Inspiring Mummy: Catherine O’Donnell
Tell us about yourself: (Name, age and anything else you want to say).
Hi I’m Catherine, I’m a late thirty something (still clinging on to those thirties) and mum to two highly energetic little superheroes Leo & Noah plus one of the canine variety, who all keep me on my toes, quite literally!
Tell us about your family set up:
Family life is pretty busy most of the time, my boys are (coming up to) 4 and 5 and as any mother of boys will no doubt tell you - they are ‘high’ energy! We live in Silsoe with my husband & our family dog.
Do you work or stay at home? How does that work for you? How do you feel about those decisions and choices? Has what you do greatly changed since you’ve had a family? In what ways?
I work for myself around my boys as a portrait photographer, it’s all a bit of a juggling act. I worked as a teacher prior to having children which is something I’d retrained to do however when I fell pregnant with my second son Noah I felt like it wasn’t going to be worth me going back both financially and because I’d miss being with them, my boys are pretty close together in age too (17 months apart) and when I weighed up the cost of childcare it wasn’t really practical. Although having children is wonderful and life changing (for the better), I think you can almost feel like a part of you is missing after having a child - you can feel like you’ve lost your identity a little bit, especially when you know you aren’t going back to a job/ career. I know I felt like that for a while, I guess I was lucky in a sense that photography kind of found me at the right time. I’ve been working as a professional photographer for three years now however it all came about really after having my first son. I’ve always been very creative and have drawn, painted and taken pictures my whole life however when I became a mum I became slightly obsessed with taking pictures of my son, It was also around that time I was asked to photograph a friend of a friend’s wedding after they’d seen some of my pictures and although absolutely petrified I agreed, so to cut a long story short I set about teaching myself how to take pictures ‘properly.’ I taught myself ‘a lot’, and went through a serious learning curve, I stayed up many a late night, took myself on various workshops, and before I knew it I was being approached by people I didn’t know, when this began I started to take things a bit more seriously. I’ve now been working professionally for just over three years. It’s all been a real journey, and I now run a busy business around my little ones as a portrait photographer, I’ve just taught my first workshop too so feels like I’ve come full circle in a way. I sometimes question whether I should have waited to start my business and follow my passions until my children were in school, I don’t really think I ever expected to get as busy as I have, but perhaps I’ve laid the foundations for me to be able to work in a role where I can determine my own hours in a way which fits around our family life - although this has been a steep learning curve, and there have been many times over the past few years where I’ve had the balance all wrong when I’ve been editing at two in the morning because my children had chicken pox, and felt like giving up because I took on too much. But I think whether you choose to work or stay at home you always feel torn. Last year I started a personal portrait project called Oh Mama which is a portrait & interview series focussing on mums, celebrating the challenges of motherhood which I began because of my own struggles and feelings of guilt. Being a mum can be exhausting, challenging, emotional but oh so full of joy… but since becoming a mum I realised that there seemed to be this front that everyone thought that everyone else has it all sorted, that there was this kind of ‘perfect mum’ image we were all meant to live up to, and I honestly don't think that such a mum exists, it’s refreshing for mum’s to be honest. Motherhood can be quite lonely these days, sometimes I think we’re made to feel we need to be everything, and we’re torn in so many directions - what I’ve learned is that you have to do what feels right for you and your family, and that will be different for everyone, and that’s good to talk, to open up and share the not so perfect things. I guess for me personally everything has changed since having a family, my body, where we live, my career… but I wouldn’t change it for the world - although I would love a few more hours sleep once in a while!
What are your day-to-day challenges as a mum?
Honestly…I would have to say getting the boys ready and to school/ pre-school in the mornings is my number one challenge, a new school has recently been built on the other side in the village which is quite a bit further away from where we live, so my mornings consist of what feels a little bit like herding wayward sheep and ushering them out the door, usually to discover one of them has kicked their shoes off, or forgotten their bag, or needs a wee, then finally once we’re out the house I can often be seen pulling the boys along in a little wagon whilst simultaneously walking the dog, who is generally trying to pull me in another direction! 🙂 This is definitely the most stressful part of my day. By the time we get to the school I’m pretty sure I must resemble a windswept Bridget Jones.The other challenge I guess I face - in between dealing with temper tantrums - is just the general business of trying to cram in a ridiculous amount of work into a school day. My youngest goes to pre-school three days a week so those are the hours I have to be ultra productive (although I then feel guilty if the house is left a mess whilst I get on with my work too), I also tend to cram in work at the evenings and weekends too. Though I am trying to stop doing this so much and be stricter with protecting our family time as finding the right balance has become so important to me. I don’t want to miss anything anymore.
What would you most like to change about your current situation?
Hmm… besides waving a magic wand in the mornings, having an assistant, oh and maybe having a daily cleaner & chef (wouldn’t that be nice) I guess for me learning to master my work/ life balance would be helpful, and putting stricter boundaries in place, and perhaps not feel guilty for having dreams, not only that but I’d just generally love more time to just do the things I enjoy - like going to the gym or painting, reading or seeing friends - life just seems to be very busy these days! Sometimes going to the toilet alone seems like a luxury! 🙂
In what ways do you hope to inspire your children?
Funnily enough I’ve been so torn at times as to whether to work when my children are little, and I said this to my eldest son the other day and I asked him if I should stop, whether he wanted me to stop working and he said; ‘No mummy, if you don’t take pictures, I won’t take pictures.’ And then it kind of hit me that if they can see me achieve something it inspires them, and I realised that maybe I shouldn’t feel bad, that it’s a good thing.I guess I hope to inspire my children to be good people, to be kind, to reach for their dreams and believe in themselves and their special talents and to feel like they can do anything if they set their minds to it. I just want them to be happy and fulfilled and to really live.To be honest I think half the time it’s the other way around - my children inspire me more; to live in the moment and be happy now, my children are always so wonderfully present.
What inspires you the most? (People/books/art etc…)
Oh gosh I’m inspired by so many things, people I know, films, music, art, books, travel, the beach, walking the dog!I love going to galleries too, The National Portrait Gallery is my favourite…and I have so many beautiful art books cluttering my coffee table that I love leafing through on the rare occasion I get a moment.I literally can find inspiration everywhere; people watching in cafes, walking by the ocean, looking at a beautiful painting, or just watching my children play. I guess I take inspiration from life and story-telling in my work too, however I can feel inspired by great speakers, a yoga class, a beautiful sunset, a beautiful record - so many things.
Do you currently take any regular time out for yourself? What do you do with that time out?If not, why not? What prevents you?
No, I hardly have any time for myself at the moment as I’ve got so busy, and in between being in full on mummy mode and trying to do all my work, there never seems to be any time left… I really need to re-assess this!
What are your thoughts about the Inspiring Mummy Club, and what do you see as its appeal? I love the idea of the Inspiring Mummy Club, seems like such a lovely concept, somewhere to hopefully gain clarity, motivation and inspiration with like minded mums, and feel like it’s allowed, no encouraged, to reach for those dreams and re-discover our sense of self! I just need to carve out some time to get more involved. I’m sure so many mums will benefit from the Inspiring Mummy Club.
You can find out more about Catherine's beautiful photography work and her blog at www.catherineodonnell.co.uk.