Being a mum and running a business is like having two full-time jobs. I’m often asked ‘How do you do it?’ or told ‘I don’t know how you manage to do both’. Well in all honesty, I’m not entirely sure how I do it either, but what I do know is that by acknowledging my responsibility for both small people and for the team I employ, you generally always find a way to get it done.
It’s not easy. It’s actually goddam tough, and I often feel that I could do things better, that I might not be making the right decisions, and that my kids might not thank me in later life... But what I do know is that I always do my best. That means I’m not perfect, not by any stretch, and that’s okay – after all, whilst we naturally criticise ourselves as women, we also have an innate ability to persevere despite what life may throw at us.
I have two young children, Dylan who is eight years old, and Cooper who is three years old. My third child is Truth Creative, and as you’d expect with a third child it’s probably the most demanding one! I mean that with the utmost affection, I’m passionate about what we do at Truth, and what we have achieved in the 11 years we’ve been going. Despite the fact that Truth is my oldest child, I term it as my youngest. Why? Because at the end of the day Dylan and Cooper have my unconditional love – Truth however needs to give me something back, and here’s why.
Truth as a business has enjoyed success over the years, but that’s only through hard work and perseverance. I don’t believe that success is a given, I believe that by doing a great job, employing a great team, and by building great relationships; success naturally comes to fruition (oh and kick-ass brand engagement – sorry Darren!). It’s the passion and the effort that you put in, which gives you something back. I wouldn’t be looking after an agency with almost 20 people if there wasn’t something in it for me.
I don’t have all the answers (if anyone has them, do let me know – I’m often flying by the seat of my pants, which probably isn’t the best idea!), but I do have some tricks of the trade that I’m happy to share. After all, we working mums need to look after each other…
Tip #1 – Honesty.
This tip is multi-faceted. It means with yourself, with your kids, with your clients, with your colleagues. There’s no point trying to hide the fact that you’re busy juggling two roles, and those around you will garner more respect for your honesty than trying to project a persona of perceived perfection. I make no secret of the fact my business partner is my husband. I also don’t hide the fact that I need to leave a little early most evenings to pick the kids up (I log on later, but more on that shortly). I also don’t hide the fact that as I work and live with my husband, sometimes we can’t both attend a meeting 200 miles away, otherwise there’s no one to collect the children. I think the point here is that if I can, I always will. But sometimes I just can’t make it work and that’s when I need the team around me to step in, whilst doing a great job of representing myself and Darren as an agency.
Okay, so I’m jumping a little - but this one is really important. On average I probably clock up a 50 hour week (I know). I do this, in part, on purpose. My view is that five days a week Truth can have my attention and I’ll work like a trojan to get everything done that I said I would (this is important - more later on that too). The weekend, however, is categorically not up for negotiation. I will never willingly give up my weekend time to do mundane things like housework. That time is for family, and rightly so. Now those who know me well will probably be chuckling right about now, as I make no secret of the fact I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with having a ‘show home’. I love a tidy house. It makes me relax more easily and gives me a sense of calm. It took me five years to give this up and find a belter of a cleaner to come once a week to knock the house into shape. My cleaner is a lifesaver - and I think he’s fabulous. Fab because it means I don’t have to spend the weekend cleaning and fab because I’m happy with the standard. If you can afford one, use one!
Tip #2 – Housework.
Mine’s running. Never ran before having kids. Was, quite frankly, rubbish at it. Blotchy skin, puffing like a woman without both lungs – that type of thing… This can also bite you back however, so a slight word of warning! If I can’t run, God help those around me – I get (more) grumpy and less ‘I can do this’. I started running on a Sunday morning after having Dylan eight years ago. I discovered that pulling my trainers on, sticking my headphones in, and zoning out, is one of the best ways to manage stress, deal with emotion and work out challenges in the business and at home. Eight years on, my long run is just shy of a half marathon. I get up early and go out, back in time to enjoy the rest of the day with the family. If I didn’t do this, I would literally go crazy.
Tip #3 – Discover your ‘zone-out’.
Tip #4 – Flexible working.
This one is tricky. My business is deadline-driven and so is probably one of the least flexible industries a mum can work in. We split the drop off and pick up between us as parents. I always pick up – which is probably more stressful. Literally. I have no more than an hour to:
Pick them up from two locations (looking forward to Coops starting school!);
Give them a snack (why are boys ALWAYS hungry?!);
‘Ask’ Dylan to do his homework about 14 times;
Help Dylan with his homework;
Get them both bathed (this is sometimes a messy shower if needs must);
Pack bags for the following day;
Take the odd urgent call/email from work;
Put the washing on (boys are also filthy, most of the time!);
Get the bedrooms bedtime-ready;
Serve bedtime drinks (warm milk, which quite frankly does not calm them down);
*Sometimes they’re tricky and don’t go to sleep. I love it when that happens as you can probably imagine...
Phew. Is. A. Lot. But I do it – with military precision, because I have to. More importantly though, I’ve learnt over the years that children love, and need, routine. That works for them, and for me and we all know what we’re doing and where we’re up to.
Darren usually rocks up after this chaos. Largely because it’s pretty impossible for him to work from home efficiently. Not for me though, and it’s a good job really. I categorically could not live without:
Remote access to the server;
My (beautiful) MacBook Pro;
Having the right tools, and access to them, is critical. I can work from 8pm onwards, whilst hubby cooks something fabulous to eat. This is pretty damn cool – my mother told me to marry someone who could either cook or dance. I went for the former.
In reality, I don’t really have a great deal of flex on the deadlines or volumes I need to get through, but I can work from anywhere. So I can go to the Christmas Concert or work from home when I’m without childcare. Having the tools to do this is critical.
In your working life or your home life. I think both Darren and I are firm believers in doing what we say we will. Don’t let people down – it’s bad form, you lose any trust you’ve established and they’ll stop asking for your support.
It’s the same with kids. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. But here’s the important part. If you absolutely know you’re not going to be able, then don’t tell them what they want to hear. This comes back to the honesty bit in point one. That’s where business and family are pretty similar – both colleagues and clients don’t appreciate being let down, they’ll just go somewhere else. That’s bad news – remember your responsibility to the team you employ? Can’t realistically pay them without revenue, that’s just basic economics. Same with small people. You are their constant, so be that and be honest with yourself (and them) about what you can (or can’t) do.
So there you have it. My top five. There are probably more, but these are the principles I pretty much live by. I seem to be doing okay – my children are fairly rounded and loveable. My business is solid. I’m knackered, but then I guess you can’t have everything!
Five laws to live by. There’s probably a sixth in there about how to debrief to someone who’s laboured over a piece of creativity (and they love it like a small child), but if you follow law four then this one becomes less commonplace.