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Wholehearted parenting | Bex Massey

‘To be wholehearted is to have the courage to live a life that is true to who you are.’

Bex Massey is the founder of Bramble & Fox, an online lifestyle shop that’s all about ‘hygge’: practising gratitude and celebrating the little things in life. After a dark period in her life dealing with infertility and a miscarriage, she’s now the mother of a beautiful little boy. She’s an advocate for wholehearted parenting and wants her son to grow up being true to who he is.

Bex shares openly about that very emotional time in her life and how she got through it. We also talk about wholehearted parenting and how her experiences lead to the start of her new online business.

words by Marjolijn Poutsma and Bex Massey / images by Bex Massey

Hello Bex!

Perhaps we can start with you telling us a little bit about yourself?

I’m Bex, founder of Bramble & Fox hygge lifestyle shop and I help women to feel more comfort and joy by helping them to build cosy homes and celebrating pockets of cosy in every day.  

I live in Manchester with my husband, our little boy Finley and our sleepy old cushion of a cat Finbar. I love rummaging around antique shops, baking, Christmas, being in nature and making our house into a home. I discovered the concept of hygge during the dark days of infertility and grief, but I quickly realised that it put a name to something I’ve done instinctively all my life – making my surroundings cosy and finding the joy in life’s simple pleasures. 

I believe that handmade and vintage objects have a soft, well-loved authenticity and warmth that is difficult to replicate, so I spend my days sourcing stock with a soul and a story to tell, spending time with our little boy and learning how to run this little business that I’m building. 

You’ve recently shared a beautiful post on Instagram in which you talk openly about a very painful and emotional time in your life after you had a miscarriage. What did that period of your life look like and how did you get through it? 

It was a very raw and emotionally charged time – I saw reminders of infertility and loss everywhere, from adverts on the television, to small things like hearing the sounds of the children next door laughing and playing. 

To cope with the inertia of the cycle of hope, disappointment and grief, I decided to create some safe boundaries for myself. This involved a long-term break from social media until I felt strong enough to cope with updates and photos that I found triggering, I gave myself the permission to miss events with children and steered clear of films and programmes that would increase my anxiety. 

I started going for walks in my lunch break, even if it was only for ten minutes, to get fresh air and a sense of freedom and perspective from my thoughts. My anxiety manifests itself in an itchy, restless feeling inside, so literally moving through the emotions on walks or yoga sessions helped. I also found cleaning and decluttering to be therapeutic for the same reasons, particularly on rage-filled days. I found a sense of release when throwing things into skips at the tip. Some days, I wanted to sit with the sadness, so I would consciously choose music in my car that would trigger the emotions and I would take the quiet route home in my car and cry. 

Grief can feel like waves on the shore – sometimes the waves are soft and far apart and sometimes they can be fierce and unrelenting as they crash over us. When I lost our much longed-for baby, I felt a gnawing, hollow emptiness. I had all this motherly love to give and empty arms. 

During this time, my home was my retreat, as it was the only place I felt safe. I took comfort from books, blankets, soup and cookery programmes, punctuated with windy walks. Slowly, I realised that I was mothering myself and I think that’s what hygge is – a way of mothering ourselves. 

cup of coffee, a magazine and knitwear on a table
knitted pumpkins in front of a wood fire
a cup of coffee with a little milk foam heart in it
father with a small boy on his arm - wholehearted parenting

When did you first learn about ‘hygge’? Have you always been savouring cosy, mindful moments or has your time of grief been an awakening?

Hygge has always been an instinctive thing for me. As far back as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed creating pockets of cosy for myself and taken pleasure in making others feel cosy and safe. My Nan had an old stone cottage with deep window ledges and one of my favourite things would be to curl up on one of the bedroom window ledges with a blanket, a book and a biscuit, looking out at the trees and the fields across from the house. 

I’ve always celebrated the changing seasons and soaked up life’s simple pleasures like a cup of coffee in the window of a steamy café on a rainy Autumn day, the sense of optimism and possibility that a fresh journal can bring, the thrill of the first snowdrops and bluebells or fresh sheets and plumped up pillows. 

I first heard about hygge as a Danish concept when I read ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking in 2016, when I was struggling with infertility. As soon as I read the definition of hygge as being ‘cosiness of the soul’, I smiled as I knew I had kindred spirits and the word has put a label to something I’ve done all my life. I’ve often wondered if my Scottish roots have contributed to my instinct for hygge, as my Nan has been particularly influential in practising hygge without realising there’s a name for it.

Practising hygge has helped me to heal by mothering myself out of the dark and into the light, finding pockets of comfort where I could. By appreciating simple moments of joy in the darkness, you can somehow find hope. 

You are now mother of a beautiful little boy and an advocate for wholehearted parenting. What does wholehearted parenting mean and why is it important to you?

The aim of wholehearted parenting is to raise children who have a strong sense of self-worth, and have a deep sense of authenticity about who they are. To be wholehearted is to have the courage to live a life that is true to who you are. I’ve chosen to be conscious in my parenting around this because I have had struggles around self-worth, perfectionism and people-pleasing. I don’t want to pass this on to my little boy, so I have set off on a journey of self-discovery around it and in doing so, I have found the courage to set up Bramble & Fox. 

What are your challenges as a wholehearted parent and do you have any advice for other mothers who are considering this way of parenting?

The main challenge is being analytical of any perfectionist urges I have. Recently, we’ve been house hunting and I’ve really had to keep myself in check on the issue of catchment areas and suitable schools. One of my main triggers around perfectionism is around academic achievement. I was a teacher of English for 10 years, so I know that I have to unpack any thoughts I have around my son’s development and schooling. 

Traditionally, there’s a lot of pressure in the UK around ‘getting’ children into certain schools, as if their future happiness and prosperity depends only on academic achievement. I want Finley to follow a path that is true to who he is, not what he thinks is expected of him, so I have to base any parenting judgements and actions on that.

I first came across the concept of wholehearted parenting when I read Brené Brown’s book ‘Daring Greatly’ and I’d strongly recommend it. I’ve discussed the topic of wholehearted parenting in more detail on my old blog here.

fairy light and star garland in front of a pile of books
logo of bramble and fox hygge shop
a teapot, mugs and milk on a kitchen table

You’ve recently opened an online shop called Bramble & Fox, which is all about hygge. What’s the idea behind the shop and how did you come up with this idea?

I believe that hygge a form of self-care – a way of finding comfort and joy by celebrating pockets of cosy in our day. The warmth and comfort of home is where hygge lives, and I believe home is where we feel safe to be who we truly are, so I wanted to open a shop for those of us who love to curl up with a book, a blanket, some fairy lights and a mug of tea. The shop stocks a range of handmade and seasonal cosy goods as well as a small collection of vintage items that hold stories, secrets and love within them. 

Bizarrely, I woke up in the middle of the night with the fully formed idea for the shop in my head. I reached for my phone and started making notes. If you’d like to know more about the story behind the shop, my YouTube video is here.

What does slow living mean to you? Is there a difference between slow living and hygge?

For me, I think slow living and hygge are concepts that are very much intertwined. Both approaches to life are conscious choices to savour the simple moments in life by slowing down and practising gratitude. 

Sadly, I think mainstream media has hooked on to hygge as a trend, which has meant that the concept has been quite cynically used to sell things quite inappropriately that have little to do with it. I think that both slow living and hygge attach importance to living in a more ethically conscious way, which includes reusing, recycling, repurposing. I think both hygge and slow living lifestyles also place importance on handmade, authentic, natural and sustainable as values. 

SLOW FIRE QUESTIONS

Favourite place to read a book: In my armchair next to the wood burner and there’s something about reading on a train that feels hyggelig.

Favourite coffee or tea shop: The Roman Lakes Tea Room in Marple. It’s about 15 minutes away from home and is a tea room beside a fishing lake, with top notch homemade cakes. There’s a wood burner to cosy up to on frosty winter days, a small bunting-lined marquee beside the river for sunny days and a mass of hens, ducks and geese to feed. My little boy also loves watching trains pass over the viaduct that spans the river. If anything’s bothering me, a walk around the lake and a stop off for coffee and cake always puts things in perspective.

Favourite place in nature: The bluebell wood near my childhood home and the moors at Saddleworth. I used to drive across them every day and loved to watch how the light would change with the weather and seasons. It’s on my list this year to see the view from Pots and Pans rocks. 

Favourite independent shop or maker: I love so many that it’s difficult to choose! There’s an amazing deli in Didsbury, about 30 mins away from me called The Cheese Hamlet. It’s a treasure trove of picnic hamper treats, cheeses, chutneys, locally produced gins and ales, coffee ground to order and handmade chocolates.

I also love a variety of indie makers, crafters and creatives on Instagram. I only stock cosy goods in my shop that I would actually use in my home, so that list includes @ochreandflax aromatherapy candles, quirky handmade chocolate from @creightonschocolaterie and hand thrown pottery from @rmceramic.

Favourite slow living ritual: Can I have a few? I love setting the fire – from scrunching the paper into loose balls and making a wigwam out of kindling to criss-crossing small logs on top, it’s something small that makes me feel content. If I’m feeling unsettled, I like to make risotto for tea – the slow meditative chopping and repetitive stirring is as soothing as the risotto itself.

I also like the ritual of making a pot of tea for Sunday breakfast: the warming of the pot and cups, the measuring of the tea plus a scoop for luck, stirring and steeping time for the magic to happen then pouring, sharing and chatting. I chose to stock Brown Betty teapots in the shop as they are handmade from Etruria red clay, known for its heat retaining properties, making them the perfect pot for slow weekends.

BEX’S SLOW LIVING TIP

 

Make the journey part of the experience

view to countryside scenery through a round window

We live in times of impatience and instant gratification, so it’s good to slow down and make the journey part of the experience – this applies as much to how we handle situations in our lives as it does to actual journeys. Take the train and enjoy watching the landscape change on a frosty morning or take in the country lanes instead of the motorway.

When it comes to life’s journey, trust the timing of your life. You’re not late, you’re not early, you’re right on time.

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