CHARLOTTE HAWKINS INTERVIEW: Mum of one, TV and radio presenter

CHARLOTTE HAWKINS INTERVIEW: Mum of one, TV and radio presenter

“I DIDN’T REALLY KNOW WHERE TO START, BUT I JUST HELD ON TO THE FACT THAT ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!”

Mum of one, TV and radio presenter, Charlotte Hawkins has firmly cemented a place as one of Britain’s most loved TV presenters. She is one of the first faces millions of Brits see each morning, as co-host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain. Charlotte has enjoyed a successful career particularly over the last decade, but she worked incredibly hard to get there, showing unwavering determination in an extremely competitive field to achieve her dream career. Like so many of us, although she is living out her career dreams, she too has to constantly juggle work, parenthood and get through the various challenges life can throw at us.

We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon with Charlotte and her adorable daughter 8-year-old, Ella-Rose (who definitely stole the show), at the breathtaking Pennyhill Park Hotel in Surrey; where we made the most of the beautiful scenery for the photoshoot and I sat down with Charlotte for a chat about having a successful career alongside being a doting Mum. Charlotte shared how she bravely overcame her biggest challenge to date following the loss of her beloved father just before giving birth to her daughter; how she hopes to inspire her daughter to believe anything is possible if you work hard enough; and how Hollywood Actor Bradley Cooper features in the highlight of her career…

BROOD Edition 1 - Charlotte Hawkin
CHARLOTTE HAWKINS AND HER DAUGHTER ELLA ROSE
IMAGES BY TOM PITFIELD FOR BROOD MAGAZINE ©

READ THE LATEST EDITION:

INTERVIEW WITH CHARLOTTE HAWKINS

Did you always know what you wanted to do for a career and how determined was you to achieve your career goals?

Charlotte – “Yes, I always wanted to work in news, I always wanted to be a reporter, a presenter – I was just intrigued by that whole world! I was put off initially though, because it just felt really competitive, and I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this?’ Then I worked for a year in advertising, and what I realised through doing that, was that being a reporter/presenter really was my dream and I was going to spend the rest of my life regretting it, if I didn’t give it my very best shot!

I remember thinking, if it doesn’t work out, at least I can say that I’ve tried, but I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t give it a go. So, after I finished my job in advertising, I began a post graduate diploma in broadcast journalism. I was then lucky enough to get a job as a trainee for ITV Meridian, and I just kind of worked my way up over the years. I was super determined though, and I wanted to make sure that I gave it my all. Whether that was through working crazy hours, or sticking my neck out and going to people and saying, ‘Can I try this? Can I get some practise doing this? I can get some work experience doing that’. Basically, pestering a lot of people along the way! [she laughs]

I feel very lucky to be doing a job that I always dreamed about doing. Not everybody gets that chance and I feel so grateful to still enjoy it all these years later. Every day is different, every day is challenging, and it just means it makes life so much more interesting and rewarding when you’re doing a job like that.”

At what point in your career did you become a mum and how did you find that transition?

Charlotte -“On Good Morning Britain my alarm clock goes off at 2.45am – which is still a bit of a shock every morning! [laughs] However, it does mean that I can organise my day where I still spend a lot of time at home – especially back in those early days when I went back to work. As soon as I had finished at Good Morning Britain, I could go back and spend the rest of the day with Ella-Rose as a baby. Obviously, I would be super tired. It would be really hard when I had been up through the night and then I’d be getting up to go work so early, so I just had to be really organised and make sure that I had the right care in place for her when I wasn’t there, so that I could go to work and completely trust the fact that I could switch off and focus on my work because I knew that she was being well looked after. Then when I would get back home, I was able to spend time with her and just focus on Ella-Rose. I do feel lucky that I could and still can do that, because I’ve got friends who do various jobs, but they each have to go into their workplace all day every day, and at least for me I could still spend a good amount of time with her.”

Charlotte Hawkins
CHARLOTTE HAWKINS AND HER DAUGHTER ELLA ROSE | IMAGES BY TOM PITFIELD FOR BROOD MAGAZINE ©

How do you try keep the ‘right balance’ between work and family life.

Charlotte – “I think that I’ve tried to continue to achieve balance, by going to work, throwing everything into making it work whilst I’m there and focusing solely on that; but also, then going back home and doing the same there and throwing myself completely into family life. I think it’s important to protect that family time as well. For us it’s about protecting our weekend family time as much as we can, and if we are doing things at different times of the day, we just make sure that Ella-Rose is happy with the set up and we’re happy with the set up. I think you just have to try your best and plan everything with military precision really.” 

People talk a lot about ‘mum guilt’ is it something that you’ve experienced and if so, how have you dealt with it?

Charlotte – “I don’t think people should even use those words, ‘mum-guilt’ ‘parent-guilt’ what have you got to feel guilty about, you know? As long as you love your children and you have a plan in place for their care when you’re not there, who’s to say what’s the best set up for your child anyway! Children want to be loved, they want to know that people care for them, and that the people who are there with them are giving them quality time. I think if you’re happy as a family, and the work set up for you means that you then look forward to having the quality time with them, and you go lovely holidays with them and treasure that time with your children as well, then you have no reason to feel guilty.  

It’s not the right set up for every family, and there are parents that are there 100% of the time with their children, and of course that’s perfectly fine if that’s what works for them, and they are happy. I think that because we just have Ella-Rose, we have always felt like it’s important that she goes and spends time with friends, that she goes and spends time with other family members, and she has done that right from being a young age. She’s been used to spending time with other people and she’s very happy in other people’s company. I know some children who are very clingy though because they’ve only spent time with their parents, and that’s just because that’s what they are used to. Again, that set up is completely fine if that’s what works for those parents, and those children, but for me I wanted to make sure that Ella-Rose was comfortable in lots of different environments, and that she was sociable & happy with going to see lots of different people, to experience lots of different places and I think by doing that it has really benefitted her.

It’s all about building resilience in our children, but at the same and you want to make sure that they are comfortable in lots of different situations. They need that so that as they go through life, for example starting at a new school, or new job where they don’t know anyone, they have to be able to be comfortable in lots of different situations, so I think actually the earlier you can start that the better. As long as they know, where you are, when you’re coming back, that there is a plan in place that they’re happy with, then that’s the most important thing.”  

Ella-Rose is watching you having a successful career, after following your dreams. Do you hope that it inspires Ella-Rose into believing anything is possible, so that she too follows her dreams?

Charlotte – “Yes, absolutely! I think it’s really important to show our children that hard work pays off and that’s the message I want to give her. I want her to know that if there’s a dream job that you want to do, and you throw everything into making that work, if you’re determined and you don’t let things put you off, then you can achieve it. And whether that means getting the right qualifications, working long hours etc, if there’s a job that you really want to do then you must give your best shot!

I think it’s important that you lead by example, and you show them that you can make it work. I want Ella-Rose to achieve her dreams, to work hard for them and to be happy. I’m not going to force her into any particular career, I just want her to be happy with the path that she chooses. I think in my mind anyway it’s about pushing yourself, challenging yourself and making sure that you have new experiences, new adventures and making sure that life doesn’t get boring!”

What has been the most challenge time during your career and how did you overcome it?

Charlotte – “I lost my Dad a month before I gave birth to Ella-Rose. And I needed to go back to work after a certain amount of time, so I went back to work four months after having Ella-Rose. I kind of needed that structure back in my life, but emotionally I was still kind of all over the place, as I think I had delayed grieving for my Dad because I was having Ella-Rose. I wanted to be all happy and smiley for her, and when I was pregnant, and my Dad had died, I didn’t want to her to feel that sadness, so I tried to postpone it – but of course that was always going to come back at some point! So, I was on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster for quite some time afterwards I think. The interesting thing about my job is however you’re feeling in the morning, being on breakfast television you have to have a smile on your face, you have to be bright eyed and bushy tailed, and you know sometimes it’s the hardest thing in the world to do when you’re feeling sad – to put a smile on your face. There are other times I think you can kind of make yourself feel a bit better, because you think ‘I’m getting up, I’m going to work, I’m keeping it all together, I still manage to smile!’ And I think you just have to keep thinking – this will pass. This isn’t going to last forever. I just need to keep going, one day at a time, one foot in front of the other! And I think when you are going through these times, when things are really tough, or they feel insurmountable, you just have to try and think. ‘Okay, don’t panic, let’s just what tomorrow brings’, but it will pass. It’s hard but sometimes you have to just ride it out and keep doing those things that day by day make you feel a little better. Whether that’s being with people you love, going out and getting some exercise, taking a bit of time to do those things to put a smile on your face – a real smile on your face. You have to be thankful for the things you have on a daily basis as well and realise that those are the things that will get you through it.”

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

Charlotte – “There’s been a lot of things, I’ve interviewed so many amazing people that I feel so lucky to have met, including Oprah – who is obviously amazing at interviews, so that was equally a bit scary! [she laughs] But I think for me the highlight of my career has to be when got I asked to take part in the Bradley Copper film Burnt. It is such a highlight for me, and I’ll never forget the day that a Hollywood Film crew came into the studio, and I was the breakfast TV presenter interviewing Bradley Cooper, it absolutely blew my mind! I’d read the script and learnt script, and we sat there, and we had filmed it all and then the director came over and whispered something in Bradley Coopers ear. I didn’t really know what was going on, and then they said ‘That was all great, everything was spot on, but we’re just going to do one more take as we just want to try something a little bit different’. And then Bradley just went completely off script and pretended that everything was going wrong and was looking at the wrong camera and I was just thinking, what is going on! This wasn’t in the script! [she laughs] But, I just went along with it and that’s the take that they used, but I think they really wanted that whole vibe, as his character was supposed to be a really grumpy chef, who kicked up a fuss about everything. So, for me being in Hollywood film like that, and I guess it really hit home where I was at in my career. I got invited to the premiere, which was amazing! And I was sat on an aeroplane one day, and the person in front of me was watching the film and my face popped up and I couldn’t believe, (well I still can’t believe) that I’ve been in that film, and I felt like tapping him on the shoulder and saying, “That’s me!” [she laughs] That was a real pinch-me moment.

My career has been a bit crazy, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world – even with the 2.45am starts!”

Do you have any standout ‘BROOD Moments’ where the juggle has led to a bit of a ‘parent fail’?

Charlotte “Oh, there’s so many, but there’s a recent one where it was one of these days at school where you’ve got to dress up in a themed outfit, and I forgotten that she had to dress up in toga. But I reassured her it was fine, because essentially a toga was the same as a bed sheet, so I told her we’d make it work and we’ll just wrap one around her and then tie it with like curtain tie or something. And I thought it looked pretty good, but she was not convinced at all, she said it just looked like a bed sheet. [smiling] So, I was saying to her, well traditionally that’s how they looked. But what I hadn’t really envisaged was that a lot of the other parents would have gotten special outfits – that were not bedsheets! And there was a moment of mortification when I waved her off and she was walking alongside someone wearing a full-on medusa outfit, and all of these other fancy outfits and I could see this bedsheet slipping down already and I just thought ‘No, that was a bit of fail!’ So, I felt disappointed on her behalf, and I felt disappointed that, that had happened. However, you always have to see the positives in these things, and I thought, well that’s going to build a lot of resilience that one! [she laughs] The thing is, they do have to get used to things not quite going to plan and just making the best of it. It’s happened to all of us over the years. Hopefully it won’t scar her and she’s not still talking about it in 20 years’ time – “Mum, I remember that day you sent me to school in a bedsheet that was around my ankles before I had even got in!” [she laughs] Luckily, I had made her wear shorts and t-shirt underneath too!”

What advice would you give to someone who is following their career dreams, whilst juggling parenthood?

Charlotte – “Don’t aim for perfection. I don’t think it’s healthy to strive for perfection in everything, because then it’s just an unattainable standard. So, I think you have to be realistic. Even if you didn’t do anything else in life, but look after your children and pack for them, sort for them, cook for them, that’s not always healthy either, so I think it’s just about making sure that you try get balance right. Things aren’t always going to go to plan, but that’s life. You do have to give your children that message too, along with the tools to be able to deal with it. To help them look for the lessons when things go wrong, how to learn from it and then we move on.

I would also say don’t look at others and assume that they’ve got it all figured out all of the time – because they won’t have! That’s just the front that everyone likes to put out for public perception, because everyone has got the same juggle, the same struggles, the same balancing act going on. So never compare yourself to someone else, you’ve just got to make sure that as long as your children are happy and healthy that’s all you need, that’s all you can wish for!”

Charlotte Hawkins
CHARLOTTE HAWKINS AND HER DAUGHTER ELLA ROSE | IMAGES BY TOM PITFIELD FOR BROOD MAGAZINE ©
Simon Wood
Written by
Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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SALLY LINDSAY: CHILDCARE CAN BE SEEN AS A ‘DIRTY WORD’, BUT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH IT

SALLY LINDSAY: CHILDCARE CAN BE SEEN AS A ‘DIRTY WORD’, BUT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH IT

Interview With Sally Lindsay

by Tom Pitfield & Lolo Stubbs

Sally Lindsay is one of Britain’s best loved actors and presenters, best known for her roles as Shelley Unwin in ITV’S Coronation Street, Lisa Johnson in Sky One’s comedy series Mount Pleasant, and as Kath Agnew in the BBC sitcom Still Open All Hours. As well as Sally’s impressive on screen career, she is also co-founder of the award winning production company – Saffron Cherry – and is responsible for creating and writing a number of hit shows such as Scott and Bailey and Madame Blanc Mysteries. Alongside her accomplished career, Sally is also a loving and dedicated mum of 4; Step Mum to her two step children – Kristabel and Curtis, and Mum to her twin boys – Victor and Louie, aged 12. We were lucky enough to chat to Sally, and we couldn’t wait to find out all about her journey, how she managed to juggle family life alongside such a successful career and what she has learnt along the way!  

Sally Lindsay front cover of Brood Magazine

You’ve had and still have such a successful career, how have you managed to juggle that alongside being a mum?

“Well, I’ve never not had kids really, ever since meeting my partner, Steve; he already had two children when we got together – my step children Kristabel and Curtis – they were 7 and 9 when I first met them, they are now 30 and 29 – which is crazy! And our boys, the twins, Victor and Louie, are 12 years old. 

When I physically had my babies, I couldn’t really work whilst I was pregnant – as no-one really wants to cast pregnant people! So, I didn’t really work for a while, but I did sign for Mount Pleasant when I was pregnant though. They were really good, and waited for me throughout my pregnancy, before they started filming, but then they couldn’t wait any longer, so I physically went back to work when the boys were just four and a half months old. It was very, very hard filming again after having the boys, because I was just exhausted! I didn’t have a night nanny or anything, so it was really tough – in fact the first two years were really tough. I did other things as well as Mount Pleasant, but that was my main job. Although it was hard, it was a very supportive environment and I was allowed to have the twins on set if I wanted to, although that didn’t really work for me. I tried it for the first couple of days and the nanny came along too, but it just devastated me. I just couldn’t focus on my work. I already felt like I had brain fog, because I was so tired, but having them there made it so much harder for me to concentrate, and I had a lead role, so it just didn’t work. I think people have to find their own path and their own way of doing things and for me I have to separate work and kids. I know other actors that can have their children on set and that works for them, but the best piece of advice I would give anyone is that if it doesn’t work for you it’s fine. You have to find what works for you.

Having said that, I’ve just been over to Malta to film Madame Blanc, and the kids came out whilst I was over there. It was lovely, but it was still hard, as even though they’re older, when they arrived it overlapped for four days of my filming, so there were a few days where they were hanging around waiting for me to finish work, and I was very aware of that.” 

What did you find was the best way to help you separate work and the kids?

“Childcare is obviously a massive aid to help you to separate the two, and I think sometimes childcare can be seen as a ‘dirty word’, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! We have Lisa; who has been with me since the boys were 9 days old. I was down in London on my own after the boys were born and I needed help, that was when I was introduced to the concept of a doula and they are known as ‘Mother’s Helpers’. At the time I didn’t want someone to look after the children. I wanted someone to help me –  you know around the house etc, and that’s what Lisa did and she is still with me to this day. So, Lisa is like a second mum to the kids, so I can relax knowing they are with someone both they and I are comfortable with. For example last week I had a huge event in town, and then a photoshoot early the next day, and Steve had a recording, so she stayed overnight with the boys, and although it’s very unusual that will happen, (as we normally time everything so that at least one of us is there), it’s very reassuring to have that person that can just take over when things like that do happen. When we’re up in Manchester, it’s my mum that steps in, but when we’re in London it’s Lisa. I think it’s trying to get over the fact that having help with childcare is perfectly ok, or that you’re not a great parent if you hire a nanny. It’s just b*ll*cks, because you need that support!  I’ve got mates with different jobs, who only get to see their kids on Saturday and Sunday morning and that’s it, whereas I don’t have that. I have periods of intense filming, where I’m away and I might only get a chance to fly back for the odd weekend, but then when filming is done, I have lots of time at home with the boys and I can be very present. Then, whilst the boys are at school, I will go into my office and write, and run our production company, but as soon as they are home from school, I’m there for them – although when they get to 12, they start ignoring you anyway, [she laughs] but if they want me I’m there. And that’s how I juggle it.” 

Looking back, has there been a time you have missed out on something career wise because you were a parent?

“Well, I created Scott and Bailey, and it got commissioned the same week that Mount Pleasant got commissioned, which was also the same week that I found out I was pregnant! But because they could wait to start filming for Scott and Bailey, it had to go ahead and so I was taken off the job. Whereas with Mount Pleasant they waited to start filming and they were adamant they wanted me as their lead.  

We’ve also a got a new drama coming up with our production company, and that’s really exciting, but because I already film 10 weeks of the year in Malta for Madame Blanc, I cannot commit to this new job, because it would just mean that I would be away to much – and that is definitely that makes a difference in your career when you become a parent, because I simply cannot be away for that long. So whenever any jobs come in I have to find out where it’s going to be filmed, and for how long, before I can consider it.

But a job came in this last week that meant I would be away for November for 5 weeks, but I could manage that, but I do have to really question how long I’m going to be away each time a job comes up. Steve is extremely supportive of my career, in fact he does all the music on our productions, so it’s in his interest to develop the company too. But we’re at the start of a lot of growth with the production company and I’ve got to start making some decisions and deciding which of the shows I’m going to be in. That is purely down to me being a mum – both from a childcare point of view, and of course, me just not wanting be away that long from my boys. I don’t want to miss out on them growing up, I mean they’ll be adults before I know it!”

A lot of people talk about feeling guilty as a working parent; is that something you have dealt with and if so how have you learned to deal with that?

“When I look back, yes I have worked a lot, but most of the time I think we have gotten the balance right, because on the whole it’s myself and Steve that have brought our children up and I remember everything. We have had so many wonderful times together as a family. I think that’s the thing especially in our types of careers, yes, you do work a lot at times, but you also get chunks of time off. I found that the key really is to use those times wisely, so in a way it’s quality, not so much about quantity. I know everything about my children and I feel very close to them – even now as they approach the teenage years, and yes, of course they missed me whilst I was away, but they are very independent because of it as well and I think that’s a good thing. 

I think when they were babies it was a bit easier for them when I was filming, because they weren’t aware of where I was going or what it meant. The second year I did Mount Pleasant was really hard though, because they were 18 months old, and every time I left for work they would cry and scream for me at the window, and I used to cry all the way to work. I found it really difficult, then in the end Steve videoed them for me, to show me what they were like a minute I had left, and they were just crawling around playing with their toys or having their milk and they were absolutely fine. I remember thinking that’s just survival instincts from a child. They are programmed to cry if they see their Mum, or their caregiver leave. People used to say, ‘Oh, you must feel so guilty!’ and I’d say

Guilty for what? Providing my family with a future? Of course I miss them and that’s hard, but no I don’t feel guilty because I’ve got nothing to feel guilty for!’

Sally Lindsay and her family

Sally Lindsay and her family, for BROOD Magazine ©

Brood Live

Do you have any routines or staples that you do as a family to help to make sure you have that quality family time together?

“We’re really quite conscious when I’m at home about eating together, we always sit down and eat together every single night. If we’re at home, we make sure we all sit round that table! We might only have 20 minutes while they’re eating, but we get to talk to them about their day etc. And we also make sure we go out to eat somewhere every week, as that means we’ve got their attention for at least an hour and a half, and we can properly chat. We also make a big deal of Sundays – I’ll cook and their dad will take them to football in the morning with their Grandad, and then they come back and then we all eat together, so Sunday’s are really important for us. That’s something we’ve always done from day one and I find that really important, and even when I’m away the three of them will eat together and send me pictures. We also like to pick a box set series to watch together. And another thing we do like to do is walk the dog together at weekends, because myself or Steve will just do it during the week, but we all go together at weekends and it’s during that walking time that they ask the most random questions, and there are no phones to distract them, or us so that’s always nice. I always want my boys to be able to talk to us, no matter what they’ve done, or how bad it is, we always want them to know that they can tell us. It’s a funny period as a parent at the minute, as they are growing up there are new things every week that I have to learn to let go of, and as much as they are learning to manage things for themselves, it’s important for them to know that we’re still there whenever they need us.” 

What benefits do you think your children have gained from watching their parents have such successful careers?

“I think that because of our busy lives and the fact they have always been around that, and seen us working, it has given them a level-headedness and independence that I don’t think they would have had if we’d have always been around – hovering over them. I can see that more and more as they are getting older. Don’t get me wrong we’ve done plenty of taxiing for them and taking them to various after school clubs etc, [she laughs] but essentially the boys had to fit into our lives when they came along.”  

What is the one major tip that you would give any other parents who are juggling a career and bringing up their brood?

“Diary syncing is so important if you’re both busy parents. That’s what we do. We have a Friday diary check, where we sit down and forensically go through our diaries for the next week. And it’s surprising because even though we’ve been through it a million times, there is always something that we’ve forgotten. I think if we didn’t do that every week our entire lives would fall apart! [She laughs]”

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“…Honestly, I never thought I’d be a dad”

For many, the path to parenthood is not made from perfectly shaped, life stepping stones. Keen to explore the diverse routes to, and experiences of, becoming a parent I reached out to one of our Morson executive managers who has recently navigated the adoption process to become a father with his partner.

For safeguarding purposes, we have kept the identity of the family anonymous, so there’s no BROOD photography provided by the talented Tom Pitfield, but I’m confident you’ll be as moved by this honest, inspiring and, at times, emotional story as I was.

During our conversation, we explore the challenges of raising a child with a traumatic past, the complications of using traditional parenting techniques with an adoptive child and why adoption should be considered more widely as a path to parenthood.

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Let’s start with your new reality, parenthood. How long have you been a dad?

We have had our boy for just under a year now, he moved in with us in November of last year. Honestly, I never thought I’d be a dad, but my partner and I have been together for 17 years and we felt it was time to start a family, so we decided to explore adoption.

We’ve had many a conversation over the past 9 months about how your little boy has changed your life and I’m interested to understand more about your experience of adopting and the adoption process itself…

It’s been an interesting time, not least because of the personal circumstances and realities you become aware of. All children who are in the adoption process will have experienced trauma in one way or another. The very reason they’re in the care system is because they have encountered some kind of harm and that could be anything from physical, sexual or emotional abuse and severe neglect. So, a big part of the process is having to prepare yourself to cope with, understand and manage that child’s experiences and life story.

Because we’ve adopted a slightly older child, who wasn’t put into the system until they were five and a half, he’s had years of not having his needs met. As you can imagine, caring for a child who has gone for five and a half years experiencing that when you cry, no one’s cuddled you, or when you’ve been hungry, no one’s fed you, their parent has gone out and left you alone at home on your own… there’s a lot of things to unpick. Often adopting an older child can come with more challenges than if you adopt a newborn baby. For example, in adoption, you can do something called early permanence. In early permanence, the birth mum is still in pregnancy and social services are aware that it’s a challenging environment with the birth family, so as soon as that child is born the baby is taken into care. These babies are safeguarded and cared for by the system from birth.

However, whatever the path to adoption, one thing you can rely on is that each child who enters care has experienced some type of trauma whether that’s in the womb or in the outside world. So you just need to prepare yourself for this.

So, as a couple, how do you prepare yourself for this reality and becoming adoptive parents to a child with a traumatic past, did you take any leave from work?

We did loads of research, training and workshops so we were fully aware of the challenges and prioritised creating an environment where our child would feel safe and supported. To help with this I took three months of adoption leave. The adoption policy for Morson would have allowed me to take 12 months or more if I wanted to, but I was conscious we needed to introduce work/life balance into our environment as part of the process – because that’s the reality of our lives. Three months full pay was amazing because when you bring your child home, that period of attachment with your child is massively important. Being able to take three months off and not having to worry about my salary was huge for me. My partner took off six months and he could have extended it to 12 months as well. That period where we both stayed at home together to nurture, understand and get to know our child and adapt to our new lives was essential.

Of course, the beauty of having a slightly older child is they do go to school which gave us some downtime, so that’s an advantage! Self-care and a strong support network is of paramount importance when you adopt a child, so allowing yourself time to have a relaxing bath, read a magazine or go for a coffee with a friend is a must.

As the parent of a toddler, I’m looking forward to school! Also, please give me hope, do they sleep when they’re older, please tell me they do?!

Do you know what? It’s funny because when he first came to us he would go to bed, then he would get up a short time later and become dysregulated. During this time he’d be throwing cushions and screaming at us, and it would take him probably an hour to settle.

And now?

You can put him to bed at 7:30 pm, say ‘Goodnight, I love you’ and he’ll not get out of bed until the morning (which happened to be 5:55 am today). We spoke to an educational psychologist who explained to us that if you do not feel safe the primary thing that is affected is your sleep. So, the fact that he sleeps through the night is speaking volumes about how he feels at home with us, so that’s a huge win.

That’s amazing and so positive to hear.

When you first came back to work I remember us chatting and you had loads of interesting tips like this for adopters and anyone caring for a child. Would you mind sharing some more?

Do you know what, a lot of the training when you go through the adoption process doesn’t just deal with children who’ve experienced trauma. Much of it can cover how to handle any child who is demonstrating challenging behaviours.

For me, the one key takeaway here was the power of playfulness. No matter how agitated they are, playfulness will nearly always get a child out of the mindset of being angry or upset. If you can get a child to smile or laugh, they cannot feel anger or upset at the same time. So one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that being playful and silly will help your child to become regulated again. Because of this, we find ourselves doing the most ridiculous things! If he suddenly becomes distracted, frustrated or unsettled we’ll do a stupid voice or a silly dance, or we’ll put on a silly song. As soon as he starts laughing you know he’s coming around, so playfulness is massive.

One of the other tips is distraction techniques. If you can distract your child it can help to diffuse potentially challenging behaviours. Tactics like making anonymous phone calls, for example, picking up the phone and making out that you’re speaking to someone immediately gets him to ask questions like, ‘Who’s that on the phone dad’… his curiosity takes over his agitation.

So, yes, playfulness and distraction are the two big things we’ve learned. My partner and I certainly have a playful nature, so I won’t lie, we actually really enjoy it.

Natasha Jonas Training
ADRIAN ADAIR FOR MORSON. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

So you say those tips are universal but do you think there are differences in parenting an adoptive child vs. a child who has had a more traditional upbringing?

I would say yes. You cannot parent a child who’s experienced trauma the same way you would a child who has not had a traumatic start to life.

Discipline is one key difference. If you’ve got a baby or child who cries a lot, traditional parenting methods may suggest leaving them to self-soothe or tactics such as sending them to their room to calm down. You can’t do that with a child who has experienced trauma because if your child used to cry, and no one ever came, their behaviour regresses. So you have to go and comfort them. Because of their experiences, many of these children have not met their developmental milestones because they haven’t had their needs met. Therefore their chronological age is different to their emotional age. For example, you may have a child who is eight, but emotionally still could be only 18 months old because they never had their emotional needs met.

It’s little things like when they get out of the bath, wrapping them in a towel and rocking them, which they didn’t experience as a baby. Another thing is around meal times, for example, my boy will occasionally ask for help eating because he didn’t have that support in his earlier years so is looking for that need to be met now. As an adoptive parent, you’ve got to consider their emotional age, not their chronological age. Remembering this is key.

I’ll be honest, I’ve found this part really difficult. I’m fighting 38 years of being parented and in a particular way. The fuses in my childhood home were very short and you cannot behave that way with an adoptive child, you must have patience. So it’s been a real eye-opener for me on how to try and control my initial reactions, be more tolerant and think about things more carefully.

So is it fair to say that the adoption experience has taught you a lot about yourself? Has becoming a parent changed you in any way?

Yes, I would say this experience has definitely taught me more about myself. I’ve always been quite an empathetic person and this has helped me transition into the adoptive parent role. This whole process has highlighted how important empathy and understanding people’s situations are. I think I’ve always been that way, to be honest, but even more so now.

Although I was only saying at work yesterday it’s funny how I have so much patience and tolerance with my team, yet you flip it onto parenthood and my tolerances and patience get a bit shorter. But I think this is because, when you become a parent your child becomes the most important thing in your life. Things that I would get upset and frustrated about beforehand in work, I’m just like, it’s not that important anymore. I don’t sweat the small stuff because my child and his well-being are my priority.

I agree. I think patience is the key word. People say to me all the time that I’ve calmed down since I’ve become a dad. I think when you’re at home, in a social environment or the workplace being more patient with people whether that’s colleagues, children, family or friends ensures you get the best out of those around you.

Speaking of friends, when we used to meet up we’d talk about which restaurant we’d been to or what holiday we’d just booked. Now it’s all mealtime strategies, sleep cycles and ‘guess what food has been smeared on my clothes this morning?’ Is it fair to say life has changed?

Yeah! Now it’s all about soft play and where the best children’s theme parks are. Holidays are not the same. Now you book a hotel based on the kids club reviews and availability of free slushies.

It’s not a holiday anymore. It’s a trip!

Yeah, it’s very, very different, but different in a good way.

I never expected to be a dad. Ever. Because I thought parenthood would be something that I would never do, you don’t work towards it. I think in heterosexual couples (or certainly it used to be) you would get together, get married and have a baby; you’d have these relationship milestones set out. But often in a gay relationship, couples get together, get a house and live the rest of your life frivolously. But as soon as my partner and I started the process we knew we were meant to be dads and I would never change it.

I always said when I first met Leanne that I’m not getting married again, I don’t want children and I don’t like pets…

And look at you now.

Yep, 15 years on, we’re married, we’ve got a dog and Alana proceeded pretty swiftly afterwards. You make a good point though. Society used to force everyone into these ‘norms’ but nowadays people are ripping up the rule book. I think we were probably the last generation who felt that pressure.

Though I couldn’t see my life any other way now. To see the world through a child’s eyes is probably the best thing I’ve ever experienced because they just love everything, don’t they? The first time they step on sand or go on a plane, it’s all new and exciting…

Oh absolutely! The number of times we’ve sat there and our little boy has just looked up and gone ‘This is the best day ever!‘.

It’s particularly powerful for him because he was taken into care at five and went through several different foster placements, so he’s never been able to feel safe, settled or have things of his own. He’s never been spoiled, and now he’s having all these experiences, he’s like WOW! Though we’ve had to reign it in a little bit!

What’s it like seeing the difference in him and knowing you’re giving him the best life experiences possible? Are you an adoption advocate?

A massive yes on both parts. I think more people need to see adoption as an option. People don’t look at or talk about fostering and adoption enough. I mean, consider the positive impact you can have; not only are you bringing joy to your life, but you’re also giving a child who would not have the best life a chance to have an amazing life. So people should think more about it because they’re crying out for adopters.

Look, it’s challenging, I won’t sugar coat that, in some early conversations with you I probably burst into tears a couple of times, but the rewards on both sides are huge.

That’s such a powerful message and you’ve completely opened my eyes, like many others I’m guilty of being relatively naive to the adoption conversation. Do you have any tips for people that are thinking about going on that journey?

I think my one tip would be that you cannot be overprepared. Read the books. Do as much training as you possibly can, because there is nothing that can prepare you for some of the challenges that are involved, but it is very, very, very rewarding. Some training courses we went on and some of the stories we heard were so sad and unbelievable so yeah, just be prepared. That’s the most important thing.

We’ve worked together now for 11(!) years and it’s been lovely to see you go on this journey, I know I’ve never seen you happier. You’ve got such a nurturing personality, and a brilliant relationship with your partner, I know you’re creating a great home for your boy.

Yeah, times have certainly changed since we were dancing on tables doing Karaoke and singing Barbie Girl! But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Through my relationship with this particular colleague and others, I’ve seen first-hand how adoption has enriched the lives of both adults and children. For me, it’s so important that organisations support and enable people to explore all routes to parenthood, and as business leaders, we must help to facilitate and champion this.

At Morson, our adoption policy has been crafted to ensure that adoptive parents are supported equally to those on traditional maternity or paternity leave. Primary parents receive the same entitlement as those on maternity and secondary parents mirror paternity policy. But, it’s not just adoption, we’re looking at various family structures to ensure our colleagues are supported by policies which are fair, inclusive, and reflective of their personal circumstances. For example, we’re currently working directly with one of our colleagues who is going through IVF to help write and shape our IVF policy to ensure it offers the right level of support.

As a business with a large, global reach we’re passionate about influencing positive change across our network based on learned experience. As such our HR teams are working with a number of clients to help them craft inclusive policies for their current and future workforce, through our HR Outsourcing service.

If you are a business wishing to explore how best to champion inclusion and support your employees or an individual looking for an opportunity in an organisation that cares for the personal and professional you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me directly adrian.adair@morson.com

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