Working Mums – Q&A with Danielle Ross Walls and Louise Correcha.
We asked authors Danielle Ross Walls and Louise Correcha to talk about their wonderful new book Working Mums, full of inspirational stories that will lift women up and give them renewed courage on managing the balance between work and family life.
Do you remember the moment you decided to write this book? The moment of inspiration?
After having children, I experienced discrimination in the workplace and that was a pivotal turning point for me. This experience, teamed 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, there are some career options that are more flexible and family-friendly, but bigger issues repeatedly surfaced regarding the struggles for working parents. A book seemed like the natural progression to help address this.
Around this time, Louise and I met at a café while both bouncing our sleepless bubs. We bonded over this exhaustion and other shared interests – we each dreamt of a book about the motherhood experience! Fate had intervened.
As our friendship grew, so did our ideas and shared struggles. It became obvious that we could make a great team writing a book. Our skills really complemented each other, as did our enthusiasm. We knew so many mums (and their partners) that were struggling with working, or returning to work, and raising their families. We thought that perhaps if we could share some of these stories, we could help others. The creation of our book Working Mums – Stories by real women on how they manage children, work and life was, I guess, the book that we were seeking ourselves.
This seems like a fabulous book for fostering solidarity amongst Australian mothers, or indeed mothers everywhere. What do you think is the main message women will take from these stories?
Thank you – we certainly hope so. I 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. I hope that readers will feel proud of themselves and
perhaps inspired – but mainly, that they will feel less alone in their challenges as
they grow into these new versions of themselves as working mums. We like to
think of this book as a conversation with a wise, compassionate friend who
doesn’t have all the answers but is there to lift you up, wrap you in a hug and
tell you you’ll be fine.
As one of our beautiful contributors Christine Jolly so wisely 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. Go forth and change your circumstances and the
How did you approach the contributors?
The approach 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 diversity 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 my 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. We feel pretty confident however, that everyone is happy with the final outcome.
How long did it take to organise? Can you walk me through the process to publication?
Over two years from conception to publication. It was sheer hard work – much more than we anticipated – but totally worth it. The whole process of publication has been a steep but incredible learning curve.
We couldn’t have been happier to get a publisher who loved our book so quickly. We were thrilled it was Finch (who recently celebrated 25 years in business), because we already loved their many of their well-known titles such as Raising Boys, Manhood and 10 Things Girls Need Most by Steve Biddulph (a fellow Tasmanian) and Dr Kristy Goodwin’s Raising Digital Kids. We feel like our Working Mums book also aligns well with the Finch Publishing motto of ‘Books that change lives’.
What are some of the highlights of this book for you both?
The contributor 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.
It must have been a challenge to put this book together when you are both working parents yourselves?
Yes it most certainly was. There was so much more work involved than people might think to put this all together, as Danielle goes into above.
The work 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 respective chapters – but also the myriad fine details. From 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! We actually have a blog post about this very day on the Working Mums website at www.workingmumsstories.com). 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. We were fortunate, for example, to work for two days at the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre when we were in an earlier stage of manuscript development in early 2017.
As I say in the book, “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?
Louise and Danielle
Some of the most challenging aspects working mothers face today include trying to find truly flexible work as well as juggle all the important roles in their lives (including mother, friend, partner, employee, and so on) while also just trying to ensure they look after their own basic physical and emotional wellbeing.
The latter in particular 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 very space 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”.
The book also touches on the challenges of finding good support structures, including, of course, 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.
What is your take on ‘Mothers guilt?’
I feel a portion of it is always going to be there – it’s in our biology. I feel it’s in some ways 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 I 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’ and live up to ideals that still linger in our collective consciousness about our roles as women. 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 means we are parents who care about being good parents, and take some consolation in that. And 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 other mums feeling this most universal of feelings.
Do you think attitudes around working mothers are changing in Australia? Or do we still have a way to go?
I 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 discourse. 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 our amazing contributor 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”.
The Tasmanian Writers Centre thanks Danielle and Louise for this wonderful interview, and for empowering mothers everywhere.