Motherhood is by far the biggest challenge that women have contacted me to cover since I launched WorkWorkWork—but rather than confronting the emotional, physical and professional shifts that come with kids, Emily Cronin, mother of three-year-old twins and fashion features editor for The Telegraph magazines, suggested I approach it from a logistical point of view. Indeed, the ‘Making It Work’ section on this site was her idea. We can read countless pieces about finding balance, investing time in yourself, rebuilding your confidence and so on when you become a parent—but how do you actually schedule your new life? Here in the first of three parenting-focused pieces on the site, honouring mothers beyond Mother’s Day, Emily discusses how she runs her glamorous career alongside the relentless requirements of not one, but two three-year-olds. Clue: it’s on a knife-edge.
I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and studied political science, Arabic and photography at University. Now I’m the fashion features editor for the magazines at The Telegraph—certainly not the most obvious career trajectory! While I was at uni, I worked on the newspaper, the magazine, headed the student board at the museum and was always invested in storytelling and writing. But really what brought me to London was love. After graduation, I moved to the UK to join my now-husband, and after some misadventures in interning, I won the Vogue talent contest in 2008. That opened the door to this incredible world of fashion magazines, which I’ve happily inhabited ever since.
My first job in London was an internship on the markets desk at the Financial Times – not exactly where I hoped or expected to start, but since this was at the very beginning of the credit crunch, it turned out to be a great learning experience. It also led to a full-time job as an assistant on a financial news channel’s flagship morning news programme. My hours were 4am to noon. I knew I wanted to be a writer on something relating to culture, art and fashion, in no particular order, and instead I was working on a live show, with no writing involved, entirely focused on finance. And I never got to sleep.
Sometimes the wrong job can be the best thing to really clarify your ambitions. This one told me I definitely wanted to work in magazines, so I applied for a features assistant job at Harper’s Bazaar. When I didn’t even get an interview, I badgered the features editor until she met with me to discuss my application. I asked her what I could have done to get my foot in the door, and she mentioned the Vogue talent contest – the person she’d hired had won the previous year. I went home, looked it up, and the deadline happened to be two days later. I just kind of nailed it as if it was a life preserver. I was the last person to drop off my pack, and then, somehow, I won.
The prize included an internship at Vogue, and then Bazaar offered me a paid internship. I stayed all-in interning and freelancing for about a year (and tutoring on weekends to pay the bills – at one point I realised I’d worked something like 72 days in a row). I knew I needed some digital experience, so when the opportunity arose to join a digital fashion start-up called Fashionair, I took it. The site was an online video portal—to put it diplomatically, ahead of its time. On the plus side, I learnt not to be intimidated by digital fashion and got to work with some incredible people who I’m still close with today. The company folded after six months, so I went freelance and very quickly got hired by Elle UK. A year and half in, I moved to New York on a one-year secondment with my husband’s job and we loved it so much we ended up staying for nearly four years. I worked at US Harper’s Bazaar (interviewing Mick Jagger will forever remain a life highlight), launched a magazine for Hearst (TrendingNY – so proud to have given the women of Hamilton their first cover) and (oh yeah) gave birth to twins. Then we decided that it was time to come home to London.
No one could have been more surprised than I was when we heard those two heartbeats at my first scan. Everything was going well career-wise and I was focussed on enjoying New York—twin babies were just not something I’d ever thought about. I cried, my husband laughed and then we started searching for a bigger apartment.
When I meet people who are expecting twins now (still waiting for your calls, Beyonce and Amal), I tell them to take deep breaths – it’s going to be ok. There may be really bleak times ahead. There will probably be at least one night when you contemplate running away, and the only reason you don’t is because you’re too tired to stand up. But it is also incredibly fun and will get really rewarding when the kids start adoring each other and learning and exploring together. Even when it’s really hard—and there’s no sugar-coating it, there will be really hard times—you just know they will have a friend for life.
“There’s a weird superstition around talking about work, life and family – like spelling it out is going to jinx it all.”
There’s a weird superstition around talking about work, life and family – like spelling it out is going to jinx it all. When everything feels so tenuous and you know you haven’t figured it all out yet, talking about it seems like hubris. But when I first found out I was pregnant with twins, what I needed was logistical information. How the hell does anyone manage to go back to work with two babies at home? So while I won’t claim any monopoly on what is right, in a bid to provide some support to anyone else in the same situation, this is how we manage it in our home.
Not so long ago I had an interview with a high-level female editor. When she found out I had twins, she said, ‘Twins? That’s quite full-on. How do you manage that?’ Since the ideal response (helpfully) only reached me once the conversation had moved on (‘the same way my husband does—with pleasure, with compromise and with difficulty’), I muttered something about our weekly schedule. The truth is, I’m really lucky my partner is incredibly supportive and we’re doing our best right now, within our specific situation, to be equal parents.
I work four days a week and my husband and I handle nursery drop off two days each. Then we’re each home in time to bathe the kids and put them to bed the other two—we alternate. The days that he drops off, I’m at home in the evening, which means I can leave home in the morning as early as I want, for breakfasts or the rare 7:00am yoga class. And then I’ll be home 6:00pm for some kid time. The days that he takes care of the kids in the evening, I’m up to get the breakfast and do the nursery drop off. Somehow he seems to be more efficient than me in the mornings. I suspect it’s something to do with trying on multiple outfits—a professional hazard, or so I tell myself.
From my experience, it really takes three adults to run a family with twins. We have the privilege of having an au pair who lives with us to provide that third pair of hands. She picks the kids up from nursery every day at 4pm. For us to know that we can come home and they’ll already be happy, settled and in their routine as opposed to having to hurry home, schlep and go and get them really facilitates our life. We definitely don’t take it for granted. But it’s something that we feel we need right now and it works for us.
When I was looking for a new job back in London, I knew that I wanted to work four days a week—but finding the right job was the most important thing, and I’m lucky my employer worked with me to make it all happen. My direct manager is also a mother and she also works four days a week. The fact that she gets it completely and is very protective of my ability to have time with my children is a gift. I have been in the opposite situation before, so I’m grateful.
“Perfection is the enemy of happiness. Just because someone does something differently doesn’t mean that you are wrong or that they are judging you. And if they are, so what?”
Fridays are my ‘day off’: my day at home with my kids. Usually on a Friday we’ll wake up, play and often stay in pyjamas for a long time. When the weather is nice, we’ll walk to a local playground that has a café and play until lunch. I’m lucky because the kids still nap (just!), so they’ll rest in the afternoon and when they wake up we might have a local playdate or just make dinner together. I love having Fridays with them—I think it’s a guilt escape valve. Because even if I have to work late, or go to the office early or do fashion week, I always know I’m going to have those sacred Fridays.
Compromise is key to keeping everything running. With my job, I get invited to a lot of amazing events and trips—you’d be green if you heard about all of them. But to be the type of parent I want to be, I simply can’t accept them all. The two nights when Josh is home for bath- and bedtime are my nights to work late, attend events or meet friends in town. Otherwise, I can usually go out post-bedtime if I’ve arranged a sitter. And then during fashion week and other crucial times that we can plan ahead for, we make it work. But it’s a simple fact that I’m not about to drop everything and go to Thailand for five days at a spa. Most of the time. (Ed’s note: Emily sent her edits to this feature on the way to a spa in Thailand.) The schedule has to be regimented to a degree and we both have to hold up our end to make it work.
“From my experience, it really takes three adults to run a family with twins.”
That’s not to say there aren’t minor disasters. Of course the car and the clothes dryer broke down the very Friday morning I needed to rush to town to interview Donatella Versace during London Fashion Week. Of course one of the kids would get scarlet fever (NB: not just for Little Women!) during a week of insane deadlines. But people understand, and the kids have introduced a whole new dimension to how I relate to the amazing women I meet through work. I certainly wouldn’t have chatted with Victoria Beckham about breast-feeding before I was pregnant, or had a super-hip makeup artist halt a phone interview to say, ‘Wait, is that Peppa Pig on in the background? My daughter is obsessed!’
Fashion Editor By Day
I tend to get very anxious when I’m not busy. I think one of the reasons I got into journalism is because I enjoy knowing things before other people do, and being the one to tell them about it. I thrive on feeling plugged-in and vital to a system. So if I’m just twiddling my thumbs, I feel like I’m irrelevant.
Time management becomes essential for balancing work and home life when you have kids. I would like to be more efficient—but I’ve certainly improved. I try to set a timer for 20 minutes to power through emails every morning, because it can just go on forever if you don’t. One of my mentor’s biggest pieces of advice is that when you have so much to do that you don’t know where to begin, you just have to eat the frog. Meaning, do the hardest thing first. Don’t clean your desk, don’t Google—just get it done. I have to say one of the really refreshing things about my role now is that everyone is so busy and so productive that there’s very little scope for drama or angst about filing. You have to get it done because you have to produce more tomorrow and the next day and the next day.
The hardest thing to deal with is just the relentlessness of the schedule. I can be writing until midnight and then I’ve got a kid who’s sick and up every 45 minutes through the night. But the next morning just still resets—you can’t ever check out. Sometimes as a writer, which can be a very selfish profession, I wish I could lock myself away into a garret to find silence and focus. That’s just not going to be realistic for me, ever, and if it did somehow happen, I’m sure I’d be miserable with office FOMO.
“One of my mentor’s biggest pieces of advice is that when you have so much to do that you don’t know where to begin, you just have to eat the frog. Meaning, do the hardest thing first.”
Another challenge with parenthood is the feeling that you’re always being judged. If you see someone who looks like she’s got it really easy, the truth is that you just don’t know what’s going on. If you’re acquainted with an attachment parent who always wears her baby and breastfeeds until the child is four and is really smug about that – great for her! If you see someone who hires a night nurse for a year – great for her too! Whatever works is terrific. There is no right way, and it’s just insecurity that makes us judge each other. Insecurity and the feeling that someone who is doing it differently must be judging us for not doing it her way.
I also think our generation has bought into this fetishisation of motherhood and an ideal of perfection that’s really damaging, whereas our parents were more inclined to tell us to entertain ourselves and let us get on with it. Perfection is the enemy of happiness. Just because someone does something differently doesn’t mean that you are wrong or that they are judging you. And if they are, so what? There are always going to be those people. The high degree of organisation that my life needs is also a huge, sometimes boring challenge. But ultimately I feel incredibly lucky – without wanting to jinx anything – that I get to do a job I love and then come home, tickle soft tummies and read stories, which is worth all of the stresses which go into making it work.