You have two girls - Coco and Sylvie - and a successful role at Red magazine as Executive Editor. How do you juggle both roles?
I’d be lying if I said I do either brilliantly, but I think my attitude to both my job and motherhood is to throw my heart and soul into them – and then cut myself some slack when everything isn’t perfect! With the magazine, it’s my dream job and something that gives me a great sense of purpose and satisfaction, but I am also able to step back and retain my perspective. My work dominates my life from 9-6, but the moment I step through our front door, it falls away and being a mum consumes me instead. In many ways editing a magazine is the easier task because people are happy to collaborate with you and are paid to do what you say – my kids are far harder to manage!!! Also, I think I have even higher expectations with myself as a mother than an editor – I only get one go at this job. With both come huge challenges, but I try to navigate them by compartmentalising them and not being too hard on myself when things don’t go exactly to plan. I am also lucky to have a brilliant husband who is a freelance photographer. His work is more flexible, which allows him to take on the bulk of the childcare during the week.
What was your experience like on maternity leave and did you always know you’d return to your career in the same capacity?
I was madly in love with my babies – but not maternity leave. I have always been a do-er so found it hard to spend endless days at home with a newborn. Coco especially was a terrible sleeper, so much of my maternity leave was an exhausted fog. I had her in May so by the time I was properly up and about the summer had passed – I just have memories of long grey Autumn days and pushing a buggy around for hours, just so she’d sleep. Despite this, I adored being a mum and it has always felt instinctive to me. Even when I was patting and shushing Coco like a delirious zombie at three in the morning, my hand wedged through the bars of her cot, I couldn’t have loved her more! But I always knew I’d return to work – financially it was essential, but also for me as a person. I went back after ten months to a four-day week, which felt like a good balance. By the time Sylvie came along, the British government introduced shared paternity leave. We decided that I would return to work after seven months and my husband Jaron would take over the daily childcare.
How did you and your husband Jaron come up with your childcare plan - did you always know he was happy to be at stay-at-home-dad or did the arrangement come with a lot of different options and considerations?
When we initially embarked on the shared childcare, it was going to be a short-term arrangement. I was the one to suggest we take advantage of the shared paternity leave and Jaron admits he couldn’t find a good enough reason not to! It was really important for me that he experienced the challenges of being with the kids, but also the great joys of it. I think the girls and I are so close because of that time we spent together when they were very little, and I wanted him to have that too. Towards the end of his paternity leave, his work situation changed giving him the opportunity to become freelance, which he’d wanted to do for a while. In truth though, these last two years have been more about childcare than photography for him. I think he’s been very gracious about that – him becoming the lead parent has given my career a chance to flourish, which can’t always have been easy. Usually, it’s the woman who puts her working life on hold to raise a small family, but it has been the other way around for us. It’s interesting because we have both experienced the full-time childcare and the full-time job, so I think this makes us more empathetic to one another. Jaron is amazing at what he does – he’s such a hands-on dad, he’s a member of the PTA and fills the girls’ days with adventures and a lot of fun. He’s also incredible at keeping the house running smoothly (I am useless at this and very messy). The downside to all this is that while I have less maternal guilt towards my children, I feel guilty that I generally get to have a more glamorous, exciting life than he does, and that my career comes first, whereas his has to fit in around it. In the evenings and at weekends, I try to give him some time to himself to destress – which can mean that I don’t then create any downtime for myself.
The term work/life balance is often elusive for a lot of working parents - how do you keep on top of everything without feeling overwhelmed?
I think I do feel overwhelmed! But I am very lucky because the sense of satisfaction I get from both areas of my life overrides the panic. That said, I do have a few things that help me navigate the juggle. Firstly, we try to be super organised – Jaron and I have shared calendars on our phone and a family wall planner at home. We are pretty diligent at keeping them all up to date, so we know everyone’s commitments and spend a Sunday night planning for the week ahead. I also have an hour commute from my home to my office and back, which is a really good time to not only keep on top of my personal and family admin but to transition from ‘work’ to ‘home’. I try to be quite strict about bringing work home in the evenings and almost never answer work emails at the weekend because I want to be fully immersed in my family. I also have little things I do to help me feel connected to the girls, even when I’m not there. I make Coco’s packed lunch every day (I’m a sucker for shaped cookie cutters and tiny animal food picks to make it all look more appealing!) and I write her a little love note every single day and stash in there too – I like the idea that I’m with her for a moment in the middle of her day. Randi Zuckerberg (sister of the Facebook founder Mark) wrote a really interesting piece for Red magazine saying that you can have it all, just not all at the same time. I definitely find that to be true. My priorities are my family and my job, which I can just about master on a daily basis – but this does mean that time for myself (like exercising) and my female friendships are the things that right now, and more likely to end up on the back burner.
What advice would you give to other mums returning to work after having children?
Accept that it’s going to be tough. You have to dig deep when all you want to do after a full-on day at work, is sit on a sofa with a glass of wine, but actually you have two hours of bath and bed to get through first. Also, set your personal parameters early and stick to them – don’t let yourself answer the odd work email at the weekend, or agree to work late too often, because people will come to expect it. Figure out your non-negotiables – the events in your child’s life you cannot miss and the ones that are not so essential (routine doctor’s appointment: yes, school play: no). And don’t beat yourself up about any of it – not about wanting to go back to work (it doesn’t mean you love your child any less), not about buying the brownies for the summer fair rather than making them (who has time?), not about not being there every single moment of every day (just the ones that matter most). Showing your kids what it looks like to love your job, work hard, build a career and find a sense of purpose is just a great as waiting outside the school gates.
How did you find the jump going from one to two kids?
I don’t think anything can compare to the first moment you embark on motherhood – when your world turns upside down and you realise your life – and your heart – will never be your own again. Having a second child definitely increases the workload but I found it had more of an emotional impact than a physical one. I loved Coco so entirely that I had to mentally create space for Sylvie, which didn’t come instantly. I have friends who say their second child was born and they immediately loved them as wholeheartedly as their first, but I felt that I’d had three years to discover and become devoted to the little person that was Coco. Sylvie was more of a slow burner for me. In a way she was a much easier baby, so she didn’t test me so much, but then equally didn’t fight her way into my psyche so insistently. Now she’s still more placid and harmonious, but I adore her because of that. She’s sweet and funny and thoughtful and just delicious. Coco is infuriating and charming – she’s a beautiful, soulful, maddening 16 year old in a six year old’s body. God help us! I love having two girls though, seeing their friendship together and feeling our family grow its roots. They have completed us.
Do you have any tried and tested mum-hacks that you can share that make getting out the door each day a little easier?
I wish I had something revelatory to share here! I think like most women, I plan what I’ll wear the night before and often lay the kids’ clothes out too. We make the girls breakfast at home but I usually eat myself when I get to the office to save time. Despite this, we are almost always late to leave. Most mornings you’ll see Coco flying to school on her scooter and me madly dashing alongside her!
What is your definition of self-love and how do you make time for it?
I think self-love has two equally important components – the doing and the being. The doing is, of course, making time for yourself – to read or practise yoga or go for a walk or take a long bath, none of which I ever seem to make time for. My husband is much better at this self-love, which for him is usually in the form of exercise, but I tend to put my own personal desires to the bottom of the priority list – I’d always rather be home to put the kids to bed than stay in the city to take a yoga class (despite Jaron encouraging me to do so). While I don’t always create space to do things, I try to create space for myself in my head. This can be as simple as embarking on my 15-minute walk to the train station without listening to a podcast, or sitting on the train and staring out of the window for half an hour. My brain is always so busy I try to give my mind moments to clear.
Then there’s the being, which to me is more about compassion and self-acceptance. I’m much better at that. In a way, to counteract the pressure I have in my life right now, I have had to find a way to be okay with who I am. I don’t have time for self-improvement, I’m focusing on self-preservation instead. But this has been organic for me – turning 40 felt like a pivotal moment. I remember once asking my mum when she felt her most beautiful and she said at 40, because it was the time when both her head and her body were in the best place. I think that of myself now. I am confident about who I am on the inside and have accepted – and appreciate – who I am on the outside. I know I am enough. That feels liberating and I think it’s the greatest act of self-love you can give yourself.