We often take the incredible strength required to navigate the duality of being a working mum – day in, day out – for granted. But MotherWorks, a photographic exhibition from Mothers of Invention (MoI) and photographer Fiona Freund, is taking steps to change that – just in time for International Women's Day and Mother's Day. It features photographs of working mothers, from farmers to CEOs, complete with stories about what it truly means to juggle motherhood and a career in this day and age.
In honour of the exhibition's launch date, we're featuring some of those rarely heard stories, from what it's like to work from home to the hardships of juggling endless playdates. Read their stories below.
Ruth Crilly - Model and Blogger
"Before having babies, I had absolutely no idea how little free time it was possible to have as a non-jailed person. I mean, if you’re alive and talking, walking around in the world with your arms and legs unshackled then surely you have the ability to do things for yourself: comb your hair, read a magazine, have a cup of tea, go to the toilet? WRONG!
"Even getting dressed is a process of many – complicated – steps. Put one leg into your jeans and before you can complete the manoeuvre you have to stop one small child from launching themselves down the stairs and the other one from poking a metal comb into the nearest plug socket. Attempt to find a clean top inside the wardrobe and you will turn back around to find the room completely empty, and suspicious, potentially catastrophic noises coming from the landing.
"And working from home is a whole new level of organised chaos – people imagine I’m sat at some Scandi-designed desk having regular coffee breaks and partaking in cross-continent conference calls while bouncing a burbling baby on my knee. In reality, I’m itching at my stress-induced hives, trying to stop a toddler from deleting my entire word document and hjkadwjghxgyabhmkhujftudftuufyt."
Radeyah Saud - Design Student
"Honestly, before I was a mum, I probably would have 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 I did it that way.
"With all that I have achieved and continue to achieve it’s my son that inspires me and 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 a 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."
In spite of the exhaustion, tantrums, sleepless nights and continuous testing of strength and wills you ‘push on’
Zoe Taylor - Make-up Artist
"I feel incredibly blessed to have this life. Every day I wake up and thank the universe.
"Life can be very demanding for all of us, but I truly love the intertwining of work and family, the way in which I can bring my inspirations and creations at work to my girls, and see what they do and what they see, I try to feed their souls with beauty and kindness.
"I am a freelance make-up artist, I absolutely love my job, however unpredictable my schedule can be, it somehow all works. Being a mother is the most precious gift I have ever been given."
Fari GoOlab - Singer, model, Fari’s Retro
"What is it like being a working Mum?
"It’s like walking a tightrope... the thin line between successful businesswoman and Super Mum. Too much emphasis on one means complete failure of the other!
"It’s like juggling play dates, homework, meetings, deadlines and family time.
"Making sure it’s all balanced, finding time when there is none.
"It’s like being the lion AND the lion tamer. Battling for your child’s rights against the greatest of odds. Fighting your way through the day to your loves and loving the fight.
"It’s like being the strong woman... it is what you are. You couldn’t do any of it without the strength of mind, the force of spirit and fortitude to keep going even when it feels like you have nothing else to give.
"It is like being the clown, you have to entertain your children and endear yourself to your clients. Your goal is to make them happy and make it look effortless.
"And, finally, the ringmaster. You tie it all together. You fill in the gaps. You orchestrate, you delegate – it’s necessary you infiltrate... all to keep it ticking over.
"It is a real circus!
"In spite of the exhaustion, tantrums, sleepless nights and continuous testing of strength and wills you ‘push on’.
"Being the only one standing in the arena, a one-woman show. Friends constantly asking if you’re getting enough sleep? Sleep... what’s that??"
Claire Rose - Physiotherapist
"I was called by the school one Tuesday morning – Megan had come down with a bout of impetigo and I had to cancel patients and go and pick her up. On the way home, feeling a bit harassed, I said that she’d have to come to work with me the next day for a while and sit upstairs with the iPad while I worked – she was right as rain apart from a few spots.
"When we got home we had a cup of tea with my mum, Megan’s granny, who very kindly said she’d change her plans and have Megan the next day. Megan was really upset as she was desperate to come to work with me. We tried to persuade her how boring it would be but she was having none of it. So, eventually, I said to her that if she could stay upstairs in her bedroom for an hour and a half that evening without once coming down, even when Bryn arrived, then she could come with me to work – this was what she’d have to do at work if she came. I didn’t for one moment think she’d manage it as she is massively talkative and sociable.
"Lo and behold, not a single sound for the whole time!
"So, I ended up going to work and she went to my mum in the morning and then I drove all the way back at lunch time to pick her up and take her back to work for the afternoon so that she could have her time there. An extra hour and a half on the road – that will teach me to call her bluff!!"
Deborah Castle - Picture Editor at The Pool
"By the time I had my first child, I was 15 years into a busy career as an editorial picture editor. I had been the launch picture director at Grazia, and it was a full-on job filled with managing a large picture team, producing shoots internationally and keeping on top of daily news research. We had both our children via IVF and no matter how demanding work can be, I am always thankful that I was able to become a parent. My kids are proud that I work, and never make me feel guilty that I am out of the house 10 hours a day. We are a very visual family, and do a lot of drawing, building and taking photos together. I tell the kids about all the fun and unusual people I have shot, and as I am now working for a website, we talk about news, social media and what happens in the big wide world. Being a working mother is all about balance and making sure you give your full attention to what you are doing in the moment, be it art directing a shoot or building a Lego spaceship. I don't think anyone has it down perfectly, but we keep trying!"