Meet Em Morrice + Discover How Modesty and Family Travel Can Co-Exist

September 26, 2019

A little behind the scenes note: as I am editing, uploading and scheduling all of these wonderful mother interviews more often than not I am finding myself in tears, especially as I near the end of my maternity leave for a couple of reasons. 1. I am beyond grateful to each and every woman who has taken time out of their busy lives to chat with me. 2. The theme here is overwhelming: we can’t do it all and that’s okay. Repeat after me, we can’t do it all and that’s okay. So here is another conversation with another woman I admire, Em Morrice. Em, Thank you!

I feel like I have been talking about highlighting Em, her home or having her write guest content since we met two years ago in Montreal. So obviously I’m beyond happy that we finally had the chance to sit down share her greatness with you guys. I know you will love her just as much as I do. Em is a mother of three, writer, blogger and travel enthusiast living in Montreal and I will let these questions below fill you in on the details in between!

As a mom of one, almost two, I am always amazed at how you juggle life with three kiddos, always seem to have your hands in something creative and from what I can tell have a deep, connected relationship with your husband and a healthy relationship with yourself too. So my question to you is, how do you do it? Do you believe in balance? 

Ha! No. Honestly, it’s a myth. I think social media has made us believe in the Super Mom idea too strongly, when in reality every mom is doing her best and some have higher capacities than others. I’m an extrovert and I have a high capacity for projects and people, but I also have friends who give their true 100% and have less going on, and we’re both doing great work. I will say that boundaries are so essential and we are a family who are not afraid to lay them down and write out rules that work for us and stick with them. 

Juggling three kids who attend two schools for example, meant that we made a firm rule on extra-curriculars – they can do one at a time, or none at all. I know a lot of families whose kids are in three or more activities and I know for us that would be too hectic. We wouldn’t be able to prioritize family game night (Fridays), meals together as a family (ideally four times a week) or church every Sunday with our kids if they were in every activity, so we say no to a lot. Because my husband works longer hours than average (and often evenings and weekends), I stay home to manage the home, along with various side hussels’ as time allows. It wasn’t a choice I was brought up with or ever thought I’d make, but for the sake of family harmony (dare I say balance!?) it made sense for one of us to work significantly less if the other had to work significantly more. 

I think families feel a lot of pressure these days to always be achieving and doing and we’ve made a conscious effort to reject that notion. For example, we did zero activities with our kids outside the home before age three. No baby enrichment classes or mom and tot groups of any kind. Not only did we save money to put towards travel, but we also had a very relaxed pace at home as our three little ones were growing up. Three kids in three years forces you to choose what’s important! 

I think it’s safe to say that outside of motherhood and delicious beer and bagels, you and I truly connected on our love for travel. I am so in love with the way your family approaches it, but for those who might not be familiar with your killer set up, fill them in! How frequently do you travel? For how long? Where? 

That is certainly true! I met my husband Brad for the first time in an airport (we were both heading to Morocco doing humanitarian work) and it’s definitely set the tone for our love for adventure and travel. Every year we spend 3-4 weeks abroad and typically we visit two countries. Our first trip with kids was to France when we had two under age two and though it was much harder than traveling on our own (obviously!), it was so great. We have never had the option to have family watch our kids for an extended period of time, so if we didn’t want to bring the kids, we wouldn’t be going anywhere, and that wasn’t an option for us! Our first trip with all three was to Copenhagen, Denmark and Florence Italy, when they were 8 months, 2, and 3. Since then we’ve been to Sweden, Amsterdam, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, Bulgaria, and Greece. Next year we’re thinking of Belgium and the lake district in Italy, but it’s not planned yet! To us, travel is one of our largest expenses and highest priorities. I know that list of countries may seem like a fortune, but we use credit card points for flights and stay in airbnbs, and typically cook all of our own meals. We also make big financial sacrifices in our daily life to make travel happen – we only have one car, we buy almost everything secondhand, we don’t pay for childcare or eating out and we don’t even have data on our phones! Travel isn’t a cheap hobby but we love it so much we’re quite happy to cut back in other areas to make it possible. 

What do you feel your greatest lesson from travel has been as a parent?

Traveling as a family has taught us how little we actually need to be happy. I like to think that our life in Montreal is already very streamlined and minimal – we live in a small condo, our kids all share one room, have capsule wardrobes and very limited toys, etc. but traveling is next level. We’ve had airbnbs where all five of us are in the same room! We just spent a month in Bulgaria and Greece with nothing but a few chapter books, pens, and paper for the kids and they were never bored. We also have a saying that we use for travel and it works perfectly for parenting too: “it’s never too good or too bad for too long”. In travel and life as parents there are really great moments and rough patches, but neither lasts forever. 

What do you feel your kids have absorbed and learned the most from your trips? 

That’s a great question and one I’ve thought of a lot, especially when weighing the pros and cons of pulling them out of school for three weeks. Our kids already speak two languages (English and French), but they pick up bits and pieces of other languages wherever we travel and I really believe that’s creating curiosity and empathy in their little hearts. When we were in Japan we were usually the only white people within a large radius and I’m happy they got to experience how it felt being the minority, even if just for a few weeks. You can’t see countries all around the world thriving and come home still thinking there’s only one way to do things.

One element I especially love about your love of travel is that you also truly enjoy your home city. I think so many people who travel have this kind of screw my home base vibe and I never get that from you. Tell us a little about Montreal and why it is such a special place to call home!

I absolutely love getting away and seeing a new country but by the end I’m always so homesick for Montreal! When Brad and I first met, he was already living in Montreal but I’d never been. We dated long distance and I moved there when we got married a year after meeting, so it was really quick and Montreal was a bit shocking at first, but over the last decade it’s become home in the best way. For those who don’t know, Quebec is the only officially French province in Canada and it’s also the oldest part of the country so it has a distinct European vibe. Montreal has an amazing foodie scene and is known for their strong support of the Arts too. There are beautiful murals on every building and the Jazz Fest is legendary.  It took a while to settle in here and adopt the culture as my own. One big part of that was learning French and sending our kids to French school. I’m basically bilingual now but my kids are already correcting my grammar and vocabulary because they’re true native speakers! 

What have you enjoyed the most about raising your children in Montreal? 

I love that my kids can be bilingual from a young age with very little effort and how family friendly the city is! Our province offers $7/day daycare and a host of child benefits that help families thrive. Of course we pay more taxes to support these social programs, but in Quebec you don’t hear too much complaining – it’s just the way things are done here! Our neighbourhood, Le Plateau Mont-Royal, is especially cosy and highly walkable. We walk to do our groceries (and pay only $3 to have them delivered to our door), to the dentist, doctor, pharmacy, school, church, everywhere!

Looking back over the years since you first became a mom, what was your most trying time and how did you make it through? And what has been your biggest peak? 

Right after all of my babies were born I struggled terribly with breastfeeding and those were my lowest moments as a mom. More and more now you hear “fed is best” but nine years ago when I was having my first that wasn’t a common saying and I felt a lot of mom guilt over not being able to produce enough milk. I remember one night when my oldest was a newborn where she’d slept through a feeding so I’d pumped to make sure I had some milk for her and that milk spilled in our fridge just as she woke up hungry. I wept cleaning up that spilled breast milk and my breasts were empty and soft with nothing to offer her. My husband ran out to get formula and we saw for the first time what a satisfied, full baby looks like. You’d think I’d have learned by my second and third children that there’s no shame in formula feeding but I have to say I still struggled with shame each time. My husband was my greatest ally in those days, reminding me that breastmilk didn’t make a mother, love did. 

There have been many peaks over the years it’s hard to pick one! I loved being home with my kids when they were little. We had a great routine and tried to get out every day and because we did sleep training, naps were very predictable so I could write or do housework when they kids were down every day. I also love the season I’m in right now with all three in school (grades 1, 2, 4) and all able to do big kids things like bike riding, swimming on their own, reading chapter books, and holding interesting conversation. I feel for the first time like the things I want to do are also the things they want to do (within reason). My kids and I discuss Harry Potter books or the sermon at church, and spend our weekends riding through our neighbourhood in the many bike lanes our city provides. These are really the golden years!

Are you working on anything at the moment that you’re particularly excited about? 

Yes! With my kids now fully in school I can put more time into writing, something I’ve been doing professionally on and off for the last six years. I’ll also be teaching some theology classes in my church’s women’s ministry that I’m really excited about. I haven’t had the brain space for much writing or teaching over the years with little ones but I’m coming out of that season now and excited to invest in other work and stretch myself. 

If you had one piece of marriage advice for couples without kids what would it be? With kids? 

I think the advice is the same for both scenarios, but just one is too hard, haha! Never ever be dishonest with your spouse – you’re on the same team and you need to be able to trust each other implicitly. Decide together who will handle which household tasks and responsibilities so there’s no frustration or bitterness. Carve out time for each of you to get away and joyfully send each other off for that morning alone or weekend away. Brad has crazy work hours but he’s still been able to do this for me occasionally and it’s so important! Also don’t forget your sex life! Especially after kids but even before it can slip if you don’t protect it. 

If you could give women and mothers one piece of advice, what would it be? 

You don’t have to be or do it all. Shape your habits and hobbies around your values and don’t be afraid to say no to a lot of other things that will clutter your life. And don’t forget to keep growing and learning as you age. I was never a reader until I had my third baby and I knew I needed some kind of easy, fulfilling hobby that wasn’t connected to a screen, and now I read a book a week! Learning a second language as an adult has been humbling and hard, but I’m glad I’m doing it. 

If you could give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be? 

The advice I need daily with my kids, my husband, and myself is to love well. I love the definition of love that says “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”. I don’t follow it perfectly at all, but it’s a great bar to aim for.

Find more of Em’s writing here. And her Instagram here.

Leave a Comment

  • Great questions and loved the wise and thoughtful answers. Lots for me to think about as we decide how to make travel a reality for our family in the future.

    • So glad you took some valuable information from this article! Love her approach to family travel!

  • Ana Alves

    what a lovely interview! I have been a fan of Em’s blog for a long time, and I look forward to reading your now. I especially loved her definition of love, i think that i too will try to follow it.

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