Does maternity leave exist when you’re the founder and creative director of a start-up?
Just over a year ago, I gave birth to my first baby: my creative agency, Dream & Do. In a couple of months, I’ll be having my first real-life baby and, to be perfectly honest, I’m starting to wonder how it’s going to work managing the two of them together. Listening to Emma Isaacs from Business Chicks speak about business and motherhood at 9 to Thrive last year was definitely inspiring; we really can “have it all” and there are plenty of role models out there killing it. But now that the due date is looming, I’m having trouble bridging the gap between dream and reality.
In an article for Huffington Post a couple of weeks ago, Uldouz Van Eenoo questioned why women still aren’t being taken seriously as business owners. She says: “I’ve since learned that the only person I need to impress is the one staring back at me in the mirror. And yet, like so many, I feel all my defenses rise when I see that look on someone’s face, or the tone in their voice which says ‘oh, you are a mum with a business? Cute.’”
Supermum, business mother, “mummypreneur”… whatever you want to call them, they’re on the rise. According to a report by Dell’s Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index, Australia is the second greatest country for female entrepreneurs. [Editor's note: The top country is the USA.] In today’s globalised, digital world — not to mention the apparent “age of the entrepreneur” — it seems that new mums have freedom like never before, to pursue their interests, passions and exercise those creative and business minds, with a child on their hip. But how on earth do they make it work? Does maternity leave exist when you’re the founder and creative director of a start-up?
I’ve built a wonderful little team in the last year, who are more than capable of running the show while I focus on being a new mum for a couple of months. I’m not worried, they’re not worried, but a few clients have expressed concern that I’ll be taking a bit of maternity leave. When meeting new clients in the last few months, I’ve (ashamedly) found myself dressing differently and trying to hide the fact that I’m pregnant, particularly in front of men. There’s an undeniable stigma still associated with being a business owner expecting a baby; I’m worried they will think I’m not dedicated or reliable. Funnily enough, the clients who have spoken out are women — other mums in business — which really took me aback. Shouldn’t we all be supporting each other?
A lot of people say that running your own business as a parent affords the freedom you don’t have when you’re working for someone else, but what about the financial pressures of stepping back and having a person or team replace you while you’re away? Furthermore, there’s talk of work-life balance being a moot point in this day and age. With so many entrepreneurs, creatives and freelancers following unconventional career paths, particularly in the online world, when do working mums switch off from work and onto family life?
They say the quickest way to success is to look at those who’ve done it and lived to tell the tale, so I’ve reached out to some of our clients and other mums who run their own thriving businesses. If you’re also an expecting or new mum and an entrepreneur, I hope these nuggets of wisdom help allay your fears too.
1. “Stop resenting the situation and find an alternative.” — Jennifer Anson from Girls Getaways.
Obviously, juggling home/children/partner/business is the biggest challenge of being an entrepreneurial mum. For Jen, the family always came first, which resulted in her letting the business tick along comfortably, until her kids were in school and old enough for her to be spending more time on Girls Getaways. “If I’d tried to keep everyone happy, including pushing the business, I’d end up in a heap.” Jen’s biggest advice is to always remember that there’s an alternative, and the situation will sort itself out with the right help and time. So instead of whinging about not getting enough exercise while you’re juggling new motherhood, think about an alternative, such as walking around the block with girlfriends while the kids are in their swimming lesson. With mornings so hectic, Jen established a little routine that helped in the early days: “It sounds simple, but all the bedrooms were upstairs so I would make a rule that once I went downstairs for the day, I wouldn’t go back up. So everything that needed to be done upstairs — eating breakfast in my room even, making the beds — would be finished in the mornings and it helped get me in the mindset for my day.”
2. “Just be in the moment.” — Collette Dinnigan, iconic Australian fashion designer.
It’s safe to say that mums in business don’t always get the luxury of “time off” or work-life balance. You just do the work when you can, in between feeding, school drop-offs, homework and bedtime scheduling. I saw Collette Dinnigan speak at an event in Sydney last year, and she slayed the idea of balance in favour of being in the moment.
When you’re at home, she said, just be at home. And when you’re at work, be at work. You won’t be at your best or most productive in either place if you’reconstantly stressing and feeling guilty about where you should or shouldn’t be. Lisa Munro over at Happy Tummies says it’s about having rules for yourself: “Decide which nights you work and which nights you will take off, then stick to it. For my family, we also try and take our kids away during some school holidays to spend time together, especially if there’s no WiFi so we can’t be tempted!”
3. “Don’t beat yourself up.” — Emma Isaacs, CEO of Business Chicks.
Emma Isaacs runs offices across four time-zones and has just moved to L.A to expand the business over there. She’s a mum of four kids under the age of six (all of whom she gave birth to at home) and I am completely in awe. She had a few weeks off after having her first child, and it’s diminished from there. Not all of us can afford a full-time nanny and housekeeper like Emma, but it certainly makes you think about how to make it work with the fast pace of entrepreneurial life and the demands of children. “The pace of being an entrepreneur is at full velocity all the time and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m used to multi-tasking and working hard. It’s prepared me for parenting in a way.” In regard to finding balance, Emma says she doesn’t necessarily believe in it: “I was staunch on my business and family staying separate but I’ve had to bend that thinking. When you have your own business, you’re never off.” Her staff know that the lines are open for her to be contacted, and if she doesn’t respond immediately it means she’s offline. Although she went from being a total workaholic, she’s now learned that she has to be present with the kids so tries to hide her phone and not be on the laptop: “I can’t work the hours I used to, which has made me more efficient in my business and home life.”
4. “Give yourself a reality check … there are only 24 hours in the day.” — Lisa Morley, Ms Peacock Fine Chocolates.
Luckily, Lisa has a project management background so is naturally quite organised, but she still stresses that we need to remember that we are only human and there’s only so much we can squeeze into a 24-hour day. Her advice is “Make a plan for how you’ll take each day and try to stick to it, but we all know that life happens and sometimes plans go out the window. You have to accept that, but it will make you feel ready for the day if you have a semblance of a plan.” Sounds like going with the flow is the key message here! I’ve heard and read everywhere that I should try and sleep when my baby does, but isn’t that missing out on precious work time?? Lisa says “If it works to sleep when the baby does, then do it. But for me, that was my planning time and sometimes I’d even be making chocolates while my little one slept. It helped me to feel like I was back in control, less frantic and also some ‘me’ time.”
5. “It’s really important to remember who you are.” – Emma Thomson, Mums Empowered.
With three kids under the age of 12, Emma Thomson, is the definition of serial entrepreneur, with more than a couple of businesses under her belt. Emma runs Mums Empowered, for one, which is a health studio and online space dedicated to encouraging mothers to say “no” to guilt, exercise for mindset rather than “getting your body back” and value “me time” as the best medicine for you and your family. She’s speaking at a special International Women’s Day event on 8 March at The Tea Rooms QVB in Sydney, celebrating mums in business and offering advice to new mums out there. “I feel like women need to be able to say “me first” without that guilt that eats you up from the inside out when you’re a new mum and feel like you can’t take five minutes out,” says Emma. “As new mums we tend to join these mothers groups and sit around talking about our babies and we brush over the tougher issues of relationships, no intimacy, the really shitty topics. You don’t talk about the change from who you used to be to who you are now. Someone who exists for someone else. And that’s one of the most beautiful things about motherhood. But it’s really important to remember who you are.”
One of my biggest fears has been that my business won’t matter to me anymore after holding my baby for the first time; that everything else will fade. But Emma Isaacs has reassured me — in her recent interview for the Mamamia podcast ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It!’ it’s the primal, protective instincts that kick in to make those with a true entrepreneurial spirit even more ambitious. I think I’m ready to tackle this journey head-on!
Are you a business owner? How do you balance work and family?