I have just returned to Grey London from my second maternity leave. Before I waddled off into the sunset, everyone told me, “You won’t come back to work after two … no one ever does.” But after much umming and ahhhing and flirting with other options, I came back! And actually, it turns out, having another kid has made me more passionate about my career than ever before.
I could tell you the longhand version of my home birth, how it was the most Jaffa-cake-fueled-defining-moment-of-my-life, how it’s made me feel empowered and unstoppable. But that kind of chat tends to makes folks uncomfortable, especially in the workplace. And therein lies the problem.
All too often, coming back to work after maternity leave means pretending the whole “baby thing” didn’t happen. It’s not easy to sweep something so life-altering under the carpet. Yet I vividly remember the pressure to maintain a facade of being “down with the kids”—look the part, go out for drinks, pretend to know the first thing about breakbeat.
This time round, I am trying to do things differently. I am embracing the fact that I am a mum. I grew, birthed and have kept two humans alive. Say what you will; this is an epic achievement. Being a mum doesn’t mean endless babysnaps and terrible chat about explosive nappies, either. There are a band of ladies out there on social media proving motherhood is the new cool—Mothers Meeting, Mother Pukka, Dress Like a Mum to name but a few. Even if you aren’t a parent, you should know these women and understand their influence. Forget trying to act like I am a 25-year-old guy from Sweden, I’m proud to be part of that gang.
I can’t tell you the stats, but I can tell you there are too few mums in creative departments. And they need people like me. Want real insight into family life? Want to target the person who makes the majority of purchasing decisions in the home? Want an employee with exceptional time-management skills? Who will hardly ever come in hung over? That sounds like a rant. It’s not.
This isn’t an “us” against “the agency” thing. Far from it. The people who have the power to dramatically change how working mamas are perceived is us.
Question is, how do we do it? How do we combine being a creative and being a mum? There aren’t many ladies out there who have managed it (any who have, I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say).
Being a mum in this role throws up its own particular set of problems, most of which stem from the fact that being a creative is addictive. You pour your heart and soul into it. And that feeling when you have an idea? Better still, when other people like that idea? It’s great, isn’t it? It’s no coincidence that as juniors we are taught to “kill your babies.” Of course you don’t love scripts or thoughts as much as your actual children. Yet, to make a weird analogy, you do to some extent “birth” every idea. And the more emotionally attached you are to something, the harder it is to draw the line.
There’s not really such a thing as regular hours or part time. My contract says I work a four-day week. Then there’s a good brief knocking about on your “day off,” and you think to yourself, Maybe I’ll just have a “quick think” while the kids are napping…
Recently my youngest had a stint in hospital. For some bonkers reason I decided to knock out a few scripts while sitting on the ward. It wasn’t because I had to. The creative directors specifically told me not to worry. Maybe, in fact almost certainly, it was a coping mechanism. It’s because there are no clear boundaries. It’s because I love coming up with ideas.
So, though I am occasionally (eternally) sleep-deprived, I am certain I am still valuable asset to my agency. Why? I care. I can’t help but care. Creativity is my crack.
So us “mum creatives”—not a catchy title—need to stand up for ourselves. It’s our responsibility to hold our heads high. Writing that email excusing yourself from a 6 p.m. review because of child care isn’t fun. But anyone who makes “Doing a half-day?” comments clearly has never had to run for a train, run to a nursery, do bath and bedtime. Then picked up the laptop at 7:10 p.m. to begin working again.
Mums, think how you word that email. Delete the sorry’s; don’t apologize for being a parent. And quit The Guilt—the well-versed dialogue in which you repeatedly tell yourself, “I am a bad at my job and a terrible mum.”
Chances are the opposite is true. Chances are you doing the very best you can at both jobs.
Remind yourself why you are doing it. Personally? And in no particular order, I’m doing it for myself because I feel more like “me” when I work. I’m doing it because I like ideas. I’m doing it because I like having a reason to attempt to look cool—even if my leather trousers inevitably end up encrusted in Weetabix. I am doing it to be a role model for my kids. I am doing it so I can enable me and my family to have nicer things—holidays and clothes and meals out don’t come for free.
And a little bit of me is doing it to try to figure out what the future looks like for mums in the creative department and agencies in general.
It’s what the youth would call “representing.”
This was published in Ad Week on November 17th