Chezzi Denyer spoke recently with Danielle Ross Walls and Louise Correcha, the co-authors of Working Mums – Stories of real women on how they manage children, work, and life. Both Danielle and Louise will be appearing at this years Willy Lit Fest – Details Below!
Chezzi: Can you recall the moment you decided to write this book? What inspired you?
Danielle: After having children, I experienced workplace discrimination, and that was a turning point. That experience, combined with my desire to gain additional event-directing experience in my event-management career, led me to create my own expo. So, in 2015, I created and directed a Melbourne event for parents – The Career Ideas for Mums Expo – the first of its kind in Australia. It focused on family-friendly career ideas for mums, and was attended by over 500 people.
I came to realise pretty quickly in the lead-up to the event though, that yes, while there are some career options that are more flexible and family-friendly, bigger issues repeatedly surfaced regarding the struggles for working parents. A book seemed like the natural progression to help address this.
Louise: Around this time, Danielle and I met at a café while both bouncing our sleepless babies. We bonded over our shared exhaustion and some shared interests – we each dreamt of a book about the motherhood experience. After a lifetime of many other jobs, motherhood for me was helping me find what it was I really wanted to do in life – mainly, editing and writing (like many, I’d dreamt of being a writer since I was a little girl).
Fate had intervened.
As our friendship grew, so did our ideas and shared struggles. It also became clear that we could make a great working team. Our skills really complemented each other. We knew so many mums (and their partners) who were struggling with working, or returning to work, and raising their families. We thought that if we could share some of these stories, we could help others. Maybe make the load that teensy bit lighter.
Our book Working Mums – Stories by real women on how they manage children, work and life was, we guess, the book that we were seeking ourselves.
Chezzi: Your book is fabulous book for fostering solidarity amongst mothers, everywhere, in various stages of motherhood. What do you think is the main message women will take from these stories?
Thank you – we certainly hope so. We hope that the main message women will take from these stories is that there is strength in solidarity, in sharing stories, and in lifting each other up. We hope that readers will feel proud of themselves and maybe inspired – but mainly, that they will feel less alone in their challenges. We like to think of this book as a conversation with a friend who doesn’t have all the answers but is there to give you a hug and tell you it’s normal and that she also feels that way.
As one of our beautiful contributors Christine Jolly commented on reading the book, “I love how it’s not a how-to book. Rather it’s ‘Your story is my story. You are not alone.’”
Chezzi: How long did it take to organise? How did you approach the contributors?
It took over 2 years of solid work, between of course, our own work as employees and business owners and of course as mothers!
The approach to sourcing the stories was varied and really had no set plan. It evolved as time went on. Mainly we tried to cover many situations mothers might face when it came to seeking work outside of the home. We also tried to showcase a diverse range of careers, but ultimately it was about what we felt was a complementary and compelling mix of stories.
The end result was a total of 27 inspiring contributors from all over Australia. Each had faced significant challenges and found new versions of themselves as a result. Some contributors are dear friends of ours, some were guest speakers at Danielle’s careers expo and others we sought out after hearing about them in the media. In the instance of contributor Missy Higgins, who we are big fans of, we heard her on ABC radio talking about her son and how she felt even more inspired after becoming a mother to increase her environmental activism and work raising awareness of other important issues.
There were quite a few people, including public figures, that we approached and never heard back from. Mostly we had a positive response to our idea though, even if it was sometimes coupled with a polite no – often due to conflicting schedules.
Once we had secured our amazing and brave contributors it was a huge process – talk about project management! We had to coordinate 27 busy mothers who were also juggling paid work and children – each available at different times, and get what we promised to the publisher in time! We feel pretty confident however, that everyone is happy with the result!
Chezzi: What are some of the highlights of this book for you both?
There are so many!
Firstly, of course, the stories themselves. We can truly say that we love each story in the book! From Indigenous woman Olivia Slater who went from high-school dropout to a PhD at Cambridge University, to the story of Ella Haddad running for her first stint in Tasmanian parliament, to the story of tattoo artist Alee Fogarty and her partner Carly Naughton.
The helpful tips that each woman gives at the end of their story in the hope to help other parents.
The underlying themes that we find empowering. There are quite a few but essentially, they are around transformation and equality.
But overall, our biggest highlight would different be the whole ethos of the book – helping others.
Chezzi: It must have been a challenge to put this book together when you are both working parents yourselves? Tell us about that.
Yes it really was! There was so much more work involved than people might think to put this all together and get the message out about our book. We just wish we could physically place a copy into the hand of every working mum in Australia (And maybe their partners. And managers. And political leaders…)!
The work has included not only conceiving the idea then pitching it to publishers and the main work of arranging, collating and editing the contributor stories as we put together the manuscript – and of course writing our own chapters – but so many other little details, from researching the websites we chose to use in the useful resources section to the quotes we chose to open and close the book with, to the endorsements we were able to source from some amazing women and then use on the back cover, to keeping all 25 other contributors informed of the editing and publishing process to things like doing the actual photo shoot for the front cover (and the planning that went into getting two little people happy at the same time in a photographic studio! One of our blog posts is actually about this very day!). And then the work involved in promoting it across the media. And many, many more things!
We have pretty much been in contact with each other daily for the past two years, and we’ve each had two trips each to the other’s state to steal whole days to work together in person.
As it says in the book’s introduction, “We have worked on it in moments stolen between the everyday realities of parenthood, relationships and jobs – but we did it”. In some way we hope the fact that we were able to do this ties in with the idea of inspiring others and helping them believe they too can do what they aspire to do – a theme which runs through many of the contributors’ stories.
Can you summarise what you think are the most challenging aspects working mothers face today?
Some of our shared challenges are big – like the cost of quality early childhood education and care, workplace discrimination, and the challenges of finding truly flexible work – but some of them are small. But those small ones, across the course of a day, week or month, can accumulate and cause great strain.
We are often struggling to manage all the important roles in our lives at the same time as looking after our or our family’s physical, mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing. This includes our challenges to manage our own self-care – including knowing how and when to slow down and say no. Some of the contributors in our book work in this area and we are honoured to include their insights – paediatric psychologist Amanda Abel, for example, writes a chapter on personal boundaries as a working mum, and Kate Cashman of The Breath Between finishes the book with her chapter on “Taking a breath between the busyness”.
It seems we all share similar struggles with regard to keeping it all together to be the best professionals/employees/students/business owners we can be as well as the best parents we can be at any given time – and all the million little details we have to remember to make all of that happen. While trying, of course, not to lose touch with our own hopes and dreams as women in the process. And then of course feeling guilty when we’re falling short on any of those things.
The book also touches on the challenges of finding good support structures, including affordable, quality early childhood education and care. We are honoured to share the phenomenal Chloe Chant’s insightful perspective on this – many know Chloe as the early childhood educator whose challenge to a senator went viral in early 2017. Her story as a mother working and early childhood educator is so, so important to share.
As one woman reflected at one of our recent book launches, this book is making heard the stories we generally just share in places like our mothers’ groups – and that’s part of the reason we thought this book was important. To amplify those everyday stories and realities.
We’re so proud to have put together a book in which so many brave women (even when they think they’re not) have shared their personal stories to inspire others or at least help them feel less alone.
We really believe there is so much strength to be found in sharing our vulnerabilities.
What is your take on ‘Mothers guilt?’
We feel a portion of it is always going to be there – it’s in our biology. In some ways, it’s like our body’s sign to stop and really take notice of whether what we’re doing is what we really want to be doing. It’s related to our instincts, and we of course have them for a reason. But we do feel there’s a whole level of guilt that is influenced by an array of complex factors relating to our modern lives, including the progress we still need to make around workplace flexibility, equality, and valuing the importance parenthood and self-care.
So many factors contribute to mothers’ guilt – from society’s expectations to our employers’ expectations to our own as mums, as some of us strive to ‘do it all’. It’s complex. What we try to show in this book is that we are all in this together – your feelings are felt by others and you are not in this alone, despite it often feeling that way.
I guess we could also try – as hard as it is – to reassure ourselves with remembering that questioning the choices we make as parents probably means we are good parents. As one of our beautiful contributors, Alisa Camplin, so wisely shares in her story, negative self-talk is no good for anyone. As hard as it is, it might help some of us to ask ourselves when we are feeling this way what is one thing we can do to move forward in that moment.
Another of the book’s contributors – mother of four and founder of Australia’s first all-female rideshare service Shebah George McEncroe – talks about the important difference between feeling sorry for ourselves and being kind to ourselves. Another tells us we do not have to be or do it all, and that we are enough.
So, we hope that by sharing these stories, we can lighten our sisters’ collective mental load in some way, and help reassure and support other mums.
Do you think attitudes around working mothers are changing in Australia? Or do we still have a way to go?
We think the two are not mutually exclusive. Yes, attitudes are changing, but we still have a long way to go.
One thing that seems to keep coming up is that it is clear that workplace diversity and flexibility are important not only for employee wellbeing but also productivity. And – perhaps most thankfully – it seems ideas around responsibility are becoming increasingly prominent in public conversation.
People are realising that thinking about how we treat working mothers (or indeed all working parents) is not just an issue for women, that affects women, or that women are completely responsible for educating about and changing. We need to work together towards a situation where, to quote one of the book’s contributors, Simone McLaughlin (who is doing phenomenal work in this area), “women don’t have to ask themselves if they want kids or a career, because they know they’ve got a network of women around them who have their back”.
Are there any events where you will be speaking over the coming months that women can go to for more information on the book and to have a chance to hear and discuss more about this very important topic in the lives of women?
Yes! We are speaking at the upcoming Williamstown Literary Festival in June (details below). Mums can also find out more by checking our website at www.workingmumsstories.com. There are also links there to follow both of us on Facebook to keep up-to-date with what we’re doing.
Here are the details of the upcoming event:
WORKING MUMS AT WILLY LIT FEST
Sat 16 June 3.30-4.30
SMALL GIFT BAG AND DOOR PRIZE FOR MUMS
Compiled by two Australian mums, Danielle Ross Walls and Louise Correcha, to help support other parents, Working Mums: Stories by real women on how they manage children, work and life is a collection of empowering stories from Australian mothers. The book’s primary aim is to help working mums feel less alone in their challenges to juggle work, children and daily life. Readers might also be inspired to try new careers!
Danielle Ross Walls on Willy Lit Fest, “This year’s theme of From Little Things…is definitely so relevant to me! Our first book, Working Mums was released in March of this year by Finch Publishing. Louise Correcha, my co-writer, and I met randomly in a cafe in Melbourne’s western suburbs several years ago. We were each juggling sleepless babies and bonded over this. Over time we also discovered our shared love of not only writing, but the dream to write a book to help other parents. After two years of solid hard work we made this dream a reality!”
Join this great big fabulous panel of contributors as they share the beauty and challenges of combining motherhood and work. Part-time, full-time, work-at-home mums share their stories and tips. Practical, funny and inspiring, this session will have working mums feeling a lot less alone. Little ones and dads welcome.
Our panel – Danielle Ross Walls, Louise Correcha, Tiffany Gilmour, Melinda Butel, Amanda Abel, Rhiannon Colarossi, Maria Smith
Full $15| Conc $12 | Early $10
Danielle Ross Walls