This article was featured on the Natural Parent Magazine’s home page for the month of March – view the original article here.
Having experienced trauma and isolation in her life, mother-of-three Alena Turley set out to create spaces in real life and online for mums that, despite adoring their children, wished for connection beyond the home. After connecting thousands of women in mum-communities and sharing powerful ideas on how they can reconnect deeply within themselves as they emerge through motherhood, she was inspired to create Soul Mama, providing simple, accessible ways for mothers to have more fun, feel less lonely and walk confidently through life. Through activation workshops presented by globally respected practitioners, monthly mama-circles and group coaching sessions, side-by-side with a supportive and soulful women’s community, she is able to reach new mums who are feeling isolated and disconnected. Here, Alena talks to the Natural Parent Magazine about the inspiration behind Soul Mama, the importance of support and connection for new mums, and her hopes and dreams for the future.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
Growing up, I had always felt different. Perhaps it was the single mother, diverse cultural background, or my hippy, motorcycle-riding Dad. Back then, it seemed like those things made me ‘weird’. I was an only child, and a deep thinker – an awkward combination that led to a pervasive sense of shyness and isolation.
Jump to many years later, well into my 40s, now with three children, actively recovering from earlier traumas, I had still never once fit into mainstream mothers’ groups. It was crystal clear that many new mums felt similarly isolated and disconnected. The powerful combination of social shifts, physical depletion and emotional changes that parenthood brings often leaves women feeling lost and thinking, “where did my life go?”.
I sense many of us yearn for an experience akin to washing clothes together down by the river, but with our women friends and sisters in scattered locations, being slaves to complex schedules, we often miss out on regular get-togethers.
Although becoming a mother seems to write a new story on our hearts in indelible ink, there is still only one obscure and little-used word for it: matrescence. I find it strange that we don’t have a common language for such a momentous thing in a woman’s life.
Personally, the sense of ‘feeling different’ never really left, however, armed with the knowledge that many of us feel the same, I went about creating spaces in real life and online for people who, despite adoring their children, wished for connection beyond the home.
Eventually, after connecting thousands of women in mum-communities and sharing powerful ideas on how to reconnect deeply within ourselves as we emerge through motherhood, I stumbled upon my life’s work.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
Soul Mama began back when ‘blogging’ was a new and exciting medium. It was 2009 and I was living in a shabby rental right on the beach in south-eastern Sydney. A Twitter friend helped me set up my first page online and I started writing about healing from addictions, recovering from abusive relationships and transforming myself through soulful parenting and ‘living green’.
My son was just 6 and I had been a solo parent since he was 4 weeks old, studying construction and working part-time in an art centre. Life gave me plenty to write about.
Eventually, I started a new family and over the course of several years, we had multiple miscarriages, birthed our first child, got married, then moved to Bath, in England.
We began to eat and grow organic food, clean our home with natural products as we endured fertility struggles. Soon it led me to study permaculture design and education. I experienced just about every health and wellness modality under the sun along the way too.
Finally, after four years of trying for a second child together and shortly after our move to Bath (an ancient healing place), my partner and I had our second child together. I was 45 and a new parent again in a foreign city with very little day-to-day support.
Again, I felt alone and out of place.
But this time, something different happened. Out of sheer desperation, I built a local online community around values of inclusiveness, real woman-to-woman support and non-judgement.
Almost 3 years later when we left Bath to return to Australia, the community had grown to around 3000 people (it is now up to more than 7,000). It became clear then that many of us needed this kind of connection and real mentorship within a safe, accessible space. Even more real to me was the confidence that I could lead it.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
On returning to Australia many different ideas presented themselves. I focused on finding the best way to offer an experience to women who needed a soul-sister community, but like me, were time-poor and had often gotten lost in the murky trenches of early parenthood.
I was determined to find a way to support lonely mothers who yearned to bring their alternative and earth-loving values into daily family life in light and fun ways.
I asked the question, how do we harness this unique opportunity, this moment in time, when so many of us seek to discover a greater purpose as our babies grow into children and we start to look up from the endless nappies, breast pads and sleepless nights?
How do I support women who know deep down that their entire presence is the best present they can give to their families?
After exploring everything from non-profits to tech start-ups to documentary-making, I discovered a proven model that combines the gold of expert educators and wellbeing practitioners worldwide with the magic sauce of a supportive community of women.
The Soul Mama Academy offers a combination of monthly activation workshops presented by globally respected practitioners, monthly mama-circles and group coaching sessions side-by-side with a supportive and soulful women’s community.
The Academy is the culmination of over 35 years of real-life personal transformation, filmmaking, online creating, housebuilding, permaculture designing, educating and martial arts training. In offering this affordable membership model, I get to bring women together to heal and grow by sharing ideas, and heart-to-heart connecting. In doing so, I help them build a different future for themselves and their children.
We transform ourselves, we change the future, it’s that simple. Kindness to the planet begins with kindness within.
I’m in the business of helping women cultivate their most fulfilling lifestyles by helping them learn simple, nurturing habits. Members of the Academy can feel more like themselves again, go outside more, sit with their feet in the grass, make easy fermented foods, deepen connections with those they love and heartily pursue their dreamiest life.
It is an immense privilege to facilitate these slow and lasting changes for mothers. Though it is in its early stages, already I see the effect it is having on members who commit and participate. I could tell you so many inspiring stories of women who have gone from feeling alone, depleted and lost to more connected, healthy and grounded. From there they can choose their paths forward with confidence and curiosity.
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
In the pursuit of balancing work and family, I’ve found what works, and I do more of it. I practise a Korean martial art called Hapkido and also teach a women’s class. I eat organic vegetables with every meal. My partner and I have found a synergy in our ambitions that allows us to build on the things we love, separately and together.
I’ve stopped seeking balance so much, and now rather protect spaciousness by carefully selecting the work that I do (and, more importantly, the work that I do not do). I schedule buffer appointments into my calendar so that there are generous spaces between commitments, and put money into a special account that is solely for my own rejuvenation – think massages, facials, and nights away in hotels with our daughter.
And perhaps most important of all, I make time to spend with each one of my children individually. All these things keep me grounded, connected and discerning.
The drive: What challenges have you overcome?
Perhaps the greatest obstacle that kept me from starting this business was a lack of belief in myself and my own ideas largely arising from adverse early-life experiences. This underpinned a reluctance to lead and be visible – in community, in business, and in life in general.
So, like any self-respecting, uncrystallised yet intelligent woman, I embarked on a multi-decade-long marathon of ‘procrastilearning’. This is a phenomenon I have observed amongst capable women who lack the self-belief or self-confidence to achieve long-term job satisfaction. It involves multiple courses, degrees, even post-graduate qualifications – each one seemingly more crucial than the last – taken in the hope of attaining the elusive ‘one job I was born to do‘.
Over time, and with the support of friends, family, my husband (and a shedload of personal development and healing), I was able to see that maybe, just maybe, what they were all saying was true. Perhaps I did have something unique to offer other women who, like me, felt stuck, alone, or lost.
The most common expression I hear now is ‘…that’s such important work, it is so needed’. Almost everyone I meet has known someone that struggled to feel themselves and find the support they needed after having children.
I have my own support networks, and personal practices now that remind me of these facts when my self-doubt creeps back in – which it does, quite regularly.
For better or worse: What are the pros and cons of running your own business?
Being a business owner provides a measure of freedom. It means afternoons on the beach, or chilling at home after school. Conversely, I can also find myself writing in bed whilst one child rests their weary head in my lap.
It is crucial to set limits on late-night hours so as not to disrupt sleep and feel the flow-on effect for days to follow. Through learning to work smarter not harder the ideas come more easily and actioning them is simpler and quicker.
By far the best part of this business is the women I serve. Our members are astounding in their honesty, their gentle determination, and their generosity of spirit. They inspire me.
Hopes and dreams: What next?
As I’ve been saying to the women in the Academy lately, no step is too small, no dream is too big. The hope is to continue to innovate ways to serve this under-rated need so many mothers have: to feel connected and whole and happy despite our isolation, despite our traumas (all too often triggered by childbirth or early parenting challenges); and to move forward towards our further roles out in the world with confidence as our children grow up.
Soul Mama provides simple, accessible ways for mothers to have more fun, feel less lonely and walk confidently towards their life’s work. It offers a new way to feel deeply, tread lightly, and along with a team of collaborators worldwide, is set to support more and more mothers who could do with a daily dose of this special magic.