Working for yourself is a dream for many mums. My guest blogger this week not only set up her own company to improve her work-life balance, she set up a company to help other mums do the same.
tell us a bit about you…
My name is Lucy, I live in a very rural bit of Suffolk with my partner and our two children, aged 10 and 7. We live on a smallholding so there are various chickens and pigs around too.
What do you do for a job?
I’m currently on a bit of a new adventure, work wise. Last year I founded a social enterprise start-up called myworkhive, to help more people find professional ‘remote’ jobs. That is flexible jobs that fit your life, that you can do from home (or anywhere else that suits you.) Before that, I combined freelance writing with working as a project manager in the charity sector for various organisations in Thailand and the UK.
How many hours do you work?
It varies, but I typically work the hours that the children are at school (9am-3pm) plus extra hours as needed in the evening/weekends if I have a lot on. I’m very lucky to be my own boss – I do need to deal with clients and meet deadlines, but I can set my own work hours to some extent.
Who looks after your kids while you work?
It’s been a real mix. When the children were very little, both grannies helped a lot, plus we had a lovely nanny for a few hours a week. Both children started going to the local pre-school for several mornings a week when they were 2-3. Now the children are older and at primary school, I work five days a week, but just during school hours. My partner sometimes looks after the children for a few hours on Friday afternoons so I can have one longer work day. Occasionally I use an after-school club if I can’t be around because of a work event.
Why did you decide to change your career direction?
I loved my work in the charity sector, but most of the jobs in my field are in London. When my son was born and we moved to Suffolk, I knew that I wasn’t prepared to spend at least three hours a day commuting. So being able to write freelance was a real lifeline at that stage. The pay isn’t great, but it’s very flexible. I also realised that I really loved working for myself. But over the years, I kept meeting Mums who didn’t have that flexibility and were struggling to find work locally that used their skills. So, when my children were a bit older, I decided I wanted to set up my own ‘social enterprise’ to help more people find flexible careers that can be done from any location – which is what I’m working on now.
How quickly did you return to work after having your children?
Just before my daughter was born, I’d left a charity project that was coming to an end, so I was in a bit of a panic about getting back to work. I started writing freelance just for a few hours a week when she was only a couple of months old. With hindsight, it was too early for me – I wasn’t getting much sleep and was totally exhausted! But I think I was scared about letting the ‘work me’ go – especially as I didn’t have a job to go back to.
I got a part-time job (3 days/week) for a charity when my daughter was about 18 months old. She was really shy and not at all ready for nursery, so we found a lovely nanny to look after her at home for 1.5 days a week, and my fantastic mother-in-law and Mum helped with the rest. When my son was born, I decided that I was not going to try to freelance at all for the first 10 months, and give myself a proper maternity leave – it’s hard if you are freelance, as you’re only earning statutory maternity pay, and you feel like your clients will disappear if you just stop! But it worked out OK. I had several slow years when my son was very little, but slowly picked up more freelance work as he started spending more time at nursery, and I’m now starting my own company.
Did you want to return to work?
When my daughter was born, I loved being with her but I also felt a bit anxious about my career vanishing and I hated not earning my own income! I was keen to start working again but also knew I wanted that to be part time. I started working freelance from home, but I found the reality much harder than I expected, I was really tired, and my pre-baby image of me typing away while my baby slept next to me was nothing like the reality!
With my son, I was much more relaxed. I wanted to keep my career going, but I also knew it would take a while and I just went with the flow a lot more. I’m lucky that there wasn’t a big financial pressure on me to get back to earning what I was before – it’s been tricky sometimes not earning as much as I used to, but even before the kids, my salary was smaller than my partners, so we’ve managed. I know I’m very lucky to have had that choice.
What are the hardest things about being a working mum?
Being organised! I’m not naturally a super-organised person, and for a long time I felt as if I was constantly ‘dropping the ball’ on work or family stuff (or both.) But I’ve learned both to be a bit more organised, and also to cut myself some slack – no parent I know is on top of things all the time.
Also, as the one working part time, I’ve ended up taking on responsibility for most of the household and ‘kid stuff’ – organising the play dates and clubs, GP and dentist visits, helping out at school etc. Before we had children, it felt as if my partner and I shared housework more equally, and that’s hard. I know there’s a logic to me doing more of these roles, as I’m the one working part-time, but the feminist in me does struggle a bit with it!
I do feel that I’ve had to compromise, too – my career is not where it would be if I’d continued working full time. But I’m happy with the choices I made, and the extra time I’ve been able to spend with the children. I know I’m extremely lucky that, financially, it’s been possible for me to work less hours.
What are your favourite things about being a working mum?
I love using the skills I’ve built up over a pretty varied career to be able to work on projects I find interesting and worthwhile. I also feel very lucky indeed that I can work ‘remotely’ from home, and be my own boss. For me, those two things have made being a working mum much, much easier. I love the fact I don’t have to fit a long commute into my day. And if one of the children is ill, or there’s a school event on, I can usually juggle things around to make it work. I love that my daughter – and son – can see that you can have a family and have a career too.
What are your least favourite things about being a working mum?
Because I work at home it’s easy to let home life and work life blur. On really busy days, I sometimes feel as if I’m not giving either the children or work my full attention. I think that’s always going to be an issue, particularly if you work freelance or run your own company when there’s no ‘down time’ or backup.
Do you have any tips for other working mums?
I’d say be prepared to feel conflicted about wanting to be with your children and also hang on to your career – that seems to be pretty normal! Accept that your work life may look a bit different for a few years.
Returning to work can be a great time to reassess: give yourself some real thinking time to work through what your career goals are for the next few years. I wish I’d stressed out a bit less about my career when my children were very young, but also thought a bit harder about planning my career over the longer term. If you’ve thought through your career goals for the next 5-10 years and keep those in mind. I think it’s easier to be more relaxed about the career ups and downs along the way, and maybe make more use of the times when the kids are little to do things like training or courses that will help later on.
I’d also say, don’t be afraid to negotiate with your employer if they’re asking you to work more hours than you want. When I applied for a job when my daughter was young, I asked if I could reduce the hours to only do 2.5 days/week, and they were great about it, even though the role had been advertised as more days. I know I was very lucky and not all employers are so flexible, but it might be worth asking!
If, like me, you’re not a very organised person, then take some time to get some good systems and habits in place before you start drowning in a sea of school and family paperwork (I’m still working on this one!) I’m quite efficient at work but not at all at home – it took me a while to recognise this and realise I needed to work on it a bit more. There are lots of inspiring articles, guides, apps etc out there to help.
One other little thing that works for me is to not work right up until the moment I dash out to get the kids from school. I try to stop 10-15 mins before, tidy my desk, write my to-do lists, and have a coffee. That lets me get my ‘mum brain’ going and helps me switch roles. Otherwise, the kids are trying to tell me about their day, and I’m still thinking about work.
Some great advice – thanks Lucy!