Motherhood is magical. Right from pregnancy we seem increasingly to lose ourselves into this strangely familiar, strangely unfamiliar world.
There is this dream of being treated like some kind of brave and vulnerable hero when you become a mum for the first time. Then reality nudges you awake. Once post-natal honeymoon period settles, you often find yourself relegated to a netherworld of zombified, former people struggling minute by minute to piece together the last fragments of their identities. Imagine being a character in a Samuel Beckett play trying to engage an unruly audience of Lilliputians. It can be a bit like that!
And in this context, it really is no wonder that mothers are not associated with social glamour! But it really is a shame, because along my personal mothering obstacle course, even in the notorious cultural deserts of suburbia, I have met women who handle motherhood with grace and aplomb. They are there for almost every school run and bedtime, yet manage to retain their professional creative edge. It did take a bit of digging, but what I've come up with is gold.
Some mothers, like me, take time out from work for the first five years of their child's life. In those years, I felt it was important that I was always available to accompany my daughter on her journey. I had listened over the years to parents who had told me their stories about missing critical points in their child's development, and how in hindsight they wished they had been there more, regardless of the sacrifices.
I should mention that with the start of school life, at-home parenting has been a lot less demanding, and I have reconstructed a new sense of self. This is good. I feel stronger for the mothering experience, finally, and sharper.
However, I am stripped of my illusions at points. The main one seems that I would, with the start of school, apply for a job, and get it. I mean - of course I would! Without wishing to brag, I should be very employable. I'd done well before motherhood, in PR, and then in Photography, and at a high point I had shown my work alongside major artists like Damien Hirst. Using my experience and getting back to work after full time mothering was the least of my concerns.
There again, you just don't see time going by. "2009-2014 - Motherhood" would seem to many prospective employers to signify time wasted. It may be a choice, and it may be a tougher challenge than any other work I've done, but that doesn't mean there isn't prejudice against it. But for me, and I believe for anyone who wants it, this commitment to being a mother can mean coming out the other side with formidable expertise and experience.
Mothers absolutely nail skills essential to any work - managing competing demands, multi-tasking, formidable negotiation and motivation skills, quick deliberate life changing (and sometimes life saving) decision making and the ability to prioritize. Maybe not something they are looking for in The Office. But in the right environment, gold dust. And this has raised a few questions for mothers.
What is the right environment? I can tell you what it's not - a recruitment office!
So, my first thought was to talk to those mothers I have met who have managed to strike a balance between mothering and creative work. They are inspiring super-mothers, because they have shown that there is another side, and the measure of success available.
Thinking about them, and thinking about who I was five years ago, I really feel a sense of mission. I want to change this prevailing state of affairs where taking a break from work is seen as an abyss as opposed to it's being a rite of passage on a greater journey. And not only do I believe in this other side, but I've come to realize that this moving on, and re-engaging with the world with a fresh eye - a mother's eye - is in fact an essential part of mothering.
It may or may not be true that we become our parents, but I want to be careful of the example I set. These choices are more far-reaching than my own sense of satisfaction. I want my daughter to see me as someone who provides, and someone who is available for her.
As I see it, our conditioning, as women, often leans towards taking a passive role. I see some of my daughter's 5 year old peers being encouraged to play these passive roles, like Princess, or Damsel - and they are often rewarded for being compliant. I find myself wondering, where are the rewards for being competitive, challenging, innovative and vocal? For being self-reliant and right-on!
So gathering ideas for my new work and mothering project I found this idea that I love - that we women are predisposed to engage in conversation and leadership. Helen Fisher, PhD Biological Anthropologist states in her article 'The Natural Leadership Talents of Women' that "Women are born to talk--a feminine acuity that probably evolved to enable ancestral women to comfort, cajole, and educate their little ones, chastise, even ostracize group members who failed to meet their responsibilities, reward those who did and maintain harmony in the community. Words were women's tools. Words still sway minds and hearts. And as contemporary women leaders have opportunities to express their "voices" in the workplace, their power will increase."
I'm thinking, that sounds quite good from the stand-point of getting organized! Chat! It reminded me that Fidel Castro famously commented that if he were to run the revolution again, he would do it with twelve loyal followers. I know what you're thinking - She's a Commie! Well, no, but I'm fired up about this. I have joined a group called Mothers Meeting. They share my passion for bringing together like-minded creative mothers, and using their basic platform, which involves connecting mothers through inspiring social and business events, I've brought together 12 successful work-ready mothers in my vein of suburbia. What's really interesting to me is how little input it has taken to get this back to work show on the road. We are creating our own jobs! You can too!
I am excited. My sense of expectation is - well, probably disproportionate, but who cares, hey? Something's happening! In the suburbs!
Vive la revolution!
Lou Mensah lives in Hertfordshire. She started her career in PR working with Anita Roddick's team at The Body Shop Foundation, promoting a succession of campaigns inc. Free Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Against Domestic Violence. Her award winning photography critiques the effects of media image making on women - with this work she was selected as first runner up by Nick Knight and Alexander McQueen in The Independent Newspaper & American Express Fashion Photography Awards. Lou also works as a volunteer with Homestart - a leading UK family support charity. She is currently working on a study of the effects of gender stereotyping on raising girls.