Breastfeed. Bottle fed. Stay at home. Go back to work. It seems there is never one correct way to parent. It's a notion that Christina Norton knows all too well. "I personally don’t believe there is a “right” approach to parenting," said the mother of one and PR Manager for Claridge's, The Connaught & The Berkeley.
And despite having read all of the books, Christina says not only did they not prepare her for motherhood, but they left her with more questions than answers. “I personally found that reading too many of them made me self-doubt and judge myself, which ultimately lead me to believe that I was failing,” she said.
“When Penelope was born, I had trouble trusting anyone to look after her which led to a lot of (self-induced!) stress,” said Christina. “That, combined with the waves of hormones made me fall into a depression which caused me to be reclusive. I couldn’t leave the house. After three months of deep stress, I stopped producing milk. I felt like a failure. There was a silver lining in which it allowed others to bottle feed Penelope, and somehow helped me to climb out of the dark hole I was in.”
All we can say is that we’re glad she found her way out of that hole, as the work Christina produces for the iconic Maybourne Hotel Group has left us not only in awe, but completely craving a London getaway.
We spoke to Christina about this work (and how she approaches dressing for the office), parenting in today’s challenging climate, and a childhood that left her with a love of frangipanis.
Photography by Helene Sandberg | Visit Claridge’s, The Connaught and The Berkeley through the Maybourne Hotel Group
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
I was born in NYC, and raised speaking French at home. With strong ties to France, we have a family home in Aix en Provence that I grew up visiting over the summer holidays and now get to share with my 4-year-old daughter Penelope.
My husband, Luigi, is Italian and grew up in London. We first met when he was studying Physics at UCL and I was at Central Saint Martins. He’s a brilliant pianist, and loves playing all genres. We’re always listening to music at home, it creates such a warm atmosphere. Penelope is also surrounded by languages and we’re always encouraging her to speak French and Italian.
As the daughter of a hotelier, my brothers and I grew up in the wonderful world of hotels. We were incredibly lucky to travel and live in some of the most extraordinary places. It was inevitable that I would sooner or later follow in their footsteps and pursue a career in the industry. It’s a world we love and adore. When you work in hotels, you’re part of one big family and I love introducing my own family, my husband and our daughter Penelope to it the same way my parents did.
You were born in NYC but raised in Asia. What was your childhood like?
We moved around a lot, and settling into new schools, making new friends, integrating into new surroundings wasn’t always easy. I have my parents to thank for the patience, the extraordinary friends I’ve made and the places I’ve seen. The biggest transition was moving from Washington DC to Bali. We moved over Christmas. It was pre-internet era, therefore no Google Images to refer to. My parents gave me a Bali guide book which I must have read a thousand times, memorising all the pictures and maps for comfort. I’ll never forget the smell of frangipani. The daily visits to the temples. Spirituality and nature are integral parts of everyday life for the Balinese. Learning about their beliefs and most importantly their traditions was one of the greatest life experiences.
Their daily offerings to the gods are all selfless actions, gestures of gratitude. This local spiritual practice is part of the island’s magic. As a family, we’ve preserved a lot of their core values in our everyday lives.
I moved to Singapore a few years later and remained at boarding school until I graduated.
What brought you to London?
I came to London from Singapore in 2004 to study at Central Saint Martins. A dream come true. I knew no one, but I knew this is where I wanted to study and live for the foreseeable future. I’ve lived here for 15 years.
What has your career involved to date?
It the past, my role was mainly about writing and sending out press releases, but as with so many job roles, things have changed significantly in the 10 years since I started working for Claridge’s, The Connaught and The Berkeley. Social media has become a key part of our role, communicating directly with the world, as well as working with traditional media and managing brand partnerships. We’ve become storytellers while also working as custodians of these iconic hotels.
How do you approach your career? Are you planned and rigorous around meeting career goals, or do you go with the flow?
It’s important to set career goals, but I’m truly lucky to have found my dream job. I work with the most wonderful team, and I have huge respect for the hotels and the people who bring so much magic day to day.
Did you always know you wanted to be a mother?
Yes I did. My husband and I married when I was 23 (he was 24) and we were mindful of spending quality time together, travelling, building a home and our careers before having children.
What was your pregnancy like?
Apart from the first trimester (which really took me by surprise) where I was still waiting for the glowing hormones to kick in, I had a fairly easy pregnancy. I worked through my pregnancy and got rather distracted from the growing bump. It was only towards the last trimester, when I was physically drained and slow that I would catch glimpses of myself in the mirror thinking “Wow, is that really me!?”
How did you navigate returning to work after Penelope arrived?
The first few months were agony. I couldn’t shake this feeling that a piece of me was missing. Luckily we had a nanny who would send me pictures of Penelope throughout the day and share with me supportive text messages of what they were doing. I don’t know how my mother did it when there were no mobile phones.
Has your career shifted at all since becoming a parent?
I had a clear idea of who I’d be as a mother before we even started trying for a baby: I grew up with a working mother, and I always planned on going back to work.
Do you subscribe to the notion of “the village”? If so, how do you leverage the support of others in balancing family life?
When Penelope was born, I had trouble trusting anyone to look after her which led to a lot of (self-induced!) stress. That, combined with the waves of hormones made me fall into a depression which caused me to be reclusive. I couldn’t leave the house. After three months of deep stress, I stopped producing milk. I felt like a failure. There was a silver lining in which it allowed others to bottle feed Penelope, and somehow helped me to climb out of the dark hole I was in. We don’t have family here in London, but we’ve made terrific friends who have become our family, and who’ve seen Penelope grow. I’m eternally grateful to have them in our lives.
How do you approach the juggle?
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
Do you get mother guilt? If so, how do you work through it?
Every day! There’s no secret to working through it. I have to remind myself that she loves her school, and that she’s looked after by brilliant teachers. My husband is a wonderful father, and he’s often the one picking her up from school and making her dinner. I love that she gets to spend so much quality time with her father. He’s the unsung hero in our family.
We’re parenting in a challenging age. What worries you most about raising a daughter in 2020?
Since being at school, I’m mindful that she’s slowly learning to manage some situations without her parents. With this growing sense of self, she is also growing this sense of defiance. As she settles into Year 1 next September, we will have to be particularly mindful as she begins to develop a sense of independence and identity. With that will come a lot of questions and we need to make sure we provide the right answers that make sense to her. Last summer, my youngest brother Charlie passed away. It was important for her to know and understand. Avoiding the conversation doesn’t help the emotions to go away. She continues to ask questions and we are mindful her understanding of death will change and the more detailed discussions will be as she grows up.
What excites you most?
Hearing Penelope laugh.
What hopes and dreams do you have for Penelope?
I am very proud of her right now, and know she will do great things in the future. I want her to live a full life, be happy and respectful to her surroundings people included.
Do you subscribe to any particular parenting philosophies?
I personally don’t believe there is a “right” approach to parenting. Of course, it can be very comforting and reassuring to rely on a “parenting bible” that tells you exactly how to navigate the day to day chaos. Raising a child often means having more questions than answers! I personally found that reading too many of them made me self-doubt/ judge myself which ultimately lead me to believe that I was failing.
How do you approach dressing each day? Do you adhere to a uniform?
I love dressing up for work. The “office-appropriate” wardrobe rules have shifted since I started 10 years ago and the power suiting is no longer a standard issue for women seeking to assert their professional authority. It’s about showing more personality while still representing the business brand. We’ve also seen our dress codes reducing significantly for our guests at the hotels. You wouldn’t have been able to walk into the lobby without a jacket and tie. Now, we have no dress code at all.
Where do you love to shop, for yourself and for Penelope?
I love shopping for Penelope more than I enjoy shopping for myself. I could spend hours in Monoprix in France. Petit Bateau, Jacadi and Bonpoint are firm favourites. I love Tara Jarmon – if they did childrenswear you would see Penelope and I parade down the street in matching outfits. I’m also a big fan of Ghost and love to wear their dresses to work. They are great to dress up in the evening when we’re hosting events.
What’s the last great book you read?
The last great book I read was City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. I love any novels with historical detail.
Do you make time for self care? If so, what does that look like for you?
Whether it’s drawing, painting, crafts, making time for art is my answer to self-care. And it’s been shown to lower stress hormone levels. Visiting art galleries gives me a deeper appreciation for what I see around me. It forces me to slow down and focus on the now.
Do you exercise? Mediate?
I love running. I get a greater release of endorphins from a good run. The first day I went for a run after giving birth to Penelope – I ran up Primrose Hill and burst into tears – somehow all the emotional feelings just melted away and I felt like I had shed away old skin.
I walk to work every day. Rain or shine. I find it therapeutic. It takes 45 minutes and it’s a way of clearing my mind – walking away from “home” ready to step into “work mode”.
What do weekends look like for you?
We are usually out and about or hosting dinners at home. My husband and I will play tag and we each give each other time in the morning to go for a workout. The rest of the day we’ll take long walks in Hampstead and visit museums with Penelope.
What’s currently on your list of loves?
- Guerlain KissKiss Roselip R373 Pink Me Up
- A good friend launched her own brand from Brooklyn NYC called Shea Brand Rose Shea – Raw Organic Shea Butter – it’s utter bliss
- Miso soup – I buy the itsu miso easy traditional packs and always have them in my bag.
- My heavy canvas tote from Arket
- No “good” mornings start without a good cup of coffee served in my Claridge’s mug
- My Merry Bracelet from Ruifier
- Fujifilm camera (can’t leave the house without it)
- I love tuning into the Table Manners podcast when I can
- I keep a small piece of paper where Penelope wrote her name for the first time in my wallet
- Fresh flowers from Clifton Nurseries