ELLE's Outgoing Editor-In-Chief Justine Cullen Talks Family

Do you like your loved ones, as much as you love them? ELLE Australia‘s outgoing Editor-in-Chief, Justine Cullen, really gets us thinking about that lesser-broached distinction in today’s parenting profile.

The Sydney-based mum to Milo (14), Iggy (12), and Scout (6) is currently pregnant with her fourth child, and after departing ELLE (last week!) is now helming Medium Rare’s Jones Magazine. Here, she reflects on the unrelenting challenges that plague working mothers, seeing family dinners as a form of self-care, and how to holiday with a horde!

Emma Eldridge

Justine Cullen is Mum to Iggy (12), Scout (6), and Milo (14). Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

At home in Avalon, Sydney. Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

Last month, Justine left ELLE Australia and is now heading up content strategies for David Jones across digital, print and social, including Jones and Mr Jones magazines. Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

Justine has a refreshingly honest take on working motherhood. Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

‘I became an editor around the same time I became a mother – I don’t know one without the other,’ says Justine. Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

With the boys and her husband Hayden Guppy. Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

Justine says her kids are aware of the amazing experiences they’ve had through her job and consider it a trade-off! Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

‘As a mother of boys, I appreciate that they don’t know a world where a woman’s work is less important than a man’s,’ says Justine. Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

Photo –  Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

Emma Eldridge
5th of October 2018

Christine Armstrong’s recent feature in The Weekend Australian Magazine, ‘An Inconvenient Truth: Mothers, Families and The Secrets We Keep,’ blazed through my circle of friends (the book from which it was excerpted, The Mother of All Jobs, was published last month). To have so much truth out there about the struggle to combine family and career strangely felt like a triumph.

So many of us feel if we can’t make it work, we’re not trying hard enough – or are not good enough. As Christine uncovered, we rarely ‘get to hear the stories that make people feel less alone and realise that the failure isn’t their own. It also means we don’t share solutions that might actually help.’

So it’s with pride that I share with you Jones Magazine Editor-in-Chief Justine Cullen’s refreshingly honest take on working motherhood. My hope is that with leaders like Justine, our working worlds will be transformed for the better – for our generation and the ones to come.

You’ve always worked in magazines, and mostly for fashion ones – a realm I understand to be fast-paced, pressure-filled and largely female. Looking back on your 20-plus years in the industry, how do you think things have changed for mothers?

The industry is largely female, and that’s a wonderful thing in terms of having a plethora of successful female role models to look up to and learn from. But I’m not sure if it’s actually changed in any way for the better over the past 20 years. The same issues that plague working mothers in all industries are rife: a paid maternity leave policy that is amongst the worst in the western world; a lack of affordable childcare; resourcing challenges that mean flexible working conditions are hard to come by – and harder to stick to. It’s tough!

You departed ELLE Australia after five years, last week! ELLE’s Creative Director Carly Roberts heralded you as a superwoman for being an amazing mum while leading an incredible team and conjuring innovative creative ideas. Can you tell us a bit about how you work to mentor and champion the women you work with, and use your platform to profile issues around gender equity?

I became an editor around the same time I became a mother – I don’t know one without the other – and I think that’s very much informed my leadership style. It can be easy to detach when you’re managing a big team in a challenging market, but we’re a lot like a family; I’ve always tried hard to be a human and not an arsehole (not as easy as it sounds in this business!) I base my hires on instinct and chemistry as much as talent and experience, so championing my staff and colleagues comes naturally.

In terms of gender equality, all I can do is show by example how I make it work, and try as hard as I can to ensure working with a family is easy.

On combining her own role as editor-in-chief with motherhood, Anna Wintour has said it was tough but ‘it’s important for children to understand that women work, that it’s fulfilling, and doesn’t mean they love or care about you any less.’ Can you relate? How do you negotiate the competing demands of work and three young boys, not to mention your husband, family and friends?

I completely agree with this. As a mother of boys, I appreciate that they don’t know a world where a woman’s work is less important than a man’s, or where the domestic duties aren’t equally split. They understand I’m a fully-fledged person outside of being their Mum.

Of course, it’s not easy – especially when you have to miss a school event – but I’ve been lucky enough to make it work most of the time. My kids are also aware of the amazing experiences they’ve had through my job, and are pragmatic enough to consider it a trade-off.

I’m pretty good at splitting my time by now. I rarely miss dinner with my family because that’s a self-care issue for me, but then I get back on the laptop after and finish the workday at night. I work my butt off at the office, but switch-off at the weekend.

You travel a ton – with work, but also your sons Milo, Iggy and Scout. What do you think makes a successful family holiday, and do you have a go-to destination?

Planning (I can make a holiday itinerary that puts a military operation to shame). I’m open to changes and spontaneity on the day, but think if you have a big family you need to pre-plan and book ahead. That way you don’t miss the best experiences, and save a fortune on a good hotel that sleeps five! So much can go wrong when you travel with kids (vomit, meltdowns – and that’s just me), so I like to know the things I can control are locked down.

I go to the same places for work all the time, so always try to mix things up for holidays. Our next big trip is a six-week exploration of the US at Christmas, but I would never say no to a quick Fiji getaway with the kids. Crystal clear waters, a pina colada, and nothing to do after a three-hour flight is not to be sniffed at.

You’ve Long commuted from Avalon in Sydney’s Northern Beaches to ELLE’s offices in town. How do your days start and end with the boys?

If I can outsource the mornings, I’ll do that and get to the office super early. Otherwise, we’re a relatively well-oiled machine; the big boys get themselves off to school and, unless Scout decides he doesn’t like his socks, we’re usually out the door in good time.

The nights are harder because I usually have the pressure of work to do hanging over my head, or I’m utterly exhausted (more so while I’m pregnant, but I’m definitely more of a morning person). If dinner, homework, baths and books happen according to plan, I’m good – but once we get past bedtime, I’m good for nothing.

Moving across time, what kind of adults might you like Milo, Iggy and Scout to grow into? How would you like them to remember you to their own families?

I think about this so much now that they’re older and I can see the men they’re becoming. I genuinely like them as much as I love them, and I’m pretty sure they feel the same way about us. We get on so well as a family, do lots of memory making, and put in effort to make life good – and the boys appreciate that. They’ve already created their own family mythology about my ability to throw a party and plan a holiday, and have talked about how they want to do the same for their kids, which is pretty cute.

I’ll be happy if they’re purposeful individuals, find their thing, contribute positively to the world, suck the marrow out of life and have fun, and find someone to share all that with. I also want them to visit me three times a week, call me every day, and buy me extravagant yet thoughtful gifts on my birthday. Is that too much to ask?

Family Favourites

Activity or outing

Hotel staycation; we’re also quite partial to geocaching (nerds).

Dinner destination

Bert’s at The Newport.

Book, film, or show

This is Us is our family obsession, we cry together… But we’re also fans of the US versions of Survivor and The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I spend a lot of time saying ‘women are not like that!’

Place to travel

I’m hanging out for our US trip at year’s end. Starting in Texas, we’ll visit New Orleans, New York, Montana and California. Three crazy boys and me in my third trimester with the fourth. What could go wrong?

Recent Family