I always knew I wanted to be actress or a writer. (With hindsight, I see that I simply love words and telling stories.) I abandoned the acting part fairly early – but was pretty convinced that I’d end up as an editor.
When I left university, I thought my career path would run something like this: internships, followed by a job as a writer (along the lines of Andie Anderson the ‘how to’ girl (How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days if the cultural reference is lost on you), section editor, and then – maybe – an editor. Kids? Two for preference, then I’d go back to work, clicking in and out in my high heels, dropping kisses on sweet little heads and maintaining my altogether fabulous life. (That I lived in one of those big white houses in Notting Hill or Chelsea in this fantasy shows how little I knew…)
Here’s what happened: internships (i.e. a lot of sleeping on my best friend’s floor – thanks Sarah, my lifesaver even today), one of which led to a job as a features/entertainment/fashion features assistant at InStyle. A freelance stint (I left when I realised that the editor could never see me as more than an assistant, ergo promotion was out of the question. On the day I left she referred to me as the Features’ Editor’s “best accessory”. I know, right?! She taught me a lot about how not to behave) before ‘settling down’ as the senior editor at Easy Living.
Then came maternity leave. It’s an unwritten law that you have precisely zero idea of how you’ll feel about having children until you actually have children. I had all these ideas about the type of (working) parent I would be. And then I had my daughter. Even at six months she was so sweet, so small, that I couldn’t even contemplate leaving her. (Pause here to appreciate our relatively enlightened maternity leave policy (vis-à-vis the one in the US) and my fortunate position of being able to afford to make this choice.) Six months became nine became a full year. When I did go back – it was full-time as acting deputy editor at Glamour. Yes, I loved it; yes, it was bloody hard. I got antsy around 5.20pm every day, coiled to spring from my seat and race to the Tube to make it home for bath and bedtime. I lay awake at night, totting up the hours my daughter spent with her nanny versus with me. At times missing her was a visceral ache.
But then the role became a permanent job-share with a great team and an inspirational editor. I had achieved The Dream. One I returned to after the birth of my son. Simple.
And then suddenly it wasn’t. My son is a happy-go-lucky creature, who potters through life merrily. Yes, he would prefer to spend every day with me, but is sanguine when I leave. My daughter is more complex. My warm, generous, kind-hearted, excitable little girl is also emotional, a worrier, a lie-awake-and-thinker. School is A Big Deal for her. I remembered what someone had once told me: that you think they need you when they’re tiny – but the truth is they need you even more when they grow. This was it. She needed more. She wasn’t unhappy, but we knew she could be happier, more confident, more settled. She needed a more present parent.
So, just over a year ago, I left my job. Not because I was unhappy, but because I wanted to find a new way of working – something that allowed me to keep a hand in the career I love and worked years to build, but fitted around what my family (two young children, one husband who works long, hard hours) now.
Also, there was this, W&W. Alex and I had long talked of turning our hobby into a business. The organic growth had been steady, but what if we treated it as a job? Imagine what could we achieve then. I loved the high I got when I secured a great cover star for Easy Living, a commission for a broadsheet, a ‘job well done’ nod from Jo (Elvin, former editor in chief at Glamour) – but I wanted to achieve that on my own account, for something that’s my own.
There are things I missed – and still miss: the team; the jokes (my Glamour friends are genuinely hilarious); the camaraderie. Going to Pret for my morning coffee and chatting with its delightful staff (Pret hire the best staff). Being surrounded by brilliant people to bounce ideas off. I was at sea without the structure of office hours and the clear delineation between work and home/leisure. I felt guilty when, as I had promised, I clocked off at 4pm on a Tuesday for a weekly ‘cake date’ with my daughter before her Perform class (logging back on in the evening if I had more work to do). I felt wrong doing yoga after dropping my daughter at school and son at nursery. Wasn’t this “work time”? Shouldn’t I be cramming in as much money work as I possibly could?
I had also lost definition. Saying I was deputy editor at Glamour was handy shorthand for ‘I have a career and I’m doing pretty well. It’s a Proper Job and I function in the working world’. And that mattered to me because I have been lucky to do a job that is also my passion, so it has always been a large part of who I am. If you imagine your life roles (wife, mother, daughter, friend, editor etc) in a pie chart, my job was a pretty substantial slice.
But of course you adjust and it becomes the new normal. I sought advice from old hands at the freelance game (Alex, of course, and Gemma – who told me that I would love it, I just had to stop thinking of ‘work’ as a rigid 9-5, Sarah from Little Spree) and found support in the lovely Instagram community (people heralded – correctly – the joy of flexibility, the being there for the little things (school pick ups, homework…) – I’ve met some amazing women who work along similar lines (on their passion, around their children), like Jennie from Lois Avery and Lisa of edit58.
Now I’m at an interesting mental crossroads. My children are happier (most of the time…) and I no longer feel quite as guilty when I turn away from my screen to be with them. Yesterday my daughter woke up on what my grandmother would have called ‘the wrong side of the bed’ (said grandmother would make you physically get back into bed and out the other side). She really wanted me to take her to school (which I do most days) – but I had a breakfast meeting I had to attend for one of the brands I consult with. I closed the door on her sobbing. So I picked her up after school, walked by the river, talked about this and that – went for a coffee together and practised her spellings. Came home and sat with her on my lap, her head on my shoulder, talked about how sometimes you just feel “unhappy inside” and that’s okay.
This was, indubitably, the right thing to do. But a small part of my subconscious niggled at me, ‘This is your last full working day. You’re paying for childcare, you should use it to work’. It’s the same voice that compares me to my friends who combine motherhood with startlingly brilliant careers – they have seriously high-flying jobs. The same voice which berates me for not having a ‘big’ job or notching up the next CV progression or billing vast sums (because the latter is so common in journalism, ahem). But just as I think that one can have an excess of children and I should be putting myself back ‘out there’ (wherever that might be in this virtually post-print age), then I have a moment like the one today: when it’s golden and perfect, and my little boy runs through piles of leaves in a state of transfixing delight – and slips his warm little hand into mine. Or when I take my daughter to school and catch her looking at me “just because I so love you, Mummy”. How could I even contemplate missing moments like these?
My rational mind tells me that I am doing the right thing. That this is by far the best thing for my children; that the contributions my husband and I make to the family as a whole are of different currencies, but equal value. Moreover, neither of us can do what we do isolation: we each need the other for our lives and family to run as they do. I know I am immensely privileged to be in the position to make this call – that there are many parents who have no choice (so much so I hesitated for a while before writing this).
And my work does bring me joy – I had almost forgotten how much I love writing (you do a lot less of it when you’re an editor), even when it’s 1am and I’m typing furiously to meet a deadline. I consult with some great companies. And W&W is rewarding our time and effort and becoming oue business. Alex and I are shooting next week – how amazing is that I get to work with one of my closest friends and write about our passions, creating original content that is ours and ours alone? Not to mention collaborating with some of our favourite, likeminded brands and interviewing inspiring women?
I just need to still that critical inner voice. Somehow it nagging away at me for not being good enough or sufficiently successful or high-flying. I need to teach it to value all the other stuff (a clumsy term for the everything else that comes with being a parent and a partner and running a family and a home) as much as it seems to value work.