Photography exhibition illustrating and celebrating the brilliant and bizarre duality of the life of working mums. A celebration of the women who hold up the economy with one hand and a baby with the other.
photography by Fiona Freund
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Leader of The Liberal Democrats
The duality of working mums
I remember hearing Jo Whiley talking about breast feeding at work - between records and sometimes during interviews - which apparently threw Christopher Eccelstone. I was lucky enough be able to take my sons to shoots (untill they was mobile enough to dismantle my lighting rig), they were cuddled by many a sitter and Mike Trow, Picture editor at Vogue, was a marvellous surrogate nanny.
Sadly for most women this is not possible and so begins the weird duality of the mother who works: while smartly dressed ready to head out to an important meeting, kissing little ones goodbye without getting covered in whatever they are eating/smeared with. The mother heading off to her supermarket/cafe shift to shouts of "bring us back a treat mum!" To the multitasking mums who work from home, on a conference call while wiping something unspeakable off the floor.
Many of the hardest working mothers do two full time jobs. This exhibition is in part inspired by MP Sarah Olney’s International Womens’ Day speech in the House of Commons “Let's celebrate the everyday achievement of women whether it's in the home or in the work place.”
Fiona Freund, Photographer
Group Strategy Director Wavemaker (WPP)
I was sat in a breakfast meeting at one of London’s finest for Mexican eggs and a dollop of advertising panache with my baby on my lap at a keeping in touch meeting, whilst on maternity leave. An elderly Bill Nighy 1970s Madmen type on leaving said ‘she’ll be the most creative thing you ever do’. Yes. Exactly that. I thought. And so did my lovely male breakfast companion. What a collision of worlds and a lovely result.
How nice to be on the receiving end of a compliment about one’s children as something greater than a monopoly of a working woman or man’s time. How nice that some see the rearing of children as pretty special and lovely and something to celebrate.
The thing is, on bearing these tiny beings, they become the most important thing in the world and then you have to spend the next, your entire life, grappling with a dual existence. Where you care enough about work to return. But the nausea inducing double life is enough to feel giddy with the schizophrenic weirdness of it all. Perhaps not quite as polarising as a hooker in the bedroom and a chef in the kitchen but certainly a slug on zero sleep and a Duracell bunny on a Broadway stage are common feelings. One day I think I’ll get so dizzy I’ll fall, other’s I’m beating that cymbal like my four pack of AAs will never run out.
And I thought it was just another day…
After the carnage of damp towels on the bathroom floor, breakfast cereals, toasted bread-crumbs everywhere, hair brushing and combing, smelly kit- bags, disgruntled dogs and after-school arrangements shouted in haste, I made my way to the car, exhausted already, and travelled the 2 ½ miles to school. Why does every school day begin with chaos.
I make a mental note to get up earlier, knowing in that second that I’ll fail miserably by tomorrow morning!
Putting on my smiley, professional face, I meet and greet students and parents, calm disgruntled colleagues, tackle the odd problematic parent (same one every week) and start my working day…
The school bell rings, and cursing under my breath, I leave the classroom promising to return as soon as possible and walk towards the school gate. There stands, or rather, wobbles my mother on unsteady feet, propped up by a self-righteous parent! The parent informs me with relish, that she found my mother and her car in the hedge and that she suspects my mother had been drinking! Oh the embarrassment!
Having thanked and apologised profusely, I then had to arrange for someone to quickly collect the car (courtesy of one of my farmer fathers!) and deposit my mother at home where she could sleep off the excesses of a liquid lunch!
Walking back into class, I took a deep breath and smiled as though nothing had happened!
Journalist and Author
Before having children, I used to work myself up to writing. I’d spend hours on displacement activities: cleaning, organising, staring out of the window. Now, if I have a deadline, I just write. I only have a few solo hours in the day to work, so I just get on with it. I’ve found I can write anywhere. I’ve banged out pieces on the tube, in Brockwell Park, and once in the car park at Legoland.
I don’t think of myself as mum first, writer second, or the other way around. It’s all mixed up, tangled around together, as life is. I don’t lie about combining parenting and work. I tell my employers that I can’t do an interview on a particular weekend, because it’s my kid’s birthday. I don’t see that as any less legitimate than saying I can’t do an interview because I’m busy with work.
There is a rigidity to children’s lives that I find hard. It’s not their fault, but I find the regular timetable of school and after school activities difficult. Up at the same time, dressed, breakfast, out at the same time, off to the same place - day after day after day. Routine makes time rush past and that’s the most difficult part of parenting for me. I want to slow time down.I didn't start my business until I was already a mother, so the work was the adjustment, not the mothering. This child had two self employed parents, and with a little juggling, it was possible for us both to work as we needed. Perhaps it meant we didn't work as hard as we should...but work-life balance and all that, it was a great time.
Dr Rhian Prichard
6th Form College Physics Tutor
During their primary school years, the bedtime words I would dread are “forgot to say it’s World Book Day tomorrow and we need an outfit”. As my daughters will testify, I’m a bit slapdash when it comes to helping out with art projects, but my eldest had made her own stove-hat one year and I’d made sure it was stored away for future use. So Ava was easily sorted as the Artful Dodger (third year running) but that night I couldn’t find anything that our middle daughter, Anna, was happy with. Next morning, I decided she would have to be Winnie the Witch; we had a black tutu and a witch’s hat, no broom but a stuffed toy black cat would do. Bingo but no, she was having none of it. Shouting, tears and eventually with the addition of a pair of stripy tights and a liberal dousing of red, silver and gold glitter glue to her face and tutu, she was happy. I dropped them off at school and then cycled on to work for my 9 o’clock lesson.
It was going to be a difficult one teaching the most challenging aspect of the A level course, Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction whilst undergoing the annual lesson observation by the school principal. But I was on comfortable ground and felt confident. As I put on my work face and began, I decided to ignore the tittering and comment from the principal that he hoped it would be a sparkling lesson. Lesson over went to the loo and yes, there was a rather lovely shimmer of glitter to my face, top and hair but annoyingly there was also a couple of blobs of red glitter glue that appeared to be dribbling out of my left nostril.
After ten years of trying, multiple miscarriages and two ectopic pregnancies, I finally had Tom at the grand old age of forty-nine, I am now fifty-five, a granny mother! And it is no exaggeration when I say Tom is a miracle child to us.
I guess on top of every other worry when you have a child and I find the constant worry is what exhausts me most! I was worried that because I was a much older first time mum I wouldn’t have enough energy but fortunately that hasn’t been a problem, in fact I find the opposite to be true I think because I had Tom so late his presence has re-energised me. In terms of my acting I think I am a better actor since having a child.
Children are the best actors as they tend to exist in the moment and that is what good acting is so I have learnt a lot about acting from Tom and he is a much better actor than I’ll ever be, that’s for sure!
Another benefit to my acting Tom has brought is that because I no longer have the luxury of time, my mind when I am on set learning lines etc is much more focused, I used to spend most of my time prevaricating, which is not healthy and can cause self-doubt and fear.
Now I don’t have the time so I just have to go for it which means I get lines learnt much quicker and don’t let self-doubt or fear hold me back, which is a massive relief. All in all a win, win really.
Honestly before I was a mum, I probably would of made the worst student ever! Having my little one made me realise what I wanted to do and pushed me to pursue my degree in product design, now that I’m at the end of that journey I have absolutely no regrets.
I’ve learnt to juggle many roles and responsibilities at once which I find invaluable. I guess you can say I’ve nurtured my child in conjunction with my career path and I’m glad it did it that way.
With all that I have achieved and continue to achieve it’s my son that inspires me & keeps me going. He’s like my little best friend and I adore every single part of him.
It’s great to be able to use design as medium to help him develop and grow.
I love being a mother and I love being able to pursue my chosen career at the same time.
A very special thank you to Berengere Ducoms for her incredible digital imaging skills.