Mari-Louise Candiotes’ smile exudes warmth. And in the sea of motherhood experts, this local blogger has a heart for helping fellow-mommies juggling every day life.
Being a mom can be very lonely and overwhelming. After I gave birth to my eldest daughter I felt like I was losing myself amidst the many challenges of being a first-time mom, and many days felt like a failure. I often doubted my parenting choices and didn’t know the right answers between the sea of baby books and expert opinions,” Mari-Louise, the local parenting blogger known as JustaMamma says.
At the time she followed a few international parenting blogs who offered parents help and support, but she wanted to create something similar in South Africa.
“I was privileged enough to be a stay-at-home mom at the time but my heart broke every time someone asked me what I did all day. They would say things like: ‘Do you only look after the kids?’ or ‘Are you just a mom for now?’ My decision was not a luxury, but rather a sacrifice with pros and cons. It’s a choice that should be praised by society rather than challenged,” she says.
Mari-Louise decided to change the way she thought about herself. Yes, she was “just a mamma” and just like that, her blog was born. It was a space where all moms – old, young, experienced, stay-at-home or working – could get together and be proud of what they do.
“Parenting is different for everyone, but we all deal with the same obstacles and challenges. With our family blog, we strive to help make parents’ lives a bit easier, share knowledge, inspiration and even a bit of humour. It’s not just our own personal display window. We see our platform as a port for all parents, not just our own family,” she adds.
On the blog and social media platforms, Mari-Louise shares a wide variety of articles based on topical themes and daily struggles. Articles include tips on how to wean your toddler, the best busy-books for kids, things she wished she knew about miscarriage before she had one, to places to visit with the kids. When and if possible she also tries to share any free resources she comes across.
Mari-Louise is firm on the notion that the blog is “their blog”. That includes her three daughters and husband, Alec. “I involve the entire family but also set certain boundaries. We will not share or be part of projects that does not form part of our daily lives. If the girls get asked to be a part of something the decision ultimately stays with them. I will also never share photos or stories that may embarrass my girls, especially now that our eldest is in school,” the blogger explains.
All the long hours of hard work has paid off, as JustaMamma was awarded the title of Best Parenting Blog for 2019 in the SA Bloggers Awards recently, an award Mari-Louise is very proud of. But, don’t think the JustaMamma blog is just a hobby she likes to indulge in her spare time. “It’s a business and I try to handle the blog as such. I spend between six and eight hours per day working on it. Most of which happens after ten at night after I’ve spent time with my husband and after the girls went to bed. One of the benefits of blogging is that I can plan my days around my family, but you then need to have the discipline to finish the tasks you have set for yourself. I love creating content for fellow-moms and ever so often find myself only going to bed as our chickens (yes we have chickens) wake up for the day,” Mari-Louise says.
The most difficult part about blogging, says Mari-Louise, is staying relevant. “Parenting keeps changing and is different for everyone,” she adds.
The best part about blogging? “To chat to the most amazing community of moms and dads. Our readers, followers and fellow-bloggers are gifts in our lives and I see it as a privilege to, in our own little way, share our parenting journey,” she says.
Mari-Louise only posts on weekdays and makes sure to spend quality time with the family on weekends. Sundays have also been dubbed “social-free Sundays”.
A hot topic on the mommy front in the blogging world right now is self-care. But no, says Mari-Louise. This isn’t doing your nails or going to the spa.“Moms usually have little time and even less money to spend on themselves. This is only temporary and dependent on the season of life you find yourself in. Self-care starts with caring for your soul. Take time every day to spend with God. Read your Bible, pray and keep a connection with God. Prioritise your own health by sleeping when you can, staying active if and when you can, and feeding your body as best you can. You have to know your worth. Set boundaries in terms of time and how you allow others to treat you. Protect your heart so it can continue to be loving. Learn to say no and don’t be ruled by expectations set upon you by others. You know what is in the best interest of your family so trust those instincts mama” she says.
Mari-Louise was a foundational phase teacher who specialised in early child development and art who also dabbled in the world of psychology. The Candiotes family try to exercise and eat as healthy as possible. “Your health is key to everything in life and without it, we cannot live life to the fullest, travel or enjoy our family. We eat healthy and exercise regularly both for ourselves and our kids.” It also helps that her husband Alec, or Mr. Perfect as she calls him, is the founder of Cactic Fitness, a local fitness equipment manufacturer. He designs practical home gyms to be used inside or outdoors, so the entire family can join in.
Those who follow her and her family on her social media accounts will know that the Candiotes tackled their spare bedroom during lockdown which they now turned into a little art studio for Mari-Louise. Who knows, she might even finish that art degree she started years ago.
“Being a mom has revealed my true self to me. It stripped away all the unimportant things in my life, softened my heart for things that matter, opened my eyes and extended my heart so I have the capacity to love others, our world, my unbelievable family and myself. I don’t have the urge to fight for my spot or prove myself to anyone,” she says.
From her own mom, she learned that you don’t have to be the perfect mom to be a good mom. And to her daughters, she hopes to teach that “they are enough and can do anything with God by their side”.
Mari-Louise’s Mother’s Day wish list:
– Every mom needs an Instax printer for all the photos she has on her phone.
Just also please remember the film. Details: www.instaxsa.co.za/printers/
– It’s almost winter and every mom deserves comfy sleepwear.
I love BENA loungewear. Details: www.bena.co.za/
– Jewellery is beautiful but a precious one-of-a-kind necklace showcasing your child’s art from Miss H Jewellery is extra special.
– Speaking about art. Bumble Box Artbook coffee table books allow you to proudly display your children’s art in book form. Details: bumblebox.co.za/
– And who can say no to a beautiful bag? Mari-Louise and her family recently collaborated with local brand Hansel & Gretel to create a beautiful “mommy-and-me” range of travel bags. The bags are printed with you and your kids’ names and are available in a range of colours. Details: www.myhgshop.com/collections/travel/products/personalized-weekender-combo