Ese Odetah on Motherhood

Tell us what you do for a living and how you got into it?
I’m a freelance journalist, copywriter and full-time mother.

I’ve always had an interest in journalism mainly because I’m a bit of a nosey parker, but I also love the art of storytelling. However it wasn’t until my daughter was in school that I decided to pursue it as a career. I studied journalism at the University of Westminster and then did work experience wherever I could. It took years of hard work and running between work experience placements and childcare but I finally got a big break working with the online team at The Sun. I haven’t looked back since.

How has being a Black female impacted your career?  For example have you felt responsible for representing your female Blackness in a particular way?  Do you think that you have been limited or propelled because of your identity?
I wouldn’t say being a black female has impacted my career per se, but sometimes it does put barriers in the way. Most of the places I have worked or been a freelancer at I’ve been the only black woman and for me that’s worrying because it shows there is a problem in the hiring process. People tend to hire those they feel they have shared interests or someone they feel would be a good company fit. Now this could be down to class, race, gender or culture. But when you’re a minority in the workplace you do feel a level of responsibility to be a positive representative as they are so few of us.

So you consciously act in a way that doesn’t perpetuate negative stereotypes like the ‘angry black woman’ or the overly sassy one so in the future it’s that bit easier for the next black female.

I think if there were more black women in prominent roles in mainstream media, and that’s not to say there aren’t any, I guess we wouldn’t have to question or second-guess our presence.

You are a mother to a Teenager, who is on her way to University in September. How does being a Mother feel (be all the way real)?  How did being a ‘young mother’ feel… Is there a difference for you?
This is the first time anyone has ever asked me this… Being a mother is hard! To think my mum made it look so easy and she had five of us. I would say it’s like being on a never-ending rollercoaster with British weather; you never know what twists and turns are about to happen but you have to be prepared for all conditions. I haven’t enjoyed every part and I really struggled with my identity, particularly in the early days when all my friends were raving and at uni. There were times I felt failed as a parent because I couldn’t give my daughter the life I hoped for her.

But then I remember all the good times; teaching her Rapper’s Delight, (that was the first song/nursery rhyme she learned), camping in the sitting room because we didn’t have a garden, making up bedtime stories that lasted all of 20 seconds where we were the main characters, and now listening to her as a young woman speak about her bright future. You know what, I think maybe I’ve done okay.

There are positives and negatives to having your children young. On the positive side you have the energy to have lots of fun with your child, you get mistaken for a sibling/friend rather than a mother – quite the confidence boost when you’re on the very wrong side of 35, and your child feels comfortable talking to you about their life. The downside is that sometimes people, mainly educators, don’t take you seriously as they see a young single mum first and not someone who has worked hard to get a degree, start a career, look after a house while balancing parenthood.

How has race and ethnic / cultural background influenced your parenting?
I think I’m probably a bit harder on my daughter to achieve more simply because I understand how hard it can be to venture out into the world first as a black person and second, as a black woman.

Do you feel that you have an added responsibility raising a Black child in the UK? If so how?
Yes, there is an added responsibility. As a parent raising a daughter in this country I feel it’s my duty to educate my child on two things, first her race and then her gender. It’s important to teach black children to treat their blackness with the utmost respect and by that I mean for them to be proud of their cultural identity. Secondly, not to allow race and gender to be a barrier to achieving goals.

You have to have high expectations for your child, be a role model or at least show them role models, teach them beyond the classroom and be supportive of their education by attending parents’ evenings, checking homework etc…

The more successful black children there are now, the more successful black adults there will be in the future, meaning glass ceilings will be shattered and more opportunities will be created where we are the owners and those in key positions in the industry.

What is your view on promoting your daughter’s ethnic background and why?
I think it’s very important to teach my daughter about her ethnic background as it helps to shape the person she is now and who she will eventually become. I also believe it helps to keep the black families stronger as we have a clear identity of who we are. Being half Nigerian and St Lucian, my daughter is fortunate enough to have grandparents who reinforce their separate cultures, family lineage and traditions, something she will hopefully pass on to her future children.

What are your thoughts on the representation of Black Mothers online?
There is still a lot of stigma surrounding black mothers although it is changing for the better. However, I’ve found that social media still tends to perpetrate stereotypical images of black mothers, so the single black mother, the struggling black mother, the irresponsible black mother, etc. I think in order for change to happen we must be the change we are want to see, so more positive visual representations like Motherhood Reconstructed, and for people to stop mindlessly posting memes where black mothers are seen negatively.

How do you manage your career as a freelance writer with being a mother?
I work mainly from home now, so the only real impact is making the best use of time so I am available for her while at the same time having a life for myself. Word to the wise, teenagers need a lot more one-on-one time than society would lead you to believe. When she was younger it was harder trying to juggle everything. I felt like I was constantly on the go. We spent a lot of time in the car between childcare, work placements etc, which wasn’t ideal. However we made our car journeys the best we could with fun spelling games, sing-a-longs and hours upon hours of eye spy.

When you feel overwhelmed how do you overcome that?
I used to deal with things alone as I thought that was what I was supposed to do, but I found that didn’t work. I’ve since learned to reach out to others and I now have a great support system; my parents, partner and friends (most who aren’t parents themselves) who are around to offer advice and lend a shoulder when needed. They help me to see things from different perspectives and speak to my daughter so she can understand mine, or at least see the bigger picture from a non-parent point of view.

What if anything would you differently as a parent?
Knowing what I know now the number one thing I would definitely do differently is spend more time with my daughter as she was growing up and not sweat the small stuff. I’d also take more pictures of us.

*Quick fire questions*
Nas or Wu Tang? Wu Tang
Clubbing or fine dining? Fine dining and then straight to the club
Jollof rice or plantain? Lol! You’re not serious.
Trainers or Heels? No brainier, trainers all day.
90’s or 00’s? 90’s
Netflix & Chill or Cinema? Cinema
Reading or Running? Reading
Dessert or Cocktails? Dessert obviously!

Sum up Motherhood in four words:
[Do you mean in a sentence or individual?]
Where dreams are made.
Hilarious. Hope. Patience. Scary.

What’s your best/favourite Motherhood Quote?
“Being a mother is like being on a never-ending rollercoaster with British weather; you never know what twists and turns are about to happen but you have to be prepared for all conditions.”