.

How often do you take time out for yourself?

Hardly ever. In fact, going to work is my time out. My schedule doesn't allow me to take regular time off for things like a weekly yoga class. I took up choir class once but it was a bit of a disaster.

Is there something you would do differently as a parent if you had your time over?

I wouldn't fuss so much about eating. I would simply put the food in front of them and if they didn't eat it, then that's fine. On the flip side I would be stricter with sleeping. Charlie was a nightmare, he didn't sleep through the night until he was two! I would also try to appreciate their sense of humour more, especially as teenagers. It's very easy to disapprove with teenagers and push them away. You can do it unconsciously.

Can you tell us about the last time you had a big belly laugh with the boys?

Last night! I went in to say goodnight to Will and it was a hot night so he had his top off. He held his arms out for a hug but instead I just blew a big strawberry on his tummy, he laughed his head off and as a result, so did I.

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?

Free tertiary education. There is no incentive at the moment for kids to carry on beyond high school.