Saturday, 3 January 2015

How They Make It Work: Sali Hughes

What do you do for work?

Im a journalist, magazine columnist, broadcaster and consultant, and have recently written a book, Pretty Honest. I also have my own online forum, at

What's your home set up - where do you live and with whom, how many children do you have?

I live in Brighton with my two sons, Marvin, nine, and Arthur, seven. My assistant, Lauren, lodges in her own little flat on the top floor.

How do you manage childcare? Has this changed over the years with experience/changing circumstances?

I stayed at home for the first three years of motherhood, which basically drove me bonkers. I felt very depressed for the first year or so. Social networking didnt exist then, my father had just died, I was still living in London and felt bereft of my career. It was a grim and confusing time. I sought therapy and gradually, felt better. By the time I had my second child I was freelancing again from home, and understood that it was not at all good for my mental health to stop. Im very fortunate in that I dont work in an office, and to a certain degree, can manage my diary as I please, around my family. I can almost always commit to school concerts and doctors appointments, for example, so I feel very lucky. I just have to be very canny with my diary. I try to block all London meetings into two days a week, when my partner can do school pick up. Im pretty much always home for either breakfast or dinner. I work a lot when the boys are in bed (I would say that well over 80% of Pretty Honest was written while everyone else in the house was fast asleep). That said, I do have to travel a lot and I need to work hard to pay for everything, so I sometimes rely heavily on my partner and assistant to help with childcare.

What have you learnt about childcare and work from doing it this way - for instance do you have any tips about having au pairs, interviewing nannies or choosing a nursery - or how to manage without?

I had au pairs for five years, simply because they are the only form of childcare that can adapt to an unpredictable and unsocial work schedule. I am a single mum with a silly job - there was simply no way around it. But it certainly wasnt easy. Having someone live in your home is rarely ideal for any of the adults involved. I would strongly recommend choosing someone who likes going out and meeting people, someone mature and independent but great fun, and of course, someone who really loves kids - that seems obvious but youd be surprised by how many applicants Ive met who, it turned out, were actually hoping for a break into journalism. You need to know what happens at weekends - are they likely to go away, or go shopping and clubbing, or mostly sit around the house? Any of those things may be fine for one family, but not for others. Be realistic about your priorities. Is cleaning REALLY as important as playing games with the kids? No one is brilliant at everything, so you will need to compromise somewhere. If youre employing someone from overseas, Skype as much as possible in advance of a job offer.

What's the hardest thing about combining work and parenthood? Any real low points or disasters that you can share?

My lowest point was my divorce, without question. You feel youve massively let down your kids. That entire period was worse than anything Ive ever known - I dont think you ever get over it - but you do learn lots too, and in a weird way, it brought me even closer to my children. We are happy. Day to day, I think that for most working mums - myself included - the hardest thing is the constant feeling that youre doing everything a bit crap-ly, instead of one thing really well. I very often think Im the worst mum in school, because everyone else seems not to work anything like as much as I have to. Just recently, I left a school concert as soon as it finished to get into a taxi waiting at the school gates to take me to Heathrow. I thought I bet no one else here is now leaving their kid to work in New York for four days. I felt terrible. But this is all so subjective - I think all mums, whatever their responsibilities and lifestyles, beat themselves up in the way dads dont. On these days, I comfort myself with the knowledge that my children are being taught that nothing in life comes without effort and expense, that mum busts a gut for them, and that hard work is very important in life. Thats essential stuff, I think. Because people with a sense of entitlement are the pits.

And what about the best bits - what makes it all worthwhile, and keeps you going at the end of a long day (or week, or month)?

I love Saturday nights. We never go out and I never do a stroke of work, however important. We order a takeaway, put on pyjamas and snuggle down as a family to watch whatever crap is on telly. We laugh a lot. We remember that despite any nagging, squabbling or absences throughout the week, we all really like each other. I look forward to it all week - youd have to move heaven and earth to get me to miss it.

What products, brands, items of clothing or other essentials couldn't you manage without - what are your Working/Life Heroes?

I cannot live without my MacBook Air and iPhone. They mean I can do my job anywhere - train, home, cafe etc. Theyre also essential when Im not working so that my children can FaceTime their dad, who theyre very close to, whenever they want. 

I live in dresses during the week - you just pick one in seconds, whack on your heels (I never do flats, ever), and your outfit is done. I wear heaps of Whistles, APC, Ganni, ASOS, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Isabel Marant - all are great for short girls. I’m a sucker for bags and because I don’t work from an office, I need to carry loads of stuff in it. I buy few so I want them to be great quality and BIG. I usually carry a Saint Laurent or a Mulberry.

How do you maintain energy and cope with the demands of your life? What tips or tricks have you evolved to do so?

Im not sure I do, really. I work too much, there is no doubt I need to improve that. But also, I have much more flexibility and freedom than people who work in an office, so its swings and roundabouts. I wouldnt swap. I constantly think I should be doing better though. I should go to bed earlier, I should learn not to say yes to everything Im interested in doing - the list of areas for improvement is endless. But on the whole Im extremely happy and grateful for my work and family. If I have any strategy, I suppose its to work hard, ring-fence weekends for family and not to waste personal time on people who dont care about me, nor dwell too long on why they dont.

How do you relax?

I love doing nothing. Sitting around with a cup of tea and a book or watching a DVD with the boys is a state of grace - I dont think it can really be improved on. I walk a lot and I love the bath too. Some candles and a glass of wine, some treaty bath foam. Perfect. Equally, I adore a girls lunch, night out or weekend - lots of laughing and prosecco. I need to have at least one of those in the diary at any given time. Its something to look forward to.

What's on your:

Bedside table

Micellar water and cotton wool discs (for occasional overtired / drunken cleansing), Kindle Paperwhite, facial oil (the fastest, most reliable way of reviving tired, overworked skin overnight), hand cream, water.

Sky+ box

Heaps of kids films and cartoons, Gogglebox, lots of documentaries, Cheers, Mapp & Lucia and Esio Trot from Christmas, loads of my TV appearances that have been there for ages but which I have no bloody idea how to transfer to DVD or computer file. The box will inevitably die, and I will lose everything.

Amazon wish list

Im bad in that I dont consider books a luxury - if I want a book, I buy it without guilt. Ive just finished Lissa Evans Crooked Heart and just absolutely loved it. Its a big, warm bath of a novel. Newly downloaded and ready to go are We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler because Ive only heard great things, and Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbot, because I love reading thrillers as a way to unwind.

In your handbag?

So, so much stuff. About nine lipsticks (Im addicted and also, write a beauty column), overstuffed make-up bag, specs, little MacBook Air, iPhone charger, card wallet, spare battery, purse, large Smythson diary, about 12 pens (I am never, ever knowingly pen-less), receipts, perfume, Mason Pearson hairbrush, Kindle, notebook, tissues, anti-bac wipes, hand cream, kids stuff like confiscated NERF bullets, chocolate buttons, Moshi Monsters etc etc. Its quite embarrassing, in all honesty.

Most used apps

Instagram - its just pure joy, no stress. 
Train Tickets - essential as I live in Brighton and travel to London lots by train. 
Pingit - I cannot believe anyone would not have this. I rely on it so heavily. 
Maps - my sense of direction sucks really hard. 
Get Taxi - by far the best London taxi app. 
Asos - the most brilliant service and the best selection of clothes on the internet. 
Pointless - because I adore quizzes and always have at least five games on the go at any given time.

Any final advice for fellow Dualistas?

Not really. I really dont have it sussed. I dont think any of us do. Good enough is just fine, I think.

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