Claire Danes on motherhood. Brutal, truthful and painfully honest.

October issue of Harper’s Bazaar.


I’m midway through telling a friend about this amazing Harper’s Bazaar profile on Claire Danes.  Actually, I’m gushing – swooning even –  profiles NEVER go this way. Not profiles about working mums.

It starts off kind of normal. Claire Danes and Ajesh Patalay (the journalist) rendezvous at a swish New York restaurant, but there’s no sophisticated entrance. Danes arrives late, flushed and described by turns as ‘distressed’ and ‘confused’ – madly punching stuff into her iPhone – her face animated with contortion. They sit down. But instead of ordering a martini, Danes ‘dashes apologetically’ to the bathroom, only to return – even LESS composed – before launching into this ‘life update’:

“But yeah, we are off in two days,’ she says, meaning her actor husband Hugh Dancy and their 17-month-old son Cyrus, both of whom are leaving with her for Cape Town, where the new series of Homeland is being shot. ‘So it’s just kind of manically trying to – interesting choice of words – but no, [we’re] desperately trying to get all of our gear together and it seems a lot right now. Hugh is actually taking a job, a mini-series about Gallipoli five days into our [stay], so he will fly with us and then five days later go to Adelaide for a month and then come back for two weeks and then [off] for another month, so… We have a brand new nanny too, who we will basically meet at the airport, so it’s all just, you know…’

Lucy with her son Harry

Yeah Claire, I basically want to yell. I know EXACTLY what you are talking about.  I really do.

Because what you’re really saying – behind all that glamorous/Hollywood/nanny/jet-setting lifestyle stuff – is the truest thing there is for me right now. And here it is: This working motherhood thing – it’s a killer. Really, really tough. More physically demanding, more mentally exhausting and more undeniably challenging than clearly, many of us – even Hollywood types like you – ever, ever expected.

But my friend stops me mid-sentence.

“Hang on a sec, Lucy? What do you mean you didn’t know being a mum would be hard work? Didn’t you expect to be carting a baby around all day, that they’d need you 24/7. That there’d be days you’ll be working on zero hours sleep without a shower. How could you not have known that?”

I feel taken aback and start hunting around for a ‘good’ answer.

The real answer is a big fat ‘no’.

I had no idea whatsoever what being a working mum was like. Everything I thought I knew came from books that I’d read or advice I’d been given. The rest of it, I just imagined.

Books depict working motherhood in deceptively manageable terms. After all, routines, sleep schedules and long paragraphs about the impact of hormones and sleep deprivation – they’re easy to ‘write’ about. Living those things, well that’s a completely different story altogether.


For example, until very recently I did not know that my brain can fire up OK in the morning after about five hours sleep, but it’s going to shut down by 1pm. Or that speaking in front of a room full of friendly adults could be again so terrifying I’d end up repeatedly tongue-tied and ashamed.

Same goes for the endless, well-meaning anecdotes other mothers share with you, of ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ babies, and constant reminders that things “will get easier.” I’ve said those things myself. And they’re all true. It’s just that how you ‘imagine’ it feels to be at work sleep deprived or hormonal is based on pre-baby experiences. Not how it feels in the afterglow.

Now I know that it’s possible to be up all night worrying about leaving your baby with someone new. Then feel guilty when you spend the next day so busy you barely thought of them. Or the panic on realising that despite missing your baby all day, once you’re home, the housework has eaten up the time you should have spent playing together.

It’s chaotic, a jumbled mess of conflicting feelings and priorities. And you have very little – if any – time alone to really process it.

Here’s the Claire Danes spin on it:

‘Being a mum is incredibly challenging,’ Danes agrees, ‘but we still feel a pressure to talk about it in very romantic terms. And it’s not just that. We all have that resentment at times and anxiety about being trapped by the role, that responsibility. And then chemically it can run riot. Your mental state, the hormonal swings are so extraordinary and singular to the female experience and they haven’t been taken very seriously or considered very deeply… I mean, post-partum aside, even if you have the most healthy relationship with your child and have support and resources, it’s tough. It’s really tough. And there’s no “off” button. [For me] that was the hardest adjustment. You always feel beholden to somebody… And for so long they’re like koala bears, you just feel a physical responsibility to be there for them to cling to. It’s pretty primal.’

But also there is just SO much goodness in this new life.

As I told my friend (and anyone else who’ll listen), it’s impossible to explain the sheer, joy, gratitude and love I have for my son and my new job as his mum.

I covet him with every part of my heart and wish everyone the same extremes of happiness, pride, gratitude and sheer terror that seems to co-exist in this motherhood place.  Just don’t expect it to be easy.

Was working motherhood like you expected?