#tbt One from the Archive: “And What’s Your Occupation?”

baby children cookbook flexible working housework mum mum hustle mumlife nursery self employed small business stay at home mum stay at home parent work work-life balance

(First published on The Contented Calf Website on Wednesday 13th January 2013.

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I’ve noticed recently that I’ve had to answer this question a fair amount recently – various registration forms for either of my girls, a market researcher I spoke to yesterday at the station and notably when Contented Hubby registered 9MO’s birth. He decided for me that if I’d written a book I was an Author, so that’s what I am on 9MO’s birth certificate!!

Pre the birth of 3YO, it was easy I was a ‘Marketing Communications Manager’. Simple.  Straight-forward. Now, I tend just to go for ‘self-employed’ and not to go into any further detail than that. But in reality I guess I see myself as a ‘Self-Employed Part-Time Working Mumpreneur’. My life is no longer simple and straight-forward. It isn’t in any way as compartmentalised as it once was. Work and home are no longer separate. Everything is mixed in together.

It’s true that merely by having children your (working) life is changed. But for me it was “All change!” when 3YO was born. My role at my company was not being continued, so I didn’t have a job to go back to. I came up with the idea for Contented Calf while on maternity leave, and three years later, here I am.

Overall I think I have a good balance, especially when I’m working three days a week instead of just two - which I will be, come the Spring. That said, there are definite challenges and frustrations. So here is:

The good, the bad, the highs, the lows of being a ‘Self-Employed Part-Time Working Mumpreneur’.

The good, the highs

• When both girls (and therefore I too) have slept well and we all wake-up in a great mood, I feel energised, positive and motivated, as if anything’s possible. Feeling like this is so important when you’re self-employed and predominantly working alone.

• I love picking the girls up from nursery and seeing what a good mood they are in – how excited 3YO is to tell me what they’ve done that day, when the staff tell me that 9MO was in fits of giggles over something or the other. Their time at nursery gives them some independence from me, interaction with other children and adults, and just an experience I can’t give them by myself.

• Following on from that, as long as we make it back to the house in good time after a long day, both the girls and I are in a great mood. And I love that couple of hours I spend with them before bed. Dare I say it, I can even find bath and bedtime fun!! They’re in a good mood because they’ve had an exciting day. As have I. Although I’ve been working, I’ve had a break from the daily ‘fire-fighting’. I’ve been able to focus on the business. I’ve been able to think strategically, and long(er)-term (than what’s happening in the next hour or so and what the hell am I going to make for breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks). And I’ve been able to be independent – do something I want to do, in the time that I want to do it. The only one placing demands on me is me. So refreshing. I know that for those two hours I'm a much better (read calmer, happier, more energised, less crabby) mum because of my time not being a mum that day.

• What’s also great is that by only working three days a week, we get to have fun on non-work days.  We’ve met friends at Kew Gardens, spent the day in Bushy Park, headed over to my Aunt’s house and gone to a fabulous playground on Hampstead Heath (with a massive paddling pool!!), headed down to my parent’s house on a Thursday morning for a long weekend and gone to the beach, do ballet classes, gym classes, bake cakes, play in the garden. I’m not saying it’s not hard work, or that it’s all smiles and giggles. I find ‘non-work’ days 10 times more exhausting than work days and I snap and shout a hundred times more than I wish I did. But overall, it’s a pretty cool way to spend a Thursday or Friday.

• By working for myself I also get the flexibility to ‘do house stuff’ when I’m at home too – general housework, the (never ending) washing, be in for deliveries, get workmen in, do Christmas shopping, not worry if one of the girls is ill and can’t go in to nursery. And when school time comes for 3YO, whilst I’m not relishing the even more complicated childcare arrangements around the super short days and holidays, knowing that if needs must, I can be more flexible, certainly takes the pressure off a great deal.

But then....

The bad, the lows

• It’s all very well having the flexibility if one of the girls is ill, but if they are, I lose a day’s work. And when I’m only (currently) working two days a week, it’s a lot – the week feels pretty much wiped out work-wise. And because I’m not (yet) bringing in anything like I would be if I was full-time employed, it makes sense, especially financially, for it to be me who takes the day off, rather than Contented Hubby. I agree with this. But it is incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to build a business and need all the time you can grasp.

• Then there’s the fact that when I was employed I tended to end up working 8:30am-6pm most days. There’s a lot you can achieve in a 9.5 hour day. Now, even with the nursery being open 8am-6pm, by the time I get back from the nursery drop-off, I realistically don’t get started until 9/9:30am. And to pick the girls up around 5ish (so that we’re not back super late, so super grizzly and have super tantrums before bed), I need to stop working around 3:30pm, get post nursery snacks and bedtime milk ready (so that we’re in and up the stairs as soon as we get back). So my working day has gone from 9.5 to 6 hours. Plus there’s the never-ending washing, housework, meal planning, shopping, cooking, tidying to fit in around it all. I just start hitting my working stride and I have to stop, for the day, for the week.

• However, even though the day feels very short to me, it is a very long day for the girls. They are often tired from nursery, but we still need to get the bus home. It’s often crowded. 3YO ALWAYS wants to go upstairs. Sometimes I can dissuade her, others I give in. I’m carrying my stuff, two nursery bags, 3YO’s snacks, 9MO on my front in the Baby Bjorn. 3YO ALWAYS takes of her coat and shoes. It is (generally) not at all a pleasant experience, and leaves me pretty stressed and cranky as a result. (As an aside, because of the trauma of this thrice-weekly journey, I have just ordered a double-seat child bike trailer thing [technical name] to help improve nursery runs. We can get almost all the way to and from home on back roads and cycle paths, and I used to do it a fair amount on the bike when it was just 3YO.)

• Although both girls sleep pretty well, there are still nights when one or both of them are up multiple times and you get through the day as a complete zombie. When these days fall on ‘non-work’ (I keep using the inverted commas because they’re actually much more work than work work days aren’t they? How anyone can consider looking after two small children not work, is beyond me – anyway, I digress...) days, they can just seem like a vast expanse of chaos, noise, stickers and unwashed plates. Days like this totally drain me.

• Finally not working for a company, I don’t have any colleagues to chat to/work with/become friends with. (I’m now overly chatty to the nursery staff, milk man, delivery men, supermarket check-out people.) I have no manager to go to for help. There’s no obvious, planned career direction. There’s no feedback, no-one to give me recognition when I’ve done something well, or tell me when I need to improve. I get no training. Essentially, there are none of the benefits of working for a (big) company. And at times I do get jealous of Contented Hubby. I miss the corporate environment. And I miss the pay-cheque. I know that Contented Calf could will go stellar and I’ll end up a multi-millionaire, but here and now, it’s tough-going bringing in an absolute minute fraction of what I used to. I miss having my own income.

But despite all the lows....

Do you know what? The grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side.  In all honesty, I have a great work-life balance and I consider myself very lucky to be able to do what I’m doing and still get to bring up my two gorgeous girls along the way.

I think just being a parent makes life messy, complicated, hard-work, demanding, whatever one’s occupation. When asked ‘what’s your occupation’, we should all put ‘Parent’ first. Anything else, just has to fitted in around the edges doesn't it?

With love from our family to yours,

Elena x

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