Motherhood and small business: how will it work?


So the talk all this week has been on working mothers and it is probably safe to say that Pru Goward’s stance on celebrity mum Jackie O has met with some major criticism. Parenting blogs have been flooded with support for Jackie O. The first I had heard of it was when my sister-in-law told Pru to go jump on Facebook, (actually she said something far naughtier and she doesn’t even normally swear) and  this morning on The Today Show Lisa Wilkinson gave out Pru’s direct email address, so you can personally tell her what you think. As if working mums don’t have enough to beat themselves up about, I think Pru has single-handedly alienated 90% of the female population.

I was raised by a stay at home mum who took her job in the home very seriously. She treated it like a career, in which case she was the CEO of mothers. The majority of my friends are fortunate enough to also be stay at home mums. However, the reality is the majority of us, whether by choice or necessity, do return to work in this day and age and no one should make us feel guilty for doing so, or criticise how we do it.

 Recently I have had to think about what my role will be as a business owner once we have children and I am interested to hear how other female business owners manage this? My husband and I received the lovely news last week that after three years of trying to adopt a baby from Korea, our file has been sent overseas and we will be bringing home our baby in the next 12 months – hopefully sooner rather than later. In that split second, our lives changed and so did Red PR’s.

  • Great article Fleur. I’ve been one of the ones in outrage on Facebook abou Pru’s comments, but I won’t go there! Everyone has the right to choose what’s right for them and their family.

    Good luck with the new addition to your family. It can be a struggle (I have three young boys and have transitioned over the years from moving to part-time work, setting up a copywriting consultancy and eventually growing my PR business once my youngest started school.)

    I don’t think I can say that it gets any easier, but I do think that you learn to adapt with each new challenge and you get better at managing the workload. The biggest impact has probably been on my relationship with my husband as he’s had to learn to deal with my increased time in developing the business and accepting that we’re now all (including the boys) a team, with more equal contributions to the family needs. Starting from that position would probably be the best advice I can give you.

    I have found as the boys get older that they take up more of my headspace as going to school doesn’t give you breathing space – it adds extra activities and adds to the time you need to put in. We are now also moving towards the teenage years, which is like travelling to a foreign land.

    But, whether you’re running a business or working full-time, I look at it that so many people have to juggle this there is no room to complain. At least I have the flexibility to give myself some time off if I need to watch them take part in athletics or school performances and I can just make it up some other time.

    I too am creating a family-friendly work environment, one that I plan to extend to men as well as women. It’s my firm belief that it will only become more equal for women i the workforce when corporations recognise that men are also part of the family unit. Still, that’s a soap box for another time!

    I doubt that you’ll have any issues at all Fleur. Anyone who has the ability to grow a successful business should have no problem in balancing the demands of the two different worlds.

    All the best.

    Karen

  • Fleur Madden-Topley

    Hi Karen,

    Thank you for your wonderful tips and sharing insight into how you master the two roles. One thing is for sure, working mums are busy ladies!

    Three cheers for the working mums! Actually three cheers for all the mums, working in the home and out!

    Fleur

  • Today’s society has a lot to answer for:

    Women without children = not maternal / what’s wrong with you?
    Stay-at-home mum = you’re lazy
    Working mum = you’ve abandoned your child/ren

    Can’t win, so may as well please yourself.

  • Cath

    Great article and congrats on the new bub!
    I have my own at-home business but only work at it part-time as I also have 3 young boys. I am very mindful not to take on too much work as there are a limited number of hours in the day.
    Things that have helped:
    Choosing excellent clients who appreciate I work from home and wont be able to take a call at 8 am;
    Having a husband that works away which means he can be home to mind the boys when I have business trips away (we appreciate each other when we are together!);
    I love the flexibility to have the school holidays “off” and also to be able to spend some time at the school during term;
    Good daycare for pre-schoolers and a cleaner!

    The kids have to be your #1 priority. Which means you need Dad/family/nanny/carer on hand when you can’t put them first.

    • Fleur Madden-Topley

      Thanks for your fabulous tips and insight into how you manage it all!

      Fleur
      x

  • Krystal Patterson

    Your column is disturbing on so many levels. Shoot you if you ever make comments as ignorant as those? BANG. I’m sorry, Fleur, but you sound as delusional as every other woman who has not had children. It’s an indescribable slog, especially the first 12 months. Running a business is hard, but not as hard as having a child. That one tiny little baby can’t go and get another job or hire a debt collector, like your employees or clients. That baby is completely dependent on you for their LIFE. I’d love to hear your thoughts a year after adopting your baby, but it sounds like you’ll be offloading a bunch of the less savoury responsibilities (nanny, cleaner etc) so I doubt you’ll be getting the full experience anyway.
    Your opinions are so naive. Truly. You’ll see.

    • Fleur Madden-Topley

      Thanks for your comments Krystal, I am sure I will see, which was the point of the blog, discussing how my life will CHANGE now and to get people’s positive tips on how to manage both work and baby for career women.

      Your comments cement my thoughts that women are our own worst enemy at times, as opposed to supporting everyone’s individual choices, we put other women’s choices down. I will take on board though that you personally find raising children harder than running your business, I am sure this is the case for many, I will have to wait and see.

      I hope motherhood it isn’t as horrible an experience as what you make out cause I am quite looking forward to it! Certainly there was no mention of offloading any responsibilities, but simply asking the working ladies out there how they do it and what changes they are making in their businesses to accommodate a growing family. I certainly hope more workplaces are making positive changes to accommodate mothers.

      Wishing you every success in motherhood.

      Fleur

    • tracy

      Krystal I found it interstesting your take on this blog. I for one, did not for one minute think that was what Fleur was actually saying. As a business owner myself, I was lucky enought to be a stay at home mum while my children were little, however I take my hat off to women who mange to do both. Personally I would never have descibed it as a slog, as it was the most rewarding time of my life. From Fleur’s blog, I can only think that if she has gone through the rigourous years of attempting to adopt, only to now have her dream come true, I cannot imagine she will be offloading…. nor did she actually say this. So I say, from one woman to another… good luck Fleur… it
      is important as women for us to support one another. With your positivity I can only imagine your future to be bright!

  • Congratulations on the new baby how exciting.
    I have my own at-home business as I also have 3 young boys with another on the way.
    I am very lucky to have an husband that works from home (now) and who is happy to look after the boys when needed.
    This was not an choice to go into business as husband lost his job and we had to find away to support the family with an 2 week old baby it was hard for me to find an job that would give me the family friendly hours I needed.
    Yes I got told I was mad and insane but had an fantastic network of friends and family who were supportive and helped in any way they could.
    Kind Regards
    Rebecca
    PS. I have found the Slow cooker fantastic when getting breakfast you pop it on and then dinner is taken care of on those really busy days.

  • I run my own business from home which is great with two small children (although I started it way before kids were ever on the agenda). I guess the key is to learn to be flexible – I work a lot in the evenings and sometimes am up until midnight tapping away at the keyboard so I have time to look after the children during the day.

    I have to say I’m fed up of people who try and put the guilt trip on mums – whether it’s natural birth v c. section, breast v bottle feeding or stay at home v working, everyone seems to have an opinion and feels they have the right to voice it no matter who it upsets.

    Time people wound their necks in and gave us all a break!

    • I do hear flexibility is key. Personally I have found any working mums I have worked with I always find to be extra hard working because they have to fit more in to a shorter time.

      Rest up on the guilt trips and stop the competing – I agree. Lets shout that one from the roof tops.

      I dare say there doesn’t appear to be one right way, but whatever works best for your family.

      I second your call to give us all a break!

  • Rachel

    Fleur, the person who gets the most sleep is the one who wins!

  • Michelle

    Hi Fleur
    good on you for wanting kids and the business
    my husband and i have been running our bussiness since our youngest was 6mths old
    it does create challenges and you do lay awake at night when the kids are little listening to them breathe just in case they forget and yes you lay awake at night because someone let you down and you need to figure out how the hell are you going to get things done at work and what other cost are involved
    i find remembering that you work to allow yourself to enjoy life and its very hard and to remember to take the time to live and enjoy your kids is something you sometimes have to work at
    congrats on the impending arrival and good luck
    Michelle

    • Fleur Madden-Topley

      Hi Michelle,

      I think I have won the challenge of business ownership, although there is always something that jumps out of you…now onto the challenge of motherhood. They do say, you will never think when you are on your deathbed that you should have worked more. You will think you should have spent more time with the people you love.

      Congrats on the success of your business and launching when you were a new mum!

      Fleur

  • Jaye

    Thanks for a great read.
    I am a mother of two children and I also run a successful business with two employees, who are also women and mothers themselves.

    I thought of your question is it harder to run a business or be a mother??? Both are hard and both are rewarding for different reasons too. Yes my children come first, but it is hard sometimes to be at two places at once.

    With my employees, I feel I am able to understand their plight, and they are able to have the monring of to see an assemble, be in the childrens class, have a day off to attend an excursion, I find they pay me back with their loyality, and when I need that same time of for my childrens school. We share our school holidays roster between us.

    My husband is also very helpful, and my children too. So when I am home, we spend quality time together, we always make a point to eat breakfast and dinner together.

    I think employees need to be much more flexible with working mums, and dads, my emplyees love the fact that they too can work and be a mum that doesnt miss out on their kids life, they work hard for me knowing I will ensure they are also looked after in turn.

    Good luck with your forthcoming addition, and I think things do work out you will see what works for you and your family and what doesnt!!

    Jaye

  • Louisa

    Hi Fleur,

    Im the mother of two small children and two small businesses and constantly struggle with getting the right balance. I find myself working in every sleep time, at night and some mornings to fit things in and never having enough time. I also feel guilty that Im not spending enough quality time with the kids (as Im also trying to fit in the washing, tidying up and general household chores when they are awake).

    In hindsight I think I may have taken on too much at once, but have to keep going as there is no other alternative!

    As you say, kids and business are stressful in completely different ways. Getting a 2 year old ready to get out of the house in the morning can be incredibly frustrating (in ways you’d never envisage!) and I’m constantly surprised by how stressful that can be.

    I think one of the hardest things is that there are few people who understand what is involved in having children and businesses at the same time (at least in my immediate social group). I only had 2 weeks completely off work when my youngest was born and pretty much work each day of the week. When my friends go back to work I know that work will again be on the conversation agenda, but my friends (with kids) now rarely show any interest in that segment of my life.

    I love my kids and am a work-a-holic so in some ways I am very lucky to be able to work from home doing what I love (and more!) Im sure you will find a way to be successful in both areas.

    Things that have worked well for me are:
    – Have a routine. Knowing when my children will be asleep and I can make work calls or have allocated work time is wonderful. I couldn’t do it sanely otherwise!
    – Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it be family, friends or babysitters
    – Allocate time for the baby where you have no work interruptions and likewise time for work.

    Best of luck. It is incredibly busy but wonderfully rewarding!

  • Cathy

    Congratulations, i know how you feel

    I have been running my own business (hairdressing salon) for 5yrs now and have after trying for 3yrs am now pregnant, but of course it is due in November, it was hard enough falling pregnant now throw in that i will be off at the busiest time when i’m still 50% of the business. It is hard because you want to be there for your personal clients, which some don’t really care about you taking time off to be with your new baby, all they care about is how long are you having off & when will you be back, especially over Christmas. So no pressure or anything! I do understand they obviously like the way i do my job, but it makes you think, do i take time out to be with my baby or do i try and get back to the business so i don’t lose any clients/money. Will the business survive without me? Will my clients understand i need time off? I wish i had the choice of working from home, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that for me, so it’s either time with baby or keep clients in the business.

    • Jenny

      I was nursing when I had my 3 children my baby is 34 so a long time ago. We had a lady come in she was a widow when we couldnt cover a shift and was very difficult but we managed and my 3 kids all have good jobs and it has never affected the.
      I am a business owner now and have been for 15 years and we employ 6 ladies. I has a 3 year old in childcare and she is great, but it is very hard if he is sick and child care wont take them. She has had 8 days of in 12 weeks as he is sick, it has put extra pressure on other staff to cover her work. I feel so sorry for the mothers who have to rely on child care but it is also a hassle to an employer

  • Fleur,

    first of all congratulations and best wishes on your new family member.

    It still amazes me that in this day and age some managers/bosses still have an issue with working mums. Are they stupid? Don’t they want to have a successful business? How would they feel if someone treated them like that?

    At http://www.vetshopaustralia.com.au we have a great team – many are working mums. Some are working dads. Some don’t have kids or have grown up kids. Everyone of them contributes.

  • Fleur congratulations on your impending motherhood!

    As a business mum to two very active boys I know well the demands of running a full-time business around children. I didn’t start my business until after I became a mum so I don’t know any different, but I do remember doing the 9-5 in the corporate world before swapping that for nappies and less sleep.

    I chose the life and I’m happy I did. Being able to run a business from home has been the making of me – both in my career and as a mother. I would choose it again in a heartbeat and wish you the same.

    Johanna

  • Hi Fleur,

    Great article and congratulations!

    I am a business owner and mother of 2. I had my business first and then my 2 daughters. My husband has his own challenging and busy career independantly of the business, and we don’t have a great support network locally (by choice to be on the beautiful Central Coast away from our families in Sydney) – so I really appeciate the juggle that women in business go through trying to manage both.

    You are right, things will change- but you’re ready for it!

    Both jobs are busy, being a mum is incredibly challenging, so is running a business, and they are both hugely rewarding! There are days when I would rather be at the office than arguing with a persistent and determined 3 year old, and there are other days when I can’t wait to get home.

    There is no easy solution, no simple way to make it work and there will undoubtedly be some days where it all gets too much!

    As I type this I am on our first holiday in 2 and a half years (that’s me, hubby, 3.5 year old and 5 month old all away for a 1 week together!) and I have spent most of the week working – not because I didn’t plan well, or didn’t let people know – just becuase sometimes in business that’s how things happen!

    I am certainly in no position to give great advice as I am sure I don’t have things working perfectly, but the one thing I will say is
    – do what works for you – not what everyone else expects.

    I put my kids in daycare part time when they were both 10 weeks old, I stopped at the office on the way home from hospital both times – so my daughters both went to the office before they went home!! Is it ideal – no, will I win ‘mother of the year’ – no, but are my girls well looked after, loved and cared for by everyone around them – absolutely!

    When it comes to my staff however, I think the key is to realise it’s not their business – and they shouldn’t be expected to treat it the same way that you as a business owner does (although It’s fantastic that they want to). I have mums working for me, and they are great. They work part time, and although in recruitment this can be tricky to manage, because clients expect immediacy, I have them pass everything over to a colleague (or me) before their days off, so they don’t have to worry or be disturbed when they are spending time with their kids.

    Good luck with the expanding family, I am sure like all mums you will be fabulous at the juggling act.

    Kristy

  • Kaye Crowther

    I have owned a Physiotherapy practce for 23 years and during that time was very dedicated to my patients and profession. It grew by accident really since I did not meet the man of my dreams and get married before 30 as I always thought I would. I was not the type to sit and wait for that to happen so I just kept working and put up with the derogatory comments of those lucky enough to find a partner early ( many are now divorced) who labelled me a “career woman”. At 40, I met a wonderful man, was married and had my first baby at 42 and my second at 45. I now have a 3 year old handsome prince, a 5 year old princess and a 13 year old stepson at home. I also run a large practice, employing 13 people, work 3 days a week and have a working husband who shares either end of the day so that we don’t use any after school care or long day care. All children are doing very well at school and with all their activities ( ballet, soceer, singing, violin, guitar, swimming) and we love to share in all of them.
    We live a bit on the breadline after paying for private schools and all that they do but 3 days is all I am prepared to work. I would love not to have the pressure of a business or the hours of work but there are several trade-offs for everyone.
    1)Firstly, my children see an example of parents who work for what they get which will hopefully rub off on them.
    2) I never feel “under the thumb” or controlled by lack of input financially as I saw with my mother. She was never happy as a stay at home mum and even as a child I saw her life as never achieving her best. This is common before school talk among the younger non-working mothers who often seem to wish that they were doing something else.
    3)The extra money means that our children are able have opportunities that would never be available to them if we relied on my husband’s basic government wage. I see parenthood as a responsibility to do what you can for your children to set them up as independent adults one day.
    4)We have a very close family unit. We have no extended family close by to rely on but everyone having to be involved in everyone else’s activities means we do a lot together as a family.

    Lastly can I say that I am not living the life I expected I would but it is a great life. I wouldn’t have imagined that I would have kids in my 40s or be a working mum but you just do what is needed at the time. My great grandmother was having her 17th child while working hard on a farm in her 40s. Which life do you think is easier? My kids are very happy, gorgeous kids and my husband and I both love our family and every day, comment on how lucky we are. We are just like everyone else in that we always wish there was more time but we just enjoy what we have and what we do.

    I think that she who throws the first stone is probably best to spend her time questioning why she has to get her satisfaction from putting someone else down. Do it your own way!

    • Fleur Madden-Topley

      Hi Kaye,

      I really enjoyed reading your story – it was inspiring – it sounds like you have a fantastic and enriching life with your family and as Frank said, you have you done it ‘ my way’.

      Fleur
      x

  • Fleur Madden-Topley

    I just wanted to thank everyone for sharing their own personal stories and tips. Indeed I hope to put some of these into action in the not too distant future. I was moved by everyone’s support and encourage all of us to continue to support each other whatever our personal choices are.

    Fleur
    x

    • Fleur, congrats on making the best decision for you and deciding to give this a go. You will find support from many small business mums as most of the comments have indicated – just as full-time mums find support in their mother’s groups. Completely agree that as women we need to support one another’s decisions, even if they don’t match what we’d personally choose for ourselves.

      The Nov 09 Small Business Owners blog was my quick take on this topic (http://mybrc.myobnet.com/2009/11/05/the-business-of-babies/) More than happy to offer any advice, tips or a shoulder to cry on for those trying this for the first time.
      Was actually thinking it’s time for a blog article on the ‘school holiday juggle’ now that Miss Prep is home for three weeks and business doesn’t stop! : )

      -Sonia.

  • Eliza Smith

    Fleur, the only way to have it all is to delegate and to accept help.
    I have a post production business (6 staff) and 3 children, one who is 3 months old. I took 3 month maternity leave with the first, 3 weeks with the second and 6 weeks with the third. I currently work full time.
    Not easy, but only made possible with the help of a Nanny, mother-in-law and supportive husband (who also runs his own company).
    I used to feel guilty, but now I accept that work make me happy and the time that I do spend with my children is quality time.

  • Laura

    Hi Fleur,

    Great post and congrats on your impending arrival!

    This is a little off topic, but I’m always amazed when I hear mothers (working or otherwise) describe themselves as ‘lucky’ to have a husband/partner who is ‘willing’ to help out with childcare. Surely there’s no luck about it – it’s every bit as much the father’s responsibility to look after his kids as it is the mother’s. Perhaps if we stopped seeing our partner’s help as a favour to us and started seeing it as him simply contributing to the relationship in the same way that we do, we wouldn’t feel as compelled to try and do everything ourselves in the first place?

    Laura.

    • Fleur Madden-Topley

      here here Laura. Everyone has a different situation with their partner and I respect that, but indeed my husband’s bag will be on the front lawn if he doesn’t pull his weight!hahah – Rohan, I’m not kidding!