When journalist and writer, Saima Mir, saw two mothers apologise for their children because they walked in on them during a live news interview, she sympathised greatly. She has been there herself many times before.
Dear Deborah Haines of Sky News, and Dr Clare Wenham, I see you. I really do.
I understand the struggles of working from home and looking after children. I salute you for a stellar job. Handing out biscuits and helping children find the perfect place for ornaments is hard enough without the added complexity of having a coherent chat about current affairs on live TV, but you pulled it off brilliantly.
Thank you for normalising motherhood, and not hiding it as a source of shame.
I’ve been a freelance journalist and a writer for over a decade. I’ve felt as if I’m winging it most of the time and coming undone at the seams, probably because in today’s world, motherhood is not celebrated, it is concealed.
Our children are seen as things we need to manage, and the sweat equity that goes into raising them brings little social capital. My three sons, age six, three and one and a half, have brought me unbridled joy, and the kind of love I only dreamed of. They have also brought me a whirlwind of chaos, endless cleaning, and a maternal rage I attribute to the cloak of invisibility I unknowingly donned on giving birth.
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The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown has meant my husband has been working from home since March. I’ve watched him navigate meetings with our youngest his lap. He’ll announce it at the start of the Zoom call without batting an eyelid. “I may have little people wandering in and out during this,” he says.
School and nursery drop-offs mean he has a toddler with him for his daily 9.15 am meeting. The child always poops at this time, but my husband takes it in his stride. I wish I had this level of confidence when I started out. Parenthood is like a badge of honour for him, in a way that in never was for me.
My plan to write, conduct meetings or carry out interviews as my kids nap has proven to be a false hope. They have a radar for important meetings and choose that exact day to refuse sleep, develop fevers, or even vomit. I used to get stressed about this. My nerves would fray and I found myself apologising profusely for my children. It was not good for my mental wellbeing or for their self-esteem.
It was during a video conference, a child perched either side with a tin of biscuits to placate them, that I had an epiphany. They had already gobbled an entire packet of chocolate digestives, which I had been handing them one by one, when the baby decided to poo. I was exhausted from school runs, night feeds, toddler tantrums, and after school clubs, I couldn’t take it anymore. So I turned the laptop slowly towards the children, to show the team what I was up against. To my relief and immense surprise they laughed. They shared stories, offered helpful advice, and my relationship with them became even stronger as a result.
Before I had children, I thought motherhood and writing would go hand in hand. I thought my baby would nap and I would sit at my laptop, whilst my well-behaved children played nearby. Suffice to say, I was a little naïve.
The brand of babies I produce refuse to nap, hate routines and see me as a battleground/climbing frame. They are always hungry and can hear even the stealthiest opening of the fridge door at 60 feet. They run at the speed of a cheetah and eat like locusts. This has been my experience of lockdown.
I have had one bad experience when a woman I was on the phone to was rude because she said all she could hear was my baby. I was breastfeeding him at the time, as I’ve done on countless work calls before. But at that moment, I knew I did not want to work with her again because she had assumed that motherhood minimised me. The irony being, we were discussing the importance of diversity. There is great talk of inclusion and it is time we brought motherhood into that discussion.
Normalising motherhood, seeing it as a sign of strength, is beneficial to society, and to the workplace. Women who feel safe, valued, and supported, are likely to thrive, be more productive, and stay in their jobs. We need women in the top echelons of society, across all professions and at all levels. In order to do this, we must see all aspects of their life as adding value.
As for me, I’ve taken my babies to meetings with agents, film producers, writers, and journalists. They’ve helped hold, feed, and entertain my feral children. I will no longer be hiding my motherhood away. I am officially one unapologetic mother.
Images: Getty/courtesy of Saima Mir