Home Features What it’s really like juggling work and kids – by a mum...
Juggling a business with family life can feel like an uphill battle
Running a business with young kids in tow is no mean feat. Hats off to those of you, like myself, who do. And even more kudos to those of you who do it well.
I decided a long time ago that I wanted to be the one caring for my children at home. This was after experimenting with working full time, working part time, not working, using a nursery, enlisting a childminder and relying on grandparents. I tried balancing things every which way and discovered that, no matter what, I felt guilty. So in 2011, when my contract covering maternity leave on a women’s magazine came to an end, I decided to go it alone.
I’d had enough of the three-hour daily commute back and forth and, to be honest, juggling the travelling, full time hours and two children as a single mum was really starting to take its toll on my health – and our family. I was exhausted.
Six years later – freelancing all the way – and my family has doubled. I now have four children and a husband, plus two businesses. At times it’s bliss, but having a large family – not to mention a ‘blended’ one – presents challenges all of its own.
My children range from 7 months to 18 years, two boys and two girls. Naturally, I love them to bits but juggling one business, never mind two, with family life can feel like an uphill battle. Especially since what was initially set up as a lifestyle business has (pleasingly) grown into something much more.
I start every day with indigestion, for example. A good friend once told me “always put your own oxygen mask on first, otherwise you’ll be no good to anyone else.” So now I make a point of having breakfast every morning to set me up for the day and give me enough energy to deal with the unrelenting mess, tantrums, spillages, potty training accidents, hormones, school dramas – and, of course, the daily needs of my business(es). That’s the idea anyway. But that breakfast is two slices of toast eaten as quickly as I can possibly get them down my throat because, in the background, is a barrage of yelling, crying, screaming and general grumping (from my 7 month old who cries every time we part company, even if it’s just to go to the toilet) – which is the current soundtrack to my life.
Everything feels like a race against time. Remember the game Perfection? I’m constantly striving to get things done as quickly as possible and get all the bits in place before someone ‘pops’ and has (another) meltdown.
Each day, I have to make the choice between tidying and cleaning the house, or getting some actual work done. And, most days, too, you’ll find me bouncing baby on my knee while I respond to a mountain of emails, even the quickest of which seems to take an eternity to write, with my toddler pressing keys, closing tabs and repeatedly asking to play Go Jetters.
Needless to say, I forfeit the housework most days. It’s like digging in sand anyway. But that leads to problems in itself. Some days it’s easier to turn a blind eye to the mountains of toys, clothes and shoes littering up the hall than others. But the clutter certainly isn’t conducive to a productive working environment.
I’ve given up on little luxuries, such as blow drying my hair or actual free time. Yes, I may look presentable for business meetings but pop round uninvited and you’ll find me more like Eastenders character Karen Taylor. I’m a woman who wants to be like Nigella in the kitchen (and believe me, I try my best) but am probably more Amy Winehouse.
I try to time phone calls – when the baby is down for a nap and while my toddler is otherwise engaged in watching Thomas or Paw Patrol, for example. But, guaranteed, every time there’s an important phone call to be had, the entire household needs my attention all at once. Cue the crescendo of background noise which I apologise for before explaining that I’m working from home.
Occasionally, I have to reschedule or cancel the odd business meeting because we always seem to be at A&E, such as when my youngest daughter got bitten by a dog or split her chin doing gymnastics in the living room; or when my toddler drank the washing up liquid; or when my toddler chewed our six-week-old baby’s toes, or when my husband was knocked off his bike cycling home from work and suffered short-term memory loss. And that’s just our immediate family. I’ve stopped explaining to people now because you just couldn’t write it.
I know it won’t always be like this (and that this is my lifestyle choice) and I’m trying to follow the advice of well meaning relatives and enjoy every moment while my children are young. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m far from complaining – just compelled to write about my experiences. Believe me when I say I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, except for maybe once or twice a month if I could find a babysitter!
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