Men weren't part of my world for so long... now I'm raising one | Katherine Ryan on her new TV series about parenting © UKTV

Men weren't part of my world for so long... now I'm raising one

Katherine Ryan on her new TV series about parenting

Katherine Ryan has let the TV cameras into her home for a new series, Parental Guidance, about bringing up her three children. In the show for the W channel, she also meets parents with an unconventional approach to family life to see how they do it. Here she talks all about balancing parenting with her comedy career, the unfair stigma of being a single mum, and being open with her fans on screen and social media...

Why did you decide to make a TV series about parenting?

It’s daunting when people ask me what my hobbies are – I always feel like that’s a crazy question because it’s impossible to extricate my personal life from my work and my only hobby is raising my kids.

But I’m so invested in everything about my kids. I parent in quite an unconventional way and you’ll see that in the series – I potty train them very early, I practice attachment parenting and co-sleeping, I carry my babies everywhere and I insist on meeting their needs immediately. Not every family is doing that and maybe it’s not sustainable, but it’s the way I do it.

Sometimes television companies ask me what I’d like to explore in a potential show – and raising my children is really the only thing I care about. So, when producers Expectation and UKTV asked if I would like to do a whole series about parenting outside the box I was in right away. I just can’t think of anything more interesting for me personally, and I’m curious about how other people are raising their children.

 How did you feel about letting the cameras into your home?

It was actually fine – in the end I think there is even more access than I previously envisaged. I’m very candid on social media and on my podcast, and I like it when people tell me secrets and let me into their lives.

My language of love is full disclosure. I want to see what the Beckhams are doing and what the Kardashians’ kitchen looks like, that’s the kind of stuff that I’m drawn to, so I’m very happy to share my life too. Ultimately those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing, so I welcomed the crew in.

I’m not wearing make-up for 90 per cent of the series, so it’s a new me that the audience will be seeing, but it’s the real me. Panel shows are fun but that’s a performative version of who I really am, I’m in drag when I do those.

You’ve mentioned that your two-year-old son, Fred, was a bit more cautious about sharing his space with a TV crew?

It’s true, he didn’t like the camera crews at all to begin with – he was always on the backfoot, worrying that someone might try to babysit him.

Katherine and Fred

But we thought it was time to broaden his horizons, and we respected Fred’s boundaries, so if he had a meltdown, we’d turn the cameras off. Fred is just the Robbie Williams of our family – he’s always in his pants, he’s kind of a diva and he won’t come out of his dressing room, but we really love him.

In the end he made friends with the crew, and he still asks about one camera guy, Seb, and wonders when he’s coming round.

You meet lots of families raising their children in different ways – did any them challenge the way you think about bringing up your own kids?

I talk to my friend Luisa Zissman on the series (below), who was on The Apprentice. She’s very busy, but she has zero nanny guilt – she’s covered by nannies seven days a week. She prioritises her career and her self-care, she goes to the gym and then she is also present for her family but by looking after herself first.

Katherine and Luisa

In the moment as we were chatting, I thought, "Yes, I need to do that with my career", but by the time I got home I just couldn’t seem to execute the changes I wanted to make

While attachment parenting is really important to me, I’m the one in the family who works, so I do need to make time for that. My children are getting older, I would like to get them into their own beds, and I would like to share a bed with my husband again – currently I co-sleep with our daughter, Fenna [who turned one last month] while my husband, Bobby co-sleeps with Fred.

I do understand that I have to make my marriage a priority, just like I make my children’s wellbeing a priority, and so I have been challenged a little bit by Luisa and the idea of not just pouring absolutely everything into these two small children.

My older daughter, Violet [14] is growing up so fast, and I’ll turn around and have no husband if I don’t spend time with him as well, so that has been the biggest eye-opener of the series for me.

In episode two, you meet a family who reject traditional schooling in favour of ‘unschooling’ – how did you respond to that?

It’s tricky with schooling, because in this country I feel that people just do what’s done, they don’t question it, more so than in Canada and America.

State schooling was designed during the Industrial Revolution to educate kids in batches, based on date of production, but does that really make sense for the weird and wonderful future our kids have now? It seems to me that in many ways traditional school is just about childcare and institutionalising your kids so you can go to work, it’s a flawed system for sure. So I admire people who are looking at alternatives.

I don’t know that I would personally have the energy to be walking through the forest with my kids all day, but I loved that the family we feature is just leading with what’s going to make their children feel the most comforted and calm, and their girls were very happy and articulate.

It works for them, and didn’t seem that controversial in practice, I just don’t think many parents have the energy that mum has – I don’t.

Katherine with the naturalists

Katherine also meets some naturalists...

In episode four, you discuss the pressure you feel raising Fred, and how that experience is different to bringing up your two daughters. Why did you feel this was important to explore?

These days it’s very provocative to even discuss gender, but it can be jarring to see how Fred behaves so differently to how my daughter did when she was two – is that just his personality? Or is that because he’s a boy? And how do I navigate that in a way that will make him feel strong, healthy and good about himself as he grows up?

Katherine and Fred

I think my feminism has often been misunderstood as me saying I hate men and I don’t want them around, but that’s not the case, I just think it's important to try to raise the best ​boy that I can.

I hadn’t really considered men as part of my world for a lot of my life. I have a dad, but I was very close with just sisters and raised mostly by my mum while my dad was at work.

I had aunties and grandmas around me, and then I had a daughter, and I didn’t have a husband, nor did I want one, and I had lots of female friends. I hadn’t considered that you do have to understand what masculinity means to raise a boy in this society, because toxic masculinity doesn’t just hurt women, it really hurts boys and men too – just look at the stats about male suicide and mental health.

I owe the world a wonderful man and I know that every man just used to be a little boy like Fred, I wish they could all feel good about themselves and feel supported, nurtured and loved.

Many families rely on grandparents for help with childcare, and in episode two you invite your mum to help. How did that go?

It was a little bit strained for us, not because there’s anything wrong with my mum, she is very unique, strong and opinionated and she’s really funny, she has her own podcast.

I love and admire her, but for some reason I find it difficult to have her in my space. When we filmed that episode I realised that I never learned how to be an adult around my mum because I moved out when I was 18 for university and I never went back. So, any time my mum is around I turn into Violet – I act like a teenager and I’m a bit stroppy.

Katherine and Violet

You raised your older daughter Violet (above) as a single parent, and now you’re co-parenting with your husband Bobby. What’s different?

I have amazing support from Bobby and I really love him, but truthfully if he weren’t around and I were a single mum I’d be fine.

I did consider having more children via a sperm donor before I met him, because I was 35, but then Bobby came into my life and we did it the traditional way. It’s amazing to have someone looking after the kids who loves them – who isn’t just paid to love them like a nanny – and it’s great for my kids to have his perspective.

I don’t think I’m always right about everything, so it’s good to compromise with another parent, but being a single mum was also great.

There’s a lot of shame associated with being a single mum and there really shouldn’t be, because you can count on yourself and it's really nice to know who is doing what – you don’t have to compromise or ask for anyone else’s opinion, and you can have support from friends and family members.

Katherine and Bobby

Throughout the series, you and Bobby (above) discuss having another baby – is this still a big debate in your house?

We switch positions on this every week. The other day one of our dogs, Megan, got sick and very nearly died. She’s OK, but she hadn’t been behaving normally for a day and a half and then I came home from work at midnight and had to call a pet ambulance. We sat down as a family and we wondered, if we didn’t have small kids, would we have noticed earlier?

It’s wonderful on paper to have this big happy family with lots of kids, but at what point is someone missing out? That point will be different for every family. Maybe if we were younger and we had spaced the kids out it might be different, but we’re 40 and if we’re going to have another kid we need to do it now. Is that really sustainable with the mum trying to navigate a comedy career and touring?

We have a nanny but I’ll come back home from wherever I am on tour – so I’ll drive home from a gig in Leeds just to do the night feeds, then do soft play in the morning and drive back to Leeds for a show the next night.

We do want another child, we love the kids so much and we see it as an investment for the future, because they will all have each other as they grow up.

We’re not being careful so I just trust the universe and we’ll see what happens – our daughter Fenna was a surprise to Bobby, but not to me.

Katherine Ryan: Parental Guidance airs next Monday, February 5, at 9pm on W and UKTV Play.

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Published: 29 Jan 2024

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