Dominique Christina

Voice. Mother. Social Agitator. Intersectional Feminist.

Dominique  is a mother, author of four books, National Poetry Slam Champion (2011), Women of the World Slam Champion (2012 & 2014), social agitator, and intersectional feminist. She is the only person to win the Women of the World championship twice. Dominique is sought after to teach and perform at colleges and universities nationally and internationally every year. Her work appears in numerous literary journals and anthologies, as well as the Huffington Post, IBTimes, Upworthy, and others. She believes entirely in the idea that words make worlds. Listen.

Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion 2012 & 2014

Author of:

The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm Penmanship Books 2014

They Are All Me Swimming With Elephants Publishing 2015

This Is Woman’s Work, SoundsTrue Publishing 2015

Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems, Beacon, 2017

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family? 

Salih (boy), Najah (girl), her twin brother Amir (boy), and young master Igi (boy).

At what stage of your life did you realise you needed (and had) a powerful relationship with language?

When I was a child, my mother and grandparents walked around the house reciting poetry all the time. Lots of canonical work: Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Elliot, ee Cummings, etc. I loved how delicious language was. I loved how available it was to me. I understood the power of language when I was very young but I did not identify as a poet until I was well into adulthood. Language is a culture-keeper. It can make monsters and it can make saviours. It can introduce you to your possibilities, and it can keep you from them. But when I became a mother, my relationship with language became more urgent. I became more insistent about the reclamation of language and the recognition that most of us we are still borrowing language from others which is not a powerful relationship at all. I wanted to offer something wider to my children. Something with more teeth.

What was growing up in your family of origin like?

My family of origin is replete with over-achievers, scholars, activists, authors, a baseball hall-of-fame (my grandfather, shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs before baseball was integrated), a professional basketball player (my father: The Chicago Bulls), and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient (my aunt Carlotta for desegregating Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.) They were all so impressive. Mediocrity was simply not available to me. The expectations were high. The bar was high. My mother, professor and scholar, is the most impossibly decent person I have ever known. There was a template of what it meant to be human that was honorable and noble and they gave me that. But I had a lot more wild in me than my family members so I got into trouble a lot. I was smart and talented but I was also full of the world in a way that meant I was going to make a ton of mistakes, get in a lot of fights, cuss ands rage a good deal…and I was given the room to do those things. My family held a wide space for me to get my crazy done.

What led you to claim authentic expression of anger?

The acute absence of any demonstration of anger from my family is what led me to claim it actually. They never showed up in anger so it was something I craved. But the insertion of my stepfather in my life from the age of 4 to the age of 8 gave me plenty of reasons to be angry. He was physically and sexually abusive so I walked around with those bruises for decades, not revealing my experience to my mother or anyone. That left me available to copious amounts of rage and grief which I was more than eager to demonstrate when I became a teenager.

Why is being a whole person crucial to you, as a woman and as a mother?

Because my children deserve to be parented by a whole person. But I deserve to be whole too. I have a right to the world. I have a right to joy and abundance. I do not have to be tragic. That was an epiphany for me and I didn’t have it until I was grown. I don’t have to be tragic. I don’t have to bleed out. It is imperative that I win; that I come out clean on the other side.

How would you describe the dynamic between your four children?

They are all versions of me and they are all entirely their own. That makes for a pretty wild ride. My oldest son is a visual artist who is very quiet and shy and extraordinarily empathetic. He does not do conflict. He is a peace-keeper.He views the world through an artist’s lens. My daughter is studious and serious about her future. She has bought into the idea that she is supposed to be amazing and so she is amazing. She likes politics and architecture and is very quippish and sarcastic. Her sardonic wit is quite impressive. Her twin, Amir, is emotional and angry and witty and talented; beautiful singing voice, very good in theater and speech and debate; very irreverent and temperamental. He enjoys conflict more than confluence. And the baby, Igi, is precocious and aware of himself and the world. He is kind-hearted and endearing. Takes care of the people he loves and is the funniest child on the planet who speaks like a poet. Loves the ocean and the creatures inside it. Likes quantum physics. Wants to change the world.

Raising unfettered children who don’t need to shape-shift to fit is an ongoing commitment of yours, how do you engender this and why?

Oh I don’t know how I do it. It’s alchemy. I just want them to show up in the worlds as themselves, not my ideas about who they are but who they actually are. I feel strongly about it because that’s what my mother offered me and it saved my life a thousand times. It’s a tremendous thing to offer to your children. The world is the world. They should know how to bend but not break. They should know their lives are in their own handwriting. I am trying to raise free folks. And the only way to do that is to get out of the way.

What place does cuss-time have in your family?

They get to fire away basically. I don’t throw taboos around language. I find that to be stunting and ineffective. Cuss words are mostly nonsensical but we have attached weight to them and so if using them is cathartic (and it is for me) I want my children to have the same opportunity to blow off steam.

What advice can you give on raising responsible teens?

They will be themselves. They will make terrible decisions. They will flail about. They will pretend to know what they could not possibly know. And they don’t deserve to be hung out to dry for it. They will test their flesh and their intellect. They will learn how to manipulate and mask and endure. My job is to leave a bread crumb trail so they can find their way back if they get lost. The rest is all an experiment in patience and acceptance.

What’s the underlying cultural narrative behind the observation that you’re not a haggard mother?

That motherhood is a burden. That it reduces us and makes us old and spent and resentful. I do not live that narrative. My warrior spirit is magnified by motherhood, not diminished because of it.

How do you experience being a mother?

It is an experiment. Motherhood holds up a mirror. I have an opportunity to interact with all of my moving parts as the result of motherhood.I am larger and more fierce because of it. More aware, more present, more…permanent.

What are your biggest fears about your children?

I have children of color so I worry that they will be killed. I live in America. That is a sad reality. I worry that they will be pushed off the planet. That, is literally my only fear. I try not to organize around fear at all but I do have that one. And…there’s nothing I can do about it.

How important is it to pay attention to who your children are ‘separate to you’ and how do you do this?

It’s essential. I reckon with their personhood. I reckon with their actual lives and identities, not the stories I have made up about who I think they are or who I think they should be. They get to offend me. They get to do things I would neither do nor recommend. They have room to have the human experience without being lassoed to my narrative about what that should look like.

How far will you stand and watch your children meet the world on their own terms?

That is what I am committed to entirely. So in that regard I will stand as far away or as close as I need to in order to make it so.

What experiences most generated your Personhood & Womanhood?

Being abused as a child and not dying. My personhood and womanhood are about the graves I’ve crawled out of. The things I have overcome of which there were many.

In what ways is hardship the route to growth and what challenges/opportunities does this pose for you as a mother?

The only challenge it poses for me is in letting my children have those experiences because of course it means allowing them to be hurt or to suffer even and that is antithetical to what I want to do. But hardship holds an instruction. I know that full well. It is necessary for growth and development and my children deserve to know themselves.

How long does it take for you to create your poems typically?

Minutes. It comes out of me very quickly.

Which performance rocked your soul, and why?

I feel like my soul is always in a state of being rocked. But I suppose the performance I gave for Emmett Till’s family and Trayvon Martin’s family left an indelible impression because these families lost their loved one to violence and it made the work I do feel more real and more urgent. It concretised for me, that when I write about people who have died, I am attempting to re-flesh their bones and reanimate them. That feels like holy work to me and I have a responsibility to the family members of those slain individuals to get it right.

What do you need to go twirl around in the world?

Is there any other way to be in the world? I know no other way.

Where can we hear you speak and read more of your work?

My tour schedule lives on my website as well as the books I have written and the publications my work is in. I am everywhere all the time. 

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

That we did something seismic. We made somebody who is nonetheless not ours. We are ferocious in how we love and what we sacrifice. We split open and authored life for other people and they get to be other people. We are beholden to our mistakes and missteps but we should not be crucified for them. We are holy and unholy at the same time. We are deliberate. We are curating constantly. And we have to work so much harder to preserve our womanness so that it is not entirely consumed by motherhood. We have to fight to protect the women we are so that we are not wholly erased by the  mothers we are. It is intense and sometimes thankless but it is necessary and we are all, in one way or another, trying to keep a hold of ourselves while we engineer safety and wellness and life lessons for the people we made. It’s awesome work. It’s divine work. We pretty much all deserve a chapter in the Bible Going To

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Colette Dartford

Colette writes contemporary fiction for adults.  Her books evoke a strong sense of place: the sun-drenched Napa Valley in Northern California; the fertile vineyards of South West France; England’s vibrant capital and its windswept countryside. Her debut novel, Learning To Speak American, was published as an e-book in November 2015 and was an Amazon top 100 bestseller, reaching number 5 in Romance. The paperback version of Learning To Speak American was published in July 2016. Colette’s second novel, An Unsuitable Marriage, was published by Bonnier Zaffre in March 2017 and is a kindle bestseller. Colette is represented by Robert Kirby at United Agents and published by Bonnier Zaffre.

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family? 

My husband is Trevor – a youthful snappy dresser in his early 60s.

I have three children – a daughter in her mid-30s, a son in his early 30s and another in his late 20s. Two live and work abroad (one in Dubai and one in China) so I’ve accrued an awful lot of air miles. Despite geography, we’re a very close family.

Writing has always been a major part of your career, can you tell us what career roles you’ve had that include this?

Following a generous scholarship from the Economic & Social Research Council I undertook a doctorate in political science. This led to a career in policy and research, which involved a good deal of writing. The style was factual and evidential—reports and papers on specific issues—which is very different to the creative writing skills required to produce a novel.

How did you make the shift from non-fiction to fiction, and why?

I had the opportunity to live in California and the terms of my visa meant I wasn’t allowed to work. With time on my hands, and inspired by the beauty of the Napa Valley, I began to write a story. The more I wrote, the more immersed I became. That story eventually became my debut novel, Learning To Speak American.

Who are your typical readers?

My agent describes my books as ‘commercial women’s fiction,’ and because I write about relationships—marriages, love affairs, friendships—I suppose my typical readers are women with a degree of life experience behind them. That having been said, men read my books too and a few have even posted positive reviews on Amazon.

What is about the Napa Valley that so inspired you to write “Learning to Speak American”?

The physical beauty of the place, the abundant sunshine, the warm, welcoming people, and of course the delicious food and wine. I began with the premise that if you couldn’t be happy there, maybe you couldn’t be happy anywhere. So I took an affluent couple, devastated by the loss of their only child two years before, and put them in the Napa Valley to see if it would heal their broken hearts and mend their broken marriage.

What was the significance of finding out you were quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award?

It was a huge shock! I naïvely entered my first draft, not realizing that first drafts are notoriously dreadful, especially when written by a complete novice like me. I have no background or training in creative writing and wrote from the heart without reference to rules, but when I got an email from the ABNA I realized two things. Firstly, maybe I was onto something with this whole story-telling thing, and secondly, I needed help if I was to learn how to do it better.

Before “Learning to Speak American” was published by Bonnier Publishing you worked with Wanda Whitely, how did you work together?

Wanda runs a literary consultancy called the Manuscript Doctor. With over twenty years experience in publishing, she has a wealth of knowledge which she willingly shares with her clients. I sent Wanda Learning To Speak American and she suggested that rather than self-publish, I should make a few changes to the first chapter and then send it back to her. Once I had made those revisions, she forwarded the manuscript to a literary agent who now represents me. Wanda also gave me substantial feedback on my second novel—An Unsuitable Marriage. I value her advice greatly and find her so easy to work with. Without her I may never have got a publishing deal.

How do you handle the competitive elements of publishing?

This is a difficult question. I don’t think of myself as competitive because, although I am driven to do well, I’m happy for others to do well too. Of course I feel a tinge of ‘I wish it was me’ when I read the Sunday Times bestseller list, but I’m genuinely delighted for those authors because I know how hard they have worked to get there.

What are the challenges of self-promotion for women writers? How does this affect you personally?

Self-promotion is absolutely essential for authors but it doesn’t sit easily with me. I wasn’t brought up in the digital age and am acutely aware that the image we portray on social media is a once-removed representation of ourselves. It’s useful of course, because it enables us to reach such a wide and diverse audience, but I much prefer the personal touch—visiting book clubs and participating in bookshop events, especially the Q&A element. I love meeting readers and hearing what they have to say.

Your second novel “An Unsuitable Marriage” has recently been published, in what ways have you grown as a writer between books?

Dramatically. As I mentioned earlier, I have no background or training in creative writing, so am essentially self-taught. Throughout the writing process I have therefore actively sought out constructive criticism and acted upon it. It was the tenth draft of Learning To Speak American that was published, and the sixth of An Unsuitable Marriage. With my novel-in-progress, I’m hoping to nail it in four!

How does the double-edged sword of perfectionism impact you?

I set myself high standards in all aspects of life, and am hard on myself if I fail to achieve them. Being a professional author shines a particularly bright light on the pursuit of perfection because you open yourself to rejection, criticism and bad reviews. It comes with the territory so you have to find a way to deal with it. Many of us have a negative, censorious voice in our head telling us we’re not good enough, and the trick is to silence or ignore it.

How do you measure success at this point in your career?

When I was working on my first novel, success was finishing it. Once I had finished it, success was getting an agent. Once I got an agent, success was getting a publishing deal. Once a got a publishing deal, success was getting good reviews and selling lots of books. Now I suppose it’s getting better reviews, selling more books. Maybe it’s winning prizes, or making lots of money, or maybe it’s just being happy with yourself and your work.

What’s the pressure like when you’ve a book deal, advance and deadlines?

Because of my background, I’m good with deadlines. I don’t think I’ve ever missed one (see earlier comment about perfectionism). Authors don’t have much say in their advance which is negotiated by their agent, and for me a book deal is a source of security rather than pressure. I do get quite stressed out during the editing process, but so far my publisher hasn’t asked for major changes to my books.

Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In suggests “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry”, how far do you agree with this sentiment?

I certainly wouldn’t argue with Sheryl Sandberg—the woman is an inspiration. And yes, of course having a supportive spouse is a huge bonus, not just in terms of your career, but in all aspects of life. I have been married for almost thirty-seven years and have three grown-up children. I didn’t start my writing career until my fifties and my husband has been there for me in every possible way. We make a good team.

In what ways do you draw inspiration from your own happy marriage of almost four decades?

Interestingly, although I am fortunate to have had a long and happy marriage, I write about relationships in crisis. At the heart of my first two novels are marriages tested to breaking point, although my novel-in-progress is about a love affair between an older man and a much younger man. Love in all its complexity fascinates me, not least because people fascinate me. The notion of two people committing to each other for life, without knowing what challenges that life will bring, is an extraordinary leap of faith. I took that leap and landed in just the right place.

How do you deal with the tyranny of the blank page or screen?

I write! You can’t edit a blank page so you have to put words on it. Lots of words. Don’t worry about them being ‘right’, just get something down. It’s amazing how, once you start writing, inspiration follows.

In Stephen King’s classic book On Writing he writes about tortured genius, how do you fit with this ‘wild side’ of creativity?

I loved ‘On Writing’ and while I’m not a fan of horror, I have nothing but admiration for Stephen King. From an early age he knew he wanted to be a writer and his dogged determination and devoted wife propelled him toward success. He freely admits to having been addicted to drink and drugs, and claims he doesn’t even remember writing some of his books. King is not alone of course—many authors have sought inspiration or solace this way. Sometimes it resulted in great novels but often it resulted in the destruction of great talent.

What is your 5 word memoir?

Laughed loudly and loved deeply

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

This is a difficult question and one which I have given a lot of thought to. Beyond the issue of biology—that we are female and have given birth—I’m not sure there is a common denominator. Mothers are a hugely diverse group, spanning the whole of the social spectrum. I think it’s easy to romanticize motherhood and of course it is wonderful to create and nurture new life. The rewards can be great but not every mother has that experience. There are mothers who struggle with their role, and those who do it so badly that they inflict damage on their children, intentionally or otherwise. Society judges these women harshly because they appear to have gone against nature. But what about women who have chosen not to be mothers—have they gone against nature? Or those who wanted children but couldn’t have them—has nature gone against them?

It’s such a complex and emotive subject that I can’t possibly do it justice here. But I would say that although my two novels entail very different versions of motherhood, the common denominator is their unconditional love for their children. Perhaps that would be a good place to start…..

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Sheila Kamara Hay

Sheila Kamara Hay is an Ecstatic Birth visionary, advocate, and trainer. She desires to share with women that childbirth is not something they must endure, but a journey they can thoroughly enjoy.

As a mother of three, Sheila has experienced firsthand a range of births — from the traumatic to the ecstatic — and has advised and inspired countless women in the creation or reclamation of their own births.

A featured guest teacher at Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts and Orgasmic Birth Pain to Power childbirth education program, Sheila loves sharing her worldview of what’s possible in life and birth and passing that knowledge onto other women. She has also taught at the Entheos Online Academy, the Birth Institute, Choices in Childbirth, and been a guest speaker at numerous virtual conferences. Sheila has a BA from Yale University and an MA from Columbia University in Cultural Sociology.

Sheila loves empowering women to access their fierce feminine power in birth and life. Her own childbirth journeys left her exclaiming, “Why didn’t I know it can be this good? Women need to know!”. She can be found screaming it from the rooftops at Ecstatic Birth

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family?

I live with my husband and 3 kids, ages 10-14.

What is Ecstatic Birth and how did you arrive at this work?

Ecstatic Birth is a movement designed to empower women to ENJOY the journey of childbirth rather than enduring it.

The seeds of Ecstatic Birth were conceived years ago with my first pregnancy. I desired a birth that would leave me breathless and marveling at my body’s strength, wisdom, and capacity to bring forth life – but I had no idea how to get there.  

My first birth was a lot more traumatic than ecstatic. It set into motion a string of heartbreaking events that shook my very foundation and forced me to re-evaluate how to operate in this world. Through that reconsideration, I learned to connect to the wisdom of my body and the importance of pleasure to my well-being. It was only after I had integrated these lessons that I was able to conceive again. That birth was my wake up call.

I decided that if I was ever going to give birth again, it had to be completely different. As I contemplated another pregnancy, I sought providers who shared my vision and I began to train with my mind, body, heart, and soul towards that vision. As a result, I experienced a beautiful, Zen birth. Postpartum, my body felt so good, so healthy. What took me months to recover from the first time took only hours, days the second time. I felt so strong, so beautiful, so alive, and thrilled with my femininity. There was more love and happiness flowing through me than I had ever experienced and I felt totally in tune with my sensual nature.

The third time I got pregnant, I knew my body was fully capable of giving birth without intervention, but I was curious if I could enjoy it. I spent the next nine months putting my attention there, researching and preparing in every way that I could imagine, to infuse pleasure into my birthing experience. I really enjoyed that birth. I was dancing with my contractions, dancing through them, really partying with the universe. When I was done, I kept saying to my husband, “Why don’t people know? Why didn’t I know that it could be this good?”

I felt called to tell everyone, to spread the word as best as I could. I loved watching women’s faces, their mouths agape as I shared my story, a mere sliver in the spectrum of what is possible. I discovered that I wasn’t a fluke, that this is all teachable and learnable.

I’ve been screaming this from the rooftops ever since, providing support and tools to expectant moms to help them enjoy their births and training for birth practitioners to do the same with their clients.

In what ways do you see birth as a transformative and powerful experience?

Childbirth is a huge rite of passage in a woman’s life. Like most rites of passages, it may not be easy, but it can take you higher than you’ve ever been your entire life. When you give birth to your child, you are also giving birth to yourself as a mother. Learn to birth with the full force of your feminine wisdom and you will emerge mothering with the full force of your feminine wisdom. What a gift that is to you and your baby!

Let’s talk about the pleasure available in birth, shall we? There are so many levels! At its best, the birth experience provides a powerful blend of emotional empowerment, spiritual connection, and physical ecstasy. This is not the typical birth you hear about or see depicted in the media. Those births don’t seem like much fun. Ecstatic Birth is everything our culture depicts birth to be turned inside out and upside down.   This type of birth is available to the fully conscious, fierce and well prepared woman.

What are the gifts of birth that we can take into motherhood?

A conscious birth will up-level our entire relationship to our body, our power, our femininity, and our sexuality. Preparing for an Ecstatic Birth empowers a woman to deepen her connection to her body and the wisdom within, to learn to tap into the flow of ecstasy that is always available to her, to use pleasure to support flow even through the most challenging moments, to disarm her fears, and to dance with whatever comes her way in a way that takes her and everyone around her higher.

How do we sustain these gifts as enduring parts of motherhood especially as children reach their teen years?

There is a saying in the natural birth world that they way you live is the way you birth (and vice-versa). All the gifts a mama gets from her birth directly translate into every aspect of her life, including all stages of mothering.  The biggest lesson that we learn from birth is that pleasure supports flow. When we hit challenging moments in life our instincts are to contract and resist. Instead, we can always choose to lean into pleasure to support our flow in those moments… even when dealing with teens!

What are the reasons behind increasing c-section rates in some countries?

There are so many reasons from the personal to the global, the medical to the cultural, but underlying almost all of that is FEAR.  The over medicalization we see in birth is a result of fear and an attempt to control that which resists control the most- mother nature.

What kinds of resistance to your work do you encounter?

Oh there is so much resistance to my work!! We are talking about a huge cultural shift, a huge transformation in our understanding of one of the most fundamental primal experiences a woman can have in her life. For some, it feels sacrilegious– after all the Bible says that suffering is women’s punishment to EVE taking a bite of that apple way back in the Garden of Eden! For others the idea of pleasure in birth is just plain selfish. Why should we care about our experience? We must think of the good of the child only. Well, what if our experience and the good of the child are inextricably linked??

How do you respond to detractors who say that orgasm during birth is selfish?

I share that pleasure is the most holistic birthing tool there is by explaining that the hormones that they body releases when it is experiencing pleasure are one and the same as the hormones that govern the flow of labor. Oxytocin, which is what our body produces when we feel pleasure and orgasm is precisely what the medical industry attempts to mimic with pitocin which is used in hospitals to jump start labor or hurry a sluggish labor along.  

There is nothing to be gained by a mother sacrificing herself for the good of her child. A mother that is depleted, depressed, traumatized won’t be able to care for her child as well as a mother who is vibrant and joyous. As it turns out nature has optimally designed us to be in an ecstatic state.

Birth is a remarkable chance to ‘dance with the unexpected’, how do you prepare women for this aspect of the experience?

First and foremost, I have women observe without judgment their default pattern. How do they “dance with the unexpected” in their day to day life? All their patterns will be brought into the birthing room, so the more they can get conscious about what those patterns are and re-pattern those that are not healthy or supportive to them, the better off they will be during birth. The first step is always consciousness.

How do you use the language of birthing as a metaphor in your work and in what ways does this help people?

As women we are birthing all the time- babies as well as metaphorical babies, creative projects, relationships, new versions of ourselves, etc.. Understanding the flow of birth enables us to use that in our process. For example, a perpetual expansion and contraction is the rhythm of labor whether you are birthing a baby or a book. Once you know that that is how it flows you can account for that in your process. Rather than resisting every contraction that comes up you can use pleasure to support you in flowing through it.

What are the steps women can take to understand how our bodies work?

The #1 thing I advise women to do is pause and feel into their bodies. So many of us live in a disassociated state, ignoring the sensation of our bodies. However, sensation is the gateway to our inner wisdom and to the ecstasy that is always flowing within. Learning to FEEL is the first step. Rather than treating our bodies as a vehicle to get our head from place to place, let’s begin to tap into the incredible wells of wisdom that lie within. The wisdom of the body includes the mental/rational of our minds and so much more- our experiential wisdom, ancestral, primal and more! But the first step is simply to pause and feel into our bodies. What does it feel like within? What sensations are buzzing through your body right now in this very moment?

How do you reset your body when under pressure?

I use the exercise above, feeling into my body and consciously opening my energetic channels to more flow and pleasure. If the pressure is too intense, I like to shake all over. Much like animals instinctively shake to release trauma, so can we.

What do you mean by being ‘In Flow’?

It is the opposite of constriction. In that perpetual rhythm of expansion and contraction, when you are in flow you are feeling expansive. Energy is flowing through your being in a way that is deeply nourishing and restorative. When you are in contraction energy has a harder time flowing through you, mostly because of our innate resistance to whatever is happening.

What are the reasons women, especially mothers, forget to focus on ourselves, and our needs?

We have such great big hearts that our tendency is to nurture and care for those around us. AND we have been trained our whole lives to service others. Both are simultaneously true.

How do you become aware that you are unconsciously focused on and catering to other’s needs, and how does this affect your close relationships?

When you feel tired, cranky, rundown.. these are all indications that you need to up-level your self-care. These states make it very difficult to relate to those around us from a place of love.

Mothers are often told we are being selfish if we don’t look after ourselves since that’s what is needed to raise children well, what do you make of this line of argument?

If that is what it takes to get a mom who doesn’t take care of herself to do so, so be it. The next level is valuing yourself so much that you do it for yourself rather than for the people that depend on you, but unfortunately, that can be too big of a leap for a lot of women.

What are the three most interesting things you’ve encountered in the past year?

  1. So many of the things we reject about ourselves, the instances that we struggle with the most, that we may perceive as our shortcomings or failures are direct results of dishonoring our feminine essence, of trying to be something that we are not.
  2. The idea of doing business in the feminine paradigm and the implications that can have on “making money.”  Perhaps the feminine can receive money (and/or value) in unexpected ways?
  3. The earth can heal itself within our lifetime. At a visit to a restored rainforest in Costa Rica we learned only 60 years earlier it had been farmland.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)


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Claire Lomas MBE

Claire’s life turned upside down on 6th May 2007 when she became paralysed from the chest down in a horse riding accident. Claire fractured her neck, dislocated her back, fractured ribs, punctured a lung and got pneumonia. Luckily the neck fracture didn’t damage the spinal cord but the dislocation to the vertebra T4 left her paralysed from the chest down.

Claire was a Chiropractor and top level event rider when this freak accident left her unable to do the things she loved. Although Claire was determined from the start to make the best out of the situation there were plenty of days Claire struggled to even get the motivation to get out of bed. She discharged herself from hospital after only 8 weeks, did a lot of rehab (and still does) and over time she found strength and courage to rebuild her life by finding new interests and work as well as raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for research.

A year after her accident Claire met and later married Dan, they had a baby girl – Maisie. She found some new sports (skiing, hand-cycling, motorbikes), set up a business and fundraised to help get a cure for paralysis. Claire always says she feels so lucky to have the use of her arms, and seeing so many of the patients in the hospital unable to move at all gave her the drive to fundraise as much as possible.

In 2012 Claire became headline news worldwide. She was the first (and only) paralysed person to walk the London Marathon, she did it in a pioneering robotic suit. It took 17 days and raised £210,000 for Spinal Research.  She was then invited to light the Paralympic cauldron in Trafalgar Square.

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family?

Maisie (7)
Chloe (1)

What was life before your accident like and what was most important to you then?

I was a Chiropractor and event rider – very ambitious so reaching the top level in my sport was my dream.

What are your strongest memories from the split second accident that changed your life?

I remember the sinking feeling of what had happened -I knew my life had been turned upside down.

Your boyfriend at the time of your injury (some months later) ended the relationship, how did you reinvent yourself as a dating woman and meet your husband Dan?

I ended the relationship as it wasn’t the same. A spinal injury has s huge impact on everyone around you . I met Dan on a dating website and although I was nervous about being rejected because of being paralysed and my confidence was low I just thought when has being worried ever stopped me before!

What was the turning point when you stopped thinking of everything you could no longer do, and instead to the many things you can still do?

Just gradually by taking opportunities then good days outweighed bad days .. Meeting Dan, part time job and new sports.

When did you realise you could be happy and paralysed?

Again it didn’t suddenly happen. It gradually happens by rebuilding my life.

What would you say have been the most awkward moments for you since your injury?

The early days as I felt embarrassed about being in a wheelchair – I often felt awkward. I don’t now – in fact I am more confident than before my accident.

Soon after the accident you were told you’d now make new friends and these would be people in wheelchairs, how did you respond to this advice?

I wanted to keep the friends I had and have done that – I didn’t need to be surrounded by people with injuries and liked talking about things I would have done regardless of my accident.

What do you do to lift your mood?

I love exercise and make sure I do plenty – also I love getting on the track on my motorbike aim to get my race licence soon.

How does your self ‘pep talk’ begin?

Just tell my myself to just get in with it and try not to over think!

How much support do you have in your daily life?

I am independent but enjoy the company of family and friends – I do get support but I also give support.

You’ve mastered handcycling, skiing, marathons and now motorcycling, what, if anything, is next for you?

Getting my race licence – attempting to walk the Great South Run – 10 miles in one attempt so through the night . 24 hours is my target. Most importantly bringing up my two girls as well as I possibly can.

What was it like completing The Great Northern Run at 16 weeks pregnant?

A relief as it was a struggle. I had morning sickness and low blood pressure – it was hilly and tested be to the max. My energy levels were not like they are usually!

Your fundraising total has shot above the half-a-million milestone and is not set to stop there, tell us more about the Nicholls Spinal Injury charity and how much money is needed?

They are doing incredible work to cure paralysis . After success with one patient they are treating another two . It isn’t just about walking again but regaining sensation , bowl and bladder etc They need funds to keep up they great research.

How would you describe your personality and what’s the enduring theme throughout your life?

I am fairly positive and like to achieve and be out my comfort zone sometimes. That is why I started as a motivational speaker – I always thought I couldn’t and when asked I like the challenge . I am pleased  I did as that is now my career and I love it. So my theme is to take opportunities and make your own luck.

If there’s a ‘best medicine in life’ what would you say it is?

Laughing. Even in the darkest days – if I found things to laugh at it works better than medicine along with exercise.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

The fact you can’t be selfish – they (children) come first . No love like it . Also, we can multitask!!

Click the links below to connect with Claire on social media:

Meryl Lynn

Meryl has been a visual and performance artist, designer, entrepreneur, and women’s rights activist all her life. She spoke up as a 9-year-old for the ratification of the ERA in 1972. Her heart and soul has been steeped in the work of feminism from the time she could pick up a pencil and make her first protest sign.

After graduating with honors from the School of Visual Arts in 1984, she began her illustrious career in fashion as a sportswear designer. She has been an instructor at Parsons, FIT, and Kent State University’s Fashion School.

As an artist, Meryl worked with Eve Ensler and Sally Fisher on the first V-Day in Madison Square Garden in 2001.  She has had one woman gallery shows in NYC, created well received feminist performance pieces, and has acted as co-curator in the group shows she participated in. Meryl is now working on several multi-disciplinary projects that meld her art, fashion, and activism, including a large scale multi media event, her heroine’s journey–Laughing Pussies Tarot Deck, as well as a line of creative message tees with proceeds going to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family? 

Meryl 55, Paul 48, Logan 11

How do you describe what you do in the world?

I am a leader, artist, activist/activator and member of the Resistance, designer, feminist, sensualist, and empath.

I feel like I give freedom, and create a safe space for people to be authentic and transparent in my presence and then out in the world. I am also a risk taker, and I open-up spaces.

What kind of career woman were you before you became a mother and what did you focus on professionally?

I was a fashion designer, consulting with fashion brands as well as helping new brands with launches. At the same time, I created, curated, and showed art.

What was the journey like to you becoming a ‘surprise’ mother in your 40’s?

It was wonderful, scary, exciting, unexpected, and hard. I went from nursing to peri-menopause in a few short years. I’m a researcher who dives deep into whatever I am interested in or need to know. I read everything about pregnancy, giving birth, motherhood, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, that I could get my hands on.  I may have gone over-board, and made myself a bit nuts.

I think the lack of sleep is harder if you are an older mom. On the plus side, I am so much more patient and smarter than I was in my 20’s and 30’s so, having a kid later was a good thing for me.

What are the benefits of having one child and a man to share this experience with?

I grew up with a single mom, and I know many single moms. It’s not easy. Having a partner for me, is raising our child as a team. I get to share this experience/the ride with my best friend. Sometimes we are in it together, other times we tag team. But, we always have each other’s back. It’s also sweet for me to model a great relationship for our son. Neither Paul nor I had that as kids.

How do you see ‘doing it right’ as a mother of a young son?

I don’t think there is such a thing. Many of the decisions I made when Logan was very young came out of fear of doing it wrong. I’ve gotten smarter. I finally had to accept that he’s a separate human being, lol. No matter what we do, he’s going to have his own set of problems and experiences. I’ve learned that I’ve got to grow with him.

What is it about being a mother that brings you a new understanding of love?

From my experience, loving my kid is the best feeling in the world. Telling him how much I love him makes my heart sing. There is no longing or clinging to his love the way I did with many men I had relationships with. I am happy to say that my marriage is the same. The love I have for the guys in my home is what makes it a home, and I know, it’s such a cliché.

In what ways does motherhood give your world more clarity?

I’m so much happier and more empathetic since I’ve become a mother. It is not what I expected, but I grow as a human every day because of the experiences I have with my son. I have gotten better at admitting when I am wrong or acting from my ego. Logan calls me on it, and if I stand my ground I am teaching him to be self-centered and selfish. I have stimulating conversations with him that open my eyes to other ways of viewing the world. I laugh a lot more.

To what extent do you see children inflicting pain, especially on mothers as the epicenter of receiving this pain?

My son has not done this with intention, he’s only eleven, but I remember doing it to my mom when I was angry at her. It was much easier to direct my rage at her than at my dad.

That, being said, I spend more time with him than my husband does, and I get the brunt of his upset directed at me when he has no other way of expressing it. That–ain’t easy!

How do you navigate space for yourself as you home-school?

The hardest thing about our lifestyle is also the thing that makes it work. Since Paul works nights, I have free time during the day to do what I need/want to do. But, I miss having my man around at night, and we also have-to find ways that he gets time for himself as well.

As Logan has gotten older it gets easier. He can be quite independent so I can get large chunks of time for me, some days more than others. We are in the same space for hours at a time doing our own thing at times.

What do you want your young son to understand about the world?

Wow, that’s a big one. I want him to know that he can go for whatever he wants in the life, and at the same time I want him to understand that has innate privilege and advantage. I want him to see the beauty in nature and in people, and to be aware of the diversity and differences. Since we homeschool, at-this-time we are in control of his understanding of history and current events. To the best of our ability, both Paul and I are teaching him a broad view, not the revisionist history most of us learned.

What do you stand for?

I stand for living life as an evolution and a revolution. I get excited about new things all the time. Sometimes I move slowly and others I plow ahead like a bulldozer.

I stand for justice, freedom, and love. Since I was a kid I wanted to right wrongs in the world.  As a woman in my 50’s I’ve come to realize there is so much I have not understood about the institutions that hold up the way we’ve lived. I cannot tolerate doing nothing. I create art, I speak, I march, I organize, I continue to learn and grow.

What drew you to Harlem to live and how has it changed over time?

When we were looking to buy an apartment in 2010 I had a strong desire to have a duplex. I think there was a part of me that want to recreate my childhood home. Living in NYC, space is a premium, so that was a daunting task, especially when you have a budget. We were open to many areas in Manhattan, and when I saw our place, I knew it was our home. We liked the fact that it was a building where the neighbors knew each other.

In the time, we’ve lived here we’ve seen the same gentrification that takes place in many areas in NYC, and other cities. It wasn’t until we lived here and got to know people in our neighborhood, and make friends did I realize the impact we had as a white family by moving in. People who’ve lived here their whole lives are getting priced out. Now that we are entrenched, we must be respectful of the history and people of Harlem.

What’s the importance of sisterhood in your life?

Sisterhood means so much to me. There are things that we can only share with those who can understand the experiences we are going through. I have reached out to them, and they have reached out to me when we are at our highest and our lowest. My best business connections, and some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life is with the people in my sisterhood.

White women are often unconscious to black mother’s need to protect their children from death, what part do you play in bringing consciousness of privilege into raising your son?

I mentioned this in an earlier comment—It is so important that Logan understands the responsibility of the privilege he has being a white male, now, more than ever. We don’t want to scare the crap out of him, so we reveal things, and explain that are age appropriate. I bring him to marches and rallies when I think it is ok for him to be there. We went to a vigil for Syria. He listened to every word the speakers said with tears streaming down his face. I didn’t realize it would be that heavy when I took him, but I’m glad I did, and his empathy was beautiful.

If you didn’t feel you needed to ‘tone yourself down’ what impact would you have?

That’s an interesting question, you know I don’t tone myself down too much, except for the way I communicate certain things. I spent a lot of my life trying to make things peaceful for the people around me. In truth, it was conflict avoidance coming from a childhood being around parents who fought hard before they divorced.

I know I would have gone further in most of the businesses I’ve been in if I wasn’t so damn nice!

How do you see men needing to show up differently in the world?

Most men have been complicit in small and sometimes large ways in misogyny and the sexist practices that have women out of the halls of power globally. In the Western paradigm, it’s been assumed by many men that we are in a post-feminist world. In some cultures, women are denied basic human rights. Men are missing out on so much. I think there is so much fear that when we are free to unleash our power we will destroy them. Maybe some women will, but I believe we will take them for a helluva ride and make their lives better. This also applies to much of what we see where white men are terrified of sharing power with anyone.

Men who are ready to make a difference must stand up for injustice large and small while being aware that it might have short term negative effects for them in our current culture.

The President is often seen as a symbol of fatherhood, how does this land with you?

The whole idea of this disgusts me, especially with our current president. We have idolized the role of the father of our country. The dude in the White House right now is an abusive dad. A lot of people in the USA have some serious daddy issues to work out. That’s a whole book…   

As an artist of provocative works, how do you discuss what you do with your child?

Logan has been around my artwork his whole life. Because the subject is the human body and about sensuality it could be kind of “chargey”. Paul and I have taken a straight forward tact about the human body and sexuality. We answer his questions without aggrandizement. To him, it’s all as natural as anything else we talk about. As he gets older this may change. When he’s a teen he might get shy about his body or feel awkward around these conversations, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

What’s next for you professionally?

All the professional work I’ve done has been designed around the feminine, fashion, my art The Laughing Pussies Tarot and other products around the deck are tools for divinity and pleasure.

I am working on a new project that I am really excited about but don’t want to announce yet. I’ll just say this, it is around women, money, and class. This is going to be a game changer for me. I am also working on a collaboration with a group of powerhouse people around intersectional feminism.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

One common denominator I see with mother’s is the constant attempt at what I now call, “non-existent balance.” Once I realized it wasn’t going to happen, that the scale tips back and forth I told every mama I knew.

Click the links below to connect with Meryl on social media :





Sema Cemal

Sema Cemal is a Chartered Psychologist with over 20 years’ experience in social policy research.  She has held senior positions with leading research agencies (including Associate Director at the Harris Research Centre and Group Head at Burke Marketing Research) and later set up her own social research and consultancy practice. Sema has a Psychology degree and a Masters degree from City University. She also has a Diploma in Market Research awarded by the Market Research Society.

Born in London to parents of Turkish Cypriot origin, Sema’s parents were fairly traditional and their main aspiration for her was to get married and start a family, but she was determined to pursue her education and career – she found the challenges of balancing family life with the world of study and work difficult.

Sema is a single parent with two children, one of whom was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome/mild Autism at the age of four and a half.

She has been through a lengthy struggle to get her son the educational services he desperately needed. Her story raises serious questions about educators and local authorities understanding of Asperger’s. It also raises issues of why some children get the services they need while others do not stand a chance.

Sema had to give up work when the fight to meet her son’s needs became a full-time job. Her battle has been on-going – to get her son a statement of special educational needs, to get him the support he needed in his primary schools, to get him into a suitable school and keep the support in place and to find him a post-16 placement.

There was a lack of awareness about autism and a stigma attached to disability within her own community – explaining her son’s diagnosis has not been easy.

Sema wrote an article about her battle to meet her son’s educational needs, which has been circulated widely (including her own blog) and has generated over 3,000 views.  She also helps other parents trying to navigate the special educational needs system providing support and advice. She was a volunteer and Committee Member of the Enfield National Autistic Society and is a full member of the British Psychological Society.

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family?

My son (diagnosed with Asperger’s) – aged 14

My daughter – aged 16

At what point did you realise your son had a hidden disability?

Around three years of age

What were the early signs that led to your son’s diagnosis of Asperger syndrome?

Limited eye contact with others, not very socially responsive (preferred to play on his own, avoided social interactions with others his own age) and a preoccupation with mechanical gadgets. I shared my concerns with my health visitor who referred him for an assessment and he was diagnosed with “mild autism – Asperger’s Syndrome”.

What was the journey you went on to secure your son a place in a school that could provide for his special needs?

It was a long, stressful ordeal – a 7-year battle which was costly, emotionally as well as financially.

Although he was diagnosed at a relatively early age (at four and a half), his needs were not met at the two primary schools he attended. He was misunderstood by school staff – teachers who did not understand or refused to acknowledge his needs, and who often punished him for doing things related to his Asperger’s (such as fidgeting in assembly). He was also picked on by some of his peers – pupils who singled him out as being ‘different’ (calling him names like ‘retard’, ‘idiot’, ‘stupid’ on a daily basis). He became highly anxious, depressed and school-phobic – dreading Sundays because he had school the next day, refusing to go to school, crying at the school gate every morning and having huge meltdowns at home.

After years of stress and daily confrontations with the school about inappropriate handling of situations, I reached crisis-point – was I going crazy or was the school failing in its duty to care for and support pupils with additional needs. School staff and ’so-called professionals/educators’ dismissed my concerns and questioned my parenting skills saying things like, “you need a good night out” or “stop worrying, can’t you see he is manipulating you”. After frantic online searches and conversations with autism/education helplines, I came across an autism education solicitor who asked me to send him relevant documents for him to review:

My brief – I am on the edge; is it the school or am I failing as a parent?

The outcome – his view was that the school had failed my son; that staff did not understand Asperger’s Syndrome and my son needed a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) to set out his needs and the provision needed to meet those needs.

We applied for a statutory assessment three times but the Local Authority (LA) refused to assess my son each time.  We had no other option but to lodge an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Tribunal. Just a few days before the Tribunal Hearing the LA agreed to assess my son and issue a Statement of SEN.  However, the Statement they issued was vague/woolly so we ended up attending the Tribunal; I went with my solicitor and two expert witnesses, armed with the evidence to support our case including three private assessments which I had to pay for – Speech & Language Therapist, Educational Psychologist and Occupational Therapist. The outcome = victory – we had won the battle! After a long stressful day at the Hearing; the Panel overwhelmingly agreed that my son’s needs were not being met at school and approved the provision recommended by our expert witnesses. However, it took a long time for the provision to start and six weeks after the provision was put in place, I was told the LA will stop or significantly reduce the provision (“he has made such good progress in the past few months that we are going to reduce the provision”.  I had to face another battle to keep the provision – more meetings, letters and negotiations!

A few years later, an even bigger battle began – to get my son into a suitable secondary school. After years of research and school visits, I found an independent school which could meet my son’s needs but the LA refused our choice of school and chose two inappropriate schools – a unit for pupils with severe autism within a school under special measures (which the unit head told me ‘was a prison’ and not inclusive); and a special school for severely disabled pupils (which meant my son would not get the right support or have an appropriate peer group). We lodged an appeal and were given another date for a Tribunal Hearing to get the LA to agree to our choice of school. Again, just a few days before the Hearing, the LA contacted me to say they would approve our chosen school provided we paid for the transport. Another victory … but at what cost!

On the first day of school, I dropped my son off to the school bus stop.  I felt anxious all day – so many questions in my mind (will he like the school?, will he want to go back the next day? ……). When the bus returned, my son got into my car and hugged me saying “thanks mum for getting me into the best school in the whole world”.  I felt so happy – a fantastic feeling – it was worth the battle but I felt so ‘burnt out’ and the big question I continue to ask myself is “Why did I have to fight so hard for so long to get my son into a suitable school?”

My son has one year left at this school and I am preparing myself for the next battle – to make sure my son goes to a suitable sixth form college/school.

What did it take for you to continue to win tribunals?

Self-belief; a strong conviction that my son deserves a good education. I was not willing to take a risk in accepting an unsuitable school – In LA speak, ‘good enough’ was just not good enough. I’ve always believed my son is bright with the potential to achieve – I refused to cave in to so-called professionals who tried to undermine my son’s needs in order to cut costs, determined to ignore the evidence and opt for low-cost inappropriate options.

How do you safeguard your own sanity?

It has not been easy. As a single parent of two children, and having decided to stop working due to the ever-increasing workload of collating evidence of his needs and the stress which that involved, I decided to focus on my son.  Whenever I feel I am losing my sanity I try to do things to re-charge my batteries – sauna, Jacuzzi and swimming, going to see a film or read a book – or vent out my frustrations on friends and family. Talking to other parents in a similar situation has also helped me keep sane – it’s really helpful to exchange ideas and support each other (makes you feel less alone).

You are an advocate for many other families these days, what does this typically involve?

After my long ordeal, I wanted to share my story with other parents so I wrote about my experience and started my own blog. I have been contacted by so many families who have read about my battle and asked me for help and advice. It’s a great feeling to help others in a similar position – this often involves giving advice by email, over the telephone or meeting up for coffee. Most of those I’ve been in contact with needed someone to listen to and empathise with their stories and wanted advice about the choices they face and support they can access.

What kinds of situations are you seeing happen more and more regularly for families with special needs children?

Budgets are being cut and, despite new legislation promising ‘child/family centred’ policies through the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), the system is failing many families with special needs children. The so-called professionals are not listening to or responding to parental views. Parent’s choice of school is often refused so they have to fight harder and for longer to get the right outcome. Respite care is also harder to get and as services are being cut, parents are being refused this vital provision.  One of the biggest areas of concern for me is the lack of mental health support for special needs children and parents – waiting lists are long and when you finally get to the top of the list and see a professional (i.e. from CAMHS) the support is poor and help is short-term; the increasing use of anti-depressants to treat young people is a ‘quick-fix’ cost-cutting measure which does not address the causes of poor mental health.

What are all-absorbing special interests about for children with Asperger’s?

I think they help them to cope with the anxieties building up in the day – for my son, the higher his stress levels, the more absorbing his special interests become. Special interests help the child to escape into a familiar world, free from judgement and criticism; a world he/she understands, feels safe in and has control over.

How do you maintain your stamina?

My stamina levels goes up and down. You try to keep going because you love your child and want them to be the best they can be. When they feel wounded and lost, you find the inner strength to keep fighting. If I feel really low, I lay low until I’ve got the energy to tackle the next task. When you feel alone and unsupported, the best thing to do is to connect with other parents going through a similar ordeal – talking to other parents helped me realise I was not alone.

What allowances has your other child needed to make in growing up beside her brother?

My daughter is struggling to cope with family life as a young teenager. A brother she finds annoying and difficult to relate to, and a mum who is stressed out all the time and seems to spend every waking moment on paperwork/conversations/meetings related to her brother. She has had to put her own needs to one side and try to support me by trying to understand her brother but ….it has been very hard for her and this is taking its toll.

What are the gifts of being a single mother?

Being in control – you learn to follow your instincts and do what you think needs to be done without interference or judgement from others. Building up your reserves/resources – managing without the help of others can be quite liberating, as you are not over-dependant on others.

What’s the link between special needs children and getting in trouble with the law?

As they get older, you have to give them space to be independent – to go out on their own, even if it’s a walk around the block or to the local shops – this is when you have no control over what happens to them. Although you understand your child’s needs, external agencies and Authorities do not. I have heard from so many families who have had their child sectioned or arrested for behaviour linked to their special needs. Police and other Authorities need more training to understand the needs of special needs children, and more compassion and support for those who are behaving in ‘antisocial or unacceptable’ ways.

What policy changes are needed to provide more than adequate provision for special needs children?

A commitment to providing quality care for special needs children – not just ‘good enough’ provision. Many are talented and have high potential – if you nurture these talents and abilities, the long-term costs to society will be reduced. A more ‘child centred’ policy and a more respectful attitude to parents views is the starting point – parents want the best for their child so it’s vital to listen to and act on their wishes is vital.

What is your opinion about the systematic offering of anti-depressives and other medications to children with special needs?

This is a worrying trend. Anti-depressants should not be given to any child; it messes with the brain and soul. It is a low-cost quick fix. However, if parents are not offered effective long-term therapy for or strategies to help their child, this is often the only option available to them. I understand why a parent would agree to let their child take anti-depressants especially if the child is suicidal and at risk to themselves and no alternative is offered. Many children are ‘falling through the cracks’ and ‘under the radar’. I understand the appeal of anti-depressants amongst mental health/medical practitioners – therapy takes time and is costly, but it’s a big risk to take. I feel really concerned and angry when practitioners say to me “Let him try anti-depressants, they work with some children. We don’t know how it works but it can help in some cases” or “If your son gets worse, go to A&E”. The help offered is often reactive and short-term!

What challenges does your Asperger son experience in his teens?

The challenges facing my son in his teens far outweigh those he faced as a younger child. As he grows up, he becomes more and more aware of his differences and feels less integrated and accepted. The single most important thing my son wants and needs is to feel accepted and socially integrated – without adequate support, he is becoming more socially isolated and feeling more alone. He feels depressed and his depression centres around lack of friends.

I am about to face the next major challenge – post 16 education. More assessments, more research into colleges/sixth forms, more stress, and more financial outlay. Do I have a choice I ask myself every minute of the day? No, I do not. I do not even want to think about the implications if I don’t get the next placement right. The battle never ends.

How can the social isolation of Asperger be reduced for children?

In Schools: More interventions to help them integrate with other pupils such as lunchtime clubs, befriending/buddying system, subtle/covert ways of helping them integrate. More training/support for school staff to understand the needs of pupils who feel socially isolated and strategies to help support them.

Out of School:  More funding for/opportunities to mix with other Asperger’s children – local clubs/forums or special interest groups to help them integrate and be part of the community. Asperger’s is a hidden disability – and many of the anxieties center around lack of friends/feeling different /not being accepted – this can be crippling.

How come the parental needs of special needs children are all but forgotten and what would you like to see happen to change this?

If the child’s needs are minimised and dismissed, how can there be room for the parent? Parents are often targeted as the cause of the problem – over-bearing, complaining and winging, …this is the easy way to get the Authorities off the hook. Maybe it’s because parents feel so ‘burnt out’ that they do not reach out to form a united group to take on the Authorities and fight for the rights of our special needs children.

This can be changed if more parents get together to raise awareness of special needs and Asperger’s and form a formidable force – more united action amongst parents to campaign for change. There are many forums/charities but I think they lack creativity and impact – there is a need for more innovative ideas/action.

Who do you go to for solace?

I retreat into my own world, pray for calm and try to find the energy to take on the next challenge. I take one day at a time and try not to be too hard on myself.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

Compassion – empathy – the ability to understand without judgment and criticism.

You can connect with Sema on her blog here

Chloe O’Sullivan

Chloe O’Sullivan is the founder of War to Peace®. Once a miserable, senior banking professional, Chloe turned her considerable experience of being in conflict with people into a mission to uncover the root cause of relationship difficulty. Through her professional training as a coach and systems worker, along with many years of research and practical application of what she had learned, Chloe worked with a team of people across several countries to create the award-winning* War to Peace® methodology. War to Peace® helps anyone to relate more effectively with the people they are struggling with, no matter how challenging or unreasonable the other person’s behaviour seems. It works for all relationships, both at home and at work, and is frequently described by practitioners as life-changing. Chloe is an avid globetrotter and is fortunate to have worked and played in many countries.

From living on a boat as a scuba dive instructor to being heli-lifted off black ski runs, she gives 100% to everything she does! Whilst her passion for life, travel and adventure still burns brightly, Chloe loves that her husband and eight year old daughter provide the opportunities for fun nowadays. Although the water slides on her family holidays seem to be becoming increasingly daring, so who knows what is next….?

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your immediate family?

Richard is my wonderful husband, and Katie (8 + ¾ – the ¾ is very important when you’re 8!) is our gorgeous daughter.

What was your childhood like?

I grew up in a farming village in Devon, which sounds far more idyllic than it was! There were some happy times, especially when we stayed with my wider family – aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, but I experienced my childhood as difficult and unhappy mainly.

My parents genuinely did their best and loved me in their own way. And having come from an era of parents where children should be seen and not heard, they had learned to punish and shame when I behaved outside of very strict parameters or – in other words – behaved in any way like a child! So I spent most of my childhood feeling like there was something wrong with me, and that I was inherently flawed and unlovable.

What was behind your name-change at a young age?

There were a few reasons. From a practical point of view, there were four Sarah’s in my year at school, so I never knew whether people were talking to me, about me, or if they meant one of the other Sarah’s, so I wanted a more unusual name. The deeper, more emotional reason is that when I left home at 17 and tried to reinvent myself at college, I still found myself being triggered if someone used a sharp tone when they said “Sarah”. When I was 19, I naively decided the best way to leave my past behind for good was to change my name. I think it was probably a subconscious way of hurting my parents too, though I was far too self-centered to think about the impact on them at the time. I chose the name Chloe because it was very unusual back then – I only knew of one – and she was the carefree, funny, happy girl I longed to be.

In what way was your interview for the Post Office a crucial life changing one?

I was very emotionally immature post-college, and my self-esteem was at an all time low after I left with some pretty poor A level results (in stark contrast to my all-star, A-grade-with-distinctions sibling!). I wanted to be seen as a success too and thought that getting a job that had ‘manager’ in the title would achieve this. So I set about applying for any job that fit the criteria ‘bookshop manager, ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant Manager’ – you get the picture!

At the time, the Post Office was running a national recruitment campaign for managers to run the stationery shops they were newly opening within the Post Office branches. I applied and had to attend some numerical reasoning and English literacy testing. As ever, I was the last to finish the tests and only just managed to complete them time. To my astonishment I was called for an interview.

I’ll never forget it – and only wish I knew the name of the ‘old man’ (he was probably only in his forties at the time, but was old to me aged 19) who sat in the middle of the panel of three. He asked me how I thought I’d done on the tests. “Not very well” I replied. When he asked me why, I explained that I wasn’t very intelligent or any good at tests. His answer changed the course of my life. He said “That’s not true. You did very well. In fact, you came top in the country. Which is why we’re not going to offer you this job, you’d be bored. An intelligent young woman like you should be going to university.”

I’d never even considered it! No woman in my family had ever been to university! Me, capable of getting a degree? I was genuinely honoured to be offered a place at the University of Cardiff (I had to write a letter and attend an interview to explain my poor A level grades) and thought it a true privilege to be able to study there.

Several years later, I went on to win a scholarship to study for an MBA, but I would say it took me until well into my thirties before I finally accepted that I had a reasonable level of academic intelligence.

What were your top learnings in your time as a banker?

Surround myself with the kind of people I admire and respect, because it’s not difficult to be subtly (or not so subtly) influenced by the people I spend most of time with.

A transactional / task-orientated style of leadership is useful in small doses and under limited circumstances. Whilst it may seem to be the most efficient way to get the job done, a relational approach will be ultimately far more effective – and far more rewarding.

Being the natural (and therefore best version of ourselves, which I call being at Peace) is always going to be a more fulfilling and effective way of working and living life.

What was your journey that led you to birthing War to Peace®?

By the time I was 34, I was terminally single and I’d not spoken to my Dad for 17 years, or my brother for 18 months. I’d fallen out with my best friend, along with both of my bosses at work. Then, just six months after my Mum passed away, my beloved Step-father met me for lunch and said that this was the last time he’d ever see me. My life was full of conflict and I was thoroughly miserable. This level of conflict was replicated in my professional life too.

I wanted to understand what was at the heart of these conflicts, I had to – I simply couldn’t live like this any longer. After an unexpected and massive explosion of temper at work one day that shocked the life out of me (and all my colleagues to be honest), I realised that I needed to work on my emotional intelligence. So I quit a senior banking career, with no plans, few savings and no idea what I was going to do, other than having an urgent need to sort out my relationships.

I traveled extensively, attended courses, workshops and retreats that I once would have derided as ‘woo woo’, and went a long way outside of my comfort zone. Once I understood the root cause of all the conflict in my life and started applying what I’d learned to my own relationships, everything changed. I simply had to find a way of making this accessible to anyone and everyone who wanted it.

Just five years later, I had met the man of my dreams, my Dad walked me down the aisle on our wedding day, and my brother and step-father were there to share our wonderful celebration, along with my best friend and my two former bosses. I’m so happy to say that all of these relationships remain intact to this day and serve as a constant reminder to me of what is possible when we are willing to learn and grow. And they provide me with a regular supply of opportunities to tell on myself to my participants about all the times I still, even now, sometimes get in my own way of being at Peace!

What will be the legacy of War to Peace®, the award-winning methodology you founded?

That this life-changing work is available globally, in multiple languages, to anyone who wants to experience it. And this is really important – War to Peace® is world-work that anyone who is willing can understand and apply to his or her own relationships. There’s so much guru-ship happening in this era of ‘self-help’ and this defeats the very nature of War to Peace®, the idea that someone out there is ever superior or inferior to us.

There is only one expert in your life, and that is you. The endeavour of War to Peace® is to simply help you to uncover your natural, brilliant self, and to reveal to you the unhelpful places we inhabit when we let ourselves get triggered by others. It brings a life of ease and fulfillment, and an ability to relate to anyone, even those we have previously found so difficult.

What changed everything for you professionally?

Three things:

Getting a boss who believed in me and wanted me to change for my sake, because she felt I was wasting my potential – not because she couldn’t tolerate me.

Losing it at work in such a spectacular fashion in front of all the most senior and influential people in my organisation, and realising that I couldn’t hold in my anger any more, I had to understand its root cause.

The 7/7 London bombings – I was living and working in the Square Mile at the time and being so close to the bombings was a terrifying experience. Walking home alone that evening, I realised that all I’d accomplished in life was a grand job title, some letters after my name and a flashy, soulless apartment. It was a wake up call that life is precious and I was wasting mine.

What is your relationship to perfectionism now and how has this changed in the past decade?

I was raised by two perfectionist parents, so I had a double dose to feast on, and feast I did! It’s a double-edged sword because on the plus side, people tell me that the high standards I hold for myself are evident in my work. On the downside, I can be unrealistic in my expectations of both myself and others, which does everyone a disservice. Fortunately, my husband and I often work together from home and he is a great leveler for me – he has equally high standards, but without the pesky perfectionism, so he helps me to have a better understanding of what’s realistic, reasonable and good enough.
This has helped me with both my business and parenting, and I remain determined not to pass on this trait to my daughter, though trying really hard not to be a perfectionist is a bit of an oxymoron when you think about it!

‘Good enough’ is my mantra these days when I feel perfectionism rearing its ugly head – and that’s working better than anything else I’ve tried in the past.

How important is the practice of asking for help?

Essential! And I was rubbish at it until I embarked on a leadership programme. Along with my course mates, I was blindfolded and taken out into the woods, in the pouring rain to a maze. My job was to find the exit. It took me over 2 hours to realise that the exit simply required me to ask for help. It’s a lesson that’s stayed with me and I remain immeasurably grateful for learning it, albeit the hard way!

How did you grow your emotional intelligence and why?

How long have you got! I’ve spoken about the moment I lost it at work – that’s when I knew for sure I had to do something, though I’d had plenty of signs along the way that I’d ignored or convinced myself meant something else.

The process for me of growing emotional intelligence is ongoing. What’s changed is that I once felt broken and in need of “fixing”, so I became a personal development junkie, attending every course known to man, analysing every interaction I had – it was exhausting, for me and for those closest to me. And somewhere along the way, I learned to be loving and accepting of myself as well as others. So my desire for growth these days comes less from a place of neediness and more from a place of worthiness.

Your original ambition was to be married with children, in what ways did this this seem elusive for you?

It really did seem elusive for many years – especially in my thirties when my dear, terminally ill Mum was so desperate to have grandchildren and to see me married that she was trying to plan my wedding for me, even though I was still single; it was heartbreaking.

That said, I was very fortunate that I met and dated some really lovely men in my twenties. However, because I felt so unlovable at the time, I either didn’t believe they loved me or I thought if they genuinely loved someone as unworthy as I believed I was, they were not worth having, so I made it impossible for them. I was pretty difficult to be with and I’m so grateful to have remained friends with those kindly exes.

Funnily enough, my elusive quest for a husband led to me developing War to Peace®! When I was training as a professional life coach, I met a lot of great people – authentic, kind, spirited and giving. I liked this community and thought it would be a great place to find my sexy soulmate. So I enrolled on a leadership programme that was run by the same organisation for this specific purpose. I had no interest in leadership, I’d been a leader at work for years and I wasn’t looking to take on any responsibility, I simply wanted to meet my future husband!

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t find my husband there, but I did experience how our perceptions and beliefs are not reality, and how our certainty that we’re right about them fools – and therefore undermines – us in our interactions and relationships. This is what inspired me to create War to Peace® and I genuinely believe that through finding the purpose and fulfillment in creating and spreading this work, I felt worthy enough to be in a relationship with my husband when he showed up in my life.

As for babies, I’d decided that should I still be single aged 30, I would begin investigating having children alone. After years of research, I carefully chose a donor and went through two rounds of clinical insemination, but both rounds failed. I was devastated at the time but, upon reflection, I wouldn’t be the mother, wife and business woman I am today had either attempt succeeded, so it’s been a great lesson in learning to love what is, rather than a preconceived notion of how I think it should be.

When you met your husband what was compelling about him?

Oh, just everything! And I was not short of ideals – I had listed 45 traits I wanted in my future husband, much to my friends’ and family’s amusement! I always reasoned that I would be lonelier in a relationship where I wasn’t deeply in love than remaining alone, so I was prepared to wait indefinitely for someone who ticked all the boxes. And I have to say I was thrilled (and pretty relieved to be honest!) to have met him just before my 39th birthday – it wasn’t the easiest being single for so long, especially in my thirties, but I’m truly grateful that I waited.

What led you to question the importance of passing on your genetic material?

Funnily enough, I was never really concerned about passing on my genes (I’d spent most of my life believing I was deeply flawed after all), but I did want to pass on my husband’s, and I really wanted to experience childbirth and breastfeeding – though my friends are quick to point out that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be!

I’m really pleased we got to experience pregnancy though, especially the first time, which was quite the most wonderful period of our lives we’d ever known. We saw our baby’s heartbeat and we were besotted! It was very sad when we lost that baby, but we were optimistic that we would fall pregnant again. It wasn’t as easy as we had hoped but we were lucky enough to experience getting pregnant with twins through IVF – that joyous moment when we found out will be forever etched in our memories. Again, that pregnancy didn’t work out, but we are glad we had the experience nonetheless.

How do you integrate celebrating the babies you lost/miscarried (please assist with wording that honours your children) in your present life?

We honoured our first baby by choosing the day we found out we were pregnant to be our Valentine’s Day. So, we don’t celebrate it on 14 February, we celebrate on 25 July.

Our twin boys we honoured by buying a small copper / brass statue of two intertwined sleeping babies. It’s really beautiful and it sits on a coffee table in our living room.

What was the process of adoption like for you?

Intense and long! And illuminating and educational. And deeply frustrating and nerve-wracking at times.

Many people advised that I should not reveal the truth about my childhood experiences to social services and to conceal key events. I completely understand why, yet I was unwilling to do this, and whilst sharing everything came at a cost (it lengthened the process, a lot of painful memories were prodded and poked, and my resilience was tested fully and thoroughly), it meant that when we achieved approval, we could be sure that the highly experienced social workers knew us inside out and trusted us with the precious children they are responsible for. We also firmly believe that this is why the match for our daughter and us is so good!

Being almost six years old, and having been in foster care for two years, our daughter was weeks away from being placed in permanent foster care. Social services had turned down more than thirty couples before unanimously agreeing that we were the right match for her, and we couldn’t feel more honoured or more perfectly suited to one another.

I’ve nothing but respect and admiration for the work of social services. They get a raw deal, we only ever hear the horror stories that are reported on the news and to get a glimpse into their world, what they have to deal with, and the care with which they carry out their incredibly important work, was both illuminating and humbling.

What was the wait for your daughter like and how did it impact on your marriage?

Exciting and nerve-wracking! We were on another ‘final holiday before we’re parents’ in Sri Lanka when we started to question the 0-3 year old age range we had chosen for our future child. One day, my husband said “don’t you think we could help an older child?” We realised that we were in a good position to do this and decided to expand our age range from 0-5 years old, nervously telling our social worker in her final assessment visit when we returned home.

When she left our house, my husband said “she’s got a match for us, I know it!” I had been too busy feeling scared that we may have blown our chances by changing the age range at the last minute, but he was right, and the next day our social worker phoned to tell us about our girl!

A month later, we were due to be approved as adopters and to see a video of our daughter for the very first time. We both run our own businesses, so we had begun the process of winding down our work and making the preparations needed for taking time off. Sadly, our elation at being approved was immediately replaced with devastation when we heard that our little girl’s case was being contested and she may not be available for adoption after all. Our social worker asked if we wanted them to search for another child for us because they could no longer give us any information or likelihood about our success with her. We took no time at all to decide, we just believed we were meant to be her parents.

The wait was really tough. Not only did we have to wait for the court to rule on her case, we then had to wait for a new date to go back to the assessment panel to be approved to become her adoptive parents. And then, we finally had a date – many weeks later, as the foster carers and social workers then have to spend a concerted period of time preparing her for having a forever Mummy and Daddy, moving into a new home and having to say goodbye to her birth parents, friends, school, clubs etc. it’s such an emotionally intense time for everyone involved.

And just when there was finally one week to go, one of her foster carers had to go into hospital for surgery, so our time to finally meet Katie got delayed once more! Fortunately, we knew by now that it was only a matter of time, so my husband and I went out for multiple, wonderful dates, knowing that it would be a very long time in the future before we would be able to do this again.

That moment when we pulled up outside her house to see this beautiful, excited little girl beaming and waving at us through the window – and as soon as the door was opened, she shouted “Mummy!” and power-launched herself into my arms, snuggling into me as though we’d been together our whole lives. We’ll remember that moment forever.

In what unanticipated ways has becoming a mother grown you?

In more ways that I had expected to be honest! I’ve realised that just as there are some things that it would have been hard for me to know or learn about myself had I remained single, there are similarly things I think I could only experience and learn through being a mother.

What immediately springs to mind is a whole new level of forgiveness and appreciation of (precipitated by new anger and hurt towards) my own parents. I had been warned by social services that in light of my own childhood experiences I would find motherhood very triggering. I reasoned that I had been being triggered every day of my life and had learned how to deal with it – I teach this for a living after all…. yet they were right!

What I hadn’t appreciated is how I had designed a work-life that factored in time for ongoing personal development work and the flexibility to deal with triggers. Then we were given a couple of weeks’ notice before a 5+ ¾ year old child moved in with us!

The most important lesson for me has been to apply what they advise in the aeroplane safety demonstration – even though it may be counter-intuitive – always put on your own oxygen mask first, otherwise you are unlikely to save your child or yourself.

I think this is especially important to mothers, as many of us have been brought up to subjugate our needs and put others first. Ultimately, I don’t believe anyone benefits from this as a lifelong approach and I know that, for us, if I’m okay and my relationship with my husband is okay, our daughter is always okay. If any of those are out of balance, the first person to feel it and be impacted will be her. Knowing this helps me to prioritise wisely, be mindful of self-care and to overcome my immediate urge to focus all my attention and energy on my daughter.

And I hope it’s teaching Katie a new paradigm of motherhood, wifehood and working, where she instinctively knows how to get her needs met, and to lead a fulfilling and balanced life.

How do you utilise War to Peace® practices to navigate motherhood?

What a great question! A common misunderstanding about being at Peace is that it means being soft, or giving in, and this is simply not the case. When we talk about being at Peace, we are referring to us at our natural best, our effortless selves who have full mental clarity, can listen deeply and are responsive to the person we are interacting with – a bit like the person we are when we are in conversation with a good friend.

This is a place of ease – and is in stark contrast to the emotionally triggered place we find our selves in when we are at War, where we have tried everything to get the person to do what we need them to do (you know, like cleaning teeth, bedtime, homework – I’m sure you can relate) and despite our best efforts, which may include demands, threats, shouting, pleading, etc, usually result in deep resistance or sulky submission – and we end up either feeling justified, or feeling horribly guilty as we immediately head downstairs to find the nearest glass of wine… and I’m fairly confident that I’m not writing this in a vacuum right now!

So I lean in to War to Peace® all the time, every day. And yet I still forget, and get triggered into a reactionary place because I will be a lifelong student of this work as well as a teacher of it. In common with all parents, I suspect, I sometimes forget that when my daughter is ‘acting up’, she is simply trying to get her needs met in the best and only way she knows how in that moment. She is not being deliberately naughty or trying to wind me up, I just sometimes experience it that way! But when I remember she is a child whose brain will not be fully developed until she is 25 years old and, even then, she will still make mistakes, it’s easier to see the world from her point of view. It’s easier to be a loving mother, easier to maintain the boundaries that are so important to her feeling safe and loved, and just a lot less effort than being at War.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

I’ve not met a mother yet who doesn’t beat herself up and wonders if she’s doing a good enough job at raising her child/ren. My experience is that we tend to be exceptionally and unreasonably hard on ourselves.

I’m very fortunate to have a husband who regularly points out all that I have done well as a mother when my focus zooms in on what I could have done better. It really helps to have that shift in focus – and means that when I become more conscious and balanced about this, it’s less likely I’ll pass on the legacy of self-flagellation and perfectionism to my daughter.

Click the links below to connect with Chloe on social media



Corina Goetz

With over 16 years experience in hospitality sales, Corina has held prominent positions within well-known global luxury hotel brands from Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, Dorchester Collection and her last role as Head of Middle Eastern and Diplomatic Sales for Corinthia Hotel London.

Now her own company focuses on hotel representation for the Middle Eastern market as well as training the staff on how to look after these special VIP clients.

Throughout the years and her roles, Corina has fostered very strong relationships with Royalty and VIP clients who now call her for their requests.

Who are the members of your family? 

Husband and son (6)

What you do and who are your clients?

I own my own company, Star-Cat, which represents hotels in the Middle Eastern market. I also do training for companies how to look after clients from the Middle East. My clients are mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Morocco and Lebanon.

What was it about hotels that fascinated you as a youngster?

That no day is the same. There is always something exciting happening.

How did you become a Middle Eastern expert?

I felt from all the guests I dealt with at the hotels in my early career, I had the most connection with the clients from the Middle East. I found them very family oriented, very warm and welcoming.

Who has been your most significant mentor in your career and what did you learn from this person?

One of my early Managers knew everyone from the Middle East and he became my mentor, I always asked him, who is connected to whom and how the family dynamics worked. I learnt so much from him. I also enjoyed reading about business people from there and having conversations with clients about the who is who.

What’s the nature and typical pattern of your client work?

It is very unpredictable as a lot of the requests come very last minute and I have to make the impossible, possible. I really enjoy this though, nothing is more thrilling than sorting out a problem with little time. I have booked Heads of State into hotels whilst being on the playground with my son!

How do you juggle clients and their last minute plans especially with being mother?

I have a great support system and to be honest without my husband a lot of this wouldn’t be possible. He understands that I have to take calls late at night, go and meet VIPs at 5 in the morning. It’s part of the job.

Snapchat has become a crucial part for you in engaging with your royal and non-royal clients, tell us about this.

A lot has evolved with the social media and it’s a way to connect much more with your clients. They love the personal relationship. It also gives me so much more insight in their life and what they like and dislike. It’s much easier to engage with them even if they are miles away. You still feel connected. Everything is about pictures and videos.

What client engagement trends do you see emerging in the next couple of years?

I think email won’t be as important, it is already used less and less with the clients from the Middle East. Whatsapp is much more popular as it is instant and much faster.

How do you balance social media time with being present with your son?

I try and consciously take time out over the weekend and also in the evenings or when we play. It’s hard and takes a lot of discipline.

How do you get deeper engagement with your son and what tips can you share on this?

Mornings are usually not as crazy as afternoons for me, so I like to talk to him on our way to nursery. I also always make time to read bedtime stories and talk to him then. If I have to take calls I will explain him why and who the person was.

You say, “small unexpected gestures make all the difference”, can you tell us what you mean by this and give some examples of the impact of these?

It is very important to remember small things about clients. They really appreciate it a lot. Sending notes for their important holidays, like Ramadan and Eid as well as Middle Eastern Mothers Day make all the difference.

What are the benefits of being a woman in your line of work?

I can deal with both male and female clients. You can see them at their houses. I also like to think that women have a different way of solving and diffusing difficult situations.

What is the most surprising request you’ve received from a client to date?

To be honest, there is very little that surprises me now. Anything is possible, whether someone wants a teacher flown to the Middle East or needs a special doctor for a last minute appointment.

What typical stereotyped views on Middle Eastern culture do you see debunked through your work?

That people from the Middle East are not familiar with western culture and don’t respect them. They are so educated, a lot of them have studied in England or the US, they have come to Europe since they were little so they are very familiar and respecting of our culture. They sometimes know more about our countries than we do.

What protocols do you follow when you visit Middle Eastern countries and what have you learned by these?

You have to ensure you are modestly dressed and adhere to the customs. It’s normal that you can’t confirm appointments in advance. It’s normal that a lot of meetings just happen when you get there. Some of the best meetings are arranged on the day.

Which female Middle Eastern entrepreneurs do you most admire, and why?

Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned 

Rania Al-Abdullah 

I absolutely love Sheikha Moza, she is such an inspiration and a lot of people don’t know how much she does in her quest to educate children.

I also think Queen Rania is such an inspiration for people trying to bring more attention to things like the refuge crisis and conditions there.

Both are working mothers who continue to inspire the Middle Eastern region but also mothers everywhere.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

We are all hardworking, whether you work or are a stay at home mother. We are all trying to do the best for our families and raise our children so they become great people.

Click the links below to connect with Corina on social media





Pollyanna Lenkic

Pollyanna is a coach, mentor, facilitator and speaker who works with leading organisations. Her purpose and passion is in helping individuals and teams to thrive, to create sustainable results aligned with their goals, and the goals and strategy of their organisation.

With a strong business background, Pollyanna understands results need to be realised and measured. At 24, she co-founded a specialist IT consultancy in London, which grew from humble beginnings to a permanent team of 18 with 100+ consultants and an annual turnover of £11 million. Today, Pollyanna’s focus is on building sustainable high performing teams, lifting employee engagement and developing people potential. Pollyanna’s structured approach delivers an uplift of 25% in team performance. She lives in Australia with her family.

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family? 

Ella (15) and Niamh (13)

How do you describe what you do?

I believe that we all have the right to live a healthy and fulfilled life  and we can’t do this if we load ourselves down in an endless cycle of doing everything ourselves.  This drives the work I do.

How I do this is by working with individuals, groups and teams to build Self Leadership, develop the skills, capabilities and practices so that they are Leaders who Create Leaders, as opposed to Leaders who do everything themselves.

My three key areas of expertise are:

  • Leadership Development
  • Building Sustainable High Performing Teams
  • Women and Success mentoring programs

While writing “Women & Success: Redefining what Matters Most at Home, at Work and at Play” you got up at 4.30am to write, what was your thinking behind this decision?

“Get it done”

Any task that is meaningful also comes with the routine of work to get done.  This requires the setting of goals, backed up with clarity on what is needed to do.  Then chunked down to specifics with locked in accountability was the only way to get it done.  Working back from the ‘book printed in my hand’ date, we (my Editor and I) worked out the deliverables.  Then it was simply delivering to this timeline.

I knew I had to get 7,000 words per week to my editor,  1,000 words a day. The editing times were locked in, as were all the other logistics of the book (cover, design, printing etc.) Whilst I’m a morning person, 4.30am is much earlier than I would usually choose.  I had to be up before I had any chance of waking Niamh (our youngest), who would bounce out of bed with glee saying ‘yay homework club my mummy’. Which meant I would get nothing done, we would have some lovely early morning time together and then I’d have a grumpy and tired child and no words written.

What was the Women’s Success Survey, and what were your main findings?

When I sold my share of the company I had built I felt a deep void.  To the outside world I looked successful, I had the usual external trappings of success and yet I felt adrift.  My personal life had imploded, I made a values based decision to sell my shares, leave the job I loved and had been doing for 10 years, and sell my home with plans to return to Australia.  It was a lot to manage, mixed in with the emotional load of a marriage ending.

I got intensely curious about how I felt; overwhelmed, and far from successful.  I also got intensely curious about how other women felt about success.  How did they define themselves through this lens?

The timing was great for this exploration, I had started my coach training with the Coaches Training Institute which enabled me to explore this deeper.  I started having conversations with women in my life, and broader.  My curiosity deepened with each conversation.  The survey was a natural extension of this and the results were released in 2006.

Some survey highlights were:

  • 91.3% of respondents said they felt successful
  • Women considered multiple factors to be vital in achieving success for themselves and the organisation
  • Women were overwhelmingly seeking rewarding work
  • Work/life balance and job satisfaction were rated more highly as goals than financial reward
  • 41% of women considered a flexible working environment to be one of the three key drivers of personal and organisational achievement

The key thing that stood out for me was that what women were wanting was inherently human needs, to give back, and to make a difference.  It’s important to women to achieve this.

The difference is that as women we navigate a different terrain than men, we have to push through inequality and challenges that men do not have to.  I look forward to a world where women don’t have to have specific strategies to manage and navigate these challenges. The energy and effort it takes to do so could be utilised so much more productively for women and the organisations that they work for.  This contributes significantly to the amount of highly talented women who leave the corporate world to focus their careers in environments where they can add value and feel valued or by starting their own businesses.   Organisations are missing out with this migration. Consumers are noticing and actively looking at the ratio of women in C-Suite positions as a factor of whether to invest or buy products.

In what ways are you on a crusade about gender equality?

By educating leaders and businesses of the biases that exist, the disadvantage they face by losing the talents of over half of the population. Organisations that embrace diversity in all forms perform better. Having a balanced workforce provides a stronger bottom line, creates more innovative solutions and enables both men and women to live a rich and fulfilled life.

How do you see women’s issues as distinct to human issues?

We have fallen into a spiral of belief around fundamentally human issues that are labelled as women’s issues. I’m frustrated with messages that are ingrained about women that flood our culture professionally and in the media.  This often results in women and men behaving as if these beliefs are true. It’s time for fresh thinking on the topic of women work and leadership. It’s time we changed the landscape.

It’s time to move from Surviving to Thriving in our lives holistically.  A shift in mind-set and checking in on the beliefs that we accept as true could be a valuable exercise to invest in.

When we allow human issues to be labelled as Women’s issues we devalue the contribution women make.   Issues such as:

  • Limiting Beliefs
  • Self Sabotage
  • Imposter Syndrome
  • Perfectionism
  • Invisible Syndrome
  • Queen Bee – this is one of my personal favourites. This is a personality issue and a demonstration of poor leadership.

All of the above are human issues not women’s issues however research has typically focused on these very human issues as women’s deficits.  And we have been buying into it! Think about the behaviours that result when we believe this to be true? Think about the behaviours towards women in Leadership roles when others believe this to be true?

What do you think about the ways women are positioned as problems to be fixed?

Fix solve and save is a trap that we can all fall into regardless of gender, again very human.  In professional environments and in life we are trained to solve, therefore this is compounded. I have to breathe deeply when I observe the attitude or ‘fixing women’.

We need to Create Awareness from the three lens of:

Self: what’s my part in this?

Other: How do I educate others and share a new perspective?

Environment: How do we step into our Leadership and course correct when labelling and fixing occurs?

Seeing ourselves as ‘Creative, Resourceful and Whole’ a key coaching foundation is an important mantra to anchor to.  If we are grounded here, the belief is that nothing is broken and nothing needs to be fixed. This is a healthier place to create from.

The language we use is also important. How to say it for Women written by Phyliss Mindell is an excellent resource for both women and men.  In her book Mindell talks about the overuse of ‘I’ messages, and this is a simple strategy to use that has a significant impact.

How do we change the landscape of what is attributed to women’s issues and why?

It’s time to change the landscape is a phrase I use regularly in my work, and is the title of my keynote.  The time is well overdue for us to disentangle what is attributed as ‘Women’s issues’.  This will free up our thinking, focus our efforts with more clarity around the key issues that women face due to the inequality of our workplaces.

  • Australia’s gender pay gap is rising not falling and currently sits at 18.8% according to the EOWA
  • The British gender pay gap sits at 13.9% 
  • The projected dates around the globe of up to 170 years before the pay gap is closed.  More needs to be done to bring this back to a more immediate timeframe.
  • Information on global pay gaps can be found at The Global Gender Pay Gap Report 

What’s your take on Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a very human issue, one that can be faced at different stages in life and career. It can be a mild intrusion on our lives and what we achieve can be the seeds of severe anxiety capping potential and negatively impacting both physical and mental health and wellbeing. Most of the research into imposter syndrome has been conducted with groups of women, typically in the age from 30+ that feeds the narrative that women are someone more disposed to this very human affliction.

Having coached both women and men across different sectors and life stages in the past 17 years, as many men as women encounter this as a barrier. Getting support, and having strategies to manage this and ourselves is important. It helps to distinguish imposter syndrome from fear, and the reality of the situation. It also normalises this resulting in the person feeling less isolated or feeling like there is something wrong with them.

You say “For every Queen Bee there’s a King Bruce” tell us about how this works.

Queen Bee is a narrative that has been embedded into our culture; the mean girl!  It’s a set of behaviours attributed to women, which of course, is not exclusive to women.  By feeding this narrative both unconsciously and consciously we create a bias, resulting in behaviours and outcomes that are not justified. It creates prejudice and limits potential.

What is the Invisible Syndrome?

Being seen and heard is a fundamental human need.  Invisible syndrome is the definition that is attributed when people feel the impact of not feeling seen or heard.  Research on invisible syndrome again can often be focused on women focusing on ageing women. The invisible women’s syndrome is often how it is phrased again feeding the narrative of value, youth and a limited view of beauty.

It is also focused on the elderly who can feel isolated and lonely.  When people are feeling the impact of this it’s real for them, they are not contributing because they do not feel like their contributions are valued.  Supporting people who are having this experience is incredibly important.

It’s a very human condition that we can also influence ourselves by how we conduct our lives. Borrowing from Stephen Covey’s circles of influence (a great tool), we can identify what’s out of our control, and what’s in our sphere of influence and in our control. This is a very valuable exercise to do and can create some momentum to moving forward.

What unity do you see between the genders?

I see both unity and a lack of unity between genders.  Unity will come when we consciously design our lives so that together we have fulfilled and meaningful lives.  This starts in our own relationships in how we model behaviours and educate our children or the young people we have influence with.

Alignment about how we want to live, how we want to be involved in our families lives whether this involves parenting our own children, or the children that are in our lives through relationship or extended family. Modelling this unity is a great place to start – “Be the change you want to see” by Ghandi is a powerful quote to live by.

How do we restore confidence in women and men?

By opening up authentic conversations and alignment through shared challenges and understanding the challenges we each face. It’s so easy to sit in the place of “no one gets my struggle” yet this puts blinkers on us and shuts down any effective dialogue.

Confidence is overrated, as is not feeling fear.  Some of the best achievements,and biggest mountains conquered were done in a state of lack of confidence. It’s a bit like waiting for motivation before you exercise.  No, just have your routine set, trainers and running gear ready to go, lock in accountability (run with a friend) and the motivation will come later.

I see confidence like this, if we wait to build confidence first we would never achieve anything.  Create a structure, lock in accountability and invest in lifting your skills and capability. Then as the famous “philosopher” Kevin Costner said (in a Field of Dreams) ‘Build it and they will come’. Build the structure, get out there and do the thing you want to do or a part of it and confidence will come!

What are your thoughts on the need for women to use powerful language and gestures?

The wonder woman pose coined by Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy comes to mind and that’s a useful hack. Her TED talk is worth watching.

Michael a client I coached years ago was struggling to get a word in at senior leadership meetings he attended weekly.  We worked with his posture, anchored some positive emotions to the gestures that began with him subtly adjusting his posture.  It proved to be very effective. This was 15 years ago, and he still uses it when needed.

Powerful language that talks to the situation and removes the ‘I’ focus is very powerful.  We can tend to overuse ‘I’ messages, I think, I feel, I believe are phrases that many communication experts recommend.  The thing to be mindful of is that whilst this can serve well in personal relationships it can weaken language and impact in professional environments.

The most important foundation is to stay authentically to who you are because once we stray from who we are it all falls flat.

What’s your hunch about the percentage of high achieving women leaving corporate roles due to chronic fatigue? 

This is an area where women are impacted more than men due to typically taking on more of the child rearing responsibilities and home duties than men.  This creates a cycle of exhaustion, guilt and feeling of not doing anything ‘well enough’.  A study from the university of Kansas (focusing on journalism) showed that women are burning out faster than men. This is something I witness in the work I do; unrealistic expectations, the additional stress of feeling that they need to work harder and prove themselves adds to this. Real work needs to be done shifting the cultures of organisations highlighting the bias that exists. Looking after ourselves, our wellbeing and setting firm boundaries is key. We can back ourselves and do a lot of self-care, however, we also need organisations that we work for to do the same.

What historic conditioning do you see mothers buying into still?

Historic conditioning is part of our DNA and the key is to catch it as it happens.  Some conditioning includes:

  • Be a good girl – the emphasis and identity centres on youth and beauty
  • Nurturing roles as uniquely female trait; gentleness, quietness and disapproval that comes when this is not adhered to.  There is a terrific video (watch it here) that shows how simple it is to break gender conditioning produced called Re Draw the balance that shows a teacher asking children to draw a fire fighter, a surgeon and other professional roles. Only 5 were drawn as women with 61 drawn as men. There is a beautiful moment when the camera focuses on one young girl with the look of wonder on her face.

How do you create space in your life?

  • I focus on the basics of health and well-being, I prioritise sleep, eat well and exercise.
  • I’m conscious of how to keep myself well and plan for this.
  • I’m very clear about what I say Yes to and what I say No to.  I use this as a simple formula, if I say Yes to X, what am I saying No to. If I say No to X what am I saying Yes to? This gives me room to breathe, and space to spend time with those I love.  There are times when the balance tips, we all sprint at times, I sprinted to write my book. I had space planned at the end of this. It’s when there is no rest after the sprints that the alarm bells toll and if we don’t heed this we fall over.

You used to skydive, what are the links between this extreme sport and being an entrepreneur? 

What a great question Danusia, I’ve never thought about this link before.  For me skydiving was something I wanted to try, you know tick if off the list.  I did my first jump and it scared the pants off me. I wanted to get beyond the sheer terror of it and get to a point where I could do a back flip out of the plane inspired by the Patrick Swayze film Point Break when he did just that.  I wanted to be able to function when experiencing fear.

This theme spreads across significant milestones in my life  – Moving out of home when I was 19, leaving for Asia/Europe when I was 21, launching myself into my first start-up when I was 24 and selling my share of this when I was 34.

As Susan Scott Jeffers eloquently expressed in her book title – Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, I felt the fear and did it anyway. The links on reflection are:

  • I launched in without knowing the outcome
  • Sought out mentors /teachers to help me
  • Didn’t allow the opinions of others to stop me from chasing my goals
  • Focus: when you skydive 100% focus is required. There was a saying in the sport, “if at first you don’t succeed skydiving is not for you”.  When it comes to mistakes its an unforgiving sport.  I had a laser like focus when I worked, some of this was due to the usual human conditions and reactions to not wanting to fail, with a bit of proving myself thrown in (I was often 10 years younger than my clients who were mostly male) and some of it was down to having clear goals that I was working towards.
  • I was comfortable with uncertainty. Maybe a bit too comfortable! When I arrived in London after 9 months travelling around Europe via Asia, (I had cashed in my return ticket), I arrived in the UK with 40 pounds in my pocket. I didn’t know anyone and just got on with it. Within 24 hours I had a job, some new friends and created a life which ended up being 17 wonderful years in London, a fabulous city to grow in.

When I decided to sell my shares in the company I had helped to grow, I again had to jump into the abyss of the unknown.  I dived into a change bomb removing all the security I had surrounded myself in, work and my Company which linked to my identity and the end of a marriage.  It was a lot to move away from in one hit and again, none of it was easy. However I got through it.  I have always held a belief that no matter what happens in my life I’d deal with it, this has been with me for as long as I can remember.  I come from a long line of strong women.

How do you relate to the pressures on women to look younger than their age?

So many women feel under pressure to adhere to an image of youth, it’s a tough one to unpack in a short conversation.   It feels like it’s getting worse and starting younger than I remember, or is this just because I’m older and I notice it more.  The choices we make as a result of these pressures are up to us and us alone.  Whether or not we buy into it is not always easy when the norm is a culture of look younger.

One of my female clients (works at senior C –Suite level) talked about the pressure she felt and the link to career success or not. She remarked ‘you don’t see many grey haired women here’ referring to the pressure she felt there was to look younger (colouring her hair, botox etc.).  I make choices for my life based on what’s right for me from a holistic point of view.  I think its important for all women to make choices based on what is best for them, and this won’t be the same for all women.

What would you like to see happen in the next five years in the diversity and inclusion space?

I would like to see more tolerance and understanding of how others choose to live and express their lives. I want to see the gender inequality addressed and the pay gap to be as extinct as dinosaurs. To see this a lot earlier than the projected and accepted timeframes of 2058 which will mean that most women working today will not experience equality in pay.

What’s next for you professionally? 

I love the work I do and feel incredibly privileged to be in this industry where I feel I can make a difference.  I will continue to invest in my learning and development, push the boundaries of what I feel is possible and leap into the unknown.

I am excited that I don’t really know what that means. I do know that it will stretch me, challenge me and have me grow.  This is something I see myself doing for as long as possible. What that will be called, or look like, I’m not sure – which is the best part.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children).

We have the choice of growing into our lives (beyond and during child rearing years) or the choice of losing ourselves.

Women are having diverse experiences beyond children, some feel lost and without purpose, some feel free to pursue their lives in a way they may not have felt possible before, and others continue to live and grow throughout the journey and cycle of motherhood.

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Nancy Reid

Nancy Reid designs learning experiences for entrepreneurs, private investors, and philanthropists.

She serves as Chair for TIGER 21 in Seattle, as Director for Seattle Impact Investing Group, and consults on other projects that bring capital and opportunity together to change the world.

She began her career leading business units for a diversified media company. After business school, she spent a few years at Lehman Brothers and its successor firm, where she learned the mechanics and vagaries of the global capital markets. Since 2010, she has composed experiential learning groups to provide investors with unique insights and opportunities at TIGER 21. In 2015, she began to work with a group of impact investors affiliated with Toniic.


Who are the members of your family?

My husband of seven years, Will, and our two kids— aged 2 and 4. 

What does your career look like?

I began my career working five years in sales and management roles in my family’s business.  Getting an MBA was my ticket out of the family business in the Midwest of the US, and also helped me launch a career in finance.  I studied at Dartmouth and at the London Business School, and was confident and ambitious when I joined Lehman Brothers in 2006.

By the time Lehman went bankrupt in 2008, I had lost my faith in the traditional mathematics of finance.  And I’d lost my faith in the respected institutions that govern our economy.  Regrouping for my next move, I was repeatedly asked, “what do you WANT?”  And over many conversations, I developed my answer: while I wasn’t sure what my ideal job title would be, I knew I wanted to work at the intersection of the four things I cared the most about:

o   Communicating with clarity and style;

o   Understanding the global financial markets deeply;

o   Using wealth for the greater global good; and

o   Growing businesses—selling!—from a place of service.

Since then, I’ve found my way into work that has brought me deeper into these themes.  I ran a $100 million capital campaign for a NYC nonprofit as an interim campaign director, I sold memberships to a membership organisation for private investors, and now I work with a few groups of private investors to sharpen their judgment, deepen their empathy, and align their financial decisions with their greater purpose.

What is it you do in your career?

Mainly, I facilitate two small cohorts of wealthy investors.  Each group meets monthly and acts as an external board of advisors for its members’ investing and philanthropic decisions.  This means I identify new members and design the composition of the groups; design the overall curriculum and each meeting’s agenda; and serve as an ambassador to the broader community on behalf of the groups.

What does this look like?  I work from home four days a week, bustling off to many many many meetings, and managing great volumes of email and phone calls in between.  On Fridays I stay home with my infant son.

How have you designed your career?

The last time I worked full time, the stress was so acute that I developed some minor but chronic health problems.  I decided in 2012 that I wanted to work for myself.  Since then, I’ve transitioned to a contractor for my former employer, added another contract client, and cultivated a few other smaller projects (consulting to a startup impact film platform, delivering training courses on impact investing and gender lens investing on behalf of two additional clients, and a small amount of work with individual investors).

What are the non-negotiables in your life? And in your career?

I can’t think of any.

Most of the time I decline dinners, happy hours, travel, and meeting with people who are rude to me.  And most of the time, I like to be in bed by 9:00 pm.  But there are exceptions to all of these rules.

What do you prioritise as a career woman and mother of two children under five?

Protein at breakfast, gallons of coffee before noon, early bedtime.  I’m often asked to help people with career transitions and job searches, and I consider this to be a privilege—I try to help everyone I can if they come to me for help.  Especially the women.

What battles do you choose to engage with?

With my kids, we don’t have many rules—they eat like animals, dress like clowns, and are generally dirty.  But hitting, biting, and screaming are not permitted.  They always go to bed in clean clothes (albeit the next day’s clothes!).  Feet on the table are not permitted.  Food and drinks of any kind are not permitted outside the kitchen and dining room.  And I insist on hearing “may I please” and “thank you”.

In my house, I’m really rigorous about tidying up.

In my marriage, we don’t have many battles.  I’m very lucky to have married an absolutely amazing guy, and we regain equilibrium fairly quickly whenever we’re out of balance.  We’re really in love and we both work hard to keep it that way.  True story.

How do make space for yourself?  

I hire a wonderful woman to clean my house every two weeks.  I block out an entire day to rest and recuperate after major work events.  I stay home with my son every Friday and try not to schedule much.  I hire my son’s caregiver to pick him up and drop him off at my house (I call it “valet service”) when my husband is out of town (which is often).  I have a wonderful assistant who takes care of some of the tedious stuff 3-5 hours a week.  And I have developed a dependency on over-the-counter sleep aids so that I can ensure a good night’s sleep every night, despite my kids’ occasional interruptions.

There is no showreel version.

How are women wasting their time?  

Everybody wastes time, and I waste a TON of time puttering on my phone.  But it’s restful for me.  Talking with people is usually NOT restful for me, so I try not to waste too much time in conversation with people.  Early in my career, quite often women would want to chat with me about clothes, or hair and makeup, or other stuff that (to me) isn’t all that important.  I used to wonder, if women stopped spending the first 10% of every conversation complimenting each other on each other’s shoes, wouldn’t they be 10% more effective?

To be clear, I love talking about clothes and hair sometimes.  But doing so with everyone, as a habit or a way to establish rapport among women, is an enormous misallocation of resources.

I’ve heard you say ‘why waste decisions on dumb shit?’ Could you say more about that?

Neuroscience tells us that we can’t make good decisions all day—after a while, we get “decision fatigue”.  This is why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same thing every day.  A lot of high-functioning men do.  When I was working full time, I wore the same thing every day too.  My work uniform consisted of ugly boring high heels, a black pencil skirt, and a drapey sweater set.

Now that I work for myself, I have a little more latitude and I’m actually trying to get away from the uniform.  But I still wear the same jewelry every day.  I actually never take it off.  Why waste the time and energy on these decisions, when I could be using my bandwidth to better understand the economy, or design a dinner party menu?  Or just think?

What are you most rigorous about?

I’m really fastidious about organizing my house.  We don’t have a ton of space, and I’m really sensitive to clutter.  So I try to use all of our space wisely, and to keep only those things that matter, and to provide those things with a home so that everything can be put away.  I haven’t read Marie Kondo, but she’s my soul sister.  And it’s not because I’m ashamed of our stuff, or afraid of what people will think.  It’s because an organized house truly brings me great satisfaction, and clutter truly drives me nuts.

I’m really rigorous about email.  I read and process everything.  Sometimes it takes a few weeks, but I try to get to inbox as often as possible.

What I’m NOT rigorous about: I don’t own an iron, I don’t make my bed, I don’t fold the kids’ clothes, I don’t have grass in my yard because I don’t want to mow it, I don’t join stuff that will require me to show up regularly.

What was the turning point for you in getting organised?

In 2008, a woman I know was looking for a place to stay during a transition in her life, and I invited her to stay in my apartment for a couple of months.  She was a professional organizer, and she paid rent by organizing my whole life: books, files, toiletries, clothes, kitchen stuff.  By the end of the time she was there I had given away a truckload of stuff, and I had a great sense of joy and clarity.  My poor husband has had to conform to my organizational regime, and he’s been a very good sport about it.  As a result we live in a space I find beautiful and spacious.  Totally worth it.

What is ‘the work’ you’re having to do right now?

We’ve recently had to rearrange the rooms in my modest-sized house to make room for the baby.  It’s required us to—yet again—give away a lot of stuff.  And now that I’m done having babies, I’ve been releasing all the baby stuff—maternity clothes, newborn gear, all of it.  It’s a lot of work but feels terrific.

I’m also re-evaluating my work in light of how things are in the world right now.  A handful of opportunities have come my way—job interviews, collaborators, potential clients—and it’s forcing me to greater and greater clarity about exactly what work I’m most called to do.  As Christiane Northrup says, this is a process, not an event!

How do you plan for the future?

I have a document on my phone that I write and re-write almost daily.  It’s a series of vision statements for my future—at age 40, 50, and 60.  Each vignette describes my future home, family, relationships, career, finances, travels, and major projects.  I’ve got balance sheets, mortgage payoff schedules, key metrics in my business life, specific skills I’d like to develop and help my kids develop.  Some of it seemed outrageous when I first thought it up (a six month sabbatical in Uruguay, a black belt in Kung Fu, a colorful investment portfolio) but I’ve got each of the vignettes broken down into little steps.  And each month, I chisel off a few of the steps and try to move forward.  Often, there are things I can ask for help with—of my husband, a friend, my assistant, or someone else.  Thankfully, I don’t have to do all the heavy lifting.

I also keep a list of “awesome things we’ve done this year”, and it’s pretty amazing to look back at how far we’ve come each of the past five years especially.  Looking back at this list is especially important when I’m in the thick of sleep deprivation and feeling disappointed in myself professionally for not doing everything perfectly.

What’s your greatest gifts?

I’m a good translator–I’m able to help people understand each other despite differences in training and vocabulary.

I can bring people together and invite them to share deeply.

My work humanizes the investment conversation—which I believe is extremely valuable in the world right now.

Where do you see yourself personally and professionally as you marry career and children?

I’ll probably never work a full time job again.  I really appreciate the flexibility and autonomy of working for myself.  A friend recently described me as having “gone feral” because she can’t imagine that I’ll ever be “domesticated” back into a full-time workplace.  I find this hilariously apt.   

In the have-it-all-debate, what’s the elephant in the room?


I grew up in a family business, and despite not having inherited any significant wealth, I’ve benefited from privilege in many ways as I’ve built my career.  

We pay an enormous amount of money for basic childcare for both kids, as well as for the other people who help us make it all work—our sitter, the woman who cleans our house, my assistant, an accountant, etc.  

We’re not saving nearly enough money for retirement right now, but we are getting by.  Maintaining our careers through these early years of parenting is our big investment. If we weren’t earning enough money to make this investment, it would be very difficult to do.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

To some extent we’re all in two places at once.  We can never be fully present, because somewhere in our minds and hearts, we’re vigilant.  Where are my kids right now?  Who’s watching them?  Do they have everything they need?  It feels like anxiety, and maybe it is.  I don’t enjoy this aspect of motherhood, and I hope it dissolves a bit as they get older.  

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Vanessa Vallely OBE

Vanessa Vallely is one of the UK’s most well-networked women and has provided keynotes on a variety of career related topics for over 250 companies worldwide. Vanessa is also one of the UK’s most prominent figures in gender equality and often provides guidance and consultancy to both government and corporate organisations who are seeking to attract, develop and retain their female talent. At the height of her successful 25-year career in the financial services, Vanessa launched the award winning WeAreTheCity in 2008 as a vehicle to help corporate women connect and grow professionally and personally. now has over 60,000 members and in 2013 launched a sister site in India.

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Amanda Ready

Amanda Ready is the President and Founder of Ready to Empower. Ready is a Licensed Mental Health Therapist and her experience includes individual and group Counselling for Family, Children and adolescents, Case Management, Non-Profit Startups, Program Developing and Public speaking. Ready has a BA from the Baptist College of Florida and an MS in Mental Health Counselling from Mercy College and Ready attended The Ackerman Institute for the Family to practice Family Therapy.

In addition, Ready authored “Something’s Wrong at Mason’s Home,” a children’s book created to help educate, protect and break the silence about family violence. Furthermore, Ready won three awards in 2014; the Unsung Hero Award given by the Westchester Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect for outstanding achievement in protecting the safety and well-being of Westchester’s children, the Westchester’s 40 under 40,” Rising Star Award” given by The Business Council of Westchester and in 2015; the Generosity Award. Most recently, Ready has won the 2015 Amway Hero Award in the category of “Generosity”. This award recognizes the commitment one person makes to improving the world through extraordinary volunteerism or philanthropy.

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family? 

Amanda: I’m a single, 36 year old with no children- though my future plans are to adopt. I live in New York and my family are all in Alabama. My family include: my Mother Dixie Glover, my older sister Keisha Schermerhorn, my younger sister Gypsy Glover and new additions to the family include: Brother in Law Jimmy Schermerhorn and Nephew Rykar Schermerhorn. My father whom I only met a few years ago signed his rights away at a young age and he has two other children in his family

You began a quest originally to learn Spanish as a resource in your therapy practice, how did you end up creating Ready to Empower Foundation?

I visited San Ramón, Costa Rica, for three months during the summer of 2013.  After working at a Costa Rican orphanage, I  became concerned about the types of support services offered to mothers wanting to keep and care for their children. So I ventured into a nearby village where I was introduced to a group of jobless, uneducated women without adequate health care living in poverty and with no long-term support or solutions. Having experience working in social services and the mental health field, and with the support of local volunteers, I set up support systems, including job training, individual and group counselling, emergency assistance, and fitness classes for these women.

Once I returned to the United States, and using personal funds to carry out my vision in Costa Rica I realized additional support was needed so I founded Ready to Empower Inc (RTE Inc.) in 2013. In 2014 RTE was awarded 501c3 tax exempt status and launched its first chapter, Mujeres de Cambio (Women of Change), in Costa Rica in 2014. Mujeres de Cambio is run solely by local Costa Ricans who use RTE’s Work for Service, Mental Health, Emergency Relief, and Fitness programs to empower their nearby poverty-stricken communities. Mujeres de Cambio provides hundreds of women with mental, physical and economic support to bring them one step closer to their goals of self-reliance and to improve their overall quality of life.

As RTE looks into the future, MDC will one day function independently of Ready to Empower.

Ultimately. RTE envisions self-sustaining chapters throughout the world. Our vision is to see a world where local leaders are equipped to help empower women within their poverty-stricken community.

What support programs for mothers were there when you arrived?

There was a government program that helps poverty stricken men and women to an extent with food, legal advice and temporary shelter for domestic violence. However, there are limited resources and large numbers of people needing support. Many women were waiting in line for hours just in hopes for an appointment to get support which unfortunately cannot help with long term solutions for change. Additionally domestic violence agencies charge for their services and religious organizations focused on children’s needs and provided some opportunities for helping with women finishing their high school degree or finish elementary.

Many of the orphans are products of rape, what happens to them if their Mothers cannot afford to keep them or do not want to raise them?

The main reasons for children in orphanages result from:

  • Rape
  • Domestic violence
  • Poor living conditions
  • Abuse
  • Family members who are dangerous (many families all live together under one roof)
  • Malnutrition in both child and mother

Many mothers who have to give up their child or have their child removed are provided assistance through certain government programs to try to help mothers legally, however, there is a waiting list.  Mothers, in addition, have to receive therapy and parenting classes and our program in Costa Rica offers this service and we are now getting referrals from government agencies to help with this process. Most mothers need support mentally because of their traumatic upbringings as well.

When the government takes children from a home because of poor living conditions, neglect, lack of funds to provide for their child, abuse etc. the child is placed in two types of homes depending on availability and the situation with the mother. If a child’s mother wants to have a relationship with a child and is wanting to eventually get her child back then the child will go to an orphanage that allows the parent to have contact with her child. The hopes are that the child can eventually be reconnected if she can meet whatever guidelines the government ask of her.

The 2nd option is the child who has been removed or dropped off with a parent not wanting to have access to the child, he or she will go to an orphanage. (Not all mothers want to keep their child because they feel that they can not provide for the child and would hope that they can be adopted or if the child is a product of a rape the mother may not be able to emotionally manage raising the child).

Because birth control is taboo in the women’s culture often times they get pregnant more often than desired. In addition, with lack of sex education, the women in the community put themselves at risk with prostitution as well.  Our program provides free birth control, condoms and sanitary napkins.

What questions in your intake meeting do you ask the mothers in order to know if RTE can support them?

We ask a variety of questions in order to help the mothers. These include:

  • Medical questions
  • Demographic questions
  • Family questions
  • Mental health questions
  • Socio-Economic questions
  • Academic questions
  • Work skill and job history questions
  • Personality questions

Many if not all of the mothers have suffered traumatic events (abuse, suicide attempts, rape, for instance) what is the therapeutic program they take part in?

We provide free individual therapy with a psychologist, group therapy led by a psychologist. Health/fun days during the month led by volunteers, social worker or psychologist.

You created a Craft program for senior women could you tell us what that is?

Women in our program range in age from late teens to mid-80’s. For the women who are in their senior years’ job opportunities are far more difficult to find.  So given this, I had to come up with a plan that would meet each person’s needs – the job program I created years ago was to help empower women to empower themselves. The Work for Service Program is a short-term job training and educational program that helps RTE participants become more employable and less reliant on charity by providing them with the opportunity to work in exchange for in-kind goods and services including medical and dental care, basic toiletries, and more. RTE and our sister programs collaborate with local businesses to provide job opportunities/internships to provide women on-the site job training to build skills and build relationships in the community as well as networking opportunities.

When I realized women in their senior years were not being offered internships, I decided to create a craft and jewellery group. Many of the senior women were in our mental health program already battling depression and often contemplating suicide. I decided a craft and jewellery group would be an option and that women could create recyclable material for RTE to give as incentives for people to donate to the cause. By placing senior women in internships in our main office they were able to regain confidence and a zeal for life. In addition, I wanted to give them a role of teaching others so they could share wisdom with other women entering the program. When new participants are accepted into the program senior women observe the work ethic and teach women different tasks and report to the director of the program weekly. This process of giving senior aged women a purpose and a sense of belonging changes lives because we all need to feel our life matters.

What items do you provide freely for the mothers? Tell us about the Ready to Shop Room, what does this provide for mothers? How can readers help with this?

RTE’s Ready to Shop room offers women in our Work for Service program the opportunity to go into our Ready to Shop Room and select a certain amount of items such as clothing, shoes, hygiene products, jewellery, underwear and bras. The women in our Work for Service program work to shop in the Ready to Shop room and therefore earned the items in the room  – it’s important to not items they choose are not seen as charitable handouts.

Donations provided to RTE afford us the opportunity to provide a somewhat realistic shopping setting to help women feel empowered and less shameful while selecting items they want or need.

Furthermore, if Ready to Empower has the funds and/or receives donations to provide other types of care if requested, we offer birth control and a monthly limited supply of condoms and sanitary pads.

Why have you chosen to invest in long-term change rather than only hand out food and clothes?

Each person has their potential and when you invest in their individuality, skills and mental health a natural chain reaction will occur. I wouldn’t want someone just giving me or my mother or other family members only food and clothes etc because I know we have so much more potential than just having our basic needs met. Investing in a person’s potential isn’t easy and getting that person to see that they are more than a beggar is also a challenge. Encouraging long-term solutions is not the easy path but for me, it’s the path that  I deserve and so do others. Providing basic needs and long-term solutions for change is a great combo. I know that the woman I am today and the woman I am becoming is because people throughout my life have seen potential in me and they got to know me as an individual. People invest not only into meeting just my basic needs, they invest in my dreams and my potential because we need to know we have potential even when we can’t recognize it ourselves. The key for long-term solutions for change are patience, structured planning, hard work, mental health support and empathy.

What stereotyped views of mother’s challenge them in finding work locally?

Some of the women are immigrants and people don’t want to work with them. Additionally, they appear/are poor because of their clothing and hygiene plus the villages they live in are known for drugs, prostitution and theft.

Your vision for RTE is that it will run independent of you, how are you investing in local leaders to one day take the helm?

We are developing a sustainable and replicable business model that supports existing organizations in poor communities around the world who focus on women’s empowerment services and strive to provide its clients with job opportunities.

We are becoming a conduit of funds and support between business leaders in the US and targeted support organizations.

My normal routine weekly and monthly includes providing guidance to the leaders through educating, modelling, and providing tools to support their dream of empowering their community. I work to help them with the structure of board meetings, social services support, database reports to provide to funders, marketing and outreach, budgeting and other necessary skills to help guide them to ultimately have a self-sustaining organization without needing to rely fully on Ready to Empower for support.

Can you tell us about the results of RTE in the lives of mothers and their children?

Mothers  in our program have not had their children removed since beginning working with us

Mothers in our program who had children removed before  have had their children placed back in their care

Mothers secured employment after working in our Work for Service program

Mothers secured internships in the community giving in-kind goods to provide food and clothing for their family

Mothers improved their health ( i.e dental work, doctor visits, medication, eyeglasses, and with the use of hygiene products)

Mothers received protection orders in regards to domestic violence

Mother’s have been able to decrease their suicidal ideation and attempts

Mother’s have found acceptance and new healthy friendships attending different events, training and fun outgoings.

Mother’s receive clothing and beauty products to increase their self-esteem and overall image.

What is it about your relationship with your own mother that’s the quiet undercurrent reason for RTE?

I have an amazing relationship with my mother. We talk daily and support each other through everything. My mother was a single mom with 3 children and was surrounded in her life by unhealthy people growing up that tried to harm her both emotionally and physically. Watching her try and protect us and raise us without being able to help herself, was truly sad. My mother was limited in her options in life because children came first in her eyes. The problem with that mentality is that she actually needed someone to tell her she actually comes first. My mother needed someone to encourage, guide, direct, motivate, support and believe in her because this type of support would have allowed my mom to provide even more amazing support to us her children. I watched my mother try and raise us every day and I saw her not have any outlet for fun or enjoyment.  I saw her working and going to school and trying to be there for us while she tried keeping her head on straight. If my mom had been given the chance to have a mentor when she was such a young mom, I believe she would have been able to feel more supported and motivated.  My mom taught us unconditional love and because of her showing me that, I truly put that into my work with RTE. She was forgiving, merciful, understanding, driven and selfless. I always wanted for my mom to have experienced the same qualities she showed me and my sisters. I know that the reason I see others and the world the way I do is because of the love and support she gave me. In regards to RTE I put that same love into motion. I call it “Dixie love”. Dixie is my mother’s name. When I see the mothers that we work with in our programs, I always picture them as being my mother. I always feel they need to know they are important and they need the same care and love as they are trying to provide for their children and I want them to have the chance to have that too.

You describe yourself as a simple woman, what do you mean by this?

Doing community service work since a teenager has impacted my perception; I enjoy a simplistic living because I really feel I am rich in so many ways. I have so much even if from the outside perspective, I appear not so rich. It is hard for me to believe I am not living a life full of everything my heart could desire. There is so much suffering going on in the world and I find it hard to complain about much. I do spend money on things outside of helping people. I love traveling, seeing my family in Alabama, I use good face cream, I enjoy nice fun events with my friends, I enjoy drinking lattes from my latte machine I got for christmas and I love growing plants and when someone buys me a gift certificate to get a massage that is always a real treat. I work a job during the day as a bilingual therapist and 3 nights during the week I work till around 9:30 doing private practice. I work these jobs to cover my expenses and to save money so that I can one day buy a simple home. I like the idea of growing my own food and relaxing after a long day.

How do you deal with ongoing guilt as a blessed woman?

This is a battle for me because I know that I am living a good life and truly the things I spend money on aren’t always so important. I think of refugees and immigrants and mothers who need to feed their children or need medicine. This reality makes it impossible for me not to feel some social responsibility to be aware of my spending. I would want someone to be doing the same for me if I was in need. I would want someone thinking of me and my mother and family and choosing to spend less to give more.  So very little goes so far. I know many people say “ Amanda, you have to treat yourself too” but the thing is I actually do. I enjoy fun things, I just don’t go overboard. I have no debt to my name, I don’t owe anyone any money. I don’t live above my means. I spend money here and there to travel to see my family and to see new places. I have spent money on my education, on decorating my apartment, dinners from time to time and other things that I save for or desire to be adventurous and try. I just don’t over-spend or borrow money to appear that I am wealthier than I am.  I also enjoy very easy going activities and yes the cheaper the activity the more fun for me at times because I feel I can use money to help myself and others. I really have to believe that someone would do the same for me. I can’t imagine there not being a woman thinking of me and my family if we were hungry and poor and being aware that saving a little to help could change our lives. Knowing I have the ability to do that is just unreal because it actually is very simple to do.  Growing up without a lot, I still had a lot compared to others. I was born in a country that provided welfare systems, food stamps, grants for school, student loans, credit cards, employment opportunities, equality, freedom of speech, charity organizations and education. From the day I was born, I had people care about me and my well being by just having access to those opportunities. Not to mention, the unconditional love that I was shown from my mother. Despite how turbulent sometimes my childhood was at times, I was already provided so much support before I eventually stepped into this world.  I just feel those same support systems and blessings should be freely provided to others as well.

How fair is it to say that relieving suffering is at the heart of all your work and how does this affect the way you choose to live and have relationships?

I would say this type of work keeps life in perspective. Even when I dread going to a doctor appt or dentist etc… I don’t complain because I realize how many women are wishing to have this experience. When I feel hungry and start to get a little irritable, I am able to stop myself and realize just how not starving I am. When I am tired at work and annoyed, I am able to remind myself how lucky I am to have a job. I can say the people I try to help also help me daily. I need them as much as maybe they need me. In regards, to my dating life, most of the time my simple spending isn’t a problem. There have been many occasions where I have taken a gift back and returned it because I don’t care for jewellery and or always name brand clothes. I would rather have the money to split up and use on buying me many different practical gifts instead of just one big gift. I have had many men say that it is very hard to know how to buy a gift for me. However, once someone gets to know me, they begin to see the things that make me happy and can start meeting my needs. Practical and sentimental gifts truly make me smile and feel supported and loved.

In regards to the relieving suffering, I will say being a therapist and daily hearing sadness and people’s problems and then running organizations that are often full of challenging and sad situations can be mentally draining. To help me manage all of that and keep my sanity, I surround myself with fun and loving people and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. I also make sure I am talking to someone about my stress levels and making sure that I am getting the emotional support I need to keep moving and shaking.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

Unconditional love, resilience, strategic skills, multitasking and selflessness

Click on the links below to connect with Amanda and Ready to Empower on social media





Bev Shah

Bhavini Shah, who reluctantly admits having shortened her birth name to ‘Bev’ in the past to improve her employment opportunities, has over fifteen years’ experience working in the City as an Investor for some of the world’s biggest financial institutions.

Following some soul searching after the birth of her children and loss of both her parents in close proximity, she found herself questioning her own legacy and felt a strong pull to give something back.

This inspired her to set-up City Hive, a women’s network with a true vision for change: uniting, supporting and championing her peers but also challenging attitudes towards gender diversity, and ultimately attracting more women to the asset and investment management industry through a re-think of its entire culture.

As a British-Indian, dyslexic, mother, she embodies true diversity.

School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family?

My husband, Jonny and my children Jack and Kareena. We are a tight family unit who enjoy PJ weekends watching movies squashed together on the sofa and larking about.

What were you like as a child?

My mother always said I was a content child happy to get my hands dirty making mud pies. She’d pick me up from school and I’d insist on keeping my coat done up, I’d say “Mum don’t look at my clothes and shoes” so I could get them straight into the washing machine – I didn’t want to disappoint her! Jack, my young son, is always breaking stuff and I remember that I was a bit like that. I’m still like that now though – I don’t have an OCD compulsion that lots of people have, striving for an image of perfection.

My teachers branded me a ‘chatter-box’ who always pushed myself to the front of everything to see what was going on and to get involved. I found it easy to make friends but didn’t need to have any. I was always quite a loner as a child, not in the sense that I couldn’t make friends because I’ve always found it easy to befriend people, and talk to people. But I’ve never felt comfortable in big groups; particularly groups of girls. I tend to stand on the edges and because I stand quietly around the edges people tend to underestimate me – it doesn’t mean that my brain isn’t ticking, though.

In my culture, Indian Mothers are revered as the goddess who gave you life. She is the heartbeat in the household. And for me as a child, my mother was my greatest role model who constantly filled me with love and affirmations about how I can do anything, that I should be proud of who I am and how as women we have to be strong.

To what extent do you think this has shaped you as a businesswoman and mother?

Hugely – I think I am the same now. I still like getting messy and am still a chatterbox who is happy in my own company. I am like this in business too. I’m ‘me’ and won’t apologise for not wearing a mask in the office. The affirmations my mother installed still resonate. When I have doubts I remind myself of who I am and where I came from. My mother never let me believe my learning disabilities were a barrier to me. As a mother, I want to be just like mine. I am only sad she is not around for me to ask her advice and now my job is to listen to my heart and listen for her ‘voice in the wind’ telling me I am doing the right thing.

What was your experience as a woman in a male dominated industry like?

From the age of 8 to 11 I was the only girl in my class at a boarding school with only a handful of girls so I have always been comfortable in male company. Not being someone who needs to be surrounded by a big group of girlfriends has also meant it was a good working environment for me. I tend to stay on the fringes of big groups – like when I have gone on hen parties. I am someone who likes to make one to one connections with people and if I do connect you have to be an equal to me. So in the male-dominated environment I worked in when I did meet an amazing woman we formed tight bonds very quickly because of our shared experiences but also our deep desire for support.

In what ways, if at all, have you been punished/celebrated for being a strong woman?

I was made redundant from my last position in the City after returning to work after my second child. My replacement was a nice young man who we had seconded to cover my maternity leave and his year on our team apparently made him more qualified for my role then me. This was certainly a point in my life when I did feel punished for being a strong woman. However, my career is just a fraction of my life. Where I feel I can say my strength has shone through is when I have been faced with adversity and continued to smile and enjoy life. In the last 5 years I have lost both my parents and had my 2 children. The path I have walked over this period was very dark at times but I did come out the other side with my head held high and this is prize enough. I think most other people would have reached rock bottom and stayed there.

What can organisations do to foster the success of ambitious women, especially mothers?

I feel organisations should stop focusing on mothers alone and genuinely allow everyone the same rights to some form of flexible working. If you give everyone the same rights to flexible working then mothers and women in childbearing years will no longer be seen as a potential subset that can be targeted. Employers should ask young men what would give them better work life balance which in turn would lead to more productivity.

Helping mothers and women foster their own support network and giving them the skills to thrive in corporate work environments, which has always been weighted in men’s favour because post-war it was a predominately male environment. However, where the sexes have moved on in our social roles, the working world has not.

In hindsight, if you had the chance again in your career, what would you do differently?

With hindsight, if I could have my career again I would have spoken up more and challenged those around me who did not respect or appreciate the work I did. And I certainly would not undervalue myself and ask to be paid my true worth. Oh and I would not have hidden my heritage. Bhavini would not have become Bev.

What made you start City Hive? What was the gap you saw?

The gap I saw, rather the gaping hole, was the lack of support women like me in the industry desperately needed. A lot was being reported in the press about women in the city and the problems they face but there seemed to be no dedicated mechanism or initiative in place to solve the issues. So I decided to build it – through City Hive.

Fast forward three years, where do you see City Hive and its members?

I hope City Hive expands globally to the entire asset and investment management industry. The ability to connect online to a local network is extremely important in this global world we live in. I want to be the go to place, the hub for firms in my industry, the gold standard for driving women’s equality and diversity in the city. I feel I am qualified to do this because I am diverse (Indian dyslexic woman) but also I have faced all these problems and fallen at hurdles. I made it to the middle and I hope this means women from the top and bottom of the pipeline have something they can relate to when I speak to them.

What four words best describe the ‘show reel’ version of your Motherhood? And the ‘behind the scenes’?

Showreel – Bright, pragmatic, nurturing, optimistic

Behind the Scenes – messy, happy, corner cutter, sharer

I’m curious, what’s your personal saviour(s)?

I have three personal saviours –  three people who are my rock who lift me up when I am slumped. My husband, Jonny, my brother, Sachin, and my soul sister, Farah. All three play different roles in keeping me sane and giving me strength when I need it.

What things are absolutely non-negotiable in your life?

My time with my family. I will not miss seeing my kids grow up or spending time with my husband for work. This means I try and make every working hour count so I am not neglecting the most important part of my life which is them.

If you could have a billboard anywhere saying anything, what would you put on it?

Don’t underestimate those who smile.


From my past experience, if you’re a friendly happy smiley person it somehow doesn’t make you intelligent or it takes away from that. In the corporate world, if you’re friendly and nice then people underestimate who you are and all of a sudden you’re a “thicko”! I just think, why can’t we be nice to each other as human beings and also be smart? That’s something that I’ve always struggled with myself. That feeling of being undervalued or underestimated.

In the have-it-all-debate, what’s the elephant in the room?

Time and acceptance. Accepting that it is ok to not have it all and that you might not want it all. The key is to try and be happy with what you have. What a waste of energy striving for a false perception of perfection.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

Resilience. No matter what life throws at you Mothers have to keep going. Your tiny humans need you, regardless of their age (they will always be your babies). You are their anchor to the world.

Connect with Bev and City Hive on social media:

City Hive on Facebook

On twitter: @TheCityHive

Bev on Twitter: @TheDiversegirl


Avril McDonald

Avril McDonald is the Author of the Feel Brave Series of books (little stories about big feelings for 4-7 year olds) and founder of Feel Brave. She set up the Friends of Feel Brave charitable arm with the vision to give all children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their potential. Avril is an ex-Primary School Teacher, Business Woman and a Mum. She is also a fellow of the RSA which has a mission to enrich society through ideas and action.

Who are the members of your family?

I live in Australia with my British fiancée Rob, and our two children Maggie and Luke.

What is Feel Brave about and driven by?

Feel Brave aims to help children manage tough emotions and reach their potential through characters and stories. It’s driven by a constant burning desire that I have always had to be a professional creative artist. I originally wanted to be a musician but my life got distracted by other fun adventures. Then when I had children and wrote poems that were helping them manage tough emotions, I suddenly saw the opportunity to be able to bring some characters and stories to life which totally creatively fulfills me and hopefully can help our world.

Tell me why mental health is so important to you?

When I was 8 years old, I experienced (what we later learnt was), my first ‘Panic Attack’. At that time, little was known or spoken about ‘Anxiety Disorders’ (or Mental Health for that matter!) so it wasn’t even an available condition to have! I felt very alone with it.

Then at 15 years old, I suddenly felt very separated from reality. I called it ‘Feeling Dreamy’. It wasn’t until years later when my sister (who was training to be a nurse at the time) came home with some academic material that she had photocopied for me which explained ‘Phobias’ and ‘Anxiety Disorders’ that I felt immense relief that I wasn’t just ‘crazy’. There were even real names for the things that I had experienced.

This gave me an insatiable curiosity about the mind/body connection. I found thought leaders like Tony Robbins and discovered strategies such as ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’ and ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ which were not only helping me manage my anxiety, but were also helping me reach my own creative potential. As an adult, I wondered why we weren’t teaching these techniques to young children when all of their neural pathways are connecting.

When I had children of my own and my daughter had a nightmare, I found managing that situation very easy because of the strategies I’d learnt myself in managing my anxiety. I wanted to help other children with mental health and emotional well-being because I believe that everything begins with the state of our minds and that our contentment is very dependent on our resilience and abilities to understand our brains and be able to self-regulate our emotions. I am passionate about trying to innovate in this area and help curate all of the great science and research that we now have access to and bridge it into the mainstream (without children even realising it…) I have a lot of hope for how powerful we can help our children become and I want to play a part in trying to make that happen.

How do you juggle the success of Feel Brave with your family?

I think that it’s super hard to juggle it all. I have some help with cleaning each week and the kids do go to school 6 hours per day but after walking the dog twice, managing meals, keeping the house ‘surface’ clean and doing the laundry e.t.c, I only have 3 hours truly to myself each day to get things done. The rest of the time, I just have to work everything around the family. I get up at 6am every day and start my work then. During the day, I work when I can (many a time from noisy indoor soft plays where I strangely seem to be able to get a lot done), and often late into the night once I’ve got the kids to bed.

I worked my way up the corporate ladder and became a Managing Director of a Global Digital Entertainment Company and that role was much easier than what I’m doing now. During that time, I had wonderful Nanny’s so I could confidently leave a peaceful happy house at 7.30am, be totally focused on my work for 10 hours and return at 6.30pm to smiling children bathed and ready for stories, cuddles and bed.

Juggling a family whilst trying to build a business (I think) just often feels like having tomatoes thrown at you the whole time. Mostly because we are actually cleverly designed to be affected by our children’s moods or unrest (nature’s way of keeping the human race going I guess), so beyond just the practical management of running a family and a business, you have all of these other emotional pulls going on all of the time. I do love that I am at home with the children sharing this really precious time together but in order to achieve what I need to achieve each day, it’s a constant juggle and a constant ‘sell’ to them and my partner on the strategy, roadmap and Key Performance Indicators. You think a Board of Directors is hard work to keep on side!

I learnt how to priority-manage really effectively in the corporate world and I constantly do this with my business at home. I have a very disciplined daily ‘To Do’ list, ‘Due from others’ list and ‘Personal’ list each day. I have a great network of mum friends in the same position as me that I can call on for kid’s/dog swaps when needed. I meditate every weekday (which I highly recommend) and (thankfully) I have the dog that needs walking which keeps me moving and out of the house twice a day around the school run. I try and get lots of sleep and eat as much real/raw food as possible. I also go off the rails from time to time, drink red wine, listen to 80’s music really loud and have a good cry.

Ultimately, my family often see me constantly working (because my work is also my passion), so I have to try and remain vigilant on balancing what I’m doing against spending time with them because I could write for 5 hours and not look up if I was left to it. I’m not afraid to push back though and give my work the time and effort it needs. 100 years ago, I would have probably been out working the land, growing vegetables and spending all day washing clothes (and the children would have had to help me) so I give myself that reality check from time to time and remind myself that it’s ok for me to be spending a lot of time working on my work, my passion and what I hope might be a great positive contribution to the world that my children can be proud of.

It could be said you’re a female Tony Robbins for children – what’s your vision for your work?

I’m nowhere NEAR being a female Tony Robbins for children but it is what I certainly aspire to be. I found Tony Robbins about 25 years ago and I want to do for kids what he does for adults which is to decode and model patterns of effectiveness. He has bridged practical strategies into the mainstream by presenting them in simple, practical engaging and entertaining ways. This inspires me to try to do the same for children.

What is your ultimate dream for Feel Brave?

My dream is to eventually work with leading academics and thought leaders in the wellbeing space to translate their science/research/strategies into the mainstream using innovative transmedia. To try and fire up the entrepreneurial spirit in others to do the same. I think we are ripe and ready to do this now and there is a huge need for it but we are a bit stuck on how to do it well.

What’s the difference between bringing a product to life and making money?

I think that there is a huge difference. I think that you need a certain set of skills to bring a product or creative project to life and that you need a very different set of skills to then make a commercially sustainable business out of it. At times I think it’s like the difference between being an Artist or an Entrepreneur. Some say that you can only ever be one or the other. I think that some can successfully do both but for the most part, you’re probably naturally better at one than the other (which is why a lot of artists are poor!).

I have a lot of respect for people who bring a product or project to life but I’m in awe of people who can then make a sustainable business out of it. I listen to a lot of great thought leaders in this space like Tim Ferriss and Jay Abraham who give me such great help in turning my ‘Product’ into a ‘Business’ because it’s a tough nut to crack.

It’s suggested that ‘joining the dots’ is important – what do you think about this?

When you ‘join the dots’ on your passions, your experience, your talents and your values, you suddenly have this huge authentic power that knows no bounds. When you are doing something that is authentic to you, things just flow. People ‘get it’, they feel your passion, it’s contagious and it works. I highly recommend stopping to work out your ‘dot’s’ and then have a go at connecting them. Just take a look at really successful people and look for the dots that they’ve connected and you’ll start to see it.

Money could be still seen as the representation of success – how do you view this?

I think that it’s tough because a lot of people don’t ever consider that you are actually doing a ‘job’ until you are bringing in money (even your family who see you slogging away for years at it). You might be giving the world a huge amount of value through something that you have created (or you have a very long gestation time for something that will be of huge value), but we still live in a world where (unfortunately), a lot of the great creative input women give to the world goes unrecognised or doesn’t have the right perceived value (e.g. the value of being a stay at home mum which is still massively underrated in my opinion).

It’s an extra hurdle to get over as an entrepreneur because it’s so hard to ‘keep the faith’ through what can be a long gestation period full of ‘No’s’ and not give up just as you are about to break through and start making money.

I’m hugely proud to say that after 6 long years of personal investment and development, I have just had my first 3 months of profitability and am now starting to commercially grow. It feels really rewarding and also hopefully helps others know that some things just take that much time and testing.

Are you a social entrepreneur? And if so, how do you find being this?

Although I currently have no idea how to do it, my goal is to create a commercially sustainable business that can then fund a whole ‘Socially Conscious’ side of the business that gives all children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their potential. It is my understanding that it seems to be a school of thought that ‘Social Entrepreneurs’ are generally not for profit making and I get that difference but I think that there are a lot of inspiring entrepreneurs out there today doing some amazing work socially with their profits and I think that we should encourage this more.

I would like to think that I will one day be considered some sort of ‘Social Entrepreneur’ because I hope to make my business commercially sustainable enough to really create some innovative, disruptive positive social change. A wonderful contact of mine Zhena Muzuka who is a classic example of a mum (who I consider to be an inspiring Entrepreneur with great social consciousness), says that ‘With a mission to serve others, you cannot fail’ I wholeheartedly agree.

How do you make sure your children know you are ‘Avril’, not exclusively Mum?

I quite often remind my children that ‘I need to work on Feel Brave now – I need to be ‘Avril’ now’. Children are so delightfully selfish (and your mum should always be that person that you can just burst into tears with, throw your worst tantrum then fall asleep on) but I think that you can easily fall into the trap of trying to please everyone and pleasing no one. If mum isn’t happy, the family isn’t happy. If families are not happy, the community is not happy, if the community is not happy, the world isn’t happy. We need to look after and nurture ourselves just as much as we nurture our kids.

I have always had a strong sense of self-preservation and think that a lot of mums don’t and they put themselves last which is not good for anyone in the long run. If my daughter gets emotional and clingy because I’m having a rare night out, I say to her ‘Let me be Avril tonight, wish me a great time and let me just be Avril because I work hard and deserve to have a night out tonight’ and she seems to get that. I want my children to see me achieving all of my dreams. I think that’s a powerful lesson for them. They always come first but I’m very conscious of making sure that I push back when I need to.

Tell me about the façade, I’ve heard you mention, of the “showreel” some businesswomen/mothers present?

I think that it’s really easy for mums to be put off by other women who seem to be able to effortlessly juggle it all (a family and a business). We see so many articles in glossy magazines about ‘Mumpreneurs’ or Female Corporate Giants and everything about them can seem so fabulous and they spin many plates at once but we might not be always seeing the full picture. They may actually have good independent financial support or help at home and with childcare (or they have likely already done 10 years of hard slog that we just haven’t been made aware of). I’ve also seen some women who seem to ‘have it all’ but are secretly falling apart on the inside and admit to that part of their journey later on.

I think women can also put a lot of pressure on themselves to try and seem like they are easily juggling it all (and I get that because I want to try and be the best mum I can whilst trying to build a business), but realistically, it’s hard to balance it all and make it work and things fall through the cracks. It’s good to have a supportive network of good women around you who are doing the same thing as you to regularly calibrate with (like the Driven Woman Network ) and I think that the more honest we can be about our struggles, and little tricks to help make our lives easier, the more supportive we will be for each other.

It’s also good to have people you can call on (like a partner or family member) who can just take over if you feel low and need to just drop everything and go to bed. I think we forget how much we need other people and the importance of getting comfortable ‘Asking for help’ which I wrote about in the recently published ‘Give Yourself Permission Anthology’.

In the have-it-all-debate, what’s the elephant in the room?

I don’t feel so much like there is an ‘Elephant in the room’, but I think we should encourage a re-think on the whole ‘Can you have it all’ question and maybe instead ask ourselves ‘Can I find contentment with all that I’m trying to do’. I don’t think that we can ever ‘have it all’ because being a mum and running a business is a constant balancing act and sometimes the business gets more of you than you planned and sometimes the children get more of you than you planned. I think the most important thing is to find contentment with your chosen path. Much like the sweet spot in meditation where you find stillness, calm and contentment sitting noticing but not giving focus to your monkey mind – if you can apply this to your life, I think you have the best chance of finding contentment.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

Dan Pink wrote one of my favourite books ever called A Whole New Mind – Why right brainers will rule the future. He talks about how we have moved through different worlds like the Agricultural, Industrial and Knowledge Working worlds and that we are now living in what he coins as ‘The Conceptual World’. In this world (where Asia and Automation can do a lot of jobs that our parents did), we need a whole new set of senses to survive and thrive in business. He talks about the need to create a good story, and the importance of play, to focus on things such as finding meaning and symphony. I think that mothers/women naturally have a lot of talent in these areas and so with the freedom and opportunities technology has now brought us, there has never been a more opportunistic time for mothers to start a project or a business and have the potential to do really well. It’s our time and we should dare to dream big and maximise this.

Click on the links to connect with Avril and Feel Brave

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Pamela Mattsson

Pamela Mattsson is the director of Executive Development at Amazon.  A seasoned executive coach and thought leader in the leadership development industry for over 15 years, she spent the past six years as the Managing Director of the global consulting firm Axialent leading complex culture change initiatives all over the world. Pamela is a dynamic facilitator and brings special expertise in innovation and inclusion using an experiential and humanistic approach.

She firmly believes that the distinction between work and life is a false polarity.  Her leadership philosophy is that life is happening all of the time and true leadership is about taking responsibility for what we are creating, reconnecting to our inner core, our humanness and authentically honoring our values.

Pamela returned to the US seven years ago after a 12-year stint abroad in Switzerland, France and Sweden.  She just celebrated her 27th year of marriage to her Swedish husband and is the proud mother of four children with a wild and woolly age range of 23, 21, 14 and 8.  She is a feisty southern belle, a passionate and professionally trained chef and avid world traveller.

Who are the members of your family?

Lars, my husband of 28 years, 57, Alexander 24 (son),  Adrian 22 (son), Annalis 15 (daughter), Amelia 9 (daughter)

From your experience of working with many women, how would you describe the mental models of mothers returning to work?

I think it is a combination of excitement and dread. Motherhood changes you – I literally gave birth to my greatest teachers. It grows you up. Little things no longer hijack my attention I know what truly matters for me. At the same time, societal views can be seductive especially ones that either expect you to be/do everything or judge someone who is trying to do just that.  It can be a catch 22.

How can organisations avoid penalising mothers in the paid workforce?

Normalise wanting a family, make it easy to take time and create the structures in place that the tasks don’t suffer (like job sharing, great cross-training), interrupt the belief that being “indispensable” is valuable and make it clear that being indispensable is not good for you or the organisation.  Encourage reasonable hours and availability, celebrate working from home opportunities, etc. There are lots of actions that organisations can take but I believe the biggest need is a shift in mindsets around motherhood and executive presence. We have to redefine what an effective leader looks like.

In what ways throughout your career have you navigated being a mother? Tell us about your lows, and your highs.

As a mother of four over generations, I have had to navigate internal and external challenges. Highs were having enough travel and meaning in my life to not sweat the small stuff at home and getting caught in the trap of conversations with my children and my partner only being about logistics, chores and coordination or the opposite, feeling stressed at work and bringing that home where the quality of my interactions and my perspective and positivity suffered.  I have found it hardest when our kids need us the most, hard to leave small infants for me, especially nursing and hard to leave teenagers in angst.  My high is when I feel fulfilled on all levels and low is when I am feeling inadequate in any area – motherhood, balance, partnering, AND this is often a series of thoughts attached to a particular perspective that unfortunately feeds itself.

When do you ask, “am I doing this right?” and what is it in relation to typically?

Parenting while balancing an executive position.  Rarely is it work-related, typically balance and the quality of my precious interactions with my children and partner have me question the most.

You’ve been on the receiving end of comments about your husband’s involvement in childcare, what do you think is going on when fathers are congratulated for their ‘fathering’ contributions? How does this land with you?

It is often a combination of social norming and unconscious bias, rarely do I hear it as intentional. However, I find it infuriating and often respond as such with things like “would you ever ask my husband this?” when asked for example, “how DO, you travel with four children?”; “oh your husband is a gem, I saw him at the bus stop yesterday!”

What’s the difference between the mother you were with your first and who you became as a result of your last born child?

I think I raised my first son focused on doing things “right” and changing the trajectory of how I was raised, moving from patriarchal authoritarianism to compassionate attachment parenting. However, the focus was more on what I was doing and who I was becoming as a mother. With my fourth child, I see my experience as a mother and my maturity as a human serve me in that my focus is much more on keeping her flame, wildness, uniqueness alive and the focus is on her aliveness not my “performance” as a mother.  I feel so much more free and relaxed as a mother now.  Just ask my oldest son!

What inner conversations do you have about choosing to create a life on your own terms rather than a templated one?

Many many, many, daily actually.  My conversations are primarily around listening to my resonance and dissonance and doing my best to live the truth of who I am while balancing being in relationship with others trying to do the same.

What are you responsible for?

My responses, my perspectives, my emotions, my needs, my wishes, my desires, my well-being, my self-expression, my fulfilment, my impact, my purpose, my life.

You’ve lived in several geographical places, in what ways are working mothers perceived differently depending on location?

Wildly different in Europe than in the US in my experience, especially Scandinavia.  While I believe there are more working mothers in Scandinavia per capita (you’d have to confirm this to be a fact right now), they are more supported with time off, leave, balance, job sharing.  I find Scandinavia, in general, to be about 30 years ahead of the US in terms of equality and open mindsets.

In Sweden it’s normalised for both parents to work, what does this bring culturally as well as at individual levels?

It brings gender parity and creates the conditions for true partnership – I find in the US one person’s career can be valued over another’s in a partnership and I don’t see that as much in Sweden.  It means that maternity and paternity leave are one in the same and that childcare only starts after both parents have been home.

What generational contracts have you intentionally broken and intentionally brought with you particularly in relation to mothering and work?

I have intentionally broken ones that see women as property of men, less than and unable to make decisions, especially financial ones. Where women are only in exist in service of their men and asked to look the other way when they feel disrespected or mistreated in exchange for the roof over their head and access to a pay-check. I have brought with me the strength and ownership of being the matriarch and avid defender and protector of my brood, I have brought unconditional love and compassion blended with passion and strength.

Serving (others) is etched into the mother contract, how do you negotiate within yourself and with others about this aspect of being a mother?

It’s a challenge, I enjoy serving literally and metaphorically.  I think the risk is when I fail to listen to my own internal cues and do not set boundaries.  When I am not responsible for my own energy management, boundaries and needs, I can still serve but not cleanly, not freely and that can lead to resentment.

What are the ways that women are viewed right now geo-politically?

I think the with American politics and politics worldwide including our government, military activity and war, women are more polarised and activated than ever.  I myself was so incredibly grief-stricken and angry over the election and found it to be a wake-up call to the underbelly in the US.  I have never felt more politically inclined and at the same time have never been more sure that love and compassion are the answer.

In what ways do we as mothers give away our power?

To our drive, to our children, to societal expectations.  It is up to us to have the courage to decide what is “enough” for us no matter how small or big that is, to role-model fulfilment to our children and to only hold ourselves to our expectations not what the world wants from us.

Where do you yourself put a lid on your power?

When I get seduced by obligation and a version of being responsible instead of fulfilled.

How do we get past the social norm of ‘ladylike’ and instead move into our bold empowered truth-telling selves?

Keep pushing and expanding it, first within ourselves (what are our rules, are they serving us?) then pushing and expanding expectations, compassionately, transparently.

If you could have a billboard anywhere saying anything, what would you put on it?

My Leadership Philosophy: The distinction between work and life is a false polarity.   Life is happening all of the time and true leadership is about taking responsibility for what you are creating, reconnecting to your inner core, your humanness and authentically honoring your values.

And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)

Maintaining your own identity outside of your role as mother.  If you need a shorter answer, it’s simply resilience.

Connect with Pamela by clicking the link below: