Chat with author and mum Chaneen Saliee about finding your own way in motherhood.
Interview by Tekie Quaye
How would you describe yourself?
As a very big-hearted person who has a deep underlying passion and connection with others in the world. I’m very creative and I’m always on the move. I’m excited about life and about new things. I love novelty. I also think a lot all the time – overthink things! But ultimately I would say that I’m a great parent to my daughters who look up to me. They look through the eyes of love and I remind myself daily that’s all that matters in my experience of life right now.
What were you like before you became a mother?
I can’t really remember who that person was. I think I’ve always been a very free spirited person, very rebellious at heart but also a very kind and peaceful person. It just happened naturally and I was never aware of that side of me, that piece that connects organically with people side of me, I just knew I like to be around people. I like to go to parties and have lots of fun. I like to travel the world and it was all always about pleasure, whereas, now it is also about pleasure but it’s also about connection and making a very positive impact on the lives of my daughters and on the lives of anybody who crosses my path.
You’re a mum. A Black mum. A Black breastfeeding mum. A Black breastfeeding mum with so many projects on the go, raising two daughters in London. This isn’t a common image of motherhood. What do you see as the greatest barriers for women, mothers and parents out there like yourself?
The greatest barrier to mothers and parents like myself, particularly Black women and mothers who come from a very cultural background is fear! I think there is a huge, huge, factor of fear. By that I mean being Black and growing up in a ‘broken home’ (it didn’t feel broken – it just felt like home) with a mother who had to work multiple jobs so the baliffs would not come to take the last of the little that we had. There was always a sense of worry! There was a need to make sure we had enough and a need to make sure we didn’t lose what we had.
This need to work around the clock in underpaid jobs is what has prevented us as women, as mothers, as human beings from really connecting with our pleasure and our purpose in life. Our purpose in life is not to worry about where my next meal is coming from or who is going to knock on the door and take my things away. Our purpose in life – as human beings – is to enjoy life. We have one life here so that we can see our power that lies within us, that lies within our openness.
Of course with a mindset that strings back through the ages, it’s very difficult for Black mothers to be open and feel powerful when you’re surrounded by worry.
You have so much going on, there are so many layers and points of intersectionality that make up who you are. Do you derive energy from this dynamism? How has it influenced the mother you look to be?
Oh yes! I get so much energy from this dynamism because life is always exciting for me. There’s always something new to be excited about, something new to be looking forward to, something new to be creating, to be sharing.
I love to share the excitement and passion with my daughters, who at the moment don’t really give a damn about anything I’m doing unless it’s playing with megablocks. Haha.
I find that lots of mothers feel they would lose themselves and their own identity when they become mothers. And I think it’s very important not to lose those things. It is up to us to show our children it’s okay to be passionate about different things. We have to show our children it’s great to be creative – even as an adult… and that we can derive great joy, energy, money – anything we want from it. I am a huge advocate for doing, being and having anything you want. Anything!
And so being a very intersectional person I believe I will raise children who will embrace all of their passions and not feel as if they have to stay in their lane.
My motto: Occupy all the lanes you want!
You’ve authored Solidarity: Poetry and Prose and followed it up with Moments for Me: Gratitude Journal. Who did you write these pieces for? What are they about?
I’m so grateful that I managed to achieve such greatness especially during such difficult times for so many people. If I’m honest I wrote them both for me with no intention of ever sharing it with anybody! And I can’t believe, every time somebody tells me how much a poem from Solidarity resonates with them – because it’s like they’re holding a piece of my heart and looking into my soul. They’re connecting with that.
I wrote a lot of my poetry during times of sheer gratitude or sheer difficulty. I use poetry as a means of expressing and releasing my emotions and moving through them. I had built a huge batch of poems and I was inspired by a friend who was also writing a book, so I just went for it and I’m so glad that I did.
One thing I would say about Moments for Me: a journal for gratitude and self love is that I created it for myself and I’ve been using that structure of journaling for several years now. I created it when I was at University and slightly adapted it over the years. I remember thinking, it can be difficult for mothers to take time to just be with themselves, connect with who they are and who they want to be and I adapted the structure of the journal a final time.
I put it into a journal when I was worried for a friend who told me how she’d had a scary experience where she worked herself into the ground and her body just sort of gave in. She loves to work and taking breaks is unusual for her but I really wanted her to just slow down a bit each day, because it would make a huge difference.
It was during this time that I decided to publish it in a journal. I shared it with her and a few of my other friends -they used it and loved it. Then they announced it on social media and told people to DM me to buy a copy.
I was like, “oh my goodness” now I have to put these up for sale! Which was great because now it means that more women can use the structure and take 5 to 10 minutes each day just for themselves to set intentions to be grateful and to reflect.
I’m someone who’s passionate about connecting with the world and want to leave a positive impact. I feel like through my poetry book and journal I’m able to do that.
Do you see the experience of motherhood as an opportunity for your own self reflection and growth?
I definitely see motherhood is an opportunity for my own self reflection and growth. I was never really self aware before – I was just going with the flow of life which was fine I suppose. But it does feel so much nicer to be more self aware and to be able to take action based on what it is that I need, as well as what I know my daughters need.
What do you think needs to shift within the conversations around the experience of motherhood and parenthood?
I think that motherhood and parenthood looks very perfect in the media. I have noticed and appreciate more TV shows beginning to highlight the modern realities of motherhood.
I think the shift needs to be from a place where we’re discussing both the perfect and the imperfect world of parenting. Where discussing the impact it has on your mental health and your physical health. I think we need to shift into a space of allowing mums to choose how to become the mother and parent they need to be rather than dictating to them what they should look like as a good parent. I think conversations around homeschooling, breastfeeding, co-sleeping as well as public schooling, bottle feeding, cot sleeping should all be discussed with equal attention. I don’t think that’s where we are right now and that’s a bit of a problem because mums are always made to feel guilty for one reason or another, because they’re not doing all of the things that they’re “supposed” to be doing.
What passions have been ignited through your journey into motherhood? I know you are very open about your experience of breastfeeding with your daughters, is this one of them?
Ahhh … Breastfeeding? A passion? I have had a passion for breastfeeding since I learned about breastfeeding in my 36 week of pregnancy, and I’m so glad and grateful to still be breastfeeding now both my daughters at the ages of one and three. I almost can’t believe that I’m tandem feeding a one-year-old and a three-year-old. I feel incredibly powerful for the ability to do that. However I’m also struggling so much breastfeeding my eldest daughter and it doesn’t feel like a passion anymore it feels more like not wanting to hurt her feelings, so I don’t know what to call that right now!
I suppose it is a passion because despite these current feelings, I believe it’s so good for her on so many levels – so we keep going.
I have become more passionate about speaking about mental health. I’ve always kind of spoken about mental health but I feel like motherhood gives me an edge to talk to a specific group of people about specific mental health issues that we may all experience. And that’s why I wrote Solidarity: poetry and prose as well.
I also love love love love to talk about self love and self-care because it’s a huge passion now. When you’re a single person with no children you can choose to do it or not to do it. However, when you’re a parent of small children it no longer feels like you have a choice. A lot of the time life feels quite dictated by the children – spending time with the children, playing with your children, being kind to children, it’s all about the children and there’s nothing really that says this is what a mother should do for herself. I am determined to change that narrative and break those boundaries. I now spend a lot of my time doing things for myself and looking after myself so that when I do spend time with my children I can be with them wholeheartedly and fully. I share that message a lot so other mothers know motherhood can look like this too.
What do you see as the positive and negative aspects of raising a family that are particular to being in London?
A positive thing about raising a family in London is that the diversity is lit! There is someone from everywhere and they are our neighbours and that is incredible. I think it’s so important for my children to see and understand the world and even when I’m not travelling with them they can see and understand the world to some extent just by living in London.
One of the negative aspects about raising a family in London is the violence, particularly for young black boys. There’s always news reports of violence and deaths among these children.
What do you hope will be different for your daughters in their experience of growing up and perhaps becoming parents themselves?
My biggest hope for my daughters is that they find joy in their lives, no matter where they look, and they have an underlying sense of gratitude for everything they have. I hope that if they choose to become parents themselves, they’re open to the experience of finding joy.
This will be something that will be a different for them, because for me and many other Black mothers of my generation, the experience was more one of worry and trying to find security. I hope my children won’t worry because they’ll know they have an underlying power within them, where they can create the world and the life they want for themselves.
Where to next for you?
Next I embark on a journey to becoming a law of attraction and mindset coach with an emphasis on BAME mothers. To help them unlock their potential and understand they’re capable of creating the world and life they want for themselves. Perhaps I’ll also write another book? Perhaps I’ll have a TV show? I will continue to move forward to impact positively on the world. As always sending you and everyone else in the entire universe love and light.
Buy Chaneen’s Books HERE
Listen to interview with Chaneen on Born Together Podcast HERE
Follow Chaneen on Instagram HERE
Follow author Tekie Quaye on Instagram HERE
Photo credit for header image: Sophie Harris-Taylor ( follow on Instagram here)