Names: Phoebe and Toby Adams
Years together: 14
Occupations: marketing and urban researcher
Phoebe and Toby Adams are on the kind of journey that inspires equal parts awe and trepidation. The couple are driving from Sydney to Perth, along with their three girls – an 11-year-old and one-year-old twins. Over the next four months, they will travel across New South Wales, through South Australia, north to the Flinders Ranges, to Coober Pedy, Alice Springs and Katherine, then down to Broome and finally land in Perth, where they will settle and set up their lives afresh.
It’s an impressive trip under any circumstances but throw in a global pandemic, border closures and a month living in a caravan park as preparation, and it’s truly astonishing. Yet they’re relaxed about it. “We’ve got a very flexible mindset,” Toby says. “If things change with borders, we’ll need to alter our routes but that’s all part of the journey, really.”
The move is part of a major life shift for the family. Until recently, they lived on Sydney’s northern beaches and, each day, Toby would spend about two-and-a-half hours commuting to the city. It robbed them of precious family time and a decent work-life balance. “When the twins were really little, he hardly saw them during the week,” Phoebe says. “So being able to have him fulltime is really exciting.” While it was something they had been considering, the coronavirus pandemic spurred them on. And, if the pictures are anything to go by, they are having the time of their lives.
They met 24 years ago while at university in Western Australia, introduced by a mutual friend. Both 19, they dated for a while but things came to an end when Phoebe returned home to Sydney after finishing her studies. Over the next 10 years, they kept in touch, still drawn together. “There’s something about our personalities which is very aligned,” Toby says. “We’re fun-loving and inquiring. And I think there’s some sort of connection around being adventurous and trying new things.”
But somehow the timing was never right. That is, until one night, while Phoebe was in London and Toby in Melbourne, they were chatting and realised they were both single at the same time. “So we sort of decided over the phone that we would get together,” Phoebe says.
Suddenly it was full-steam ahead. Phoebe returned from London and moved in with Toby in Melbourne. They moved to Sydney a few years later and then Phoebe fell pregnant. With a nudge from Phoebe’s mother, they decided to get married before their daughter arrived. Phoebe says: “It was like ‘Of course. This is what we are going to do’. It was a natural progression, it felt like the right thing to do.” And it was a “magnificent” wedding.
New city, new baby, new marriage – and a new job for Toby. It was a whirlwind, but all the excitement wasn’t smooth sailing. Particularly for Phoebe. “I was adjusting to this new life of being a mum, and being very career-focused before then, suddenly [questioning] what does that mean for my career?”
She went back to work when her daughter was nine months old. It was tough juggling everything. “It’s so hard for new mums. If you are career driven, you have to make so many little micro-decisions about prioritisation and I think that marriage is such a big part of that life,” she says. “Someone said to me at that point that parents with young children should not be allowed to divorce because there’s so much pressure on you. And it’s true.”
All that stress took a toll on their relationship and they separated for about a year. Being there for their daughter helped them to find their way back together. “We both missed her terribly when we didn’t have her,” Toby says, “and it was a time when Bea was just about to start school and we could see just how tricky this custody thing was going to be.” He adds: “We were like, ‘What are we doing? Let’s just get back together, let’s sort out what issues we have’, which actually weren’t too fundamental really.”
They decided to renew their vows to mark the significance of their decision – but kept things simple. Same location, same marriage celebrant but just one guest and their daughter did the reading. “[It was important] to put that line in the sand. That was the old marriage, this is the new marriage, and this is what we want for each other,” Phoebe says. “And a big part of it was saying ‘I’ve got your back. Whatever happens, I’ve got your back.’ And it’s true, if I think about Tobes and the way that he treats me as his wife and the mother [of our children], that that is always evident. I really feel that.”
Being apart made them stronger, she says: “We can get through anything now, and it wouldn’t break us up. There’s nothing I don’t think that would ever get us to that point, because we’ve seen the other side and we don’t want to be separate. We want to be together.”
They wanted more children and, when their twins eventually arrived, it made them reassess their priorities again. “[We realised] we can’t always operate with one person working at a 150% capacity and me trying to pull it all together at the other end. We talked about that a lot. Even though Tobes is very focused on his career, he’s also very focused on family. And so he could see that that was important,” Phoebe says. “And for me, that was probably the biggest challenge. Getting us to the same page where it was like, ‘OK, what’s important here?’”
It was in planning for the future that the idea of moving to Perth came up – many of Toby’s friends and family live there. “It unfolded that we wanted to be in a more relaxed place or state of mind and for Tobes to be working less away from the family,” Phoebe says. “So that prompted a lot of decisions.”
Then the pandemic hit, which meant Toby was working from home and helping out with the children even more, as well as cutting out his lengthy commute. It spurred their decision on. He says: “That period gave us a good taste of how things could be on the road, and how we can manage a bit better with work-life balance.”
Life on the road, and living in a camper van with three young children, has its own challenges, but the couple have learnt how to negotiate daily niggles. “We get it out in the open pretty quickly ... There’s never any hard feeling, we never hold onto stuff,” Phoebe says.
When subtle messages aren’t getting through, they have learnt to speak up and the other will listen. And while there’s still the occasional clash, they are quick to move on.
They try to find moments together like a cup of tea in the morning or a glass of wine at the end of the day, although both wish there was more time for romance. It’s something they discuss. “[We’re] checking in with each other and we’re very affectionate naturally. So we’re always hugging and kissing, and that is always there whatever’s happening,” Phoebe says. “I think that is a way that we keep the romance alive. We’re not just best friends living together.”
Reassessing their priorities has made them realise what’s most important: “For me, family is everything,” Phoebe says. “We really work hard to make sure that we show up for each other.” Of course “we don’t nail it all the time, but I think we’re pretty good”.
As their world shifts from one side of the country to another, they are treasuring the precious time with the girls – like when everyone piles into the camper bed. “It’s a camping trailer bed that we zip up so no one can fall out,” Phoebe laughs. “It’s actually a bit more relaxing, actually.”
That spirit of play is something they hold dear. “Laughter, humour and having some fun … I’m always looking to get a laugh out of Phoebs. I just find that endless mission both enjoyable but also important for us.”
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