Monday, April 18, 2011

Work at Home Mama, Tenille.

My name is Tenille, I am a work-at-home mama of an (almost) 12 month old boy, Cash.
I’ve always found these labels funny. Stay at home, work at home, part-time, full-time... The reality is that once you are a mother you have one job. Just one important job, and the rest becomes a sideshow.

I’ve always been a multi-tasker. Never more so than when I was pregnant with Cash. I had a full-time job in hospitality, a part-time jewellery design business of my own and had taken on numerous other projects. I was producing an independent theatre project as well as doing volunteer work for the Buddhist Council of Australia. I was determined to prove that pregnancy was not an illness, that I was as strong and powerful and as capable as I had ever been. I carried heavy things, I rode my bike, I continued with a strong yoga practice and I said,
‘yes, yes, yes’.
I can still do that. I can do everything, all at once. I had this image of myself as a mother, doing everything that I did before, just with a baby on my back. I recounted loudly to anyone who would listen, stories of the women from other cultures that squatted, delivered their baby in the field where they worked, picked the baby up and carried on working. That would be me.

Cash was born after a very long, natural drug-free labour. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. After, I felt as though I had run a marathon. Every muscle in my body ached, from my feet to forearms. I was both empowered and humbled by the experience. The relief I felt, in the few quiet hours after the birth, was validated by the delusion that that was the hardest thing I would ever have to do. It would never get harder than that.  Boy, was I wrong! Being a mother has surpassed every expectation. It is the hardest job I’ve ever had. But it is also the best.
It took me awhile to adjust and work out what my new role was. Like any new mother, I questioned my worth. Is it ok for me to be ‘just a mother’? Shouldn’t I be something else as well? I felt as though the modern mother was expected to do and have everything, including a successful career. I continually found myself in situations where people were asking, “so when are you going back to work?” A short return to a weekly hospitality shift when Cash was about 5 months old left me anxious and unhappy. All week, I stressed about my one working day. I realised that what I really wanted was to be able to stay home with him.

This decision was certainly to the detriment of our family finances. So I set out trying to make it viable.
I had a jewellery design business that I had been working on part-time since I left college in 2007. It was something I eventually wanted to make a living from. So I thought, well, why not now? Why not put everything out there and try to actually make it happen? So I did. And that’s what my life is now. Trying to launch a new jewellery design label while taking care of a baby and running a household. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s really hard. There are many days when I think, I should just go back to a ‘real’ job, even just a few days a week. At least then I would have a regular stable income and wouldn’t have to worry about all the extra things I have to worry about now. But there are the amazing days too, where I count my blessings and love every bit of my life.

One thing that being a mother has taught me though, is that if you spend your days trying to qualify and quantify your work and your value, you’ll go insane! So I have to remind myself to stay in the moment. If my baby needs me, he needs me and that task can wait. But if I am working on my jewellery, I need to be fully there and not thinking about the domestic chores piling up. Otherwise I won’t produce my best work. I’ve realised that I can do a lot of things at once. But being a happy multitasker requires mindfulness. So I have to make sure that I keep my mind on whatever is in front of me in that moment.   

I’m lucky though, that as an artist and designer, my work is very personal and there is less of a divide between work and leisure. It means I don’t have two separate identities, no work self vs. personal self. It’s all the same person. Honestly, I actually really love that! I feel like a whole person, instead of a person playing various different roles.  

There are times when I am packing up a big consignment order or frantically finishing off a piece for a deadline that I wish I had somewhere else to work. When my dining room table is covered in scraps, or when the baby wakes up while I’m on the phone to a gallery, I have brief doubts. It is hard to balance work and life when it all happens in the same place. But when I am right there for every moment of sheer joy that parenting brings, I realise that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but home.   


  1. Tenille - so lovely to learn more about you! I love your point that you are just 'one self' - I feel the same :)

  2. Thanks Jess! :) And thank Natalie for letting me tell my story here! My role as a mother is the most important one I have and it's so nice to have the opportunity to talk about it. Much love xx

  3. Wow, Tenille, beautiful! Really puts into words what so many mothers struggle with, are confused about, and have difficulty explaining to others.

    I have had the same problem, big time! My daughter turns 3 next week, and I haven't worked since before she was born. I have never been asked when I'm returning to work, but I have been asked what I do for work and I get the "look" when I say I'm a stay at home mum before that person not-so-subtly shifts away from me to find someone "interesting" to talk to.

    Great job and thanks for sharing :)

    Jen (COM14)