Yet, she believes if we are living under a “Mother Stopper” culture, we are also living in a “Father Stunting” one, which doesn’t expect fathers to take an equal share of responsibility at home and with childcare. This, says Malina-Derben, is something she has addressed in her next book, the aptly titled Spunk, due out in November, and the School for Fathers podcast, which she launched in 2019.
So, judgment aside, how has she managed to have a successful career and raise such a large family? Her children, Freddie, George, Jack, Tom, Harriet, Isadora, (Madeline), Meredith, range from grown-ups to her eight-year-old triplets, Montgomery, Seraphina and Horatio.
“My children are obviously my life’s work, but it’s not as though I have 10 babies and toddlers. The older ones are pretty much self-sufficient,” she says.
She had six of them staying at home during lockdown; the triplets, two teens and her eldest daughter. She managed by running a very organised, almost military routine and by outsourcing aspects of home-schooling to her older ones, she says. Her eldest daughter, Harriet, moved back home to help out, and each day they have a timetable they all operate by.
Homeschooling, making slime, lunch, an hour or so of screen time, and so on. The book, in the end, “poured out of her” over three weeks, as it had been in the making for so long. The result is a debrief on motherhood for today, described by Malina-Derben as “an invitation to think differently about motherhood”. It looks at the different assumptions we’ve made and take as gospel, including that guilt is an inevitable part of mother-hood and that women lose their ambition when they become a mother, and turns them on their head.
“I lived on tomato soup and toast. I was dreaming of the book, writing it in my sleep and thought about nothing else, except, of course, the kids.” She has, she says, like most working mothers, been negotiating with her children how she can continue to work around them.
“I’ve told them that I need to sit and concentrate for a certain amount of time. I am really self-disciplined and I think that’s at the heart of everything. I forgo Netflix boxsets and lots of other things to get work done.”
What about her two ex-husbands? Have they helped out at all over lockdown? In a word, no. “I’ve had more support from my girlfriends than I have from anyone else,” notes Malina-Derben, who is currently single. “We’ve had Zoom calls and lots of chats. The children’s two fathers have been busy with their work over lockdown, so I’ve shouldered everything.”
That hasn’t always been the case though. “I’ve had periods, earlier on, when I’ve worked and my husband has been a stay-at-home dad,” she says. Despite the fact that lockdown has shone a light on the glaring gender divide at home, Malina-Derben thinks now is an ideal time for women to challenge the status quo.
“When we really unpick things, these sorts of assumptions, that women will take the lion’s share of the domestic duties and put their career on hold, is really just a convenience for the patriarchy.” Right now, we should be looking at whether this serves us.
“Why aren’t we thinking this through? Do we want our children, especially our daughters, to feel as though they have to have a little career and then have a baby and feel as though they have to morph who they are and sacrifice themselves to motherhood? Are we honestly not evolved enough to realise that this isn’t working for us?” she asks.
It’s not women who are failing, it’s our patriarchal society making them feel like rubbish. “I want women to realise that they don’t have to feel constant guilt when they become a mother.” It is, Malina-Derben says, time for women to put themselves first. It’s time to drown out the noise and for women to start making their own.
Noise is out on March 30